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The Other Jewish QuestionIdentifying the Jew and Making Sense of Modernity$
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Jay Geller

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780823233618

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823233618.001.0001

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Circumcision and a Jewish Woman's Identification: Rahel Levin Varnhagen's Failed Assimilation

Circumcision and a Jewish Woman's Identification: Rahel Levin Varnhagen's Failed Assimilation

Chapter:
(p.132) Chapter 4 Circumcision and a Jewish Woman's Identification: Rahel Levin Varnhagen's Failed Assimilation
Source:
The Other Jewish Question
Author(s):

Jay Geller

Publisher:
Fordham University Press
DOI:10.5422/fordham/9780823233618.003.0005

This chapter examines the problem of self-identification for the assimilation-desiring Rahel Levin Varnhagen, who was identified as a Jewess before and after her baptism. It analyzes her allusions to circumcision in parabolic fantasies as well as in Goethean citations with which she described herself and situation in letters to friends and family. The analysis situates her use of such self-identification marks amid the deployment of “circumcision” in Gentile “Jew”-identification by the von Humboldts and others who frequented the seemingly gender-, class-, and religion-inclusive society of Levin Varnhagen's open house (or salon) in Berlin before 1806. Her corporeal self-identifications are then placed in relation to the characteristic caricatures of “the Jew” proffered by men such as Achim von Arnim who frequented Berlin's exclusively male German-Christian Eating Club in the years thereafter. The chapter concludes by discussing Hannah Arendt's ironic use of circumcision language in her preface to Rahel Varnhagen.

Keywords:   Hannah Arendt, assimilation, Berlin, circumcision, German-Christian Eating Club, identification, Jewess, Jewish woman, salon, Rahel Varnhagen

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