“What Is Permitted to Jupiter Is Not Permitted to an Ox”: Maskilim as a Class Phenomenon

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The Haskalah emerged in the eighteenth century under the auspices of modernized Jewish commercial elites. By the late 1860s, however, Russian maskilim started to adopt highly critical positions toward their former patrons, and some toward capitalist relationships in general. This article sheds light on a previously neglected factor in discussions on the economic position of maskilim. It points to the growing gulf between them and their purported commercial patrons, spurred by changing tsarist policy toward Jews. The decision by Alexander II’s administration to unofficially appoint moneyed elites to positions of Jewish leadership and grant them exceptional privileges left maskilim without moral and financial support in an increasingly hostile traditional society in the Pale. This led to the further polarization and alienation of maskilim in relation to both the Pale’s traditionalists (rabbinic and commercial elites trying to preserve the existing power structures and religious practices) and the Jewish nouveau riche in the imperial cities––and to the rise of a maskilic class identity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)158-188
Number of pages31
JournalJewish Social Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2022

Bibliographical note

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  • Haskalah
  • Jewish intelligentsia
  • class consciousness
  • economy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Religious studies


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