A Man of Contention: Martin Plessner (1900–1973) and His Encounters with the Orient

  • 1 Department of History, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mount Scopus, Jerusalem 91905, Israel
Amit Levy


The case of German-Jewish orientalist Martin Meir Plessner (1900–1973) presents an opportunity to explore the transplant of Oriental Studies from Germany to Palestine/Israel in the wake of post-Saidian historiography of German Orientalism. Studying and teaching in Germany, the young Plessner’s encounter with the Orient, Arabs and Arabic was mainly a textual one. Following the Nazi rise to power in 1933, he immigrated to Palestine, transforming detached oriental scholarship into a physical encounter at the heart of the emerging Arab-Jewish conflict, on which Plessner held firm dovish-leftist views. This article examines how this spatial shift influenced Plessner’s personal political views; his scholarly and professional work; and above all, the link between the two. Science and politics, this article claims, continued to exist as two unchanging separate spheres for Plessner. Nevertheless, life in the Orient rendered collisions between the two worlds unavoidable, with ramifications on Plessner’s career and personal life. His refusal to let political considerations penetrate the professional sphere may be seen as an expression of his unwavering devotion to the German wissenschaftliche ethos.

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Naharaim is a peer-reviewed journal of the Franz Rosenzweig Minerva Research Centre at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It is devoted to current research in philosophical, literary, and historical aspects of German-Jewish culture. The contributions are mainly in German or English.