The neo-Romantic movement of fin-de-siècle Europe encouraged a ramified interest in Oriental religion and mysticism. The governing conception of the Oriental spiritual tradition was inspired by the then "rediscovered" writings of Arthur Schopenhauer. This iconoclastic disciple of Kant held that the woe of bourgeois civilization was at root epistemological: Eager to control the world of things (phenomena), the bourgeois celebrates knowledge of the world as mediated through the cognitive froms of time and space (in tandem with the cognitive category of causality). But the thus resulting Weltbild (picture of the world) is one of an individuated, ever divisive reality. A unitive world free of conflict, Schopenhauer taught, is available only by the adoption of an alternative epistemology such as provided by the Vedantic doctrine counseling the negation of one's self-assertive will as the means to release one from the "illusory" world of space and time. For an alternative to the prevailing bourgeois Weltbild, fin-de-siècle votaries of Schopenhauer would turn to other expressions of Oriental widsom: Confucianism, Buddhism, Islam — and, through the efforts of such writers as Matin Buber, Judaism as well. The presentation of Judaism as a form of Oriental wisdom served to help Jews of this period to reaffirm their ancestral identity. To be sure, the enemies of Israel,especially since the emancipation, have regarded the Jews as "Oriental interlopers," or in the words of a Berlin lawyer from 1803, "an alien Asiatic people" in the midst of Europe. Now with the positive evaluation of the Orient, Jews given to theRomantic mood of the fin de siècle could point with pride to their Asiatic provenance. As Buber exultantly declared in 1912 before an audience of Jewish university students in Prague: "The Jew has remained an Oriental." This proud affirmation of an Oriental identity, in turn, permitted Western Jews to form a new attitude to their East European brethren, the so-called Ostjuden, whose putatively non-Western (i.e., non-bourgeois) ways were erstwhile a source of profound embarrassment. Now the Ostjuden were hailed as bearers of a vibrant Oriental wisdom. Buber and others were instrumental in presenting to the educated European public this wisdom, particularly as articulated by those most often regarded as the arch-representatives of the Ostjuden, the Ḥasidim. The impact of this shift in the perception of the Jew is assessed in this essay through a close analysis of the many reviews of Buber's presentation of Ḥasidism which appeared at the time in the Jewish and general press. With specific regard to the significance of Buber's Ḥasidic writings for deracinated Jewish intellectuals who shared the generation's infatuation with the Orient and mysticism, the present essay then considers the testimonies (available in memoirs, letters, articles and unpublished materials) of individuals deeply moved by their discovery through Buber's writings of the Jew as an Oriental mystical sage: Walther Rathenau, Ernst Bloch, Georg Lukács, and Gustav Landauer. The essay concludes with reflections on the dialectic between aesthetic affirmations of Jewish identity (affirmations which in and of themselves often prove to be ephemeral) and fraternal solidarity with one's fellow Jews. An appendix to the essay includes a photostatic reproduction of a play by the mother of Gershom Scholem, Betty Scholem (1866-1946). Entitled "Ex Orientale Lux!", it was written on the occasion of her brother-in-law Theobold Scholem's marriage in November 1904. The play, enacted by the four Scholem children (a photograph of them in costume is likewise included), was a friendly parody of Theobold's dual interest in Zionism and Oriental religions. To Betty's eyes, these eccentric preocupations were of one skein — and thus her play serves as a fitting coda to our essay.
|Translated title of the contribution||Fin-de-siècle Orientalism and the Aesthetics of Jewish Self-Affirmation|
|Number of pages||59|
|Journal||מחקרי ירושלים במחשבת ישראל|
|State||Published - 1984|