Moses Hess played a role in introducing Karl Marx (who was descended from a long line of rabbis) and Friedrich Engels to historical materialism.The Jewish Ferdinand Lassalle, founded the first actual workers' party in Germany, the General German Workers' Association (which ultimately merged with other parties to become the Social Democratic Party of Germany) and made Jewish emancipation one of his goals.Mendelssohn's extraordinary success as a popular philosopher and man of letters revealed hitherto unsuspected possibilities of integration and acceptance of Jews among non-Jews.The changes caused by the Haskalah movement coincided with rising revolutionary movements throughout Europe.Others like Rabbi Zvi Kalischer viewed a return to the Jewish homeland as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy through natural means.As the 19th century wore on, the persecution of the Jews in Eastern Europe where emancipation had not occurred to the extent it did in Western Europe (or at all) increased.It was in the revolutionary atmosphere of the mid-19th century that the first true Jewish political movements would take place.
In addition to being a religious scholar and clergy, a rabbi also acted as a civil judge in all cases in which both parties were Jews.
After the state's establishment Zionism, in its various forms, would become the largest Jewish political movement, although more Jews would participate in the national politics of the countries in which they resided.
In the aftermath of the 1905 pogroms in Russia, the historian Simon Dubnow founded the Folkspartei (Yiddishe Folkspartay) which had some intellectual audience in Russia, then, in independent Poland and Lithuania in the 1920–1930s where it was represented as well in the Parliaments (Sejm, Seimas) as in numerous municipal councils (incl. The party did not survive the Shoah, the Holocaust.
Rabbis sometimes had other important administrative powers, together with the community elders.
The rabbinate was the highest aim of many Jewish boys, and the study of the Torah (first five books of the Bible) and the Talmud was the means of obtaining that coveted position, or one of many other important communal distinctions.