- Shofar: Reflections on Culture, Language, Methodology, and Chairman Joe
A vivid recollection. Back in 1996, when founding editor Joseph Haberer invited me to join the Shofar editorial inner circle, he saluted my qualifications and vehemently insisted in a yekkish tone, “do not convert Shofar into a Holocaust journal.” My shtetl response, hobn nisht moyre, calmed Joe (I believe), but Shoah thought is a central force in my teaching and writing orientation. Would Joe agree that this is a necessary editorial skill in editing Shofar? Yes and/or no, a nonissue. He had no choice. Let me explain.
On the fifty-third anniversary of the Reichspogromnacht—and the second anniversary of a reunited Germany—November 7–10, 1991, a number of scholars, survivors, and children of survivors joined Christian, Jewish, Sinti-Romani, and Turkish citizens of Germany in a landmark meeting, “Addressing the Cycle of Pain.” I served as program coordinator and I gave the preliminary address on the eve of the conference. This landmark ecumenical event was noted in the Journal of Ecumenical Studies 28, no. 4 (1991) and my talk was printed in Shofar 10, no. 4 (1992). At the International Scholars’ Conference, “Remembering for the Future: The Impact of the Holocaust and Genocide on Jews and Christians,” that took place in Oxford, England on July 10–13, 1988, Bruce Zuckerman and I presented “Why Do We Call the Holocaust the Holocaust? An Inquiry into the Psychology of Labels,” revised and published in Modern Judaism 7 (1989). At “Remembering for the Future II,” held in Berlin, March 13–17, 1994, we presented “The Furor Over the Auschwitz Convent: The Inside and Outside of the Language of Bias,” published in B. Rubenstein, M. Berenbaum, et al., eds., What Kind of God: Essays in Honor of Richard L. Rubenstein (1995). At these European conferences, I was involved in topics on the Shoah, genocide, and the problems of national and interethnic conflicts from pedagogical, historical, theological, and literary genres. And at these auspicious gatherings of mainly Christians and Jews, where debate and dialogue were pervasive and persuasive, I was impressed by the power of words and language. [End Page 1]
The sacred and the profane declare that man is a unique species in the animal kingdom as a word producer. From the first embryonic word to the last word uttered by an expiring body, we are the word-making animal. And in that rare species, those of us in education and religion are rarer still—we know the awesome power of words and we should be more careful regarding words and how we make use of them.
We must be more selective in our choice of words for criticism, praise, and sarcasm.
We must avoid new words and overused words that mislead and confuse—words such as fundamentalism, ethnic cleansing, revisionism, “man’s inhumanity to man.”
We must limit verbosity and repetitiveness, for the overgrowth kills otherwise healthy words and ideas.
We must discourage the cold, hot, lukewarm, and warmed-over war of words among scholars. They are not productive but destructive.
We must practice more the basic words of humane vocabulary—words such as hello, sorry, you’re OK, I’m OK, peace.
In short and to the point, scholars and doers who are practitioners of words and not merely believers in words are making one giant step forward to humanize mankind.
So it is with language. Despite its omnipresence, we normally do not think much about language as an instrument to do good or to execute evil nor do we understand the working of its medium (words and syntax) in expressing how we think, feel, perceive, or desire. Understanding the constraints of language on what we can and cannot do to ponder the imponderable became the focus of my initial study on the terminology of Judeocide. And centrifugal in the strengths and weaknesses I brought to my position as editor of Shofar.
Anatomy of Shofar: Aims, Scope, and Published Works
Shofar is dedicated to publishing high-quality research in Jewish Studies. It is a multidisciplinary journal with particular strengths in Jewish culture, literature, film, and history in the modern...