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Nihilism, modernity and the "Jewish spirit": Margarete Susman's transvaluation of a fin-de-siecle trope.


Margarete Susman's reflections on that evocative metaphor known as the "Jewish spirit" begin with the disconcerting identification of Jewishness with nihilism and modernity. This troubling association underlies the anti-Jewish tirades of numerous fin-de-siecle thinkers such as Richard Wagner and Wilhelm Marr. Despite the term's overridingly negative connotations, Susman grapples with the "Jewish spirit" in her essays from the 1930s for the constructive purpose of articulating her unique vision of German Jewry's cultural and intellectual legacy. Her reworking of this metaphor represents a unique form of Jewish self-affirmation that differs from both the Zionist and liberal responses to antisemitism. She does not seek to turn the "Jewish spirit" into a resource for collective self-identification, but to undo the very logic that posits this figure as an antithesis of the "German spirit." In the process of rethinking Jewishness, Susman destabilizes the volkisch conception of Germanness. Not only does her account of the "Jewish spirit" subvert a prevalent antisemitic fantasy, but it also forms a pointed polemic against the identity politics of cultural Zionism. Responding to the reductive essentialism she attributes to both the German volkisch and Jewish-national ideals of collective identity, Susman's notion of the "Jewish spirit" constitutes a poetically and politically imaginative attempt to interweave German Jewry's particularistic heritage into the larger story of European modernity.


In her 1929 essay, "Das Hiob-Problem bei Franz Kafka," the poet and literary critic Margarete Susman (1872-1966) celebrated Kafka's "unparalleled artistic achievement," crediting the author for having attained "the form of nothing itself." (1) Surely the work of Strindberg and Dostoevsky had already pointed in this direction, but it was only Kafka who had truly succeeded in capturing the nihilism of the modern age, "what in so radical a form could only be completed by a Jewish spirit." (2) Susman's curious identification of the "Jewish spirit" with nihilism and modernity seemingly situates her in the disreputable company of such antisemitic thinkers as the literary critic Adolf Bartels and the philosopher Hans Bluher, for whom Jewishness was interchangeable with the destructive forces of modernity. (3) Her mediations on Kafka clearly allude to that insidious fin-de-siecle myth of the "destructive Jewish spirit" (der zersetzende judische Geist). Yet Susman does not merely subscribe to these anti-Jewish ideas. Hers is an attempt to wrest the "Jewish spirit" from its detractors and subvert its antisemitic connotations. Susman's version of the judische Geist is also unique in the sense that it did not serve as resource for collective self-identification, as it did in many of its Zionist variants. (4) Her redefinition of the moral and historical significance of the "Jewish spirit" not only refutes a prevalent antisemitic fantasy, but also forms a pointed polemic against the identity politics of cultural Zionism. Critical of the reductive essentialism she attributes to both the German volkisch and Zionist-national accounts of Jewishness, Susman sought to construct an alternative to these two models in what she called the "Jewish spirit."

Born in Hamburg to an assimilated upper middle-class family one year after the founding of the Kaiserreich, Margarete Susman lived through the rise and fall of the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, and the postwar establishment of a divided Germany. An accomplished poet, philosopher, and cultural critic, Susman published hundreds of essays and over a dozen books during her lifetime. Before World War II, she was a regular contributor to the Frankfurter Zeitung, also publishing in German-Jewish periodicals such as Der Morgen and Der Jude. (5) A member of the George-Kreis in the early 1900s and a regular participant in Georg Simmel's private seminars, Susman was active in Germany's poetic and intellectual avant-garde prior to the First World War. During the interwar years Susman crossed paths with the era's most radical thinkers, striking friendships with Ernst Bloch, Siegfried Kracauer, Georg Lukacs, Franz Rosenzweig, and Martin Buber. Fleeing the Nazis in 1933, Susman made Zurich her permanent home, where she soon established a close relationship with Protestant socialist theologians Walter Nigg and Leonhard Ragaz. (6) Despite her prolific career as a woman of letters, whose writings traversed philosophy, politics, culture, and religion, Susman's intellectual legacy never received the attention that was lavished on many of the figures she counted as her friends. In recent years, Susman has begun to come out of the shadow of her better-known contemporaries--thanks to the important work done by Barbara Hahn, Anke Gillier, and Ingeborg Nordmann. (7) This paper seeks to continue these scholars' efforts to recuperate Susman by further exploring her uniquely imaginative and politically idiosyncratic meditations on Jewish identity.

Susman's reflections on that highly ambiguous and resonant concept known as the "Jewish spirit" partake in a greater German-Jewish dialogue that unfolded during the early decades of the twentieth century and included a broad variety of scholars, rabbis, and public intellectuals. Thinkers from across the ideological spectrum--Zionists, Marxists, liberals, and orthodox Jews--evoke the figure of the "Jewish spirit," yet come to define it in utterly irreconcilable ways. In all of these cases, the "Jewish spirit" functions as an overdetermined symbol for Jewishness, alternatively conceived in psychological, cultural, national, ethnic, religious, and sociological terms. Insofar as the "Jewish spirit" served a crucial function in antisemitic ideology, a heuristic that helped explain the economic and social dislocations of modernity, (8) it played an analogous role in the writings of German Jews struggling to define the Jewishness of the modern-secular Jew. In the works of Margarete Susman, Leo Lowenthal, Theodor Lessing, Martin Buber, Isaak Heinemann, Raphael Breuer, and numerous others, the "Jewish spirit" functions as a kind of metaphor, embodying that ever-evasive essence of Judaism, which had lost its defining contours in the wake of the emancipation. (9) The varying accounts of this so-called "spirit" reflect a postemancipatory struggle to distill a unified conception of contemporary Judaism and define the Jew's place in German society and culture. (10)

Despite the predominantly negative connotations that the "Jewish spirit" bore in nineteenth-century Germany, (11) Susman's reappropriation of this term ultimately serves the highly constructive purpose of articulating her own vision of German Jewry's cultural and intellectual legacy. Margarete Susman's reworking of this polyvalent metaphor represents a unique form of German-Jewish self-affirmation that differs from both the Zionist-nationalist and liberal-apologetic responses to antisemitism. In this sense, I wish to explore Susman's conception of the "Jewish spirit" as a counterexample to Sander Gilman's thesis in Jewish Self-Hatred, which argues that the self-definition of a minority group is primarily "determined by the stereotypical perception of the privileged group," and commonly articulated as a reversal of the negative image projected onto it. (12) Susman's nuanced notion of the "Jewish spirit" demonstrates one of the many ways in which German-Jewish self-definition challenged the binary paradigm of identity and alterity underlying Gilman's thesis. Susman does not merely substitute the negative portrayal of the "Jewish spirit" with a positive one, but seeks to undo the very logic that posits this figure as an antithesis of the "German spirit." In the process of rethinking Jewishness, Susman destabilizes the volkisch conception of Germanness. Far from serving as an apologetic refutation of antisemitic stereotypes, Susman's notion of the "Jewish spirit" constitutes a poetically and politically imaginative attempt to interweave German Jewry's particularistic heritage into the larger story of European modernity.


