Read Emancipation: How Liberating Europe's Jews from the Ghetto Led to Revolution and Renaissance by Michael Goldfarb Online


For almost 500 years the Jews of Europe were kept apart, confined to ghettos or tiny villages in the countryside. Then, in one extraordinary moment in the French Revolution, the Jews of France were emancipated. Soon the ghetto gates were opened all over Europe. The era of Emancipation had begun. What happened next would change the course of history. Emancipation tells theFor almost 500 years the Jews of Europe were kept apart, confined to ghettos or tiny villages in the countryside. Then, in one extraordinary moment in the French Revolution, the Jews of France were emancipated. Soon the ghetto gates were opened all over Europe. The era of Emancipation had begun. What happened next would change the course of history. Emancipation tells the story of how this isolated minority emerged from the ghetto and against terrible odds very quickly established themselves as shapers of history, as writers, revolutionaries, social thinkers, and artists. Their struggle to create a place for themselves in Western European life led to revolutions and nothing less than a second renaissance in Western culture. The book spans the era from the French Revolution to the beginning of the twentieth century. The story is told through the lives of the people who lived through this momentous change. Some are well-known: Marx, Freud, Mahler, Proust, and Einstein; many more have been forgotten. Michael Goldfarb brings them all to life. This is an epic story, and Goldfarb tells it with the skill and eye for detail of a novelist. He brings the empathy and understanding that has marked his two decades as a reporter in public radio to making the characters come alive. It is a tale full of hope, struggle, triumph, and, waiting at the end, a great tragedy. This is a book that will have meaning for anyone interested in the struggle of immigrants and minorities to succeed. We live in a world where vast numbers are on the move, where religions and races are grinding against each other in new combinations; Emancipation is a book of history for our time....

Title : Emancipation: How Liberating Europe's Jews from the Ghetto Led to Revolution and Renaissance
Author :
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ISBN : 9781416547969
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 432 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Emancipation: How Liberating Europe's Jews from the Ghetto Led to Revolution and Renaissance Reviews

