Elective Affinities: A Cultural History of Friendship among German Jews, 1888-1938
John Efron, Koret Professor of Jewish History, UC Berkeley
Institute of European Studies, Center for Jewish Studies, Department of German, Department of History, German Historical Institute Washington | Pacific Office Berkeley
Friendship is a key category for understanding what Jewishness meant to many German Jews in the late nineteenth century and up to the eve of the Holocaust. While Judaism in Germany had been transformed into a mere “community of faith,” that is, one shorn of any ethnic conception of Jewishness, this denominational concept of what it means to be Jewish faced a crisis in the age of secularization. For many Jews, Jewishness was not predominantly a matter of faith or culture, but had a profoundly social characteristic. Being Jewish meant, above all, socializing with other Jews.
This talk will trace the cultural history of friendship among German Jews and at the same time show how the meaning of friendship was also reflected in the discourse of Jewish intellectuals. Thinkers like Hannah Arendt and Siegfried Kracauer, Leo Strauss and Margarete Susman, Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem were eminent thinkers about the meaning of friendship – and thus reflected a fundamental trait of their epoch.
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