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Enlightenment and Jewish Emancipation
Thu 23 March 2017, 19:00 – 20:00 GMT
Lecture by Jonathan Israel preceded by refreshments in the Gavin de Beer room, Anatomy Building, 6.30pm
The bumpy beginning of the modern age for the Jewish people came with crucial changes in the late eighteenth century. Prior to that Jews everywhere were a segregated, cordoned off, outcast people subject to a wide range of disabilities and restrictions. Although many writers of the Enlightenment era had objections to discriminating against religious and ethnic minorities in this way, it was only with the appearance in Germany of the pamphlet 'On the Civil Improvement of the Jews' (1781) written by Christian Wilhelm von Dohm and published with encouragement from the Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn that the ghetto age began to crumble. However, the proposed emancipation of the Jews from inferior status immediately proved divisive and controversial. The idea was vehemently attacked in all European countries not just by a large number of theologians and critics claiming to be motivated by religious concerns but also by moderate enlighteners who considered this a step too far, and by numerous worried rabbis and Jewish community leaders. This lecture examines the question of why Jewish emancipation by the Enlightenment proved so immensely unsettling and divisive.
Jonathan Israel has written extensively on Jewish history as well as the Dutch Golden Age and the Enlightenment. He taught history at University College London and had close contacts with the Hebrew and Jewish Studies department from 1974 until 2000. Since 2001 until 2016 he was professor of Modern History at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. His book Democratic Enlightenment. Philosophy, revolution and Human Rights, 1750-1790 was published in 2011. Refreshments 6.30pm, Gavin de Beer room, Anatomy Building Lecture 7pm Darwin Lecture Theatre, Darwin BuildingUCL, Gower Street WC1E 6BT