Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another


Attacks on Jewish Body and Soul in Germany

How disparate stories out of Germany this week are linked

Print Email
Rabbi Daniel Alter in 2007(Reuters)

Rabbi Daniel Alter, who lives in Berlin, was ordained in Dresden in 2006. Alter is one in a group of three who were the first rabbis to be ordained in Germany since 1942–when the Gestapo destroyed Berlin’s College of Jewish Studies. Alter is also the son of the Holocaust survivor.

According to reports, on Tuesday night, Alter was walking down the street with his six-year-old daughter when he was approached by four men, who upon seeing his kippah, asked if he was a Jew. The men assaulted then Alter in front of his own daughter, fracturing his cheekbone and sending him to the hospital.

“This [attack] was followed by insults against the man, his faith and his mother, and death threats toward his daughter,” according to the police report. All four men were probably of Arab descent, police stated.

Klaus Wowereit, the three-term openly gay mayor of Berlin, said this in response to the attack:

“Berlin is an open city in which intolerance, xenophobia and anti-Semitism are not tolerated.”

Jewish life in Germany has come into sharp focus in recent weeks as challenges to the practice of circumcision have unleashed fears that respect for religious tradition in Germany has been imperiled. Earlier this week, a second criminal complaint was filed against a rabbi who vowed to continue carrying out circumcisions in defiance of a June court ruling in Cologne, which ruled against the legality of circumcision.

The charges against the rabbi were reportedly dropped yesterday, a welcome note, and German politicians have also been quick to vow that they will protect the religious rite. But until legislation is actually enacted, it will seemingly remain in a legislative grey zone, subject to prosecutorial whims–as we saw this week. Meanwhile, north in Scandinavia and west in the Netherlands, talks about bans on both ritual slaughter and circumcision have entered the discourse, no doubt pulled along in a slipstream set by the German precedent. To the south and east, narratives of an anti-Semitic loam clouding the water in places like Hungary have arisen without even the veil of “discourse” or “public opinion.”

It might seem hyperbolic to link the attacks on Jewish tradition by politicians and activists to physical attacks on Jews by street thugs. But seemingly impulsive legal challenges to centuries of Jewish tradition sends signals that state protection for religious pluralism isn’t open-ended. The attack on Rabbi Alter may have nothing tangibly to do with the challenges to Jewish practice in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t people looking to exploit any signs of weakness.

A telling reaction to Tuesday’s attack: The Abraham Geiger College–just miles outside of Berlin in Potsdam–instructed its 28 rabbinical students to don more conventional head coverings. Walter Homolka, the school’s rector said:

“We have advised them not to wear their skullcaps on the street, but to choose something inconspicuous to cover their head with.”

Skullcap-wearing German Jew sustains head injures in brutal attack [Times of Israel]
Berlin rabbi seminary instructs students to remove skullcaps in public [Haaretz]

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

Jews get assaulted in Germany and that is news?

For Jews to live in Germany they have to live in a state of conscious dissociation from history and from common sense. Theirs is the triumph of hope over realism and good sense.

    There are still blacks in America after slavery. There are still Armenians in Turkey, Kurds in Iraq, Tutsis in Rwanda, and Muslims in Bosnia. There are a variety of reasons why people stay or return after such tragedies. It may be sentimentality, not wanting to leave where they’ve been their entire life. It may be patriotism, wanting to be part in rebuilding your country. However, I think that they know that these things aren’t going to happen again. The Nazis are gone, and they will never rise in Germany again. The police hunt them down, the far-right politicians are booed away from every major city in the country. Because four IMMIGRANTS come along and beat a rabbi doesn’t mean that the trains are going to start rolling again.

Hmm…you cut the bit that the four youths attacking the rabbi were Arabs, which the linked article will tell you.

Not that neo-Nazis don’t exist in Germany, particularly in the East, but not all our enemies eat sauerkraut.


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Attacks on Jewish Body and Soul in Germany

How disparate stories out of Germany this week are linked

More on Tablet:

How To Make Middle Eastern Stuffed Vegetables

By Joan Nathan — Video: Filled with warm rice and unexpected spices, they’re perfect for a cool autumn night—as a side dish or vegetarian entree