Essays In Modern Jewish History

Prior to 1985, historians discussing the period between 1500 and 1800 viewed it as an extension of the Middle Ages or as a precursor or adumbration of the modern era. Baron 1928 was the first to see this era as more than simply one of decline, stagnation, and ghettoization. Katz 1993 clearly focuses on the period as a kind of extension of medieval society and fails to contextualize it against the background of European history. Meyer 1975, an important historiographical discussion of the notion of modernity among recent historians, ignores the early modern period altogether. Israel 1998 is the first work to offer a serious comprehensive portrait of the entire period, arguing that early modern Jewish history needs to be understood as a distinct era. As both an extension and revision of the author’s pioneering study, Ruderman 2010 is a recently published new interpretation of a transregional early modern Jewish culture. His students and colleagues (Cohen et al. 2014) have recently published in his honor a broad selection of essays on Jewish culture in Early Modern Europe.

  • Baron, Salo W. “Ghetto and Emancipation: Shall We Revise the Traditional View?” Menorah Journal 14.6 (1928): 515–526.

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    A seminal essay first questioning the conventional view that the period between the 16th and 18th centuries was a “dark age” and should be seen in stark contrast to the “bright” modern age that followed.

  • Cohen, Richard, Dohrmann, Natalie, Reiner, Elhanan, and Shear, Adam, eds. Jewish Culture in Early Modern Europe: Essays in Honor of David B. Ruderman. Pittsburgh, 2014: Hebrew Union College Press/University of Pittsburgh Press.

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    A comprehensive portrait of various aspects of Early Modern Jewish Culture and Society prepared by thirty-one active scholars in the field.

  • Israel, Jonathan I. European Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism 1550–1750. 3d ed. London: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 1998.

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    The first important book to treat the early modern period in Jewish history as a distinct era, ably describing its economic and political foundations while characterizing Jewish social and cultural history as primarily reflective and derivative of general trends located in non-Jewish society. Originally published in 1985.

  • Katz, Jacob. Tradition and Crisis: Jewish Society at the End of the Middle Ages. Translated by Bernard Cooperman. New York: New York University Press, 1993.

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    An important sociological reconstruction of Jewish traditional society primarily in eastern Europe and its disintegration in a period Katz called the “end of the middle ages.” Originally published in 1961.

  • Meyer, Michael. “Where Does Modern Jewish History Begin?” Judaism 23 (1975): 329–338.

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    A classic essay presenting the principal interpretations of the beginnings of modernity by the leading Jewish historians and the author’s solution to see modernity as a gradual process rather than as a specific date.

  • Ruderman, David B. Early Modern Jewry: A New Cultural History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010.

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    A recent interpretation of Jewish cultural history in the early modern period emphasizing cultural exchange and interconnections among diverse subcommunities.




  • April 2014
    408pp
    ISBN 9780822944331
    Cloth $50.00

    Richard I. Cohen, Natalie B. Dohrmann, Adam Shear, and Elchanan Reiner, eds.

    David B. Ruderman’s groundbreaking studies of Jewish intellectuals as they engaged with Renaissance humanism, the Scientific Revolution, and the Enlightenment have set the agenda for a distinctive historiographical approach to Jewish culture in early modern Europe, from 1500 to 1800. From his initial studies of Italy to his later work on eighteenth-century English, German, and Polish Jews, Ruderman has emphasized the individual as a representative or exemplary figure through whose life and career the problems of a period and cultural context are revealed.

    Thirty-one leading scholars celebrate Ruderman’s stellar career in essays that bring new insight into Jewish culture as it is intertwined in Jewish, European, Ottoman, and American history. The volume presents probing historical snapshots that advance, refine, and challenge how we understand the early modern period and spark further inquiry. Key elements explored include those inspired by Ruderman’s own work: the role of print, the significance of networks and mobility among Jewish intellectuals, the value of extraordinary individuals who absorbed and translated so-called external traditions into a Jewish idiom, and the interaction between cultures through texts and personal encounters of Jewish and Christian intellectuals. While these elements can be found in earlier periods of Jewish history, Ruderman and his colleagues point to an intensification of mobility, the dissemination of knowledge, and the blurring of boundaries in the early modern period. These studies present a rich and nuanced portrait of a Jewish culture that is both a contributing member and a product of early modern Europe and the Ottoman Empire.

    As director of the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Ruderman has fostered a community of scholars from Europe, North America, and Israel who work in the widest range of areas that touch on Jewish culture. He has worked to make Jewish studies an essential element of mainstream humanities. The essays in this volume are a testament to the haven he has fostered for scholars, which has and continues to generate important works of scholarship across the entire spectrum of Jewish history.


    Through his remarkable publications and celebrated seminars, David Ruderman has brought us a new understanding of the cultural and social history of the Jews and, indeed, of Europe in general in early modern times. These essays, each one a jewel, carry his powerful vision into many lands and multiple tongues. We meet fascinating people and books, but are also shaken up in our ideas about identity, networks, conversion, and modernity itself. An absorbing book of enduring importance. – Natalie Zemon Davis, University of Toronto

    Anyone interested in learning where the scholarship of the early modern period in Jewish history has ventured and where it is headed, can do no better than to peruse this collection of essays. It is a magnificent tribute to a scholar David Ruderman, and a monumental contribution to scholarship. – Elisheva Carlebach, Salo Wittmeyer Baron Professor of Jewish History, Culture, and Society, Columbia University

    Open any essay in this book and you will be dazzled by the scholarship and depth of thought in each one of them. Nothing less would be a fitting tribute to David Ruderman, who has revitalized and reshaped our understanding of early modern Jewish and European culture through his own research and writing, and intellectual generosity of spirit. – Lynn Hunt, UCLA

    Jewish Culture in Early Modern Europe is a fitting homage to David Ruderman. This thoroughly-engaging volume will surely be a sought-after book that will stand alongside his own Early Modern Jewry. – David N. Myers, UCLA


    Richard I. Cohen is Paulette and Claude Kelman Chair in French Jewry Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Natalie B. Dohrmann is associate director of the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies and is an adjunct professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Adam Shear is associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. Elchanan Reiner is associate professor in the Department of Jewish History at Tel Aviv University.


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