The "Jewish spirit" Susman associates with Kafka's fiction represents a radical nihilism and a complete break with the communal past and historical traditions. (13) This identification of Jewishness with modernity and deracination evokes a long-standing antisemitic trope found in the works of Richard Wagner, Heinrich von Treitschke, Werner Sombart, Wilhelm Marr, Otto Weinineger, and Hans Bluher. By the time Susman had come to associate modernity and nihilism with the "Jewish spirit," the identification of the Jew with the destructive forces of modernity had already struck a firm hold in the European imagination. In Sex and Character (1903), the Viennese philosopher Otto Weininger, a Jewish-born convert to Protestantism, observed that "the spirit of modernity is Jewish" (Judisch ist der Geist der Modernitat). (14) For Weininger, modernity and Jewishness were interchangeable; both represented the spirit of moral and intellectual decay that spelled Europe's ruin. Similarly, Hans Bluher's Secessio Judaica (1922) accused the Jews of contaminating the German host nation with "corruptive patterns of thought," such as those propagated by Marx, Einstein, and Freud. According to Bluher, all Jews, assimilated and unassimilated alike, were carriers of a spiritual character that was inherently and wholly antithetical to the "German essence." The "Jewish character-type," Bluher warned, posed a grave threat to the German Volk. (15) In Weininger and Bluher's anti-Jewish tirades, Jewishness serves as a metaphor for modernity. The Jews are not merely disparaged as a people, but taken as representatives of a spiritual essence alternatively associated with capitalism, materialism, and abstract rationalism. In their writings, "Jewishness" denotes the degenerate character of the actual Jew, but at the same time also refers to a certain cultural and intellectual predisposition that may "infect" the non-Jew's psyche.

In his important essay on the myth of "Judaization," Steven Aschheim traces the different qualities associated with the "Jewish spirit" in nineteenth-and twentieth-century Germany, observing that the term denoted a variety of contradictory phenomena from capitalism and communism to arid intellectualism and crass materialism. In its different variations the threat of "Judaization" (Verjudung) was meant to connote a "condition in which the 'Jewish spirit' had somehow permeated society and its key institutions, one in which Jewish Geist had seeped through the spiritual pores of the nation to penetrate and undermine the German psyche itself." (16) The myth reflected a conviction that emancipation, instead of turning the Jews into Germans, had achieved the exact opposite: it had "Judaized" German society. Emancipation was corroding German society, which was liable to dissolve under threat of foreign cultural, economic, and spiritual influences introduced by the Jews. The myth of Verjudung, Aschheim explains, was essentially a myth of contagion. But its real appeal, he argues, was its plasticity--its capacity to refer to the Jew on both literal and figurative levels. The myth of Judaization was based on the idea that the "Jewish spirit" was an inherent quality of the Jew, but that it was also detachable, capable of being transmitted to non-Jews. (17) The contradictory characteristics associated with the "Jewish spirit" constituted an ideologically inconsistent yet powerfully evocative symbol for the anxieties and uncertainties associated with modernity.

One of the first to note the figurative function which the "Jewish spirit" assumed in modern German thought was the philosopher and rabbi Isaak Heinemann (1876-1957), who in 1924 published a book entitled Vom "judischen Geist": Ein Wort an die Ehrlichen unter seinen Anklagern. Heinemann pointed out that this all-encompassing concept served as a negative foil, which German thinkers employed in an effort to articulate their own ideological convictions. The association of the "Jewish spirit" with various negative cultural and intellectual tendencies, he argued, merely served to highlight the positive ideals they attributed to the "German spirit." For Nietzschean thinkers, the "Jewish spirit" was responsible for the slave morality of the New Testament. For Protestant theologians, who sought to dissociate Christianity from its Jewish religious roots, the "Jewish spirit" of the Hebrew Bible represented a fanatical form of religiosity that needed to be renounced in favor of an ethic of love. If theologians equated Jewishness with fundamentalism, modern philosophers and political theorists pulled in the opposite direction, criticizing the Jews for their nihilistic atheism. (18) In all of these cases, Heinemann explains, the "Jewish spirit" was represented as the spirit of religious, moral, and social disintegration, against which these different schools of thought sought to articulate their own positive worldviews. Ultimately, the alternative meanings attributed to the "Jewish spirit" shifted in accordance with the specific ideological aims of its respective authors. (19)

After unmasking the inconsistencies and ideological interests underlying the alternative accounts of the "Jewish spirit," Heinemann goes on to posit his own ideal of this concept. The problem with all the political, economic, and cultural critiques of Jewishness, he contends, is that they fail to recognize the Jews as Jews, that is, in terms of their own heritage. He explains that the destructive trends attributed to Jewishness are in fact the outcome of assimilation, which contributed to the Jews' progressive alienation from Judaism. Surely there were Jews who were Communists and Jews who were anarchists, but this fact did not prove that these movements were inherently Jewish. If anything, the Jews who flocked to these movements did so precisely because they had abandoned their religious mainstay. How could Judaism be judged according to the conduct of those who had left the fold? To truly understand the "Jewish spirit" one had to turn to the Jewish prayer book and Judaism's canonical texts--the Bible, the Talmud, the Mishnah. (20) According to Heinemann, the destructive-revolutionary tendencies attributed to Judaism stood in stark opposition to its religious-moral values, and were in fact the biggest threat to the Jews' communal survival. Heinemann, an anti-Zionist thinker and a proponent of Jewish diasporic existence, argues that the destructive character attributed to Jewishness is ultimately the product of secularization. He seeks to disabuse his readers of the idea that Jewishness is complicit in the erosion of religious values and traditional social mores by affirming Jewish traditionalism in its orthodox-rabbinic form.

I bring up Heinemann's defense of the "Jewish spirit" in order to foreground Susman's unique contribution to this discussion, which took on a far less apologetic approach. Heinemann's work, in particular, represents a lucid and compelling form of ideology critique that reconstructs the Jew's heuristic role in structuring various political and philosophical doctrines. (21) Whereas Heinemann seeks to refute the misrepresentation of Jews and Judaism by demonstrating the inconsistency and disingenuousness of the accusations, Susman assumes a more subtle tactic in her response to the myth of the "destructive Jewish spirit." Instead of trying to disprove the myth through analytical reason or criticize its historical and sociological veracity, she adopts the internal logic of this anti-Jewish discourse. As her image of Kafka's "Jewish spirit" demonstrates, Susman accepts the association of Jewishness, modernity, and deracination. She also makes use of the rhetorical ambiguity inherent in this anti-Jewish myth, skillfully manipulating its dualistic character, in which Jewishness functions as both a literal and figurative signifier.

