Ost und West and the History of European Jewish Identity
The creators of Ost und West had to know what made their readers Jewish in order to promote Jewish ethnicity to them. By familiarizing themselves with German-Jewish identity, they hoped to influence how Westjuden perceived their Jewishness. Winz and his associates thus conducted what we today would call market research to determine the ways in which German Jews identified themselves as Jews.1 By partaking of two Jewish cultures, the editors of Ost und West already had completed enough informal market research to develop effective methods of publicity. They saw that they could more ably promote ethnic Jewishness—also referred to as “ethnic Judaism” in the following—by being sensitive to the fears and desires of their audience. This chapter, then, will derive the strategies with which Ost und West appealed to Jewish groups in the Kaiserreich by specifying the Jewish identities they shared.2
At the same time, Ost und West had to draw on the few similarities of Eastern Jews and Western Jews to promote its ideology of pan-European Jewish identity. Although the differences between the two groups were better known and were the source of much stereotyping, the magazine focused on anything that unified them. If Jewish ethnicity was to become an acceptable form of German-Jewish identity, Ost und West had to define its “modernes Judentum” broadly, extending the limits of Jewish self-definition. Judentum was already a broad term by 1901, encompassing both “Judaism” and “Jewishness.” In the interest of historical accuracy, the two will be used interchangeably in the following.
Ethnic Judaism in turn-of-the-century Germany was thus an attempt to synthesize the Judaisms of Eastern and Western Europe. Yet Ost und West’s synthesis was not impartial, for it had the distinctly Eastern flavor of the Pale. But while the journal favored Eastern Jewish ethnicity, it consistently dressed it up in Western clothes. Making a pan-European ethnic Judaism acceptable to Jews in Germany eventually took priority over conjoining Eastern and Western Judaisms.
As already noted, stereotyping proved the best way to prop up ethnic Jewish consciousness in Ost und West. Stereotypes were based, however, on the components of popular Jewish identity, and it is these components that will be examined here. Surprisingly few efforts have been made to write a social history of Jewish identity in the modern age.3 Most historians of European Jewry have relied instead on accounts of ideologues, community leaders, or fellow historians. As a result, their intellectual histories of European Jews all but ignore middle-brow magazines such as Ost und West and their specific appeals to Jewish self-understanding. This chapter is an attempt to reconstruct what it meant to be Jewish in Germany around 1900. Its aim is to show how the readers of Ost und West viewed their Jewish identities before their first encounter with the journal.
The targeted audiences of Ost und West did not construct their Jewishness out of whole cloth. Rather, their Judaism was a patchwork woven together from three types of Jewish identity: “Eastern” or “traditional” Judaism, “Western” or “enlightened” Judaism, and “ethnic” or “national”4 Judaism. Though somewhat simplified, these three forms of Jewish identity represent the main options available to Jews in the Kaiserreich, and each was a variation on a geocultural orientation—East European versus West European.
Eastern/traditional Judaism. In the parlance of European Jews, becoming modern meant leaving Eastern Europe, where the oldest type of Judaism, traditional Orthodoxy, was practiced. This Jewish identity was based, first and foremost, on religion. Its forms of ritual and belief were not unlike those in the remainder of medieval, premodern Europe. Jews leaving this ghettolike environment might not always be strictly observant. Nonetheless, their Orthodox Judaism was to be distinguished from Jewish neo-Orthodoxy in Germany, a Judaism that creatively borrowed from enlightened Western lifestyles. Ost und West’s essays and fiction drew heavily on Eastern, ancestral modes of seeing the world, and in its early years, the magazine relied especially upon negative religious stereotypes of Jews who intermarried and/or converted.5 As we will see, this strategy aimed to appeal to recently transplanted Ostjuden in Germany. For the East European shtetl (“small town”) whence many of these Jews came was still characterized by Jewish tradition: little acculturation to the surrounding Slavic cultures, the preservation of Yiddish speech, a lower-middle-class and proletarian socioeconomic structure, a high birth rate, and a low rate of intermarriage.6
Western/enlightened Judaism. From a historical point of view, enlightened Judaism represented the first stage of European Jewish modernization. It does not conform, however, in all particulars with the European Enlightenment, and it certainly goes beyond the scope of the Jewish Enlightenment or Haskalah. Jews who left the ghetto, the prototype being Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786), were accepted into a “semi-neutral” society in the West.7 As they came into closer contact with the majority culture in Germany after 1800, Jews increasingly adopted middle-class mores. As a result, Western Judaism became a “confession” like Lutheranism. But Jews in Germany never became fully Germanized, and the majority of them certainly were not as upwardly mobile as the fictional Jewish parvenu. Still, the allure of Western secularism was such that Ost und West always presented itself as eminently respectable. It conformed, on the surface at least, as much to enlightened, West European norms as to traditional, Eastern Jewish models. The journal required, for instance, that male Jews project an image of patriotism and overt masculinity. In addition, Jewish men were encouraged to imitate non-Jews in their occupations, becoming farmers or craftsmen instead of merchants and moneylenders. The call to open all professions to Jews also was taken up by Jewish nationalists.
Pan-European or ethnic Judaism. This mixture of Eastern and Western Judaism, the creation of multicultural Jews, was grounded in the belief that it was wrong to neglect any aspect of Jewish culture. Although linked to the premodern religion of Jews, it did not dismiss their secular loyalties. While those who did not support Jewish cultural renewal were, by implication, “inauthentic” Jews, those who were willing to avow their Jewish ethnicity publicly might interpret it as they wished. Ethnic Jews (Stammesjuden) might be activists, or they might be nonpartisan on issues such as Zionism. In addition, they might derive their definitions of Judentum from Eastern religious and Western secular models, both of which could be found in Ost und West.8
Religion and ritual observance lie at the core of Jewish history. The oldest form of Jewish identity available in turn-of-the century Europe was Rabbinic Judaism, a religious-cultural system that had been in existence for more than a thousand years. This form of Jewish identity originally was designed to preserve Jewish consciousness in the post-Exilic age (after 70 C.E.). Traditional Judaism was built not on correct beliefs (orthodoxy) but on correct practices (orthopraxy). As a result, Rabbinic Judaism put forth extensive guidelines for ethical behavior. Although these guidelines were reinforced by the kehillah, or autonomous, nonvoluntary Jewish community, traditional Jews obeyed the Torah because God ordained it, not necessarily because of moral or worldly authority. Indeed, following the law was the precondition for all moral action.
