Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Against the Grain

Against the Grain: Jewish Intellectuals in Hard Times

Ezra Mendelsohn
Stefani Hoffman
Richard I. Cohen
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 320
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Against the Grain
    Book Description:

    Highlighting the seminal role of German Jewish intellectuals and ideologues in forming and transforming the modern Jewish world, this volume analyzes the political roads taken by German Jewish thinkers; the impact of the Holocaust on the Central and East European Jewish intelligentsia; and the conundrum of modern Jewish identity. Several of German Jewry's most outstanding figures such as Scholem, Strauss, and Kohn are discussed. Inspired by Steven E. Aschheim's work, several contributors focus on the fraught relationship between German and East European Jews (the so-calledOstjuden) and between German Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors. More generally, this book examines how Central European Jewish thinkers reacted to the terrible crises of the twentieth century-to war, genocide, and the existential threat to the very existence of the Jewish people. It is essential reading for those interested in the triumphs and tragedies of modern European Jewry.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-003-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Editors’ Note
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction Reading Steven Aschheim
    (pp. 1-14)
    Ezra Mendelsohn

    Steven Aschheim, the scholar and teacher whose work this book honors, is a cultural and intellectual historian with a special interest in German-speaking Europe. He is a member of the History Department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which, unlike universities outside of Israel, maintains two separate history departments—one for general (that is, Gentile) history, the other for Jewish history. Ironically enough, many members of the General History Department also work on Jewish subjects, and Aschheim is one of them. In fact, he has conducted most of his research in the Jewish field, more specifically modern Jewish cultural and...

  6. Part I. Strauss, Scholem, Arendt, Benjamin

    • Chapter 1 A Zionist Critique of Jewish Politics: The Early Thought of Leo Strauss
      (pp. 17-31)
      Jerry Z. Muller

      InBeyond the Border: The German-Jewish Legacy Abroad, Steven Aschheim notes: “The Zionist engagement of so many German-Jewish intellectuals who were later to achieve international fame, the creative energies it inspired, is rather astonishing and a tale that awaits its historian . . .”¹ This chapter, which examines the role of Zionist engagement in the early thought of Leo Strauss, is a contribution to that astonishing tale. Strauss famously suggested that in reading the work of a thinker of the past, we should do so without preconceived notions. This chapter is based on the assumption that the younger Strauss might...

    • Chapter 2 Leo Strauss Reading Karl Marx during the Cold War
      (pp. 32-50)
      Adi Armon

      In 1962, Leo Strauss gave his characterization of both Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche, defining the latter as “the step-grandfather of fascism” and the former as “the father of communism”:

      Karl Marx, the father of communism, and Friedrich Nietzsche, the step-grandfather of fascism, were liberally educated on a level to which we cannot even hope to aspire. But perhaps one can say that their grandiose failures make it easier for us who have experienced those failures to understand again the old saying that wisdom cannot be separated from moderation and hence to understand that wisdom requires unhesitating loyalty to a...

    • Chapter 3 Gershom Scholem, Einst und Jetzt: Zionist Politics and Kabbalistic Historiography
      (pp. 51-63)
      David Biale

      In a birthday greeting to his son Gerhard, written on 12 March 1921, Arthur Scholem says of the younger Scholem’s work on Kabbalah, the first fruits of which had just appeared in Martin Buber’sDer Jude: “It’s a pity that all this scholarship should have been used so idly, and a double pity that such productive powers and intellectual labor should have been expended so uselessly. . . . Three cheers for Hebraica and Jewish studies—but not as a career. Take my word for it: if you don’t change course you will experience a bitter shipwreck. . . .”¹...

    • Chapter 4 Death or Birth: Scholem and Secularization
      (pp. 64-85)
      Zohar Maor

      Gershom Scholem’s account of the process of secularization and his personal confrontation with it—arguably, almost two sides of the same coin—are both ambiguous and hard to follow. Scholem celebrates the destruction of the religious past but in the same breath mourns the shallowness of the secular present; he accepts secularization as a final stage according to a deterministic Hegelian dialectic but yearns for a dramatic, unanticipated religious renaissance.