Susman's most extensive meditations on the "Jewish spirit" appeared in an essay entitled "Der judische Geist," which was part of an anthology published by the Judischer Frauenbund in 1934. She refines some of the ideas she articulated five years earlier in her Kafka essay. Here, too, Susman identifies Kafka's nihilistic streak as Jewish, qualifying this observation by explaining that Kafka does not celebrate nihilism, but laments it. (22) The association with modernity and nihilism continues to inform Susman's vision of the "Jewish spirit." Yet as Susman goes on to explain, if modernity was "Jewish," it was not by virtue of the Jews' insidious plot to destroy Europe's social and cultural foundations, but because the Jewish fate encapsulated the experience of physical and transcendental homelessness that had become the lot of all moderns. As she already implied in her Kafka essay, the "Jewish spirit" epitomized the experience of existential groundlessness, a fate the Jews now shared with all Western Europeans. Susman associates Jewishness with deracination not because she considers the Jew to be an agent of destructive antitraditional forces, but because it was the Western Jew who was most deeply affected by modernity. As Susman explains,
   It is only after the dissolution of the Western ghetto, and the
   slackening of its Eastern counterpart, which sent numerous people
   into the Western lands, that the Jewish catastrophe [judisches
   Verhangnis] begins to assume the form known to us from the recent
   past. Here in the modern world we begin to recognize that the
   suffering, the abandonment of the Jewish person had not yet reached
   its full realization in this twofold homelessness [doppelte
   Heimatlosigkeit], More was still to follow. Since the opening of
   the ghetto, when the Jews dispersed amongst the nations and up
   until this moment, in which the Jewish fate shifts once again, the
   Jew has come to fully share the fate of Western world. And it is
   therein that the Jew's twofold homelessness finds its ultimate
   realization. This final abandonment consists in the fact that the
   God, for whose sake he has taken on all this, is no longer to be
   found. It is in the Western world that the God of revelation, to
   whom the Jew has submitted himself exclusively, has turned into a
   hidden God. (23)

The "twofold homelessness" Susman attributes to the Jews is both physical and metaphysical. Its corporeal dimension is a result of their exile from the Promised Land, whereas its spiritual element consists of the fact that they are forced to reside in foreign cultural environments that prevent them from leading a "purely Jewish" existence. This "twofold homelessness" is radicalized and augmented with the Jews' entry into the modern world. The emancipation accelerates the process of secularization and the subsequent dissolution of the Jews' religious heritage. Secularization thus becomes the ultimate realization of Jewish exile in that it has rendered the Jews transcendentally homeless. The Jew's encounter with modernity culminated in the experience of divine absence and the self-alienation that resulted from his secularization. The modern Jew was not only a stranger in a strange land, but a stranger to himself as well.

The rootlessness Susman attributes to the "Jewish spirit" was a reflection of the fact that the Jews had experienced Europe's descent into nihilism in two ways: in the loss of both their newly adopted culture as Europeans and that of their own Jewish heritage. The Jews helped complete the disintegration in which they lived and in the process they had dissolved as a people to the point where they were no longer recognizable as a distinct national or religious collectivity. The disappearance of all transcendent horizons that characterized the modern-secular world found its immanent reflection in the dissolution of the Jewish people. (24) In Susman's essay, the "Jewish spirit" becomes the cipher for a radically diffuse and fragmented identity. In this sense, her metaphysical figuration of Jewishness recalls Otto Weininger's conception of the Jew in Sex and Character, in which the Jew serves as a placeholder for a particular metaphysical predisposition. Weininger characterizes the Jews' psyche as "an eternal wandering back and forth before the gate of reality." There is, he explains, "nothing with which the Jew can truly identify ... because anything undivided, anything whole, is alien to him ... Inner ambiguity, I repeat, is absolutely Jewish, simplicity is absolutely un-Jewish," (25) By referring to "Jews" and "Judaism," Weininger makes clear that neither is he speaking of a specific race, nation, or religion, nor is he designating a particular individual or a collective, but is addressing "a cast of mind, a psychic constitution, which is a possibility for all human beings." (26) Weininger speaks of Judaism as an abstract Platonic idea, its essence: that of total inessentiality. Weininger's figurative conception of Jewishness exemplifies the rhetorical slippage that characterizes different versions of the myth of Verjudung, in which the "Jew" is transformed into an allusive symbol of modernity. This ambiguity is reenacted in Susman's reflections on the "Jewish spirit," which she, too, turns into a cipher for the dislocations of the modern age. To understand Susman's masterful redeployment of this metaphor, which strives to uncouple this figure from its anti-Jewish connotations, one needs to regard her work in relation to its broader political landscape.

Responding to such Weiningerian accusations of the Jew's multiplicity and duplicity, cultural Zionists sought to overcome the "tragedy" of German Jewry's bifurcated and fragmented existence. The recuperation of Jewish authenticity, they argued, could only be achieved by withdrawing from German culture and possibly even from Germany itself. (27) Susman, in contrast, saw the Jews' so-called "bifurcated" and "split" existence as the constitutive component of modern Jewishness. Her account of the "Jewish spirit" takes Weininger's Platonic model as its starting point, but reworks it into a positive, ethical ideal. She is less interested in Judaism as particularistic tradition or identitarian category as in the universal ethic it represents. In what appears to be an affirmation of the antisemitic trope of Jewish deracination, Susman argues that the defining characteristic of the "Jewish spirit" since its encounter with the Western-Christian world is its rootlessness (seine eigentumliche Wurzellosigkeit im Irdischen). (28) For Susman, this rootlessness is not the symptom of disease, as was often claimed in the volkisch critiques of Jewishness, but an expression of a messianic yearning for world redemption and universal human emancipation. In identifying an ethical potential in rootlessness, Susman owes much to her philosophical precursors, Franz Rosenzweig and Hermann Cohen, who celebrated the virtues of Jewish exile. Yet due to the changed historical circumstances, Susman's work lacks the optimistic triumphalism that characterizes Cohen and Rosenzweig's affirmation of the "German-Jewish symbiosis." She bleakly recognized that the ideal of a German-Jewish cultural fusion had reached its definitive end in 1933, and was well aware that her account of the "Jewish spirit" in its German cultural and intellectual context amounted to no more than a historical retrospective of a bygone era.

