Jakob Augsteins Kommentar und das “Kippa-Experiment”

Bildschirmfoto 2018-04-19 um 10.24.49

Am 18. April, kurz nach dem Angriff auf einen Kippa-tragenden Israeli, twitterte Jakob Augstein einen Kommentar, der schnell ein Welle der Empörung nach sich zog. Augstein, so hieß es, definiere das Tragen einer Kippa als eine Provokation; Juden sollten die Kippa also lieber absetzen. Der Status mache das Opfer zum Täter: ganz so wie Frauen manchmal nahegelegt wird, ihre Kleidung sei eine Provokation, die einen Angriff ja nur so auf sich ziehe, argumentiere Augstein, dass die Kippa-tragende Person den Angriff sozusagen selbst zu verschulden habe.

Das Problem ist, dass Augstein dies so nicht schreibt: Er beschreibt die Wirklichkeit, in der eine Kippa als eine Provokation genutzt wird und einen Angriff hervorruft, als eine gestörte Wirklichkeit, das heißt, er kritisiert zwei Dinge: Zum einen, dass eine Person die Kippa als einen Versuchsgegenstand benutzt und zum Anderen, dass die Versuchspersonen auf den Test reagieren, der Test also perfide „erfolgreich“ ist: Die gestörte Wirklichkeit, von der Augstein spricht, bezieht sich darauf, dass die Kippa im Rahmen eines Testes benutzt wird und der Test „funktioniert.“

Das Schwierige an Augsteins Post ist, dass sich seine Kritik nicht nur auf diejenigen bezieht, für die die Kippa offenbar eine Provokation ist, auf die sie gewaltsam reagieren. Die „gestörte Wirklichkeit“ bezieht sich auch auf denjenigen, der das Experiment durchgeführt hat und die Kippa aufsetzt „um mal zu gucken was passiert.“

Man könnte an dieser Stelle kritisieren, dass Augsteins Post damit die Kritik an dem Initiator des Versuchs, also des Opfers, in den Vordergrund rückt und sprachlich eine Art Mittäterschaft evoziert: „Gestört ist die Wirklichkeit, in der eine Kippa im Rahmen eines Versuches benutzt wird.“ Dabei würde Augstein mir wahrscheinlich zustimmen, dass, sofern es um das Verurteilen der Gewalt geht, es völlig egal ist, warum eine Person eine Kippa aufsetzt: unabhängig davon ob die Person jüdisch oder nicht jüdisch ist, ob sie einen „Test“ durchführt oder einfach nur ihre alltägliche Kopfbedeckung trägt, darf sie keinem Angriff ausgesetzt werden. Und trotzdem denke ich kann der Umstand, dass es sich um einen „Test“ handelte, thematisiert werden: In dem Moment, in dem eine Kippa im Rahmen eines Experiments getragen wird, wird sie auch als eine Art potentieller Reizstoff definiert. Dabei wird im Ergebnis natürlich genau dieser Reizstoffcharakter angeprangert, da idealerweise die Kippa ja eben keine Reaktionen hervorrufen sollte – gleichzeitig bleibt zumindest mir aber ein fader Geschmack, da soziale Versuche eine Realität eben nicht nur abbilden, sondern sie immer auch konstituieren. Das bedeutet nicht, dass der Initiator der Versuchs „Schuld“ an der ihm angetanen Gewalt trägt, aka „he was calling for it.“ Es bedeutet nur, dass eine Realität, in der die Kippa als ein Reizstoff eines soziologischen Experiments benutzt wird und funktioniert, tatsächlich deprimierend ist.


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“Welcome to Jerusalem” in the Jewish Museum Berlin: Ideas, Reflections, Questions

Almost every exhibition of the Jewish Museum Berlin, both its temporary exhibitions and the former now-to-be-replaced permanent exhibition, is structured along identical lines: The three so-called “world-religions” each occupy one segment, and in each segment the respective religion’s “view on” dietary laws/circumcision/head-coverings etc. is being exhibited. Through this arrangement, the argument for, say, the legitimacy of head-coverings is made through pointing at Jews, who also (sometimes) use head-coverings. The argument for the legitimacy of ritual circumcision is made through pointing at Jews, who also perform ritual circumcisions, and so on. The protection, that Jews can invoke through calling upon the state’s historical responsibility in face of its genocidal history, is extended to include Muslims – simply because Muslims as Muslims and Jews as Jews are not granted such protection. [1]

In light of this pedagogy, the newly opened temporary exhibition on Jerusalem is necessarily challenging. Whereas it is relatively easy to make an argument for political equality as long as the debate circles around Jewish and Muslim practices, that run counter the normative claims of a (supposedly) homogenous German “value community,” Jerusalem is the point where political cooperation collapses, where a visitor cannot be educated to “tolerate Muslims, because they do things similar to Jews.”

In the following, I will first describe the segments devoted to the conflict and then move to the segments that exhibit “religious” Jerusalem, that is, the segments that entail the standard “Jewish/Muslim/Christian perspectives on Jerusalem” concept. I am adding, as a disclaimer, that my aim is not to give a comprehensive, all-inclusive documentation of the exhibition: I didn’t look at every object, didn’t read each and every text-tag, and am not even commenting on every segment. I am simply reflecting on the questions that the exhibition made me think of. Obviously, different visitors will see different things, and have different questions.


The conflict-section begins with a dark room, in which non-commented video-documentation is arranged in a full circle above the visitor. Flickering images of Balfour, massacres, the declaration of independence, refugee camps, wars, suicide bombings, the handshake of Oslo, the assassination of Rabin, the wall. The circle quotes the iconography of the conflict. A bird-eyed narrator, looking from above at devastation and triumph, arranges image after image, icon after icon, dryly, the only interference being very short phrases projected in between the video-sequences, such as: “The Partition Plan of the United Nations is adopted by 13 against and 10 abstentions.” Or “The British Troops leave Palestine. The State of Israel is declared.” In the end of the video-installation, a wall encloses the visitor, aggravating the feeling of suffocation, of being trapped – I am not trapped, I thought, I can go everywhere, almost, or maybe I too am trapped, in a different way.

Maybe in order to slightly lighten up the visitors’ moods, the next room features something like a Jewish “cabinet of curiosities.” One sees papier-mâché models of various Jewish sub-groups, such as Satmarim with anti-Zionist signs in their hands, the Women of the Wall, on screen: rages against the latter, messianic Jews advocating the rebuilding of the Temple, in the corner: a little sign by the Rabbanut prohibiting Jews from entering this area, a full-sized reconstruction of Miri Regev in her Cannes dress. None of these figures is contextualized: They appear as erratic groups, people with contrasting “issues,” that have no particular ideological genealogy, or represent different visions of the very essence of Jerusalem that would require an explanation.

The “cabinet of curiosities” does not include Palestinians, who are, however, subject of the next room, entitled “Traces of Memory.” This room is an exhibition of black/white photographs of places that once were inhabited by Palestinians, and are now wastelands, or the locale of new buildings. Next to each photograph is a tag, that shows the exact cartographical coordinates of the place, and next to the tag, another, larger tag with a first person narrative of an individual, who recounts his or her childhood memories of the depicted place. Even though this room is running counter the conventions of memory as cultivated and practiced in dominant political, scientific and medial (German) discourses, it seems important to note that Palestinians here do not appear as agents. In contrast to the activity depicted in the “cabinet of curiosities,” Palestinians here are framed as memory. I do not learn anything about the shifts and transformations of the Palestinian resistance movement, about internal struggles, about life in the refugee camps, about the Palestinian Diaspora, about the political claims engrained in memory. Crucially, I do not learn about Palestinian Jerusalemites’ legal status following the 67’ census and up to today. This room then seems to give memory a visual presence, but does so without spelling out the political implications of the latter: A bird-eyed narrator screens through the land, and peels layer by layer of the map, and finds another layer, and yet another layer, and in between them the ruins, which he marks by fixing a little needle on his map and recording a witness’s story. Palestinians are memory, while Jews (“pious protesters”) struggle over the way their state is supposed to look.[2]

This can be read, maybe, as an attempt to represent the conflict’s asymmetry. Yet, I’d like to think a bit about the representation of Jewish memory in this museological context, too. And just to be clear on this: my question about Jewish memory is not motivated by an attempt to undo Palestinian memory.

