Book

Jewish Materialism: The Intellectual Revolution of the 1870s

Cover of the book titled "Jewish Materialism."

Eliyahu Stern, associate professor of modern Jewish intellectual and cultural history

(Yale University Press)

To understand the organizing framework of modern Judaism, Eliyahu Stern believes that we should look deeper and further than the Holocaust, the establishment of the State of Israel, and the influence and affluence of American Jewry. Against the revolutionary backdrop of mid-19th-century Europe, Stern describes the path that led a group of rabbis, scientists, communal leaders, and political upstarts to reconstruct the core tenets of Judaism and join the vanguard of 20th-century revolutionary politics.

In the face of poverty and rampant anti-Semitism, they mobilized Judaism for projects directed at ensuring the fair and equal distribution of resources in society. Their program, Stern contends, drew as much from the universalism of Karl Marx and Charles Darwin as from the messianism and utopianism of biblical and Kabbalistic works. Once described as a religion consisting of rituals, reason, and rabbinics, Judaism was now also rooted in land, labor, and bodies.