In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Haskalah

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Galicia, Poland, and Eastern Europe
  • Research Anthologies
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Ideological Struggles
  • Other Perspectives

Jewish Studies Haskalah
Yahil Zaban
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0095


Haskalah, or the Jewish Enlightenment movement, is the name for a relatively small group of Jewish intellectuals in central and eastern Europe from the last decades of the 18th century until the end of the 19th century. The Haskalah movement sought to rejuvenate the Jewish way of life by synthesizing it with secular knowledge and reshaping it according to Enlightenment values. By appealing for a reform in Jewish education and for the acquisition of scientific and philosophical knowledge—the word Haskalah means knowledge and wisdom—the Maskilim (the Haskalah advocates) had broadened the horizons of Jewish thought and redefined Jewishness in modern terms. The Maskilim, although many of them were conservative and some served as rabbis, were well known for criticizing the rabbinical authorities and the Hasidic movement; for their critique of the socioeconomic structure of Jewish communities; and for their fervent advocacy for the inclusion of Enlightenment ideas of liberty, tolerance, and rationalism in Jewish culture. Due to the vehement orthodox reaction to the suggested reforms, the Haskalah was shaped in light of a constant conflict with religious thinking, oscillating between militant reaction to tradition and moderate attempts at reconciliation. The Haskalah movement, looking for the spiritual and cultural renewal of Jewish society, paved the way for a new approach to Hebrew and the Hebrew Scriptures. Modern Jewish literature, history, and nationalism all originated in the intellectual sphere of the Jewish Enlightenment. In the last third of the 19th century, in light of the rise of anti-Semitism and the 1881 pogroms in the Russian Empire, the Haskalah ideas of integration and tolerance seemed irrelevant and naïve, and the national movement took its place as the representative of modern Jewry.

General Overviews

There are not too many books that focus on the history of the Jewish Enlightenment. For many years, Bernfeld 1897 was the only work that attempted a chronological account of the Haskalah. Klausner 1949–1953, a monumental project, although written in Hebrew, gives a well-documented and detailed description of the Haskalah zeitgeist along with a historical evaluation of the period. The most valuable contribution to the Haskalah research is Feiner 2004, which provides a thorough account of the early years of the Haskalah movement. The recent study Feiner 2010, picking up where The Jewish Enlightenment ended, describes the dissemination of Jewish Enlightenment and the cultural wars that ensued from it.

  • Bernfeld, Simon. Dor Ta’hapukhot. Warsaw: Tushiyah, 1897.

    A monographic research that gives a comprehensive account of the Haskalah period, while denouncing its effects and outcomes.

  • Feiner, Shmuel. The Jewish Enlightenment. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.9783/9780812200942

    The most comprehensive and in-depth reconstruction of the intellectual and cultural revolution of the Haskalah movement in the 18th century. Feiner provides a unique view on the emerging republic of letters and the cultural struggle it ignited, with acute attention to the methodological and historical reevaluation of European Enlightenment research.

  • Feiner, Shmuel. Milhemet Tarbut: Tenu’at ha-Haskalah ha-Yehudit ba-Me’ah ha-19. Jerusalem: Karmel, 2010.

    An intriguing and inclusive study of the growing conflict between the Jewish orthodox community and the Maskilim in the 19th century, and of the way different encounters molded Jewish identity and secular rhetoric for years to come.

  • Klausner, Joseph. Hisṭoryah Shel ha-Sifrut ha-Ivrit ha-Hadashah. 6 vols. Jerusalem: Aḥiʼasaf, 1949–1953.

    A set of monographs of Jewish writers, describing their contribution to Hebrew literature and to the revival of the nationalistic movement.

  • Raisin, Jacob S. The Haskalah Movement in Russia. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1913.

    A well-detailed overview on the Haskalah movement in the Russian Empire, including important chapters on its precursors and its aftermath. Provides a unique historical and social context.

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