A Prayer for Modernity

Politics and Culture in the World of Abraham Baer (1834–1894)

By Anders Hammarlund

This book presents the interaction between two reform movements in Europe during the 1800s – the Swedish and the Jewish. In 1857, a young Abraham Baer took a position as cantor of the newly founded synagogue in Gothenburg. Twenty years later, he produced one of the century’s most remarkable Swedish publications, a handbook of Jewish music for worship services, Baal t’fillah. This work was the most ambitious documentation of synagogical music tradition in Europe during the 1800s and, a milestone in Jewish cultural history.

Born and raised in the German-Polish borderland, Baer was greatly influenced by the stormy love-encounter between Jewish traditional learning and modern science, a relationship whose child was named Kulturwissenschaft, nurtured in Berlin’s intellectual greenhouse. In Jewish Gothenburg, which became a virtual cultural suburb of Berlin, Abraham Baer met Swedish radicals who were willing to dismantle the class-bound society in order to, instead, build a nation. They believed in progress, education, and freedom. They wanted to liberate the individual and embrace modernity, while still revering tradition.

But what is a nation, and what is the basis for belonging? What unites these liberated citizens in an emancipated society, where religion becomes solely private, and not a matter for the state? Can religious worship be rationalized? What makes society possible?

This book is the final report for the research project, funded by the Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, Gestaltning, identitet, integration (Gestaltung, identity, integration).

Download A Prayer for Modernity (Pdf, ca 9 MB)

Download Baal t’fillah oder Der practische Vorbeter by Abraham Baer (scanned original, pdf, ca 83 MB)

This book is also published in a Swedish printed version by Carlssons bokförlag. Read more about it here (in Swedish).