German Jewish History and Culture



Spring 2015

HIEU 3372 / GETR 3372/RELJ 3372

German Jewish History and Culture

Gabriel Finder, Jeffrey Grossman

This course provides a wide-ranging exploration of the history and culture of German (-speaking) Jewry from 1750 to 1939 and beyond.  It focuses especially on the Jewish response to modernity in Central Europe, a response that proved highly productive, giving rise to a range of lasting transformations in Jewish life in Europe and later in North America, in particular, and in European society and culture, more generally.

Until the mid-eighteenth century, Jewish self-definition was relatively stable. From that point on, it became increasingly contingent and open-ended.  Before the rise of Nazism in 1933, German Jewish life was characterized by a plethora of emerging possibilities. This course explores the possibilities and the processes of change they unleashed. It traces the emergence of new forms of Jewish experience and shows their unfolding in a series of lively and poignant dramas of tradition and transformation, division and integration, dreams and nightmares. The course seeks to grasp this world through the lenses of history and culture, and to explore the different ways in which these disciplines illuminate the past. We will discuss the process of Jewish emancipation, the entry of Jews into European culture and society, the Jewish acculturation (vs. assimilation). We will aslo explore the impact of newly released energies on Jewish and German life, more generally. Topics to be covered are: the “Wissenschaft des Judentums” (the “science” or “academic study” of Judaism), the rise of the reform, conservative and modern Orthodox movements as responses to modernity; the rise of the literary salons in Berlin and Vienna, run by Rahel Levin Varnhagen and Henrietta Herz, among others; the writers Heinrich Heine and Franz Kafka; Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis; the industrialist and writer Walter Rathenau; Weimar Culture; the politics of modernity, and, ultimatly the Jewish response to Nazism and the fate of German and Austrian Jews during the Holocaust. Finally, we will explore the rebuilding of Jewish life in Germany and Austria after the Holocaust.

This course assumes no prior training in German or Jewish culture and history. Class meetings will combine lecture and discussion. Requirements: two short essays and a 10-page term paper. Readings drawn from central figures in German-speaking Jewry, including Heinrich Heine, Sigmund Freud, Franz Kafka, and Gershom Scholem, as well as critical works like Amos Elon’s history of German Jewry, The Pity of it All.

This course fulfills the second writing requirement.



Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904



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