Michael Brenner's The Renaissance Of Jewish Culture In Weimar Germany

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An Assessment of Michael Brenner’s ‘The Renaissance of Jewish Culture in Weimar Germany’
Dr. Daniels, Nazi Germany Tues./Thurs. 9:30

“The most essential weakness of the Western Jew was not that he was “assimilated” but that he was atomized; that he was without connection to his Jewish community; that his heart no longer beat as one with a living Gemeinshaft.” (Brenner, 36). The Jewish Renaissance, a phrase coined by the author of the previous quote, Martin Buber, refers to the movement of Jews in Weimar Germany to redefine, reintroduce, and re-embrace their previously lost culture. In the years leading up to the Second German Reich, which took place in 1871 and granted German Jews legal equality, it seemed all but necessary for Jews to let their traditional customs become a relic of the past in favor of the European literature, music and art they had fought so hard to become a part of. Three generations later, the resulting lack of connection with Jewish origins is felt far and wide, and so begins the quest for the modernization of a culture and religion that had been left on the proverbial backburner for far too long.
At the realization of this needed revolution, “post-assimilated” Jews were faced with the task of introducing their old traditions to a society that was far different than the one from which said traditions were born. While some shared the opinion of rabbi of Konigsberg’s widow Rosalie Perles, who thought the grandfathers of the present generation would be proud to see the innovative ways in which the Jewish culture prevailed through assimilation, others were troubled by the stark contrast this emerging culture formed against traditional Judaism. Seeking to create an answer to this problem as well as growing anti-Semitism in Eastern and Central Europe, political Zionists such as Theodor Herzl rallied to establish a physical Jewish homeland. Understandably, some feared this would be seen as Jewish disloyalty to Germany and result in alienation. In a time when common ground was absent but necessary for the Jewish people to move forward, Martin Buber bridged the gap between political and cultural Zionists by suggesting German Jews focus on art as a way to find themselves.
Referred to by Brenner as a man belonging to “many different worlds,” Martin Buber provided the perfectly balanced binary of passion and worldly vision that would serve as a catalyst to the Jewish Renaissance. He introduced the definition of this term as the “resurrection of the Jewish people from half-life to full-life,” and knew that it would only be realized through the marriage of Jewish traditions and present-society. Art was a universal vehicle that could be used as a tool for Jewish expression and individualism while transcending the need for physical isolation. This was of course a growing liberal approach to perpetuating a culture previously defined by staunch religious practices. The German Jews would continue to cling to liberal principles until the eventual decline of interest in the political party, at which point their shared understanding of liberalism would undergo a drastic transformation. The departure of this long-standing affiliation would result in the transformation of liberal Judaism and the start of a new quest for community.
Increasing anti Semitism during the war would inadvertently urge German Jews to rediscover the positives of Judaism as well as re-organization their political stance. The need to form a new community based on ethnic ties as oppose to individual beliefs emerged, and sparked a fierce thirst for knowledge concerning the origin and purpose of Jewish existence. Franz Rosenweig recognized that the revitalization of Jewish life was to come only from learning, and sought to provide the Jewish population with the knowledge or “tools” needed to rebuild their community and strengthen their culture. The pairing of this notion with the method of which he planned to teach it, differing from