Contested Rituals

Contested Rituals: Circumcision, Kosher Butchering, and Jewish Political Life in Germany, 1843–1933

Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 296
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Contested Rituals
    Book Description:

    In Contested Rituals, Robin Judd shows that circumcision and kosher butchering became focal points of political struggle among the German state, its municipal governments, Jews, and Gentiles. In 1843, some German-Jewish fathers refused to circumcise their sons, prompting their Jewish communities to reconsider their standards for membership. Nearly a century later, in 1933, another blood ritual, kosher butchering, served as a political and cultural touchstone when the Nazis built upon a decades-old controversy concerning the practice and prohibited it.

    In describing these events and related controversies that raged during the intervening years, Judd explores the nature and escalation of the ritual debates as they transcended the boundaries of the local Jewish community to include non-Jews who sought to protect, restrict, or prohibit these rites. Judd argues that the ritual debates grew out of broad shifts in German politics: the competition between local and regional authority following unification, the possibility of government intervention in private affairs, the place of religious difference in the modern age, and the relationship of the German state to its religious and ethnic minorities, including Catholics. Anti-Semitism was only one factor driving the debates and it often functioned in unexpected ways. Judd gives us a new understanding of the formation of German political systems, the importance of religious practices to Jewish political leadership, the interaction of Jews with the German government, and the reaction of Germans of all faiths to political change.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6164-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiii)
  4. [Map]
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Rituals, Identities, and Politics
    (pp. 1-20)

    In early April 1881, just five weeks after his circumcision, the son of Benjamin Hoffman of Huffenhardt (Baden) developed ulcers on his penis. The boy’s concerned mother brought him to a local physician who, after observing the sick infant and his healthy twin sister, referred the case to the state medical examiner, E. Sausheim. Influenced by developing trends in public health research and by a growing concern with syphilis, Sausheim already had begun tracking similar cases. He had launched a formal investigation one month earlier when a third child developed symptoms analogous to those later exhibited by Hoffman. Now, after...

  6. CHAPTER 1 The Circumcision Questions in the German-Speaking Lands, 1843–1857
    (pp. 21-57)

    Before 1850, Joachim (Hayum) Schwarz, a small-town rabbi in Hürben, Bavaria, had limited interactions with the local non-Jewish community and authorities. He devoted most of his time to fulfilling his rabbinic obligations, tending to the needs of his congregants and teaching their children. He led services in the town’s synagogue and oversaw some of the philanthropic endeavors of local Jewish communal institutions. Yet, from the middle of the century, Schwarz began to engage more frequently with his town’s municipal leadership. After one of his congregants refused to circumcise his son, the rabbi became increasingly visible within the larger public sphere.¹...

  7. CHAPTER 2 German Unification, Emancipation, and the ʺRitual Questionsʺ
    (pp. 58-85)

    Less than two decades after the physician Ignatz Landauer, Rabbi Schwarz, and local municipal officials had struggled over the changing character of Hürben Jewry, the majority of Jewish communities in the German states had experienced some kind of political and social transformation. By 1871, many of these communities had encountered the historical changes that had been central to the mid-nineteenth-century circumcision disputes.

    Unification and emancipation in 1871 signaled significant political shifts within German-Jewish life.¹ Upon unification, Liberal Prussian political leaders extended civic rights to all property-holding men within the Empire, including Jews. Emancipation reinforced the trend among many Jewish men...

  8. CHAPTER 3 The Radicalization of the Ritual Questions, 1880–1916
    (pp. 86-121)

    In 1892 the kingdom of Saxony promulgated a set of slaughterhouse regulations that had been championed by German animal protectionists for decades. These edicts prohibited women and children from entering the slaughterhouse and mandated stricter inspection and licensing procedures. As such, they resembled contemporary laws in all but one significant component. In contrast to other state regulations, the Saxon reforms required the rendering of all animals into a state of unconsciousness before their slaughter. Throughout the kingdom, it was illegal to conduct any form of slaughter that did not include the stunning of animals before killing them. Saxon Jews appealed...

  9. CHAPTER 4 ʺThe Disgrace of Our Century!ʺ Circumcision, Kosher Butchering, and Modern German Politics
    (pp. 122-153)

    At the 1904 national meeting of the Association of Animal Protection Societies of the German Reich, one participant offered a disclaimer, which had been and would continue to be invoked with great frequency during the decades leading up to World War I. After Karl Krämer of Hilchenbach assumed the speaker’s mantle to champion slaughterhouse reforms, he quickly separated himself from the antisemitic rhetoric and movements of the previous two decades. “I have nothing against the Jews,” he said, “I like one man just as I would like another.”¹ Dismissing antisemitism as a motivation for his involvement in the animal protection...

  10. CHAPTER 5 The Schächtfragen and Jewish Political Behavior
    (pp. 154-189)

    During the late nineteenth century, the Federation of Saxon Jewish Communities helped to establish new norms of Jewish political behavior. Between 1892, when the kingdom of Saxony promulgated its Schächtverbot and 1910 when it repealed it, Saxony’s Jewish leaders practiced the strategies of mass politics. They no longer quietly appealed to a few non-Jewish notables as they had done during past moments of conflict. Instead, they petitioned governmental authorities at all levels. They organized numerous letter-writing campaigns and garnered letters of support. They attended animal protection society meetings, spoke at city council meetings, and worked hard to identify allies inside...

  11. CHAPTER 6 A ʺRenaissanceʺ for the Ritual Questions? The Ritual Debates of the Weimar Republic
    (pp. 190-238)

    In 1917 the German Bundesrat considered kosher butchering for the first time since the outbreak of World War I. In a controlled war economy, the German state had begun to regulate food production and distribution two years earlier. During the so-called turnip winter of 1916–1917, the nation faced escalating food prices and shortages. German civilians witnessed a dramatic diminution in the quantity and quality of their food, which resulted in the deterioration of health and morale. Food quickly became the focus of politics and conflict. Striking workers voiced the frustration of those who could not earn enough to buy...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 239-248)

    On April 21, 1933, the Nazi government promulgated Germany’s first national law mandating the stunning of all animals into a state of unconsciousness before slaughter. Beginning on May 1, German Jews within the Reich’s borders could no longer legally slaughter animals using the Jewish method.¹ The Nazi ban remained in place until 1946 when the allies repealed all National Socialist legislation, including the prohibition on kosher butchering.²

    The 1933 slaughterhouse reforms were part of a series of anti-Jewish legislation intended to “stabilize” the economy and exclude Jews from a variety of professional and social arenas. They followed an April 7...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 249-274)
  14. Index
    (pp. 275-284)