- The Modernity of Others: Jewish Anti-Catholicism in Germany and France by Ari Joskowicz
There is an extensive and excellent literature on the role of the Catholic Church in the long history of anti-Jewish prejudices and violence. In this striking, erudite, and sure-footed monograph, Ari Joskowicz reverses the usual perspective, focusing our attention on the negative attitudes of Jews toward Catholicism over the course of the long nineteenth century, from the high Enlightenment to the aftermath of the Dreyfus affair. Taking a transnational approach, looking at France and Germany in parallel, Joskovicz excellently brings out the potential of comparative history, illuminating the situation in each country by highlighting its similarities, differences, and intertwinements with the other. He also overcomes the reductive binarism of much work in Jewish-Christian relations, which can treat Christianity monolithically. In this study we are made keenly aware that Jews were closely engaged in the various tussles between liberal secularism and Catholicism, which modernizing liberals often designated as their primary nemesis.
In no sense, though, is this study a simple turning of the tables on the wellknown history of Catholic antisemitism in this period. Both Jews and Catholics were victims of targeted violence during the nineteenth century, as Joskovicz points out, rightly arguing that there is a place for the comparative study of these physical manifestations of prejudice (pp. 35–37). The focus of his study, however, is on the discursive use by Jews of anti-Catholic rhetoric. This was a “political language,” [End Page 946] deployed by Jews in various ways for varying purposes. Scholars have long recognized that anti-Jewish discourse can have many uses, often only loosely connected to Jews themselves. Joskovicz’s analysis shrewdly redeploys this insight, highlighting, for example, the ways in which terms such as jesuitic or medieval carried evocative anti-Catholic resonances and were terms through which modernizing Jews frequently expressed their alignment with progress and against whatever they deemed as in opposition to this—including, not infrequently, their adversaries within the Jewish community (p. 8).
The central subject of the book is not so much anti-Catholic discourse in itself but rather the ways in which Jewish politicians, intellectuals, and community leaders in France and Germany used this to position themselves as enlightened, modern citizens. Jewish anti-Catholicism, Joskovicz convincingly argues, “served as a gauge of Jews’ political and social integration” (p. 270). Once Jews felt confident enough to participate as equals in European political debates, it was often more appealing for them to assert their progressive orientation in contrast not to the old traditions and authority structures of Judaism, but to those of Catholicism. Joskovicz deftly traces this tendency, from the anticlericalism of Moses Mendelssohn and other maskilim, through landmark moments such as the Damascus Affair (1840) and the Mortara Affair (1856), to the Jewish voices in the Kulturkampf of the 1870s. He here challenges “the myth of minority sensitivity” (p. 240), according to which the Jews supposedly inclined toward an empathetic understanding to the experience of German Catholics under Bismarck.
The Modernity of Others tells a complicated story, involving much intercutting among countries, individuals, and analytical registers. Its story is also, inevitably, not a complete one: more might be said, for example, about those Jews who engaged positively with Catholicism such as the various converts of the romantic era or the radical Ludwig Boerne who, in 1834, translated into German Felicité de Lamennais’s socialist Catholic credo, Paroles d’un croyant. Overall, however, this is an immensely stimulating and impressive book, and one that greatly furthers and nuances our understanding of the politics of religion in nineteenth-century Europe.