In Pursuit of Knowing

Nineteenth-Century Jewish Education and the Transformation of Jewish Knowledge

Kerstin von der Krone

“In Pursuit of Knowing” illuminates the relationship of Jewish education (Bildung and Erziehung), Jewish knowledge, and Jewish thought in German-speaking Europe during the nineteenth century. A Habilitation project at the Martin Buber Chair in Jewish Studies at the Goethe University Frankfurt, this study examines, first, the political and social contexts of Jewish education during the nineteenth century; second, responses to those contexts as conveyed in the textual (re)presentation of Jewish knowledge; and, third, the philosophical and theological implications of the adaptation of new knowledge orders. 

Jewish education was shaped by three factors in the nineteenth century: the Haskalah and its program of self-cultivation and self- improvement; the new curriculum and teaching methods introduced in connection with emancipation and increasing state supervision of Jewish schools; and changing conceptions of what Jewish children – boys and girls alike – needed to know and should learn. In light of this background, “In Pursuit of Knowing” asks which bodies of knowledge and practices of knowledge production continued to exist after the eighteenth century and how they were communicated and translated. The project focuses in particular on religious education in home and school, on new forms of religious instruction within the family and religious education in the classroom.

The project draws upon a broad body of source materials: congregational and governmental records; school reports; correspondence and autobiographies; press reports; and, above all, texts intended for use in Jewish religious instruction. It understands the media of Jewish religious education as a (re)presentation of Jewish knowledge, as an epistemic genre that rested as much on adaptation and reconstruction of trusted modes of Jewish knowledge and text production as on entirely new forms and formats of knowledge transmission. Those media include the many religious textbooks that were systematically analyzed in the DFG project “Innovation durch Tradition?” (Innovation though Tradition?) and the associated sub-project “Erziehung zum Menschen, Juden und Staatsbürger. Werte- und Normenwandel in jüdischen Bildungsmedien des 19. Jahrhunderts” (Educating the “Man,” the “Jew” and the “Citizen”: Transformations in Social Norms and Values in Nineteenth-Century Jewish Educational Media). “In Pursuit of Knowing” will examine this body of source materials in light of the socio-cultural, pedagogic, literary, and theological contexts in which they were produced and used.

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).