The Modernity of Others: Jewish Anti-Catholicism in Germany and France

By Meyer, Michael A. | Shofar, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

The Modernity of Others: Jewish Anti-Catholicism in Germany and France


Meyer, Michael A., Shofar


THE MODERNITY OF OTHERS: JEWISH ANTI-CATHOLICISM IN GERMANY AND FRANCE Ari Joskowicz. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013. 373 pp.

This probing, nuanced, and carefully written volume is unusual in at least three respects. First, and most fundamentally, it examines the modernization of Judaism, not simply in terms of internal discourses as earlier scholarship has tended to do, but sees it within the larger context of European secularization. Second, it elaborates on the much-neglected subject of Jewish anti-Catholicism and anticlericalism, thereby shedding light on how the Jewish desire for political integration could spawn the attacks of one marginalized group on another. Finally, the volume is unusual in crossing the border between Germany and France, allowing for detailed comparisons between two Jewish communities, similar in some respects and different in others.

Ari Joskowicz, who teaches at Vanderbilt University, begins his analysis with the late eighteenth century, finding distinctly critical views of Catholicism in Moses Mendelssohn, for example, and continues his account to the first decade of the twentieth century, following which, he argues, the issue of Jews versus Catholics recedes from the scene. His approach is not to deal first with Germany and then with France, or vice versa, but to move back and forth as the various issues he discusses require. Nor does he adhere strictly to a chronological arrangement, instead preferring to let the narrative of particular topics of analysis flow freely back and forth across national borders.

Of course, Germany and France were in basic respects different with regard both to Judaism and to Catholicism. The German Jewish community was much larger, did not attain full equality everywhere in the country until the last decades of the nineteenth century, and was more clearly riven between non-Orthodox and Orthodox Jews. Catholicism was a distinct minority religion in Protestant Prussia and in the 1870s the object of a forceful Kulturkampf unleashed by Bismarck. In France, Catholicism was the majority religion, so that opposition to it was expressed as anticlericalism. Nonetheless, as Joskowicz argues, there were commonalities in that both communities had a common history of medieval antisemitism and both stood in opposition to such contemporary acts of Catholic interference in the Jewish community as the Mortara affair of 1858, when the Church refused to return a clandestinely baptized Jewish child to its parents. Progressive Jewish factions in both countries, seeking an inclusive universalism, united with religio-political factions that espoused it-with Saint-Simonians, for example, in France or with trans-Catholic Deutschkatholiken in Germany. They branded Catholicism the archenemy of progress, a roadblock on the liberal path to a secular state. Ultramontanism and Jesuit activity became the enemy of the universal ideals that were espoused by most Jews. The First Vatican Council, which proclaimed papal infallibility in 1869, provided strong evidence for how Catholicism was fundamentally at odds with democratic politics. …

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