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In the following paragraph that talks about secular-Jewish movements:

"Und nun heute? Heute, nachdem nun zwei Generationen sich einander gegenüber: die eine, das unbegriffene Judentum ererbt, ohne den Geist als heilige Mumie in Händen tragend, fürchtend, den Geist zu wecken; die andere, zum Teil in edlem Feuer glühend für des Juden Wohl, aber das Judentum nur als geistlose Erscheinung, als einer längst zu Grabe gegangenen Zeit angehörig achtend, den Geist suchend und nicht findend, und im besten Streben Gefahr laufend, den Juden zu helfen und auf dem Wege dahin des Judentums letzten Nerv zu durchschneiden."

What exactly does "letzen Nerv zu durchschneiden" mean?

To sever their connection last to Judaism, or to harm Judaism itself?

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    That's not a paragraph, that isn't even a full sentence. If you ask for meaning of metaphors, please provide enough context.
    – HalvarF
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 13:42
  • Sorry, what I meant is an excerpt from a paragraph which talks about the aforementioned. The paragraph itself isn't very much informative but I'll edit the OP to include it. In any case, at first I thought it was some idiom.
    – daniel
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 14:39
  • For completeness: The sentence is an excerpt from "neunzehn Briefe über das Judenthum" by Samson Hirsch, 1836
    – tofro
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 8:27

2 Answers 2

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It's not an idiomatic expression with a clear meaning. It just means 'cut the last nerve' which obviously results in the whole organ or organism being unsavable after that point. It clearly refers to the last nerve of "Judentum" itself, not their connection to jewry/judaism. "Auf dem Weg dahin" means "on their way" or "while they're doing that".

The metaphor seems to allude to a surgeon who has the best intentions and tries to help the patient but doesn't really understand all the intricacies of how the organism works and involuntarily cuts the most important or only remaining nerve.

I guess the problem when trying to understand this is not so much the German language than the fact that the metaphors are hard to understand per se, for example what specifically the author means by "der Geist", or what exactly the organism of "Judentum" comprises that the author sees at stake here.

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The quote has some typos in it, probably from copying it from a written source. Let us first correct these, i have marked them bold:

"Und nun heute? Heute, nachdem nun zwei Generationen sich einander gegenüberstehen: die eine, das unbegriffene Judentum ererbt, ohne den Geist als heilige Mumie in Händen tragend, fürchtend, den Geist zu wecken; die andere, zum Teil in edlem Feuer glühend für den Juden Wohl, aber das Judentum nur als geistlose Erscheinung, als einer längst zu Grabe gegangenen Zeit angehörig achtend, den Geist suchend und nicht findend, und im besten Streben Gefahr laufend, den Juden zu helfen und auf dem Wege dahin des Judentums letzten Nerv zu durchschneiden."

"Nachdem sich nun zwei Generationen gegenüber" lacks a Verb. I suppose it is "gegenüberstehen", which means "face each other".

"Für den Juden Wohl" is the wrong case and most probably should read "für der Juden Wohl": "for the Jews' well-being".

The last part of the quote, starting with "die andere" translates approximately to:

the other, [...] and, albeit with best intentions, running the risk of helping the Jews but by doing so removing the last vestiges of Judaism.

To sever their connection last to Judaism last connection, or to harm Judaism itself?

Perhaps the latter, if Judaism can be "harmed" at all. Also, what the author understands under "Judaism" (my translation for "Judentum") is not clear.

Since I am of a rather cynical disposition my interpretation is along the lines of someone venting his angst that people, once they are comfortable, might be less willing to obey bronze-age rules which enforce racism, misogyny and all the other things that made the bronze-age such a great time, but that is only me.

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