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Reviewed by:
  • Eigenheit und Einheit: Modernisierungsdiskurse des deutschen Judentums der Emanzipationszeit
  • Nils Roemer
Eigenheit und Einheit: Modernisierungsdiskurse des deutschen Judentums der Emanzipationszeit, by Andreas Gotzmann. Studies in European Judaism, 2. Leiden: Brill, 2002. 314 pp. $112.00.

In Eigenheit und Einheit, Andreas Gotzmann analyzes educational reforms, nineteenth-century German-Jewish scholarship, discourses about the relationship between religion and state, debates about concepts of nationalism and Judaism, and the notion of Jewish languages. Overall, he posits that Jews in Germany defended the uniqueness of Judaism beyond the narrow confines of modern nationalism as a universal religious and cultural force. He views cultural and religious changes as not solely the result of external factors but claims that throughout this period, German Jews engaged in questions of unity and uniqueness in numerous discourses to assert their particularism. They invested their religious, cultural, and social transformation with markers that made it an intrinsically Jewish process.

Gotzmann views the nineteenth-century historical investigations as well as their popularization in school curricula as crucial elements in the intellectual, cultural, and religious modernization of German Jews during the nineteenth century. He pinpoints the paradigmatic changes in religious education (pp. 67-83) and the alteration in the valence of the oral law (pp. 84-113), before he engages nineteenth-century historical reconstruction as an endeavor to situate Jews and Judaism within a radically changing world. Textbook authors like Ephraim Willstätter combined religious and trans-national elements and described the unity of Jews with metaphors of family and descent (p. 149). In these historians' reliance on genealogical models, Gotzmann detects an ethnic definition foreshadowing the concept of Stamm (tribe) that dominated later discussions (p. 149). Every German-Jewish historian of this period, Gotzmann explains, constructed a national history of the Jews (p. 154). While this certainly balances the traditional view of Wissenschaft des Judentums as the apologetic gravedigger of Judaism, Gotzmann believes that the lachrymose conception of Jewish history helped to in particular denigrate the medieval Ashkenazic past (p. 169). Nevertheless, historical investigations remained ambivalent (p. 184) and did not simply usher in an age of secularization but more often combined theological and secular perspectives in the study of the past. Gotzmann rightly, therefore, queries swiftly constructed opposition between history and theology, in which history is often portrayed as the secularized successor to pre-modern religious discourses.

In the next chapter, Gotzmann describes German-Jews' engagement with the vexing relationship between state and religion. Early on, the relationship between Judaism and the state became a charged and contested issue when German Jews were accused of constituting an inassimilable religious-ethnic group that formed a state within a state. As noted already by Saul Ascher in 1819, this indictment placed Jews in the precarious position of being neither Christian nor German. Yet Gotzmann convincingly argues that German Jews aptly reformulated this dichotomy in terms that allowed them to emphasize [End Page 166] the compatibility of Judaism with the state during the heydays of religious modernization in the 1840s and 1850s.

The constant pressure to assimilate is probably best exemplified in the replacement of Yiddish with High German and the diminished role of Hebrew, which is all too often seen as the touchstone of German Jews' embourgeoisement. Yet Gotzmann believes that beyond the well-known fact that the adaptation of High German and the curtailment of Hebrew played a central role in German-Jews' cultural transformation, it also signaled a quest for a new Jewish language beyond the usual suspects of Yiddish and Hebrew. Securing an albeit diminished role for Hebrew in the liturgy established a grounding difference that upheld Jews' uniqueness, while maintaining unity with Germany in the debate at the rabbinical conferences of the 1840s. By the end of the century, the German-Jewish historians Abraham Berliner and Moritz Güdemann deemed Yiddish an essential part of the German language tradition. What hitherto had been used as an anti-semitic charge of otherness, these scholars saw as prime examples of a common and shared culture beyond religious differences.

Gotzmann convincingly highlights the paradoxical position that is captured in the title of this very erudite, richly documented, and densely written work of scholarship. He persuasively demonstrates that German-Jewish...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 166-168
Launched on MUSE
2005-02-24
Open Access
No
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