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The Renaissance of Jewish Culture in Weimar Germany

The Renaissance of Jewish Culture in Weimar Germany

MICHAEL BRENNER
Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt32bvv4
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    The Renaissance of Jewish Culture in Weimar Germany
    Book Description:

    Although Jewish participation in German society increased after World War I, Jews did not completely assimilate into that society. In fact, says Michael Brenner in this intriguing book, the Jewish population of Weimar Germany became more aware of its Jewishness and created new forms of German-Jewish culture in literature, music, fine arts, education, and scholarship. Brenner presents the first in-depth study of this culture, drawing a fascinating portrait of people in the midst of redefining themselves.The Weimar Jews chose neither a radical break with the past nor a return to the past but instead dressed Jewish traditions in the garb of modern forms of cultural expression. Brenner describes, for example, how modern translations made classic Jewish texts accessible, Jewish museums displayed ceremonial artifacts in a secular framework, musical arrangements transformed synagogue liturgy for concert audiences, and popular novels recalled aspects of the Jewish past. Brenner's work, while bringing this significant historical period to life, illuminates contemporary Jewish issues. The preservation and even enhancement of Jewish distinctiveness, combined with the seemingly successful participation of Jews in a secular, non-Jewish society, offer fresh insight into modern questions of Jewish existence, identity, and integration into other cultures.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14395-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    The image of Weimar Jewry, overshadowed by its tragic end, is that of “Jews beyond Judaism”—Jews who failed to create a particular culture and only contributed to German culture before they were reminded in 1933 of their Jewishness. In the tradition of what is generally known as Fall and Decline History, historians often conceived of the development of German Jews between their emancipation and their ultimate destruction as a linear retreat from Jewish traditions and a gradual absorption within German culture. “It has become a common view,” as Fritz Stern critically remarks, “to hold that German Jewry somehow represents...

  5. I The Quest for Community

    • 1 Pre-Weimar Origins
      (pp. 11-35)

      The first half of the nineteenth century marked, as Eric Hobsbawm wrote, “the greatest transformation in human history since the remote times when men invented agriculture and metallurgy, writing, the city and the state.”¹ Dynasties fell, new states emerged, political ideologies from socialism to liberalism and nationalism were born, the working class rose, and industrial mass production began. Although no one in Europe remained unaffected by the political, social, economic, and cultural innovations of this period, some groups experienced the change more dramatically than others. The lives of Jews in Germany were radically altered by those developments. At the beginning...

    • 2 Gemeinschaft and Gemeinde: The Ideological and Institutional Transformation of the Jewish Community
      (pp. 36-66)

      The trauma of World War I dashed the hopes that German Jews had, to be finally included in a GermanVolksgemeinschaft. Still, they shared with their non-Jewish neighbors the need to establish new forms of community. Some satisfied this need by emphasizing their Germanness, others became socialists or communists, and many found refuge in the rediscovery of a Jewish Gemeinschaft. Only a few weeks after the outbreak of World War I Martin Buber anticipated this strengthening of Gemeinschaft in a speech later reprinted as the opening essay inDer Jude:

      In the tempest of events the Jew has had the...

  6. II The Transmission of Knowledge

    • 3 A New Learning: The Lehrhaus Movement
      (pp. 69-99)

      The renewed sense of community among German Jews was only the first step toward a Jewish cultural renaissance. Those who revitalized their solidarity—in terms either of a Jewish nation or of a community of common fate and descent—wished to know more about the group they belonged to. Richard Koch, one of the leading teachers at the Frankfurt Jewish Lehrhaus (house of study) articulated this desire in his almost prophetic words of 1923: “If our historical suffering should recur one day, then we want to know why we suffer; we do not want to die like animals, but like...

    • 4 Toward a Synthetic Scholarship: The Popularization of Wissenschaft des Judentums
      (pp. 100-126)

      In the face of Germany’s political revolution after World War I, German academia readdressed some of its most existential issues. A central question concerned the integration of learning and life. Challenged by Max Weber’s celebrated lecture of 1919, “Wissenschaft as a Vocation,” the proponents of a Lebensphilosophie vehemently argued for the reintegration of learning and Weltanschauung, and demanded as the primary tasks for future scholarship a synthesis and a wholeness, instead of specialization and diversification.¹

      This hunger for wholeness was also reflected in the development of Wissenschaft des Judentums. Many of its representatives demanded a return to the classical religious...

  7. III In Search of Authenticity

    • 5 The Invention of the Authentic Jew: German-Jewish Literature
      (pp. 129-152)

      On the eve of World War I, a debate in one of the most prestigious German cultural journals attracted the attention of a great part of the German literary world. Moritz Goldstein, a young Zionist, published an article in the conservativeKunstwartin which he criticized the control that Jews wielded over German literature. According to Goldstein, this situation reflected the extremely unhealthy state of German and Jewish culture. He suggested, therefore, that German Jews should retreat from their conspicuous position in German literature and instead concentrate on Jewish culture. More specifically, he called for the creation of a distinct...

    • 6 Authenticity and Modernism Combined: Music and the Visual Arts
      (pp. 153-184)

      The wordsWeimarandmodernismare used today almost synonymously. “When we think of Weimar, we think of modernity in art, literature, and thought,” writes Peter Gay in his study of Weimar culture. For Gordon Craig, “Weimar culture was pre-eminently modern,” and Walter Laqueur referred to Weimar Germany as the “first truly modern culture.”¹ In the context of such cultural developments as Expressionist literature and art, Bauhaus architecture andNeue Sachlichkeit(New Objectivity), the Piscator theater, and Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’sThreepenny Opera, Weimar Germany’s claim to modernity can hardly be doubted. Weimar was a unique laboratory for the...

    • 7 Authenticity Revisited: Jewish Culture in Jewish Languages
      (pp. 185-212)

      One of the factors that made oriental and East European Jews look authentic to German Jews was their use of distinctly Jewish languages. During and after World War I, German Jews had various opportunities to encounter Hebrew and Yiddish cultures. Most German Jews were neither willing nor able to immerse themselves in those cultures. For a small elite group, however, Jewish culture expressed in Jewish languages constituted the culmination of a Jewish renaissance. Their attitude was reflected on several cultural levels, from the admiration of Yiddish theater troupes to the study of modern Hebrew.

      At the same time, the small...

  8. Epilogue
    (pp. 213-220)

    During their years of agony, German Jews experienced a remarkable flurry of Jewish cultural activities. In Nazi Germany they expanded their adult education programs, restructured their publishing activities, and established their own theater. Although the writings of Jewish authors were burned publicly and purged from German libraries, Jewish publishing houses were able to print Kafka, and the Jewish theater in Nazi Germany was the only place where Lessing’sNathan the Wisecould be performed.

    This last flare-up of Jewish cultural activities in a time of persecution might seem paradoxical. It was, however, the logical consequence of the Nazi policy of...

  9. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 221-222)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 223-260)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 261-288)
  12. Index
    (pp. 289-306)