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A Problem Seeking a Frame: An Aesthetic Reading of the “Jewish Question” in Turn-of-the-Century Hungary

  • Mary Gluck (a1)


For hungarian society, as for most of East-Central Europe, the socalled Jewish question has been, and continues to be, an obsessive, seemingly insoluble dilemma that cries out for definition, discussion, commentary, and analysis. The notion persists, in both professional and general opinion, that if only a true historical understanding of the question were possible, a solution would also be within reach. The assumption is almost axiomatic that the Jewish question, with its attendant passions, prejudices, and contradictions, must be the expression of some prior set of causes that holds the key to its deciphering.



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1 For a good review of these trends, see Toews, John E., “Intellectual History after the Linguistic Turn: The Autonomy of Meaning and the Irreducibility of Experience,” American Historical Review 92 (10 1987): 879907. For an excellent example of critical essays in this vein, see White, Hayden, The Content of the Form, Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987).

2 Ujváry, Péter, preface to Zsidó Lexikon (Jewish encyclopedia) (Budapest: Zsidó Lexikon Kiadása, 1929), n.p.

3 “A zsidókérdés Magyarországon: A Huszadik Század körkérdése” (The Jewish question in Hungary: The questionnaire of the Huszadik Század) 19 (1917): 1.

4 Ibid., 1–2.

5 Lajos Blau, director of the Franz Joseph National Rabbinical Institute, Huszadik Század, 3.

6 Sándor Fleissig, director of the Hungarian National Bank, Huszadik Század, 10.

7 Zoltán Bosnyák, writer, Huszadik Század, 59.

8 Benõ Haypál, Protestant minister, Huszadik Század, 11.

9 Pál Liebermann, university professor, Huszadik Század, 19.

10 Anna Lesznai, writer, Huszadik Század, 108.

11 Ármin Beregi, engineer, president of the Zionist Organization of Hungary, Huszadik Század, 49.

12 Jenõ Cholnoky, university professor, Huszadik Század, 72–73.

13 “Summary of the Questionnaire,” Huszadik Század, 155.

14 Oszkár Jászi, Huszadik Század, 96.

15 Lajos Birō, Huszadik Század, 53.

16 “Az orosz-zsidó menekülōk” (The Russian-Jewish refugees), Egyetértés, May 13, 1882.

17 “Veszprém,” Egyetértés, June 6, 1882.

18 Egyetértés, May 11, 1882.

19 Hungary was to celebrate the millennium of its founding in 1896.

20 Egyetértés, May 15, 1882.

21 Egyetértés, April 21, 1882.

23 “Zsidókérdés” (The Jewish question), Függetlenség, June 2, 1882.

24 “A fõváros közgyũlése” (The public meeting of the capital), Egyetértés, May 18, 1882.

25 “Szatmármegye kérvénye a képviselõház elõtt” (The petition of county Szatmár in front of parliament), Egyetértés, June 8, 1882.

29 Habermas, Jürgen, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1988).

30 Turner, Victor, “Social Dramas in Brazilian Umbanda: The Dialectics of Meaning,” in Turner, , The Anthropology of Performance (New York: PAJ Publications, 1986), 3.

32 Turner, Victor, “Social Dramas,” in Turner, , From Ritual to Theater: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York: PAJ Publications, 1982), 71.

33 “Az Istóczy-Wahrmann botrány a képviselõházban” (The Istóczy-Wahrmann scandal in the parliament), Függetlenség, June 10, 1882.

35 “Az Istóczy-Wahrmann féle ügy” (The Istóczy-Wahrmann affair), Függetlenség, June 11, 1882.

36 “Az Istóczy-Wahrmann botrány …,” Függetlenség, June 10, 1882.

37 “A Wahrmann-Istóczy ügy” (The Wahrmann-Istóczy affair), Egyetértés, June, 11 1882.

38 “Istóczy és Wahrmann párbaja: A párbaj meghiúsitása a lóverseny téren” (The duel of Istóczy and Wahrmann: The prevention of the duel on the racing track), Függetlenség, June 12, 1882.

39 “Budától Ercsiig” (From Buda to Eresi), Függetlenség June 12, 1882.

40 “A zsidó papság és a zsidóság” (The Jewish clergy and Jewry), Függetlenség, June 14, 1882.

41 “Turner, “Social Dramas,” in From Ritual to Theater, 71.

42 “Budától Ercsiig,” Függetlenség, June 13, 1882.

44Borsszem Jankó, June 15, 1882.

45 Toury, Jacab, “The Jewish Question—A Semantic Approach,” in Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 11 (1966): 85106.

46 de Tocqueville, Alexis, Democracy in America (New York: Vintage, 1945), 1:15.

47 Marx, Karl, “On the Jewish Question,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Tucker, Robert C. (New York and London: Norton, 1978), 35.

48 See, for example, the contemporary historian, FrenchFuret's, François observations about the meaning of the American and Jewish experiences in his own development: “I have never ceased to be interested in the Jewish and American experiences as instruments for historical comparison. European reflections on the United States have, over the past two centuries, been inseparable from a comparative analysis, implicit or explicit, whose second term of comparison is the history of Europe; Tocqueville is the classic illustration.… Despite its brutal and almost involuntary appearance in global power politics, it remains the society that comes closest to eighteenth century credos: it is the pristine laboratory for our modern beliefs. As for ‘the Jewish question,’ as it used to be called, it is for all members of my generation the very crux of the European tragedy of the twentieth century. Nazism anti-Semitism … gives a pathological measure of what our secular and democratic societies are capable of producing”; In the Workshop of History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 2223.

49 Sombart, Werner, The Jews and Modern Capitalism (London and Leipsic: T. Fisher Unwin, 1913), 3031.

50 Ibid., 37–38.

51 Weininger, Otto, Sex and Character, trans, anon, . (New York, 1906), 303 and 313. For the original see Geschlect und Charakter: Eine prinzipielle Untersuchung (Vienna, 1903).


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