M.G. Piety

Kierkegaard and Antisemitism

In Kierkegaard and the Jews on December 20, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Peter Tudvad’s new book, Stadier paa Antisemitisms Vej: Søren Kierkegaard og Jøderne (Stages on the Way of Antisemitism: Søren Kierkegaard and the Jews) (Rosinante, 2010) has elicited even more controversy in the first few weeks after its appearance than did his exposure of the errors in Joakim Garff’s biography of Kierkegaard. As of last week, approximately 90 articles had been published in the Danish media on the book, some of which appeared even before the book itself. Those of you who can read Danish should check out Tudvad’s Facebook page because he has links to many of the articles there.

I’m going to assume, however, that most of you cannot read Danish, so I am going to post brief summaries of various part of the book, and comments on it, as I make my way through it. This is going to take some time, mind you, because at 500 pages (not including the notes) it’s a hefty tome. Like Tudvad’s other books, however, it is meticulously researched and completely absorbing. It also stands a very good chance of being translated into English because much of it is an account of the situation of the Jews in 19th-century Denmark and will thus be of great interest both to a broad spectrum of historical scholars and to general readers interested in Jewish history.

Tudvad has thoughtfully divided the book into chapters that can be read independently of one another, so readers interested primarily in Jewish history, or the history of antisemitism, don’t have to read the material on Kierkegaard. The chapter titles (freely translated) are as follows: “Ten Theses on Kierkegaard’s Relation to Jews and Judaism.” “The Jewish Conflict: From Literary Feud to Physical Violence,” “The Wandering Jew: Despair,” “The Perception of the Jews” (this chapter is divided into six sections that look at the theological, the historical, the political, the literary, the dramatic and the Bourgeois perspectives on Jews and Judaism), “Kierkegaard’s Jewish Acquaintances,” “Young Germany and Old Denmark,” “Abraham: The Father of Faith,”  and finally, “Offense: The Infernal Jew.”

I’m still on the part of the first chapter that deals with the literary feud. It’s disappointing to read how virulent was antisemitism in Denmark in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Christian Bastholm wrote, for example, in Den Jødiske Historie (The History of the Jews), that “the Jews are a people whose main characteristics are pride and greed,” and that “the Jews are one of those insects that can never be completely exterminated” (p. 28)

There’s lots of more encouraging information there though as well, such as the fact that N.F.S. Grundtvig was a staunch defender of the Jews. Part of the literary feud between prominent anti-Semites and defenders of the Jews involved using the Hebrew Bible against the Jews. “The method of attacking the Jews,” wrote Grundtvig however, “through the use of their own sacred books is evidence of how unchristianly the learned of our day dare to write and speak” (p. 31).

Grundtvig actually used the Hebrew Bible in defense of the claim that Jews made good citizens, pointing out, for example that Jews are commanded in Jeremiah to show loyalty to the state that gives them refuge.

“One can confidently assert,” observes Grundtvig, “that there is in general among the Jews less ungodliness and a greater sense of right and wrong, just as there is more external discipline, than there is in those assemblies that are now called ‘Christian,’ and that the Jews would thus be made worse by becoming more like ‘Christians'” (p. 32).

Kierkegaard’s father too, emerges as strong friend of the Jews. That’s all I’ll say for now though. If you can read Danish, then get your hands on a copy of the book. If you can’t, then keep checking for new posts. I’m not going to cover everything in the book, of course, but I’ll give you a sense of what it contains and, as I said, my suspicion is that you won’t have to wait too long before there will be an English translation.

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  1. Hi Marilyn!! — This site promises to be educational and fun, both. I look forward to learning more about Kierkegaard. — Alan Soble

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