JEWS, GOD, AND HISTORY

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Transcript

Max I. Dimont
JEWS, GOD, AND
HISTORY
REVISED AND UPDATED EDITION
OTHER BOOKS BY MAX I. DIMONT
Appointment in Jerusalem
The Indestructible Jews
The Jews in America
The Amazing Adventures of the Jewish People
JEWS, GOD, AND HISTORY
REVISED AND UPDATED EDITION
Max I. Dimont
A MENTOR BOOK
A MENTOR BOOK
1
2
A CIVILIZATION IS BORN, REACHES ITS MATURITY,
AND, DIES. THIS IS THE PATTERN OF HISTORY. SO IT
WAS WITH THE BABYLONIANS, THE PERSIANS, THE ROMANS. WHY NOT THE JEWS?
How have the Jews survived throughout four thousand years
of human history? Why has this small' band of people continued
to exert such influence on so many civilizations? From their
ranks have come Moses, Christ, Spinoza, Marx, Freud, Einstein.
What is the vitality that flames among the Jewish people, contrary to every historical precedent?
Max Dimont asks and answers these questions in his en grossing, trenchant survey, now completely revised and updated.
Dimont examines Hebrew history from the nomad forefather Abraham, who went forth from the city of Ur, to the modern state of
Israel.
Jews in America, The Amazing Adventures of the Jewish People,
and Appointment in Jerusalem, was born in Helsinki, Finland,
and came to the United States in 1930. He taught himself English
by reading Shakespeare's plays, the Bible, and American plays
translated into Finnish. After serving in intelligence with the U.S.
Army during World War II, he worked in public relations and
employee relations for Edison Brothers Stores in St. Louis. Following the first publication of his bestselling Jews, God, and
History, he lectured extensively on Jewish history throughout the
United States, Canada, South Africa, Brazil, and Finland until his
death in 1992.
"Done with warmth and vitality. Written for laymen by
a scholarly layman who has a passion for his theme. "
-Max Lerner
"By far the liveliest popular history of the Jewish
people that I have ever read. In many ways, a strikingly
original synthesis of Jewish history." -Richard B. Morris, author of The Forging of the Union, 1781-1789 and
Witnesses at the Creation
"More interesting than the facts Dimont has collected,
much of it based on recent archeological discoveries, is
the fascinating reasoning of a bright and unorthodox
mind. "
San Francisco Sunday Chronicle
"A book of life and hope. There are few greater docu ments to the vitality and perseverance of Man than this
history of the Jews." -St. Louis Post-Dispatch
MAX I. DIMONT, author of The Indestructible Jews, The
3
4
MENTOR
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Books USA Inc., 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wrights Lane,
London W8 5TZ, England
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia
Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario,
Canada M4V 3B2
Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road, Auckland 10,
New Zealand
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices:
Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England
Published by Mentor, an imprint of Dutton Signet, a division of
Penguin Books USA Inc.
First Signet Printing, May, 1964
First Mentor Printing (Revised and Updated Edition), April,
1994
10 9 8 7 6 5
Copyright © Max Dimont, 1962 Copyright renewed Max Dimont, 1990 Copyright © Ethel Dimont, 1994
Ali rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole
or in part in any form.
@) REGISTERED TRADEMARK MARCA REGISTRADA
Printed in the United States of America
BOOKS ARE AVAILABLE AT QUANTITY DISCOUNTS
WHEN USED TO PROMOTE PRODUCTS OR SER. VICES.
FOR INFORMATION PLEASE WRITE TO PREMIUM MARKETING DIVISION, PENGUIN BOOKS USA INC., 375 HUDSON STREET, NEW YORK, NEW YORK 10014.
If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware
that this book is stolen property. It was reported as "unsold and
destroyed" to the publisher and neither the author nor the pub lisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."
5
This book is respectfully dedicated
to my late father, Hyman Dimont,
a humanist in the great Talmudic tradition
who early taught me to cherish the proverb
of Solomon: "To know wisdom and instruction;
to comprehend the words of understanding;
to receive the discipline of wisdom, justice,
and right, and equity."
6
Table of Contents
PREFACE ..................................................................................11
IT HAPPENED ONLY ONCE IN HISTORY! .......................15
I: THE PORTABLE GOD ........................................................26
HERE'S WHEN IT HAPPENED ...........................................27
THE PAGAN PERIOD 2000 B.C. TO 300 B.C. .........................27
ONE
THE GRAND ILLUSION .....................................................29
TWO
THE RELUCTANT PROPHET .............................................36
THREE
JUDCES, KINCS, AND USURPERS ...................................50
FOUR
RELIGION IS PACKAGED ..................................................66
II: THE AGE OF THE "APIKORSIM" .................................81
HERE'S WHEN IT HAPPENED ...........................................82
THE GRECO-ROMAN PERIOD 300 B.C. TO 300 A.D. ..........82
FIVE
THE BAITED PIN-UP CULTURE ........................................84
SIX
THE FIGHT THAT FAILED .................................................95
SEVEN
ROME, CAESARISM, AND REBELLION ........................100
EIGHT
THE SEALED COFFIN ·.....................................................111
NINE
THE CONOUERING WORD .............................................121
TEN
A NEW DEAL FOR DIASPORA ........................................130
III: MOSES, CHRIST, AND CAESAR..................................138
HERE'S WHEN IT HAPPENED .........................................139
WHEN CHRISTIANITY WAS BORN 100 B.C. TO 600 A.D.....139
ELEVEN
MESSIAH AND APOSTLE ................................................140
TWELVE
7
THE CHURCH TRIUMPHANT..........................................156
IV: THE INVISIBLE WORLD OF THE TALMUD ............170
HERE'S WHEN IT HAPPENED .........................................171
TALMUDIC PERIOD 500 B.C. TO 1700 A.D. ........................171
GROWTH OF THE TALMUD...................................................172
MISHNA ENDS AND GEMARA BEGINS.................................172
GEMARA ENDS; ERA OF TALMUD.......................................173
CODIFICATIONS BEGIN: ......................................................173
THIRTEEN
THE "IVY LEAGUE" YESHIVAS ......................................174
FOURTEEN
BIBLIOSCLEROSIS OF THE TALMUD............................185
V: MOHAMMED, ALLAH, AND JEHOVAH .....................196
HERE'S WHEN IT HAPPENED .........................................197
ISLAMIC PERIOD 500 A.D. TO 1500 A.D. ............................197
FIFTEEN
HISTORY TRAVELS TO MECCA .....................................198
SIXTEEN
THE JEWISH RENAISSANCE IN MUFTI.........................206
SEVENTEEN
THE RISE AND FALL OF THE EWISH PROTESTANT REVOLT ...................................................................................214
VI: THE PRINCE AND THE YELLOW STAR ..................221
HERE'S WHEN IT HAPPENED .........................................222
MEDIEVAL PERIOD
CHRISTIAN: 500 A.D. TO 1500 A.D.
JEWISH: 500 A.D. TO 1800 A.D..............................................222
EIGHTEEN
CRUSADES, RENAISSANCE, AND REFORMATION ....224
The Age of Salvation ................................................................224
The Age of More Salvation .......................................................230
End of Salvation .......................................................................234
The Economics of Heresy .........................................................239
Dynamics of Revolution ...........................................................244
NINETEEN
CONCERTO FOR VIOLENCE ...........................................249
TWENTY
8
THE YELLOW BADGE OF COURAGE ...........................263
TWENTY-ONE
THE GHETTO CAPITALIST ..............................................274
TWENTY-TWO
KABALA AND KINNANHORRA .....................................288
VII: ON THE HORNS OF MODERN "ISMS"....................308
HERE'S WHEN IT HAPPENED .........................................309
THE MODERN PERIOD..........................................................309
TWENTY-THREE
ANATOMY OF EMANCIPATION .....................................311
The Westward Trail ...................................................................312
From Ghetto to Baptismal Font ...............................................317
Napoleonic Imperialism and Jewish Emancipation .................322
Serfs, Slavophiles, and Jews .....................................................330
After Six Day War: ...................................................................491
War of Attrition:........................................................................492
Yom Kippur War:.......................................................................493
Gulf War....................................................................................497
Events Leading To Israeli-PLO Accord ...................................500
BIBLIOGRAPHY ...................................................................502
GENERAL JEWISH HISTORY ..........................................502
TOPICAL JEWISH HISTORY ............................................507
GENERAL WORLD HISTORY...........................................512
RELIGIOUS SUBJECTS .....................................................514
MISCELLANEOUS SUBJECTS ........................................516
Index..........................................................................................521
TWENTY-FOUR
REHEARSAL FOR RACISM .............................................336
TWENTY-FIVE
WESTERN EUROPE: THE NEW ENLIGHTENMENT . . .355
TWENTY-SIX
EASTERN EUROPE: THE NEW HUMANISM ................371
TWENTY-SEVEN
UNITED STATES: THE NEW BABYLON ........................384
TWENTY-EIGHT
THE BROWN-SHIRTED CHRIST KILLERS ....................408
TWENTY-NINE
THE WILL TO WIN: FROM ZIONISM TO THE STATE OF
ISRAEL ................................................................................428
VIII: CONCLUSION: A CULTURAL MOSAIC..................471
THIRTY
EXILED TO FREEDOM .....................................................472
APPENDIX: .............................................................................481
THE RECENT HISTRY OF PALESTINE/ISRAEL ...........481
CHRONOLOGY ..................................................................483
The War of Independence (1948):.............................................487
After War of Independence:.......................................................488
Suez-Sinai Crisis: .....................................................................489
Six Day War:.............................................................................490
9
10
PREFACE
At the time of his death in 1992, Max Dimont was in the
process of updating Jews, God, and History. Having
worked with him from the time he started thinking about
writing this book in 1955, I feel he would have wanted
the task finished. I have used as mu ch of his material as
possible and tried to keep faith with his ideas, concerns,
and beliefs in Jews and Jewish history, but I ask the
reader 's understanding of what might be obvious differences in style. No one can write like Max Dimont; I cer tainly cannot.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Max's
readers for having made Jews, God and History a' classic in its own time, and to have done so while he was
still alive to appreciate it.
Just as with all his other works, our daughter Gail
Goldey was always there, with her sharp pencil and discerning mind, to come to my aid in completing this ma nuscript.
Ethel Dimont
1993
Most history books about Jews are written by Jews for Jews,
or by scholars for scholars. But Jewish history is too fascinating,
too interesting, too incredible to remain the private property of
Jews and scholars. This book is a popular history of this amazing
people, written without bowing to orthodox y or pandering to anti-intellectualism. It will furnish the arguments, the data, the
ideas, but the reader will have to furnish his intelligent under standing. The author is not seeking to convince anyone or change
11
anyone's opinion. This book is designed to entertain, to inform,
and to stimulate.
The real history of the Jews has not yet been written. It took
Europe sixteen hundred years after the dec1ine of Greece to realize that her literature, science, and architecture had their roots in
Grecian civilization. It may take another few hundred years to establish that the spiritual, moral, ethical, and ideological roots of
Western civilization are embedded in Judaism. To put it differently – the furniture in the Western world is Grecian, but the
house in which Western man dwells is Jewish. This is a viewpoint
which is beginning to appear more and more in the writings of
both churchmen and secular scholars.
Jewish history cannot be told as the history of Jews only, because they have nearly always lived within the context of other
civilizations. The destiny of the Jews has paralleled the destinies
of those same civilizations, except in one important respect.
Somehow the Jews managed to escape the cultural death of each
of the civilizations within which they dwelled. Somehow the
Jews managed to survive the death of one civilization and continue their cultural growth in another which was emerging at the
time.
How did they survive?
To tell this four-thousand-year story of survival on four continents and in six major civilizations, this book makes use of a
new method of viewing Jewish history. It presents the general history of each of these civilizations, analyzes Jewish events within
the framework of these other cultures, and then examines those
ideas, unique to the Jews, which enabled them to survive as a national group and which gave them the vitality to continue as a
culture-producing society. Thus Jewish history becomes part of
world history, and the reader will be able to correlate Jewish
events with contemporary events.
This book attempts to portray the broad sweep of Jewish history, the grandeur and humor of the Jewish comédie humaine, and
to present Jewish history through the eyes of a twentieth-century
Western man rather than a sixteenth century ghetto Talmudist.
12
Many dates in Jewish history are subject to controversy, but
as long as the logic of Jewish history itself is not affected we
have arbitrarily chosen one date without interrupting the flow of
the narrative to debate the merits of other dates. So, for instance,
we begin Jewish history with 2000 B.C., around which time Abraham is reputed to have left the city of Ur, though some scholars
place this event several centuries later. We date the beginning of
the Jewish sojourn and subsequent captivity in Egypt from 1600
to 1200 B.C., the beginning of the settlement of Canaan after
1200 B.C., and so on, again with the full awareness that the B.C.
dates are still debated by some historians. As a rule, the dates
favored are those used in The Standard Jewish Encyclopedia.
For the sake of clarity, we have also taken the liberty of
Anglicizing the plural endings of several Hebrew, Yiddish, and
German words. So, for instance, we have rendered the plural of
the word Hasid not as Hasidim but as Hasidists, and the plural of
shtetl not as shtetlach. but as shtetls. Whenever suitable we have
also presented Biblical and secular interpretations of the same
events to show that Jewish History remains unaffected and
equally fascinating whichever viewpoint one adopts.
And now it is my pleasure to make several acknowledgments. First and foremost I wish to thank Mr. Gordon LeBert, a
dedicated Episcopalian, an experienced editor, and a scholar in
American and English literature, with whom. I worked for many,
many hours perfecting the manuscript. HIS fine ear for language
permitted no discordant note in a sentence, his talent for organiz ation ruled out any wrong sequence of events, and his insistence
upon perfection. of ten led me to rewrite a paragraph endlessly
until the idea it contained was comprehensible on the first read ing.
My next acknowledgments must go to two scholars. Dr. Julius J. Nodel, Rabbi, Shaare Emeth Temple, St. Louis, Missouri,
read every chapter as it was completed, and to his impressive
scholarship and unstinting help this book owes much of its
strength. Dr. Jacob R. Marcus, Director of American Jewish
Archives and Professor of American Jewish History, Hebrew Uni13
on College – Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati, Ohio, meticulously read the manuscript through the Middle Ages and generously offered many valuable suggestions. The book gained
strength not only from their many excellent suggestions, but also
from their at times diametrically opposed opinions.
I wish to thank the following individuals: Professors Franklin
Haimo and Laurence Iannaccone, of Washington University, St.
Louis, the former for help in checking my scientific information
and the latter for advice on medieval and modern history; Pro fessor Henry G. Manne, of St. Louis University, St. Louis, for
suggestions pertaining to economic theories; Professor George
Kimball plochmann, of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale,
for clarifying many abstruse concepts in ancient and medieval
philosophy; and the Reverend Donald Olland Fatchett, now min ister of the Northmond Evangelical and Reformed Church, La
Mesa, California, who read all sections pertaining to Christianity
and saved me from many errors. I wish to stress, however, that
the wording and view s expressed in this book are mine.
I take this opportunity to show my appreciation to my wife,
Ethel, for the many hours she spent reading each chapter aloud as
a final test of its fluidity of language and coherence of thought,
and to my daughter Gail whose history major at Radcliffe made
her a valuable and perceptive critic of the manuscript. To both go
my heartfelt thanks for their patient understanding of my total ab sorption in this book for the past five years.
I wish to express my profound respect to Joseph Gaer, Director, Jewish Heritage Foundation, a humanist and a scholar, for
his and the Jewish Heritage Foundation's interest in this book,
and for their sponsorship of its publication.
M.I.D.
1962
14
IT HAPPENED ONLY ONCE
IN HISTORY!
A streamlined review of the four thousand years and the
six civilisations which have cradled the Jewish people,
examining some of the perverse factors in one of his tory's most illogical survivals – that of a nation which
has proclaimed itself God's Chosen People, and almost
has the world convinced of it.
15
There are nearly five and a half billion people on this earth,
of whom less than eighteen million – less than one third of one
percent – are classified as Jews. Statistically, they should hardly
be heard of, like the Ainu tucked away in a corner of Asia,
bystanders of history. But the Jews are heard of totally out of proportion to their small numbers. The Jewish contribution to the
world's list of great names in religion, science, literature, music,
finance, and philosophy is staggering.
The period of greatness of ancient Greece lasted five hundred years. Then that nation lapsed into a people of herdsmen,
never again to regain its former glory. Not so with the Jews. Their
creative period extends through their entire four-thousand-year
history. Their contributions have been absorbed by both East and
West, though neither is always aware of it or willing to admit the
debt if made aware of it.
From this people sprang Jesus Christ, acclaimed Son of God
by more than 850 million Christians, the largest religious body in
the world. From this people came Paul, organizer of the Christian
Church. The religion of the Jews influenced the Mohammedan
faith, second-largest religious organization in the world, with over
400 million adherents claiming descent from Abraham and Ishmael. The Mormons say they are the descendants of the tribes of
Israel.
Another Jew is venerated by more than one billion people.
He is Karl Marx, whose book Das Kapital is the secular gospel of Communists the world over, with Marx himself enshrined
in Russia and China. Albert Einstein, the Jewish mathematician,
ushered in the atomic age and open ed a path to the moon with his
theoretical physics. A Jewish psychiatrist, Sigmund Freud, lifted
the lid of man's mind. His discovery of psychoanalysis revolutionized man's concept of himself and the relation of mind to mat ter. Three hundred years earlier, a Jewish philosopher, Baruch
Spinoza, pried philosophy loose from mysticism, opening a path
to rationalism and modern science.
Through the ages, the Jews successively introduced such
concepts as prayer, church, redemption, universal education,
16
charity – and did so hundreds of years before the rest of the world
was ready to accept them. And yet, up until 1948, for close to
three thousand years, the Jews did not even have a country of
their own. They dwelt among the Babylonians, lived in the Hellenic world, stood at the bier of the Roman Empire, flourished in
the Mohammedan civilization, emerged from a twelve-hundred-year darkness known as the Middle Ages, and rose to new
intellectual heights in modern times.
Great nations of the pagan era which appeared at the same
time the Jews did have totally disappeared. The Babylonians, the
Persians, the Phoenicians, the Hittites, the Philistines – all have
vanished from the face of the earth, after once having been great
and mighty powers. The Chinese, Hindu, and Egyptian people s
are the only one s living today who are as old as the Jewish
people. But these three civilizations had only one main cultural
period, and their impact on succeeding civilizations has not been
great. They contained neither the seeds for their own rebirth nor
the seeds for the birth of other civilizations. Unlike the Jews, they
were not driven out of their countries, nor did they face the prob lem of survival in alien lands. The Greeks and the Romans are the
only other nations which have influenced the history of Western
man as profoundly as the Jews. But the people who now dwell in
Greece and Italy are not the same as those who dwelt in ancient
Hellas and Rome.
Thus, there are three elements in Jewish survival which make
the history of this people different from that of all other people.
They have had a continuous living history for four thousand years
and have been an intellectual and spiritual force for three thousand years. They survived three thousand years without a country
of their own, yet preserved their ethnic identity among alien cul tures. They have expressed their ideas not only in their own language, but in practically all the major language s of the world.
Little is generally known of the extent of Jewish writings in
every field of human thought. The reason for this is not hard to
find. To read French, German, or English literature or science one
need s only to know French, German, or English.
17
To read Jewish literature and science one has to know not
only Hebrew and Yiddish, but also Aramaic, Arabic, Latin, Greek,
and virtually every modern European language.
All civilizations we know about have left a record of their
history in material things. We know them through tablets or ruins
dug up by archaeologists. But we know of the Jews in ancient
times mostly from the ideas they taught and the impact which
these ideas had upon other people and other civilizations. There
are few Jewish tablets to tell of battles and few Jewish ruins to
tell of former splendor. The paradox is that those people who left
only monuments behind as a record of their existence have van ished with time, whereas the Jews, who left ideas, have survived.
World history has hurled six challenges at the Jews, each a
threat to their very survival. The Jews rose to each challenge and
lived to 'meet the next.
The pagan world was the first challenge to Jewish survival.
The Jews were a small band of nomads, stage extras among such
mighty nations as Babylonia, Assyria, Phoenicia, Egypt, Persia.
How did they manage to survive as a cultural group during this
seventeen-hundred-year span of their history, when all these great
nations clashed and annihilated one another? During this period
the Jews came perilously close to disappearing. What saved them
were the ideas with which they responded to each of the dangers
encountered.
Having survived seventeen hundred years of wandering, enslavement, decimation in battle, and exile, the Jews returned to
their homeland only to run into the Greco-Roman period of their
history. This was their second challenge, and it was a miracle that
the Jews emerged from it at all. Everything Hellas touched during
those magic years of her greatness became Hellenized, including
her conquerors, the Romans. Greek religion, art, and literature;
Roman legions, law, and government – all left an indelible stamp
on the entire civilized world. But when the Roman legion s were
defeated, this culture collapsed and died. The nations which were
subjugated first by Greece and then by Rome disappeared. New
nations took their place by force of arms. The Jews however re18
mained, not by the might of their arms but by the might of their
cohesive ideas.
The third challenge to the Jews came about through a phenomenon which is unique and unparalleled in history. Two Judaisms had been created, one in Palestine, the other in Diaspora, a
word from the Greek meaning a "scattering," or "scatter about,"
and signifying that body of Jews scattered about in the gentile
world outside Palestine. From the time of the expulsion of the
Jews from Jerusalem by the Babylonians in the sixth century B.G.
to the time of the liberation of the Jews from the ghettos in the
nineteenth century A.D. was the era of the fragmentation of the
Jewish people into small groupings, dispersed over tremendous
land areas and among the most divergent cultures. How could the
Jews be kept from assimilation and absorption into the sea of ali en people around them?
The Jews met this challenge with the creation of a reli gious-legal code – the Talmud – which served as a unifying force
and a spiritual rallying point. This was the "Talmudic Age" in
Jewish history, when the Talmud almost invisibly ruled the Jews
for close to fifteen hundred years.
In the seventh century, Judaism gave birth to yet another religion – Islam, founded by Mohammed – and this was its fourth
challenge. Within a hundred years the Mohammedan Empire rose
to challenge Western civilization. Yet, within this religion, whose
adherents hated Christianity with an unrelenting hatred, the Jews
not only survived but rose to one of their greatest literary, sci entific, and intellectual peaks. The Jew in this age became states man, philosopher, physician, scientist, tradesman, and cosmopolitan capitalist. Arabic became his mother tongue. This era also
saw the philandering Jew. He not only wrote on religion and
philosophy, but also rhapsodized about love. Seven hundred years
passed and the pendulum swung. The Islamic world crumbled and
the Jewish culture in the Islamic world crumbled 'with it.
The fifth challenge was the Middle Ages, and this period was
a dark one for both Jew and Western man. It was a twelve-hundred-year fight by the Jews against extinction. All non-Christian
19
nations which were defeated in the name of the Cross were converted to the Cross, except the Jews. Yet the Jews emerged from
this twelve-hundred-year dark age spiritually and culturally alive.
The ideas their great men had given them had been tested and
found workable. When the walls of the ghetto fell, it did not take
the Jews more than one generation to become part of the warp
and woof of Western civilization. Within one generation, and
within the shadow of the ghetto, they became prime ministers,
captains of industry, military leaders, and charter members in an
intellectual avantgarde which was to reshape the thinking of
Europe.
The sixth challenge is the Modern Age itself. The appearance
of nationalism, industrialism, communism, and fascism in the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries has held special challenges for
the Jews, in addition to a new, virulent disease of the Western
mind – anti-Semitism. New responses for survival have had to be
forged to meet these new challenges. Whether these responses
will be adequate, only the future will tell.
We see, then, that Jewish history unfolds not within one but
within six civilizations. This contradicts many schools of history,
which hold that this is an impossibility since, like a human being,
a civilization has only one life span, usually lasting five hundred
years, but no longer than a thousand years. Yet, as we have seen,
the Jews have lasted four thousand years, have had six cultures in
six alien civilizations, and most likely will have a seventh. How
can we reconcile fact and theory?
There are eight basic ways of viewing history, each from a
different vantage point. Generally, a historian selects a face of
history to his liking, thus stressing the viewpoint which seems
best to him. We will make use of all of these faces of history ex cept the first one, the "unhistoric" or "Henry Ford" way. It was
Ford who once declared that "history is bunk," and that if he
wanted to know anything he could always hire a professor who
would tell him. This view sees all events as unrelated occur rences, a mishmash of dates, names, and battles, from which
nothing can be learned or divined.
20
The second way of looking at history might be termed the
"political interpretation." Here, history is looked upon as a suc cession of dynasties, laws, battles. Kings are strong or weak,
wars' won or lost, laws good or bad, and all events are presented
in neat order from A to Z, from 2000 B.C. to 2000 A.D. This, as a
rule, is the type of history taught in schools.
A third face is the geographic one. According to this school,
climate and soil determine formation of character. This idea ori ginated with the Greeks. Even today there are many who contend
that the only scientific way to explain man's social institutions is
to study his physical environment, such as topography, soil, climate. This is a rather difficult theory to apply to the Jews. They
have lived in practically every climate, yet managed to retain a
common ethnic identity and culture. This is evident in Israel
today, where Jewish exiles from all over the world – Arabia North
Africa, Europe, America – within a short time were fused into
one people. It cannot be denied, though, that geographic factors
have changed or modified many traits and behavior patterns of
the Jews.
The fourth way to interpret history is an economic one. This
is the Marxian school. It says that history is determined by the
way goods are produced. Let us suppose, says the Marxist. that
the economy of a feudal system is being changed to capitalism.
This new capitalistic mode of production, says the Marxist, will
change that country's social institutions – its religion, ethics, morals, and values, in order to justify and sanctify and institutionalize
the new way of economic life. In the same way, if a capitalist
country were transformed into a communist society, it would
automatically begin to change its cultural and social institutions
to conform .with the new way of producing things until the new
way of life became part of everyday behavior.
The fifth is an even newer concept than the economic inter pretation of history. Founded by Professor Sigmund Freud at the
beginning of the twentieth century, this school holds that social
institutions and human history are the result of a process of re pressing unconscious hostilities. Civilization, says the psychoana21
lytic historian, can be obtained only at the price of giving up the
lusts that lurk in our unconscious-unbridled sexual gratification,
murder, incest sadism, violence, Only when man has mastered his
impulses can he turn his energies into creative, civilizing chan nels. Which impulses man represses, how severely he represses
them, and what methods he uses for this repression will determ ine his culture and his art forms, says the psychoanalyst.
The sixth face is the philosophical one. Its three most famous
followers are the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich
Hegel, the Prussian philosopher-historian Oswald Spengler, and
the British historian Arnold Toynbee. Though these three philosophical interpreters of history differ widely, they have this m
common: They see history not as a series of isolated happenings,
but as a flow of events having continuity. Each civilization, they
hold, follows a more or less predictable pattern. They think of
each civilization as a living thing, which, like a human being, has
an infancy, childhood, adolescence, maturity, old age, and finally
death. How long a civilization lasts, they say, depends upon the
ideas and ideals by which that civilization lives. The philosophical interpreters of history try to discover these forces within all
civilizations in order to find their common element.
In Spengler's view, civilizations are foredoomed to death.
Civilizations go through the spring of early origins, mature into
the summer of their greatest physical achievement, grow into the
autumn of great intellectual heights, dec1ine into the winter of
their civilization, and finally die. Writing III 1918, when England
was at the height of her prestige, and Russia and China but fifthrate powers, Spengler predicted in his book The Decline of the
West that Western civilization was in the winter of its cycle and
would die by the twenty-third century, to be superseded either by
a Slavic civilization (Russia) or by a Sinic one (China), which
were in the spring of their development. This way of viewing history is known as. "cyc1ic," because each civilization has its own
beginning, middle, and end.
In contrast to the cyclic view, we have Toynbee's "linear"
concept, as expressed in his Study of History. Toynbee holds that
22
a civilization is not an independent totality but a progression – an
evolution – from lower to higher forms. So, for instance, in his
view the Islamic civilization was derived from lower Iranic and
Arabic cultures, which in tum were given birth by something he
calls "Syriac society." Thus, the Islamic civilization need not have
died, Toynbee holds, but could have evolved into an even higher
culture had it responded properly to the challenges hurled at it in
the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In the Toynbee philosophy, civilizations can go on eternally if they continue to meet
new challenges with the right responses.
Since the history of the Jews did not fit into either Spengler's
or Toynbee's system, Spengler ignored it and Toynbee reduced it
to an occasional footnote, describing the Jews as fossils of history. Yet, if both Spengler and Toynbee had .been .less blinded by
prejudice and misconceptions about Jewish history, they could
well have fitted it within the framework of their philosophies. In
this book, we shall use their theories to explain this seemingly
"impossible" Jewish survival.
The "cult of personality" is the seventh face of history. Pro ponents of this school hold that events are motivated by the dy namic force of great men. If not for Washington, they say, there
would have been no American Revolution; if not for Robespierre,
there would have been no French Revolution; if not for Lenin,
there would have bee n no Russian Revolution. Men create the
events, claim these historians, in contrast to the economic inter preters who insist on the exact opposite, that events create the
men.
The eighth face of history, the religious, is both the oldest
and newest concept. The Bible is the best example of this type of
historical writing in the past. This way of viewing history looks
upon events as a struggle between good and evil, between morality and immorality. Most Jewish history, until recent times, has
been written from this viewpoint.
The religious way of writing history has become discredited
in modem times. But it has been resurrected by a new genre of
writers known as "existential theologians," such as the Roman
23
Catholic Jacques Maritain, the Russian Orthodox Catholic
Nikolai Berdyaev, the Protestant Paul Tillich, and the Jewish
Martin Buber. In essence, these existential theologians hold that
though God may not interfere directly in the shaping of history, it
is the relationship which man thinks exists between him and God
that does shape history. We are so obsessed today by the notion
that only "scientific facts" have validity, we are inc1ined to forget
that people holding "unscientific," unprovable ideas may determine the course of history more of ten than do rational facts.
This is especially true in the case of the Jews. Martin Buber
holds that the central theme running through their history is the
relation between the Jew and his God, Jehovah. In the Jewish religious view of history, God has given man freedom of action.
Man, as conceived by the Jewish existentialists, has the power to
tum to God or away from God. He can act either for God or
against God. What happens between God and man is history. In
the Jewish way of looking at things, success in an undertaking,
for instance, is not viewed as blessed by God. A man may arrive
at power because he was unscrupulous, not because God aided
him. This leaves God free to hold man accountable for his actions
– both successes and failures.
This man-God relationship was responsible for the great gulf
in thinking which began to separate the Jews from the rest of the
pagan world four thousand years ago. The pagan idea of god tied
man to his gods. The Jewish concept of man's relation to God free
d the Jews for independent action. Western man, in fact, did not
arrive at this idea of religious freedom until the Reformation,
when Martin Luther rejected the Papacy and changed the manGod relationship to one approximating that of the Jews. Luther
then invited the Jews to join Protestantism, because he believed
there now was no gulf between Judaism and Christianity.1 There
is not a single "concrete fact" in this series of events, only men
holding "unscientific ideas"; yet we can see how decisive were
1 For an analysis of the meaning of man's freedom from God and selfaccountability, the interested reader is referred to Erich Fromm's Escape from Freedom.
24
these unprovable ideas for the course of world history.
The circ1e is complete. Beginning with God as the Creator of
history, man invented other explanations – an anarchic one view ing history as a series of blind events, a philosophic one looking
at history as a series of purposive events, an economic one hold ing productive methods as a determinant force, a psychological
one giving priority to unconscious drives, a "great man" theory
hewing to the idea of man himself as the creator of his historic
destiny, and, finally, back to God at the helm.
In this book we shall view Jewish history from all vantage
points, without stopping to debate the merits or demerits of theo logical disputes. Whether true or not, men have always believed
in "unscientific concepts," and these beliefs often are the real
"facts" which shape their destiny. This author hold s with the psy choanalytic, philosophical, and existentialist interpreters of his tory, that ideas motivate man and that it is these ideas which create history. A society without ideas has no history. It merely exists.
25
I: THE PORTABLE GOD
An in-depth survey of the Pagan Age, which begins with
a band of nomads known as Hebrews, who elbow their
way into history, "invent" a monopoly God, establish a
kingdom, survive defeat, and outlive their conquerors,
only to run headlong into the Greeks.
26
HERE'S WHEN IT HAPPENED
Upheavals in Egypt.
Reign of foreign dynasties
900 to 800
Reign of King Solomon.
Breakup of Palestine
into the kingdoms of
Judah and Israel.
THE PAGAN PERIOD 2000 B.C. TO 300 B.C.
PAGAN HISTORY
Assyrian and Babylonian
Dominations: 800 B.C.
to 500 B.C.
JEWISH HISTORY
Civilization of Suza and 4500 B.C.
Kish. Pre-Dynastic period of Egypt.
Civilization in Sumeria.
3600 B.C.
First Dynasty in Egypt.
3500 B.C.
Sargon unites Sumeria
and Akkadia.
2800 B.C.
Middle Kingdom in
Egypt.
2400 B.C.
200 to 1200 B.C.
The periods of wanderings
Hammurabi establishes 2000 to 1200 B.C.
Babylonian Empire
(Chaldea). Egyptian Empire extended. Rise of
Assyria. Hyksos invade
Egypt.
Abraham and Sarah
leave Ur in Chaldea
(Babylonia). Age of the
Patriarches. Wandering
in the land of Canaan.
Joseph takes the Jews in
Egypt. Pharaos enslave
them
Egyptian supremacy
challenged. Internal revolts and civil wars in
Egypt.
Moses leads the Jews out
of Egypt. Wandering s in
the Sinai Desert.
Canaanites in Palestine.
1200 B.C. To 1100
Independence Period:
1200 B.C. to 900 B.C.
Tiglath-Pileser I extends 1100 to 1000
Assyrian Empire.
Age of Judges.
Syria and Phoenicia become great powers.
Saul becomes first king
of Jews. Reign of King
David.
1000 to 900
27
Tiglath-Pileser III asends 800 to 700
throne of Assyria. Takes
Damascus and Samaria,
capital of Israel.
Israel conquered by Assyrians; its people taken
captive and dispersed.
End of Israelites.
Disintegration of Assyri- 700 to 600
an Empire. Conquest by
resurgent Babylonia.
Josiah, King of Judah.
Restoration of the
"Law."
Nabuchadrezzar, King of 600 to 500 B.C.
Babylonia, invades
Judah
The kingdom of Judah
falls. Jews deported to
Babylonia. Destruction
of Jerusalem.
(The sixth century B.C. heralded the end of Semitic empires
and cultures. Now began the age of Indo-European civilizations.)
Persian Domination: 500
B.C. to 300 B.C.
Cyrus, King of Persia,
500 to 400 B.C.
defeats the Babylonians,
establishes Persian supremacy.
First return of Jews from
Babylonia to Palestine.
Temple rebuilt.
Cambyses, Emperor of
Persia, defeats Egypt.
400 to 334 B.C.
Second return of Jews
from Babylon under
Ezra.
Alexander the Great of
Greece defeats Persians
at Granicus; becomes
master of Middle East.
Annexes Palestine.
334 to 332 B.C.
Jews come under Grecian influence. First contact with the West. Greco-Roman period begins.
28
ONE
THE GRAND ILLUSION
The Jews elbowed their way into history late and incon spicuously. They went through no Stone or Bronze Age. They
had no Iron Age. For the first eight hundred years of their exist ence they wandered in and out of the great civilizations sur rounding them. They had no building s, no cities, no armies, and
possessed, in fact, no weapons. All they carried with them were
their ideas, which eventually conquered the world without making them its masters.
Jewish history dates from the day, four thousand years ago,
when a man named Abraham had an encounter with God, know n
to him as Jehovah. The dialogue between Jew and God begins
then. This continuing dialogue is the history of the Jews, with the
rest' of the world as interested eavesdroppers.
But before we start the history of the Jews in the Pagan Age
– during which time they were passed like concubines from the
Egyptians to the Assyrians to the Babylonians to the Persians to
the Greeks to the Romans – let us briefly review what happened
in history prior to their entrance upon the scene.
The first signs of civilization, with all the classical symptoms – cities, agriculture, the calendar, refinement of weapons,
armies, and taxes – began cropping up about 4500 B.C. History
gave birth to two civilizations at the same time, both Semitic,
one to the northeast of Palestine, the other to the southwest of it.
It took 2,500years before these civilizations – Mesopotamian and
Egyptian – found out about each other. After that, the fight was
on, with Palestine paying the price for being a buffer state.
Civilization in Mesopotamia, now part of modern Iraq,
began with city-states. The oldest and most prominent were
Susa, Kish, and Ur. It was around these cities that the first em pires were formed. Just where they were located can be more
easily visualized if we draw an east-west line through the middle
of Mesopotamia. The northern part became Assyria, and the
29
southern part, Babylonia. Now, imagine Babylonia also divided
in half. The upper part was the former kingdom of Akkad, and
the lower part the kingdom of Sumeria, the first two empire civilizations.
In the third millennium B.C. there arose in Akkad a great
Semitic king by the name of Sargon I, who conquered the,
Sumerians and formed the Sumerian-Akkadian kingdom. The
people in this kingdom had a high standard of living and a highly
developed culture. They also had a powerful tool which trans formed this Asiatic civilization from an agricultural economy to
one of commerce and industry. This tool was cuneiform writing
(from the Latin cuneus, meaning "wedge," descriptive of the
shape of the characters), a great improvement over the Egyptian
hieroglyphics.
It remained for a king and lawgiver named Hammurabi to
unite, around 2100 B.C., all city-states in this area into one vas t
Babylonian Empire. Hammurabi was the Moses of the Babylonians, giving them their code of law as a present from heaven,
much as Moses was to give his code of law to the Israelites at
Mount Sinai one thousand years later.
During these twenty-five hundred years, while the peoples in
these civilizations built cities, enriched themselves with plunder,
enjoyed their mistresses, wrote laws, drank wine, and dreamed of
world conquest, the Jews were nonexistent. Then, about the year
2000, when a new and restless Semitic tribe, the Assyrians, lean
and hungry, began to challenge the soft and rich life of the Babylonians, a man named Terah took his son Abraham, Abraham's
wife, Sarah, and his grandson Lot, the nephew of Abraham, and
emigrated from the cosmopolitan city of Ur in Babylonia.
Who were they – Terah, Abraham, Sarah, Lot? History does
not know and the Bible does not identify them beyond tracing
Terah's genealogy to Shem, one of the three sons of Noah. Was
Terah a Babylonian? What language did he speak? What was his
occupation? Certainly not a sheepherder, living as he did in one
of the most sophisticated cities of that age.
All these are questions the Bible leaves unanswered. But by
30
the act of crossing the River Euphrates, Terah and his family
group become the first people in the Bible identified as Ivriim, of
which the English version is "Hebrews," the people "who
crossed over," the people "from the other side of the river."
The wanderings of Terah and his small group took them six
hundred miles northwest from Ur to the land of Haran, in the
southern part of what is now Turkey. Here Terah, who had left Ur
at no one's prompting, dies. Here Abraham has a strange experience. It is here that he meets the Lord God "Jehovah"2 for the
first time. It was a meeting comparable to the later famous en counter of Paul with the vision of Christ on the road to Damascus. Abraham's experience was as portentous to the Jews as
Paul's was to the Christians.
At this encounter between Abraham and God, It IS God .
who proposes a covenant to the patriarch, who is now seventy-five years old. If Abraham will follow the commandments
of God, then He, in His tum, will make the descendants of Abraham His Chosen People and place them under His protection. We
must note here that God does not say that they shall be better –
merely that they shall exist as a separate and distinct entity and
be His people. How this is to be brought about is not revealed.
God at this time Stipulates only one commandment, and makes
only one promise. The commandment is that all males of His
2 In the Old Testament, God is referred to in three ways: as "Elohim,"
which is translated as "God"; as "JHVH," which is translated as
"Lord"; and as "JHVH Elohim," which is translated as "Lord God."
The Orthodox Jew never pronounces the name "JHVH" though it
occurs nearly 7,000 times in the Bible. When he comes to that
would, he pronounces it "Adonai," meaning "my Lord." Hence the
translation of "JHVH" as "Lord." No one know s how the name was
pronounced originally, as its utterance was already forbidden by the
second century B.C .• and the Hebrew vowel points were not invented until several centuries later. Purists make no attempt at reconstruction, and simply write "JHVH" or "YHVH," as j is pronounced
like a y in Hebrew. Other scholars render it as "Jahveh" or "Yahveh,"
but the most popular transliteration still is "Jehovah."
31
Chosen People must be circumcised on the eighth day after birth,
or, if converted into the faith, then circumcised upon conversion.
The promise is the land of Canaan.
Did this really happen? Views vary all the way from the fun damentalist position of a literal acceptance of every word to the
rejection of every word by the skeptics. We say it could have
happened, but in a slightly different way. If we view this encounter through the lens of modern psychoanalysis, it might become understandable in modern terms.
Psychiatrists are familiar with a psychological phenomenon
known as "projection." Let us say that an individual is obsessed
by a thought, which, because it is painful or forbidden, he does
not want to acknowledge as his own. On the other hand, he can't
give it up. He wants the thought, but doesn't want to be its owner.
He longs for it unconsciously, but wants to reject it on a con scious level. His mind therefore resorts to an unconscious "trick"
He "projects" the thought onto someone else, and then convinces
himself that it is the other person who suggested the thought to
him or accused him of it. These methods of hearing or perceiving
such projected messages are known as auditory or visual hallu cinations – that is, hearing voices, or seeing things, that are not
there.
People who have such hallucinations are not necessarily
neurotic or psychotic. They can be very intense or inspired
people. From a psychoanalytic viewpoint, therefore, it could be
that Abraham himself conceived the idea of a covenant with an
Almighty Father figure, represented as Jehovah, and projected
onto this father figure his own wish to safeguard his children and
his children's children for future generations.
From a historical viewpoint, it make s no difference whether
it was Abraham who projected this experience onto an imaginary
Jehovah or a real Jehovah who proposed it to Abraham. The fact
remains that after four thousand years the idea of a covenant
between the Jews and Jehovah is still alive and mentioned daily
in prayers in synagogues throughout the world. Though many aspects of Jews and Judaism have been changed or modified dur32
ing their subsequent four-thousand-year history, this idea of a
covenant with God has remained constant. This in tum gave rise
to a will to survive as Jews, which has been the driving force in
Judaism. Without it there can be no Judaism and no Jews. When
this concept disappears, when the Jew, through a lack of this in ner compulsion, no longer wishes to retain his identity as a Jew,
then nothing will stand between him and assimilation, between
him and his final disappearance. The methods whereby this wish
has been perpetuated have changed through the ages; but the aim
has not. Jewish history is a succession of ideas designed to perpetuate this aim.
"How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, and your dwellings, O
Israel," exults a pagan priest in the Book of Numbers. This of
course, is poetic license, for nomadic life breeds neither art nor
culture. For four hundred years Abraham and his descendants
wandered about as nomads in the land of Canaan, without a
country of their own or a stable form of government. They practiced their' rite of circumcision and, though they were of ten esteemed by their neighbors, they were equally of ten regarded as a
most strange people, perhaps even a little crazy, worshiping a
God one could not see.
The Decalogue (the Ten Commandments of Moses) with
its .prohibition against other gods did not come into being until
four hundred years after this nomadic period. The Book of Genesis abounds with examples of idols being part of the household.
goods of the patriarchs. Three things, however, kept the Jews together during the first four centuries of their existence: the ideas
which Abraham had conceived (or, if one prefers, the ideas
which had been vouchsafed to him – namely, that the Jews had
the one and only exc1usive God); the rite of circumcision; and
the prohibition of human sacrifice (as so movingly told in the
story of the binding of Isaac). Once the Jews accepted the idea of
monotheism (the doctrine that there is only one God), they began
to behave in a special way without consciously knowing they
were doing so. This change in behavior was at first imperceptible, but became ever more noticeable, setting them farther and
33
farther apart from others.
Because one has to treat an invisible god differently than a
visible one, the Jews developed a ritual distinctly different from
that of the surrounding pagans. Because Jehovah is immortal He
never dies, and because He never dies He never has to be resur rected. Thus the Jews dispensed with the resurrection rites of the
pagans. Because there is but one God, there can be no mythological wars between gods, and thus the Jews dispensed with the
entire pagan hierarchy of gods and the wars between them. Because Jehovah is motivated by spirituality, He never indulges in
sex life. Thus the Jews did away with all fertility rites.
The example set by. Jehovah – that of being completely
withdrawn from sexuality – led to a curbing of licentious im pulses through an inner discipline by the Jews, rather than
through .tear .of laws. Compare the path sexuality took in Jewish
life with the path it took in Grecian civilization. The Greek gods
themselves set the pattern for the unbridled lust and perversion
which finally weakened the moral fiber of that people; whereas
the Jews, even when they later came in contact with the Greeks,
refused to indulge in the Grecian sexual excesses. The Jews also
avoided the path of total sexual abstinence later taken by the
early Christian Church. They steered a course between sexual ex cess and continence following to the letter the Lord's commandment to have many children. In their zeal to follow this injunc tion literally, it is understandable if some erred a little on the side
– of liberality. Many a pagan mistress, disguised as a "handmaiden," dwelt in the tents of the lust y patriarchs who "begat" progeny in abundance at an age when modem man settles down to
collect his Social Security.
The nomadic life agreed with the patriarchs, for all, according to the Bible, lived over a hundred years. By the time Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac 'begat Jacob, and Jacob begat his
twelve sons, including Joseph, four hundred years of Jewish history had slipped by. Then a famine swept the lands northeast of
Egypt, and the hungry people of many lands, including the
Hebrews, drifted toward the fertile Nile delta, toward Egypt, in
34
search of food. History records that they were warmly welcomed
by Egypt.
It was under the leadership of Joseph that the famine
stricken Hebrews emigrated from Canaan to Egypt. The Book of
Genesis tells us the fascinating story of how Joseph was sold by
his brother into slavery in Egypt. Here he became a favorite of
Pharaoh, rose to viceroy, and with Pharaoh's permission invited
his brothers and fellow Hebrews to settle there. Here they tended
their flocks peaceably until a new Pharaoh arose in the land who
was not so kindly disposed to them and enslaved them. Except
for the Bible, no source we know of makes any specific mention
of this Jewish sojourn and subsequent captivity in Egypt, but the
busy spade of the archaeologist has turned up convincing corol lary evidence that these events did take place.
From the ingathering of the Jews into Egypt by Joseph in the
sixteenth century B.C. until the outgathering of the Jews from
Egypt under Moses, in the twelfth century, there is a four-hundred-year silence. The Bible compresses these fateful four cen turies into a few sentences. This silence raises many perplexing
questions. What portion of this period did the Jews in Egypt live
m freedom and what portion in slavery? What religion did they
practice? What language did they speak? Was there intermarriage? How did they maintain their Judaism as slaves? Who were
their leaders until the advent of Moses? No one knows.
Not all the Jews left Canaan to go into Egypt with Joseph.
Many remained behind, surviving the famine and keeping their
covenant with Jehovah. This remnant of Jews, still known as
Hebrews, remained free men, while their brothers were enslaved
in Egypt. Is this enslavement of the Jews in Egypt the fulfillment
of a prophecy made by Jehovah to Abraham four centuries earlier? For it is written in Genesis (15: 13-14), "Know of a surety
that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and
shall serve them; and . they shall afflict them four hundred years;
and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with great substance." Or is this
prophecy an interpolation by later authors, who write with the
35
hindsight of history of the great fusion to take place in Canaan
when Moses leads the Israelites, as they are now called, out of
Egypt into the land of Canaan, to reunite them with the remnants
of Hebrews who had stayed behind?
Meanwhile the Jews – Hebrews or Israelites – are slaves in
Egypt. What will happen to Abraham's grand illusion that his
seed will inherit the earth? Was it all a delusion? Or was it a
prophecy to be taken up by other men appointed by God and fulfilled at a later date?
TWO
THE RELUCTANT PROPHET
Who were the friendly Egyptians who extended to Joseph
and his brothers and the members of his tribe such hospitality?
The archaeologist's spade fortunately has told us much about this
fascinating people and their early civilization. Historians have divided Egypt's early history into thirty dynasties and then grouped
these dynasties into periods. These are the Pre-Dynastic Period
(4500 to 3500), the Old Kingdom (3500 to 2400), the Middle
Kingdom (2400 to 1600), , and the Empire Period (1600 to 11
00).
In the Pre-Dynastic days, the Lower and Upper Egyptian
kingdoms were united, hieroglyphics were developed, the calendar was invented, and the first writing paper ( papyrus) was manufactured. During the Old Kingdom, graphic art reached its
highest form s and the building of the first pyramids was begun.
This also was the era of navigation, and Egypt became a sea
power, The time of the Middle Kingdom was the c1assical age of
literature in Egypt. It saw the introduction of new architecture
and new art forms. The Empire Period ushered in an era of great
prosperity, and it was at this time that Egypt pushed her frontiers
toward Palestine and beyond, beginning her power struggle with
Assyria and Babylonia. This period was also of the greatest im portance to the Jews. It was at the beginning of the Empire Period that they entered Egypt at the invitation of Joseph, the Egyp36
tianized viceroy, and it was toward the end of this period that
they left Egypt at the command of Moses, the Egyptianized
prince.
Why had the Egyptians been so friendly toward them in one
century and then enslaved them in another? Again the archaeolo gists may have uncovered the answer to the riddle. In the early
sixteenth century B.C., unidentified Asiatic tribes known as Hyksos, probably Semitic, conquered Egypt. They established themselves as that country's rulers, founded a new dynasty, and built a
new capital, Avaris, near the Palestinian border. It was the Hyksos Pharaoh who, had invited the Jews and other peoples hard hit
by the famine to settle in Egypt. A century and a half later, the
tide of history turned. The Egyptians overthrew their Hyksos
masters and enslaved them as well as the peoples they had in vited into the country. Ramses II, one of the new Egyptian
Pharaohs, did indeed, as the Bible tells us, set about rebuilding
Avaris into a new capital which, with due modesty, he named
Ramses. The work was done by slave battalions consisting of
Hyksos and the other non-Egyptians who lived in the country.
There is little reason to doubt that the Jews were among them.
Everything dug up thus far by archaeologists has substantiated
Biblical accounts, though historians are far from sure of the actu al chronology.
How many years the Jews were slaves in Egypt is hard to I
tell. We know of no attempt on their part to fight for their own
freedom or of any liberator appearing to free them, until the ar rival of Moses, who is the greatest yet the most paradoxical fig ure in Jewish history. Though Moses is to Judaism what Jesus is
to Christianity, the Jews have built no holidays around events in
his life as the Christians have with the life of Jesus. The Gospels
are based on the sayings of Jesus but there is not a single quotable "quote" in the Five Books of Moses which can be attributed
to Moses. Though he was the liberator who led the Jews out of
bondage in Egypt, his name is mentioned only once, en passant,
in the Haggadah, the narrative recited by Jews every Passover in
memory of this Exodus. The Ten Commandments of Moses are
37
the pillars upon which Judaism rests, yet the only visual image
the Jews have of him is a statue, not by a Jew, but by a Renaissance Christian, Michelangelo. This horned3 statue of Moses has
etched itself into the consciousness of man, giving Moses that
magnificence to which his deeds entitle him, but which the Jews
do not want to enshrine. He is the most ambivalent figure in Jewish history, revered but not commemorated.
Like the lives of all heroes in antiquity, that of Moses too is
shrouded in legend. The Book of Exodus relates that the Pharaoh
"who knew not Joseph" gave orders that all Jewish male children
were to be killed at birth to prevent the Jews from multiplying
too rapidly, though logic might lead us to believe that he would
have we1comed such fecundity as a cheap source of future man power. In these dangerous days, a man from the tribe of Levi
took a wife from that same tribe, and they had a son, Moses,
whom they hid from the Egyptians for three months. When the
danger of keeping him in the house became too great, his parents
placed him in a waterproof basket in the Nile, floating it down
the river. A daughter of the Pharaoh came to the river to bathe,
found Moses, took compassion on the child, and decided to adopt it. She took him to the palace, where he was brought up as an
Egyptian prince.
Again, as with all legendary heroes, we know nothing of the
early childhood and manhood of Moses. One. day, when he was
about thirty years old, he saw an Egyptian taskmaster beat a Jewish slave. His heart wen t out to his brethren, the Jews, and he
slew the Egyptian. To escape the wrath of Pharaoh, Moses fled to
Midian. Here he met Zipporah, the daughter of a Midianite priest
named Jethro, and married her. One day, as he tended his fatherin-law's flocks near the mountain of Horeb, Moses encountered
3 Many commentaries explain the horns on the Michelangelo statue of
Moses as the result of a Biblical mistranslation. The Bible states that
when Moses came down Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments,
his face "shone." The word used in the Bible is koran, from the root
word keren, meaning "to shine," or "a ray of light." But it also means
"horn." The accepted translation today is "shone."
38
Jehovah, Who identified Himself as the God of Abraham. God
commanded Moses to return to Egypt and lead the Jews to freedom. It was a most reluctant Moses who finally accepted the
commandment, after God had alternately cajoled and threatened
him.
The reluctant Prophet now assumes his role of leadership,
taking the Jews out of Egypt, through the Reed Sea (Red Sea),
into the Sinai desert. The journey around the Sinai peninsula
takes forty years, during which time the old generation dies out
and a new generation grows up. It is here in the Sinai desert that
Moses gives his people the Ten Commandments and the other
Mosaic laws, which serve as a framework for the Jewish democracy and nationhood to follow. Having accomplished his mission, Moses dies without having set foot in the Promised Land.
His death is a mystery and his burial place remains unknown.
This Biblical version of the life of Moses raises many perplexing questions. Moses was brought up as an Egyptian prince.
Where did he learn Hebrew, and why did he identify himself
with the Jewish slaves instead of with Egyptian royalty? He did
not have any difficulty conversing with the Midianites. What lan guage did he speak to them? His encounter with Jehovah, reminiscent of Abraham's similar encounter, raises more perplexing
questions. Jehovah makes the same covenant with Moses that He
made with Abraham. Jehovah commands Moses to take the Jews
to the land of Canaan, the very place where He had led Abraham,
and imposes upon Moses and the people whom he is leading out
of Egypt the same rite of circumcision. Had this rite been abandoned by the Jews in Egypt? Moses's son, as we shall discuss
later, was not circumcised. Why had his parents not circumcised
him when he was eight days old in accordance with the covenant
of Abraham?
Let us pose a hypothetical question: Were the Hebrews who
left Ur with Abraham in 2000 B.C. and the Hebrews who entered
Egypt under Joseph in 1600 B.C., the same people as the Israelites out of Egypt the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
or were they a different people? In Genesis, the book dealing
39
with their history before their entry into Egypt, the Jews are,
with one exception, referred to as Hebrews, not as Israelites.
After their exodus from Egypt and in the other Books of Moses,
the Jews are referred to mostly as Israelites, very seldom as
Hebrews. After the exodus, It is the pagans who usually refer to
the Jews as Hebrews, whereas the Jews usually refer to themselves as Israelites.4
A challenging and perplexing duality runs through the Five
Books of Moses in the Old Testament. There are not only two
peoples, the Hebrews and the Israelites, but also two Moseses the
Levite Moses and the Midianite Moses. There are also two Gods,
one referred to as "Jehovah" (translated as "Lord") and the other
named "Elohim" (translated as "God"). Later in the Old Testament we read of two kingdoms, fused into one, then broken in
two. There are two rival temples, one in the kingdom of Judah, In
Jerusalem, the other in the kingdom of Israel, in Bethel. There
are two versions of many, many other events, as the perceptive
reader of the Old Testament may have noticed. Are we dealing
with two versions of the same story, or with two different stones
merged into one?
Scholars through the ages have speculated on what might be
the real identity of Moses. Some even have questioned whether
he existed at all. But most agree that it was Moses, or someone
who went under the name of Moses, who led the Jews out of
slavery in Egypt. This, however, does not solve the perplexing
questions raised by Biblical scholars .
Let us reject for a moment the theological explanation that it
was God who chose the Jews as his people. Let us also reject the
4 There are two instances, which at first sight, might seem like other
exceptions, but they are not. In the first, God changes the name of
Jacob to Israel, meaning "man who fought God," from the Hebrew
Yisro-el. Thereafter Jacob, and Jacob only, is referred to as Israel,
with the noted exception (Genesis 47:27). In the second instance, the
next-to-last chapter in Genesis (49:2), Jacob uses the word Israel,
but only in reference to himself: " ... and hear ye sons of Jacob; and
hearken unto Israel, your father."
40
supposition that it was God who successively appointed Abraham and Moses as the instruments for carrying out His will. Let
us instead pose these questions: Could it have been Abraham
who originated the ideas of monotheism and the "Chosen
People," and could it have bee n Moses who reintroduced them?
Or, could it have been that Moses originated both ideas, which
then were attributed retroactively to Abraham by later editors of
the scriptures, to give continuity to the origins of 'the Israelites?
Or was Moses perhaps even a non-Jew, as some scholars claim,
who chose the Jews as the people to whom to give his religious
ideas? This then might give a secular explanation to the origin of
the term "Chosen People." Did a fusion take place in Canaan,
between the Israelites whom Moses led out of Egypt and the
Hebrews who did not enter Egypt with Joseph? If so, was this a
fusion of two peoples, strangers to each other, with two different
gods to be merged into one, or were they the same people, grown
apart during the four-hundred-year captivity in Egypt?
Sigmund Freud, in his book Moses and Monotheism, has
presented the interesting theory that Moses was a non-Jew who
welded the Israelites of Egypt and the Hebrews of Canaan into
one people. His main premise is that Moses was either an Egyptian prince or a priest who gave the Jews their monotheistic religion.5 In vain, says Freud, did this Egyptian Moses try to give his
new religion to the Egyptians, who refused to accept such a
strange and heretical notion of an invisible God. In those days
everyone knew that the earth was fiat, that the sun rotated around
the earth, and that all gods were visible. Like a true fanatic,
Moses then deliberately chose the Israelite people, who at that
5 This author cannot understand the outcry against the notion that
Moses might have been an Egyptian prince, when Jews accept with
equanimity the fact that Abraham, the founder of the Jewish people,
was a Babylonian who did not become a Jew until his seventy-fifth
year. The wonderful saga of the Jewish people lies in the ideas they
have propounded, and if the Jews had the sense to follow Moses,
whether Egyptian, Midianite, or Hebrew, so much more to their
credit.
41
time were living in slavery in Egypt, promising to free them from
their bondage if they in tum would accept his special brand of re ligion. What historical evidence is there for such a theory?
At about the time of the Israelite slavery in Egypt, there
ruled a king by the name of Amenhotep IV who attempted to
change the people's polytheistic religion, or belief in many gods,
to a monotheistic one. He made Aton, one of the Egyptian sungods, supreme. But the people were afraid of this invisible allpowerful God. The priests also were opposed to a god who
threatened to put them out of business. A palace revolution took
place; Amenhotep was deposed and killed in the revolution that
swept all of Egypt and lasted for close to a century. In the end the
old order was reestablished.
In the chaos and ferment of the Egyptian revolution, Freud
says, a little-noted incident may have taken place. Could it have
been that a priest or prince named Moses was fired with the idea
of perpetuating the dying sect of the Aton religion, just as Paul
was fired with an ambition to establish Christianity? Could it
have been that when the Egyptians would not accept the Aton religion, Moses determined to give it to the Jews? This is. no fanciful concept. Again the comparison can be made with Paul. When
the Jews would not have the teachings of Christ, Paul took his
gospel to the gentiles – an ironic twist of history.
Moses, then, according to this theory, decided that the Jews
were the most likely people for him to choose for his new religion. They were in Egypt, they were slaves, they were chafing
for freedom. A bargain was struck. As the price of liberty, the
Jews would accept Moses as their leader, and his religion as their
own. We must remember that in its early days Christianity, too,
was embraced mainly by slaves.
What evidence does there exist in the Bible for Freud s supposition that Moses may not have been a Jew, but was perhaps an
Egyptian?6 According to the Bible, Pharaoh' s daughter gave him
6 The interested reader is referred to Karl Abraham's monograph,
"Amenhotep" in Clinical Papers and Essays on Psychoanalysis, in
addition to Freud's Moses and Monotheism.
42
the name Moshe (or Mose), of which "Moses" is the Greek
rendition, because, as she explained, "I drew him out of the water." This presupposes that she knew the finer points of esoteric
Hebrew grammar. . Language experts, however, have pointed out
the word is not Hebrew at all, but Egyptian for child, found in
such famed Egyptian name s as Ramses (Ra-mose, "child of
Ra"), or Thotmose (Thot-mose; "child of Thot"), names formed
much the same way as some names are formed today, like Johnson, the "son of John."
Scholars still debate why Moses's son was not circumcised
at birth. It is as if by an afterthought God realizes He has entrus ted the exodus of the Jews from Egypt to someone who has not
observed the Jewish rite of circumcision, and now He wants to
kill Moses. Had Moses lapsed from Judaism, or was he himself
an uncircumcised gentile? It is Zipporah, Moses's wife, who
quickly performs the operation as if to appease God's wrath. Zipporah had also thought Moses was an Egyptian when she first
met him, as did her father, the Midianite priest. The Bible states
that Moses had a speech defect, stuttering, which he used as an
excuse for not wanting to accept God's assignment, an announce ment which comes as a surprise to the Bible reader because this
is the first mention of such stuttering. God then informs Moses
that he has a brother named Aaron, who will serve as an interpreter – an other surprise, as the Bible has also failed to mention
this brother previously. Could it be that Moses did indeed have
an interpreter, but for different reasons? It was not for a speech
defect that Moses needed an interpreter" suggests Freud, but because he did not speak the Hebrew language.
This, of course, is not conc1usive evidence, but it gives
some basis for such a speculation. Let us now use a little Biblical
exegesis, or critical scriptural interpretation, to explore the
puzzle of the duality that runs through the early Jewish history.
Biblical scholars have conjectured that the Old Testament is
composed essentially of four major narratives, the "J," "E," "JE,"
and "P" documents woven into one. 7 The "J" documents are so
named because in them God is always referred to as " Jehovah."
They are the oldest, written around the ninth century B .C. in the
southern kingdom of Judah. The "E" documents, so called because in them God is referred to as " Elohim," were written about
a hundred years after the "J" documents in the eighth century in
the northern kingdom of Israel. Scholars assume the "P," or
"Priestly," documents were composed some two hundred years or
so after the "E," about 600 B.C. In the fifth century, Jewish
priests combined portions of the "J" and "E" documents, adding
a little handiwork of their own (known as pious fraud), which are
referred to as the "JE" documents, since God in these passages is
referred to as "Jehovah Elohim" (translated as "Lord -God").
The final fusion of the Five Books of Moses, called the
Pentateuch, occurred around 450 B.C. – in other words, not until
eight to sixteen hundred years after some of the events narrated
in them took place. Is it not reasonable to suppose that in that
period of time before there were any written records, many
changes and alterations must have occurred as the stories and le gends were handed down orally from generation to generation?
Furthermore, as we have seen, priests, prophets, and policy
makers were also busy during these centuries editing the manu scripts.
Let us now again assume that it was Moses who first conceived the idea of a covenant with a "chosen people." Could it be
that the duality referred to actually deals with two peoples, one,
the Hebrews of Abraham and the other, the Israelites of Moses,
each having a different God, one called " Jehovah" by the
Hebrews, the other called "Elohim" by the Israelites? Could it be
that these two people s were later fused into their first unit y by
Moses? We must remember that all the Hebrews did not go with
Joseph into Egypt. Many remained behind in the land of Canaan,
where they continued to practice the Jehovah cult as it had been
7 The fifth major narrative, the Deuteronomic Code, or 'D' is discussed
in another chapter.
43
44
taught by their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When
Moses brought the Israelites into the land of Canaan, the task of
Judges, Kings, and Prophet s became, as we shall see, one of
welding these two peoples into one unified nation and these two
cults into one religion. If we accept this viewpoint, we can ex plain the story of Abraham's encounter with Jehovah – as a later
addition by Biblical editors. It can further be explained as a par tially successful attempt by the rulers to unify two racially re lated by religiously different peoples by conferring upon them
the same God through the simple device of having both Abraham
and Moses receive the same revelation from Jehovah and Elohim, now called Jehovah Elohim, the Lord God.
Though we have discussed these theories on the identity of
Moses and the origins of Hebrews and Israelites at length, we
wish neither to discredit nor to affirm them, but merely to point
out that in our way of viewing history, it makes no difference
whether Moses was a Jew or not, whether the Hebrews and .Israelites were the same or different people, or to whom God first
revealed His covenant. What made Jewish history was the fact
that the Jews accepted the ideas in the covenant no matter how or
by whom it came about. The fact also remains that with Moses,
whether Jew or Egyptian, the form and content of the previous
Judaism changed. Moses was the first in a series of men of God
– to be known as Prophets – who universalized the Jewish Godhead.
The central point in the Moses story, contained in the Books
of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, is the giving
of the Law, the establishment of the Mosaic Code. Everything
before this has been a prelude. Everything after this is an anticli max. This giving of the Law was the very act of bringing forth a
new nation. Indeed, the grand design of the entire Book of Exodus resembles that of primitive tribal initiation rites, but on a
high, ethical, symbolic plane. Before the young males in a prim itive tribe can join adult society, they have to go through initi ation rites which have these five elements in common: a symbolic death; a symbolic rebirth; a symbolic mutilation uniting them
45
into a brotherhood; a new name given to each initiated member;
and, finally, revelation of the tribal laws. The fort y years of wan dering in the Sinai desert by the Jews under the leadership of
Moses, during which time the old generation died out and a new
generation was born, represents the symbolic death and rebirth in
the "initiation rite" of Exodus. All males are then circumcised.
Next the Hebrews are given a new name, the People of Israel. Finally, the new law, the Torah, is revealed to them.
The Torah was a bold leap into the future, a giant stride
ahead of anything existing at that time. Its concept of equality
before the law, a law based on a written code, seems to be a
Semitic innovation. The Sumerians, whose written code' of laws
dates back to 2500 B.C., were probably the first people on earth
to have a written code, but it lacked the passion for justice of the
Mosaic laws. Five hundred years later, the Sumerian code was
augmented and incorporated by the Babylonians into the Code of
Hammurabi, but again this body of laws did not have the democratic spirit of the Torah. A written judicial code applicable to all
without favoritism was totally unknown to the Egyptians until
300 B.C. We know of no written Roman laws until the second
century B.C.
The Mosaic Code, then, was the first truly judicial, written
code, and eclipsed previously known laws with its all-encompassing humanism, its passion for justice, its love of democracy.
It also helped to establish a new Jewish character and directed
Jewish thinking into new paths which tended to set the Jews further apart from their neighbors.
The ideological content of these Mosaic laws is of great interest. Here we find the Jewish concept of the state and philosophy of law. These laws were essentially divided into three cat egories: those dealing with man's relation to man, those dealing
with man's relation to the state, and those dealing with man's re lation to God.
The laws of Moses anticipate the statehood God promised
the Israelites. Though at this juncture of their history the Jews
are still nomads, the Code of Moses is not for a nomadic people.
46
These laws of Moses are designed to safeguard a national entity,
not merely the family unit, though individual rights are never
subordinated to the need s of the state. The lofty framework of
these laws permitted the emergence of a democratic form of government virile enough to last eight hundred years until the Prophets in tum renovated them. The American Constitution thus far
has weathered Just over two hundred years.
The Mosaic Code laid down the first principles for a separa tion of church and state, a concept not encountered again in
world history until three thousand years later, during the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century of our era. In the Mosaic Code
the civil authority was independent of the priesthood. Though it
is true that the priesthood had the right to settle cases not spe cifically covered by Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 17:8-12), that did
not place it above the civil government. The priesthood was
charged with the responsibility of keeping this government within the framework of Mosaic law, just as the United States Supreme Court is not above the federal government but is, nevertheless, charged with the responsibility of keeping it within the
framework of the Constitution. Moses also laid the foundation
for another separation, which has since become indispensable to
any democracy. He created an independent judiciary.
There is a curious resemblance between the philosophic out look of American constitutional law and that of Mosaic law. The
federal government has only the powers specifically granted to it
by the Constitution. The individual states can do anything not
specifically denied to them. In essence, the Mosaic law also established the principle that the Jews could do anything not specifically denied to them. Instead of saying "Do such and such a
thing," the laws of Moses usually say "Don't do this or that."
Even where the Mosaic law makes a positive statement, it is of
ten either an amendment to a negative commandment or else
hemmed in by a negative admonition, saying, in effect, "When
you do this, then don't do that." The Ten Commandments, for instance, list only three do's but seven don'ts. The three positive
Commandments are: "I am the Lord thy God"; observe the Sab47
bath; and honor your parents. The seven don'ts leave little doubt
as to what one is not supposed to do. By fencing in only the negative, Moses left an open field for positive action. This allowed
the Jews great flexibility. As long as they did not do anything
specifically prohibited, they could, like the individual American
states, do anything they wanted to do. This type of thinking led
Jewish philosophers into stating their maxims in negations.
We can see this gulf in thinking interestingly illustrated in a
maxim attributed by Christians to Jesus and by Jews to Hillel,
one of the great teachers of Judaism. According to the Christians,
Jesus said, "Do unto others what you want others to do unto
you." According to the Jews, Hillel, who lived 100 years before
Jesus, said, "Do not do unto others what you don't want others to
do unto you." There is a world of philosophic difference between
these two expressions, and the reader is invited to ponder on
them and reason out why he would prefer one to the other as ap plied to himself.
In reading these laws, formulated some three thousand years
ago, one is amazed at their humanitarianism. One cannot help but
wonder if the world would not be better off today if these laws,
in the main, had been universally adopted.
Slaves were treated more humanely and leniently than they
were treated in the United States in 1850. All laws applying to
free men also applied to the slaves, who had to be set free after
seven years of servitude. Divorce laws were more liberal in the
time of Moses than in present-day England, and women were
held in high esteem.
It might be of interest to outline briefly the views on sex
held by Jews twelve hundred years before Christ. The Puritan
idea of sex as a sin never gained a foothold in Judaism. Sexual
desire was held to be normal. It also was felt that its fulfillment
should be within the marriage institution only. Therefore, early
marriages were encouraged. Cohabitation between man and wife
should be joyous, but it also had to be voluntary. It was a crime
for one partner – wife or husband – willfully to avoid sex rela tions, and such continued avoidance was grounds for divorce.
48
Bachelorhood was frowned upon, and all males were strenuously
encouraged to. marry, whereas women were given greater freedom to remain unmarried, though they, too, were expected to
marry
The Mosaic Code also realized that transgressions would oc cur and therefore provided for the safety of children born out of
wedlock. Children born to partners who could not marry legally
(such as one partner already married, or couples related by
blood) were the only ones regarded as. bastards. All other children born out of wedlock were legitimate and could not be disin herited. Chastity among the unmarried was held in high esteem,
prostitution was looked upon as a degradation, and religious
prostitution, so prevalent m pagan days, was viewed with abhorrence. Homosexual relations between men were grave criminal
offenses, whereas such relations between women were regarded
as scandalous but not criminal.
The Second Commandment, prohibiting the making of images of God, had a profound influence on the Jewish character.
Freud makes a most interesting observation. If there were to be
no images of God, he says, it would also follow that God would
have neither a name nor a countenance, which would lead, as it
did, to the compulsion to worship an invisible God. "If this pro hibition was to be accepted," says Freud, "it was bound to exercise a profound influence. For it signified subordinating sense
perception to an abstract idea; it was a triumph of spirituality
over the senses."
By making God spiritual instead of material the Jews were
left free to change the spirituality of God instead of merely . al tering his physical appearance. This was done successively by
prophets, redeemers, and rabbis. Having a spiritual God rather
than god s in stone gave the Jews a feeling of cultural superiority.
Thus Moses succeeded in inculcating. a feeling of pride in the
Jews, not merely a veneer of uniqueness. The intellectualism of
the Jews was a character trait which also followed as a direct res ult of making God abstract. Another result was the renunciation
of brutality and sadism. Here we have an instance where a value
49
judgment can be put to a statistical test. Though Jews presently
constitute 3 percent of the total American population, the number
of Jews imprisoned for crimes of violence is but one tenth of one
percent of the prison population. For whatever else Jews are sen
t to ' prison, it is not, as a rule, for sadistic acts – murder, rape,
beating, or bestiality – though exception s do exist. This tre mendous disproportion in the statistic continually amazes soci ologists.
The Second Commandment also had an adverse effect. It
helped to stultify the Jewish artistic spirit. Because the Jews '
were prohibited from making images of God, they turned away
from painting. sculpture, and architecture, though, as will later
be discussed, there were notable exceptions. Not until the nine teenth century A.D., when Jews began disregarding the Second
Commandment the way the Christians had bee n doing for two
thousand years, did they, too, begin to develop painters,
sculptors, and architects. However, by the nineteenth century the
Jewish character had already been formed, and their expansion
into the fields of plastic arts does not seem to have affected this
"Jewish character." ,
The Mosaic theophany – the giving of the divine law – had
been accomplished. The mission of Moses had been fulfilled.
Now he had to die. Younger men were ready to take over the destiny of this people to whom he had given a constitution. Abraham's grand illusion had not been a delusion. Moses, the reluctant Prophet, had made it a reality.
THREE
JUDCES, KINCS, AND USURPERS
When, finally, in the twelfth century B.C. the Jews settled in
a country they could call their own, they used the worst possible
judgment. They selected a strip of land that was a corridor for
the armies of warring empires. Over and over again the Jews
were to pay for this error of judgment by being decimated in
battle, sol d into slavery, or deported to alien lands. Yet they
50
show ed up persistently at the same old place, building anew
their little strip of real estate which has been alternately called
Canaan, Palestine, Israel, Judah, Judea, and now again, Israel.
The exodus from Egypt had been led by Moses; the return to
Canaan, the Promised Land, was led by his appointed successor,
Joshua. In true hero fashion Joshua defeated all enemies because
of his superior personal cunning and valor. The Canaanites,
though formidable enemies with their war chariots and walled
cities, were not a united nation but loosely federated city-states,
each ruled by a petty king. In vain 'they tried to align themselves
against the invading Jews, but under Joshua's leadership the Jewish armies struck before the opposition could unite. Joshua
crossed the River Jordan, leading his small army against the Jebusites in the south, crushing an alliance headed by the Jebusite
king. Then, swerving north, he defeated the Canaanite tribes led
by the king of Hazor. The Biblical account of the destruction by
the Jews of the Canaanite culture which then followed may
sound barbarous to readers unfamiliar with the history and prac tices of antiquity. Actually it was far less barbarous than the de struction of the Cretan culture by the invading Greeks in the eleventh century B.C. or the destruction of the Etruscan culture by
the invading Romans in the same century. The Canaanite civilization fell because the Jews did away with the abominable
Canaanite religious practices on which it was based – the human
sacrifice to the god Moloch, the lewd rites demanded by the local
Canaanite god known as Baal, and the unrestrained orgies and
sacred prostitution in the name of a female goddess called Asherah, or Baala. As the Canaanite resistance died, the first rough
boundaries of what eventually became Palestine were formed.
Dramatically speaking, Canaan was a perfect setting for the
"return of the natives." The emigrant Israelites from Egypt were
coming back to Canaan after a four-hundred year absence to be
reunited with their brethren, the Hebrews, those descendants of
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who had not accepted Joseph's invitation four centuries earlier to come to Egypt. This integration of
the Israelites from Egypt with the Hebrews in Canaan took close
51
to two hundred years. But even then it was an imperfect fusion, a
piece of political soldering that fell apart at the first signs of
stress.
With the settlement ·of Canaan, the Jews ceased being a nomadic people, and a peculiar political institution, which has no
counterpart in history, was born. It was the Shoftim, or Judges,
who were thought of as divinely inspired men, accountable to
God by God. They established the first democracy in the world,
four hundred years before the Greeks. Roughly speaking, the era
of the Judges corresponds to the Jeffersonian period in American
history – a weak central government with "tribes' rights" instead
of states' rights.
The new nation consisted of the Biblical twelve tribes. The
Elders dispensed justice within each tribe, just as municipal and
state courts dispense justice within each state. However, above
the authority of the Elder was that of the Judge, just as above the
authority of the state is the federal Constitution. The Judge was
the Commander in Chief in times of war and the Chief Executive
in times of peace. His powers were limited by law, but he could
delegate responsibility just as the President of the United States
can delegate responsibility through his Cabinet ministers.
The Judge could summon the "Senate" and "Popular Assembly" and propose subjects for deliberation. The function of
the "Senate" members was the same as that of our Senators
today. Like the House of Lords in England, the "Senate" was not
only the legislative but also the judicial arm of government. In
Greco-Roman days, this "Senate," known as the Sanhedrin, lost
most of its legislative functions and became primarily a judicial
forum.
The Popular Assembly resembled our House of Representatives. Even in the days before the Judges, the Books of Moses are
full of such references as "and all the congregation of Israel," or
"and all Israel." As the Jews at the time of the giving of the Law
at Mount Sinai numbered more than 600,000 8 according to the
8 Many scholars believe that the actual figure was perhaps 600 or
52
Bible, it is unlikely that Moses could speak to them all at the
same time. In all likelihood he spoke to the elected representat ives of each tribe.
It is not by accident that American democracy so closely resembles the first government by the Jews, for the founding fathers were brought up on the Bible, and many were conversant
enough with Hebrew to be able to read the Old Testament in the
original. Many scholars now hold that the Palestine government
under the Judges served as the blueprint for the American Constitution, not the democracy of Greece.
It was during this period also, between 1300 and 800 B.C.,
that the written alphabet, mankind's most useful tool, was inven ted by either the Phoenicians or the Hebrews. Until recent times,
scholars have been wont to credit this invention to the Phoenicians, but late archaeological findings lend greater and greater
credence to the theory that it may have been a Hebrew invention.
In the Old Testament Hebrews refer to their language not as
Hebrew or Israelite but as the language of Canaan. Here they
found a highly developed language (Ugaritic), culture, and oral
literature, especially poetry, which bears a remarkable resemblance to Hebrew Old Testament poetry. The genius of the Jews
was not so much the form of the poetry – probably Canaanite or
Ugaritic – as its content.
For two centuries government by Judges worked, but the
system had one fatal weakness. It did not provide the basis for a
strong centralized leadership. Each Judge was selected by his
own tribe. In times of crisis, the tribes were convinced, God
would unite them and send an "inspired leader" who, like Joan of
Arc, would deliver them from evil. Indeed, the Jews did have
their own Joan of Arc in Deborah, a female Judge. So firm were
they in this conviction that no successor was ever provided. Each
crisis, they felt, would itself create a Deliverer, In this "Deliver er" we see the roots of the messianic concepts to come.
6,000 families, as it is hardly likely that the Sinai and Negev deserts
could have sustained 600,000 adult males, their families, and their
servants about three million people – for forty years of wandering.
53
This weakness in not providing for a head of state prevented
the development of a stable government. Though the system of
divine Judges served to instill the spirit of God in the people, it
failed to bring domestic tranquility. The period was one of strife.
The economic interpreter of history can explain this as a trans ition period, during which a previously nomadic people changed
its social system to one more suitable to an agricultural economy.
There is no doubt the social and economic conditions did call for
a more centralized government. The new mode of living in
houses and towns, instead of on the backs of mules and in tents,
finally did force a change in government structure.
The Jews met this challenge by establishing a constitutional
monarchy, and the first Jewish dynasty came into existence. The
constitutional monarchy formed by the Twelve Tribes of Israel
about 1000 B.C. was the first of its kind in the world. It was a
form of government used for a brief period by the Greeks and
Romans, then fated to disappear until the signing of the Magna
Carta, after which it was honored more in the breach than the ob servance for several hundred years.
