Innovation through Tradition?

Jewish Educational Media and Cultural Transformation in the Face of Modernity Religion, Knowledge, and Education as Key Elements of Socio-Cultural Transformation

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Between the mid-eighteenth and the mid-nineteenth centuries, wide-ranging processes of transformation changed Western and central European societies in fundamental ways, with regard to both political-economic and socio-cultural structures. Religion and tradition, education and knowledge were central and mutually intertwined levels of this transformation, which had an especially strong impact in the case of the Jewish minority.

The German-Israeli research project "Innovation through Tradition? Jewish educational media and Cultural Transformation in the Face of Modernity", which is being funded for a total of five years by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft [German Research Foundation] strengthens the new GHI research focus on the history of knowledge as well as the Institute‘s international academic network.

The research project, which is co-directed by Simone Lässig (GHI Washington; until 2015: Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research, Braunschweig) and Zohar Shavit (Tel Aviv University), brings together an interdisciplinary team of scholars from the fields of history, cultural studies, Jewish studies, and music in order to investigate the transformation of Jewish daily life through the prism of its central spaces of teaching, learning and knowledge, ranging from the school via the religious community to the family. The corpus of sources that are being examined includes the relatively new medium of the school textbook as well as sermons, religious prayer books and songbooks as well as anthologies and letter writing manuals.

The project‘s research questions and sources call attention to the role of education, Bildung and religion as key arenas of action and negotiation in the transformation of Jewish life and society. The project's approach focuses on three important developments: first, the increasing interest of the state in education; second, the processes of individualization, differentiation, and pluralization that came into conflict with traditional Jewish life; and third, the -- at first glance contradictory -- invocation of religious traditions as well as the revitalization and reinvention of religiosity and religious practices. The project will analyze the ways in which different actors, often competing with one another, created and shaped new areas and systems of knowledge; and seek to determine to what extent the invocation of religiously legitimated worlds of experience and categories of thought strengthened the resilience of Jewish life in the transition to modernity.

Funding Agency

  • Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft - DFG (Second phase: 2016-2018) 


  • Simone Lässig
    "Resilience and Transformation: Religious Patterns of Social Knowledge and Cultural Practice in German-Jewish Sermons [1806 - ca. 1860]"
    (project lead, German Historical Institute, Washington DC)
  • Zohar Shavit
    "Cultural Translation: Jewish Networking within the European Enlightenment"
    (project lead, Tel Aviv University)
  • Kerstin von der Krone
    "Educating the ‘Man', the ‘Jew' and the ‘Citizen': Transformations in Social Norms and Values in Nineteenth-Century Jewish Educational Media, c. 1800-1870"
    (Affiliated Scholar, German Historical Institute, Washington DC)
  • Tal Kogman
    "Traditional and Modern Values in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Hebrew Language Textbooks for Children and Young People"
    (Postdoctoral Fellow, Tel Aviv University)
  • Janina Wurbs
    "The Eastern European Cheder and its Teaching Media: Religious Knowledge and Social Transformation in the Russian Empire, 1844-1917"
    (Doctoral Fellow, German Historical Institute, Washington DC, and PhD Candidate Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg)
  • Andreas L. Fuchs
    "Music as Representation of Reform: The role of singing in the Jewish Reform Movement of the Nineteenth Century"
    (PhD Candidate Georg August Universität Göttingen / Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research)
  • Dirk Sadowski
    "Production and Distribution of Jewish Educational Media and its Intercultural Readings in the Early Modern Period"
    (affiliated researcher, Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research)