This legalistic-sounding orientation only changed with the advent of modernity and exposure to Western ways. The creation of “moral individuals” was a concern of newfangled Enlightenment thinkers in the eighteenth century and foreign to Eastern-traditional Judaism.9 These largely Christian thinkers, for all their misrepresentation of Jews, correctly understood the centrality of Talmud in premodern Jewish practice. Soon Jews were attracted to the rationality and universalism of the Enlightenment, and moral arguments were used to justify the observance of 613 commandments. The notion of a Jewish ethical mission first emerged in the late 1700s and found its classical formulation in Reform (or “Liberal”) Judaism.10 In fact, the rejection of traditional Jewish identity was important in uniting both Reform and neo-Orthodox German Jews, and it pointed to a basic East-West Jewish difference.11
The Eastern Jewish editors of Ost und West were highly aware of the Eastern sources for traditional Jewish identity. By defending Eastern Jewish culture, the magazine was defending pre-Enlightenment religious values and implicitly attacking German forms of Judaism that had their social and intellectual foundations in Western secularism. Discussion of religious issues, while not central, became an offshoot of the journal’s agenda, and despite its ethnic orientation, Ost und West assumed that children of Jewish mothers—matrilineal descent was the traditional benchmark for determining who was a Jew—should have some basic understanding of Judaism qua religion.12 Being a traditional Jew implied that one had some knowledge of biblical commandments and injunctions. However, Ost und West shrewdly avoided denominational controversy by permitting a range of Jewish religious affiliations, from strict observance to unbaptized disinterest.13 This openness was a potential affront to pious Orthodox readers in the East. Still, the journal excoriated those who had converted out of Judaism. It also took pains to avoid offending Jews who were devout (gesetzestreu), allying itself at times with the westernized neo-Orthodox of Germany.14 Although the journal favored readers who were proud, professing (selbstbewußt) Jews, its Jewish nationalist bias actually targeted all readers of Jewish ancestry. In this respect, Ost und West could make concessions to enlightened Judaism without having to exclude traditional Jews. Religion was thus inextricably linked with ethnicity in Eastern Jewish self-definition, and no Nationaljude could have overlooked this type of Judaism in forging his or her ethnic Jewish identity.15
Eastern Jews who were similar in background to the journal’s editors and recently transplanted in Germany became the target readers of Ost und West, particularly in its early years. But for all their participation in greater European culture, the social and cultural profile of Winz and his colleagues reflected their moorings in Eastern Jewish life. By virtue of geocultural circumstance, they had been shaped by the traditional religiosity and lifestyle. According to most accounts, the world they came from was fairly unproblematic: “it does seem fair to generalize that vast numbers of Jews in Russia to 1917 or in Poland to 1939 were living with one foot in their tradition and the other outside of it, striving—at times tentatively, at times stridently, more often than not unselfconsciously—to reconcile the way of life of their parents with the attractions and challenges of modern existence.”16 Therefore, religious identity remained an influential force in the lives of Jewish Easterners, even after 1900, when Eastern Jewish life was characterized by a certain degree of acculturation and secularization that typically led not to assimilation but to modern Jewish nationalism of one form or another. In this community, there were two legitimate forms of identity, ritual and ethnic, and both often dwelled within the same soul.
The most famous example of this compatibility was the Russian-based Mizrachi Zionist faction.17 The Orthodox supporters of Mizrachi were prepared to make compromises that more traditional Ostjuden were not. As Zionists, they were prepared to accepted Jewish cultural activities (within limitations) as well as diplomatic efforts to colonize Palestine. In contrast, the strictly Orthodox declared it blasphemy to do anything that might bring on the promised messianic age of redemption.
If religious practice was a potential source of conflict among Eastern Jews, their basic understanding of themselves was fairly uniform. In contrast to West and Central European Jewry (ca. 2 million), the Jewish masses of the Pale (ca. 7 million) had, in many respects, shared a common culture until the Tsarist-inspired May Laws of 1881 unleashed migration to the West. With the exception of the two million who eventually emigrated, a large part of Eastern Jewry tended to accept poverty and pogroms as a way of life that would endure until the onset of the messianic age. Nor was the shtetl of Eastern Europe, contrary to late-twentieth-century depictions, a utopia. Jews were in the minority in most of these oppressive towns, and in the Pale of Settlement, Jews were severely curtailed in their freedom of movement and other basic rights. But while they harbored no illusions about life in Eastern Europe, the majority wished neither to emigrate nor to assimilate; the force of tradition was too strong. The majority of Russian, Galician, and Rumanian Jews thus convinced themselves to stay put—physically, culturally, and theologically—even after the pogroms of 1903–1906, when emigration reached its zenith.
That Eastern Jewish identity had a long prehistory is often discounted. A legitimate sense of division between East and West preceded the enlightenment and emancipation of European Jewry. Jewish settlements in medieval Eastern Europe may have been even more populous than those in the West.18 European Jews, in fact, may never have shared a unified identity or set of practices.19 East European Jewish customs, such as early age of marriage, were losing currency among German Jews in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. At this time, German-Jewish yeshivot (institutes of traditional learning) were also on the decline; German students had to travel to Poland and other Eastern destinations, and teachers had to be recruited from the same places to work in the West. Indeed, these teachers were the bulwark against a decline of traditional Judaism in the West. Eastern and Western Jews thus regarded themselves as “foreign” even before the negative stereotypes of them achieved their classical formulation in the late eighteenth century. The trope of the westernized Jew (daytsher) already had begun to take form in the 1600s.20
The cultural gap between Eastern and Western Jews, then, was nothing new by the nineteenth century. That century, however, was marked by an unparalleled antipathy toward Eastern Jews on the part of Western Jews, surpassing prejudice toward Betteljuden in previous centuries.21 The emancipation and enlightenment of the Westjuden compounded this new alienation. Political equality required a new Jewish outlook based in patriotism, if not yet in military service. European Jews went from being “Ashkenazic” to being “French,” “German,” or “English.” Under the terms of this new social contract, Jewish culture was to become interwoven with that of non-Jews. Political enfranchisement meant that Western Jewry began to affiliate socially and culturally with the emerging nation-states, ending centuries of treatment as a separate corporative entity.22 The leader of German neo-Orthodoxy, for example, Samson Raphael Hirsch, was a staunch advocate of emancipation. Like Hirsch, Orthodox as well as liberal Jews distanced themselves from Ostjudentum.23
As a result of enlightenment and emancipation, Jews in Central Europe developed new forms of identity even more different from those of East European Jewry. True, the cultural ideals of both groups remained vaguely similar. Forms of distinction in the shtetl, such as education, resembled those in the metropolis (Großstadt), rendering Jews at both ends of Europe discernible from their neighbors. But the differences between the two Jewries outweighed their similarities by 1900. Even where the dominance of traditional Judaism in the Pale of Settlement was challenged, these challenges, such as Haskalah, took on forms peculiar to the East. The popular movement of Hasidism is one branch of Jewish traditionalism that, for all its differences with Rabbinic Judaism, teamed up with its opponents (the Mitnagdim) to fight the Haskalah.
In the mid-eighteenth century, the religious and cultural fissure of Eastern and Western Jewry became a full-fledged rift. What scholars refer to as “Western Jewish identity” crystallized and became understood as distinct at this time. This identity, as we shall see, derived from Enlightenment models. In addition, it became linked to the supporters of Enlightenment in France, England, and Germany: the rising middle classes. In most respects—socially, economically, demographically, and linguistically—the typology of the Western Jews contrasted markedly with that of their Orthodox cousins in the East. Above all, West European Jews tended to be more acculturated to their host cultures. They thus tended to abandon both Yiddish and Orthodoxy, and they converted and intermarried more than their Eastern counterparts. By no means impoverished, most were middle-class. While usually settled in urban areas, they rarely constituted a remarkably high percentage within the general urban population. In addition, their birth rate, a source of great concern, was comparatively low. Because of the confluence of these factors, this Jewry’s sense of Jewish identification was usually confessional rather than traditional or even ethnic.24
Even though the Western type of Jewish community corresponds most readily to the Jewries of Germany, France, and England, the contrast of Ostjudentum and Westjudentum was not purely geographical. Around 1900, one could find both types represented in East Central Europe. Jews living in Bohemia and Moravia, the Rumanian Walach region, and parts of Latvia identified more with the Western type.25 When seen in historical perspective, however, the discontinuities between East and West are fairly uniform and predictable. By the advent of Ost und West, westjüdisch and ostjüdisch designated not only geographical distance but also two diverging stages of cultural identity.
The Jewish confrontation with Western modernity took on an urgency in Germany that it did not assume elsewhere. Although the outward manifestations of this East-West transformation inevitably differed from country to country, Germany played a special role because of its common border with Russian Poland.26 The allure of Western Judaism led many a Polish Jew to migrate to Germany. The Jews of Posen, for example, became westernized within a hundred years after coming to Berlin in the eighteenth century, eventually forming the core of the Berlin Jewish Gemeinde. While the shift to enlightened Judaism, or even Jewish secularism,27 rarely took place in the lifetime of one individual, it usually required only two or more generations to complete its development (see fig. 5).28
One paradigmatic case of Jewish “Germanification” was Moses Mendelssohn. Commonly hailed as the first acculturated Jew in Germany, he was only the most visible instance of an already expanding trend.29 Mendelssohn was born in Dessau but perfected his German and his command of German philosophy only after following his rabbi to Berlin at age fourteen. A devotee of the Enlightenment and friend to Lessing and other Christian intellectuals, Mendelssohn maintained that if Jews worked to eliminate their Yiddish dialect (Mauschel), they might cultivate German, European, and Hebraic learning. Mendelssohn, besides various philosophical treatises, is most famous for translating the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) into a German written in Hebrew characters. Despite his public persona as a German Enlightener, or Aufklärer, he remained a strictly observant Jew who refused to entertain the possibility of converting.30 Yet most of his children, not satisfied with being Jews by denomination, opted for Christianity.
Figure 5. B . . . . . d, “Transformation der russischen Juden.”
Ost und West (September 1901): 673–74.
Mendelssohn’s visibility beyond Berlin circles influenced both Jewish identity and state policy toward the Jews and other minorities.31 Among those who consulted Mendelssohn were statesmen and policymakers such as Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835) and Christian Wilhelm von Dohm (1751–1820), author of “Über die bürgerliche Verbesserung der Juden” (On the Civic Improvement of the Jews, 1781). In Prussia in the late eighteenth century, bureaucrats such as Dohm proposed a quid pro quo whereby Jews might acquire civil rights in exchange for “regenerating” themselves, that is, acquiring the manners and morals of Western bourgeois society. Jews could become German Bürger in both senses of the term (“citizen” and “bourgeois”), but only if they remade themselves into enlightened Europeans first. In effect, Jews were asked to eliminate nearly all Jewish components of their self-understanding and to revamp their appearance, behavior, and type of education.
Even though he understood the hardships Jews had faced historically, Dohm saw European Jewish life as deficient. What suited the respectable, middle-class (Christian) German should suit the Jew, and Dohm’s quid pro quo soon became a model for Jewish emancipation in the German-speaking lands.32 Presumably, Jews who regenerated themselves according to this enlightenment-emancipation pact might transcend the defects of their condition. Acculturation was held to be a small sacrifice for their greater good. In the nineteenth century, some German Jews acculturated themselves as far as was socially and legally possible, though most drew the line at baptism.33
Although the promise of complete integration turned out to be illusory even for those who possessed a baptismal certificate (Taufschein), acculturation was central to becoming westernized. It is precisely this westernization that Ost und West attempted to reverse by promoting Eastern forms of Jewish identity. What many historians fail to underscore is that the Jews most directly affected by Dohm’s program were Ostjuden. The growing numbers of Ostjuden moving to the West in the 1700s contrasted starkly with the largely Sephardic Jewish population in Western Europe at the time. After being exiled from the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the fifteenth century, Sephardic Jewry had settled in Holland, England, France, and even parts of Germany.34 Its legacy of cultural achievement functioned as a positive model for Jewish identity throughout Europe. Only a decade after Dohm’s essay, the French parliament granted Sephardic Jews complete rights yet hesitated to do the same for the Ashkenazic Jews of Alsace-Lorraine. This prejudice was also inherent in Prussian policymaking: Dohm and his contemporaries sought to eradicate those physical, behavioral, and moral characteristics of Jews most commonly associated with Eastern Jewry.35 What these bureaucrats recognized was that the recent past of many Jewish newcomers to Germany was an East European past. They saw that the majority of Jews who had migrated to Germany since the seventeenth century came from Poland, Russia, Rumania, Galicia, and Hungary, their customs and traditions nurtured by a premodern Eastern Jewish culture.
