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April 27, 2015 / 8 Iyar, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Berlin’

Jews, Muslims, Christians Protest German Anti-Circumcision Law

Monday, September 10th, 2012

Approximately 300 protesters across the religious spectrum demonstrated in eastern Berlin in favor of religious freedom and the decriminalization of circumcision in Germany.

The majority of the protesters were Jewish, though Muslims and Christians also participated.

There are approximately 10,500 Jews living in Berlin.

Mainly Jewish protesters, as well as Muslims and Christians, demonstrated on Sunday for religious freedom and the decriminalization of circumcision in the Federal Republic.

Lala Süskind, former head of the Berlin Jerish community spoke at the rally, speaking up on behalf of religious rituals and citing the World Health Organization’s recommendation that boys be circumcised for medical reasons.

A new law to reintroduce circumcision to German society would require parents to prove the procedure has a religious basis, to receive medical guidance against the procedure by a doctor, and to acquiesce to having their sons circumcised by a doctor rather than a mohel.  The Jewish community has rejected the proposed law.

German state of Berlin Declares Circumcision, Not Brit Milah, Legal

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Berlin became the first of Germany’s 16 states to declare circumcision legal, following a Cologne court ruling in June that non-medical circumcisions on children amounted to a criminal offense, according to the German news agency DPA. National legislation is pending to legalize circumcision.

But, the state of Berlin has authorized only doctors, and not mohels, to perform circumcisions; the national legislation could authorize mohels. The state also required that parents be informed of the procedure’s medical risks before consenting, and that doctors do everything possible during the procedure to reduce pain and limit bleeding.

June’s court ruling has led many doctors to stop performing circumcisions in order to avoid being prosecuted. Two rabbis have had complaints brought against them based on the ruling, though one complaint was dropped last week.

German Jews Warn Against Yarmulkes

Friday, August 31st, 2012

After an attack on a rabbi in Berlin, Gideon Joffe, the head of the Berlin Jewish community, said he would “not recommend that any Jew go around in parts of Berlin with a kipah.”

On Tuesday, Rabbi Daniel Alter of Berlin was violently attacked while picking up his daughter from a piano lesson. He currently is recovering from surgery for a broken cheekbone. The attackers, reportedly Arab youths, asked Alter – who was wearing a kipah – if he was Jewish before hitting him in the face. They then allegedly verbally threatened Alter’s 6-year-old daughter.

Many Jewish religious leaders in the country advise their congregants against openly wearing Jewish garb in public; men routinely wear baseball caps or other hats over their yarmulkes when in public. Concern about openly wearing the skullcaps grew following an anti-Semitic attack on the Chabad Jewish kindergarten in Berlin in 2007.

Meanwhile, Inforadio, a Berlin station, reported Thursday that Ayman Mazyek, head of the Central Council of Muslims, said such attacks are “disgusting” to Muslims and pledged his organization’s solidarity and empathy with Jews in Germany.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany said the attack proved once again that violent anti-Semitism is a reality for Jews in Germany. Berlin’s mayor Klaus Wowereit decried the attack as being against all Berliners.

In 2006, Alter was among the first rabbis ordained in postwar Germany. He is a graduate of the Abraham Geiger College in Potsdam, a Reform seminary.

The Evil Inclination

Friday, July 13th, 2012

Rav Tzvi Hirsh Levin, the rav of Berlin, was an extremely clever and sharp individual and possessed a remarkable sense of humor that he used well in his attempts to get across Torah views.

Rav Tzvi Hirsh was first rav in a very small city – Halberstat. Halberstat was a poor place but the people were very pious and observant. He then moved on to become the rav of London and finally, spiritual leader in Berlin.

In describing the differences between the three places, he once said:

“I will illustrate the differences with a story. Once when I was in Halberstat, I passed an inn and I heard from within a mournful sound.

“The sounds were so tragic that I thought that the person who was making them must surely have suffered some terrible tragedy. Walking inside I saw in the corner an emaciated and hungry looking fellow sitting at a table with his head in his hands, giving vent to his woes.

