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  • Editor's Introduction
  • Natalie B. Dohrmann

This two-part forum was compiled and edited by our colleague Elliott Horowitz, z"l. The first cluster of essays appeared in last summer's issue of JQR (volume 107, number 3), where Elliott's lengthy introduction can be found (pp. 379–96). Though remaining in the penumbra of Germanophone Jewish culture, this second installment of essays extends the scope beyond the case studies of Gershom Scholem and his fraught epistolary networks to feature three essays exploring a range of encounters between academics and the world around them. Letters once again surprise us by bringing to the forefront the human emotion and historical urgency that animate such tame pursuits as historical philology and linguistics. In Daniel Schwartz's essay, Philipp Jaffé, a brilliant medievalist whose isolation and scholarly obsession seem to have led him finally to take his own life in 1870, reveals himself to be a man connected to and deeply loved by a warm family. In the other two pieces in this forum we see letters as a microcosm of Jewish history as it faces the fallout from the two world wars. Mirjam Thulin shows the Wissenschaft des Judentums scholar Markus Brann (1849–1920) reaching out from the economic and cultural collapse of post–World War I Breslau to the hale and wealthy American diaspora. His letters assert the continued relevance and importance of the German-speaking intellectual center, calling for American Jews not to turn their back on it. In his August 4, 1920, letter to a young rabbi in Chicago, Brann makes clear his desperate need for support, both for the Jewish community (in this case a school for poor Jewish girls in Breslau) and for scholarship. World War II, however, inverts this directionality. Kalman Wieser, in his essay, describes the principled refusal of Max Weinreich to reimagine his YIVO (itself a refugee in New York), or indeed the intellectual work of any German in the aftermath of the [End Page 85] war, as anything but irredeemable. No scholarship in his eyes exists free of the values of the scholar. This commitment is thrown into relief in the correspondence of Weinreich and Solomon Birnbaum with and concerning the Nazi Yiddish linguist Franz Beranek. Beranek sought recognition by and inclusion in the field of Yiddish represented by YIVO, as well as support from Weinreich for his continued research. He felt himself a victim of Nazism, a survivor who did what had to be done to survive the war, not a collaborator. In their disagreement on how to treat Beranek, Weinreich and Birnbaum—whose take on Beranek was much softer, though no less principled—touch on the central ethical questions of the twentieth century.

In Brann's centripetal plea to turn American eyes back to Jews left in Europe and in Weinreich's centrifugally defiant diasporism—and differently still in the love of family that does not always register in the published study or report of suicide—we see the soil in which the life of the mind grows, and sometimes struggles to survive. [End Page 86]



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