Enlightened Judaism further entrenched itself in the German lands in the generations following Mendelssohn. Dohm and Mendelssohn helped codify a new identity for Jews wanting to live in Germany. The key to this social and cultural identity was a Europe-wide system of behavior called Sittlichkeit, best translated as “respectability.” Respectability was the major trend in Western Jewish culture as it developed since the Enlightenment, and it was closely allied with cultural trends described variously as “civilization,” “modernity,” and “embourgeoisement” (Verbürgerlichung).36 Respectability was a product of the Enlightenment, and thus a set of values that interested Western Jews and other bourgeois groups. As we shall see, it came to figure prominently in Ost und West as a public relations strategy.
Historian George Mosse has portrayed respectability as an interlocked set of cultural constructs akin to an ideology, yet its social foundations made respectability a material, lived set of perceptions and practices:
Respectability was not confined to the refinement of manners as part of the civilizing process that had begun with the change from feudal to court society, but set norms for all aspects of human life. These proved congenial to the upward mobility of the middle classes with their emphasis upon self-control, moderation, and quiet strength. Human passions and fantasies that might escape control were regarded as enemies of respectability, endangering social norms.37
Respectability was a proscriptive guide for middle-class success in the modern age. In the perceptions of men and women, the social distinction that it conferred was as important as their economic or political interests. Respectability also came to provide Western Jewish society with an essential glue that could withstand times of crisis. In addition to serving as “everyone’s morality,” it was attractive to acculturated Jews establishing new forms of Judaism. As a behavioral code for the private as well as for the public sphere, respectability was most visible in the Jewish bourgeois household. A moral (gesittete) family came to be the epitome not only of Germanness but also of Jewishness—which is why Ost und West, at the start of the twentieth century, advertised itself as a middle-brow publication that was a must in every Jewish home.38 The identities available to the Jewish subculture in Wilhelminian Germany, although independent of the dominant culture in many respects, evolved from the value system of respectability.
As a Europe-wide ideology, respectability long remained undetected by historians because of its uncanny ability to influence people while simultaneously remaining invisible to them. Jews and other nineteenth-century Europeans readily succumbed to its dictates. Because it assigned its subjects a definitive place in society, respectability was valued as helping to fight social anarchy and cognitive disarray. Like other sources for European identity, it also made ample use of stereotyping through binary categories such as masculine and feminine, normal and abnormal, native and foreigner, sick and healthy.39 The ideology of respectability was thus intended to exclude, even repress, alternative visions of culture. The positive self-image of Westjudentum was frequently sustained through the stereotyping of Eastern Jews. Respectability thus became the basis for a new, Western type of Jewish consciousness.
No discussion of the impact of respectability on Jewish identity is complete without mention of Bildung (“education” or “culture”) that peculiarly German model for character formation.40 Like respectability, Bildung became one of the central ideals of the German Enlightenment in the late eighteenth century.41 Promising a “cure of the inward man,” Bildung came to be associated by German Jews with those attitudes of tolerance and liberal ideas that had enabled them to enter bourgeois society.42 The Jewish affinity for Bildung can be traced back to the value placed on learning and ethical idealism in Eastern Jewish culture. Even until World War II, Bildung and respectability were the guiding ideals adhered to by German Jews.43 Non-Jewish Germans in the state bureaucracy and nationalist organizations adapted these ideals to their own ends. Intellectuals as historically diverse as Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835) and Thomas Mann (1875–1955) sought to define the inward process of Bildung as a cultural ideal specifically suited to Germany.44
Yiddish and East European Jewish culture had, at best, a tenuous place in the scheme of respectability. Throughout the nineteenth century and most of the twentieth, Eastern Jews were thought to be resistant to both Bildung and proper sexual mores. Western Jews were encouraged to repudiate the “ghetto Jew” of the past whose appearance and behavior seemed to deny the Gentile ideal of manly respectability.45 Not unlike their Victorian counterparts in England, the German ideologues of respectability extolled the naked bodies of Greek sculpture for their purity and chastity while in the same breath condemning homosexuals and Ostjuden as criminal threats to society. One main exemplar of this “conservative” respectability was Friedrich Ludwig “Turnvater” Jahn (1778–1852), the founder of the gymnastic and fraternity movements, who combined a cult of physical health with nationalist aspirations.46 Jahn’s successors helped make masculine strength the sine qua non of respectable European nationalisms, both Jewish and non-Jewish, by World War I. Zionists, especially Nordau, sought to prove that the discourse of Jewish nationalism was more masculine than that of its antipode, Jewish liberalism.47 The same strategies earlier used to exclude Eastern Jews were at times taken up by their advocates. As a Jewish nationalist journal, Ost und West used the masculine rhetoric of the surrounding culture, extolling such values as strength of will (Willensstärke) and steadfastness (Festigkeit).48
Once they decisively rejected Eastern Jewish culture for Enlightenment ideals such as respectability and Bildung, many German Jews parted ways with traditional Judaism. But what had emerged as a new paradigm in the first half of the nineteenth century took on a conformist mien after 1848. This conservative turn was the result of successful Jewish embourgeoisement, a process marked, above all, by the Germanization of Eastern/traditional Jewish culture. For many Jews, Judaism became a denomination whose adherents were—culturally and economically—bourgeois Germans. Thus, the actual readers of Ost und West were most likely Jews of middle-class occupation and/or income.49 Of the approximately 85 percent of Jews in the Kaiserreich considered middle-class, about 25 percent could be classified as belonging to the lower middle class.50 Even the small Jewish working class ascribed to notions of respectability associated with the German middle class.51
Enlightenment Judaism was also internalized as a class orientation by many German Jews. For some, respectability and Bildung had become Jewishness itself, a “secular religion” that aimed to replace premodern Judaism.52 Secular Judaism also incorporated other functions that, before the nineteenth century, had been exercised by religion, such as replacing cultic allegiances with family allegiances. Not unlike its Eastern Jewish counterpart, the German-Jewish family passed on cultural values and norms to its children,53 but the centrality of the domestic sphere, of the Hausfrau, of presentation and display, of “leisured” behavior and German-style education—all these indicated that German Jews adhered to bourgeois norms of respectability.54 After 1848, the ideology of respectability began to lose its emancipatory appeal, establishing itself as a conservative source of bourgeois identity. Yet its legacy was so powerful that Jews carried on its ideals until new ethnic forms of identity arose alongside the racialist antisemitism of the 1870s and 1880s.55