“ ‘What is the matter sir?’ I asked him. ‘Why do you mourn so?’

“ ‘I am the yetzer hara [evil inclination],’ he replied. ‘Never have times been so bad for me as they are in this city of Halberstat. No matter how hard I work at trying to get these Jews to commit sins, no matter how I run about attempting to tempt them, my efforts are in vane. I will starve to death in this city, business is so bad!’

“I left the mournful soul,” continued Rav Tzvi Hirsh, “and went on my way. I soon forgot about the incident and the years passed. I left Halberstat and moved on to London where I became rav.

“One day, as I was walking along a busy street, I saw a familiar figure running toward me. It was the evil inclination.

Has No Time “ ‘Hello there,’ I called. ‘It has been many years since I last saw you. What are you doing in London?’

“ ‘I have no time to stop to talk now,’ replied the evil inclination. ‘There is so much work to do here that I am exhausted. I have to run about persuading people to sin and business is extraordinary.’

“Away he went,” said Rav Tzvi Hirsh, “and disappeared from sight on his way to do business.

“The years passed by once again, and I forgot about him until I went over to Berlin. There I met him again. As I was passing a tavern, I heard loud laughter. A man was singing and sounded like the happiest, most contented of people.

“Looking through the window, I saw that it was my old friend, the evil inclination.

“ ‘Hello there,’ he cried out drunk but happy, ‘come and join me in a drink.’

A Pleasure “ ‘What are you doing in Berlin?’ I asked. ‘And look at you. You have grown so fat and ruddy of complexion. Why aren’t you at your work?’

“ ‘Ah, my friend,’ he said with a smile. ‘There is no need to work in Berlin. In Halberstat I worked like a dog and showed nothing for it. The were impossible to tempt.’

“ ‘In London, there was plenty of business but I had to run around drumming it up. Here in Berlin however, it’s a pleasure! I don’t have to do a thing. The people are ready to do immoral and evil acts without my having to push them.’ ”

The “Good Angel” The Chofetz Chaim’s good virtues and wonderful character had their beginnings when he was yet a little boy.

In the little town where he lived was a poor man who earned his meager living by drawing water from the wells and springs and selling it in town.

He used to leave the pails with which he drew the water outside his front door because there was simply not enough room for them in the little hut that he called his home.

Some of the mischievous and thoughtless children in the town decided to play a practical joke on the poor man and they filled the pails with water. In the bitter wintry night the water quickly froze and the man had all manner of difficulty in the morning.

Admonishes Them Little Yisroel Meir (that was the name of the Chofetz Chaim) felt very bad for the poor man and he admonished his friends:

It’s Official: No Circumcision in Germany – Jewish Hospital Bans the Brit

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

The Jewish Hospital in Berlin has suspended all religious circumcisions of children following a ruling delivered by a German court on June 24 banning the practice.

The district court in Cologne ruled that circumcising young boys “is a serious and irreversible interference in the integrity of the human body,” and raised an outcry of protest from Jewish and Muslim groups, both religions performing circumcisions on their children as a symbol of religious faith.

The ruling was made on a case in which a 4 year-old Muslim boy’s circumcision by a doctor led to pervasive bleeding and medical complications.

Gerhard Nerlich, a spokesman for the hospital, announced that “we are suspending circumcisions until the legal situation is clarified”.

The hospital performs approximately 100 religious circumcisions a year.  Two surgeries scheduled to take place were cancelled by the hospital, with calls placed to the families explaining the reason.

In its ruling, the court found that performing the religious circumcisions impinged on a child’s “fundamental right to bodily integrity” and was “against the interests of a child to decide for himself later on to what religion he wishes to belong”.  “Even when done properly by a doctor with the permission of the parents, [circumcision] should be considered as bodily harm if it is carried out on a boy unable to give his own consent”, the court said.  It noted that once a boy reaches the age of consent, he will be permitted to have a religious circumcision performed on himself.

The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany condemned the ruling as “an unprecedented and dramatic intrusion on the self-determination of religious communities”, calling it “outrageous and insensitive”.