Because of the free and direct contact between man and God
in Jewish monotheism, however, the Jewish idea of kingship
differed from that of the pagans. The pagans attributed divine
descent to their king; he was the state, the state religion, and the
center of their religious cult. Not so with the Jews, who never
thought of any of their kings as descendants of God. The Jewish
king was as accountable to the law for his judicial, moral, and religious conduct as any ordinary citizen. There were no special
laws, no special exemptions, for the Jewish king.
Saul was the first anointed king of Palestine, though he was
such in name only. The first actual king of Palestine was David,
and the second his son Solomon. David extended the kingdom by
war; Solomon preserved it by peace. Though David was a warrior king, his c1aim to fame among Jews rests on three achievements totally unconnected with war. He made Jerusalem a symbol, an ideal, and a holy place: first, by making Jerusalem the
political capital of Palestine; second, by earmarking the Temple
54
for that city; and third by enshrining the Ark in Jerusalem. But
because David was a warrior king, and the temple was dedicated
to peace, God did not permit David to it. This task was entrusted
to his son, Solomon. During King David's reign, the Ark was
kept in a special tent. Solomon enshrined it in the Temple. However, David planned all too well. Jerusalem became not only the
symbol of Judaism, but the symbol of two other religions –
Christianity and Islamism.
When David died, he left a kingdom which, to the Jews,
looked like an empire. It was, however, beset by many enemies.
The "empire" extended from the Euphrates River to the Gulf of
Akaba, about five times the size of present-day Israel, but this
expansion had been achieved at the expense of other nations. The
Jebusites, who had given Jerusalem its name, were driven out but
not vanquished; the Philistines who had given Palestine its name,
were subdued, but not shattered. No sooner had David been buried than the Jebusites and Philistines joined other nations defeated by the Jews and rebelled against Palestine to regain their
lost lands. Neither the Jebusites nor the Philistines succeeded in
reconquering Jerusalem or Palestine, but the other formerly subdued nations were able to free their lands. King Solomon did .
not attempt to regain them. He set out to make peace by dip lomacy, and having achieved external peace, he set about to in dustrialize the country.
It was no easier for Solomon to change the dynamics of an
agricultural society to an urbanized way of life than it was for
others to change feudal societies to capitalist states. To accomplish this, Solomon broke the political might of the individual
tribes in the same way that the United States had to break the
political strength of the individual states. He had to do this for
very practical reasons.
In an essay entitled "Politics as a Vocation," 9 the German sociologist Max Weber points out that a strong federal government
9 H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (Oxford University Press, 1946).
55
can not be established until it alone, and not the individual states
which comprise it, has in its hands all major administrative functions and the sole power to wage war. When an individual state
in a federation no longer can raise enough revenue to maintain its
own armies, says Weber, and has to depend on the federal government for money, then that state has lost in actuality the sover eignty it may still maintain as a fiction. The parallel in American
history is obvious.
"Solomon had to assert "federal power" over "tribal .
power." He had to break the political might of the tribes because
of their ability to maintain their own armies and their ability to
tax themselves sufficiently to remain financially independent. To
break their power and independence, Solomon divided the country into twelve taxable units, deliberately cutting across tribal
lines to weaken their influence. Then, through heavy taxation
and enforced labor, he created a large landless class, forcing
people to move to the cities, so that workers would be available
for the new commercial and industrial establishments. Under the
system of the Judges (an agricultural economy) the family was
the central economic unit. Under the system of Solomon (an industrial economy) the individual became the economic unit. This
weakened family ties and parental authority in the same way that
the "mobile families" of today, created by nationwide industries,
are weakening family relationship s and community ties.
But Solomon tried to accomplish the changeover from an agricultural to an industrial society too quickly. In breaking up the
old order he set in motion a series of events he could not control.
Though cities sprang up, though trade developed, though industry thrived, they did not grow quickly enough to absorb the
great mass of landless people streaming into the cities looking
for jobs. As time went on, the evils of too rapid an industrializa tion became all to evident. At the time of Solomon's death the nation was plagued with some of the same social and economic ills
which plague nations today – landless farmers, forced labor, un employment, absentee – landlordism, a small class of rich oppressing a large mass of poor. Excessive wealth, then as now,
56
bred vice and corruption, and these, in tum, bred perverted
justice.
Solomon had also laid the seeds for future religious discord,
causing yet another serious schism in the social pattern. Idolatry
had found its way into Palestine via his bedroom. At this time intermarriage and polygamy had not as yet been forbidden.
Whatever religions Solomon's many foreign wives and mistresses professed, he allowed them to practice them openly. Solomon's attitude toward religion resembled that attributed to the
Romans by historian Edward Gibbon, who said: "The various
modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all
considered by the people as equally true, by the philosophers as
equally false, and by the magistrate as equally useful. And thus
toleration not only produced mutual indulgence, but even reli gious concord." This view was not shared by the people in
Palestine. Solomon's tolerance produced neither indulgence nor
concord. It produced civil war.
Palestine, even in the days of King David, had never had a
strong centralized government. It was a weakly fused dual kingdom, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. The king of
Judah could not govern in Israel without the consent of the Israelites. This consent was given David before he was crowned
king. Such had not been the case with Solomon. To be sure Israel
would accept his son Solomon as king, after his own death, David had to take him twice to Israel (probably to its capital Shechem) for a coronation under his supervision, for in II Chronicles
(29:22-23) we read: "And they made Solomon the son of David
king the second time ... and all Israel hearkened to him." This
dual coronation of Solomon underscores the dual structure and
fragility of the kingdom.
When Solomon died in 931 B.C., his son Rehoboam succeeded him only to the throne of Judah. Like his father before
him, he also had to proceed to Shechem to be crowned there.
Here the Elders of Israel met him to ask redress for political and
religious grievances. This scene was reminiscent of a page in
American history when the colonists petitioned their English
57
king for redress of grievances, only to be met with insolence in stead of understanding. In a very dramatic sequence, the Bible (1
Kings 12:1-15) tells of this historic meeting between the freemen
of Israel, who asserted the principle that the ruler is the servant
of the people he rules, and Rehoboam, who had discarded that
principle.
The spokesman for the Elders was Jeroboam, an Israelite
general who had returned from exile in Egypt, where he had fled
after the failure of a rebellion against Solomon's tyrannical rule.
Like other vain and arrogant kings, Rehoboam refused to listen
to the voice of moderation and conciliation. Instead, he sent an
army against Israel which was, however, decisively defeated.
Within one year after Solomon's death, the kingdom of Palestine
was no more. It was tom apart at the seams where Joshua, David,
and Solomon had tried to stitch it. Jeroboam became king of Israel, which was comprised of ten of the twelve tribes, and Rehoboam remained ruler of Judah, composed of the remaining two
tribes. This civil war between Israel and Judah, started by Rehoboam, lasted for one hundred years.
Not only Jewish history but the Jews themselves now assume a new mask. During his first thousand years, the mask of
the Jew was that of a nomad and tiller of the soil, living by his
wits, preferring peace, and taking to the sword only when forced
to do so. In the second millennium of his history the nomadic
mask was discarded. He became a man of war, intrepid in battle,
unmatched in val or. Like the Greeks, the Jews had their Marathons – magnificent victories in the face of incredible odds. But,
unlike the Greeks, who remained passive after their defeat at the
hands of the Romans, the Jews rose time and again in armed rebellion against their oppressors, striking for their freedom and religious liberty. The stereotyped mask of meekness was later fitted
on the Jew by Western civilization.
David and Solomon are the two most generally known Jewish kings, and little interest is shown in the many, many other
kings who ruled Israel and Judah after the breakup of Palestine.
Yet the history of these two kingdoms under these king s is far
58
more interesting and adventurous than the history of Palestine
ever was under David or Solomon. With a bravery bordering on
effrontery, the Jews waged war against such mighty powers as
Damascus, Phoenicia, Egypt. When other nations trembled at the
approach of Assyrian and Babylonian armies, it was Israel and
Judah who rallied the strength and courage of their bigger neigh bors into alliances to stand up against the enemy. Their king s
were not cautious, timid politicians but Renaissance men with a
penchant for colorful action.
The history of the two independent kingdoms of Judah and
Israel resembles that of Italy under the Medici in its incredible
succession of intrigue, treachery, usurpation, assassination, and
regicide. But though the period is interwoven with the macabre
and the irrational, there is, nevertheless, a grand design in the
pattern. Three variations on the same theme can be discerned as
a common leitmotif during these three centuries – preventing the
absorption of Jewish monotheism into pagan ritual, maintaining
morality and justice as social goals, and preserving the Jewish
people as an ethnic entity. As Israel was the first kingdom to fall,
let us first follow the course of her history, then return to Judah.
The throne of Israel was a precarious post, offering the ruler
an average occupancy of eleven years. Altogether, nine separate
dynasties rose and fell during the 212-year period of its mon archy, one dynasty lasting as little as seven days. Few of the
nineteen kings who occupied the throne die d of natural causes.
Jeroboam began his reign by deepening the rift between the
two countries. He added religious rancor to political acrimony'
by building a temple in Bethel to rival the one in Jerusalem. It
was during this time that the first "J" documents were written in
Judah. A few decades later the "E" documents were composed in
Israel, perhaps in competition with the "J" documents, thus paralleling the rival temples in Jerusalem and Bethel.
A succession of inept rulers brought Israel to the brink of
chaos from which she was saved by the strong hand of King
Omri (866 B.C.), one of her most colorful and adventurous
rulers. He was the Napoleon of his age, beset with similar prob 59
lems and taking similar measures to solve them. Omri first ended
the civil strife which had broken out in Israel itself. Then he
smashed the invading armies of half a dozen hostile nations.
Next he shifted the capital from Shechem to Samaria, reformed
the laws of the country, and encouraged trade and commerce.
With these reforms accomplished, Omri decided to expand his
kingdom with conquests of his own and he was successful bey ond his own expectations. His fame as a warrior king spread
throughout the entire ancient world, and his name was feared and
respected by such powers as Assyria and Moab. An Assyrian
monument uncovered by archaeologists refers to Israel as "the
land of Omri." The famous Moabite Stone, now in the Louvre in
Paris, speak s of the conquest of the Moabites by Omri and :he
final freedom of Moab from the Israelites.
But, unwittingly, Omri also laid the foundation for future
disaster by marrying his son Ahab to the archbitch of history,
Jezebel, a Sidonite princess. Her father was a priest who assassinated the king of Sidon, usurped the throne, and :aught his
daughter the art of treachery and murder for personal aggrandizement. As consort queen of Israel, she set he political kettle boiling by ending the civil rights which he Israelites so stoutly had
fought for. She then fanned the lame of religious hatred by intro ducing Baal worship, "sacred prostitution," and the sacrifice of
children to Moloch, he fire god.
Though Jezebel led Ahab by the nose in domestic politics, le
used his own head in foreign affairs. He smashed the armies of
Phoenicia, Damascus, Sidon, and Tyre, but instead of treating
their kings as enemies, he embraced them as brothers. Ahab
needed peace in the west, because he saw the danger of a resurgent Assyria in the east.
The Assyrians, who facially resembled Nazi caricatures of
Polish Jews, had begun to flex their conquest muscles about he
time Abraham left Babylonia. But they soon ran into trouble. For
a thousand years they dreamed of an empire, and in the eleventh
century B.C. their dreams were realized. By the tenth century the
Assyrians had subjugated Babylonia and adjacent territories, and
60
in the ninth century they were ready to expand toward the west.
Egypt was the prize, but the path led through Israel.
When Assyria was ready to strike, Ahab was prepared. The
historic battle took place at Karkar (854 B.C.), where the might
of Assyria clashed with the massed strength of the twelve buffer
states organized by Ahab, with Jewish battalions in the vanguard.
Over 20,000 men died in that battle, but when it was over, Ahab
had dealt the Assyrians a stunning defeat that set their timetable
for conquest back a hundred years.
The death of King Ahab was a signal for a breakthrough of
the pent-up hatred against Jezebel. The conspirators, led by the
Prophet Elisha, picked a general named Jehu to lead the crusade
against the "harlot of Sidon." Elisha anointed Jehu for good luck.
It was a successful anointment. Jehu not only assassinated
Jezebel but also murdered every member of the house of Ahab,
then ascended the vacant throne of Israel. He was a ruthless ruler
and an able administrator. The worship of Baal was mercilessly
extirpated. Commerce and industry were vigorously encouraged.
Fifty years of peace and prosperity followed. Israel again
ventured on a little imperialism and found herself blessed with
success. Soon she doubled her territory. Her neighbors, in awe at
the powerful army of this small state, left her alone. Then a cloud
appeared on the tranquil Israel horizon. Tiglath-Pileser III, the
Bismarck of his time, the man of blood and thunder, had seized
the throne of Nineveh, capital of Assyria, He was the man in the
chariot destined to bring about the Assyrian Empire her rulers
had dreamed about for' a thousand years. . .
The Assyrian technique for conquest resembled that of Nazi
Germany. She blackmailed the smaller nations into subjugation.
Tiglath-Pileser threatened to march his armies against Israel unless the Israelites paid him a huge sum as tribute. This demand
divided the people in Israel into pro- and anti-Assyrian factions;
the former advocated paying the Assyrians the tribute demanded,
while the latter exhorted the nation to spend "millions for de fense but not one cent for tribute."
To pay or not to pay was the question, and it was a question
61
of life or death as pro- and anti-Assyrian kings of Israel succeeded each other swiftly, the "outs" removing the "ins" by as sassination. When the third pro-Assyrian Israelite king was assassinated, and payment of tribute stopped for a third time,
Tiglath-Pileser felt it was time to take action and marched at the
head of a huge army against Israel. Everyone expected the Israelites to capitulate and accept the inevitable, but this Israel did not
choose to do. She decided to fight, and almost won.
Historians usually dismiss the Assyrian-Israeli war in a few
sentences, as though it were one of history's small and unimport ant skirmishes. Yet, if we look at this war objectively, comparing
it to other battles of antiquity, we are forced to the conclusion
that the battles in this war were not only momentous but incred ible on the face of it. The Russo-Finnish encounter in 1939 was
but minor skirmish in the World War II drama. Yet Finland's
stand against the Russian colossus for six months has been hailed
as a monument to bravery. Assyria was mightier, larger, and more
.formidable in relation to Israel than Russia to Finland. Yet it
took the Assyrians ten years and three kings to vanquish Israel.
The Israelites inflicted several bitter defeats on TiglathPileser, who, for all his vaunted ferocity, was only able to wrest
several minor provinces from Israel. His successor, Shalmaneser
V, had no more luck. Finally, Sargon II, who succeeded Shalmaneser, captured Samaria, the capital of Israel, in 722 B.C. If
historians look upon this as a minor battle, Sargon, who was
there, did not. To be sure that he never again would have to face
so formidable a foe, which for ten years had humiliated the Assyrians by holding at bay the armies of her mighty empire, Sargon deported the entire population. The kingdom of Israel was
over .
The history of Judah uncannily parallel s that of Israel. l
Though the Davidic line was to rule Judah from the time of the
split (933 B.C.) until her own defeat 347 years later, that coun try's throne was as precarious a post as Israel's. Twenty kings
held it for an average of seventeen years each; all, however, were
of the same dynasty.
62
Judah got off to a bad start. She was invaded by Egypt, but
no sooner had she thrown off the Egyptian yoke, than she embarked on an expansionist policy of her own. The Phoenicians,
Arabians, Philistines, Moabites, Syrians – all were defeated at
various times and sizable parts of their territories incorporated
into Judah. These wars of conquest continued for a century, with
occasional defeats mixed in with the victories. The Jehu rebellion in Israel, however, also weakened Judah to the extent that
she was unable to hold on to the nations she had conquered.
Each now seized the opportunity for freedom, and Judah found
herself reduced to the size she had started with a hundred years
earlier.
Since Israel had a Jezebel, Judah had to have one too. This
was obligingly provided for Judah by Queen Jezebel herself in
the shapely form of her daughter Athaliah, whom she married off
to Jehoram, King of Judah. Jehoram died of a strange disease
which caused his bowels to fall out, and as II Chronicles 21:20
states with commendable understatement, "he departed joyless."
His youngest son, Ahaziah, was made king the same year that
Jehu went on a murder spree in Israel, and in his zeal Jehu also
murdered the young Ahaziah. Athaliah saw her opportunity.
"Every daughter gets to be like her mother; that's her tragedy,"
reads an epigram by Oscar Wilde. Athaliah was no exception.
She seized the throne of Judah and murdered everyone in the
royal house of David with the exception of Jehoash, an infant
prince who, was spirited away by an aunt.
For six years Athaliah reigned as queen. A counterplot put a
gruesome end to her, and the Davidic line was restored in Judah
with the coronation of the seven-year-old Jehoash, who lived to
reign for fort y years. An era of good will followed. The civil war
between Judah and Israel came to an end at last after a hundred
years of bloodshed.
When Assyria had staged her comeback under TiglathPileser, Judah, acting under the advice of the Prophet Isaiah,
stayed out of the fracas. Isaiah's political philosophy was that of
George Washington – no entangling alliances. The kings of
63
Judah paid heed to Isaiah's words and paid the tribute demanded
by Assyria. In silent terror they watched Israel, which had
stopped paying tribute, being devastated. When the carnage was
over, the great pro-Assyrian-versus-anti-Assyrian debate which
had tom Israel apart now began to rip Judah to pieces. As in Israel, two parties were formed in Judah, one pro-Assyrian, cautioning the country to continue to pay the tribute demanded by
the Assyrians, and the other, a pro-Egyptian party, advocating an
alliance with Egypt and Syria to fight Assyria.
The pro-Egyptian faction finally won. A north-south axis,
with Judah as the fulcrum, was formed. Syria was to rebel in' the
north, Egypt was to strike in the south, and Judah was to keep
things boiling in the middle. The Assyrians moved swiftly, "and
the north-south axis snapped. On beholding Assyria's vast
armies, both Syria and Egypt sued for peace, and Judah was left
to face the enraged Assyrians by herself. Then a mirac1e
happened. One morning the Jews were surprised to see the be sieging Assyrians outside the gates of Jerusalem breaking up
camp and departing in haste. The Jews celebrated the event as a
good sign from heaven; the Greek historian Herodotus had another explanation. A plague of mice (typhus) had struck the Assyrian camp. The reader is invited to take his choice, for,
whichever explanation he takes the fact remains the same –
Judah was saved.
Realizing that continued favors from heaven cannot be taken
for granted, the king of Judah decided to resume the payment of
tribute. Who knows, he reasoned, maybe another mirac1e from
heaven would later take place and somebody else would destroy
the Assyrians for him. That is precisely what happened.
The Assyrians were the sad sacks of history. They had the
same bad luck as that ascribed by Winston Churchill to one of
his generals – an uncanny ability to "wrest defeat from the jaws
of victory." When at long last Assyria succeeded in pushing her
frontiers from the Persian Gulf to the Libyan Desert, she was
given no time to enjoy the fruits of her hard-won victories. The
Babylonians, the first people defeated by Assyria, rebelled. They
64
sacked Nineveh, the Assyrian capital (612 B.C.). An Assyrian
general tried to save a remnant of the Empire, but at the historic
Battle of Carchemish (605 B.C.), in alliance with the Egyptians,
Babylonia annihilated the Assyrian forces. The Assyrian nation
ceased to exist.
The former Assyrian Empire fell into the hands of Babylonia, and with it, Judah. But submission was no more in the makeup of the people of Judah than it had been in the people of Israel.
The end of Judah was equally inevitable. It was a tragedy in
three acts. After a few years of Babylonian rule, Judah staged its
first rebellion in 600 B.C. King Nebuchadrezzar (also known as
Nebuchadnezzar) sent an army of irregulars to quell the uprising.
To his amazement, it was trounced by the Jews. This time
Nebuchadrezzar himself came at the head of his combined
forces, only to discover what the Assyrians before him had found
– that the Jews were intrepid foes. Jerusalem was besieged and
finally fell in 597 B.C. Nebuchadrezzar took the eighteen-year-old King Jehoiachin into captivity and deported 8,000
of the country's leading citizens – all who might possibly foment
another uprising. He did not sack Jerusalem at this time, or devastate the country. Instead he appointed twenty-one-year-old
Zedekiah, the last king of the house of David, to the throne of
Judah as puppet ruler.
No sooner had Nebuchadrezzar, the Babylonian king.. withdrawn his armies from Judah, than an anti-Babylonian intrigue
got under way. Judah aligned herself with Egypt to strike for independence. An enraged Nebuchadrezzar again marched on his
enemies. The Egyptians succumbed within a few weeks; the
Jews held out for a year and a half. Finally, in the fateful year of
586 B.C., after a six-month siege, the Babylonians breached the
walls of Jerusalem. Zedekiah was captured, his sons were slain
before his sight, and then his eyes were tom out. The Temple was
destroyed, the city was' looted and reduced to rubble. Everybody
was deported to Babylonia except the poor, the sick, and the
crippled.
Those Babylonian soldiers who had survived the two previ65
ous wars with Judah were to learn the road to Jerusalem well.
They had to make a third march to that city. Nebuchadrezzar had
underestimated the "poor, the sick, and the crippled." The gov ernor appointed by Nebuchadrezzar was slain. The Babylonian
garrison at Mizpah was slaughtered. But this third rebellion was
undertaken more in the spirit of defiance than in the hope of vic tory. After three wars and three defeats, the kingdom of Judah
was finished – 136 years after the fall of Israel.
The observations made on the three Israel-Assyrian wars apply with equal pertinency to the three Judah-Babylonian wars. It
was again a case of a small nation holding out against insuper able odds, standing up against a tremendous empire embracing a
land mass that stretched from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. The wonder was not that Babylonia woo. The wonder
was that the Jews almost defeated her.
FOUR
RELIGION IS PACKAGED
With the death of Israel and Judah, according to the Spenglerian concept of history, it was time for the Palestinian civilization to die. Moses, Joshua, and the Judges had ushered in the
spring of her civilization; David and Solomon had represented
her summer stage. Even though civil war had split the kingdom
in two, each part had followed a parallel course leading to an autumn phase, with the winter periods for both setting in with mil itarism and end in g in final annihilation. As history goes,
Palestine had lived a full life. But was the Jewish state founded
at Mount Sinai in 1200 B.C. really dead?
Indeed, it looked as if Jewish history were going to be no exception to Spengler's rule. The Ten Tribes of Israel never reappeared in the pages of history after their defeat at the hands of
the Assyrians. When the Babylonians exiled the Jews of Judah, it
looked as if this would be the end of them too. But it did not tum
out that way. Something happened in the interim between the de feat of Israel in 722 B.C. and the defeat of Judah in 586 B.C.
66
which made it possible for the latter to survive and to germinate
a new phase of Jewish life.
In pagan days, captives marching into exile usually marched
to extinction – not physically, but as a national entity. Because
one set of idols was exchangeable for another, captive peoples
usually embraced both the idols and the, Weltanschauung (way
of looking at things) of the conquerors. This was the starting
point for assimilation, further hastened by the custom of embra cing each other's women an, exchange of goodwill between victor and vanquished which added pleasure to a semblance of
democracy. The captives did not particularly care whether or not
they survived as Hittites, Phoenicians, Syrians, or Jebusites, as
long as they had a chance to continue to live. The pagan was
willing to lose both his religious and national identity. Such was
the case with the kingdom of Israel. Such, however, was not the
case with Judah.
Why did the Jews of Judah survive whereas the Jews of Israel did not? The political and economic interpreters of , history
give this answer: The Assyrian policy was to break up conquered
nations into small segments, then to disperse the segments
throughout the empire in order to destroy national and ethnic
unity, in contrast to the Babylonian policy of keeping exiled
peoples intact. But this rule did not hold true in every case. Many
nations vanquished by Assyria lived in spite of this fragmentation policy, only to disintegrate later when conquered by some
other power. Other nations defeated by Babylonia lost their national identities without being strewn all over the map.
There must be more to survival in exile than mere chance.
There must be a continuous and conscious effort on the part of
the exiles to retain their identities, both religious and national.
The Israelites did not have such a conscious will to remain Jews,
whereas the captives of Judah carried with. them into captivity
an implacable will to survive as Jews. What gave them the will
to retain their Jewishness in the face of every obstacle and
threat? Somewhere between the fall of Israel and the fall of
Judah a spiritual reawakening of the people of Judah took place.
67
A new Jewish character and. a new concept of Jewishness itself
was forged.
We have seen how Judah, after the fall of Israel, was divided
into bitter factions. In addition to external threats, she was beset
with internal strife. Idolatry was gaining greater strength, the rich
were oppressing the poor, intermarriage was diluting the Jewish
strain – again the triple threat to Jewish identity, a threat to her
religion, morality, and racial purity. The former unity was all but
gone. The historic stage was set for the disappearance of Judah
too.
This is a classic example of a Toynbee an challenge facing a
civilization. Because Judah did not respond with solutions permitting her to continue as an independent nation, Toynbee, like
Spengler, felt that Jewish civilization came to an end at this
point. But the Jews persistently bob up in subsequent history, refusing to fit into his framework. Whereas Spengler just ignored
the Jews after this date, Toynbee swept them off his tidy pages
into footnotes, characterizing them as fossils. One is reminded of
the perhaps apocryphal story about the Swedish botanist Linnaeus (1707-1778), who, after having classified all plants, began
the classification of animals. He implicitly believed in the theory
of special creation as opposed to the theory of evolution. One
day, when walking in his garden, he saw a bug which his expert
eye immediately told him was a proof for the theory of evolution
as against the theory of special creation. Linnaeus stepped on the
bug and buried it in the sand. He missed the chance of being Darwin.
Toynbee notwithstanding, Judah met the challenge of the
times by responding with two ideas which not only saved her
from national extinction but are still influencing the Western
world today. The first idea was the canonization of part of Holy
Scripture, making it the word of God. This gave the world first
the Old Testament, then the New. The second idea was the "pack aging" of Jewish religion for export. This gave the world first
Christianity, then Islamism.
In her hour of crisis, Judah had the good fortune to inherit
68
King Josiah (638 B.C.), a ruler with a fertile mind and a flexible
conscience dedicated to a good cause. His father, a pro-Assyrian
king of Judah, had been assassinated by the pro-Egyptians. These
assassins, in turn, were murdered by the pro-Assyrians, who
placed Josiah on the throne. Josiah was aware of the social inequities corroding the fabric of his country, but he was astute
enough to realize that he could institute no social legislation
without also introducing religious reforms, inasmuch as justice
and morality were tied in with the Mosaic Code. He therefore decided not only to aim for a more just distribution of wealth, but
also to purge the temples of idols.
Josiah chose to gamble for high stakes. He conceived a .
grandiose plan, simple, yet daring. For this he needed what
journalists call an "angle" and a "peg." An angle is a viewpoint
from which a story is written to make it hang together, and a peg
is a time element. Josiah's angle was to attribute to God the re forms which he wanted to institute; his peg was a dramatic way
to introduce these reforms. He entrusted these highly secret plans
to his High Priests who stood for . the same reforms. The plan
called for the editing and the . fusing of parts of the "J" and "E"
documents into "Holy Scripture." When finished, these revised
documents were 'hidden in a secluded part of the main Temple.
With great .fanfare, King Josiah proclaimed throughout the land
that a . book written by Moses at the command of God has been
found in the Temple and would be read aloud to the people. This
Book is now known as Deuteronomy, or the "D" document.
Another version of this event is that the documents had actu ally been in the Temple since the days of Solomon, and that they
were accidentally discovered when the Temple was renovated.
Whichever explanation one accepts, the facts are that the effect
was awe-inspiring and greater than Josiah had anticipated, if indeed he had authored the event. Jews came from every part of
the kingdom to listen to the words of Moses being read to them.
A wave of patriotism and religious reawakening swept the entire
nation. Riding on this emotional crest, Josiah purged the temples
of idols, forbade the Baal and Astarte cults, and rammed through
69
a bill of social rights. · ''
Josiah's sanctification of Deuteronomi also established
something else, something sociologists call " charismatic power"
Sociologists conceive of two kinds of power. One originates in
an office which ultimately has the physical means of enforcing
its will. The second, which does not have such physical means,
relies on the sanctity of the office itself. This latter power is
called "charismatic," to distinguish it from political and military
power. Charismatic power is possible when people voluntarily
submit themselves to the will of such an office. The President,
for example, has political power because he has military power.
The Pope, on the other hand, has charismatic power, because his
office, no matter who holds it, commands the voluntary obedi ence of millions though he has no longer any physical means of
enforcing his will. Stalin, when he wanted to give the impression
that the Pope had no power, once pointedly ' asked, "How many
divisions does the Pope have?" thus missing the essence of the
Pope's source of power.
Until Josiah's time, the Jews had experienced little charismatic authority, only political. In the days of early monotheism,
God' Himself had to threaten that if His commandments were not
obeyed, vengeance would be wreaked not only upon the culprit,
but upon his descendants for several generations. Now the Jews,
out of an inner discipline, imposed upon themselves the willing ness to obey the authority of the Book.
This forging of an inner discipline, this adherence to the dic tates of an inner voice, and this bowing to a higher ideal in the
face of physical danger was begun by Josiah, but the work was
perfected and finished by the Prophets.
Before answering the question, Who are the Prophets? we
must ask, What is a Prophet? Though prophets have existed in
many civilizations, the Prophet had a special and unique meaning
in Jewish history. He was above the seer and above the priest because the Jewish people implicitly believed that their Prophets
were men sent by God to show man the path to righteousness.
The Prophet in Jewish history was concerned with preserving the
70
purity of the Jewish religion. This led him into the field of man's
moral corruption and to the idea that the Jews, who were the
Chosen People of God, must set an example for the rest of man kind. By doing this, the Prophets set in motion a series of forces
which transformed not only the Jewish religion and the Jews, but
also their concept of Jehovah.
The voice of the first "rhapsodic" Prophet (as the Prophets
in the Old Testament are generally referred to in Jewish theo logy) was Amos (769 B.C.). Though born in Judah, he preached
in Israel until finally deported back to Judah as an undesirable
alien. Hosea followed in his footsteps. The rest of the Prophets
all preached in Judah, from Isaiah to Malachi, the last of the
Prophets.
When Amos and Hosea first preached in Israel, the people
laughed, the priests were infuriated, and the kings were uneasy.
When the Assyrian cohorts, "gleaming with purple and gold,"
swooped down on Israel, the people went down to defeat with
the words of these two Prophets ringing in their ears. But their
words had not registered with the Israelites. That was their undoing, for they did not know what we now know, that to survive
captivity they would need an “exportable Jehovah”, a religion so
resilient that it would be able to flourish on foreign soil. Not having it, they were assimilated and disappeared.
After the fall of Israel, when other Prophets, notably Isaiah
and Jeremiah, carried on the new concept of Judaism their words
sank into the Jewish consciousness. By the time it was Judah's
turn to be defeated and to have her people exiled, the Prophets
had already developed and perfected an exportable religion.
When the vanquished Jews of Judah trudged the captivity road to
Babylon, the words of the Prophets had taken root in their racial
memory.
What, in essence, was it that the Prophets taught and exhorted? What they said – and it is remarkable that they were not all
put to death for saying it 10-was, in effect, that ritual and cult in
10 According to legend, Isaiah was executed, but there is no factual
71
themselves were of no value to God. Humanity, justice, and morality, they contended, were superior to any cult. God, they said,
did not want rituals; He wanted higher moral standards from
men. God abhorred sacrifice, they contended; therefore, it was
no sin if one did not offer sacrifices to God. The real sin, they
held, was corruption and perversion of justice.
These were fantastic and daring notions in those days, when
sacrifice and ritual were religion itself. Among the Jews this new
doctrine of the Prophets began to undermine the influence of the
priests. The Prophetic message changed the character of the Jewish priest from a performer of ritual to that of rabbi, a teacher of
Judaism, just as Luther's religious concepts changed the role of
the priest in the Catholic Church to that of a minister in the Protestant Church.
From the Prophetic teaching that the Jews must set an example for the rest of mankind grew the idea that the physical
commandments of Judaism were for Jews only, but that the spiritual and moral message of Judaism was for all mankind. Now a
progression in Jewish religious thought reveals itself. Judaism,
which began its life as the exclusive property of a few Jewish
families, enlarged by Moses to include all the tribes of Israel, expanded by Josiah to bind the Jewish nation, was now made universal by the Prophets. ·
With the ideas supplied by the Prophets, the Jews in Babylonian captivity set about renovating their religion and giving it a
"new look." The Temple had been tied by law to Jerusalem, and
sacrifice had to be offered in it according to rigid ritual and formula. By having undermined the value of. sacrifice, by having
made morality superior to ritual, the Prophets freed the Jewish
religion from the confinement of time and place.
On the soil of Babylon the Jews created two new ideas
which have since become the possessions of mankind. Instead of
a temple for sacrifice, the Jews built synagogues for. religious assembly; instead of rituals for God, the Jews offered prayers to
confirmation.
72
God. The synagogue became the prototype for the church of the
Christians and the mosque of the Moslems prayer became the
universal symbol of devotion to God.
Through synagogue and prayer, the Jew no longer was tied
to any specific priesthood, temple, or country. He could set up
shop in any land and be in direct communication with God –
without intermediaries. The Jewish religion, which had been immobile and rigid, now became an exportable commodity, resili ent and invisible. Survival of the Jews in captivity and in dispersion was assured.
Many Jewish history books draw a picture of sorrow and
desolation when writing of the Jewish captivity in Babylon Fortunately, this is an inaccurate picture. In the sixth century Babylonia was ruled by a series of enlightened kings who treated their
captives with tolerance. Those Jews who "wept by the rivers of
Babylon" were but a handful of zealots; the rest of the Jews fell
in love with the country, prospered, and became cultured.
Babylonian trade routes took the Jews to every corner of the
known world, making them men of commerce and international
trade. In the libraries of Babylon the Jews found a world treasure
of manuscripts; they acquired a love for books and a taste for
learning. They acquired manners, grace, and refinement. The un known poet who in Psalm 137 sang, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember
thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth," 11 may have
expressed a sentiment current at the beginning of the exile, but
certainly not a sentiment prevalent fifty years later. By then both
words and tune had changed. When the sled of Jewish history
made a complete turnabout, heading back to Jerusalem, few
Babylonian Jews were on it. Again, Jewish fate had been caught
up in world history, and to understand the direction it took, we
must go back to the history of the dominant military powers.
After four millenniums of Semitic civilizations, Asia Minor
11 The Psalm is attributed to King David, who died in 960 B.C., and,
therefore, would be describing events three hundred years before
they took place.
73
fell under the rule of a new people, the Persians, and a new race,
the Aryans, latecomers to the circle of culture bearers. In the
sixth century B.C., when Babylonia stood at he height of her
power, there was no Persia. Who in 1910 would have believed
that England, then the undisputed ruler of the seas, in another
fifty years would sink to the status of a third-class power, and
that Russia, then a third-class power, in the same time would rise
to be a dominant world force? Who in 600 B.C. would have believed that in another fifty years Babylonia, then the ruler of the
world, would be wiped off the face of the earth by a people that
did not as yet exist? Yet history had slated this unknown people
to become the inheritors of the civilized world.
The origins of the Persians are uncertain. Historians surmise
they were the early Medes. The founding of the Persian Empire
is the accomplishment of one man, Cyrus the Great. In 560 B.C.
he became king of a petty city-state in the Middle East hinterland. Ten years later he was king of Media, a small kingdom
south of the Caspian Sea. In 539 he defeated Babylonia, and by
530 B.C. handed his son Cambyses the new Persian Empire extending from the Indus River to the Mediterranean and from the
Caucasus to the Indian Ocean. Cambyses added Egypt to his inheritance. The Persians now . stood at the summit, not knowing
that the Greeks were. around the corner with a challenge. Mean while, with the. defeat of the Babylonians, the Jews were flung
into the Persian orbit for two eventful centuries.
As the inheritor of a "Jewish problem," Cyrus took an action that literally stunned the Jews. He gave them permission: ·to
return to their homeland. True, it was not loving kindness, which
prompted him to give them their freedom. He felt that a tribute-paying nation would be more profitable than a devastated
country. If he could induce the Jews to return to Jerusalem, he
was sure they would rebuild the city and the · country, and turn
the desolation into a profitable source of revenue.
Whatever the motives of Cyrus, his act caught the Jews.
totally unprepared, and his graciousness was not greeted · with
unmitigated joy in every quarter. In fact, the decree created
74
mixed emotions and loyalties. Why go back to Jerusalem where
only desolation, poverty, and unremitting hard labor stared one in
the face? This situation could be likened to a similar one today.
Not many American Jews migrated to Israel when it became an
independent state in 1948. Like the American Jew today, the
Babylonian Jew said, "I'm a good Babylonian [American]. Why
should I go?"
The Jews had not only prospered in Babylonian exile and
become refined, they had also multiplied. Whereas at the begin ning of the exile there had been hardly 125,000 Jews in the entire
world, there were now 150,000 Jews in Babylonia itself. About a
fourth decided to take advantage of Cyrus's edict and return to
Jerusalem. Here they joined the small number of Jews who had
managed to survive the debris and min of those devastating three
wars which had led to exile in Babylonia fifty years earlier.
A wag once defined Zionism as a movement of one Jew
sending a second Jew to Palestine on a third Jew's money. This
remark could very well have originated in Babylonia, because
wealthy Babylonian Jews began subsidizing the return to Jerusalem of less fortunate Jews, and in this way there was a continuous trickle of Jews back to the homeland after the first mass exodus. Jerusalem became prosperous again. The population grew,
agriculture and commerce flourished, and the increased tribute
Cyrus had foreseen flowed into his coffers.
But in Palestine, the Jewish leaders were worried. The country, to all intents and purposes, was still a satellite nation. Any
day a ruler could ascend the throne of Persia who might not have
the tolerant attitude of Cyrus. The threat of expulsion or abrogation of religious liberties might one day hang over their heads.
What additional measures could Jewish leaders take to prevent
the ethnic extinction of the Jews in such an eventuality? The
problem, they felt, was no longer how to survive as individual
Jews, but how to survive as a recognizable Jewish people. Could
a feeling of Jewishness be embedded even deeper in the Jewish
soul than the f Prophets had thrust it? Could such a feeling be
driven into the unconscious so deeply as to become a part of the
75
total personality? These answers were provided by the leaders of
'a second mass exodus of Jews from Babylonia to Jerusalem. The
mass of Jews in the first Babylonian exodus had for [the most
part been drawn from the zealots and from the poor. In spite of
this, they had a triumvirate of most distinguished leadership –
two princes and a Zadokite 12 High Priest. Prince Sheshbazzar and
Prince Zerubbabel were descendants of the royal house of David,
and both hoped to 'become king of Judah. Jeshua, the Zadokite,
hoped to be anointed High Priest. Only Jeshua's dream was realized. Sheshbazzar, who began the rebuilding of the Temple
which the Babylonians had destroyed, mysteriously disappears
from the pages of the Bible. Zerubbabel, who finished the
Temple, vanishes equally mysteriously. A clue to their sudden
disappearance is furnished in the Old Testament (Ezra and
Zechariah), which hints that the Jews tried to crown each of them
king. It is entirely possible – and this is a conjecture – that the
Persians, who would not tolerate the establishment of a royal
house in Judah, unceremoniously beheaded both Sheshbazzar
and Zerubbabel for high treason. On the other hand, the Persians
did not oppose a Jewish High Priest. It is not surprising, therefore, that we read in the Old Testament (Zechariah 6:11) that a
crown of silver and gold was placed on the head of Jeshua as he
was anointed High Priest and ruler of Jerusalem.
The crowning of Jeshua as High Priest was of great significance to the Jews because it gave them a form of self-government
in exile which was acceptable to their conquerors, without arous ing suspicion that they would try to establish an independent
kingdom. After having been successively ruled first by Judges,
then by kings, Palestine was to be ruled, with but a brief inter ruption, for the next five hundred years by High Priests.
Palestine, however, never became a theocracy13 because of the
12 Zadok was the first High Priest appointed by King David. Descendants of Zadok, known as Zadokites, were heldin highest esteem and
'honor by Jews.
13 Theocracy – from two greek words, theos meaning "god," and
kratein meaning "to rule"; hence a government by priests who claim
76
balance of power in Jewish democracy. The power of the Sanhedrin and the Popular Assemblies always kept Jewish government under secular, not priestly, control, though the titular head,
residing in the office of High Priest, gave it the outward semblance of a theocracy.
The leaders of the first exodus from Babylonia had set the
political boundaries for their homeland; the leaders of the·
second exodus set the spiritual framework. Searching for the answers to the problem of ethnic survival were two high-born Jews,
Nehemiah and Ezra, both influential in Persian court circles. Nehemiah, also a descendant of Zadok, was a. "cupbearer to the
king," and Ezra was a scribe at the court. Both became the Pauls
of a new Judaism.
Nehemiah was appointed governor of Judah by the Persian
king. As governor he enacted social-reform laws, stimulated
commerce and industry, and rebuilt the walls around Jerusalem.
Ezra had heard of the low state of morale .among the first settlers
of Judah. He became obsessed with the mission to establish
firmly for all time a Jewish consciousness in his people. This,
he .was convinced, could be done only by reinstituting Mosaic
law as fundamental law. It was this accomplishment which
earned him the title of "Second Moses."
In the year 458 b. c., with the permission of the Persian king,
Ezra headed the second mass exodus of 1,800 Jews from Babylonia to Jerusalem. Here Ezra joined hands with Nehemiah. The
first move of this alliance between priest and aristocrat was a ban
on intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews, the first in Jewish
history, and the first such ban on intermarriage in the world. This
action did not sit well with many nations. Think of the gall of
this small nation, just freed from captivity, saying in effect that
no man or woman of any other nation was good enough for the
children of Israel. It did not sit well with many Jews either, and
the Book of Ruth is considered to have been written at this time
divine . permission from God to rule. The Jewish High Priest could
no more claim divine permission to rule or descent from God than
could the Jewish king.
77
as a protest against such discrimination. However, it must be
stressed that this action was not motivated by a philosophy of superiority, or as a rejection of other people as inferior, but was
strictly a defense against future religious dilution. The Chosen
People should stay chosen. This Ezra-Nehemiah edict had a cumulatively greater and greater binding force on the Jews, and
eventually was to help them survive the waves of assimilation
which almost overwhelmed them during Greco-Roman, Islamic,
and modern times.
As a second move toward forging a national religious and :
spiritual Jewish character, Ezra and Nehemiah decided not only
to revise the Book of Deuteronomy but to add to it four other
Books of Moses. Under their direction, priest and scholar
labored diligently to fuse the most important of the divergent
Mosaic documents, including the Deuteronomy of Josiah, into
the five books of the Pentateuch, namely, Genesis, Exodus,
Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. All Five Books of Moses
were now made divine. From here on, no deletions, changes or
additions to the Pentateuch could be made, nor have any been
made.
The dramatic "peg" used by Josiah to introduce his version
of Deuteronomy was also used in the year 444 B.C. by Ezra and
Nehemiah to introduce the Pentateuch. Heralds were sent into
every corner of the Persian Empire to spread the news that on the
Jewish New Year's Day the Five Books of Moses, written by
Moses, would be read aloud to all the people. The news was on
everyone's tongue, and on that eventful New Year's Day Jews
from all over the empire thronged into Jerusalem. Because
people had already begun to forget Hebrew, interpreters were on
hand to explain in Aramaic all difficult passages. The Aramaic
language, the Esperanto of the Middle Eastern melting pot of
Semitic peoples, had become the everyday speech of the Jews as·
well as that of dozens of other Semitic nations.
The idea of having interpreters proved popular and became a
permanent institution in Jewish life. Because it was decreed that
no part of the Bible could remain obscure, a school known as
78
Midrash (meaning "exposition") developed. These expositors of
the Bible became highly respected members of every Jewish
community and foreshadowed the academies, or yeshivas, to be
founded by the Jews at the beginning of the Christian Era. So
that the people would not forget the Law of Moses, Ezra and Nehemiah also decreed that the Pentateuch had to be read in every
synagogue throughout each year on the Sabbath day and twice
during the week. Right after every Jewish New Year, the reading
was started over again with the first chapter of Genesis.
It must be pointed out that the above account of the origin of
the Pentateuch is by no means universally accepted. We have
given a secular explanation, to which many scholars subscribe,
but not all. A considerable segment of people hold the view that
the Pentateuch is divinely inspired and written by one person. In
this book we have presented, and will continue to present, the
secular viewpoint without claiming that this is the only interpret ation, or that a religiously oriented answer is less accurate. The
books in the New Testament, as we shall later see, were intro duced much in the same manner by men who wanted them declared divine. The important thing is that irrespective of which
explanation one accepts, the events took place, and these events
shaped history.
Eight hundred years after the death of Moses the Jewishness
of the Jew had been established as a result of the reforms of Josiah, the doctrines of the Prophets, and the innovations of Ezra and
Nehemiah.
The Babylonian Jews who had returned to Jerusalem
brought with them their love for books. They stimulated a new
intellectual life in Palestine. Palestine and Babylonia rivaled
each other in scholarship and intellectual ferment for many cen turies until, three hundred years after the destruction of the
Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans, Babylonia became the sanctuary and repository for Jewish learning for a thousand years.
The Babylonian Jews also introduced the concept of the
synagogue into Palestine, where it existed side by side with t the
Temple. The synagogue, however, did not displace the Temple in
79
importance until after the destruction of that Temple in 70 A.D.
But in spite of the continued existence of the Temple cult in Jerusalem, the synagogue took on a new form in both Babylonia and
Palestine. The new love for study brought Jews of all social and
economic classes into closer communion This common respect
for knowledge rapidly changed the function of the synagogue.
Because its use became threefold, the synagogue itself was
known by three names, depending upon which service it performed – Beth Tephila, the "House of Prayer"; Beth Hamidrash,
the "House of Study"; and Beth Haknesseth, the "House of Assembly." (The word Knesseth is the name for the parliament of
Israel today.) This expansion of the Jewish religious framework
to include prayer, learning, and government set the pattern for
yet other concepts to come – namely, standard prayer books and
liturgy, universal education, freedom of assembly, and self-government in exile, all instituted first by the Jews and later adopted
by other nations.
The dream of Abraham and the vision of Moses for a unified
Jewish people, obeying the commandments of the Lord · God Jehovah out of an inner compulsion, had been fulfilled. They were
now to be tested in the crucible of history. The center of civilization was shifting from the Near East to Europe. Alexander the
Great of Macedonia was on the march n quest of empire, bringing with him a new way of life, a Jew civilization, and new challenges to the Jews.
80
II: THE AGE OF THE
"APIKORSIM"
How the Jews defended themselves against the ''Apikorsim" – the Epicurean Greeks – and their naked statues;
and how they survived military slaughter at the hands
of the Romans, who laid Jerusalem waste and made
much of Palestine off limits to them
81
HERE'S WHEN IT HAPPENED
THE GRECO-ROMAN PERIOD 300 B.C. TO 300 A.D.
GRECO-ROMAN HISTORY
JEWISH HISTORY
Aryan tribes invade Greek peninsula from Asia Minor. 1300
B.C. to 1200
Jews are slaves in Egypt.
Age of Achilles; Siege of Troy.
1200 to
1100
Moses leads Jews out of
bondage in Egypt Jews settle
in Palestine
Aeolians, Ionians, Dorians filter 1100 to 800
into Greece from Northern
Balkans. Cretan and Aegean
civilizations destroyed.
Age of Judges. David and
Solomon kings; Division of
Palestine into Judah and Israel.
Age of Homer. Greeks become 800 to 700
known as Hellenes. Rome founded by barbaric invaders.
Century of Prophet; Kingdom of Israel destroyed by
Assyrians.
First formation of Greek citystates.
700 to 600
Josiah king of Judah. Age of
Jeremiah and Isaiah.
Romans destroy Etruscan culture.
600 to 500
Babylonians conquest Judah,
deport Jews; Persians defeat
Babylonians; set Jews free to
return to Palestine.
Greek-Persian wars begin.
Battles of Marathon and Salamis. Roman Republic founded.
500 8.C. to
400
Second return of Jews from
Babylonia. The reforms of
Ezra and Nehemiah.
Rise of Macedonia. Alexander
the Great defeats the Persians.
Samnite wars make Romans
masters of Italy
400 to 300
Jews come under Grecian
rule and Hellenic influence.
First contact with West.
Break up Alexander's empire
300 to 200
into Seleucide and Ptolemaic
kingdoms First and second Punic and Macedonian wars establish Romans as dominant Mediterranean power.
Bible translated into Greek.
Foundations for Christianity
laid.
82
a. Ptolemaic Kingdom: Centered
in Egypt and Palestine. Ruled by
house of Ptolemy until 30 B.C.
when annexed by the Romans.
Palestine under Ptolemaic
rule from 323 to 198 B.C.
Has self-government under
rule of High Priests.
b. Seleucid Kingdom: Centered
in Asia Minor and Babylonia.
Conquered by Rome in 67 8.c.
Palestine wrested from
Ptolemies in 198 by
Seleucids. Maccabean revolt.
Disintegration of Greek city200 to 100
states. Romans defeat Hannibal.
Third Macedonian War makes
Romans masters of Greece.
Maccabees establish Hasmonean dynasty Strife
between Sadducees and Pharisees.
Rome conquers the East, invades Britain, becomes ruler of
known world. Age of Caesar.
End of Roman Republic.
100 B.C to 1 Palestine conquered by RoA.D.
mans (63). Jesus Christ born.
Herod King of the Jews.
Age of absolute dictatorships.
Octavian, Vespasian, Titus,
Nero. Height of Roman power.
Christians persecuted.
1 A.D. To
100
Pontius Pilate procurator of
Judea. Chris crucified by Romans First Jewish uprising
against Roman oppression.
Titus destroys Jerusalem.
Century of uprisings and revolts. 100 to 200
Persecution of Christians continues.
Second and third Jewish rebellions. Bar Kochba insurrection. Palestine devastated
and mar off-limits to Jews.
Collapse of constitutional government. Beginning of end for
Romans. Army in control of
state.
Jews dispersed throughout
empire, become Roman citizens. Permitted to resettle in
Palestine.
200 to 300
FIVE
THE BAITED PIN-UP CULTURE
One thinks of the Hellenization of the Alexandrian empire as
being all – pervasive. Actually it was like a hoop skirt; it covered
much but touched little. The conquering Greeks tried to change
the Near East by fitting her into this vast hoop skirt. Within it
they placed their wares of art, science, and pleasure, which con stituted their exportable Hellenism.14 A succession of Jewish
leaders exhorted the Jews to resist the lure of the Hellenized pinup culture. They exposed the bait in Grecian hedonism, or philosophy of pleasure, and warned them against the folly of commit ting national suicide by exchanging their Jewish heritage for an
"ersatz" Greek culture.
The introduction of Hellenism in the Near East during the
third century B.C. resembled the introduction of the Renaissance
into feudal Poland during the fifteenth century A.D. In Poland,
the nobility wore powdered wigs and handkerchiefs doused with
the finest French perfumes. But underneath the powdered wigs
the lice crawled; behind the scent of perfume lurked the stench
of unwashed bodies. In the Near East, Hellenism was for the city
slickers. Behind the glittering facades of " Greek cities" were the
baked-mud hovels of the Oriental peasants. Though a few pagan
intellectuals read Greek poetry, the great majority of the people
were illiterate. Though Greek thought dominated the Near East
for six hundred years, no original native contribution to art, let ters, or philosophy ever grew out of this fusion between Occident and Orient.
There was one exception – the Jews. Though most of them
rejected Hellenism itself, Greek philosophy fell on fertile soil.
Though the Jews in the main did resist the Greek philosophies,
they mastered the Greek philosophers. The Jews absorbed
14 We must make a distinction between "Hellenistic" and "Hellenic."
The first refers to the exportable phase of Greek culture; the second
is the term applied to the civilization in Greece itself.
83
84
everything intellectual which the Greeks had to offer. To
everything intellectual they borrowed, they added a Jewish
touch. The Greeks then took these retouched ideas back from the
Jews. The result was something neither had foreseen. The Greeks
emerged in a Jewish-made mantle known as Christianity; the
Jews wore a Greek philosophic tunic labeled "Talmudism."15 But
in spite of this extensive borrowing from each other for six cen turies, the Greeks regarded the Jews as barbarians without manners, and the Jews viewed the Greeks as heathens without morals.
Who were these Greeks, and how did they get mixed up with
the Jews – or the Jews with them? Historians do not know much
about their early origins except that, like the Persians, they were
an Aryan people. At about the time that Moses led the Israelites
out of Egypt, the Greeks invaded the Aegean Peninsula from the
Anatolian Plain in Asia Minor. Greek history properly begins
with the establishment of the key city-states of Athens, Sparta,
and Corinth in the seventh century B.C., about the time Israel
was defeated by the Assyrians. In the fifth and fourth centuries,
Greece gave birth to a succession of great men in almost every
field of learning except religion.
The fifth century, the height of Greek achievement, her
Golden Age, was also her century of anxiety. The Greeks lived
under the constant threat of domination by their fellow Aryans,
the Persians. By the sixth century, Persia had extended her empire to the Aegean shores, and by the fifth century Greece was on
Persia's timetable for conquest. There was no question as to who
would annihilate whom. There was no logical reason for a sup position that the tiny Greek city-states would defeat the colossus
from the East, but that is precisely what happened at the famed
land battle at Marathon (490 b. c.) and the equally famed sea
battle at Salamis (480 b. c.), where the Greeks shattered the
vastly superior Persian forces. It was illogical, but as history nev15 The theme of this statement will be developed in Part IV, "The Invisible World of the Talmud," dealing with the origins and growth of
Talmudism.
85
er stops to apologize for her inconsistencies, she continued to be
illogical and permitted the Greek tribes to defeat the Persian
armies over and over again.
Between defeating the Persians, the Greeks went back to
their favorite pastime-fighting among themselves. It never occurred to them to pursue the defeated enemy ·into his homeland.
The Greeks thought their civilization too good for the barbarians.
Why invade and be burdened with the problem of governing and
educating them? Alexander the Great was the first Greek on record who had different ideas on that point. He dreamed of a
world empire. In 334 b. c. he crossed the Hellespont with 32,000
infantrymen and shattered the armies of an empire which had
millions of soldiers at its command. The Persian armies were
first defeated at the River Granicus, then annihilated at the Battle
of Issus, where Alexander demanded the unconditional surrender
of Darius III. The Persian Empire ceased to exist. By the law of
"winner take all," the Jews passed under Greek rule.
For some unexplained reason, the hot-tempered Jews did not
fight Alexander, though in the past, heedless of odds, they had
not hesitated to take arms against enemies equally formidable.
Instead, according to a persistent legend, the High Priest of Jerusalem headed a formal procession to welcome Alexander (332
B.C.). The Macedonian king took an instant liking to these
"fierce barbarians" who, to his great astonishment, carried no
visible gods with them to greet him. He granted them internal
political and religious freedom, an act which made him the "patron saint" of the Jews, if one can speak of such a thing.
Alexander's ambition was not only to establish a Grecian
empire, but to extend Hellenic culture the world over. He wanted
the people in his domain to speak Greek, act Greek, be Greek.
This he hoped to accomplish by Hellenizing all conquered
provinces. His method of indoctrination was exceedingly simple,
though highly effective. Instead of the sword, Alexander used
sex. To establish Greek culture as a way of life in the conquered
territories, Alexander ordered his officers and men to intermarry
with the native populations and to beget many children. Within
86
ten years he founded twenty-five Greek cities in the Middle East,
chief among them Alexandria in Egypt. So effective was his
method of acculturation by insemination that, but for his un timely death at the age of thirty-two, he would probably have
succeeded. His successors, however, were more interested in mil itary and political power than in propagation of the Hellenic
ideal. No sooner had Alexander died than his great domain was
ripped apart by the swords of his dissenting generals. Three of
them contended for the empire, but none was strong enough to
seize it, so each grabbed a part of it. Antigonus laid claim to
Greece; Seleucus took possession of Asia Minor and Syria,
founding the Seleucid Empire; Ptolemy grabbed Egypt and
Palestine, founding the Ptolemaic Empire.
The Ptolemaic kings generally subscribed to the philosophy
of "live and let live." As long as the Palestinian Jews paid taxes,
they were left alone. They enjoyed a large measure of self-government and complete cultural and religious freedom. The chief
administrator was the High Priest, whose power was held in
check by the Sanhedrin so that there would be no chance ·for the
High Priest to confuse his will with that of God. The Sanhedrin
acted in the dual capacity of senate and supreme court, with its
members chosen from the leading families, scholars, and intellectuals. When acting as a supreme court, this body had seventyone members; when judging cases involving capital offense, it
was composed of twenty-three judges; in civil cases and lesser
criminal offenses, a minimum of three members was required.
The statement that the American system of law is based
partly upon Roman concepts has been made so often that we take
it for granted, without examining the source from which .. Roman laws might stem. The remarkable resemblances among Roman law, present-day American law, and Jewish jurisprudence in
Biblical days is more than mere coincidence. The. Jews devised,
four centuries before Christ, a legal system based on the dignity
of man and individual equality before the law, while Europe still
had trial by ordeal as late as the fifteenth century. The rabbis
viewed law as a vehicle for justice; laws without justice were re87
garded as immoral. Even though the Jews in those days had no
jury system,16 the procedures for the indictment and trial of an
accused person were similar to the procedures in American
courts today. The accused was presumed to be innocent until
proved guilty. He had a right to counsel and to a proper trial. He
had a right to call witnesses, to confront his accusers, and to
testify in his own behalf. He could not be compelled to testify
against himself, and he could not be placed in double jeopardy.
The accused individual was permitted to appeal, or have others
appeal in his behalf, if new evidence should turn up.
Though the bulk of the population was still agricultural,
many turned to commerce and industry, which took those so engaged to every outpost of the former Alexandrian empire. The
Jews prospered and multiplied. "They have penetrated into every
state so that it is difficult to find a single place in the world in
which this tribe has not been received and become dominant,"
wrote the Greek geographer and philosopher Strabo in the first
century B.C. Every Greek city in Asia Minor had a considerable
Jewish population. But underneath the facade of tranquillity, two
struggles were taking place. One was an internal struggle among
the Jews themselves against Hellenization. The other was an external tug of war between the Ptolemies and Seleucids.
When the Jews came under Grecian rule, their real enemy
was Hellenism. The subsequent fight between Greek and Jew
was the fight between two ideas packaged for export – Alexander's Hellenic culture, and the Judaic religion of the Prophets.
The Prophets won.
The Hellenization of the Jews began inconspicuously. First
it infected their language, manners, and customs; then it en croached upon their morals, ethics, and religion. The first was a
daytime break-through, between nine and five, when Jewish and
Greek businessmen met in bazaars and coffee houses. The
16 Many democracies today do not have a jury system; they hold that a
jury is only another organized form of law, and that justice can flourish equally with or without a jury, just as injustice can exist with or
without a jury system.
88
second took place after five, when Jewish and Greek youths met
in – gymnasiums, theaters, and – cabarets.
Under the impact of daily business associations, the Jews assumed Greek names for the same reasons American Jews today
Anglicize their names; they spoke Greek for the same reason
educated Europeans spoke French in the later Baroque era; they
abandoned their traditional Jewish dress for the Greek tunic for
the same reason Chinese and Japanese today shed their traditional costumes for Westernized clothing. Greek words crept into
Jewish religious writings. Even synagogues began to resemble
Grecian temples. Jews throughout the world experienced a
shock, and Christians a sad. surprise, when archaeological excav ations in a former Greco-Roman outpost brought to light a Jewish synagogue, which at first was mistaken for a Grecian
temple.17 Its walls were covered with beautiful, colorful paint ings, portraying ' Biblical scenes. They are so highly reminiscent
of Byzantine painting that scholars now, to their great discomfiture, are forced to credit the Jews as the originators of an art form
heretofore thought of as strictly Christian.
The after-five social encounters between Jewish and Greek
youth had an even more corrosive effect on traditional Jewish
ways than the nine-to-five business intermixing of their elders.
Greek games were exceedingly popular, and soon nude wrestling
was commonplace among Jewish males. In the theater the younger set came in contact with the urbane sophistication of the
Greeks, and from here the door led to the cabaret and to the
couch of the concubine. Soon pleasure was pursued as a policy,
and "folly soared into philosophy." The road to apostasy ran
from the front pew in the synagogue to a seat in the theater to the
embrace of the hetaera to a front pew in a pagan temple.
Just as Jewish businessmen yielded to Greek manners and
Jewish youth to Greek pleasure, so the Jewish intellectuals succumbed to the spell of the Greek philosophers, whom the , ortho17 Carl H. Kraeling, The Excavations of Dura-Europos, Final Report
VIII, Part 1, The Synagogue.
89
dox Jews regarded with more alarm than they did the courtesans.
The latter could corrupt only the body, whereas the former cor rupted the mind. Of all the Greek philosophers, the Epicureans
were singled out as special targets for condemnation. The Epicureans were the cynics who taught that the gods did not inter vene in human affairs. They taught that it was man's duty to free
himself from such superstitions as punishment and reward, and
that there was no such thing as morality and immorality; only
pleasure. The pursuit of pleasure, the Epicureans held, was man's
only true goal. Under the impact of this distortion of the philosophy of Epicurus, immorality and licentiousness replaced the
traditional values of chastity and faithfulness. So threatening
were the inroads made by the Epicureans on Jewish youth, that
them very name – "Apikoros" in Hebrew – became a dreaded
curse so deeply embedded that it persists until this day among
Jews.
Though the inroads of Hellenization were considerable,
most Jews remained anti-Hellenistic. Two ideological strands
bound the anti-Hellenizers together. One was the prestige and
power of the Mosaic law, still considered divine by the people;
the other was the firm belief that the Davidic line of kings would
be restored. ·Slowly these sentiments .forged the anti-Hellenizers
into a political party, whose members became known as the
Hasideans, or pietists, who must not be confused with the
Hasidists, a Jewish religious sect which made its appearance in
eighteenth-century Europe. The Hasidean party, which had originally been formed as a protest against drinking and carousing,
now turned against the Epicureans in particular and against all
things Grecian in general. As more and more members flocked to
its banner, it gained political strength and came to play the dom inant role in the events to follow.
For 125 years the Seleucids and Ptolemies fought over the
control of Palestine. Finally, after more than a century of
struggle, the Seleucid king, Antiochus III, known as "the Great,"
succeeded in wrestling Palestine from the Ptolemies. Antiochus
continued the tolerant policies of its former rulers, permitting the
90
Jews even greater internal freedom because of the remarkable
aptitude they had shown for self-government.
Antiochus had the grandiose idea of unifying the entire
former Alexandrian empire under his rule. He marched his troops
to Egypt, where he ran headlong into the Romans. One look at
the Roman legions, and Antíochus got out. In spite of his ignominious retreat, he felt he could defeat the Romans if he but had
a unified empire behind him, and that an intense Hellenization
program, which included erecting statues of the Greek gods and
himself throughout his domain, would give him that unity. This
nationalistic drive was a success in the greatest part of his em pire, but it ran into a snag in Palestine. The Jews argued that by
bearing arms and paying taxes to Antiochus they had proved
their loyalty and good citizenship without having to prove it further by erecting statues of the king in their temples. Antiochus
agreed, but his second son, Antiochus Epiphanes, who inherited
the throne in 176 b. c., after the murder of his brother, did not.
Antiochus Epiphanes felt that the Hellenization program begun
by his father should also include the Jews, not because he had
anything against them, but as a matter of principle. The Jews
could not see it that way. The result was a tragic war with comic
overtones and unexpected results.
It was the custom of the Seleucid kings to appoint the governors ruling the provinces in their realm. In the case of 1 the
Jews, who had self-government, the king usually appointed a
High Priest recommended by the Jews themselves. The Hellenized Jewish aristocrats thought that it would be to their advantage if they helped Antiochus in his ambition to Hellenize
Palestine. Through intrigue and bribery these aristocrats pre vailed upon Antiochus to appoint to this office a Jewish priest
named Jason, a leading Hellenizer in Palestine. What 125 years
of Ptolemaic and Seleucid rule had not been able to bring about,
Jason accomplished in twelve months. He opened the gates of
the Temple to pagan rites. Grecian statues were introduced into
the Holy Sanctuary; Jewish priests garbed in Grecian costumes
officiated at Greek cultic rites. Greek games performed by naked
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Jewish boys became a common spectacle in the Temple courtyards. Jewish envoys were sent to pagan festivals to represent
Jerusalem. Anger and resentment smoldered. Jews from all economic and social strata flocked to the ranks of the Hasideans,
whose leaders, like the Prophets of five hundred years earlier,
began to thunder against licentiousness and idolatry. „ The events
which now took place were not planned. They just happened that
way.
Antiochus Epiphanes has been so entrenched in Jewish history as a villain that few Jews can see the war which ensued for
what it really was-not an uprising against tyrannical Seleucids,
but a revolt by Jewish anti-Hellenizers against Jewish Hellenizers. Nothing anti-Jewish was imposed on the Jews by the
Seleucids. The same laws, just or unjust, had been applied to
everybody. All complied, except the Jews. Neither had any
Seleucid king demanded the extremes imposed by Jason. The re bellion, sparked by an unforeseen event, was started by the Jews.
It was this rebellion which invited the reprisals that followed, not
Jewish noncompliance with the Seleucid Hellenization program.
With Hellenism triumphant in his realm, Antiochus Epiphanes felt it was time to implement ideas with deeds, and he
marched against Egypt. A rumor reached the Jews that he had
been slain in a battle with the Romans. Hasidean party leaders
seized the opportunity and struck at the Jewish Hellenizers, permanently disposing of all the Jewish officials and priests appoin ted by Antiochus by the simple device of throwing them over the
walls of the Temple, a one-hundred-foot drop from which none
recovered. The statues followed the officials over the wall. Then
began a systematic massacre of all known Hellenizers. The
Hasideans took over the rule of the country.
Alas, it had been a false rumor. Antiochus was very much
alive and full of rage. He had only suffered the same humiliating
rebuff at the hands of the Romans as had his illustrious father.
Faced with an ultimatum by the Romans to get out of Egypt and
with an uprising in Palestine, Antiochus thought it more prudent
to vent his anger on the Jews. He marched his armies out of
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Egypt into Jerusalem, where he . senselessly slaughtered 10,000
inhabitants without inquiring into their party affiliations. A new
set of statues was installed in the Temple, and a new set of High
Priests was appointed to tend to them. Just as Alexander the
Great had invited the Jews to settle in his Greek cities, so Antiochus invited the pagans to come and settle in Jerusalem to dilute
the Jewish population.
Had Antiochus stopped here, the breach might have been
healed. But unfortunately his injured pride did not permit this.
Out of sheer spite he outlawed the Sabbath day and forbade circumcision. The Hasidean party, whose members had . been practically wiped out in the Seleucid reprisals, now found new adher ents among those Jews who previously had stood for moderate
Hellenization. A second uprising was inevitable, and again a
totally unforeseen event sparked it.
In a little town outside Jerusalem, a Greek official attempted
to force an aged Jewish priest to sacrifice to Greek gods. The
name of the priest was Mattathias, of the Hasmonean house.
Rather than commit this sacrilege, Mattathias slew the official.
Antiochus ordered new reprisals, and the Jewish population rose
en masse to the defense of : Mattathias, who, with his five sons,
now took over the conduct of the war. They became known as
the Maccabees from the Hebrew word for "hammer" – because
in battle after battle they dealt "hammer blows" to the Seleucid
armies.18 It was the beginning of a bitter war, a new kind of war,
the world's first religious war, fought with grim determination,
heedless of cost and sacrifice.
With amazement, the Seleucid Greeks watched how this
people stoically and heroically died for ideas, not possessions.
Their disdain for the "barbarian" Jews changed to respect and
awe. They could not' understand this kind of war. It stood to reas on that when a country's armies were defeated, its capital occu pied, its king captured, its temple and gods smashed, the people
18 Another explanation is that "Maccabee" is a contraction of the first
syllables of their war cry, "Mi ko-mocho ba-eilim, Adonoi?" – "Who
is like unto Thee, O Lord?"
93
would submit as a matter of course. But these Jews did not submit. As each Jew carried his temple in his heart, the Seleucids
ruefully realized they would have to kill all of them in order to
kill their religious ideas. As each Jew resisted being killed, a bit ter, protracted fight ensued. The legend of the Maccabees spread
throughout the Hellenic world.
At first Antiochus had not thought much of this rebellion.
He sent a small, crack expeditionary force against the Maccabees
to teach them a lesson. The Jews annihilated it. Stung by this unexpected defeat, Antiochus assembled a huge, first-rate army and
marched at the head of it against Jerusalem. So confident was he
of victory that he brought with him a battalion of slave auction eers and circulated posters throughout the empire quoting the
latest prices for Jewish slaves. But his soothsayers had misread
the stars. In 164 b. c. the Jews shattered his armies and recap tured Jerusalem. The Temple was purged of all idols and rededicated to God, giving birth to the feast of Hanukkah, which commemorates this victory.
The war with the Seleucids lasted twenty-five years. Jewish
arms were blessed not only with valor but also with continued
success. They won battle after battle, and slowly the Seleucids
retreated from Palestinian soil. Antiochus Epiphanes died
without realizing his dream of selling the Jews in the slave markets of the world. His successor offered the Jews full religious
freedom, but, flushed with victory, the Jews held out for complete independence and carried the war to enemy territory. Un certain of final victory, the Seleucids now offered them independence, and the Jews, worn out by a quarter century of fighting, accepted.
One by one, four of the five sons of Mattathias had been
slain in the protracted war. Simon, the only survivor, signed the
peace treaty in the year 143 b. c. After an incredible war, the im possible had been achieved – a new Jewish Kingdom of Judah
had again been established.
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SIX
THE FIGHT THAT FAILED
In 143 B.C. with the second establishment of Judah, the
Jewish people were 1,857 years old. By this time, according to
the Spenglerian and Toynbeean philosophies, history should have
buried them, mankind forgotten them, and archaeologists redis covered them. But God, fate, or blind circumstance had willed it
differently. The Jews were not only very much alive, but unwittingly they were busy formulating ways and means for destroying their newly established kingdom.
Though Simon, the only surviving son of Mattathias, was
never anointed king, .he is nevertheless regarded as the first of
the Hasmonean dynasty. Officially he was High Priest of Jerusalem and governor of Judah. He was a wise and shrewd ruler. He
realized that the Seleucids and Ptolemies were only biding ·their
time for a propitious moment to strike back at Judah. Anticipating the rising star of the Roman Empire, he signed a mutual defense pact with the Romans to forestall a future invasion by the
Seleucids and Ptolemies. A famous limerick parodies the consequences of this action:
There was a young lady of Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger;
They came back from the ride
With the lady inside
And the smile on the face of the tiger.
For almost eighty years the smile was on the face of the
rider of the Roman tiger; after that, the smile was on the tiger
which had swallowed the Jewish rider. It was not, however, Roman perfidy, but internal Hasmonean strife which brought about
the downfall of the new kingdom .
A classic political rift fatally divided the Hasmonean house,
95
setting brother against brother, father against son, people against
ruler. At the bottom boiled the issue of Hellenism. At the top
simmered three political parties, each one contributing to the de struction of Jerusalem, the dispersion of the Jews, and the creation of Christianity.
We have seen how the ill-advised repressive measures of
Antiochus Epiphanes drove Jews of every religious gradation
and economic class under the one banner of the Hasideans as a
protest not against Hellenism, but against the denial of religious
liberty. Many Jews, especially the rich and the aristocrats, had
desired a measure of Hellenization without the disappearance of
Judaism. Now that victory over the Seleucids ·was achieved and
the threat of annihilation averted, there was nothing to hold these
divergent groups together. Lacking counterpressure, the internal
pressure of the Jewish Hellenizers exploded the Hasideans into
three new, separate parties – the Essenes, the Pharisees, and the
Sadducees.
The Essene membership came from the nucleus of the
former Hasidean party. But the Essenes had no taste for politics
and withdrew from secular activities to devote their entire lives
to religious contemplation. As time went by, they formed their
own religious communities, as did the Quakers and Amish in
America. The Essene Jews developed a messianic religion, giving birth to the ideas which were to play a dominant role in the
lives of John the Baptist and Jesus.
The anti-Hellenizers in the Hasidean party, who could not go
along with the Essenes in their extreme views and withdrawal
from life, separated themselves into a second party known as the
"Pharisees," or "Separatists." The pro-Hellenizers, on the other
hand, who had joined the Hasideans only to fight a common enemy, now formed their own party, the Sadducees. With time, the
political tension between Sadducees and Pharisees increased in
intensity until it finally broke out into open conflict. The paradox
of the strife between, Sadduccee and Pharisee was that whereas
the Sadducees were liberal in their political views and conservative in their religious thinking, the Pharisees were conservative in
96
their politics and liberal in their religion. The Sadducees stood
for Temple, Priest, and Sacrifice – the pre-Prophetic concept of
Judaism. The Pharisees stood for Synagogue, Rabbi, and Prayer
– the post-Prophetic concept of Judaism. The Sadducees were
the party of the aristocrats and priestly class; the Pharisees were
the party of the common men.
The Sadducees represented the liberal, enlightened political
viewpoint. They felt that neither their country nor Judaism would
be jeopardized by a reasonable amount of Hellenic cultural influence, in the same way that many American Jews today believe
that they can safely embrace i the best features of American life
without having to give up their Jewishness. When Jesus preached
in Galilee and Jerusalem, the Sadducees did not regard him as a
radical, but as a zealot – in other words, as a Pharisee.
The Pharisees, again, looked upon the Sadducees as conservatives, upon the Essenes as zealots, and upon themselves . as
liberals. They were against Hellenization because it represented
an alien culture, but they were not against developing a cultural
and political liberalism of their own. They believed in the prin ciple of religious evolution. The Pharisees stressed the new Oral
Law, a series of reinterpretations of Mosaic law. They were responsible for introducing the elasticity into Judaism which made
possible its survival in the ·times of stress ahead.
Trouble between the two parties started after Simon was
murdered by his son-in-law. Simon's son, John Hyrcanus, was
crowned king and anointed High Priest, merging the two offices
into one. In this dual role of king and High Priest, he managed to
offend his own party, the Pharisees. He hired foreign mercenaries, he struck coins bearing his name, and plundered the tomb of
King David, taking from it 3000 talents of silver. The Pharisees
were so enraged at his actions that they demanded he give up his
office of High Priest. In a fit of anger, Hyrcanus switched his
party affiliation to the Sadducees, and further infuriated the Pharisees by introducing several Hellenizing measures. The breach
widened.
Hyrcanus extended the frontiers of Palestine by annexing :,
97
the pagan territories of the Idumeans and Galileans, about 135
B.C., and then committed an act which was to bring his country
untold grief. He converted the pagan Idumeans and Galileans to
Judaism by the sword. From Idumea came one of the greatest
scourges of the Jews, a king, hated by the Jews, but called
"Herod the Great" by history. It was to the Galileans that Jesus
Christ first preached his Essene doctrines about 150 years later,
and it was in Galilee that he made his first converts.
Murder, fratricide, matricide, and regicide, marked the as cension of Aristobulus I, son of Hyrcanus, to the throne.
Hyrcanus, realizing from his own experience the dangers of hav ing king and High Priest rolled into one office, had made plans
for his wife to succeed him to the throne and for Aristobulus to
succeed him to the office of High Priest. Aristobulus felt differently. He murdered his mother and one brother, imprisoned his
other brothers, and seized both the l throne and the robes of the
High Priest. He was an ardent ·Sadducee who carried his Hellenization ideas to offensive extremes. Fortunately, his rule lasted
only one year, and he. was succeeded by his brother, Alexander
Janneus.
Janneus was a despotic, violent ruler who maintained an .
iron grip on the country with the aid of foreign mercenaries. He,
too, extended the borders of Palestine until it equaled in size
what it had been under King David's rule. During his reign the
schism between Pharisees and Sadducees reached the breaking
point. Civil war broke out. Perhaps the most ironic event in Jewish history now occurred. The Pharisees asked the Seleucids for
help, and they obliged with an invading army. At the last minute
the Pharisees realized the folly of aligning themselves with their
archenemies, and joined Janneus in defeating them. Now that
danger was averted, Janneus wreaked a terrible vengeance on the
Pharisee conspirators, as bloody as any in history. Fortunately for
Palestine, his reign came to a swift end in 78 B.C. He was succeeded by his wife, Alexandra, who proved to be the most cap able of the Hasmonean rulers. '
Queen Alexandra's reign, brief as it was (78-69), has been
98
called a Golden Age. She instituted vast social reforms. Upon the
advice of her brother, a rabbi, she founded free elementary
schools and made primary education compulsory i for boys and
girls. In the first century before Christ, in a world full of illiteracy, illiteracy among the Jews in the tiny kingdom of, Palestine
was for all practical purposes banished. Illustrious though her re cord was in social thinking, she committed a grave political er ror. She was ardently pro-Pharisee, and when she became queen
it was the turn of the Sadducees to feel the steel of vindictive
vengeance. Disaster was not to be appeased much longer.
The theme of rivalry between two brothers plays an almost
obsessive role in Jewish history. The Bible is full of such rivalry
– Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Solomon
and Adonijah, and now Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, sons of
Alexandra. This rivalry was to have disastrous consequences. As
no queen could become High Priest, Alexandra had appointed
her eldest son, Hyrcanus, a Pharisee, to that office. When she
died, Hyrcanus seized the throne also. His brother, Aristobulus, a
Sadducee, led a rebellion against this usurpation and, with the
help of the priesthood, Hyrcanus was deposed. Civil war broke
out. With the aid of the neighboring Nabateans, Hyrcanus wrested his throne back from his brother. Seeking revenge, Aristobulus appealed to the Romans for help. Fate had so timed it that at
the outbreak of civil war in Palestine, in 67 b. c., the Romans,
under Pompey, had finished their conquest of Syria, placing their
armies right at the border of Palestine. The Romans ordered
Hyrcanus off the throne and out of the country. Such was the fear
of Rome's military might that Hyrcanus did just that. Aristobulus
was back in power,
Jewish history at this point resembles a Gilbert and Sullivan
comedy, except for the disaster in the last act. Hyrcanus appealed
to Pompey to be reinstated to the throne . as the rightful heir; Aristobulus pleaded to keep his job as the rightful Pretender, and
the Pharisees, sick of all kings, petitioned Pompey – not to recognize either. Pompey listened to all three, heeded none. In the
year 63 B.C. he marched into the Maccabean Kingdom of Judah,
99
conquered it, and renamed it Judea.
After seventy-six years of independence of the second Kingdom of Judah, the grandsons of the first Maccabean king had
destroyed what Simon Maccabeus had wrought. The fight for
freedom begun by the aged priest and patriarch, Mattathias, had
failed.
SEVEN
ROME, CAESARISM, AND REBELLION
Who were these conquering Romans?
Again, as with the Greeks, historians do not know for certain. Legend has it that, at the time Isaiah was creating his immortal prose in Judah, a wolf of unknown parentage was nursing
Romulus and Remus, the future founders of Rome (753 B.C.),
into sturdy, barbaric manhood. For three hundred years the early
Romans struggled to gain a toehold in history. They began their
career by exterminating the Etruscans, a highly civilized race
with an advanced culture, who had preceded them in Italy. This
auspicious beginning almost came to an abrupt end when savage
tribes known as the Gauls invaded the Italian plains from the
forests of Germany. After a century of fighting, the Romans were
able to drive them back. The second invasion, a thousand years
later, was to be more successful.
A series of little and big wars made Rome the ruler of the
world in the three centuries between 350 and 50 B.C. Three
Samnite Wars made the Romans masters over Central Italy.
Three Punic Wars made them masters of all Italy, Spain, and
North Africa. Three Macedonian Wars brought all Greece under
Roman rule. At the dawn of the first century B.C. the Romans
stood at the periphery of Asia Minor. Ahead beckoned Alexander's former empire.
