Creativity in AdversityUniversity of Pennsylvania Press Jewish Culture and Contexts
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.
"Schorsch deftly takes his readers on a journey through Zunz's scholarship, activism and apologia, but also shows how these endeavours complemented one another . . . [A] seminal biography that brings into sharper focus the complex life and career of Leopold Zunz."—European History Quarterly
"In this masterful biography, Ismar Schorsch brings to life arguably the greatest of the nineteenth-century pioneers of Jewish scholarship. The portrait of Zunz that emerges is of a deeply learned, courageous, and visionary scholar whose work remains the starting point for many areas of inquiry. We are indebted to Schorsch for this loving and critical appraisal of a true giant."—Jay M. Harris, Harvard University
"In this gripping and elegantly written book, Ismar Schorsch illuminates not only the contours of Leopold Zunz's remarkable life and scholarship but also what was politically and intellectually at stake in the academic study of Judaism in the nineteenth century. These are issues that endure beyond their original German context, and anyone interested in Jewish Studies, modern Judaism, or the challenges of modernity more generally will learn a tremendous amount from this thoughtful study."—Leora Batnitzky, Princeton University
"Using an abundance of archival sources absent from the existing literature, Ismar Schorsch presents not only a biography of the most important figure in the nineteenth-century development of the academic study of Judaism but also an unparalleled depiction of his historical context. The book expands our understanding of both Leopold Zunz and modern Jewish Studies."—Michael A. Meyer, Hebrew Union College