Susman's allusions to Jewish rootlessness are of course a reference to the geographical dislocation of the Jews. At the same time, her allusion to the Jews' historical experience of exile is not an end in itself, but primarily a metaphor for a certain ethical ideal and metaphysical stance. Susman is not rehabilitating deracination as a positive resource for the affirmation of collective Jewish identity. She is not seeking to mythicize the Jews as a counterhistorical people a la Rosenzweig, but takes their ambiguous self-identity--complicated by their diasporic existence and cultural syncretism--as an allegory for an alternative form of community, a countermodel to the Blut und Boden nationalism that had percolated in Germany for generations and had reached its apotheosis in 1933. The figures of deracination, exteriority, and rootlessness that pervade Susman's characterization of the "Jewish spirit" designate it as an antithesis to the mythical-volkisch ideal of Germanness that she had already criticized in 1920s, in the wake of the First World War.

In a 1921 review of Kriegsbriefe deutscher Studenten, Susman examined the causes for the outbreak of the First World War through a political critique of the history of German metaphysics. Susman used her review essay on an anthology of letters sent by German soldiers who died at the front as an opportunity to broach the question of Germany's moral and intellectual failure in 1914. How was it that the German intelligentsia had expressed such nationalistic zeal and supported the war effort with such unquestioning enthusiasm, asked Susman? How was it that "Germany" and the ideal of "German culture" meant the same thing to all of those who set out to defend it? How was it possible that so few recognized the great divide that separated the imagined ideal of Germany from the material and moral catastrophe that had become its reality? Susman saw this misfortune as the inevitable outcome of German intellectual history, whose disastrous trajectory hearkened back to Martin Luther. Luther's theological writings were the first to mark the ever-growing chasm between politics and philosophical reflection in the world of German thought. By admitting the possibility of reaching inner liberation under the condition of external subjection, Luther consolidated an ideal of personal redemption that had no footing in any collective or political reality. Following in Luther's footsteps, modern German thought assumed an uncompromising idealism, whose rigid metaphysical structures bore no relationship to man's embodied experience. With its growing tendency towards introspection and its focus on interiority, German philosophy became ever more mystical and esoteric, until it completely lost touch with the material and social realities in which it unfolded. The First World War, Susman concluded, was the violent and inevitable culmination of the history of German metaphysics. (29)

The preoccupation with German metaphysics reemerges in Susman's post-1933 meditations on German Jewry and its cultural legacy. In her 1935 essay "Vom geistigen Anted der Juden im deutschen Raum," Susman takes a bird's-eye view of German intellectual history in an effort to reconstruct the events leading up to the rise of National Socialism and Germany's fatal descent into barbarism. If Luther marked the "German spirit's" introspective turn, it was the Romantic Age in which this introspection merged with an ever-growing irrationalism. The industrialization and mechanization of Europe further radicalized Germany's turn towards interiority and irrationality. (30) Susman focuses on Wagner in her account of the mythical and irrational forces that were unleashed in the nineteenth century and which ultimately shaped Germany's fate in 1933. Wagner, in an attempt to flee the disenchantment of the world, had retreated into the realm of pure myth. His operas took place in a primeval world of deities and mysteries, which seduced audiences with their ecstatic intensity. But his mythic world merely obscured the material and political challenges faced by the Germans. The mythical and esoteric world with which he enchanted his audiences was nothing but sheer escapism, an extension of the introspective turn that characterized German thought. Paradoxically, Wagner's flight into the realm of myth had very real consequences, whose dire political ramifications were perceptible in the present. Wagner's operas helped create an imaginary mythical community, an autochthonic ideal of the German nation. Yet what had merely been a staged performance in Wagner's operas later took on a life of its own in the form of Lebensphilosophie, in which bare life became a value in and of itself, outside the framework of any law or higher moral value. (31)

It is in opposition to the Wagnerian myth of a primeval and rooted Germanness that Susman's ideal of Jewishness unfolds. Recognizing the heuristic function that the Jew plays in German nationalist discourse, Susman too accepts the association of Jewishness and rootlessness, but she rejects the negative connotations of this association. Instead, her idealization of Jewish deracination subverts the volkisch paradigm that perceives national belonging in terms of an imagined community of origins. In response to Blut and Boden nationalism, which celebrates rootedness as a precondition for authentic national existence, Susman presents Jewish rootlessness as an ethical ideal. It is against the metaphysical absolutism of the "German spirit," enraptured in the world of myth, that the ethical significance of Susman's "Jewish spirit" comes to the fore. Susman locates the counterpoint to Germany's descent into irrationalism in those sciences that were often derided as "Jewish" and that aspired to universal validity. She views psychoanalysis, phenomenology, and sociology as modern expressions of the "Jewish spirit" by virtue of their respective efforts to disentangle the real from the mythical, and even more importantly, recuperate individual experience. (32) Now it is important to qualify these statements by noting that Susman is not trying to reaffirm the superiority--ethical or intellectual--of one historically concrete community, say the Jews, over another, the Germans. In contrast to that imagined unity of primal origins that supposedly manifested itself in the "German spirit," Susman's conception of the "Jewish spirit" is characterized by its cultural and national syncretism, a Jewishness tightly interwoven into the fabric of Europe's Christian, Greek, and pagan heritage. Surely, Susman admits, there were attempts to build a "fence around the Torah" (der Zaun um die Lehre), to maintain the boundaries of the Jewish tradition. Yet these efforts were only successful insofar as one remained within the bounds of rabbinic orthodoxy. In effect, the ever-growing intricacies of the law and the convoluted commentaries erected to protect its integrity left the majority of European Jewry outside the bounds of the Jewish tradition. (33)

The "Jewish spirit" Susman sought to recuperate for her readers had little in common with rabbinic law or the orthodox tradition, but instead manifested itself in the cultural and intellectual achievements that were a product of the Jews' encounter with their Christian and European environment. The intellectual trajectory that Susman traces emphasizes the transnational dialogue and the cross-cultural fusion that took place between the Jews and their neighbors, and which brought forth the works of Philo, Maimonides, Spinoza, and Mendelssohn. (34) All of the examples she gives are meant to problematize the notion of a self-contained and autarkic "Jewish spirit." Even her account of Hasidism, a movement often celebrated for its authentic and unadulterated Jewishness, takes note of its deep debts to its foreign cultural environment. While Hasidism may have been the last great mystical movement in Jewish history, Susman notes that it too was permeated with Russian folkloric and Christian religious influences. (35) One merely needs to contrast Susman's sober account of Hasidic mysticism as a product of Judaism's fusion with foreign cultures to Buber's ecstatic celebration of Hasidism, which he saw as a manifestation of an authentic Jewish Volksgeist, in order to grasp Susman's ideological quarrel with cultural Zionism. It is to this dispute that we now turn our attention.


