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The Making of Western Jewry, 1600 - 1819

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The Making of Western Jewry, 1600 - 1819

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The Making of Western Jewry, 1600 - 1819
By Lionel Kochan
Palgrave Macmillan: (2004)
ISBN: 0-333-62597-8

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - February 21, 2005

The kehillah was a communal organization that thrived and was an integral component of most Jewish communities from the time of the Babylonian exile. In his landmark survey, The Making of Western Jewry, 1600 - 1819 Lionel Kochan focus on the kehillah as it manifested itself in a variety of communities throughout western Europe between 1600-1819. He explores how the kehillot evolved over time in various communities, what their similarities and differences were, how effective they were as a communal governmental body and how the various kehillot interacted with the general population and governments.

Kochan, is a Senior Associate of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. This book is magnificent both in terms of the breadth of information covered and for Kochan's succinct and accessible narrative style of writing. The text is organized in a rough chronological order, with most chapters devoted to a specific geographical region rather than time-period. The Making of Western Jewry, 1600 - 1819 looks at Jewish communities in the Alsace, Amsterdam, Berlin, Bohemia, Bordeaux, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Italy, Livorno, London, Lorraine, Metz, Moravia, Paris, Prague, Prussia, Triest, Vienna, Worms, and many more.

Kochan takes a comprehensive look at each community, detailing how the kehillah was organized and controlled. He looks at the religious and social practices of each community, the political and economic situation of the community, and the various jobs that Jews were allowed to hold in each region. Kochan looks at each community's relations with the general population and ongoing religious scholarship, controversies, and movements such as the Haskalah (Enlightenment). He also looks at the role of women within each community, and how wider events, such as the Seven Years' War affected Jewish communities. Most importantly he examines the role played by both the rabbinate and the lay leaders in each area.

The Making of Western Jewry, 1600 - 1819 is a book that will fascinate anyone interested in Jewish history. The lives of Jews in Western Europe ran the gamut from enduring mass expulsions, riots, and living in ghettos to times of relative peace and prosperity. This book provides a telling account of these events, and helps to illustrate how these earlier times laid the foundation, in part, for the horrors that were to grow to fruition during the Holocaust. It is also ideal as a supplemental reading text for any course on European Jewish History and it can also serve as the foundation text for a general survey course on this pivotal and turbulent period in Jewish history. This text includes copious endnotes and an up-to-date, comprehensive bibliography.

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