      An interview from 1974 reveals much of this almost amusing ambiguity, as biographic experience mingles with theoretical analysis. For example, this is how Scholem describes the Jewish awakening of his...

    • Chapter 5 Fragments From a Correspondence (Walter Benjamin, Gershom Scholem): A Poem
      (pp. 86-90)
      Zvi Jagendorf
  7. Part II. Political Positioning in Hard Times

    • Chapter 6 In Heidegger’s Shadow: Ernst Cassirer, Emmanuel Levinas, and the Question of the Political
      (pp. 93-103)
      Jeffrey Andrew Barash

      In an interview accorded late in his life, Emmanuel Levinas recalled his reaction as a youthful spectator at the famous debate in Davos, Switzerland, in 1929, between Ernst Cassirer and Martin Heidegger. Although in subsequent publications Levinas rarely evoked the name of Cassirer, in this interview in 1986 he reminisced about the orientation that Cassirer had elaborated and defended in Davos against Heidegger’s trenchant critique. Cassirer, Levinas remarked, was the representative of a “refined humanism.” He was, according to Levinas’s not-entirely-favorable comments, a “neo-Kantian, a glorious disciple of Hermann Cohen, the modern interpreter of Kant on the basis of the...

    • Chapter 7 Walther Rathenau’s Dilemma: Modernity and the Human Soul
      (pp. 104-116)
      Shulamit Volkov

      Walther Rathenau is known primarily as Weimar Germany’s foreign minister, a Jew in one of that country’s highest offices, murdered in full daylight on a Saturday morning, 24 June 1922, while riding in his elegant open-roof coupe along the Königsallee in Grunewald, Berlin-West.¹ Some also identify him as the son of the famousGeneraldirektorof the pioneering electrical concern, the AEG—Emil Rathenau. Walther was an industrial baron and financier in his own right, surely among Germany’s wealthiest and most powerful businessmen of his generation. Few still remember that he was also a prolific writer at the time, an intellectual...

    • Chapter 8 “Nothing But a Disillusioned Love”?: Hans Kohn’s Break with the Zionist Movement
      (pp. 117-142)
      Adi Gordon

      Hans Kohn’s (1891–1971) life’s work marks the beginning of nationalism studies as we know it. From the time of Herder, the major theoretical contributions toward an understanding of nations and nationalism had been written by nationalist thinkers who viewed nationalism as universal and natural. By contrast, Kohn did not write his major works on nationalism as a nationalist, but during and after a slow and painful break with his own national movement—the Zionist movement. “It gave me a better understanding of the pitfalls and self-deception inherent in most national movements,” he would write in his memoirs.¹ Although not...

    • Chapter 9 Historicism and the Event
      (pp. 143-168)
      Martin Jay

      What exactly happened in May 1968, in France? Or, more precisely, how can we characterize what happened? Was it a revolt, a rebellion, maybe even an unsuccessful revolution? Or was it, perhaps, merely a harmless festival of transgression in political garb, a carnival of temporary release from the constraints of normal life? Uncertain about the answer, contemporary observers fell back on the vague and undefined term “les événements”—“the events”—and the name has somehow stuck.¹ Historians have continued to speak of “the events of May” to refer to the student and worker strikes and the anarchic cultural efflorescence that...

  8. Part III. Brothers and Strangers:: The Issue of Identity

    • Chapter 10 Asiatic Brothers, European Strangers: Eugen Hoeflich and Pan-Asian Zionism in Vienna
      (pp. 171-185)
      Hanan Harif

      In writing these words in 1919, Eugen Hoeflich tried to convince his Jewish readers in Vienna of the need for a radical change of Zionist political and cultural perspectives—from Europeanism to Asianism. Hoeflich’s appeal was profoundly influenced by pan-Asianism, an ideology that called for a revival of old Asian traditions, all-Asian unification, and a rejection of Western cultural influences and political hegemony over the Asian lands.

      This chapter discusses pan-Asian Zionism, an idea that existed on the margins of German-speaking Zionism in post– World War I Vienna and, as will be shown, shared some of the tendencies of wider...