Martin Buber, indisputably the most articulate and influential representative of cultural Zionism in the early 1900s, commonly evoked the figure of the "Jewish spirit" in his speeches. He used this figure in order to designate an authentic Jewishness that needed to be recovered in the wake of assimilation. Without explicitly defining its contents, Buber's "spirit" at once denotes a culture, a collective memory, and a shared psychic character--it is, in sum, a unity that cannot be reduced to any one of its individual components. Buber intentionally avoids abstracting Judaism or limiting it to a particular tradition, dogma, or set of beliefs, yet asserts the existence of a certain "inner reality" that corresponds to Judaism's "authenticity and essence." (36) Buber laments the loss of this "essence" in the life of the Western Jew:
   All the elements that might constitute a nation for him, that might
   make this nation a reality for him, are missing; all of them: land,
   language, way of life. Neither the land he lives in, whose nature
   encompasses him and molds his senses, nor the language he speaks,
   which colors his thinking, nor the way of life in which he
   participates and which, in turn, shapes his actions, belongs to the
   community of his blood; they belong instead to another
   community. (37)

Buber's caricature of the assimilated Jew depicts an isolated and inauthentic individual who has been uprooted from his natural habitat and alienated from his ancestral way of life. He urges the Western Jew to overcome his artificial and fragmented being in the Diaspora by reclaiming his Jewishness and turning his "inner duality"--that is, his split consciousness as a Jew and European--into a unified "inner reality" as a full-fledged Jew. (38) Evoking the antisemitic motifs associated with the "Jewish spirit," Buber renounces the "barren intellectuality" and "idea-less abstraction" that dominate Jewish life in exile. (39) Judaism's "national tendencies" have been distorted in the Diaspora, and must be renewed by way of a spiritual struggle. (40)

In Buber's narrative of Jewish-national regeneration, it was the uprooting of the Jews from their native soil that stunted their spiritual development: "All creative work took its strength and its form from its organic ties to the soil. And now these ties were sundered, and, with them, the inner cohesion of the Jewish spirit." (41) His ideal of the "Jewish spirit" is based on a binary distinction between the vitality and authenticity of rooted Jewish life--whose closest approximation is the Eastern European Hasid--and the deracinated and isolated existence of the Western Jew. (42) In contrast to the Western Jew, whose "Oriental spirit" needed to be recuperated, the Eastern Jew had preserved the unadulterated spiritual essence of Judaism in its full "Oriental" glory. In Buber's famous lectures on Judaism, the unemancipated Ostjuden served as the archetype for an organic, self-contained, and rooted Jewish national existence, which stood in stark contrast to the "sterile" character and "detached intellectuality" of the assimilated Jew. Buber's positive image of the "Jewish spirit" was inextricably bound to its negative counterpart embodied in the figure of the Jewish assimilationist, a parvenu who betrayed his community and abandoned his religious and cultural heritage for the sake of individual self-fulfillment. Despite all this, Buber contends that even "the most assimilated Jew" still preserves traces of the "Oriental spirit" within him. (43) According to this logic, one only needed to peel away the external veneer of acculturation in order to discover the Western Jew's inherent Jewishness.

Martin Buber's mystical brand of Jewish self-affirmation is an attempt to reinforce Jewish collective difference in response to assimilation and the blurring of its communal and confessional boundaries. His idealization of some pristine Jewishness that has been obfuscated and adulterated with the Jews' emancipation into European society bears the distinct mark of the times, and is suffused with the language of romantic, antimodern nostalgia. The idea of an indelible "Jewish spirit" that continues to reside even within the most assimilated Jew comes unnervingly close to the antisemitic claim that assimilation only ran skin deep. Buber's essentialist conception of a Jewish national character resonates with the German volkisch discourse that posits the Jews' deep-seated and irreconcilable otherness. His ideal of a Jewish national community resonates with the mythical modes of thought that characterize the work of his German nationalist contemporaries. (44) This, of course, is not to suggest that Buber is a racist thinker or that his politics are in any way fascistic. (45) Buber's thinking about Zionism and Jewish identity evolved dramatically over the years. Yet his speeches from the 1910s--most significantly his famous Drei Reden uber das Judentum--epitomize the fetishization of Jewish difference that Susman's essays come to challenge. (46)

Whereas German-nationalist ideology disparages the "Jewish spirit" as the grounds for excluding the Jew from German society, Buber transforms this otherness into a positive resource for the affirmation of modern Jewish identity. (47) If German nationalists asserted the Jew's radical alterity in the interest of German-Jewish disengagement, Buber sought to affirm the Jews' nondescript yet supposedly concrete otherness in order to promote an integrationist agenda that aimed to reincorporate the Jews within the family of nations. The internationalist thrust of Buber's Zionism is most apparent in his famous article on the "Jewish Renaissance." In the essay, Buber models his ideal of Jewish national resurrection on Goethe's concept of Weltliteratur. The national resurrection of the Jewish people is presented as an aesthetic project, one that would "reawaken the gift of Jewish painting and sculpting, and ... the dull efforts of the young Judaic poets." (48) The Jews' desire for national self-assertion, he explains, is not motivated by the aspiration for territorial expansion, but is an unconscious expression of their wish to reconnect with the "national soul." Through the revival of a Jewish national culture, "Goethe's dream of a world literature" would take on new life. (49) He explains that the awakening of the Zionist movement is only part of a greater human renaissance in which all national cultures would have their place. By reclaiming its "innermost essence," the Jewish people would contribute to the evolution of a universal culture that encompassed all of humanity.

Buber's Zionism, far from seeking to insulate the Jews from their German environment, is an attempt to renegotiate the terms of German-Jewish cultural interaction. He does not reject the Enlightenment ideal of the German-Jewish dialogue, but tries to reconcile it with the Zionist desire for national self-determination. The Zionist nationalization of Jewish culture is not, in fact, an attempt to deny the Jews a place in European culture, but is an effort to re-assert the Jews' place within it, while at the same time affirming their distinct national character. Buber's conception of Jewish-national character and creativity is premised on the assumption that the path to universalism lay in a return to Jewish particularism. Addressing specifically Jewish concerns, Buber couches his ideas in the language of German Romanticism. The notion that Jewish culture needed to reflect the spirit of the nation harkens back to Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803), who argued that the German Volk possessed its own distinct identity, just as each individual had his or her own unique personality. Herder's appeal to cultural Zionists such as Buber lay in the fact that his conception of the nation was rooted in the idea of cultural unity rather than territorial contiguity. (50) If the Jews did not have their own state to rally around, the second best alternative seemed to be a Jewish republic of letters.

