Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Interview with Peter Schäfer

PETER SCHÄFER is interviewed by Moshe Gilad in Haaretz: Berlin Jewish Museum's new director: Only education can stop new phenomena of anti-Semitism. The new director of the Jewish Museum Berlin, Peter Schäfer, gets a chance to shake up what's already a major tourist attraction.
His appointment two months ago garnered lots of interest, both due to the institution’s status as a leading site in the German capital, and because of Schäfer’s presence itself. Throughout its 18-year history, the museum was run by its founder, Michael Blumenthal, a German-American economics professor and a U.S. secretary of the Treasury in the Carter administration.

Schäfer, who isn’t Jewish and was born in 1943 in the Ruhr region, is an outstanding choice for many reasons. After completing a degree in religious studies at the University of Bonn, he spent three years studying Judaism and Semitic languages in Jerusalem. Later he earned a doctorate in philosophy and Judaism at Freiburg and Frankfurt.

Until 1998 he worked as a Jewish-studies professor in Germany before taking a prestigious job at Princeton and living in the United States for 15 years. His English-language work “Judeophobia,” which has been published in Hebrew, addresses the way Jews and Judaism were seen by the Greeks and Romans. It identifies the sources of anti-Semitism in the ancient world.

Later in his academic career, Schäfer became the only scholar to win both Germany’s prestigious Leibniz Prize and the Mellon Award, considered the highest honor in the United States for humanities scholars.
The article includes lots of personal background on Schäfer and lots on his plans for the museum. Not mentioned among his accomplishments is his foundational and groundbreaking work on early Jewish mysticism (Hekhalot literature), magic, and other Jewish literature. His appointment to the Berlin Museum was noted here. Some other past posts on his work are noted there and are also here, here, here, here, here, and here. Read the whole article quickly, before it goes behind the subscription wall.