Meanwhile, in Rome itself, a fearful struggle for power was
taking shape. She was about to scrap her republican form of government for an emperor and a dictatorship. Yet the change was
not as great as many historians generally make it out to be. Rome
100
had always been a contradiction in terms. She began life as a republic, but never was a democracy. She was a state governed by
patricians – the rich – with a political morsel now and then
thrown to the plebeians – the poor. Senate members and the ruling consuls came from the ranks of the patricians only. The successful wars did not benefit the plebeians, who grew poorer, but
Only the patricians, who grew richer.
Whatever law had prevailed in Rome in the past broke down
in this century. The rapacity, corruption, and cruelty ~; which
had always characterized her rule, reached a crescendo, Justice,
as well as public office, was bought, and bribery became an
honored public occupation. Bills of attainder, disguised as laws,
cheated the people of their lands; moneylending at such usurious
rates as 10 percent a month was a patrician privilege, and de faulting small debtors could be broken on the rack. Selling one's
children into slavery to escape this cruel fate was so common
that it no longer elicited compassion. Successful wars had
flooded the country with slaves in such abundance that free labor
and free enterprise practically disappeared. As class distinctions
sharpened, the gulf between the landless and the propertied grew
into an unbridgeable chasm. One demagogue after another succeeded to power by bribery and treachery. They butchered their
opponents, graced the Senate with the severed heads of the
slain, and lined the highways with the crucified 'bodies of the
captives. This brew of Romanism and savagery bred a Caesarism
via three great slave revolts and three social wars.
While this bloodshed was carried on in Rome itself in the
name of law, another campaign of bloodshed was carried on ·outside Rome in the name of glory. Three Mithridatic Wars brought
the former Alexandrian empire into the Roman orbit. During the
third Mithridatic War (74-64 B.C.), a military campaign led by
Gnaeus Pompey brought struggling Judah into the Roman web of
captive nations.
After his successful war in the East, Pompey, enriched by
plunder, returned to Rome to make a bid for supreme power. Two
other Romans, Marcus Crassus and Julius Caesar, had anticip101
ated him, and the resulting stalemate was ended by a merger of
forces known as the First Triumvirate. Pompey,the soldier, represented the senators; Crassus, the financier, represented the patricians; and Caesar, the aristocrat claiming descent from Venus
and Jupiter, represented the plebeians. But ambition proved
stronger than friendship. The Triumvirate ended in war and died
at the battle of Pharsalus :, (48 B.C.), in Thessaly, Greece, where
Pompey was defeated. .Caesar now became consul in name, but
absolute dictator in reality. Rome shed all pretense of democracy.
After his defeat Pompey fled to Egypt, with Caesar in pursuit. Here Pompey met death at the hands of an assassin, and
Caesar met love in the arms of the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra,
who was not an Egyptian as is so often claimed, but a Grecian
princess, the last surviving ruler of the house of Ptolemy, named
after the Greek general who had founded that dynasty. While
Caesar made love to Cleopatra, his legions overran Egypt, and
the momentum carried them across the borders of Judah. Jerusalem now passed from Pompey's rule to that of Rome. For the
loss of her country, Caesar gave Cleopatra a son as a consolation
prize. The Jews got taxes. The Caesar and Cleopatra idyl came to
a tragic end when Octavian Augustus succeeded to the purple
after Caesar's assassination at the hands of Brutus. Octavian
stripped Cleopatra of country, title, and riches. Rather than end
up in his triumphal procession in Rome (30 B.C.), she committed
suicide. This was the end of the Ptolemaic empire.
The Romans were now the rulers of the world. Though they
strode over the face of the earth with the rights of conquerors,
there was an undercurrent of inferiority in their swagger. This in feriority complex was a gift given them by their next-door neigh bors, the Greeks.
The unique relationship which existed between Greece, the
conquered nation, and Rome, the conqueror, is brilliantly
summed up in Edgar Allen Poe's expression "To the glory that
was Greece, / And the grandeur that was Rome." This relationship could be compared to that of a mistress and her lover – the
mistress, Greece, beautiful, cultured, haughty; the lover, Rome,
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strong, rich, uncouth. The Romans never could wash off their
mark of inferiority, and they keenly felt their lack of a culture
and their inability to produce one. Vainly they tried to make up
for this lack by an ever greater show of grandeur. But Rome remained the "tradesman turned gentleman," always uneasy in the
presence of the cultural aristocracy of vanquished Greece.
In spite of their successes in the field of war, the Romans
continued to be utterly dependent on Greece for their ideas. They
were the "practical men," the anti-intellectuals. Whatever art, literature, and science Rome did produce were but second-rate copies of Greek originals. Rome knew only of force as a method for
counteracting the encroachment of new ideas. The moment history severed Rome from Greece; Rome fell apart. When she no
longer had Greece to nourish her arts and sciences, Rome succumbed culturally and politically to the barbarian invasions.
Some historians have drawn a parallel between the relation ship of Rome and Greece on the one hand, and America and
Western Europe on the other. The West Europeans, like the
Greeks, they say, are the intellectuals, the pacesetters in literat ure, the innovators in art, and the theoreticians in science. The
Americans, they contend, are, like the Romans, anti-intellectual
in their thinking, followers in literature, copyists in art, and tech nicians in science. American intellectual, artistic, and scientific
edifices are mere superstructures resting on European trail blazing, and though American culture may have its deviations from
that of Western Europe, it is basically a pale imitation of the original European pattern. Should America ever be severed from
Europe, they conclude, the days of the United States would be
numbered, because America, having nothing intellectual to sustain her, would then stagnate for lack of ideas, just as Rome did
when she was severed from Greece.
If the above theory is true, it would help explain why the
Romans never made a cultural impact on the Jews. Throughout
the Roman domination it was the Greeks who continued to influence Jewish intellectual life. The Romans affected only the physical conditions of Jewish existence. Caught between the mind of
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Greece and the sword of Rome, the Jews executed a four-hundred-year balancing act under, over, and between the pitfalls they
encountered in those four centuries. Of the defeated peoples who
became part of the Roman Empire – all of them remnants of
great and mighty kingdoms and dynasties – it was the Jews who
were slated to be the first to break the streak of luck in Rome's
course of conquest.
Roman rule of Judah (or Judea, as she was renamed by her
conquerors) began under the worst possible circumstances, with
civil wars raging in both nations. Pompey, who captured Judah,
not in the name of Rome but in his own, was the military ruler of
that country from 63 to 48 B.C., but i he appointed a Jew and an
Idumean to govern the country for him. Now that Judea was no
longer independent, Aristobulus and Hyrcanus, the two sons of
the Hasmonean Queen Alexandra, reversed their previous roles.
Aristobulus, the Sadducee, resisted Pompey's rule. Hyrcanus, the
Pharisee, submitted to it. Pompey therefore made Hyrcanus the
High·Priest and ethnarch (the Roman name for a ruler of a
people) of Judea. But he also appointed an Idumean named Antipater as political adviser to Hyrcanus. This was the beginning of
the Jewish tragedy under Roman rule.
Antipater is one of history's most unsavory characters. It was
Antipater who had previously advised Hyrcanus to seek the help
of the Nabateans in his power struggle with his brother Aristobulus. The successful outcome of that struggle gained Antipater
great influence in Judea. He was also a sycophant and bootlicker,
servile to any Roman he thought would win. By playing up to
Pompey, he was appointed Governor of Idumea. After the defeat
of Pompey at the battle of Pharsalus (48 B.C.) in Greece, Caesar
took over the rule of Judea in the name of Rome. Antipater now
played up to Caesar, who named him administrator of Judea.
When Caesar was assassinated Antipater fawned on Cassius, one
of the conspirators in Caesar's murder. After Antipater died in 43
B.C., poisoned by loving family members at a feast with his con cubines, he was succeeded by his son Herod.
The son had learned from his father. Seeing the rising star of
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Octavian (Augustus), Herod made his way to Rome. He ingratiated himself into Octavian's favor and was appointed king of the
Jews. Herod's first act was to execute Hyrcanus. Aristobulus had
been captured by the Romans and sent to Rome, where he died
of poisoning. The Hasmonean dynasty, established in a blaze of
glory, had come to an inglorious end.
While Herod was in Rome, a fantastic interlude took place
in Judea. There was still one Hasmonean descendant left, Antigonus, the son of Aristobulus. When his father was captured by the
Romans, Antigonus fled to Parthia and talked the Parthians into
marching under him against Jerusalem's Roman overlords. To his
own surprise, Antigonus defeated the Romans and drove them
out of Judea. He made Jerusalem once again the capital of an independent Palestine with himself as king and High Priest.
Herod, who had been proclaimed king of the Jews by the
Romans, was beside himself with rage. For three years Antigonus was able to hold Herod and his lend-lease Roman legions at
bay, but finally he was forced to surrender to the superior numbers of the Romans. In 37 B.C. Herod and the Romans captured
Jerusalem, and Antigonus and forty-five Sanhedrin members suspected of conspiracy were put to death. At last Herod was able to
sit on the throne of Judea. The final twist of irony had occurred.
The Idumeans, who had been forcibly converted to Judaism
eighty years previously by John Hyrcanus, the son of the founder
of the Hasmonean dynasty, now ruled the people who had converted them.
It may be clear to others why Herod has been called "the
Great," but to the Jews it has always remained a mystery. Herod
was the archmurderer of his time. He murdered forty-five members of the Sanhedrin, reducing that formerly independent judicial body to the status of a rubber stamp. He intimidated the High
Priests into subservience with threats of assassination. He
murdered his rivals, his favorite wife, and several of his sons,
and according to the Gospel of Matthew he imitated the Biblical
Pharaoh by ordering the execution of all male infants in Bethlehem because he feared a prophecy that a rival to his throne
105
would be from there.
Though most Jews despised and hated Herod, they accepted
him as king because one of his ten wives was Mariamne, a Maccabean princess. He had two sons by her ; and the Jews hoped
that one of them would inherit the throne and bring back the
Maccabean lineage to Judea. But " Herod murdered them both.
Upon Herod's death, Antipas and Archelaus, two sons of Herod
by a Samaritan wife, were . appointed by the Romans to rule the
Jews. Antipas was given Galilee, and Archelaus was given Judea,
Samaria, and Idumea.
Archelaus proved even more despotic than his father,
without any of his father's abilities. In desperation the Jews petitioned the Roman emperor, Augustus, to depose him and to their
surprise the emperor did so. The change was something none had
been able to imagine – a change for the worse. Augustus appointed the first of a series of procurators (the Roman word for "governors") to rule the province. With but a brief exception, Judea
was ruled by such procurators until the outbreak of war against
Rome in 66 A.D.
Under the procurators, Roman rule reached an all-time low.
In a sense, the Romans were the victims of circumstance. A new
empire, Parthia, made up of the remnants of the former Babylonian, Assyrian, and Persian kingdoms, was shaping up in the
East, from India to the frontiers of Judea. Though the Romans
were the victors in battle after battle against the Parthians, they
never were able to defeat them decisively. Thus the Parthians remained a constant threat on the eastern frontier, with Judea as the
most logical place for a Parthian breakthrough into the Roman
Empire. The Romans thought that if they could keep Judea
strongly garrisoned and ruled by an iron hand they would be able
to contain the enemy. This fear of the Parthians led the Romans
to excesses which their good judgment normally would have kept
them from committing. Their repressive measures led to defiance
by the Jews, which, in tum, bred further retaliation.
The first procurator began his rule by imposing a census on
the Jews for taxation purposes. Agitation swept the country, not
106
because it affected religion but because it threatened pocket books. The Romans had a system of taxation which was espe cially susceptible to graft. The privilege of collecting taxes could
be bought by the highest bidder, who was then free to collect as
much tax as he wished and to keep for himself everything above
the minimum required by the government.
The last taxable penny had already been wrung out of the
Jews in Judea by Herod during his forty-six-year rule. Little
more could be mined there. The story was different in Galilee,
where the Roman census – taking and new tax laws also applied.
Against all expectations, Antipas, in contrast to his brother
Archelaus, turned out to be a good ruler. He was pro-Hellenistic;
he built cities in the Greek image and introduced the Greek mode
and manner of living into Galilee. The formerly pagan Galileans,
so recently converted to Judaism by John Hyrcanus, were tolerant of this Hellenization for, not knowing better, they thought of
it partly as Judaism itself. The stable government of Antipas
brought the country unprecedented prosperity. Galilee was ripe
for rape by avaricious tax collectors.
It was here in Galilee that the first of a series of minor rebel lions against Roman rule broke out as a prelude to the great Jewish war to come. The political situation in Judea and Galilee in
the first century A.D. greatly resembled the political situation
back in the first kingdoms of Israel and Judah in the eighth and
sixth centuries B.C., when Assyria and Babylonia were enemies
of the Jews. Two parties had been formed in Israel when Assyria
threatened Israel 's independence – a war party and a peace party.
Two parties had been formed in Judah when Babylonia rattled
her saber – a party advocating war and a party advocating peace.
Now history repeated itself. Two parties were formed in Judea
and Galilee. One was the Zealot party, known as the War Party,
urging a stand against Rome; the other was the Peace Party, cautioning against such folly.
Politically, the composition of the Zealot party was closely
akin to the earlier Hasidean party which had been responsible for
the Maccabean rebellion. As the Romans committed one atrocity
107
after another, despair drove more and more of the Peace Party
members into the ranks of the Zealots, in the same way that the
extremes of Antiochus Epiphanes had forced the pro-Hellenist
Jews to join the anti-Hellenist Hasideans. These new Zealot
members came first from the ranks of the Pharisees, Sadducees,
and Essenes, and later from a new Jewish sect known as the
Christians. In the first century A.D., the Pharisees were the most
numerous, the Sadducees the most powerful, the Essenes the
most devout, and the Christians the most intolerant. With the decline of the Hasmonean kingdom, the Pharisee, Sadducee, and
Essene parties lost more and more of their political complexion.
They developed along their own religious lines, hardening into
religious sects and diverging from one another, until forced to re unite, as in the pre-Hasmonean times, in a desperate stand
against Rome.
The Pharisees represented the middle ground of Jewish religious thinking. They were exceedingly tolerant in their religious
views, totally different from the New Testament picture of them
as narrow-minded bigots. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, in the coming of a messiah, and in the immortality of the soul. Whenever two interpretations of the Torah – the
Law – were possible, they always chose the more lenient view.
They developed the tradition of Oral Law, a sort of portable "doit-yourself" jurisprudence kit to keep up with the changing times.
To the extreme right of the Pharisees were the Sadducees.
They did not believe in immortality or resurrection, and denied
the existence of the hereafter. They were the political realists, the
materialists, the protectors of the status quo, whose chief occupation was the preservation of the Temple cult. Their ritual was
rigid and fixed, permitting little change, hewing to the letter of
the law, not its spirit. As this was the sect of the rich, the aristo crats, and the priests, they wielded great political power in spite
of their small numbers. They controlled the Temple and dominated the judicial body of the Sanhedrin. Just as the Sadducees
represented the right wing of the many Jewish religious sects, so
the Essenes represented the extreme left. The Essenes, who had
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started their withdrawal from political life as early as the begin ning of the Hasmonean dynasty, continued that withdrawal under
Roman occupation. By the time the war against Rome broke out,
they already had separated themselves into their own communit ies on the periphery of the smaller cities, just as the Amish and
Quakers have done today in America. Like the Pharisees, the Essenes believed in the immortality of the soul, in resurrection, and
in the concept of a messiah. They also believed in the punishment of the wicked – in an everlasting hell, and reward for the
good in heaven. They developed elaborate purification rites, one
of which was baptism, that is, immersion in water for remission
of sins, or a rebirth into a new life. The Essenes preferred celibacy, and in the words of the historian Josephus, "they reject
pleasure as an evil, but esteem continence and the conquest of
our passions to be virtue." In order to preserve their numbers,
they held, like the Apostle Paul in later years, that it was "better
to marry than to bum," and therefore permitted occasional mar riages. Most new members, however, came through the adoption
of children from other sects who then were trained in the ascetic
ways of the Essenes.
To these three main sects, a fourth was added in the third
decade of the first century A.D., namely, the Christian sect. Its
founder, Jesus, was baptized in the Essene manner by another
Jew, John the Baptist, in all probability also an Essene, since he
preached and baptized in the vicinity where the Essenes had their
largest and most influential community and monastery. When Jesus was crucified by the Romans, the Christians were threatened
with oblivion, but through a vigorous proselytization program
initiated by one of their former persecutors, Saul of Tarsus, later
known as Paul, the movement rapidly gained new adherents,
most of them non-Jews.
It was from the ranks of the first two of these sects that the
Zealots gained most of their members. In the beginning the
Zealots were strongest in Galilee, where, as pointed out, they
were responsible for the first Jewish uprising against Rome
which took place in 6 A.D. It was premature, as the people had
109
not yet joined their ranks in any great numbers. Though the uprising was ruthlessly suppressed by the Romans, the cause was
not. It smoldered. As it smoldered, the ranks of the Zealots
swelled.
Inexorably, like a Greek tragedy, the Jewish-Roman conflict
was approaching its climax. Between the years 7 and 41 A.D.
seven different procurators ruled Judea. All of them were hack
appointees – for the most part, crude soldiers who had risen from
the ranks. They had no skill in diplomacy or feeling for social
amenities. They compounded mistakes with cruelty, and their
vision of statesmanship ended with the conviction that there was
no problem which could not be solved by bloodshed. Ideas, they
were convinced, died when a man's head was severed from his
shoulders. Slowly, inevitably, their stupid atrocities forced more
and more Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes to join the ranks of
the Zealots who were preaching total war against the Romans.
A brief interlude, insignificant in its consequences, interrup ted this avalanche of events with comic relief. An unwanted king
was again bestowed on the Jews by the Romans in the person of
Herod's grandson, Agrippa I. He had been brought up in Rome in
luxury and extravagance. He was adopted by Emperor Tiberius
and became the intimate of Emperor Caligula, who brought an
end to the first series of procurators in order to make Agrippa
king. Under Agrippa, once again all the Jewish provinces were
united into one kingdom. His rule was a form of benevolent misgovernment, which lasted three years, from 41 to 44 A.D. He
died as he had lived – theatrically. At a state function where he
was being acclaimed as a god, he keeled over and died as a mor tal.
With Agrippa dead, Judea's appointment with destiny became inevitable. The strange interlude was over. The Romans put
all the old props back on the stage of Jewish history. A new
series of procurators were trotted out, all as incompetent and
mendacious as their predecessors, and Palestine again was divided as before. The stage was set for a dramatic and momentous
challenge. Each new procurator gave another turn to the screw.
110
The breaking point was approaching. Rome, sensing trouble,
hastily changed the grossly incompetent Procurator Albinus for
what was to be the last of the Roman procurators, Florus.
But it was too late. In the end it was not the atrocities which
provoked the war, but plain stupidity. During a Passover celebration, thinking it great fun, Florus seized the vestments of the
High Priest and violated with obscenities the most sacred beliefs
of the Jews, who now added contempt to their hatred of the Romans.
In gangster style, Florus demanded that the Jews pay him
seventeen gold talents ($350,000) out of Temple funds for : protection. Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, even the Jewish Christians still living in Judea, streamed to the ranks of the Zealots. In
May, 66 A.D., the Zealots stormed the Roman garrison outside
Jerusalem and routed the legions stationed there. The action elec trified the country. Open rebellion broke out in every city, in
every village, in every province: Judea, Idumea, Samaria, and
Galilee united against their common enemy. A postage-stamp-size country had risen against Imperium Romanum,
the giant oppressor of the world.
EIGHT
THE SEALED COFFIN ·
The conquered nations comprising the Roman Empire
watched with incredulity as the Jews, singlehanded, fought the
Roman Goliath. The Jews came so close to winning the war that
Rome was forced to use her full military weight, against them to
insure victory where normally only a small expeditionary force
should have sufficed. The Romans knew the world was watching, knew the stakes were high. They knew that were they to falter, were the Jews to win their independence, the entire Roman
world might be aflame with the spirit of revolt. So they proceeded with a ruthlessness demanded by the seriousness of the
challenge. The bloody; business of massacre and countermassacre succeeded on another with unrelenting horror.
111
The first year of the war was a shock to the Romans. From
nearby Syria the Roman general Cestus Gallus came galloping
with his legions to quell the uprising and was sent back reeling.
The situation became so serious that Emperor Nero called for the
services of his most able general, Vespasian, and gave him the
command of Rome's finest legions. After a year of bitter fighting
Vespasian was able to check the Galilean armies under the com mand of a general who later became world famous as a Jewish
historian. His name was Joseph ben Mattathias, known as Falvius Josephus (38-100 A.D.), who gave to the world the only eyewitness account of these fateful years.
Josephus was a Palestinian Jew of a wealthy, priestly family.
Educated in the best schools of Rome, he had returned to Judea
to pursue a military career, rising to supreme commander of the
Galilean forces. When the Galilean armies were shattered,
Josephus was captured and brought before Vespasian. The future
Roman emperor and the future Jewish historian became friends;
and, from Vespasian, Josephus obtained permission to accompany the Roman forces during the siege of Jerusalem so he could
write the history of that war. For this, Josephus has been labeled
a traitor, and is still so regarded by most Jews today. However,
his books, History of the Jewish War, and Antiquities of the Jews,
are the . most valuable volumes in existence dealing with the two
fateful centuries of Jewish history, 100 B.C. to 100 A.D.
Slowly, as the war continued into its third year, Vespasian
gained ground. By the year 68 A.D. he had captured Judea, but
not the prize, Jerusalem. Attack after attack against the City
proved futile; his legionnaires were unable to dent the .determ ined defense. ·As the only alternative to defeat, Vespasian settled
down for a siege of the city, hoping that by starving the population he would be able to force the surrender of the Jews.
The war now ground to a standstill. From a military view point the year 68 had no significance, but in Jewish spiritual history it was a momentous turning point. From Jerusalem :emerged
a philosopher-rabbi, Jochanan ben Zakkai, who 'gave Judaism a
new life as its soul flickered in the besieged city. Like Josephus,
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Jochanan ben Zakkai belonged to the Peace Party. Like Josephus,
he was convinced that the stand taken by the Zealots could lead
only to tragedy. He deserted the war which he thought was hopeless and, like Josephus, had an encounter with Vespasian. But far
from being dubbed a traitor, Jochanan ben Zakkai was acclaimed
the savior of Judaism.
Jochanan ben Zakkai was a leading Pharisee intellectual. He
foresaw the holocaust which would overtake the Jews, the dispersion the Romans would impose upon his people, and he
feared that if Jewish leadership did not lay foundations for keeping Jewish learning alive Judaism would be. doomed. He became
obsessed with the idea that he must. found a Jewish academy
which would carry the torch of Jewish learning to the disenfranchised Jews who would be' dispersed throughout the Hellenic-Roman world. He had to get out of doomed Jerusalem. He had
to get to the ear of Vespasian.
Besieged Jerusalem was a hellhole. People were dying by
the thousands of starvation and pestilence. Leaving the city was
forbidden, on pain of death. Suspected Peace Party members
were thrown over the wall by the Zealots, who held as tight a
grip inside the city as the Romans did outside. To outwit the
Zealots, Jochanan ben Zakkai resorted to a ruse. He took a few of
his disciples into his confidence and: outlined his plan to them.
The disciples then went out into the street, tore their clothes ac cording to the plan, and in mournful voices announced that their
great rabbi, Jochanan ben Zakkai, had died of the plague. They
asked and received. permission from the Zealot authorities to
bury the revered rabbi outside the gates of Jerusalem to check the
spread of pestilence in the city. With a show of great grief, clad
in sackcloth and ashes, the disciples carried a sealed coffin with
the live Jochanan ben Zakkai in it out of Jerusalem and to the
tent of Vespasian, where they opened the coffin and the rabbi
stepped out.
What did General Vespasian, broadsword at side, legions at
bay, confident in the victory of his arms, think of this bearded
Jew, dressed in the fringed tunic of his forebears, who looked
113
him straight in the eye, unafraid? What did he want, this Jewish
patriarch who had escaped the dying city in a coffin? Not to
spare his life, Vespasian knew, for he had risked it coming to see
him. The general waited, and the rabbi spoke. He had a prophecy
and a request to make, said the rabbi. The general indicated he
would listen. Boldly Jochanan ben Zakkai prophesied that Vespasian would soon be emperor, and in such an eventuality, would
Emperor Vespasian grant him, Jochanan ben Zakkai,. and a few
of hi! disciples, permission to establish a small school of Jewish
learning in some Palestinian town where they could continue to
study ancient Jewish Scripture in peace. Stunned by prophecy
and surprised by the modesty of the request which to a soldier
like Vespasian made no sense – he promised the favor would be
granted provided the prophecy came true.
It was not superstition on which Rabbi ben Zakkai had based
his prediction. He had made a shrewd and calculated guess. That
same year Nero had committed suicide. As the Romans had no
laws of succession, it stood to reason that eventually the throne
would go to the strongest man, who, in ben Zakkai's mind, was
Vespasian. In that same year, three political and military hacks
held the throne of Rome in succession, each assassinated after a
few months in office. Jochanan ben Zakkai had guessed right. In
the year 69 the Roman Senate offered the throne to Vespasian.
Unlettered and superstitious as Vespasian was, he could not help
but be awed by the bearded rabbi's prophecy. He kept his promise to Zakkai, who now founded the first yeshiva – Jewish
academy of learning – in the town of Jabneh, north of Jerusalem.
It was destined to play a central role in Jewish survival.
Before leaving for Rome to assume the purple, Vespasian
entrusted his son Titus with the responsibility of carrying on the
war against the Jews. This war and the subsequent destruction of
Jerusalem seldom receive their rightful place in history. Christians vaguely remember the destruction of Jerusalem as something
come true according to prophecy in the Gospels,19 written after
19 Actually only one of the Four Gospels, Mark, contains any "proph-
114
the event took place; Jews react emotionally to the event. Both
miss its grandeur as a clash f of two formidable foes locked in
one of the greatest battles in antiquity.
Alexander the Great had used 32,000 men to carve out his
vast empire. Caesar had fewer than 25,000 legionnaires with
which to conquer Gaul and to invade Britain. Hannibal had no
more than 50,000 soldiers when he crossed the Alps to defeat the
Romans. Titus was forced to use 80,000 soldiers to vanquish the
beleaguered Jews in Jerusalem, which was defended by no more
than 23,400 Jewish soldiers.20 Even so, he was loath to risk the
flower of the Roman military in a direct attack, fearing great
losses. Instead, he decided upon psychological warfare to fright en the Jews into surrender. He commanded his soldiers to dress
in full battle uniform, then staged a military parade around the
walls of Jerusalem in an awesome display of Roman might. Earth
and heaven were swept together into one immense dust cloud
and the blood soaked ground shook as 70,000 foot soldiers
marched, 10,000 cavalry rode, and thousands of battering rams
were drawn by the gates of Jerusalem. The parade lasted three
days. When the show was over, the performers got a loud Bronx
cheer from the watching Jews on the ramparts.
Enraged, Titus ordered an attack. For two weeks siege: guns
hurled rocks as big as Volkswagens at the northern wall of Jerusalem, tearing a gaping hole in the fortifications. Through this
hole streamed the legionnaires and to the dense ran the Jews. It
was man-to-man combat, sword against sword, spear against
ecy" of a destruction of Jerusalem. The other three Gospels were
written even later, but they make no mention of such a "prophecy."
Mark wrote his Gospel in Rome, about 70 A.D., the year the Romans
destroyed the city. By this time Jerusalem had been under Roman
siege for three years, and one needed no prophetic powers to predict
the outcome.
20 Josephus, in The Jewish War (Penguin Classics edition, page 274),
gives the breakdown of Jewish troops as follows: 10,000 under command of Simon bar Gior, 6,000 led by John of Gisela, 5,000
Idumeans, and 2,400 Zealots.
115
spear, desperation against desperation. After two weeks of sav age hand-to-hand fighting, the Jews drove the Romans out. Titus
now realized he would, never win in open combat, that he had to
starve the Jews until they were so weakened that further resist ance would be impossible. To make sure that no food or water
supply would reach the city from the outside, Titus completely
sealed off Jerusalem from the rest of the world with a wall of
earth as high as the stone wall around Jerusalem itself. Anyone
not a Roman soldier caught anywhere in this vast: dry moat was
crucified on the top of the earthen wall in sight of the Jews inside
the city. It was not uncommon for as many as five hundred
people a day to be so executed. The air was redolent with the
stench of rotting flesh and rent by the cries of agony of the crucified. But the Jews held out for still another year, the fourth year
of the war, to the discomfiture of Titus.
The end was inevitable. With battering rams and portable
bridges, the Romans stormed the walls of Jerusalem. Like ·termites they spilled into the city, slaughtering a populace reduced
to helplessness by starvation. Four years of bitter defeats at the
hands of the Jews had made mockery of the vaunted invincibility
of the Roman legions, and only killing could now soothe their
bruised vanity. The Temple was put to the torch, infants thrown
into the flames, women raped, priests massacred, Zealots thrown
from the wall. Survivors of the carnage were earmarked for the
triumphal procession to be held in Rome, sold as slaves, held for
the wild beasts in the arenas, or saved to be thrown off the
Tarpeian Rock in Rome for amusement. At no time did the Romans more justly earn the grim words of their own historian, Tacitus, who said, "They make a desolation and call it peace." Alto gether, Tacitus estimates 600,000 defenseless Jewish civilians
were slain in the aftermath of the siege.
On the surface of it, the Jewish War should have been no
more than a small ripple on the periphery of the Roman Empire
which a legion or two could have suppressed. But such was not
the case. It had been a devastating war. Though heavy casualties
were inflicted by the Romans on the Jews, it had been a Pyrrhic
116
victory, for the Romans too had suffered frightful losses. They
had won, not because of greater valor or skill, but because of
greater numbers. To hide the poverty of this victory, the Romans
staged a spectacular triumphal parade. They struck special coins
in remembrance of the war. They constructed the magnificent
Triumphal Arch of Titus – an honor reserved for commemorating
great victories over mighty nations against incredible odds. The
Arch of Titus still stands in Rome – but as a symbol of what? Of
the conquering Romans, who have vanished, or of the
"conquered enemy," the Jews, who still live today as an unconquered people?
This Jewish war had yet another effect. Though the heartland of Europe remained docile, the eastern half of the Empire
took heart. Jerusalem had held the legions of Rome at bay for
four years. The Jews had shown the Romans were not invincible.
The spirit of revolt now fanned the Near East. It smoldered again
in the hearts of the Jews in Judea, though they had been reduced
to destitution by Roman reprisals.
The impetus for a second Jewish revolt in 113 A.D. was ,
given by a Parthian invasion into Roman territory. Emperor , Trajan marched against the Parthians, but now the Jews rebelled in
Egypt, in Antioch, in Cyrene, in Cyprus. Alarmed at what was
happening, Trajan interrupted his campaign against the Parthians
to take up the threat posed by the Jews. For three years the war
raged and the outcome hung in the balance. The Jews finally had
to capitulate for lack of arms and men.
Again it had been a costly victory for Rome. It had so
sapped Roman strength that the war against the Parthians could
not be renewed and had to be abandoned. This second uprising
also marked a crucial turning point in Roman history. Whereas
till then a triumphant Rome had been staking out her imperial
eagles on ever-expanding frontiers, the tide now turned against
her. With the ascension of Hadrian to the throne of Rome in 117,
the frontiers of the Roman Empire began to shrink.
Emperor Hadrian, who had succeeded Trajan to the throne,
was so relieved at the end of the costly Jewish War that he prom117
ised the Jews they could rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. But
lulled by the calm that had settled over the ' land, he reneged on
his promise and built a temple, not for Jehovah but for Jupiter.
He named it Aelia Capitolina and turned Jerusalem into a Roman
city. If Hadrian thought that the defeat of the Jews in the second
uprising had dissuaded them from trying a third time, he had
completely miscalculated the situation.
A new hope was sweeping the ranks of the Jews. A military
messiah had arisen among them. A great scholar was his apostle
and armor-bearer. The messiah on horseback was Simon ben
Cozeba, or bar Kochba ("Son of the Star"), and the scholar was
Rabbi Akiba. This combination of an armored messiah and a
revered rabbi was the catalytic agent that coalesced the dispirited
Jews into a new fighting force.
Little is known of bar Kochba's early life. Letters discovered
near the Dead Sea at Muruba'at picture him as an autocratic and
irascible soldier of great physical strength arid magnetic person ality, capable of inspiring blind devotion and utter fearlessness.
The Talmud adds another character trait, that of impiousness. It
quotes him as once having exclaimed, "Lord, don't help us and
don't spoil it for us." The Sanhedrin took an equally jaundiced
view of bar Kochba's claim to messiahship. Only the faith and
prestige of Rabbi Akiba saved him.
Rabbi Akiba was the most illustrious personality of his time,
and one of the most honored scholars in Jewish history. He
began life as a semi-illiterate shepherd. In true fairy-story fashion he fell in love with the beautiful daughter of one of the
richest leading citizens of Jerusalem and married her. At her insistence, Akiba went to school together with their small son and
took up the study of the Torah. He acquired such immense learning and brought such illuminating new insights into the Torah
and into man-God relationships that he became symbolically the
spiritual as well as temporal ruler of the Jews. His interpretations
of the Torah became the way of life for many Jews wherever
they lived.
It was Rabbi Akiba who confirmed Simon bar Kochba's
118
claim that he was a messiah and a descendant of King David.
When the two issued a call to arms against the Romans, Jews of
every sect by the tens of thousands flocked to their standards, but
not the Christians, who were caught ·in a dilemma. The Christians were suffering as much as the Jews, if not more, under the
Roman yoke and could under normal circumstances have joined
the Jews in the rebellion. But, already having a messiah in Jesus,
they could not accept another messiah in bar Kochba, and thus
they could not join the Jews in the showdown with the Romans.
When the rebellion exploded in 132 A.D. it took the Romans
by surprise. They had totally underestimated the Jewish will to
resist and Jewish ability to fight a third war. To the horror of the
Romans, the Jews repelled their armies in battle after battle. If
others have tried to minimize the size and importance of this war,
Hadrian did not. He fully realized the portentous consequences
to the empire should Rome lose this war. Fearful of such a
calamity, and taking no chances, he summoned his ablest general, Julius Severus, from the British front, where he had been sent
to quell a revolt of the Celts. Hadrian felt that a lesser general
and fewer men could subdue the British, who in his mind constituted less of a threat to the preservation of the empire than did
the Jews. Severus entered the Holy Land at the head of 35,000 ,
crack troops and gave battle to bar Kochba's numerically inferior
army. The Imperial Eagles were dealt an ignominious defeat.
Severus too realized he could not win in open battle. He .
decided on tactics such as were later used by General Sherman in
the American Civil War, those of total warfare – destroying and
burning all that could not be used by his own armies. Severus, of
course, added a Roman refinement, the systematic slaughter of
every living thing, combatant and noncombatant in his path –
men, women, children, cattle. It was a slow, graceless, bitter, un yielding fight, but the despairing Romans had no choice. They
had to win this war. After two years of grinding, ruthless, merci less butchery, the Jewish lines wavered as the populace was reduced to the vanishing point. In the year 135 bar Kochba's forces
surrendered. Bar Kochba had been killed in battle, and the Ro119
mans assuaged their fury by executing Akiba with refined torture. Those who could, fled to Parthia, where they were welcomed with open arms.
Jerusalem, and what had been Judean Palestine, was now
made off-limits to the Jews. Those who had not perished in the
war or managed to escape into Parthia were sold into slavery. Yet
of the three Jewish wars, the third one had been the costliest to
the Romans. When Hadrian reported its conclusion to the Senate,
he omitted the customary ending, "I and my army are well," for
neither was well. Hadrian had suffered a tremendous loss of face;
his armies had been decimated; his victory, like that of Titus, had
been a Pyrrhic one. The empire was buckling under the internal
pressure of provinces beginning to strike for freedom. The frontier was no longer a fixed boundary. It was an undulating mass of
armed men poised to cross it.
Some may argue that this account of the three Jewish wars is
an imaginative heightening of history, that these three wars
hardly made a dent in the monolithic Roman Empire. Such skepticism is understandable, since historians as a rule delve little
into these three Jewish-Roman wars and there is little general
knowledge about them. The true dimensions of these wars can be
measured with a modern historical analogy. The Hungarian rebellion against Russia in 1956 lasted but a few months, yet the
whole Russian Communist edifice was badly shaken, and all the
satellite nations were poised for rebellion. Suppose that the Hungarians had not caved in after a few months, but had carried on
an active war against the Russians for four years, as the Jews did
against the Romans. Suppose that Russian casualties had not
been a few hundred, but tens of thousands. Suppose that after the
first Hungarian rebellion there had been two other such upris ings. And suppose that in each of these uprisings the Hungarians
had been able to hold out for several years against Russian infantry and tanks, each time inflicting on them telling blows and
heavy casualties. What historian would then say that Russia had
not been weakened by such events, that her prestige had not
suffered after such costly victories against so small a foe?
120
Viewed in this light, the Jewish wars against Rome reveal a
greater significance than has usually been accorded them.
The Roman phase of Jewish history came to an end with the
reign of Hadrian. Though the greatest number of Jews continued
to live under Roman rule to the very end of that empire, Rome
had less effect on the Jews than ever before. Though the Romans
accepted the Jews – in fact, conferred citizenship upon all Jews
in 212 A.D. – it was the Jews who now rejected the Romans.
Something strange and unprecedented happened. The Jews
had become a "marginal minority," with the inner, spiritual
strength to reject the dominant majority. They had no doubt that
their Jewish culture was superior to that of the Romans. From
where had this new fortitude, this new spiritual strength, come?
The secret had been locked in that sealed coffin smuggled
out of dying Jerusalem, secured in the mind and heart of Rabbi
Jochanan ben Zakkai. The yeshiva for Jewish learning which he
had founded in Jabneh had begun to operate. It had become a
factory for the production of superego Mosaic dynamos to power
the new-model inner-directed Jew. But though these Mosaic dy namos were certified "Made in Jabneh," many of the parts were
stamped "Manufactured in Greece."
NINE
THE CONOUERING WORD
Most political historians seldom give more than a passing
paragraph to the Jews during the Greco-Roman period. When
they do refer to them, it is usually as "a small nomadic band," or
"narrow-minded zealots," or "bigots fighting in defense of circumcision and pigless diet." Much of this .attitude has been
handed down by Greek and Roman writers of the time. But such
judgments reflect ignorance of Jewish history, literature, and culture, rather than contempt for the Jews. This is not the only explanation, however. Many of these political historians are un comfortable in the world of ideas. They grapple only with concrete things. It is easier to view history as a succession of battles
121
and booty, The nations noted in their histories are those which
acquired the most real estate, amassed the most gold, sculptured
the nicest statues, and built the most magnificent buildings. As
the Jews never possessed or created many of these things, it is
only natural for this type of historian to regard them as unimport ant appendages of history. One can count Greek statues, evaluate
the cost of Roman marble baths, measure the length of roads, and
it all adds up to an impressive figure. What other conclusion can
be reached except that these were magnificent civilizations?
That the Greeks and Romans often referred to the Jews in
contemptuous terms proves nothing. They held everybody except
themselves in contempt. The Romans even looked with contempt
on the Greeks although frequently imitating them. When one examines the reasons the Greeks and Romans gave for holding the
Jews in such avowed contempt, the basis for such a value judg ment disappears. The Romans, who nailed live people to wooden
crosses and called it justice, expressed horror at the Jewish rite
of circumcision. The Romans, who pitted defenseless slaves
against wild beasts and called it amusement, viewed as "barbar ic" the Jewish feast of Passover which celebrated man's freedom
from slavery. The Greeks and Romans, who mercilessly worked
man and beast seven days a week and called it industry, looked
with scorn on the Jewish practice of a day of rest every seventh
day for freeman, slave, and animal. The graceful Greeks laughed
at the "graceless" Jews for recoiling in horror at the Greek custom of exposing an infant to death when the shape of its skull or
nose did not please them. Because the Jews did not bring up their
daughters to become prostitutes in temples, because they did not
look upon pederasty as the noblest form of human love, because
they placed duty to God above pleasure of man, the Greeks and
Romans regarded them as barbarians.
Statues, paintings, buildings are an index to a culture, but so
is literature. Literature is the truest mirror of the culture " of a
civilization. The Greeks had a great literature, and that entitles
them to a place in the commonwealth of cultured nations; but so
did the Jews. Could a "barbaric people" have produced the liter 122
ature the Jewish people did, a literature which has endured well
over two thousand years and has become the foundation of Western civilization? The works of the Greeks and Romans are studied today as intellectual exercises in special university courses,
but the literary works of the Jews are the living principles of
mankind. The Jewish achievement in literature stands alone and
incomparable, not the work of "narrow-minded bigots" but the
achievement of an inspired and highly civilized people.
Only recently have cultural historians and independent
scholars begun to examine the great fusion which took place
between Greek and Jewish ideas and the imprint each left on the
other. They have uncovered strong Judaic currents in Greek
philosophical works, and revealed the existence of major Hellenic thought in Jewish theological writings.
The intermingling of two streams in Greek civilization produced that cultural mixture known as "Hellenism." One stream
was her art, architecture, science, and philosophy; the other was
the Greek way of life itself, her manners, morals, and religion.
We have seen how the Pharisees, who fought Hellenism, objected to Greek manners and morals, but accepted her art and philosophy; whereas the Sadducees, who accepted Grecian manners
and morals, rejected her art and philosophy. When Jerusalem was
made off-limits to the Jews, the Sadducees disappeared. Their religion had been tied to the Temple in Jerusalem. There was no
longer any Temple. Their cult had been tied to sacrifice. There
no longer existed any sacrifice. Their dogma had become inflexible; their thinking had not kept abreast of the times. No new
streams of philosophy had been allowed to invigorate Sadducean
institutions. Like the Oriental pagans, the Sadducees had borrowed only the outer trappings of Hellenism, not its substance;
and thus, with the other pagans, they stagnated. It remained for
the Pharisees to carry on the torch of Jewish ideology. The light
which this torch shed was unmistakably Jewish, but the torch it self had been ignited by the Greek philosophers.
Before we examine the interaction of Jewish and Greek
thought, let it first be stated there was also a great philosophical
123
gulf separating them. Someone once summed up that difference
this way: The Jew asked, "What must I do?" The Greek asked,
"Why must I do it?" Or, as a Jewish historian expressed it, "The
Greeks believed in the holiness of beauty, the Jews believed in
the beauty of holiness." True, many Jews who loved Hellenism
saw Judaism as a crude way of life, aesthetically oppressive. But
a greater number of Jews, who admired many facets of Hellenic
culture, also saw much in it which repulsed them – naïve paganism, insensitivity to human suffering, adulation of beauty at the
expense of spirituality, cheap sophistry, barbaric infanticide. Too
often a performance in the amphitheater did not mean a play by
Sophocles, but a lewd exhibition; too often the pursuit of beauty
did not mean the admiration of objets d'art, but the pursuit of
pretty boys and the favor of courtesans.
But, if thousands of Jews saw this, so did hundreds of thousands of Greeks and Romans. The Jewish way of life made a
great impression on them. They liked the nonsexualized symbols
of Judaism and respected the dignity of the Jewish God, who did
not deign to sneak out at night into the beds of other men's wives,
as did the Greek and Roman gods. They admired the Jews for not
indulging in the bacchanalian revelry so common in those days
among the pagans, and they envied the devotion of the Jewish
people to spiritual, family, and scholastic ideals rather than ma terialistic goals. In the two-century span, 100 B.C. to 100 A.D.,
thousands of Sabbath candles flickered in Grecian and Roman
homes – so many in fact, that the Roman philosopher Seneca
noted this phenomenon by remarking that Jewish customs were
everywhere so prevalent that the Romans were in danger of being swallowed up by them.
This observation by Seneca was not just a figure of speech.
The respect so many Greeks, Romans, and other pagans had for
Jewish virtue and ideology did indeed threaten to undermine the
pagan nations and might have done so if it had not been for the
Christian sect, which began to proselytize more actively than did
the Jews themselves. Not many people today realize that in the
first century A.D. over 10 percent of the population of the Ro124
man Empire was Jewish – seven million out of seventy million.
Of these seven million professing the Jewish faith, only an estimated four million were Jewish by virtue of centuries of descent;
the rest were converted pagans or of converted-pagan descent.
This was one of the practical aspects of the intellectual fusion
between pagan and Jew. The rate of conversion would have been
even greater but for two factors: the rigorous dietary laws, and
the necessity for circumcision. In .. Paul's time the early Christian sect dropped these two requirements, and the pagans flocked
to the Christian religion, whose entrance specifications were less
demanding than the Jewish.
These facts permit us to understand a series of uprisings '.
during Greek and Roman times against the Jews in Alexandria,
Antioch, Cyprus, and other cities with large Jewish populations.
Many pagans resented both those who converted to Judaism and
the Jews who did the converting. This resentment later shifted to
the Christians, who, with their more aggressive proselytization
program, were gaining even , more converts than the Jews. Another source of pagan resentment toward the Jews was the attitude of the Jews. Whereas the entire world tried to imitate the
ways of the Greeks and Romans, the larger segment of the Jewish population looked upon them with scorn. Both the Greeks
and Romans resented this Jewish attitude of superiority. This resentment was given added fuel by the refusal of the Jews to intermarry with the dominant majorities.
The biggest source of irritation, however, was the practical
matter of who got the good jobs in the bureaucracy of the Roman
Empire. The Jews held influential positions and seats of learning
totally out of proportion to their numbers. In Egypt, in Syria, in
Damascus, in Greece, Jews were ensconced in high legislative,
judicial, executive, and scholastic places. It was not favoritism or
bribery which had lofted them to these high positions, but intelligence and industry. These they had not acquired by accident but
by the series of innovations which Jewish leaders had instituted
centuries earlier.
Because of their compulsory universal education, the Jews
125
were literate. Because of their monotheism and their invisible
God, their intellectual powers had been heightened. Because
their "portable tabernacle" did not tie them down to any specific
place, they could move with opportunity without giving up their
unity. Whereas the Greek intellectual, the Roman patrician, and
other pagan nobles looked upon work as something ignoble, the
Jews invested work with dignity. Given advantages in education,
upbringing, and outlook, it was no wonder that the Jews outstripped their pagan competitors in the scramble for the better
jobs. Five centuries later, when the Christians came to power,
they had to enact laws prohibiting Jews from holding policy-making posts in order to avert the possibility of all important
jobs going to Jews by virtue of ability. It was only natural that
success should earn its merited envy. When the Jews in Palestine
rebelled against their Roman masters, what could be more righteous than for the pagans in Alexandria, Antioch, and Cyprus to
come to the aid of the Romans by pillaging the Jews?
But the most important single reason for the extent of the
great fusion of Jewish and Greek ideas which took place during
this period was the effect that Jewish theology began to have on
Greek philosophy and literature. A book written by Jews was
destined to make a great impact on the Greco-Roman world. This
book was the translation of the Old Testament into Greek, known
as the Septuagint, which turned out to be a great piece of Greek
literature. It was a bestseller which found its way into more pagan than Jewish homes. It was the conquering word that spread
Jewish humanism and philosophy to the Greeks and Romans.
When Paul came to preach to the Greeks and Romans, he did not
preach a totally strange creed. The people were already familiar
with the Old Testament.
As previously pointed out, the Five Books of Moses had
been canonized in the year 444 B.C. During the subsequent five
hundred years, under Persian, Greek, and Roman domination, the
Jews wrote, revised, admitted, and canonized all the books now
comprising the Jewish Old Testament. All of these Biblical books
were written in Hebrew, with the exception of a few chapters in
126
Ezra and Daniel, which are in Aramaic. During the Hasmonean
dynasty, the present Hebrew names were given to the different
books, and their order determined. Nothing has been changed
since.
There is an interesting legend telling how the Greek translation of the Old Testament came to be called the Septuagint.
About 260 B.C., word of a famous and beautifully written book
possessed by the Jews had reached the ear of the Ptolemaic King
Philadelphus. He suggested that seventy Jewish scholars translate the work into Greek. According to this pious legend, each of
the seventy scholars worked independently, yet all seventy translations, when completed, were identical, word for word, thus
proving God's guiding hand. And so the work became known as
the book of the "Seventy," or Septuagint in Greek.
The secular account for this translation differs shamelessly
from the legend. The cruel fact was that in cities like Alexandria
and Antioch, Damascus and Athens, Jews forgot Hebrew and
began to speak Greek in the same way American Jews today
speak English instead of Yiddish. Jewish leaders felt that the
contents of the Old Testament were more important than the language, and that a Bible in Greek would have a greater binding
force on the Jews than no Bible at all. A translation of the Bible
was therefore ordered The Jewish leaders had guessed right. The
Septuagint was greatly instrumental in pulling many half-assimilated Jews back into the orbit of Judaism.
Great as the influence of the Septuagint was on the Jews
however, it exerted an even greater influence on the Greeks Conversion to Judaism was now spread by the written word. But
even more significantly, many of those who did not convert
gained a deeper understanding of Judaism and greater respect for
the Jews and their culture.
A great intellectual interaction took place. Jewish theology
became so all-pervasive that it affected not only Greek :thinking
but also future Christian dogma. Some scholars even maintain
that Christian dogma was not derived completely from the teachings of Paul, as previously supposed but influenced by the writ127
ings of a Jewish philosopher named Philo, who, about 35 to 40
A.D., synthesized the Old Testament with the works of the Greek
philosopher Plato though little is known of Philo today, by either
Jews or Christians, he probably played a more crucial role in
shaping both Judaism and Christianity than either Rabbi Akiba or
Paul. Philo shaped Judaism around a Grecian metaphysical
framework so thoroughly that it influenced both Jews and Christians in the creation of their new theologies.
Philo was the son of the wealthiest and most Hellenized
Jewish family in Alexandria. He was educated in the finest
private schools, spoke fluent Greek and Latin, but very little
Hebrew. An ardent disciple of Plato, he was imbued with the idea
of synthesizing the best in Jewish religion with the best in Greek
philosophy. His life is hidden in obscurity, but wt ".do know of
one dramatic event. The mad Emperor Caligula .had demanded
veneration as a god. The Alexandrians, envious of the positions
of eminence and wealth the Jews had attained in that city, saw a
wonderful opportunity for revenge under the guise of patriotism.
They insisted that the Jews, also obey this edict, knowing full
well that this would be against their religion. When the Jews refused, as they had anticipated, the Alexandrians declared them
traitors, thus giving themselves an excuse to plunder Jewish
wealth with justified indignation. Upon the shoulders of Philo
fell the task of going to Rome to reason with the mad emperor.
The situation was not only hopeless, but absurd. Caligula
was murdering thousands of Roman patricians at whim or as a
cure for heartburn. To ask such a madman to give up part of his
delusion that he was a god for the sake of a few Jewish rebels
who refused to do him homage was madness itself. Yet Philo accomplished the absurd by treating Caligula: the way a modem
psychiatrist would treat a paranoid. By keeping his head and his
dignity, by answering questions frankly, by treating the emperor
as though he were sane and fully responsible for his deeds, Philo
was almost able to convince Caligula that the Jews could be loyal citizens without having to erect statues of him in their temples.
We don't know what Caligula's final decision might have been,
128
for in the year 41 this incestuous and epileptic emperor was
murdered and was succeeded by Claudius, who, though regarded
as a driveling imbecile by the Romans, nevertheless ordered the
chagrined and amazed Alexandrians to quit their plunderings and
make restitution to the Jews.
Philo, who was familiar with the Old Testament only in its
Greek translation, decided to make it even more acceptable to
Greek intellectuals by putting Greek clothing on Jewish revelation. This he did with the aid of allegory and the philosophy of
Plato. Though God created the world, argued Philo, God did not
influence the world directly, but indirectly through Lagos, that is,
through "the Word." 21 Because the human soul stems from the
"Divine Source," continued Philo, it is capable of conceiving of
the nature of divinity itself. This human ability to conceive of di vinity, said Philo, could be done in two ways: through the spirit
of prophecy, or through inner mystic meditation. Judaism, in
Philo's opinion, was the instrument which enabled man to
achieve moral perfection, and the Torah was the path to union
with God. It was on the allegorical concepts of Philo's Logos and
the inner mystic contemplation of God that Paul built his Christology. The Jews used the opposite pole of Philo's philosophy –
the spirit of prophecy. They built their Judaism by searching the
Torah for new meanings.
This search into the Torah for new meanings kept the Jewish
religion modem and up-to-date, in spite of encroaching centuries.
The contact with the Greeks had introduced the dews to science
and philosophy. They used this science as a tool with which to
extract further meanings from the Torah by applying to it ever
21 We can see how this idea was taken directly by the Christians, for instance, in the Gospel According to Saint John, which begins: "In the
beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and theWord
was God." Ironically, this opening sentence in John is now more of' a
Jewish doctrine than a Christian one. The Christians made the "Son
of Man" equal to God, whereas it was the Jews who followed John's
injunction and made "the Word," that is, the Torah, equal to God. It
is to the Jews that "the Word is God."
129
subtler forms of Greek logic. Greek philosophy enabled them to
expand their uni verse of .thought. But the Jews were practical
men as well as theoreticians. One cannot promote Judaism
without Jews, so Jewish leaders proceeded to read into the Torah
the sensible . maxim that it was the obligation of the Jews to preserve ·,themselves in order to preserve Judaism. It behooved
Jewish leaders to think up new ways and means for survival. It
was time to preserve ideology with bread and butter.
TEN
A NEW DEAL FOR DIASPORA
The third Jewish war against Rome had brought Jewish
political fortunes to the brink of economic and social disaster. In
the second century A.D., the majority of Jews were stateless „
and dispersed into every comer of the Roman world, from India
to the Atlantic Ocean, over three continents, two empires, and
dozens of nations. They had already defied two thousand years
of history. Logically and historically the Jews were overdue to
lose their ethnic unity and disappear. But they did not disappear.
They responded to this new challenge with another formula for
survival – "Diaspora Judaism."
We have already defined the word Diaspora as coming from
the Greek, meaning "a scattering" or "to scatter about," and today
the word has come to signify that body of Jews not living in Israel itself but scattered outside the boundaries of that country.
Actually, Diaspora means far more than this. Diaspora is both a
way of life and an intellectual concept, a state of being and a
state of mind: To understand its complexity, let us retrace its his tory.
Some historians date the Diaspora from the time of the destruction of the first kingdom of Judah and the subsequent Babylonian captivity. If that were so, there would be no difference
between the words "exile" and "Diaspora," because the Jews
were exiled to Babylonia and lived there in exile. Actually, the
true Diaspora for the Jews began with the Persian conquest of
130
Babylonia. When the Persians permitted the Jews to return to
their homeland, most of them chose to remain where they were
instead of going back to Palestine. The Jewish sojourn in Babylonia before the Persian victory had been involuntary and maintained by force. The Jewish stay in Babylonia after their liberation was voluntary. Before they had lived in "exile"; now they
lived in "Diaspora."
There is one other, more fundamental, difference between
the concepts of "exile" and "Diaspora," however. A people in exile, banished from its homeland, produces no culture, but gradually either dies out through assimilation, or stagnates by revert ing to a nomadic existence. This has been the history of all other
exiled peoples. The Jews were the only exception. The Diaspora
produced new Jewish cultures. Though the inner core of each Diaspora culture always remained distinctly Jewish, each took on
the dominant traits of the host civilization. It was always Jehovah
and monotheism, no matter how each such Diaspora culture was
packaged – in Greek tunic, in Arab mufti, or in American ivyleague. When a civilization was philosophic, like that of the
Greeks, the Jews became philosophers. When it was composed
predominantly of poets and mathematicians, like that of the Arabs, the Jews became poets and mathematicians. When it was
scientific and abstract, like that of the modem Europeans, the
Jews became scientists and theoreticians. When it was pragmatic
and suburban, like the American, the Jews became pragmatists
and suburbanites. Only when a culture or civilization contradicted the basic ethical monotheism of the Jews were they unable
to adapt or be adapted to it. The Jews were part of, yet distinct
from, the civilization in which they lived.
The Jewish intellectuals who had stayed on in Babylonia
after the exile created the first Jewish cultural Diaspora capital in
Babylon, and soon began to influence the art and culture of Jerusalem. The Jews, for instance, added a touch of their own to the
Persian art forms, and many scholars now believe that it was this
Jewish touch which created the Byzantine school of painting of
which the Dura-Europos paintings are so reminiscent. When the
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Greeks conquered the Persians, bringing the Jews under their influence, it could have been predicted that Jewish culture would
assume the coloration of Grecian civilization as it did.
With Greek domination, two new Jewish cultural centers developed, one in Jerusalem, the other in Alexandria, giving the
Jews three intellectual centers – one native and two Diaspora
cultures. For about three hundred years, from 200 B.C. to 100
A.D., the Alexandrian Jews gained intellectual ascendancy, but
after that they steadily declined until the spark was finally extin guished three hundred years after the destruction of the Temple.
The Jewish community in Babylon . was destined to inherit the
Diaspora intellectual scepter in another two centuries. But, as the
Jews stood at the edge of disaster in the middle of the second
century A.D., the light that guided them was beamed from the
small town of Jabneh, in devastated Judea.
It had been the preservation of the Jewish idea in the face of
total Diaspora that had obsessed Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai
when, with the flames of burning Jerusalem on the . horizon, be
had established his Jewish academy in Jabneh. .Here were Rabbi
ben Zakkai and his rabbis. In the world ·around them the Jews
were scattered. How does one go about preventing the disappear ance of a people which has lost its country, which has been fragmentized into thousands of segments, and which has been strewn
over vast land :,masses amidst alien tongues and alien religions?
What measures does one take to preserve the identity of such a
people, and how does one enforce such measures when there is
no political power, no police, no army to make these
measure ."enforceable?
What were the dangers which Rabbi ben Zakkai and his successors foresaw? There was the danger of the Jews disappearing
through the slave markets of the world; the danger of the Jews
forgetting their language; the danger of the Jews forsaking their
heritage; the danger of the Jews being overwhelmed by dominant
majorities. There were the dangers of. being lured away to other
religions, of no longer caring whether they continued to exist as
Jews, of no longer believing in being the Chosen People. One by
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one Rabbi ben Zakkai and his successors examined each of these
problems formulating the ideas which, they hoped, would permit
the Jews to survive. The laws which they formulated over a!
thousand-year span, many of them becoming part of the Talmudic code, were disseminated to the Jews through a unique. "courier service" known as Responsa, which did not need any political
power for enforcement. The Jewish people had developed such a
strong inner discipline that as long as their leaders transmitted vi tal and practical ideas which their "Mosaic antennae" could pick
up, they obeyed voluntarily. Jewish charismatic power had
passed from God to the Law of Moses, to the Old Testament, to
the priesthood, and now, to their men of learning – the rabbis.
The age of the Jewish intellectuals was at hand.
Disappearance of the Jews through slavery was an immediate and practical problem. To avert this danger, Jewish leaders
formulated the principle that every Jew was his brother's keeper,
and that all Jews were brothers. In those. days when someone
was sold into slavery, he was a doomed man, unless he came of a
prominent family, in which case he might be ransomed. The Jews
devised an entirely new concept. Henceforth, any Jew sold into
slavery had to be ransomed within seven years by Jews in the
nearest community. To prevent the Hebrew language from becoming fragmentized into hundreds of dialects, Jewish scholars
set about writing the first Hebrew dictionary and grammars.
Though modern Hebrew has grown in the number of words, anyone able to speak Hebrew today can read the Hebrew of the ancient Israelites, the Hebrew of the Jews in the Islamic civilization, or the Hebrew of the Jews in the Middle Ages, without special guide books.
To prevent the Jewish religion from developing such divergences that Jews from different parts of the world would not re cognize each other's holy services, the liturgy in the synagogues
was standardized. Just as great Christian composers were to set
Christian prayers to immortal music, so the greatest Jewish poets
wrote the immortal prayers of the Jewish liturgy, prayers which
have never been surpassed in sheer verbal beauty. They are pray 133
ers which have defied adequate translation. The decree of Ezra
and Nehemiah that part of the Torah must be read aloud to the
people two weekdays and on Saturday was continued, but with
this change: The reader of the Torah no longer had to be a specialist, but could be anyone from the congregation, provided he
had dignity and bearing. From this dictum grew the tradition for
dressing oneself in one's best clothing when going to the synagogue as a mark of respect for God and His Word.
But if Jews were required to enforce discipline upon them selves, they would need social organization. This the Jewish
leaders also provided on several levels. Any time ten Jewish
males over thirteen years of age lived within commuting distance, they had to establish a religious community (Minyan in
Hebrew). As soon as 120 males over thirteen years of age lived
within commuting distance, they had the authority to establish a
social community, including a court of their own to adjudicate
those disputes among themselves which did not conflict with the
laws of the nation within which they resided. Bach such com munity had to incorporate certain principles. Every community
had to impose taxes upon itself in addition to those taxes demanded by the state. These taxes were to go toward making the Jew
self-supportive so that at no time would there be any need to go
to a pagan or Christian government for financial help. This
money was used mainly for education and charity. Every community was responsible for a school system which had to provide
universal education. This education was to be free to the father less, to orphans and to all needy. It was compulsory for all boys,
but it could not be denied to any girl who wanted to continue
schooling beyond reading and writing. These laws specifically
stated that teachers must make good salaries so as to make the
profession attractive and honorable. No one could go hungry.
Charity had to be provided with dignity to all needy and to anyone demanding it. No Jew must ever ask for charity from the
state, only from his own Jewish community. From this date stems
the Jewish custom of always taking care of its own needy. This is
still a cardinal principle of Jews all over the world.
134
To make sure there would be no depopulation of the Jews,
severe penalties were imposed upon infanticide and celibacy.
The community had to supply a dowry to all brides too poor to
supply one for themselves. A ban was also placed on intermarriage. Again it must be stressed that it was the Jews who first rejected the pagans and Christians, not they who first rejected the
Jews. It must also be noted that there is a psychological differ ence between the Jewish discrimination against gentiles and the
discrimination practiced by whites against Negroes, for instance.
The Jews imposed the restrictions on themselves, not on others,
not out of a feeling of superiority, but out of the necessity of preserving their small numbers against dilution. The whites in the
South, or the Dutch in South Africa, impose their restrictions,
political and otherwise, on others out of a feeling of superiority
or fear. Rightly speaking, then, the Jews do not discriminate,
they merely restrict themselves.
To insure the right of self-rule and their rights against the ac cusation of treason, the Jews formulated four laws, unique in the
history of mankind. The first one was that no Jew should ever
have to obey a Jewish law which was beyond the power of a religious Jew to observe. If such a law which had been workable in
one generation proved unworkable another, then that law would
either have to be repealed or reinterpreted. The second law stipulated that Jews must recognize the validity of a non-Jewish document in both a Jewish ·and non-Jewish court, and that all oaths
taken in any court; in any language, were valid. The third law
enunciated the principle that all laws of a country in which Jews
resided had to be obeyed, so long as they did not arbitrarily for bid a religious practice, force them to practice incest, worship
idols, or commit murder. So, for instance, if the country's laws of
damages differed from those of Jewish law, the Jew must abide
by the non-Jewish law if the non-Jewish court so decreed. On the
other hand, if a law should arbitrarily demand that the Jew had to
eat foods specially forbidden to him by his religion, then he had
a right to refuse to obey such a law, since such a refusal in no
way would imperil the state. The fourth law is one which has
135
been adopted by men all over the world, upon finding themselves
in a situation similar to that in which the Jews found themselves
after 135 A.D. This law declared that Jews must fight in the defense of the country wherein they lived, even if it meant fighting
against fellow Jews in another country at a time of war.
One additional decision made at this time had far-reaching
psychological effects on the Jews, changing their character for
twenty centuries. That decision was: to abandon the idea of re conquering Palestine and of establishing another Jewish state
there. Henceforth Palestine would be a spiritual homeland only,
where pious Jews could go to die. Just as the Jews in the tenth
century B.C. had discarded their nomadic life to become men of
war, so in the second century A.D. they became men of peace.
Though they would fight in the defense of the country in which
they resided as a sign of gratitude for sanctuary, they would not
fight as a militaristic people and would not attack anyone. Not
until the twentieth century, when political Zionism came of age,
advocating that Palestine once again be the political homeland
for the Jews, did they again take up arms, as Jews, fighting to restore their ancient homeland.
At this juncture of their history, the Jews also gave up active
proselytization. As Jewish leaders had no political power to enforce their decrees, but had to rely solely on voluntary accept ance, they were afraid that too many new converts would weaken
the will to survive as Jews in succeeding generations. Henceforth
pagans and Christians had to come to the Jews to ask permission
to join their religion. Only if after much dissuasion the applicant
still insisted was he permitted to become a convert. Even with
these obstacles placed in the way, Judaism was still so attractive
to many that in the sixth century the Church, in order to stop the
f wave of conversions, imposed the death penalty on any Christian who converted to Judaism.
More than anybody else the Jews realized that "No man is
an Iland, intire of it self." They formulated laws not only for the
survival of Judaism, but for the conduct of Jews among their
gentile neighbors. If a Christian died in the midst of a Jewish
136
community, he had to be buried by the Jews according to Christian ritual. Jewish physicians had to heal the ill, whether Jews or
non-Jews, and do so without a fee if poverty prevented payment.
Jews had to support not only their own communities, but also
had to contribute toward the welfare of the general gentile community. Non-Jewish invalids had to be visited by Jews, if no one
else came to see them. Charity had to be provided for anyone
who demanded it – Jew or non-Jew. No matter how poor a Jew
is, he always feels there is someone poorer than he, and a Jew
living on charity sees nothing incongruous in giving some of his
charity money as charity to someone else. Unlike the Christians,
Jews did not feel that non-Jews were excluded from heaven. On
the contrary, they held that the "righteous among the nations of
the world have a share in the world to come."
All these laws formulated during the fateful centuries before
the collapse of the Roman Empire had far-reaching effects on the
Jews. These laws permitted them to identify themselves with the
cultures of peoples in every land in which they resided without
having to lose their identity. The Jews had learned the art of separation of church and state.
The span of five centuries between 100 and 600 A.D. was a
transitional period for the Jews. There was no one dominant
civilization during this vast stretch of time. Hellenism was on the
decline and the Roman Empire was dying. But the Roman Empire did not come to an end in one great Götterdämmerung. It
petered out, and two most unlikely events contributed to its final
downfall. The first had its origin in a small town in Judea; the
second in China. The first was the growth of Christianity; the
second was the migration of the Huns. As subsequent Jewish history is inextricably woven into the fabric of early Christian origins, let us explore these origins before we examine the nature of
Rome's psychosomatic trauma as the creed of the Christians assaulted her mind and the arms of the Huns reached for her body.
137
III: MOSES, CHRIST, AND
CAESAR
An unorthodox account of the establishment of the
Christian "Son religion" in competition with the Jewish
"Father religion," and how challenged the might of
Rome to become the creed of Europe.
138
HERE'S WHEN IT HAPPENED
WHEN CHRISTIANITY WAS BORN 100 B.C. TO 600 A.D.
ROMAN HISTORY
JUDEO-CHRISTIAN HISTORY
Age of revolutions and coming of Caesarism. Rome master of known world.
100 B.C.
To 1 A.D
Judah becomes Roman province.
Herod the Great made King of
the Jews. Jesus Christ is born
Age of Emperors Nero, Vespasian, Titus. Britain
conquered.
1 to 100
Jesus crucified by Romans. Paul
takes Jewish Christian sect to
pagans. Jerusalem destroyed.
Pauline Epistles written. Gospels
composed (70-120 A.D.)
Age of Emperors Trajan,
Aurelius. Internal economic
and moral collapse.
100 to 200
Second and third Jewish uprising against Rome. Roman persecutions of Christians increase.
Schism plague new Church.
Pressure on Roman's frontiers 200 to 300
by Germanic tribes in North
and Parthians in East. Military
dictatorships. Empire divided.
Jews become Roman citizens.
Christians rank raked by heresies. Christians branded subversives by Romans
Emperor Constantine tempor- 300 to 400
arily reunites Empire. Age of
Theodosius. Empire split permanently in two. First Vandal
invasion.
Emperor Constantine recognises
Christians. Church Council of
Nicea held. New Testament canonized (395). First laws limiting
rights of non-Christians.
Vandals, Goths, Huns pour
400 to 600
across frontiers. Rome sacked.
Barbarian kings seize throne
of Rome. Feudal Age settles
over Europe.
Church solidifies its position in
the empire. Papacy established.
Jews only non-Christian body
left is sea of Christianity.
139
ELEVEN
MESSIAH AND APOSTLE
Throughout the centuries, Jews have accused Christians of
calculated injustices of which they are innocent, and Christians
have accused Jews of crimes of which they are not guilty. But
what seems like planned prejudice or irreconcilable hostility
could be only psychological astigmatism or a plain garden variety
of human frailty afflicting both sides. Early Jewish-Christian relationships must be placed in a new frame of reference if we are to
have a better understanding of them.
Who originated Christianity? Who spread it, and how was it
able to become a dominant world religion? For centuries. the
opinion prevailed that the concepts of Christianity were totally
the innovations of Jesus. Then, in 1947, an electrifying event occurred. Manuscripts dating back to 100 and 200 B.C. bearing a
striking resemblance to the Christian creed were discovered. The
so-called . "Dead Sea Scrolls" had been found, and with them the
mystery of the origin of early Christianity may have been solved.
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls ranks as one of the
greatest finds in archaeology, overshadowing in importance even
Heinrich Schliemann's discovery of Troy and the Mycenaean
civilization. No fiction writer would have dared invent the cir cumstances under which the Scrolls were found. No great scholars or planned expeditions were involved. The discovery was
made in the early spring of 1947, by a young Bedouin black marketeer named Muhammed the Wolf, at a time when he was
stealthily crossing the Arabian-Palestine lines on his way to Bethlehem with a flock of contraband goats.
Palestine was in a crisis. The defunct League of Nations'
Mandate over Palestine was about to end. The British who had
administered that Mandate since World War I were preparing to
leave the following spring, and the Arabs were threatening to invade the moment the British left. Practicing for invasion day, the
Arabs were sniping at the Jews and the Jews were meeting fire
140
with fire. As the British sided with the Arabs, the Jews sabotaged
the British to hasten their departure. The British hanged the
saboteurs and the Jews reciprocated by hanging British soldiers.
Palestine was a proverbial powder keg.
These were the trying conditions under which Muhammed
the Wolf had to earn a living. To reach the lucrative black market
in Bethlehem where he could sell his flock of goats at a hand some profit to the Jews, Muhammed had to elude both Arab and
British patrols. A native of the region, he took a little-known path
along the desolate, hilly western shore of the Dead Sea. In pursuing a stray goat, Muhammed passed a strange cave and idly threw
a stone into it. To his astonishment and fright he heard the sound
of breaking pottery. He ran away but came back later with a
friend engaged in the same profession, and together they explored
the cave.
Inside the cave the two youths found tall clay jars, the kind
Rachel might have used at the well when Jacob met her, or Zipporah might have used in tending her father's flock when Moses
first saw her. Inside the jars Muhammed and his friend found
scrolls of parchment with what turned out to be ancient Hebrew
writing on them. They were Biblical and Essene religious manuscripts dating back to 100 and 200 B.C.. The two young Bedouins
had stumbled upon an Essene genizah, a storage house for religious manuscripts.
Eventually these scrolls found their way into the hands of
competent Biblical scholars, who identified them as genuine Old
Testament manuscripts and as hitherto unknown works of Essene
writings. What astounded the scholars was the incredible resemblance of this Essene Judaism as revealed in these scrolls to early
Christianity.
Subsequent expeditions to the scene led to the discovery of
other caves and other scrolls. Even more incredible, the ruins of
an early Jewish Essene monastery were found in the vicinity
where John the Baptist and Jesus had preached. The resemblance
of early Christianity to the Essene religion grew into a mirror image.
141
Among the many complete scrolls and fragments of Essene
writings, the most important were those documents now entitled
Manual of Discipline, Habakkuk Commentary, The War of the
Sons of Light with the Sons of Darkness, and Zadokite Fragments. These manuscripts formed the heart of the Essene religious creed, and in these scrolls, many scholars now contend, are
embedded the origins of early Christianity.
Briefly, the Essenes, whose political origins we have already
explored, believed in a divinely sent messiah whom they called
the "Teacher of Righteousness," and who had died a violent death
at the hands of the Sons of Darkness. The followers of the Teacher of Righteousness called themselves the "Elect of God" and
their religious community the "New Covenant." Members of the
New Covenant were initiated through baptism. They had a protocol for seating ' which is almost identical to that of the Last
Supper as described in the New Testament. The Manual of Discipline describes a ritual which could be mistaken for the Christian Communion. The many striking resemblances between the Essene and Christian creeds have best been summed up by A.
Dupont-Sommer, a professor at the Sorbonne:
Everything in the Jewish New Covenant heralds and prepares the way for the Christian New Covenant. The Galilean Master, as He is presented to us in the writings of
the New Testament, appears in many respects as an astonishing reincarnation of the Teacher of Righteousness.
Like the latter, He preached penitence, poverty, humility,
love of one's neighbor, chastity. Like him, He prescribed
the observance of the Law of Moses, the whole Law, but
the Law finished and perfected, thanks to His own revel ations. Like him, He was the Elect and the Messiah of
God, the Messiah Redeemer of the World. Like him, He
was the object of the hostility of the priests, the party of
the Sadducees. Like him, He was condemned and put to
death. Like him, He pronounced judgment on Jerusalem,
which was taken and destroyed by the Romans for hav142
ing put Him to death. Like him, at the end of time, He
will be the supreme judge. Like him, He founded a
church whose adherents fervently awaited His glorious
return. In the Christian Church, just as in the Essene
Church, the essential rite is the sacred meal, whose min isters are the priests. Here and there, at the head of each
community, there is the overseer, the "bishop." And the
ideal of both Churches is essentially that of unity, com munion in love – even going so far as the sharing of
common property.
All these similarities – and here only touch upon the
subject – taken together constitute a very impressive
whole. The question at once arises, to which of the two
sects, the Jewish or the Christian, does the priority belong? Which of the two was able to influence the other?
The reply leaves no room for doubt. The Teacher of
Righteousness died about 65-53 B.C.; Jesus the Nazarene died about 30 A.D. In every case in which the resemblance compels or invites us to think of a borrowing,
this was on ·the part of Christianity. But on the other
hand, the appearance of the faith in Jesus – the foundation of the New Church – can scarcely be explained
without the real historic activity of a new Prophet, a new
Messiah, who has rekindled the flame and concentrated
on himself the adoration of men. 22
Up until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, only a handful of historians and scholars, among them Josephus, ·Philo, and
the Roman scholar Pliny, had made any references to the Essenes
and their religious observances; and few people had paid any
heed to them. In 1864 a British scholar with the unlikely name of
Christian D. Ginsburg published a monograph entitled The Essenes: Their History and Doctrines, in which he intuitively asserted what the Dead Sea Scrolls prove. But this too was dismissed
22 A. Dupont-Sommer, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Preliminary Survey.
143
as the meaningless work of a foolish scholar who speculated
about something for which he had no concrete evidence.
But with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls the scholars
were vindicated. Josephus, Philo, Pliny, Ginsburg – all had been
right. "Christianity" had existed at least two hundred years before
Jesus, its greatest and noblest spokesman, but not its originator.
Instead of a loud reverberation through Christian and Jewish
institutions at this momentous discovery, there was nothing but
silence. The Christians were not anxious to impute to Jewish rabbis the total origin of their religion, feel ing it enough that Jesus
was Jewish. Neither were the Jews anxious to assume credit for
the complete authorship of Christianity, feeling they had contributed enough by providing the central figure in the Christian religion. Thus the Essene Dead Sea Scrolls remained the property of
little-known scholars who continued to write about this great dis covery in esoteric magazines, or became the playthings of popularizers who diluted their essential meaning with so many sooth ing clichés that their importance was reduced to trivia.
In the troubled land of Judea, in the first century A.D., bleeding under Rome's tyrannical rule, many prophets, preachers, and
holy men, representing most of the twenty-four religious sects in
the country at the time, went about " proclaiming the coming of a
messiah who would deliver the Jews from the evil of the Roman
yoke. Each sect preached its own brand of salvation, but the most
numerous of these itinerant prophets and preachers were the Essenes. History has shown us that the most important of them all
was Jesus.
Jesus Christ is Greek for "Joshua the messiah," and the word
"messiah" comes from the Hebrew word mashiah, meaning "one
who is anointed," that is, a messiah. As scholars disagree about
the dates of Christ's life, we will give only approximate ones. Depending, then, upon what authority is used, Jesus was born
between 7 and 4 B.C. either in Bethlehem or Nazareth23 during
23 Cecil John Cadoux, The Life of Jesus Christ (Pelican Books, page
27). Cadoux, professor of New Testament and professor of Church
History, Oxford University, makes a strong case for his belief that
144
the reign of Herod the Great ·in Judea, and was crucified either in
30 or in 33 A.D.24 The Gospels according to Luke and Matthew
trace his ancestry to the royal house of David, each through different and conflicting genealogies; the other two Gospels make
no such mention. When Jesus was about twelve years old he was
taken to Jerusalem, where he listened to learned rabbis discuss
the Torah, but, as in the case of Moses, we know little else of his
childhood and nothing about his early manhood. In the light of
the findings of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it seems likely that he spent
that period in the Essene monastery so recently discovered in the
very neighborhood in which the New Testament says he spent his
youth.
After his visit to Jerusalem at the age of twelve, Jesus disappears from the pages of the Gospels until he reappears somewhere between 28 and 30 A.D., at the age of thirty, at which time
he is baptized by John the Baptist, so called because John taught
in accordance with the Essene creed, that men could cleanse their
souls symbolically through "baptism," that is, through immersion
in water. This was not an unorthodox or heretical notion among
the Jews, who for centuries had practiced one or another form of
water purification ritual. John also proclaimed that he was the
messenger of God, and that his mission was that of ushering in
the kingdom of God. Neither Pharisees nor Sadducees thought
this a blasphemous notion, because John was never brought to
any trial by them. John was not put to death for any political or
religious reasons, nor was he put to death by the Jews, John met
his death at the hands of the Idumean king, Herod Antipas, appointed ruler of Galilee by the Romans, because he openly dethe birth of Jesus took place at Nazareth, not at Bethlehem. This is
the view generally held by scholars today.
24 Astronomical evidence points to 33 A.D. rather than 30 A.D. All four
Gospels agree the crucifixion of Jesus took place on a Friday, during
the Feast of Passover, celebrated by the Jews on the fifteenth of Nisan, commencing on the evening when the full moon occurs. In 30
A.D.; Passover was held on a Thursday, whereas in 33 A.D. it was
held on a Friday, as the full moon occurred on those days.
145
nounced the marriage of Antipas to his niece as illegal and inces tuous.
Jesus's public life as a savior begins with his baptism. His
ministry lasts but one year according to the Synoptic Gospels,25
and three years according to John, depending on how one interprets the reference to the number of Passovers mentioned in that
Gospel.
Jesus took up the life of a teacher, preaching his own gospel.
There was nothing different or un-Jewish in his teachings. He
was a liberal; he 'was against all injustice, in the tradition of the
Prophets. He taught the observance of the Mosaic law, compassion for the poor, mercy, and tolerance. He spoke in a soft voice
and with a loving heart. He was an inspiring teacher who ex pressed himself in crystal-clear parables. His messages went
straight to the hearts of his listeners. He was an oasis. of comfort
in a desert of Roman misery. The humble people flocked to him
to take solace in his words, to find comfort in his vision, and to
take heart in the hope he held out. Nothing he preached, taught,
or said was in contradiction to what other Jewish prophets, rabbis, or sects said or taught. Jesus was not in danger from the
Jews. He was in danger from the Romans, for it was no longer
safe to teach justice in a land ruled by terror. Judea was sitting on
the powder keg of an incipient rebellion, and the Roman cure was
to seize all suspects and flay them alive or crucify them head
down.
