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The mere mention of nineteenth and twentieth-century "Jewish Vienna" conjures up images of assimilated Jewish men such as Sigmund Freud, Arthur Schnitzler and Otto Weininger. (1) In their writings, these members of the Viennese cultural avant-garde presented provocative and radical conceptions of gender that raised questions about the bourgeois notions of sexuality prevalent within their Viennese surroundings. (2) Another, less commonly told story of "Jewish Vienna" centers on the many ordinary Jewish women and men who, throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, maintained traditional Jewish religious and cultural practices and dedicated their energies to sustaining the many Viennese Jewish communal institutions. What were the cultural values of this second, equally alive "Jewish Vienna," and how did they connect to the cultural and intellectual trends of the broader Viennese Jewish community, and those of the cultural avant garde that developed at the turn of the century? (3) I will focus on the construction of gender within the religiously traditional nineteenth-century Viennese rabbinic leadership and use it as a lens through which to view those leaders' perspective on what would become a widely contested and radical set of beliefs, championed by a cadre of assimilated Viennese Jewish men, about what it meant to be male and female. (4)
Gender theorists have long argued that gender and sexual difference are not natural or essential qualities, but rather are shaped and institutionalized by each society through various mechanisms of power. (5) Each generation, through its discourse and social practice, enforces and reinforces its own ideas about sexuality and gender, serving its particular needs. The proliferation of sexual discourse in the cultural and intellectual worlds of fin de siecle Vienna has been well established. (6) Unlike the works of the radical theorists of the assimilated Jewish male cultural elite, however, the commensurate discourse among Orthodox rabbinic authorities had a deep impact on the lives of the ordinary women and men of the Viennese Jewish community. (7)
The following pages, while far from a comprehensive study, aim to provide a sense of the Orthodox vision of gender and women's roles in the generation preceding the fin de siecle, as seen through the works of Rabbi Eleazar (Lazar) Horowitz (1803-1868), the leading halakhic authority for the Viennese Jewish community until his death. What emerges from Horowitz's writings is a vision of the ideal woman as sexually passive, domestically centered, maternally inclined and innately religious. It was Horowitz's ideas of gender and sexuality that set the tone for the religious community of Vienna, not just in his own lifetime, but to a large degree for the next generation of rabbis in Vienna, leading up to the turn of the twentieth century. The Orthodox community in Vienna was not monolithic, and there was therefore no one Orthodox construction of gender. Nevertheless, Horowitz's writings and responsa evince a large degree of consistency with traditional bourgeois notions of gender, and an internalization of many of the norms that would be adopted by Vienna's second chief rabbi, Adolf Jellinek (1821-1893), in the second half of the nineteenth century. (8) In this way, Horowitz's construction of gender, largely maintained in the Viennese rabbinic worldview through the end of the century, provided an alternative set of values to counter the more radical conceptions of gender and sexuality that emerged at the fin de siecle within the assimilated Jewish (and non-Jewish) cultural avant garde.
In nineteenth-century Vienna, all Jews were legally required to register as members of the official Jewish community, the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde (IKG). Its members thus included Orthodox Jews, who adhered to Jewish religious practice in all areas of life (including observance of the Sabbath, the dietary laws and modest modes of dress); acculturated liberal bourgeois Jews, who, while perhaps not strictly observant of Jewish law, actively associated with Jewish religious or cultural institutions, such as synagogues and benevolent organizations; and assimilated Jews, who chose not to be actively involved in Jewish communal life. (9) In 1867, when the Jews of Vienna officially acquired civil rights, the community had a relatively strong Orthodox component. Hungarian Jews, who hailed from regions of strong Orthodoxy, and Galicians, some of whom also maintained traditionalist leanings, made up close to half of the community in 1868. (10) While the more acculturated Viennese Jews attended services in the Stadttempel or the Leopoldstadt Temple, the Orthodox Jews tended to pray in small Bethauser (prayer houses), where they would sing traditional melodies and pray according to generations-old customs. (11) In 1868, when Horowitz died, there were eleven such prayer houses in Vienna, whose membership totaled more than 1,760. (12) The choice to pray in these smaller Bethauser was not necessarily an indication of distance from the established Jewish community. Members of these Orthodox prayer houses comprised one third of the total tax-paying and therefore voting members of the IKG, so that they wielded significant power within Gemeinde politics. (13) The Viennese Orthodox Jews were therefore not only numerically significant, but they exerted a powerful influence on Gemeinde policy throughout the nineteenth century. In the early 1870s, when the community became embroiled in a religious reform controversy, powerful members and significant numbers voiced strong opposition to the proposed reforms, ultimately preventing their implementation in the synagogues of the Gemeinde. (14) The reform controversy revealed that a significant element of the Viennese Jewish population was not interested in liberal Judaism and was powerful enough to thwart the religious changes sought by the community board.