This conclusion is borne out by the politics of German Jews, many of whom had fought for liberalism alongside German Christians. As German-Jewish secularism achieved heightened popularity in the years between 1848 and 1871, liberalism was still dominant as a bourgeois credo.56 Evidence indicates that German Jews supported liberal political parties which were more likely to accept Jewish civil rights. Prior to 1878, Jews in Germany voted a liberal ticket: 70 percent National-Liberal and 20 percent Left-Liberal. But after that year and the upsurge in antisemitism, the balance shifted to the left. After 1878, 65 percent of German Jews voted Left-Liberal and 15 percent National-Liberal, the remaining Jewish ballots going to centrist parties and to the Social Democrats.57
Cultivating a respectable profile also gave middle-class Wilhelminian Jews a firm sense of distinction vis-à-vis Jews living in the East. The pervasiveness of respectability and Bildung in German-Jewish middle-class life is attested to by Eastern Jewish perceptions of German Jewry from the end of the nineteenth century. For many Ostjuden, their German brethren were too “daytsh” in their language, dress, etiquette, worship, work ethic, drive to achieve, and loyalty to the Vaterland.58 German Jews affirmed these values in the context of various associations (Vereine). Such institutions imitated those of the non-Jewish middle classes and served to distance Westjuden further from traditional Eastern Judaism.59
The histories of the German-Jewish and the German middle classes therefore run parallel. But while the success of German Jewry, in all its hope and frustration, must be seen against the background of the embourgeoisement of German society as a whole, Jacob Katz and others maintain that Jews integrated not into the German middle classes but into a peculiarly Jewish middle class, or Bürgertum.60 Jews actually created their own subgroup of the German middle class, a distinctive community which conformed to the German middle class in some, but not all, features. A major factor in this development was the limited nature of respectability. Respectability promised Jews an upward mobility that might integrate them into class and nation but provided no guarantee of civil status. After 1871, Jews were fully protected under the laws of Germany, but barriers to equal opportunity continued to exist in the civil service, officers’ corps, judiciary, and professorate. Significant threats to Jewish emancipation included the Anti-Semitic Petition of 1881–82, the mass expulsion of 10,000 Eastern immigrants from Prussia in the 1880s, the adoption of the Tivoli Program by the Conservative party in 1892, and the repeated introduction of restrictionist legislation in the Reichstag between 1893 and 1902.
Just as the German Bürgertum had earlier asserted its identity by distinguishing itself from the aristocracy and the lower classes, so, too, did German Jewry assert its identity by diverging from mainstream middle-class beliefs and practices.61 For one, most Jews in Germany chose to socialize with and marry other Jews. Moreover, they had different occupations from other Germans, were more educated, lived in larger communities, had fewer children, and were distinguishable in other ways.62 But these behaviors did not necessarily result from a desire to be separatist. On the contrary, “Jews were more ‘Jewish’ and less integrated than many have argued, but they were not separate either. Group solidarity need not be confused with segregation.”63 Owing to its high degree of integration, the German-Jewish subculture that developed after Mendelssohn was invisible to itself. Acculturating German Jews in the first half of the nineteenth century were not aware that they had reinterpreted bourgeois mores and rewritten German traditions.64
Even if German Jews were not conscious of forming a new type of Jewish identity, their enemies knew better, repeatedly subjecting them to criticism and negative stereotyping. The most commonly denigrated aspect of their subculture was its professional structure. Having achieved success in trade, commerce, and credit prior to the Industrial Revolution, most German Jews were earning a bourgeois-level income by 1848. In this period of German history, they were on average wealthier than their neighbors owing to their head start in the race of industrialization. This advantage, ironically, was the result of being restricted to certain occupations and certain forms of property.65 Few Jews, as a result, could be found in legal, governmental, military, or academic positions after 1871. A switch to less traditional work, however, could not take place in one generation (especially inasmuch as Jews were having fewer children than ever, and their numbers in the Kaiserreich were declining relative to the non-Jewish population). Well into the Weimar period, Jews remained concentrated in the commercial and professional fields; they were underrepresented as artisans, farmers, and industrial laborers. Anticapitalism and antisemitism made Jews even more self-conscious about their lopsided occupational structure. German Jews came to see the “ghetto Jew” as unproductive, earning his living through usury and by his wits. The historical presence of wandering Betteljuden encouraged the cliché of the Schnorrer incapable of “honest work.”66
German antisemitism challenged the legitimacy of enlightened Judaism on many fronts. Whether the criterion was respectability or race, the Jews were labeled inferior. Repeatedly, antisemites accused Jews of economic and cultural parasitism, and stereotypes of Jewish parvenus appeared with greater regularity after the stock market crash (Börsenkrach) of 1873. For all its furor, antisemitism was not completely internalized by German Jews. Jewish identity preceded antisemitism, just as it had preceded Christian anti-Judaism. Jew hatred, in other words, did not require original responses from the Jews. At the turn of the century, the educated German-Jewish bourgeoisie started to discover Jewish ethnicity for itself. To solidify a nascent Jewish identity that was traditional but modern, Eastern but Western, institutions such as Ost und West would now exploit the national allegiances of Jews. The rediscovery of Eastern Jewish culture called for a synthesis of liberal respectability and shtetl sensibilities. This encounter of the Western Jewish Enlightenment and traditional Jewish culture had precursors, as we shall now see, which decisively influenced Ost und West’s brand of Jewish ethnic identity.
Politically, socially, and culturally, it appeared impossible to unite Eastern and Western Jewish identities at the time Ost und West was established. But Winz’s grand design was not at all so new: Jewish biculturalism had been around at least since the end of the eighteenth century, starting with Mendelssohn’s modifications to traditional Judaism. As the first European Jews who tried to make Western Jewish identity compatible with Eastern Jewish identity, Mendelssohn and other German-Jewish intellectuals were dubbed the maskilim (singular maskil; adherents of the Haskalah).