In the year 33 A.D. Jerusalem was crowded with pilgrims
who had come from every part of the world to celebrate the Feast
of Passover. Excitement ran high. A rebellion in the provinces had
just been quelled. Rumors of another rebellion were rife. People
were talking about a new messiah who had arrived in the city on
the colt of an ass, in the manner Jewish legend prophesied. To the
Romans this talk about a messiah spelled trouble. These messiahs
could inflame the people, with words quicker than a torch could
25 The first three Gospels are "Synoptic," because the narratives parallel
each other, which is not the case with the Gospel According to Saint
John.
146
set fire to paper. Any small incident might incite the Jews to another rebellion. The procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate, left his
mistress in Caesarea, the administrative capital, to come to Jerusalem. He brought his legionnaires with him, ringing the city with
steel.
The messiah the people were talking about was Jesus. This
was the political atmosphere into which he stepped . when he
made his decision to come to Jerusalem. This was the time he had
chosen to reveal publicly that he was the messiah. His destination
was the Temple. His aim was the reform of some of its practices.
From a political viewpoint., he had chosen the worst possible
time to hasten Temple reforms.
The events which follow are shrouded in obscurity. They are
viewed with hindsight by New Testament readers, who are
baffled by what to them seems like blindness on the part: of the
Jews for not accepting immediately the Temple reforms which Jesus wanted to institute. That is how it may . seem today, but not in
Jerusalem in the year 33 A.D. What New Testament readers forget is that on the day Jesus entered Jerusalem no one, with the
possible exception of a few of his closest disciples, knew that he
was the messiah, because at this point Jesus had not as yet revealed it. This he did not do until later, after the incident at the
Temple. Just exactly at what point Jesus revealed who he was is
hard to say, as all four Gospels are contradictory at this point. But
when Jesus entered Jerusalem his adherents had no knowledge
that he was, or would soon declare himself, the messiah. How
could it then be expected that the people in Jerusalem, who had
never heard of him, would know what his followers themselves
did not know?
Another point which New Testament readers forget, or are
not aware of, is that it was the Prophets who began the reformation of the Temple cult, eight hundred years before Jesus. In the
days of Jesus there existed, side by side, two Judaisms, one the
Judaism of temple and sacrifice, the other the Judaism of synagogue and prayer, just as two Christianities exist side by side
today, one Catholic, the other Protestant. Jesus, then, was not the
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first reformer of the Temple cult. When he appeared on the scene,
the reforms instituted by the Prophets were already doing away
with the entire Temple cult itself. In this dying Temple cult, Jesus
aimed to do away with two practices, the selling of sacrificial animals and the handling of money on Temple grounds.
It was a long-established custom in those days to sell sacrificial doves and pigeons outside the Temple, just as it is the custom
to sell candles and crosses inside churches and cathedrals today.
As Jewish pilgrims came from many lands to offer their sacrifices
in the Temple, it was also a custom for vendors to make change
from one currency to another as a service to these pilgrims. Some
Sunday-school textbooks hint that there was gambling involved,
an understandable , elaboration, but this theory is not supported
by any of the four Gospels. Jesus objected, not to the making of
change, but to the handling of money on Temple grounds, just as
he ·might object to the custom of handling money inside churches
and cathedrals today when collection plates or baskets are passed
to worshipers. 26
When Jesus arrived at the Temple, smashing the tables of the
vendors and driving the money-changers down the Temple stairs,
those Jews who wanted these services were as outraged as Christians would be today if someone were to storm into their churches
during Easter services, smash the candles and crosses offered for
sale, and drive the gentlemen passing the collection plates down,
the church steps. Does anyone doubt that such an intruder would
be arrested at the orders of the priest or minister? Yet the Jews
did not arrest Jesus at this time. They wanted no trouble with the
Romans and hoped the incident would be forgotten.
But this hope was not to be realized. News of the commotion
in the Temple tensed the Romans. Was this the event that would
set off a riot? An uprising? A rebellion? Responsible Jewish cit izens, fully aware of the danger of the slaughter, rapine, and tor26 This custom, incidentally, does not exist among Jews, who do not allow the handling of money inside their temples or synagogues. They
either pay annual dues or make pledges to pay certain sums toward
the support of their religious institutions.
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ture which would take place if the Roman legions were unleashed, might have felt that Jesus should be restrained until after
Passover, until the excitement had died, until the legionnaires had
departed and the semisiege lifted. Cautiously they waited to see
what would happen. The adherents of Jesus were now for the first
time beginning to speak of him openly as "king of the Jews" and
as "the messiah," further arousing the suspicions of the Romans.
The Jews, according to the Gospels, arrested Jesus on the third
day after his appearance at the Temple.
Twelve eventful hours in the history of mankind now took
place. The only accounts we have of the twelve hours which fol lowed the arrest of Jesus are contained in the Four Gospels,
which were written forty to ninety years after the event itself.
Their many contradictions aside, the Gospel accounts say essentially this: Jesus was arrested at night by orders of the Sanhedrin,
the highest court in the land, and condemned: to death by the Sanhedrin for the crime of blasphemy, or religious corruption, at the
palace of the High Priest with the aid of suborned witnesses. The
Gospel versions then go on to relate that Pontius Pilate, who had
to approve the sentence, did so most reluctantly because he was
afraid of the Jewish multitude.
Any person familiar with Jewish judicial procedure in Biblical times will find it difficult to take the Gospel accounts literally.
According to Jewish law at that time, no one could be arrested at
night. It was illegal to hold court proceedings after sundown on
the eve or the day of the Sabbath or a festival. The Great Sanhedrin could convene only in the Chamber of Hewn Stones, never
in the palace of a High Priest or in any other dwelling. Nor could
the Sanhedrin initiate an arrest. No one could be tried before the
Sanhedrin unless two witnesses had first sworn out charges
against him. As there was no prosecuting attorney, the accusing
witnesses had to state the nature of the offense to the court in the
presence of the accused, who had the right to call witnesses in his
own behalf. The court then examined and cross-examined the accused, the accusers, and the defense witnesses. The Talmud, in
fact, decreed that even as a condemned man was led to his place
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of execution, a herald had to precede him crying out to all: "So
and so, the son of so and so, is going forth to be executed because
he has committed such and such an offense, and so and so are his
[accusing] witnesses. Whoever knows anything in his favor, let
him come and state it." 27 These facts make it very unlikely that a
Jewish High Court would defy every law in its own code and act
contrary to time-honored custom. Such action by the august body
of the Sanhedrin is as inconceivable as the United States Supreme
Court's seizing a man at night, searching for "witnesses" during
the night to accuse him of a crime, condemn him to death without
a trial, and clamor for immediate execution – all within the space
of twelve hours.28
A historian familiar with the cruelty and rapacity of Pontius
Pilate will find it equally difficult to accept the portrayal of Pilate
as a tender and merciful judge, zealous for the welfare of one
Jew. In fact, Pilate's cruelty and rapacity became so notorious that
the Emperor Tiberius had to remove him because he brought dishonor to Rome. It demands too much credulity to think that this
Pontius Pilate, a Roman general in command of many legions surrounding the city, was cowed by a Jewish "multitude" armed with
nothing more fearful than phylacteries (small amulets wrapped
around one arm during prayer).
Does it not seem more probable that Jesus .was arrested by
the Jews to protect him from the Romans (who never had any
compunction about crucifying one Jew more – or less), that this
protective arrest was to no avail, and that the Romans demanded
that the Jews turn Jesus over to them for punishment? There is
evidence in the Gospels themselves for such a theory. According
to the Gospels, it was the Roman soldiers who scourged and tortured the body of Jesus. It took Roman fiendishness, not Jewish
compassion, to press a crown of thorns on his head, and to hang
the mocking sign, "King of the Jews," on his body.
We cannot but be touched by the poignancy of Christ's
27 The Talmud, Sanhedrin, Mishna 43 a.
28 As one wit expressed it: "Some Christian scholars do not believe Jesus existed, but they are all convinced that the Jews killed him."
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agony, when he turned his eyes heavenward and uttered the now
familiar cry, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani " – My God, my God, why
hast Thou forsaken me? 29 The Gospels themselves relate that it
was the Jewish multitude that wept at the scene of his crucifixion,
not the Romans. The Romans were busy ·playing dice for his
mantle. All the internal evidence points to a Roman atrocity, not a
miscarriage of Jewish justice. Jews never in their history crucified anybody, nor ever demanded crucifixion for anyone. In fact
the Jews came out in the defense of the Christians, as evidenced
in the New Testament itself. Acts 5:34-39 states that the Pharisee
Rabbi Rabban Gamaliel openly opposed the Roman persecution
of' the Christians. Josephus mentions that when James, the brother of Jesus, was executed by the Romans, it was none other than
the Pharisees who risked their lives by protesting this wanton
killing.
With Jesus dead, Christianity seemed doomed. It was saved
by the Jewish doctrine of resurrection. Jews throughout Judea
were familiar with the idea of resurrection after death, and freely
speculated about the hereafter. We find innumerable references to
this in the apocryphal writings of the Pharisees and in the Dead
Sea Scrolls of the Essenes, written at least a century before the
time of Jesus. We should, therefore, not be surprised to read in
the Gospels that on the Sunday following the crucifixion of Jesus
some women went to his tomb to pray and found the stone in
front«of it rolled away and the tomb itself empty. One of the wo men had a vision of Jesus. Two disciples had that same vision. 30
News of this miracle quickly spread among the. dispirited rem nants of the followers of Jesus. All were convinced that he had
risen from the dead. Not only Jesus, but; Christianity had been re29 It could be that Jesus was praying in the traditional Jewish manner,
for the words come from the Old Testament, Psalm 22:2. The Psalm
of course uses the Hebrew word "asavtani," whereas Jesus uses the
Aramaic equivalent "sabachtani" (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34).
30 This is a composite of the four Gospel accounts, since each Gospel
tells part of the story only and the separate accounts contradict one
another in a number of details.
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surrected.
In the first two decades after the death of Jesus, from 30 to
50 A.D., all Christians were Jews, and Christianity as a Jewish
sect differed little from the many other Jewish sects. New converts came mostly from the ranks of other Jews, and those pagans
who joined the new religion had to become Jews first before they
could be accepted into the Christian faith. All Christians were regarded as Jews in the same way that a Catholic turned Protestant,
or a Protestant turned Catholic, is still regarded as a Christian.
The great schism between Christians and Jews did not occur until
after 50 A.D. when the Christian sect was taken to the pagans and
made a world religion. This was both the decision and the accom plishment of one man, another Jew, the real builder of the Christian Church. His name is Saul of Tarsus, generally ·known by
Christians as Paul. He became to Jesus what the Talmud became
to the Torah – a commentary and a way of life.
To the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, Paul was a
man "whose superstition was equaled by his cunning." To Martin
Luther, he was a "rock of strength." Paul was born about the same
time as Jesus. He was a citizen of Rome, intellectual and arrogant. He was educated in Roman law and Greek philosophy, yet he
was a devout and observing Jew, a Pharisee. He journeyed to Jerusalem at about the same time that Jesus came to preach in that
city, but the two never knew each other. In Jerusalem, Paul also
came in contact with the works of Philo and was greatly influenced by them. He could have become a great scholar of the
Torah. History made him a Christian saint.
If Paul had lived today, he might have ended up on a psychiatrist's couch. Throughout his life he was overwhelmed with an
all-pervasive sense of guilt which pursued him with relentless
fury. From early paintings and from descriptions in New Testament accounts, both his and others', we have a rather repellent
physical portrait of him. Ernest Renan characterized him as "the
ugly little Jew." Paul was of slight stature, bowlegged, blind in
one eye, and probably had some deformity of body. He was given
to recurrent attacks of malaria, had repeated hallucinations, and
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some scholars believe he was subject to epileptic seizures. He
was celibate, exhorted others to celibacy, and advocated marriage
only in extreme instances.
In his early years Paul was bitterly opposed to the new Jewish sect, Christianity. He attacked its members savagely, even appearing as a witness against (and probably in the stoning of) that
sect's first martyr, Stephen, who had been the first to proclaim
that Jesus was equal to God, which in those days was as great a
blasphemy as proclaiming today that Mary Baker Eddy, the
founder of Christian Science, is the daughter of Jesus and equal
to God.
According to Acts 9: 1-2, Paul " … went unto the high
priest ... and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way (as Christians then were
referred to), whether they were men or women, he might bring
them bound unto Jerusalem." It was on the road to Damascus, on
this mission, that Paul had his famous vision of Christ, so reminiscent of Abraham's encounter with God two thousand years earli er. But the events that follow are entirely different. "Why dost
thou persecute me?" Jesus asks him. Paul is blinded by this vision
of Christ and has to be led helpless to Damascus. Here another
Jew, a member of the Christian sect, named Ananias, cures Paul's
blindness by laying his hands upon him and converts him to
Christianity.
We shall ask the same question at this point as we asked at
the time Abraham encountered God: "Did this really happen ?"
We shall answer it in the same way. From a historical viewpoint it
makes no difference whether Christ actually appeared to Paul, or
whether Paul had a hallucinative experience. The fact remains
that for two thousand years this account of Paul's conversion has
played a dominant role in the Christian religion. This is the reality we must deal with, for this is the reality which creates history.
In spite of this encounter with Jesus, the cure from blindness,
and conversion to Christianity, little is heard of Paul for fourteen
years, until a disciple named Barnabas, in the year 45 A.D., asks
Paul to accompany him on a journey for the new Church. It is
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now that Paul's remarkable missionary work begins, and he soon
surpasses his mentor, Barnabas.
After his return from this first mission Paul made his fateful
decision to break with the Jews. Twice he had appealed to the
Apostolic Church in Jerusalem to make him an apostle, and twice
it had refused him this honor. Then he had a quarrel with James,
the brother of Jesus, about the procedure in converting pagans.
The custom had been for non-Jewish converts to become Jews
first, then be admitted into the Christian sect. Paul felt that pagans should become Christians directly, without first being converted to Judaism. Rebuffed by the apostles of the Church, and
defeated in his views on new converts by the brother of Jesus,
Paul made three decisions. which eliminated the Jewish element
from the Christian sect and made it a separate religion.
Since the Jews would not have Christianity, Paul took it to
the pagans. To make it easier for them to join his new religion, he
made a second decision, that of abandoning Jewish dietary laws
and the rite of circumcision. His third decision was to substitute
Christ for the Torah, and this was the most crucial one, for it
caused the final and unalterable break between the Father and the
Son religions. The Jews believed then, as they do now, that man
can know God only through the word of God as revealed in the
Torah. The Pauline doctrine stated that man could know God only
through Christ. The schism between Jew and Christian was total.
After his break with the Apostolic Church in Jerusalem and
his fight with James, Paul set out on his now famous missionary
journeys, and it was at this time that he changed his Jewish name
of Saul to the Roman name of Paul. On most of his journeys he
was accompanied by one or both of two companions, Silas and
Timothy, the latter of whom he had personally circumcised. It
was also during these journeys, between 50 and 62 A.D., that he
wrote the Pauline Epistles. These are the earliest Christian writings; the Gospels did not appear until later, the first some time
between 70 and 74 A.D., the fourth around 120 A.D., or perhaps
as late as 140 A.D.
The accounts of the history of Christianity in the Pauline
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Epistles and the Gospels, especially as the latter relate to the trial
of Christ, become understandable now that we realize they were
written not for the Jews but for the pagans. They were written for
the Thessalonians, the Galatians, the Corinthians, the Romans,
the Colossians, the Philippians, the Ephesians. It is understandable that neither Paul nor the Gospel writers would want to antagonize those whom they were seeking to convert, or anger the
rulers whom they had to mollify, especially since they could be
punished for such offenses by being thrown to the lions or being
crucified head down.
As Paul journeyed from city to city, from country to country,
he used the synagogue as a pulpit for his missionary sermons, for
the synagogue was a most tolerant institution, permitting many
divergent views. Paul, however, was not as tolerant. " ... If any
man preach any other gospel unto you than you have received
[from me] let him be accursed" ( Galatians 1:9). Paul did more
than take Christianity away from the Jews. Slowly he changed
early Christianity into a new ' Pauline Christology.
To the early Christians, Jesus had been human with divine ,,
attributes conferred upon him after resurrection. To Paul, Christ
was divine even before birth. To the early Christians, Jesus had
been the Son of God. To Paul, Christ was coequal and cosubstantial with God, Jesus had taught that one learned to love God by
loving man. Paul taught that one learned to love Christ by incorporating him into oneself. Paul also shifted the early emphasis
from Jesus the messiah to Christ the redeemer of sin. Paul's thinking was dominated by the concept of original sin. According to
Paul, man was contaminated by the guilt of Adam, the first sinner.
Man could find redemption from sin only through Christ, the first
"atoner," that is, the first one to atone for man's sins through his
expiatory death.
So powerful was the Pauline appeal to the pagans, that within
fifteen years they outnumbered the Jews in the Christian sect. The
Jewish Christians, now a minority, became known as the Ebionites – "poor ones" – and soon fell into obscurity. Christianity was
no longer a Jewish sect, for Paul had abandoned the Mosaic tradi155
tion. The Romans no longer looked upon the Christians as Jews,
but as members of a distinct and separate religion of no specific
nationality.
Where did Paul get his organizing ability? We don't now that
any more than we know where Trotsky got his organizing ability.
Just as Trotsky, the Russian-Jewish ghetto intellectual, took a bedraggled, beaten Russian Czarist Army and transformed it into a
victorious Red Army, so Paul, the Roman-Jewish cosmopolitan
intellectual, took a handful of dispirited disciples of Christ and
transformed them into the Church militant. At the time of Paul's
death in Rome in 62 A.D., when according to tradition he was be headed by order of Emperor Nero, Christianity was a world
movement to be reckoned with by the Roman Empire.
TWELVE
THE CHURCH TRIUMPHANT
It was a miracle that the Christians survived their first three
hundred years. One schism after another within their ranks
threatened to obliterate them. In this early struggle for survival,
the Christians had no time for the Jews. Wrangling over the many
doctrinal viewpoints cropping up concerning the nature of the di vinity of Christ and his relation to God, the Father, occupied all
their energies.
Maintaining their number was also a full-time occupation.
No sooner had Christianity become a separate religion than it was
looked upon with suspicion by the Romans, who now branded.
the Christians as subversives and subjected them to relentless per secution. A good portion of their membership was eaten by the
lions in the Roman amphitheaters, which was the Roman cure for
Christianity, instituted by Nero and continued for three more centuries. Most of the losses in their ranks, however, came from re cantations. Christianity was outlawed by the Romans in the same
way Communism is outlawed in some countries today. When a
Christian accused of being a subversive was brought before a Roman tribunal, he was given the choice of life, by denying he was a
156
Christian, or death, by affirming it. Usually he chose life by recanting his Christianity. As the German jurist Rudolf Sohm so
succinctly states in his Outlines of Church History, "The Church
conquered, not because of the Christians, but in spite of them –
through the power of the Gospels."
The Christian position in the Roman Empire resembled, in
fact, that of the American Communist position in America during
the 1950s. This is pointedly illustrated by two existing Roman
documents, one a letter from Pliny the Younger, Governor of
Bithynia, written to Emperor Trajan in 112, and the Emperor's
reply. Pliny wrote:
It is my rule, Sire, to refer to you in matters where I am
uncertain. For who can better direct my hesitation or in struct my ignorance? I was never present at any trial of
Christians; therefore I do not know what are the customary penalties ... I have hesitated a great deal on the ques tion whether there should be any distinction of ages;
whether the weak should have the same treatment as the
more robust; whether those who recant should be
pardoned, or whether a man who has ever been a Christian should gain nothing by ceasing to be such; whether
the name itself, even if innocent of crime, should be punished, or only the crimes attaching to that name.
Meanwhile, this is the course I have adopted in the case
of those brought before me as Christians. I ask them if
they are Christians. If they admit it, I repeat the question
a second and third time, threatening capital punishment;
if they persist, I sentence them to death. For I do not
doubt that whatever kind of crime it may be to which
they have confessed, their pertinacity and inflexible ob stinacy should certainly be punished ... an anonymous
pamphlet was issued, containing many names. All who
denied that they were or had been Christian I considered
should be discharged ... Others named by the informer
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first said that they were Christians, and then denied it;
declaring that they had been, but were so no longer,
some having recanted three years or more before and
one or two as long as twenty years ago. They all worshiped your image and the statues of the gods and cursed
Christ. ...
The matter seemed to me to justify my consulting you ...
for many persons of all ages and classes and of both
sexes are being put in peril by accusations, and this will
go on ....
And Emperor Trajan replied:
You have taken the right line, my dear Pliny, in examining the cases of those denounced to you as Christians,
for no hard and fast rule can be laid down, of universal
application. They are not to be sought out; if they are in formed against, and the charge is proved, they are to be
punished, with this reservation – that if anyone denies
that he is a Christian, and actually proves it, that is by
worshipping our gods, he shall be pardoned as a result of
his recantation, however suspect he may have been with
respect to the past. Pamphlets published anonymously
should carry no weight in any charge whatsoever. They
constitute a very bad precedent, and are also out of keep ing with this age.31
The age of Trajan was but a brief respite. The persecution of
the Christians was stepped up by his successors, and their exclu sion from the main streams of social life more rigorously en forced. This persecution and social exclusion gave the early
Christians certain character traits reminiscent of the character
traits ascribed by the Christians to the Jews during the Middle
Ages. Edward Gibbon, in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, expresses it this way:
31 Documents of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press, 1947).
158
As the greater number [of the Christians] were of some
trade or profession, it was incumbent on them ... to re move suspicion which the profane are apt to conceive
against the appearance of sanctity. The contempt of the
world exercised upon them the habits of humility, meakness and patience. The more they were persecuted, the
more closely they adhered to each other.
In the end, however, the power of the Gospels conquered.
For every step back taken by the Christians, the power of the
Gospels took them two steps forward. Though they had reserved
as food for the lions in the first century, been regarded as subvers ives in the second century, and been despised in the third century,
in the fourth century they became the masters of the Roman Empire.
The question to be asked is not only How did this come
about? but also Why were the Christians so universally despised.
and so relentlessly persecuted by the Romans? We have already
quoted Edward Gibbon on the religious toleration of the Romans,
who regarded all religions as equally true, equally false, and
equally useful. None, except the Christians, were ever singled out
by them for religious persecution. The measures of repression by
the Romans against the Jews had always been in retaliation
against Jewish opposition to their rule, and the cruelty practiced
against them differed in no way from the cruelty practiced, for in stance, against the Carthaginians, who, like the Jews, had rebelled
against Roman authority.
But few historians seem interested in the question of why the
Romans persecuted the Christians. Most of them merely record
the fact that it happened. Edward Gibbon, who is one exception
to this general rule, is, unfortunately, more entertaining than im partial on this subject. Agnostics love his famous, sardonic
chapters on the growth and history of the early Church. But devout Christians dismiss Gibbon's observations on Christianity as a
product of his ignorance, though they do think his caustic remarks
about the Jews are profound. The Jews agree with this verdict on
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Gibbon, but in reverse. They dismiss his annotations on the Jews
as a product of ignorance but regard his ironic observations on
the Christians as expressions of profundity.
Having made this reservation, a kernel of truth, nevertheless,
does reside in Gibbon's explanation of why the Romans should
have singled out the Christians for persecution. The Jews, said
Gibbon, constituted a nation and as such, in the Roman view,
were entitled to have their religious peculiarities. The Christians,
on the other hand, were a sect, who, being without a country, sub verted other nations. The Jews took an active part in government
and, when not fighting Rome against injustice, fought side by
side with Roman legionnaires to preserve the empire. The Christians, again, withdrew themselves from the mainstream of life,
from the responsibility of government, and from the duty of bearing arms. It was for these reasons, says Gibbon, that the Romans
felt that the crime of the Christians was not in anything he did but
in being what he was.
There is no mystery attached to when and how the Christians
assumed power in the Roman Empire. The year was 324, and it
was Emperor Constantine the Great who gave them that power.
At the beginning of the fourth century the Christians were the
largest single religious body in the empire, though they still were
a minority. This large, cohesive plurality could have a stabilizing
influence in propping up his tottering empire. He followed the ax iom, "If you can't lick 'em, join 'em." Accordingly,. he not only recognized Christianity as a legal religion, but also made it the only
legal religion in the land. The Christians at this time did not number over 20 percent of the total population.
Accession to power did not bring peace to the Church; one
wave of trouble after another threatened to drown it. In giving the
Church political power, Constantine also bequeathed it a dubious
heritage – Oriental despotism. At the Church Council of Nicaea,
which he convoked in 325, a creed, known as the Nicene Creed,
was adopted; after that, all Christians had to believe in its principles; all other options were banned and declared heretical, The
monopolistic character of the early Church was set. Whereas in
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the past the Christians had settled their sectarian differences by
conciliation, they now resorted to the sword to enforce religious
conformity. Gibbon estimates that the Christians killed more of
their own number in the first hundred years after coming to
power than did the Romans during the three previous centuries.
With the problem of one uniform Church also went the problem of one uniform Scripture. The history of the canonization of
the New Testament parallels that of the Old Testament. The first
attempt to bring order into the chaos of a multitude of Gospels,
many more or less contradictory and all purporting to be true, was
made about the year 170. It was at this time that the first explorat ory list of books to be included in the New Testament was made,
and known as the Muratorian Canon. The New Testament, as we
know it, did not come into being until 362 years after the death of
Jesus, that is, not until 395 A.D. Only those texts which most
closely hewed to the official creed were accepted into the new
canon. The others were banned. What other gospels contained,
we have no way of knowing. To possess them was heresy, and
heresy was punishable by death.
The final canonization of the New Testament coincided with
the final split in the Roman Empire. Upon the death of Emperor
Theodosius in 395, his son Arcadius took the eastern part of the
empire and established his capital in Constantinople, and his son
Honorius took the western half, with Rome as the capital. Though
the shrunken frontiers were still intact, four sets of circumstances,
set in motion by Jews, Romans, Christians, and barbarians, respectively, so corroded the empire internally that she fell apart in
the next century.
The first set of circumstances, brought about by the Jews, has
already been discussed, namely, the three Roman-Jewish wars.
These three wars made Rome's subject people restive, and placed
enemies in arms at her borders, waiting for an opportune moment
to strike. This called for added taxation and additional reinforce ments on the frontiers which further ·helped to drain the re sources of the empire. Rome's frontiers; never expanded after the
first Jewish war, and they began to shrink after the third one.
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The second set of events responsible for weakening the em pire was caused by the Romans themselves. Slavery had displaced the middle classes, and work had become something to be
disdained. Loose sexual morals had undermined the family insti tution. The corrupt and unjust taxation against which the Jews
had rebelled now corroded the empire itself.
The third set of circumstances contributing to the fall of
Rome is ascribed by many historians to the Christians. Because
the early Christians believed that the end of the world was at
hand, they did not take the burdens of governing seriously, and, as
a result, centralized government collapsed„. Monasticism and a
stress on virginity, carried to the extent of unconsummated mar riages, led to depopulation. An overemphasis on the hereafter and
a concentration on theology led to a neglect of civic duty, patriot ism, and learning.
These three sets of circumstances, accelerating in their de structive effects in the first four centuries of this era, were com bined in the fifth century with a fourth set of events, the barbarian
invasions.
The origins of these barbarian invasions into Western Europe
in the fifth century stretch five hundred years back into ·history,
all the way to China. In the first century B.C. the emperors of
China decided to rid themselves of all unstable elements within
their borders, the millions of nomads who would not settle down
on the farms or take jobs in the cities. A series of wars on these
harmless itinerants – wars not to exterminate them, but to send
them packing across the borders of China – set a law of physics in
motion. This law operates oil the principle of the corset – if you
tighten it in one place, something has to bulge in another. When
these nomadic peoples (known as Huns, from the Chinese Han
dynasty which instituted these mass migrations) were squeezed
out of China, they bulged into other countries.
These evicted nomads squatted in northern India, southern
Russia, and the Balkans. But here dwelt other nomadic tribes –
the West Goths (known as Visigoths), the Vandals, and the East
Goths (known as Ostrogoths). Just as the Chinese emperors had
162
driven the Huns out of China, so the Huns in their tum forced the
Visigoths, Vandals, and Ostrogoths out of their lands, driving
them into Western Europe – Germany, France, Italy, Spain. The
Visigoths were the first to invade the Roman Empire in the fourth
century. They were followed by the Vandals, and joined by the
Gauls from the north, in the fifth century. All took tums sacking
Rome.
But now a new threat, overshadowing all others, hovered
over Europe. The Huns, who by sheer weight of numbers had
been able to force the Vandals and Goths to leave their lands and
migrate into Europe, now themselves crossed the frontiers of that
continent. They had found a new leader, Attila, who changed
these unorganized Asiatic nomads into a murderous military cavalry. With raw meat packed between saddle and horse for provi sions, they rode into France on a carpet of blood and devastation.
It is said that grass never grew again where the Hun cavalry
passed. For the first and only time in recorded history Europe was
in danger of becoming an "Asiatic, tribute-paying colony. The
Visigoths and Vandals, who a hundred years earlier had invaded ,
France and had been looked upon as the scourges of mankind,
came to the rescue of Europe. They defeated the Huns at the crucial Battle of Troyes, also known as the Battle of Chalons, in 451.
Attila withdrew his forces to Italy and threatened Rome. His sudden death averted quick disaster. The Huns, now without a leader,
dispersed and vanished from history.
But the incursion of the Huns had sapped the strength of the
empire, broken down the frontiers, and disorganized the government. Other invading tribes from the east and north obligingly
finished the work of the Huns. Sacking Rome became a habit, and
Rome could stand only so much sacking. The western half of the
former Roman Empire collapsed completely. The population had
been intermingled thoroughly with the invaders. New nations
were forged. Gothic g and Vandal kings who took over the power
knew little of the rt of governing. What was left of the empire
began falling : apart into hundreds of little states and principalit ies. The glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome
163
had come to an end. The Feudal Age settled over Europe.
The Church had carried on a valiant battle against the barbarians. As she could not stop them by the force of her arms, she
began to absorb them into her faith. By converting the invading
pagans, the Church also endangered herself. The acquisition of so
many unbelievers in so short a time threatened to dilute her
dogma. The Eastern religion of Jesus Christ changed under the
stress of its practical application in the West as much as Western
Marxism changed under the stress of its practical application in
the East.
The establishment of the Papacy in the sixth century gave the
Church a strong central rallying point. The last of the old dissid ent sects were stamped out; the last of the pagans in the former
western half of the empire were converted. The Church could
now afford to breathe more easily and to survey its domain in
tranquillity. The Jews, who had been virtually ignored by the
Christians for six centuries, were now rediscovered.
Why was this so? The answer has already presented itself.
Until their recognition by Constantine, the Christians were far too
busy saving themselves from the Romans to bother much about
the Jews. In the ensuing three hundred years after the death of
Constantine, the Christians were far too occupied fighting the
battle of heretica1 creeds and godless barbarians to pay much
heed to the Jews, who minded their own business. This rediscov ery of the Jews presented the Christians a king-size problem. The
Jews were the only undigested remnant of non-Christians in a sea
of Christianity which engulfed them. What should the Christians
do? Baptize them, forcibly if need be, as they had done with nonbelieving pagans? Exterminate them as they had done with those
barbarians who did not accept the true faith? 32 Or leave them
alone, which might constitute a danger to Christian faith? This dilemma of the Christians and the precarious position of the Jews
32 Forcible conversion was prohibited by the popes in the seventh century, after the Papacy had been firmly established. As will be discussed later, it was the popes who were the greatest protectors of the
Jews during the Middle Ages.
164
became the paramount Jewish problem in the Middle Ages.
Though the first six centuries of Christianity were rather
tranquil for the Jews, many Jewish historians have made it appear
as though they were studded with persecution. As evidence, they
cite a law here and a law there, to show that the Jews were
banned from this or that office or were denied one or another
right. What these historians forget in their search for injustice is
that the Jews lived on a continent and in an age full of injustice
and violence for everyone. Six-hundred years is a long span of
time, and occasional injustices do not constitute an official, uni versal, and. consistent ., program of persecution.
Emperor Caracalla in 212 A.D. had granted the Jews in the
empire not only equality but citizenship. Emperor Constantine, in
recognizing the Christian Church, withdrew some of these rights
from the Jews but did not revoke their citizenship. A fluke of history almost wiped out all the gains of the Christians and almost
swept the Jews back to Jerusalem,
Temple, and Sanhedrin. When Emperor Julian, known understandably by the Christians as "the Apostate," came to power in
361, he renounced Christianity, forbade the practice of that religion, turned what was left of the empire back to paganism, restored all the privileges of the Jews, and promised the Jews he
would help them rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. Julian was
ripe for conversion to Judaism. Two years later he died. With him
died the fears of the Christians and the hopes of the Jews.
It was the generation following the destruction of the Temple
which brought about a final rupture between Jews and Christians.
Though Paul had taken the Jewish-Christian sect to the pagans,
the Christians flocked to Jewish synagogues in the Diaspora for
protection against the Romans. In these synagogues they continued their proselytization efforts to convert Jews to Christianity.
Feeling their hospitality abused, Jewish leaders inserted a prayer
in their liturgy against heretics. As the Christians could not recite
this prayer, the practice of using the synagogue as a sanctuary
died out. In the third rebellion against Rome, when the Christians
were unable to accept bar Kochba as their messiah, they declared
165
that their kingdom was of the other world, and withdrew them selves completely from Judaism and everything Jewish. The alienation process was completed. Judaism and Christianity became
strangers to each other.
Now that they had disassociated themselves from the Jews,
the Christians were caught on the horns of a dilemma. They had
to discredit the Old Testament which was still held in great esteem by the Greeks and Romans, but they also needed the Old
Testament to give sanctity to the New Testament as a way of combating the many attempts made to identify Jesus with pagan gods
such as Attis, Osiris, and Adonis, who, like Jesus, were the center
of a resurrection rite of one form or other. This dilemma the
Church solved, neatly by reading a prophecy of the coming of
Christianity in the writings of the Old Testament. As one Jewish
scholar summed it up:
Thereupon they [the Christians] proclaimed themselves
and the members of their churches to be the true "heirs
of the promise," applying every favorable reference and
blessing to themselves and every rebuke and curse to the
Jews. This fantastic travesty was followed by an official
version of Jewish history, which portrayed the Jews as
the followers, not of Moses, Aaron, David, Samuel,
Jeremiah and Isaiah, but of Dathan and Abiram, Ahab
and Manasseh .... The cherished words of the prophets
were taken by the Christian zealots to be so much
damning testimony against the Jewish people. A wall of
misunderstanding and hate was erected by the narrow
zealotries of the two faiths. And in the turbulence of pas sion, the light of either faith became invisible to those
whose eyes were accustomed from childhood to the illu mination of the other. In the darkness of the medieval
period only the philosopher was aware of the unity of
the Judeo-Christian tradition that underlies the diversity
of creed and ritual.33
33 Jacob Bernard Agus, The Evolution of Jewish Thought, page 144.
166
As a Christian scholar James Parkes expressed it, "No people
has ever paid so high a price for the greatness of its' own religious
leaders."
Generally speaking, in the three centuries from 300 to 600,
four sets of laws were passed containing discriminatory provisions against the Jews in the Roman Empire – the Laws of Constantine, the Great (15 A.D.), as noted above; the Laws of Constantinus (399 A.D.) forbidding intermarriage between Jewish
men and Christian women; the Laws of Theodosius II (439 A.D.),
prohibiting Jews from holding high positions in government; and
the Laws of Justinian (531 A.D.), prohibiting Jews from appearing as witnesses against Christians.
On the face of it, these laws do appear discriminatory, disparaging, and derogatory. But if we are to get a true picture and un derstanding of Jewish life in the ensuing Middle Ages, we must
first clearly understand the intent of these laws so as to perceive
the difference between these and the laws passed a few centuries
later. To properly evaluate these laws, they must be viewed with a
sixth-century mind, not with the hindsight of the twentieth cen tury. These laws did not apply to Jews alone, but, in the words of
their framers, they applied equally to Jews, Samaritans, Manichaeans,34 heretics, and pagans. These laws had two purposes: to
protect the infant religion from the competition of other religions,
and to protect key posts for coreligionists. When Jews are singled
out by historians as the only victims of these laws, we are given a
false picture of their intent.
In spirit these laws were no different from laws in America
today, but no one questions these, because they wear the cloak of
nationalism instead of religion. Just as citizenship is a prerequis ite for holding public office in the United States today, so the ecclesiastical state made religious membership the prerequisite for
holding office in medieval times. Just as early America protected
its infant industries from European competition by erecting pro34 Members of a mystic Oriental religion which was carried by Roman
soldiers from Asia Minor to Europe. It became so popular with the
masses that it represented for a while a threat to the new Church.
167
tective tariff barriers, so the early Church protected itself from the
competition of the Eastern religion by erecting protective legislation against them. Even today, no Protestant can hold public office in Catholic Spain. No Catholic can become president in
Lutheran Finland.
Though the Jews voluntarily had given up proselytizing in
the second century, Judaism still proved a strong attraction to
many pagans and Christians. To stop this trend the Church decreed the death penalty for any apostate Christian. Many slaves
converted to Judaism because of the lenient treatment they re ceived at the hands of the Jews, who, in accordance with Mosaic
law, set them free after seven years' servitude. The Church therefore decreed a ban against Jews possessing slaves. Jews as husbands held an especial attraction to Christian women, because
they were reputed to be good providers who stressed education
for their children. The Laws of Constantine therefore specifically
forbade such marriages; but marriages between Christian men
and Jewish women were not forbidden, as they usually brought
converts into the fold of Christianity. The Jews were not too disturbed about these discriminatory marriage laws. In fact, many
welcomed them, since the Jews had long ago imposed upon themselves similar laws against intermarriage.
The newly converted, formerly nomadic, illiterate Vandals,
Visigoths, Gauls, Ostrogoths, and Huns were no match for the literate, sophisticated Jews, so recently educated in Greek science,
literature, and philosophy. By natural law these educated Jews
floated to the top posts which every country had to offer, and the
barbarian emperors tried to stop this natural law with artificial legislation. But these laws were enforced more in the breach than
in the observance. Just as Benjamin Disraeli was Prime Minister
at a time when Jews in England were forbidden by law to hold
seats in the House of Commons, so the Jews, by and large, continued to hold positions of judges and magistrates, scholars and
merchants, workers and farmers in this Christian world.
Though occasional persecution did take place here and there
during these three centuries, though an occasional edict against
168
the Jews did deny them one or another liberty, though unjust taxa tion was now and then levied against them – all these were but
sporadic actions, occasionally enforced, and generally ignored.
One must not forget that these were three bloody centuries for
Christians and pagans as they fought a life and death struggle for
dominance. The wonder is that the Jews survived at all, as Visigoths and Vandals, Huns and Gauls, Christians and .pagans
slaughtered each other with careless abandon. If the Jews expected a newly converted Vandal to make a subtle distinction
between an unconverted Jew and an unconverted Gaul, they expected too much.
But the Jews survived the turmoil. In the sixth century they
were sitting astride the thresholds of three new emerging civiliza tions – the Byzantine, the Islamic, and the feudal. A sterile cultural death and physical expulsion awaited them in the Byzantine
Empire. A brilliant intellectual career was in store for them in the
Islamic world. Sorrow and greatness was their lot in the Feudal
Age. The question is, How did they survive?
169
IV: THE INVISIBLE WORLD
OF THE TALMUD
The incredible tale of how a handful of Jews scattered
among alien cultures in three continents grew into an influential "intellectual world" by virtue of the invisible
power of Talmudic learning, and how that teaming finally consumed itself in the ghettos of medieval Europe.
170
HERE'S WHEN IT HAPPENED
TALMUDIC PERIOD 500 B.C. TO 1700 A.D.
WORLD HISTORY
TALMUDIC HISTORY
Persians defeat Babylonians; re- 500 B.C. To First seeds of Talmud sown
store Jewish freedom. Greeks
200
with Midrash, sermonic interdestroy Persian Empire. Jews
pretations of Torah.
come under Hellenic influence.
Jews overthrow Greek rule; es- 200 B.C. to Tannaitic Period: Mishna, first
tablish Hasmonean dynasty. Ro- 200 A.D.
amendments to Torah appear.
mans annex Judea. Christianity
Beginnings of Oral Law.
founded. Jews rebel against Romans; Jerusalem destroyed.
Christianity made Roman state
religion. Sassanians establish
empire over former Babylonian
and Parthian regions. Rome declines. First Vandal invasions.
200 to 400
Barbaric kings seize power in
Europe. Byzantine Empire created of farmer eastern ·half of
Roman Empire. Islamism born.
Sassanid Empire disintegrates.
400 to 700
Amoraic Period: Mishna canonized. Further additions prohibited. Interpretations known
as Gemara begin. First Jewish
academics founded in Babylonia.
Palestinian Gemara closed.
Babylonian Gemara continues
to grow. Gains intellectual ascendancy. Saboraim entrusted
with task of compiling Mishna
and Gemara, now known as
Talmud.
Mohammedans conquer Near
700 to 1000 Gaonic Period: Further GeEast, Egypt, North Africa,
mara forbidden. Responsa litPalestine, Spain. Christian Dark
erature.
Age. Jewish Golden Age. Charlemagne rises to power.
Islamic Empire broken up into
Sultanates, further weakened by
new invasions and first wave of
Crusades.
1000 to
1200
Islamic Empire crumbling under 1200 to
impact of Crusades and Mongo- 1500
171
Age of Maimonides. Talmud
becomes Jewish law in Diaspora.
lian invasions. Turks seize
Egypt; Christians reconquer
Spain. Jewish life shifts from
East to West. End of Islamic
Empire.
Alfasi. Yeshivas established all
over Europe.
Byzantine Empire falls to Turks. 1500 to
Renaissance ends and Reforma- 1700
tion begins. Century of religious
wars. End of West European
feudalism.
Shulchan Aruch, third codification of Talmud. End of
Talmud as growing organism
and liberal influence.
GROWTH OF THE TALMUD
Torah – Five Books of Moses Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus,
Numbers, Deuteronomy
WHEN?
WHAT?
COMMENTARY
445 B.C.
TORAH
Written in Hebrew. Canonized by Ezra
and Nehemiah in Jerusalem.
400 to 200
MIDRASH
First beginnings of Talmudic to teaming. Unofficial interpretations of Mosaic law and Biblical exegesis, in
Hebrew.
200 BC to 200 MISHNA
AD .
Written in Hebrew. Composed
MISHNA ENDS AND GEMARA BEGINS
200 ad TO 400 PALESTINIAN GEMARA
200 to 500
Written in Aramaic; some Hebrew.
Had three main sections: Halacha Aggada Midrash Law Narration Sermons
BABYLONIAN GE- Written in Aramaic; some Hebrew.
MARA
Took essentially same forms as
Palestinian Gemara, but intellectually
more brilliant.
Rashi founds yeshiva in
France. Talmud codification by
172
GEMARA ENDS; ERA OF TALMUD
500 to 700
SABORAIM
Name given to scholars entrusted with
editing and writing down the Mishna
and Gemara, now known as Talmud.
700 to 1100
GAONIM
Titular name of heads of Babylonian
universities disseminating Talmudic
learning.
1100
RASHI COMMENTARIES AND TOSAPHOT
Rashi, born in France. Modem reinterpretation of the Talmud. Written in
Hebrew. Commentaries by his children
and grandchildren known as Tosaphot
.
CODIFICATIONS BEGIN:
1100
ALFASI
Rabbi Alfasi, born in Fez, North.
Africa; codifies the Talmud. Written
in Hebrew.
1200
MISHNA TORAH
Maimonides, born in Córdoba, Spain.
Second main codification of the
Talmud. Written in Hebrew.
1600
SHULCHAN ARUCH
Rabbi Joseph Caro, born in Toledo,
Spain. Third main codification of the
Talmud. Written in Hebrew, in
Palestine.
173
THIRTEEN
THE "IVY LEAGUE" YESHIVAS
Deep in the heart of the Sassanid Empire, formerly Parthia,
formerly Seleucia, formerly Persia, formerly Babylonia, there
flourished, between the fourth and twelfth centuries A.D., at
Sura, Pumpaditha, and Nehardea, three unique Jewish institutions of learning. These "Ivy League" Yeshivas, or academies,
played the same intellectual role in Jewish life then as Harvard,
Oxford, and the Sorbonne play in Western life today, and served
as a prototype for the first European universities in the twelfth
century. Here Jewish thought was crystallized into a body of
knowledge known as the Talmud, or "learning."
The Talmud was the instrument for Jewish survival and exercised a decisive influence in directing the course of Jewish history for fifteen hundred years, as it meandered through the Sassanid, Islamic, and feudal civilizations. It was the drawbridge
which connected the Jewish past in the East to the Jewish future
in the West. One end of this bridge was anchored in the Written
Law, and the other end lowered into the Oral Law. Over this
bridge rode the messengers of the Responsa, bringing "the Law"
to the Jews in Egypt, Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Germany –
wherever Jews lived. This was the Talmudic Age of Judaism.
Talmudic learning, or Talmudism, accomplished three
things: It changed the nature of Jehovah; it changed the nature of
the Jew; and it changed the Jewish idea of government. The
Prophets had transformed Jehovah into a God of justice and morality, into a God of mercy and righteousness; the Talmudist injected God into the everyday activities of life, demanding that the
actions of the Jews themselves be tinged with these attributes of
God. The Torah had created the religious Jew; the Talmud expanded his interests into scientific and theoretical speculations. The
Bible had created the nationalist Jew; the Talmud gave birth to
the universally adaptable Jew, providing him with an invisible
framework for the governance of man.
174
But the Talmud had not always been known by that name.
Though its seeds had been sown in the fifth century B.C., the
name "Talmud" was not applied to this growing body of knowledge until the sixth century A.D. The historic function of the
Babylonian yeshivas was to fuse the traditions of the past into
the Jewish culture of the future, to give Jewish law the flexibility
it needed in order to protect the rapidly changing fortunes of the
Jews in the centuries ahead. Let us, therefore, trace the origin of
the Talmud in Palestine to the Babylonian yeshivas and from
there follow its further development until its final stultification
in the eighteenth-century ghettos of Europe.
The seeds for Talmudism were sown inadvertently. The idea
took root back in the fifth century B.C. when the two Persian
Jews, Ezra and Nehemiah, canonized the Five Books of Moses,
closing the door to further revelation, implying that God and
Moses had said all there was to say, and that no new "divine"
laws could be added. But, heedless of the consequences, life re mained indifferent to the implications of this canonization. Life
did not stop at the command of Ezra and Nehemiah the way the
sun had stopped at the command of Joshua; it went right on
throwing new problems into the unappreciative laps of the des cendants of Abraham. As Mosaic law did not seem to answer the
new needs, the question became: Should the Jews discard a
seemingly outmoded Torah, or should they constrict life within
its limits?
The Christians were faced with this same dilemma after the
death of Jesus. To prevent a future "teacher of righteousness"
from proclaiming himself a messiah in accordance with prophecy, they followed the precedent set by the Jews; they canonized
the New Testament and forbade all further revelation. This froze
Christianity into a mold; no change was permitted, no new way
of life tolerated. Western civilization became a "closed society"
for almost a thousand years, until the internal pressures of heresy
and revolution exploded the feudal world.
The Jews did not fall into the same trap. They neither closed
their way of life, nor threw the Torah away. They amended, or re175
interpreted, the Mosaic laws in the same way Americans are
amending or reinterpreting the Constitution, in order to cope
with new problems. Instead of squeezing new challenges into the
pattern of the past, the Jews fashioned new patterns to fit new
circumstances.
The amending of the Torah began haphazardly and unintentionally. Ezra and Nehemiah had decreed that when the Torah
was read aloud in the synagogues, interpreters had to be on hand
to explain difficult passages. But the questions asked were not of
the nature this Persian-Jewish team of reformers had hoped for.
Instead of inquiring what an obscure Hebrew word or phrase
meant, the listeners were more interested in how an outdated in junction in the Five Books of Moses could be reconciled with the
current, contrary facts of life.
Who can resist the temptation to be a sage? Flattered by the
wisdom imputed to them, the interpreters of the Torah began
seeking answers to the questions raised. The most sagacious be came the most popular. Like their contemporaries, the Torah interpreters began to compete for customers in the market place of
ideas. Instead of contending that the Five Books of Moses did
not meet the realities of everyday life, they maintained that the
Torah not only contained all the answers but anticipated such
questions. It was only a matter of searching into Scripture with
superior knowledge, they held.
The first reinterpretations of Mosaic injunctions may have
been based on nothing more than cleverness. But soon the inter preters were carried away by their own inventiveness To outdo
each other, they sought for profundity instead oi mere ingenuity,
and a new Biblical science was born, that of Midrash, or "exposition." Though nobody knew it then, the seeds for the future
Talmud had begun to grow.
The tranquil life under the Persians came to an end with
Grecian domination in the late fourth century B.C. We have seen
how Jewish life reeled under the impact of Hellenism Jewish
youth, imbued with Greek skepticism, no longer accepted the
naïve Biblical exegesis of the earlier Midrash They asked point176
blank: Could or could not the Torah solve their problems?
Though the Jews had inveighed against the Greeks publicly,
they had studied Greek philosophy and science privately. Enriched with Platonic thought, Aristotelian logic and Euclidian
science, Jewish scholars approached the Torah with new tools.
They developed more sophisticated and scientific methods of
stretching the Mosaic cloth to fit Hellenistic existence. They proceeded to add Greek reason to Jewish revelation. This refined
method was called Mishna, the Hebrew word for "repetition."
The Mishna, which originated independently in Babylonia
and Palestine, began seeping into Jewish life about 200 B.C.. It
was not accepted with equanimity by all Jews.·The Sadducees
fought it vehemently, and the Pharisees defended it with equal
vehemence. The Sadducee arguments against the Mishna resembled the arguments of the early Christian Church against
heretical creeds. God's word, they argued, was plainly revealed
in Scripture, and no man could set himself above it, or interpret
away the plain meaning of the text.
The Pharisees held the contrary view. The Torah, they contended, had not been given to the priests exclusively; it had been
given to everybody. The priests had been elected by man to perform Temple ritual, not appointed by God to be the exclusive distributors of His word. Surely, if God had given His Torah to man,
He intended all solutions to be in it, and if man did not perceive
the total truth at once, it did not prove that the Torah lacked
depth, but that man lacked insight. The Mishna, said the Pharisees, was man's way of searching for God's intent.
The arguments of the Pharisees triumphed over those of the
Sadducees. Judaism became the property of the layman, and anyone who studied the Torah could become its spokesman. The
new sages of the Torah came from every walk of life – rich man,
poor man, noble and peasant. Only learning counted. The Jewish
populace was dazzled by this intellectual tour de force. To the
people, the Mishna was another manifestation of God's omnipotence, a God who had foreseen in the days of Abraham and
Moses the problems they now encountered.
177
This popularity of the Mishna worried the rabbis. They were
afraid that the Mishna would eventually rival the Torah in authority and that the people might in time forget the source and
venerate the deduction. To prevent this from happening it was
forbidden to write down any Mishna. It had to be memorized,
and therefore became known as Oral Law.
Two schools of Mishna developed about 35 B.C.. One was
that of Hillel, the other that of Shamai. Both men exerted great
influence, but a wide humanistic gulf separated them. Shamai
held to a narrow, legalistic interpretation, with a stress on prop erty rights, whereas Hillel held to broad, flexible principles, with
a stress on human rights. The Shamai interpretations tended to
become conservative and sectarian; Hillel's became liberal and
universal. This dual struggle in Jewish life during the first century B.C. resembles the American Hamiltonian-Jeffersonian
struggle in the nineteenth century A.D., with Shamai representing the Hamiltonian and Hillel the Jeffersonian ideals.
It was the liberal tradition of Oral Law that Rabbi ben Zakkai wanted to safeguard. This is why the academy at Jabneh
was so important to him after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70
A.D. Here at Jabneh, and later in Babylon, ben Zakkai and a succession of rabbis, patriarchs, and sages formulated the laws for
Jewish survival in alien lands, discussed in Chapter 10, "A New
Deal for Diaspora."
Though the Jews recovered quickly from the devastati6n of
the Hadrianic reprisals in the aftermath of the third unsuccessful
revolt in 135 A.D., Palestinian intellectual life itself was dealt a
death blow. In the same way that Nobel prize winners under
Hitler's domination of the European continent fled to America,
where they enriched her academic life, so Jewish intellectuals
under the fury of Hadrian's rage fled Palestine to Babylon, where
they enriched that country's scholastic life.
Palestine nevertheless produced one more great man before
she went into a two-thousand-year political slumber, from which
she was finally awakened by Zionism, her nineteenth-century
suitor. This man was Judah Hanasi, the scholar friend of a Ro178
man emperor, presumably Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Judah
Hanasi viewed with great alarm the ever-growing popularity of
the Mishna. He was the Seren Kierkegaard of his time, intuitively divining then the dilemma now haunting science-dominated
twentieth-century man. Judah Hanasi feared that the teachers of
the Mishna would develop a philosophy of ethics based on reason rather than the Terah and would create a morality based on
science instead of God's commandments. If such a state were to
come about, he felt, man eventually would reject both ethics and
morality, because they would be man-made instead of God-inspired. Science could make no value judgments. To put an end to
this implied threat, Judah Hanasi forbade all further development
of Mishna. In effect he "canonized" it, closing what he hoped
would be all further growth of Oral Law. He died deluded in this
hope. He had locked the front entrance but had neglected to close
the back door.
It was at this point that the Babylonian yeshivas came into
being. Two of Rabbi Judah's most brilliant protégés and one disciple were swept into Babylon in the third century with the general exodus from Palestine to escape the Roman reprisals. Here
each founded an academy of his own, the three yeshivas which
were to achieve such renown in . the coming centuries. Degrees
from these schools opened the doors to the wealthiest families
and led to the most lucrative marriages. Their graduates fur nished most of the names in the Jewish Who's Who for seven
centuries.
Faced with the injunction for a closed Mishna but pressed :
by the demands of millions of Diaspora Jews for more Responsa,
Rabbis Arrika and Samuel, the two former students of Rabbi
Judah, and Rabbi Ezekiel, the disciple, entered the "House of
Mishna" through the unlocked back door. They developed a new
branch of interpretation to the Torah, calling it Gemara, or "supplement." Actually, Gemara was nothing but warmed-over
Mishna, served orally in Aramaic, instead of in Hebrew, and disguised as amendments to the : Mishna. A series of brilliant expounders elevated the Gemara to a status on a par with the Torah
179
itself.
In the same way that the "conservative" Jews in the second
century B.C. had protested that the Mishna violated the sanctity
of the Torah, so the "liberals," who had fought for : the Mishna,
now complained that the Gemara violated its sanctity. But to no
avail. The riders of the Responsa carried the new Gemara to the
four comers of the Jewish world. Again nothing was written
down. Like Topsy, the Gemara kept growing and .growing. All of
it, along with Midrash and Mishna, was committed to memory.
The man of learning among Jews began to acquire ever
greater social prestige. The scholar was held in higher esteem
than the captains of industry and stars of stage and screen are
held in our society today. The hero in Jewish legend became the
man who, with intellect, slew the dragons of ignorance, instead
of the knight who, with sword, slew the monsters of violence. Illiteracy was regarded as something shameful, and the ignorant,
whether rich or poor, were held in contempt. A learned bastard,
the Jewish rabbis held, took precedence over an unlearned scion
of a noble family. Pregnant mothers clustered around the yeshivas in the hope that their unborn would be imbued with the spirit
of scholarship. Potions, reputed to contain magical powers, were
given, not to facilitate the seduction of a reluctant maiden, but to
induce a reluctant youth to take up the study of the Torah. Thus
even superstition was put into the service of education.
For three hundred years, from 300 to 600 A.D. these Babylonian academies, unhindered, dominated Jewish thought and
learning. Then a swift turn of events brought about a drastic
change in the political fortunes of the Jews, forcing the rabbis to
reverse their edict against writing down the Oral Law. A new religious intolerance was on the march.
Zoroastrianism, the enlightened religion of the Persians: and
Sassanians, founded in the eighth century B.C. had been strongly
influenced, first by the Judaism of the Prophets, later by Christianity. In the sixth century A.D. a fierce Zoroastrian religious
sect known as the Magii seized political power and ended the
rule of tolerance by carrying on a holy war against Christians and
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Jews alike. Under the Magii the old freedoms vanished.
Unrest prevailed not only in the Sassanian but also in the
Roman Empire, for this was the century of the great barbaric in vasions. Masses of people were on the move, old norms were up rooted, new forces were seizing power, empires crumbled, and
violence was the current exchange of social amenities.
The rabbis feared that in this upheaval Jewish learning was
in danger of being wiped out, for each time a Saracen or Vandal
sword clove a scholastic skull, 2,500,000 words of Mishna and
Gemara fell dead in the gutter. Against their better judgment the
rabbis permitted the Mishna and Gemara to be written down.
This compiling was entrusted to a school of scholars known as
Saboraim, versed in Hebrew and Aramaic. Their combined text
is the Talmud.
The task took over two hundred years and would have taken
even longer but for the fact that some of the students of Oral Law
had been cribbing. Many had kept written notes as aids to
memory. But so wondrous are the ways of God that even a transgression could serve a good cause. Like their predecessors, the
Saboraim yielded to the temptation to be lawgivers. Whenever
they came across an unresolved disputation, they used their own
erudition to resolve it, thus adding a little unofficial Gemara to
the official text. These interpolations still stand as a monument
to their inventiveness.
Three mainstreams of Jewish thought flow through the
Talmud, the first two through the head, the third through the
heart. Intertwined through its thirty-five volumes and 15,000
pages35 are the complicated brain twisters of jurisprudence
known as Halacha, or "law"; the philosophical dissertations on
ethics, morals, conduct, and piety known as Aggada, or "narration"; and the beautiful, tender passages on Bible stories, wise
sayings, and tales known as Midrash, or "sermons."
Because law and jurisprudence, ethics and morality, deal
35 This. is an estimate, as the 63 Tractates of the Babylonian Talmud
usually come in large folio volumes.
181
with many phases of human life, it is not surprising to find that
the Talmud also touches upon the sciences, such as medicine, hy giene, astronomy, economics, government. The varied contents
of the Talmud opened new vistas for the Jews, expanding their
intellectual horizons, permitting them to discard the old and ac quire the new. The study of the Talmud not only made the Jews
jurists, it also made them physicians, mathematicians, astronomers, grammarians,·philosophers, poets, and businessmen.
With a background of universal education and ten to fifteen years
study of the Talmud, is it any ·wonder that the Jews showed such
an affinity for the scientific, the intellectual, and the theoretical?
Let us now trace a Mosaic injunction as it is enlarged by the
Talmudist into a system of ethics.
Of all Jewish customs, that of dealing with things kosher, ~
or ritually clean, is the most perplexing to non-Jews. To the average Christian, the complicated kosher question is condensed into
one bit of knowledge – Jews don't eat pork. Generally speaking,
Kashruth, as the Jews call the system, rests on three injunctions
in the Five Books of Moses namely, not to seethe a kid in its
mother's milk; not to eat carrion; and not to eat (a) animals which
do not chew their cud and have no cloven hoofs, (b) birds which
do not fly or have no feathers, and (e) fish which have no fins
and no scales. It is not, then, that Jews have a conspiracy against
pigs, but rather that the pig refuses to comply with the Torah.
The pig qualifies on one count – he has cloven hoofs – but loses
out on the second count – he does not chew his cud. Many Jews
have long since forgiven the pig for this noncompliance and en joy a ham sandwich at the soda fountain next to Christians.
Though the injunction not to seethe a kid in its mother's milk
had its origin in prehistoric ritual and is common among many
primitive tribes, the Jews raised this tribal custom into a univer sal ban against cruelty to animals. The Talmud condemned the
practice of forcing premature deliveries n order to obtain the fine
skins and tender meats of preborn animals, a practice, incidentally, as yet not outlawed in the United States. The Talmud also
held that no animal or its young could be used as a beast of bur 182
den until the young were weaned. In order that the Jews should
not forget these principles, the Talmud commanded that the meat
of a slaughtered animal should not be cooked in one of its own
products, like milk or butter, or served together at one sitting.
Today, many Jews feel that after three thousand years they have
learned the lesson and can safely have a meat sandwich with a
glass of milk.
The Torah forbids the eating of carrion. But what is carrion?
asked the Mishna and the Gemara. Their answers led to the question of the proper methods of slaughtering animals, based not on
what was most convenient or profitable, but on the ethical prin ciple that it was wrong to inflict pain. The Talmud held that any
animal dying in pain, for any cause whatsoever, including
slaughter, was carrion. What then was a painless death? The rabbis who were schooled in medicine held that an animal had died
without pain if death was caused instantaneously by means of
one clean, untorn cut across the jugular vein and carotid artery
from a sharp knife without blemishes. This method of slaughter ing also enabled the drainage of blood to fulfill the Biblical commandment against eating or drinking blood. Throughout the centuries Jews have been aghast at the brutal slaughtering methods
of their non-Jewish neighbors, who have killed animals in any
way they pleased, by clubbing, shooting, puncturing, or repeated
incisions with any instrument at hand. Not until the 1920s were
such methods abandoned in the United States, after Upton Sinclair's protest novel, The Jungle, so aroused popular indignation
that legislators were forced to enact laws for more humane
slaughter.
Let us illustrate how the Responsa worked with an example
from life today. Let us suppose that the yeshivas of Babylon still
exist and that a Jewish community in suburban St. Louis has
asked one of them to solve the vexing problem of "the auto mobile, the suburb, and the synagogue." This is the dilemma.
The Torah forbids work on the Sabbath. In 1900 A.D. a yeshiva
court ruled that driving a car is work. Now, many years later, the
suburbs have developed. The synagogue no longer is a few
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blocks away, but miles out in the country, and the distance is too
formidable to walk. The congregation is faced with the prospect
of an empty synagogue or committing the sin of driving to the
place of worship. What should be done?
The question is turned over to the yeshiva and the problem
placed on the docket. When the case comes up, the yeshiva court
will begin a hearing much as the Supreme Court reviews a case.
The argument might go something like this: "Certainly God did
not intend to have empty synagogues, nor to have His commandments broken. But who said that driving to the synagogue was
work? Certainly not God or Moses. To force the aged to walk for
miles in the hot sun or in the cold of winter is a peril to health.
Attending services should be contemplated with joy, not with
fear and trembling. Did not the sages say that 'he who takes upon
himself a duty that is not specifically required is an ignoramus'?
And furthermore, did not Rabbi Judah ben Ezekiel, back in the
third century, say that 'he who would order his entire life accord ing to strict and literal interpretation of Scripture is a fool'?
The yeshiva court would then begin a search for precedents,
just as lawyers – arguing a brief before the Supreme Court would
search for precedents favorable to their case. After due delibera tion, the court might decide that in their opinion the court back in
1900 had erred, and that driving a car to the synagogue is not
work but pleasure, much in the same way that the United States
Supreme Court in the 1890s )·held that equal but separate facilit ies for Negroes was constitutional, but in the 1950s reversed it self, holding that it was unconstitutional. Once a verdict is
reached, it is sent to the other yeshivas, where similar hearings
are held and a joint agreement disseminated through the Responsa to every Jewish community.
But as there is no longer such a central Jewish authority,
each rabbi, or aggregation of rabbis, is more or less an authority
unto himself. Today, the orthodox Jew stays out of the suburbs so
he can walk to his synagogue;36 the conservative Jew drives to
36 A group of orthodox rabbis have recently ruled that it is better not to
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his synagogue with mixed emotions and the reform Jew is su perbly confident that driving to the Temple on the Sabbath is not
only a pleasure, but also a mitzvah – a religious duty.
Let us return now to the Saboraim, who we left compiling
the Mishna and the Gemara into the Talmud. If the sixth century
was a bleak one for the Jews, the seventh century held out high
hopes, and the eighth century took them to dizzying heights of
new power and prestige.
FOURTEEN
BIBLIOSCLEROSIS OF THE TALMUD
Talmudism, which began in fifth-century Persia and traveled
through Greciari, Roman, Islamic, and feudal history until 1800
A.D., had the function of cementing the Jews into a unified religious body and a cohesive civic community. While it coursed
through Jewish history, it had to provide new religious interpret ations to fit changing conditions of life, and new, expanding
frameworks for government as old empires crumbled and young
states arose. As the Jewish world expanded, the framework of
Talmudic thinking and activity had to expand to be on hand at
the right time and with the right solutions, to insure the survival
of Jewish ideals.
In the previous chapter, we saw that as everyday Jewish life
changed with historic conditions, Jewish religious orientation
also changed. In this chapter let us look at the other side of the
Talmudic coin and see how its conceptualization of the state
grew from the provincial to the universal. For this, we must go
back to 500 B.C. to the Jews in Persia, because Talmudic expansion into the field of government was made possible only be cause of the existence of certain historical conditions which
began under Persian domination and continued through the succeeding civilizations in which the Jews dwelt.
Historical events do not take place in a vacuum. The unfold attend the synagogue than drive a car on the Sabbath.
185
ing of history resembles the unfolding of a dream. The dreamer
at first is aware only of the manifest content, that part which he
remembers upon awakening, vivid, real, and absurd. But behind
it lies the latent content, the hidden meaning of the dream, which
he does not remember. We tend to view history by its manifest
contents only, instead of interpreting the surface events by the
latent forces shaping them. The latent force behind Talmudism
was Jewish self-government. Whenever the Jews showed they
could govern themselves at a greater benefit to their victors, the
victors permitted them this self-government.
We have already touched upon the paradox running through
Jewish history: Though the Jews lost their independence, they
gained their freedom; though they lost their land, they did not
lose their nationality; though their country was devastated, their
government remained inviolate; though in one decade they were
annihilated on the battlefield, in the next they sat at the tables of
popes and emperors, kings and nobles, sultans and caliphs, as
friends, as physicians, as scholars. As a cork bobs to the surface
of the sea the moment the pressure holding it down is released,
so Jews bobbed to the surface of each civilization the moment
the repressive force was removed. The heads of the Jewish gov ernments in exile did not approach their conquerors hat in hand;
they held ambassadorial status and were accorded the honors due
to heads of state. And yet, the Jews had no state.
In the days of the first exile from Palestine, Jews held high
government posts in Babylonia. The Persian conquerors, the next
to subjugate the Jews, were impressed with their learning and in tellect, and we read in the Old Testament that Nehemiah was
"cupbearer" to the Persian king before he became governor of
Palestine. The Greeks, Ptolemies, and Seleucids, impressed with
the Jewish ability for self-government, not only continued the lenient policies of the Persians, but gave the Jews even greater
freedom of political expression. Under the Romans, the Jews had
their own kings until the rule of the procurators.
When the rule of the procurators ended in 70 A.D., after the
first Jewish rebellion, the Romans instituted a new form of Jew186
ish self-rule, that of the Patriarchs. The Patriarchs were the rabbis claiming descent from the house of Hillel, who in turn
claimed descent from the house of David through a genealogy as
complicated as that of those Gospels tracing the descent of Jesus
from David. The Patriarch was addressed as Nasi, or "Prince,"
and was given official status by the Romans as though he represented an actual state. The recognition of these "descendants of
David" continued from Gamaliel II in 85 A.D. to Gamaliel VI,
who died in 425 without heirs.
Jews owe the Romans a tribute for the lenient treatment they
received, considering that they rebelled three times against the
empire. The Romans were animated in their reprisals, not by anti-Jewishness, but by problems of state. No sooner had Emperor
Hadrian banished the Jews as a precautionary measure against a
fourth uprising than his successor, Antoninus Pius (138-161
A.D.), allowed them to return. His admiration of the Jews was
great, and they sat in the councils of the high.
It was on the permissive soil of these different civilizations,
from 500 B.C. to 500 A.D., that the tree of Talmudic learning
took root. Without it, Jewish ideas of the universal state could
not ·have grown and the growth of the Talmud would have been
impossible.
The Sassanians, inheritors of the former Persian Empire in
the third century A.D., granted the Jews even greater freedom
than had the Greeks and Romans. Here, in four tranquil centur ies, the Jews acquired both an "emperor" and a "pope," a temporal and a spiritual ruler. The political head was known as exilarch,
or "prince of Diaspora." His rank was that of head of state, and
the office was hereditary. The exilarch lived in great splendor,
had his own royal court and access to the ear of the Sassanian
emperor at all times. He could collect taxes and appoint judges.
The spiritual leaders were none other than the heads of the Babylonian academies. They were addressed as Gaon ("Your Eminence") and were held in great esteem by Jews and Sassanians
alike. The exilarchs held the administrative and judicial power,
but the Gaonim held the legislative power.
187
When, in the seventh and eighth centuries, the Moslems
carved out their empire from parts of Sassanid, Byzantine, and
Roman territories, they inherited a sizable problem in the nonas similable elements of Christians and Jews. the Christians, who,
in Europe, could not understand why the Jews did not convert to
their faith, now refused, with the same obduracy as the Jews, to
convert to Islamism. What had been a Jewish fault became a
Christian virtue. When the Moslem rancor against Christians and
Jews for refusing to accept the religion of Islam died, the
Moslems relegated the Christians to the status of second-class
citizens and recognized the Jews as a political entity. Under Islamism, the Gaon was made bead of state and the presidents of
the Jewish Babylonian academies became the Eminences of
Judaism. Who but history would have had the ingenuity to invent
such improbable events?
A Jewish traveler, Benjamin of Tudela, Navarre, who visited
Baghdad in the twelfth century, has left a vivid, firsthand report
of the homage accorded a Gaon by both Jews and Moslems:
And every Thursday when he goes to pay a visit to the
great Calif, horsemen – non-Jews as well as Jews – escort him, and heralds proclaim in advance: "Make way
before our Lord, the son of David, as is due unto him,"
the Arabic words being Amilu tarik la Saidna ben
Daoud. He is mounted on a horse, and is attired in robes
of silk and embroidery with a large turban on his bead,
and from the turban is suspended a long white cloth ad orned with a chain upon which the seal of Mohammed
is engraved.
Then he appears before the Calif and kisses his hand,
and the Calif rises and places him on a throne which
Mohammed had ordered to be made in honor of him,
and all the Mohammedan princes who attend the court
of the Calif rise up before him. 37
37 Jacob R. Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World.
188
During all these centuries, the Talmudic concept of government underwent a change parallel to that of the changing '
concept of Jehovah. The Prophets changed Jehovah from a Jewish God to a Universal God. The Talmudists changed the ; Jewish
concept of government for Jews exclusively to idea! applicable
to the universal governance of man. The Prophet conceived of
Judaism as containing specific commandment: for the Jews and
general principles for people at large. The Talmudists designed
laws which permitted the Jew to continue to live not only as a
Jew but as a universal man. To the Talmudist, the Jews in all
lands symbolized mankind split into nationalities. Laws had to
be formulated for the particular needs of each national entity, and
laws had to be formulated to enable all nations to live together in
a united nation of man. The Talmud's universal concepts of government became the flesh put on Isaiah's dreams of the brotherhood of man.
As long as strong unified empires existed, the Talmud could
work on a universal scale. As the empires of the world fell apart,
the universal influence of the Talmud also waned. When in the
twelfth century the Islamic Empire began to disintegrate, the
splendor of the Gaonim vanished like the palaces in the tales of
A Thousand and One Nights. Where once the spirit of enlightenment had reigned, now the spirit of intolerance became the rule
and swiftly spread from Baghdad toward Spain. The Jews fled
westward just a step ahead of it. By the fifteenth century this
transition from East to West had been completed.
Jews had lived in Western Europe since Roman days. By the
ninth and tenth centuries they had established the first yeshivas
in Italy, Germany, and Spain. As these European yeshivas were
enriched with the scholars fleeing the East, they gained in repute
over the declining Babylonian yeshivas. The yeshivas in Italy
and Germany achieved wide renown, but their influence was
short-lived; those in Spain were less well known, but destined to
great future importance. In the fifteenth century, classic Talmudic
learning split off in two directions. The Italian and German
schools, continuing in the former Babylonian traditions, led to an
189
affirmation of the past. The Spanish schools, resurrecting the
Greek tradition, led to an inquiry into the future. The farmer pro duced a few more brilliant Talmudic scholars, whose influence
died with them; the latter produced philosophers like Maimonides. and Spinoza, whose influence lived after them. But before we take up the thread of the new rationalist school, we must
pursue the classic Talmudist to his grave.
The exception was France. The mantle of the Gaonim fell on
a French Jew, affectionately known as Rashi (from the initials of
his name, Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki), who became the most loved, if
not the greatest of all Talmudists. A popular saying has it that "if
not for Rashi, the Talmud would be forgotten in all Israel," and,
as one of his biographers said, Rashi "attained a fame during his
lifetime usually reserved for the dead."
Rashi was born in Troyes, northern France, in 1040. He
worked his way through the yeshivas in Germany as a wandering
student. After graduation he settled in his home town where he
founded a yeshiva of his own. Build a better yeshiva and Jews
will beat a path to its door. Here in Troyes, with a total population of 10,000 Frenchmen and 100 Jewish families, Rashi's yeshiva attracted Jewish scholars from all over the world. These
scholars found lodgings with the Christians. Contrary to the popular prevailing notion that a gulf of hostility separated Jews and
Christians from each other during the Middle Ages, Rashi and
the Jews of Troyes had active social dealings with their Christian
neighbors. From his college days, Rashi retained a great love for
the songs of the Christians. He was greatly interested in the
hymns of the Church, taught the local priests Hebrew melodies,
and translated French lullabies into Hebrew.
Throughout their history, Jews have always believed that at
the right time, the right man would appear. Rashi was the right
man for the times. Life in eleventh-century Europe no longer related to many precepts in the Talmud. The people did not understand Aramaic, did not understand the phraseology, and did not
understand its application to modem life. The Responsa was dying. There was a need for a universal Talmud which could be un190
derstood without interpreters. It was this need that Rashi served.
His great contribution to Jewish life was his reinterpretation of
all relevant passages into the vernacular of the day, in such clear,
lucid language, with such warmth and humanity, with such rare
skill and scholarship, that his commentaries became revered as
scripture and loved as literature. Rashi wrote Hebrew as though
it were French, with wit and elegance. Whenever he lacked the
precise Hebrew word, he used a French word instead, spelling it
with Hebrew letters. As over three thousand of the French words
he used have disappeared from the language, Rashi's writings
have become important source books on medieval French.
Rashi's commentaries and Biblical exegesis had a great influence on Christian theologians, especially Nicholas de Lyra,
who made extensive use of Rashi's writings. Lyra's theology in
turn had a profound effect on the religious development of young
Martin Luther.
Rarely do great men's children follow in their fathers' foot steps, but in the case of Rashi not only his children but his grandchildren, after his death in 1105, continued where he had left off.
Because of him, interest in the Talmud was reawakened, and the
demand for a new Responsa grew so great that his progeny instituted a new school of Talmudic commentaries, disguised as footnotes to the Gemara. They were known as Tosaphot, or "additions." The Talmud was finally and definitely closed at this point.
What the rabbis had feared back in the second century B.C.
happened in the twelfth century A.D. The Talmud was appealed
to more often than the Torah as a source of know ledge – the deduction was venerated more than the source. This time the rabbis
locked all the doors, and the windows too. No more amendments; no more footnotes; no more "closings." The age of the co difiers of the Talmud was at hand.
The twelfth to fifteenth centuries were portentous ones for
the Jews. During these centuries the Islamic Empire died, eight
Crusades were launched, the Renaissance was born and began to
die, and the forces of Reformation gained strength. European
feudalism was crumbling and a new nationalism was being
191
formed. Jews were banished from the West European states and
spilled into Eastern Europe, where they were increasingly confined in cramped quarters. As times changed, so did the function
of the Talmud. Whereas in previous centuries it had served an
expanding Jewish universe, now it had to serve a shrinking one.
More than anything, in this age of peril, when their communica tions were cut off, when their yeshivas were closing, they needed
a workable "do-it-yourself kit" of Jewish jurisprudence which
would provide handy answers to swiftly descending new problems.
This need was anticipated as early as the eleventh century
and was answered in three main successive stages. The first was
a codification of the Talmud, in the eleventh century, by a seventy,five-year-old Moroccan Jew named Alfasi. Alfasi went
through the Talmud like a wastrel through an inheritance. He
threw out everything except pertinent law, keeping only basic
Gemara decisions. Brilliant though Alfasi's effort was, it was a
hit-and-miss proposition, touching upon a law here and a law
there. There was a need for a more complete but simplified, mod ernized, abridged, and indexed Talmud which any literate man
could use as a reference book. Again Jewish history provided the
right man at the right time. He was Rabbi Moses ben Maimon
(1135-1204), known to the Jews as Rambam and to the Christians as Maimonides, the first of a series of great Jewish rationalist
philosophers to illuminate the Western world.
Maimonides stood astride two civilizations, the Islamic and
the Christian. He was born in Cordoba, Spain, into a distinguished family, which included judges, scholars, and financiers.
But he was born in an age when the empire of the Moors in
Spain was dying. Liberal Christians, Moors, and Jews, caught in
a nutcracker squeeze between zealous Catholics invading from
the north and fierce Almohade barbarians invading from the
south, fled, not so much because of anticipated persecution as
because they regarded the invaders as culturally inferior. The
Maimonides family settled in Fez, North Africa, then a great center of learning, where Maimonides studied both the Talmud and
192
medicine. As the Almohades extended their power into Africa,
the Maimonides family fled farther eastward, settling finally in
Cairo, Egypt, which was still under the enlightened rule of the
Fatimid dynasty. Here Maimonides became the physician to
Saladin, Caliph of Egypt. So great was the fame of Maimonides
that Richard the Lionhearted, King of England, offered him a
post as his personal physician, but Maimonides refused, feeling
more at home in the culture of Arabic civilization than in the barbaric atmosphere of feudal Europe.
The historic function of Maimonides was to restore Prophetic Judaism as a spiritual lifeline to the Jews. Significantly, he
chose the title, Mishneh Torah, the "Second Torah," for his codification of the Talmud, to remind his readers that its authority
still rested on the Five Books of Moses. He digested the Talmud
with such precision that within fourteen volumes he packed all
the important Gemara precepts and laws. He also attacked super stitions, and interpreted miracles rationally. Rambam (Maimonides) and the Talmud became synonymous.
To the Jews, Maimonides is famous for his Mishneh Torah;
to the rest of the world his fame rests on his philosophical works,
of which his Guide to the Perplexed is best known. Here he
maintained that both the Jewish and the Greek systems were
equally true. Maimonides was so imbued with the Greek philosophers that Aristotelian views crept into even his religious writ ings. One cannot but be amazed at the enlightenment, the tolerance, the rationalism of this twelfth-century man, this forerunner
of renaissance humanism whose nonreligious works were studied
more avidly by Moslems and Christians than by Jews. He was
also a prophet before his time, and in keeping with the times, ,
some Jews consigned his philosophical works to the flames in
1232, prophetically heralding the first burning of the Talmud by
the Christians twelve years later.
Maimonides was an intellectual snob, however, who deliber ately wrote only for the learned, feeling that nobody else would
understand him; but he wrote with the beauty and clarity of a
great novelist, and made even the most complex reasoning seem
193
simple. His religious writings were as revered by the masses as
his philosophical writings were ignored by them.
As Christian horizons expanded in the fifteenth and six teenth centuries from state, to continent, to world size, and the
Jewish world shrank from universal proportions, to a continent,
to a country, to a province, to a city, to a ghetto, the Talmud,
which had roamed the humanities, became preoccupied with
daily existence. As the roots of learning were cut off from the
Talmud, the tree itself began to show signs of withering. New
ideas could no longer flow freely through its hardening arteries.