In its visualization of absence and loss, the “traces of memory” – inadvertently – seem to mirror another absence, one, which a visitor encounters in the beginning of the exhibition. Among the more central, eye-catching objects on display in the “religious” segment on Jewish Jerusalem is a model of the Temple, truncated in blue light – blue, probably in order to indicate its “fictive” character. It’s not really there, or as the exhibition catalogue puts it: “In medieval Jewish travel literature, the former temple area is described as a desolate desert – true to the memory image of the destroyed temple, and in contradiction to the architectural reality of the magnificent dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque.”[3]

Such separation between memory and reality is, of course, nothing spectacular, and part and parcel of a classic secular practice of separation of the “pious sentiment” from rational investigation.[4] The difficulty here is, that Jewish memory of the Temple and its destruction constituted Jews’ reality – a reality that cannot be represented, or measured, in a materially substantial presence, and as such, also cannot be juxtaposed and paralleled to the presence of other monuments (such as models of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or the Al-Aqsa). Given that Jews for most of the time had no access to Jerusalem in any case, it seems that Jewish Jerusalem consists not so much in buildings or souvenirs, but in a millennium and more of liturgical, theological, philosophical, and legal texts bespeaking an unbreakable attachment – that is, Jewish Jerusalem is about a certain way of being in the world.

The latter is referred to in a showcase that displays a Torah Scroll, a Yad (a Torah-pointer), Rimonim and a volume of the Talmud Yerushalmi, accompanied by a tag explaining that following the destruction of the Second Temple, exegesis of Scripture substituted the daily offerings. And again, while this is, of course, standard chronology, the destruction of the Temple and the lack of political sovereignty did much more than generate an exegetical project. They entailed a notion of history having come to an end, and God having exiled himself from the world, in the words of Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin: “[T]hough originally exile referred to the territorial situation of the Jews vis-à-vis the Land of Israel, it came to refer as well to the more distant position of God vis-a-vis the destiny of the Jewish people and the world as large. In this way, exile carries a temporal understanding according to which History (in its biblical understanding as sacred narrative) has come to its end. Thus the exile of the Jews and their dispersal were, in this conception, regarded as evidence of the condition of the entire world, and conserved the desire for its improvementAccording to this Jewish viewpoint, the exilic existence was not outside of history, but rather embodied the very state of “history” itself.”[5] The destruction of the Temple then engendered a concept of history, that differed from the Christian concept of progressive history, meaning, the time of Jerusalem was unlike the time of Rome, which became the fundament of the secular time as imposed by the nation-state.[6]

As a precondition for the toleration of the Jews and their assimilation into Europe, however, this notion of exilic time was denied: The idea of a Jewish nation-state emerged and gained political momentum with the fragmentation and de-politization of the Jewish tradition in pre-war Europe, that is, Judaism became a religion and the state (whatever state) the exclusive site of the political, when the Jewish nation was shattered (as in Clermont’s Tonnerre’s famous statement “It faut tout refuser aux Juifs comme nation et tout accorder aux Juifs comme individus”), when the aforementioned exegetical project lost normative binding, when rabbinic authorities lost political power, when Jews became individual citizens, or were supposed to become citizens. The emergence of the Zionist movement is captured, accordingly, by some scholars (along Zionists’ self-depictions) in anti-assimilationist terms, while at the same time it is pointed out, that this anti-assimilationist project was premised on the internalization of Christian ambivalence towards the Jews, an “extreme attempt to assimilate Jews into the Western narrative of redemption and progress,”[7] and it was initially contested by some Jews on these grounds (and by others with different rationales, of course). Wouldn’t it be important then to map the emergence of the Jews’ “return to (secular) History” and negation of exile not “only” vis-à-vis Palestinian memory and presence – as determining Palestinian exile –, but to situate it also as a response to (or adaption of) European secularization, nation-state building and “civil improvement,” thereby making a point for the state’s ambivalence qua state also for Jews?


When leaving the exhibition, visitors can place postcards of Jerusalem on a wall, one next to the other. It seems that besides “God bless the Jewish people” and “Free Palestine,” most visitors chose a line such as “Love is the answer,” or “Not Muslim, not Jewish, not Christian, only human” – the exhibition had apparently affirmed their sense of looking as “only humans” at Jews and Muslims fighting against each other instead of living, as humans do, in peace and harmony. One should not judge an exhibition by its guest-book, and I do not argue, of course, that this is the exhibition’s message – after all, the exhibition-space is relatively small, itself a contested territory. However, I suggest that a conversation about the exhibition could take as its starting point not the “view at Jewish/Christian/Muslim Jerusalem,” but alternatively, precisely the loss that occurred when Jerusalem’s Jewishness could be granted realness only on condition of its conceptualization as a nation-state’s capital. The motives of memory, loss, and destruction are, in different ways, woven into this exhibition, and maybe the political question at its heart then is: What kind of presence – political (not only museological-artistical) presence – can memory and loss have?

[1] Doughan/Tzuberi, „Säkularismus als Praxis und Herrschaft: Juden und Muslime im Kontext säkularer Wissensproduktion”, Der inspizierte Muslim. Zur Politisierung der Islamforschung, Schirin Amir-Moazami (ed.), Bielefeld: transcript 2018
[2] Palestinians as „not-memory“ appear in video-sequences depicting daily life in Jerusalem. The sequences are taken from the documentary 24h Jerusalem by Volker Heise and Thomas Kufus. These are uncommented portraits of individuals walking through their daily affairs, offering a “kaleidoscope of biographical insights” (https://www.jmberlin.de/en/exhibition-welcome-to-jerusalem). They are political in the sense that the very existence of Palestinians in Jerusalem and their existence’s representation in this documentary is itself political.
[3] Exhibition catalogue, pp. 13-14.
[4] Exhibition catalogue, ibid.
[5] Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, “Secularism, the Christian Ambivalence Towards the Jews and the Notion of Exile,” in: Ari Joskowicz and Ethan B. Katz (eds.), Secularism in Question: Jews and Judaism in Modern Times, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015, pp. 276-298 (https://bgu.academia.edu/AmnonRazKrakotzkin)
[6] See also Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, ibid., and the work of Ruth Mas and Johannes Fabian on secular time.
[7] Ibid., but see also the latest book of Cynthia Baker, entitled “Jew” and Jonathan and Daniel Boyarin’s article on “Diaspora.” On the civil improvement debates in imperial context cf. Jonathan M. Hess’ book on “Germans, Jews, and the Claims of Modernity,” Zygmunt Bauman’s “Modernity and Ambivalence,” Patchen Markell, “Bound by Recognition” and specifically on the entanglement of intellectual domination in biblical scholarship and political domination, James Pasto, “Islam’s Strange Secret Sharer.”

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On Modern Warfare

The following is a long quote of Talal Asad, in Formations of The Secular. Christianity, Islam, Modernity, Stanford University Press: 2003, p 116-118. The key-sentence is this: “Human life is sacred, but only in particular contexts that the state defines.” Possibly, this is banal, or can be thought of as banal, but it pushes one to think “beyond states.” I think that this move is intellectually neccesary, if not politically feasible at this point in time.

