In pursuance of my end, I have paid particular attention to the causes that retarded or accelerated Russo-Jewish cultural advance. As these causes originate in the social, economic, and political status of the Russian Jew, I frequently portray political events as well as the state of knowledge, belief, art, and morals of the periods under consideration. For this reason also I have marked the boundaries of the Haskalah epochs in correspondence to the dates of the reigns of the several czars, though the correspondence is not always exact.
Essays have been published, on some of the topics treated in these pages, by writers in different languages: in Russian, by Bramson, Klausner, and Morgulis; in Hebrew, by Izgur, Katz, and Klausner; in German, by Maimon, Lilienthal, Wengeroff, and Weissberg; in English, by Lilienthal and Wiener; and in French, by Slouschz. The subject as a whole, however, has not been treated. Should this work stimulate further research, I shall feel amply rewarded. Without prejudice and without partiality, by an honest presentation of facts drawn from what I regard as reliable sources, I have tried to unfold the story of the struggle of five millions of human beings for right living and rational thinking, in the hope of throwing light on the ideals and aspirations and the real character of the largely prejudged and misunderstood Russian Jew.
In conclusion, I wish to express my gratitude and indebtedness to those who encouraged me to proceed with my work after some specimens of it had been published in several Jewish periodicals, especially to Doctor Solomon Schechter, Rabbi Max Heller, and Mr. A.S. Freidus, for their courtesy and assistance while the work was being written.
Jacob S. Raisin.
E. Las Vegas, N. Mex.,
Thanksgiving Day, 1909.
THE PRE-HASKALAH PERIOD
“There is but one key to the present,” says Max Mueller, “and that is the past.” To understand fully the growth and historical development of a people’s mind, one must be familiar with the conditions that have shaped its present form. It would seem necessary, therefore, to introduce a description of the Haskalah movement with a rapid survey of the history of the Russo-Polish Jews from the time of their emergence from obscurity up to the middle of the seventeenth century.
Among those who laid the foundations for the study of this almost unexplored department of Jewish history, the settlement of Jews in Russia and their vicissitudes during the dark ages, the most prominent are perhaps Isaac Baer Levinsohn, Abraham Harkavy, and Simon Dubnow. There is much to be said of each of these as writers, scholars, and men. Here they concern us as Russo-Jewish historians. What Linnaeus, Agassiz, and Cuvier did in the field of natural philosophy, they accomplished in their chosen province of Jewish history. Levinsohn