Sunday, November 13, 2011


Spent the afternoon in 1946, my first proper read-through of Margarete Susman's Hiob und das Schicksal des jüdischen Volke, the book with which I'm planning to end the final chapter of my Job book. Often mentioned as the big Job book that got away, Susman's study of Job was published in Switzerland in 1946, at a time when nobody was paying attention. When it was republished in 1968, an editor indicated that Swiss books didn't make their way to Germany at the time it was published, and scholars of Judaistik ignored everything published in German between 1938 and 1968. It was reprinted again in 1996 but has never been translated into English.

It's a remarkable reading of Job as the Schicksalsbuch des jüdischen Volkes (217), a way of using Job to assert that the Holocaust was not divine punishment nor even divine testing but nevertheless painfully, paradoxically an indisputable sign of God's continued concern for His people Israel. Influenced by Rosenzweig she argues that the Jewish people represent humanity in a messianic way and suffer to atone for its sins - getting not thanks but persecution from peoples who flee the knowledge of their own nothingness before the Creator in violent illusions of nature and nationality.

Hätte nur ein einziger von ihnen ausgerufen:
“Warum du? Warum nicht ich?” (63)
[If even one of Job's friends had called out, "Why you? Why not me?"]

The depth of anti-Jewish hatred which had just led to the killing of the six million cannot be explained as an enmity between nationalities, races, majorities and minorities or even faiths. Jews are not at home in any specific time or place but exist im reinen Raum, in der reinen Zeit, in der reinen Schöpfung stehen geblieben, lebendiger, todfremder, menschheitsnäher als die anderen Völker (112) [in pure space, in pure time, remaining still in pure creation, more alive, farther from death, closer to humanity than the other peoples]. Defenseless before the violent folly of the nations they proleptically represent the peace and brotherhood of the end of time. But something satanic leads the nations to project all their demons on the Jews. From the Book of Job we learn that God permits this satanic agency, which makes the historical experience of the Jews distinct among all nations as a history of exile and persecution. It serves some kind of purpose. Even Hitler, Susman suggests, may have had a necessary part to play in unfolding the messianic story (214).

Not an easy message, but 1946 wasn't a year for glossing over the cataclysm of history, especially Jewish history. I'm not looking forward to writing about this. But here let me say that I'm reeling at 1946, a year when the death of six million was known but nobody would talk about it. (That was, amazingly, fifteen years away!) Talk was about war and peace, capitalism and communism, humanity and despair. And the Jews Susman knew seem to have been thinking to save themselves either by converting to Christianity or joining the armed struggle in Palestine. The people of Israel's religious story seems to be over. Susman calls in Job.

In some ways most striking are Susman's warnings against Zionism - a purely natural, nationalistic Zionism, at least. While it's understandable that the Jews might want an end to a history of endless exile and persecution, she writes, they should understand that humanity cannot survive without their scapegoat function (133). The Jewish people hat kein Dasein für sich selbst. Als Vertretung aller Erniedrigten und Beleidigten der Erde ist es wie Hiob ausgesondert zur Vertretung des Menschseins überhaupt, zur immer erneuten Stellung der letzten mensclichen Fragen (234) [has no existence for itself. As representative of all the earth's oppressed and insulted it is like Job separated out to represent human existence itself, for the ever new posing of the final human questions].  This means no homeland and no safety until the end of the age, but it's herrlich, Jude zu sein. Denn es heißt Mensch sein (154) [glorious to be a Jew, for it means being human] at a time when the name of man is as unreadable as that of God (Der Name Mensch ist für uns heute nicht lesbarer als der Name Gott (171)). Theodor Herzl's wish to be a people like others is Satan's last trap (213). Susman likens it to Job's wish never to have born (188)! If it is to play its part in history, the Jewish people must follow the example of long-suffering Job - not King David. An awful apotheosis for the man from Uz!

It's difficult even to imagine the experience of the Jews before the state of Israel. Yet it seems important to mention this, and the ways in which Job's status as an outsider even within the Hebrew scriptures makes his experience cognate with exile.
Quotes from 1968 Herder-Bücherei edition

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