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Wed 28-08-2013
Conference The Jew as Legitimation


The Jew as Legitimation

Place: Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Dates: 28th and 29th of August, 2013

Throughout history, non-Jews have drawn on Jewish Culture to legitimize their profoundest values. In this conference experts from a great variety of fields in Jewish History will discuss the many ways Jew served as a non-Jewish legitimation, attempting to better understand the complexities of Jewish non-Jewish relations.

Recent historiography on Jewish non-Jewish relations has developed an awareness of the complex an dynamic ways Jews interacted with the cultures in which they lived. This conference will draw on this trend by exploring the notion of ‘the Jew as legitimation’. Using this concept, it aims to identify a significant phenomenon in Jewish History, that may help to come to a better understanding of Jewish non-Jewish relations, venturing beyond classic notions to characterize this relationships like oppression, integration, assimilation and acculturation.

The notion of the ‘Jew as legitimation’ expresses a phenomenon in Jewish History where the Jew, or the call for protection of Jewish existence (their toleration and survival), serves to validate non-Jewish ideologies. Examples of such usage are abundant (and often the subject of current research): It may be found in Augustine’s notion of the Jew as witness to Christianity, in its expression in the legend of Ahasveros, in the early modern tradition of Christian Cabbala, of Christian Hebraism, in various eschatological theories, in non-Jewish calls for Jewish Emancipation, in the non-Jewish popularity of Jewish themes in popular culture, in Christian Zionism, and in contemporary right wing populist defences ofIsrael.

The speakers of the conference will discuss a wide variety of such cases in which Jewish existence served to legitimize principles of the non-Jewish worlds Jews lived in. They will shed light on some of the following questions:

Jewish Responses

Jews were given a role in ideologies that were not necessarily theirs. How did Jews respond to this? Did it effect their self-image? Did their it bring them closer to those non-Jewish groups whose ideologies they legitimized? Did they become advocates of such ideologies or did it instead cause them to emphasize their difference? Did they make use of their non-Jewish ideological importance for their own practical interests? Did it cause internal Jewish debate?

Connections to anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism

Many ideologies have also been legitimized through anti-Semitism. However, in anti-Semitism, not the Jew, but his harassment, discrimination and even destruction serve as a legitimation. Still the question should be asked whether there is interaction between the ‘positive’ legitimizing role of the Jew, and anti-Semitism. Did, for example the legitimizing role of Jews give them a prominence that caused envy and thus triggered anti-Semitism? Or did it, in fact, mitigate anti-Semitism? What about the legitimizing role of Jews in phrases as: the classic anti-Semite’s defence: “My best friends are Jews”.


Can continuities be identified between the different usages of the Jew as legitimation? Is the Enlightened interest in Jewish rights, secular continuity of the Christian usage of the Jew as legitimation, and is the post Second World War image of the Jew a continuation of both? Are there continuities in Jewish and non Jewish ways of dealing with usage of the Jew as legitimization? Can the notion of the Jew as Legitimation provide an explanation for Jewish survival?


Day one: August 28, 2013

Dr. David Wertheim (MbII), Opening Remarks

Early Christianity

Prof. Jan Willem van Henten (UvA) The Maccabean Martyrs as Christian Models in Origen

Prof. Jeremy Cohen (Tel-Aviv), Alterity and Self-Legitimation: The Jew as Other in Classical and Medieval Christianity

Early Modernity

Prof. Andreas Kilcher (ETH Zürich) The Theological Dialectics of Philosemitism and Christian Kabbalah

Dr. Sina Rauschenbach (Konstanz) Christian Readings of Menasseh ben Israel: Translation and Retranslation in the Early Modern World

Prof. Jonathan Israel (Princeton) The Campaign for Jewish Emancipation as a Factor in the Growing Revolutionary Consciousness of the 1780s

The Age of Nationalism

Prof. Irene Zwiep (UvA) To Legitimize or not to Legitimize. Jewish Responses to early anti-‘anti-Semitism’

Dr. James Renton (Edge Hill University), A Script and its Afterlives: the Place of the Jews in the Design of the Post-Ottoman Middle East

Day two: August 29, 2013

Jewish Legitimation and the Holocaust

Jaap Cohen (Niod) “Cultivated Intellectuals” versus “Rapacious Parasites”; Legitimizing National Socialist Racial Ideology as a Dutch Sefardic Strategy for Safety

Prof. Evelien Gans (UvA) “Jewish Passivity”; The Jew as Legitimation in recent trends in Dutch Holocaust Historiography

Catholics and Protestants after the Holocaust

Prof. John Connely (Berkely)The Jew as Legitimation of the pluralism of the post Second World War Catholic Church

Dr. Gert van Klinken (PThU Amsterdam) Protestants in the State of Israel. The Dutch, the Swiss, the Americans and the Germans in Nes Ammim,

Joel J. Cahen (JHM) Claiming a Jewish Heritage, the Politics of the post-War Jewish Cultural Renaissance in Europe

The image of the Jews in Recent Dutch Political Culture 

Dr. Bart Wallet (UvA) The Battle for Jewish Sympathy: The House of Orange, the Dutch Jews and Postwar Morality

Dr. David Wertheim (MbII) Fighting Islamization with Judaism, The Right Wing Populist shift to Philo-Semitism


Entrance fee: €99,- (donateurs MbII, €75, students €45,-)

Registration fee includes drinks, two lunches and entrance to the Jewish Historical Museum

Registration before August 25th, by mail mbii@jhm.nl, telephone: 020-5310325 or through the website form.

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