Jewish Masculinities: German Jews, Gender, and History

Jewish Masculinities: German Jews, Gender, and History

Jewish Masculinities: German Jews, Gender, and History

Jewish Masculinities: German Jews, Gender, and History

Synopsis

Stereotyped as delicate and feeble intellectuals, Jewish men in German-speaking lands in fact developed a rich and complex spectrum of male norms, models, and behaviors. Jewish Masculinities explores conceptions and experiences of masculinity among Jews in Germany from the 16th through the late 20th century as well as emigrants to North America, Palestine, and Israel. The volume examines the different worlds of students, businessmen, mohels, ritual slaughterers, rabbis, performers, and others, shedding new light on the challenge for Jewish men of balancing German citizenship and cultural affiliation with Jewish communal solidarity, religious practice, and identity.

Excerpt

Paul Lerner, Benjamin Maria Baader, and Sharon Gillerman

This volume, an exploration of maleness and manliness among German Jews, presents innovative historical investigations of the lives, experiences, and identities of Jewish men. Its chapters stretch from the early modern period through the late twentieth century and treat German Jews in Germany, as well as in exile and emigration in North America, Palestine, and Israel. Its contributors engage with traditional Jewish texts, Jewish and non-Jewish social and religious practices, and anti-Semitic discourses on Jews; at the same time, Jewish Masculinities focuses closely on German and German Jewish cultures and contexts. the book builds on a growing body of scholarship on gender and Jewish culture and uses the categories of gender, Jewishness, and Germanness to offer new perspectives on identity, community, and difference in German Jewish history and beyond.

The idea that Jewish men differ from non-Jewish men by being delicate, meek, or effeminate in body and character runs deep in European history. in the thirteenth century, for example, the French historian Jacques de Vitry reported that his contemporaries believed Jewish men suffered from a monthly flux of blood and had become “unwarlike and weak even as women.” It is not clear how widespread this notion was in the Middle Ages or how much of a role gender played in discourses on the Jews in that period, but by the sixteenth century, various images—such as the sinful Jew who bled annually during Easter, and the melancholic, passive Jew whom medical treatises described as suffering from hemorrhoids—had coalesced into a common belief that Jewish men were deficient as men and possessed some womanly characteristics. Even Abbé Grégoire, a renowned defender of Jewish rights, noted that Jewish men “almost all have scanty beards, a common mark of effeminate temperaments.” Still, Grégoire, in his pro-emancipation treatise of 1789, Essai sur la régéneration physique, morale et politique des Juifs (Essay on the Physical, Moral and Political Regeneration of the Jews), forcefully denounced the notion of male Jews’ menstruation as an unfounded prejudice.

The notion that Jewish men suffered from a distorted masculinity or carried certain female traits did not figure prominently in the intense debates about Jewish emancipation and Jewish civil rights of the late eighteenth century . . .

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