für jüdische Geschichte und Kultur an der universität Leipzig

Riety van Luit

Doktorandin/Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel)

Forschungsaufenthalt: 5. bis 23. Dezember 2005


The Austrian System of Compulsory Education and the Activities of the Maskil Herz Homberg as a State-Official. The German-Jewish Schools in Galicia from 1786 until 1806.


Educational reform is the Alpha and Omega of Haskalah ideology and any Maskilic activity. It is the main tool for the envisioned renaissance of Judaism, the »productivization« of Jewish labour and a redefined position of Jews in society.


At the end of the eighteenth century, The Habsburg Monarchy was caught up in a process of modernization. Following the General School Order of 1774 that made mass-education a politicum, in 1785 the Habsburg Monarchy implemented the German Jewish Schools in the newly won entity Galicia, to coerce Galician Jewry to Germanisation, productivization and acculturation. With the introduction of the German-Jewish school system in Galicia, the Habsburg Monarchy took the lead in the history of enforced enlightenment of Eastern European Jewry. Although already during the nineties of the eighteenth century Joseph II's radicalism was repudiated, the Austrian State nevertheless consolidated her objectives concerning primary education, Germanisation and economic modernization. In this commitment, the Habsburg Monarchy found itself in a welcome convergence of interests with the maskilim, who in an apparent likeness with the State objectives fostered their ideal of acculturation to German as an elite culture. The proverbial pattern of maskilic cooperation with the Absolutist State was set.

Compared with the broad attention for the nineteenth century Russian educational policy towards the Russian Jewish population, the research literature that deals with this earliest chapter in the history of enforced enlightenment and maskilic cooperation in Eastern Europe is scanty and outdated. The most outstanding contribution on the issue, Majer Ba?aban's study on Herz Homberg, dates from a century ago. What resonates first and foremost through his, valuable, data is his vision that the struggle of the German–Jewish schools against the traditional hadarim, essentially was a clash between the West and the East; the Haskalah and the »darkness of the Middle Ages,« embodied by mysticism and Hasidism. The bad example of Herz Homberg and his imported Bohemian teachers, so he contends, caused the regrettable set-back for the enlightenment of Galician Jewry.

This is but one example of the ideologically-based older research-literature, which regards the Haskalah as an external influence, exclusively ascribed to the Berlin circle of Mendelssohn. Accordingly, the struggle between, on the one hand, Herz Homberg and his teachers as “carriers of the Mendelssohnian Reform” and on the other hand, the traditional “obscure” Galician Jewish society ultimately is an almost exclusively inner-Jewish discourse. Bearing this, the state policy towards Galician Jewry is but a décor for the inner- Jewish struggle.

I follow another path in my research. I threat the implementation of the German Jewish schools in Galicia first of all within the framework of the current Habsburg policy. I believe that this will lead to a more correct view of the implementation of the schooling-system on Galician Jewry. Hence, I discuss the cameralist theories of Joseph von Sonnenfels and Justi, because these were directly reflected in moralistic school-books. Furthermore, I focus on the pedagogical theories of the period and the State choice for one, official, educational method, which also applied for the public Jewish schools and formed the pedagogical baggage with which the Supervisor Herz Homberg and his Bohemian Jewish teachers had to work. Furthermore, as regard the educational objectives of the utilitarian state, I deal with elements of Sozialdisziplinierung and the strict confinement to the existing social parameters as forwarded by the elementary educational system and  question if and in what respect the Jews might have had a greater chance for upward social mobility. As a counterpart of the State-enforced ways for socialization I examine the elements of Sozialdisziplinierung in the »Jewish catechisms« of Herz Homberg. Next to that I concentrate on the (new) role of the German Hochsprache in Austria and the ensuing official language policy, through the new educational system, towards the other languages in the Habsburg Monarchy and the German dialects, including Judeo-German. In this respect, I examine the relation between the eighteenth century emergence of linguistics as a science and the interest of German maskilim, and even early Galician maskilim, for High German.

As far as the said »inner-Jewish perspective« is concerned, I take a rather sobering approach. I disengage the development of the Galician German Jewish Schools from the Berlin Haskalah. It is true that the Berlin maskil Weisel hailed the educational policy of Joseph II toward the Jews, It is also true that Herz Homberg started his carrier as a member of the circle of Berlin maskilim. He certainly can be considered as a maskil and indeed as one of the first who could boast on an academic education. However, the average German Jewish teacher of a trivial village school and thus the majority of teachers can hardly be considered as a maskil in an intellectual sense. On the contrary, the official line of the Habsburg policy furthered that preferably the level of education of such schoolmasters would not go too far beyond the curriculum they taught. On the other hand, the findings of my research show that Galician Jewry cannot be regarded as monolith as far as tradition is concerned. In fact, already before the appointment of Herz Homberg as Supervisor of the German Jewish Schools in Galicia, eight German Jewish schools were established in that province, partly on the initiative of Galician maskilim. This strengthens the hypothesis in current trends of research on the Haskalah that points to the existence of various local centers of maskilim, simultaneous with that of the Haskalah in Berlin.

Last, but not least, I hope to give a broad survey of the German Jewish school system itself, the reception within Galician Jewish society and a re-evaluation of the notorious »bad guy,« the Chief Supervisor Herz Homberg. A preliminary conclusion is that he was an arrogant, but extremely capable man, who was appointed at the wrong place – to his chagrin and that of his colleagues and certainly that of Galician Jewry.