Research Expertise and Interest
Cultural and social history of German Jewry
John Effron is the Koret Professor of Jewish History in the Department of History. In his research, he focuses on the way German Jewry attempted to reinterpret and reinvent Jewish culture in the wake of its complex encounter with modernity. Particular areas of interest include the German-Jewish engagement with medicine, anthropology, and antisemitism; Jewish political and popular culture in Central Europe, and the role of sport in the modern Jewish experience. His most recent book, German Jewry and the Allure of the Sephardic, is a study of modern German Jewry’s attraction to the aesthetics and culture of medieval Spanish Jewry (Princeton University Press, 2016). He is currently writing a book entitled, All Consuming: Germans, Jews, and the Meaning of Meat. It is the contention of this book that from the Middle Ages through to today, meat has played an important role in the ordering of perceptions and self-perceptions of Germans and Jews. While Jewish dietary laws, the centerpiece of which are those pertaining to forbidden and permissible meats, have been at the heart of the theological divide between Judaism and Christianity since the latter’s beginnings, the way that disagreement has played out has manifested itself in different ways at different times and in different countries. Germany offers a particularly rich backdrop against which to view the contested nature of the culture of meat and the formation of ethnic identities, both German and Jewish. To an extent not seen elsewhere in Europe, in sculpture, art, text, law, scholarship, commerce, and popular culture, Germans have identified, thought about, studied, ridiculed, and eaten the meat of the Jews. And likewise, to an extent not seen elsewhere in Europe, Jews mounted vigorous attempts to defend their meat and the culture and rituals surrounding it by educating Germans and Jews alike about its meaning. Studying how Germans and Jews felt about their own meat and that of the Other provides us with a unique way of approaching the rich, fraught, and tragic history of German Jewry.