Towards a Better Understanding of Judaism

Leo Trepp: Die Juden. Volk, Geschichte und Religion. ISBN 978-3-86539-104-9 ⭐️⭐️⭐️ Religion is a subject that has fascinated me since I was a child. Wondrous stories, ethical principles, a bizarre, old-fashioned language – I read the Bible when I was 12 or 13, a second time when I was 22 and, a few years later, the Koran with much enthusiasm and interest. Came the time when I started to explore Judaism, the history of the state of Israel and the links to the Middle East conflict – a decade after I had read the Koran. I picked up the thread recently, and you will perhaps remember my review of Paul Spiegel’s “Was ist koscher?” I bought Leo Trepp’s easy-to-read and fairly exhaustive compendium on Jewish history, culture and religion “Die Juden” upon a recommendation of a Jewish fellow blogger Juna Grossmann.

Trepp gives an excellent overview over the origin of Judaism from its origin 2000 BC until today, the Middle Ages, the 19th  century and the Holocaust being important landmarks. He devotes several chapters to current antisemitism, often disguised as an opposition against Israel’s policies. Trepp’s description of Israel’s responsibility in the Middle East conflict is extremely brief and makes me feel somewhat awkward as it follows the stereotype of “Israel is right, the Arabs are wrong”.

I would have expected a more critical approach. My edition of the book is from 2006, and the hard line the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanjahu took in the terms since 2009 could not be taken into account. Reading Trepp’s characterization of the issues separating Arabs and Jews in that light felt like a provocation. It would have been wiser to leave the subject away altogether. Especially as one of the key tenets of Judaism seems to be the role God has given the Jews: to lead by example in terms of morality.

Trepp devotes many, in my opinion too many, chapters to the presentation of Judaism’s central texts with extensive quotes. Having read the Old Testament, it was somewhat tedious to read as it has only marginally added to the understanding of the central elements of the Jewish faith. Less would have been more, here too. A positive aspect of the book is that it devotes several chapters to the position of women in the Jewish society – it’s not an easy one and gender equality is not for tomorrow.

The chapters that interested me most were those on the practical forms of living the Jewish faith today, on the many parallels between the Christian and Jewish faith and on the re-orientation of the Catholic church, who adopted a more conciliatory approach under Pope John Paul II, the Protestant churches following suit. Both the Vatican and Martin Luther did see the Jews as stubborn unbelievers that had to be converted by all means. I am very glad this is history, it makes me sad however that it took so long and that the churches do not take a more decisive stand against anti-semitic violence today.

This leads me the conclusion of Trepp which, at the same time, is his personal credo that he has reiterated since World War II as a university scholar: The generations after World War II are not to be blamed for the crimes committed against the Jews in the context of the Holocaust. However they bear a special responsibility for the Jewish people today. Are they up to that challenge? Trepp had his doubts.

The composer Arnold Schönberg was born into a Jewish family but converted to the Protestant faith in 1898. While fleeing the Nazis in 1933 he returned to the Jewish faith. He was an exceptional composer and one of my favourite pieces is his String Quartet No. 2 (Op. 10), written in 1907/08:

Transcending tonality and harmony

One thought on “Towards a Better Understanding of Judaism”

Comments are closed.