I re-read Asad in the aftermath of the latest flood of pictures about the horrors of warfare in Syria (or what once was Syria), in an attempt to understand something beyond that inevtiable feeling of numbness and apathy. How much is too much? Who decides how much is too much? For whom? Why do we think in terms of states, when states fail as frameworks, that safeguard human dignity?  I am not sure, right now, if there is any “use” in these questions, as I am not even sure anymore in all of this intellectual reasoning being something more than self-referential exercises of thought, that do not change a thing. My point in posting/quoting this is simply to have people engage in a more “profound” thinking about state-violence, about the linkage of states and violence, and the violences that can be unleashed by “formations of the secular.” So here is the quote:

“The military historian John Keegan wrote of the new practices of “deliberate cruelty” over two decades ago when he described some of the weaponry employed in twentieth-century warfare: “Weapons have never been kind to human flesh, but the directing principle behind their design has usually not been that of maximizing the pain and damage they can cause. Before the invention of explosives, the limits of muscle power in itself constrained their hurtfullness; but even for some time thereafter moral inhibitions, fueled by a sense of the unfairness of adding mechanical and chemical increments to man’s power to hurt his brother, served to restrain barbarities of design. Some of these inhibitions – against the use of poison gas and explosive bullets – were codified and given international force by the Hague-Conventions of 1899; but the rise of ‘thing-killing’ as opposed to man-killing weapons – heavy artillery is an example – which by their side-effects inflicted gross suffering and disfigurement, invalidated these restraints. As a result restraints were cast to the winds, and it is now a desired effect of many man-killing weapons that they inflict wounds as terrible and terrifying as possible. The claymore mine, for instance, is filled with metal cubs…, the cluster bomb with jagged metal fragments, in both cases because that shape of projectile tears and fractures more extensively than a smooth-bodied one. The HEAT and HESH rounds fired by anti-tank guns are designed to fill the interior of armoured vehicles with showers of metal splinters or streams of molten metal, so disabling the tank by disabling its crew. And napalm, disliked tor ethical reasons even by many tough minded soldiers, contains an ingredient which increases the adhesion of the burning petrol to human skin surfaces. Military surgeons, so successful over the past century in resuscitating wounded soldiers and repairing wounds of growing severity, have thus now meet a challenge of wounding agents deliberately conceived to defeat their skills.”[1] (Incidentally, the mushrooming or “dum-dum” bullet, invented in British India in 1897, is reported to have been “so vicious, for it tore great holes in the flesh, that Europeans through tit too cruel to inflict upon one another, and used it only against Asians and Africans.”[2])

One might add to this that the manufacture, possession, and deployment of weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological, and nuclear) must be counted as instances of declared governmental readiness to inflict cruel death upon civilian populations even when these weapons are not actually used. In brief, cruel modern technologies of destruction are integral to modern warfare, and modern warfare is an activity essential to the security and power of the modern state, on which the welfare and identity of its citizens depends. In war, the modern state demands from its citizens not only that they kill and maim others but also that they themselves suffer cruel pain and death. Human life is sacred, but only in particular contexts that the state defines.

So how can the calculated cruelties of modern battle be reconciled with the modern sensibility regarding pain? Precisely by treating pain as a quantifiable essence. As in state torture, an attempt can be made to measure the physical suffering inflicted in modern warfare in accordance with the proportionality of means to ends. That is the principle supported by the Geneva Convention. The principle states that the human destruction inflicted should not outweigh the strategic advantage gained. Only necessary punishment of noncombatants should be used. But given the aim of ultimate victory the notion of “military necessity” can be extended indefinitely. Any measure that is intended as contribution to that aim, no matter how much suffering it creates, may be justified in terms of “military necessity.” The standard of acceptability in such cases is set by public opinion, and that standard varies as the matter moves in response to contingent circumstances (for example, who the enemy is, how the war is going).”


Francisco Goya, Las mujeres dan valor (The women are courageous), plate IV of series “Los desastros de la guerra” (The disasters of war), 1st edition Madrid: Real Academia de Bellas Artes San Fernando 1863

[1] J. Keegan, The Face of Battle, Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books, 1978, pp. 329-330.

[2] Daniel Headrick, “The Tools of Imperialism: Technology and the Expansion of European Colonial Empires in the Nineteenth Century,” Journal of Modern History, vol. 51, 1979, p. 256.

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Missing Jews. Preliminary Remarks About the Function of Jewish Spaces in the Making of “New Germany”[1]

It is not a very revolutionary insight, that “science” is not a separate, stable entity, but a product of the culture, in which it is embedded. This is possibly all the more true when the object of science is “another culture”: Any encounter with the “other,” be it in the course of anthropological field research or the reading of texts, is necessarily framed and nurtured by the lived experiences, the memories, the ethical sensibilities and aesthetical intuitions of the scientist. Any interpretation is, unavoidably, informed by the interpreter’s epistemological and ideological frameworks and the specific epistemological norms set forth by academia.

Inasmuch as the foundational paradigms of European modernity and its institutions emerged out of Christian theological thought, and – more often than not – used the figure of the Jew as their antithesis, it seems vital to reflect upon academic knowledge production especially when the object of inquiry is Judaism: Awareness as to one’s own particularity, and the roots of one’s own epistemological foundations may prevent the unconscious reproduction of modernity’s profound ambivalence towards Jews and Judaism.[2]

In this paper, I would like to set forth some preliminary observations regarding a unique, and (in Germany) relatively new approach to the study of Judaism as advocated by the University of Potsdam’s School of Jewish Theology and its two adjunct rabbinical schools. The central argument of this paper is threefold: Firstly, I describe Germany’s post-unification state ideology, which entailed a “return of Jews” and the “flourishing of Jewish life” as a means of admission into the circle of civilized states. The “Jewish revival” was fostered both from above – as exemplified in the state’s substantial financial support of anything Jewish – and from “below,” as exemplified in the development, expansion and diversification of so-called “Jewish Spaces.” At the same time – and this is my argument’s second part – the established Jewish communities were weak: The prominence of Jews and Judaism in Germany’s national consciousness was disproportionate to the communities’ numerical size; and Jewish self-consciousness, knowledge, and commitment – in short: Jewish life – were precarious, probably especially so in Berlin, a city which was up to the years after unification a geographical and political island. My third argument, and a more specific investigation of the above mentioned schools, sets in here: The combination of weak communities, extensive Jewish Spaces and a political will to have Jewish life flourishing, created a very unique breeding ground, upon which the power-relations between Jewish Spaces and Jewish communities could be inverted.

It is important to note, however, that even though individual agency is part of this story, my paper is an analysis of the processes and structures, that enabled certain developments – it does not claim, that actions of individual ranks and files are determined by these processes and structures. Research into the individual motivations of the latter would constitute a separate research, with a different kind of methodology.

The Development of the “Jewish Space”
The first academic institution of Jewish Studies in post-war Germany is the Institute of Jewish Studies in Berlin. It was established in 1956, a time when Jews did not consider Germany a “livable” place. In postwar-Germany, Jewish communities saw themselves as Liquidationsgemeinden, “communities set up for the sole purpose of temporarily harboring and caring for individuals who were to leave Germany shortly there after.“[3] In Berlin, for nearly forty years, the city’s Jewish population had thus stagnated at around 5000-6000 members, and actually declined to ca. 3500 people before the first “quota refugees” from the former Soviet Union arrived in the 1990’s. In face of a Jewish community living in an “armoured cocoon,”[4] there was accordingly little or no communication between Berlin’s Institute of Jewish Studies and the local Jewish community,[5] and a conscious differentiation between Jewish knowledge as produced and practiced by Jewish communities and academic Jewish Studies.

Since the early 90ties observers of Jewish life in Germany describe a change in attitude of Jews vis-à-vis their presence in Germany, a development accompanied by a massive popularity-boom of anything “Jewish” among non-Jewish Germans.[6] Such changed attitude among Jews and non-Jewish fascination with “things Jewish” have generated what Michal Bodemann calls a proliferation of the Jewish fringe.[7] Diana Pinto has termed this fringe a “Jewish Space,”[8] Ruth Ellen Gruber – more ambiguously – “virtual Jewishness,”[9] and Michael Brenner “non-Jewish Jewish cultures.”[10] Approaches and valuations of virtual Jews, Jewish spaces or non-Jewish Jewish cultures, however, vary and are largely dependent on the observer’s own conception of Judaism and Jewish identity. Diana Pinto interprets the Jewish Space positively as a cross-fertilizing meeting-ground between non-committed Jews and non-Jews, and advocates “an adaption of Jewry to the overarching standards of civil society, a shift from Judaism as a coherent religious definition, to a weaker, less easily circumscribed entity: Jewish culture.”[11] Others take a more ambivalent, suspicious stance: Michal Bodemann characterizes the Jewish fringe as a “meeting ground of Jews and non-Jewish Germans from ‘Judaizing milieus’,” and concludes: “At these fringes – and at these fringes alone – the cultural expressions and the thinking of Jews and non-Jews about Jewish matters are sometimes ‘virtually’ identical’.” (…) But to which degree and in which ways do distortive imaginations of Jews still play a role? It is both a disconcerting and a positive development at the same time.”[12] Ian Leveson has offered the most critical analysis of the “Jewish Space”:

The Jewish Space mainly concerns what the non-orthodox would see as ‘profane’ activities, thus, since halakha is not regarded as being so relevant in this context, the definition of what is ‘Jewishly authentic’ in the Jewish Space may be subject to dispute: on what basis is the word of the Jewish participant to be privileged over the non-Jewish participant, when the principal of individual autonomy and not halakha is adopted in the worldly Jewish Space? (…) More critically, the apparent similarity of practices might lead to confusion over who may speak publicly on behalf of Judaism. (…) when representing Jewish views to the outside world, the choice of interlocutors by the dominant culture can have an inordinate effect on which views are heard and what image of Jewry becomes widespread. In a situation where there are diverse Jewish and ‘Jewish’ voices, different streams and denominations, and those who claim to be Jewish but wouldn’t be recognized as such by some or all Jews, as well as a large body of converts from the dominant culture, the potential for different voices increases, especially as some of these groups understand their relationship as competitive. The non-Jewish world can then employ a strategy of ‘picking and choosing’, if not ‘divide and rule’; there is a danger of a strategy of substitution, of only ‘safe’ voices being listened to and ‘uncomfortable’ but authentic voices being stifled.[13]

In the following I will argue that Ian Leveson’s analysis of the Jewish Space and his working hypotheses have, during the ten years since he wrote his paper in 2006, gained substance. Specifically, I will argue that the Potsdam-based School of Jewish Theology, and its adjunct rabbinical colleges (the Reformed Abraham Geiger College and the Conservative Zakharias Fraenkel College) are reflections of the development of Jewish Spaces, in which Judaism is defined by and large by the collective national needs of German non-Jews.

Academic Jewish Studies in Berlin, both in the School of Jewish Theology and in the Institute of Jewish Studies, thus share a common starting point: the absence of Jews. Yet, whereas Berlin’s Institute was never much affected by this absence through claiming academia to be a place in which religious difference is neutralized through “science,” Potsdam’s School of Jewish Theology reflects the development of the Jewish Space in the early 90ties, and claims the empty chair of the Jew to belong to itself, or more precisely, to its own homemade Jews: Jews, that are born out of Christian societies and embody a “docile” version of Judaism, a Judaism that does not entail any disruptive elements of “law” and coheres, in its emphasis on key-words such as “dialogue,” “tolerance,” or “progress,” to the needs of contemporary Germany. Inasmuch as a rabbinical seminary is supposed to produce the participative and productive subjects of Jewish life, such conformism provokes questions: What happens when both consumers and arbiters of Judaism are products of Jewish Spaces, when entire “Jewish careers” are being conducted in Jewish Spaces alone, when Jewish Spaces are granted representational and political power, when Jews and Judaism are being identified and become synonymous with the actors and events of Jewish Spaces?

“New Germany” and its witnesses
The School of Jewish Theology was established in 2013 in Potsdam, a city in close proximity to Berlin. The School is part of the state-university of Potsdam and thus principally open to students of all confessions. Yet, it explicitly dissociated itself from the Berlin-model of “Judaistik”, and declared to study Judaism not as an object to be dissected by historians and philologists, but rather, as a living tradition.[14] It represents, accordingly, the academic branch of its two “An-Institute” (associated institutes), one Reformed rabbinical college named after Abraham Geiger (founded in 1999) and lately, one conservative rabbinical college named after Zakharias Fraenkel (founded in 2015).

The establishment of the Potsdam-schools was part and parcel of a larger German project: Following the fall of the Berlin wall, Germany was no longer marked by the past, the war, the Holocaust. Instead of being a mere “booster-territory” against the threats of the cold war, Germany became a main player in the midst of unified Europe, and eager to prove its new self: a multicultural, modern state. In this post-war, national salvation history, Jews were given a pivotal role: A “flourishing of Jewish life in Germany” would be the strongest proof of Germany finally having overcome its past and thus heal a wound of a national body; a body, which was previously suffering from its missing limb. The “Jewish revival” is thus always embedded also in a story of national recovery and salvation: it is “good,” because it is a German-Jewish revival.[15]

kundgebung-gegen-judenhassIt is important to note, that an embrace of the Jew as witness does not necessarily reflect an embrace of multiculturalism, let alone an active support of (Jewish or other) minority-interests falling into the category of religious practice. The wish to be granted entrance into the ranks of civilized states has cultivated a language of multiculturalism, yet both informal stigmatization and state-sanctioned de-legitimation of practiced, public difference has so far remained intact, or have even been enforced.[16] Germany thus invests in a “flourishing of Jewish life” not because it is committed to the support of religious difference, but because its terms of national exclusion have changed: Whereas in the past, the integrity of the German nation was achieved through safeguarding the purity of the “German race,” the nation is now kept pure through the exclusion of religious elements, that endanger the so-called “Wertegemeinschaft” (the “community of values”). When the former vice-president of Berlin’s House of Representatives argued in 1990 for a diminution of bureaucratic obstacles for Jews from the former Soviet Union who want to immigrate to Germany, he thus could validate his liberal immigration-policy through praising the Jews’ “cultural fitness”: “Those people are doctors, artists, scientists, not Jews with a caftan and sidecurls!”[17] The German interest in a flourishing of Jewish life, the place of the Jew in German identity-politics, is thus ambivalent: On the one hand, Jews are the ultimate guarantors of the “new Germany” and as such, have to remain witnesses of Germany’s transformation, an “other” forever – yet on the other hand, they are not permitted to be “too much other,” embodying “too much” difference.

It is this ambivalence to which the Potsdam Schools cater. Reflecting the political will to invest in Jewish life in Germany, the ordination of the Abraham Geiger Kolleg’s first three liberal rabbis 2006 in Dresden, was referred to as an event of national importance: “The Geiger institute for the training of rabbis is a symbol of a vibrant Jewish community with international connections,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel wrote in a letter in honor of the occasion; and German President Horst Köhler described the event as “special because many did not believe that after the Holocaust Jewish life would flourish in Germany.” Geiger College President Rabbi Walter Jacob said in his address, that “all of Germany rejoices with us.”[18] German politicians did not only celebrate but even took an active part in the very making of these new rabbis: Preceding the first ordination ceremony, it was the federal government which forced the Central Council of Jews in Germany to accept the Union of Progressive Jews into Germany’s Jewish communities, so that financial support was hereafter provided to all denominations, including the non-orthodox – a move which was of course essential to the creation of a German employment market for the College’s future alumni.[19]

Governmental support for the education of liberal rabbis was gained on account of a political necessity to have “Jewish life flourishing,” with above mentioned active intervention in internal Jewish affairs being justified as a concern for internal Jewish diversity.[20] The schools’ founder and managing director, however, did not content himself with “diversity,” but argued in addition, that German liberal rabbis are needed, because a “cultural clash” had emerged between Germany’s Jews and their rabbis: “The education of local rabbis will play an important role in the taking over of the Jewish community, because the Jews of Germany are fed up with Israeli rabbis. The German communities will stop hiring rabbis from Israel, because a cultural clash has emerged…Reformed Jews will eventually make up for at least 40% of the Jewish community, and the Orthodox no more than 10-15%, like in the States” (emphasis mine).[21]

However, Germany’s Jewry is unlike American Jewry, and it seems difficult to estimate if, and in how far, Germany’s Jewish communities indeed found themselves alienated from their orthodox rabbinic leaders. Jews from the former Soviet Union make up for the large majority of Jews in Germany today[22] and even though most of them – apart from a handful of baalei tshuva – have no memory of Jewish community- and/or family life, and little or no knowledge of Jewish practices and texts, they are usually not aligned with Reformed synagogues, but frequent the Jewish events and services provided by the delegates of Chabad Lubavitch and to a lesser extent, other local orthodox communities. Despite being non-observant themselves, they cling to orthodox representation and frequently tag liberal Jewish institutions as “German,” with “German” indicating here something coming close to: “not Jewish.”[23]

What is certain, however, is that a “cultural clash” was apparent between German non-Jews and orthodox rabbis – in the words of Julius Schoeps, a scholar of German Judaism from the University of Potsdam: “The German government is fond of the Reformers, because according to them, these are people one can talk to. The behavior of orthodox rabbis serving in the state is perceived by the German public as problematic, because it contradicts the expectation, that Jews behave as an integral part of Germany’s liberal society.”[24] In an article covering the liberal rabbis’ ordination ceremony, the new rabbis’ worth is, accordingly, exemplified via a comparison with Frankfurt’s orthodox rabbi, who caused uproar when avoiding a handshake with Frankfurt’s female mayor. “The man with a black hat,” so the journalist, “is from Mea She’arim, and does not leave his room but for studying.”[25] In contrast to such deviant Jews, the Abraham Geiger Kolleg would provide Germany with rabbis who hold an academic degree and whose fluency in German liberal culture makes them far more “integrated” then orthodox, “imported” rabbis can ever be. I’d thus tentatively suggest that German politicians’ intervention in internal Jewish affairs was motivated not only by an unattached concern for Jewish diversity, but just as much by their need for a particular kind of Jewish leadership: One which is willing to testify to Germany’s transformation into a place, that is “good for Jews,” and which embodies modern liberal values, while simultaneously radiating “Jewish authenticity” as materialized, for example, in a deliberate deployment of religious language (the College’s Hebrew name is Bet ha-Midrash), symbols and ceremony.

Rabbis made by Jewish Spaces
The “new rabbis’” level of integration is commonly marketed as their greatest asset. Unlike their predecessors in pre-war Germany, however, they have, for the most part, never been embedded in any more “traditional” Jewish community, and lack memories, knowledge and experience of the latter. This lack is usually not pointed out or reflected upon by the new rabbis themselves (at least not publicly) but it does come up occasionally in journalists’ depictions of Germany’s “Jewish revival”: “Strasko (a liberal rabbi educated at the Abraham Geiger Kolleg) is a cool rabbi. His favorite movies are Kill Bill, Black Hawk Down and other shockers. He loves the music of the anti-Semite Richard Wagner, he is an excellent cook, and loves excellent wine. He speaks German, Hebrew, Aramaic, and English, and since January, he also learns French. His wife Sandra writes a blog about chocolate. They share their apartment with a cat, but don’t want children. (…) Young rabbis like Paul Moses Strasko are not, as described by Jewish historian Michel Friedman, “born on graves.” They are rabbis without a rabbinic tradition, they are not the sons or grandsons of other rabbis, they are not carriers of knowledge accumulated over hundreds of years. They are smart, but they lack the wisdom of generations and the bitter taste of destruction. They are rabbis without an own experience of the Holocaust“ (emphasis mine).[26]

This depiction seems apt. Germany’s new rabbis did not accumulate fame and reputation within the Jewish world, then aimed to change things from within and eventually departed from normative practice and/or ideology. They are not reforming Judaism in order to be granted entrance into German society, but rather, are themselves products of permeable Jewish Spaces. Reflecting the omnipresence of Jewish Spaces in contemporary Germany, a significant percentage of “new rabbis” accordingly had previously converted to Judaism: the Jewish Space is not only a space of contact for Jews and non-Jews, it can function also as a bridge of non-Jews into Judaism – whereby conversions can (but do not necessarily have to) remain embedded within the ideological, political and theological frameworks of the convert’s previous non-Jewish identities. Noting the prominence of former Christian theologians among liberal rabbis, Barbara Steiner, for example, suggests that the theological relations between Judaism and Christianity not only trigger a Christian engagement with Judaism, but also allow for a conversion, that is not related to a “question of religious change, but a correction of (previous) belief, cohering to a return to the urtext.”[27] While this option may have always existed on a theoretical level, it is the context of Jewish Spaces, which turns it into a practically feasible move: Whereas in the past, Christians explained the challenges of the world they live in in terms of overcoming Judaism, in present-day Germany, Judaism can be defined as part of a Christian theological paradigm embodied by Christians, who “return” to where they belong in the first place.[28]


When choosing to represent a kind of Judaism that emerged in 18th and 19th century Germany and explicitly claimed Protestantism as its role model, the “new rabbis” thus embark upon a project that differs fundamentally from that of their predecessors in pre-war Germany: In pre-war Germany, the Reform-movement cannot be read but in the context of anti-Semitism and the Enlightenment; the attempt to “reform” Judaism cannot be dissected from Jews’ hope to finally belong to the “civilized,” to be German citizens, to gain access, to become human.[29] Abraham Geiger’s educational enterprise, the emergence of progressive Judaisms, were not some kind of a natural, evolutionary process, but a reaction to what some Jews believed was demanded of Judaism by a singular modernity, which was not inclusive of Judaism. The attempt to uplift Judaism on a civilizational scale thus can be read not only as a path to a positively inscribed “German Jewish symbiosis,” but also as a form of cultural oppression.[30]

Today, however, this context has changed. For one thing, the concept of multiculturalism allows religious communities to articulate different answers to modernity than assimilation – a circumstance that the anti-Semitic climate up to the 1930’s simply did not. Moreover, the “new Germany” defines itself as an antidote of anti-Semitism and Nazism and has a vital interest in supporting whatever contributes to a picture of a new “flourishing of Jewish life” in its midst. The naming of the Rabbinical College after Abraham Geiger in present day Germany thus does not signify an attempt of the Jewish subaltern to progress, to assimilate and wipe out his otherness, but an attempt of the German hegemon to revive a “comfortable” Judaism, with Jews, who are valuable to his own needs: Jews, whose socio-political-religious values are wholly compatible with those of the majority, whose solidarities, lived experiences, memories, and webs of knowledge were nourished by Germans philosemitic desires, and not by Jewish communities, families and institutions beyond these desires. The new “trend” of philosemitic Germany is, accordingly, not the engagement with the Holocaust, aka, the moment when the story of Jews and Germans was irreversibly divided. The new trend is the Haskalah, when Germans and Jews supposedly entered a symbiosis, or at least “could” have entered a symbiosis had not the Nazis “irrationally” interrupted this process.[31]

In contemporary Germany then, it is not the Jew, who runs danger to assimilate, but the actors of hybrid Jewish Spaces, that claim (and are given) representational offices and power: Power, which does not reflect any internal Jewish prestige, say, accomplishments in the interpretation of Jewish religious texts or work in Jewish communities, but power granted from without, rewarding Jewish-inflected, progressive-style Germanism – to quote the Abraham Geiger College’s website: “pluralism, progressiveness, self-discovery, personal questions of faith and spirituality, social justice and academic excellence.” Every disruptive sense of Jewish law and Jewish particularity is being tamed (and substituted) here by references to culture, individualism and reason.[32] It is as if, once again, the incorporation of rabbinic education into a state-university saves “religion” from superstition, disintegration and backwardness, and assures Jews’ and Judaism’s “progress” along the lines of a secular, liberal nation-state.

[1] I would like to thank Sander Gilman, Daniel Boyarin and Hillel Ben Sasson for reading and commenting on this paper. All mistakes, inaccuracies and shortcomings are, of course, my own.
[2] In the words of Lilliane Weissberg, “Jewish Studies has in recent years become a popular field for the exploration of one’s own German identity via the study of the Other.” Cf. Lilliane Weissberg, “Reflecting on the Past, Envisioning the Future: Perspectives for German-Jewish Studies,” in: GHI Bulletin no. 35 (fall 2004), p. 13.
[3] Y. Michal Bodemann, “A Jewish Cultural Renascence in Germany?” in: Ian Leveson/Sandra Lustig (eds.), Turning the Kaleidoscope. Perspectives on European Jewry. New York – Oxford: Berghahn Books: 2006, p. 165.
[4] Ibid., p. 166.
[5] Lilliane Weissberg (2004, p. 13) notes that many of the Jewish Studies departments were established in towns like Duisburg or Trier, which did not have a post-war Jewish community, and even in those towns which did have a community, the relation between those departments and the community was “tenous, to say the least” (p. 13). She holds that “by declaring German-Jewish history to be concluded, Jewish Studies departments in Germany, too, could easily justify their indifference to the concerns of contemporary community life” (p. 26). I am not sure if “indifference” is an apt description, yet it is noteworthy that the rapid numerical growth of German Jewish communities through the immigration of Russian Jews was neither accompanied by a change of demographics among students, nor did it somehow influence the curricula. German Jewish Studies on the one hand and German Jewry on the other seem to have lived on separate planets.
[6] Scholars differentiate between the phase lasting from the 1950’s to the 1980’s, and the “philosemitic phase” lasting from the 1990’s to the first decade of the 21st century. It is debated whether this “philosemitic phase” is nowadays still strong as it was, or if the wind has veered again, approximately since the Second Intifada.
[7] Y. Michal Bodemann, 2006, p. 174. While all scholars unanimously note the popularity-boom, relatively little academic attention was given to its motivations, circumstances and effects.
[8] Diana Pinto, “The Jewish Space in Europa,” in: Leveson/ Lustig, 2006, p. 179-­‐186.
[9] Ruth Ellen Gruber, Virtually Jewish. Reinventing Jewish Life in Europe, Berkeley: University of California Press 2002.
[10] Michael Brenner, “The Transformation of the German-­‐Jewish Community,” Morris and J. Zipes (eds.), Unlikely History. The Changing German-­‐Jewish Symbiosis, New York: Palgrave 2002, p. 58.
[11] This is how Leveson summarizes Pinto’s article “A New Role for Jews in Europe” (see Levenson/Lustig, 2006, especially pp. 31-32, 24 and 39) in his paper “Jewish Space – no medium for Yiddishkeit? – And its possible effects on Judaism, Jewish culture and Jewry.”
[12] Y. Michal Bodemann, 2006, p. 175.
[13] Ian Leveson, “Jewish Space,” pp. 10-12.
[14] “Die jüdische Theologie unterscheidet sich von anderen Gebieten jüdischer Gelehrsamkeit dadurch, dass, wer sie betreibt, innerlich der Wahrheit, die er zu ergründen sucht, verpflichtet ist. Es ist zum Beispiel möglich, jüdische Geschichte völlig unbeteiligt zu studieren. Der Historiker, der über jüdisches Gedankengut, über das jüdische Volk oder jüdische Institutionen arbeitet, muss nicht unbedingt den Wunsch verspüren, mit seiner Lebensführung die Ideale des Judentums auszudrücken. Er muss nicht einmal Jude sein. … Während der Historiker aber danach fragt, was sich in der Vergangenheit des jüdischen Volkes ereignet hat, stellt der Theologe die persönliche Frage, welche Elemente der überlieferten jüdischen Religion hier und heute sein Leben als Jude noch bestimmen. Der Historiker benutzt sein Fachwissen, um nachzuweisen, was die Juden früher geglaubt haben. Der Theologe lässt sich auf die schwierige, für den, der sie erkannt hat, aber auch gewichtigere Aufgabe ein, herauszufinden, was ein Jude in der heutigen Welt zum Inhalt seines Glaubens machen kann.” (Louis Jacobs, Was ist jüdische Theologie, 1973), quoted on the School of Jewish Theology’s webpage.
[15] The founder and director of the School of Jewish Theology explicitly describes the establishment of a School of Jewish Theology equal in status to Christian theology within a state-university to “heal the deep wound, that exists since 200 years in the history of the emancipation of Judaism in Germany” (Michael Hollenbach, “Jüdische Theologie an einer Staatlichen Universität,” in: Deutschlandfunk, 26.05.2015.
[16] Berlin’s Senate, to mention just one example, keeps on defending its so-called “Neutralitätsgesetz,“ a law that defines institutions such as schools or courts to be a “neutral space,“ in which Muslim women wearing a hijab cannot serve. Ruth Ellen Gruber (2002, p. 10) notes that “Jews are often viewed as symbols of all persecuted peoples: honoring lost Jews and their annihilated world can become a means of demonstrating democratic principles and multicultural ideals, regardless of how other contemporary minorities are treated, be they Turks, Roma, North African, or whatever.“
[17] This anecdote is reported by Peter Schäfer (1991, p. 213).
[18] See Amiram Barkat, “Rabbis Ordained in Germany for the First Time since Shoah,” in: Haaretz, 15.09.2006 Y. Michal Bodemann (2006, p. 170-171), too, notes that “(a)nother reason for the renascence that should not be overlooked is the continuous public financial and, within specific limits, political support given to the Jewish community. Of its twenty-four million Euro budget, the community receives from the City Senate and from other public sources twenty-two million. (…) There can be no doubt, furthermore, that the Jewish Community, from questions of immigration and building permits to cultural programing such as street festivals, had been enjoying the special sympathy of the Berlin Senate. (…) The well over a hundred thousand Muslims in Berlin have not received any comparable concessions.“
[19] The founder and managing director of the Potsdam Schools, Walter Homolka, actively forced the issue up to the constitutional court, where he won the case. The court win enabled the Government to appear to play the role of the mediator while forcing the Central Council of Jews to accept the compromise, which was that the Progressives could enter the Council if they desisted from pursuing their own public-law institution (“Anstalt der Öffentlichen Rechtes”). This court win has weakened the Council considerably as a political body and stored up problems for the future. Thanks Ian Leveson for pointing this out to me.
As a result of said intervention into internal Jewish affairs, neither the Israeli Embassy nor the representatives of the Central Council of Jews in Germany attended the ceremony: “Geiger executive director Rabbi Walter Homolka told Haaretz that the Israeli Embassy did not respond to the college’s invitation. The president of the umbrella organization of the German Jewish community, Charlotte Knobloch also did not attend, due to her opposition to Reform congregations joining the organization under pressure from the German government.” Cf. Amiram Barakat, “Rabbis Ordained in Germany for the First Time since Shoah,” in: Haaretz, 15.09.2006.
[20] Amiram Barakat, “Does the Jewish Community in Germany come back to life?” in: Haaretz (hebr.), 18.09.2006.
[21] Ibid.
[22] According to the Zentralwohlfahrtsstelle der Juden in Deutschland membership-numbers of Jewish communities in Germany have risen from 29.089 in 1990 to 102.472 in 2003 as a result of migration from the former Soviet Union.
[23] Since the beginning of the century, especially Berlin also witnesses an influx of Israeli Jews; they, however, are commonly self-identifying as secular and are not aligned with any Jewish institution, be it liberal or orthodox. German Jews, that is, those who returned to Germany after the war, have their “strongholds” in Frankfurt, Munich, and Düsseldorf. Among them may be some, who are “alienated” from “imported” rabbis, yet, my impression is that among this sector, too, one is prone to stick with orthodoxy in matters of representation – possibly also because Jews who returned to Germany after the war did not accumulate enough independence and self-confidence for promoting cutting-edge positions in matters of religious representation, surely not in deviance from Israeli politics of religion.
[24] Cf. Amiram Barakat, “Does the Jewish Community in Germany come back to life?” in: Haaretz (hebr.), 18.09.2006.
[25] Hans Riebsamen, “Kuriosum Rabbiner,” in: Frankfurter Allgemeine, 14.09.2006.
[26] Andrea Jeska, “Kein besseres Land für Juden,” in: Die Zeit, 04.04.2012.
[27] Barbara Steiner, Die Inszenierung des Jüdischen. Konversionen von Deutschen zum Judentum nach 1945, Wallstein Verlag, Göttingen: 2015, pp. 91-92.
[28] Of course, this is not to say that a conscious, or active Christian past automatically and necessarily generates a conversion to Judaism that remains within said Christian context. There are numerous examples of different biographies. The point I make is that this option exists, and that it is not a marginal phenomenon.
[29] The College defines itself as an inheritor of the pre-war German Jewish Reform movement, however, vast differences are apparent not only in terms of the protagonists’ biographies and contexts, but also in terms of religious ideology. Germany’s Reform movement was, apart form its radical edges, more conservative than its surviving cousin in the USA at the turn of this century might suggest, so that this is rather a revival of an import from the USA.
[30] Bernhard Rothstein in a critique of Jewish “identity-museums” describes this aptly: “For European Jews, moreover, the Enlightenment meant something very different from what it meant for others: less a matter of discovering universal laws than of disclosing the ways in which Jews might one day be considered part of universal humanity, accepted in society with the same rights as other citizens. Often, in adapting to this highly contingent face of universalism, Judaism was susceptible not so much of finding as of losing itself.“ (Cf. Bernhard Rothstein, “The Problem with Jewish Museums,“ in: Mosaic, 01.02.2016. This point is, of course, not new at all. Critique of the “Wissenschaft des Judentums” specifically was articulated by Gerschom Scholem and countless others. Counter-readings of the Enlightenment are, in a much broader, fundamental sense, a basic assumption of diverse strands of postcolonial, feminist and queer studies.
[31] It may be worth mentioning that Jewish institutions in Germany today are commonly named after the protagonists of the “German-Jewish symbiosis.” Berlin’s Jewish high school, for example, is named after Moses Mendelssohn, and a scholarship foundation for students after Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich, another proponent of pre-war “Jewish-Christian dialogue.”
[32] Whatever information might be of relevance beyond these key-words – such as concrete curricula of the rabbinical program, for example – is not accessible to the public. Curricula of the School of Jewish Theology are, of course, accessible, as they are part of the University of Potsdam’s general course-catalog.

