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German Jews

German Jews: A Dual Identity

Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    German Jews
    Book Description:

    When the German-Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig entitled his 1926 collection of essays on Jewish and universal cultural topicsZweistromland-a land of two rivers-he meant to underscore, indeed celebrate, the fact that German-Jewish culture is nurtured by both German culture and the Jewish religious and cultural heritage. In this thought-provoking book, Paul Mendes-Flohr explores through the prism of Rosenzweig's image how German Jews have understood and contended with their twofold spiritual patrimony. He deepens the discussion to consider also how the German-Jewish experience bears upon the general modern experience of living with multiple cultural identities.German Jews assimilated the cultural values of Germany but were not themselves assimilated into German society, Mendes-Flohr contends. Yet, by virtue of their adoption of values sponsored by enlightened German discourse, they were no longer unambiguously Jewish. The author discusses how their identity and cultural loyalty became fractured and how German Jews-like other Jews and indeed like all denizens of the modern world-were obliged to confront the challenges of living with plural identities and cultural affiliations.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14729-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. Chapter One The Bifurcated Soul of the German Jew
    (pp. 1-24)

    History, according to Heinrich Heine, is to be told by poets, not historians. A people ʺdemands its history from the hand of the poet rather than that of the historian. It does not ask for faithful reporting of naked facts; what it wants is to see these dissolved again into the original poetry from which they sprang.ʺ¹ Commanding access to the memories and lived experiences of a people, the poet tells the peopleʹs story.

    In a passage of a novella entitledLeaves from the Memoirs of Herr von Schnabelewopski(1834),² a parody on German student life and German nobility, Heine...

  6. Chapter Two History and Kultur: The German-Jewish Perspective
    (pp. 25-44)

    In June 1853 the renowned German botanist Wilhelm Hofmeister had occasion to visit the home of a Jewish colleague, Nathaniel Pringsheim, who lived in an elegant Berlin residence. After what was manifestly a delightful evening, Hofmeister wrote to his wife in Leipzig, bemusedly noting that the Pringsheim home was ʺfilled with ladies—[innumerable] sisters and an elderly mother.ʺ¹ Hofmeister was clearly enthralled by these ladies, by their culture and convivial, urbane conversation. These ʺBerlin Jewesses,ʺ as Hofmeister admiringly called them, were the aunts of Thomas Mannʹs wife, Katja.² Thomas had met Katja at the University of Munich, at which she...

  7. Chapter Three The German-Jewish Parnassus
    (pp. 45-65)

    In a now famous essay of 1919, the American social philosopher Thorstein Veblen spoke of the ʺintellectual preeminence of Jews in modern Europe,ʺ apodictically pointing to the fact that individuals of Jewish origin ʺcount for more than their proportionate share in the intellectual life of western civilization.ʺ¹ With manifest admiration, even affection, he celebrated ʺthe intellectually gifted Jew[s]ʺ of Europe who find themselves in ʺthe vanguard of modern inquiry.ʺ² But, as Gershom Scholem observed some fifty years later, ʺit was precisely [their] ʹpreeminenceʹ that was to spell the doom of the Jews of Germany.ʺ³

    Accepting the gracious invitation of the...

  8. Chapter Four Franz Rosenzweigʹs Eulogy for German Jewry
    (pp. 66-88)

    Franz Rosenzweig did not write a eulogy for German Jewry. He died in December 1929, three years before Hitler seized the reins of government; and when, after a long illness, he passed away, just two weeks shy of his forty-third birthday, he was full of hope for the vibrant future of German Jewry, which was then in the midst of a spiritual and cultural renaissance.¹ He had become the focus and symbol of this unanticipated renewal of a Jewry that had seemed to be well on the way to self-liquidation through assimilation and spiritual atrophy. He himself had contemplated conversion...

  9. Epilogue Reflections on the Legacy of German Jewry
    (pp. 89-96)

    A postcard written by Franz Kafka in 1916 provides a sardonic gloss on the problematic discussed in this volume. Having just read two radically divergent reviews of his work—one finding in it something quintessentially German,¹ the other regarding it as the representative ʺJewish document of our timeʺ²—he dashed off a note to a friend, asking, ʺAm I a circus acrobat riding astride two horses? Sadly I am not. Rather I lie flat on my back!ʺ³ With a humorous twist, Kafka exposes the difficulty of endeavoring to live with a Jewish and a German, or European, cultural identity.


  10. Notes
    (pp. 97-140)
  11. Index
    (pp. 141-149)