E-Lectures Glossary

Wissenschaft des Judentums

Wissenschaft des Judentums (The scientific investigation of Judaism) refers to a movement of the 19th century Europe that sought critical investigation of Jewish literature and culture. At the time, the academic Christian world generally ignored Jewish tradition considering it unworthy of study. Jews from traditional backgrounds, who became familiar with scientific methods of research such as Leopold Zunz Abraham Gieger and Zechariah Frankel from Germany, Samuel David Lutzzatto form Italy, and Nahman Krohmal and Solomon Judah Rappaport from Galicia -- set out to correct this situation. They used scientific methods of investigation to restore original texts, trace the origin and development of Jewish traditions, placing it in a wider context of world culture. In this manner they tried to place Jewish culture on par with Western European culture and to restore a sense of Jewish pride.

While the movement worked to restore intellectual respectability to Jews, it was also a point of contention amongst the Jews themselves. The historical study of Judaism was not accepted equally by all, and the establishment of the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox denominations was closely linked to the different attitudes toward the scientific study of Judaism. The Wissenschaft des Judentums is considered the foundation for the academic study of Judaism to this day.   

This page is part of the glossary of the Goldstein-Goren International Center for Jewish Thought
        Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel