Koret Professor of Jewish History, University of California, Berkeley
February 15, 2018
4:15pm - 6:00pm
Hoffmann Room, Adolphus Busch Hall
Focusing on the period spanning the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth century, this talk explores the special place German-Jewish culture accorded medieval Spanish Jewry. In a broad array of genres, a portrait emerged that promoted an image of Sephardim as physically attractive, morally and intellectually superior, and worthy of emulation while the culture and physical appearance of Ashkenazic Jewry was most frequently depicted as regrettable and in need of radical correction. The superiority of the former was attributed to the tolerance of the Islamic environment in which they lived while conversely, the supposed inferiority of Ashkenazic culture was portrayed as being a consequence of Christian persecution. The positive depiction of Islam by German-Jewish culture also serves as a counter model to a Saidean Orientalist critique that charges Europeans with exhibiting an unalloyed condescension towards Muslims. Claims about the superiority of Sephardic aesthetics and the environment that facilitated that became a constitutive element of modern German-Jewish self-fashioning, one goal of which was to make German Jewry appear as the most worthy successors to the Jews of Golden Age Spain.