Within the Orthodox membership and its rabbinic leadership, there had always been varying degrees of connection to the Gemeinde. R. Horowitz served as an Orthodox rabbi in the Viennese community for nearly forty years. (15) Born in Bavaria in 1803, he had arrived in Vienna in 1829 as a young rabbi, with no experience as a communal leader. Yet, from the outset, he became involved in all aspects of Viennese Jewish life. In his first year as a rabbi in the community, he advised R. Isaac Noa Mannheimer (1793-1865), who functioned as its first chief rabbi, (16) in composing the community by-laws, and he continued to advise Mannheimer in matters of Jewish ritual and law. He thus played a central role in shaping the fledgling community and establishing its religious framework. A strict adherent of Orthodox Jewish law, he headed the Beit Din (the rabbinic court) and was in charge of ritual slaughtering. (17)
However, despite his own strict religious leanings, Horowitz was actively involved in promoting Jewish educational institutions for all segments of the community. In 1835, he created the first beit midrash (study hall) in Vienna where working men could study Talmud every day; he later created religious classes for Jewish youth as well; and in 1864 he participated in the establishment of Jellinek's beit midrash. He was careful not to alienate non-Orthodox members, both in Vienna and elsewhere. In responding to a legal query from the Jewish community of Bucharest, he condemned its rabbinic leadership for alienating the non-observant segments. Instead, Horowitz wrote, they should do whatever they could to educate them and bring them closer to Judaism. (18) While Mannheimer was serving as rabbi in the Stadttempel, the central Viennese prayer house, Horowitz came every week to hear him preach and only afterward prayed in the smaller Schonlatternschul. (19) Horowitz was also open to making religious changes, within the halakhic framework, when he felt they best served the needs of the community. In what became his most famous ruling, he eliminated the practice by ritual circumcisers of metzitzah bepeh--drawing the infant's blood by mouth--on the grounds that an element of the circumcision ceremony could be changed to assure contemporary standards of hygiene. Ruling that the blood-drawing could be done with a sponge even when it might result in a desecration of the Sabbath, he declared: "with the changes in the times there have come many changes in the medical practices as well." (20) His strict adherence to Jewish law alongside his willingness to recognize changing circumstances and his commitment to inclusiveness within the Viennese Jewish community were emblematic of his religious world-view.
The other major Orthodox rabbinic figure within the Viennese Jewish community, Salomon (Zalman) Spitzer (1826-1893), diverged in many ways from Horowitz. The Hungarian-born Spitzer, whose father-in-law, R. Moses Schreiber (known as the Hatam Sofer after his major work), was a well known opponent of Reform, became rabbi of the Orthodox Pressburger synagogue in Vienna in 1853 and later became Horowitz's assistant rabbi in the Schiffschul. He was offered the position of chief rabbi after Mannheimer's death in 1865 on the condition that he modify his strict Orthodoxy, but he declined. During the reform controversy in the early 1870s, Spitzer led the battle against the reformers and ultimately, as a result of the acrimonious debate, stepped down as head of the Viennese Beit Din and resigned from his official rabbinic positions in the Gemeinde. Unlike Horowitz, who was deeply involved in establishing and nurturing the many different institutions of Viennese communal life, most of Spitzer's time in Vienna was spent serving the members of his Orthodox synagogue in the second district. (21)
The Orthodox Construction of Gender
Central to the story of the creation of the Viennese Jewish community was the process of Jewish embourgeoisement, which began long before Viennese Jews were granted full civil, political and religious equality in 1867. Much like other German-speaking Jews, (22) Viennese Jews recognized early on that the key to their successful integration within the surrounding society and their ultimate emancipation was to adapt to the way of life of the majority culture, specifically the liberal middle class. While they could not easily integrate into the Austrian upper class or nobility, they could, with enough effort, transform their occupations, manners and practices in line with bourgeois norms as a means of becoming more "Viennese." This was the program of acculturation embraced by the early founders of the Viennese Jewish community, and it set the tone for future generations of Viennese Jewish communal politics. (23) For Jews living in Vienna, becoming Viennese was more about embracing bourgeois culture and values than about achieving a particular occupational and economic …