Jewish assimilation
Jewish assimilation refers to the cultural assimilation
Cultural assimilation
Cultural assimilation is a socio-political response to demographic multi-ethnicity that supports or promotes the assimilation of ethnic minorities into the dominant culture. The term assimilation is often used with regard to immigrants and various ethnic groups who have settled in a new land. New...

 and social integration
Social integration
Social integration, in sociology and other social sciences, is the movement of minority groups such as ethnic minorities, refugees and underprivileged sections of a society into the mainstream of societies...

 of Jews
The Jews , also known as the Jewish people, are a nation and ethnoreligious group originating in the Israelites or Hebrews of the Ancient Near East. The Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation...

 in their surrounding culture. Assimilation became legally possible in Europe during the Age of Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...



Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 forbids the worship of other gods. In addition to maintaining their monotheistic religion, Jews faced the challenge of having no Jewish homeland since their expulsion from the Land of Israel
Land of Israel
The Land of Israel is the Biblical name for the territory roughly corresponding to the area encompassed by the Southern Levant, also known as Canaan and Palestine, Promised Land and Holy Land. The belief that the area is a God-given homeland of the Jewish people is based on the narrative of the...

, and struggling to preserve their language and customs as a tiny minority in a predominantly Christian or Muslim world.


The Jewish festival of Hanukkah
Hanukkah , also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE...

 stems from the Maccabees' revolt against the Seleucid Empire
Seleucid Empire
The Seleucid Empire was a Greek-Macedonian state that was created out of the eastern conquests of Alexander the Great. At the height of its power, it included central Anatolia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, Persia, today's Turkmenistan, Pamir and parts of Pakistan.The Seleucid Empire was a major centre...

. Many Jews of the era had adopted the Hellenistic language and culture of that empire, which the Maccabee group considered an abomination. Jewish Hellenism is an early example of what is now called Jewish assimilation.

Jewish assimilation began anew among Ashkenazi Jews
Ashkenazi Jews
Ashkenazi Jews, also known as Ashkenazic Jews or Ashkenazim , are the Jews descended from the medieval Jewish communities along the Rhine in Germany from Alsace in the south to the Rhineland in the north. Ashkenaz is the medieval Hebrew name for this region and thus for Germany...

 on an extensive scale towards the end of the 18th century in Western Europe, especially Germany, as the Haskalah
Haskalah , the Jewish Enlightenment, was a movement among European Jews in the 18th–19th centuries that advocated adopting enlightenment values, pressing for better integration into European society, and increasing education in secular studies, Hebrew language, and Jewish history...

 emerged as a culture. Reasons cited for its initial success included hope for better opportunities accompanying assimilation into the non-Jewish European communities, especially among the upper class
Upper class
In social science, the "upper class" is the group of people at the top of a social hierarchy. Members of an upper class may have great power over the allocation of resources and governmental policy in their area.- Historical meaning :...


Although some laws were changed and had allowed assimilation to flourish, the history of European antisemitism, which often had resulted from church and state actions, was not as easily forgotten. Both the Christian and Jewish communities were divided concerning answers to what was known as "the Jewish question
Jewish Question
The Jewish question encompasses the issues and resolutions surrounding the historically unequal civil, legal and national statuses between minority Ashkenazi Jews and non-Jews, particularly in Europe. The first issues discussed and debated by societies, politicians and writers in western and...

.” The question, coming during the rise of nationalism
Nationalism is a political ideology that involves a strong identification of a group of individuals with a political entity defined in national terms, i.e. a nation. In the 'modernist' image of the nation, it is nationalism that creates national identity. There are various definitions for what...

 in Europe, included the extent to which each nation could integrate its Jewish citizens, and if not integrated, how should they be treated and the question solved.

As an alternative to a more liberal practice of Judaism, assimilation also took the form of conversion to Christianity. None of the descendants of Moses Mendelssohn retained their Jewish religion. However, anti-Semites often imagined even converts from the Jewish religion and their descendants to still possess inherited Jewish traits that the anti-Semites considered "undesirable," and inferior to "native" citizens. Assimilated Jews often did not achieve the acceptance that they were hoping assimilation would provide.

This antisemitism led Jews to philosophical questions of Jewish identity
Jewish identity
Jewish identity is the objective or subjective state of perceiving oneself as a Jew and as relating to being Jewish. Under the broader definition, the Jewish identity does not depend on whether or not a person is regarded as a Jew by others, or by an external set of religious, or legal, or...

 and Who is a Jew?
Who is a Jew?
"Who is a Jew?" is a basic question about Jewish identity and considerations of Jewish self-identification. The question is based in ideas about Jewish personhood which themselves have cultural, religious, genealogical, and personal dimensions...

. The propriety of assimilation, and various paths toward it were among the earliest internal debates of the emancipation era, including whether and to what extent Jews should relinquish their right to uniqueness in return for civic equality
Social equality
Social equality is a social state of affairs in which all people within a specific society or isolated group have the same status in a certain respect. At the very least, social equality includes equal rights under the law, such as security, voting rights, freedom of speech and assembly, and the...

. These debates initially took place within the diaspora
Jewish diaspora
The Jewish diaspora is the English term used to describe the Galut גלות , or 'exile', of the Jews from the region of the Kingdom of Judah and Roman Iudaea and later emigration from wider Eretz Israel....

, a population with a revered historical Biblical homeland, but without a state of their own for nearly two thousand years.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, conditions in eastern Europe (particularly Russia and Poland) convinced many Jews to emigrate to the United States. (In Germany, where Jewish assimilation got its start, Jewish integration into the Army and other occupations was successful. It was not until the rise of fascism that German Jewish assimilation failed horribly.) In America traditional disabilities
Disabilities (Jewish)
Disabilities were legal restrictions and limitations placed on Jews in the Middle Ages. They included provisions requiring Jews to wear specific and identifying clothing such as the Jewish hat and the yellow badge, restricting Jews to certain cities and towns or in certain parts of towns , and...

  were generally absent but they faced many different challenges of acculturation. In the early 20th century there was social discrimination against Jews in certain quarters., with many universities and professions barred to them or with a quota limit.

After the Holocaust, which demonstrated the failure of the European assimilation model, the state of Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

 was established.


The issue of Jewish assimilation has agitated Jewish polemicists and intrigued Jewish historians for a considerable time. Since some Jews first abandoned the traditional Jewish community to embrace modern secular culture, other Jews have chastised them for deserting the Jewish people. “Religious Jews regarded those who assimilated with horror, and Zionists campaigned against assimilation as an act of treason.” As a result, the term assimilation, once used proudly by those who sought integration into European society, became a term of contempt, a symbol of subservience to gentile culture, a sign of rejection of all links to the common history and destiny of the Jewish people, and a betrayal of their ancestors who suffered pogroms and torture to keep Judaism alive. Such Jews consider assimilation a loss of Jewish
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 identity of an individual either by marriage to a spouse who is not Jewish, or by abandonment
Apostasy , 'a defection or revolt', from ἀπό, apo, 'away, apart', στάσις, stasis, 'stand, 'standing') is the formal disaffiliation from or abandonment or renunciation of a religion by a person. One who commits apostasy is known as an apostate. These terms have a pejorative implication in everyday...

 of the Jewish religion to adopt another religion. In reality, the act of the assimilation comprises a number of elements and stages.

In Assimilation in American Life, Milton Gordon
Milton Gordon (sociologist)
Milton Gordon is an American sociologist. He is most noted for having devised a theory on the Seven Stages of Assimilation. # Acculturation: newcomers adopt language, dress, and daily customs of the host society ....

 defined assimilation as a continuum, with the first stage acculturation, that is, the adoption of such outward cultural forms of the larger society as language, dress, recreational tastes, and political views. Total assimilation is only possible if the host society is receptive and extensive intermarriage takes place. Most European and American Jews acculturated, but they rarely lost their sense of Jewish identity. They most often abstained from what Gordon called "structural assimilation," the creation of friendships and other contacts primarily with members of the host society.

From an international conference on Jewish assimilation held at Haifa University in May 1976, Bela Vago
Béla Vágó
Béla Vágó was a Hungarian communist politician, who served as de facto Interior Minister with Jenő Landler during the Hungarian Soviet Republic. After the fall of the communist regime, he emigrated to the Soviet Union.-References:*...

 edited a collection of papers entitled Jewish Assimilation in Modern Times. Most of these papers accept the Zionist equation of assimilation with Jewish group disappearance. They generally agreed that anti-Semitism was the explanation for continued Jewish identity. Persecution despite attempted integration forced assimilationists to realise that the host cultures were un-prepared to allow them to assimilate totally.

Christian-Jewish relations

The question of Jewish assimilation is a topic of concern for both Jewish and Christian religious leaders. A number of Progressive Christian
Progressive Christianity
Progressive Christianity is the name given to a movement within contemporary Christianity characterized by willingness to question tradition, acceptance of human diversity with a strong emphasis on social justice or care for the poor and the oppressed and environmental stewardship of the Earth...

 denominations have publicly declared that they will no longer proselytize
Religious conversion
Religious conversion is the adoption of a new religion that differs from the convert's previous religion. Changing from one denomination to another within the same religion is usually described as reaffiliation rather than conversion.People convert to a different religion for various reasons,...

 Jews. They have made use of dual-covenant theology
Dual-covenant theology
Dual-covenant theology is a Liberal Christian view that holds that Jews may simply keep the Law of Moses, because of the "everlasting covenant" between Abraham and God expressed in the Hebrew Bible, whereas Gentiles must convert to Christianity or alternatively accept the Seven Laws of Noah...


The Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 has attracted some Jews, such as Gustav Mahler
Gustav Mahler
Gustav Mahler was a late-Romantic Austrian composer and one of the leading conductors of his generation. He was born in the village of Kalischt, Bohemia, in what was then Austria-Hungary, now Kaliště in the Czech Republic...

, Ludwig Wittgenstein
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein was an Austrian philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. He was professor in philosophy at the University of Cambridge from 1939 until 1947...

, Marcel Proust
Marcel Proust
Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust was a French novelist, critic, and essayist best known for his monumental À la recherche du temps perdu...

, Edith Stein
Edith Stein
Saint Teresia Benedicta of the Cross, sometimes also known as Saint Edith Stein , was a German Roman Catholic philosopher and nun, regarded as a martyr and saint of the Roman Catholic Church...

, Israel Zolli
Israel Zolli
Israel Zolli was from 1939 to 1945 Chief Rabbi of Rome. After the war, he converted to Roman Catholicism, taking the name Eugenio in honor of Pope Pius XII.-Early years/rabbinate:...

, Erich von Stroheim
Erich von Stroheim
Erich von Stroheim was an Austrian-born film star of the silent era, subsequently noted as an auteur for his directorial work.-Background:...

, and Jean-Marie Lustiger. In Spain, after the 15th century, there was controversy over the sincerity of Spanish Judeo-Catholics who converted under pain of being expelled from Spain.

See also

  • Hellenistic Judaism
    Hellenistic Judaism
    Hellenistic Judaism was a movement which existed in the Jewish diaspora that sought to establish a Hebraic-Jewish religious tradition within the culture and language of Hellenism...

  • Historical Jewish population comparisons
    Historical Jewish population comparisons
    Jewish population centers have shifted tremendously over time, due to the constant streams of Jewish refugees created by expulsions, persecution, and officially sanctioned killing of Jews in various places at various times...

  • Bundism
    Bundism is a Jewish socialist and secular movement, which originates from the General Jewish Labour Bund founded in the Russian empire in 1897. Bundism was an important component of the social democratic movement in the Russian empire until it was violently suppressed by the Communist party after...

  • Yevsektsiya
    Yevsektsiya , , the abbreviation of the phrase "Еврейская секция" was the Jewish section of the Soviet Communist party. Yevsektsiya was established to popularize Marxism and encourage loyalty to the Soviet regime among Russian Jews. The founding conference of Yevsektsiya took place on October 20,...

External links

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