Delineating Jewish Intercession from Early Modern to 19th Century Europe: Attempts of a Definition—by François Guesnet
By Hebrew and Jewish Studies, on 14 December 2015
Research seminar, Hebrew and Jewish Studies; Wednesday, 4 November, 4pm
Foster Court, 1st floor, room 112
Abstract: In January 1817, the Jewish army contractor and entrepreneur Elieser Dileon was received by the Russian Tsar Alexander I. A letter sent by Dileon to the Jewish community in Minsk starts with the remarkable exclamation “Today, we have become a people.” This sentence and the detailed description of the negotiation between the representative of the Minsk community, and of Jews in Russia more generally, served as a starting point of this presentation, arguing that the symbolic meaning of Jewish intercession went far beyond the mere negotiation of specific grievances. In my research on shtadlanut, I show that acts of intercession also reflect symbolic interaction of a diasporic community establishing itself in the fabric of a commonwealth: Intercession is constitutio in actu, as the Swiss historian André Holenstein has defined it. I argue that in contexts with considerable legal and constitutional security fr the Jewish community (e.g. medieval Spain or early modern Poland-Lithuania), intercession was integrated into communal policies and institutions. In more precarious contexts (e.g. the Holy Roman Empire of German Nations, or Eastern Europe after the partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century) intercession became the task of highly positioned, prominent individuals, with a less clear communal mandate. This research project looks into the institutional framework of intercession, the personality of the intercessor, the spaces of intercession as well as the epistemology of intercession, in an attempt to describe the transition of the early modern Jewish community into the more complex and more precarious world of the 19th century.
Bio: Dr François Guesnet is Reader in Modern Jewish History in the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College London. He specializes in the early modern and 19th century history of Eastern European, and more specifically, Polish Jews. Recent publications Der Fremde als Nachbar. Polnische Positionen zur jüdischen Präsenz in Polen. Texte seit 1800 (Suhrkamp-Verlag: Frankfurt am Main 2009), Zwischen Graetz und Dubnow: Jüdische Historiographie in Ostmitteleuropa, Akademische Verlagsanstalt: Leipzig 2009), with Gwenyth Jones Antisemitism in an Era of Transition: The Case of Post-Communist Eastern Central Europe (Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang Verlag 2014), and with Glenn Dynner Warsaw. The Jewish Metropolis. Studies in Honor of the 75th Birthday of Professor Antony Polonsky (Boston, Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers 2015).
Further Reading: François Guesnet, “Thinking Globally, Acting Locally: Joel Wegmeister and Modern Hasidic Politics in Warsaw,” in: Quest. Issues in Contemporary Jewish History. Journal of Fondazione CDEC 2 (October 2011) URL: www.quest-cdecjournal.it/focus.php?id=222 ; “Agreements between neighbours. The ‘ugody’ as a source on Jewish-Christian relations in early modern Poland,” in: Jewish History 24, 3-4 (2010), 257-270; “The Turkish Cavalry in Swarzedz, or: Jewish Political Culture at the Borderlines of Modern History,” in: Simon-Dubnow-Institute Yearbook 6 (2007), 227-248; “Textures of Intercession: Rescue Efforts for the Jews of Prague, 1744/48,” in: Simon-Dubnow-Institute Yearbook, 4 (2005), 355-375; “Moses Mendelssohns Activities as an Intercessor in the Context of Jewish Political Culture in the Early Modern Period,” [in German] in: Julius H. Schoeps et al. (eds.), Menora. Jahrbuch für deutsch-jüdische Geschichte 2005/2006. Bd. 16: Moses Mendelssohn, die Aufklärung und die Anfänge des deutsch-jüdischen Bürgertums, 115-137; “Politics of Intercession. Speaking up for Jewish Communities in the Premodern Era,” [in German] in: Dan Diner (ed.), Synchrone Welten. Zeitenräume jüdischer Geschichte (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck&Ruprecht 2005), 67-92; “Political Culture in the Early Modern Period – Jewish Intercession in the Wake of the Partitions of Poland,” [in German] in: Simon-Dubnow-Institute Yearbook 1(2002), 235-255.