The age of the yeshivas was over. The most the Jews could hope
for was to fight illiteracy with local schools. An every man's edition of the Talmud was needed, a pocketbook Talmud which
would have the final word on everything.
The man who lovingly accomplished this was one of Judaism's gentlest scholars, a cosmopolitan Jew by dint of circumstance, not through love of adventure. But this third codification
of the Talmud proved to be a curse as well as a blessing. Joseph
Caro (1488-1575), born in Toledo, Spain, was among those
caught in the Spanish expulsion of Jews in 1492. His parents
settled in Constantinople, then under Turkish rule, but as the
Turks at this point of their history favored Jews resettling in
Palestine, Caro moved to Safed, north of Jerusalem, in 1525,
where he founded a yeshiva.
Caro's "everyman's Talmud" (published in 1565) was appropriately named Shulchan Aruch, that is, "The Prepared Table." It
was the busy man's Blackstone, a judicial . smörgåsbord, where
every Jew could help himself to the appropriate law. The mysteries of the Talmud were there codified, clarified, digested, and in dexed for him. With the formulas in this book on his tongue, any
Jew could equal the greatest of scholars. With the Shulchan
Aruch, every Jewish ghetto could have self-government, every
Jewish community could be autonomous.
But, in philosophical parlance, the Shulchan Aruch contained the seeds for its own destruction. Now the Jews began to
force life into the limits of the Shulchan Aruch, and this froze
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Judaism into the image of sixteenth-century ghetto life. Anything
in the Talmud came to be regarded as Judaism itself; any deviation was viewed with a horror usually reserved for apostates. It
became a straitjacket constricting the universal ideas of the Jews.
But, paradoxically, it also saved the Jews for a place in the sun
when Napoleonic imperialism shattered the walls of the ghetto.
Here, in cheerless, bleak classrooms, the pale ghetto students of
the Talmud were taught subtle rules of law and logic. At an early
age they came into contact with the humanism of Rashi and rationalism of Maimonides. They learned to think in abstract
terms, to apply obsolete laws to nonexistent situations, to deal
with imagination in concrete terms.
When the ghetto crumbled, these scholars blinked at the
bright sunshine of the outside world, where ahead of them ; ·lay
new careers in many instances shaped by what they had taken
out of the Talmud. Some took from the Talmud a passionate love
for justice, liberty, equality, and became the idealists who fought
for a better world; others took from it its compassion and humil ity, its reverence for life and beauty, and became the humanistic
philosophers and authors of belles-lettres; still others took from
it the abstractions of the Greek philosophers, and became the
theoretical scientists .fr and mathematicians. Those who saw in
the Talmud nothing but dry-as-dust facts of bygone eras rebelled
against Judaism and found in conversion their "passport to
European civilization."
195
V: MOHAMMED, ALLAH,
AND JEHOVAH
The improbable but true tale of a camel driver's establishment of a world empire in the name of Allah,
wherein the Jews rose to their Golden Age of creativity;
only to be plunged into a Dark Age with the eclipse of
the Crescent and the ascent of the Cross.
196
HERE'S WHEN IT HAPPENED
ISLAMIC PERIOD 500 A.D. TO 1500 A.D.
ISLAMIC HISTORY
JEWISH HISTORY
No history. Nomadic tribes
wander across face of Arabia,
worshiping moon, stars, and
Kaaba Stone.
5000 B.C. to
1 A.D.
5000 B.C. to 2000 B.C. –
None. 2000 B.C. to 1 A.D. –
From Abraham to Jesus.
Beginnings of Arabic civilization. First organized commerce. Growth of towns.
1 A.D. To
500
Jews trickle into Arabian peninsula. Extend commerce, introduce handicraft. Jewish
monotheism admired by Arabs; Jews known as "People
of the Book”.
Growth of cities. Commerce
500 to 700
and industry extended. Mohammed creates new creed of
Islam. Abu Bekr extends Islam
by the sword.
Jews emigrate in large numbers to Arabia as Byzantine
and Sassanid empires are
locked in death struggle. Help
to found new cities; refuse to
join Mohammedan faith.
Brief period of persecution.
Mohammedan faith spreads
700 to 1000
from Caspian Sea across North
Africa to Spain; stopped in
France by Martel. Mohammedan Golden Age. Empire breaking up into Sultanates and Caliphates.
Golden Age of Judaism. Period of great religious toleration; Jews rise to posts of
great eminence. Karaite revolt
begins. Jews become cosmopolitans; translations of Greek
works begun.
Crusaders attack from Europe; 1000 to 1500
Mongols invade from East.
Turks annex Egypt; Almohades
seize North Africa; Christians
reconquer Spain. End of Islamic Empire.
Age of Judah Halevi. Christians and Jews flee invading
barbarians of Islamic Empire.
Center of Jewish life shifts
from East to West. Age of
Rashi and Maimonides. End
of Karaite revolt. End of
Golden Age of Judaism
197
FIFTEEN
HISTORY TRAVELS TO MECCA
Marxist and other materialist historians would be hard put to
explain the phenomenon of the eruption of a Mohammedan empire in the Arabian desert in the seventh century A.D. The mode
of production of the Bedouins in that century had not changed
from that of previous centuries. The climate was the same then as
it had been before. Unless we ascribe this phenomenon to God's
inscrutable will, we will have to turn to the theory of the "hero in
history" for an explanation. This is the idea of the individual who
creates history by seizing opportunity at the right moment and
bending it to his will Mohammedanism was the creation of such
a man – Mohammed. "
Mohammed's messiahship was in the new tradition of "humility" introduced by the Jews. Prior to the Jews, all religious
leaders had been nobles or princes, as, for example, Buddha;
Confucius, and Zoroaster. Abraham may have been a Babylonian
merchant prince before he set out for his journey to Haran, but
the Old Testament made him a sheep-herder. Moses may have
been brought up as a prince in the Egyptian court, but when he
receives the divine call, he is a hired hand tending his father-inlaw's flocks. Jesus was a carpenter. And Mohammed was a camel
driver.
Mohammed is one of history's more improbable figures, an
Arab imbued with the fervor of Judaism, proclaiming all Arabs
descendants of Abraham, and calling for Jews and Christians
alike to join him in a true brotherhood of man in the name of Allah. He was the successful Don Quixote, the prophet armed,
who, convinced of his delusion, made it a reality by defeating the
narrow-minded, armed only with reason. The rise of this camel
driver was breathtaking in its swiftness. Within less than a hun dred years his empire embraced half of the then known world. Islam had succeeded where Christianity had failed. In one century
this new faith swept the lands encircling the southern half of the
198
Mediterranean.
Arabia is the world's largest peninsula, attached through Israel to Egypt, and through Syria to Turkey. The rest of her body
floats in the Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and Persian Gulf. f,Like a
cleric's tonsure, a fringe of green land, beaded by a few cities,
surrounds the 500,000 square miles of desert forming her heart land. This country has been the homeland of Bedouin and
Quraish Arabs since unrecorded history. It has bred no civilization, but its fecund women for five thousand years bred an
abundance of ·Semitic Arabs for export to the Sumerian, Akkadian, and Babylonian city-states, infusing strength into these effete
civilizations with their barbaric vigor.
The religion of the Arabs was a diffused nature worship,
democratically including heaven, stars, trees, stones anything
capable of being elevated to divinity by man's ingenuity. This diversification found unity in the centralized worship of a black
meteorite, the Black Stone, enshrined in the Kaaba (cube), in
Mecca.
The Bedouin Arabs were the sand dwellers, living in the
desert; the Quraish Arabs dwelt along the coastal areas, where
they had established trading villages at the end points t of caravan routes. Here the Bedouins came to exchange the luxuries,
robbed from caravans, for the necessities of life. But it was not
until the end of the first century A.D., when the Jews began to arrive, that commerce and industry began to hum, cities to flourish,
and art to proliferate. The trickle of Jews into Arabia beginning
after 70 A.D. reached the proportions of a flood in the fifth and
sixth centuries, when a power struggle between the Sassanid and
Byzantine empires squeezed Jews out of Syria and Palestine into
Arabia.
Like the Ptolemies and Seleucids before them, the Sassanians and Byzantians constantly warred over Syria and Palestine.
Fickle fate gave neither a decisive victory, and finally, out of
sheer exhaustion, a treaty of mutual toleration was signed. Jews,
Syrians, Lebanese, and others who had the misfortune to live in
the disputed areas suffered the classic fate of all civilians caught
199
in the path of clashing armies – inglorious, impersonal deaths.
Many Jews, once they were convinced it was going to be a protracted war, headed toward the western half of the Roman Empire, having been warned by fellow Jews that Byzantium was not
a haven of liberty. Others, who had studied the situation for longterm yields, decided to head eastward, into territory where war ring armies seldom ventured. They chose Arabia.
Here in their new homeland in Arabia the Jews introduced
handicrafts, the goldsmith's art, and the date palm, which. be came to the Mohammedans what the potato became to the Irish.
Here they founded Medina. Here they helped the Quraish convert their villages into cities. With their great numbers and
twenty-five hundred years of experience, the Jews gave Mecca a
cosmopolitan air.
In gratitude for the sanctuary given them, the Jews joined
the Arabs in defeating invading Christian armies which came to
proselytize and to plunder. Though Christianity was kept out,
Judaism crept in, not by the sword, but by the exemplary conduct
of the Jews. As with the Greeks and Romans, many pagan Arabs
liked the nonsexualized symbols of Judaism, its ascetic monotheism, and the devotion of the Jews to family life and education.
The Arabs called the Jews "the People of the Book," and Jew and
Arab lived side by, side in peace.
In the same way as the Septuagint prepared the way for the
teachings of Paul among the pagans in the Roman Empire, so a
general knowledge of the Old Testament among the Arabs helped
prepare the way for the coming of Mohammedanism. The stage
was set for the hero in history to fuse the nature worship of the
Arabs, the salvation doctrine of the Christians, and the monotheism of the Jews into a new God' image. The hero was Mohammed; the creed was Islamism; the motivating ideology was
Judaism.
Prophets should perhaps never be viewed with less than two
millenniums of hindsight, to allow a lapse of time to blur human
attributes into divine features. Mohammed is still young, as
prophets go, and the impatient historian may be excused if he has
200
not as yet fully perceived the divinity already discernible to the
devout.
Mohammed (569-632 A.D.) lost both parents before he was
six. He was brought up first by his grandfather, and later by an
uncle. Both forgot to have him tutored in reading and writing, an
oversight quickly remedied in later life when Mohammed
learned the art of instant reading by revelation. As with Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, we know nothing of his early youth, except that at the age of twelve he was taken by caravan to Syria,
where he for the first time came into contact with the Jewish and
Christian religions. From this encounter he carried away a
lifelong respect for "the Book" of the Jews. The Jewish Patriarchs became his heroes, heroes whom he later enshrined in the
Koran, the Bible of the Mohammedans. At the age of twenty-five
he married a wealthy, forty-year-old widow, with whom he lived
in monogamy for a quarter of a century. After her death, in Mohammed's fifty-first year, his penchant for younger women
between the ages of seven and twenty-one found its full expres sion. His later harem of ten wives and two concubines contained
houris of various ages and stages of experience.
Mohammed was of medium height. His long black hair met
his beard, and his beard fell down to his waist. Though he sel dom laughed, he had a keen sense of humor, always, however,
kept within the confines of dignity. Mohammed was proud of his
Arab heritage, but deeply sensitive to the immature paganism of
his brethren and their lack of a spirit of nationhood. Like Moses,
he dreamed of uniting the dissident, warring tribes into one
people, giving them a unifying religion, and raising them to an
honored position in the world. The wish became father to the
deed. The conviction that he was the prophet destined to bring
this about for his people grew into revelation.
The "I and Thou" encounter between Mohammed and God
took place in a cave, where Mohammed, then forty, ·brooded on
the problem of bringing salvation to his people. Here he had an
experience which to the faithful was conclusive proof that Mohammed was the true successor to Moses and Jesus, but to the in201
fidels merely confirmation that Mohammed was familiar with the
Bible. As unto Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, so God manifested
Himself unto Mohammed, in the form of the angel Gabriel. The
Koran, written by Mohammed, says that Gabriel showed Mohammed a tablet, ;, which, though he was illiterate, he suddenly
could read at Gabriel's command. The message stated that Allah,
the true God, had appointed Mohammed to be His messenger on
earth.
Mohammed first sold his new religion to his wife, then to
his relatives, and then to his more distant cousins, and finally to
strangers. Here he met with the first sales resistance. Like the
Christians before him, Mohammed made his first converts
among the slaves. This earned him the suspicion of the Quraish,
to whom Mohammed was a radical threatening the economy of
the country. After ten years of effort, the bitterness was such that
in 622 Mohammed had to flee from Mecca to Medina, where he
hoped the large Jewish population would support him.
Mohammed was convinced that the Jews, upon whose religion so much of his own was based, would recognize his claim
as successor to Moses and Jesus and would join him .in battle
against the pagans. But when the Jews firmly rejected his offer,
Mohammed turned against them. Though illiterate, he had native
intelligence. Since the Jews would not help him, he decided to
confiscate their wealth to serve his cause. He felt certain that a
war against the Jews would not arouse the suspicions of the
Quraish, who were envious of Jewish riches, even though toler ant of their religion. But instead of sharing the loot with the
Quraish, Mohammed used his new found wealth to equip an
army of 10,000 men which he marched against Mecca. It was too
late for the Quraish to regret their mistake in not aligning themselves with the Jews; seeing Mohammed's strength, they capitulated. Within two years all Arabia fell under Mohammed's rule.
Islam, the name of Mohammed's new creed, was the religion of
the land. In 632 Mohammed died.
"If we judge greatness by influence, he was one of the giants
of history," said Will Durant of Mohammed. Just as Mohammed
202
was ·the "conquering word" of Allah, so Abu Bekr, friend and
successor to Mohammed, was the "conquering sword" of Allah.
It was Abu Bekr who carried the Koran to a world which was not
waiting for it, but which heeded the swish of the scimitar that
spread it.
In the sixth century the Arabs were desert nomads, in the
seventh century they were 'conquerors on the march, in the
eighth century they were masters of an empire that made the
Mediterranean a Mohammedan lake, and in the ninth century
they were the standard-bearers of a dazzling civilization, leaders
in art, architecture, and science,' while Western Europe was sinking deeper and deeper into a dark morass of its own making. One
by one, countries in the path of the Arabs fell before their onslaughts – Damascus in 635, Palestine in 638, Syria in 640,
Egypt in 641. The defeat of the Sassanid Empire in 636 deserves
a sympathetic footnote. The day the numerically inferior Arabs
attacked, a sandstorm blinded the superior Sassanid armies.
Their defeat was as uncalled for as the defeat of Peter the Great
of Russia at the hand of King Karl XII of Sweden at the battle of
Narva in 1700, when 8,000 Swedes won over 80,000 Muscovites
because a snowstorm blinded the latter. At the battle of Poltava,
nine years later, however, Peter, who prudently chose a day in
July, had his revenge over the Swedes. The Sassanids too had a
second chance, but it ended in disaster, when their army of
150,000 was annihilated by 30,000 Arabs. It was the end of the
Sassanid Empire.
By 700 A.D. the eastern half of the Byzantine Empire and all
of North Africa had fallen into the hands of the Mohammedans.
In 711 a mixed force of Arabs and Berbers led by. a freed slave
named Tariq invaded Spain, and by 715 they had crossed the
Pyrenees. There was nothing to stop them except bad luck. As in
the case of the . Huns, who were stopped by the French at the
Battle of Chalons, so the French, under the leadership of Charles
Martel, stopped the invading Mohammedans at Tours, in 732.
This battle resulted in a power stalemate for both Mohammedans
and Christians. Although the spread of Mohammedanism was
203
checked in the East by the Byzantine Empire and in the West by
France, the spread of Christianity into Africa and Asia was
checked by the counterforce of Mohammedanism.
The Mohammedans intellectually divided the people in their
empire into two groups, those interested and those not interested
in science. In the first they included Jews, Greeks, and Persians;
in the second they lumped Chinese, Turks, and Christians. They
looked with respect upon the former and with contempt upon the
latter. The Christians, though they far outnumbered the Jews,
produced neither great men nor a distinct culture of their own in
the Mohammedan Empire. The Jews, on the other hand, produced a Golden Age during this period, generating great names
in philosophy, medicine, science, mathematics, linguistics – in
every area of human endeavor except art, which the Jews did not
enter until the Modern Age.
Soon after the death of Mohammed, the hostility against the
Jews, manufactured out of political expediency, vanished.
Whatever legislation against non-Mohammedans existed was
usually ignored in practice. The Mohammedans were even more
tolerant of other people's religions than the Romans.
Of interest in this connection is the Pact of Omar (637
A.D.), enacted after the conquest of Christian Syria and
Palestine, one of the few discriminatory pieces of Mohammedan
legislation we know of. The remarkable thing about this pact is
that it mentions Christians only, though it is presumed, but by no
means certain, that it also applied to Jews. In accordance with
this pact, Christians could not display crosses on churches or in
the street, carry religious images in public, chant loudly at ·fu neral processions, strike any Moslem, shave the front of their
heads, wear distinctive dress, imitate the True Believers, prevent
a Christian from converting to Mohammedanism, convert Mohammedans to Christianity, harbor spies in their churches, or
build houses taller than those of their Moslem neighbors. They
were to rise up in deference to any Moslem who entered ,i their
assemblies, and so on.
Technically, all non-Mohammedans had to pay a head tax
204
for protection, which exempted them from military service and
denied them the right to hold public office. But as far as the Jews
were concern these were neglected laws, for the Jews seldom had
to pay such a head tax, often served with great distinction and
high rank in Moslem armies, and rose to the highest posts in government service, including grand vizier and princely rank.
The span of the Jewish Golden Age in the Mohammedan
civilization corresponded to the life span of the Islamic Empire
itself. When the latter broke up, the Jewish Golden Age broke
up. The empire of the Mohammedans took as long in dying as
did the empire of the Romans, beginning to break up about 1000
A.D. and coming to an end by 1500. We can only note its passing
with a brevity that does great injustice. to its quixotic complex ity.
A curious schizophrenia ran through the ruling dynasties, alternating between unbounded profligacy and extreme penury.
One caliph would ruin the treasury by spending vast sums on
luxuries, and his successor would swell the coffers by total
miserliness. Because the spenders were able rulers and the
misers bad administrators, the spenders enhanced the country's
culture while ruining its finances, and the misers ruined its
prestige while leaving favorable balance sheets.
As long as gold kept flowing in from an expanding empire,
the country could afford its luxuries. Soon the Mohammedans
had the world's most beautiful cities, most sybaritic rulers, and
most unstable governments. Governors of provinces stepped into
this power vacuum, seized their respective . provinces, and pro claimed themselves rulers of their own domains. By the year
1000, the solid Mohammedan Empire was no more. It consisted
of a series of independent caliphates.
With the old unity gone, the Islamic Empire became prey to
barbaric tribes. In the thirteenth century, the Mongols under
Genghis Khan invaded the empire from the northeast. It was not
a mystic destiny which led them west; they followed their cattle.
Genghis Khan's Mongols wore ox-hides, ate anything that lived –
cats, dogs, rats, lice – and drank human blood for want of any 205
thing better. In their first encounter with the Mongols, an army of
400,000 Moslems was defeated. Genghis gutted the city of
Bokhara, slew 30,000, and continued his march into the circle of
civilization, burning libraries, sacking cities, and beheading
people, stacking their heads into grizzly pyramids as neatly as
the Nazis stacked concentration camp corpses. Barbarians, yes
But not untidy. When Baghdad capitulated, 800,000 civilians
were put to death, the city laid waste, its wealth plundered, and
its women violated and sold into slavery. Urged on by their victories, fate dealt the Mongols an unexpected blow from a most
unexpected source. The Egyptians stopped them at the Battle of
Damascus in 1303. But the Mongolian defeat came too late. The
devastation they had wrought was so great that this part of the
world has not fully recovered to this day.
What was left of the Mohammedan Empire became vulnerable to other forces. Timurids and Moguls seized the Arabian
Peninsula; Ottoman Turks annexed Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and
Iraq; savage tribes known as Almohades became the rulers of
North Africa; and the Spaniards, under Ferdinand and Isabella,
eventually managed the final reconquest of Spain from the
Moors. By 1500 the world's most incredible empire – tolerant
and enlightened, luxuriant and sybaritic, full of mathematicians
and poets, warriors and .sycophants – had come to an end.
SIXTEEN
THE JEWISH RENAISSANCE IN MUFTI
The image modem man holds of the Jew in the Islamic Age
in no way corresponds to reality. He differed from the Biblical
Jew as much as the New York "Cafe Society" Jew differs from
the ghetto Jew. A renaissance – a reawakening – had transformed
the Biblical Jew into a totally new individual, bearing little re semblance to the past. In this age he was a hedonist and philan derer, a bon vivant and sophisticate, a worldly philosopher and
scientist, a secular writer and poet.
Yet there was something strange about this renaissance of
206
the Jews – it was not Jewish. Hidden underneath the new Mohammedan mufti was not Judaism, but Hellenism. The "Jewish
Renaissance" was not a reawakening of Judaism, but a resurgence of Hellenism. The Jews, who during their Greco-Roman
period had fought the Hellenizers, had inveighed against the Epicureans, and had thrown their hands up in horror at the Greek
philosophers, now welcomed the Jewish emancipators, succumbed to luxury, and praised rationalism. New, unheard-of occupations became respectable Jewish professions. The Jews became astronomers, mathematicians, alchemists, architects, trans lators, finance ministers, and international businessmen with
branch offices in Baghdad, Cairo, and Cordoba. Wine was not
only a drink for benediction, but a toast to a woman's lips; love
meant not only the study of the Torah, but also the pursuit of a
promising smile; song was not only a lamentation, but also a paean to the joy of life. And yet, though the door to assimilation into
Mohammedanism was wide open, the Jews stayed in the house
of Judaism.
How had Hellenism found its way back into Jewish life in
an Arabic world? The simple fact was that in rescuing Greek
works for the Arabs the Jews became imbued for the first time
with the true essence of Hellenism, not its outer trappings. As the
early Christians had no use for the writings of the heathen
Greeks, and the invading barbarians had no use for the Greek
language, most of the farmer were lost and the latter forgotten.
Greek literary and scientific works, however, survived in Syriac
translations and in the libraries of wealthy and cultured Jews and
unconverted Roman pagans.
When the Arabs heard of this wealth of knowledge, they encouraged its translation into Arabic, and the task fell mainly to
the Jews, the cosmopolitans of that age, who spoke Hebrew and
Arabic, Greek and Latin, Syriac and Persian, with equal facility.
"The channels to Europe," as Moses Hadas, a contemporary
scholar, calls the transmission of Greek science and humanism to
Europe, were reopened by the Jews in the eighth century, and the
work continued through 1400. Their first translations were from
207
Greek and Syriac into Arabic, but soon they began to translate
Greek and Arabic works into Hebrew, and finally Hebrew literature and philosophy into Arabic. A two-way cultural communication had been established. It soon included a third partner.
The enlightened crowned heads of Europe heard of these
Jewish achievements and invited Jewish scholars, linguists, and
translators to come to their capitals to translate the works of the
Greeks and the Arabs, as well as their own Hebrew literature,
into Latin, at that time the international language of European
scholarship. So, for instance, Frederick II, crowned King of the
Romans in 1212, King of the Germans in 1215, King of Jerusalem in 1229, and twice excommunicated – pitiless, arrogant, yet
brilliant ruler – appointed Jewish scholars to teach Hebrew at the
university of Naples.
One of the earliest and most prominent of these Jewish intellectuals imported by the rulers of Western Europe, was Ibn Daud,
who not only translated Hebrew, Greek, and Arabic literature
into Latin, but also introduced Arabic numerals and the concept
of the "zero" into European mathematics. Euclid's Elements and
the works of the Babylonian Talmudist Saadyah Gaon found
their way into Latin through Jewish scholars who sat side by side
with Mohammedans and Christians in synagogue, mosque, and
church, translating Plato and Sophocles, Arab mathematicians
and astronomers, Jewish philosophers and poets, into the language of the Holy Roman Church.
How did all this affect the Jews themselves? It almost turned
them into Greeks. In their first encounter with Hellenism, after
their conquest by the armies of Alexander the Great, the Jews
had not been prepared to meet this challenge. The Biblical Jews
were firmly convinced that theirs was the only true religion, and
they had divine Scripture to prove it. They needed no further
proof. Because they did not doubt, they had no need to fortify
their beliefs with philosophy, logic, or science, for these three
disciplines are born out of skepticism. When Alexander and his
Greeks ran into the Jews, neither was prepared for. the other. It
was the first time that Greek reason had run into faith, and the
208
first time that Jewish faith had run into reason. Jewish leaders
were astute enough to realize that their primitive arsenal of
ideas , would never stand up in an idea-to-idea combat with the
Greeks. They therefore borrowed weapons of logic and philosophy from the Greeks. It was Jewish faith enriched with Greek
thought that proved stronger than Greek thought without faith.
The Greeks vanished and the Jews survived, the accidental inheritors of the Greek paideia – cultural tradition.
The Jews could resist everything except their own intellectu al curiosity. Now that there was no danger of being absorbed into
Hellenism, they began to examine more closely the "idea of Hellenism." They had opened a Pandora's box of reason. They discarded the old lenses of blind faith and tried on the new glasses
of rational scrutiny. The result was inevitable. A split between
faith and reason developed. Into the breach rushed the conservat ives to explain that reason and faith were but opposite sides of
the same coin, and the liberals to prove that they were incompat ible. A new tension in Jewish life developed. Out of this tension
grew Jewish philosophy and science.
From 'this tension also evolved new attitudes. Until then
everything the Jews had written was in relation to Holy Scripture. Now Jewish writing broadened to include relations to the
outside world and to the individual. This expansion of interests
led to a need for new words, and writers coined them. Grammarians framed new rules within which to fit a language of secular
literature. Dictionaries came into existence. The Hebrew language was revitalized and expanded.
The Jews now became aware of their own history as the un folding of destiny. Poets explained the phenomenon of Jewish
survival in symbol and imagery. They coined a poetic metaphor,
"Exiled Jew," which through the ages became the stereotype
"Wandering Jew," striking the Christians with awe and the Jews
with fright. It was the poets, too, who conceived of the Diaspora
not as a result of natural causes but as a punishment by God for
the sins of the Jews which doomed them to homelessness until
God Himself chose to return them to their homeland. This idea
209
took hold of the Jews like an obsessive neurosis, and they lost
their political initiative until Zionism, in the nineteenth century,
shifted the burden from God back to the shoulders of the Jews.
This Jewish Age of Reason took the same course that, centuries later, was taken by its Christian counterpart. The Age of
Reason in Europe, born in the eighteenth century with the French
Encyclopedists, collapsed in the twentieth century revolutionary
age of totalitarianism. The Jewish Age of Reason, born in the
eighth century with the great Talmudists, collapsed in the sixteenth-century revolutionary age of the Reformation. Like
Europe's Age of Reason, the Jewish Age of Reason produced not
an eternal citadel but an illusory castle. Was not the warmth of
faith needed to keep the idea of Jewishness alive? Could it be
that "cold reason" was freezing Jehovah out of Judaism? Slowly
the pendulum swung back to faith as the people rejected the
mechanistic Jehovah of the rationalist philosophers and respon ded to the humanistic Jehovah of the Romantics. By the time the
Mohammedan Empire collapsed, the Jew had made the transition
back to faith, which was to sustain him in Europe's t ghettos
where reason might have led him to hang himself or to give up
his magnificent obsession that he was destined to lead mankind
into a brotherhood of man as prophesied by Isaiah.
The life of the poet Judah Halevi symbolizes this shift from
rationalism to romanticism at the same time that it illuminates
the life of the Jews in the Islamic Empire. Judah was born in
Toledo, Spain, in 1075. His well-to-do parents sent him to the
best and most proper schools, where he studied algebra, gram mar, Arabic, astronomy, and poetry. For postgraduate studies in
the Talmud, he went to the famous yeshiva in Lucena, in southern Spain, a city not only reputed to have been founded by Jews
but also called "Jews' Town" because of the many Jewish students attending the academy. By the age of twenty-four he had
become a successful physician and had married into one of the
most prominent Jewish families of Toledo. Respectability, probity, and wealth were his.
But inside Judah Halevi gnawed anxiety disguised as in210
definable passions, yearning to express himself, to find himself.
As Paul Gauguin gave up a banking career and abandoned his
wife and children to go to Tahiti to paint and live out his destiny,
so Halevi gave up his career as a physician and abandoned his
wife and children to take up the life of a wandering poet. He
walked through Spain, composing and singing songs to those
who cared to listen to him. His wandering took him to Córdoba,
the Paris of that age. Here, in this immoral, amoral, luxurious,
cosmopolitan city, the home of every vice and virtue, superstition
and wisdom, Halevi took root. He abandoned himself to its
pleasures, found solace in its wit, and composed his love poems
so reminiscent of Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat and Shakespeare's
sonnets. It was here he penned such lines as:
Awake, O my love, from your sleep,
Your face as it wakes let me view;
lf you dream someone kisses your lips,
I' ll interpret your dream far you.
But soon the pleasures of the senses palled; currents deeper
than verse and love eddied into his consciousness. He was consumed by the question of Judaism, its meaning, and the mission
of the Jews. From a versifier of love, he became a "Troubadour
of God." It was not the love of a woman he now craved, but
God's love:
When I remove from Thee, O God,
I die, whilst I live; but when
Clinging to Thee, I live in death.
In a torrent of romantic poetry he cautioned his people not to
be led into stagnation by reason:
And let not the wisdom of the Greeks beguile thee,
Which hath not fruit, but only flowers.
Nineteenth-century Jewish nationalism was foreshadowed in
Halevi's great philosophic poem, Ha-Kuzari, modeled after the
Book of Job. The theme revolves around a fantastic episode in
211
Jewish history, which, were it not so well authenticated, would
be, dismissed as a fabrication.
In the year 740 a Tataric people living in the kingdom of
Khazar on the western shore of the Caspian Sea between the
Volga and the Don rivers, speaking Greek, and practicing a religious blend of Christianity and paganism in equal parts, were
converted to Judaism under the vigorous promptings of their
King Bulan. The fact that the Tatars now professed Judaism in
no way changed their Tataric habits or nature. They remained the
dreaded warriors of the steppes, feared equally by Persians, Byzantines, and the dukes of Kiev, who annually had to reaffirm
their friendship with huge tributes.
The power and influence of the Khazars lasted for 250
years, until, finally, the permutation of events brought forth a
weak king in Khazar and a strong duke in Kiev. In 969 Duke Sviatoslav defeated the Khazars and incorporated their territory into
the new Russian state he was founding. His mother, Princess
Olga, had twice been converted to Christianity – some scholars
say this was to be sure it would take; others say it was to give her
an excuse to make the journey twice to gay Constantinople – but
as both she and her son considered Christianity the prerogative
of nobles, the Russian muzhiks (peasants) remained pagan. Sviatoslav's successor, Vladimir, did not share this attitude, and he
gave Christianity to all the Russian people, for which a grateful
Church bestowed sainthood upon him. And so it came about that
the former Jewish kingdom of Khazar became part of Mother
Russia, and its people made the sign of the cross to the Russian
Orthodox formula Gospodi pomilooy instead of bowing reverently to the Hebrew Shema Yisroel.
The conversion of the pagan Khazars to Judaism forms the
theme in Halevi's poem. King Bulan, in search of a new religion,
listens to a Mohammedan and a Christian arguing for their respective faiths. His interest is aroused when both refer to Judaism as the Father religion. He sends for a Jewish scholar, who
presents Judaism not as a creed revealed to one man, but as a historic occurrence in which God manifested Himself to 600,000
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Jews gathered at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. It was, argues
the Jewish scholar, a religion given to the people at once, complete and final. The growth of Judaism is maintained, he says,
not by successive mystic revelations to individuals, but by a person-to-Go and God-to-person experience. The visible presence of
God he says, is everywhere, but His invisible presence is found
only in Jerusalem, the City of God. It is to Jerusalem that the author, Halevi, sends the Jewish scholar after converting Bulan.
As if seduced by his own arguments, Halevi, too, set or for
Jerusalem to be reunited with the spirit of God and the destiny of
his people. History traces him as far as Damascus, after that he
disappears.
Does the life of Halevi also symbolize the life of the Jew in
the Islamic civilization? Like Halevi, the Jews were brought up
on the Talmud. Like him, the Jews became rich and famous in
their new professions, abandoned themselves to the pleasures of
life, and became imbued with the spirit e rationalism. Like
Halevi, the Jews rejected their rationalism for faith and returned
to the Torah. But did Halevi reach Jerusalem, the citadel of the
Jewish spirit, the sanctuary for the invisible presence of Jehovah? Would the Jews reach Jerusalem, or would they, like
Halevi, disappear?
The spirit of Halevi's new "social contract" with God caught
the imagination of the Jewish people, and it grew into an irresistible force for survival. A new idea had seize them, that of a Jewish destiny which must find its fulfillment in Jerusalem. Their
new "idea of Jewish history" created new Jewish history.
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SEVENTEEN
THE RISE AND FALL OF THE EWISH PROTESTANT REVOLT
A religious schism, most closely resembling the rift between
Catholicism and Protestantism, almost tore Judaism asunder in
the Islamic Age. Talmudic wisdom, Hellenic rationalism, and
Mohammedan tolerance had combined to produce Jewish literature and prosperity but had failed to achieve spiritual harmony. A
Jewish heresy known as the Karaite Revolt against the rabbis developed in the eighth century and was not fully put down until
the fifteenth century. So closely did this Karaite Revolt parallel
the sixteenth-century Protestant revolt that Catholics hurled the
epithet "Karaites" at the Protestants during the Reformation.
The burning of Huss (1415) and Savonarola (1498) heralded
the entrance of Luther, leader of Protestantism. The violent
deaths of two false Jewish messiahs (710 and 740) preceded the
entrance of Anan ben David, leader of Karaism. Though the
mainsprings of the Protestant and Karaite revolts were the same,
each took an entirely different course. the Catholic Counter Reformation came too late to prevent the final schism in Christianity, but the Jewish rabbis acted quickly and prevented a final
schism in Judaism. They stole all the valid ideas of Karaism, reformed abuses, and vitiated the arguments of the Karaites, then
held up an image of reformed Judaism to the public, asking innocently, "What's all the commotion about?" But it was a touchand-go struggle for close to seven hundred years, before the
Karaite revolt gradually dissipated itself and finally ceased to be
a threat to conventional Judaism.
Like so many other Jewish ideas, Karaism originated in
Babylonia. It began as a revolt of the village Jews against the
city Jews. Jewish life in the remote hamlets and villages of the
Islamic Empire differed little from what it had been centuries be fore. The country people did not need the complex Talmudic
laws so necessary for sophisticated city life. Talmudism to them
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was nothing but layers of trickery compiled by city rabbis to separate them from the Torah. There was a longing to return to the
simplicity of the Five Books of Moses, to the explicit meaning of
the "Word," not its derived interpretation. The word " Karaism,"
in fact, comes from the Hebrew word karah, "to read" Scripture,
hence, literally meaning, "Scripturism," as opposed to "rabbinism."
The early beginnings of Karaism are shrouded by acrimony
and a lack of facts. Before the appearance of the apostle of Karaism, there had been several "messianic pretenders" – that is, aspirants for the crown of messiahship who did not succeed. The
first (about 700 A.D.), whose name is unknown, acted on bad advice, divine or otherwise. He set himself up not only as a prophet
of the Jews, but also as a prophet of the Mohammedans, proclaiming he had the "word" that would free the Jews of the
Talmud and the Mohammedans of the Koran. Arabs and Jews
worked as a team; the Arabs caught him, both declared him
guilty of heresy, and he was sentenced to death by a bipartisan
court. So died the Huss of the Jews.
Thirty years later, about 740, a second messiah arose, like
his predecessor, in Persia. He was a humble tailor by the name of
Abu Isa, who had a gift of tongue and a genius for military leadership. Abu Isa denied the Talmud, denounced the rabbinate,
called the Jews to his standard, and before anyone quite realized
what had happened, an army of 10,000. Jews had sprung up, hailing him as prophet and messiah. This success went to his head
and beclouded his judgment. Convinced that God would help
him, he declared war upon the Persians and Arabians. This was
the end of the Jewish Savonarola; he died proclaiming to the last
his faith in Judaism.
Where these two had failed, Anan ben David (740-800), the
Jewish Luther, succeeded. Anan ben David ran counter to the
humble-origin tradition of religion givers. He was a wealthy
prince, a descendant of the house of David, the legitimate heir to
the "throne" of the Gaonim. Two utterly contradictory versions
of subsequent events exist, and since there is no common ground
215
between the two except Anan ben David's name, the historian has
a chance to present both sides, leaving the reader to ponder upon
which is true and which is false, a task as complex as for a Mohammedan to decide which is the true version of Luther, that of
the Protestants or that of the Catholics.
This is the rabbinic version: Fearing that Anan's brilliance
was tainted with heresy, the rabbis appointed his stupid younger
brother as Gaon. In revenge, Anan set out deliberately to bring
about a schism in the solid ranks of Judaism by preaching heresy,
just as the rabbis had feared. Arrested and tried by the Moslem
caliph, Anan ben David was sentenced to death. In prison he met
a Mohammedan heretic awaiting death for a similar crime
against the Islamic faith. The Mohammedan gave Anan some
sage advice. "Surely," said he, "there are points of differences in
Judaism. Bribe the vizier, prostrate yourself before the caliph,
and ask him whether your brother has been made ruler over one
religion or two. When the caliph answers, 'Over one religion,'
then say to him, 'But I and my brother rule over two different re ligions,' and be sure to expound on some differences between
your new faith and the faith of your brother."
Whereupon Anan had a vision in which the Prophet Elijah
appeared to him and commanded him to denounce the Talmud
and lead his people back to the Torah. The stratagem worked.
The caliph set him free, and Karaism was born.
Not so, cry the Karaist apologists! Anan was the most prominent of all scholars, a pious, humble man who loved God and eschewed evil. He had been elected Gaon by the righteous of Israel, and as Gaon he wanted to restore the Torah to its farmer
glory. The rabbis feared this man of righteousness who cited the
Torah rather than the rabbinical elaborations of the Talmud. They
therefore slandered and defamed him to the caliph, asking that he
be put to death for heresy. But the caliph, struck by the gentleness of Anan, intuitively divined that Anan was a messiah and set
him free. Anan, realizing that the rabbinate would not listen to
him, that they had set their hearts against him, scorned the throne
of the Gaon and received permission from the caliph to go to the
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Holy Land to preach his new gospel of the supremacy of the
Torah.
The reader will have noted how these two interpretations
cast their shadows into the past and into the future. With but a
few changes it is the drama of Christ reenacted. With but a few
changes it is the accusation and counteraccusation hurled by the
Catholics against Luther, and by the Lutherans against the Catholics. Was Anan's new sect born out of desperation, or was it
born of revelation in prison? We do not know. But within two
hundred years, whatever its origin, Karaism had invaded every
stratum of Jewish society in Diaspora.
Like the message of Jesus, the message of Anan was a
simple one before it was seized by his disciples and enlarged into
dogma in his name. According to these disciples, Anan preached
the gospel of the messianic hope that the kingdom of God, as revealed in the Torah, was at hand. In the main, anything the
Talmud imposed the Karaites rejected, much as the early Christians at the time of Paul rejected the teachings of the Pharisees.
Many Talmudic dietary laws were abolished; the wearing of
phylacteries was abandoned. Karaites also foreswore all medicine and did not consult physicians, for did not Scripture say, "I
am the Lord that healeth"? This Karaite tenet might be the basis
for Christian Science.
To reject all Talmudic law in the eighth century A.D. was
one thing, but to live literally by a Torah given in 1200 B.C. was
another. Soon the Karaites were caught in the pincers of their
own making – modern life and outdated laws. Like the first
teachers of the Mishna, the more enlightened and realistic
Karaite scholars began to develop an "Oral Law" disguised as
textual amplifications of Scripture. But as the Karaites had no
central dogma, every man could be his own interpreter of Oral
Law. Anarchy developed. Anan's successor, Benjamin Nahavendi, modified his master's viewpoint and organized the dissident
sects into a unified Karaite movement.
At first the rabbis thought they could kill Karaism by ignoring it, but its rapid spread alarmed them. To contain the move 217
ment, they launched a war of words against it, but to little avail.
The Karaite heresy spread. Unlike the Catholics and Protestants,
the rabbinic and Karaite forces were in no position to declare
open hostilities. Would war and bloodshed have occurred if the
Jews had lived as a nation in Palestine? Judging by such previous schisms in Jewish history as those which resulted in the con flicts between the Hellenizers and anti-Hellenizers in Grecian
times, between the Pharisees and Sadducees in Hasmonean
times, between the Zealots and Peace Party members in Roman
times, the answer is probably yes. But as the Jews had no armies,
the paper war against the Karaites intensified .
The rabbinic-Karaite war of invective turned in favor of the
Talmudists with the entry of a scholar who had the appearance of
a saint and the cunning of a Machiavelli. Saadyah Gaon was the
first of the "Jewish-Hellenic-Arabic-Renaissance" intellectuals,
the first of the rationalist philosophers to introduce Aristotelianism into the Talmud itself. Born in Egypt in 882 A.D., he was
made head of the most prominent of the Babylonian academies at
an early age. He was a born campaigner who loved a good fight.
It was he who drew the main battle lines, first for containing
Karaism, then for weakening the movement.
Saadyah Gaon saw much that was fine in the Karaite religion, and recognized the legitimate aspirations of the people who
joined the sect. His first move was to translate the Old Testament
into Arabic, so the people, who no longer knew Hebrew, would
not have to depend upon Karaite preachers to learn what was in
the Torah but would be able to read it themselves, just as Luther,
in the sixteenth century, translated the Bible from Latin into the
vernacular German so the German people could read for themselves what was written in the two Testaments. Next Saadyah
Gaon set out to incorporate into the Talmud the best precepts of
Karaism. And finally he penned a series of brilliant and devastat ing attacks against Karaism itself.
The Karaites, seeing their movement stolen from under their
noses, fought back in kind. They reformed themselves. They had
the good luck to develop a series of brilliant scholars whose
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prestige attracted new members. These scholars took up the scientific study of Hebrew, developing Hebrew philology to an advanced stage and liberalizing the entrance requirements into
Karaism in much the same way Paul liberalized entry into Christianity. The rabbis countered by trumping the Karaite ace. They
studied Hebrew even more assiduously, developed even better
Hebrew grammars, made the Bible even more accessible to the
people, interpreted laws even less stringently. By the fourteenth
century the tide was turning against Karaism. By the eighteenth
century the movement that had threatened to engulf Judaism had
almost vanished. Today there are only about 10,000 Karaites in
Lithuania and the Crimea, and about 2,000 in Israel, lingering
like undigested meals of history.
The Karaite revolt had not been in vain. It prevented
Talmudism from becoming static at this point of its history, mak ing it come to grips with life again instead of remaining preoccu pied with its own cleverness. It was a salutary lesson. Judaism
learned to defend itself, not by closing ranks but by opening
them to new ideas. It taught the Jews two lessons: first, that in
complete liberty lies anarchy; and second, that in total conform ity lies death.
Thus the Jewish saga in the Islamic Empire ends. It was conceived by fate, supported in splendor, nourished by intellect, and
buried by fate. By the fifteenth century, Jewish life in the East
emptied into Western Europe at a juncture of Jewish history
when the roads for the Jews led to the ghetto. But before we
leave the Mohammedan stage of Jewish history and retrace our
steps to sixth-century Europe, where we left the Jews after the
fall of the Roman Empire, it is only fitting that tribute be paid the
magnificent Arabic people who wrought a dazzling and enlightened civilization out of the desert.
Though the Mohammedan Empire is dead, the human element which shaped its grandeur is still living. The Arabic culture
was not built on the plunder of other countries and the brains of
other men. It sprang from deep wells of creativity within the
people themselves. For seven hundred years Arab and Jew lived
219
side by side in peace and with mutual respect. If Jews today in
the Arabic world ·live under the most squalid conditions, it is not
because Arabs pushed them there. These conditions were created
for Jew and Arab alike by subsequent conquerors.
Today, the Arab world is arising from its slumber. If the Arabs can use the Jews to hoist themselves out of the abyss into
which history hurled them, they can be blamed no more than other nations which are playing similar power politics. It is up to
Jewish leaders, in their own national self-interest, ·to convince
Arab leaders that the Arab world can achieve its legitimate aims
with the friendship of the Jews, as in days past. Astute statesmanship can relax the present Israeli-Arab tensions, because they
are not caused by deep-rooted racial and religious antagonisms
but by temporary political expediencies. History has shown that
Jew and Arab can live together without strife and with mutual
profit.
220
VI: THE PRINCE AND THE
YELLOW STAR
How the Jews with only a gesture – conversion – could
have saved themselves from banishment to the ghetto,
but instead chose the yellow star of ignominy, yet be came indispensable to the medieval prince because they
were the only ones who carried the torch of learning
and the spirit of enterprise in an age of darkness.
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HERE'S WHEN IT HAPPENED
MEDIEVAL PERIOD
CHRISTIAN: 500 A.D. TO 1500 A.D.
JEWISH: 500 A.D. TO 1800 A.D.
EUROPEAN HISTORY
JEWISH HISTORY
Rome falls. Ostrogoths found 500 A.D.
Italy, Visigoths Spain, Franks to 800
and Burgundians France.
Western barbarians Christianized. Dark Age and feudalism
settle over Europe. Era of salvation.
Masses of Jews forcibly converted in Spain. Jews invited to
settle in Italy, France, Germany;
asked to help found cities and encourage trade. Become Europe's
middle class.
Charlemagne unites heartland 800 to 900
of Europe into Frankish Empire. Popes gain secular
power. Viking invasions.
Centralized government collapses. Dark Age intensifies.
More salvation.
Charlemagne invites Jews to his
realm. Jews organize large mercantile establishments in Europe.
First Kabalistic work appears.
Eastern and Northern Europe
Christianized. William the
Conqueror invades Britain.
Dark Age begins to lift. Holy
Roman Empire founded. Still
more salvation.
Jews come to England with William the Conqueror. Expand
money-lending activities; become
Europe's bankers. Continue translating Greek works. Have highest
educational standards in Europe.
900 to
1100
Two centuries of Crusades.
1100 to
Greek Orthodox Con1300
stantinople sacked by Roman
Catholic Crusaders. Albigensian heresy. Fourth Lateran Council. First European
universities founded. And still
more salvation.
Jews flee Rhineland in wake of
Crusades. Settle in liberal Poland, develop its economy. First
ritual-murder and Host-desecration libels crop up; first burning
of Talmud. Jews banished from
England. Kabalistic work, Zohar,
appears.
Age of Renaissance. Foundations of new humanism. New
heresies plaguing Church.
Jews banished from France
(1400); banished from Spain and
Portugal (1500). Persecutions be-
1300 to
1500
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Mercantilism growing; middle
classes gaining more power.
Feudalism beginning to
crumble, End of salvation era.
come economically motivated.
Jewish commercial interests decline in West, grow in East.
Kabalistic writings assume metaphysical character.
End of Renaissance. Era of
1500 to
Reformation. Century of reli- 1700
gious wars. Counter Reformation. Treaty of Westphalia.
Emergence of nationalist
states. Growing power of
burghers. Scientific discoveries reshape Europe's thinking.
Jews relegated to ghettos in Italy,
Germany, Central Europe. Jews
settle in Russia. Pale of Settlements established. Still more
Kabala. The Sabbatean heresy.
Jews readmitted to England, Holland, France. ·Appearance of
Court Jews.
Russia, Prussia emerging as
1700 to .
strong states. Poland carved
1800
up. Rousseau's Social Contract sets foundation for new
concept of state. Louis XVI
overthrown; French Revolution shakes Europe's institutions. Napoleon seizes power.
Age of Industrialism.
The Frankist heresy. Rise of
Hasidism. Deterioration of Jewish learning. Beginnings of psychological anti-Semitism.
223
EIGHTEEN
CRUSADES, RENAISSANCE, AND REFORMATION
The Age of Salvation
To most Christian scholars, Jewish history during the
Middle Ages is a barely discernible thread in the feudal tapestry.
Many Jewish historians see this thread as a rope suffocating the
Jews. To our eyes, medieval Jewish history seems more like a
multicolored strand of threads woven into an overall design, co rollary to the main motif. If we lose sight of this design, Jewish
history becomes a succession of meaningless events, unmotivated persecutions – a boring dirge. If, on the other hand, the
design is brought into sharp focus, a fascinating constellation
composed of religious, economic, and psychological forces
emerges in the fabric. There is a progression to medieval Jewish
history, inverse to the unfolding of medieval Christian history. As
the fortunes of the Christians recede, those of the Jews advance;
as the fortunes of the Christians go up, those of the Jews go
down.
The medieval world developed essentially three overlapping
attitudes toward the Jews. The first one began to crystallize itself
in the sixth century and faded out in the eleventh. The second
embraced four hundred years – the two centuries of the Crusades
and the two centuries of the Renaissance. The third began with
the Reformation and spanned the three centuries between 1500
and 1800. Let us examine each of these attitudes against the his torical background of the Judeo-Christian drama.
After the conquest of Judah by Pompey, Jews and Romans
became "inseparable." Behind the Roman armies carrying the
Imperial Eagles marched the Jews carrying the banners of free
enterprise. The Jews were in Italy in the second century B.C., in
France in the first century B.C., in Spain a hundred years later.
At the end of the third century A.D. they had penetrated as far
224
north as Cologne, Germany. When the barbarians from the East
invaded Western Europe the Jews had been there for centuries.
By the sixth century, the invading barbarians, the Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Vandals, Huns, Franks, and Burgundians,
had accomplished most of their damage. Ignorance was universal, rights of man had disappeared, and poverty united all in a
common misery. Toward the end of the eighth century, roughly,
four European kingdoms, now known as Italy, France, Spain,
Germany, were emerging. Though reshaped into different power
patterns, these four states, with England a fifth member in the eleventh century, formed the heart of European history until 1500.
Ostrogoths settled in Italy, producing against all odds a great
king, Theodoric the Great, who pulled the country out of chaos.
Visigoths plundered their way into Spain, where they established
a kingdom and in 587 under King Reccared were converted to
Christianity. The Vandals sacked their way into France, ate all
that was eatable, raped all that was rapable, sold all that was sal able, and destroyed the rest. They founded a wretched kingdom
in North Africa, which ' mercifully came to an end in 600. Vandals, mixed with Franks and Burgundians, formed the first
Frankish kingdom and were converted to Catholicism in the late
fifth century under Clovis. Germany was a hodgepodge of Huns,
Slavs, Alamanni, Frisians, Saxons, Bavarians – all barbarians.
Southern Germany was more or less Christianized by 600, backslid in 700, and was rebaptized in 800. It was at this time that
Charles the Great, known as Charlemagne – six feet tall, fluent in
Latin, conversant in Greek, unable to write, but an ·enlightened
ruler who encouraged arts, sciences, and Jews – united the heartland of Europe into one kingdom. On Christmas Day in the year
800, florid-faced, long-mustached Charlemagne was crowned
emperor, and the Pope knelt before him in homage. Had a new
Caesar brought civilization back to Europe, like a suitor bringing
a gift to his mistress? Alas, Charlemagne's glued-together empire
crumbled under the inept fingers of his pious, pompous, and vain
son and grandsons who succeeded him.
That same century another calamity befell Europe – a new
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barbarian invasion. From the north, from the mists of Scandinavia, came strange-armored men in boats built like birds of
prey. They were oared by Vikings – men of the sea – bent on
plunder. Armed with skeggǿx38 and scramasax,39 they marauded
their way through Europe, killing with skill gentile and Jew,
burning with ardor' temple and church. Then, as suddenly as they
had appeared, they vanished, and cassocked monks carried the
cross of Christ to Scandia's scraggy shores.
Christianity, which first took hold in Southern and Western
Europe, now was carried to the East and North. By the early
tenth century the Gospels had taken root in what is now Poland,
Bohemia, Bulgaria, and Russia; by the late tenth century they
had spread to northern Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway,
and Iceland. Finland and Lithuania were the two last countries in
Europe to be Christianized. Vainly, for a century, Swedish crusaders tried to convert their pagan Finnish neighbors, but the magic of Ukko, Finnish god of the air, mired the Swedish armies in
Finland's marshes. In the end, miracle prevailed over magic. The
event took place in 1155, on the shores of Pyhajarvi, the Holy
Lake, where the Finns were forcibly baptized by being thrown
into the water. During this ceremony, even as the Finns drowned,
their souls were saved. Confronted by this miracle, Ukko fled.
The surviving Finns converted to Christianity, whereupon they
promptly ·were made loyal serfs . to Swedish lords. Lithuania
converted to Christianity about 1250 as a political expediency to
protect herself from the crusading zeal of Teutonic knights, but
after a decade she lapsed back into paganism. The second conversion took place a century later, when the pagan Grand Duke
of Lithunia, Jagiello, married the Roman Catholic Queen of Poland, Jadwiga, and Christianity trickled down to the Lithuanian
masses as the nobility of the two countries gradually assimilated.
But the tenth century, so rich in the acquisition of Christian
converts, was also the nadir of Europe's Dark Ages. Not a single
38 A razor-sharp, hooked ax, shaped to hug a hull or cleave a skull.
39 A one-edged sword, scriptured with runes for god-blessed results.
226
Christian university dotted the entire continent until the twelfth
century. The ignorance of the sixth century had ripened into a
dull stupor, rights of man had become crimes against Church and
state, and poverty had progressed to squalor. It was an age where
only salvation of the soul mattered. The year 1000 was a turning
point for both gentile and Jew, but in opposite directions.
The Jews escaped the general devastation of this first phase
of their medieval experience with remarkably good fortune. Lest
the admittedly large number of Jews killed during these four centuries seem oppressive to those who make it a business to gather
Jewish statistics only, let us comfort them with Montaigne's epigram, "There is something altogether not too displeasing in the
misfortunes of our friends”, and cite the fact that Rome, a city
with a population of 1,000,000 before the barbarian invasions,
was reduced to 50,000 after the barbarians had taken turns sacking the city. Until they were Christianized, Goths and Vandals,
Franks and Vikings never inquired into the religious affiliations
of those they killed.
In Italy, Theodoric the Great (c.454-526) invited the Jews to
settle in every city in his domain – Rome, Naples, Venice, Milan,
and his new capital, Ravenna. They were merchants, bankers,
judges, farmers, jewelers, artisans. Perhaps as much as a third of
the Jews in Italy were not descendants of Abraham and Moses
but the descendants of Romulus and "Remus, inasmuch as their
ancestors were former pagans who had converted to Judaism as
far back as 100 A.D.
The story was much the same in France and Germany. Charlemagne encouraged Jews from other parts of the world to come
to his empire. Specifically, he wanted the Jews to settle in cities,
to foster industries, to extend the frontiers of commerce, and
therefore he granted them liberal charters of self-government.
Many found high posts in his court, especially in the diplomatic
service. The reason for these special grants was simple enough.
The feudal system provided for only three social classes, which,
in the words of an eleventh century wit, were "the nobles – who
did the fighting; the priests – who did the praying; and the serfs –
227
who did the work." There was no burgher or merchant class. This
field was left open to the Jews.
In Spain the picture at first was slightly different. King Reccared, with the fearful zeal of a new convert, spread his newly
found Christianity with a sword so fierce that not only were the
Visigoths baptized, but a large number of Jews as well. When the
Mohammedans conquered Spain and granted everyone religious
freedom, many of these forcibly converted Jews did not return
fully to the Mosaic religion. Many "crypto-Jews" became the
cosmopolitan world citizens who moved with elegance and
aplomb in the courts of viziers and grandees, marrying into the
families of both. They were destined to form the nucleus of a
most vexing and controversial problem in Spain, which exploded
with calamitous results in the late fifteenth century.
We can now see how the forces shaping Jewish history in
the early Feudal Age began with two paradoxes. Not only were
the Jews the only non-Christians left in the entire Christian
world, but, ironically, they lived in freedom outside the feudal
system, while the gentiles were imprisoned within it.
Why had the Jews not been converted or killed as had the
other pagans and nonbelievers? Why had they received special
exemption? Why did the Church protect them?
The Church had maneuvered itself into this paradoxical im passe by the force of its own logic. Because the civilization of
the Middle Ages was religiously oriented, it was important that
the Jews be converted to Christianity. For how could the Church
claim that Jesus was universally divine if his own people disclaimed him?
At first every conciliation was held out to the Jews as an inducement to accept Christianity. The Jews would not convert.
The Church was in a dilemma. If the Jews were ignored, it might
be equal to an admission that Jesus was not universally divine.
On the other hand, if the Church exterminated his people, as it
had the heathens, then the Church could never claim that the
Jews had acknowledged Christ divine. The Jew was an ambivalent figure in the Western world. He could neither be converted
228
nor killed. To prevent his religion from infecting the Christian
believer with doubt, the Jew, therefore, was excluded from the
feudal system. The Church did not realize that with this act it had
jailed its own people and set the Jew free.
Some of the laws enacted against the Jews in these centuries
were not new. They were, in fact, patterned after Old Testament
and Talmudic laws against non-Jews. Old Jewish laws forbade a
non-Jew being appointed king of Israel, or holding a post from
which he could govern Jews. To prevent too great an intermixing
between Jews and Greeks, Palestinian law forbade a Jew to sell
land to a non-Jew. The Christians enacted like laws against the
Jews. These cannot be judged as good or bad in terms of today's
society. They were an expression of society in those days.
There is little historical material for those who might want
to cast early medieval Jewish history in the mold of martyrdom.
As with the laws of Constantine, Constantius, Theodosius, and
Justinian, the occasional edicts against Jews were observed
mostly in the breach. Impatient eager beavers, rushing history,
did, here and there, now and then, issue laws expelling Jews
from this or that city, in this or that year. But the Jews were soon
recalled with apologies, since feudal society had not yet developed a merchant class of its own. These exceptions did not
constitute official Church policy any more than the lynching of a
Negro constituted official United States policy seventy years
ago. From the pronouncement of Pope Gregory the Great (591 ),
forbidding the forcible conversion of Jews, to the decree of Pope
Innocent III at the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), instituting the
yellow badge for Jews, the Jews lived in comparative freedom
and moderate prosperity.
Until the eleventh century, the Church could take a lenient
attitude toward the obstinate Jew, hoping time would convince
him of his error. The Church was supreme, the princes obedient,
the people docile. Then, dramatically, after the eleventh century,
developments with unforeseen consequences took place, chan ging the fabric of medieval Jewish life. Such serious restrictive
legislation as the humiliating garb, ritual-murder charges, Host229
desecration libels, and confinement to the ghetto were not the
heritage of the early Dark Ages but the heritage of the Crusades,
the Renaissance, and the Reformation.
The Age of More Salvation
If "salvation" was the key to the first phase of medieval his tory, then "more salvation" was the key to the Crusades, for, as
with gold, one can never have enough of either. Although the origins of the Crusades were deeply rooted in the !! religious, polit ical and social texture of the age, these origins had no bearing
upon Jewish history, but the Crusades themselves did.
We must be careful how we focus the lens of history on this
period. If we keep it focused on Jews exclusively, then this interlude becomes a gory story of pillaging Jewish settlements, killing
Jewish people, looting Jewish wealth, and, of course, committing
the inevitable rape that so alliteratively goes with rapine. But if
we enlarge our sector of vision to include Jews and Christians,
an entirely different picture emerges.
A great many of the Crusaders were pious Christians fired
with the idea of freeing the Holy Land from the infidel and turning Jerusalem into a Christian shrine. Many others were in quest
of loot and the opportunity to kill with impunity. The days of
chivalry, when only knights and their pages were permitted to lay
down their lives on the field of battle, had vanished. The com mon man was now also extended the privilege of dying for honor, but this knightly prerogative did not fire him with joy. There fore, to stir up zeal for a Crusade in an age where no universal
conscription existed, serfs were promised freedom, criminals
were offered pardon, sinners were granted absolution.
As a result of this propaganda barrage, unruly mobs, full of
ardor and energy but low on discipline and supplies, sprang up
all over. Long before the Crusaders reached the Holy Land they
ran out of provisions. Armed detachments began attacking de fenseless villages in the path of their march. At first it was Jewish communities. The Western world protested to the Pope
against these outrages, and in many instances other Christian cit230
izens came to the aid of the Jews. The looting now became general, Christians too became victims, and the fighting spread.
More Crusaders died en route to the Holy Land than lived to
fight for it.
As Crusade after Crusade met with either total defeat or
only partial victory, it became more and more difficult to enlist
the support of the populace for succeeding Crusades. As the
nature of the Crusades shifted from that of freeing the Holy Land
from the infidel to that of pillaging the rich Byzantine Empire,
the enemy became the Greek Orthodox Catholics instead of the
Mohammedans. What had started out as desultory looting of
Jews ended up as a bloodbath for Christians.
Relations between Constantinople and Rome, never cordial
since the founding of the Byzantine Empire in the fifth century,
hardened through the years into hatred, and in 1094 the pontiffs
of both cities pronounced anathema upon each other. "Political
mistrust made the Latins hate and suspect the Greek schismatics,
while the Greeks despised and loathed the rough Latin
heretics."40 The history of the Byzantine Empire was, to quote
Gibbon, a "tedious and uniform tale of weakness and misery. Its
military strength was offset by its intellectual weakness. During
its eleven hundred years, the Byzantine civilization produced
only three art forms – Byzantine churches, Byzantine painting,
and castrated Byzantine choirboys; it did not produce a single
new idea, philosopher, ·writer, or scientist of note.
It was a triple blessing for the Jews that they were expelled
from the Byzantine Empire before the start of the Crusades.41
They escaped the massacre, they escaped the blame, and they es40 Steven Runciman, Byzantine Civilization, page 100.
41 According to Runciman, the Jews were expelled from the Byzantine
Empire during the reign of Romanus I (919-944 ), but were later readmitted. To use the words of Gibbon, the history of the Jews in the
Byzantine Empire was also a "tedious and universal tale" of misery
and persecution, even though, Runciman adds, "It is noticeable that
the persecutors were the lay powers, not the Church." (Ibid., page
105.)
231
caped those chroniclers who would have chalked up the fracas as
another manifestation of Jewish persecution. In 1183, Byzantine
Greeks killed all Italians in the realm, and in 1204 Italians in the
fourth Crusade took their revenge with a carnage almost unpar alleled in history. The bestiality of the Crusaders shocked Pope,
prince, and people, but their horror in no way stopped the
slaughter. Byzantium was carved up by the Crusaders like a cadaver, and its towns were tossed as loot to the Italian city-states
which had financed this Crusade. Though the Greeks recaptured
Constantinople fifty years later, the empire had been weakened.
In 1453 she fell before the onslaught of the Turks, and the Christian stronghold in the East was lost.
The fifth Crusade met with indifferent success. With the
sixth and seventh the zeal was gone. After the eighth Crusade,
the fire was extinguished. Christian and Jew alike rejoiced that it
was all over. But the Crusades, ironically, had the opposite effect
from the one intended. It had been hoped that the capture of Jerusalem would rally the faithful into a more closely knit Christian
community. Instead, the faith of the Christians in their own superiority was badly. shaken. Thousands had been exposed to the
superior culture of the Mohammedans. Serfs, freed during the
Crusades, did not want to go back to the farm after they had seen
Constantinople and the splendor of the Saracen (the Roman
name for the Arab). They settled in the towns, swelling them into
cities. A spirit of restlessness pervaded Europe. This spirit found
its expression in two ways: through the creative outlet of the
Renaissance, and in the religious protest of the Reformation. In
the former the Jews participated fully, and succeeded brilliantly.
In the latter they tried hard to stay out of the family quarrel and
failed miserably.
Though Europe was ready for the Renaissance, it was the
Italians who first saw her, grabbed her, and had the men of genius on tap to shape the inchoate yearnings of the age into an intel lectual force which illuminated the European scene for over two
hundred years, from about 1320 to 1520. All of Italy was not involved in this humanistic resurgence. It was boxed in a rectangle
232
bounded by Naples in the south, Milan in the north, Venice in the
east, and Genoa in the west. It was ushered in by humanists
(Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio) and died with artists (Cellini,
Titian, Michelangelo). To make the grade in between, one had to
have such names as Leonardo da Vinci, Fra Filippo Lippi,
Bellini. The melancholy task of the Jewish historian is to record
the fact that no Jew qualified.
In Italy, the Renaissance took essentially a nonreligious
course, with the accent on the individual. In Northern Europe,
the Renaissance, running a hundred years behind, took essentially a religiously oriented course, as exemplified by Johann Reuchlin in Germany. Reuchlin (1455-1522) had a profound influence on the history of Europe, because, more than any other, he
helped to lay the foundations for Protestantism through the influence of his writings on the development of Luther's theological
thinking. Reuchlin 's humanistic philosophy was undisguisedly
Hebraic. Though a Christian, brought up on Latin, he spoke
Hebrew fluently, was familiar with Hebrew literature, and was a
student of the Kabala, a Jewish mystic and metaphysical philosophy which seeped into the writings of Jewish and Christian
scholars and scientists during the Renaissance. At the risk of his
own life, when a deviation from dogma meant death, Reuchlin
protected the Jews against slander, defended the Talmud against
calumny, and popularized Jewish thought among Christian intellectuals.
Because of Reuchlin's work, the part which Hebraism played
in the spread of humanistic learning in Germany is readily obvious. Not quite so obvious in the creation of the Renaissance is
the supporting role played by the Jews. Scholars are in agreement that it was the reintroduction of Greek learning into the
stream of European culture which gave birth to the Renaissance,
and they generally credit Petrarch with this work. But it is more
than a curious coincidence that the Renaissance sprang to life in
just those areas where Jewish life had been and again became
most active. The Renaissance did not originate in England, in
France, or in Germany; it originated in that geographic area
233
where Jews had been engaged most heavily for three centuries in
the translation of Greek, Arabic, and Hebrew classics into Latin.
We must remember it was to Naples, a Renaissance center, that
Frederick II had invited the Jews to translate the works of the
Greeks and to teach Hebrew to Christian scholars. Petrarch followed in the footsteps of the Jews. These coincidences do not, of
course, constitute proof, but perhaps here is a field for scholars
to investigate, to document, to assess.
End of Salvation
Too late, popes and emperors discovered that the Renaissance was not only beautiful but dangerous. It set men's minds
free. It made them think. It made them question the established
order of things. The emergence of science, especially, shook
Christian man in all his cherished prejudices. Too late did the
men who permitted the opening of this Pandora's box try to close
the lid. Only Spain succeeded, mainly because she did it before
the Renaissance could gain a foothold in that country and ruin
the purity of the Spanish mind.
In 1305 Spain banned the study of all science, and among
the first victims of the Inquisition were not Jews but Christian
scientists. Galileo did not make the trek to the stake, because he
was sensible enough not to die for his beliefs but to live for
them. When brought before the Inquisition in Italy, he recanted
in public and went on with his studies in private. So effectively,
however, did Spain close its doors to science, that to this day no
major scientific discovery has been made by any Spaniard.
The dangerous current of the Renaissance merged with
heretical currents of protest against the established Church. Of
the heresies, the Albigensian one in the twelfth and thirteenth
centuries is of particular interest because it led directly to the es tablishment of the Inquisition and indirectly to the banishment of
the Jews from Spain.
Zealous princes undertook to punish the Albigensian Christians in southern France who dared question the dogma of the
Church. As loss of property generally went with loss of life, the
234
nobles soon discovered that there was a direct ratio between the
number of heretics purified by death and the amount of gold
which accumulated in noble coffers. Heresy hunting was profitable, no doubt about it. In one French town, 20,000 Albigensians
were piously slain and their property solemnly confiscated. 42 The
Papacy became alarmed at all this bloodshed, forbade the private
hunting of heretics (as it was later to forbid the local hunting of
Jews), and instituted the Inquisition (from the Latin inquisitio,
meaning an "inquiry") in order to determine whether an accused
actually was a heretic. During the first centuries of its existence,
the Inquisition had no power to deal with Jews, Mohammedans,
or any other nonbelievers, only with Christians.
As the Church abhorred the shedding of blood, it was decided that those convicted should be burned. Ironically, modern
man looks with horror upon burning someone for his religious
beliefs, yet sees nothing incongruous in shooting or hanging a
man for his political convictions. Also, ironically, the authority
for killing a heretic stems from the Old Testament itself, from
Deuteronomy 17:2-5, "If there be found in the midst of thee ...
man or woman, that does that which is evil in the sight of the
Lord thy God in transgressing His covenant, and has gone and
served other gods, and worshipped them ... and it be told thee ...
then shalt thou bring forth that man or woman ... thou shalt stone
them with stones that they die." Because only Christians could
commit heresy in the eyes of the Church, this Mosaic law, with
an updated punishment, was applied only to them. And thus
came about the twist of fate which brought Jews comparative
safety from the Inquisition while Christians burned one another
at the stake.
As the Albigensian heresy spread from France to Germany
and thence into Eastern Europe, Spain became apprehensive lest
she too be contaminated. She had special cause for concern, be 42 Historians estimate that over 1,000,000 Frenchmen suspected of being Albigensians were slain in thirty years by the Crusaders. The
highest estimated number of Jews killed during the two hundred
years of the Crusades is l00,000.
235
cause in her midst dwelt a large body of converted Jews, who
later became known to the Spaniards as ·conversos, "converted
ones," and to the Jews as Marranos, the Spanish word for
"swine" or "pigs." It would be of interest to know who coined the
name "Marrano," the Jews or Spaniards, why the name stuck,
and why the Jews to this day persist in calling the Spanish
crypto-Jews "Marranos" (that is, "swine"), even as they loudly
mourn their tragic fate.
The problem of the converted Jews in Spain dates back to
the sixth century, when the zealous King Reccared converted as
many as 90,000 Jews to Christianity. How many remained Christian, how many returned to Judaism, and how many chose to profess both religions when the Mohammedans conquered Spain in
the eighth century is not known. It was not until the fourteenth
century that the names Conversos and Marranos were applied to
these Spanish crypto-Jews.
During the Christian reconquest of Spain from the Mohammedans, the soldiers of the Cross at first had difficulty recognizing the difference between Jew and Moslem, as both
dressed alike and spoke the same tongue. Reconquistadores understandably killed Jew and Arab with impartial prejudice. But
as the Spanish dukes and grandees became reacquainted with
Jewish learning and industry, they offered the Jews every inducement to remain in Christian Spain in order to enrich her trade and
to enhance her culture. Once Spain was safely back in the Christian column, however, a national conversion drive was launched.
It was so successful that by the end of the fifteenth century the
Marranos, not the Jews, constituted a problem to the Spanish
government.
By virtue of their learning and sophistication, the Marranos
had risen to positions of power. They had married into the
noblest families of Spain and had become not only grandees and
kissing cousins of royalty, but also bishops and archbishops. This
was galling to many natural-born Christians who could not aspire
to such lofty positions and were incensed at seeing orthodox
Christianity flouted. This was equally galling to many orthodox
236
Jews, who were incensed at seeing orthodox Judaism flouted. We
can divine this resentment from the fact that both Maimonides
and Rashi found it necessary to issue special edicts for Jews to
treat the Marranos more kindly, to show them greater consideration in case they should want to return to the Jewish faith.
The Marrano problem was a festering sore in the Spanish
clerical body. With uneasiness the Church viewed the growing
influence of the Marranos, who put enjoyment of life above mortification of the flesh. Many felt that it was time to apply the Inquisition and stamp out the problem, as had been done with the
Albigensians. Finally, in 1482, the decision was made and Inquisitorial powers were assigned by the Spanish Church to
Thomas de Torquemada to stamp out any heretical tendencies,
first among the Marranos, and then wherever else found.
The Jews have held up Torquemada as an archvillain, and
the Spanish Inquisition as an instrument designed especially for
their torture. There is no intent here to whitewash Torquemada or
to play down the horror of the Inquisition. But to understand
Jewish history as something more than a succession of persecu tions, Torquemada and his function must be understood in the
perspective of the social structure of his times, and the Inquisition must be understood in its larger, more frightening dimensions. Though Torquemada's fanaticism horrifies twentieth-century rational man, he was no barbarian butcher. He was more
concerned with saving Catholic Christianity than with exterminating Jews. The Jews who had resisted conversion and remained
Jews did not come under the jurisdiction of the Inquisition.
Those who were consigned to the flames of the autos-da-fé, or
acts of faith, were Christians as well as Marranos convicted of
heresy. Death came to them as an act of mercy after excruciating
days and weeks of torture. Some Jews, of course, died violent
deaths during these decades, but they were mainly the victims of
mob rule. They were not tried and they were not condemned by
the official Church Inquisition.
When the "Marrano heresy" was checked, Torquemada appealed to the Pope for authority to expel the Jews from Spain on
237
the ground that as long as the Jews resided in Spain, Judaism
was a clear and present danger to the Catholic faith. The Pope refused. Convinced that he was right and the Pope wrong,
Torquemada, who was Queen Isabella's father confessor, applied
pressure on her to banish the Jews. Queen Isabella and King
Ferdinand, whose marriage had been arranged by a Spanish Jew
named Abraham Senior, were reluctant to do so, but the clamor
from the Spanish Church became too great, and they finally consented.
If we are to believe a story persistently cropping up in the
annals of Jewish history, this plan almost came to naught through
the intercession of Don Isaac Abravanel, a rabbi and scholar with
a penchant for making vast fortunes. Hearing of the contem plated expulsion of the Jews. Abravanel, then finance minister to
the Spanish court, offered the royal couple such a fantastic sum
of gold to rescind the order that they wavered. At this moment a
suspicious Torquemada, who had been listening behind the door,
burst into the room. Throwing caution to the wind, he held a crucifix high over his head and shouted, "Behold the Saviour whom
the wicked Judas sold for thirty pieces of silver. If you approve
this deed, then sell Him for a great sum." Frightened, the royal
couple signed the order for the expulsion of the Jews in the same
year and month that Columbus received his orders to undertake
the voyage that led to his discovery of America.
Like Moses leading the Children of Israel out of Egypt, Don
Abravanel led the Jewish exodus from Spain. Of the 150,000
Jews in Spain at that time, an estimated 50,000, whose ancestry
dated back for fifteen hundred years in Spain, did not want to
leave their homeland and paid the price for staying – conversion
to Christianity. Of the remaining 100,000, some 10,000 perished,
about 45,000 eventually settled in Turkey, approximately 15,000
in North Africa and Egypt, 10,000 in southern France and Holland, 10,000 in northern Italy, 5,000 scattered in various other
parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia, and 5,000 of these wanderers
were among the first settlers in South America. Abravanel settled
in Italy, where he became employed in the service of the king of
238
Naples, and later as a counselor to the doge of Venice.
Throughout North Africa, Egypt, and the Ottoman Empire,
the Jews enjoyed almost complete religious and economic freedom for several centuries. Though the Turks were looked upon
by the Christians as the scourge of Christendom, Turkish policy
toward the Jews for many years approximated that of the former
Islamic Empire.
Portugal also instituted an Inquisition among her Marranos
and in 1496 threatened to expel the Jews. Fleeing Portuguese
Jews resettled in North Africa, the northern Italian states, and the
Ottoman Empire. In the latter half of the sixteenth century many
Marranos who had remained in Spain and Portugal fled to Holland and South America.
After the main body of Jews had been banished from Spain
and had fled from Portugal, the Inquisition was turned against
converted Moors, who were expelled from all of Spain in 1502.
It was now the Christians who were examined by the Inquisition,
and in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries the
fires of the autos-da-fé spread like a rash all over Europe. The
Church lost control of both Inquisition and autos-da-fé, and
Christians and Jews then shared the same fate. But for every Jew
executed there were a thousand and one Christians.
The Economics of Heresy
The curious inverse progression of Jewish political history
in its relation to Christian political history in the Middle Ages is
paralleled in the economic sphere. As the material welfare of the
Christians during this period took a tum for the better, that of the
Jews took a turn for the worse. No abstruse Marxist economics
or advanced social theories are needed to explain this phenomen on. It was governed by an ancient, universal, and exceedingly
simple law. When feudal man realized the superiority of the Jewish way of doing things, he absorbed Jewish know-how, kicked
the Jews out to eliminate competition, and went into business for
himself. The Christians, streaming out of their "feudal ghettos"
in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries, seeing all
239
posts already occupied by Jews, legislated them out of their jobs
and into Jewish ghettos, and took over the economic functions
previously performed by them.
As this happily coincided with a rethinking of the Jewish
question by the Church, the Church did not object to this new
tum of events. As long as heretic sects had been small and isol ated, the Church felt it could easily eradicate them with a sever ity born out of love. But as heresies multiplied instead of diminishing, the Church became less indulgent. It could no longer afford to be tolerant of a Jewish minority religion in its midst, because by their refusal to convert, the Jews kept the idea of religious freedom alive. As more and more Christian intellectuals
turned to the Jews for instruction in Hebrew and Scripture, the
obstinacy of the Jews in not converting, which at first had merely
confounded the Church, now, understandably, exhausted its patience. The Jews had to be taken out of the mainstream of Christian life. Confinement in ghettos seemed like a good solution.
The fears of the Church first found expression in the Fourth
Lateran Council called by Pope Innocent III in 1215. Three general items were on the agenda: a redefinition of dogma; the threat
of the Albigensian heresy; and the danger of unconverted Jews. It
was at the Fourth Lateran Council that laws against Jews were
shaped with the purpose of isolating them further from the Christian community. It was decided that Jews must wear a badge on
their clothing to identify them as Jews.
Thus began a new era for the Jews. Hostilities against them
intensified. The first burning of the Talmud took place, and ritual-murder charges cropped up. The Church had not intended matters to go this far. It issued bull after bull against these false ac cusations, with little effect. The tide could not be turned. The
new Christian middle class wanted the Jews dispossessed.
The case in England is illustrative of this trend, because it
was here that the first ritual-murder accusations were made, and
it was here that the first expulsion of the Jews took place. Jews
arrived in England in 1066 at the invitation of William the Conqueror, who depended on Jewish capital to forge a strong English
240
state. As in France, Italy, and Germany, Jews in England rose to
positions of wealth and influence. King William Rufus, successor to William, even forbade Jews to convert to Christianity
because that would "rid him of a valuable property and give him
only a subject." By 1200, English and Italian moneylenders
began to supplant the Jewish moneylenders. By 1290, the kingdom felt it could get along without the Jews and expelled them.
The juggernaut of economics and history had been set in
motion. The expulsion from England not only foreshadowed the
expulsions of the Jews from other countries, but also foreshad owed the momentous clash between social and religious forces in
Christendom. By the fourteenth century the Jews had been expelled from France. During the fifteenth century they were banished from various German states. At the end of that century
came their expulsion from Spain and their flight from Portugal.
By banishing the Jews, these states hoped to avert the brewing
revolt on the comforting theory that the Jews, not the economic
and social ills, were the troublemakers. But this remedy was like
taking aspirin for a headache caused by a tumor. When Martin
Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the church in
Wittenberg (1517), the long-heralded challenge to the supremacy
of the Catholic Church had been nailed to the body of the Church
as unalterably as the body of Jesus had been nailed to the Cross
by the Romans.
There was no room now for Renaissance and Jews. Both
were luxuries and both had to go. In 1516 Venice introduced the
first ghetto for the complete isolation of the Jews. In 1550 the
Jews were expelled from Genoa. By 1569 they had been expelled
from most of the Papal States. By the middle of the sixteenth
century, Western Europe, which for one thousand years had been
the center of European Jewry, had practically no Jewish population left. The Jews had not been murdered or exterminated. They
had been banished. Where did they go?
