The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Max Joseph and Liberal Race Theories (1908)

The scholar and rabbi Max Mordechai Joseph (1868–1950) was a singular phenomenon in his generation. He certainly was no orthodox rabbi, but unlike almost all of Germany’s liberal rabbinate at his time, Rabbi Joseph was an ardent Zionist. He was neither a dogmatist nor a technocrat in Halakhah—he even embraced Biblical criticism— he fully shared the liberal idea that Judaism was the ideal combination of religion and morality, but at the same time he argued that the Jews are still passively bound together by being a separate race. Instead of denying this racial connection, as the liberals do, one should be proud to belong "to the strongest, most tenacious and most distinct race in the whole of Europe” both inwardly and externally, probably even meaning facial features.

The paper will attempt to rediscover this forgotten thinker and to put his racial ideas from 1908 in the wider context of his time and of early liberal Zionist thought. I will attempt to show that Max Joseph anticipated the use of the blood metaphor for the essence of Judaism, used in Martin Buber`s and Franz Rosenzweig`s writings shortly after. But I will also try to explain why his ideas are still very different from the racist nationalism of the Nazis and their intentional misuse of science