The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Wissenschaft des Judentums Scholars’ Reflections on a “Jewish Race”

Wissenschaft des Judentums Scholars’ Reflection on a “Jewish Race”

The way in which a biological race category, and more specifically, the biological notion of a “Jewish race” entered Zionism in the 19th century is an interesting and well-researched subject. It is almost common knowledge that at the same time, liberal Judaism rejected a biological understanding of “the Jews” and was even “immune [to it] by its principle” (Doron 1980). This is not to say that liberal scholars did not follow and comment on the academic discourse on “the “Jewish race” in Jewish journals, not least against the background of antisemitism and German nationalism. But so far, the reaction of WdJ scholars to the ongoing race debate has received only very limited attention.

In my talk I want to discuss how WdJ journals, like the Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums, reported on research results from physical anthropologists about a “Jewish race” in the second half of the 19th century. In a close reading of articles in WdJ journals, I want to focus on the way a Jewish ethnicity was framed and defended as opposed to a “Jewish race” at a time when physical anthropology became an academic research field.