Rabbi Shimshon Nadel of Har Nof, Jerusalem, said the ruling was indicative of Germany’s sentiments toward Jews.  “Throughout Jewish history, there have been many attempts to ban circumcision – this is nothing new, and unfortunately, anti-Semitism is once again rearing its ugly head in Germany,” he said.  “The circumcision procedure is something that is safe when performed by a trained mohel [performer of ritual circumcisions], we’ve been doing it for thousands of years, so it really comes down to the training of the mohel.”

The World Health Organization estimated that approximately 1/3 of men around the world are circumcised.

Germany is home to millions of Muslims and over 100,000 Jews.

Chabad of Berlin could not be reached for comment.


Please see the petition on Germany’s ban.

Germany Raises Diplomatic Ties With PA/PLO

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Germany has just raised the level of representation of the PA/PLO delegation in Berlin to “Diplomatic Mission” headed by an Ambassador. This was announced Wednesday by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle while visiting in Ramallah. The change in diplomatic status may be related to Merkel’s several recent condemnations of Israel’s settlement policy.

France, Spain, Portugal, Norway, Ireland, Greece, Cyprus, Denmark and the UK have already elevated the PA/PLO delegations in their countries to “Diplomatic Missions”.

Interbellum Art

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, and Germany, 1918-1936

October 1, 2010-January 9, 2011

Guggenheim, 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York




“By breaking statues one risks turning into one oneself,” says a caption in Jean Cocteau’s 1930 film, “The Blood of a Poet.” The statement could be a postmodern take on Psalm 115, which declares that those who make idols (which have mouths but cannot speak, eyes but cannot see, ears but cannot hear, noses but cannot smell, hands but cannot feel and feet but cannot walk), “shall become like them, all that place their faith in them.”


Like the legendary Greek sculptor Pygmalion, who fell in love with his sculpture-turned-woman, the artist in Cocteau’s film sees both a drawing and a sculpture of his become flesh and blood. After fleeing some traumatic and surreal visions, including a journey through a mirror and a lethal snowball fight, the artist destroys (and murders?) the sculpture. Yet his iconoclasm, as the statements above suggests, might be an act of projection and identification, rather than violence and disassociation.


The work is worth comparing to Julius Bissier’s 1928 painting, “Sculptor with Self-Portrait.” The artist, wearing a suit and tie, gray-white overcoat and beret, holds a scalpel in one hand and a chunk of clay in the other as he carves a self-portrait bust that stands on a table in the foreground. A note pinned to the wall beyond his left shoulder is Bissier’s signature, and a shelf to the left of the painting supports a quill and ink.


“Although Bissier’s surreal, double image, with its bright palette and cartoonlike formal exaggeration, could never be mistaken for anything but a modern picture, its roots go deep into the local past,” argues Kenneth E. Silver in his essay “A More Durable Self,” which identifies Bissier’s work with the portraits of the 16th century German portraitist and printmaker, Hans Holbein. Silver also cites the term “modernity of the past,” coined by Katia Baudin of the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, which he explains as, “the sudden but powerful attraction that German art history exerted on practitioners in the 1920s.”


Jean Cocteau. The Blood of a Poet (Le sang d’un po?te), 1930. 35 mm black-and-white film,

with sound, 50 min. Film still by Sacha Masour. Courtesy Comit? Jean Cocteau.



It is almost a clich? at this point to ask how interbellum Germany, then on the forefront of virtually every cultural sphere, could embrace Hitler and Nazism. Why didn’t Berlin’s painterly and operatic sensibilities, the question goes, elevate the German moral sense, and if, as Oscar Wilde famously claimed, art and morality are not kin, what good is an art that cannot only accommodate genocide, but even style it? Perhaps this is how Theodor Adorno came to argue, “Writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.”


The brilliance of the Guggenheim’s current exhibit, Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, and Germany, 1918-1936, which includes both Bissier’s and Cocteau’s works, is that it goes one step beyond the hackneyed question.


