Today, the term “Jewish self-hatred” often denotes a treasonous brand of Jewish self-loathing, and is frequently used as a smear, such as when it is applied to politically moderate Jews who are critical of Israel. In On the Origins of Jewish Self-Hatred, Paul Reitter demonstrates that the concept of Jewish self-hatred once had decidedly positive connotations. He traces the genesis of the term to Anton Kuh, a Viennese-Jewish journalist who coined it in the aftermath of World War I, and shows how the German-Jewish philosopher Theodor Lessing came, in 1930, to write a book that popularized “Jewish self-hatred.” Reitter contends that, as Kuh and Lessing used it, the concept of Jewish self-hatred described a complex and possibly redemptive way of being Jewish. Paradoxically, Jews could show the world how to get past the blight of self-hatred only by embracing their own, singularly advanced self-critical tendencies—their “Jewish self-hatred.”
Provocative and elegantly argued, On the Origins of Jewish Self-Hatred challenges widely held notions about the history and meaning of this idea, and explains why its history is so badly misrepresented today.
Paul Reitter is associate professor of Germanic languages and literatures at Ohio State University. He is the author of The Anti-Journalist: Karl Kraus and Jewish Self-Fashioning in Fin-de-Siècle Europe.
"Paul Reitter's excavation of the phrase 'Jewish self-hatred' provides a fascinating lens through which to view the challenges faced by German Jews, whose integration had stalled by the early twentieth century. Since the phrase has become a casually used pejorative in today's debates over Zionism and the State of Israel, Reitter's genealogy of its origins has real contemporary relevance."—David Biale, University of California, Davis
"A readable, sensible, well-researched conceptual history. Reitter's portraits of the secondary figures Anton Kuh and Otto Gross are especially fresh and apposite."—Jonathan Franzen
"On the Origins of Jewish Self-Hatred is an impressively fluent, deeply learned, and morally responsible treatment of what can be an incendiary label. Reitter's major revelation is that the concept of Jewish self-hatred emerged as part of an affirmative discourse rather than as a label of denunciation. This stylish essay should have a wide impact."—Samuel Moyn, Columbia University
"This book is a short but intense piece of scholarship with an engaging polemical edge. Reitter makes a counterintuitive and somewhat jarring claim: that the term 'Jewish self-hatred' was originally understood as salvific and cleansing, more an antidote to a malady than the malady. On the Origins of Jewish Self-Hatred will stimulate impassioned debate."—David N. Myers, University of California, Los Angeles