Francis Bacon’s belief that “knowledge is power” is one of the great epistemic mottos of all time. In early nineteenth-century Jewish Amsterdam, where civic emancipation had overturned the old corporate hierarchies, the rabbinic elite soon came to experience its merciless truth. In the newly established Kingdom of the Netherlands (1814), both their position and their expertise were pushed to the margins. To make things worse, the centralized organization of the newly constituted Israelite Denomination left no room for German-style Reform–Orthodox dualism. As a result, innovation and consolidation all took shape within a single, outwardly stable, yet inwardly polarized community, in which conservative rabbis and progressive lay executives vied for initiative and control. This perpetual state of discord posed high demands on a rabbi’s personal skills. It was no longer enough to be a competent teacher and judge; in order to survive, the rabbi had to become a kind of statesman. But what in his rabbinic experience would provide him with the wherewithal to become a politician?
In 1878 Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (1800–1882), probably the most famous nineteenth-century German-Jewish painter, created a work entitled The Heder, or Jewish Elementary School, which re-imagined his first school in Hanau near Frankfurt am Main in the early 1800s.
The Fall 2016 issue of the free access GHI Bulletin includes a thematic forum on the history of knowledge with the following three articles:
- “The History of Knowledge and the Expansion of the Historical Research Agenda” by Simone Lässig
- “Old and New Orders of Knowledge in Modern Jewish History” by Kerstin von der Krone
- “Data, Diplomacy, and Liberalism: August Ferdinand Lueder’s Critique of German Descriptive Statistics” by Anna Echterhölter
My year began with a session at the 131st Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association on “the dynamics of religious knowledge” in the modern era, a panel I organized with Simone Lässig. The three papers—presented by Anthony Steinhoff, Jana Tschurenev, and myself—approached developments in religious knowledge as manifestations of social and cultural change in the long nineteenth century. The studies explored a variety of religious groups in a broad array of historical configurations, from nineteenth-century Jewish religious education to the multireligious setting of Alsace Lorraine after 1870 and anticaste and feminist critiques of Hinduism in colonial India.