The present source consists of a comprehensive treatise (15 printed pages, approximately 3400 words) laying out the philosophy of education that first appeared in June 1821 as the program of the Hamburg Israelite Free School Israelitische Freischule. School programs in the 19th century customarily functioned as invitations to the public on the occasion of the open examinations given once or twice annually to demonstrate the level of students’ knowledge and thereby advertise the school’s capacity to educate. In addition to information about the number of students, faculty, and patrons of the school, most contained a succinct essay stating the school’s conception of its purpose.
Eduard Israel Kley, the author of the present treatise, led the Hamburg Israelite Free School Israelitische Freischule, founded in 1815, from 1817 until 1848. Previously he had delivered sermons in the private Reformed temple of Israel Jacobson in Berlin. Kley brought with him to Hamburg Protestant-influenced elements frowned upon by the traditional synagogue: sermons in the German language, chants with organ accompaniment, and confirmation ceremonies instead of the Bar and Bat Mitzva. Thanks to its publication in David Fränkel’s periodical Sulamith, the treatise became known all over the German-speaking world.
In the view of contemporaries, Kley’s treatise was considered one of the most perceptive statements demonstrating that the only means for the refining of youth was the appropriately and purposefully equipped elementary schools. And because “the civil improvement of the Jews” itself depended upon the youth, elementary schools ought not be simply instructional institutions but rather had to be institutions that also educated and formed the whole person: “the refinement of the man in the elementary school can and should be accomplished by means of the molding of his ability to think and will as well as through improved religious instruction.” As to Kley’s text itself, assessed from today’s perspective, it does not get clear how contested were his conceptions and how violent were the controversies he unleashed between religious traditionalists and modernizers.
A preacher and a pedagogue, Eduard Israel Kley is today considered one of the founders of Reform Judaism. He was born in Wartenberg, near Breslau, and was a student, then a teacher at the King Wilhelm School Königliche Wilhelmsschule in Breslau, a Reformed Jewish school, the founding of which was mandated by the Prussian provincial government as part of a comprehensive reordering of “Jewish existence.” As early as 1790, long before the Prussian Edict of Emancipation of 1812 Emanzipationsedikt, the Jews of Silesia had been granted expanded freedoms in the choice of occupation and employment. In his youth Kley gained direct experience of the legal and cultural-political controversies of the period: the tenacious efforts to gain legal equality for Jews, the discussion concerning their “civil improvement,” intensified by Dohm’s book (1781), the clash over the reform of religion in synagogues and schools, which ignited a specially vigorous debate in the Wilhelm School Wilhelmsschule on the value of Talmud instruction Talmudunterricht. All of these battles are directly reflected, or can be read between the lines, in his treatise of 30 years later.
In 1814, still in Berlin, Kley attempted to win approval from the Orthodox Vice-Chief Rabbi Meyer Simon Weyl for his co-authored textbook, “Katechismus der mosaischen Religion” [“Catechism of the Mosaic Religion”]. His efforts failed. Noteworthy, however, is the motive stated in the book: there exists the danger that “with the current and unfortunate decline in the use of the Hebrew language in public institutions, as well as in private education, knowledge of the Mosaic religion, and with it, all religious feeling, is daily diminishing and threatens to be completely extinguished.” However, it is precisely religion, “which through its sacred feelings and teachings forms not only good men, but also conscientious citizens of the state and worthy heads of households and fathers of families. Eduard Kley, “Letter to the Department of Religion and Public Instruction of April 1814,” in: Ingrid Lohmann (ed.), Chevrat Chinuch Nearim. Die jüdische Freischule in Berlin 1778-1825 im Umfeld preußischer Bildungspolitik und jüdischer Kultusreform, Münster et. al. 2001, p. 827. Clearly, Kley was aware that the Jewish community was in crisis, the result of the process of secularization it was undergoing. The crisis was visible in the number of conversions to Christianity by Jewish women and men, in the general indifference to religion especially among enlightened and educated circles, and also by the loss of the Hebrew language.
In view of this situation, Moses Mendelssohn, Naphtali Herz Wessely, Isaak Euchel, David Friedländer, and other proponents of the Jewish Enlightenment (Maskilim) had made the reform of religion central to their program for the enlightenment of the Jews. At the same time, the education and instruction of youth was to be oriented toward the developing modern bourgeois society, opening opportunities to livelihoods for young Jews other than dealing in second-hand goods or petty trade. Wessely’s polemical pamphlet of 1782 foregrounded the basic argument that men ought to be educated to humanity, an idea that became the hallmark of the classical liberal conception of general education. Alongside the general education of mankind, there should also be a special education in citizenship for Jewish youth, that is, to form the citizen of Jewish faith.
This conception also defined Kley’s treatise. It is known that his conceptual designs for the Hamburg Israelite Free School Israelitische Freischule met with resistance from the Orthodox. However, it is not out of the question that he was also fighting on a different front. It is evident that, Kley defending against a setting of educational boundaries for his predominantly lower-class students, explicitly refusing to question “whether thinking was beneficial for the people” (p. 388). He demanded also for them, and not just “for a specific class or profession” (p. 386), equal access to general education.
Contrary to later evaluations of the programmatic reform ideas of the Jewish Enlightenment (Haskala), in the eyes of its protagonists measures needed to be taken in order to preserve Judaism and defend against the decay of religion. Most upper- and middle-class families had long been open to mainstream German society and followed the historical tendency of actively advancing toward bourgeoisification. Education was regarded as the most important means to this end. Kley used the organizational opportunities open to him as the leader of a school to bring the benefits of the liberal conception of general education to his students--and to nevertheless educate them in the Jewish religion. Ultimately, it came down to readying his youth for acceptance of their future unprivileged social positions. This is clear from formulations such as: they needed to be educated in such a way as to be prepared “for any kind of work, willingly and undaunted.” (p. 394)
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Ingrid Lohmann (Thematic Focus: Education and Learning), Prof. Dr. phil, is Professor of the History of Ideas and Social History of Education at the University of Hamburg. Her research interests include the relations between economy and education since the beginning of the modern period, especially privatization and commercialization in the education and research sector, as well as Jewish history of education, focusing on the late Enlightenment in Germany.
Ingrid Lohmann, The Citizen of Jewish Faith as an Educational Ideal. Eduard Israel Kley’s Treatise on the Israelite Elementary School (translated by Richard S. Levy), in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, August 09, 2017. <https://dx.doi.org/10.23691/jgo:article-28.en.v1> [December 07, 2023].