    • Chapter 11 “Brothers and Strangers”: The American Example
      (pp. 186-197)
      Pierre Birnbaum

      As in the past, the Jewish world is currently riven by a multitude of divisions. Despite a shared destiny and history, Jews confront one another, and their differing values and interests have aroused many conflicts among them. In the modern period alone, the force of these internal disagreements was manifest in the ruthless competition between the Jews of Bordeaux and those of Alsace during the French Revolution and the often brutal way that the French “Israélites” opposed the “Polacks,” occasionally going so far as to request that the prefect expel them from Lorraine. In their unceasing migrations the Jews also...

    • Chapter 12 “Man kann verjuden”: Paradoxes of Exemplarity
      (pp. 198-210)
      Vivian Liska

      “One can become a Jew, just as one can become a human being; one can Judaize. . . . I consider this commendable.”¹ This sentence in Paul Celan’s preliminary notes for his “Meridian” speech, delivered in 1961 on the occasion of receiving the Büchner Prize, the highest literary distinction in Germany, paradoxically names a universal human capacity in terms of a particular culture, tradition, or ethnic group. This paradox is not resolved, but, on the contrary, is intensified in the subsequent elaborations on this odd verb, “verjuden”: “Verjuden: es ist Anderswerden”—”Judaizing: that is, becoming other.” Beyond the mere provocation...

  9. Part IV. In the Shadow of the Holocaust

    • Chapter 13 A “Usable Past” and the Crisis of European Jews: Popular Jewish Historiography in Germany, France, and Hungary in the 1930s
      (pp. 213-239)
      Guy Miron

      In a review article published in response to the renewed publication of theZeitschrift für die Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland, Moritz Stern, a German rabbi and historian, stated that the journal would not only serve science, but “it also has advantages for our current struggle and aims.” The understanding of the legal status of German Jews throughout history, their participation in the political, social, and economic life of Germany, and their link to the German language is crucial for the present, claimed Stern, expressing a common view in the liberal Jewish camp.¹

      This chapter will discuss how French, German,...

    • Chapter 14 Three Jewish Émigrés at Nuremberg: Jacob Robinson, Hersch Lauterpacht, and Raphael Lemkin
      (pp. 240-254)
      Michael R. Marrus

      By exploring three very dissimilar Jewish perspectives that emerged at the time of the Nuremberg Trials, this chapter will present a different slant on the Holocaust at Nuremberg. I shall examine three Jews who appeared at Nuremberg, each of whom had a lasting, although utterly different impact—three Jews, each of them a lawyer, each of them an émigré from an Eastern Europe ravaged by the slaughter of Jewish people during the war, and each, in his own way, drawing an important conclusion from the catastrophic events that had just occurred.¹ In doing so, I hope to dispel the mistaken...

    • Chapter 15 The Frankfurt School and the “Jewish Question,” 1940–1970
      (pp. 255-276)
      Anson Rabinbach

      Characteristically, Gershom Scholem once called the Frankfurt School a remarkable “Jewish sect.”¹ Scholars have often seized upon his comment to point to “the Jewish elements in the teachings of the Frankfurt School,” as if this group of philosophers and academics set out to distill a particular “Lehre” or set of Jewish-socialist teachings for future generations.² It is undeniable that virtuallyallof the central figures of the Institut für Sozialforschung had, to one degree or another, grown up in a Jewish milieu. The varied Jewish backgrounds of the Frankfurt School members have been closely analyzed, most extensively by Jack Jacobs,...

    • Chapter 16 Holocaust History and Survivor Testimony: Challenges, Limitations, and Opportunities
      (pp. 277-284)
      Christopher R. Browning

      I first became aware of the emotional volatility of my subject matter when I attended a conference at the University of Haifa in 1986. Raul Hilberg delivered a talk on the documentary sources and historiography of the Holocaust, in which he valued contemporaneous German documents above Jewish survivor testimonies for the purposes of understanding Nazi policies and reconstructing historical events. The following day an indignant Israeli press announced that Hilberg had proclaimed Nazis more trustworthy than Jewish survivors! Hilberg did not include his original remarks in the printed version of his talk but presumably in no small pique instead quoted...

  10. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 285-288)
  11. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 289-294)
  12. Index
    (pp. 295-306)