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Assimilation

A social and cultural movement that developed in the nineteenth century among supporters of the Haskalah in Germany. Assimilation posited that the Jews should become fully emancipated, Jewish culture should open itself to outside influences, that Jews should participate in European social and cultural life, and that Judaism should be reformed. It encouraged the study of the Bible, as well as of ancient Israel and modern theological Judaism. Translations and scholarly editions brought the many centuries of Jewish achievements closer to European culture.

In Poland, assimilation began to gain support during the first half of the nineteenth century. In the Russian partition, a group of young assimilationists appeared on the political scene in 1858, protesting against offensive descriptions of them in a theater review by A. Lesznowski that was published in Gazeta Warszawska (Warsaw Gazette) in 1858. This dispute brought political repercussions, as the tsarist authorities tried to use the situation to their advantage. Advocates of assimilation prepared a modern curriculum for Jewish children, and organized an elementary school in Warsaw (1817), as well as a Rabbis' School. They were very active in agitating for equal rights for Jews, and published a Polish-language journal titled Jutrzenka (The Morning Star) (1861-1863), which even appeared during the January Uprising.

The assimilation movement had several currents. Moderate assimilationists perpetuated the Haskalah tradition, emphasizing integration, openness to modern European cultural trends, and the reform of traditional Jewish institutions (self-government, education and customs). It opposed religious reform, but proposed that some aspects of religiosity be reassessed. It promoted the use of the Hebrew language, treating it as a tool for the advancement of the movement's ideas. Its supporters gathered around the weekly Ha-Tsfira (The Refiner) (which became a daily in 1886), published by C. Z. Slonimski.
Polish Jews, the largest group of assimilationists in the Kingdom of Poland, advocated acculturization and ethnic assimilation through a gradual abandonment of the Yiddish language and Jewish customs and adoption of the Polish language and culture. They proposed a gradual laicization and Polonization of the Jewish educational system, and strove to reform the traditional method of self-government. They succeeded in doing this in Warsaw, where they assumed key positions on synagogue boards in 1841. This group condemned the rejection of Judaism, and instead attempted to develop a program for religious reform, adopting the ideas contained in German reformed Judaism; they supported the idea of sermons in the Polish language. The also developed a new model of religiosity. With the principle "a Jew at home, and a person out on the street", they condemned all manner of religious ostentation and pietism that were especially present in Chasidism. This group was associated with the Polish-language weekly Izraelita (Israelite) (1866-1915), published by S. C. Peltyn.

Polish Jews, in cooperation with the positivists, helped the cause of liberalism and also played a significant political role as representatives of the Jewish community to Polish government and society. In the Austrian partition, Agudas Achim society, "Przymierze Braci" ("Covenant of the Brothers"), founded by W. Feldman, who edited the weekly Ojczyzna (Fatherland) (1881-92) in Lwow. Despite competition from the Germanizing groups, in the late nineteenth century, circles of Polonized Jewish intelligentsia formed in the larger cities of Galicia, such as Krakow, Lwow, and Rzeszow. Radical assimilation, sometimes called "amalgamation", proposed the complete rejection of Jewish culture and customs, opting instead for immersion into the majority culture, even to the extent of changing one's religion. Its proponents were opposed to all reforms of Jewish institutions, in the belief it would delay assimilation unnecessarily, whose aim was to make use of Polish cultural institutions and bring about the disappearance of Jewish culture. Advocates of this approach were often atheists who formed a circle of free-thinking members of the intelligentsia. They believed this choice to be a private matter, and thus did not form any particular group or have their own publication.

on the internet

Text from Alina Cala, Hanna Wegrzynek and Gabriela Zalewska:
"Historia i kultura Zydow polskich. Slownik",
edited byWSiP
In the Polish lands, Jews were influenced by three cultures: Polish, German and Russian. The process of Germanization was dominant in Wielkopolska and in Silesia, and was accompanied by Germanizing pressures in the administration and a decline in the Jewish population as the result of migration to larger Prussian cities. In Galicia, Germanization was rivaled by a strong pressure to Polonize, which began to prevail in the twentieth century. In the Kingdom of Poland, despite the pressures of Russification, the pro-Polish option was the most attractive to the assimilationists. Russification succeeded in areas that were annexed to the Russian Empire, though there, too, Polonized groups of Jews were active in Wilno and Grodno. The ideological capital for pro-Russian assimilationists was Odessa, but the anti-Jewish policies of the tsarist government hampered their success. In the twentieth century, there were isolated cased of Jews undergoing "Ruthenization", i.e., assimilating to Ukrainian (Ruthenian) culture, though no ideology was associated with this. Assimilation and the formation of the intelligentsia took place simultaneously. Many assimilated Jews bolstered the intelligentsia's ranks, making a significant contribution to the world of Polish learning and culture.

All the most important Jewish political, cultural and national movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had their origins within the intelligentsia. The assimilationists' ideas were not very influential outside the larger cities and towns. Up until the Second World War, rural areas remained under the influence of Orthodox Judaism and the traditional Jewish way of life, which was opposed only later by national and leftist political groups. During the interwar period, there were two liberal assimilationist political parties: the Asymilatorzy (Assimilators), headed by S. Dickstein, and the Neo-Asymilatorzy (Neo-Assimilators), led by L. Berenson and founded in 1915. The Zjednoczenie Polakow Wyznania Mojzeszowego Wszystkich Ziem Polskich (Union of Jewish Poles from All the Polish Lands) was founded in 1919. Although the acculturization of Jews began to take place on a mass scale, the ideology of assimilation lost in its confrontation with Jewish national groups. A new phenomenon arose--Jewish national culture, which took shape using the Polish language. Linguistically assimilated Jews often tended towards Zionism or the Polish or Jewish Left.
(A.C./CM)

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