Beyond the eruv: is there a Jewish Urban Historiography?
Jews -- Historiography Jews -- Europe -- Identity Εβραίοι -- Ιστοριογραφία Εβραίοι -- Ευρώπη -- Ταυτότητα
The term „urban historiography“ encompasses the notion of Writing the City in its totality – from a (presumed) beginning to the present, and in all its aspects. Minorities, however, cannot meet this claim for totality. Given the transnational character of the Jewish minority, there is also no possibility to write the urban history of any city in a clearly defined national context, as other groups can do. However, the question if and how an urban historiography can help to shape a specific urban identity and legitimacy and mirror the mentality of a group, is most relevant for Jewish culture and history. Being excluded from legitimacy in Europe (until 1789 in France, 1871 in Prussia/Germany), Jews didn’t have access to the means needed to create a legal participation, nor did they have an integral power at their disposal.Could Jews write urban historiography? Early travel reports from the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, but also reconstructive descriptions of urban lifeworlds in Jewish historiography (Graetz, Dubnow) indeed concentrate on the aspects closely related to the minority itself. On the other hands, Jews had to be interested in and aware of everything that happened outside. In this dilemma, I suggest to take a closer look at a specific Jewish institution which might give us an insight into a specific understanding of spaces and places: the Sabbath „border“, eruv. The Talmud Tractate eruvim treats questions of blending (of objects, spaces, rituals). Jewish law allows for a practical solution of the commandment not to carry things on Sabbath: An artificial border can be erected – and thus a space can be created – inside of which the law is cancelled.Two different coordinate systems confront each other, defined by the general law on the one side, and by the minority’s „inner“ law, on the other side; but this confrontation takes place in the same space. Jewish urban historiography has been and is being written in this context, and has always asked about the interface of universal and specific images of cities. In which way do developments in the city influence the existence of its Jewish minority? How can the minority participate in this development? What kond of images are being created of the relationship between the top components?With the arrival of modernisation – an earlier event in European port cities (Bordeaux, Trieste, Livorno, Salonica, Odessa) and their Sephardi communities, a later event induced by the Haskala in Central and Eastern Europe – a process of integration begins. This process is brutally interupted in the 20th century, but it can be described as an urban phenonemon. In this context, the „specific urban fate“ – „städtisches Sonderschicksal“ – of the Jews finds its own historiography.
Paper presented at Seventh International Conference on Urban History: European City in Comparative Perspective, Panteion University, Athens - Piraeus, Greece, 27-30 October 2004, Session: Urban Historiography in Comparative Perspective