At the beginning of the 19th century, the winds of Western European Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) began to blow eastward. When it arrived in Galicia, which until that point – and even afterwards – had prided itself on its rich Torah culture both in study and literary output, the Haskalah took on a unique form of its own. The pioneer Maskilim (purveyors of the Haskalah) in Galicia were frequently Torah scholars of outstanding stature, who viewed the Enlightenment as complementary to their Torah endeavours – perhaps even having an enhancing effect on them. This approach led to a blurring of the boundaries between "Torah wisdom" and “wisdom” from other sources.
Characteristic of the Galician Haskalah is the figure of the “Rav-Maskil”, a formidable Talmud scholar influenced by the contemporary Haskalah. Such individuals sought to fuse into their personalities and their fields of endeavour both the rich treasury of Bet Midrash culture and the achievements of modern science and philosophy. The most prominent of these “Rav-Maskil” figures was Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Chajes (1805-1855), rabbi of Zhovkva in Galicia and author of multiple books.
This research project will attempt to outline the Torah-guided form taken by the Haskalah in Galicia, and detail its acceptance of new Haskalah concepts and their integration into traditional Torah study.
Through analysis of the writings of participants in a fascinating controversy which broke out in Galicia towards the end of the fourth decade of the 19th century, this research will try to describe the archetypes of Galician Torah scholars and Maskilim.
In 1838, an article critical of Maimonides' theological approach and written by the Jewish-Italian Maskil Samuel David Luzzato was printed in Kerem Hemed, a journal published in Prague but primarily distributed in Galicia. Following its publication, there began to appear a significant number of books, pamphlets and articles which discussed Maimonidean doctrine and its place within modern Jewish thought. We will analyse the different responses and investigate the sources used by the various authors. Juxtaposing these texts will shed light on the similarities and differences between them and present a comprehensive characterisation of the intellectual environment in Galicia of that period.