The Biases of Heinrich Graetz
In a previous post we mentioned the biases of the great historian Heinrich Graetz. I wanted to quote from two important historians who illustrate one of the most important aspects of critical scholarship, the constant need to reevaluate previous scholarship and to always try and refine research and methodology. I am bringing these selections less to criticize Graetz than to show that critical scholarship is a continuous enterprise of rethinking former beliefs and theories. The first is from Alexander Marx, one of the most important scholars of Jewish history and bibliography from the early 20th century.
“The author has his pronounced prejudices to which he gives unrestricted vent. He has e.g., no sympathy with and no understanding for mysticism, and the mere fact that any writer is mystically inclined is in his eyes a sufficient warrant for condemning him. He equally dislikes Polish Judaism, and Polish Jews, as a rule, find no favor in his eyes, whatever be their merits.”
Some decades after Marx, Salo Baron had the following to say,
“[Graetz] also paid relatively little attention to large areas of Jewish history, including the history of the Jews in Poland, Russia and Turkey. In general he interpreted the history of the Jews in the Diaspora almost exclusively in terms of ‘history of sufferings and scholars’ and hence paid little attention to economic and social history…With extreme subjectivism, he indulged in sharp condemnations of movements within and outside Judaism which he disliked, such as later Christianity, German nationalist trends, Kabbalah, Hasidism, and the Reform movement…
…At first Graetz’s History enjoyed little recognition. His old friend Samson Raphael Hirsch published in Jeschurun (1855-56) a series of sharp attacks on the fourth volume [i.e. from the German edition, MM], which he described as ‘a piece of fantasy derived from superficial combinatory mannerisms.’ Less surprisingly, Abraham Geiger assailed the work as containing ‘stories but no history.’ Moritz Steinschneider, too, criticized it sharply and even accused Graetz of constant plagiarism. Graetz replied in various periodicals, as well as in later volumes of his History, adding many critical asides on his predecessors, Isaac Markus Jost and Leopold Zunz.”
Graetz was undoubtedly one of the most important historians of the Jewish people in the modern era, yet no scholar is beyond reproach and immune from legitimate criticism.
Alexander Marx, “Aims and Tasks of Jewish Historiography”, in Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, no. 26, 1918.
Salo Baron, History and Jewish Historians, 1964.