Law, Jewish identity, and the question of difference

Mareike Riedel

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Drawing on critical approaches to law, Mareike’s research project explores the impact of identity politics on Jewish communities, as manifested in law. Although Jews are today often seen as a successful and well-integrated ‘model minority’ across Western societies, a number of recent legal conflicts regarding Jewish practices suggest that there is an ongoing tension between dominant ideas about liberal law and Jewishness as embodied in these contested practices. In these legal disputes, the Jewish practices in question are frequently rendered as symbols of ‘Otherness’. One set of such cases concerns the construction of eruvin - notional spaces for the observance of Shabbat. Another set of cases involves the body as a site for the construction of identity and difference in the legal and political debates about the practice of male circumcision. Through a critical analysis of such cases, she takes a closer look at the legal techniques and argumentative tools through which Jewishness is constructed as an ‘Otherness’, and explores the images and representations of ‘the Jew’ in law and legal discourse in order to highlight the culturally productive role of law for the creation of religious and racialized difference.

This research pursues two main aims: First, to illuminate the ambivalent role that the figure of ‘the Jew’ has played in the Western imagination, and to show how contemporary law is mobilized for this imagination. Second, to integrate the contemporary Jewish experience into existing scholarly theorizing on the legal construction of religious and racialized difference, where Jews, Judaism, and Jewishness have so far received little attention.

Representative publication:

Riedel, M. (2019). An uneasy encounter. Male circumcision, Jewish difference, and German law. Studies in law, politics, and society, 79, 55-84. doi:10.1108/S1059-433720190000079005.

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