Ben-Chorin, Schalom

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BEN-CHORIN, SCHALOM (1913–1999; until 1931 Fritz Rosenthal ), German philosopher, journalist, and writer. Ben-Chorin grew up in an assimilated family in Munich. Causing severe conflicts with his family, he discovered Judaism in 1928, showing an interest in the Jewish religion, Zionism, and modern Jewish literature at the same time. He also took on the name "peace, son of freedom" (Schalom Ben-Chorin). Following Martin *Buber he sought an alternative to Orthodoxy and secular Zionism, which he finally found in Reform Judaism (cf. Jenseits von Orthodoxie und Liberalismus, 1937). Having left his apprenticeship as a bookseller at the Jewish Ewer bookstore and studying German literature, theater, and religion, he was arrested and mistreated in the streets of Munich in 1933, a turning point in his life (cf. his autobiography Jugend an der Isar, 1974). In 1935 he immigrated to Palestine and started working as journalist for German newspapers (articles collected in Begegnungen, 1991) as part of a group of German-Jewish intellectuals and writers in Palestine. Together with the writer Gerson Stern he edited an early anthology of German-Jewish literature in Palestine and himself wrote novels and poetry (Menora. Eine Auswahl literarischen Schaffens in Erez-Israel, 1941). Ben-Chorin was much better known, however, as a thinker in Reform Judaism – he also laid the foundation of the Reform community in Jerusalem in 1958 (the Har-El-Synagogue) – and as philosopher of religion mediating between Judaism and Christianity. On the one hand, he wrote several fundamental and introductory works on Jewish theology, anthropology, and ethics, such as for example Juedischer Glaube (1975), which is based on a series of lectures at Tuebingen and aims at portraying the theology of Judaism according to Maimonides' classic model of the 13 *Articles of Faith, though more for a non-Jewish audience (cf. also Die Tafeln des Bundes, 1979; Juedische Theologie im 20. Jahrhundert, 1988). On the other hand, he reflected upon the relation between Judaism and Christianity, seeking not only the differences but much more the links. While still in Munich and under the name Rosenthal he wrote the poem Der Rabbi von Nazareth (in Das Mal der Sendung, 1935). In this spirit, from 1940 he wrote several books promoting the Jewish-Christian dialogue (Die Christusfrage an den Juden, 1941; Das christliche Verstaendnis des Alten Testaments und der juedische Einwand, 1941), an endeavor which he stepped up after the war, traveling to Germany from 1956 and still writing in German (Theologia Judaica, 1/2, 1982, 1992; Weil wir Brueder sind, 1988). In this context, he made clear the Jewish origins of Christianity, interpreting some of the central figures of Christianity like Jesus, Paul, and Miriam (cf. the trilogy Die Heimkehr, consisting of Bruder Jesus, 1967; Apostel Paulus, 1970, Mutter Mirjam, 1971). As a catch-phrase symbolizing his approach, the often-quoted sentence from his book on Jesus might be cited: "Der Glaube Jesu einigt uns, aber der Glaube an Jesus trennt uns" ("The faith of Jesus unifies us but the belief in Jesus separates us"). At the same time he tried to answer a central theological question which came up after the Holocaust: the meaning of suffering and the absence of God (e.g., Als Gott schwieg, 1986). He was highly esteemed for his efforts at bringing about a new Jewish-Christian and Jewish-German dialogue after 1945. Ben-Chorin died in Jerusalem.


G. Mueller (ed.), Israel hat dennoch Gott zum Trost (1978); H. Bleicher (ed.), Der Mann, der Friede heißt (1983); T. Vasko, From the Creation to the Kingdom of God: The Concept of God's Revelation by the Reform Jew Schalom Ben-Chorin in Dialogues with Christianity and Islam (2003).

[Andreas Kilcher (2nd ed.)]