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Inventing New Beginnings: On the Idea of Renaissance in Modern Judaism

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Inventing New Beginnings

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Inventing New Beginnings
On the Idea of Renaissance in Modern Judaism

By Asher D. Biemann
Stanford Studies in Jewish History and Culture
Stanford University Press, Stanford: 2009
ISBN 10: 0-8047-6041-1
ISBN 13: 978-0-8047-6041-6

Reviewed by Boris Segel - April 6, 2009

Inventing New Beginnings: On the Idea of Renaissance in Modern Judaism is a detailed analysis of the Jewish Renaissance of 1890-1938. This insightful study was written by Asher D. Biemann, who is an Assistant Professor for Modern Jewish Thought and Intellectual History at the University of Virginia. Within the pages of this book, Biemann examines not only what the Jewish Renaissance was, but also what the term Renaissance actually meant, both in philosophical terms as well as in terms of Jewish ideology. He also examines how this Renaissance has impacted modern Jewish thought and identity.

The Jewish Renaissance from 1890-1938 was primarily a German-Jewish phenomenon that can be seen as a direct result of the Enlightenment in that the move toward assimilation, engendered by the Enlightenment, caused a backlash that led many Jews to return to Judaism or at least to the acceptance of Judaism as a cultural identity. It was this return that formed the basis of the Jewish Renaissance. Consequently, the bulk of this study focuses on the German-Jewish experience and German-Jewish historiography.

The study of Jewish intellectual history and philosophy can be an intimidating subject. However, in this regard, Biemann has crafted an eminently readable and engaging book that will fascinate those with an interest in this field. Within the course of this study, Biemann, examines the historical underpinnings of the Jewish Renaissance, its unique vocabulary and its meanings, the methodologies used to study such an esoteric subject, and the long-term impact that the Jewish Renaissance had on German Jewry, and modern Jewish philosophy as a whole.

Inventing New Beginnings: On the Idea of Renaissance in Modern Judaism is part of the Stanford Studies in Jewish History and Culture. Although this book is geared toward an academic audience, motivated general readers will also find this book worthwhile. As well, Biemann's extensive footnotes will aid anyone desirous of pursuing this subject in greater detail.

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