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A Jewish Child’s Memories of his Family’s "Conversion" from Orthodox to Reform Practices (1880s)

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poking, he examines the stomach, he looks at the woman, he removes the nail, he seems to reflect deeply, and decides with utter solemnity: “You just serve up the goose, dear woman; God has nothing against it.” The woman goes away happily. That is a fond memory for me. Another one I like much less. On Yom Kippur, an orthodox Jew has to fast for the entire day – not just contentedly eat fish and batter pudding like the Catholics, but actually fast, without a single bite or sip. Staying at the synagogue all day long in prayer is the best way for anyone to handle the hunger. Father is a good eater, a strong eater. On this day, he has to give two sermons and say many prayers aloud. If he is supposed to carry out his duty with proper forcefulness for the decisive edification of his parish, then he has to have himself together – or, to put it more clearly, he has to be in good shape. So, in the morning, he eats a nourishing breakfast behind closed doors. Only mother is allowed to know about this, but of course the children know as well. How often was I morally outraged by this in my early years! I have not been able to get so worked up about it for a long time. I wish I did not have to blame any person for sins greater than my father’s. But, for him, the orthodoxy of the congregation is not merely a shackle and a source of inner torment, but increasingly constitutes a threat. He is suspected of liberalism, and it is well known that his sons, for whose education he is responsible, do not lead a religious life in Berlin. The curriculum vita prefacing his doctoral dissertation begins with the sentence: “I was born as the son of a rural clergyman.” This amounts to a concealment of his Jewishness and leaves nothing good to be expected. At the moment, the sons still show some consideration for their father’s position, but how much longer will the people of Bromberg be satisfied with this mere consideration, threadbare as it is?

And then an opportunity opened up for father to escape from this inner and outer distress. It was a splendid opportunity, but also the most dangerous one. In Berlin, there was a Jewish religious community unique to Germany and, if I am not mistaken, the world. This was the Reform parish founded in 1840, usually called “the Reform” for short, both by its members and opponents. Here, the will to Germanness found its most radical expression. Here, the religious core – and only the religious core – of Judaism was preserved. Yet the orthodox were saying that Judaism is destroyed here. Except for a few words, worship takes place in German; it is held on Sundays, not Saturdays; all of the prayers are in German; an organ accompanies German choral music. The worshippers are seated bareheaded, men and women together. Boys are not admitted into the community as men at age 13; instead, boys and girls are “confirmed” together at 15 or 16, on Easter Sunday. The ban on driving and writing on the Sabbath and all of the eating regulations are lifted. There is no intention at all of deviating from any

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