Jews of Europe Syllabus

Study Questions for Week 5              

Israel, Chapters 10 and 11

Chapter 10

How did Jewish demographic patterns in the 1700s differ from those in the 1600s?   And how does Israel Explain this?

Was population stagnation limited to one region, or was it more general?

Explain how the following factors influenced Jewish population stagnation in the 1700s:   changing trade routes; restrictive laws limiting the size of Jewish   communities and limiting Jewish occupations; changes in state trade policy.

What impact peace after 1713 have on Court Jews generally?  And how did Ashkenazi Court Jews respond culturally to these changes?

How did changing state policies affect the status of wealthy Sephardi?

What specific aspects of new state trade policies had the most impact on Jewish economic life?

Did new tariff, etc., completely destroy Jewish trade networks?  Explain.   What was the impact, and why was this a problem?

What were the numerus clausus, and what impact did they have on Jewish life in Germany and Bohemia-Moravia?

What types of Jewish policies did Russia implement between 1725 and 1762 (between the reigns of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great)?

Why did Jewish poverty increase in the 1700s?  was this limited only to Germany?

Besides poverty, what other 18th century social trends disturbed rabbinical and communal leaders?

How did rabbis in the West respond to new cultural trends?

How did rabbis in the East respond to the new cultural trends?  (For instance, Elijah of Vilna and Besht [Israel Baal Shem Tov].)

What were the basic principles of Hasidism, and how did it effect the kehillot?

According to Israel, what was happening to Jewish communal hierarchies by the 1780s?

So according to Israel, was it Emancipation after the French Revolution that undermined "traditional" Jewish life and institutions in Europe, or were they already in advanced decline before 1789?


Chapter 11

How is Israel challenging traditional Jewish historiography on the 1700s?

Does Israel approve of recent historical interpretations that de-emphasize the anti-Jewish impact of European Christian [Catholic and Protestant] Jewish policies in the late 1400s-1600s?  Explain.

What does Israel see as the main Jewish contribution(s) to 17th century European civilization?  Explain.


Vital, A People Apart, Preface, Contents, and Introduction


What is the main point of the epigram by Schumpter?  Why include this?

What kind of history does Vital say he is presenting, and how does he describe the approach he takes in this book?


Table of Contents:

Notice how Vital has organized this book--what does the organization suggest about his approach to the topic?



What are gzeirot?

According to Vital, why was Maria Theresa's 1744 decree to expel Jews from her lands so dramatic a measure?  How did Europe's Jewish communities respond, and what were the results?  What is the lesson Vital takes from this case?

According to Vital, Jews were subject to two contrasting levels of authority.   Explain what he means by this. 

Did Jews reject the authority of state rulers?  Explain.

According to Vital, what attitude did rulers in "old regime" Europe (before the French Revolution) take towards Jews and why?

Were Jews under the old regime considered members of civil society?  Why was this so important?

Why did state authorities under the old regime recognize the relative autonomy of Jewish communities?

Did Mosaic and Talmudic law give Jewish communities a clear and fixed set of legal guidelines on how to govern themselves?  Explain.

Why was the problem of social control so complex in old regime Jewish communities?

By the late 1700s, who effectively led most Jewish communities?  (What did the term gevir mean?)

According to Vital, why had the wealthy come to have such authority?  What was expected of "grandees"?  (What does the term shtadlanut mean?)

Like Israel, Vital stresses that the status of Court Jews was always fragile.  How does the example of a Jewish leaseholder (arandar) in Poland demonstrate that other wealthy Jews lived similarly precarious lives?

Why, according to Vital, did the authority of the wealthy "unfailingly breed new forms of dissension and distrust" (p. 17) within Jewish communities?

What does Vital mean by "the rule of political  self-abnegation"?   What does he see as the main weakness of traditional Jewish political culture, and what does he see as its source?

According to Vital, why was there a sort of built-in-anarchism in Jewish culture?

What does Vital mean by "the doctrine of positive, mutual responsibility" (p. 19), and what are some examples?

What happened to individuals who did not follow social norms?

What was a malshin, and why were they treated so harshly?

What lesson does Vital draw from the case of Yizhak Rofeh, and what does this tell us about internalized mechanisms of social control?  What does it tell us about the means the communal administration had to enforce social norms?

According to Vital, why couldn't the Jewish community base its government on existing models of non-Jewish governments? 

Why did rabbinical authorities tend towards consensus?  And why did rapid social change undermine rabbinical authority?


Lindemann, Esau's Tears, Table of Contents, Preface, Chapter 1, Chapter 2 (pp. 40-44)


What is Lindemann's main criticism of most popular history of the Holocaust and of Anti-Semitism?  What does he think of its actual social function, and what does he see as the problem with this tendency?

