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Leopold Zunz: Creativity in Adversity

Center for Jewish History (map)
15 W. 16th St.
New York, NY 10011
In person

Ismar Schorsch, President Emeritus of the Leo Baeck Institute and Chancellor Emeritus of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), will speak about his newly published book Leopold Zunz: Creativity in Adversity.

In 1818, with a single essay of vast scope and stunning detail, Leopold Zunz launched the turn to history in modern Judaism. Despite unending setbacks, he persevered for more than five decades to produce a body of enduring scholarship that would inspire young Jews streaming into German universities and alter forever the understanding of Judaism. By the time of his death in 1886, his vision and labor had given rise to a historical discourse and intellectual movement that devolved into vibrant sub-fields as it expanded to other geographic centers of Jewish life.

Yet Zunz was a part-time scholar, at best, in search of employment that would leave him time to study. In addition to his pioneering scholarship, he was as deeply engaged in ending the political tutelage of German Christians as the civil disabilities of German Jews. And to his credit, these commitments did not come at the expense of his loyalty to the Jewish community, which he was ever ready to serve.

Zunz once quipped that “those who have read my books are far from knowing me.” To complement his books, Zunz left behind a treasure trove of notes, letters and papers, documents that the distinguished scholar of German Jewish culture, Ismar Schorsch, has zealously utilized to write this, the first full-fledged biography of a remarkable man.

Ismar Schorsch is the Herman Abramovitz Distinguished Service Professor of Jewish History. He is the author of, among other works, Jewish Reactions to German Anti-Semitism, 1870-1914; From Text to Context: The Turn to History in Modern Judaism; Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries; and the editor and translator of Heinrich Graetz: The Structure of Jewish History and Other Essays.

Rabbi David Ellenson will engage in conversation with Ismar Schorsch. Ellenson is Acting Director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies and Visiting Professor in the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University as well as Chancellor Emeritus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. A scholar of modern Jewish thought and history, Ellenson has written extensively on the origins and development of Orthodox Judaism in Germany during the 19th century, Orthodox legal writings on conversion in Israel, North America, and Europe during the modern era, the relationship between religion and state in Israel, the history of modern Jewish religious movements, and American Jewish life.