codified by the end of the 5 th century CE. When referred to together, the Mishnah and Gemara are known as the Talmud. HOLOCAUST EDUCATION IN PEDAGOGY, HISTORY, AND PRACTICE 84 Each category of sacred texts builds on and expands on the text that proceeded it historically, with the Written Law being the holiest and the Torah, the holiest within TaNaKh. The Oral Law is a compilation of explanations and explications of the verses found in TaNaKh. The Jewish scholars who lived during the period of the Mishnah (mishnaic) and sought to elaborate and expound upon the Written Law were not permitted to repeal or to change anything written in TaNaKh; they were only permitted to explain. These scholars wrote down the Mishnah. Similarly, the Jewish scholars who lived during the time of the Gemara were only permitted to explain and expound upon the texts of the Mishnah. They could not repeal anything said by the scholars of the mishnaic period. The scholars of the Gemara period could not repeal or change anything from the Mishnah or from TaNaKh. Each successive generation needed to adhere to the teachings, decisions, and rulings about applying Jewish law that had been identified by the previous generation of Jewish scholars, with God’s Torah serving as the Supreme Authority for living a Jewish life. This concept was critical as the religious Jewish community in Germany under Nazi rule sought to respond to anti-Jewish laws that affected their religious observance. Jews in Germany in the Early 20 th Century Let’s skip ahead approximately three thousand years to the Jewish community in Germany during the 1930s. By this point, both Holy Temples in Jerusalem had been destroyed in 586 BCE 8 and 70 CE 9 , respectively, and Jewish ritual practice and communal life no longer centered around the Temple worship. Jews had endured persecutions, including the Crusades, expulsions from various countries in Europe, including Spain, as well as the Chmielnicki massacres of 1648, to name just a few. Life for a Jew living under 8 As mentioned in footnote 7, B.C.E. stands for Before the Common Era; Jews do not use B.C. because they do not count from dates linked to the birth or death of Jesus. 9 While Jews certainly use the Gregorian calendar, AD anno Domini “in the year of our Lord” is replaced with C.E. which stands for Common Era.
foreign rule was always uncertain and frightening, and oftentimes dangerous. As Bauer (2001) explains, As in Christendom, however, Jews in the Moslem world proved to be an obstinate and hard nut to crack. Refusing to disavow their religious and ethnic identity, they were relegated to second-class citizenship, in which toleration alternated with persecutions and massacres. (p. 25) Their refusal to abandon their religious beliefs, practices, and customs was looked down upon by the majority culture in which they lived. Yet the majority of Jews clung to an identity which was for them rich and rewarding, confounding those of the majority culture. What Does It Mean to Be a Jew After Emancipation? The emancipation of European Jewry, at varying times depending on the country, meant that Jews were no longer required to live as insular communities, with limited economic growth opportunities. Emancipation now afforded Jews full legal rights under the law, including citizenship and increased economic prospects that had heretofore been denied to them because of their Jewish identity. Emancipation was not without its detractors in the Jewish community, however. Many were worried that this newfound freedom would jeopardize the religious commitment of Jews—young Jews, in particular—to Jewish faith and practice. Now, for the first time in centuries, Jews had a choice to make: to stay within the religious Jewish community and withdraw from the larger population or to embrace these opportunities, abandon their Jewish practices, and assimilate into the larger citizenry. As Ben-Sasson and Goldberg (2003) write, 85 HOLOCAUST EDUCATION IN PEDAGOGY, HISTORY, AND PRACTICE The “exodus from the ghetto” of the Middle Ages, which was the result of emancipation and the development of the moder n economy, starting in the 17 th century, opened up possibilities that had been previously totally unavailable to Jews…it appeared that Jews, just as their Christian neighbors, were able to earn a respectable living, feel comfortable in the general culture, and maintain their loyalty to their country. It seemed that Germany no longer discriminated against Jews and might even have been said to look rather kindly on its Jewish citizens. In theory—if not always in practice—Jews enjoyed equality before the law; the walls of separation and isolation had begun to crack and collapse. (pp. 8-9)