The Haskalah quickly spread to Poland and Russia, not least of all because its major texts were composed in Hebrew. The early maskilim in the East can be considered indirect forebears of Ost und West, but their goal was quite different: they attempted to make features of Western Jewish identity appealing to Eastern Jews. Western Judaism was, however, alien to traditional Judaism, and Jews in Eastern Europe did not embrace respectability and Bildung as enthusiastically as Jews in Germany. The maskilim explored alternatives such as the biblical and medieval rationalist traditions in their desire to break with a Talmud-based Jewish culture that seemed insular to them. Like their forerunner, Mendelssohn, they strove to liberalize Jewish communities by exposing them to European languages, literature, and science. They also hoped to eliminate Jewish particularism by advocating political and legal equality in Germany, Austria, and Russia.
After the middle of the nineteenth century, the Haskalah took on more Eastern features as the center of the European Haskalah gravitated toward Russia. In their prenationalist phase before 1881, the maskilim attempted to legitimize a westernized Jewish identity to the Jewish masses of the Pale. They were more successful in this undertaking than many historians have indicated. True, the leading maskilim belonged both to the cultural elite and to the upper middle class. Nathan Krochmal (1785–1840), Max Lilienthal (1815–1882), Mendele Moykher-Sforim (1835–1917), Sholem Aleichem, and Aḥad Ha69
The most striking development in the Haskalah was the strong ethnic consciousness that emerged in Russia in the wake of the restrictive May Laws of 1881 and the (continued) strangulation of the Pale. As a consequence of these events, many maskilim revised their attitudes toward the Enlightenment agenda and began to doubt the possibility of achieving civil equality in the Tsarist empire. Under the repressive regime of Nicholas II, it became clear that the Haskalah would be viable in the East only if it integrated the concerns of the Ostjuden as a national-ethnic unit. The ethnic element inherent in traditional Eastern Judaism was thus a ready-made source for a new Jewish self-understanding. It was eagerly exploited by a new generation of Jewish intellectuals who were largely educated in yeshivas and rabbinical seminaries.70 (Before coming to Berlin, Leo Winz was also a yeshive bokher). These individuals helped transform the secular identity purveyed by the early maskilim into an ethnic-national identity more commensurate with the realities of life in Eastern Europe.
The Enlighteners’ updated views were reflected in Ost und West, which was indefatigable in recording the emergence of ethnic Judaism. Like the generation of maskilim born after mid-century, Winz and his associates (again, mainly Eastern Jews) understood themselves in terms of Jewish ethnicity. In appealing to its public, Ost und West drew on both the religious heritage and the secular identity of European Jewry, promoting a type of nationalist Haskalah. But just as the maskilim had had to develop techniques to promote Western Judaism in the Pale of Settlement, so, too, would Ost und West have to be persuasive to interest German Jews in Eastern Jewish identity and thus become a true magazine, as its subtitle promised, “for all Jews” (das gesamte Judentum).
How was Ost und West to deal with the ever-widening split between Eastern and Western Jewish identity? Winz and his colleagues were clearly worried by the Western nature of political Zionism. Therefore, in their promotion of Eastern-style Jewish ethnicity, respectability was a means but never an end unto itself. Adjusting the norms of Western civility became the key to attracting the different segments of the German-Jewish audience to the traditional values of Ostjudentum that, alongside Jewish secularism, fueled the journal’s broad interpretation of ethnic Judaism.
The Jewish biculturalism of Ost und West, though it originated in the East, needed friends in the West if it was to become truly viable. Few individuals at the fin de siècle understood the possibilities—and pitfalls—of transmitting Jewish culture better than Nathan Birnbaum, one of Ost und West’s leading editorialists. Raised in Vienna by acculturating Galician parents, Birnbaum (nom de plume “Mathias Acher”) was educated at a humanistic gymnasium, where he became a socialist for a short time. Soon thereafter, he taught himself Yiddish and Hebrew, the beginning of a multifaceted, lifelong project of “re-ethnification.”71 Birnbaum not only adopted most of the forms of ethnic Jewish identity, he also helped create them. He coined the term Zionism, molded Diaspora nationalism, created Yiddishism, and toward the end of his life, re-founded Agudat Yisrael (Agudes Yisroel in Yiddish), a world organization of Orthodox Jewry based on Eastern Judaism, limited cultural autonomism, and opposition to secular Zionism.
Birnbaum was not just a theoretician, however. He was highly aware of the techniques of promoting Jewish ethnicity, having been an outstanding publicist for the Jewish nationalist cause since the mid-1880s. His journal Selbstemanzipation (1885–93) was one of the first attempts to reconcile Zionism with other ethnic Judaisms, and in “Das westjüdische Kulturproblem” (published in Ost und West in February 1904), he recognized that a broad conception of Jewish ethnicity was crucial to the success of Jewish nationalism in the West:
And how is nationality actually different from culture? Do you really believe that political “nationalism” can bring western Jewry back to Judaism? What a mistake! I think what the Jewish national idea needs at present in the West are not “national Jews” who don’t make the Jewish cultural nuance a hue stronger, but rather Jews per se—even if they are “assimilators” [Assimilanten]—whose portion of Jewish essence has the propensity to increase in size and strength.
Here Birnbaum practices Ost und West’s principle of inclusive marketing by granting assimilated Jews latitude in how they define themselves. At the same time, he concludes that the Jews have not become full-fledged Germans, French, or English, for they can never be truly “nationalized” into their respective host states. What people have mistaken for assimilation is the adoption of a modern European general culture (modern-europäische Allgemein-Kultur).72
Birnbaum thus defended the existence of distinctive Jewish subcultures (die jüdische Kulturnuance) and supplied arguments for Ost und West’s publicity campaign on behalf of Eastern Jewry. Always the good European, however, he also proposed a synthesis of Western and Eastern Jewish ethnicity using the categories of German intellectual discourse. For Birnbaum, the divisions between political and cultural Zionism corresponded to the current of German thought that distinguished between Zivilisation and Kultur:73 Like Meinecke’s dichotomy of Staatsnation/Kulturnation, the associations evoked by the dichotomy Zivilisation/Kultur were an accepted part of intellectual discourse in the Kaiserreich. This antithesis, best known today from Thomas Mann’s Bekenntnisse eines Unpolitischen [Confessions of a Nonpolitical Man] (1918), operated on an East-West continuum. For Mann, Germany embodied Kultur and was therefore superior to French and British Zivilisation in the West and Russian barbarism in the East. Such an idea of culture centered on an inward feeling and preferred mysticism to rationalism and science: “A culture possesses a soul, while civilization is … external and artificial.”74 Whereas Kultur put the accent on romanticism and the authentic self, Zivilisation was enlightened and industrialized. Whereas a monarchy might be the ideal polity under Kultur, Zivilisation favored secularism and mass participation in the political process. Kultur was usually linked to the “soul of the people” (Volksseele) and was epitomized in the rural peasantry. Zivilisation, in contrast, was identified with the superficiality and relativism of the city.
