Jewish Theology in Germany: The co-Existence of Secular and Religious Discourse


How often do secular and religious discourses communicate and interrelate at points where they intersect in society? When the Science of Judaism (Wissenschaft des Judentums) evolved at the beginning of the nineteenth century, it intended, through both theological and secular studies, to demonstrate the general value of Jewish culture and civilization. Although denied a place in the public university system until after the Shoah, Jewish Studies departments have since been established at various German universities, and, in 2013, the School of Jewish Theology of the University of Potsdam was opened as the first Jewish divinity school in the history of the German university system. With this, what was once a utopian dream became a reality, and both branches of the Science of Judaism, religious and secular, became undisputed parts of the German academic scene, using similar tools for differing aims. Two prime examples of the intersection of the secular and religious in Germany today are the proliferation of divinity schools at state universities, on the one hand, and the development of military chaplaincy in the armed forces, on the other. Both of these, through contractual agreements, aim to regulate and facilitate religious pluralism within a secular state. While the one has already begun to take place, the other is currently under discussion.

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  1. 1.

    Novalis (1772–1801) and Friedrich Schlegel (1772–1829) were two of the first to discuss the “Christian Occident” (Abendland) in the context of what they believed was its demise—the villains being the French Revolution and Napoleon’s march across Europe. Schlegel invoked the term “Christian West” in his Romantic political theory wherein he outlined his concept of a Christian state. His widely circulated essay of 1823, “Signature of the Age” (Signatur des Zeitalters), seemed to attack parliamentary democracy, arguing instead for an “organic” Christian state to be formed around the monarch. Frederick William IV of Prussia, keen to stifle any democratic or revolutionary sympathies, seized on Schlegel’s and others’ Romantic projections and made them the de facto state philosophy. See fn 33 in this article.

  2. 2.

  3. 3.

    See Walter Homolka, „Der lange Weg zur Errichtung des Fachs Jüdische Theologie an einer deutschen Universität“(p. 53–78), and Johann E. Hafner & Gordon Grill, „Zur Integration von Jüdischer Theologie in der Philosophischen Fakultät“(p. 79–100), both in Walter Homolka & Hans-Gert Pöttering (eds.), Theologie(n) an der Universität–Akademische Herausforderung im säkularen Umfeld. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2013.

  4. 4.

    Peter Schäfer & Klaus Herrmann, „Judaistik an der Freien Universität Berlin. “In Karol Kubicki & Siegward Lönnendonker (eds.), Religionswissenschaft, Judaistik, Islamwissenschaft und Neuere Philologien an der Freien Universität Berlin. Berlin: V&R unipress, 2012. p. 53–74. Here p. 53, fn 2.

    Here, it is expressed that both Judaic and Jewish Studies can be traced back to the “Wissenschaft des Judentums” (Science of Judaism), which also contains theological components; see p. 55.

  5. 5.

    Louis Jacobs, A Jewish Theology. New York: Behrman House Publishing, 1973, p. 1. This concurs with Schleiermacher’s dictum, according to which all the subjects and topics of theology could actually be materials of other sciences, with theology, thus, basically possessing no object of research within the House of Sciences (c.f. Friedrich-Wilhelm Marquardt, “Evangelische Theologie,“in Karol Kubicki & Siegward Lönnendonker (eds.), Religionswissenschaft, p. 38.

  6. 6.

    Arno Herzig, Jüdische Geschichte in Deutschland. München: C.H.Beck, 2002, pp.146–52, 158–64.

  7. 7.

    See Kurt Wilhelm, „Zur Einführung in die Wissenschaft des Judentums,“in Kurt Wilhelm (ed.), Wissenschaft des Judentums im deutschen Sprachbereich. Tübingen: Mohr (Siebeck), 1967, pp. 1–59. And Siegfried Ucko, „Geistesgeschichtliche Grundlagen der Wissenschaft des Judentums,“in Kurt Wilhelm (ed.), Wissenschaft des Judentums, pp. 315–52.

  8. 8.

    Ludwig Philippson, „Aufforderung an alle Israeliten Deutschlands,“in Allgemeine Zeitung des Judenthums 88, 1837, p. 349.

  9. 9.

    Phöbus Philippson (pseudonym Dr. Uri), „Ideen zu einer Encyclopädie und Methodologie der jüdischen Theologie,“cited from Arndt Engelhardt, Arsenale jüdischen Wissens. Zur Entstehungsgeschichte der “Encyclopedia Judaica.” Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014, p. 126 f.

  10. 10.

    Ludwig Geiger & Ismar Elbogen (eds.), Abraham Geiger–Leben und Lebenswerk. Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1910, p. 17.

  11. 11.

    Schäfer & Herrmann, „Judaistik an der Freien Universität,“p. 56.

  12. 12.

    Giuseppe Veltri, “Tochter der Zeit.” Zur Geschichte der Jüdischen Theologie in Deutschland. Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten, 25th November, 2014: [16–05–2017].

  13. 13.

    Ludwig Geiger, „Zunz im Verkehr mit Behörden und Hochgestellten,“in Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums, 1916, vol. 60, p. 324.

  14. 14.

