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January 09, 1987 - Image 28

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-01-09

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28 Friday, January 9, 1987

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Book Explores History
Of Jewish Self-Hatred

JOSEPH COHEN

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S

ander L. Gilman's
Jewish Self-Hatred:
Anti-Semitism and the
Hidden Language of the Jews
(The Johns Hopkins Univer-
sity Press) is a brilliant, occa-
sionally provocative inquiry
into the Diaspora Jews' self-
critical response to external
aggression, principally in
Germany, from the High Mid-
dle Ages down to the present
time. After the Holocaust, with
central European Jewry deci-
mated, Gilman sifts the locus
of his concern to America.
A humanist in the depart-
ments of German and Near
Eastern Studies and a profes-
sor of psychiatry at Cornell,
Gilman is widely respected for
his knowledge of literature, so-
cial history and group psychol-
ogy. He speaks with considera-
ble authority on the subject of
Otherness, a condition of
alienation and marginality
which produces so much inse-
curity in the affected human
beings that they identify with
their aggressors to the extent
that their own fears of inade-
quacy, degeneracy and rejec-
tion are transferred to a
weaker subgroup, or a sub-
group perceived to be weaker,
within their own ranks. Gil-
man has examined this condi-
tion among blacks, women and
homosexuals. Here his inten-
tion is to examine historically
"how Jews see the dominant
society seeing them and how
they project their anxiety
about this manner of being
seen onto other Jews as a
means of externalizing their
own status anxiety."
By the time of the High Mid-
dle Ages, the Jews domiciled in
central Europe were seen by
the dominant Christian society
as a secret, alien force capable
of undermining and corrupting
the power of the larger society.
Intrinsic to this kind of as-
sumption is the fear of the
Other's language. In this case,
the Other's language, Hebrew,
was regarded as "hidden, dark,
magical, dangerous, private."
To make matters worse most
Jews shunned German. Chris-
tian aggression against the
secret power of the Jews be-
came commonplace, manifest-
ing itself in a long history of
conversions, sometimes forced,
ostracism, humilation, appro-
priation of property and execu-
tion.
Through these tactics, a suc-
cession of conversions occurred
from the 12th Century on into
modern times — it is Gilman's
command and sweep of history
in relating these events that I
find brilliant — resulting in
the publication of endless trac-
tates by those converted, is-
sued for the purposes of justify-
ing their actions. These "de-
fenses" contained scurrilous
condemnations of their former
coreligionists. The obvious
self-hatred of these turncoats

Franz Kafka: a talking ape
remains an ape.

helped to establish and per-
petuate a pattern of
Judaeophobia which was
readily exploited by various
church authorities- both
Catholic and Protestant.
Luther's attacks on the Jews
were particularly offensive. -
The eventual outcome of
what was, in fact, an ever-
present self-hatred was a pre-
disposition on the part of those
Jews who sought not so much
conversion as a near-total as-
similation at the time of the
Enlightenment and of Jewish
Emancipation to project the
slights they had suffered onto
the inferiors in their midst.
These inferiors were the Ost-
juden, or eastern European
Jews, who had moved in large
numbers to Germany and Au- (
stria to escape the Polish pog-
roms. Disadvantaged, they ,-/\
were perceived by their Ger-
man coreligionists to be
grossly inferior. The language
of the Ostjuden, Yiddish, was -
associated with the argot of
thieves; the traditional Tal-
mudic mode of argument, the
pilpul shel hevel, based on
analogy, was held to be inferior
to syllogistic logic (Hellenism
over Hebraism); and the lin-
guistic deficiencies of eastern
European Jews were cynically
tied into excessive sexual de-
pravity (inbreeding regarded
maliciously as incest), a prop- -\
ensity for illness, femininity,
materialism (usury), and
madness. From this milieu
came the concept of the '\
schlemiel. Mausheln, a comic_
language based on Yiddish
came into use in Germany to/
further bedevil the Jews.
Moving into the 19th Cen-
tury Gilman gives us a series of
case histories of Jewish writers
who were self-haters, some of
whom were caught in a double
bind of wanting to glorify their
difference from the dominant,
society while feeling debased
by it. He describes the
equivocating positions taken
by Ludwig Borne, Heinrich <
Heine, who didn't cook gefilte
fish (because of the smell) but
who wrote poems about it, and
Karl Marx. The problems of a.F_

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