Jewish Emancipation and Enlightenment

In many nations,

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The plans put forward included far‑reaching changes in the economic occupations of the Jews, their way of life and their communal organization. In his book on the Civil Reforms of the Jews (1781),C. W. Dohm proposed that they be granted equal rights and complete freedom in choice of occupation, although, above all, they should be encouraged to engage in crafts. He also proposed freedom of worship and the opening of synagogues, the abolition of special Jewish quarters (ghettos), admittance into schools, and permission to engage in science and the arts. At the same time, he advocated the prohibition of commercial bookkeeping in Hebrew in order to increase mutual trust and prevent deception.

He also favoured supervision to ensure that Jewish schools should not be infiltrated, “by anti‑social attitudes towards those who think differently…(and that) some of the pure and holy truths of the religion and moral theory of rationalism (benurtured), in particular the respect of all citizens for the state and acknowledgement of their obligations towards it.” Dohm also warned that Jews should not be encouraged to train for state service and suggested that if a Jew were equal in qualifications to a Christian, the latter should be preferred. His point of departure was, naturally, the belief that Jews had a tendency to be dishonest and were afflicted with greed, and that their religious tradition was imbued with hatred of Christians and of the state. A new educational method was required, therefore, under efficient government supervision “to prepare the coming generations, at least, for a more moderate attitude toward those with different views.”

Dohm's book greatly influenced enlightened writers in other countries in their discussion of the Jewish question and their proposals for the reform of the Jews. These proposals differed in detail. The French cleric Abbe Henri Gregoire, who was awarded a prize by the Society of Sciences and Arts in Metz for his “Essay in the Physical, Moral, and Political Renaissance of the Jew” (1789), proposed the dissolution of Jewish communities and their transformation into private associations, occupied only with questions of religious worship and not with political or social matters. All Jewish gatherings would be chaired by a government representative and all deliberations would be conducted in the language of the country. Abbe Gregoire was the sworn enemy of all local dialects, but especially of the “German-Hebrew-Rabbinical jargon which the Jews of Germany employ and which only they understand, the main aim of which is to increase their ignorance or camouflage their lust.” In short, Gregoire wanted to restrict to the minimum all those factors differentiating Jews from their surroundings. In 1785 a Polish author had proposed that the Jews be forbidden to use their language in any document whatsoever, so that it would die out naturally. They should also be prohibited from wearing special clothing, from selling alcohol, and above all, in order to reform them completely, they should be conscripted for military service.

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Historian Shmuel Ettinger was the head of the Dinur Center for Research in Jewish History at Hebrew University until his death in 1998.