Theses Doctoral

The Imagination of the Jewish Table in German and German-Jewish Literature, 1530-1914

Falk, Annie Elizabeth

This dissertation investigates the imagination of the Jewish table in German and German-Jewish letters. Examining ethnographic, iconographic and literary depictions of the Jewish table from the sixteenth to the early twentieth century, I argue for its significance as a key site in the German imagination of the Jews, a locus of fantasies regarding the nature of Jewish religious practice, social community and corporeal difference. The work of the dissertation proceeds in two stages. First, I identify a wealth of fantasies concerning the alimentary behavior of the Jews that have existed in German letters since at least the early sixteenth century. Then, I argue that these various myths of Jewish eating and drinking persisted well into the modern period, experiencing a covert afterlife in literary texts from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century. Two broader conceptual aims of the dissertation are to argue for the significance of the table motif in the social, religious and aesthetic contexts and to draw attention to the typically neglected topic of food themes in literature.

The dissertation begins with a study of the Jewish table as it was imagined in polemical ethnographies of the Jews written in the German language from the early sixteenth to the mid eighteenth century. Based on my reading of these sources, I identity four main features to the imagination of the Jewish table in the early modern period. Jews supposedly refuse to eat with Christians out of hatred and fear of fraternization with them. They exhibit immoderate behavior at table and lack a proper code of alimentary ethics. They eat copious amounts of garlic and exude a foul stench, the foetor judaicus, as a result. Most damningly, they consume the blood of innocent Christian children in their Passover Seder meals. Against this background I turn my attention to the modern period and show how literary (con)texts become the medium in which authors--Jews and non-Jews alike--receive and reinterpret these myths of the Jewish table.

In Chapter 2, I analyze two distinctive table cultures of the turn of the nineteenth century, the Jewish salon and the Christian-German Table Society, and argue that participants used the idea of table fellowship as a microcosm for imagining Jewish-German social relations at large. In Chapter 3, I juxtapose Heinrich Heine's defiant materialist stance and cryptic celebration of Jewish cuisine in Der Rabbi von Bacherach with Wilhelm Raabe's evocation of Jewish appetite in Der Hungerpastor. Chapter 4 focuses on the resurgence of the blood libel at the turn of the twentieth century. I analyze a trio of German and German-Jewish fictions from the fin de siècle that feature the fantasy space of the Jewish table and in some cases invoke the myth of ritual murder, including Arnold Zweig's Ritualmord in Ungarn, Theodor Herzl's Altneuland and Thomas Mann's Wälsungenblut.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Germanic Languages
Thesis Advisors
Anderson, Mark M.
von Muecke, Dorothea
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 15, 2014