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

Jay Geller

in The Other Jewish Question

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print September 2011 | ISBN: 9780823233618
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780823241781 | DOI:
Circumcision and a Jewish Woman's Identification: Rahel Levin Varnhagen's Failed Assimilation

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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

Chapter.  7072 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

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