British-Jewish Writing of the Romantic Era and the Problem of Modernity: The Example of David Levi

  • Michael Scrivener


The British–Jewish writing current during the Romantic era illustrates how British Jews negotiated the problem of modernity, which was quite differently than the Jews in Continental Europe. As explained by historians Todd Endelman, David Katz, and David Ruderman, British Jews accepted and adapted to modernity while at the same time they retained a Jewish identity.1 Whether British Jews wrote in Hebrew, like Mordecai Schnaber Levison, Abraham Tang, and Jacob Hart, or in English, like David Levi, Isaac D’Israeli, Daniel Mendoza, Emma Lyon, Levy Alexander, and Hyman Hurwitz, or both English and Hebrew (Levison and Tang), they allowed themselves to be influenced by British and European currents of thought. Anglophone writers addressed both Jews and Gentiles, and when they defended the Jewish community, they did so forthrightly. In numerous texts by British Jews one finds a recurrent pattern: Jewish difference makes itself fit into already existing generic conventions in much the same way that British Jews became acculturated. Against Christian conversionist pressures, these texts affirm Jewish identity with varying degrees and strategies of defiance. Although Britain had no conventional Haskalah—modernizing Enlightenment movement of cultural renewal and reform led by an intellectual elite—which the German states did indeed have, Britain had a modernizing Jewry nevertheless, as well as reformist writers who tried to play the role of maskil, someone who was critical of traditional beliefs and practices and who adapted Jewish culture to modernity.


Public Sphere Jewish Community Jewish Identity German State Jewish Culture 
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© Sheila A. Spector 2008

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  • Michael Scrivener

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