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Dear readers,

After two years, Mandolina has decided to go on an extended vacation.

In part, there are practical considerations: Writing a blog is really time-consuming and a difficult thing to do as a young mother. It is a lots a lots of work, and the reason I have embarked upon this nonetheless is, in large part, due to the constant encouragement, critique and appreciation of diverse readers. Clapping myself on the shoulders now, I also believe that there do not exist many platforms that ask questions about contemporary usages of narratives such as the “Jewish revival” in Germany, its actors, its political context, anti-Muslim racism, “new” Germany’s self-image and so on. My vacation then is absolutely not due to over-saturation or a feeling of “having done my work here,” having “accomplished something.” Quite the opposite.

I think that with every day that passes, these subjects become more and more urgent. Therefore, my plan (or at least, my intention) is to place the blog’s themes into non-bloggish contexts: Not to marginalize my work through framing it as blog-posts, as random “personal” reflections, but as research, born out of personal, acute experiences and interests, but grounded in theoretical frameworks that go much beyond this. I am not sure at all if this is going to work out, and to be sure: I will not abandon this little ship here – just post with much less frequency.

Thank you all for two years of walking with Mandolina, who is not (yet) president, but who knows who knows…the times they are a changin’

Hannah aka Mandolina




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The Truth That Lies Within

Sometimes, when reading childrearing-advises, the etiquettes of baby-food, all those leaflets about breastfeeding, I feel like taking a slice of white bread (that kind of bread you can squeeze like chewing gum), cover it very thickly, generously, with marshmallow-spread, and eat it and feed it. I feel as if I should start smoking also, drink more coffee, and stop breastfeeding immediately.

fafa0ad004da70af1f8f1c2f4cf3ea92This is because I have to fight nature: A birth is good, when it is natural. Breast-feeding is good, because it is natural. Carrying a baby in a baby-sling is good, because it is natural. Co-sleeping, organic food, organic cotton clothes: good, because natural. Nature hovers over pictures of more or less naked, spotless, porcelain-white bodies of babies, modern variants of medieval portraits of baby Jesus: Pristine, pure bodies undistorted by the artificial, external interventions of culture. How much organic cotton or self-made pumpkin-soup do I need in order to atone for a circumcision, I ask myself. How much nature outweighs all that pollution induced by bottle-milk and food in little glass-tins? (And how much good, exactly, has ever come out of arguments of “nature” for women?)

The creation of a human being as natural and organic as little white Jesus in his crib is ideologically inseparable from the notion of a truth that lies within. According to this notion, whatever is brought upon a child by external forces (such as religious authorities or a law, a societal convention etc.) is essentially inferior to the truth that lies within: in the heart. That which you think, because your free reason has induced you to think so, that which you do, because you feel this the right thing to do, is better, “more true,” then that, which you do because of “submission.” Children, that are being “indoctrinated” into a particular tradition/knowledge-system, for example, are thus not only deemed not free, they are also stripped of the capability to see the truth that lies within their essence, their own “true” being. They can neither truly belief, nor truly think. They cannot even truly love: Without having discovered their individual, untainted, undistorted essence, they are emotionally immature slaves – a trope that currently finds its most widespread expression in representations of Muslim men (> “religion”) as unable to cope with their suppressed desires.

The assumption of an inner truth’s superiority, its very existence even, is not a primordial, universal characteristic of humankind. In as far as the history of thoughts is concerned, it was most prominently Paul, the Apostle, who differentiated between a text’s “outer body” and its “inner meaning,” and set them into a hierarchical relation.

477e0d23cfa1def0c9a5b8ab1ad4180cTo Paul, the law given to Moses at Mount Sinai was Scripture’s “outer meaning,” associated with flesh and slavery, and represented by Hagar and Ishmael – whereas the new covenant of Jesus Christ came to uncover Scripture’s “inner meaning,” the truth, to be associated with spirit and freedom, and represented by Sarah and Isaac. Through differentiating between “slavery” based on the fear of law/the performance of ritual, and “freedom” based on an inner yearning for morality, Paul could interpret God’s promise to Abraham – the continuity of Israel that is – as resting not with the Jews and their “carnal” law, but with universal, non-bodily spirit, set free by faith in Christ and available to all of humankind. This is obviously not to suggest a direct dependency or a straight line leading from Paul’s exegetical moves to advertisements of toddler’s food, yet it is to point out that advertisements of toddler’s food entail notions of “the good” and “the truth,” that are culturally specific.

The discovery of one’s “inner truth” is usually not described as a process that involves a loss, let alone a loss to be mourned: it is just about shucking off false fears, freeing belief from law, love from submission, abandoning that, which stops us from realizing our potential.

According to its own account, therefore, secular education cultivates nothing but the very natural order of things: it enables us to discover our selves, what we “really are,” deep down inside our hearts. It never exerts force, is never violent, or unreasoned, and if it interferes, it is well-meant advice, it reacts, it saves: its interests are always good. We have overcome formal religion – the primary cause of bloodshed – and are now taking upon ourselves to help those, who have not yet overcome religion, to be educated into critical thinking and freedom: How can all human beings strip off their fears, their false beliefs, and dwell in universal spiritual bliss? This is not violence, it simply prevents fanaticism from taking over and secures children’s capability of independent reasoning and critical thinking. It is all in everybody’s very best interest – even if some might sense a dull discomfort sneaking into their hearts, a whiff of dread, when their selves, their collectives, their memories, their bodies are being destroyed in the course of their cultural elevation.