What made Buber's celebration of the Jewish Volksgeist so deeply inspiring to its audiences and at the same time so ideologically problematic was its recourse to a mystical and racialized language of roots. Buber repeatedly refers to the Jews as constituting a "community of blood" (Gemeinschaft des Blutes) and makes frequent use of such terms as "community" (Gemeinschaft), "blood" (Blut), "soil" (Boden), "nationhood" (Volkstum), and "rootedness" (Wurzelhaftigkeit). To this one might add the aestheticism underlying Buber's "Jewish Renaissance." This aestheticism makes his nationalism seem more benign than its Blut und Boden counterpart, but the insidious consequence of this kind of rhetoric is its flight from politics. Buber's mysticism and aestheticism complement one another in what amounts to a nostalgically antimodern and politically fraught imagined community.

It is precisely the mystical, biologistic, and aesthetic makeup of Buber's Jewish national ideal that Susman's conception of the "Jewish spirit" comes to combat. As we see in her critique of Wagner, Susman strongly opposes the mythical language of Gemeinschaft and the nostalgic yearning for some primeval Jewishness which underlie Buber's ideal of Jewish national renewal. Written in the wake of Buber's "Jewish Renaissance," Susman's supranational conception of the "Jewish spirit" constitutes a sober critique of cultural Zionism's jargon of authenticity. This critique grows out of the recognition that the idealization of Urjudentum comes dubiously close to the racial rhetoric of volkisch ideology. Another central difference is the motivation behind the divergent models of Jewishness constructed by Susman and Buber. Buber's notion of the "Jewish spirit" is deeply and inextricably bound to his attempt to define and delimit the boundaries of Judaism in terms of a collective national unity. Susman's conception of this "spirit" seeks to achieve the exact opposite--it is an attempt to articulate an alternative to the nationalist conception of a Jewishness. In contrast to Buber, who tries to reclaim the "Jewish spirit" along clear-cut national and cultural categories, Susman denies the very possibility of distilling an unalloyed "Jewish spirit" or fully disentangling it from its European-Christian environment. Susman strongly rejects the existence of an authentic Jewishness distinguishable from its inauthentic counterpart--a conviction that stood at the base of Buber's orientalist myth.

In response to the Zionist and orthodox critiques of assimilation, Susman perceptively observes that one's assessment of the German-Jewish "cultural symbiosis" depended primarily on what one understood as authentically Jewish and how one defined the Jews as a people. An examination of the German-Jewish "cultural synthesis," she declared, was an opportunity to reflect upon the question of what constituted Jewish peoplehood. If Jewish identity could be defined along national categories or as a "mere ethnic unity" (bloss ethnische Einheit), then surely assimilation was a fatal mistake that would lead to the disintegration of the Jews as a unified people, and needed to be opposed by all means possible. (51) However, if the Jews' exilic history provided any indication of what constituted their collective identity, then it was the very fact that the Jews transcended the narrow nationalist and ethnic definitions of peoplehood. Observing that the Jews had been dispersed among the nations since the destruction of the Temple, Susman argued that it was precisely the Jews' rootlessness that constituted their transhistorical ethical vocation. By the same token, the much-maligned "German-Jewish symbiosis" was in fact a realization of the Jews' transnational and transcultural history. It exemplified the manner in which the "Jewish spirit" merged with the cultures, languages, and ideas of the Jews' host nations.

As demonstrated through the extensive comparison to Buber, Susman's ideal of the "Jewish spirit" materializes as a polemic against the essentialist account of Jewish identity advanced by her contemporaries. In contrast to the Zionist narrative, which denounced assimilation for destroying the Jewish "ideal type," Susman denies the very existence of such a type. Against Buber's assertion of some transhistorical and immanent "Jewish character," Susman argues that since the emancipation, the Jews had become so deeply enmeshed in their modern European environment that one could no longer speak of a distinct Jewish identity or culture. Once they had become full participants in Europe's spiritual and cultural life, the Jews lost the external and internal qualities that had previously distinguished them as a distinct collective. From Susman's perspective, the originary Jewishness Buber celebrates as Urjudentum had long ceased to exist.


While the rise of National Socialism and the growing antisemitic sentiment in Germany may have served as the impetus for Susman's reflections on the "Jewish spirit," it was the Zionist rhetoric of Jewish-national self-determination which was the main object of her critique. The "Jewish spirit" she attributes to the likes of Franz Kafka and Franz Rosenzweig, Edmund Husserl and Georg Simmel is not intended to reinforce a collective ideal of Jewishness in the face of political adversity, but to question the existing structures of Jewish self-identification. Accordingly, the disparate intellectual and cultural landmarks she associates with the "Jewish spirit" do not attest to a common Jewish Volksgeist, but point to Western Jewry's profound and irreversible synthesis with its European environment.

In contrast to Martin Buber, for whom the "Jewish spirit" corresponds to an ideal of some shared national character, Susman seeks to dissociate "spirit" from "nation." As Susman's closing remarks to "Der judische Geist" attest:
   Many more names of great representatives of the Jewish spirit could
   have been mentioned. It is only a single line, extracted from out
   of the totality of the Jewish spirit, that has been laid out here.
   Today this line has come to an abrupt end. A new historical epoch
   descends upon us. We do not know what new form the Jewish spirit
   may assume. What we do know is that the Jewish spirit will
   persevere ... so long as the call of "Hear O'Israel"--the essence
   of the divine commandment--remains audible to the human ear in
   whichever form. (52)

Susman's conception of the "Jewish spirit" seeks to uncouple the two nouns that make up the term Volksgeist. She denies the potential of Geist to serve as a label through which a group of people can recognize itself as a Volk, that is, as a unified and uniform collective. Put differently, Geist in this case is meant as a substitute for Volk, rather than an instrument to realize its imagined totality. For Susman, the "Jewish spirit" is not an identificatory category meant to reinforce the boundaries of Jewishness. Her notion of Jewishness does not amount to a repository of various character traits, positive or negative, physical or psychological. In fact, Susman wholly rejects the idea that the Jews might be defined as a separate cultural, national, or ethnic entity. She believes that since the emancipation, the Jews (as a people) and Judaism (as a religious, cultural, and spiritual tradition) have simply ceased to exist in any pure, unadulterated, or coherent form.

