- Inventing the Jew: Antisemitic Stereotypes in Romanian and Other Central-East European Cultures
The author of this valuable addition to the series Studies in Antisemitism is a researcher at the Institute for the History of Religions in Bucharest and Associate Professor at the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Bucharest. Although he has published extensively on Jewish themes—especially the image of the Jew in folklore—as well as on various aspects of antisemitism in his native Romania, this [End Page 324] is among the first of his major works to appear in English (the dust-jacket note glosses over the language of publication of his previous works).
Inventing the Jew consists of an introduction followed by five lengthy chapters, each devoted to a "portrait" of the Jew in Romanian culture, with extensive reference to other Central and East European cultures: the physical portrait, the occupational portrait, the moral and intellectual portrait, the mythical and magical portrait and, finally, the religious portrait. The author's approach is comparativist, running along four distinct lines: the diachronic, which investigates the evolution of clichés and motifs of legends about Jews over time; the geo-cultural, which specifically compares the imaginary (or perhaps better, "imagined") Jew's profile in traditional Romanian culture with that found among neighboring peoples; the cultural, by which the author means the extent to which elements of "folk" antisemitism have been adopted by "intellectual" antisemitism; and finally the ethnic, which compares the image of the Jew in traditional Romanian culture with images of other "others" with whom the Romanians have come into contact over the centuries.
The work is a goldmine of richly documented information (there are 1,773 footnotes in all). The data will be invaluable to anyone researching Jewish themes related not just to Romania but to any part of Eastern/Southeastern Europe. It is difficult in a brief notice to convey how extraordinarily erudite and valuable this refreshingly empirically-oriented work is, but it is the reviewer's duty to try. First, Oişteanu makes accessible for the first time the wealth of secondary materials published especially (but by no means only) over the last twenty years—publications that hitherto have been available only in Romanian (credit for the very serviceable rendering of this linguistically complex work into English should be given here: the translator is Mirela Adăscălitei). Of great significance is the breadth of materials brought to bear on the themes: Oişteanu has mined mythology, folktales, proverbs, travelers' tales and accounts, Romanian poetry, novels, autobiographies, memoirs, historical and philosophical works, as well as periodicals and newspapers. In many cases what he has unearthed can stand as primary sources. This is particularly true for what will be of special interest for many readers: attitudes towards Jews in Romania today. I will quote two such examples.
The first is a slightly abridged and recast item that documents the gap—all too familiar to students of Romanian history—between modern, Western-type legislation and enduring lay attitudes:
Penal case no. 16 395/2000, ordained in the public session of 15 November 2000 at the Court of Justice of Timişoara: during a heated discussion, one Gh. Z. publicly and repeatedly insulted a Jew, R. C., by describing the latter as a "filthy Yid." R. C. sued Gh. Z. on the basis of Article 205 of the Penal Code which states that "the blemish on one's honor or reputation by words, gestures, or by other means or by holding in contempt" amounts to the "crime of insult" and is "punishable by imprisonment for [End Page 325] between 1 month and 2 years or by damage.… The same punishment is attainable by the attribution of a flaw, a handicap, or a disease, that even if real, should not be emphasized." Gh. Z. pleaded guilty and witnesses confirmed the offense.… During the hearing the defendant's lawyer...