The First Ethnographic Questionnaire in Jewish Folklore-Studies, Sammlungen zur jüdischen Volkskunde, published Hamburg, November 1896

Dani Schrire

Source Description

This invitation for collecting folklore was the first of its kind in the Jewish context. The Jewishness of this questionnaire is apparent: a Magen David symbol of the Henry Jones-Loge of Hamburg at the top of the front page. Below it, we find a programmatic exposition on the importance of folklore for Jewish cultural identity. This one page invitation is signed by three members of the “Comité der Henry Jones-Loge für jüdische Volkskunde”: M Deutschländer, Dr. Max Grunwald and Gustav Tuch. It is unclear how many copies of the document were distributed. The extant copy was stored in the archives of the Swiss Folklore Society Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Volkskunde (SGV) in Basel, a society established in 1896 by the famous folklorist Eduard Hoffmann-Krayer. Hoffmann-Krayer later incorporated a Jewish section within the SGV. The questionnaire demonstrates how the emergence of Jewish folklore studies belonged to the institutionalization of “Volkskunde” more broadly. Despite its symbolic importance, the content of the questionnaire exhibits very few specifically Jewish aspects.
  • Dani Schrire

The people behind the questionnaire

The pathos-laden text, which includes many exclamation marks, tells much of the urgency of the appeal. M Deutschländer, one of the signatories, was a key figure in the Jewish community of Hamburg and founding director of the Henry Jones-Loge (B’nai B’rith). The banker Gustav Tuch (Hamburg, 1834–1909) sponsored this initiative. However, the intellectual mind behind this enterprise was Max Grunwald. A year earlier, upon the completion of his studies in Breslau, Grunwald accepted a rabbinical position at the newly founded Dammtor synagogue.

The open invitation to join this initiative was followed by a two-page ethnographic questionnaire (Fragebogen, henceforth EQ). The questionnaire is divided into six sections and 34 points all together with some preliminary remarks about how to engage collecting, followed by some explanations regarding the initiative itself. Like some other EQs, this one offered a program, which organized the field of Jewish folklore addressing a wide audience.

This EQ is the first of its kind in the Jewish context, prefiguring the establishment of the Society for Jewish Folklore Gesellschaft für jüdische Volkskunde two years later, which published the first issue of its own journal (the Mitteilungen) in 1898. Indeed, some of the material gathered by the EQ was published in the first issues of the Mitteilungen.

The 1896 ethnographic questionnaire and the history of EQs

EQs consist of a series of questions, ranging anywhere from a handful to over a thousand, compiled by researchers and sent out to local multiplicators such as teachers, physicians or pastors. These in turn conducted interviews and filled out the questionnaires. The answers were then sent back to the researchers. Hundreds of such EQs were distributed from the second half of the 19th century onwards. They functioned as a bridge between scholars, collectors and the “simple folk” as they inspired innumerable collectors to transcribe the songs, folktales, and customs of the folk, before sending these on to scholars who analyzed them. Rather than viewing EQs as a methodology that merely “prescribes” the collection of “data,” they should instead be perceived as a vehicle for transforming knowledge and cultural hierarchies. Grounded in a dialogic approach, they endeavour to involve many participants in knowledge production processes.

The 1890s brought new interest in folklore studies in Europe and accordingly many EQs appeared. The next two decades may be considered the formative years of the discipline, as new journals and societies of Volkskunde emerged across the German speaking world and beyond. EQs were a crucial element in this formative phase of Volkskunde. Noticeably, Friedrich S. Krauss, a Jewish scholar who operated in Vienna edited the journal “Am Urquell” with a clear agenda of collecting and analyzing folklore from around the world. Krauss was against any instrumentalization of folklore-studies for a given nation or a particular region, viewing folklore-studies as a “Wissenschaft vom Menschen.” To promote his universal folkloristics, Krauss too used EQs occasionally in the journals he edited. These were more like a very short survey (Umfrage) that typically tackled one topic.

On the other end, there were EQs comprising of almost 2,000 highly specific questions in a book format. Such is the case of the Wallonian folklore society, which was headed by Eugène Monseur, who helped Grunwald in forming the Society for Jewish Folklore Gesellschaft für jüdische Volkskunde in Hamburg. The majority of EQs were in the middle of these two extremes and contained a few dozen questions.

The Hamburg EQ

Grunwald’s EQ was neither a short survey, nor a book with detailed questions – it was comprehensive with no closed questions. Its leaflet format and the ways it mapped the field was not original at all. Grunwald had grown up in Silesia, attending the University in Breslau and the adjacent Rabbinical Seminary. In 1895, the Silesian folklore society Schlesische Gesellschaft für Volkskunde issued an EQ and shortly afterwards founded their journal – the Mitteilungen der Schlesischen Gesellschaft für Volkskunde. Grunwald was a member of the society from its inception. As Grunwald’s Fragebogen was an almost direct copy of the Silesian EQ the Hamburg Jewish initiative may be viewed as an adaptation of a Silesian enterprise. The Silesian EQ however contained more explanations. He appropriated the captions and kept the sequence of the individual issues, but in order to adapt the document to the Jewish context he occasionally altered some of the points or expanded with two words using a distinct term from Jewish religious tradition. The regional focus of the Silesian EQ was followed by Grunwald throughout his career since his concept of Jewish folklore was based on embedding Jews in their respective environments – relating to the history of specific Jewish communities and their rituals, traditions and folk-culture. In his Mitteilungen, some articles presented and analyzed various ancient, medieval or Early Modern texts, extracting from them Jewish folk-narratives or descriptions of traditions. Other articles related to specific communities – from the Jews of the Caucasus to those of Braunschweig, describing their peculiar history, traditions and culture.

