Historia de la Educación (Oct 2016)

Between Berlin (1810) and Frankfurt (1920): From the Humboldtian University to the Freie Jüdische Lehrhaus


Journal volume & issue
Vol. 34, no. 0
pp. 61 – 101


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This article reviews the role of Jewish tradition in the Central European (Mitteleuropa) culture of the 19th and early 20th centuries. After confirming the Hebraic contribution to western culture, it examines the significance of the University of Berlin (1810) with regard to the assimilation of the Jews, an ultimately flawed project that placed a great deal of importance on the role of the German language, which became a kind of lingua franca (a new koiné) to enable free circulation and social ascension in the Central European Empires (Second German Empire and Austro-Hungarian Empire). It is no coincidence that Wilhelm von Humboldt was a reputable philologist, hence the assimilation of the Jews involved, in addition to separation from the synagogue, mastery of the German language and familiarisation with an educational ideal (Bildung) derived from German neohumanism, the prime example of which was Berlin’s model of university for the fostering of the arts and sciences. However, the anti-Semitic mood that emerged in the late 19th century made it impossible to assimilate the Jews, who developed (with Hermann Cohen and Franz Rosenzweig at the forefront) not only a new manner of thinking (new, because it was a rift from German idealism), but also a new concept of higher education that, in accordance with Jewish principles, led to the inauguration, in Frankfurt in the autumn of 1920, of the Freie Jüdische Lehrhaus or Free Jewish House of Learning. Thus, a new pedagogic horizon emerged in higher education which, linked with elements of Judaism, emphasised the importance of the Hebrew language, Hebraic culture, the reading of texts (Torah, Talmud, Mystics) and their exegesis. Judaism thus created a new way of thinking and teaching, which led to a linguistic and hermeneutic turnaround that became evident in the years after the First World War (1914-1918), when an increasingly more severe crisis was faced by the Humboldtian model of education, based on the union between the gymnasium and the university, a pedagogical method that ultimately failed to satisfy the European Jews, who forged a pedagogic discourse (Religionspädagogik) that was associated with the Neo-Hebraic Renaissance. The topicality of the subject is supported, moreover, by the season of conferences that the Goethe Universität in Frankfurt organised in 2012 under the generic title of «Jüdisches Denken in Frankfurt: Das Freie Jüdische Lerhaus 1920-1938».