They went east, to Germany, Poland, Austria, Lithuania,
where dukes and kings invited them to settle for precisely the
same reason they had been invited to come west in the sixth and
241
seventh centuries. For instance, Casimir the Great, the Charlemagne of Poland (1333-1370), invited Jews to settle in Poland,
giving them permission to rent land and villages – provided they
brought commerce and industry to the country, helped settle her
cities, and strengthen the economy. By 1500 the Jewish center of
gravity had completely shifted to Eastern Europe.
The Reformation was to have a profound effect on Jewish
history, as it changed not only the social but the economic fabric
of Jewish society. We must therefore examine the nature of the
Reformation to understand its impact on Jewish events.
The Reformation did not spring full-blown out of German
soil like Pallas Athene from the forehead of Zeus. Its coming had
been heralded for close to a century. The burning of Huss in
1415 and Savonarola in 1498 subdued for a while the spirit of re volt but did not extinguish it. The Christians had no Talmudic alchemists who could synthesize faith and reason into a politically
harmless but socially useful mixture. In the sixteenth century the
continent exploded into a series of religious revolts, led by Luther in Germany, Zwingli in Switzerland, Calvin in France, Knox
in Scotland.
On every front the Catholic Church tried to stem the sweep
of Protestantism, but to little avail. All of Scandinavia, England,
Scotland, northern Germany, Holland were lost. The revolt
spread to France. There is no massacre of Jews in all the medieval centuries to equal the bloodbath of St. Bartholomew's Day
(August 24, 1572), when the Catholics within twelve hours slew
30,000 Huguenots in their beds. Nor did many, if any, Jewish
communities ever experience the utter cruelty which took place
when cities like Magdeburg were invested during the Thirty
Years' War by the dragoons of Pappenheim, Tilly, and Wallenstein. Now it was the tum of Catholics and Protestants to experience some of the misfortunes of the Jews as countries professing
one faith expelled or murdered fellow Christians of the other
faith. This is not mentioned to make light of Jewish deaths during the century of religious wars which convulsed Europe, but to
set the stage for a later distinction to be made between what con 242
stitutes impersonal history and what constitutes specifically antiJewish acts.
As the battle between Catholics and Protestants seesawed
back and forth, the Jews assumed a great importance to both
sides. Their learning, idealism, and ethical conduct were es·teemed by millions of Christians who did not believe all the
slurs against the Jews. Both Catholics and Protestants felt it
would be a persuasive argument for millions of waverers
between Catholicism and Protestantism if the Jews would join
their side.
It was with superb confidence that Luther asked the Jews to
join him and the Lutherans. In an article entitled, "That Jesus
Was Born a Jew," dated 1523, Luther wrote:
For they [the Catholics] have dealt with the Jews as if
they were dogs and not human beings. They have done
nothing for them but curse them and seize their wealth. I
would advise and beg everybody to deal kindly with the
Jews and to instruct them in Scriptures; in such a case
we could expect them to come over to us .... We must
receive them kindly and allow them to compete with us
in earning a livelihood ... and if some remain obstinate,
what of it? Not everyone is a good Christian.
The refusal of the Jews to accept his sincere offer came to
him as an unexpected and cruel blow, and he turned bitterly
against them. In fairness to Luther, it must be said that by this
time he was a sick man, disillusioned by many setbacks and be trayed by many friends. He turned not only against the Jews, but
also against the German peasants who were using Protestantism
to free themselves from serfdom. Nobody , was listening to him
any longer, except the devoutly religious. The others were using
his Protestantism for their own economic and political ends.
The Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), as the great showdown
between Catholicism and Protestantism is called, changed not
only the religious complexion of Europe but its political and economic contours as well the northern half of Europe became in the
243
main Protestant and industrial; The southern half remained in the
main Catholic and agricultural.
The western states in the northern section became capitalistic. The eastern states in that sector became a mixture of feudalism, mercantilism, and capitalism. Wherever Protesantism won
decisively, feudalism began to perish. In the 'l[' wake of the Reformation, a new social class arose, which in tum shaped the
modern industrial society.
Dynamics of Revolution
We must understand the social forces that seized the Reformation in order to understand the phenomena that reshaped
Jewish history. The answer lies in the peculiar relationship which
existed between Church and feudal state. The Church and the
feudal state had grown up together, the Church protecting the
feudal institutions and the feudal institutions protecting the
Church. The tensions between Pope and emperor were not over
the institutions of Church and feudal state, but merely a question
of who should have how much power over whom. Neither institution ever thought of doing away with the other. Popes and emperors removed each other with happy abandon, but the institutions themselves continued.
The solid edifice of Catholic Church and feudal state received its first jolts from the Crusades and the Renaissance. The
Crusades, as we have seen, freed the body of the serf from the
manor and lord; the Renaissance freed the mind of man from
dogma and scholasticism. The freed serfs settled ·in towns and
changed their occupations from tillers of the soil to producers
and sellers of goods. They sold these goods for money in free
markets at a profit. This had been the function of the Jews previously. This shift in Christian occupation marked the end of feudalism and the beginning of capitalism. All qualities which helped
in this exchange of goods for money at a profit became good
qualities, everything that impeded this exchange became bad
qualities. The marketplace, not the Church, now determined morality.
244
These new men of trade needed a supply of labor to help
them create more goods, they needed more free markets, and
they needed greater freedom from the restrictions of feudal laws.
But these new needs conflicted with the wishes of the feudal
nobles, who wanted to preserve the old order in which they were
lord and master. They were not wicked men, merely prudent men
who wished to preserve the feudal system which benefited them,
in the same way that we wish to protect the economic system
from new experiments which might take the benefits we enjoy
away from us.
As trade continued to expand, as greater wealth was concen trated in the hands of the new middle class, that class be: came
more powerful. Soon it dared to challenge the feudal princes
openly, and as the Church supported the feudal state, the Church
also became involved in the struggle for power. Therefore, along side the social struggle, a religious struggle was also taking
place.
No doubt the Church needed reform, as evidenced by the
Counter Reformation instituted by the Catholic Church to clean
out its own farmer abuses. But it came too late. Though Protestantism had begun as a strictly religious reform movement, the
people behind the new economic forces seized the Reformation
and bent it to their own economic needs. The new religion, Protestantism, slowly began to permit what the old religion, Catholicism, had forbidden. Imperceptibly, from 1521 and the Diet at
Worms, where Luther had laid down his challenge to the Pope, to
1648 and the Treaty of Westphalia, where Catholicism and Protestantism had drawn a west-east truce line through the center of
Europe, a religious protest had turned into a social revolution. As
the modes of production in Europe changed, the people responsible for these changes searched for a state that would legalize
what they were doing and for a religion that would sanctify it.
They adopted the Protestant religion and made it embrace the
capitalist state. The two went hand in hand like bride and groom.
If we now examine the chronological sequence of events
from the beginning of the Crusades to the end of the Reforma245
tion, an interesting timetable emerges in which the destiny of the
Jews is correlated to the social upheavals of the gentile world.
The Jews were expelled in 1290 by a Catholic feudal England
and readmitted in 1655 by a Protestant and mercantile England.
They were expelled from a Catholic and feudal France between
1400 and 1500, and readmitted in the Seventeenth century by a
reformed Catholic and mercantile France. They were expelled
from various Catholic and feudal German states in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries, and readmitted in the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by various other German
states, mostly Protestant and mercantile. The Jews who were expelled from Spain and from several Italian states in the fifteenth
and sixteenth centuries were not readmitted until modern times.
In other words, the Western, Catholic, feudal countries did not
want the Jews for religious reasons, and, having no economic &
need of them, did not readmit them, whereas the Protestant countries, having an economic need of the merchant Jews, did readmit
them.
The East European states, though still Catholic, readmitted
the Jews wherever they had banished them, because their eco nomies had not, at that time, developed a middle class f. which
could take over the functions of the Jews. Many East European
feudal princes, however, having seen from events in Western
Europe that such a class was a threat to their own existence, did
not want a Christian burgher class. They "imported Jews" to act
as a middle class. The Christian serfs were locked up in the prison of feudal institutions, the Jews were locked up in their ghettos, and the lords could go hunting without having their states
taken away from them during their absence. However, as the
Jews served the nobles, they became identified as an exploiting
class by the serfs, and when the wave of revolutions hit Eastern
Europe, Christian nobles and Jewish merchants were slaughtered
with equal hatred.
The crazy quilt of anti-Jewish laws passed between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries begins to make sense. It was not
until the sixteenth century that the laws one generally associates
246
with the entire medieval period came into being – laws, which
not only were aimed at isolating the Jews more and more from
the Christians, but were also designed to make them objects of
scorn and derision, to deprive them of any symbol of dignity, and
to make people forget their former learning. These new laws ten ded to make Jewish persecutions more and more abstract until
the very reason for their origin became obscured, then forgotten,
until only a dehumanized symbol of a denigrated Jew remained.
First he was given the yellow badge. Then he was isolated in the
ghetto. He could not own land. He was forced to wear special
clothing. He had to step aside when a Christian passed. He could
not build synagogues. He could not strike up friendships with
Christians. He could engage only in a restricted number of pro fessions and trades.
New generations of Christians who did not know of the.
proud, learned Jew of other days, saw only a queerly dressed
ghetto Jew, wearing a black caftan, a yellow patch of ignominy, a
ridiculous peaked hat – an object of derision and scorn.
There is a faint, familiar echo to these laws. There is nothing
original here. These are the very same laws we encountered in
the Pact of Omar, which restricted the rights of Christians in
Moslem lands. The Christians had turned around and applied the
same laws against the Jews, but with one important difference.
The laws in the Pact of Omar only restricted the legal rights of
the Christians – they did not strip them of their human dignity.
This was the end of the line for the Jews. The Jewish medieval period began with the Jew as the "ambivalent man" in Western society. When his medieval period ended, he was the symbol
of the "abhorrent man" in Western eyes.
But "the dark was light enough." If the Christians looked
with derision upon the ridiculous ghetto Jews, the Jews looked
with contempt upon those who jeered at them. As a group, they
were still the most learned men in Europe, the only ethnic group
having universal education. Into the ghetto they took with them
their 3,500-year-old cultural heritage, their Talmud, the Old Testament which illuminated their bleak physical existence with in 247
tellectual and religious comfort.
But even as Western man called the Jews by the vilest of
names, he begged them to solve his economic problems. Even as
he heaped calumny upon their heads, he invited them to sit at the
tables of state. Even as he spat on the Jew, he was rejected by the
Jew. With but one word, with but one gesture – conversion – the
Jew could have become the most honored of citizens in Europe.
The moment he was baptized, his "evil" became no evil, his
"malevolence" became no malevolence, the "dirty dog" became
no dirty dog. He became a good Christian. Though some Jews
did take this "passport to European civilization," as Heinrich
Heine termed baptism, most Jews did not. They transcended
whatever ignominy was heaped upon them with the firm conviction that their values were superior to the values of their detract ors.
Shakespeare, in his uncanny way, correctly sums up this
whole Jewish-Christian complex in his play The Merchant of
Venice. Though both Antonio and Bassanio call Shylock all sorts
of evil names, Bassanio, nevertheless, invites Shylock to his
house for dinner, and it is Shylock who refuses this friendly offer
saying:
I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk
with you, and so following; but I will not eat with you.
After Shylock has been outwitted by Portia, what is the penalty imposed on him for having, in essence, .wanted to take Antonio's life? One would think it would be the death penalty at
least. Not at all. The Duke, acting as judge, decrees, at the suggestion of Antonio, that Shylock must become a Christian. Thus,
by becoming a Christian, all Shylock's "bad" qualities would be
transubstantiated into virtues, much as moneylending became
virtuous after it was taken away from the Jews by the Christians.
It will be recalled, however, that Shylock does not promise to
convert, but proudly walks off the stage, still a Jew, unbowed,
unbowed.
One more thing remains to be said about this era. If the
248
Christians in their derision for the Jews blinded themselves to
the magnificence of the Jewish achievement, the Jews in their
contempt for their persecutors blinded themselves to the magnifi cence of the medieval achievement. Out of that age came van
Eyck and Dürer, Ghiberti and Verrocchio, Dante and Chaucer,
Ockham and Copemicus, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.
Under their genius, stone came to life, paint spoke with eloquence, and words etched ideas in men's minds. The Gothic
cathedrals stretching their lofty ·spires to the sky were not testa ments to any one faith, but tributes to the spirit of man. and to
God.
NINETEEN
CONCERTO FOR VIOLENCE
In no other phase of their history were the Jews subjected to
such unremitting efforts to convert them to Christianity as in the
Christian Middle Ages. In no other age had they been subjected
to such unremitting persecution for rejecting conversion. The
Babylonians, Assyrians, and Persians had only asked them to be
nice tax-paying Jews. The Greeks and Romans had only asked
them to throw a little incense at the feet of their gods as a mark
of respect. No one cared whether the Jews converted to paganism
or not. Jews had been slain, hanged, crucified, decimated, beheaded, tortured for all the reasons people have always been
slain, hanged, crucified, decimated, beheaded, tortured – in anger, in justified indignation, in battle, for sheer pleasure, as an
object lesson, as a punishment for rebellion, for not paying taxes
– but never for not converting.
The Mohammedans may have looked down upon both
Christians and Jews for their inability to perceive the superiority
of Allah over Christ and Jehovah. But the Mohammedans never
made it their mission in life to convert Christians and Jews to
Mohammedanism. The Romans would have regarded the Christian effort as sheer lunacy. The Greeks would have been faintly
amused. Other pagans would have been utterly bewildered. The
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Jews were all for leaving the Christians alone. The trouble was
that the Christians would not leave the Jews alone.
The score for persecution in this medieval concerto for violence followed ·an almost predictable progression. There were
three distinct movements: the first, a solemn religious adagio; the
second, a frenzied economic allegro; and the third, a chilling psy chological andante.
Of all three movements, the first, the religious adagio, is the
most interesting, because it shows the variety of righteous ex cuses man can invent for taking another man's life. The medieval
Church did not view the taking of a man's life as lightly as does
the modem state. Even the ignorant laity hesitated to kill a Jew
unless it had a good excuse for doing so. The murder of millions,
according to formula, without moral scruples, is an innovation of
the twentieth century.
The persecution of the Jews was rather desultory and of
little historic consequence until the eleventh century, when the
religious phase of Jewish persecutions began, with four main
motifs standing out in the overall design. These were ritual-murder accusations, Host-desecration libels, burnings of the
Talmud, and religious disputations.
The ritual-murder charge stemmed from the superstitious belief that upon each Passover the Jews slew a Christian male child
and used his blood to spray over their Passover matzos (the unleavened bread Jews eat during this holiday). It was easy for
such a notion to take hold in the medieval mind, because the Old
Testament was not translated into the languages of the people un til the sixteenth century. Until then, the people received all their
Bible stories secondhand, as digested legends. It was in such
secondhand fashion they heard the story of Exodus and learned
how the Lord had smitten the male children of Egypt in order to
force Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. Was it not logical that now
the Jews were similarly smiting Christian children? The fact that
human sacrifice was something the Jews had fought against since
the days of Abraham, while the Druids in England and Germany
still practiced it in the first century A.D., or the fact that Jews
250
never eat the blood of animals, which is prohibited in the Old
Testament, while Christians did, and still do, even to this day,
never crossed the medieval Christian mind.
In 1144, a boy disappeared in the township of Norwich,
England, and an apostate Jew swore that the Jews had killed him
in observance of a "Passover blood ritual." Hysteria swept England, but before any overt acts against the Jews broke out, the
dead body of the boy was found, without any evidence of
murder. For some reason, unfathomable to the modem mind, the
boy was sainted and enshrined in his home town church.
A hundred years later, the Norwich incident was revived
when a rumor cropped up that the Jews had kidnapped another
boy, crucified him, and used his blood to color their Passover
cakes. The king, fearing bloodshed, declared all Jews under arrest, and to calm the population, charged twenty Jews with the
crime. Their guilt was established to. everyone's satisfaction, ex cept the Jews', when under proper torture all twenty signed prepared confessions, and all were executed. Later, when the boy's
body was found, with all the blood still in it, and no sign of a
crucifixion, it could plainly be seen that a miracle had taken
place. He too was sainted and enshrined.
The pattern had been set, and in the ensuing two centuries
ritual-murder accusations against the Jews reached epidemic proportions throughout the continent. The popes became alarmed at
the spread of these false ritual-murder charges and in numerous
papal bulls forbade them, stating such accusations were a mock ery of Christ. Emperor Frederick II, whose enlightened rule illuminated his century, joined the popes and punished with death
those who spread such rumors. By the fifteenth century, ritual-murder accusations had died out, although they were briefly
revived in seventeenth-century Poland and late czarist Russia.
Closely resembling these ritual-murder charges were the
Host-desecration libels, which were given birth to in the twelfth
century with the enunciation of the Doctrine of Transubstantiation. This doctrine holds that in the drinking of the wine and in
the eating of the wafer, or Host, the wine becomes the blood and
251
the wafer the body of Christ. The rumor now became widespread
that the Jews reenacted the crucifixion of Jesus by stealing ·the
wafer and piercing it with a sharp instrument to make it bleed.
Two remedies against such desecrations developed, in addition
to general pillaging. The first was to burn a synagogue and erect
a church upon the site. A church so situated often became a miracle-producing center. The second was to remit all debts to Jews.
This remedy was a popular one.
The stealing-of-the-Host hysteria reached its height in fourteenth-century Germany. Here a fanatic named Rindfleisch
whipped the populace into a frenzy with an account of how he
had seen Jews crush the wafer in a mortar, after which he led the
howling mobs through Jewish quarters on a murder spree. German authorities, alarmed at the growing power of Rindfleisch,
figuring that a hanging in time would save nine, hanged him unceremoniously. By the end of the century, Host-stealing accusa tions also died out. The Jews had begun to flee Germany, and the
rulers, seeing the economies of their duchies stagnate, quickly
stopped the Host-desecration canard by hanging those who
spread such false accusations. The Jews were invited to return,
with assurances that such charges would never again be brought
against them.
The first burnings of the Talmud took place in 1244 in Paris
and Rome. It was burned four more times in fourteenth-century
France, and then there were no more burnings for two hundred
years. The two best years for Talmud burning were 1553 and
1554, when it went to the stake twelve times in various Italian
cities. It was burned twice more, in Rome in 1558 and 1559, and
then the fashion ended. In Eastern Europe, the Talmud was
burned but once, in 1757.
The interesting aspect about Talmud burning is not that the
Talmud was sent to the stake, for in the Middle Ages translations
of the New Testament in languages other than Latin were consigned to the flames more frequently than the Talmud. The interesting aspect is that the Old Testament in Hebrew was never sent
to the stake. Though Torah scrolls often were trampled underfoot
252
by screaming mobs looting synagogues, or burned with the synagogue itself, such acts were never sanctioned by the Church,
and the Torah was never officially condemned. Though Judaism
was reviled as a blasphemy, though Jews were killed for being
unbelievers, the Torah itself was looked upon with respect, for it
was the Law of God. As one Pope expressed it, "We praise and
honor the Law, for it was given to your fathers by Almighty God
through Moses. But we condemn your religion and your false interpretation of the Law."
It is of interest to note here that these anti-Jewish ritual-murder accusations, Host-desecration libels, and Talmud burnings all were first conceived by converted Jews. A dissection of
their motivations for turning so bitterly ·against their former
brothers would make an interesting psychological study. Perhaps
such a study would give us a clue why the New Testament
writers, some of them converted Jews, inveighed so bitterly
against those Jews who were not baptized with them.
The "religious disputation" was also the innovation of
apostate Jews. Many of these converted Jews were well versed in
the Talmud and, to show off their learning to their new Christian
brothers or, perhaps, to curry favor with the Church, they
whispered in the ears of the powerful that if, in a public disputa tion, it were shown how wrong the Jews were, then the entire
Jewish community might convert.
These religious disputations, called "tournaments of God
and faith," were a combination of intellectual chess and Russian
roulette. If the Jewish scholars could not disprove the charges of
the Christian scholars arrayed against them, then an entire Jewish
community stood the threat of a forced march to the baptismal
font. If, on the other hand, they mocked the Christian scholars
with superior Jewish scholarship, they ran the danger of being
put to death. It took gamesmanship of the finest order to walk the
thin thread of a ploy which ceded victory to the other side
without yielding on the main points. Only those with strong
nerves survived, and the judges, which might include a pope or
an emperor, were often left agape at the Jewish display of schol 253
arship, audacity, and deftness. The Jews usually won by not
checkmating their opponents but by stalemating them. The trick
was to drive the opponent into a corner where, if he claimed vic tory, he would have to deny the authority of the Old Testament,
which would have been heresy. Luther, who was familiar with
such disputations, borrowed this technique in his disputation
with the Catholic, Johann Maier von Eck. When Eck, after having cited a fourth-century saint as his authority, asked Luther
whom he claimed as his, Luther triumphantly shouted, "Saint
Paul." Who dares to trump Saint Paul?
It was one of these disputations which led to the . first burning of the Talmud. Arraigned against four rabbis was a converted
Jew named Nicholas Donin and his panel of experts. Present
were the queen mother and the archbishops of France. Though
the judges declared the rabbis had lost and ordered the Talmud
burned as a work of Satan, the queen mother and the archbishops
realized the cards had been stacked and tried to set the verdict
aside. But Donin appealed to the king of France. It took four
years of wrangling before the original decision was upheld in
1244, out of political considerations, and the Talmud was finally
burned.
The most famed of these gamesmanship disputations took
place in 1263, before King James I of Aragon, when the scholar
Moses ben Nachman was challenged to a verbal duel by an
apostate named Fra Paulo Christiani on the subject of the arrival
of the messiah. Nachman introduced a little wit into this disputa tion with such grace that the king, though adjudging him loser
for his own safety, gave him a handsome gift of money and the
compliment that "never before had he heard such an unjust cause
so nobly defended."
The Jews of the Middle Ages probably had the distinction of
being the first captive audience in the world. A fifteenth-century
pope conceived the idea of mass conversionist sermons. The
Jews were herded into cathedrals, where bishops and archbishops, and sometimes even the Pope himself, would sermonize
them on the evils of Judaism and the beauties of Christianity. Vi254
gilance was the word for survival, as falling asleep would be a
discourtesy for which death alone could atone. The Jews attended these sermons with trepidation, applauded with enthusiasm,
and forgot with modesty. These compulsory conversion sermons
lasted until late in the eighteenth century, not because of any
practical results, but, may it be suggested, because no speaker
could resist being flattered by such attentive audiences.
Even the Black Death, or bubonic plague (1348-1349),
which carried off a third of Europe's population, was put into the
service of killing Jews. Before the Black Death swept Europe, it
had hit Mongolia and the Islamic Empire. Mongols, Mohammedans, and Jews had all died together without anyone having
thought of blaming the Jews. But to medieval man it did occur.
In an age when the concept of the germ was sheer lunacy, he
could think of no other explanation for the plague except that it
was an artificially induced malady and that the Jews had
poisoned his wells, a scientific explanation which appealed espe cially to the German mind. Even as the good Germans were dying of the plague, they dragged Jews, also dying of the plague, to
the stake. In September 1348, Pope Clement VI denounced the
allegations against the Jews saying that " ... the Jews have
provided the cause ... for such crimes is without plausibility."
Though the centuries between 1200 and 1600 were four agonizing centuries for the Jews, they were equally agonizing centuries for the Christians. Because the charges against the Jews
bore such labels as "ritual murder" and "Host desecration," instead of "witchcraft" and "heresy," this should in no way mislead
us. The same psychology, the same thinking, the same type of trial, the same type of evidence, the same type of torture went into
both. Even as Jews accused of ritual murder were hauled to the
stake, Christians accused of witchcraft were burned in adjacent
marketplaces. The screams of Jews and Christians as they were
burned alive went up together to our Father in Heaven, who must
have wondered what on earth was going on.
There was, however, one rank discrimination against which
Jews thus far have registered no formal protest. Whereas the ex 255
ecuted Christians received grand send-offs, accompanied by
magnificently sung cantatas, Kyries, Alleluias, Introits, and Jubilates, the Jews received fourth-class funerals, accompanied by
lamentations sung off-key.
The second movement in this medieval concerto for violence, the economic allegro, began before the first movement was
over. As the Reformation slowly changed from a religious revolt
to an economic revolution, the nature of anti-Jewish violence
shed more and more of its religious coloration and took on more
and more of an economic overtone. By the sixteenth century, co incidentally with the Reformation, and as a result of the successive Jewish banishments from the West, Jewish life had shifted
preponderantly to the East. Because the history of Jewish persecution in Eastern Europe between 1000 and 1800 is more or less
a recapitulation of the history of Jewish persecution in Western
Europe between 600 and 1600, we need only briefly review Jewish events in three East European countries, Poland, Russia, and
Prussia, to show the remarkable parallelism.
German Jews, fleeing to escape the marauding Crusaders in
the Rhineland, settled in Poland as early as 1100. Here they
prospered. More and more, the Jews fled Germany and Austria
for Poland, and the Polish nobility welcomed them with open
arms. King Boleslav V, the Chaste, granted the Jews liberal
charters of self-government (1264). And why not? The Jews
were helping him to build cities and to found industry and commerce, enabling him to compete economically with the West.
Like the nobles, the Jews owned land and large estates. They
lived in city and village. Casimir III, the Great, the Charlemagne
of Poland, founded universities, encouraged trade, and imported
even more Jews to accelerate the hum of commerce and industry.
Vitovt, Grand Duke of Lithuania, opened that country for Jewish
settlement.
By 1400 the evils which had befallen the Jews in the West
hit the East. A ritual-murder charge against the Jews was
whipped by the clergy into hysteria that swept all Poland.
Casimir IV tried to reassure the uneasy Jews, but the Roman
256
Catholic clergy, alarmed at the heretical trends sweeping the
West, linked the Jews to the new heresies. Host-desecration „
charges were leveled against both Jews and Protestants. The first
pogroms, that is, organized attacks against Jews, broke out in Poland around 1500.
Stronger kings, not intimidated by the clergy, restored temporarily the former order. Sigismund I and II were both outraged
at the Host-desecration infamies. Sigismund II denounced them
as a fraud, saying, "I am shocked at this hideous villainy, nor am
sufficiently devoid of common sense as to believe there could be
any blood in the Host."
Poland held the scepter of greatness in her hands in the fif teenth century, but a succession of weak kings and strong nobles
lost it for her in the sixteenth century. The situation was com plex, confused, and explosive. Weak governments were dominated by powerful nobles and a fanatic clergy. German tradesmen
trying to comer the Polish market fostered anti-Jewish sentiment
in order to drive the Jews out. The peasants, oppressed by the
nobles, cheated by the Germans, squeezed for taxes by the Jews
who served the Polish nobility as tax collectors, and kept in a
feudal prison by the priests, lavished their hate on all four and
waited for der Tag ("the day"), when revenge would be theirs. It
came in 1648.
Greek Orthodox Cossacks, living on the border lands
between medieval Poland and Turkey, rebelled against the hated
Roman Catholic Poles. They were led by a shrewd, cruel chieftain named Bogdan Chmielnicki, whose small son had been
flayed alive by a Polish noble. Against Bogdan's ill-clad, smelly,
sharp-sabered roughriders of the steppes, the colorful, per fume-scented cavalry of the Polish nobility had no more chance
than did the Polish cavalry against Hitler's tanks in 1939. They
were moved down like infantrymen in the fields of Flanders during World War I. The Polish serfs, seeing their chance for revenge, joined the Cossacks.
The Cossack savagery knew no bounds. The enemies were
the Polish nobility, the Roman Catholic priests, the German
257
traders, and the Jews. Why the Jews? Why not? They lived in Poland and they were not Greek Orthodox. The Cossacks sawed
their prisoners into pieces, or flayed them alive, or roasted them
into brown crisps over slow fires. They slit infants in two with
their swords, ripped open the bellies of nuns, noblewomen, and
Jewesses; into them they sewed live cats. They had two favorite
formulas for hanging. The first was a quartet consisting of one
Polish nobleman, one German merchant, one Roman Catholic
priest; and one Jew. The second was a trio consisting of a Jew, a
priest, and a dog. If a dog was not available, a hog was used,
which could later be hauled down and eaten after a good day's
work of sawing people into pieces.
The Jews fled the fiends from the steppes to seek sanctuary
in the cities, but there too massacre overtook them. The wily
Cossacks promised the Poles in the cities that their lives would
be spared provided they turned the Jews over to them. This the
Poles did. Then, weakened by the loss of the Jewish defenders,
the Poles were easy prey for the Cossacks, who slaughtered them
with glee. Perhaps as many as 100,000 Jews perished in the decade of this revolution. It is. difficult to estimate how many hundreds of thousands, if not over a million, Poles were killed,
equally cruelly. The fields of Poland resembled a carnage house,
with the limbs of the massacred and tortured strewn over the
countryside. After ten years, when the Cossacks were exhausted,
a measure of peace crept into the land.
But poor Poland was to know no surcease from her afflic tions. The second half of the seventeenth century saw another
Cossack uprising, bloodier than the first, two invasions by
Sweden, and a disastrous war with Turkey. The eighteenth century brought no relief. Poland was invaded by Russia, then had a
civil war. An unholy alliance – Russia, Prussia, and Austria –
partitioned Poland three times until no Poland was left. The Jews
in Poland had come into the orbit of Russian, German, and Austrian history.
The early history of the Jews in Russia is a unique tragicomedy. The harder Russia tried to get rid of her Jews, the faster she
258
acquired them. Finally she gave up, drew a cordon sanitaire
along her western border, saying, "up to here but no further," and
sat back to wait for the consequences. They were long in coming.
Russia, as we know it today, did not come into being until
1700, with Peter the Great. In its earlier centuries, Russia was a
mammoth crazy quilt of dukedoms, with Tatars and Cossacks all
over the place. Jews settled in the various dukedoms and cities
along the western periphery and lived there in peace until 1500,
when a fantastic episode set the church bells in Moscow ringing
with alarm.
Two Lithuanian Jews had converted two Greek Orthodox
priests to Judaism. These two converted priests took their new
religion seriously and, in the fashion of St. Paul, went out and
proselytized among the Russians in the hinterland. The totally
unexpected happened. The Russians liked Judaism and converted
in droves. This new Russian Judaism became so popular in Moscow's court circles that even the daughter-in-law of the Duke of
Moscow became a Jewess. The frightened Russian Orthodox
Church decided to stamp out this Jewish heresy as ruthlessly as
the Roman Catholic Church had stamped out the Albigensian
heresy in France. First, all Russian apostates were dealt with, for
dead converts cannot proselytize. Then came the turn of the
Jews. The Russians, familiar with the mass conversion technique
of King Eric IX of Sweden, first tried that. But after three hun dred Jews had been drowned in the Polotsk and Vitebsk rivers
without a miracle taking place, the impatient Russians gave up
and banished all Jews from Russian territory, with orders not to
come back.
The Jews did not come back. They were hauled back. It was
Russia's luck to acquire new Jews faster than she could banish
her old ones. In 1655, just when the Russian Church believed
that she finally had rid herself of all Jews, Russia acquired more
Jews with the annexation of parts of Lithuanian territory wrested
from Poland. The work began all over again. Then, when most of
the Jewish newcomers had been banished, Peter the Great inherited (by the Treaty of Nystadt, 1721) a new multitude of Jews
259
residing in the former Swedish territory along the Baltic coast
which now became part of Russia. Though Peter was as fearful
of the Jews as his ancestors had been, he protected their rights
and liberties. In 1762, Catherine the Great, by a stroke of the
pen, as the saying goes, made all Russia off-limits to the Jews.
Ten years later she had more Jews in Russia than there were in
all of Europe. The three successive partitions of Poland (1772,
1793, 1795) placed 900,000 Jews in her lap.
Catherine and her successors gave up the struggle. They also
realized that the Jews were essential to the economies of the
newly conquered territories. But the mind of the muzhik: the
Russian peasant, had to be kept docile and ignorant. Though the
Jews could roam throughout Poland, Lithuania, and the Ukraine,
in Holy Mother Russia itself, where dwelt the muzhiks – 95 percent of the population – they could not. Catherine and her successors succeeded in keeping the minds of their muzhiks untrammeled. When, in 1917, after the Russian Revolution,
muzhiks, arriving in Moscow, beheld their first streetcar, they fell
to their knees and crossed themselves with a loud Gospodi pomilooy, for they had beheld either the devil or a Jew.
The territory along Russia's western border, where the Jews
were permitted to settle, was known as the Pale of Settlement, or
simply the Pale. Here the Jews established their own self-government. In the century between 1700 and 1800, Russian intellectual life was dormant, and so was Russian Jewish life. With
but few exceptions, such as the great Talmudist known as the
Vilna Gaon and a few lesser Talmudic scholars, the Jews in this
century vegetated. The era of Russian pogroms, the age of the intellectual flowering of both the Russians and the Russian Jews
was an eruption of the nineteenth century.
Quite different was the Jewish experience in Germany.
Many historians feel there is enough evidence to show that by
the second century A.D. Jewish-Roman soldiers were stationed
along the northern frontier of the Roman Empire as border
guards against the German barbarians. Roman emperors generally regarded the Germans as subhuman, therefore not worthy of
260
being conquered.
It could well be that the Jews were the first civilized settlers
of Germany. We know Jews were in Mainz, Cologne, and other
German cities in the Rhineland in Roman days. It is generally assumed that in the eighth century Jews resided in such cities as
Magdeburg, Worms, and Augsburg, but documentary evidence of
flourishing Jewish communities in most large German cities
dates from about the tenth century. As in the rest of Europe, we
hear very little of any persecution of Jews until the Crusades.
The peculiar composition of the Holy Roman Empire saved the
Jews from total expulsion when that fashion started in Germany
with the thirteenth century. The Holy Roman Empire (the name
coined by its . Emperor Frederick I, 1152-1190, known as Barbarossa, or "Red Beard") was a colorful tartan of federated states
with autonomous powers. If one duchy banished the Jews, another welcomed them.
The Germans, perhaps because they were still closest to the
barbaric strain which had nursed them, were the most barbaric in
their persecutions. Most of the anti-Jewish measures one popularly attributes to the entire Middle Ages were of German-Austrian origin, and grew only on German soil. Here the ritual-murder charges, the Host-desecration libels, the Black Death
accusations were used to whip the population into a frenzy by
sadists and fetishists. One such group of fetishists was known as
Armleder (arm-leather), because of the strips of leather its mem bers wore around their arms. The manner in which they commit ted their murders betrayed their own psychopathic state rather
than hatred for Jews.
It was here in Germany that the cheating of Jews reached its
noblest and purest forms. Local German princes enticed Jews to
their realms with sacred promises to protect them and solemnly
gave them liberal charters, swearing on the cross they meant it
all, only to rob them later of their wealth, confiscate their land,
and then sell them protection, gangster style. One can but marvel
that in spite of it all, the Jewish spirit survived, and Jewish cultural life continued. Talmudic learning still exerted its power,
261
something realized by Jean Jacques Rousseau, who in 1762
wrote in his„The Social Contract:
Through it alone [the Talmud and ·its ritualistic legislation] that extraordinary nation so often subjugated, so
often dispersed and ·outwardly destroyed, but always
idolatrous of its Law, has preserved itself unto our
days .... Its mores and rituals persist and will persist to
the end of the world ....
An unusual disputation, which had repercussions in the Reformation, took place in sixteenth-century Germany when Johann Reuchlin defended the Talmud against an apostate Jew with
the name of Johann Joseph Pfefferkorn. Herr Pfefferkorn had
been a butcher who, when caught stealing, decided to be baptized to escape punishment by the Jewish court. To the Jews he
was an ignoramus, but to the ignorant German populace he was a
scholar. When Herr Pfefferkorn said the .Talmud blasphemed
against Christianity, he was given the job of purifying Jewish literature of anti-Christian elements. The Jews appealed to the emperor, who appointed Johann Reuchlin to examine the case. ·
The battle lines were drawn between the intellectuals and
the anti-intellectuals, without regard to religion. Siding with
Pfefferkorn were such secular institutions as the universities of
Paris and Mainz. Siding with Reuchlin were theological seminaries like that of the University of Vienna, a number of cardinals
and archbishops, and even the Elector of Saxony. Martin Luther
too was drawn into the disputation on the side of Reuchlin, and
the controversy broadened to become a plank in the Reformation
platform. Though the entire matter was finally decided against
Reuchlin, for practical considerations, it resulted in a disastrous
defeat for Pfefferkorn. The ban against the study of the Talmud
was lifted, and Jewish literature was allowed to flourish without
Pfefferkornian help.
With the defeat of the Pfefferkorn forces, the current of the
German temper also ran against the sadists. The last of '' them
was a baker named Vincent Fettmilch (Fatmilk), who organized a
262
mob which he led against the Jewish quarter in Frankfurt. As
Fettmilch's chorts outnumbered the Jews, they bravely killed women and children. Two years later, Fettmilch and the leaders of
his gang were arrested, by order of the emperor, and their heads
were chopped off in the market-place of Frankfurt. The era of
setting oneself above the law in Germany was temporarily over.
The last movement in the concerto, the psychological andante, began with the seventeenth century. By this time history
had taken the Jews back to Western Europe. This "return to the
West" began with Jews settling in the Netherlands (1593), after
the Dutch had overthrown the tyrannical rule of the Spaniards, in
England (1655) at the invitation of Oliver Cromwell, and in
France (1648) by default, when she acquired the province of
Alsace by the Treaty of Westphalia which ended the Thirty Years'
War.
Even though the origins of psychological anti-Semitic sentiments are embedded in the Jewish Middle Ages, its full effects
were not felt until the modern period. As a new class emerged in
Europe with the Industrial Revolution, personal anti-Jewish hostility, motivated by economic considerations, slowly changed
into anti-Semitic race prejudice, motivated by deep-seated, psychological anxieties. Of all three movements, the psychological
andante – anti-Semitism – was the most deadly, not for the Jews
but for civilization itself.
TWENTY
THE YELLOW BADGE OF COURAGE
The Middle Ages produced two Judaisms, each having a distinct way of life, literature, and philosophy, but the same Jehovah. One way of life was dominant from 600 to 1500 A.D. The
other gained ascendancy in the sixteenth century. The first was
Sephardic, or Spanish Judaism, the second was Ashkenazic, or
German Judaism.
Of the two, Sephardic Judaism was the older and more sophisticated. It was a blend of Torah and Talmud, Aristotle and Aver263
roes,43 metaphysics and science, ecclesiastical and secular literature. It was a way of life distilled through Babylonian, Persian,
Grecian, Roman, and Islamic civilizations. From 900 to 1500
A.D. it was the Sephardic Jews who set the pattern for Jewish
culture in dress, manners, morals, and scholarship.
The Ashkenazic framework of Jewish life emerged in discernible outline with the dawn of the sixteenth century. History
had pressured the Jews from Western to Eastern Europe, and the
changing conditions of life hammered out a new Jewish cultural
design. The Sephardic world had been an unhurried one. The
Jews had had the time to write elegiac poetry and to explore the
secrets of mind and matter. In the new Ashkenazic world, there
was no time for poetry, no need for science. Religion had to be
put into the service of preserving life. True, Talmudism regressed
to its . archaic forms and became preoccupied with the minutiae
of everyday life, but it preserved the Jews. The Sephardics had
expanded their horizons in the Spanish, French, and Italian languages. The Ashkenazis manned their shrinking frontiers with
Hebrew, Torah, and Talmud to fortify themselves against the
blandishments of the baptizers.
By the sixteenth century the Sephardic way of life was engulfed by the dominant Ashkenazic culture. Thus the history of
Sephardic Judaism is essentially the history of the Jews in Western Europe until the expulsion from Spain, and the history of
Ashkenazic Judaism is essentially the history of the Jews east of
the Rhine from the fifteenth century onward. Let us examine
more closely these two medieval Jewish cultural patterns.
We have already compared Christian feudal life to a vast
prison. The bars were the all-encompassing restrictions placed
upon the daily life of the people. Inside the bars were the peasants, the so-called Third Estate, who comprised about 95 percent
of the total population. Outside the bars but tied to them by invis ible chains were the other two estates, the priests and the nobles.
43 Averroës was the outstanding scholar of the Islamic world, never
studied by the medieval Christians because the Church placed his
works under the ban.
264
Neither inside the prison nor tied to the bars outside it were the
Jews, the unofficial "Fourth Estate."
The restrictions placed on the feudal serfs, as the peasants
were called, pursued them from "womb to tomb." There could be
no movement from one estate to another except through the
ranks of the clergy, and then only for the exceptionally gifted
child. Restrictions on travel kept the serf tied to the soil. He usu ally saw nothing of the world except that within walking dis tance. Though he technically was a free man, he could own no
property. He could be sold with the land by his lord. Even freedmen, as late as 1500, could not sell their property without their
lord's permission. The peasant had to grind his flour in the lord's
granary, bake his bread in the lord's bakery – all for a fee, paid
either in goods or in labor. He could own only wooden dishes,
and one spoon was all he was allowed for his entire family, no
matter what its size. The kind of cloth he could buy, sell, or wear,
was regulated. The lord was allowed to sample everything his
serfs had, including their brides. In three aspects, however, the
serf and noble were almost equals – they were usually equally ig norant, equally illiterate, and equally superstitious.
The nobles, too, were fettered with regulations. Society pre scribed their roles with rigidity, and they had to act out these
roles to the letter. They had to wear the right clothes, fight for the
right causes, participate in the right games, render the right
homage, marry the right girl. Life was one continuous ritual
dance. Deviation from social restrictions meant loss of caste or
ostracism. Deviation from religious regulations meant anathema
or the stake.
None of these restrictions applied to the Jews. They were
free to come and go, marry and divorce, sell and buy as they
pleased. Whoever "designed" the feudal system had forgotten to
provide for tradesmen, artisans, merchants, doctors, bankers. The
priests were excluded from work, the nobles did not want to
work, and the serfs were not allowed to enter
the bourgeoisie or middle-class professions. There was no
one left to do this work except the Jews, who therefore became
265
indispensable. The Jews were the oil ·that lubricated '' the creaky
machinery of the feudal state. This is why the Jews were granted
charters of freedom by Pope, emperor, and prince. This is why
they were invited to settle in towns, villages, and provinces.
During these "tranquil centuries," Jewish life flowed in an
even tempo. There exists a popular misconception about this en tire era, that the Jews were stuck away in the dark, dank, ghetto
prisons for twelve hundred medieval years. Actually the mediev al Jewish ghetto experience was a localized incident between
1500 and 1800, and prevalent only in northern Italy, the Germanspeaking countries, and a few Polish cities. The confusion stems
from the indiscriminate use of the word " ghetto," as opposed to
"Jewish quarter." There is a great difference between these two
ways of life. The Jewish quarter was voluntary and self-imposed.
The ghetto was involuntary and imposed from without. One
spelled freedom; the other brought imprisonment.
At first, the Jews lived dispersed among their Christian
neighbors, in towns and villages. As life became more urbanized,
the Jews began to congregate in the larger cities of Europe. Here
they voluntarily settled in their own Jewish neighborhoods. They
were proud of their districts and before they would settle in a
new city they demanded that the king grant them such rights by
special charter. Nor were these Jewish quarters exclusively Jewish. On the contrary. Many nobles and rich burghers preferred to
live in the Jewish quarters in the same way that many Christians
today prefer to live in Jewish sections because they like the air of
intellectual ferment which they think Jews generate. The Jewish
homes squatted between cathedrals and palaces. When the first
Roman ghetto was instituted in 1555, on the left bank of the
Tiber, the Pope did not create anything new. The Jewish quarter
already existed. His problem was not getting the Jews into the
Jewish quarter, but getting the Christians out. They liked it there,
and only successive turns of the Inquisitional screw forced them
out. It took over a century before ·Rome's Jewish quarter became
a hundred percent Jewish ghetto.
Until 1500 most so-called Judenstädte – Jew Cities – in Ger266
many, Austria, and Bohemia had the same freedom as the Jewish
quarters in the West. Prague's Judenstadt was especially famous.
The average American thinks of the Puritan fathers as having invented the idea of the town hall, with its bell summoning the free
to exercise their inalienable right to vote. The Jews in Prague
were a little ahead of them, for already in the fifteenth century
they had their own town hall in their Judenstadt, including a
large bell which summoned them to special town hall meetings
to vote upon laws not covered by the Responsa.
What was everyday Jewish life like during the first half of
its medieval history? Jewish Renaissance life can be brought into
sharp enough focus to permit a closer look. Admittedly, all of it
does not fit every country and century, but, granting variations,
the motivating spirit and mode of life was the same.
The Italians recognized the Jews as a learned people and intuitively, without formal invitation, absorbed the Jews into the
Renaissance. They learned philosophy and science from them,
medicine and mathematics, but far surpassed the Jews in art and
architecture.
The Jews participated in practically every profession, trade,
and occupation existing in those centuries except farming. They
were doctors, surgeons, scholars, poets, astronomers, druggists,
finance ministers, royal ministers, silversmiths, goldsmiths, sci entific-instrument designers. They were lion tamers, jugglers,
mule sellers, soldiers, shoemakers, tailors, sailors, peddlers. They
were fur-cloth-and-silk merchants, pawnbrokers, spice dealers,
weavers, importers, exporters, and they engaged in such manual
occupations as blacksmiths, metal workers, day laborers. But the
Jews also were in occupations which would have made the hair
of a nice eighteenth-century Polish-ghetto Jew stand up in horror.
These Renaissance Jews were playwrights and stage directors,
actors, dancers, painters, and sculptors. Though the Jews did not
produce any Corelli or Vivaldi, they nevertheless experimented
in polyphonic music and composed sonatas and madrigals, canzonets and balletti. They wrote melodramas which for sheer com
rivaled the best America has ever produced.
267
Women, too, rose to new positions of prominence. They became doctors and bankers, went on the stage, and looked for careers in singing, dancing, and acting. Because of the great wealth
concentrated in the hands of the Jews, they, like the contemporary nobles, became patrons of art and vied with prince and doge
in buying the art of the Cellinis and Verrocchios. They engaged
famed architects to design their homes and synagogues, and
those which survive show the unmistakable grandeur and beauty
of the Renaissance touch of genius.
The problem of Jewish manners and morals during the
Renaissance invites comparison with the Hellenistic period. Jewish youth in the Renaissance was subjected to the same pull
between the lure of hedonism and the call of Talmudism as in the
Hellenic period. Though orthodox Jews raised the same hue and
cry against the "immoral Italians" as they had against the "immoral Hellenizers," their disapproval lacked the fervor and spon taneity of former days. A Jewish maiden's life no longer was one
virginal romp from adolescence to the marriage bed. Cecil Roth,
in The Jews in the Renaissance, quotes a rabbi, who, upon
passing through Sicily in 1487, had wryly noted "most brides
came under the marriage canopy when they were already pregnant." Jewish and Christian maisons particuliéres abounded, not
only outside Jewish quarters but inside. Here Christian and Jewish youth could experience interfaith relations. As no Christian
or Jewish Cellini, Casanova, or Don Juan has set down in his
memoirs any qualitative differences in the professional attain ments of these Renaissance poules de trottoir, it is to be presumed that at least on this level no serious schisms existed.
A well-bandied secret was the fact that many a prominent
Jewish man had an adoring wife in the Jewish quarter and an appreciative mistress in town. Occasional homosexual scandals
among well-known Jewish intellectuals and scholars. helped pull
an otherwise boring dinner party out of the doldrums. However,
in one sphere the Jews did not contribute anywhere near their
proportionate share, and that was in crimes of violence. Though
occasionally a hotheaded Jewish youth stabbed a rival with a
268
dagger in Renaissance fashion, sadistic acts, premeditated
murders, forcible rapes, child molestation, were practically
nonexistent among the Jews. The expulsion order of the Jews
from Spain, for instance, contained no charge against them other
than they were not Christians.
In spite of the satires and derogatory allusions to Jews in the
literature of the times, the Jews in the main were not held in contempt by their contemporaries. When the Talmud was burned in
Italy, a Christian wit quipped that now that the code of the
Talmud had been declared blasphemous, the Jews were free to
live by the code of the Decameron.
This way of life, culminating in Renaissance Italy, died with
the expulsion of the Jews in thirteenth-century England, in fourteenth-century France, in fifteenth-century Spain, and in sixteenth-century Italy. When in the sixteenth century the Reformation rammed into the Renaissance, the Church had to prepare itself for the coming struggle with Lutheranism. The stakes were
big, and the Jews were but incidental pawns in the game. The
Jews, since they would not embrace Catholicism, had to be banished or locked up in ghettos. The age of good-fellowship was
over. A century of religious wars was at hand.
A new way of Ashkenazic ghetto life was now being
hammered out in Central Europe, with Germany as the vortex. It
was here that most of the ignominies were heaped upon the help less Jews. It was here, in three brief centuries, in this small land
mass, that the new denigrated ghetto Jew was created.
The word "ghetto" originated in Italy, but its derivation is
still not clear. Explanations are many – that it is a Latinization of
the Hebrew word get ("divorce"): which is spelled gueto in Italian; that it comes from the Italian borghetto, meaning "little
quarter"; and, the most commonly accepted, that it comes from
the Italian word gheta, meaning "cannon foundry," because the
first Jewish ghetto in Venice was adjacent to such a foundry.
The Jews had originally moved into their Jewish quarters,
not to segregate themselves from the Christians, but out of necessity. As cities grew in size, they had to move closer and closer to
269
their public institutions, the synagogue, the cemetery,. the town
hall, since Jewish life and death were bound up with them. When
Pope and prince made the ghetto compulsory, the Jews were, for
the first time, forcibly separated from the Christians.
The typical ghetto in Germany, Austria, and Bohemia consisted, as a rule, of one main street, with a synagogue at one end
and a cemetery at the other. The size of the Jewish community
generally averaged between one hundred and five hundred souls.
A thousand inhabitants was the exception. The entire ghetto was
walled, with but one gate which served as exit and entrance.
Modern man tends to view this as another example of Jewish im prisonment, but in medieval days all cities were walled and the
gates locked at night. Jews did not protest against this feature un til 1700, when it disappeared from Christian life bur was retained
for the ghetto.
Ghetto life could easily have degenerated into slum life, but
Talmudic laws and farsighted rabbis prevented it. Just as much
slum property in Negro quarters today is owned by wealthy
white men, so most ghetto property in medieval days was owned
by wealthy Christians. Had the Jews not stood up to them, rents
in the crowded ghettos would have become millstones around
their necks. The rabbis passed ordinances prohibiting Jews from
outbidding each other for living quarters. No Jew was permitted
to oust another Jew from his home, nor could a Christian landlord raise the rent by getting rid of one tenant for another one by
selling his property to another Christian. Landlords soon learned
that if they tried these tricks, the ousted Jews would simply move
in with relatives, no other Jew would rent the property, and it
would ·stay vacant to doomsday unless the landlord met the
terms of the community. The Popes realized the reason for these
Jewish laws and showed their understanding by sanctioning
them. The Jews kept the ghettos clean and in constant repair.
Except in a few large cities in Poland, the ghetto did not exist in the non-German-speaking countries in Eastern Europe.
Here most of the Jews lived in villages or small towns known as
shtetls. Here there were no dead-end main streets, no walls, no
270
gates to be locked. Jews could come and go as they pleased in
pursuit of their trades, as long as they stayed out of Mother Russia itself.
The ghetto isolated the Jews; the shtetl drew gentile and Jew
together. The shtetl could be either the main town in a province,
or it could be the main street in a town, like the American main
street. The Jews kept chickens, goats, sheep, cows, horses, as
did their gentile neighbors, who also kept pigs. These pigs loved
the kosher Jewish garbage, and it was a common sight to see a
sow, educated in the ways of Jewish life, leading her piglets to
the nearest kosher garbage can for the leftover of the Sabbath
meal, gefüllte fish, tzollnt, tzimes. As the Christian peasants never had to worry that a little piglet would disappear in a Jewish
cooking pot, it was an all-around agreeable arrangement. The
Jews got rid of their garbage, the gentiles got a free meal for
their pigs, and the pigs got a welcome change from the diet of
their masters, cabbage soup, potatoes, and herring.
Israel Abrahams, in Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, .lists
sixty occupations of Jews in the Prague ghetto around 1600, but
though the list still includes doctors, goldsmiths, printers, booksellers, writers, architects, musicians, and singers, the stress is
more on tailors, shoemakers, tanners, furriers, butchers, wagon makers, barbers, and the like. By 1700 the list had shrunk consid erably, as legislation drove more and more Jews out of even the
most humble of trades, until in 1800 peddling and petty shopkeeping became the two chief occupations.
A common feature of ghetto and shtetl life was the quest for
yichus, an untranslatable word most closely akin to "prestige"
and "status." Possessing yichus was much like charm in a woman
– if she has it, it makes no difference what else she lacks, and if
she does not have it, it makes no difference what else she has.
Yichus was an amalgam of family background, tradition, learning, and occupation, which usually was inherited, but which
could be possessed , through the acquisition of knowledge. Good
conduct was essential to keep yichus in the family. Whoever possessed it had to set for himself high standards in deportment,
271
learning, charity. He could not be a drunkard or a cheat. The
word of a man of yichus was law, and he would rather go to the
torture rack than break it. He early learned to look a gentile defamer straight in the eye with such dignity that it made the de tractor ill at ease. Whereas it was forgiven the prost, the common
man, to cringe in deference to a gentile, the yichus man would
lose status if he ever did so.
The prost could aspire to yichus through learning. The most
important item in the budget of a Jewish household, no matter
how poor, was for education. Even more than the father, it was
the mother who yearned for an education for all her sons. She
would cheat on her meager household money and put away a few
pfennige or kopecks each week so "maybe the younger brother
could get an education, too." The Christians admired this quality
in the Jews. As a pupil of Peter Abelard expressed it:
If the Christians educate their sons, they do so not for
God, but for gain in order that the one brother, if he be a
clerk, may help his father and mother and his other
brothers .... A Jew, however poor, if he had ten sons he
would put them all to letters, not for gain, as the Christians do, but to the understanding of God's Law, and not
only his sons, but his daughters. 44
Jewish education was at its height in twelfth-century Western Europe. For example, the ordinary Jewish curriculum in cluded Bible, Hebrew, poetry, Talmud, the relation of philosophy
and revelation, the logic of Aristotle, the elements of Euclid,
arithmetic, the mathematical works of Archimedes and others,
optics, astronomy, music, mechanics, medicine, natural science,
and metaphysics. This is how the Irish historian and moralist, W.
E. H. Lecky, described the Jewish intellectual position in the
Middle Ages –
While those around them were grovelling in the dark44 Great Jewish Personalities in Ancient and Medieval Times ,
edited by Simon Noveck, page 240.
272
ness of besotted ignorance; ... while the intellect of
Christendom, enthralled by countless superstitions, had
sunk into a deadly torpor, in which all love of enquiry
and all search for truth were abandoned, the Jews were
still pursuing the path of knowledge, amassing learning,
and stimulating progress with the same unflinching constancy that they manifested in their faith. They were the
most skilful physicians, the ablest financiers, and
among the most profound philosophers. 45
But Mama's pfennige and kopecks no longer brought the
quality education they used to buy. By the fourteenth century,
Jewish education began to deteriorate, and by the fifteenth cen tury Christian education surpassed it in quality. By the seventeenth century, the curriculum had dwindled to reading, writing,
Bible, and Talmud. To obtain a higher education, the Jews had to
send their children to gentile universities.
Ghetto and shtetl life accentuated the psychological golf
between Jews and gentiles. What set them apart was the accent
each gave to spiritual and cultural values. Jewish children soon
sensed the difference between their values and the values of the
barefooted, gentile urchins playing on the Sabbath day in gutter
and barnyard. To Jewish children, everything intellectual, scholarly, and spiritual was a Jewish value, and everything sensual,
gross, and menial became a gentile attribute. In spite of the limited range of ghetto education, the Jews as a group remained the
most educated in Europe. No matter with how much disdain the
gentiles may have looked upon them, the Jews looked with greater contempt upon the gentiles, for in their minds there was no
doubt that their culture, their values, their ethics were superior to
those of their detractors.
Next to the stultifying effect of ghetto life, the most hated
feature was the special badge the Jews had to wear for identifica tion, which the Jews living in the shtetl did not have to wear.
Though decent Christian folk left them alone, this badge invited
45 Rationalism in Europe, volume II, page 271.
273
abuse by hoodlums. Yet the Jews wore this badge, often yellow
and star-shaped – it took on many different shapes and colors
from country to country, century to century – with a courage that
often elicited the admiration of Christians who knew that all the
Jews had to do to become equals was to be baptized.
It must not be supposed that the majority of the Christians
hated the Jews. Quite the contrary. Only a small segment were
Jew-baiters. When left to themselves, Jew and Christian lived
peacefully side by side. Most Christians, though they viewed the
Jews as a rather strange people, admired their veneration for
learning and respected them for their closely knit family rela tions. It must also be remembered that the ritual-murder charges,
the Host-desecration libels, and pogroms took place over a period of seven hundred years and over an entire continent. By and
large, most of the ghettos and shtetls were not affected by
pogroms or general maraudings.
In spite of the outward semblance of sameness in life, a vast
psychological gulf separated ghetto and shtetl Jews. The ghetto
represented urban, cosmopolitan life, and the shtetl represented
rural village life. In spite of their shrinking frontiers, the Jews in
the ghetto did come into contact with the outside world, with its
men of learning, its science and business, whereas their brothers
in the shtetls dealt only with ignorant peasants and vain, arrogant, uneducated feudal landlords. The Jews in the West were
aware of the new scientific achievements; they were embroiled
in the new political movements. The Jews in the East were sinking deeper into mysticism and superstition. When the Jews in
Germany, Austria, France, Holland, and England were riding
high on the crest of science, industry, and finance, the Jews in
Poland, Russia, Hungary, and Lithuania still were part of the
world of villages and peasants.
TWENTY-ONE
THE GHETTO CAPITALIST
In each age the Jewish genius has manifested itself in a dif274
ferent sphere. In the Pagan Age it was in religion, in the Greco-Roman Age it was in humanism, in the Mohammedan Age it
was in philosophy, in the Modern Age it is in theoretical science.
In the Middle Ages it was in economics, and some Christian
scholars even credit the Jews with having originated capitalism
at that time.
Jews accept with reluctance the credit for being the originat ors of Christianity and communism, but they throw off the crown
of capitalism whenever anyone tries to press it on their heads,
vehemently denying they are its authors. Ever since the German
economist Werner Sombart published his highly controversial
book The Jews and Modern Capitalism (1911), pointing out that
perhaps the road to capitalism began in the ghetto, most Jewish
scholars, instead of substantiating his interesting speculations,
have spent their energies refuting him. Only now are the more
valid aspects of Sombart's thesis being reexamined. No clear verdict either way has yet been given.
The reasons for the Jewish reluctance to accept this credit ,
are not hard to find. Today's anti-Semites and communists depict
Jews as "predatory capitalists." Sombart himself turned Nazi in
1933. But it must be remembered that these same anti-Semites
work both sides of the fence and also depict the Jews as "predatory communists," if it suits their purposes. The Nazis also denounced the Jews for having given birth to "such a sickness as
Christianity." These are rantings of psychopaths and murderers,
and they should be so dismissed. To be the originators of some thing and to embrace that something are two entirely different
actions. Whatever "stigmas" may attach to Christianity, capitalism, and communism, are more "Christian stigmas" than Jewish
ones, since Christians embrace these three philosophies in great er numbers and percentages than do the Jews.
We should, therefore, not dismiss too lightly the idea that the
Jews did indeed originate capitalism. It originated in the '' western half of Europe, precisely at the time when Jews did live
there, trade there, perform banking functions there. As this is a
history of "the idea of Jewish history," it is perfectly permissible
275
to examine this thesis more closely without asserting that it is
true. That will be for future scholars to determine.
Business, industry, and trade have been carried on by all
peoples and nations since earliest pagan lays. Why had not capitalism originated in India, China, Egypt, Greece, Rome – nations
and empires which at one time or another " possessed more silver
and gold than any medieval European nation? Another question
which comes to mind is: If, as is suggested' the Jews invented
capitalism, why did they not invent it earlier – in Greece or
Rome, for instance, where they lived in equally great numbers
and for many centuries? Other puzzles are: In what way did trade
in the Middle Ages differ from trade in all other ages? In what
way was the Jewish contribution unique in the medieval civilization?
We have already discussed how the Jews were able to create
distinct Jewish cultures within each of the civilizations wherein
they dwelt, each such culture taking on the coloration of the host
civilization. Until the Middle Ages, the Jews had always been
considered members of the civilizations in which they lived. Medieval civilization was the first exception. In the Middle Ages the
Jews were outside the framework of the feudal system. We must
again stress that the feudal system had only three estates – clergy,
nobles, and serfs – and the task of providing a merchant class fell
to the Jews. But because the Jews were not part of the feudal
state machinery, because they did not own land, because they
were not backed by the power of the state (but only individually
as chattels of the king), the Jews had to create an "abstract eco nomy," which functioned outside the feudal state machinery, in
contrast to their former "concrete economies" in other civiliza tions, which functioned within the state of organism.
Historically, the Jews were prepared for the task of surviving
in an "abstract world." External conditions were favorable for
such a transition. The Diaspora had already produced a situation
where Jewish economic strongholds existed on three continents
and in three civilizations. Here Jews could carry on commerce in
an international atmosphere. But this was not enough. Free-enter 276
prise capitalism, to take root, demands several other conditions.
What are they?
Some economists use the word "capitalism" rather loosely to
denote almost any form of economic activity, thus proving that
capitalism has existed since time immemorial. Such " capitalism"
as amassing wealth, lending money at a profit, speculation, gaining riches through the spoils of war, have, it is true, always been
with us. But this does not represent capitalism in the true economic sense of the word. In an economic sense, capitalism is
generally regarded as a specific application of wealth to create
"surplus wealth," which is used in the creation of further wealth
along certain established principles. Such capitalism depends
upon the existence of a free wage-earning class, mobility of labor
and capital, free markets, international law, sanctity of contracts,
availability of credit, negotiable securities, and liquid wealth.
In farmer ages, trade was concrete – that is, "cash on the
barrelhead." The trader bought goods in one country and disposed of them at a higher price in another country. The Jews in
the early medieval centuries began introducing new methods,
based on credit and negotiable securities. This seems simple and
elementary today, but in Roman and medieval days these were
strange and wicked ideas. The Roman law of obligatio and much
medieval law which was based on it held that all indebtedness
was personal, and therefore the creditor could not sell a note of
indebtedness to someone else if he himself became pressed for
money before the note was due. German law, for instance, was
specific on this point. The debtor did not have to pay anyone else
except the original creditor, and if the creditor died, he didn't
have to pay the debt. In England, until about 1850, for example,
a claim could not be transferred from one individual to another.
Talmudic law, on the other hand, recognized impersonal credit
arrangements, and a debt had to be paid to whoever presented the
demand, just as such demands are honored by all reputable banking institutions today. Instead of going into tedious details as to
why such a system of negotiable securities permits greater flex ibility and a greater accumulation of wealth, just imagine what
277
would happen today in the Western world if all financial transactions were based on Roman and medieval laws – no checks, no
drafts, no notes, no installments, no financing.
With the new easy credit arrangements and the honoring of
all debts, business between nations was facilitated, leading to in ternational capitalism. There is nothing sinister in that concept. It
merely means free-enterprise trade between nations. But in order
for such international capitalism to flourish, several conditions
must first be met: Governments must enforce all international
agreements, must protect the flow of free trade, must allow the
exchange of one another's currencies, must enforce contracts,
must protect foreign investments, and must guarantee against the
expropriation of property. The Diaspora created just such conditions for the Jews, and the Talmud provided the legal framework
for them.
The Diaspora Jews, though dispersed over three continents
and in three civilizations, represented but one law. They were organized as "states within states" with ·the permission of the vari ous gentile governments of the countries in which they lived.
These "Jewish states" were governed by the laws and ethics of
the Talmud, and they were knit by the Talmud into a commonwealth of Jewish nations. In the Talmud, then, the Jews had an
international law, which regulated their moral, ethical, and business conduct, as well as their religious life. Section IV, dealing
with torts, trade regulations, damages, real estate, commerce, the
sanctity of oaths, and the enforcement of contracts, made the
Talmud an ideal system of international law to regulate the farflung enterprises of the Jews. Rabbis had to know not only ritual
observances but commercial regulations as well. Scholars and
philosophers became embroiled in economic questions. Maimonides, incidentally, held the view that the lending of money
for equitable interest was a prerequisite for modern (1300 A.D.)
business.
Through the Talmud, then, the Jews had an international law
that regulated business conduct between Jew and Jew, between
Jew and state, between Jew and non-Jew. The Talmud held that a
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Jew was under an even greater obligation to honor all commit ments to non-Jews. The feudal system itself contributed greatly
to the development of capitalism among the Jews. Because the
Jews did not belong to any of the. three estates, most of the Jew ish working force was put at the disposal of commerce, industry,
and the professions.
A far-flung Jewish commercial network was already in exist ence by the tenth century. Not only were the Jews in Europe,
North Africa, and the Near East, but they had trading posts in India and in faraway China, where their positions of eminence in
commerce made Marco Polo take note of them and. their
achievements in his travels to the latter country in the thirteenth
century.
·To facilitate their business transactions, the Jews had informal clearinghouses where loans could be obtained and notes
negotiated. Such a clearinghouse, for instance, was Montpellier,
a seaport in southern France. Benjamin of Tudela, the twelfthcentury Jewish Marco Polo, said, "You meet here with Christian
and Mohammedan merchants from all parts; from Portugal, from
Lombardy, from the Roman Empire, from Egypt, Palestine,
Greece, France, England." Montpellier not only had a large,
flourishing Jewish community, but also was the seat of a
renowned yeshiva to which came students from every part of the
world.
In fact, in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries,
most Mediterranean seaports were beehives of Jewish commer cial activity. In his account, Benjamin of Tudela carefully noted
the Jewish glass-manufacturing industries and the many Jewish
shipyards, where new ships for expanding trade were built. By
1500, before the Jews were banished from Spain, they were predominant in the wool and silk trades, and they were chief import ers of sugar, pepper, and other spices. Before the Jews of Italy
were banished or placed in ghettos, they dominated that country's
silk and dyeing industries and carried on vast commercial deal ings with India. When the Jews migrated to Eastern Europe they
took their business ability with them. Poland, which until the
279
Jews arrived had little domestic or foreign trade, hummed with
industrial activity after the Jews settled there. Soon the Jews had
developed inland trade routes, competing with even the mighty
Hanseatic League; and cities in East Europe . such as Warsaw,
Prague, Vienna became important trading centers.
W. E. H. Lecky46 makes the point that for many centuries the
Jews were, if not the only, then the most important segment in
keeping international trade moving, because of their organized
systems of monetary exchange, their knowledge of the needs and
products of countries, and their willingness to risk their capital in
long-term investments. If this be so, we see nothing in it to be
ashamed of. The world has simply emulated their example.
But in the early Middle Ages these were not respectable
activities. The Jews earned the contumely of the Christians for
engaging in them, until these professions became "too good for
the Jews" and were taken away from them by the Christians. Of
these functions, moneylending was the most reviled. Yet
moneylending was perhaps the most important contribution by
the Jews to medieval society. Without it the entire feudal system
might have collapsed.
It was to the Jews that feudal man went when his harvest
failed and he needed money to buy grain for next year's sowing.
It was to the Jews he turned when disease carried off his cattle
and he had to buy new ones, when he was ill and there was no
food, or when he needed money with which to pay his taxes and
avoid forfeiting his meager belongings to predatory lords. The
nobles, too, needed the money of the Jews to buy new castles, to
pay for costly tournaments, and to defray the expense of maintaining the feudal way of courtly life. The Church used the
money of the Jews to build new cathedrals, to commission new
murals, to finance new monasteries. This function of moneylending by the Jews was so important that when the city of Ravenna,
for instance, asked to be permitted to join the Republic of
Venice, one of the conditions was that Jews should be called in
46 Rationalism in Europe, Volume II, page 272
280
to open loan banks to assist the poor who stood on the edge of
disaster. Florence, even as she basked in the sunshine of her
Renaissance, begged Jews to come to the city to keep up its flow
of capital.
Why were the Jews the only ones engaged in this
moneylending? Why did not the Christians themselves go into
banking? Why were the Jews so reviled for performing this essential service? The answers hinge on a definition. The Church
called the lending of money not "banking" but "usury." To modem man the word "usury" means the lending of money at exorbitant rates; in medieval times it simply meant the lending of
money for interest, no matter how low. Any Christian today who
accepts 3 percent interest on his bank savings or government
bonds would have been regarded as a blackhearted usurer by the
medieval Church, for the simple reason that the Church viewed
the lending of money at interest as a mortal sin. How 'then could
it permit Christians to lend money if that meant that their souls
would go to hell? With the Jews it was another story. As the Jews
were not Christians and in the eyes of the Church were headed
for hell anyhow, one more sin – that is, money lending – could
not add much to the punishment they would receive in the here after. One could suggest that the Church kept the Jews as
"bankers" in the same way Jews kept Christians as "Sabbath-goys" (Sabbath gentiles) – to perform functions for them
which they were not allowed to perform for themselves. ( Jews
could perform no work on the Sabbath.)
The Jewish attitude toward lending money in medieval days
was what it is in the Western world today. The Talmud forbids
usury in today's sense of the word – that is, the taking of excessive interest – and it compares usurers to murderers. The Talmud
was as sensible two thousand years ago as ethical Christian
bankers are today. It encouraged the lending of money as an aid
to business and commerce, and left it to the rabbis to set permissible rates of interest, which constantly fluctuated with the avail able supply of money, just as banks today set the permissible rate
of interest as the money market fluctuates. In actuality, in medi281
eval days, it was not the rabbis who set the rates of lending
money to Christians; but the Pope himself, or else the emperor or
prince.
When the Jews were dispossessed from their occupations by
the rising Christian middle class, the Jewish professions, which
had been so scorned in previous generations, became respect able. One of the first professions the Christians went into was
moneylending, even though the. Church still forbade it. Christian
cynics shrugged their shoulders and quoted the epigram of the
day – "He who takes usury goes to hell, and he who does not
goes to the poorhouse." When the Jews still proved too much
competition for them, the good burghers went into silent partner ship with the nearest noble or prince, who then banned the "bad"
Jews so the "good" Christians would have a chance.
But no sooner had the Jews been banished than up went the
money rates, so much so that Popes themselves openly accused
the Christian moneylenders of being heartless. They were usurers
in the modem sense of charging exorbitant rates of interest. So
notorious was their rapacity that Dante, in his Divina Commedia,
consigned these Christian usurers to the lowest rung in Purgatory. Communities in England, France, Italy petitioned their kings
and princes to allow the Jewish moneylenders to return. But it
was too late. Moneylending was too profitable for these Christian usurers, who were protected by princes receiving a cut of the
take. Besides, the Jews had already moved to the East, to Poland,
where their services during these centuries were appreciated by
the state.
The Reformation brought vast social and economic changes
for gentile and Jew. Because it established itself first in the western half of Europe, it was precisely here that the most drastic
changes occurred. Out of the debris of the Thirty Years' War rose
a new economic class which built a new social order. Economists
generally date the foundations of capitalism from this period.
How had a religious reform movement been changed into a
social revolution? Did Protestantism give birth to capitalism, as
Max Weber holds, or did capitalism give birth to Protestantism,
282
as the dialectical materialist insists? Did the Jews create capitalism, as Werner Sombart contends, or did capitalism just create itself, as some college textbooks in economics maintain? Or did
all have a hand in shaping capitalism? Perhaps here the materialist philosopher can shed a little light.
The materialist philosopher believes that the way we produce things, the way we go about making and selling things to
one another shapes our politics and our religion. He argues that
when people are engaged in productive activity, they automatically enter into specific relations with one . another. These specif ic relations arise independently of the will of ·the people them selves. The total sum of these new relations, which arise out of
these new methods of production, go into making up the economic structure of that society. The way we do business, says the
materialist philosopher, determines how we behave in an economic sense, and how we behave is simply an expression of how
we do business.
It is at this point that the materialist philosopher comes to
the crux of his argument. He claims that the economic structure
is the real foundation upon which we build our social, legal,
political, and religious institutions. We build these institutions to
protect not only what we are doing but also the way we are doing
it. For instance, the American way of doing business is built on a
system called "free enterprise." Our laws say this is the legal
way, our politicians run on tickets endorsing free enterprise, and
our religion says this is the only moral way. But, if our methods
of production were to change, then the social, legal, political, and
spiritual laws – that is, our ideologies – would also change, and
we ·would have a new society.
This can be illustrated with a simple example. When much
capital was needed to build this country's productive arsenal, the
great moral stress was on thrift and saving, exemplified by Benjamin Franklin's motto "A penny saved is a penny earned."
Today, when it is of paramount importance that we consume the
vast amounts of goods turned nut by our productive machinery,
spending becomes a virtue, not saving. The moral aspect of
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spending has changed from "profligacy" to "faith in the eco nomy." It is not the consciousness of men that determines their
existence, says the materialist philosopher, but, on the contrary, it
is the social existence that determines the consciousness of men.
No one, then, is a hero or a villain in the materialist theory
of economic evolution. But the new capitalism, formed in the
wake of the Protestant revolution, was not a readily accepted
way of life. The invective which the United States Chamber of
Commerce today hurls at communism is but 3 percent abuse
compared to the 100 percent vitriol the Catholic and Lutheran
churches heaped upon the early capitalists. Capitalism had to
struggle for over two hundred years before it became a respect able word at church suppers.
The Thirty Years' War, being not only a religious war but
also a social revolution, gave rise to a new concept of state,
which happened ideally to suit the rising middle classes. The so cial idea! changed from loyalty to one's religion to loyalty to
one's state. To be a Frenchman, an Englishman, a Dutchman,
counted for more than being a Christian, Protestant, or Catholic.
Also, before the Reformation, the king derived his power from
the nobles. After the Reformation, he began to derive his powers
from the new, constantly growing middle class. It was a slow, imperceptible, but inexorable process. In the past, the nobles had
supported the king with men; arms, and money, and they had
paid the cost of administering their respective provinces. Now
these activities became the function of the state itself, and the
state was faced with the necessity of raising the money needed to
supply the national army, the money for an administrative staff,
the money to pay for a bureaucracy without which a modern
state cannot function. Invariably, in this dilemma the rulers of
Europe turned to the Jews. In Werner Sombart's words,
A cursory glance would make it appear that in no direc tion could the Jews have had less influence than in the
establishment of modem States. Not one of the states men of whom we think in this connection was a Jew –
284
neither Charles the Fifth, nor Louis the Eleventh,
neither Richelieu, Mazarin, Colbert, Cromwell, Fredrick
William of Prussia, nor Fredrick the Great. However,
when speaking of these modem statesmen and rulers,
we can hardly do so without perforce thinking of the
Jews .... Arm in arm the Jew and ruler stride through the
age which historians call modern .... Their interests and
their sympathies coincided. The Jew embodied modern
capitalism, and the ruler allied himself with this force in
order to establish, or maintain, his own position. When,
therefore, I speak of the part played by the Jews in the
foundation of the modern State, it is not so much their
direct influence as organizers that I have in mind, as
rather their indirect cooperation in the process. I am
thinking of the fact that the Jews furnished the rising
states with the material means necessary to maintain
themselves and develop; that the Jews supported the
army in each country ... and the armies were the bul warks on which the new States rested. 47
The rulers of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe
were quick to sense the Jewish genius in financial affairs. ·Jews
were recalled to the West, and there they created international
banking institutions that made history. But this phase of Jewish
history in the West properly falls in the Modem Age.
More properly part of medieval Jewish history and an amazing new phenomenon, is the Court Jew, who arose in Central
Europe, especially in German-speaking countries. It is only recently that historians have taken his role seriously. Modem his torians who are examining the Court Jew and his functions are
coming up with new verdicts.
The Court Jew was the prototype not so much for the international banker of the 1900s as he was for the Secretary of the
Treasury or for the Chancellor of the Exchequer today. His function was not only to serve as quartermaster general for the army,
47 Werner Sombart, The Jews and Modern Capitalism, pages 49-50.
285
financial agent for the prince, master of the mint, but also to cre ate new sources for revenue, negotiate loans, float debe rn for
emancipating the ruler from the nobles by modem financing
methods. Of the two hundred main grand duchies, principalities,
and palatinates 48 in the Holy Roman Empire after the Thirty
Years' War, almost all had Court ·Jews: Even Charles V, the most
Catholic of all emperors, beholden to the Jesuits, had a Hofjude,
Court Jew, Jossl of Rosheim, who was his mintmaster and financier, and so powerful that the Emperor dared not dispense with
his services.
The Court Jews were absolutely loyal to the prince who protected them. They could come and go as they pleased. They
wined and dined with the heads of state. Often they were the pos sessors of titles. But they never forgot their brothers in the ghettos. The Court Jew was their intermediary and contributed heavily to their weal. Though most Court Jews could have risen to the
highest positions of state had they only converted, the remarkable aspect is that they refused to do so. But this refusal to convert is not what merited them the hate they sowed in the hearts of
the nobles. The Court Jew was a revolutionary figure who heralded the coming of the radical capitalist state, which would do
away with the power and privileges of the nobles. In the Court
Jew the nobles correctly foresaw their doom.
The three centuries of Court Jews produced many colorful
individuals and adventurous careers. Perhaps the most colorful
and adventurous was that of Joseph Süss Oppenheimer ( 16981738), finance minister to Duke Charles I (Karl Alexander) of
Württemberg. Oppenheimer is looked upon today as the prototype of the modern financier-statesmen, who by their skillful financial innovations set the pattern for emancipating the kings
from the nobles. For this, Oppenheimer was bitterly hated by the
nobles of Württemberg, who, not ·realizing that their system had
already been relegated to the ' backwash of history, attributed all
48 After the Treaty of Westphalia the Holy Roman Empire consisted of
2,000 independent units, some only a few square miles in area.
286
their troubles to him.
Oppenheimer's dramatic career became the theme for Lion
Feuchtwanger's historical novel, Power. According to Feuchtwanger, Joseph Süss Oppenheimer was the son of the beautiful
Jewish actress Michaele Süss, and the handsome ·Christian,
Marshal Heydersdorff, Duke of Wolfenbüttel. Her husband, Oppenheimer, was the director of a Jewish theatrical road company.
According to Mosaic law, Joseph was Jewish, since any offspring, legitimate or illegitimate, of a Jewish mother is counted
as Jewish, no matter who the father is. According to Christian
law, he was a Christian, of ·the royal house of Württemberg.
Young Joseph, unaware of his paternity, studied languages,
mathematics, and law at the University of Tübingen. He loved
the company of aristocrats and royalty, and as he was rich, hand some, witty, and brilliant, his company was not only tolerated,
but sought after. Much of his time was devoted to married and
unmarried ladies of the aristocracy, both in and out Of their bedrooms. A series of financial arrangements involving a stamp tax
for a palatinate and a minting contract for a free city brought his
name to the attention of royalty, who now vied for his services.
Dint of circumstance attached him to the court of Württemberg.
At court, Oppenheimer became popular with the ladies in
the bedroom and with society in the drawing room. But in spite
of the constant companionship of Christian nobility, he frequently visited the ghettos, did all he could to help the Jews in
their plight, and had contempt for his Jewish half brother who
had converted to Christianity in order to hold high government
office.
As the nobles felt their power slipping, as they saw more
and more of their privileges vanish, they concentrated their hate
on "Jew Süss," as he was called. The death of Karl Alexander
gave them their opportunity to strike at him. A conspiracy was
formed and Süss was arrested for treason. In prison, while awaiting sentence, Süss learned of his identity. All he had to do to be
set free and live the life of European royalty was to announce
who he was, the son of the revered Marshal Heydersdorff. In287
stead, he accepted the death sentence in silence. He had lived as
a Jew, and he was going to die as one. He went to the gallows on
a snowy day in 1738, with a Christian mob pelting him with
dung and the Jews chanting "Shema Yisroel, Adonoi Elohenu,
Adonoi Echod" (Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is
One).
