The Tragic End of an 18th-Century Court Jew

Sept. 29 2017

Produced at the behest of Joseph Goebbels, the 1940 film Jud Süss expressed Nazi anti-Semitism at its most vulgar. It was a distorted version of the true story of Joseph Süss Oppenheimer, who served as a “court Jew” to Duke Carl Alexander of Württemberg and was arrested immediately after the duke’s death and then executed. Yair Mintzker’s recent The Many Deaths of Jew Süss explores the conflicting accounts of Oppenheimer’s trial and last days. In his review, Jonathan Karp explains the often misunderstood role of the court Jew:

[The] phenomenon of the court Jew . . . had its roots in the 16th century and flowered in the period following the Thirty Years War. The proliferation of large and small states [in what is now Germany] after the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, along with the war’s decimation of population and property, created an urgent need on the part of Central Europe’s new rulers for capital and credit. Jews, who had been excluded from most of Central Europe, . . . were now invited in small numbers to come back as creditors, financiers, ministers, crown merchants, and military suppliers.

They weren’t popular, which isn’t surprising given that they were now stigmatized both as aliens and as willing tools of new absolutist states which were seeking to bypass the fiscal authority of estates, guilds, and other traditional institutions. This made the court Jew and his retinue entirely dependent on the ruler’s protection—and uncertain continued favor. . . .

But Joseph Süss . . . stood out even in comparison [with his] wealthier and more powerful predecessors. . . . For one thing, during his rise [he] all but failed to pay the kind of lip service to traditional Jewish observance that the Jewish community expected of court Jews. Worse still, his aristocratic pretensions, numerous reported affairs, and overt political interventions threatened the fragile security of Württemberg’s fledgling Jewish population. In spite of these things, Oppenheimer’s refusal to renounce Judaism on the eve of his execution turned him into a genuine if unlikely martyr for some contemporary Jews.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, German Jewry, History & Ideas, Nazism

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey