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The Berlin salons which developed in the late eighteenth century owed both their existence and the form of their development to Jewish women. These early salons were the result of a unique interrelation between the German enlightenment and Jewish Enlightenment; European movement during the s Haskalah on the one hand and, on the other, young, educated Jewish women from well-to-do families, who were searching for a new role in life outside the patriarchal structures of their families.
These salons have variously been criticized as a symptom of failing Jewish tradition or welcomed as a phenomenon of emancipation and acculturation. The formal structure of the Berlin salons was built on principles of French salon tradition both the aristocratic salon and, even more, its modified version: the modest bourgeois salon or tea-table.
In the later nineteenth-century salon culture, salons held by Jewish women remained an important part of the Berlin salon life until the end of the salons circa The social classes remained strictly separated with a very exclusive, but largely poor aristocracy at the top ; Jews were discriminated against by Prussian law and socially stigmatized. Middle-class women were not supposed to engage in cultural activities, but only in their religious and household duties.
The rich but small Jewish upper class in Berlin had a protected status in exchange for their financial and economic services to the crown. Daughters from these families, born around , became the first Jewish salon women. The eminent personality of Moses Mendelssohn — changed the life of some Jews in Berlin by encouraging them to take part in secular German education and literature.
The ultimate aim was to demonstrate their fitness for civil rights. It was not a level playing field, since Christians set up the rules and seldom treated Judaism as worthy of respect. Jews gave up more of their religious traditions than did Christians, but enlightened Christians also moved away from religious authority. Beginning in the s, we find Christians and Jews side by side at the tea-tables of gifted and enthusiastic upper middle class Jewish women who, born in the s, had grown up in the Mendelssohn era.