Article - Jewish Contribution to World Culture part 1
Jewish Contribution to World Culture in the Modern Era (part 1)
Towards the end of the 19th Century, Jews began to undergo an emancipation that likened their legal status to that of all other citizens. This process, which began in post-Revolution France and in the United States, s spread to other West European countries and finally, together with the Russian Revolution reached Eastern Europe as well, gradually bringing down the material and spiritual ghetto walls that had separated them from the cultures of their respective surroundings. Traditional Jewish culture has always demonstrated a special respect and encouragement for education and learning and as a result, an ever-increasing number of Jews now began to play a significant role in the sciences, the arts and n social and political life. Jews were prominent not only in the theoretical sciences, philosophy, the social sciences, music and literature, but they also took up prominent positions in various arts that were not traditionally nurtured in the framework of Jewish culture, such as the theatre and the material arts. In social and political life, Jews began to fill prominent leadership positions in the liberal-democratic central, political parties, as well as in the socialist and communist left, parties that had raised the banner and had struggled – in a declarative manner at least – for equality and against discrimination. This series of figures certainly does not exhaust the issue. The selection was made with the intention of emphasizing the multifaceted nature of the Jewish contribution to general culture.
Leon Blum, Alsace, 1872 – Paris, 1950
Poet, writer and critic of literature and theatre who became a prominent leader of the French socialist party and headed two governments in France from 1936-1938. Blum was the driving spirit behind the establishment of “The Popular Front, into which all the left wing factions in France united to counter fascism. Blum’s terms as Prime Minister saw the implementation of numerous social reforms that provided a solid base for worker’s rights in the field of insurance, holiday leave and further training and the workweek was reduced, by law, to 40 hours. With the occupation of France, Blum was arrested by the Vichy Government and he spent the years of World War II in a German concentration camp. His return to France, following the liberation of the camp by the American forces, was celebrated by all those who opposed the Nazis and Blum gave expression to his Jewish identity by accepting Chaim Weizmann’s offer to serve as a member of the board of the Jewish Agency. Blum played a significant role in the establishment of the State of Israel, working to bring the remaining survivors to Israel.
Franz Kafka, Prague, 1883-1924
One of the most influential of the great writers of the 20th Century, Kafka wrote primarily in German, but he remained an almost anonymous writer until the late 1930’s and 1940’s. The reason for this anonymity was that h rarely published and his three long works, ‘America’, ‘The Trial’ and ‘The Castle’ like many of his short stories were published only after his death and contrary to his will, by his friend the writer Max Brod. His realistic, yet mysterious s stories have been the focus of infinite philosophical, theological, social and psychological interpretations, as well as the subjects of theatre and cinema adaptations and sources of inspiration for influences and imitations. All of Kafka’s works, together with a portion of his diary and his letters, have been translated into Hebrew.
George Gershwin, New York, 1898-1937
The first American composer who used Jazz as a respectable source of inspiration. His works won both the appreciation of professional music-lovers and the love of the general public, both in the United States and abroad. In his largest and longest work – the opera, “Porgy and Bess” – Gershwin used many musical adaptations of traditional songs of the black people in the southern United States; whereas, in some of his concert hall pieces, one can discern the influence of cantor-singing styles. His renowned works also include “Rhapsody in Blue” and “An American in Paris”.
Elizabeth Rachael (Rachel) Felix, Switzerland, 1821-Paris, 1858
Daughter of a Jewish peddler who emigrated from Switzerland to Paris, Felix was “adopted” by a signing teacher – a talent scout who heard her signing in the street with her sister – and she became France’s greatest actress of the 19th century. She was particularly renowned for her parts in the dramas of Racine and Corneille. Felix toured the world. Her lovers, including the poet Alfred De Misse, brought her fame; and without ever marrying, she raised two children, each one from different fathers. Following her untimely death from tuberculosis, the Chief Rabbi of Paris delivered her eulogy in Hebrew.
Prof. Menahem Brinker
Hebrew University, Jerusalem
Albert Einstein, Ulm, Germany 1879 – New Jersey 1955
Einstein was a physicist, philosopher, mathematician and one of the greatest scientists of all times. He is famous for the development of The Special and the General Theory of Relativity which revolutionized views accepted since the time of Newton, regarding laws of gravity and questions of space band time. In 1905, Einstein published a particular original series of articles. In one of these articles, he detailed a molecular explanation of the Brownian motion that served as the foundation for the theory of gases. In four consecutive articles he presented what later became his theory of relativity, which gained him his doctorate. In another article he explained the photoelectric effect, based on the assumption of the existence o9f tiny particles of light cold photons. His thinking shattered the exclusive theory of waves. That until then had been the only explanation of the theory of light, cold photons. This work earned him the Nobel Prize in 1921 (at this stage, the theory of relativity was still entrenched in argumentative differences of opinion). In 1907 Einstein published his well-known equation, E=MC2, binding energy and mass and contributing to the understanding of the amazing phenomena of radioactivity. When Hitler rose to power he left Europe and settled in the USA. From the United States he worked together with Chaim Weitzmann to realize the Zionist idea. In 1933 Einstein became a professor of mathematics at Princeton University in New Jersey. Einstein was very consistent in supporting the establishment of the first academic institutions in Israel, the Hebrew University and the Technion. The palm tree that he planted in 1923 in the Technion courtyard still grows there today. In 1952, following the death of President Chaim Weitzmann, Einstein turned down an offer to preside as the second President of Israel.
Lev Davidovich Landau, Azerbaijan 1908 – Moscow, 1968
One of the most important physicists of the 20th century. While he was still a student, Landau made an important contribution to the Quantum Theory. His work covered made fields in theoretical physics, including physics of low temperature, physics of solid states, cosmic radiation and plasma. In the 1930’s Landau was a pioneer of the mathematical theory of magnetic zones. The theory named after him, explains the magnetic characteristics of metal in low temperatures. His theoretical experiments with liquid helium earned him the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1962. Landau was also well known for his teaching talents. The series of books on theoretical physics that he published together with his student Lipschitz was translated into several languages and was used as a textbook in universities around the world and in Israel, for many years.
Prof. Nitsa Movshovitz- Hadar, Director
The National Science Museum, Technion, Haifa