The German-Jewish Economic Elite, 1820-1935: A Socio-Cultural Profile

The German-Jewish Economic Elite, 1820-1935: A Socio-Cultural Profile

The German-Jewish Economic Elite, 1820-1935: A Socio-Cultural Profile

The German-Jewish Economic Elite, 1820-1935: A Socio-Cultural Profile

Synopsis

This unique study makes an important contribution to an understanding of the changing problem of "Jewishness" in a German environment as it presented itself to a privileged group of German Jews. A group biography, the book examines the socio-cultural profile of members of the German-Jewish economic elite. It presents a detailed picture of the group, based largely on autobiographical material; it covers matters such as attitudes to Judaism, relations at different levels with Gentiles and with other Jews, marriage patterns, the public role, political culture, cultural activities, and patronage. The major underlying theme is the conflict between the preservation of the Jewish identity, and integration into the surrounding society. Different forms of self-identification are examined, as well as various patterns of conformity.

Excerpt

For the majority of German Jews, escape from the ghetto sooner or later raised serious problems of identity. German acculturation through secular education alienated individuals to a greater or lesser degree from the roots of traditional Jewish unitary culture, education, and religious observance. Questions of identity unknown in the ghetto became acute. In the newly emancipated generation, and for some time thereafter (in fact until the end of the 'Romantic Age' around the mid-nineteenth century) self-identification for the Jew, as indeed for the Gentile, was moreover essentially in religious terms: Jew or Christian, Protestant or Catholic.

Among Jews, the problem of religious identity was especially acute for the economically successful. These, for some Gentile members of the 'upper classes', constituted the most socially acceptable element among the freshly emancipated Jews. Especially was this the case where the newcomers combined wealth with a high degree of German acculturation. Up to a point, this had already been the case with some court Jews of the age of absolutism, though even in their case social acceptability to any significant extent had often had to wait until the first half of the nineteenth century. The group particularly affected was the highest stratum of Jewish society, sometimes described as 'alte jüdische Oberschicht' (more or less synonymous with Toury Adelsbiirger). Assimilated through social intercourse more particularly with elements of Gentile Bildungsbiirgertum (educated members of the middle classes, Bürgertum, of the professions, adepts of the arts and the sciences), members of the Jewish economic and cultural élite would almost invariably, at some point in their lives, be confronted with the question as to the degree of 'assimilation' they desired. Did they wish to abandon their Jewish identity (or, in some cases, what was left of it) altogether . . .

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