  • Jan Rice
    2019-04-08 19:11

    Several years ago at a book-festival presentation, Douglas A. Blackmon, the author of Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, asserted the outburst of creativity by African Americans after Civil Rights and the end of Jim Crow was unprecedented. The present book suggests otherwise: that impressive though that flowering was, Blackmon was overlooking another, earlier emancipation. At the start of the Enlightenment era you could count the number of Jews important to Western Civilization since the fall of the Jerusalem Temple on one hand, probably with a finger or two left over. Subsequently there has been the unceasing flow of creativity and recognition in multiple fields. I guess the general message is that the corking up and subsequent decanting of a social group's energies results in outpourings both beneficial and surprisingly complicated--hence the book's subtitle. From another angle the book is about politics: how Jews, as a people or defined group, got caught up in the struggle between the liberalizing and reactionary forces playing out in Europe from the seventeenth through early twentieth century. On one level, those political movers and shakers who backed emancipation and citizenship for Jews may have made personal decisions to be altruistic, while those who wanted to keep them in their ghettos may have been the mean old sons-of-bitches. But on another level, those who advocated civil rights for Jews had seized on them as a battering ram against the powers-that-be: the Church and the landed aristocracy, while those whose mantra was Jew-hatred--since political antisemitism wasn't invented until the 1870s--were those whose established or perceived interests set them against the rising liberalizing tide of encroaching modernity.The story begins with a nod to Spinoza, at the start of the Enlightenment, then turns to Germany, where, penniless and in rags, wunderkind-to-be Moses Mendelssohn, left his ghetto to follow his teacher from Dessau to Berlin, the capital of Prussia. On that journey he had to find a ghetto by each nightfall as he had no money for the Jew tax in a regular village plus could only eat kosher food. He had to avoid Christian travelers, lest he be told, "Jud mach Mores"--"Jew, show your manners," which meant stepping out of the way into the muddy or manure-covered street. And when in 1747 he was accepted into the strictly limited Berlin community of under 2000 Jews, the gatekeeper's logbook showed that six oxen, seven pigs, and one Jew had entered that day. He proceeded to master secular learning which first involved teaching himself German, then French, Latin, and Greek, and eventually became a leading light for freedom to a Jewish community aiming to break the bonds of the ghetto. But his children ended up converting--not what community leaders had hoped for--having reached a dead end for Jews in their society. The author takes up the French Revolution, and rather than focusing on the Terror, a la A Tale of Two Cities or The Scarlet Pimpernel, he examines the two-year National Assembly and some of the now little-known characters who carried the tide this way and that until finally, at nearly the last minute, citizenship for that tiny minority, the Jews of France, was slipped through--and for good measure, all Negroes as well would be free citizens upon entering France.Jews tend to have a different view of Napoleon than that from England or imperial Russia (think War and Peace). His agenda involved freeing the Jews; he went around breaking open the ghetto gates and, to the consternation of those inside as well as out, freeing them. (They had been accustomed to coming out during the day and being locked back in each night and on Christian holidays.) Then, with Napoleon's eventual defeat, the Jews were forced back into the ghettos; thus did the rising and ebbing tides of liberalization affect them. Although Germany was obsessed with its Jews, they constituted only about one percent of the population. While Napoleon still held sway, the first generation of Jews were raised and educated outside the ghettos there. They were a tiny minority of a tiny minority who, then, were being left high and dry as the Napoleonic influence receded. I touched on their struggles in my review of That Man Heine.The next generation included the revolutionaries: Marx, Moses Hess, Lassalle, and others. If you couldn't be accepted into society, then be a revolutionary. That was the later perception of Benjamin Disraeli, British PM, baptized Jew, and political conservative. He thought Jews were being lost to radicalization subsequent to their rejection by society.In the various German principalities, a Jew who converted as the price of being allowed to practice law or achieve a university appointment, etc., was still a Jew--a second class citizen. But in Paris a Jew from Germany could be a German, representing his country. I really hadn't thought of "German" as ethnic-based, although naturally I had in my head a "Germanic hordes" meme of barbarians circling the dying Roman empire. So, here I tried on thinking that way, not of an ad hoc identity group but an ethnic or racial type, since they thought of themselves that way--although another notion described, for example, in The Zookeeper's Wife, is that it was all about appearances and only skin-deep.When I wrote my earlier review I was thinking about what Goldfarb says about the Jews catching the wave as the tide of history ran their way. They had been removed from the land, forced to be mobile, forced to turn to trade. They had learned to deal with urban environments. They had been forced to deal with insecurity, set-backs and change.If those hard experiences had positioned Jews to advance, that was not so much the case for the German population as a whole. With the changes in traditional institutions, their children were not necessarily doing better than their fathers.Original thumbnail review, circa 2010When, during Enlightenment times, Jews began to be allowed out of the ghettos and into society, they were the prototypical outsiders. So as the Middle Ages ended, and everybody and his brother was dislocated and became like outsiders, Jews had a head start on making sense of what was happening. Hence they contributed to society in so many fields--writing, politics, philosophy, science, psychology, sociology, music. I think that is the author's main point. Adversity forced them to develop skills in these and other areas. Basically, with a modicum of safety and stability, they could transmute their struggle for civil rights, emancipation, and acceptance into knowledge, skills and abilities that would be useful for society in general. This is an eye-opening book, compelling, and very readable. ...And by the way will also show origins of the kind of name-calling we have in American politics these days--"Socialist," etc. The author's political picture of conservatives and liberals as they faced big societal changes in the 18th and 19th century in Europe is revealing.Addendum to original review: Another of the author's purposes is to take our knowledge back further. He says that for most of us, it goes back to Hitler and the Holocaust and stops there. He takes us back to the Enlightenment, beginning with Spinoza, to the French National Assembly that gave us the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and beyond.Continuation of 2016 reviewHere is another of Goldfarb's insights: in the middle of the nineteenth century, Jews were like immigrants in their own country. They had been behind ghetto walls; now with increasing freedom they could be mobile. They set up small businesses just as the ones did who came to America or other new world locales. That generation strove to educate the next generation so they could be professionals and be spared their parents' difficult labor. By 1830 there already was a joke that "Doctor" was a Jewish first name. Germany industrialized before it unified or liberalized. With Jews' increased economic opportunity, the rate of their conversion to Christianity declined. Those who did not rise on the economic tide are the ones who emigrated, mostly to the U.S..The German-speaking lands finally unified under Bismarck in 1869. Bismarck was a Junker (the Prussian aristocratic class and traditionally reactionary) but he was also a pragmatist. He partnered with the liberal party who backed him in his winning war effort against France in 1870 (the defeat that humiliated the French army and set up their proneness to the Dreyfus affair at the end of the century). In return for the liberals' support for the war, Bismarck backed German unification. He supported the development of legal and financial systems compatible with trade and industrialization. Germany got its golden age of economic expansion and development.Then came the crash of 1873 and, along with blaming Jews, the rise of political antisemitism. The Jews were blamed for the economic pain, the changes that had occurred, and for modernization and the spread of such ideas as liberty, equality, and fraternity.There is more--the Dreyfus affair, Herzl, Freud, Vienna(!), Mahler, Schoenberg, Kafka, etc., people whose families had experienced radical change and upward mobility between the first and second halves of the nineteenth century, but who still found themselves dealing with restrictions and seemingly ineradicable hate and prejudice.I like some of the big ideas Goldfarb floats. Another one is his idea about revolutions: that they shouldn't be judged on whether they fail, since they almost always fail, either failing to live up to and betraying their own ideals, or falling prey to the forces of reaction. I'm still thinking about that one.I'm digesting his point that the Left and Right each had an agenda that entailed focusing on the Jews, that is, not only the right wing (as per Ruth Wisse in Jews and Power).I like that he writes without a lot of melodrama, in a just-the-facts-ma'am style. The facts themselves are sufficiently dramatic.I was turned on to this book by a review, probably in the New York Times and proceeded to get excited about it, picking up remaindered issues of the hardback for friend and family back when I first read it. This time around I read it with a group, with monthly discussions over a period of four months. People find it readable and packed with information presented in a new light. It should be read more than it has been so far.That 2009 NYT review (first in the nonfiction category):

