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New Perspectives on the Haskalah$
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Shmuel Feiner, David Sorkin, and Shmuel Feiner

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9781874774617

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: February 2021

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781874774617.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM LIVERPOOL SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.liverpool.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Liverpool University Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in LSO for personal use.date: 16 May 2022

Naphtali Herz Wessely and the Cultural Dislocations of an Eighteenth-Century Maskil

Naphtali Herz Wessely and the Cultural Dislocations of an Eighteenth-Century Maskil

Chapter:
(p.27) Two Naphtali Herz Wessely and the Cultural Dislocations of an Eighteenth-Century Maskil
Source:
New Perspectives on the Haskalah
Author(s):

Edward Breuer

Publisher:
Liverpool University Press
DOI:10.3828/liverpool/9781874774617.003.0003

This chapter focuses on Naphtali Herz Wessely, who was best known for his book Divrei shalom ve'emet (Words of Peace and Truth). Regarded as the formative text of the Haskalah, this book was a passionate response to Joseph II's Edict of Tolerance; in it, Wessely urged the Jews of the Habsburg Empire to enrol their children in state schools where they would follow a balanced curriculum, studying Jewish religious subjects as well as languages, science, and the humanities in an orderly fashion. The chapter then departs from the usual portrayal of Wessely and depicts him as alienated from both traditional and modernist Jews, as well as from the other maskilim, at least during the later years of his life. It describes Wessely's indecision and frustration, in particular his sense that no one properly understood his vision of cultural renewal, and it shows how Wessely's alienation was compounded by his anxiety about the growing dimensions of religious heresy and by his disaffection from traditional circles. The chapter also analyses Wessely's early writings, revealing that his major interests were twofold: the revival of biblical Hebrew as an essential tool for a more precise understanding of rabbinic literature, and an affirmation of the credibility of the Oral Torah that was being criticized by European scholars.

Keywords:   Naphtali Herz Wessely, Divrei shalom ve'emet, Haskalah, Habsburg empire, Jews, maskilim, religious heresy, biblical Hebrew, rabbinic literature, Oral Torah

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