The academic study of the history of the Jewish people
began only in the 19th century. Unfortunately this was
the case because the Jews were dispersed over many
countries, many literary works were lost during the
pogroms and wanderings from place to place, and the traditional Jewish community did not pay much attention to the subject. Historical research developed greatly after the establishment of the State of Israel. The change in Europe in the 19th century was due to the struggle of the Jewish people for equal rights, the conflict between the religious factions (mainly between the reform and orthodox Jews), the influence of Jewish studies as an academic discipline and the rise of national sentiments. The majority of Jewish historians felt they had a mission and had faith that their research would contribute to the understanding of the situation of the Jewish people, separated and dispersed among other nations. Some of the historians were also active in the cultural and social life of the Jewish community where they lived and participated in controversial debates. By spending time on current affairs, historians were deflected from research. On the other hand, however, their involvement in the community sharpened their senses and encouraged them to continue research that was, for many, very difficult and complex due to the limitations of sources.
This stamp series is dedicated to seven of these historians (stamps depicting Jacob Talmon, Emanuel Ringelblum and Jacob Herzog will be issued later). Both those historians who were active in Europe and those who emigrated to Eretz Israel participated in the process of building the land and the Jewish state. These particular historians were chosen to emphasize the variety of their work, express their involvement in social and state issues and how they greatly contributed to the strengthening of Jewish national sentiments and to the increasing affinity with cultural traditions and the land of Israel.
Graetz was one of the greatest researchers in the history of the Jewish people and major representative of "Hokhmat Yisrael" (Jewish studies) In the 19th century. His great work was eleven volumes on the history of the Jews. This was the first time anyone attempted to write the history of the Jewish people as the history of a living community from a Jewish viewpoint. With both emotional involvement and outstanding literary talent he described the struggle of the Jews for existence, their uniqueness and wrote about the acts of heroism and acts of hate that occurred in every generation. Graetz based his research on a wide number of literary sources in many different languages and used a critical philological method. His writings, however, were not objective; he was a complete rationalist and with admiration for those close to his heart (such as Rambam) he wrote negatively and with derision about the Kabbalah and the followers of the Baal Shem Tov. Also Graetz disregarded the social and economic aspect of history in his great work. He was involved in the community activities and participated in debates on the rights of Jews in Germany and thus was thought of as a proud Jew.
Dubnow was a historian, public activist and political ideologist - the creator of the "Jewish Autonomy" ideology.
Dubnow viewed the national and cultural existence of
the Jewish people in the Diaspora as self-governing.
While in the Diaspora the Jewish people reached spiritual
and ethical heights which enlightened other nations. For Dubnow
therefore, the Jewish people were "a people that all the world is
Its place" and he was against the new Zionist movement for a
Jewish state in Eretz Israel which he felt was a false adventurous
mission. He opposed assimilation and was active in Odessa within
the social circles of Ahad Ha'am, Mendele Mokher Seforim and
Bialik. Dubnow was one of the founders of the Jewish Historical Society and edited its periodical from 1909-1918. The highlight of his literary work was The History of the Jews in which he gave a lot of attention to social and economic matters. Dubnow was murdered in 1941 during the expulsion of the Jews of Riga to the concentration camps.
Dinur was an educator and one of the greatest Jewish historians in Israel. He was Professor of History of the Jewish People at the Hebrew University and helped establish the Jerusalem approach to Jewish history. Dinur was one of the initiators and editors of the periodical Zion - the quarterly journal of the Historical Society of Israel. His ten-volume work Israel in The Diaspora includes varied sources with introductions and commentaries on the history of the Jewish people during the 7th to 14th centuries. He placed emphasis on the question of periodization. His book and articles express the Zionist approach to understanding the past of the people of Israel. Eretz Israel is the uniting factor and focus of the Jewish people from all over the Diaspora. In the new age study of history Dinur introduced the importance of the social ideology of the followers of Hibat Zion. Between 1951 and 1955 Dinur was the Minister of Education and Culture in Israel. During his tenure a law was passed which put an end to the prevailing party "trend" in the education system.
Yitzhak Baer was one of the greatest Jewish historians
of the 20th century. He was among the architects who
formed the concept of The Historical Society of Israel
and laid down foundations for the Jerusalem approach
to Jewish history that emphasized the solidarity and continuity of Jewish history as part of universal history. His areas of study were: society and halacha, Second Temple period and Mishna, Spain and Ashkenaz. Baer's main contribution was his research into the Jewish people in the Middle Ages. His book A History of the Jews in Christian Spain is one of the best academic studies on the history of the Jewish people. Baer published a variety of sources and studies and successfully integrated meticulous research into details with a total view of the whole of Jewish history. Baer greatly contributed to the research of the history of the Jewish people by his instruction of many pupils in research methods. He identified with the struggle for setting up a Jewish homeland in Eretz Israel and felt this would correct the great injustice that was forced upon the Jewish people since they were dispersed from their land.
Professor Avraham Grossman
Department of History of the Jewish People
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem