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The German-Jewish Dialogue Reconsidered

A Symposium in Honor of George L. Mosse

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Edited By Klaus L. Berghahn

Was there a German-Jewish dialogue? This seemingly innocent question was silenced by the Holocaust. Since then, it is out of the question to take comfortable refuge to a distant past when Mendelssohn and Lessing started this dialogue. Adorno/Horkheimer, Arendt, and above all Scholem have repeatedly pointed out, how the noble promises of the Enlightenment were perverted, which led to a complete failure of Jewish emancipation in Germany. It is against this backdrop of warning posts that we dare to return to an important chapter of Jewish culture in Germany. This project should not be seen, however, as an attempt to idealize the past or to harmonize the present, but as a plea for a new dialogue between Germans and Jews about their common past.

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After the Destruction of Jewish Culture in Germany 177

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Gershom Scholem between German and Jewish Nationalism David Biale Graduate Theological Union Berkeley, California FOR A GERMAN JEw to claim-and in German at that!-that there never was a dialogue between Jews and Germans is roughly akin to the Cretan claiming that all Cretans are liars. But this is exactly the logical sticky wicket of self-reference into which Gershom Scholem fell-or, better, threw himself-in his famous essay which has shaped so much discussion of the identity of the German Jews ever since. 1 As George Mosse has correctly pointed out, Scholem, like all of his generation of Weimar Jews was a distinct product of what David Sorkin has called the curious subculture of the German Jews, one that owed more to Deutschtum than to Judentum. 2 Although perhaps Steve Aschheim is correct in suggesting that the Enlightenment value of Bildung was less important than later, more vitalistic and apocalyptic tendencies in shaping this identity, 3 it remained an identity quite distinct from that of Jews elsewhere in time and place. Moreover-and this will be my main contention here-Scholem's very rejection of Germany was the product of a uniquely German Sitz im Leben. While many Zionists were to reject the lands of their birth, the German Jewish Zionists did so in ways that were characteristic and often unique to their German context. Since Scholem is such a central figure in the very formation of the way we debate the nature of German Jewish identity, it seems only fitting to revisit him...

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