  • Barbara
    2019-04-20 18:17

    Excellent book. Michael Goldfarb records how most of the advances toward modern governments in Europe were often started with the discussion of whether or not to emancipate the Jews. Once released from the ghettos the brains and talent came out and produced stars in every field--Einstein, Freud, Mahler, etc. So much history in 367 pages yet It was thorough and so very readable. Interesting was that once made a citizen, a Jew in France was a Frenchman. In Germany even with rights amid citizenship, a Jew was never a German. I got a clearer understanding of why they didn't leave when Hitler took over. They remembered the many setbacks along the way and looked at the Nazis as another temporary setback.

  • Jane
    2019-04-12 11:31

    I really like this book! It reintroduced me to French history, then clearly expanded my awareness into Germany and beyond. I am very impressed with Goldfarb's ability to remain clear and not confuse the players, the political positions, the development of religious expressions, music & poetry, science, and journalism. Fascinating. It sounds a little overwhelming, but topic by topic, and using key individuals and historic events, I'm left with a much richer sense of what tolerance and acceptance means for the growth of societies and how easily it's eroded. Excellent writing.

  • Yashar
    2019-03-24 18:23

    A rich historical narrative that is highly recommended. Encompasses European history and story of European jews emancipation from late eighteenth century to early twentieth one.

  • Martine
    2019-03-27 19:23

    As a kid from te late 80s, I have no experience with antisemitism. Most of what I know is from WWII or American tv shows. This book shows me some of that history. It shows the restrictions and prejudices that existed, the fights that were fought and the beginning of their emancipation. I now understand far better how nazi Germany could have demonized the Jews, that they were the last in a long history of repression. It showed me a side of Europe and religious history that I hereto was only barely aware of. It was very informative and not that difficult to read. There are only two choices Goldfarb made that I might disagree with.The first is his focus on important men. The history of jewish emancipation is told almost exclusively through the histories of great men like Spinoza, Hess, Heine and Einstein, to name but a few. I enjoyed reading about these people and their lives, but I also would have liked to read more social history. To read more about the Jews in Europe as a people, their circumstances and the changes in their lives. Not just through a few exceptional individuals. That information is there in this book, for the most part, but it is a mere sidenote. When some bigshot goes to the getto and comes back a changed man, that's when we hear about conditions in the getto, otherwise we don't. I would have liked to see more. Also, this focus on individuals causes the book to loose some of its cohesion and structure.My second peevee is the period Goldfarb has chosen. I don't understand why he chose these points to begin and end his book. Why did he stop before WWII? Why didn't he give a broader overview of the situation at the beginning of his chosen period and some more backstory into how that situation had arisen?