That night, risking death, the Jews cut down the body of the
son of Marshal Heydersdorff and substituted an unknown cadaver. The body was spirited away to a different duchy, dressed in
fine silks, and lowered into a Jewish grave with the blessing of
the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob intoned over him.
With him was interred not the spirit of the new capitalism
but the spirit of the Middle Ages.
TWENTY-TWO
KABALA AND KINNANHORRA
We have traced the physical survival of the Jews through the
medieval phase of their history, as they hopscotched the feudal
checkerboard from danger zone to safety zone until they ran out
of space and time. But how did Judaism spiritually survive these
twelve centuries? Was there a common element in this phase of
Jewish history which gave Judaism a psychic unity? If "salvation" and "more salvation" sum up' the spirit of the Christian
Middle Ages, then perhaps "Kabala"49 and "more Kabala" sum
up the spirit of the Jewish Middle Ages. .
Mysticism was not something new in Jewish life. It began
with Judaism itself and existed before the giving of the Torah at
Mount Sinai in the twelfth century B.C. With the giving of the
law, however, Jewish mysticism was relegated to a minor position. According to the Kabalists, the Kabala was given simultaneously with the Torah; but, whereas the Torah was given to all,
49 The word "Kabala" comes from the Hebrew word kabeil, meaning
"to receive" – hence "tradition," or "revelation." It was the name given to Jewish mystic philosophy.
288
the Kabala was revealed only to a few select saints, who, accord ing to tradition, handed it down to a very small group of mystics.
Throughout the centuries, this current of mysticism ran
alongside Torah and Talmud, but always underneath their majestic achievements. It was regarded by its devotees as a second Oral
Law, claiming authority from Scripture. It grew up with the
Torah, but in its shadow, in the back alleys of Jewish occult
philosophy. It fed on noncanonized prophecy, Zoroastrian resurrection mythology, Greek science, numerology, gnostic heresies.
This was the material Jewish saints and scholars worked on for
centuries, distilling it, shaping it, blowing life into it.
Not until the eighth century A.D. did the first of these under currents of mysticism break through to the surface with the pub lication of the Book of Formation, compiled in southern Italy. In
the thirteenth century, the second undercurrent emerged into me dieval Jewish civilization with the appearance of the Zohar, written and compiled in Spain. The Book of Formation is concerned
mainly with the ecstatic experience of God. The Zohar can best
be described as an encyclopedia of occultism and metaphysical
speculations on God, universe, and science. These two books
combined constitute the Kabala, a body of mystic and occult
thought, a distinctly Jewish metaphysical philosophy.
With the appearance of the Zohar, Kabalism did not continue for long to course through Jewish life as a unified current, but
branched out into two streams. One stream sought out the ration al and the scientific and became metaphysical in its orientation.
This current led to Spinoza and the rationalist school of Western
philosophers and scientists, finding adherents among both Jewish
and Christian scholars. The other stream had its source in Germany and coursed for centuries through Eastern Europe. It began
·with mysticism and degenerated into superstition with Kinnanhorra50 as its central theme.
50 The word "Kinnanhorra" is a Yiddish contraction of one Yiddish (the
first) and two Hebrew words, kein ayyin ha' ra 'ah, that is, "no evil
eye," which symbolized Jewish superstition in the Middle Ages.
From this comes the Bronx contraction "canary," as in "Don't give
289
Both the Zohar and the Book of Formation were translated
into Latin and other Western tongues, and the writings of Jewish
and Christian scholars, humanists, and scientists, based on or inspired by the Kabala, were widely disseminated throughout universities. This body of Kabalistic work may even have had a
large share in the sudden efflorescence of science in the seven teenth century. This was the century when Kabalism reached the
height of its influence and also saw the beginnings of its demise,
perhaps because it was no longer needed after science was re born.
Because logic alone could not explain their doctrine of the
"exalted experience of God," the Kabalists introduced symbolic
thinking and symbolic language into their speculations. They
abandoned the ordinary meanings of words, gave numerical values to letters, and attributed mystical properties to both letters
and numbers. This symbolic language consisted of the first ten
numbers and all the letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and together
they formed the Kabalistic thirty-two avenues to wisdom. With
this abstract shorthand the Kabalists developed a fantastic metaphysical world where one element was transformed into another,
where numbers stood for properties possessed by objects, and the
·world revolved around its own axis. These Kabalists also had an
ear for language and a flair for style. They wrote great poetry
which survives in Hebrew liturgy and literature.
It may throw some light on the sudden eruption of scientific
genius in Western Europe in the seventeenth century if we examine the role of the medieval Kabalists as scientists.
Because their works have been overshadowed by later nonJewish scientists such as Galileo and Newton is no reason why
the contributions of these early Jewish scientists should not be
assessed. New ideas do not spring up in a vacuum. They bloom
only in well-prepared intellectual soil.
In the twelfth century Abraham bar Hiyya, one of these early
Jewish scientists, not only translated Greek and Arabic scientific
me a canary," meaning "Don't give me an evil eye."
290
works into Latin, but also wrote several original works on geography, astronomy, mathematics, and scientific methodology, all
of which were translated into Latin. It was he who developed the
first Hebrew scientific methodology.
A scholar who coupled Kabalism and science was the Spanish Jew Abraham ibn Latif (1220-1290). He wove Kabalism, Aristotelianism, mathematics, and natural science into a unified
system. His works were translated into Latin and caught the attention of Raymond Lully, a Christian scholar, and the outstanding scientist of thirteenth-century Spain. Lully, searching for a
way to break through the stranglehold which Scholasticism 51 had
upon science, used the Kabala and the works of ibn Latif as the
basis for his book on logic, Ars Magna, which was widely used
in medieval European universities. The Mohammedans stoned
him to death for preaching the gospel in North Africa.
A French-Jewish mathematician and astronomer, Immanuel
Bonfils, is credited with having invented the decimal system in
the fourteenth century, 150 years before it was accepted by
European scientists. His works introduced new mathematical
concepts, and his astronomical tables were in wide use by mar iners. In that same century, Levi ben Gerson criticized the faulty
methodology of contemporary scientific theories and introduced
a new trigonometric system which became the basis for modern
trigonometry. He also invented the quadrant known as "Jacob's
staff," which was used by such navigators as Magellan, Columbus, and Vasco da Gama.
It was in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, however, that
Kabalism received its greatest dispersal in the Christian world. In
the later fifteenth century, for instance, Pico della Mirandola, a.
Renaissance humanist and philosopher, translated the Zohar into
Latin. But the Christian scholar who did the most to popularize
Kabalism was, of course, Johann Reuchlin, who, early in the sixteenth century, freely asserted that his theological philosophy
51 A medieval system of philosophy that tried to unify Christian orthodoxy with the newly discovered science of Aristotle. Instead of liberalizing Christianity, Scholasticism strangled science.
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was based on the Kabala.
A new metaphysical philosophy was injected into Kabalism
in the sixteenth century by one of the great Kabalistic scholars,
Isaac Luria (1534-1572), known as Ari, "the lion." Luria held
that all matter and thought evolved through a three-stage cycletzimtzum, literally "contraction" or thesis; shevirat hakeilim, literally "breaking of the vessels" or antithesis; and tikkun, literally
"restoration" or synthesis.
Western philosophy and science, which had died with the
Greeks and Romans in the second century A.D, was reborn in the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. A fifteen-hundred-year
philosophical and scientific dark age lies between Epictetus and
Marcus Aurelius on the one hand and Bacon, Descartes, Locke,
Leibnitz, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton on the other.
Something must have sparked this rebirth, but what? Did, per haps, the Kabalistic metaphysical speculations of such Jewish
and Christian scholars as Latif, Lully, Pico della Mirandola, Reuchlin (1300-1600) and the contributions of such Jewish scientists as Hiyya, Bonfils, and Gerson (1200-1500) have something
to do with laying the intellectual foundations for the seventeenthcentury rebirth of philosophy and the establishment of scientific
methodology in Western Europe?52
We are again confronted with one of those curious coincidences of history. This burst of Christian scientific and philosoph52 One outstanding fact about the Scientific Revolution is that its initial
and in a sense most important stages were carried through before the
invention of the new measuring instruments, the telescope, and microscope, thermometer and accurate clock, which were later to become indispensable for getting accurate and scientific answers to the
questions that were to come to the forefront of science. In its initial
stages, in fact, the Scientific Revolution came about rather by a systematic change in intellectual outlook, in the type of questions asked,
than by an increase in technical equipment. Why such a revolution in
methods of thought should have taken place is obscure." (A. C.
Crombie, Medieval and Early Modern Science, Volume II, page
122.)
292
ical activity did not take place in the centuries between 1100 and
1500, nor did it take place in Eastern Europe. It took place in the
seventeenth century, in Western Europe, in the area where Jewish
Kabalists and scientists had flourished for four hundred years.
There is no reason to doubt that Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo,
Newton, Bacon, Descartes, Locke, Leibnitz, and others were familiar both with Kabalistic thought and the scientific writings of
the Jews. In the seventeenth century all these writings were
available in Latin and widely distributed in the libraries and uni versities of Europe.
Of course, such coincidence does not constitute proof. But
why did Western science and philosophy take this bold leap in
the seventeenth century? Though scholars call this sort of reasoning post hoc ergo propter hoc (meaning "after this, therefore in
consequence of this," or a logical fallacy from a supposedly false
cause we nevertheless maintain that here we have an area where
scholars could use their searchlights to reveal more meaningful
answers than those they have hitherto given.
In Eastern Europe, as has been mentioned, the Kabala took
an entirely different direction and coloration. We must recall that
Jewish life shifted between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries
from Western to Eastern Europe, and that Jewish history was
now being shaped in the East, not the West. Here the Kabala was
put in the service of alleviating the misery of the Jewish people.
With its doctrine of the imminence of the messiah, the Kabala
held out hope for the Jewish people.
Ever since the appearance of the Book of Formation in the
eighth century, mystics had attempted to use its secret formulas
as a means of hastening the coming of a Jewish messiah. lf man
could get close to God, argued the mystic Kabalists, they would
be able to influence Him to send the messiah sooner, end the afflictions of the Jews sooner, and thus thwart the designs of their
oppressors. These Kabalistic doctrines fired the imagination of
the people and prepared them for the coming of the messiah.
They were not disappointed. A "messiah" arrived in practically
every medieval century, but not in the way the prophetic Kabal293
ists had hoped for or anticipated.
The Kabala was increasingly removed from the people by its
'most devoted adherents. In the West, as we saw, it became the
·possession of metaphysicians, philosophers, and scientists who
used the Kabala in their speculations on the essence of matter
and universe. In the East, again, it became the possession of
scholars and mystics who used the Kabala in their speculations
on the nature of God and heaven. As Kabala scientists, philosophers, and mystics did not give the people what they wanted,
charlatans and crackpots stepped in where scholars feared to
tread. They brought the Kabala to the people, in their own version, but one the people could understand. The soil of supersti tion had been prepared for the degradation of the Kabala.
Jewish history has been so replete with revered prophets,
rabbis, and scholars, that it is a pleasure to interrupt the tedium
of so much saintliness with a select gallery of the most magnifi cent psychos and crackpots, adventurers and charlatans the world
has ever beheld. Because they were byproducts of the Kabala,
they are as such part of Jewish history.
Abraham Abulafia (1240-1291) is one of the more important
false Kabalistic prophets. Abulafia, the descendant of a most distinguished, noble Spanish-Jewish family, immersed himself at an
early age in the Kabala. On a pilgrimage to Jerusalem he heard a
voice urging him to go back to Spain and there declare himself a
prophet. Nobody took him seriously; everyone knew him as a
rich man's son. In 1280 he heard another voice and a more start ling message. This voice urged him to convert Pope Nicholas Ill
to Judaism. A voice is a voice, and one does best to heed it. So
Abulafia went to see the Pope, who gave him an audience. But
when Nicholas III heard Abulafia's mission he hit the holy ceiling and condemned Abulafia to the stake. The exertion was too
much for the Pope, who died three days later. Abulafia "Kabalized" his judges out of burning him – no mean feat for a Jew in
the Middle Ages – and then went to Sicily, where the voice spoke
to him again, upgrading him to the status of messiah. But Abulafia was too thin-skinned for a messiah. He could not take the
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harassment of the rabbis, who accused him of being an impostor,
and he went off on another journey. Another and last voice took
him out of history.
One spring morning in 1502, Asher Lemmlin, a young
Kabala student in Venice, woke up with the realization that he
was the Prophet Elijah who had been returned to announce the
coming of the messiah ·that very year, provided the people
would fast and purify themselves for the event. The Jews flocked
to his cause, kissed the hem of his garment, adored him as a
prophet, and suspected that Lemmlin himself was the messiah,
that only modesty prevented him from announcing it. Even his
own grandfather, in spite of the apothegm that a prophet has no
honor in his own home town, destroyed his oven for baking Passover matzos, because he was that certain that the following year
he would be baking them in Palestine in partnership with the new
messiah.
The year 1502 also proved a bonanza year for the Christians
in the number of new Jewish converts to Christianity. Disillusioned at the failure of their promised messiah to arrive, the pious fathers, who had purified themselves for the event, had them selves baptized in order to prevent a total loss of their investment
in fasting.
That same century another colorful adventurer teamed up
with a deluded saint to make the messianic headlines, and they
involved a Pope, a king, and an emperor in their grandiose
schemes. One sunny day in Venice, in 1524, an incongruous figure appeared on a glittering, prancing, white Arabian steed. Atop
the horse was a dark, gnomelike dwarf, David Reuveni, who announced he was the brother of the king of the Tribe of Reuben,
the commander of thousands of fierce Jewish warriors in Arabia
in the rear of the Turkish lines. He had come on a diplomatic
mission for his brother to win the support of the Pope for a Jewish Crusade against the infidels.
So magnetic was this gnome's personality that Pope Clement
VII gave Reuveni an audience. The Pope wanted to be convinced. Catholic Christendom was beset with troubles. The Prot295
estant heresy had broken out into the open. The Christian world
was in a crisis. The Turks were marching into Europe. An army
in the rear of the Turks, led by Jews, Christ's own people! Even
the Pope's astrologers saw favorable signs. The Pope consulted
the king of Portugal, an authority on Far Eastern affairs, who certified Reuveni as a bona fide emissary from a bona fide kingdom,
and offered to help. With the blessings of the Pope, Reuveni set
sail for Portugal with a Jewish flag flying from the mast. The
Jews were jubilant. The Pope himself had given audience to an
ambassador of the king of one of the lost Ten Tribes The king of
Portugal had certified his authenticity. In the eyes of the people,
Reuveni was, perhaps, even the messiah !
Meanwhile, in Lisbon, King John III and Reuveni were in
deep discussions as to what lend-lease weapons should be sent to
the fierce soldiers of the Tribe of Reuben behind the Turkish
lines in darkest Arabia. So thoughtful was the king that he even
stopped the persecution of the Marranos during these serious
summit negotiations. But pandemonium broke out in Portugal.
Marranos came out from their hiding places to hail Reuveni as
the messiah, while Inquisition priests busily scribbled down
names for future reference. Christians began converting to Judaism. King and priests became alarmed, and Reuveni, feeling suspicions being fastened upon him, quickly set sail for Italy. King
John III went back to persecuting Marranos, and the newly converted Christians went to the stake.
Back in Italy, Reuveni was joined by one Diogo Pires, a
"crypto-Christian" Portuguese Marrano. Diogo, who knew nothing of Judaism, converted, was circumcised, changed his name to
Solomon Molko, and now miraculously all of Judaism was instantly and divinely revealed to him. But the Inquisition did not
take kindly to Jewish revelation, so Molko fled to Palestine,
where he added scholastic Kabalism to his divinely acquired
Talmudism. A few years later he was back in Italy, preaching an
imminent Judgment Day with such confidence that he convinced
himself and declared himself the messiah. In the "old tradition,"
he preached to the poor, the sick, the lame, the blind, the scab 296
rous, and the leprous, and such became his esteem that the Pope
granted him immunity from the Inquisition.
Reuveni and Molko joined forces in Venice and traveled together with banners flying, to Regensburg (then known as Ratisbon), to offer Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire an
alliance against the Turks and to enlist his support in the cause of
the Jewish king in Arabia. It is doubtful whether even a little
knowledge of Charles V would have ·deterred them. Charles V,
whose mother was an imbecile, had secured his election as Emperor by a vast amount of bribery, and been crowned by the Pope
after he had pillaged Rome, the last German emperor to be
crowned by a Roman Pontiff. The Emperor, who had never acquired the habits of reading and writing, acquired intolerance
early. With the rapid increase of Protestants, Charles V put the
Inquisition on a crash program, proclaiming that all Protestants
''who remained obstinate in their errors should be burned alive,
and those who were admitted to penitence were to be beheaded."
Every Friday and during Lent, in the company of monks, the Emperor scourged himself until blood was drawn.
It was this Charles V who listened to the story of Reuveni
and Molko, clapped them both in irons and turned them over to
the Inquisition. Molko was given a chance to recant his Jewishness and save himself from the auto-da-fé, but, still convinced he
was the messiah, he offered himself as a scapegoat in order to re deem man and was burned in 1532. For many centuries his adherents believed he had been resurrected, but having no leader ship, the Molko sect eventually died out.
The fate of Reuveni is undetermined. Some say he perished
at the stake, others that he rotted in prison, others that he talked
himself out of his predicament. None really know who he was or
what happened to him. From his diary it would seem he was a
Polish Jew. Be that as it may, he was an adventurer in the spirit
of the Renaissance,
Of all the messiahs produced by the Kabala, however,
Sabbatai Zevi (1626-1676) was the most interesting, the most
complex, and the most important to Jewish history. He appeared
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at a time when Europe was lying prostrate after the Thirty Years'
War, when Christian and Jew alike were sick unto their souls of
all the carnage. When Sabbatai Zevi proclaimed his messiahship
it seemed like an answer to everyone's prayers. Over a million
Jews, from every stratum of society, rich man, poor man, scholar,
and worker, from Turkey to England, all hailed him as the longawaited deliverer.
Sabbatai was born in Smyrna, Turkey, where his father was
a broker to an English merchant. Sabbatai was sent to the finest
schools, ·was fluent in Hebrew and Arabic. In early life he came
under the influence of the Kabala, and early began to exhibit
those signs which today would be diagnosed as paranoia but then
were signs of holiness. He heard voices from heaven ordering
him to redeem Israel. Acting in response to these voices, he blas phemed by uttering the ineffable name of the Lord, abolished all
Jewish fasts, and inveighed against the Talmud, much in the
manner of the Karaites back in the eighth century. He proclaimed
himself the messiah, and people flocked to his tent to hear the
new gospel.
Sabbatai's evangelistic itinerary took him Egypt, and here
the century's most talked-about marriage took place. He was betrothed to Sarah, an international, peripatetic prostitute. Sarah is
so implausible she could not have been invented. At the age of
six she had been taken to a convent after her Jewish parents had
been killed in a Polish pogrom. Early in her teens she made her
escape, deciding to see Europe before settling down. Her quick
wit, bucolic beauty, and ready body preserved her life as she
trekked from Poland to Amsterdam. Here she had a double hallucination, one voice informing her about Sabbatai Zevi and another voice telling her to become his bride. This ream of saint and
whore is not a unique one in Scripture. Hosea was married to the
prostitute Gomer, and legend proclaimed that the messiah would
marry an unchaste bride.
After his marriage, Sabbatai went to Palestine, where the
masses hysterically adored him as the messiah. The rabbis felt it
was time to take action and excommunicated him. Sabbatai re298
turned to Turkey, where he was joyfully welcomed by the Jews
as the savior. There was also a rumor of a Jewish army hanging
around in Arabia waiting for the messiah to give the order to unleash it against the Turks. Sabbatai fell for this rumor. He announced he would march against Constantinople to depose the
sultan. The sultan, ·not knowing what to do with this madman,
and fearful of making him a martyr by executing him, threw him
into prison. Here, thousands upon thousands came to visit
Sabbatai, who from his prison held court and spread his influ ence. Alarmed, the sultan gave him a choice between death or
conversion to Mohammedanism and freedom. Sabbatai chose
conversion and freedom.
The conversion shook the Sabbatean movement to its foundation but did not kill it. Confirmed Kabalists merely said this was
precisely what the Kabala had prophesied, that the messiah
would be "good within and bad without." But the converted
Sabbatai could not stop playing his role as Jewish messiah, and
as the movement showed every sign of gaining new strength the
sultan threw him back into prison, where he was kept until he
died. To the end, the devout came to Sabbatai 's cell to venerate
him. As the Sabbatean movement had no Paul nor Abu Bekr to
organize it after the master's death, it slowly died out.
Though there are still arguments as to whether Sabbatai was
a deluded saint or a charlatan, there can be no doubt that Jacob
Frank, the man who claimed his mantle, was an out-and-out fake.
An etching of Frank shows a handsome face, powerful piercing
black eyes, a long aquiline nose, a black mustache perched over
sensuous lips, and a Turkish fez at a rakish angle over one ear.
He was a traveling salesman, born in 1726 in the Ukraine, whose
business took him to Turkey, where he studied the Kabala and
where he became a member in the Donmeh, a Sabbatean sect.
Here Frank founded a new concept of Sabbateanism. Anybody,
according to him, could find redemption through purity. The
unique way of finding redemption was through impurity. Accordingly, Frank's mystical séances were enlivened with sexual or gies.
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The rabbis, learning of Frank's sexual practices in the name
of religion, excommunicated him. The Turks cooperated by sending him across the borders as an undesirable alien. Frank then
went to Poland, where he announced he was the reincarnation of
Sabbatai Zevi and preached his creed, which resembled the
Christian Trinity, consisting of the Father, the Holy Ghost, and
Sabbatai.
As adherents poured gold and silver into his coffers, Frank's
living standards went tip. He lived in a ducal castle, dressed like
a prince, drove in a magnificent equipage, and styled himself
"Baron de Frank." The Jewish community in Poland excommunicated him for heresy and licentiousness. But the Frankists appealed to the local Christian bishop, arguing that they were not
Jews but "Zoharists" engaged in a deadly struggle with the
Talmudists. A disputation was called by the bishop, after which
the Talmud was burned for the first and only time in Poland. A
second disputation ended in the conversion of the Frankists, who
marched in great numbers to the baptismal font, with the nobles
of Poland as their godfathers and the king of Poland himself as
the godfather of Frank.
Many of these baptized Frankists, coming from scholarly
Jewish backgrounds, did not lose their learning at the baptismal
font. They rose to the highest government posts in Poland and
Russia, married nobility and royalty, and may even have fathered
liberal elements in the subsequent history of these two nations.
Frank continued to live in ever greater splendor, but his
glory soon came to an end. When the Church found out about his
"Trinity doctrine," it threw him into prison, not daring to bum so
recent a convert whose godfather was the king of Poland. Here
he languished for thirteen years, until set free by the Russians
when they invaded the country. Frank then went to Austria,
where he became the darling of Viennese society. Even the
Empress Maria Theresa looked upon him as the "man with the
gospel." His liverymen dressed like Uhlans, riding with long
pointed lances, flying pennants inscribed with Kabalistic signs.
Frank died in 1791 of apoplexy, but Frankism was a few
300
more years in dying. It was carried on by his charming daughter
Eve, in the tradition of her father. A contemporary portrait shows
her wearing a low-cut dress, coyly shielding a minimum of her
ample bosom. She preserved the due-spaying membership of
Frankism by combining the scholasticism of the Zohar with the
mysteries of her bedroom into a lucrative religion which enabled
her to live in the grand style of her father. The Kabala had not
taught her how to retain her youth, however, and her membership
dwindled as her middle-age spread increased. Our Jewish
Theodosia died in 1817, in Dickensian debt and poverty. Fondly
she was remembered by those who knew her in the earlier days
as "the Holy Lady."
What was there in the Kabala and the Sabbatean movements
to exert such an obsessive, powerful hold on the Jews? Even
though charlatans exploited them, underneath the manifest comedy was compressed a latent drama, seeking: ways to express it self, which undeniably influenced Jewish life. The mystic elements in the Kabala represented perhaps a' return to the primitivism of feeling, a way out from the rigorious logic of the Talmud.
The Kabalistic philosophy differed. from the Talmudic philosophy in that the Talmud searched for, truth with the aid of reas on, whereas the Kabala tried to experience truth by intuition. It
was a return to "mythology," in which truth and insights could be
symbolized. In myth, the, sorely beset Jewish people could find
an escape from the indignitiés medieval life heaped upon them.
The Kabala gave them the feeling they could again hold their
destiny in their. own hands. With the Kabala they could influence
the coming, of the messiah instead of being reduced to a helpless
waiting for him.
Sabbateanism held another appeal to the people. On an un conscious level, it was a return to a former stage of Jewishness,
where Jewishness was not one of definition but one, of feeling.
Karaism was a fight for a free inquiry into the Torah, without being bound by the Talmud. Sabbateanism went a step further and
reached out for Jewishness beyond the Talmud and the Torah. In
the Sabbatean view, it was not Torah nor Talmud which made
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Judaism, but Judaism which made Torah and Talmud. It was only
logical that Sabbatai should have dissolved all 613 Mitzvoth. or
commandments of the Torah, for in his mind the "idea of Judaism" by itself could hold the Jews together. We dimly perceive
that perhaps all this happened once before, way back in Jewish
history, when the Jews wandered in the desert after the exodus
from Egypt. Here, too, they rebelled against the rigors imposed
on them by their new God, Jehovah, and went back to their earlier, primitive rites, back to mythology. Frankism carried this type
of unconscious rebellion too far, back to the primordial days of
fertility rites. This excess shocked the Jews to their senses.
But the spirit implied in Sabbateanism was not easily forgotten. Subconsciously the East European Jews were waiting for
someone to give these unexpressed feelings expression, someone
who would not trample this spirit in the mud of obscenity,
someone who would exalt the soul with the mysticism of God. It
was on this psychological soil that a new Jewish religious movement arose in eighteenth-century Europe, in the twilight of the
Jewish Middle Ages. The savior whom this segment of the Jewish people had been waiting for burst on the Jewish scene unan nounced, unheralded. He .was Bal Shem Tov. With him the gospel of Hasidism53 was born.
In a sense, the conditions in Eastern Europe in 1700 were
similar to those in ancient Palestine in the first century A.D. of
the time of Jesus. Life then had degenerated to a daily ;·struggle
for existence under the oppressive rule of the Romans. The country was inundated with cross-currents of Judaisms in strife with
one another. Intermingled with the stem morality of Judaism
were foreign currents – the Zoroastrian resurrection beliefs, pagan fertility rites, Adonis and Osiris dying-son cults, Oriental
mysticism, a hodgepodge of beliefs. In Christianity, all these inchoate yearnings, all these dissident opinions, found a unifica tion. Christianity took the .best of these resurrection cults, dying53 Hasidism is not to be confused with the Hasidean party at the time of
the Maccabean rebellion. There is no connection between the two.
302
son beliefs, mysticism, myths, and rites, and it forged them into a
new, lofty religion of redemption for man and promise of heaven.
In the same way, the new religion of Hasidism grew out ; of
a similar soil – political oppression, social unrest, Sabbatean
messiah worship, Frankist sex rites, mystic cults, revelation, penance. Hasidism transcended all this in the way Christianity had
transcended the Oriental religious cults. Hasidism forged all the
yearnings of the people into a new stream of Judaism, sloughing
off the obscene, the gross, the sexual in Sabbateanism and
Frankism, leaving only the essence of a new religious movement
which tried to exalt the spirit. But just as Christianity in its early
forms was unrealistic in its attitude toward the state, so early
Hasidism was unrealistic in its attitude toward the dual role man
has to play on earth – his role in relation to state, and his role in
relation to God.
Hasidism was not a simple thing; it was a complex syndrome. It was the triumph of ignorance over knowledge. The
Talmud said that no ignorant man could be pious. Hasidism
preached the reverse. It affirmed the Jewish spirit without the
Jewish tradition. It created its own tradition by proclaiming itself
more Jewish than Jewishness itself. Hasidism was strength
through joy, an affirmation of the ecstatic, not the ecstasy of the
senses as with the Frankists but the ecstasy of knowing God. In
one fell swoop, Bal Shem Tov turned weakness into strength, defeat into triumph. Just as Jesus had opposed the Pharisee intellectuals, so Bal Shem Tov opposed the Talmudic intellectuals.
Hasidism and early Christianity were kindred spirits. ,
Israel ben Eliezer, known by his disciples as Bal Shem Tov
(Master of the Good Name), the founder of Hasidism, was a con temporary of Jacob Frank, born about 1700 in the same region in
the Ukraine. His life, as outlined by his disciples, remarkably
paralleled that of Jesus. An angel appeared to Bal Shem Tov's
parents, when they were at an advanced age. God, said the angel,
was going to bless them with a son in their old age, even as He
had blessed Abraham and Sarah, and this son would carry the
message of the Lord to man on earth.
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Bal Shem Tov's parents, who conceived him late in their
lives, died early in his. When he was six years old, the elders of
the community, as required by the Talmud, gave him a free education. His early manhood was spent in the wilderness, in utter
poverty, performing miracles which his disciples speak of with
wonder even today, such as healing the sick by touching him,
walking across deep water, causing a tree to burn by looking at
it, banishing a ghost by uttering the secret "Name." Once he in tervened with the populace of a town which had turned against a
prostitute. Bal Shem Tov touched her, whereupon she became
whole and saintly. He had direct intercession with God in heaven. One word from him could release a tortured soul from hell.
Wherever he went, a radiance hovered over him.
This is the account of his disciples. Others are less kind.
One dissenting school holds that Bal Shem Tov was lazy and stupid, an irresponsible failure who succeeded in nothing he under took, who was fired from every job he ever held. His disciples,
again, aver that actually Bal Shem Tov slept days because he
secretly studied nights, that he deliberately created an impression
as a ne'er-do-well until God revealed the time for him to an nounce who he really was. This Bal Shem Tov did at the age of
forty-two.
Bal Shem Tov wrote nothing, and we are dependent upon his
disciples for what he did say. Most of it is preserved, as in the
case of Jesus, in allegories and parables. When Bal Shem Tov
died, in 1760, he had about 100,000 adherents. At its high point,
Hasidism may have embraced half the Jews in Eastern Europe.
His disciple Dov Ber spread the Hasidic gospel throughout
Europe. However, fierce opposition to Hasidism developed early,
and within a century after the death of its founder, Hasidism had
lost its force, not to much by the attacks upon it as by its own in ternal weakness. New religions, like revolutions, must be quickly
institutionalized, because they contain the seeds for their own de struction. Hasidism was no exception. As there was no organiza tion to establish tradition or give the movement direction, it took
off without tradition in all directions. Each Hasidic rabbi seized a
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piece of territory, and soon the Hasidic map resembled that of the
Holy Roman Empire, with hundreds of Hasidic "principalities,"
"duchies," and "palatinates," each maintaining its rabbi like a
prince. These offices became hereditary, and soon wisdom and
ability yielded to nepotism and politics.
Whereas Christianity found in Paul an organizer and survived as an established religion, the Hasidic movement never
found such a practical man and, as a consequence, within a cen tury and a half practically died out. But its influence is not dead,
for out of its still warm ashes sprang the Jewish renaissance, the
so-called Haskala, or "Enlightenment," and the contemporary
school of Jewish theological existentialism, as exemplified by its
foremost exponent, Martin Buber.
Viewing the twelve hundred years of Jewish medieval his tory with hindsight, we can see it as a dark age for both Jew and
Christian, although it was not so dark or so bloody as it so often
is depicted. Yet, the question still remains: How did the Jews survive it? The answer has been summed up by one historian in a
sentence: "The secret of a nation's endurance is its ability to ac cept defeat." The Jews survived because they never thought of
giving up. Judaism is not a religion of defeatism. It has no doctrines of Judgment Day. It teaches, on the contrary, that to despair of the future is a sin. There is but one place to live, and that
is here on earth, in joy, and in the name of God.
Throughout Jewish history the dialogue between Jew and
God has continued unabated. Only the tune changed, reflecting
the changing moods of Jewish philosophy, which always have
had a tendency to branch off from the mainstream of Talmudism.
But after a century or so of straying, these digressive philo sophies usually emptied themselves back into the Talmud. There
were three exceptions, and to the Talmudist these three exceptions had the sound of heresy.
Thrice in Jewish history a digressive Jewish philosophy
dared challenge the Talmud. The first threat to Talmudism was
Christianity in the Greco-Roman Age; but, cutting itself ! off
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early from this Jewish sect, Talmudism was able to keep its independence. The second threat, in the Islamic Age, was Karaism;
by incorporating the main tenets of Karaism into itself,
Talmudism nullified that threat too. In the Middle Ages came the
third threat to Talmudism, in Kabalism, a chunk of dissent so
huge that the Talmudist could neither cut it off nor swallow it.
For several centuries Kabalism ran alongside Talmudism, and often it was anyone's guess which, of the two constituted the main
current in Jewish life. So great was the challenge of Kabalism
that, though it has lost ; its force as an influence on Jewish life
today, it is a moot: question whether Talmudism itself will survive. Today Talmudism is a minor force, though its undercurrents
are still strong and its sources far from dried up.
The medieval period was not a useless experience in the his tory of the Jews. It educated them for the Modem Age. Because
the Jew was not part of the feudal system, it did not tie him to
any of its institutions, but allowed him to become ·a cosmopolitan in his life and a universalist in his thought. He spoke the lan guages of the world, and appreciated its cultures. Because he had
no prejudices he could carry ideas and commodities from one nation to another. Because he was an outsider with an education, he
could view societies objectively and assess their weaknesses and
strengths. He became the social critic and the prophet for new
social justice.
Popes and princes of the Middle Ages could have wiped out
the Jews completely had they wanted to, but they did not want
to. They realized the Jews were indispensable to them. The Jews
"were their physicians, their ambassadors, their businessmen,
their financiers, their men of learning in an age of darkness. But
it would be an injustice to the spirit of the Middle Ages to leave
the implication that if the Jews had not been useful they would
have been exterminated. When, because of social, economic, or
even religious pressures, the presence of the Jews became unwanted, they were banished, not killed. The Church endowed all
human beings with a .soul, and it took a man's life only to save
his soul. It was ! only when religion lost its deterrent hold on
306
man that Western society could entertain the idea of coolly mur dering millions because it felt there was no room for them.
Someday, perhaps, the real role of the Jew in the Middle
Ages will be given its rightful recognition by history. Then the
Jews will no longer be looked upon as an expendable i people
who wore yellow patches, or whose twelve-hundred-year sojourn
in the Middle Ages was no more than an insignificant, meaningless thread in the rich medieval tapestry.
Then the Jews will be looked upon as a people which helped
usher in the Enlightenment to Europe, a colorful and integral part
of the grand design of medieval history.
307
VII: ON THE HORNS OF
MODERN "ISMS"
The second Jewish Exodus – from the ghetto into a rapidly shrinking world of freedom, where the Jews become prime ministers, generals, merchant princes, and
the charter members in an intellectual avant-garde that
was to change the destiny of the world and hurl new
challenges to Jewish survival reminiscent of Babylonian times.
308
HERE'S WHEN IT HAPPENED
THE MODERN PERIOD
WORLD HISTORY
JEWISH HISTORY
American continents dis1500 A.D.
To 1600
covered; southern sector explored and settled by Spain and
Portugal, northern areas by British and French. The Netherlands
becomes Protestant; wins independence from Spain. Britain
defeats Spanish Armada. Dutch
rise in commerce begins.
Jews fleeing Spain and Portugal; are among first settlers in
South America. The Netherlands first country to readmit
Jews into Western Europe.
Holland revives Europe; age of 1600 to
Rembrandt and commerce.
1700
Cromwell gains power in England, establishes precapitalism.
Dutch lose sea supremacy and
her North American colonies to
England. British colonial expansion in North America; the Thirteen" Colonies formed.
Jews rise to high financial and
commercial posts in the Netherlands; achieve renown in
scholarship. World greets
Spinoza's writings with silence.
Jews readmitted to England;
permitted to stay in France.
First Jews arrive in the Thirteen Colonies.
Austria, Russia, Prussia become 1700 to
European powers; usher in eras 1800
of enlightenment. French Revolution shakes Europe. Napoleon reshapes map of Europa.
Strife between colonies and
England leads to American revolution and establishment of
the United States.
Jews begin to leave ghettos of
Austria and Germany. March to
baptismal fonts begins. Moses
Mendelssohn founds Reform
Judaism. Hasidism spreads in
Russia and Poland. French Revolution bestows French citizenship on Jews, Napoleon incorporates them in French life.
Age of Zunz and Vilna Gaon.
Trickle of German Jews to
America.
Russia snatched from brink of
enlightenment by her Romanov
czars. Napoleon defeated. Holy
Alliance restores former mon-
Jewish fortunes in Russia fluctuate with whims of rulers, finally degenerate from poverty
to pogroms. Spread of Hasid-
1800 to
1900
309
archies and revolutions bring
back suppressed liberties. Nationalism sweeps Europe.
Greeks win independence from
Turks. Italy is unified. German
states united. Industrial Revolution reshuffles Europe's economic frontiers. Stock exchange
becomes a power. Africa carved
up by European imperialists.
Franco-Prussian War. America
expands to Pacific Ocean; inundated with millions of immigrants.
Nobel prizes founded. Eight
million men perish in World
War I. Russia goes communist.
League of Nations dedicated.
Hitler rises to power in Germany. World War II, greatest
holocaust in human history, is
won by the Allies. United Nations established. China goes
communist. America becomes
world power and wages Cold
War with Soviet Union, and
fights Korean War and Vietnam
War. Germany and Japan become major economic powers.
European communism collapses. Breakup of Soviet Union.
ism checked. Haskala born.
Secular Hebrew and Yiddish literature flourish. Enlightenment
in Western Europe sweeps Jews
to high posts in literature, finance, and politics. Become
members of Europe's elite and
intellectual avant-garde. Anti-Semitism becomes political
movement. Karl Marx founds
communism. Dreyfus Affair.
Herzl founds political Zionism.
Immigration tides wash waves
of German and Russian Jews to
the United States.
1900 to
Present
310
Rosenzweig and Buber shape
Jewish existentialism. Freud
and Einstein revolutionize the
modem mind. Balfaur declaration. Palestine mandated to
Britain. Zionism motivates
hundreds of thousands of Jews
to Palestine to wrest land from
desert. Nazis murder 12 million, 5 million of them Jews.
United States offers haven far
300,000 German-Jewish
refugees. State of Israel is born.
Jews defeat five, invading Arab
armies, secure their own frontiers. American Jews inherit intellectual scepter from
European Jews. Rise of terrorism threatens Israel. Three
more Arab-Israeli wars won by
Israel. Peace signed with
Egypt. Lebanese War. Large infusion of Russian refugees.
End of Gulf War leads to beginning of peace Talks.
TWENTY-THREE
ANATOMY OF EMANCIPATION
Medieval European history began with the Church supreme,
the princes obedient, and the people docile. Modem European
history began with the king in power, the Church obsequious,
and the people in revolt. The medieval state, built around the
concept of a man-God relationship, strove toward a universal
brotherhood of man united by one Catholic faith. The modem
state is centered around the concept of a " social contract"
between man and state. The pattern of political power shifted
from the ecclesiastic to the secular, from faith to reason, from
noble to banker.
Medieval Jewish history ended in England in 1300, in
France in 1400, in Spain in 1500, with the successive expulsions
of the Jews from these countries. Modem Jewish history began
with the readmittance of the Jews to the West in the seventeenth
century. In Germany it began with the eighteenth century, as the
first wave of the Enlightenment breached the walls of the ghetto.
In Eastern Europe the modern period of the Jews began with the
nineteenth century.
But, whereas Jewish history in the medieval period progressed inversely to the unfolding of Christian history, in the
Modem Age it runs parallel to it. The ideas which engulfed the
Christians also engulfed the Jews. The devaluation of religion
found its adherents among both. Christians and Jews fought side
by side far democracy. They became the victims of the same tyrannies, and both knelt at the altar of the same new god – science.
It is within these changed man – God relationships in Western
civilization that the modem act of the Jewish drama unfolds in
all its grandeur and tragedy.
Modem Jewish history can be viewed as an existentialist
syndrome in five symptoms – a West European illusion, an East
European regression, an American amnesia, a Nazi nightmare,
and an Israeli awakening. To unravel this tangled skein, we must
311
first retrace our steps to the seventeenth century and follow the
historical events which led the Jews back to the West, then work
our way to the East to examine the anatomy of their emancipation, which came as a result not of direct Jewish action but of a
change in Christian attitudes. We must break Jewish history into
arbitrary, component parts, and examine each in turn before we
unify it in Israel, a state created mainly by direct Jewish action.
The Westward Trail
After the decline of Charlemagne's empire, the map of
Europe was reshaped more in the bedrooms of royalty than on
the battlefield, for who married whom also determined who ruled
what. Spain especially had her royal offspring in practically
every court on the Continent, including that of the Netherlands.
Through a genealogy more complicated than any in Genesis,
much-married Philip II of Spain, a bureaucratic Hapsburg autocrat and revengeful religious fanatic, inherited the Protestant and
capitalist Netherlands in 1556. To stamp out this dual heresy,
Catholic and feudal Philip II introduced both the Inquisition and
the Duke of Alba, who, like the Roman procurators in Judea,
thought that ideas could be stamped out by massacre. The Dutch
rose in revolt, and the Puritan Virgin Queen of England, Elizabeth I, fearful of Romanism and Spain 's growing power, joined
the cause of the Netherlands. To break this alliance, Philip II organized his invincible Armada of 132 ships and 3, 165 cannon.
But history was unimpressed, as was Sir Francis Drake, who put
the Armada to flight (1588). A storm sank the remnants of the
fleet off the coast of the Hebrides. Hundreds of seamen were
washed ashore on Ireland's coast, where many a Spanish sailor
was hospitably received to the bosom of many an Irish lass in
holy matrimony, which may account for the numerous blackhaired Irishmen with Spanish names.
Here in the Netherlands we are again confronted with one of
those inexplicable coincidences that receive such scant ·attention
from historians. Within twenty years of her liberation, this little
country challenged the commercial supremacy of all European
312
powers. By 1602 she had formed the Dutch East India Company,
the chief arm of her imperialism. By 1650, she was the commercial center of Europe, and her capital, Amsterdam, was the financial center of the world. Uncannily, this rise of Dutch supremacy
coincides with the arrival of the Jews and their proliferation in
trade and finance during this period. The first Jews to arrive in
the Netherlands in 1593 from Spain were the descendants of
those Jews who, rather than leave Spain in the expulsion of
1492, had converted to Christianity and then, in turn, had become Marranos.
Tradition has it that the first Jews, settling unobtrusively and
unofficially in the Netherlands, aroused the suspicions of the
Dutch Protestants by their secret practice of Judaism. Suspecting
a Papist plot, the authorities swooped down on the Amsterdam
Jewish congregation while at prayer on the Day of Atonement,
thinking they had corralled a nest of Catholics. As the Jews could
speak no Dutch, disaster faced them. Fortunately their spokes man, a Latin scholar, found a Dutch Latin scholar to whom he
explained the situation in the language of the Holy Roman
Church, promising that if allowed to stay the Jews would persuade other Marranos in Spain and Portugal – all men of means
and learning – to come to Amsterdam to help the Dutch in their
struggle against Spain. The Dutch, confused, consulted their legal notables, who ruled that the Jews were neither Catholics nor
Papists, but members of the Hebrew nation. Permission to reside
in the land was granted, provided they would not marry Christians or attack the state religion. As these two conditions coincided
with the Jewish view of things, an accord was reached. Jews
streamed into the Netherlands from Portugal, Spain, and the
nearby German ghettos.
Soon Amsterdam was known as "New Jerusalem," to which
Spanish and Portuguese Marranos brought their vast learning,
their skills, and their connections. They established business
branches in every seaport – in the Mediterranean, in India, in the
Ottoman Empire, in South and North America, including New
York, then known as New Amsterdam. They founded new indus313
tries and new trade routes, built new factories, and established
famed banking houses. They sat on the board of directors of the
Dutch East India Company, and were instrumental in making
Amsterdam the center of the world jewelry trade. They became
subjects for Rembrandt's paintings. Toward the end of the seventeenth century there were about 10,000 Jews in Amsterdam.
Dutch supremacy in world commerce came to an end, however, in the middle of the seventeenth century, with the ascent to
power in England of Oliver Cromwell, a plain man in ill-fitting
clothes, who combined revolt, reformation, and capitalism into a
single victory. Cromwell served the capitalist cause in England in
the same way Luther had served it in Germany. Under the mantle
of his Ironsides – as his soldiers were called – free enterprise entrenched itself in British life. Cromwell became Lord Protector –
another name for for dictator – of England. Just as the Jews in
the Middle Ages had been dispossessed from their posts by the
rising Christian middle class, so the Catholics in Britain and Ireland were dispossessed from all better-paying jobs to make room
for deserving Protestants. Capitalism was firmly entrenched in
the new order, and all ill-gotten gains were deeded to the new
owners. England turned to trade, and soon her ships were carry ing the cargoes of the world.
The Jews in Holland quickly sensed this new spirit of capitalism in Cromwell's England, and the Amsterdam Jews sent an
emissary to explore the possibility of a return to that island from
which the Jews had been banned in 1290. Cromwell viewed the
Jews with the appraising eye of an employer looking for good
men to staff his growing business. He could see the activity of
the Jews in Amsterdam, could see them in many dominant posts,
busily spreading the , gospel of commerce. He looked forward to
meeting their deputy, Rabbi Manasseh ben Israel.
Rembrandt's etching of Manasseh shows a countenance and
a mode of dress more associated with the musketeer Porthos in
Dumas's novel than with the popular concept of a Jew of the
1650s. The Vandyke beard, with the matching mustache, neatly
displayed on a starched white collar, and a wide-brimmed hat
314
perched on the head in a casual fashion give more the image of
the man on a horse than the man with the Talmud. At the age of
eighteen, child prodigy Manasseh had become rabbi of the Jewish congregation in Amsterdam, where he founded the first Jewish printing press. Through the translation of his writings into
Latin and Spanish, he came to represent contemporary Jewish
scholarship to the Christians.
Correctly appraising the Puritan mind, Manasseh appealed
to the spirit of Protestantism. Expecting a presentation on how
much the Jews could contribute to England's commerce, Cromwell and the assembled notables instead heard Manasseh tell
how the British themselves could hasten the Last Judgment by
admitting Jews to England. His reasoning was simplicity itself.
Had not the Book of Daniel prophesied that there could be no redemption until after the Jews had been scattered from one end of
the earth to the other? How then, he asked, could this be fulfilled
if there were no Jews in England?
The approach worked. Not knowing how the people would
take to Jews who would compete with them, but convinced the
Jews were essential both to their redemption and to their eco nomy, the notables decided not to make any official decision. Instead, the word was passed to the Jews that they could settle in
England without a formal invitation.
Again we are confronted with uncanny coincidence. As the
Jews were forced to stay out of retailing by law, they went into
banking, finance, and international trade; and, as in the Netherlands, the Jews in England quickly rose to high posts. Soon they
had far-flung commercial enterprises, sat on the Royal Exchange,
acquired great wealth. Soon Britain began challenging the Dutch.
After her navy had defeated rival fleets, she surpassed all other
European powers in trade.
British rulers in the seventeenth century specifically asked
the Jews to break the stranglehold of the ring of usurious Christian moneylenders who had dominated England's money market
since the expulsion of the Jews in the thirteenth century. It was
for his successful effort in this struggle that William III (William
315
of Orange) knighted the Jewish banker Solomon Medina. William Pitt asked the Jews to help him finance England's struggle
against France, in the Seven Years' War. He also turned to them
for help in the government's fight against a group of Christian
bankers who were monopolizing all treasury issues at extortion ate rates, services for which several Jews were again knighted.
Though Jews in the banking field could have benefited personally from higher interest rates, they fought for social legislation
prohibiting ruinously high interest charges. In time, the. competition of Jewish bankers forced interest rates down.
A hundred years after the first Marranos settled in England,
Jews began arriving from the ghettos of Germany and Russia.
But the two strains of Jews never merged. Each went its separate
way, the Spanish or Sephardic Jews regarding themselves as superior to the German or Ashkenazic Jews in the way a Boston
Brahmin regards himself as superior to an Italian immigrant. In
fact, not only did they not merge, they diverged. As the Sephardics rose in scholarship and wealth, they absorbed more and
more English culture. What the Spanish had not been able to accomplish with force, the English accomplished with indifference.
Sephardic Jews applied for baptism in the Anglican Church. The
Church welcomed these Jewish "truants" with open arms, and
the Jews welcomed the patents of nobility that so often accompanied the certificate of baptism. The German and Russian Jews,
again, secluded themselves in their own quarters, waiting for the
nineteenth century before making their debut in British high society.
The Jews reentered France during the reign of Louis XIV,
strictly as a by-product of history. With the signing of the Treaty
of Westphalia ( 1648), France not only gained Alsace from Austria but also inherited a sizable Jewish ghetto population,
destined to make no impact on French culture, science, or finance for 150 years. Petty moneylending and old-clothes peddling
were their lot for another .century and a half, though famed
Court Jews served all four Louis's (XIII through XVI). Why did
not the Jews prosper and advance in French society the way they
316
had in the Netherlands and England? The answer is simple.
There was no need in France at this time for the Jews and their
specialized skills, because France at this time was neither Protestant nor capitalist.
From Ghetto to Baptismal Font
In the West, the problem for the Jews had been to get in. In
the East the problem was to get out, that is, out of the ghettos
where they had been since 1600. In Austria this exodus began
when the Spanish-born Empress Maria Theresa was handed that
war-torn Catholic country by her father, Emperor Charles VI.
Lusty and matriarchal, shrewd and ambitious, enlightened and
superstitious, she mothered sixteen children, corresponded with
Voltaire, had the finest artillery in Europe, and was frightened by
Protestants and Jews. Like the Greeks and their Hellenization
program, Maria Theresa tried to fit an Austrian Kultur skirt on
her subject peoples – Bohemians, Silesians, Magyars, Moravians, Poles, Rumanians, Jews – and failed. She then adopted a
policy of force and conciliation. Many farmer feudal restrictions
were abolished and the lot of the peasants was improved. But she
banished the Jews from both Prague and Vienna, only to recall
them a few years later under the pressure of mixed emotions – a
pinched treasury, the censure of world opinion, and her own
sense of fairness. Yet at all times she retained the services of the
best Court Jews in Europe to keep her army well provisioned and
her finances in the black.
Much as Maria Theresa feared unbaptized Jews, she loved
baptized ones. A converted Jew could reach practically any position he aspired to, including a career in the clergy or nobility.
The career of ghetto-born Joseph von Sonnenfels illustrates the
great cultural and humanistic impact baptized Jews had on eighteenth-century Austria. Von Sonnenfels, converted at an early age,
served as a private in the Austrian army, studied law, wrote the
legislation abolishing torture in Austria, founded the Austrian
National Theater, became president of the Royal Academy of
Arts, director of literature, and a personal friends of both Maria
317
Theresa and her successor, Joseph II.
"I love humanity without limitations," declared Joseph II
when he inherited the throne of Austria; and European royalty
shivered. To preach enlightenment was elegant, but to practice it
was downright vulgar. A year after his accession to the throne,
Joseph II issued his Patent of Tolerance, which included both
Jews and Protestants. It was not his intent to place them on equal
footing with the Catholics, but for many Jews the Patent did
mean that they were free to leave the ghetto, free to discard dress
distinctions, free to learn any trade they pleased, free to engage
in commerce, open factories, send their children to public
schools, and attend universities.
Under the tolerant reign of Joseph II, a new type of Jew
made his appearance in Austrian society, the Salon Jude, or
"Salon Jew." As in their Greco-Roman and Islamic Ages, the
Jews used education as a lever to success, and because they be came rich, because they were talented, brilliant, witty, interested
in the theater, music, literature, the Christian intelligentsia found
itself drawn to the Jewish salons.
After an inspiring Mass on Sunday morning, it was wonderful to relax in the elegant, sophisticated atmosphere of a Jewish
drawing room where one could meet royalty, aristocracy, the
latest celebrities of stage, arts, and letters.
But such was not the way of life for all Jews, only for a
favored few. By 1800, Jewish life in Austria had hardened into
three strata: a great mass of ghetto Jews who, though free to
leave, were tied to the ghetto by poverty; a small; brilliant coterie
of Salon Jews; and an even smaller number of converted Jews
who had gained entry into the clergy, nobility, and government.
Jewish fortunes in Protestant Prussia paralleled those in
Catholic Austria. The founders of modern Prussia were four Fredericks of the house of Hohenzollern. They built the Prussian
state with a calculated mixture of cruelty and enlightenment, and
their work was preserved with Europe's most formidable standing army, numbering 83,000 men out of a population of
2,500,000. Torture as an aid to justice was abolished, a measure
318
of freedom was given the serfs, compulsory primary education
was introduced, and religious toleration was granted to Catholics
and Jews.
It was during the reign of the Great Elector, Frederick William (1640-1688), that the first Jews settled in Berlin, and in 1712
the Jews in Berlin formally dedicated their first synagogue. The
cause for the Great Elector's interest in the Jews is still debated.
The Freudian school holds to the theory that it sprang from a romantic, though illicit, attachment to the beautiful but not too vir tuous wife of his Jewish court jeweler. The Marxist school hews
to the line that it stemmed from the substantial revenue the Jews
brought into his realm by stimulating industry. Whatever the
cause, it was not sufficient to open the doors to freedom for all
Jews, only to a select few who, by luck or by knowing the right
people, moved out of the ghetto into the expanding German cities. Business and scholarship were the bent of these emancipated
German Jews, and here, as in all other countries where restric tions were removed, they soon soared to the top.
In Prussia and the other German states, the Salon Jew too
appeared, and the voluntary procession to the baptismal font also
began. There were no emancipation leaders to give meaning to a
Judaism outside ghetto walls, and Jews seemed to assimilate the
moment they were emancipated. Again, the right man appeared
at the right time, the hero in history who singlehandedly shaped
the first Jewish reform movement.
No stage director would have dared select an ugly, ghetto
hunchback as the central character in this Jewish Kultur drama.
But history dared. It selected Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786), a
hunchback from the ghetto of Dessau, to reintroduce a knowledge of Judaism to the Christians, and, even more incredibly, to
sell Christian cultural values to the ghetto dwellers. It was he
who overcame the conviction that ghetto life was Jewish life. It
was he who brought secular learning back to the Jewish schools.
It was he, more than anyone else, who prepared the Jews of Germany for the freedom hiding around the corner of history.
At the age of fourteen, Moses Mendelssohn hitchhiked to
319
Berlin for a secular education. Here he was swept into the German Enlightenment (Aufklärung), which, influenced by
Rousseau and Voltaire, revolted against all traditional beliefs. He
became a friend of Immanuel Kant and of Gotthold; Lessing,
then Germany's foremost dramatist. Lessing's play inspired by
him, Nathan the Wise, swept the European stage and changed the
popular image of the Jew from that of a ghetto dweller to that of
the proud Jew of former days, the inheritor of a rich culture.
Mendelssohn's philosophical works earned him the sobriquet
"German Socrates"; his reviews on literature made him the lead ing German stylist; and his critical essays on art made him the
founder of modern aesthetic criticism.
Mendelssohn became a Salon Jew, and his Aufklärung trail
was leading him to the arms of the Christian church. His recall to
Judaism did not come about through an encounter with the
Deity; it came about through a fluke of history. He was chal lenged publicly to quit straddling the religious issue and either
refute Christianity or be baptized. In wrestling with his conscience, Mendelssohn became reinfected with the spirit of Judaism.
Mendelssohn clearly saw the dilemma of and the danger ; to
the Jews. If they remained in the ghetto, they would stagnate into
a meaningless existence. If, on the other hand, they were catapul ted out of the ghetto by the new social forces shattering feudalism, without being prepared for the Enlightenment, they would
be swallowed up by the dominant Christian majority. Mendelssohn saw his task as twofold: first, to give the Jews a tool for
their own emancipation; second, to prepare a new basis for Juda ic values once the old religious norms were rejected. The way
Hercules diverted the flow of two rivers into the Augean stables
to clean out decades of accumulated refuse, so Mendelssohn
channeled the currents of the Aufklärung into the ghetto to sweep
out centuries of accumulated orthodoxy.
The German language was to be the tool whereby the Jews
would lift themselves out of the ghetto. It was with this in mind
that Mendelssohn translated the Pentateuch into a beautiful, lu320
cid German, written in Hebrew letters. His surmise, that once the
Jews learned German they would also start reading German secular literature and science, proved correct. Ghetto education
began to lose its hold upon Jewish youth as it came in contact
with Western science, mathematics, literature, and philosophy.
Jewish youth left the ghetto., But they did not walk out into an
unfenced field. Mendelssohn had shaped the first outlines of the
coming Reform Judaism to hold the newly enlightened Jews in
the fold. In a series of books and pamphlets, he formulated the
principles upon which modem Judaism was to be built. He reformulated Rousseau's social contract to apply to the Jews, but that
·contract did not exclude God.
Secular laws formulated for survival in one age, argued
Mendelssohn, should not become divine laws in another age
which no longer needed them. There was no reason why the Jews
should cling to a "Jewish state" within a feudal state that was dying. Every Jew should be free to dissolve his bonds with the
"ghetto government" and "sign a contract" with the gentile state
in the same way Christians were abandoning their feudal ties and
becoming citizens of the state." Emancipation of the Jews, argued Mendelssohn, could only be achieved by throwing off those
laws which bound them to the ghetto past. Jewish religion should
be concerned with. eternal truths, not with the minutiae of everyday life.
To survive as Jews, he held, it was not necessary to cling
eternally to temporary national injunctions, but it was necessary
for survival as Jews to keep those commandments which bound
them to the divine past.
Up to this point, Mendelssohn's arguments were modern'[ restatements of those of the Pharisees, who, back in Greco-Roman
days had argued for a liberal Mishna and Gemara, Mendelssohn
added two new ideas: First, the breaking of a religious law, he
said, was an individual offense, not a state offense; second, the
power of excommunication must not be used to enforce religious
conformity.
Mendelssohn proved a prophet before his time. The ques321
tions he raised on the relationship of the modem Jew to the modern state were precisely those which Napoleon was to raise thirty
years later, and the answers the Jews were to give then were in
essence the solutions Mendelssohn had prescribed.
The Jewish "eighteenth-century story" in Russia never even
received a chapter heading. The Russian Enlightenment did not
touch the life of the Jews, and it barely touched the Russian
people. While the Jews in the Netherlands and England rose to
great prosperity, while the Austrian and Prussian Salon Jews entertained Christian nobility in their drawing rooms, while
Mendelssohn spread his gospel of the Enlightenment in Germany, the Jews in Russia and her buffer countries from Lithuania
to Rumania vegetated until they were shaken out of their mental
and political torpor by an event whose import they could not
fathom at the time, and by a man about whom more books have
been written than have been written about Jesus. The event was
the French Revolution, and the man was Napoleon Bonaparte.
Napoleonic Imperialism and Jewish Emancipation
The destiny not only of nineteenth-century Europe but also
of her Jews was forged in eighteenth-century France. Whatever
affected France affected all Europe, for as one historian succinctly phrased it, "When France sneezed, Europe caught a
cold." The history of France was no longer shaped by her kings
but by her intellectuals. Not hunger stirred the masses, but ideas.
Four eighteenth-century French intellectuals, none Jewish, were
changing the thinking of Europe. Voltaire's slashing wit undermined the foundations of the Church, Diderot's Encyclopedia of
reason, science, and art undermined the value of faith,
Rousseau's Social Contract Undermined the old concepts of
state, and Condorcet's philosophy of the "infinite perfectibility of
man" gave hope for a new rational human being.
Of all these works, Rousseau's Social Contract played the
greatest role, not only in fueling the French Revolution but also
in kindling the intense nationalism of the nineteenth century. It
holds that the first government began with a mutual contract
322
between people and ruler for the general good of both, but that
through the ages, through the intervention of science, art, and
politics, this contract became corrupted, and then lost. The state,
Rousseau held, should be a popular expression of the will of the
people, not that of the ruler. The governed must surrender certain
rights to the state for the welfare of all. But the governed also
have the right to terminate this contract if the ruler should usurp
the powers delegated to him by the people.
The question again presents itself, Which comes first, the
new ideas which overthrow old institutions, or the crumbling, of
old institutions which give rise to new ideas? Do new modes of
production make the established order obsolete, or does a dying
old order give rise to these new ideas? Whichever came first,
there is no doubt that the leaders of the French Revolution seized
these concepts of the rationalists and used their words as slogans
to sweep the people along with them. The muskets of Louis
XVI's Swiss mercenaries were unable to prevent the germs of
Equality, Fraternity, and Liberty from infecting the political body
of France.
The French Revolution began as a revolt against a king
whom the people could not understand, and developed into a
hysteria which their leaders could not contain. Reason clouded
humanity, and terror became the instrument of reason. Events
followed in quick succession. The Bastille was stormed. France
was declared a republic, the king and queen were executed, the
Terror was instituted, and the nobles were marched 350 a month
to the guillotine. In November 1793 God was formally dethroned, and in June 1794 Robespierre was venerated as high
priest.
But one by one, those who had made the Revolution died by
its dynamics. Marat was assassinated in his bathtub by Charlotte
Corday for having betrayed the Revolution. Danton was guillotined by Robespierre for having stood in the way of the Revolution. Robespierre was beheaded by his own party because he
had not been corrupted by the Revolution.
When the Revolution began, the Jews were high on the pri323
ority list of enemies of the Republic. Pure reason proved it. The
Church was an enemy of the Revolution, and since Church and
Jews recognized the same Old Testament it stood to reason that
the Jews also were enemies of the state. But for the ghost of
Mendelssohn and a famous French aristocrat, Count Mirabeau,
the Jews of France might have vanished in the backwash of the
French Revolution. Mirabeau, famed orator and one of the few
Revolutionary leaders who died in bed, had met Moses Mendelssohn in Berlin and through him had become acquainted with the
3,500-year-old Jewish cultural tradition.
When, after the storming of the Bastille, Jewish leaders appeared before the Tribunal to state their rights as equal citizens,
it was Mirabeau who took up their cause. A great debate ensued,
and finally the issue was put to a vote by the people. The anti-Jewish factions, confident of the outcome, received a stinging
setback. Of the sixty districts in Paris, fifty-three voted overwhelmingly for Jewish equality. In 1791, the 70,000 Jews of
France became citizens with equal rights.
But the new French Republic and the new freedoms of the
Jews were in peril. With trepidation the crowned heads of
Europe had seen the common people in America rebel against
their king in England, take law in their own hands and establish a
revolutionary, radical republic based on an inflammatory doctrine known as the Declaration of Independence, obviously
modeled on that left-wing book The Social Contract, written by
that lascivious megalomaniac, Rousseau. Now with ·even greater
trepidation, the kings of Europe saw the same thing happening in
France, in their own backyard. It had to be stopped, by force. The
armies of Austria, Prussia, Spain, and England converged on
France to stamp out this heresy of liberty.
To aid the invading armies, the French nobles organized a
fifth column inside France and staged a white counterterror of
their own, getting set to take Paris by a coup d 'état. But they had
not counted on a twenty-four-year-old general of artillery named
Napoleon Bonaparte. With one "whiff of grapeshot," as he
termed it, Bonaparte broke the back of the uprising by a
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point„blank fusillade into the ranks of the nobles. From then on
until 1815 the history of Europe was the biography of this little
Corsican, "a scion of the poor gentry of Ajaccio."54 One by one
he devoured the states of Europe, handing their crowns like wedding gifts to his numerous family members. "I am not the successor to Louis XVI but to Charlemagne," he proclaimed, upon
placing the famed iron crown of Milan upon his own head.
Napoleon enthroned himself and took over the functions of
both dethroned king and God. The allegiance of man was now
unofficially transferred from God to goods. He domesticated the
clergy, confirmed with his Code Napoleon the social and material gains of the Revolution, established. educational institutions
controlled by the state, and created the Legion of Honor, a badge
to reward bourgeois virtues.
How did all this affect the Jews? The Jews in the Middle
Ages, it must be remembered, were a separate corporate entity,
almost completely self-governing. As no one had equality in the
Middle Ages, it is meaningless to assert that the Jews did not
have equality. But they did have their own courts, their own po lice, judges, and taxation system. As such they acted as a state
within a state, enjoying liberties and rights not enjoyed by most
Christians in feudal society. Though their general status had been
below that of the nobility and the higher-ranking clergy, it was
far above serf, villein, yeoman, and burgher in the period before
the Jewish banishment to the ghetto. Now that the feudal state no
longer existed in France, Napoleon was faced with the problem
of what to do with the "Jewish state" within his empire's boundaries, and with the "Jewish states" existing in the countries he
was conquering and annexing to that empire.
With his flair for showmanship, Napoleon convoked a National Assembly of Jewish Notables, where he stunned them by
asking twelve seemingly pointless questions. Some of the questions asked were: Do Jews sanction polygamy? Do they permit
divorce? Would a Jew be permitted to marry a Christian? Do
54 Lucien Romier, A History of France, page 347.
325
French-born Jews consider themselves Frenchmen? Are Jews
willing to obey French laws? What police powers do the rabbis
exercise? And so on. The Notables, seething ·with rage because
they did not understand the full import of the situation, neverthe less had the sense to treat the questions with a gravity they did
not seem to merit. Within a few weeks they gave the answers Napoleon had anticipated, namely that Jews did not believe in polygamy and did permit divorce," that France was the country of
French Jews and they would insist on defending her against all
enemies, that the rabbis exercised no police functions, that Jew ish marriage prohibitions extended to heathens only and Jews did
not view Christians as heathens, and so on.
Napoleon then played his trump. He convoked the first
Great Sanhedrin in eighteen hundred years, a Sanhedrin which
had not held a meeting since the destruction of the Temple by the
Romans. Napoleon wanted the Jews to reaffirm their answers before this special Great Sanhedrin and thus make their answers
binding on all Jewry. The Jewish leaders, though now divining
his intent, were nevertheless unable to hold back tears of pride
that that august body would once again preside in Jewish life.
The news swept through the Jewish world. The name of Napoleon became known to every Jew. Special services were held for
him in synagogues throughout Europe and America.
The Great Sanhedrin, which collapsed as soon as it had accomplished Napoleon's ends, confirmed the answers of the Assembly of Notables. By doing so, it also proclaimed to world Jewry that the Mosaic laws were religious, not secular, in nature,
that Jews owed allegiance to the state, that the jurisdiction of
rabbis did not extend into civil and judicial affairs, and that the
Jews no longer had a special corporate state but were part of the
nation. From that moment on, whatever Jewish feudal entities
still existed were anachronistic remnants waiting for history to
end them.
Napoleon's military defeat came with Waterloo, his political
end with the Congress of Vienna (1815), where Emperor Francis
of Austria played host to the reactionary rulers of Europe who ar326
rived with wardrobes of brilliant uniforms, retinues of glittering
mistresses, and a firm resolve to set the clock back. They signed
a pact known as the Holy Alliance. The old order was to be restored. They slammed the lid on all further social and economic
progress, and swore they would come to the aid of each other in
case any democratic revolutionaries tried to overthrow any monarchies.
The result was a series of revolutions the like of which
Europe had never seen. A breeze of freedom spread the flames of
revolt across the continent, fanning the outbreaks of 1820, 1830,
and 1848. Democracy was defeated again and again, but it per severed and in the end was triumphant. The French rebelled
against the restoration of the Bourbons, the Greeks overthrew
their Turkish masters, Italy was unified, Bismarck forged the
German state. Jews fought side by side with the Christians, on
the side of reaction at times, but mostly on the side of democracy. They fought as Frenchmen, Italians, Germans, Austrians,
Englishmen, all infected with the same slogans of nationalism.
While men waved their respective flags, talked of the brotherhood of man, and shot each other, steam .and electricity forged
new patterns of life, the Industrial Revolution elevated a seat on
the stock exchange above a seat on the throne, and a new German state rose to challenge the supremacy of England's place in
the sun. The world, without knowing it, was rushing headlong
into World War I.
The nineteenth-century emancipation of the Jews in Italy
paralleled the seesawing fortunes of nineteenth-century
European history, and typified the pattern of Jewish emancipation in the rest of Western Europe. The liberation of Rome by
Napoleon's armies was dramatic. In a torchlight ceremony the
commanding French general read to a cheering multitude Napoleon's proclamation granting Italians and Jews freedom, equal
rights, and religious toleration. All over Italy ghetto gates were
torn down. Italians greeted rabbis as “citizen rabbi," linked their
arms with the arms of bewildered Jews, and marched jubilantly
with them into freedom. Liberty Trees were dedicated every327
where.
Napoleon's Waterloo also spelled a Waterloo for Jews and
democratic Italians. The moment Napoleon fell, the exiled rulers
dusted off their uniforms and, with the help of the signatory
powers of the Holy Alliance, were restored to their thrones in a
carved-up Italy. Down came the Liberty Trees. The Pope, who
had been led into captivity, was restored, the Inquisition was reintroduced, the Jews were driven back into the ghetto, and the
civil rights of the Italians were revoked.
But it was too late. The Italian people liked the idea of individual freedom. Revolutionary sentiment grew, and secret societ ies to combat the reactionaries multiplied. The most influential
of these was the Carbonari, a movement inspired by Christian
ideals, supported by Jewish money, and composed of fighting
members of both religions. In 1820 the first revolt broke out in
the open. It was doomed to failure by the intervention of the
Holy Alliance. Bayonets and bullets were the answers to demands for liberty and groceries, But though that battle was lost,
the war far freedom went on. Giuseppe' Mazzini launched a new
revolutionary society with the aim of freeing Italy from both papal rule and foreign domination. Rabbis preached recruitment sermons and the Jews flocked to the banners of Mazzini's Young
Italy. This was the second revolution ( 1830-1831 ), and it too
met with bitter defeat.
A new national hero then appeared on the scene, Giuseppe
Garibaldi. In the revolution of 1849, Garibaldi, together with
Mazzini, succeeded in the first unification of Italy. Jews
streamed into Rome from all over the country to hail the liberat ors, to hear the new Italian Republic proclaimed. Their devotion
and sacrifice earned them high posts in the government of this
new republic, which was short-lived. It was again crushed by the
Holy Alliance, and again Italy was carved up. The underground
fight for unification continued. Jews joined Count Cavour's
Risorgimento, marched with Garibaldi's Thousand Redshirts to
take Sicily and Naples, fought in Mazzini's new legions, and
shouted themselves hoarse with ·the Italians when success at last
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followed and the new constitutional Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed in 1861.
In the new Italy, Jews were elected and named by Italians to
high and glittering posts, a ringing affirmation of faith in the
Jewish people. Luigi Luzzatti, the Jewish founder of the People's
Bank in Italy, was finance minister five times, as well as prime
minister. General Giuseppe Ottolenghi, the first Jew to serve on
the Italian General Staff, fought in the Risorgimento, and became
minister of war. Another Jew, Sidney Sonnino, was prime minister twice, and as foreign minister. during World War I as instrumental in breaking the Triple Alliance between Germany, Austria, and Italy to bring Italy into the war on the side of the Allies.
Catholic Rome elected Ernesto Nathan as its mayor. Ludovico
Mortara, who systematized Italian civil law procedure, was president of the Italian Supreme Court and served as minister of
justice.
The story of the Jews in nineteenth-century Germany was
much the same as in Italy. The first German ghetto to fall, in
1798, was in Bonn, the birthplace of Beethoven, where singing
Germans marched to the gates and tore them down. One by one
the German ghettos disappeared, and the Jews became citizens.
As in Italy, they took part in the revolutions and counterrevolutions taking place in Germany, joining the Germans in their fight
for a modern state with liberty for all. The Jews served the Prussian state as officers and privates, as statesmen and bureaucrats.
They worked with the Kaiser and Bismarck to unify Prussia with
the Confederation of German States, which had replaced the
Holy Roman Empire after the Congress of Vienna. When Napoleon III declared war on Prussia in 1870, over 7,000 Jews
marched with Bisarck's armies into France. The spirit of
Deutschland über Alles was as endemic with the German Jews as
with the German Christians. German Jews jubilantly hailed the
victory with their German Christian comrades in arms, and
French Jews swore with French Christians to take revenge.
In Austria, Jewish emancipation first hit a snag, then took
much the same form as it had taken in Germany. When Joseph II
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died, his Patent of Tolerance was buried with him. It was replaced with a free reign of reaction. Jewish and Christian gains
were thrown into a coffer of repression, and the. lid was
slammed shut and sat on by the hosts of the Vienna Congress and
the signers of the Holy Alliance. Inside, Christian and Jewish liberals fomented the Revolution of 1848, which blew the royal sitdowners off the lid and out of power, restoring to the Austrians
their former gains. An ironic footnote is the fate of Prince Metternich, whose hand had guided the Congress of Vienna.
Threatened with a rope by the revolutionaries, Metternich beseeched the help of Baron Solomon Rothschild, one of the century's last Court Jews, who helped him escape and subsidized
him in exile.
Serfs, Slavophiles, and Jews
While the emancipation of the Jews progressed rapidly west
of the Vistula, Jewish political life in Russia and her buffer states
regressed equally rapidly. Jews roamed the Pale of Settlement at
will, after the partition of Poland, but remained isolated among
illiterate Russian peasants and ignorant landholders. Their life
continued to stagnate, their heritage buried in the daily, meaning less activities of village life, their children cut off from secular
learning. It was a physically safe dead-end street which spelled
intellectual death. Then, suddenly, in the nineteenth century, Russian Jewish history reversed itself. Life became physically dan gerous but intellectually challenging.
Five Romanov czars ruled Russia in the nineteenth century.
Between them they managed to snatch Russia from the brink of
enlightenment and plunge her back into feudal despotism. They
had no consistent policy, but ruled by whim, with a blend of ruth lessness and paternalism. They gave freedom to the serfs, but no
land. They abolished torture, but instituted a police state. They
preached enlightenment, but kept the masses illiterate. Their
policy toward the Jews was equally paradoxical. They abolished
the Jewish corporate state, but refused the Jews citizenship. They
urged the Jews into agriculture, but would not let them own land.
330
They tried to integrate the Jews with the Russians, but restricted
them to an ever-shrinking Pale. In the end, their good and bad intentions alike earned them the hate of Russians, Poles, and Jews.
Russia's one million Jews hailed Alexander I as a liberator,
when be ascended the throne in 1801. He granted amnesty to
political prisoners, abolished torture, permitted anyone who
wished to set his serfs free. Jews were allowed to pursue any occupations they desired. They could attend Russian schools and
universities, even settle in Moscow and in Great Russia. Most of
these liberties were on paper only. Nevertheless, many Jews
whose parents were peddlers and goatherds managed to become
merchants and manufacturers, professionals and scholars.
Though most still lived in the Pale, the average Jew was better
off than the average Russian, who at the dawn of the nineteenth
century still lived in a thatched mud hut with his animals, slave
to his master's knout, illiterate and superstitious.
At the Congress of Vienna, however, Alexander I drank too
much of the wine of reaction and began to view with fright his
own liberalism. He clamped a police-state straitjacket over all
Russia, and embarked upon a policy of herding all Jews back
into a smaller Pale. He died before he could put these ideas into
effect, but his successor, Nicholas I, shared his older brother's
fears, and Russians, Poles, and Jews all felt his tyrannical hand.
Jews were banned from their professions and banished from
the cities into the Pale. Overnight, 100,000 Jews were made penniless and homeless. A special military conscription policy made
Jewish children between twelve and eighteen years of age eligible for twenty-five years of military service. Once a Jewish
youth was thus drafted his parents never saw him again. He
either died before his term expired, or converted under the pressure of taunts and torture. Civil disobedience developed, giving
rise to a new Russian occupation, kidnapping. These military
kidnapers – or "choppers" (literally snatchers), as they were
known by the Jews – prowled Jewish communities, kidnapping
Jewish boys to fill military quotas, much as the British impressed
Americans into their merchant marine, prior to the War of 1812.
331
One other edict would have practically wiped out Jewish
communal life but for the ingenuity of the Jews. Jewish self-government was to be dissolved and the Jews were to be placed directly under Russian administration, in much the same manner as
in France under Napoleon. When the Jews in the West gave up
their corporate state, however, they received citizenship in ex change. But Russia had not given up ·its feudal state and did not
grant the Jews citizenship. The Jews had a justifiable disrespect
for Russian justice and administration. To have depended upon
the mercies of Russian justice would have led to destruction.
Corruption and venality ran through the Russian state like venereal disease through Napoleon's troops in Spain.
How, then, did the Jews of Russia survive, without either a
state of their own or a host state to protect them? They devised a
pocket-size, instant government known as hevras, or "societies."
The Jews broke down the functions of government into component parts and formed a society for each function. There were so cieties for orphans, funerals, education, marriageable poor maidens, soup kitchens, arts and crafts – anything one could name –
each with its rules and bylaws which the members had to abide
by. Whenever a dispute arose, the Jews went to the proper "society" for justice. There always happened to be a rabbi or two as a
member in each hevra to render a verdict. Seldom did a Jew re sort to a Russian court.
By 1850 the Pale had shrunk to half its original size, and
most Jews lived on the edge of poverty, starvation, and despair.
When Czar Nicholas I was lowered into his grave with the unified hatred of Russians, Poles, and Jews, in 1855, the first act of
the Romanov drama ended.
With amazement Russia watched the second act of this unpredictable royal play. Alexander II boldly freed 40 million serfs,
curbed the powers of the Greek Orthodox Church, cracked down
on the nobles, and cleaned out the Augean stables of his corrupt
judiciary. He ended the forcible conscription of Jewish juveniles,
made education available to all, and opened the doors of Russia
to the three million Jews living in the Pale.
332
Once more the history of the Jews took on the now familiar
forms. Because of their connections with European banking
houses, because of their ready credit, Czar Alexander turned to
them to help him develop Russia industrially. It was to the Jews
that he entrusted the building of Russia's banking system. Samuel
Poliakov, known as Russia's "railroad king," linked Russia's East
and West with arteries of iron, for which he was knighted. Banking, law, architecture, medicine, industry became the occupations
of Jews in Russia. This new mode of life applied only to 5 percent of the Jewish population, however. The vast majority still
lived in the Pale. But with no twenty-five-year military-service
terms threatening their children, with the avenues of education
open, hope again swept through the Russian Jewish communities.
Then, as if overnight, the second act of liberalism was over.
The stage was struck, down came the scenery of enlightenment
and back went the props of Act One. A wave of reaction swept
Russia. The Jews were hurled back into the Pale, and anyone
who looked like a liberal ended up in front of a firing squad or
behind the Urals. Everything went wrong for Alexander II. The
Poles rebelled. Russia's land mass was rubbed raw by the sores
of pauperized peasants, landless serfs, underpaid factory workers, oppressive working conditions, disaffected minorities. Russia was sick unto her Slavic soul.
Alexander II, never noted for his originality, resorted to an
"aspirin cure"; to heal the sick Slavic soul of his country, he applied a new Russian brand of nationalism known as "Slavophilism." The Slavophiles held that Russia should stop imitating the
West and return to the source of her greatness, the "Slavic soul."
It was a movement to gain unity by a denial of fact. The Slavophiles created an image of Russia that hid its ignorance, illiteracy, poverty. Those who saw these things were held to be myopic
and subversive. "One Russia, one creed, one Czar" was the Slavophile slogan. Obedience to the Czar (the Little Father of Russia) and to the Church (the Holy Mother of Russia) was the mystic cement which held the pan-Slavic state together – with a little
333
help from the secret police and terrorist gangs.