    Giuseppe Veltri, „Ausgrenzung durch Einbeziehung? Unzeitgemäßes zur Geschichte eines „ordentlichen Lehrstuhles für Geschichte und Literatur der Juden“an der Berliner Universität (1848),“.in Wilhelm Schmidt-Biggemann, Georg Tamer & Catherine Newmark (eds.), Kritische Religionsphilosophie. Eine Gedenkschrift für Friedrich Niewöhner. Berlin/New York: De Gruyter, 2010, pp. 345–56.

  15. 15.

    Engelhardt, Arsenale jüdischen Wissens, p. 124.

  16. 16.

    Wissenschaftsrat, Recommendations on the Advancement of Theologies and Sciences concerned with Religions at German Universities. [German original] January 29, 2010, p. 12. As the official English translation of the document is somewhat unclear here, I offer my own as a direct translation from the German.

  17. 17.

    Schäfer & Herrmann, „Judaistik an der Freien Universität,“, p. 57.

  18. 18.

    Johann Georg Diefenbach, Jüdischer Professor der Theologie auf christlicher Universität. Giessen: C. G. Müller, 1821.

  19. 19.

    Geiger, „Zunz im Verkehr,“p. 337.

  20. 20.

    Ibid., p. 338.

  21. 21.

    Christian Wiese, Wissenschaft des Judentums und protestantische Theologie im wilhelminischen Deutschland. Ein Schrei ins Leere? Tübingen: Mohr (Siebeck), 1999, p. 335 f.

  22. 22.

    Wiese, Wissenschaft des Judentums, p. 339.

  23. 23.

    Michael A. Meyer, “Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums,” in C. Roth & G. Widoger (eds.). Encyclopedia Judaica. 4th ed., vol 8. Jerusalem: Keter, 1978, p. 801.

  24. 24.

    Schäfer & Herrmann, “Judaistik an der Freien Universität,” p. 60.

  25. 25.

    Morton Mayer Berman, et al., “Jüdisch-Theologisches Seminar, Breslau.” In C. Roth & G. Widoger (Hg.). Encyclopedia Judaica. 4th ed., vol 8. Jerusalem: Keter, 1978, p. 466.

  26. 26.

    Joseph Heller, “Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums,” in Klatzkin, J. & Elbogen, I. (Hg.). Encyclopaedia Judaica. Das Judentum in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Vol. 8, Berlin: Eschkol Publishers, 1931, p. 160.

  27. 27.

    Marquardt, „Evangelische Theologie,“p. 36.

  28. 28.

    Giuseppe Veltri, “Tochter der Zeit

  29. 29.

    Eugene Borowitz, A New Jewish Theology in the Making. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978, p. 72.

  30. 30.

    Robert Weltsch, „Die schleichende Krise der jüdischen Identität“(689–702). And

    Pinchas E. Rosenblüth, „Die geistigen und religiösen Strömungen in der deutschen Judenheit “(549–98). In Werner E. Mosse, Juden im Wilhelminischen Deutschland: 1890–1914. Tübingen: Mohr (Siebeck), 1976.

  31. 31.

    Hans Liebeschütz, “Jewish Thought and its German Background,” Leo Baeck Institute Year Book, 1956, pp. 217–36.

  32. 32.

    Friedrich Schlegel, Concordia – Eine Zeitschrift. Wien, 1823 XIX: p. 359.

  33. 33.

    One of the first major exponents of modern Jewish thought, Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786), is a good example of the kind of tensions which fulfilling this duty is bound to lead to. The substance of the Jewish faith, as Mendelssohn defines it, is fully modern with its emphasis on the universality and rationality of the human spirit. In spite of this, Mendelssohn still retains a particularistic, supernatural view of the revelation on Mount Sinai, on which his orthopraxy seems to be based, and which does not permit him any deviation from the limits established by tradition.

  34. 34.

    Louis Jacobs, “Theology.” In C. Roth & G. Widoger (eds.). Encyclopedia Judaica. 1st ed., vol. 15. Jerusalem: Keter, 1972, p. 1104.

  35. 35.

    Arthur Green, New Directions in Jewish Theology in America. David W. Belin lecture in American Jewish Affairs 3. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, Jean and Samuel Frankel Center for Judaic Studies, 1994, p. 5.

  36. 36.

    Von der Leyen offen für Imame bei der Bundeswehr. Die Welt, 8–11–2015: [16–05-2017].

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Correspondence to Walter Homolka.

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This article was originally published in German language in Berger, Peter L., Steets, Silke, Weiße, Wolfram (Hrsg.) (2017); Zwei Pluralismen. Positionen aus Sozialwissenschaft und Theologie zu religiöser Vielfalt und Säkularität. Münster: Waxmann. © Waxmann Verlag GmbH.

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Homolka, W. Jewish Theology in Germany: The co-Existence of Secular and Religious Discourse. Soc 54, 426–431 (2017).

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  • Christian state
  • Abraham Geiger
  • Germany
  • Jewish theology
  • Military chaplaincy
  • Ludwig Philippson
  • Pluralism
  • Science of Judaism
  • Secularism
  • Wissenschaft des Judentums
  • Leopold Zunz