The encounter of Jews with the Enlightenment has so far been considered almost entirely from a masculine perspective. In shifting the focus to a group of educated Jewish women in Berlin, this engaging study makes an important contribution to German Jewish history as well as to gender studies. Natalie Naimark-Goldberg's study of these women's letters, literary activities, and social life reveals them as cultivated members of the European public. Their correspondence allowed them not only to demonstrate their intellectual talents but also to widen their horizons and acquire knowledge - a key concern of women seeking empowerment. Her descriptions of their involvement in the public sphere, a key feature of Enlightenment culture, offer important new insights: social gatherings in their homes served the purpose of intellectual advancement, while the newly fashionable spas gave them the opportunity to expand their contacts with men as well as with other women, and with non-Jews as well as Jews, right across Europe. As avid readers and critical writers, these women reflected the secular world-view that was then beginning to spread among Jews.
Imbued with enlightened ideas and values and a new feminine awareness, they began to seek independence and freedom, to the extent of challenging the institution of marriage and traditional family frameworks. A final chapter discusses the relationship of the women to Judaism and to religion in general, including their attitude to conversion to Christianity - the route that so many ultimately took.
Natalie Naimark-Goldberg is Braun Chair for the History of the Jews in Prussia Research Fellow at Bar-Ilan University. She is the co-editor, with Shmuel Feiner, of Cultural Revolution in Berlin: Jews in the Age of Enlightenment (2011). Her fields of research include the history of Jewish women in the modern period, modern German Jewish history, and the history of the Jewish Enlightenment in Germany.
List of Illustrations Note on the Translation of Sources and the Use of Names Note on Transliteration Introduction 1 Private Letters: An Alternative Sphere for Cultural Discourse 2 Jewish Women and the Reading Public 3 Going Public: Jewish Women in the Field of Literature and Publishing 4 Sociability and Acculturation in German Spas 5 Social Gatherings in Private Homes 6 Female Emancipation 7 Between Acculturation and Conversion 8 Conclusion Bibliography Index