Simon Dubnow Institute
for Jewish History and Culture at Leipzig University

2nd Simon Dubnow Lecture

23 January 2002,

Old Exchange in Leipzig


Professor Schmuel Noah Eisenstadt (Jerusalem)


Jüdische Geschichte im universal-vergleichenden Zusammenhang (Jewish History in a Universal-Comparative Context)


In January 2002, speaking before a large audience in the Old Exchange in Leipzig,  the internationally renowned sociologist Shmuel Noah Eisenstadt gave the 2nd Simon Dubnow Lecture on »Jüdische Geschichte im universal-vergleichenden Zusammenhang« (Jewish History in a Universal-Comparative Context).

The lecture's point of departure was a critical analysis of Max Weber's studies on Jewish civilization. On the one hand, Weber studied Judaism as one of the great world religions. The German thinker Karl Jaspers later coined the concept »axial civilization« for those religions or civilizations that revolutionized the history of humankind. On the other, Weber described the Jewish experience of Exile after the destruction of the Second Temple as that of a »pariah people.« For Weber, a »pariah people« was one standing in effect  »outside« history. The English historian Arnold Toynbee pursued a similar approach when he described Jewish civilization as »fossilized.«

In his lecture, Eisenstadt looked critically at the thesis of fossilization. He supported his arguments with several striking examples to show that there was a powerful internal Jewish dynamism in the long Middle Ages, replete with numerous controversies and debates about the role of Halakhah. In Eisenstadt's view, the concept of a »fossilized« civilization has no basis in the light of more recent research findings.