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September 7: Heinrich Graetz’s History of the Jews

September 6, 2016
  • 220px-Heinrich_GraetzGerman historian and Biblical scholar Heinrich Graetz, whose eleven-volume History of the Jews, published between 1853 and 1876, is widely seen as the first narrative Jewish history written from a Jewish perspective and capturing the entire sweep of Jewish history, died at 73 on this date in 1891. Graetz, a product of traditional yeshivas during a time of great ideological ferment among German Jews, was a student of the renowned scholar Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (who later became a leading critic of Graetz’s history, citing many inaccuracies). Graetz became a professor of history and Bible at the Breslau Jewish Theological Seminary upon its opening in 1854 and remained there for the rest of his life. As a writer, “ranging across time and space from ancient Israel to 19th-century Germany, Graetz crafted his narratives in an impassioned prose style that competed for the attention of a burgeoning audience of European Jewish leisure readers with its vivid and assertive reconstruction of the past,” according to the Oxford Bibliographies. “. . . The great Jewish historians of the 20th century, in particular Simon Dubnow (b. 1860–d. 1941), Ben-Zion Dinur (b. 1884–d. 1973), and Salo Baron (b. 1895–d. 1989), wrote their histories as corrections of and responses to Graetz’s work.”

“[H]ow the family of a petty sheik became the nucleus of a people; how this people was humiliated to the condition of a horde; how this horde was trained to become a nation of God through the law of self-sanctification and self-control; and how these teachings became breathed into it as its soul.” --Heinrich Graetz