Neue Synagoge, Oranienburger Straße, Berlin, 2009 (S J Kessler)

Jews in the City:

Rabbis, Synagogues, and Sermons in Nineteenth-Century Central Europe


My book project is a social history of Jewish religious experience in Central Europe during the middle decades of the nineteenth century. In response to enlightenment ideology, emancipation, and urbanization, from about 1830 to 1860 three major changes occurred in institutional Jewish religious life. These changes transformed the very essence of what the practice of Jewish religion meant between the pre-modern and modern periods. First, the role of the rabbi in the life of the Jewish community shifted fundamentally. In the pre-modern period, the rabbi was the main arbiter of both civil and ritual law for a mostly-autonomous Jewish community. By the end of the nineteenth century, state-run (non-Jewish) bureaucracies adjudicated almost all civil actions and disputes among Jews, with the rabbi increasingly associated only with ceremonial religious laws, chiefly concerning lifecycle events (circumcisions, weddings, funerals, etc.) and holidays. Second, because of demographic shifts brought about by emancipation and economic conditions, the monumental urban synagogue became the dominant space for the expression of normative Jewish religious activity and expression in European cities. These buildings were increasingly understood as replacements for the historical Jerusalem Temple, taking on its triple function as communal, political, and religious space. Third, the sermon became an integral part of Jewish religious practice and rabbinical responsibility, one that introduced a new form of public Jewish theology focused on individual belief and history (the constituent components of “religion” as it came to be defined in modern Europe). The sermon became a vessel for the public teaching of core Jewish tenets to the entire community (especially including women) at a time when private piety and familial transmission of tradition were on the wane.


Table of Contents


Chapter One: Jewish Central Europe Circa 1815

 Part One: Personalities and Geographies

       Chapter Two: Adolf Jellinek (1821-1893) in Leipzig and Vienna

       Chapter Three: Michael Sachs (1808-1864) in Berlin

       Chapter Four: Isaac Bernays (1792-1849) in Hamburg

       Chapter Five: Gedaliah Tiktin (1810-1886) and Manuel Joël (1826-1890) in Breslau

Part Two: New Structures and Theologies

       Chapter Six: The Synagogue and the City: Urban Migration and the Centralization of Ritual Practice

       Chapter Seven: The Origins and Practices of Modern Jewish Preaching

       Chapter Eight: Politics and Polemics in the Nineteenth-Century Jewish Sermon

Conclusion: “A New Shoot from the House of David”: The Birth of a New Rabbinic Judaism