False Start: Jewish Studies at German Universities During the Weimar Republic
At the beginning of the 20th century German scholars doing cutting-edge research on the history of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament became aware that Jewish scholars versed in traditional, rabbinical, Jewish lore had something to offer them. Though the Germans on their own had made great strides in the scientific study of biblical literature, they could not match the vast learning of certain Jewish specialists who carried on a centuries-old tradition of textual exegesis. This was especially true of New Testament scholars who had much to learn from Jewish expertise in first-century rabbinical literature. So began a gradual movement to incorporate Jewish studies into the curriculum and faculty of departments of Old and New Testament Studies at German universities.
Tragically, this new direction gained the most momentum during the Weimar Republic (1918-1933) on the eve of the catastrophe that would permanently sunder the German and Jewish communities.
Through meticulous research into the lives of the scholars who played a role in this convergence of German and Jewish scholarship, historian Henry Wassermann vividly brings back to life a forgotten chapter in modern history. In one respect it is a hopeful history, for there was a brief time before the Holocaust when it seemed that anti-Semitic discrimination was giving way to the interests of scholarship and the pursuit of truth. Yet, despite such progress, the history of suspicion and animosity between Jews and Christians often created obstacles. Wassermann shows that the new open approach to biblical studies proved to be a false start: for a variety of reasons, most of the Germans and Jews appointed to the new academic positions proved to be mediocre and their careers were undistinguished. Finally, Wassermann's history offers intriguing glimpses into the all-too-human side of academia: the gossiping and back-stabbing, the struggles for promotion, and departmental politics, aspects of academic life that are as true today as they were seventy-five years ago.
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