GYSM – GIF Young Scientist Meetings

Sovereignty, Entitlement, and Belonging: Jewish Legal Responses to Transition and Crisis in the 20th Century



Call for Proposal

If you are interested in participating in the meeting, please complete the following registration form, including a short description of your proposed presentation (up to 500 words) and a CV no later than 14 March 2022.

Call for Proposal

If conceptualized broadly, law can be understood as one of the most important terrains, on which Jews were able to address questions of sovereignty, entitlement and participation at both the individual and collective level throughout the first half of the 20th century. Especially the two World Wars with their profound impact on ideas of legal world order, the role of nation states and minorities built the background for a plethora of Jewish legal responses – be they in the realm of national law, international law or legal theory. Paradoxically, the political transitions and crises of the first half of the 20th century can be seen as a motor for innovations in the legal sphere, as they pushed for normative lessons to be drawn, for the development of new institutions, and applications of rights and entitlements to be framed anew. 

Legal engagements as response to such transitions were most often controversial, expressed different sets of experiences and stemmed from different narrations about the past, the future and the collective self. Especially among Jews in Europe, the United States and Palestine/Israel these processes can be explored in-depth. The transition from Empires to Nation States in East Central Europe following the First World War created a whole set of new questions about entitlement and legal participation of the Jews and other minorities, resulting from their often precarious and questioned status as citizens of the new states. Visions of the European Jews’ future status therefore ranged from formal citizenship, minority rights to national autonomy, all displaying different forms of (collective) self-understanding and political outlook. During the interwar period, with the rise of totalitarian regimes all over Europe and the decline of the idea of international or cosmopolitan understanding, this fragile status was put to test on a new level, since Jews appeared to be especially vulnerable to the revocation of rights formerly believed to be inalienable. Eventually, in face of the catastrophe of the Second World War and the Holocaust the legal realm had to be conceptualized anew, Jewish lawyers and (political) actors played a significant role in reviewing principles of international law and human rights, criminal law and the punishment of mass atrocities. This also entails all forms of restitution as well as – more specifically – negotiations on (cultural) property rights and the future of the European Jewish material heritage after 1945. At the same time, Jewish sovereignty in Israel, based on the idea of land and entitlement, also called for new perspectives and practices in the legal sphere, as for example the challenge to reconcile between the spheres of traditional and modern secular law. Even though these questions refer to very specific historical settings, they relate to broader questions of recognition and belonging impregnated in the very concept of the nation state, and therewith find an echo in the present political debate.

In the upcoming GIF Young Scientists Meeting experienced Ph.D. students and postdocs up to 5 years after obtaining their Ph.D. affiliated with either German or Israeli academic institutions in the humanities, social sciences, or law are invited to explore such questions relating to different (mostly Jewish) legal responses to transition and crisis in the age of extremes. They are also encouraged to engage in the conversation about larger topics about the nature of the nation state in relation to minorities in the course of the 20th century.  

The Scientific Organizing Committee of the meeting are:

Prof. Dr. Yfaat Weiss, Dubnow Institute, Leipzig/The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Prof. Dr. Yuval Shany, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Faculty of Law
Dr. Elisabeth Gallas, Dubnow Institute, Leipzig

30. Mai bis 2. Juni 2022
Yearim Hotel, Kibbutz Ma’ale Hahamisha, Israel