Jewish Studies: Between Diversity and Integrity
Abstract: While the scholarly interest in Judaic themes goes back to the Middle Ages, the field took a long time to become established as a full-fledged and institutionally recognized discipline. Before the 19th century, the interest in Jewish religion and culture was marred by theological bias, Christian Hebraism being rather an off-shoot of Christian apologetics, betraying polemical and missionary goals. In the 19th century, many European universities accepted Jewish students, but did not allow them to achieve university positions. The interest of non-Jewish scholars was still restricted to linguistic and theological issues and flourished as Old Testament Studies or, manifesting a feeling of cultural superiority, under the heading of the German “Orientalistik”. A number of brilliant Jewish scholars worked in the field that later became known as Jewish Studies. Although many of these scholars were well-connected in the academic community, none of them could flourish outside of the Jewish religious institutions of higher learning, mostly rabbinic seminaries. Not surprisingly, the study of Judaic themes was often self-contained and with little contextualization within the research of general cultural history. However, in the 1920s and 1930s important progress toward institutional recognition of Jewish Studies occurred with the establishment of the first chairs in the USA and with the creation of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. However important these steps may have been, on their own they could not solve the surviving problem of isolation, as the case of Harry Austryn Wolfson in particular shows only too tellingly. It was only after WWII and especially since the 1970s that the academic institutions throughout the Euro-American world started to recognize the importance of various “minority-focused” disciplines including Jewish Studies. Thus the true emergence of Jewish Studies occurred during the period when the iron curtain separated the Czech lands from the intellectual and academic trends of the time. Only since the 1990s has the free study of Judaic subjects been possible, so institutional development started with a considerable delay of half a century. Several Czech universities established new institutional platforms for the study of Jewish culture, e.g. the Kurt and Ursula Institute of Jewish Studies at the Palacký University in Olomouc and the Prague Centre for Jewish Studies at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University in Prague. The papers and documents published in the present volume are the work of the members of this institution and of other authors who have participated in its different activities. The volume manifests the interdisciplinary aspect of Jewish Studies, which is the direct outcome of the diversity of Jewish-related topics. Yet the Jewish aspect is the natural unifying focus of all contributions and of the discipline of Jewish Studies as well.
Key words: Jewish Studies; Christian Hebraism; University Institutions; Hebraistic; the Origine and development of Jewish Studies
PhDr. Pavel Sládek, PhD., působí jako odborný asistent na oboru hebraistika na Ústavu Blízkého východu a Afriky Filozofické fakulty Univerzity Karlovy v Praze. Věnuje se především myšlenkovým proudům judaismu, rabínské literatuře a kulturním dějinám Židů v raně moderní době ( email@example.com).