The Archive of the “Association for the Culture and Science of the Jews” comprises in the main material documenting activities of the Verein, such as speeches, minutes, statutes, letters, memoranda, registers and the like.
The Verein had its roots in the Wissenschaftszirkel (“Science Circle”), founded by a group of young Jewish intellectuals at Berlin University in 1816 and modelled on other academic discussion circles of the time. In November 1819, shocked by the anti-Jewish “Hep! Hep! Pogroms”, some of the members of the Wissenschaftszirkel founded and registered the Verein zur Verbesserung des Zustandes der Juden im deutschen Bundesstaate (“Association for the Improvement of the Situation of the Jews in the German Federal State”). Present at the initial meeting were, in addition to Leopold Zunz, Eduard Gans, Moses Moser, Isaac Marcus Jost, Isaac Levin Auerbach, Joel Abraham List, Immanuel Wohlwill (Wolf) and Joseph Hilmar.
The Verein gained its later fame under the name Verein für Cultur und Wissenschaft des Judentums (“Association for the Culture and Science of the Jews”) which was adopted along with the new statutes in 1821. The change of name reflects a more concrete approach to the former aim of the Verein – the improvement of the situation of the Jews. It was now to be attained by means of a scientific and cultural reform of Judaism. The guiding concept and programme of the Wissenschaft des Judentums (“Science of Judaism”) were formulated and shaped within the framework of the Verein. Some of its founders, foremost among them Leopold Zunz, are regarded as the fathers of modern Jewish studies. Between 1821 and 1823, five important institutions committed to the goals of the Verein were founded: the “Scientific Institute”, the journal Zeitschrift für die Wissenschaft des Judentums, a private secondary school, the “Archive for Correspondence”, and a library.
From 1823, the reactionary turn in Prussian politics made the activities of the Verein difficult, since a major segment of the achievements of the 1812 Emancipation Edict were revoked. Due to this change in political conditions as well as internal problems at the time, the Verein began to disband in 1824, only a few years after its exceptionally productive and successful start. Most of the 81 full and extraordinary members – prominent among them Heinrich Heine, David Friedländer, and Lazarus Bendavid – came from Berlin, the center of Verein activities. But the Verein also had many members in the rest of Germany, mainly in Hamburg, where local members founded a branch named the Specialverein.