This German bias toward culture was reflected in turn-of-the-century discourse on the Jew. Antisemites associated Jews with the mercantilist, urban nature of Zivilisation. Jewish nationalists such as Birnbaum drew on the same German paradigm, directing their critiques at a culturally deficient Western Jewry. In this framework, Jews in the West became the true Ghettojuden, the products of Diaspora who lacked a genuine Volksseele. Birnbaum was also sensitive to Jews who embraced European modernity, however, and his inclusive approach to Jewish nationalism is reflected in his revision of Dohm’s quid pro quo. In Birnbaum’s version, Eastern Jews would gain entrée into European civilization, and, in exchange, Western Jews would get a Jewish soul and an ethnic culture. At the same time, Birnbaum was concerned that Western Jews might not hold up their end of the bargain, choosing to balk at such a program. In the following passage from “Etwas über Ost- und Westjudentum” (1904), he describes, sotto voce, the differences between Eastern and Western Jews and their respective styles of nationalism in the rhetoric of Kultur and Zivilisation:
Yet this much can be crystallized out of the preceding discussion and this is what we wish to suggest at this point: even though culture [Kultur] and civilization [Zivilisation] have some kind of relationship to each other, they represent in themselves differing qualities of the spiritual life of man. Culture is narrower and deeper, and civilization is more general and broad. Culture is the particularity of a people; civilization, the particularity of a stage in human development. Culture predominates in the innermost recesses of the mind; civilization, in technical, economic, and political life. Finally, not every culture presupposes a particular civilization, nor every civilization a particular culture. Thus, within certain limits conditioned by certain outcomes, a highly developed, or better a profound culture is compatible with a low level of civilization, and a high level of civilization is compatible with a culture that is uncultivated, merely hinted at or already withering.75
In this intricate argument, Birnbaum ultimately grants parity to Eastern Jewish tradition and Western Jewish modernity. Then he extends the argument to include Jewish nationalism: “[E]very Eastern Jew, even the ‘assimilator’ [Assimilant], [is] in his expressions a child of the active Eastern Jewish cultural community [Kulturgemeinschaft] and every Western Jew, even the ‘Zionist,’ [is] a piece of the passive Western Jewish peculiarity [Besonderheit].”76 Here, however, Birnbaum slightly favors Eastern Jewish nationalism in maintaining that Ostjuden are more easily distinguished in their cultural particularity. To combat the presuppositions of his Western audience, he uses adjectives such as “colorless” and “boring” to describe Western Jews who are alienated from Jewish national customs (Volkstum). Having accepted the premises of universalism, these Jews are stuck between two cultures; they do not possess one or the other. Yet, while Western Jews are far too prone to despise their brethren to the East, Eastern Jews also must address their arrogance vis-à-vis the Jewish West. The Ostjuden should not scoff at the gifts of civilization, particularly those specifically associated with the Germans: “the order of ideas, method, system.”77
In this final point, Birnbaum aligned himself with the early maskilim. But among his small following in the West, Birnbaum was pegged as a reverse maskil, a position he took to its logical conclusion by living his final years as an Eastern-style strictly Orthodox Jew. Certainly few Western Jews were engaged in “reverse assimilation” or the importation of Eastern Jewish nationalism, and Birnbaum must have seemed just another curious utopian in fin-de-siècle Vienna. Yet his life and the lives he influenced testify to the viability of Eastern Jewish ethnic identity in the West. Because he was unabashed in his advocacy and scholarly pursuit of Ostjudentum and because he was a keen observer of European Jewish trends, his prescriptions for European Jewish harmony were taken seriously.78
Like Birnbaum, Ost und West encouraged a synthetic perspective on Eastern and Western Jewish identity. The Eastern Jewish editors of the journal were familiar with both Eastern and Western Jewish culture. This knowledge enabled them to purvey Eastern ethnic Judaism with the hope of appealing to Jews in the West whose self-definition—be it Zionist or liberal—was primarily secular. This bicultural approach originated with the maskil-turned-Jewish-nationalist Aḥad Ha82
On the basis of their Europe-wide experiences, Aḥad Ha83
With the exception of the young Jews cited, Western Jews did not commonly cultivate an interest in the Ostjuden. Ost und West sought to correct this deficiency by promoting Eastern Jewish identity. Far from a one-sided plan, however, the journal’s Eastern Jewishness was balanced out by the pan-Jewish outlook of its creators. Unfortunately, the vogue in historiography has been to designate bicultural Jews as subalterns, estranged from the cultural mainstream.84 While this notion is correct to a point, the idea that European Jews formed esoteric communities rent by factionalism not only perpetuates the cliché of Jewish secrecy but also marginalizes all those who express multiple identities. In Ost und West, one finds contributors who understood both the Jewish East and the Jewish West. Finally, judging by the magazine’s large readership, its creators were far from being on the fringe. They shared in a significant community built on the written word.
By drawing on their commonalities, Ost und West brought the Jews of Europe together in a symbolic world of words and images where diverse Jewish identities might be narrated. In rendering seemingly conflicting models for identity compatible, the journal made Jewish nationalism palatable to more assimilated Jewish audiences.85 As a magazine of ethnic culture, Ost und West participated in a Europe-wide phenomenon: the rise of print journalism, which was integral in the construction of all nationalisms in the nineteenth century.86 Journals that featured a nation’s culture—referred to here as “national-cultural reviews”—were the ultimate realization of a quest to imagine the nation, and, like other late-nineteenth-century European journals, Ost und West was involved in the nation-building enterprise.
