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Throughout Jewish history, Jews have tended to “assimilate,” adopting the language, manners, and customs of their neighbors, wherever they lived. At the same time, they continued to live a full Jewish life, producing great Jewish individuals and uniquely Jewish books. Individual Jews have left the Jewish community for other groups, but the bulk of the Jewish people has maintained its identity.

While the Jews lived in ghettos in medieval and post-medieval Europe, the ghetto walls protected them from assimilation. As the ghetto walls started to come down in the late 18th century, Jews began to discover a new world around them and soon learned that to achieve full equality they would have to conform to the general culture. A new movement, the Haskalah, or the Enlightenment, emerged, seeking to adapt to the European culture while remaining Jewish. During the French Revolution, French Jewish leaders agreed with the French liberals that the ultimate aim for Jews was to disappear completely as a national group. When Napoleon convened his Assembly of Jewish Notables, or French Sanhedrin, these Jewish leaders assured the emperor that first and last they were Frenchmen of Jewish descent.

In Germany, the Haskalah started when Moses Medelssohn translated the Bible into German. This translation introduced its Jewish readers to the German language, which opened the door to European culture. The generation that followed Mendelssohn used this culture to escape from the ghetto; in their headlong rush, large numbers were lost from Judaism altogether. Having adopted the German culture and way of life, they expected to be accepted into the “brotherhood of man.” Instead, they discovered that full citizenship and social and economic advancement were possible for Jews only after baptism

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