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German Jews Beyond Judaism

German Jews Beyond Judaism

George L. Mosse
Copyright Date: 1985
Pages: 112
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  • Book Info
    German Jews Beyond Judaism
    Book Description:

    Jews were emancipated at a time when high culture was becoming an integral part of German citizenship. German Jews felt a powerful urge to integrate, to find their Jewish substance in German culture and craft an identity as both Germans and Jews. In this reprint edition, based on the 1983 Efroymson Memorial Lectures given at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, George Mosse argues that they did this by adopting the concept of Bildung—the idea of intellectual and moral self-cultivation—and combining it with key Enlightenment ideas such as optimism about human potential, individualism and autonomy, and a connection between knowledge and morality through aesthetics. Personal friendships could be devoted to common pursuit of Bildung and become a means of overcoming differences, becoming a means for integration into German society. Mosse traces how Jewish artists, writers, and thinkers actively sought to participate in German culture and communicate these ideals through popular culture, scholarship, and political activity. From the historical biographies, novels, and short stories of Stefan Zweig and Emil Ludwig; to the psychoanalysis of Freud, which sought to subject irrationality to reason; to the revolutionary thought of Walter Benjamin—Jews sought to influence a mass political culture that was fast drifting into irrationality. As individualism was subsumed into nationalism, and eventually the German political right’s racist version of nationalism, German-Jewish dialogue became more difficult. Jews remained idealistic as German society became less rational, their ideas corresponded less and less to the realities of German life, and they drifted out of the mainstream into an intellectual isolation. Yet out of this German-Jewish dialogue, what had once been part of German culture became a central Jewish heritage. The ideal of cultivating a personal identity beyond religion and nationality, the liberal outlook on society and politics, and the desire to transcend history by stressing what united rather than divided individuals and nations infiltrated Jewish life became an inspiration for many men and women searching to humanize their society and their own lives. Mosse’s lectures trace the emergence of a form of Jewishness which resisted cultural ghettoization in favor of the pursuit of that which is universally human.

    eISBN: 978-0-87820-143-3
    Subjects: Religion, History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE (pp. ix-xii)
  4. I A Cultural Emancipation (pp. 1-20)

    To discuss once more the German-Jewish dialogue seems superflous at best, an effort to recapture a history which seems to have failed. While some claim that the dialogue never took place at all, and others believe that Jews had a large space in which to become Germans, both seem to have missed the most important fact about this dialogue, which, in a truly unprecedented fashion, became an integral part of the European intellectual tradition, in spite of its apparent failure after the Nazi seizure of power. For example, the German-Jewish dialogue largely determined what we perceive as Weimar culture (although...

  5. II German Jews and German Popular Culture (pp. 21-41)

    German Jews were emancipated into a Germany ofBildungand the Enlightenment whose ideals were being transformed by the narrowing horizons of German life. Yet under the Wilhelminian Empire, the isolation of German Jews was latent rather than real, and the overwhelming majority of Jews lived comfortably as members of German bourgeois society. With the founding of the Weimar Republic after World War I, all discrimination against Jews ended and their full emancipation was finally achieved. Jews were prominent in Weimar culture and, at first, entered Weimar politics as well. But what seemed the realization of full and equal citizenship,...

  6. III Intellectual Authority and Scholarship (pp. 42-54)

    Many German Jews had broken their ties with a specific Jewish tradition and yet did not intend to become Christians. The void between traditional Christianity and Judaism as a revealed religion was filled by the ideal ofBildung, which had prevailed among the German bourgeois during the period of Jewish emancipation. It provided a meaningful heritage for some of the most articulate and intellectual German Jews. Eventually, the belief in individualism and the potential of human reason was eroded as nationalism—a world of myth and symbol—attempted to take its place.

    Many Jews refused to adopt this narrowing vision;...

  7. IV A Left-Wing Identity (pp. 55-71)

    The German-Jewish tradition reached its climax in a left-wing identity. The increasing difficulties in carrying on a German-Jewish dialogue were apparent in our analysis of those writers who wanted to break through their isolation in order to make contact with German popular culture. Others attempted to interact with German intellectual life through their scholarship, to use it in order to exorcise the irrational then pressing in on all sides. Such men were dedicated to the proposition that in the long run the senseless must make sense; this proposition guided their analysis of history and their attempt to explain myths and...

  8. V The End and a New Beginning? (pp. 72-82)

    The growing isolation of cultured and articulate German Jews had become a fact long before Adolf Hitler’s declaration of war against the Jews in 1937: “I do not want to force the adversary into battle … instead, I tell him … I want to annihilate you! And then my cleverness will aid me in maneuvering you into a corner so that you cannot strike me, but I can pierce your heart.”¹ The isolation of German Jews in Germany was due mainly but not solely to the waves of anti-Semitism which swept over the land. Much more dangerous anti-Semitic movements had...

  9. Back Matter (pp. 99-101)