Der Maler von dem Loch, George Grosz (1839-1959)

The human being whose truth rests inside “happens” to be the ideal participant of capitalist economies: An individual, freed from the conventions of the collective, someone who has an “essence,” and will sense bliss when this “essence” is realized. The pricier a product is, the more it is, accordingly, individualized: marketed as something not related to mass production, but as a product that “is you,” and is “being made especially for you”: hand-picked, watered by moon-light, designed individually from scratch paper, each needle’s stich pierced with love into hand-colored linen, elevating you through giving you the opportunity to show-case your own, individual being – which of course finds itself in constant need of something that is “even more you” than the stuff you already call your own. A minor coincidence it is, that those who cannot enact their individuality through individualized consumption, but are struggling to keep their bodies alive through gaining access to food, water and medical care, are also those who will find their lives more likely to end as collateral damage.

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About Ideological Purity and Solidarity

israelite-4-7-2016-ophir-pictureA couple of weeks ago, Ophir Toubul visited together with a few other activists of Tor ha-Zahav the mother of Elor Azaria, a soldier who is currently trialed for gunning down a Palestinian man without any self-defensive reason whatsoever. The visit was a public media-event, designed to showcase Tor ha-Zahav’s non-elitist embeddedness in the midst of Mizrahi Israeli mainstream. Toubul et al have not always been there: As many of the most prominent and fervent figures of the Mizrahi empowerment movement, they have spent their formative years working on effacing whatever was “Mizrahi” about them, so as to resemble as close as possible the country’s cultural-political Ashkenazi elite: They made themselves into secular, academically educated, and more or less left-wing men. Those, who heaved anti-Mizrahi racism on the table, were Mizrahim, who participated in urban, left wing, secular, read: Ashkenazi culture.

In line with this sociological positioning, the fight against anti-Mizrahi racism could be smoothly tied to the fight against the occupation: “Intersectionality” was the word of the day in any case, and the fight of one oppressed group could thus reasonably be configured as inseparable from the fight of another oppressed group. Theoretically compelling as this is, however, some irritating hard facts remained: For the one thing, it seemed that Palestinians did not really join the fight, as they had (and have) nothing to gain from allying with another marginalized group. They opted for the “Ashkenazi-Palestinian axis.” More troubling even, it seemed that even Mizrahi Israelis themselves did not flock in Mizrahi empowerment initiatives in any notable numbers: Not much of a surprise, the flair of anti-Zionist, secular Mizrahi men married to Ashkenazi women from Tel Aviv, did not quite appeal to them.


Toubul’s visit of Elor Azaria’s mother is the radical end of a development that originates in the realization of above-mentioned hard facts. Earlier in history, Toubul had dissolved his Mizrahi cultural hipster platform Café Gibraltar, initiated the more politically explicit Tor ha-Zahav, and supported Aryeh Deri, leader of the religious Mizrahi party Sha”S, in the last elections. It does not take much sophistication to detect a radical disruption from the more academically inspired, more “classical” left wing, and “ideologically clean” discourse, that characterized the earlier days of Mizrahi discourse: Toubul et al claimed a legitimacy to address Mizrahi concerns and needs in and of themselves, without previously educating Mizrahim into solidarity with Palestinians. Probably with a grain of despair, but with a greater grain of pragmatism, the foundational agenda of Toubul’s Tor ha-Zahav is, that substantial change of Israeli society in favor of Mizrahim will happen through the work of Mizrahim, and only Mizrahim.


This is not to support the Tor ha-Zahav-visit of Elor Azaria’s mother. There is absolutely nothing that would somehow mitigate, let alone justify, Azaria’s murder of another human being. This was a hate crime, which is – needless to say – part of a larger context, yet that larger context does not turn the crime into “Elor Azaria is the son of all of us.” He is not.

This is to point out that more often then not, there do exist huge sociological and ideological gaps between the advocators of the diverse “empowerment” movements and those, who actually are to be empowered, between those public figures who opt for a participation of minorities and those who actually are embedded in those minorities. In the wake of the thwarted military coup in Turkey and Erdoğan’s “stabilizing” measurements, for example, many German left wing activists furiously terminated any future collaboration with any German Turk, who did not publicly condemn the president’s actions, as Lady Bitch Ray wrote in a public letter to Kübra Gümüşay, “if you stand in solidarity with ethnic and religious minorities, why do I see you solely in networks and cooperations with IGMG- and DITIB-affiliated headscarf-women, who issue zero critique against the Islamic patriarchy (…) and how does this fit the pro-AKP and pro- Erdoğan postings and insinuating Turkey-paroles of Betül Ulusoy on facebook?” Or in a more straightforward, “slightly” Sarazzinesk fashion, the head of Neukölln’s social democrats disclaimed that “it is part of her (Betül Ulusoys) image, that she advances freedom of thought and women’s rights – but this post (a facebook-post in which Ulusoy defended Erdoğan’s post-coup politics as an opportunity to get rid of some “dirt”) shows what kind of ideology is hidden behind her pose: that her attack against the law of neutrality is not motivated by a concern for women’s rights, but serves the aims of political Islam.”


Again: I have not the slightest intend to defend either Erdoğan’s measurements, or to express sympathy with Elor Azaria’s mother. Yet, if the aim is to bridge the gap between the public proponents of empowerment and those, who are to be empowered, then the very last thing to expect is ideological purity as defined by left-wing academics. A quick glance at Jewish orthodox communities in Germany may suffice: Said communities do have, without doubt, a vital interest in forming political unions with Muslim communities, given that both are religious minorities and hence (in different ways) subject to anti-religious cultural racism. Yet, you won’t be able to organize with any Jewish orthodox community your next Naqba-exhibition, just as you won’t – with all likelihood and I am sorry if I am wrong – install an Armenia-exhibition in your neighborhood’s mosque.

If you enter the ring with the idea of collaborating solely with enlightened, politically woke academic left-wingers, you may very well have incredibly interesting, radical and smart discussions in your private kitchen, but the only benefiters of this will be you, your friends, and your tea-pot. This is, of course, legitimate: I’d be the very last person on earth, who’d sympathize with “the people’s” political views. I absolutely do not think that “the people’s” politics is by virtue of its being the view of the masses in any sense superior to the politics of Berkeley-style academic discourses, that ethical politics is a matter of the guts, instead of books. Yet the legitimacy and necessity of walled, elitist discourses notwithstanding, it seems about time to face the political consequences of walled, elitist discourses: the failure of Berkeley in terms of concrete, political impact. Thus, instead of dividing the world into “good and bad,” it seems about time to acknowledge that each and everyone has different interests, that go along different loyalties and solidarities, that cannot always be harmonized: No one, besides secular academic individuals, whose interests are being represented and protected in any case, have the privilege to opt for a clean “only good.”


It may well be, that much of this post is inspired by my own positioning as a religious, orthodox Jew, whose ultimate solidarity is with the Jewish orthodox collective – even if my politics, at times, diverge from the accepted norm in said collective. This is, accordingly, not about being anybody’s poster girl, but about delineating an individual, non-negotiable realm, that exists despite those tensions: I will, for the life of me, not collaborate with people – Jews and non-Jews alike – who mock religious practice and authority, or who target orthodox Jews and Muslims as a bunch of retarded primitives. This is a deal-breaker. Nor will I discuss any single one orthodox “controversial” issue with anybody but the community that is going to bear the consequences of those discussions. This is then less about what’s “right” or “wrong” as judged from a super-human bird-eye perspective, but about the legitimacy of specific loyalties and solidarities, that co-exist in ambiguous tension with others.

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