The Jewish Contribution to Civilization

Reassessing an Idea

Edited by: Jeremy Cohen, Richard I. Cohen

The biblical idea of a distinct 'Jewish contribution to civilization' continues to engage Jews and non-Jews alike. This book seeks neither to document nor to discredit the notion, but rather to investigate the idea itself as it has been understood from the 17th century to the present. Now available in paperback, it explores the role that the concept has played in Jewish self-definition; how it has influenced the political, social, and cultural history of the Jews and of others; and whether discussion of the notion still has relevance in the world today. The spectrum of opinions range from tempered advocacy to reasoned disavowal. Part I addresses the idea itself and considers its ramifications. Richard I. Cohen focuses on the nexus between notions of 'Jewish contribution' and those of 'Jewish superiority;' David N. Myers shifts the focus from 'contribution' to 'civilization,' arguing that the latter term often served the interests of Jewish intellectuals far better; and Moshe Rosman shows how the current emphasis on multiculturalism has given the idea of a 'Jewish contribution' new life. Part II turns to the relationship between Judaism and other monotheistic cultures. An essay on the Sabbath by Elliott Horowitz serves as an instructive test-case for the dynamic and complexity of the 'contribution' debate and a pointer to more theoretical issues. David Berger expands on these in his account of how discussion of Christianity's Jewish legacy developed in the late 19th and 20th centuries, Susannah Heschel shows how the Jewish-Christian encounter has influenced the study of other non-Western 'others,' and Daniel Schroeter raises revealing questions about the Eurocentric character of the 'contribution' discourse and its influence on perceptions of Jews and Judaism in the world of Islam. Part III introduces us to various applications and consequences of the debate. Yaacov Shavit probes the delicate balance forged by 19th-century German Jewish intellectuals in defining their identity, and Mark Gelber moves the focus to the post-war renewal of German Jewish culture and the birth of German-Jewish studies in the context of the 'contribution' discourse. Bringing the volume to its conclusion, David Biale compares three overviews of Jewish culture and civilization published in America in the 20th and 21st centuries.

256 pages

Publication Date: 7/25/2012
Format: Paper
ISBN: 9781906764432