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Tradition and Crisis Reconsidered

Sun, December 16, 4:15 to 5:45pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Cityview 2 Ballroom

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


This session will endeavor to challenge the premise that traditional Jewish society was ruptured as a result of the crisis engendered by modernization. Instead, it proposes an alternative model of evolutionary development in which many traditional components persisted and continued to shape Jewish society, both during and after the period of crisis. The perception of modernization as a tsunami-like event which washed away all elements of traditional Jewish society has become almost axiomatic among many historians. We will present an alternative, more ambiguous and complex picture, based on new historical research and methodological evaluation. The binary model of "tradition and crisis”, leading to revolutionary change, may be useful to study certain aspects of modernization, but we suggest to consider it as only one of the components in the historian’s tool box.
Roni Weinstein will challenge the premise that traditional Jewish society shifted dramatically as a result of the crisis. Based on analysis of Joseph Karo’s biography and activity, he will offer an alternative thesis: the change was a longue durée process in which Jewish society responded to global changes taking place both in Europe and in the Ottoman Empire during the early modern period.
The historian Jacob Katz identified a shift towards stringent halakhic rulings which he perceived as resulting from the process of modernization and as characterizing Orthodox society. He thus classified Orthodox society as a modern phenomenon. Eliezer Sariel will present halakhic case studies which support an alternative model, based on a different methodological approach in the field of the history of halakhah.
Andrea Schatz will investigate the persistence of interpretive models in the historical library of eighteenth-century European Jews that focused on intertwined notions of transformation and restoration. In doing so, she proposes to re-examine the terms in which early modern Jews themselves preferred to capture ‘newness’ and to read them as productive resistance against Christian/secular progress narratives. Identifying the traces of the latter in the modern historiographical vocabulary of tradition and (revolutionary) change may further contribute to a critical evaluation of this approach and emerging alternatives.

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