Haskala - Secular Enlightenment
19th century Jewry is centered in East Europe. People marry at age fourteen and have large families. The Jewish population explodes.
Due to industrialization and urbanization, the region experiences mass population shifts and concentrations. These forces serve to weaken identity, family ties, and Jewish communal structure. The Jewish population of Warsaw eventually swells to three-hundred-thousand. The Rabbinate is not able to provide central management for the population centers and their influence declines.
The anti-Semitic Czarist government seeks to unhinge the Jews and Judaism. He doesn't want anybody in his empire to be Jewish and feel comfortable about it. His secret goal is to exterminate one-third of his Jews, convert another third, and exile the rest.
The Czar establishes the Pale of Settlement, the only zone where Jews may live. A hundred-thousand Jews must move there and they become instant refugees. Many are forced out of the cities and economic opportunity.
The Czar establishes forced military conscription of children. Jewish communities must meet quotas. Eight year-olds are forcefully taken from their families. They will train until they are eighteen, when they begin service in the armed forces for the next twenty-five years of their life. Few survive as Jews, if at all.
There are instances when children of poor and defenseless families are snatched to make up the quota, warding off doom from children of the wealthy and powerful. Segments of Jewish leadership are exposed charges of injustice, including Rabbis. Some Rabbis leave their posts, some are driven out, some are silent, causing outrage and disrespect. Morale and faith in the establishment take a big hit.
The Russian government establishes a Bureau of Jewish Affairs. Schools and Rabbis must be accredited.
Jews are segmented into classes. The fifth class is the unemployed. Its members are slated for Siberian exile. Unemployment is high because of discrimination.
Many East European Jews are growing weary and desperate. They don't have the faith, knowledge, and courage of their ancestors. They crave acceptance from their neighbors. They come up with a notion that to survive and achieve economic viability, Judaism must be packaged as a culture instead of a religion.
Initially, this produces a new type of Jew, a person who practices Torah within the confines of his home, but looks and acts like a non-Jew outside the home. Eventually, Torah practice in the home is abandoned, also.
The new Jew moves into direct confrontation with the religious establishment. He crusades to free himself and his community from what he calls the shackles of tradition. He exaggerates and ridicules Jewish tradition. He preaches that Torah guidelines are contrary to the interests of the Jewish people.
This wave of behavior is called the Haskala, The Enlightenment.
The Haskala rides on the philosophical currents of the era, as 19th century Western civilization promotes ideas of personal freedom. People from many cultures are breaking away from the control of religion. There is room for new ideas, man is free to disagree.
Haskala Jews splinter into several groups which are fueled by diverse ideologies. Some form a culture group that is based upon a Jewish language. Some form a Hebrew Haskala; others form a Yiddish Haskala. Some make Russian culture and citizenship into an ideal. Others join the growing number of people who are against social and economic inequality. They join the struggle to obtain rights for the exploited labor class, which turns into Socialism. Others will become Secular Zionists.
The Czar exploits the break-offs. In their struggle against traditional Judaism, Haskala Jews are given some privileges and assistance, sometimes clandestinely. Some get influence in the Bureau of Jewish Affairs and interfere with religious matters. They establish a Jewish school system. They set up a rabbinic seminary. Within thirty years the seminary turns into a hotbed for conversion to another faith.
Like their brethren in the German Reform, they will come to see that abandonment of Jewish practice does not eliminate anti-semitism. The anti-semitism that is based upon religion will soon be replaced by one that is based upon race.
At times and in selected cities, the Russian government coordinates civil unrest against the Jewish population. The police simply announce that they are going off service and they will be back in a few days. These are called pogroms. No Jew is safe, even the Haskala Jews.
Haskala Jews see that non-Jewish behavior gives no protection. Many of their non-Jewish neighbors still hate them. They begin to become disillusioned with the movement. They feel isolated, as their antagonism has already earned them the enmity of their religious brethren.
A lot of Haskala Jews are ready to give up on Russia. Many channel their energy into creating a home land of their own.
Some Haskala Jews turn to political revolution. The Russian Revolution of the early 20th century will overthrow the Czarist government and it will be led by a disproportionate number of Jews. The Czar that used civil unrest against the Jews will be destroyed by it.
Some Haskala Jews simply give up and convert, forced from their despair and loneliness.
The Haskala injects ideas and values of Western Civilization and modernity into the masses of the Jewish people, for better and for worse. It divorces Jewish identity from Judaism. Their following become ignorant of their heritage, of the wisdom of the Torah and its strength. When the 'isms run out of steam, they will be left with nothing.
Their children will be discriminated against and even exterminated because they are Jewish, but they will not know what being Jewish means or signifies. Judaism provides a past and a future. Without a consistent link to this past and without a belief in this future, the descendants of Haskala Jews will not be fully happy with their lives in the present.
Emptiness and inconsistency will drive some to seek their heritage and they will come back to Torah practice.
Like many who become estranged from Jewish practice, one can not say that Haskala Jews abandoned their faith arbitrarily. Their choice was greatly affected by stress in their lives, social pressure, character flaws, and ignorance of their tradition. Such factors will affect the degree to which G-d will hold them responsible for their acts when He judges them.
The Prophets (Samuel 2 14:14) reference a management principle of G-d not allowing those who are lost due to circumstance to remain lost of their eternal destiny. This principle and its application are not well understood. It is significantly better for a person not to be salvaged by it, similar to a person who ignores every health rule in the book and winds up needing a heart transplant. The expenses, pain, recuperation, loss of employment, and life-expectancy are devastating. There are much better ways to have a healthy heart and this route is simply not worth it, even though it temporarily gives the person an easier lifestyle while he is abusing his health.
Some people are too far gone for heart transplants, also.
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