Grunwald mentions three scholarly works in his introduction to the EQ, written by Johann Jacob Schudt, Moritz Güdemann and Richard Andree respectively. The former and the latter were written by non-Jews and present an outsider’s gaze on Jewish culture – from Schudt’s Early Modern prejudiced perspective of Jews to Andree’s modern racial depiction of Jews. Although in the first issue of the Mitteilungen, Grunwald warns his readers from relying on Andree’s work, the fact that he embeds his new field within such works is indicative of how he chose to position Jewish folklore studies in dialogue with German scholarship.

The 1896 Ethnographic Questionnaire in the context of other EQs in Jewish contexts

Three EQs that were somewhat similar to the 1896 EQ appeared in other – albeit different – Jewish contexts. The first was published in Hebrew in 1914 by Alter Druyanov, Haim Nahman Bialik and Yehushua H. Ravnitski – the core group of the Odessa Hebrew revivalists. It too was concise, never yielding much material, although some collected material was published in the Reshumot volumes that appeared after 1918. An EQ very similar to Grunwald’s appeared in 1917. Penned by Immanuel Olswanger, it was issued by the Swiss Folklore Society Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Volkskunde.

The most successful EQ was the YIVO’s “Handbook for the Collector”, which relied on a network of Zamlers (collectors). YIVO’s booklet was first published in Vilnius in 1927. It was a lot more suited for the experiences of Yiddish speaking Jews, relating to common themes and genres known in Yiddish and was methodical in its approach of instructing and educating Zamlers.

As opposed to these three EQs that were similar to that of Grunwald’s EQ, Sh. Anski’s EQ, which was published in Petrograd in 1915 is reminiscent of the very detailed approach used by the Wallonian society. It contained 2087(!) questions, mostly yes-no-questions that covered customs and traditions of the Jewish life cycle from birth to death.

Finally, Bernhard Heller, a professor at the rabbinical seminary in Budapest published a Hebrew EQ in Zion Me’asef in 1930, which was merely a translation of a German EQ that was prepared for the Atlas of German Folklore. Unlike Grunwald who did not reveal his Silesian sources, Heller noted that he relied on this German EQ.

The Legacy of the 1896 Ethnographic Questionnaire

Shortly after the formation of Jewish folklore studies by the Henry Jones-Loge in Hamburg, Grunwald moved to Vienna in 1905 where he served as a rabbi in the Leopoldstadt synagogue, residing in Austria until 1938. After the “Anschluss,” he managed to emigrate to Jerusalem, where he and his wife Margarethe joined their son Kurt.

Although the 1896 EQ did not trigger a massive response and was hardly original, and whereas over the years other EQs in the history of Jewish folklore studies were more successful, it remained a cornerstone in the emergence of Jewish folklore studies. Furthermore, it was an important stage in pushing the Wissenschaft des Judentums into a stronger dialogue with the public, and in expanding the impact scholarship has had on the way Jews coped with modernity.

Select Bibliography

Brigitte Bönisch-Brednich, Volkskundliche Forschung in Schlesien. Eine Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Marburg 1994.
Christoph Daxelmüller, Hamburg, Wien, Jerusalem. Max Grunwald und die Entwicklung der jüdischen Volkskunde zur Kulturwissenschaft 1898 bis 1938, in: Österreichische Zeitschrift für Volkskunde 113 (2010), pp. 375–393.
Barbara Staudinger, Der kategorisierende Blick der „jüdischen Volkskunde“. Die volkskundliche Wissenschaft und das „Jüdische“, in: Österreichische Zeitschrift für Volkskunde 113 (2010), pp. 525–541.
Bernd Jürgen Warneken, „Völkisch nicht beschränkte Volkskunde“. Eine Erinnerung an die Gründungsphase des Fachs vor 100 Jahren, in: Zeitschrift für Volkskunde 95 (1999), pp. 169–196.

Selected English Titles

Nathaniel Deutsch, The Jewish Dark Continent. Life and Death in the Russian Pale of Settlement, Cambridge Mass. 2011.
Andreas Kilcher/Gabrielle Safran (eds.), Writing Jewish Culture. Paradoxes in Ethnography, Bloomington 2016.
Dani Schrire, Ethnographic Questionnaires. After Method, After Questions, in: Frog/Pauliina Latvala (eds.), Approaching Methodology, Helsinki 2013, pp. 201–212.
Dani Schrire, Max Grunwald and the Formation of Jewish Folkloristics. Another Perspective on Race in German-Speaking Volkskunde, in: Amos Morris-Reich/Dirk Rupnow (eds.), Ideas of „Race“ in the History of the Humanities, London 2017, pp. 113-138.

About the Author

Dani Schrire, Dr., is a Lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with a joint appointment in the Program for Folklore and Folk-Culture Studies and the Program in Cultural Studies. He studies the intersections of Jewish folklore-studies and international folkloristics, ethnographic questionnaires, collectors and collecting, postcards, and walking as a cultural practice.

Recommended Citation and License Statement

Dani Schrire, The First Ethnographic Questionnaire in Jewish Folklore-Studies, Sammlungen zur jüdischen Volkskunde, published Hamburg, November 1896, in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, September 27, 2021. <> [April 19, 2024].