Instead of looking to indict art for the sins of dictators (though art has often played the role of propaganda, never more thoroughly than Hitler used it), guest curator Silver, professor of modern art at New York University, looks to the art of the period between the world wars, in part, to see how artists responded to the devastation of the First World War and to scout out the cultural forces that facilitated the rise to power of dictators in the Second World War.



Antonio Donghi. Circus (Circo equestre), 1927. Oil on canvas, 150 x 100 cm.

Gerolamo and Roberta Etro, Milan.



Artists of the 20s and 30s, according to Silver, sought to replace the chaos of the First World War with classicism – a revival (called the Neue Sachlichkeit, or New Objectivity) of the Greco-Roman emphasis on the monumental and the holistic. Like the Genesis narrative where God fashions the cosmos out of tohu and vohu, artists literally seem to have tried to create substance out of bedlam. But purity of forms quickly became a double-edged paintbrush when it became incorporated into the Nazi agenda of using approaches like eugenics to privilege Aryanism over the “Other.”


Although Silver stresses that the artist and the sculpture in Bissier’s work seemingly “insist on the equal status of painting and sculpture, if not the latter’s superiority,” there is one important difference between the two. Bissier has dabbed two white strokes on the artist’s face – one per eye – an old trick that lends the eyes the illusion of texture and three-dimensionality. The sculpture, by comparison, lacks those glimmers in its eyes, making it very clear which is the master and which is made of clay.


The same can be said of Cocteau’s artist and sculpture. Although both have the power of movement, it is clear that there is a difference between the person and the sculpture, however animated it may be. This distinction between human (with all the rights and value implied therein) and non-human, between person and miming puppet, was of course to become a far larger and more terrifying issue with the Nazis’ rise to power.



Otto Dix. Skin Graft (Transplantation) from The War (Der Krieg), 1924.

Etching, aquatint, and drypoint from a portfolio of prints, plate: 19.9 x 14.7 cm; sheet: 47 x 34.6 cm

Published by Karl Nierendorf, Berlin, printed by Otto Felsing, Berlin. Edition of 70.

The Museum of Modern Art, New York.



The Guggenheim exhibit tells of that rise from Joseph Goebbels’ 1936 Decree Concerning Art Criticism (which essentially forbade it) to the closing of the Bauhaus school and the condemning of its art to the Degenerate Art exhibits. The exhibit also addresses Albert Janesch’s painting “Water Sports (Wassersport),” which depicts the 1936 Berlin Olympics and shows “a veritable navy of superhuman Nazi athletes,” according to Silver, as well as Leni Riefenstahl’s 1936-8 “Olympia,” a film about the Olympic games, which Silver says was “financed secretly by the Nazi government to serve as international propaganda for the regime.”


But perhaps the most interesting work in the show is Carlo Carra’s “The Daughters of Lot (Le figlie di Loth)” (1919), which shows Lot’s two daughters and a dog (a symbol of fidelity) set in a mostly desolate landscape. Having fled the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah with their father, the two women decide that they are the sole survivors of the apocalypse and that it is their responsibility to get their dad intoxicated and to begin repopulating the planet.


“A tale that resonated during postwar reconstruction, the Old Testament story of Lot refers to a new beginning,” writes Guggenheim curator Helen Hsu in the catalog. “In Carra’s unconventional representation, Lot is eliminated and with him the act of incest, although the staff lying in the foreground may be a cipher for the missing father.”


Hsu doesn’t mention it, but it would be fascinating if Carra intended the pedestal and white sculpture on the right to be a pillar of salt – and then not only the father, but also the mother would be symbolized. Either way, the Lot painting serves as a great representation of the interbellum period not only because Carra has censored the obscenity, but also because the women are wrong. Though their trauma seems universal, it is simply local, and life does indeed carry on. Perhaps Carra has referenced that in the classical structure (perhaps a temple) in the background amidst the hills and the foliage.


Carra couldn’t have predicted World War Two completely, but he certainly knew to create the perfect balance between hope and fear, creation and destruction.



             Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia ,welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts/interbellum-art/2010/11/17/

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