Buber's concept of the spirit is subordinated to the goal of national self-determination. His is a gesture of separation--even if his ultimate intention is to reestablish the Jews' place in the family of nations. Susman, on the other hand, makes an integrative gesture. In contrast to Buber, she is not looking to articulate a working definition of Jewish difference, but is attempting to formulate an open-ended model of cross-cultural and transnational fluidity, which she associates with Jewishness. This spirit is by no means identical with the Jews as a people. Susman's supranational account of the "Jewish spirit" does not serve the triumphal affirmation of collective Jewish identity, but represents an alternative to its exclusivist, nationalist thrust. Thus, to the extent that Susman regards the works of Simmel, Husserl, Freud, or Kafka as manifestations of the "Jewish spirit," she also believes that they are inextricable from their German and European intellectual environment. The cultural achievements Susman celebrates as products of the "Jewish spirit" manifest themselves at the point where they converge with the European or "German spirit," transcending the narrow boundaries of national identity. This ideal of the "Jewish spirit" is meant to disrupt Zionism's mythical discourse of roots and represent an alternative to its logic of national self-assertion. (53) For Susman, rootlessness is not merely the defining characteristic of Jewish historical experience, but also its message. The transnational history of the Jews encapsulates the messianic promise of a universal human brotherhood that knows no racial, religious, or political boundaries. As in its antisemitic variants, Susman's "Jewish spirit" serves as a collective symbol, not merely for the crisis of modernity, but for a universal ideal of human solidarity.


I presented working drafts this paper at the German Jewish Studies Workshop at Duke University (Feb. 2015) and the Annual Convention of the Northeast Modern Language Association (April 2015). The feedback I received at these events contributed to the final form of this paper. I would also like to thank Katrina Nousek for reviewing my translations from the German.


(1.) Margarete Susman, "Das Eliob-Problem bei Franz Kafka," Der Morgen 5 (1929): 39.

(2.) Ibid., 39.

(3.) See Hans Blither, Secessio Judaica: Philosophische Grundlegung der historischen Situation des Judentums und der antisemitischen Bewegung (Der Weisse Ritter Verlag, 1922); Adolf Bartels, Rasse und Volkstum: Gesammelte Aufsatze zur nationalen Weltanschauung (Weimar: Duncker 1920).

(4.) See Steven Aschheim, "Assimilation and Its Impossible Discontents: The Case of Moritz Goldstein," In Times of Crisis: Essays on European Culture, Germans, and Jews (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001), 64-72.

(5.) For a full list of Susman's published works see Manfred Schlosser (ed.), Auf gespaltenem Pfad: Zum 90. Geburtstag von Margarete Susman (Darmstadt: Erato-Presse, 1964): 383-95.

(6.) For more on this chapter in Susman's life see Susanne Hillman, "'A Few Human Beings Walking Hand in Hand': Margarete Susman, Leonhard Ragaz, and the Origins of the Jewish-Christian Dialogue in Zurich." The Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 59 (2014): 141-62.

(7.) Anke Gilleir, and Barbara Hahn (eds.), Grenzgange zwischen Dichtung, Philosophic und Kulturkritik: liber Margarete Susman (Gottingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2012); Barbara Hahn, The Jewess Pallas Athena: This Too a Theory of Modernity, trans. James McFarland (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005); Ingeborg Nordmann, afterword to Das Nah- und Fernsein des Fremden ": Essays und Briefe, by Margarete Susman (Frankfurt am Main: Jtidischer Verlag, 1992): 229-68.

(8.) See Moishe Postone, "Anti-Semitism and National Socialism," New German Critique 19 (Winter, 1980): 97-115.

(9.) See Raphael Breuer, Das Schlagwort von zersetzenden judischen Geist (Berlin: Philo Verlag, 1932); Samuel Max Melamed, Psychologie des judischen Geistes: zur Volker- undKulturpsychologie (Berlin: C. A. Schwetschke, 1921); Leo Lowenthal's essay series entitled "Judentum und deutscher Geist," republished in Judaica, Vortrage, Briefe (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1984).

(10.) Geist is a historically and ideologically loaded word in German intellectual history, which alternatively refers to spirit, mind, and intellect. The conceptual significance of this term is apparent in the works of Nietzsche, Fichte, and Herder, whose respective notions of the "deutsche Geist" form the cultural and intellectual backdrop to the subsequent efforts of German Jews to articulate their own corresponding ideal of a "judische Geist," and define its relationship to its German counterpart. The Jewish-authored, affirmative ideal of the "Jewish spirit," then, materializes through an ongoing dialogue with the philosophical traditions of Idealism and Romanticism, not to mention the cultural-political discourse of German nationalism.

(11.) See Shulamit Volkov, "Antisemitism as Cultural Code: Reflections on the History and Historiography of Antisemitism in Imperial Germany," The Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 23 (1978): 25-46; and Steven Aschheim, "'The Jew Within': The Myth of 'Judaization' in Germany," The Jewish Response to German Culture, from the Enlightenment to the Second World War, ed. Jehuda Reinharz and Walter Schatzberg (Hanover, NH: University of New England Press, 1985): 212-14.

(12.) Sander Gilman, Jewish Self-Hatred: Anti-Semitism and the Hidden Language of the Jews (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), 3.

(13.) Susman, "Das Hiob-Problem," 38.

(14.) Otto Weininger, Geschlecht und Charakter: Eine prinzipielle Untersuchung (Wien: Wilhelm Braumuller, 1908), 451; Sex and Character: An Investigation of Fundamental Principles, trans. Ladislaus Lob (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005), 299.

(15.) Bluher, 55.

(16.) Aschheim, 212.

(17.) Ibid., 215.

(18.) Isaak Heinemann, Vom "judischen Geist": Ein Wort an die Ehrlichen unter seinen Anklagern (Berlin: Philo Verlag: 1924), 3. See also Christian Wiese, "Vom 'judischen Geist': Isaak Heinemanns Auseinandersetzung mit dem akademischen Antisemitismus innerhalb der protestantischen Theologie in der Weimarer Republik," Zeitschrift fur Religions-und Geistesgeschichte 46 (1994): 211-34.

(19.) Ibid., 4.

(20.) Ibid., 7.

(21.) For a contemporary work that shares Heinemann's point of departure, but which supersedes it in both historical scope and scholarly rigor, see David Nirenberg, Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition (New York: Norton, 2014).

(22.) Margarete Susman, "Der judische Geist," Vom judischen Geist: Eine Aufsatzreihe (Berlin: BIKO-Verlag, 1934), 64.

(23.) Ibid., 61.

(24.) Susman's idealization of Jewish suffering as an expression of the Jews' exemplarity recurs throughout her writings from the 1920s and 30s. But it was after the Second World War that martyrdom truly became the foundation for her theology of Jewish existence. In Das Buch Hiob und das Schicksal des judischen Volkes (1946), possibly the first postwar work to articulate a comprehensive Jewish theological response to the Holocaust, Susman sought to make sense of destruction of European Jewry by recourse to the biblical Book of Job. The underlying premise of the book was that Job's unfathomable fate prefigured the Jews' victimization throughout history. She read Job's solitary suffering as a symbol for the abandonment of the Jews--the embodiment of Job amongst the nations--during the war. Several scholars, such as Arnold Kunzli, Gesine Palmer, and Vivian Liska have noted the problematic nature of Susman's controversial book, criticizing the moral and political implications of her Holocaust theology. For a more charitable reading of Das Buch Hiob see Willi Goetschel, "Jewish Thought in the Wake of Auschwitz: Margarete Susman's The Book of Job and the Destiny of the Jewish People," in The Discipline of Philosophy and the Invention of Modern Jewish Thought (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012): 97-113.

