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Eduard Gans

GANS, EDUARD (1789–1839), jurist and historian in Berlin. From 1816 to 1819 he studied law and philosophy in the universities of Berlin and Heidelberg; at Heidelberg he was influenced by *Hegel and his system and became one of the philosopher's closest students. In 1820 Gans was appointed lecturer at the University of Berlin where he became celebrated for his inspiring lectures. In contrast with Hegel and Kant, Gans argued that Judaism should be seen as one of the major sources of Western culture and the origin of its notion of religion and morals. He considered Rabbinic Judaism to be a vital development of prophetic Biblical Judaism and a dynamic response to the surrounding cultures of the time. Nevertheless, throughout the centuries and owing to Christian anti-Jewish pressure traditional Judaism degenerated. Contemporary Judaism must adjust itself to the values and cultural level in order to regain its vitality and to overcome its isolationist tendency. As an expression of this notion he founded in 1819, in conjunction with Leopold *Zunz and Moses *Moser, the *Verein fuer Kultur und Wissenschaft der Juden (Society for Culture and Science of the Jews), the objective of which was to establish a scientific modern study of Judaism, to bring general education to Jewish youth by expanding their cultural horizons, and the reform of traditional Jewish thinking. The society, which proved to be the first step towards the development of Wissenschaft des Judentums, was dissolved in 1824. In this period not much was done in terms of actual research but major programmatic formulations – not the least by Gans himself – laid the ground for the further work done in the next generations. Gans' inclination to *assimilation, and the government's objection to the appointment of a Jew to a permanent academic position, led Gans to become an apostate to Christianity at the end of 1825. In 1826 he was appointed associate professor at Berlin University, and in 1829 a full professor. In his lectures on jurisprudence, which attracted an enormous audience, Gans developed the Hegelian philosophical system rejecting the historical system of Savigny. On history, he elaborated the concept of the Prussian state and its sovereignty, and the central role of the ruler as the incarnation of the concept of the state. He saw the French Revolution as a new and crucial factor in European history, and explained the historical concept of "Europe" as a synthesis of different peoples incorporating the best in the cultures of Israel, Greece, Roman, Christianity, and the West in its development; Gans was opposed to nationalism and the romantic glorification of the Middle Ages and its Christian culture.

His works include (on law) Scholien zum Gaius (1821); System des roemischen Civilrechts im Grundrisse (1827); Ueberdie Grundlage des Besitzes (1839); Beitraege zur Revision der preussischen Gesetzgebung (1830–32); Das Erbrecht in weltgeschichtlicher Entwicklung (4 vol., 1824–35; repr.), a fundamental work on comparative law; and a historical work, Vorlesungen ueber die Geschichte der letzten fuenfzig Jahre (1833–34). He also edited Hegel's lectures on the philosophy of history (vols. 8 and 9 of G.W.F. Hegel's Werke, 1833–37). In 1827 he founded the Jahrbuecher fuer wissenschaftliche Kritik. An essay on the principles of the law of inheritance in the Pentateuch and Talmud, a chapter from his work Das Erbrech in weltgeschichtlicher Entwicklung, appeared in the Zietschrift fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums (vol. 1 (1822–23), 419–71), which also published his study of the Roman legislation concerning the Jews ("Gesetzgebung ueber Juden in Rom"). The reports of the society, including several of his addresses, are preserved in manuscript in the Zunz archives in Jerusalem.


B. Kurzweil, in: Haaretz (April 24, 1967); H.G. Reissner, Eduard Gans: ein Leben in Vormaerz (1965); idem, in: YLBI, 2 (1957), 179–86; 4 (1959), 92–110; M. Wiener, in: YIVOA, 5 (1950), 190–3. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Eduard Gans, Rueckblicke auf Personen und Zustanede (autobiography), ed. with introduction by N. Waszek (1995); N. Waszek, Eduard Gans (1797–1839)Hegelianer, Jude Europaeer – Texte und Dokumente (1991); J. Braun, Judentum, Jurisprudenz und Philosophie – Bilder aus dem Leben des Juristen Eduard Gans (1797–1839) (1997); J.M. Harris, "Fitting in or sticking out – constructs of the relationships of Jewish and Roman law in the nineteenth century," in: H. Lapin and D.B. Martin (eds.), Jews, Antiquity and the Nineteenth Century Imagination (2003), 53–63.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.