What exactly was a national-cultural review (Kulturrundschau)? It was a journal that purported to address all members of a single ethnicity or national group. It proceeded from the assumption that these individuals felt united by common bonds, regardless of where they (the “nationals”) might reside. Both the Deutsche Rundschau (1874–1964) and Ost und West, for instance, prided themselves on having subscribers as far away as America. Wilmont Haacke establishes the origin of German national-cultural reviews in the late-eighteenth-century Nationaljournal, a spinoff of the moralische Wochenschriften (“moral weeklies”) in the German territories.87 Karl Ulrich Syndram characterizes the Kulturrundschau of the late nineteenth century as a hybrid of a specialized journal (Fachzeitschrift) and a news-oriented daily newspaper with a cultural section (politisch-aktuelle Tageszeitung mit Feuilleton).88 The Kulturrundschau thus had elements both of sophisticated art journals, which featured essays, and of family entertainment magazines, which specialized in fiction and poetry. The genres that commonly filled these cultural reviews were the political and cultural-political essay, the literary- and art-historical essay, belles-lettres, popular scholarship, and the review of the press. The target group addressed by the Kulturrundschau was the educated middle class or Bildungsbürgertum, the leading intellectual class of the nation.89 To impress this audience, the Kulturrundschau displayed its competence and authority by attracting well-known contributors.90
One drawback of Syndram’s definition is its failure to explain the dynamics of the national-cultural reviews. For example, how did these journals encourage their readers to affiliate ethnically? Late in his book, Syndram provides an answer: stereotyping was required in order to bring together the perceived members of a nation or culture.91 The stereotyping of rival nations was a time-honored tradition, as is evident in the earliest national-cultural reviews, the Edinburgh Review (1802–1929) and the Revue des deux mondes (1829–). Like other national-cultural reviews, Ost und West addressed readers of many persuasions, making careful use of both positive and negative imagery to construct a new ideal of Jewish ethnicity. Moreover, the journal had Jewish as well as non-Jewish precursors. Ost und West’s Jewish predecessors presented some of the earliest stereotypes of Eastern Jews. Earlier variants of national-cultural reviews for Jews were Gabriel Rießer’s Der Jude. Periodische Blätter für Religion und Gewissensfreiheit (1831–33) and Aḥad Haam’s Ha-Shiloah.
The main German-Jewish prototype of Ost und West, the Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums, also was involved in imagining the Jewish nation. Though not strictly speaking a national-cultural review, this weekly newspaper spanned several epochs in German-Jewish history. By stereotyping traditional Jews and Jews from Eastern Europe, the Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums attempted to consolidate its primary audience of liberal Jews. Although it held paternalistic attitudes toward the Ostjuden, the Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums did support their emancipation; in fact, it was the first newspaper to translate Peretz and other Eastern Jewish writers into German. It also selectively appropriated ethnic Jewish identity, if only to bolster its Enlightenment definitions of Jewishness. Although generally a vehicle of acculturation that advanced Judaism as a respectable confession, this grandfather of German-Jewish journalism affirmed that Germany’s Jews had developed a rich, diverse subculture through their own devices.
Just as the Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums became a true national review in appropriating all forms of Jewish identity, so, too, did Ost und West embrace Jewish allegiances that went beyond its ethnic program. Styling itself as the alternative to the Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums, Ost und West nevertheless drew on all three forms of Judaism in modern Europe: Eastern-traditional, Western-enlightened, and pan-European. At the same time, Ost und West had a truly pan-Jewish audience, one that spanned Europe and outnumbered that of the Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums by a factor of ten. Thus, Winz’s journal was not only a national-culture review but also a widely read one. More a diverse assemblage than a monolithic synthesis, Ost und West played up the religious roots of Jewish ethnicity at the same time as it advocated a modified form of Western respectability. It is this flexible approach to its audience that distinguished it from its predecessors and is the subject of the following chapters.
To Winz and the editors of Ost und West, there were two main types of Jewish identity, and each corresponded to a geocultural source: traditional Jewish identity emerged in Eastern Jewish culture, and enlightened Jewish identity emerged in Western Jewish culture. While the pan-Jewish identity Ost und West espoused was an attempt to combine Eastern-traditional with Western-enlightened Judaism, the notion of pan-Jewishness had Eastern and Western varieties unto itself. As a result, Ost und West’s attempt to unite Jews under the banner of ethnicity was fraught with contradictions—made worse by its own preference for Eastern ethnic Jewishness. Precisely because it was so difficult to overcome the distinctions between Eastern and Western Jewish culture, even for those who wished to unite them, Ost und West had to rely on negative stereotyping to bridge the gap. What is more, this negative stereotyping, if it was to be compelling, had to draw on images of both Eastern and Western Jewry.
The following chapters focus in particular on the negative tactics Ost und West employed. Negative stereotyping, even of other Jews, was almost always more effective than selling an ideal. Presenting unfavorable images did not have to be brash, however. It could actually be quite subtle, as in the case of Ost und West, whose practices of denigration varied for each of its Jewish audience in Germany—male intellectuals, middle-class women, and middle-class men. But each group of readers had one thing in common: it feared losing its Jewish identity through assimilation. By promoting negative images, Ost und West capitalized on this fear, hoping that its Jewish audiences would support the idea of ethnic distinctiveness. Winz and his circle thought that the idea of a Jewish essence (Urjudentum) would be more attractive to Western Jews if it were juxtaposed with unfavorable images of Jewish apostates, parvenus, and self-haters.
The remainder of this study analyzes how effective Ost und West was in promoting ethnic Judaism to its specific Jewish audiences in Germany. Each chapter begins with a general overview of the Jewish audience in question, outlining which versions of Judentum were most powerful in its self-understanding. In each case, Winz and his colleagues pinpointed the traditional and modern loyalties of each group of Jews. They then appealed to each audience with an individualized set of stereotypes. Since positive images of Jewish ethnicity failed to find the desired resonance after 1903, Ost und West’s negative stereotypes proved more compelling, showing that ethnic Jewish identity had greater drawing power when it was negatively promoted. This negative “marketing,” in turn, played upon the Eastern/traditional and Western/enlightened identities of Jews in Germany. By playing upon both identities in their choice of stereotypes, the editors of Ost und West hoped to give the idea of ethnic pan-Jewishness the focus and definition it otherwise lacked.