'Jew in Box' exhibit in Berlin triggers controversy

Museum exhibit allows visitor to ask questions of Jewish participants who respond from inside glass booth.

March 30, 2013 21:34
2 minute read.
'Jew in a Box' exhibit at Berlin Museum.

'Jew in a Box' exhibit at Berlin Museum 370. (photo credit: Courtesy Facebook)


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BERLIN –The Jewish Museum in Germany’s capital city Berlin triggered fierce criticism last week for its exhibit “The Whole Truth... everything you always wanted to know about Jews” because the installation encloses Jews in a glass box.

The publicly funded museum opened the exhibit as a provocatively pedagogical way of reaching non-Jewish visitors to explain the meaning of Jewishness and Judaism, according to the management of the museum.

The exhibit, however, has unleashed blow-back because it allegedly dehumanizes Jews.

The British Daily Mail quoted Eran Levy, an Israeli who lives in Berlin. “It’s a horrible thing to do – completely degrading and not helpful,” he said. He added “the Jewish Museum absolutely missed the point if they wanted to do anything to improve the relations between Germans and Jews.”

The current exhibit places Jewish men and women into a glass box every two hours to answer questions from visitors, about Jewish life and religion. The trailer video on the museum’s website asks questions “How can you recognize a Jew?” and “Was he circumcised?”

Additional questions listed on the advertisement to attract visitors read: “Are all Jews religious?” and “How does one get to the synagogue on Shabbat?” and “What makes someone Jewish?”

The placement of Jews in a glass booth conjures up the trial of the infamous Nazi Adolf Eichmann enclosed in a glass booth at his 1961 trial, for his work in carrying out the extermination of European Jewry during the Holocaust.

Israel’s government executed Eichmann after his conviction.

The General Secretary of the 105,000-member Central Council of Jews in Germany, Stephan J. Kramer, declined to participate in the exhibit. According to media reports, he ridiculed the exhibit for its depiction of Jews.

It is not the first time that Berlin’s Jewish Museum has been under fire. Last year, the museum hosted an American anti-Israel academic – Dr. Judith Butler – who used the museum’s venue to call for a boycott of Israel.

Butler received a euphoric welcome and applause from roughly 700 Germans at the sold-out event. The museum banned questions about Butler’s statement that “Understanding Hamas/Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of a global left, is extremely important.”

Israel’s embassy in Berlin rebuked the museum for holding an event that delegitimized the Jewish state. The Butler event triggered outrage because the Nazis’ campaign against Jews started with boycotts of Jewish businesses and expulsions from jobs.

Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal from the Jewish Chabad community in Berlin told the Daily Mail that non-Jewish Germans who want to learn about Jews and Judaism should visit the Chabad community educational center in Berlin. “Here Jews will be happy to answer questions without sitting in a glass box,” he said.

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