Curiosity and a fascination for Jewish history are the main things that drive Tsila Rädecker. On 10 September she will defend her PhD thesis at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies. The thesis looks at how Jews were made Dutch in the period between 1796 and 1848 and is entitled Making Jews Dutch: Secular Discourse and Jewish Responses (1796–1848).
1796 was the year in which the parliament of the then Batavian Republic enacted the Emancipation Decree, granting civil rights to Jews in the Netherlands and making them equal to other Dutch citizens, in terms of both rights and duties. The period Rädecker researched ends in 1848, when the separation of church and state became official and the state stopped actively interfering in Jewish affairs. In her study, Rädecker researched the different Jewish reactions to cultural change in a secularizing environment.
Tsila Rädecker says, ‘The decree represented a turning point in the history of Dutch Jews. This equal status was not completely unexpected, of course; it was a consequence of the Enlightenment discourse that placed the emphasis on equality. The French occupation in 1795, and thus the inception of the Batavian Republic, accelerated the process. France had already granted citizenship to Jews in 1791. The implementation was difficult, however; many Jews did not want Judaism to have a more limited role, and many Dutch citizens tried to keep Jews out of the guilds and political positions, for example, which were now open to Jews as well.’
The decree laid the foundations for Jews to become full members of Dutch society and signified a fundamental change in the relationship between the state and the Jewish community. Rädecker says, ‘The Jewish communities lost their semi-autonomous status and could no longer enforce their rules of conduct on Jews or punish them. Furthermore, the state took on roles from the Jewish community and started to interfere in what is known as orthopraxy: the rules governing burial and circumcision, for example. Dutch was made compulsory in schools and the synagogue. In short, what was religious and what was not was redefined, and the differences between the Jews and the Dutch were made as small as possible. This led Jews from across the spectrum to reconstruct and redefine their role in the Netherlands, and different movements and break-away groups developed, from orthodox to enlightened.’
Jews were made citizens in 1796, but each underwent this change in his or her own way. Different Dutch Judaisms arose in response to the pressure to secularize from both the government and the enlightened liberal Jewish community. ‘Some became that bit more citizen than Jew, whereas exactly the opposite was true for others, and the expression of Jewishness became all the more important,’ says Tsila Rädecker. ‘This research shows that the active integration policy on Jews in the nineteenth century sometimes had the opposite effect than intended and sometimes actually caused people to radicalize and hold onto what was “their own”. Legal equality for Jews brought about a fragmentation in the Jewish community and the emergence of different Jewish identities.’
Rädecker will defend her PhD thesis on 10 September in the presence of her supervisors Kocku van Stuckrad, Professor of Religious Studies and Dean of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen, and Professor Karin Hofmeester from the International Institute of Social History and the University of Antwerp. Following her PhD studies in Groningen Rädecker will temporarily relocate to the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, where, as a visiting scholar, she will conduct research into satirical manifestations of the ‘Jewish question’.
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