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Jewish Space and the Beschneidungsdebatte in Germany

Multiculturalism, Ritual and Cultural Reproduction

Jay (Koby) Oppenheim

The concept of Jewish space, initially conceived by Diana Pinto as a unique European development, marked a critical shift in relations between Jews and non-Jews, the latter embracing a Jewish past as constitutive of their countries' own. The hoped-for European multiculturalism failed to blossom and Jewish space, in Pinto's assessment, has not born the fruit of its potential. To investigate the shortfall of Jewish space, this article examines the 2012 debate on ritual male circumcision in Germany (Beschneidungsdebatte) that drew contemporary Jewish practice into the public eye. Pinto's formulation is premised on a multicultural society that actively works to blunt intolerance, a condition whose fulfilment in contemporary Europe remains incomplete and uneven. Moreover, this attempt to extend the integration of history into memory was stymied by its lack of a living subject. While Jews constitute a long-standing minority population with a unique history in Germany, their success in establishing a shared Jewish space is tied to the broader project of tolerance and integration facing immigrant and minority groups in Western Europe.

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Jewish Space Reloaded

An Introduction

Eszter B. Gantner and Jay (Koby) Oppenheim

In 1996 the historian Diana Pinto published her often since quoted and discussed article on ‘A New Jewish Identity for Post-1989 Europe’. She was one of the first Jewish intellectuals to reflect on the fall of the Iron Curtain and the resulting political changes and their possible consequences for Jewish communities in Europe. In her article, she introduced the term ‘Jewish space’ that motivates the focus of this issue, as well as the term ‘voluntarily Jewish’, which describes the construction of identity free of external prescription. Pinto situates Jewish space in the context of the Erinnerungspolitik European democracies engaged in during the 1980s, when Holocaust memorialisation began to assume an institutional form through the establishment of Jewish museums, research institutes and exhibitions.