Are these the ideas of a heretic? - Gustav Landauer

Gustav Landauer
Gustav Landauer

Like many other Jewish intellectuals of his day who sought to identify themselves as Jews, Landauer was estranged from the Jewish religion and communal institutions on the one hand, and yet was not satisfied with merely ethnic identification on the other. He was inspired by Martin Buber and his concept of a primal Jewish religiosity or spiritual sensibility that is independent of doctrine and ritual prescriptions.

Submitted by Ross Arctor on March 3, 2014

No true human being can consider himself merely as a bridge for coming generations, as a preface, as seed and fertilizer. He wants to be somebody and to accomplish something. The mother tongue of some of my offspring will perhaps be Hebrew, perhaps; it does not affect me. My language and the language of my children is German. I feel my Judaism in the expressions of my face, in my gait, in my facial features, and all these signs assure me that Judaism is alive in everything that I am and do. But much more than the Frenchman Chamisso was a German poet—if there can be a “more” in such matters—am I, the Jew, a German. The expressions “German Jew” or “Russian Jew” sound odd to me, just as would the terms “Jewish German” or “Jewish Russian.” The relationship indicated by these terms is not one of dependency and cannot be described by means of an adjective modifying a noun. I take my fate as it is, and I live accordingly: My being a Jew and a German at the same time does not do me any harm, but actually a lot of good, just as two brothers, a first-born and a Benjamin, are loved by their mother—not in the same way but with equal intensity. And just as these two brothers can live in peace with one another whenever their paths cross and whenever they go their different ways—just so I experience this strange and yet intimate unity in duality within myself as something precious and do not distinguish one element of this relationship within myself as primary, and the other, secondary. I have never felt the need to simplify myself or to create an artificial unity by way of denial; I accept my complexity and hope to be an even more multifarious unity than I am now aware of.

But since it is now that I am alive and active, now that I exist and act as a Jew, I can not inwardly prepare for a thing, cannot find the will within me for a new decision that would extinguish part of my being, or at least hinder it. . . .

Only that is alive which has developed through time and is still in the process of developing. Only he who, in his own time and reality, simultaneously recognizes his past and his future, and only he who takes himself, his true and complete self, on the journey to his promised land—only he, it seems to me, cherishes his Judaism as a living possession. The [Gentile] nations have drawn political boundaries around themselves and have neighbours beyond their borders who are their enemies; the Jewish nation has its neighbors in its own breast; and this friendly neighbourliness creates peace and unity within anyone who is complete within himself, and who acknowledges this unity. Is not this a sign of the mission which Judaism ought to fulfill in relation to humanity and within humanity?

Source: Gustav Landauer, “Sind das Ketzergadanken?” in Vom Judentum: Ein Sammelbuch, ed. Verein Juedischer Hoochschuler Bar Koochba in Prag (Leipzig, 1913), pp. 250-257. Trans. by J. Hessing.