Synopses & Reviews
"Efron's account of how German Jewry fantasied a perfect world in which Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived in peace and harmony in medieval Spain reveals how an entire culture generated a perfect past to help escape from an increasingly noxious present. This is an exceptionally well-researched and well-written book about a self-deception that has not vanished."--Sander L. Gilman, author of Freud, Race, and Gender
"An astutely argued, beautifully wrought book by an accomplished historian. Efron provides a compelling--and also poignant--tale of German Jewry's valorization of Jewish life under Islam as a model for modern emulation. A truly impressive work of cultural archeology."--Steven J. Zipperstein, author of Rosenfeld's Lives: Fame, Oblivion, and the Furies of Writing
"Efron has written a fluid, compelling, and deeply learned account of the allure of medieval Sephardic culture and history to modernizing German Jews. His reading of how this 'other' became constitutive of nineteenth-century German-Jewish culture is persuasive, elegant, and--no small feat--entertaining."--Elisheva Carlebach, Columbia University
"Until now there has been no systematic study of the German-Jewish fascination with Sephardic culture. This superb book fills this gap. Efron truly broadens our understanding of German Jewry, taking readers on an exciting and little-known journey through the rich treasures of modern Jewish culture."--Michael Brenner, author of Prophets of the Past: Interpreters of Jewish History
"German Jewry and the Allure of the Sephardic is the definitive account of the subject. This richly documented and beautifully written book makes quite clear what the stakes were for German Jews in summoning forth the memory of Sephardic forbears. Efron is a historian at the top of his game."--David N. Myers, author of Resisting History: Historicism and Its Discontents in German-Jewish Thought
The Description for this book, German Jewry and the Allure of the Sephardic, will be forthcoming.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as German Jews struggled for legal emancipation and social acceptance, they also embarked on a program of cultural renewal, two key dimensions of which were distancing themselves from their fellow Ashkenazim in Poland and giving a special place to the Sephardim of medieval Spain. Where they saw Ashkenazic Jewry as insular and backward, a result of Christian persecution, they depicted the Sephardim as worldly, morally and intellectually superior, and beautiful, products of the tolerant Muslim environment in which they lived. In this elegantly written book, John Efron looks in depth at the special allure Sephardic aesthetics held for German Jewry.
Efron examines how German Jews idealized the sound of Sephardic Hebrew and the Sephardim's physical and moral beauty, and shows how the allure of the Sephardic found expression in neo-Moorish synagogue architecture, historical novels, and romanticized depictions of Sephardic history. He argues that the shapers of German-Jewish culture imagined medieval Iberian Jewry as an exemplary Jewish community, bound by tradition yet fully at home in the dominant culture of Muslim Spain. Efron argues that the myth of Sephardic superiority was actually an expression of withering self-critique by German Jews who, by seeking to transform Ashkenazic culture and win the acceptance of German society, hoped to enter their own golden age.
Stimulating and provocative, this book demonstrates how the goal of this aesthetic self-refashioning was not assimilation but rather the creation of a new form of German-Jewish identity inspired by Sephardic beauty.
About the Author
John M. Efron is the Koret Professor of Jewish History at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Medicine and the German Jews: A History and Defenders of the Race: Jewish Doctors and Race Science in Fin-de-Siècle Europe and the coauthor of The Jews: A History.