German Orientalism and the Jewish ‘Arab Question’: On the Study of Arabic Language and Culture in the Jewish Community in Mandatory Palestine

On Wednesday and Thursday, June 10-11, the Franz Rosenzweig Minerva Research Center and Daat Hamakom co-organized a workshop dedicated to the special contribution and place of Jewish-German scholars as well as Jewish scholars who studied in Germany to the crystallization of Oriental and Arabic studies in the Jewish community in Mandatory Palestine. The workshop focused on transfer and reproduction of knowledge, from Europe to Palestine, with regard to Oriental and Arabic studies. It centered on the unique case of the Jewish community in Palestine in the national setting of the British Mandate.

In the workshop, four panels highlighted four angles on the topic. The first panel, titled “Orientalism in Palestine: German and Local Perspectives”, shed light on the establishment of the Oriental School at the Hebrew University, and on the special characteristics that have shaped the school of thought that was connected to the actual School. The second panel, titled “Pedagogical sites of German-Jewish education in Mandate Palestine”, analyzed the field of Arabic studies in Mandatory Palestine: from the public to the educational sphere. The third panel, titled “Studying Arabic from Europe – studying Arabic from Palestine”, unearthed the reproduction of knowledge, vis-à-vis Arabic studies in Palestine during the British Mandate. The concluding panel, titled “Jewish-German Orientalists and the development of academic studies in Mandate Palestine”, highlighted the contribution of five German-Jewish scholars – Goitein, Fischel, Hirschberg, Brauer and Patai – on the emergence of academic studies in the Jewish community in Palestine.

All in all, participants in the workshop highlighted ways in which German Oriental and philological research have influenced the Jewish community in Palestine and the academic institutions and paradigms created at the time. Participants took part in thought-provoking debates and discussions and have drawn lines between the creation of the field of Oriental and Arabic studies in Palestine to contemporary developments and challenges in the very same field in contemporary Israel.

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