David P. Goldman admits from the start of his epic essay today in Tablet Magazine that his parents wouldn’t have bought a German car. Yet he painstakingly shows that a great deal of what Jews value in their intellectual tradition, secular and religious, are the fruits of both German Jews and the intersection of non-German Jews with German culture.
Indeed, those latter categories—non-Germans who made religious contributions—inform one of Goldman’s more startling passages:
By no accident, the outstanding leaders of what would become the main currents of American Judaism all studied at the University of Berlin during the late 1920s and early 1930s. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, the sage of postwar Modern Orthodoxy, wrote a doctorate in philosophy and mathematics there in 1932. Abraham Joshua Heschel, the leading voice of Conservative Judaism, finished his doctorate (later published as The Prophets) a couple of years later. The Reform scholar Leo Baeck earned his doctorate under the Berlin philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey. The future Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, attended classes for two years in the early 1930s. Franz Rosenzweig, who belonged to no denomination but is read by all, had finished a dissertation (still in print) on Hegel and the state before abandoning academic life to lead a school for Jewish adult education.
Apart from Rosenzweig, none of them were German.