  • Elliot Ratzman
    2019-04-06 11:21

    This is a readable history of European Jewish emancipation—both legally as citizens and culturally as writers, thinkers and doers. It draws on many of the right secondary sources and shapes what has always struck me as a confusing patchwork of national histories into a manageable narrative; I found myself learning something new in every chapter. Tracing Jewish life from its most restrictive to its flowering in the 20th century, Goldfarb uses major figures as markers for the big turns in history. He shows how debates over the Jews’ legal status were triggers for the liberalization of the European state. From the French Revolution on Jews and their (mis)fortunes appear, Zelig-like on the scene. The framing of a French Jewish military officer in the Dreyfus Affair threads through the last half of the book. There are welcomed portraits of the usual suspects—Mendelssohn, Marx, Freud—as well as neglected revolutionaries like Maimon, Hess and Borne, composer Mahler and the writer Schnitzler.

  • Anne Van
    2019-03-30 14:10

    Hard to believe.....but here's a 19th century European history book that's so riveting I couldn't put it down. Beautifully written by a journalist who summarizes and simplifies the historical context so that his theme...the amazing story of how Europe's Jews went from being locked out of society in ghettos (literally) to being the heart and soul of European intellectual history within a century. From the French Revolution to the rise of Hitler in 1933, the authors dovetails the stories of individual lives into a remarkable tapestry.

  • Ben Langleben
    2019-04-04 15:37

    Brings the key players and acts of this critical period in Jewish and European history to life. Each chapter focuses on a particular individual or group of characters, with key events in their lives described as might be found in a novel or perhaps a feature article. This was a most interesting and enlightening read, which makes me surprised that Goldfarb is not better known. For me there is no comparison between this and Schama's "the story of the the Jews" for example with which I am ingesting no learning of note and am struggling to complete.

  • Lauren Albert
    2019-04-20 19:10

    Anyone who reads popular history knows that there is sometimes a fine line between popular and superficial. In Emancipation, Goldfarb has produced an amazing example of the best kind of popular history. It is eminently readable, well-researched, and covers a lot of ground without ever seeming to be just skimming over the surface. As with other great history works, it inspires you to want to go into more depth and to seek out other works on the topic.

  • Dianne
    2019-04-02 12:37

    My first book to read entirely on a Kindle - many great history lessons here for me: a greater understanding of the Jewish escape from the ghettos, and bios for many fine and important German and French rabbis of the late 1700s and 1800s. Fascinating - and I'm wild about the Kindle; I had this book loaded within 7 min of hearing it reviewed on NPR.

  • Miste
    2019-03-24 14:19

    Boring. That about sums this one up for me. Textbooks are more interesting than this book. There was alot of early European history but it just wasn't that interesting.

  • Jessica
    2019-04-17 12:37

    A very interesting, and infrequently told, account of the liberation of Europe's Jews in the 18th and 19th centuries

  • David Curwin
    2019-04-12 17:38

    Fascinating book. So much of the period from the French Revolution to the Nazis that I did not know. Now I'm trying to figure out the theological significance of it all.

  • Cynthia Gelper
    2019-04-10 17:37

    Fascinating history of Western European Jewish life in the 18th and 19th centuries and how bound up their freedom was with politics and revolution. Who knew?

  • Iris Nagler
    2019-03-27 16:17

    Very good read. Informative and enlightening.

  • Andy Weiss
    2019-04-01 12:22

    An excellent read tying the threads of history together showing how we arrived where we are today. The echos continue in the middle east and in the Ukraine.