Lost to History: The Writings of Elias Birkenstein

Edward Breuer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Elias Birkenstein (ca. 1778–1854), an early nineteenth-century German Jew who advocated for sweeping religious reforms, was largely ignored by his reform-minded contemporaries and forgotten by later historians. This essay will first survey the political and religious aftermath of the Congress of Vienna, especially the new expressions of anti-Jewish hostility and the Jewish responses they engendered. Against this backdrop, Birkenstein’s writings, including some that were initially published anonymously, are examined in detail, underscoring their radical nature. The essay demonstrates that, despite their evident familiarity with these writings, other Jews refrained from addressing the most provocative aspects of Birkenstein’s arguments. It endeavors to elucidate some of the substantive and contextual reasons for the reluctance to confront Birkenstein and for his subsequent disappearance from the pages of history.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)257-284
Number of pages28
JournalJewish History
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.


  • Anti-rabbinic literature
  • Emancipation
  • Reform Judaism


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