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

  1. SalSala says:

    Very interesting post! Thanks for sharing.

    I would love to have a life discussion about these issues which nearly no one is touching openly.

    One question: we do have another Rabbinic School in Germany, the Hildesheimer Rabbinic Seminary.
    Another institution created to “revive Jewish communities in Germany”.

    How, in the context of what you wrote above, do you see the generation of “new rabbis” from the Hildesheimer Seminary, who also “unlike their predecessors in the pre-war (Ukraine or Latvia or other former GUS states, my insert) (…) for the most part, never been embedded in any more ‘traditional’ Jewish community, and lack memories, knowledge and experience of the latter”, having been outreached in Germany by Haredi Kiruv organizations from the US and Israel – from the late 90s on?
    Knowing that also these Haredi Kiruv organizations had their often not so lofty reasons and purposes to also set foot into Germany, even if they might not be as easy to digest for certain non-Jews like the “modern and enlightened” Reform and Conservative Jews are – but on the other hand striking a sentimental chord to all those for whom a Jew should look like the Haredi Jews presented in German news channels?

    • Thank you for your comment!

      If you are interested in engaging the paper in a more public context, you may send me a mail (see Impressum), and I’d let you know about “upcoming venues and dates.”

      Re:your comment. I agree that contemporary Judaism in Germany is always a re-enactment, and, for obvious reasons, not a continuation, born out of an unbroken chain of transmission. In as much as the active participants of Jewish communal life in Germany today are, in their very great majority, not heirs of a tradition they’ve grown up in, they are *all* products of desires that were instilled within hegemonic socio-political configurations: Contemporary German Jewry is not only made in, but in crucial ways, also made by Germany.
      However, I’d argue that the desires (and notably: desire’s sources), that inform re-enactements of Orthodox Judaism, are different from those, that motivate re-enactments of progressive Judaisms. They entail different subjectivities, different sensibilities and notions of self-hood vis-a-vis the state and its conception of “religion.” I have touched upon this issue a bit in the preceding post: https://mandolinaforpresident.wordpress.com/2016/12/13/a-name-to-hide-on-philo-semitic-desires-subjugation-and-recognition/.
      I believe that the acknowledgement of substantial difference here is, in particular in the German context, crucial, because of the weight attached to the “Jew as witness.” Meaning: You may interpret compatibility, assimilation, and fitness as entire positive assets – yet it is specifically here, that “too much assimilation” would ultimately reduce the Jew’s fitness to serve as witness of Germany’s transformation. It is only here, that the “Jewish vantage-point” always needs to remain a decisevly *different* vantage-point. One’s commitment to, and embeddedness in hegemonic, secular-liberal notions of selfhood and religion has to remain hidden.

      If you have articles or source-material etc. on Haredi Kiruv-organisations targeting Germany, I’d be glad if you could let me know how to attain that! (I mean, apart from what’s floating around the internet).

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