Jewish Reactions to Antisemitism
Dissolving the Limits of What Can Be Said and Done in Jewish Ritual Practice
As early as the emergence of Christianity, Jewish religious traditions have been portrayed as primitive, antiquated, and even threatening. Jewish ritual practice was presented as a dark foil against which the Christian self-conception could shine through – theologically superior and with a sense of piety that did not need such customs. These negative depictions continue to have an effect despite increasing cultural secularization and Christians becoming a minority of the German population. This rejection of Jewish ritual practice has been justified by arguments deriving from debates on human rights, child welfare, animal welfare, the removal of religion from public life, and other ethical questions. Despite the great advances in promoting Christian-Jewish dialogue over the last decades, rapprochement is largely limited to theological issues and textual interpretation. Jewish ritual practice and religiosity, however, continue to be measured in Christian terms, limiting understanding and acceptance and perpetuating centuries-old repudiation, both consciously and inadvertently.
Research Associates: Dr. Ulrike Offenberg, Jessica Hösel
In the first phase of this project, we examine whether and to what extent Jews are influenced by these hostile attitudes in their own religious practices. Have they experienced negative responses – verbally or physically – to Jewish ritual such that they wish to make these practices less visible? Do these individuals anticipate hostile language or physical assaults and thus avoid displaying Jewish religious symbols and practices? This hypothetical self-censorship describes the limits of what can be said and done in Jewish daily life in Germany.
The second project phase is dedicated to raising public awareness of these gaps in understanding about Jewish religious practice. Workshops for religious educators from the churches will shed light on the legacies of rejecting Jewish ritual practice and their persistent effects. Here, theologians, pastors, and other religious educators will have the opportunity to discuss historical-theological Christian stances on the observance of Shabbat and holidays, circumcision, kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), ritual slaughter, and other aspects of the Jewish religion and thus recognize the anti-Jewish features of these traditional positions. This will also help to bring attention to the often overlooked conditions and limitations of Jewish life in Germany.
The project will also produce short videos featuring members of the Jewish community in which they vividly and authentically explain why different forms of ritual practice are of personal significance. They are encouraged to articulate confidently why circumcision, ritual slaughter, wearing a kippah, kashrut, and observing Shabbat and holidays are important to them and part of the “whole package” of Judaism. We will present these short videos in the workshops and share them across social media platforms in order to generate broader social acceptance of Jewish traditions. The goal of this research and education project is to empower Jews to make their rituals and traditions visible to the public. Moreover, it will help non-Jewish actors better understand Jewish practice and religion and thus counter their denigration within Christian theology, doctrine, and public discourse.
Research associates: Dr. Jobst Paul, Dyana Rezene
As part of the broader collaborative project, the Duisburg Institute for Linguistic and Social Research (Duisburger Institut für Sprach- und Sozialforschung e.V.) is using discourse analysis to investigate the thematization of Judaism in German everyday media.
The aim is to identify what structural elements in contemporary discourse continue to be responsible for “othering,” even though political and media discourses today widely address the “fight against antisemitism.” We are paying close attention to whether and in what form the anniversary year entitled “1700 Years of Jewish Life in Germany” (which was inaugurated in March 2021 and has been extended) is evident in current media discourse. The analysis draws on comparative data from historical discourse analysis that the Duisburg Institute conducted a few years ago on German Jewish discourse in the nineteenth century. These sources were characterized by resistance to antisemitism and social marginalization. This research prompted approximately ten concrete questions that now demand renewed attention and have gained greater urgency in the context of today’s discourse.
- Birgit Klein, Rabb. Prof. Dr. (Hochschule für Jüdische Studien Heidelberg)
- Ulrike Offenberg, Dr. (Hochschule für Jüdische Studien Heidelberg)
- Jessica Hösel (Hochschule für Jüdische Studien Heidelberg)
- Jobst Paul, Dr. (Duisburger Institut für Sprach- und Sozialforschung e.V.)
- Dyana Rezene (Duisburger Institut für Sprach- und Sozialforschung e.V.)
Rabb. Prof. Dr. Birgit Klein
Hochschule für Jüdische Studien Heidelberg
Dr. Jobst Paul
Duisburger Institut für Sprach- und Sozialforschung e.V.