(25.) Weininger, Geschlecht und Charakter, 443; Sex and Character, 293.

(26.) Weininger, Geschlecht und Charakter, 412; Sex and Character, 274.

(27.) This position is illustrated in Ludwig Strauss's response to Moritz Goldstein's provocative 1912 essay, "The German-Jewish Parnassus," which called for the establishment a German-speaking Jewish cultural autonomy. Strauss, a staunch advocate of cultural Zionism and future son-in-law of Martin Buber, asserts the Jews' cultural and national particularity. He believes that the Jewish encounter with modernity requires an either-or response--one could be a Jew or a German, but not both. Writing under the pseudonym Franz Quentin, Strauss argues that the central question every German Jew inescapably had to confront was: "Are you primarily a German or a Jew?" (Deutsch-judischer Parnass. Rekonstruktion einer Debatte [Berlin: Piper, 2002],104). Strauss's position finds it uncanny echoes in Hans Bluher's Secessio Judaica, where the author proclaims: "There are only two options ... one cannot simultaneously tread the Jewish and German path" (36). It is against these two paradigmatic positions of German and Jewish nationalism that Susman seeks to articulate an alternative notion of Jewishness. Her understanding of the "Jewish spirit" collapses the binary terms that dominated this ideological debate surrounding Germanness and Jewishness.

(28.) Susman, "Der judische Geist," 53.

(29.) Susman, "Kriegsbriefe deutscher Studenten," Das Nah- und Fernsein des Fremden: Essays und Briefe, Hrsg. Ingeborg Nordmann (Frankfurt: Judischer Verlag, 1992), 107-16. For an elaborate analysis of Susman's review, which situates it in the context of her writings on the First World War and the November Revolution, see Lisa Marie Anderson, "The 'Meisterin des deutenden Essais,"' Discovering Women's History, ed. Christa Spreizer (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2014), 93-120. See also Anke Gilleir, "Between Ghetto and Zion: Margarete Susman's Meditations of Germany, Jewishness, and Culture, 1906-1916," Partial Answers: Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas 10.2 (2012): 318-35.

(30.) Margarete Susman, "Vom geistigen Anteil der Juden im deutschen Raum," Der Morgen 3 (June 1935): 110.

(31.) Ibid., 112-13.

(32.) Ibid., 113-14.

(33.) Susman, "Der judische Geist," 54.

(34.) Ibid., 55-58.

(35.) Ibid., 58.

(36.) Martin Buber, "Das Judentum und die Juden," Der Jude und sein Judentum: Gesammelte Aufsatze und Reden (Gerlingen: Verlag Lambert Schneider, 1993), 9-10; "Judaism and the Jews," On Judaism, trans. Eva Jospe (New York: Schocken, 1995), 11-12.

(37.) Buber, "Das Judentum und die Juden," 14; "Judaism and the Jews," 16-17.

(38.) Buber, "Das Judentum und die Menschheit," Der Jude und sein Judentum, 22; "Judaism and Mankind," On Judaism, 27.

(39.) Buber, "Das Judentum und die Menschheit," 24; "Judaism and Mankind," 29-30.

(40.) Buber, "Die Emeuerung des Judentums," Der Jude und sein Judentum, 33; "Renewal of Judaism," On Judaism, 41.

(41.) Buber, "Der Geist des Orients und das Judentum," Der Jude und sein Judentum, X; "The Spirit of the Orient and Judaism," On Judaism, 73.

(42.) See Paul Mendes-Flohr, "Fin de Siecle Orientalism, the Ostjuden, and the Aesthetics of Jewish Self-Affirmation," Divided Passions: Jewish Intellectuals and the Experience of Modernity (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991), 77-132.

(43.) Buber, "Der Geist des Orients," 61; "The Spirit of the Orient," 76.

(44.) It was also this element of Erlebnismystik that was the source of Gershom Scholem and Walter Benjamin's aversion to Buber's "Jewish Renaissance." See Gershom Scholem, Walter Benjamin: The Story of a Friendship, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: New York Review of Books Classics, 2003), 38.

(45.) Scott Spector makes a compelling case for Buber that seeks to absolve him of any suspected racism. He notes that despite the unfortunate metaphor of "blood," Buber's ideal of Jewishness ultimately revolves around the concept of "choice." Spector takes the impossibility of reconciling the essentialism of racial discourse with the elective element underlying Buber's program of Jewish renewal as a sign of Buber's effort to ironically subvert the nationalist essentialism that inheres from the language of blood. See Scott Spector, "Forget Assimilation: Introducing Subjectivity to German-Jewish History," Jewish History 20.3-4 (2006): 360-61.

(46.) Attesting to the ideological heterogeneity of the Zionist movement during that period is the fact that several of Buber's confidants and followers formulated their own, alternative conceptions of Jewish peoplehood that did not endorse the same essentialist language. In fact, as Sandro Zanetti demonstrates in his masterful reading of S. H. Bergmann's "Die Heiligung des Namens," some of them seem to have shared Susman's sensibilities. See Sandro Zanetti, "1919. Margarete Susman und die Politik des Namens," Namen. Benennung--Verehrung--Wirkung (Berlin: Kulturverlag Kadmos 2009): 209-24.

(47.) See Steven Aschheim, Brothers and Strangers: The East European Jew in German and German Jewish Consciousness, 1800-1923 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982), 121-38; Sander Gilman, Jewish Self-Hatred, 273-79.

(48.) Martin Buber, "Judische Renaissance," Ost und West 1 (1901): 10; "Jewish Renaissance," The First Buber: Youthful Zionist Writings of Martin Buber, trans. Gilya Gerda Schmidt (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1999), 34.

(49.) Buber, "Judische Renaissance," 7; "Jewish Renaissance," 30.

(50.) See George Mosse, "The Influence of the Volkish Idea on German Jewry," Germans and Jews (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1970), 77-115.

(51.) Susman, "Vom geistigen Anted," 108.

(52.) Susman, "Der judische Geist," 66.

(53.) In drawing out Susman's position here I am deeply indebted to Sarah Hammerschlag's brilliant discussion of the philosophical and ideological dimensions of representing the Jews as an "antimythic" people. Her analysis of the identity politics underlying the philosophical representation of Jewishness in postwar France has helped me frame my investigation of the "figural Jew" in the German-Jewish context. See Sarah Hammerschlag, The Figural Jew: Politics and Identity in Postwar French Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 12-15.


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Author:Rubin, Abraham
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Jan 1, 2016
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