National Jewish Book Awards Finalist for the Barbara Dobkin Award for Women’s Studies, 2013.
The encounter of Jews with the Enlightenment has so far been considered almost entirely from a masculine perspective. In shifting the focus to a group of educated Jewish women in Berlin, this engaging study makes an important contribution to German Jewish history as well as to gender studies.
Natalie Naimark-Goldberg's study of these women's letters, literary activities, and social life reveals them as cultivated members of the European public. Their correspondence allowed them not only to demonstrate their intellectual talents but also to widen their horizons and acquire knowledge—a key concern of women seeking empowerment. Her descriptions of their involvement in the public sphere, a key feature of Enlightenment culture, offer important new insights: social gatherings in their homes served the purpose of intellectual advancement, while the newly fashionable spas gave them the opportunity to expand their contacts with men as well as with other women, and with non-Jews as well as Jews, right across Europe.
As avid readers and critical writers, these women reflected the secular world-view that was then beginning to spread among Jews. Imbued with enlightened ideas and values and a new feminine awareness, they began to seek independence and freedom, to the extent of challenging the institution of marriage and traditional family frameworks.
A final chapter discusses the relationship of the women to Judaism and to religion in general, including their attitude to conversion to Christianity—the route that so many ultimately took.
‘A major contribution to German
Jewish history and to gender studies . . . It becomes clear that . . . Jewish
women participated in the European Enlightenment as well, although usually in a
different and unique way . . . [Naimark-Goldberg] enhances our view of the
history of German Jewry and Jewish women, the processes of modernization and
secularization, and the cultural history of the Jews at the onset of modern
Shmuel Feiner, Bar Ilan University
‘This book is of great interest and significance.
Dr Naimark-Goldberg’s approach is part of a newer historiographical tradition
in the study of women and culture. Her book takes a new angle of research and
makes a significant contribution to understanding Jewish women’s history and
Jewish culture as a whole.’
Shulamit Magnus, Oberlin College
'Ably demonstrates that women played a significant role within the history of enlightenment thinking and activity within the Jewish community . . . The author argues that there is more to the history of the Jewish Enlightenment than the male-dominated Haskalah. Naimark-Goldberg posits that the female-centred Enlightenment of the end of the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century constituted another legitimate strand of the Jewish Enlightenment, despite its difference in focus.'
David Tesler, AJL Reviews
‘Fascinating, in-depth analysis . . . important, comprehensive, and engaging.’
Yemima Chovav, Nash
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