Yakov M. Rabkin

Judaic attitudes to university education

  • Abstract

Informations and abstract

Keywords: Jews and Universities (19th-20th cent.) – University education – Jewish Emancipation – Social integration – High education

Most research on Jews in science and higher education in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries focused on issues of access and discrimination. It dealt with Jews who were eager to enter the new world of modern learning in spite of official obstacles and societal rejection. This paper looks at another aspect of the entry of Jews into the academic world: Did religiously observant Jews face internal obstacles stemming from their Judaism? What kind of reservations did scholars and deciders of Judaic law express about Jews entering the world of science and scholarship? Did they privilege certain disciplines and were suspicious of others? Mass access of Jews to university education was part of the process of social integration, usually associated with Emancipation. This process was opposed by many in the ambient society, including those who would – proudly – call themselves antisemites from the 1880s onwards. At the same time, Emancipation also provoked internal opposition, i.e. resistance from within Jewish communities. Resistance to Emancipation involved opposition to higher education on the part of Jewish leaders fearful of contamination by alien ideas and modes of behaviour. The spectre of mass disaffection of Jews from traditional Judaic practice has been the main cause of mistrust of science in Haredi circles in the last two centuries. Defensive attitudes often lie at the root of religious objections to higher education and science. Other rabbis and influential scholars at the beginning of the nineteenth century accepted and even welcomed greater freedom and social acceptance, including the opportunity to study at the university and to advance the frontiers of knowledge. This chapter focuses on the internal Judaic debate about higher education and science as well as on ways of practical accommodation.

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