Educating the "Man," the "Jew" and the "Citizen"

Transformations in Social Norms and Values in Nineteenth-Century Jewish Educational Media 

Kerstin von der Krone

(part of the German-Israeli Research Project "Innovation through Tradition? Approaching cultural transformation through educational media“)

Title page from Salomon Plessner's "Dat Mosheh ve-Yehudit oder Jüdisch-Mosaischer Religionsunterricht für die israelitische Jugend. Ein für den öffentlichen, auch Privat- und Selbstunterricht sich eignendes Lehrbuch der Hauptreligionswahrheiten und Lehren des Judenthums" (Berlin: Fernbach 1838).

This project investigates the ways in which changes in social norms and values were reflected in and promoted through Jewish educational media in the nineteenth century. Social norms and values are part of the rules that organize social interaction and define a society and social groups; as such they are essential to the normative orders in place in a society. In accordance with the far-reaching transformation of almost all aspects of Jewish life which had been in progress from the end of the eighteenth century onward, Jewish education underwent fundamental changes in this period, affecting its organizational structures, methods and content. In line with the overarching aims of the broader research project in relation to the role of Jewish traditions and processes of cultural translation, this project intends to identify the layered traces of social norms and values and their realization in Jewish educational media and focuses in particular on religious education.

The project draws on an extensive corpus of sources from well over 100 nineteenth-century textbooks, including catechisms, and other educational media in this field, such as prayer books, devotional works, readers, and anthologies. The project will analyze a representative sample of these sources, focusing on three objectives of Jewish education. The first of these objectives is that of educating Jewish children as ‘men’ (Menschen) in line with principles based on contemporary debates on around education and humanity. The second is that of educating Jewish children as ‘Jews’ by imparting knowledge on Judaism and the Jewish religion, an aim inseparably linked with the debates of the time on religious reform and contemporary efforts to define a modern Judaism, which led to competing approaches and the fragmentation of German Jewry. The third, finally, is that of educating Jewish children as future ‘citizens’, an objective which recognizes the significance of education in the emancipation process as a key aspect of state policy, but also as a field of Jewish agency with the aim of achieving equal rights. These three objectives, each of which refer to a distinct dimension of norms and values, yet which are interconnected in nature, will provide us with an analytical framework for engaging with a highly diverse corpus of sources.