Does Lindemann consider it useful to conceive of anti-Semitism as an "abnormality," a form of "mental illness"?  Explain.  Does he think that it is "beyond understanding"?  "Unique"? A fundamentally Christian religious phenomenon?  That it has "nothing to do with Jews"? Does he think that it always leads to "eliminationist" thinking?  Explain.

Does Lindemann think that Jews alone are to blame for anti-Semitism?  Explain.  What does he mean by differentiating between "real" and "fantastic" tensions between Jews and non-Jews?

Lindemann says that he has been criticized for his arguments:  what criticisms does he discuss, and how does he reply to his critics?

What does Lindemann mean by "the rise of the Jews," and does he see this term as entirely negative?

Does Lindemann think that German anti-Semitism made the Holocaust "inevitable"?  Explain.


Chapter 1

What significance does Lindemann find in the story of Esau and Jacob and the images and ideas that this tale has generated over the centuries?  What does this tell you about the title of Lindemann's book?  

What use have anti-Semites made of the Esau-Jacob story?  

How have many Christian theologians interpreted the Esau-Jacob story, and does Lindemann think that religious interpretations of the tale inevitably lead to hatred?

How have Jewish thinkers interpreted the Esau-Jacob story to understand their relationship with "gentiles"?  What does all of this have to do with the issue of "responsibility" for hatreds?

Lindemann discusses a debate among Jewish thinkers over the nature of "Jewish identity" (quietism vs activism) that is related to interpretations of the Jacob-Esau story:  explain this debate.  (eg, what has been the view of Orthodox religious thinkers, Zionists, and the Bund (a form of Jewish socialism) on this matter? 

According to Lindemann, how has the issue of "responsibility" shaped historians discussions of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust?  This leads Lindemann to discuss the idea of "victimhood" and the idea of human agency (human's role in making their own history); what is his point about the tendency to portray Jews (or other groups) as "victims"?

Does Lindemann think that we can learn much by treating the history of relations between Jews and non-Jews as the history of anti-Semitism? Explain.  And can we really understand Jewish history if we focus primarily on oppression and suffering?  Explain.

Does Lindemann consider anti-Semitism and anti-Semites to be "simplistic"?  Why does he think that historical context is so important to understanding anti-Semitism?

According to Lindemann, what "shift" occurred in anti-Jewish hatreds in the 1800s?

What is the point of Lindemann's discussion of what he calls "ideologies of revenge" (p.14)?

What is Leidensgeschichte, what is its theological basis, and how does it factor into contemporary, secular depictions of Jewish history?

Why does Lindemann oppose the "just the facts" approach to Jewish history?  Why does he criticize the "we fought back" approach?  How does he suggest we need to approach the historical interaction of Jews and non-Jews if we are going to get any kind of complex  historical perspective?  Can we understand Jewish history divorced from its interactions with Western civilization?  Can we understand Western Civilization divorced from its interactions with Jewish history?

What does Lindemann mean by "the rise of the Jews"?  In his view, how has this idea been used by anti-Semites, and in what sense was modern anti-Semitism?

What does Lindemann tell us about the history of the term "Semite"?  Why did the term "catch on" in the 1800s?

Lindemann makes use of M. Marrus concept of "concentric circles" of anti-Semitism;  explain this idea:  what is the "outer-circle," the "second circle," and the "inner circle?"

In his discussion of anti-Jewish hatreds in the ancient world, what is the point that Lindemann is making about the basis of such hatred among the Egyptians?  What does he see as the relationship between Greek-Roman and early Christian attitudes towards Jews?

How does Lindemann explain the anti-Jewish aspects of early Christian thought?  What role does he say Jewish hostility towards Christianity played in this, and how was early Christian hostility towards Jews similar to that in Egypt?

What is Lindemann's interpretation of the teachings of John Chrysostom regarding Jews, and how does Lindemann's argument differ from "standard" interpretations?

What is Lindemann's point in his discussion of charges that Jews killed (and continue to kill) Christ, and how such charges shaped anti-Jewish rhetorics and hatreds?

Does Lindemann think that the early Christian church was unbendingly hostile towards Jews?  Explain.

Does Lindemann think that the Church's view of Jews changed in the late Middle Ages?  What is his main point about Martin Luther?

On p. 39, Lindemann sums up his argument in this chapter--what main point is he making?


Chapter 2, pages 40-44

What is Lindemann's thesis regarding anti-Jewish elements of Enlightenment thought?  How does he "prove" this argument?  Explain, and give examples.

How does Lindemann explain the relationship between the Enlightenment and the Haskala?

Does Lindemann see a trend towards greater persecution of Jews in the early and mid 1700s (the decades before the French Revolution)?  Explain.


Jews of Europe Syllabus