Being a Jew – a choice, a fate, a burden?

Paul Spiegel: Was ist koscher? Jüdischer Glaube – Jüdisches Leben. ISBN: 978-3-548-36713-2 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️  As regular visitors to this blog and my classical music blog know, religion is a subject that occupies my mind a lot. The recent uproar against the US president’s initiative to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the ensuing anti-semitic and anti-zionist protests compelled me to educate myself about what it means to be a Jew, to be a Jew in Israel, to be a Jew of the diaspora, i. e. living outside Israel. I wanted to know how these people live, how the Jewish religion evolved over time, how it relates to Christianism and Islam. All this with the question in mind where the hate against Jews comes from and how it could be overcome.

Paul Spiegel’s introduction to the Jewish religion and the Jewish “way of life” – they can’t be seperated actually since religion permeates life from birth to death in one way or another – gave me some valuable first answers. I have more books on Judaism on my bookshelf, thanks to my fellow blogger Juna Grossmann, but this one was a good start. Paul Spiegel chaired the Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland, the over-arching association of Jews in Germany, for many years and did a lot to improve the mutual understanding of Jewish Germans and Gojim. This book is perhaps the essence of his lifelong mission.

Spiegel explains in detail and with a lot of humour all the moral obligations of a faithful Jew. Belonging to God’s Chosen People amounts to quite a burden, it would appear. He presents the different traditions, hard to understand for an outsider, and retraces the long anti-semitic track record of the Catholic church. Spiegel also deals with deliberately spread fake news and conspiracy theories about Jews and the difficulties that arise from cultural assimilation of Jews in Western Europea societies.

The two faces of assimilation – the danger to loose one’s identity and the chance to bypass anti-semitic discrimination – seem to me to be a particularly tragic fate of Jewish communities. Two composers come to my mind in this respect: Felix Mendelssohn, who did not like the family name “Bartholdy” that his father adopted, and Max Bruch:

United we pray

A light is sown for the repenting sinner