The Russian people countered terror with terror. One nice
day in 1881 the Nihilists blew Alexander II to bits with a
homemade bomb, but instead of gaining amelioration for their
desperate plight they reaped weak-minded Alexander III. The
new Czar was completely in the hands of the aristocrats, who
could see no further than their privileges. Their leader was
Pobedonostsev, head of the Holy Synod, a Slavophile who
looked upon democracy as a leprous disease and upon voting as
dangerous. It was he who instituted the pogroms, officially
sponsored uprisings against the Jews as. tactics to divert the Russians from their miseries. His formula for solving the " Jewish
question" was "one third conversion, one third emigration, and
one third starvation." The pogroms he encouraged were a diversion for the masses, like the circuses of the Romans, but instead
of tossing Christians to the lions he tossed Jews to the peasants.
A series of such calculated pogroms erupted all over Russia, and
the entire world protested. Twenty thousand Jews were expelled
from Moscow. Jews emigrated by the hundreds of thousands to
the United States, which still had unrestricted immigration. But
the millions for whom there was no avenue of escape lived in
fear and poverty, kept alive by the help that poured in from vol untary Jewish relief organizations in Europe and America.
The Romanovs, like the Bourbons, never learned. Nicholas
II, the last of the Russian autocrats, also met with bullets the demands of his people for bread. In despair, Russians joined the revolutionary movements, from parliamentary reformism to communism. The day of reckoning was not far off.
When World War I broke out, the promise to "make the
world safe for democracy” was meant only for the western front,
for on the eastern front as the Russian armies retreated Russian
reactionaries advanced. The liberal parties had rallied patriotically to give their support to the government, but Nicholas II arrogantly failed to recognize them or support their aspirations. As
one military defeat after another crippled Russian prestige and
power, the Czar announced he would take personal command of
334
the armies, a declaration which threw Russia into consternation,
for even his most sycophantic, nobles did not credit him with
even a modicum of military genius.
With Nicholas II on the front, Empress Alexandra, who
could not even spell the word "democracy," took over domestic
affairs. She was completely in the power of an illiterate, lustful
monk named Grigori Rasputin, who through hypnosis, it was alleged, was able to prevent her hemophilic son from bleeding to
death. Rasputin was a member of the Khlysti sect, whose main
tenet was the necessity for carnal sinning in order to obtain salvation. Into his hands, with black bands of dirt ·under the long
fingernails, fell the rule of Russia.
Russia was dying. Disease, starvation, and death stalked her
people. War casualty figures mounted. Disorganization, short ages, strikes plagued her. Many Russians who had hoped that
parliamentary reforms could save her were now convinced that
nothing short of overthrowing the present regime could help.
Rasputin was assassinated and eased into a hole in the ice of the
River Neva. Parliament seized power and forced the abdication
of the Czar. The Communists overthrew the interim government
and established the Soviet state. Czar Nicholas and his entire
family were shot in Ekaterinburg. The rule of the Romanovs
·was over.
During the reign of the last two czars, a new attitude had
transformed the Jew of Russia. New ideologies had penetrated
into the Pale. For a hundred years the Jews had passively put up
with czars who had blown hot and ·cold. They had petitioned the
Little Father of Russia to let them live and make a living. They
had stayed away from politics. But Jewish youth grew tired of
going to Jewish funerals. They tired of caution. A century of appeasement had brought nothing but ignominy, starvation,
pogroms. The Jews had had enough and were ready to fight.
They began to demand liberties, instead of begging for them.
They went into politics, they joined underground movements,
and they ran for office in spite of all warnings when the Czar was
forced to grant elections for a representative parliament, or
335
Duma. Jewish liberals were hanged with other liberal Russians,
after the Czar dissolved the Duma. And some joined the Red
Army organized by Leon Trotsky to fight the five invading
armies led by White Russian generals attempting to restore the
rule of the Romanovs.
Eastern Jewish history now mingled with Western Jewish
history„ in the fields of battle where Jews in Russian uniform
fought against Jews in German uniform, in the field of ideas
where the politics of the left clashed with the politics of the
right, in the field of theology where orthodoxy clashed with reform, and in the field of Judaism where Jews embraced each other as brothers.
Modern Jewish history, then, begins with the Jews impatiently knocking on the portals of the eighteenth century seeking
admittance to full citizenship. The French Revolution left Jewish
emancipation as a residue on the bottom of-: the revolutionary
crucible. As Napoleon's armies advanced, the walls of the ghetto
crumbled.
But, mercifully, the emancipated Jews were unaware of the.
assault to be made upon them by a new degeneracy of man – racism. In subsequent chapters we shall first dissect the anti-Semitic symptom of racism, then trace the development of two new
currents in Jewish life: a Western one, seeking identification with
the surrounding gentile culture, and an Eastern one, leading to a
new affirmation of Jewish values. We shall then see these two
currents merging into an ironic trilogy of thesis, antithesis, and
synthesis – first, a fusion in America through successive waves
of immigration; then, an appointment with death in the concentration camps of Hitler; and, finally, a reunion in the recreated
state of Israel.
TWENTY-FOUR
REHEARSAL FOR RACISM
Toward the end of the nineteenth century we come face to'
face for the first time with a unique phenomenon which, more
336
than any other single factor, has influenced the course of Jewish
history since 1850. This is the phenomenon of anti-Semitism. We
must understand not only its nature but also its origins, because
the mixture of anti-Semitism, nationalism, and racism created the
barbarism of our age and was responsible for the mass murder of
five million Jews. When and why did it originate? What is its
nature? How did it spread?
Most people think of anti-Semitism as having existed for
four thousand years, ever since Jewish history began, mainly because the term has been conferred retroactively by so many his torians on past events which outwardly resembled anti-Semitism.
Any act of violence involving Jews, regardless of cause, was
classified as an anti-Semitic act, when it should have been classi fied in some other manner, as "anti-Jewish" perhaps. Contrary to
the popularly held opinion, anti-Semitism did not come into being until 1800. The word "anti-Semitism," in fact, did not exist
until 1879,55 when it was coined by a German to fit the emergence of an entirely new historic pattern of Jewish-Christian relationships.
We are obviously dealing with a semantic problem, where
various acts of violence, all having different motivations, have
fallen under the same descriptive mantle. Consequently, in order
to understand the specific course Jewish history took in the Modern Age, as well as to understand how this modern history
differed from that of other ages, we must make a distinction
between an "anti-Semitic" and an "anti-Jewish" act, because each
connotes a different value judgment.
How essential semantic distinctions are, in making value
judgments, can be illustrated with a simple example. Suppose
there were only the word "murder" to cover all situations where
one man has killed another. Then any killing would have to be
55 The word "anti-Semitism" was first used in a pamphlet published
that year, entitled The Victory of Judaism over Germanism, a violent, intemperate attack on the Jews by an apostate half Jew named
Wilhelm Marr. Again, the apostate, running like a curse through Jewish history.
337
classified as murder. This would do away with such recognized
degrees of killing as "self-defense," "accidental homicide,"
"murder in the second degree," and the like. But the law does recognize different degrees of killing, and the motivation behind
each killing determines its degree. There are different psycholo gical motivations behind anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish acts, just
as there are different motivations behind premeditated murder
and manslaughter. What are some of these differences?
Four qualities distinguish anti-Semitism from anti-Jewish violence. Anti-Semitism is illogical, irrational, and stems from un conscious forces. First comes the prejudice; then follows the rationalized justification for that feeling. Anti-Jewish violence, on
the other hand, stems from logical, rational, and conscious mo tivations. First comes the motivation; then comes the act of re taliation. Second, anti-Semitism is directed toward the "Jewish
race" and has nothing whatever to do with the individual Jew, his
faults, or his virtues. Anti-Jewish violence is directed toward the
Jew as an individual, in the same way and for the same reasons
that violence is directed toward individuals of other religions and
nationalities. Third, anti-Semitism deliberately seeks out Jews,
and Jews only, for its targets, excluding all others who might be
equally "guilty" of whatever the Jew is accused of Anti-Jewish
violence often is only an incidental factor in the general violence
committed by the attacker. Fourth, anti-Semitism does not seek a
solution, does not hold out "redemption" to the Jew, and does not
offer an alternative for being Jewish. In anti-Jewish violence,
which is directed specifically at Jews, the object is to convert
them to the religion of the attacker.
People who do not like Jews must not be confused with antiSemites. There is no more reason for Jews to be universally liked
than for Americans, Englishmen, or Frenchmen to be universally
liked. Voltaire did not like Jews, but that did not make him anti-Semitic. He thought of all Jews as ignorant and superstitious,
but held that this was no reason why they should be burned.
Herein lies the difference. If one does not like someone, one
simply does not associate with that person. One does not advoc 338
ate that he should be debased or annihilated. To the true anti-Semite, the crux of anti-Semitism is the "crime" of being Jewish. This "crime" of Jewishness cannot be obliterated or atoned
for, even if the Jew gives up his religion, whereas in the Middle
Ages, the moment the Jew was baptized he became an honored
citizen. Anti-Semitism is a psychological problem, residing in the
mind of the anti-Semite. A few examples from history will illustrate this point.
When Cato exhorted the Romans to exterminate the
Carthaginians, it was fear which motivated him, because three
times the Carthaginians had challenged the Romans. Carthage
was leveled to the ground and the inhabitants were either slain or
sold into slavery, as a protective measure against a Fourth Punic
War. If we look with equal objectivity upon a similar historic
event involving the Jews, we car see that it was not anti-Semitic
prejudice which led the Romans to lay Jerusalem waste in the
second century A.D. and banish the Jews from Palestinian soil.
Like the Carthaginians, the Jews had rebelled three times against
the Romans and like the Carthaginians, they received the same
punishment. That this political act was undertaken without prejudice is supported by the fact that subsequently the Romans conferred their coveted citizenship upon all Jews.
The Jewish experience in Spain affords us another ex ample.
As stressed in Chapter 18, "Crusades, Renaissance, and Reformation," the Spanish Inquisition was applied only to Christians
suspected of heresy, not to the Jews. The Marranos, the converted Jews, were regarded by the Church as Christians, and the Inquisition was applied to them for the same reason it was applied
to other Christians, to stem the spread of heresy. The Jews, who
could not be touched by the Inquisition, were banished. The fires
of the autos-da-fé continued to bum for three hundred years after
the Jews were expected. Its victims were mostly Christians. Jews
were the incidental victims of the age, not selected scapegoats
because of their race or .the innate " crime" of Jewishness.
Is the present feeling against Jews in the Arabic world motivated by illogical, nonobjective factors, or is it engendered by
339
objective, partisan, and political considerations? Rightly or
wrongly, the Arabs think they have good cause to fear the Jews,
because in their eyes the Jews have dispossessed them from what
they consider their land. The Arabs are playing the political game
the way it has always been played, mobilizing fears to unify dis sident factions. It is anti-Jewish, yes, but certainly not anti-Semitic.
Contrast these acts of violence, motivated by various fears,
to the persecution of the Jews in Germany during the days of
Hitler, motivated by prejudice. The Jews had never rebelled
against Germany, spread no heresy, annexed no German territory.
They had, in fact, contributed greatly to her culture and fought
valorously side by side with non-Jewish Germans in World War
I. The "crime" of the Jews existed only in the mind of the Nazis.
The "guilt" of the Jews was in being Jewish. Any human being
suspected of having as little as one-tenth Jewish blood was guilty
of that "crime." The Nazi philosophy envisioned not only a Germany, but an entire European continent, which would be Judenrein – "free of Jews." This was to be accomplished not by con
version or by banishment, as in medieval days, but by murder.
Viewed in this light, anti-Semitism no longer appears as an opinion one entertains among other opinions. It becomes an aberra tion of the mind.
Irrational race anti-Semitism, as we have seen, was unknown
in the pagan, Grecian, Roman, Islamic, and medieval cultures in
which the Jews lived from 2000 B.C. to 1800 A.D. We have seen
how during these 3,800 years Jews were slain, massacred, tortured, sold as slaves-but who was not treated much the same way
in those days? Anti-Jewish violence differed in no way from the
violence directed at other minority nations and groups. One has
but to scan a list of the nations which have disappeared from his tory during these thirty-eight centuries to realize the magnitude
of the carnage practiced. The history of anti-Jewish violence in
the Middle Ages was more complex than in the previous ages,
but it was not irrational anti-Semitism, embodying the four
points in our definition. Medieval Christian anti-Jewish violence
340
stemmed from the refusal of the Jew to become Christian. Anti-Semitism is based upon the complete reverse of this concept.
The anti-Semite hates the idea of Jewishness, not the individual
Jew. Since it is a concept he hates, the conversion of the Jew alters nothing in his mind.
How did anti-Jewish animosity become anti-Semitic prejudice? How did this change in thinking take place? The transform ation was accomplished in three stages, successive but overlap ping. First, the soil for modern anti-Semitism was mulched in a
new insecure social class created by changing economic condi tions. Second, nationalism was manipulated into racism to give
this new social class a philosophy of superiority. Third, to quell
the inner anxieties of this new class, anti-Jewish feeling was distilled into anti-Semitism and used as apolitical tranquilizer.
We have seen how the Reformation dealt a deathblow to
feudalism, and how a new mercantilism developed in the wake of
Protestantism-the spirit of free trade and enterprise. This new
spirit also affected the ethical thinking of man. Previous religious
precepts were weakened. No longer did the masses believe in
church-oriented society. Religion became divorced from government. And, as religion lost its full significance, it became less
and less important to the Western world whether or not Jews
converted to Christianity. In fact, many are puzzled today that
this should ever have been a serious issue.
By 1800 capitalism and colonialism were in full flowering.
Another development had also taken place, the Industrial Revolution. It is a little difficult to realize today that the Industrial
Revolution is barely two hundred years old. It is also a little dif ficult to realize that in 1850 the average industrial enterprise em ployed fewer than fifty people. With the growth of industrialism,
intimate personal relationships between worker and owner disap peared. Foremen and department managers now stood between
them. Absentee management appeared. The multiple plant de veloped. Employees became estranged from each other; five
thousand workers in a plant became a "lonely crowd."
Hand in hand with these new developments in industry, yet
341
another estrangement took place. Handiwork disappeared. In the
past, man had taken pride in his product-the horseshoes he
forged, the footwear he created, the suit he tailored. He was in
those days a creator of total and complete things. That pride and
that relationship to society disappeared with the assembly-line
method of production. The worker became estranged from the
finished product. Now he created only a small part of the fin ished product-a fragment.
These economic changes in man's life had far-reaching so cial implications and deep psychological effects. As machinery
reduced the ranks of the workers, an entirely new social class
came into being, a class which created no goods but rendered
services instead. In the past hundred years this service-rendering
class has grown progressively larger, as the parent body of workers upon whose productivity it feeds has grown smaller. We are
in the process of creating a society in which fewer and fewer
people produce concrete objects and an ever-increasing number
of people are engaged in paper activity, all more or less connec ted with the disposal of these goods.
This new and ever-growing social class is composed of bureaucrats, bookkeepers, hack writers, petty academicians, marginal advertising, publicity, and professional men, small functionar ies, lower-echelon office workers, and others, whose feet are in
the parlor of the worker and whose heads are in the living room
of the manager. This is the group which forms the heart of that
amorphous mass of modern society which Hannah Arendt in The
Origins of Totalitarianism calls déclassé, the "declassed" segment of society, so called because it has lost its former class
status and former security. We shall also refer to this group as the
"frayed-white-collar class," in contrast to the "white-collar class"
of professional and managerial people. It is among the insecure
in this declassed, frayed-white-collar group that we find most of
the potential adherents of modern anti-Semitism. It is from this
group that Hitler recruited his most ardent followers.
As the religious forces holding society together weakened,
the psychological forces holding man's unconscious hostilities in
342
check also weakened. The social breakdown brought insecurity;
the psychological breakdown brought anxiety. The social group
which was most affected by the economic changes taking place,
the group which became most estranged from its former values
and status symbols, was and is this new frayed-white-collar
class. Because it is the most insecure group in modern society, it
is also the most anxiety-ridden. In order to quell, to pacify, to alleviate these frightening feelings of insecurity and anxiety, the
frayed-white-collar class looked around for leaders who would
restore to them their lost prestige and former security, and for a
philosophy which would quell their anxieties. Religion had once
served that function. Something else was now needed to fill the
void.
Charles's law applies to politics as well as to gases. Politicians began to pander to this group in direct proportion to its
political usefulness. Because the modern state had given the
franchise to the declassed, they became important to politicians
seeking power. A new power struggle developed in western
Europe. On the one hand were the forces standing for strong
centralized states, fighting against the emerging working class in
the same way the feudal state had fought against the emerging
middle class. On the other hand were the liberal and democratic
forces, advocating the assimilation of the working class into the
new society by allowing them a greater participation in the af fairs of state and a greater share of its goods. Depressions and
dislocations of industry were pushing the frayed-white-collar
class into a marginal existence, threatening its members with ab sorption into a working class they despised. The declassed also
feared the new philosophies of socialism and communism which
would transfer power from them to the working class.
The mid-nineteenth century, the period of contagious revolutions in Europe, the period that saw the birth of socialism and
communism, was also the period in which politicians suddenly
found a new use for the frayed-white-collar class and the Jews.
The declassed could be used as a buffer. They were wooed by the
politicians of the right to offset the encroachments of the politi 343
cians of the left. The insecurity of the declassed was explained
not in terms of social and economic conditions but in terms of
Jewish evildoing. The Jew was held up to them as the exploiting
capitalist when it was capitalism the declassed feared, or as the
plotting communist when it was communism they feared. If not
for the Jew, these arguments ran, every member of the declassed
would be an important pillar in society.
This was the beginning of anti-Semitism. It was not a political movement, as someone once remarked, but a political
weapon. Existing anti-Jewish feeling, left over from the Middle
Ages, was slowly transformed into anti-Semitism by its constant
application to this new use. The religious politician in the Middle
Ages had asked for the banishment of the Jews so that they
would not infect the Christian believer with doubt. The secular
politician of the Modern Age did not ask for the banishment of
the Jews, because it would not have served his purpose. If the
Jews were banished, the declassed would immediately see that
their condition had in no , way improved. The way the first manipulators of anti-Semitism saw it, the Jews had to be kept
around as perpetual scapegoats. What they had not foreseen, or
wished for, was the. emergence of a new breed of totalitarian
politician who would advocate the actual extermination of Jews.
They had not foreseen that their own irresponsible propaganda
would be seized by neurotics and sadists and shaped into a philosophy of murder.
The process began imperceptibly, like any cancerous
growth. Even as the declassed listened to the anti-Jewish
diatribes of the politicians, their own anti-Jewish feelings took
on more and more disturbing aspects. Those who felt the need
for anti-Semitism also felt uneasy about it. Behind the violence
of their anti-Semitic slogans there lurked another anxiety from
the realization that their reasons for hating the Jews had nothing
to do with the Jews but was something within themselves. If only
they had leaders who could assuage their doubts, leaders who
could make respectable these disturbing feelings of hate! Their
prayers were answered.
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The declassed were given a comforting ideational "race religion" by three late-nineteenth-century race theorists who ex tolled the. meager virtues of the frayed-white-collar class into superior products. In addition, anti-Semitism was given a scientific
veneer by three books which had the quality of transforming disturbing anxiety into respectable hate. The three race theorists
were Count Arthur de Gobineau, a Frenchman; Friedrich Nietzsche, a German; and Houston Stewart Chamberlain, an Englishman. The authors of the three pseudoscientific books were Édouard Drumont, a Frenchman; Sergei Nilus, a Russian; and Alfred
Rosenberg, a German.
"Race thinking" was not born in Germany; it began in the
early 1800s, festering on the exposed body of European nationalism. The race theorists were at first held in contempt, but toward
the end of that same century they had gained esteem, an ominous
indication of the drift of the times. Nationalism was conceived
by honourable parents with good intent – Rousseau, Burke, Jefferson, Fichte, Locke, Mazzini – none of whom were Jewish.
From Rousseau, who was born in 1712, to Mazzini, who died in
1872, the lives of these six social philosophers overlapped, as did
their social philosophies. These philosophies essentially centered
around the idea of man as a citizen of the state instead of a sub ject of God. Pseudointellectual parasites fastened themselves
onto these philosophies of nationalism, sucked out their humanism, and spawned virulent ideas of a nationalism based on race
instead of on equal rights of man. These race philosophers made
"blood" the fount of grace, and the "superman" supplanted the
Gospels as a source of power.
The first of these race philosophers, Count Gobineau, was a
minor official in the French diplomatic service, embittered at
never having advanced to a post of importance. In his book The
Inequality of Human Races, published in 1853, he advanced
what may have been the first systematic theory of white racial
supremacy. As Hannah Arendt expressed it, "He was only a curi ous mixture of frustrated nobleman and romantic intellectual
who invented racism almost by accident." Gobineau introduced
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the concept of one single cause behind the fall of all civilizations, the dilution of the superior blood in aristocracy by the inferior blood of the common people. In essence, Gobineau held
that the blood of the Aryan elite was being diluted with the blood
of a non-Aryan mass through the process of democracy. He does
not mention the Jews. It is the middle-and lower-class French he
views with fear, for it is they who carry the taint of inferior
blood, infecting the French aristocracy, which he claims was descended from Nordic Aryans. The French at first ignored
Gobineau, but the Germans immediately embraced his theories.
His book gained him the friendship of Friedrich Nietzsche, creator of the concept of the superman.
A whole school of apologists has recently arisen, making Nietzsche the ethical successor to the humanists. Nietzsche, however, with all due regard for his nervous, brilliant prose, is the
"father" of Nazism, and his ethic is not the ethic of Torah and
Testament, but the limited code ·of the Nazi. "Write with blood,"
advises Nietzsche, "and you learn that spirit is blood." In Beyond
Good and Evil, Nietzsche also laid down the foundation for the
morality of his superman with such maxims as "You 1 advise not
to work but to fight," and "You I advise not to peace but to vic tory," and "A man shall be raised as a warrior, a woman for a
warrior's recreation," and "Are you going to women? Do not forget your whip." His superman is beyond good and evil, for, says
Nietzsche, "the falseness of an opinion is for us no objection to it
... and we are fundamentally inclined to maintain that the falsest
of opinions ... are the most indispensable to us." His philosophy
led, indeed, to a complete defiance of Christianity, to a complete
reversal of the teachings of Gospel and Decalogue. His works,
the cornerstone for the Nazi state, were written during the decade
before his insanity, and he died insane. It may be that Nietzsche
did not advocate what he . wrote, but that he foresaw with the
clarity of a prophet the morality of the new age ahead. But we
are not passing value judgments on the man; we 'are concerned
with the effects of his philosophy. Nietzsche the man did not create history. His books did.
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Houston Stewart Chamberlain, an Englishman living in Germany, combined the social theories of Gobineau, the philosophy
of Nietzsche, and anti-Semitism in his book Foundations of the
Nineteenth Century, published in 1899 in German and in 1911 in
English. In this work, Gobineau's supremacy of the aristocracy
became Nordic supremacy; race and blood were welded into a
pseudoscientific sociology upon which the final Aryan-race and
superman theories were fashioned. Like so many other racists,
Chamberlain became a traitor to his country, defecting to the
Germans during World War I.
As the race theorists enlarged upon their philosophies, anti-Semites gave them practical application. Jewish history was
vulgarized, distorted, and changed to fit the new needs. The first
of these books to synthesize racism and anti-Semitism was Drumont's La France juive, published in 1886. It helped give people
who entertained anti-Semitic feelings a reason for feeling the
way they did.
For the first time in 3,900 years of Jewish history an entirely
new picture of the Jews arose – that of the Jews as conspirators.
In the Middle Ages the Jew had been depicted as a stupid, un couth, flea-bitten lout, in order to create such an abhorrent image
of him that no self-respecting Christian would want to convert to
the Jewish faith. In the new catechism of the anti-Semites, the
Jew was conceded to have superior intellect, learning, skill, and
capacity to excel. But these virtues were now evil, for these were
the qualities which the frayed-white-collar class realized it did
not possess. By making these qualities vices, Drumont made mediocrity a virtue. His book attempted to show how the Jews, with
their intellect, learning, and skill, would soon dominate France
and tum it into a Jewish state. Drumont had correctly appraised
the psychological needs of the declassed. The denigrated Jew of
the Middle Ages – the hunch-backed peddler with the yellow
patch – was an outdated medieval symbol. This type of Jew
could not be a threat. But the diabolical Jew with superior cun ning – this was the enemy Overnight the symbol created by Drumont took. La France juive became the bible of the declassed.
347
Unfortunately for the anti-Semites of the world, Drumont's.
book gave this alleged Jewish plot only national proportions.
Only Frenchmen could have cause for concern. What about the
Germans, the Austrians, the Rumanians, the Hungarians? Sergei
Nilus remedied this flaw. He expanded the Drumont
"conspiracy" to international scope.
The origins of Nilus's notorious Protocols of the Elders of
Zion, published in 1903, is so fantastic that the truth itself is
hardly believable. As it became increasingly difficult to convince
the ignorant Russian peasants of the necessity to kill innocent
Jews in order to alleviate their own miserable condition, Czar
Nicholas II commissioned Nilus, a monk, to come up with something to damn the Jews. Nilus forged a set of documents, based
on a French novel which had no Jews in it. This Nilus forgery
purported to show how a group of conspiratorial Jews, known as
the Elders of Zion, planned to conquer the world. It did not convince the Russian peasants, but it convinced the world's anti-Semites. The forgery served their preexisting needs.
The Drumont and Nilus fantasies of a Jewish conspiracy to
seize power gave the anti-Semites a peg on which to hang their
perplexing and disturbing anxieties. Now they could say, "We
don't hate the Jews. Some of our best friends are Jews.56 It's the
Jews themselves who are forcing us to protect ourselves and our
country from their conspiracies."
This reasoning is similar to the reasoning of a paranoid
psychotic. The paranoid has "feelings" that he is persecuted, ,,
and this causes him anxiety, because he is at a loss to explain his
disturbing feelings. He therefore invents "logical" reasons for
them – a particular person or group is out to “get" him. His logic
is clear and consistent. But, because the premise is based on a
delusion, these answers never quite satisfy him. To convince
himself that his reasoning is correct, he has to "defend" himself
against his "accusers" by punishing them. These tensions finally
56 Adolf Otto Eichmann, even as he murdered millions of Jews, felt the
need to boast about "Jewish friends."
348
build up to such proportions that the paranoid becomes capable
of murdering an innocent person unless given medical treatment
in time. Because Western man did not incarcerate the paranoid
anti-Semite in its midst, social paranoia eventually erupted in
mass murder.
In Drumont's and Nilus's books, the anti-Semites were supplied with defense mechanisms for feeling the way they did. But
they lacked a philosophy which would ennoble their anti-Semitism and elevate their violence to a civic duty. Such a comforting
philosophy was supplied by Alfred Rosenberg, a dedicated Nazi
party member, with the publication in 1930 of his book The Myth
of the Twentieth Century. Here the way to total anti-Semitism
was found, the road to the gas chambers of Belsen and Auschwitz paved. Even Catholics and Protestants did not realize the
nature of the peril, as only the refrain " kill the Jews" was heard.
When they did understand the siren song, the sirens were upon
them too.
In brief, the thesis of Rosenberg's book was that Germany
should be rebuilt not on Christian principles but on the philosophy of Nietzsche. It was to be the state of the superman, the
state without principles. Christianity, Rosenberg argued, was to
be extirpated as a Jewish disease. The Germans and those "spiritually" akin to them should dispense with such "Christian nonsense" as guilt, sin, and morality. Instead they devised a "new
Christianity" from which St. Paul was purged. Jesus was Nordicized and given a Syrian mother and. a Roman father, pure pagans both. A new myth was formulated, the myth of the mystique
of Aryan blood.
This was the ranting of a Nazi madman, and it was given a
gruesome reality by 15 million German bayonets. Yet the world
·was so anesthetized by the pseudoscientific writings of racists
and anti-Semites that it rarely raised a voice in protest when it
saw murder perpetrated in the name of nonsense.
Thus, imperceptibly, nationalism, the hope of the eighteenthcentury humanists, was transformed into the philosophy of racism in the nineteenth century. Thus the religious anti-Jewish
349
feeling of the Middle Ages was turned into racist anti-Semitism.
By 1870 the first openly anti-Semitic political parties had been
formed in Germany, and politicians vied for the votes of anti-Semites by whipping their anxieties into fears. The balance of
power held by the declassed became so enormous in Germany
that even Bismarck, who at first had scorned them, catered to
their votes to hold on to his power, thereby giving anti-Semitism
its first coat of respectability. Anti-Semitism spread to the declassed of Eastern Europe and France, where, with the celebrated
Dreyfus Affair, it exploded into a dress rehearsal for the total anti-Semitism of the twentieth century.
Though the Jewish Captain Alfred Dreyfus made his entrance as the central figure, he soon relegated himself to a minor
role as he fought the case on the narrow lines of persona l injustice only. The real heroes were two Christians, an army colonel and a novelist, who realized that the Dreyfus Affair represented a case of the state conspiring against the individual. They
challenged not only the injustice to Dreyfus, but the right of the
state to put itself above justice. In 1894, injustice to one man
could ·still inspire the indignation of the world. L'Affaire Dreyfus was fought in court and ballot box, in sidewalk cafés and
world headlines. It tore France apart politically, but she emerged
the spiritual victor.
The Dreyfus drama began in 1893 with the philanderings of
a dashing, handsome, fierce-mustached, ·impecunious, Paris-born French aristocrat of Hungarian descent, Major Ferdinand
Walsin Esterhazy, an engaging scoundrel who meant no harm as
he ruined others. He had served in the papal army against the
Italian Risorgimento, fought with the French against the Prussians in 1870, and had been decorated for valor. He married a lady
of dubious charm but of impeccable aristocratic lineage and high
financial standing, .whose fortune he soon squandered. Esterhazy
then became part owner of a fashionable house of prostitution,
but when even this could not support him in the style he thought
was his due, he augmented his income by selling military secrets
to the German embassy.
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The French counterespionage, working to uncover the spy in
their midst, came into possession of a document to be known as
the bordereau, written by Esterhazy, which listed five items of
military information he had delivered to the Germans. Suspecting that the leak came from someone on their own General Staff,
French intelligence officers ran through their files, comparing the
handwriting of its personnel to the handwriting in the bordereau.
When the card with the name "Alfred Dreyfus" came up, the
search automatically ended. Alfred Dreyfus was the only Jewish
officer on the French General Staff, and the General Staff, still
intensely royalist and antirepublican, was prepared to do anything to get rid of the only Jewish member foisted upon it by a
republican regime.
There is nothing much to say of Captain Alfred Dreyfus
himself, except that history proved him innocent. He was an un distinguished Jew. Blue-eyed, pale, taut, reserved, uncommunicative, he appeared haughty, overbearing, and snobbish. Besides
his wife and two children, he had no friends. He had joined the
army out of a deep love for it, and by virtue of being better than
average, by possessing an immense capacity for work, he was
subsequently commissioned a lieutenant in the artillery and pro moted to captain. He was a man of great persona l wealth, a man
always correct, a man without vice – in short, a bore. He would
have made an ideal officer for a minor staff job, had he not been
Jewish.
Dreyfus was arrested on the charge of espionage. Soon after
the arrest, the General Staff discovered that Esterhazy, not Dreyfus, was the guilty party. But to accuse a French aristocrat and
career officer of espionage was something the General Staff
could not countenance. It would mean loss of prestige for the
army. The decision to sacrifice Dreyfus was made. He was
courtartialed and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil's Island, after a public dishonorable discharge from his command.
The court-martial was a victory for Edouard Drumont, who had
been in the vanguard of the rioters demanding the conviction of
Dreyfus. This publicly confirmed Drumont's thesis that Jews
351
were conspiring to take over France. The army was pleased; it
had vindicated ·its honor. The public was pleased; the army had
protected it from traitors. The Jews were confused; they did not
know what to think.
Nobody, least of all the army itself, had figured that if
nemesis came it would come in the shape of a slender, ascet ic-looking, devoutly Catholic career officer, Colonel Georges
Picquart, Chief of Intelligence. Picquart, promoted to this post
after the Dreyfus conviction, accidentally stumbled across the
fact that the notorious bordereau had been written not by Dreyfus but by Esterhazy. He excitedly took his findings to his superiors, who coolly informed him to keep quiet. As one general expressed it, "Why should you care about this Jew?"
To defy the army meant loss of his career; to come out for: a
Jew meant loss of status. But Picquart saw the situation for what
it was, not a question of the innocence of one Jew, but a question
of the state having the power to conspire against an individual.
Like the Prophets of old, Picquart placed justice above his persona! safety. He spoke out in public, demanding a reexamination
of the facts and a new trial for Dreyfus. The army responded by
demoting him and sending him to the Tunisian front lines in the
hope he would be killed fighting against Arab tribesmen.
But Picquart's public statements had aroused that segment of
the people which also places justice above state expediency.
Overnight, it seemed, France was divided into two camps, a
small minority, the "Dreyfusards," clamoring for justice, and the
"anti-Dreyfusards" branding the Dreyfusards as traitors for demanding that the army incriminate itself. The anti-Dreyfusards
had Church, state, army, and press behind it. Newspapers
screamed anti-Dreyfusard slogans, street fights developed, and
the Jews, in the main, not realizing that a mob can never be ap peased, tried to appease it by quietly staying out of the fight.
But the hysteria did not abate. As the people's doubt grew
with the clamor of the Dreyfusards, the army decided to put on a
show to exonerate itself. In an elaborately faked trial in which
Major Esterhazy was tried on charges of espionage brought by
352
Colonel Picquart, tons of irrelevant materials, purporting to show
his innocence, were introduced with great gravity by Esterhazy's
defense. Opposing council was prevented from asking pertinent
questions under the pretense that answers would give military in formation to the enemy. Major Esterhazy was unanimously acquitted, and Colonel Picquart, who had not been killed on the
Tunisian front, was arrested for having dared to accuse Esterhazy.
Many who had believed Dreyfus guilty now began to have
doubts. Men in and out of public office saw the affair for what it
truly was-a plot of reactionaries, hiding behind the facade of anti-Semitism, to undermine the republican state. Among those
who saw through the fraud were Emile Zola, world-famous novelist, and Georges Clemenceau, publisher of L'Aurore, and
former correspondent with General Ulysses S. Grant's army dur ing the Civil War. It was the concerted action of these two men
which broke the Dreyfus case wide open.
In January 1898 Zola's famous letter entitled "J' Accuse" (I
Accuse) appeared as a headlined front-page editorial in Clemenceau's paper. Over 500,000 copies had to be printed, as Parisi ans fought for them. In the letter Zola openly accused the government and the army of deliberately conspiring against Dreyfus
to cover up its own infamy. He accused them of fraud and degradation of justice, calling the Dreyfus affair a "crime of high
treason against humanity."
The government tried to intimidate the opposition by arrest ing Zola, who fled to England. But Zola's letter had broken the
back of the anti-Dreyfusards. People who, out of ignorance of the
facts, had joined the mob now became Dreyfusards. Colonel
Joseph Henry, an intelligence officer on the General Staff who
had helped fabricate the incriminating evidence against Dreyfus,
committed suicide. Major Esterhazy finally confessed that he had
written the bordereau. In 1898 a new trial was ordered for Dreyfus at Rennes, but he was again convicted, five to two, of high
treason. Because of "extenuating circumstances," however, he
was sentenced to only ten years' imprisonment.
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An even greater shock to the Dreyfusards than the unexpected verdict of guilty was the behavior of Dreyfus himself, who
was deferential to the generals trying to convict him and haughty
toward Colonel Picquart trying to clear him. When an attaché in
dismay asked Clemenceau how much Dreyfus understood of his
own case, Clemenceau replied, "Nothing. He is the only one who
has not understood it at all. He stands abysmally below the Dreyfus Affair." The opinion of Léon Blum, later Jewish Premier of
France, was that if "Dreyfus had not been Dreyfus but someone
else, he would not even have been a Dreyfusard." Those who
watched Dreyfus were convinced that had he sat on the courtmartial board he too would have convicted the accused in order
to save the honor of the army.
But Dreyfus had become a symbol and his mediocrity did
not matter. The world protested the travesty of the court-martial
at Rennes, and a new President of France ordered a review of the
Dreyfus case. In 1906 the French Supreme Court set him free,
exonerating him of all charges. He was promoted to major and
given the Legion of Honor. He died in 1935, an undistinguished
man who had allowed his symbol to overshadow him. Colonel
Picquart's subsequent career was a brilliant one. He was made a
general and became minister of war. Zola was honored by his
country for his fearless fight for justice. Clemenceau became
Premier of the Republic and the head of the French delegation to
the Peace Conference at Versailles .
The fate of one vociferous anti-Dreyfusard makes an interesting sidelight to this celebrated affair. He was Henri Philippe
Pétain, who became Commander in Chief of the French Army in
World War I, was made Marshal of France in 1918, and in 1940,
after the defeat of France by Germany, headed the collaborationist Vichy government. He was tried for high treason in 1945 by
the French and was sentenced to death, the sentence later being
commuted to life imprisonment.
And so the first state-sanctioned political manipulation of
anti-Semitism failed. The world had not as yet become fully indifferent to injustice. But what failed in France was to succeed in
354
Germany. The mechanism had been tested. With a little more ex perimentation it would become a formula. By 1900, anti-Semitism had become the mode of political life in Eastern Europe,
with Germany as the manufacturing center of anti-Semitic doctrines.
But this nineteenth-century unpremeditated rehearsal for
twentieth-century racism was also the stage for the resurgence of
Jewish intellectualism. The nineteenth century for the Jews most
closely resembled a century of the Italian Renaissance. Within
the framework of Western civilizations the Jews produced two
cultures,. one a unique contribution to the dominant Christian
values, the other designed for ethnic survival of the Jews in an
age of chaos. Let us examine the nature and source of this cre ativity before raising the curtain , on the twentieth-century racist
drama being perfected in . Germany for its debut.
TWENTY-FIVE
WESTERN EUROPE: THE NEW ENLIGHTENMENT
The nineteenth century came to an end not with a whimper I
to 1918. It died in the rubble of Verdun and was buried with its
accumulation of nineteenth-century : values in the fields of
Flanders. Never did the Jewish "Diaspora law of talion" – a culture for a culture – apply more fully than during this period. As
Western Europe became extrovert, developing a culture of utilitarianism and science, the Western Jews also became extroverts
and developed a utilitarian and scientific culture. As Eastern
Europe became introvert, examining its own soul and drawing
new strength from the past, the Eastern Jews too became introverts, and turned their intellectual searchlights into their Jewish
past to find affirmation for . the future. The Jews in the West produced a Westernized culture, the Jews in the East a Jewish culture. Both became part of the tapestry of contemporary civilization.
355
We have traced the ebb and flow of the fortunes of the West
European Jews in the Modern Age, without touching upon their
intellectual life. What did they contribute to Western Europe as
their admission price to the circle of culture-producing people?
An unhistoric people is acted upon by events. A historic
people acts upon events. The Jews have remained a historic
people through the centuries because they have always been j
active agents instead of passive bystanders. The Modem Age was
no exception. The Jews were not only acted upon by historical
forces but they themselves also acted upon history. They created
ideas that indelibly imprinted themselves upon the face of the
world and affected the future of mankind.
This era in Western Europe was a magnificent period in the
history of man, perhaps the most significant in his career on
earth. In this period man innovated more than he had in any one
millennium in all his previous existence, including his accom plishments in the Greco-Roman Age. In this period tower the figures of Hegel, Schopenhauer, Mill, Darwin, Spencer. This century viewed for the first time the paintings of Goya, Turner,
Delacroix, Renoir, Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh. It heard the
music of Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Wagner, Verdi, Brahms.
It read the works of Goethe, Keats, Balzac, Shaw, Yeats. In this
century the combustion engine was developed, the X-ray was
discovered, and pasteurization became a household word.
But the image is blurred if we leave out the names of the
Jewish contributors. In this period tower also the Jewish figures
of Marx, Freud, Bergson, Einstein. This age also viewed the
paintings of Pissarro, Soutine, Chagall, Modigliani. It heard the
music of Mendelssohn, Offenbach, Saint-Saéns, Bizet, Mahler. It
read Heine, Proust, Maurois, Romains. It witnessed the development of theoretical physics, known as Judenphysik by the Germans, and followed with interest the advance in medicine
through the works of Wassermann, Ehrlich, and Schick. During
this time the Jews helped extend the frontiers of mathematics,
biology, and , chemistry, and were awarded more Nobel prizes in
science than any other national group. They became viceroys,
356
prime; ministers, generals, and avant-garde intellectuals who
helped shape the map of Europe and chart the course of world
history. All this in spite of the fact that the Jews in Western and
Central Europe at this time constituted less than one half of one
percent of the total population. 57 All this in spite of the fact that
the Jews were still emerging from the ghetto into a climate of
growing anti-Semitism.
If someone objects that some of these contributions were not
"Jewish" in character, that some of these contributors are only
half Jews, converted Jews, or Jews who rejected Judaism, our
answer is that we are not concerned with whether a contribution
is "Jewish" or "non-Jewish" in character, merely with whether
the contributor is Jewish. Whether half Jew, converted Jew, or
apostate, the contributor still comes from a Jewish heritage, not a
Chinese, Hindu, or deeply rooted Christian tradition.
The nineteenth-century Jewish Enlightenment was like a
beam of light refracted through a prism into a spectral band of
brilliant intellectual colors spread across Western Europe. The
prism through which Jewish thought was refracted was a Jew
born in Amsterdam in 1632, a Jew so modem in his thinking that
the second half of the twentieth century has not yet caught up
with him. Excommunicated by the Jews in the seventeenth century, abhorred by the Christians in the eighteenth century, acknowledged "great" in the nineteenth century, Baruch Spinoza
will perhaps not be fully understood even in the twenty-first century. But perhaps by then Spinoza's philosophy will have become
the basis of a world religion for neomodern man.
Spinoza's father had a successful business but Spinoza had
no talent for business. Instead, he took up the study of Torah,
Talmud, and Kabala. Soon outstripping his rabbinic teachers, he
turned first to Maimonides, then to the Greek philosophers, to
Descartes, and to the rationalists. His teacher now was Francis
57 In 1870 the Jews in Germany, Austria-Hungary, France, England,
Holland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, and the Scandinavian
countries numbered a little under one million, out of a total population in these countries of slightly over 200 million.
357
van den Ende, a Dutchman who combined scholarship and conspiracy in an unsafe proportion, a miscalculation which cost him
his head in an abortive plot against the king of France. Spinoza
courted van den Ende's beautiful daughter, until a richer, less shy
suitor came along and married her. That was the end of romance
for Spinoza, who never married.
Meanwhile Spinoza's excursions into the philosophies of the
godless philosophers worried the Jewish burghers, who were
afraid that their Dutch hosts might think all Jews were atheists.
When Spinoza rejected an offer of an annuity by the Amsterdam
Jewish community in which he lived, provided he would maintain cordial external relations with the synagogue, he was excommunicated. Spinoza spent the rest of his life in solitude, earning a
living grinding lenses and writing the four books which were to
bring him world fame. Though he spoke Hebrew and Spanish
fluently, he wrote in Dutch and Latin with the preciseness and
conciseness of a Talmudist. But his works are still difficult to
comprehend because of the terseness in which he expressed his
thoughts.
Though we cannot here expound the philosophy of Spinoza,
we can pause to note briefly some of its aspects. It attempted to
lay foundations for a new, free society, ruled by law, yet also in
accord with divine nature. On the one hand, Spinoza presented
religion as a product of the imagination, leading, in the main, to
piety. On the other hand, Spinoza held that reason and intuition
led man to a union with the source of all things, which he calls
the intellectual love of God. God, he says, is nature, God is
whatever truly is. In knowing Him we love Him, and it is this
knowledge of Him which makes man's mind immortal. In those
days this was a dangerous doctrine of immortality, and laid
Spinoza open to misunderstanding and invective. Yet God Himself was ever-present in all of Spinoza's writings, so much so that
one commentator has aptly called him the "God-intoxicated
man."
Spinoza also laid down a great number of theorems about
human passions and right conduct, demonstrating them in Euc358
lidian fashion, "in exactly the same manner, as though I were
concerned with lines, planes, and solids." It was a bold attempt to
state the principles of a unified master science. Had Spinoza
lived beyond the age of forty-four, he would doubtless have applied these principles not only to ethics, politics, and religion, as
he did, but also to physics and mathematics, as he planned to do.
Spinoza's philosophy shows the direct influence of the
Talmud and Kabala, of Maimonides, the Christian Scholastics,
and Descartes. When he died in 1677, his philosophy was almost
buried with him. But in 1882, when a statue of him was unveiled
in The Hague, Emest Renan said, "The truest vision ever had of
God came perhaps here." It is ironic to speculate that had
Spinoza been born a Christian he might have been burned as a
heretic, as was the Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno, in 1600,
or, had he been born five centuries earlier, in ·the Islamic Age, he
would have been hailed as the great philosopher he was.
Some of the currents in Spinoza's philosophy – the need for
piety, the passion for freedom and justice, the rational ordering
of all thought, and the conception of an all-embracing science of
the universe – were in turn personified by four great, modern
Jewish thinkers: Leopold Zunz, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and
Albert Einstein.
The first of these Spinozian currents to be felt in Jewish life
was that of a "rational piety," or "science of faith." As the fever
of emancipation spread through Western Europe, more and more
Jews used Mendelssohn's formula to hoist themselves out of the
ghetto into the rich cultural life around them. But Mendelssohn 's
vague and idealistic reform Judaism was not sufficiently practical or elastic to contain all the emancipated Jews within the gates
of Judaism. The line to the baptismal font grew. The spirit of the
age demanded a scientific foundation for Judaism, a Spinozian
presentation of Judaism as an evolving system of the mind, as a
form of universal reason.
The task of fashioning such a Judaism fell on Leopold Zunz
(1794-1886), a German ghetto Jew who, with his white sideburns
and high wing collar, resembles the schoolroom pictures of Ral359
ph Waldo Emerson. Born to poverty and educated on scholarships, Zunz ate the bread of humiliation long after his fame had
been established. But before his death at the age of ninety-two,
he had shaped "the science of Judaism." His vast body of work
began with a slim monograph on rabbinic literature, which at tacked the nonsense written about Jews by Christians who posed
as Judaic scholars. Zunz argued for recognition of the great contributions made by Jews to so many civilizations. He founded the
first Jewish "Organization for Culture and Science," and published a biography of Rashi, the first systematic study of a Jewish scholar. It was his monumental History of the Jewish Sermon,
however, which won him his greatest renown. This is perhaps the
single most important "Jewish work" produced in the nineteenth
century. It traced the growth of the synagogue and its functions
through the centuries, and showed how prayer had been prac ticed by Jews long before Christianity existed. It gave specific
dates and illuminated the origins of Jewish beliefs and practices.
Zunz showed that Judaism did not become a fossilized remnant
of history after the birth of Jesus, but continued as a living creed,
a growing ethic, and a valid science.
Zunz's subsequent works dealt with interpretations of Jewish
literature and Biblical exegesis. One book traced the origin of
names ·to Jewish sources including many names usually thought
of as Christian. More than anyone else, Zunz disabused the
Christian mind of its stagnant, stereotyped, medieval notions
about the Jews. His scientific Judaism gave Reform Judaism not
only an intellectual fortress from which the Jews could defend
their faith, but also advance outposts from which they could ven ture on intellectual forays into "enemy territory."
The flow to the baptismal font was stopped to a trickle. Reform Judaism did not become the religion of the poor and the ig norant, like Hasidism, but the religion of the rich, the cultured,
and the learned. The synagogues were again artistically adorned.
Services were modernized and music was made part of the devo tional hour. Prayers in the vernacular were instituted. Men and
women were allowed to sit together, and the wearing of a hat
360
during services was no longer required. Reform Jews could worship this way because Zunz had shown that Orthodox ghetto
practices were not the eternal forms of Judaism, but merely the
accretion of ghetto customs. He had shown that music, prayer in
the vernacular, a different order of prayers, and the like, were not
sacrilegious, but at one time or another had all been part of Jew ish temple and synagogue practice.
As Leopold Zunz had sought a scientific formula for modern
Judaism, so Karl Marx sought a scientific formula for social
justice. It is necessary in any discussion of Marx to touch upon
the influence of his doctrines on world history. But we shall
avoid becoming entangled in value judgments of these doctrines
just as we avoided becoming entangled in value judgments on
the doctrines of Paul and Mohammed.
Karl Marx, the son of well-to-do Jewish parents, was born in
1818 in Trier, Germany, the home town of Saint Ambrose and
was baptized at the age of six. Growing up between two cultures,
Marx early rejected the values of Judaism and Christianity, because he felt both sets of values were the residues of iniquitous
social systems. Expelled from Prussia for attacking the state, he
moved first to Paris, then to London For a while he held a job as
correspondent for the New York Tribune, but most of his, life he
spent in the British Museum where he wrote Das Kapital, the
"secular bible" of world communism.
History, said Marx, is motivated by economic forces, not
psychological or religious ones, which, he believed, were byproducts of man's economic struggle. Change the social .order,
and the religious and psychological .complexions of man would
also change, according to his view. Social inequalities, he held,
stemmed not from any inherent evil in man, or from any preordained "crime-punishment" doctrines, but from the very nature
of an acquisitive society. By changing the capitalist order to a socialist state, a new society would emerge. As with Christianity,
communism was seized early by the gentiles and given to people
Marx had never dreamed would become communist. Marx was
convinced communism could succeed only in states with ad361
vanced forms of capitalism, because it would need an advanced
technology to establish itself. Instead the advanced nations have
remained capitalist,58 whereas backward nations with undeveloped economies, like Russia and China, became communist. The industrial economy communism needed had to be built
by an enslaved population. The social justice envisioned by
Marx was abandoned.
When Karl Marx died in 1883, communism was as weak a
movement in world affairs as Christianity was after the death of
Paul. But whereas it took one thousand years for Christianity to
convert the pagans of Europe, one billion Christians and Asiatics
were converted to communism within one hundred years after
the death of Marx, and as with the spread of early Christianity,
most of the spread of communism was accomplished by force,
conquest, and proselytization. Almost a third of the world was
communist, united by a belief that communism eventually would
bring salvation on this earth instead of in the hereafter. As of
1993, communism has fallen in most nations, having been corrupted to the point of being more akin to totalitarianism than
communism.
Everyone seems prone to ascribe everything to Marxism, but
few want to ascribe anything to psychoanalysis, which has affected man's view of himself as profoundly as Marxism has affected man's view of society. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), an
Austrian Jew educated in Paris and Vienna, revolutionized the
entire field of psychiatry with his theory of psychoanalysis. "Because I was a Jew," Freud once wrote, "I found myself free from
many prejudices which limited others in the use of their intellect,
58 The reason is a simple one. When Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital,
large corporations with social-benefit plans, and large unions did not
exist. The idea that workers would be paid salaries large enough for
them to buy back the things they produced would have seemed utopian to Marx. The capitalism Marx inveighed against has disappeared, and the communism he recommended has long since been
scrapped. Yet these concepts of 1850 vintage were bandied about as
realities in a world where they no longer existed.
362
and being a Jew, I was prepared to enter opposition and to re nounce agreement with the 'compact majority.' "
At the time Freud attended medical school, society generally
left the question of mental illness to philosophers,. priests, and a
brand of psychiatrists known as "nosologists" – men who defined
mental illnesses they could not understand by symptoms, without
regard to cause. In this way, patients having hallucinations from
such diverse causes as syphilis of the brain, senile dementia, or
paranoia could end . up neighbors in the same dungeon. Freud
was the first to make the distinction between organic mental ill ness caused by physical factors and functional mental disorders
caused by psychic factors. With him modem psychiatry was
born, the odium of degeneracy or sin was lifted from mental ill ness, and the psychotic were treated as sick people instead of
people possessed.
The desolate silence which had greeted Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, the first breakthrough in the understanding of
mental illness, was shattered by the loud invective given the pub lication of his books dealing with child sexuality and the role of
sexuality in the causation of mental illness. From obscurity to
notoriety to fame, Freud's name became known around the
world. Though Freud himself often stated that a medical basis for
treating mental illness must be found, because psychoanalysis as
a therapy is too involved, modem psychiatrists, even while stand ing on the shoulders of Freud, ignore the contribution he made in
enlarging their field of vision. Today, psychoanalysis plays a major role in our understanding of criminology, cultural anthropo logy, and it throws further light on our understanding of art, reli gion, and the humanistic sciences.
When Nazi stormtroopers invaded Freud's study in Vienna
after the Anschluss in 1938, they were stopped by his serene,
steadfast gaze. A cultural distance of a million years separated
the civilized man and the Nazi beast. Such was Freud's fame,
however, that the Nazis did not dare to harm him. Freud and his
family were allowed to leave for London, where he died a year
later.
363
The fourth in the Spinozian quartet, Albert Einstein (18791955), was another product of the German-Jewish Enlightenment. It was he who completed the work of Spinoza by destroying the mechanistic concept of the universe which Spinoza had
undermined. Einstein clearly saw the ideological ties binding
him to Spinoza. When a Boston cardinal warned American youth
to beware of Einstein because he was an atheist, a New York
rabbi called Einstein asking "Do you believe in God?" Einstein
replied, "I believe in Spinoza's God, who reveals himself in the
harmony of all being." Today Einstein's thinking, even more than
that of Marx or Freud, dominates world thinking.
Einstein entered the world scene in 1905, when he published
his now famed theory of relativity. His views on Brownian motion and his interpretation of the meaning of the photoelectric ef fect brought him further fame and a Nobel prize. In all his theorizing, Einstein was "Kabalistic." He .relied not on external ex perimentation but on intellect, logic, and intuition. "The logic of
a theory," said Einstein, "must stem from an inner coherence, not
because external evidence makes it the most logical over other
theories."
In 1933, the superior Nordic Aryans drove Einstein out of
Germany. He came to the United States, where he was appointed
professor of mathematics at the Institute for Advanced Study at
Princeton. He died in 1955.
It was in the field of science, where Freud and Einstein had
broken new ground, that the Jews made their greatest contribution to Western civilization, not as "practical men" but as theor eticians. They were innovators of methods, creators of new
ideas, pioneers in new fields, founders of scientific publications.
They were the motivating spirit behind new institutions.
In medicine, as early as 1850, Jewish scientists argued for
the existence of microorganisms which cause contagious disease,
laid the foundations for modem heart therapy, bacteriology, and
clinical pathology. They first advanced theories that chemical
processes within the cell were responsible for glandular activity,
proposed serum immunity for contagious diseases, discovered
364
phagocytes, pioneered in the chemistry of muscles, and made
blood transfusions possible through the discovery of the different
blood types. It was Jewish scientists who advanced the first hope
man had of ever finding a cure for the ravages of venereal dis ease, through Neisser's discovery of the gonococcus, Wassermann's test for the early detection of syphilis, and Ehrlich's first
cure for it, with his drug, salvarsan.
Why the Jews, who had just come out of the ghetto, Talmud
in hand, should suddenly become leading mathematicians, is a
mystery, unless Freud's explanation for his own genius is valid.
Here we can only adumbrate a few of their contributions to in dicate the extent of their activities. Karl Jacobi founded modern
mathematical physics with his theories of dynamics and partial
differential equations, developed the theory of elliptic functions,
the theory of Abelian functions, and the functional determinants
known as "Jacobians." Georg Cantor introduced the concept of
transfinite numbers, outlined an approach to set theory, and
paved the way for the logical positivists and Wittgenstein's
school of mathematical philosophy. Hermann Minkowski
fathered the geometry of numbers and first formulated the
concept of relativity of time and space. Leopold Kronecker won
fame for his work in the theory of numbers and in the theory of
equations. Luigi Cremona furthered the study of synthetic geometry and developed the Cremona birational transformation the ory. Tullio Levi-Civita, in association with Gregorio Ricci, formulated the absolute differential calculus, which, according to
Einstein, made possible the mathematics of general relativity.
Jews won fame gazing at the stars. Sir William Herschel, the
first to measure the distances of stars from the sun, formulated a
theory for the behavior of double stars, in addition to discovering
the planet Uranus. Karl Schwarzschild made contributions to the
study of the internal composition of stars. To confound that
school of anti-Semitism which holds the Jews responsible for
communism because of Karl Marx„ and to comfort that school of
anti-Semitism which holds the Jews responsible for capitalism
without knowing why, let us point out that David Ricardo is re365
garded as the father of capitalism with his development of a theory of rent, property, and wages, and of a quantity theory of
money. We urge caution, however, for the anti-capitalist anti-Semites; Ricardo's father held a symbolic Jewish funeral ser vice for his son when he was converted and married into English
gentry.
The modern chemical and dye industries rest on German-Jewish achievements. Jewish chemists were the first to syn thesize indigo, the first to discover phthalein dyes, and the first
to produce ammonia synthetically (the Haber process named
after Fritz Haber). A Jew founded the German potash industry.
Jewish chemists devised methods for estimating vapor density,
studied coefficients of expansion for gases, worked out theories
of valencies, developed molecular theories, and classified organ ic compounds. Nobel prize winner Richard Willstatter determined the composition of chlorophyll and the role of enzymes in
the chemical process of life.
In physics, the Jewish contributions are so numerous that
this list must be even more cursory. Jewish physicists dis-.
covered the Hertzian wave, investigated photoelectric phenom ena, were codiscoverers of the gamma rays. They isolated iso topes, worked in electron kinetics, and pried into the secret of the
atom. They were the founders of the entire school of relativity,
which led to the splitting of the atom. This trail began, of course,
with Albert Einstein, then led to Lise Meitner, codiscoverer of
protactinium, element 91, and her nuclear fission theory. The
next stop led to Enrico Fermi (a non-Jew) and Leo Szilard who
developed the chain reaction system, and then to Niels Bohr,
who investigated the structure of atoms and the radiations eman ating from them. Thus the intellectual and theoretical formula tions for the atomic bomb were laid. All – Einstein, Meitner,
Fermi, Szilard, Bohr – were driven out of Europe by Hitler. All
came to the United States. To make the circle complete Albert
Einstein, as an American citizen, threw his scientific prestige be hind the "insane idea" of nuclear energy by fission, and con vinced President Franklin Delano Roosevelt that such a super366
bomb could be made. From here on it was merely a matter of
technology, which any country with money enough could follow
through on, as subsequent events proved.
In the arts and the humanities, the Jews were equally numerous. One could not walk into a salon of West European nineteenth-century intellectuals without meeting a Jew. They performed on Europe's concert stages, conducted orchestras, staged
the great dramas of the world, introduced new art ·forms. Before
the advent of the Nazi, Max Reinhardt reigned in the theater,
Sarah Bernhardt was the queen of the stage, and Lotte Lehman,
Joseph Szigeti, Artur Schnabel, were in the music world headlines.
In politics, finance, and industry, the rise of the Jews was ,:
equally phenomenal. Time after time, overwhelming majorities
of Christians from Rome to London, from Paris to Vienna, voted
Jews to high office, appointed them Cabinet members, made
them Supreme Court justices, promoted them to high military
rank.
Most well known of all the Jews in England was probably '
Benjamin Disraeli, who began his career as a novelist and be came founder and leader of England's Conservative party , and
Prime Minister. Disraeli was the one man most instrumental in
building the British Empire, for which he earned the gratitude of
Queen Victoria, whom he made Empress of India. Sir Moses
Montefiore, Queen Victoria's financial adviser, established the
Provisional Bank of Ireland. A champion of human rights, his
name became a byword among the oppressed, both Jews and
Christians, who everywhere benefited from his philanthropies.
Sir Rufus Isaacs, first Jewish Chief Justice of England, later
knighted, served as Viceroy of India.
In France, Adolphe Crémieux, Minister of Justice, abolished
Negro slavery in the French colonies and instituted legislation
abolishing the death penalty for political prisoners. Isaac and
Emile Pereire developed the credit feature in ·modern banking
and built the first railroad in France. Achille Fould was Minister
of State and Minister of Finance during the Second Empire. Léon
367
Blum was Premier of France several times.
In Germany, more than anywhere else in Europe, Jewish
preeminence in every field helped to create the German Zeitgeist-the German "spirit of the times." It was in Germany that
Ferdinand Lassalle organized the world's first trade-union movement. Lassalle, though a political realist, was privately a roman ticist. More skilled in polemics than with the rapier, he was
killed in a duel over the honor of a baroness, whose favors were
worth living for, but not dying for. Gabriel Riesser championed
general constitutional reforms and equal opportunities for all
Jews. He was elected to the parliament held at Frankfort, and
was the first Jewish judge in Germany. Jews served with distinction as Cabinet ministers, Reichstag members, chief justices,
bankers, and industrialists.
The Court Jew disappeared. The banker took his place. With
his expanding credit and international loan facilities, the modern
banker was able to finance great governmental undertakings, underwrite vast industrial expansion plans, and risk huge sums of
capital in the service of the state. The history of the house of
Rothschild, the prototype of now famed Jewish banking houses
which sprang up all over Europe, needs no retelling here.
This is not to suggest that Jews dominated the financial
structure of the countries in which they generally dwelt. Far from
it. Jewish banking institutions and Jewish money constituted but
a fraction of the economy of Germany, England, or France. The
reason the Jews were so prominent in Europe's economic life
was not their numbers or the dominance of their institutions, but
the new ideas of banking they infused into European commercial
thinking.
Jewish bankers were innovators, idea men. Werner Sombart
in The Jews and Modern Capitalism, suggests that the Jews were
the originators of the system of securities and the practice of dis counting bills. He asserts that the Jews played a large part in
founding the stock exchange, and that they played an important
part in the development of bank notes in their modem use as ne gotiable securities. As early as 1812, the Jews were predominant
368
on the Berlin Stock Exchange, and two of its first four presidents
were Jewish. The Rothschilds made the stock market international. Modern man is a little incredulous that at one time this was
cause for anger at the Jews. But in the beginning of the nineteenth century, the stock exchange was a wonder of Europe, and
the public could, for the first ·time, invest in foreign capital. Jew ish innovations were described at the time as unfair com. peti tion, though they have since become the standard form for all
banking, financing, and international trade, Christian or otherwise.
Though West European governments may have yielded to
the pressure of anti-Semitic groups, for political reasons, they
leaned heavily on Jewish loyalty when they were in financial
trouble. They relied on the discretion of their Jewish bankers, on
their ideas, on their loyalty. Most important of all they had impli cit faith in their honesty, for, though millions in currency passed
through their hands during a century, financial scandals in volving Jews were few. This Jewish influence in European banking and finance lasted until the end of the century, after which
governments slowly began to take over many of the functions
formerly carried on by private banking.
This then is the true image of the Western Jew in the Modern Age. Nevertheless, it strains credulity that such a ridiculously
small minority, so recently deprived of all rights of citizenship,
often looked upon as narrow, bigoted, and ignorant, could have
attained such preeminence in politics, in industry, in science, in
the arts, and in the humanities. How was this possible?
The answer is a complex one, yet it can be narrowed to three
main themes. The Jews used the same tool they had used in
Babylonian, Persian, Grecian, Roman, Islamic, and early medieval times – namely, the survival tool of education. Now, after finishing their three-hundred-year term in the ghetto, the Jews, to
overcome their handicap of being both outsiders and latecomers,
had to be twice as good as their Christian competitors. They did
not hesitate to study for any profession, no matter how hopeless
it seemed to gain a foothold in it. They studied day and night for
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years, until they became renowned in their fields. Universities
could not ignore their scholastic records or their world-acclaimed
achievements. Governments could not ignore their contributions
to science, industry, and commerce. As they became renowned in
their fields, more and more Christians sought them out for advice
in law, to heal their sick, to design their buildings, to build their
businesses.
How did the Jews develop this flair for scholarship, this
ability for theoretical thought, this passion for justice, this ability to peer into society and view it with such precision? The an swer is that such scholarship was not an overnight growth but the
very heart of the Judaic design for survival. Even in the ghetto,
even when denied the educational facilities of the outside world,
the Jews created their own educational institutions. The Talmud,
though it did not answer the needs of modern living, was still the
same Talmud of Grecian, Roman, and Islamic times, the Talmud
of abstractions and legal logic that sharpened the mind. The Jew ish passion for justice was part of an inherited tradition. Given a
heritage that respected learning, that imparted justice, that taught
its doctrines in abstractions, was it any wonder that the Jews
should excel in the field of learning?
One more question may be asked. Though the Jews produced a Spinoza in philosophy, a Marx in economics, a Freud in
medicine, an Einstein in physics, why did they not produce men
of equal stature in literature, music, and painting? Perhaps the
answer lies in the very fact that the Jews were outsiders, excluded and excluding themselves from sharing in the spiritual
life of the nations in which they existed. Such giants as Goethe
and Keats, Beethoven and Brahms, Renoir and Van Gogh were
expressions of their Christian culture. This tie to their past gave
their work its individual aspect; their genius gave it universal ap peal. Because the Jews were spiritually tied to another faith, they
could not identify themselves with the Christian heritage. The
abstractions of Spinoza, Marx, Freud, Einstein are universal, not
identifiable expressions of a creed.
It is interesting to note that those Jews who have approached
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greatness in painting are the modem ones, who no longer express
themselves in faithful reproductions but in abstractions. Here the
prohibition against making graven images no longer obtrudes.
Since abstract painting is also a universal mode of painting, the
Jew can express himself on the abstract universal canvas without
soul-tying identification with other religions.
The Jews will create their Goethe and Keats, their Beethoven and Brahms, their Renoir and Van Gogh when their own
men of genius take up themes which capture the four-thousand-year drama of their survival and then distill that drama, that
survival, into a universal mythology of man.
TWENTY-SIX
EASTERN EUROPE: THE NEW HUMANISM
Like tides, European Jewish history has ebbed and flowed
between Western and Eastern Europe, leaving differently hued
cultures in its wake. Jewish history in the Middle Ages began in
the West and rolled slowly and inexorably toward the East. Jewish history in the Modem Age began in the East and rolled
slowly and inexorably back to the West. In Western Europe,
emancipated Jews – a panoply of scientists, musicians, painters,
writers – created a culture identified with Western values. They
expressed themselves in the languages of their host nations – in
German, in English, in French, in Italian. In Eastern Europe, unemancipated Jews created a culture, known as the Haskala, identified with Jewish values. But the Haskala produced no scientists,
no musicians, no painters. 59 It did produce a humanistic literature, written not in Russian or Polish but in Hebrew and Yiddish,
one the classical, the other the folk language of the Jews.
Of the two cultures, the Eastern Jewish humanism was far
more important for Jewish survival than the Western Jewish Enlightenment. The contributions of the Jews in the West were
59 East European Jews with a talent for painting, like Marc Chagall and
Chaim Soutine, moved to Paris, and scientists, like Hermann·Minkowski, moved to Germany.
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merely ornamental columns added to the stately cultural edifice
of the Western Christian achievement. The innovations of the
Jewish humanists in the East were the pillars which supported
the Jewish Diaspora. As the Western Enlightenment edged itself
toward the drab shtetls of the East, these Jewish humanists
turned it into the Haskala (from the Hebrew word meaning
"awakening" or "rebirth"). But whereas the Enlightenment was
the philosophy of the rich, and Hasidism the religion of the poor,
the Haskala expressed the cultural nationalism of the middle
classes. It was the Jewish Renaissance arriving three hundred
years late.
Like a Freudian libido flowing through the unconscious, attaching itself to previous psychic experiences, the Haskala
flowed through the body of Judaism, attaching itself to former
Jewish values and creating new ones. It attached itself to Hebrew
and Yiddish, creating a new literature. It attached itself to Jewish
religion and created Jewish existentialism. It attached itself to
politics and created Zionism. Zionism fused the Jews in Eastern
and Western Europe with the Jews in the United States and created the new State of Israel. This vast transformation and fusion
began with a few Talmudic students fighting the Hasidists, who
were preaching a return to primitivism of feeling as a way of re lating themselves with God.
Hasidism had not died with the death of its founder, Bal
Shem Tov, in 1760. His disciple Dov Ber spread the Hasidic gospel and soon half of Eastern Europe's Jews belonged to the
Hasidic sect. The rabbis, fearful of this new gospel because it undermined their authority, tried to stifle it, but in vain. In only one
part of Europe, Lithuania, did they succeed, due largely to the efforts of one man, Elijah ben Solomon (1720-1797), an ambivalent figure in Jewish history. Elijah's unwitting historic function
was to serve as a bridge over which the Talmudic students could
troop into the camp of Enlightenment and slay Hasidism with
modern weapons.
Had Elijah ben Solomon (known as the Vilna Gaon – "His
Eminence from Vilna") been born in the twelfth century he
372
would have been a great philosopher. In the eighteenth century
he was an anachronistic man, torn between orthodox scholarship
and science. As his sobriquet implies, he was born in Vilna,
Lithuania, and as one would expect of an eighteenth-century Jew
referred to as "Gaon," he had mastered the Torah at eight and the
Talmud at nine. But what one would not have expected was that
at the age of ten he would want to become a scientist. His horri fied father turned him from science to Talmud, but though he became the most famed Jewish Orthodox scholar of his time, he
never forgot his early interest in science.
The Vilna Gaon was drawn early into the Hasidic dispute,
and, though not a rabbi, he excommunicated the sect. So great
was his reputation as a scholar among the orthodox that the excommunication was effective. He failed, however, to understand
the psychological motivations underlying Hasidism, viewing the
Hasidists merely as Jewish ignoramuses. The Vilna Gaon was the
last of the great Jewish scholars of Talmudism, revered by the orthodox but ignored by the moderns. He died in 1797, never having had a prophetic vision of the future. But through his interest
in science, he had shown his Talmudic students the way to Western Enlightenment. The seeds for the coming Haskala were sown
when the Vilna Gaon had encouraged not only his but other
Talmud students to translate scientific works into the language of
the Prophets.
History repeated itself. As in Greco-Roman and Islamic fays,
when these eighteenth-century Jewish youths came in contact
with new ideas, they also became imbued with them From science their interests wandered to Western philosophy, to the social
sciences, and to literature. They were impressed with these ideas
of the Western world, but they also were in love with their Jewish heritage. They wanted to Westernize themselves without be coming Christianized. They wanted to compromise between the
orthodox who conceded nothing, and the assimilationists who
yielded every, thing. They wanted to create a Jewish culture
which could also be used by the West, instead of a Western culture which could also be used by the Jews.
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As they looked about them, these harbingers of the early
Haskala saw half of Eastern Europe's Jews infected with the
Hasidic doctrines of salvation. The Hasidists, they realized, were
their enemy, and they aligned themselves with the reluctant rabbis to weaken that enemy. Unlike the Vilna Gaon and the rabbis,
these first Haskala intellectuals did not view the Hasidists as ignoramuses, but viewed Hasidism as the "opiate of the people" –
as an escape from the miseries of physical existence.
To bring their ideas to the people, the Haskala writers firs
had to have an audience. To capture the attention of the people
they resorted to writing escape novels of the type so popular in
the nineteenth century. To make sure, however, that whatever
they wrote would not become Russian or Polish in its orientation, the way the Jewish Enlightenment in the West had become
German in its orientation, they wrote in Hebrew. Their aim was
to undermine the influence of Hasidism.
These Hebrew escape novels were set mostly in Palestine
Jews were the heroines, the lovers, the villains. Since the decline
of the Jewish Golden Age in the Islamic Empire, Jews in Jewish
literature had been depicted as paragons of virtue to whom sex
hardly existed except in medical tomes. Now Jewish history was
divided into a romantic past, where love was joyously indulged
in, and a miserable present, where sex was hidden under long,
drab, unaesthetic skirts. These escape novels accomplished a use ful purpose. They helped to destroy the image the Jews had of
themselves as eternal ghetto dwellers. Not always had the Jews
been such derided creatures, these novels implied. Once they had
been romantic lovers, brave warriors, people of destiny. These
novels also implied that perhaps the Jews could change their
present situation by taking political action, instead of passively
sitting around waiting for a messiah.
By 1850, Hasidism was beginning to lose its force. It had
stopped growing and had begun to wither away into quibbling
sects, mainly because of its inability to institutionalize itself. But
the romantic novels had also had their effect. Many Jews no
longer looked upon Hasidism as a return to .Judaism, but as a re374
gression from it. The image of the romantic, brave Jew in the
novels was more to their liking than the hymn-singing, dancing
Hasid of the revival meetings.
As their audience became more discriminating, the Haskala
writers turned to more serious themes, to the meaning of Judaism
and to an examination of the Jewish condition. They began to
write in two languages, in Hebrew for the intellectuals and in
Yiddish for the masses. Within one century, Eastern Europe gave
birth to a series of great Hebrew and Yiddish writers who, like
the humanists of the Renaissance, influenced both literature and
life.
Five thousand years of recorded history has produced only
four great literary periods – the prophetic writings of the Jews in
Biblical days, the Greek tragedies in the Periclean Age, the poetic dramas of the reign of Elizabeth, and the soul-searching novels
of the nineteenth-century Russians. In fifty brief years, Pushkin,
Gogol, Turgenev, Dostoevski, and Tolstoy gave the world an immortal literature. True to the Jewish Diaspora formula of a culture for a culture, the Russian Jews also produced a literature,
not to be compared with the achievements of these Russian literary giants, but a unique achievement nevertheless.
Just as the heroes in the Russian novels have Russian names
but are actors in a universal human drama, so the heroes in the
Jewish novels have Jewish names and are also actors in a univer sal human drama. Just as the great Russian writers probed deeply
into the Russian soul for inner values, so the Hebrew and Yiddish writers probed into the Jewish soul for inner values. In the
main, the Yiddish writers wrote fiction, the Hebrew writers essays and poetry. The Yiddish writers turned from the romanticism of the early Hebrew novels to realism, and the Hebrew
writers turned to Zionism, a new Jewish aspiration for a political
homeland in Palestine.
One of the first and very important of these early Hebrew essayists who influenced the course of Jewish history ·while: enriching Hebrew literature was Ahad Ha-Am (1856-1927), born to
riches and orthodoxy in the Ukraine. Ahad Ha-Am supplemented
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his Torah and Talmud education with courses at the universities
of Vienna, Berlin, and Breslau, though he never graduated from
any of these institutions. He lived in Odessa, then in London, and
in 1922 settled in Tel Aviv, Palestine. Through his writings he infused the emerging political Zionism with a sense of cultural re sponsibility. The function of Zionism, as he saw it, was to solve
not only the political but also the spiritual problem of Judaism –
the problem of a continuing and unifying Jewish culture. It was
not the state that bound the individual to his nation, but his cul ture. The Jews in the Diaspora, he held, had to have a unifying
culture to weld them into a national organism, and only a spiritual center in Palestine could serve such a function. As Israel
Friedlaender summed it up, "According to Ahad Ha-Am, Zionism must begin with culture and end with culture, its consummation being a center for Judaism."60 He was a critic, not a leader.
He provided the butter on the Zionest bread Herzl had baked.
Whereas Ahad Ha-Am was primarily an essayist, Russian
born Hayim Bialik (1873-1934) was a poet comparable in stature
to Judah Halevi, and poet laureate of the Hebrew language. He
was self-educated, a truant from the Talmud, a rebel against traditionalism, and his whole life was an agonized revolt against the
remnants of shtetl orthodoxy. He drifted to Odessa, became a
timber trader, taught school, fled to Berlin, and finally settled in
Tel Aviv. His poem "In the City of the Slaughter" prophetically
depicts the 1903 Russian pogrom in Kishinev as a prelude to
world tragedy, just as Picasso in 1937 foreshadowed the horrors
of totalitarian war with his painting "Guernica," which depicted
the German slaughter in that town during the Spanish Civil War
of 1936-1939. Bialik's poem caused thousands of Jewish youths
to cast off their pacifism and join the Russian under ground to
fight Czar and tyranny. Among his many translations into
Hebrew are works of Shakespeare, Schiller's Wilhelm Tell, and
Don Quixote. More than anyone else Bialik gave life and verve
to modem Hebrew.
60 Past and Present: A Collection of Jewish Essays, page 421.
376
Quite different from the lives of Ahad Ha-Am and Bialik
was the life of Crimean-born Saul Tchernichovsky (1875-1943),
who never saw the inside of a Talmud-Torah. Though his parents
were observant Jews, they let their child grow up with Russian
urchins, and with them he roamed the steppes. At the age of sev en his education began, not in Yiddish, which he never learned,
but in Hebrew, and through that language he grew to love his
people. In 1899 he enrolled at the University of Heidelberg,
where he studied medicine and where he was continually em broiled in love affairs. His good looks and education gained him
entree into both Jewish and gentile high society. Many of his
most ; beautiful poems in Hebrew were penned to his Christian
amours, and he finally married a Greek girl. He served as a
physician in the Russian Medical Corps during World War I,
took part in the Russian Revolution, moved to Germany, and in
1931 settled in Palestine.
It was this sophisticated cosmopolitan Jew who in impassioned poetry exhorted the Jewish people to stand up and fight
their oppressor, to free Jehovah whom the Talmudists had bound
in phylacteries. Like all modem Hebrew scholars, he too was a
linguist. He translated Moliere and Goethe as well as the Iliad
and the Odyssey into Hebrew, so masterfully that they read like
Hebrew classics. Strangely enough, he also mastered the Finnish
language, with its fifteen cases, and translated into Hebrew the
strange, unrhymed, trochaic, alliterative Finnish epic poem the
Kalevala, as well as Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha, a poem inspired by and written in the meter of the Kalevala. But, above
all, Tchemichovsky was a Jewish nationalist, and his poetry re peatedly touched upon the theme of a political reawakening of
the Jews and a return to their historic destiny.
Side by side with this secular Hebrew literature grew Yiddish literature, the first such literature in Jewish history. Hebrew
was the language of the Torah and prophetic writings, the classic
language of the Jews, four thousand years .old. Yiddish, on the
other hand, was the folk language, barely seven hundred years
old. It was born in the Rhine :valley, in the twelfth century, the il377
legitimate child of a union between the German language and the
Hebrew alphabet. The Jews spoke German among themselves.
But when they wrote German, they wrote it with Hebrew letters.
Through ,the centuries, German words were modified, Hebrew
words were added, and this spoken and written idiom developed
its own syntax. As the Jews moved eastward, they carried with
them this new language, now called Yiddish, adding Polish, Russian, Lithuanian words as they settled in those countries. By the
eighteenth century, the great majority of European Jews spoke
Yiddish only; Hebrew was reserved for scholars and for praying.
To reach the masses of the Jews, many Haskala writers
turned to Yiddish. Because Yiddish was a folk language, fluid
and without discipline, it had certain literary limitations and also
certain advantages. It did not lend itself to heroic epics or subtle
psychological moods, but it was perfect for lyric expression and
satire. It could not be made to express ambiguity, but it could be
made to exude empathy. As Dante shaped the Italian language, as
Chaucer shaped the English language, as Luther shaped the German language, so the Haskala writers shaped the Yiddish language. .
The genius of the Haskala writers forged a literature that did
not die with the Yiddish-speaking Jews in the German concentration camps. Though born in that strip of land known as the Pale,
located in an outpost of history, and written for three million
Jews who were thought of as anachroisms of history by the gentile world, this Yiddish literature created characters that still live,
long after the already vanished shtetl Jews. In these heroes of the
"insulted and injured,'' the Jewish Haskala writers created universal figures. By pure chance, the first three of these Haskala Yiddish writers were also its three greatest – Mendele Mocher Sforim (Mendele the bookseller), Sholem Aleichem, and L. Peretz..
Mendele Mocher Sforim was a typical Talmud student "led
astray" by the Haskala. He was born in. Lithuania (1836-1917)
into a family whose rabbinic ancestors were as numerous as
shields in a British castle. Educated on Talmud and more Talmud
in one-room shtetl schools and various yeshivas, he rebelled
378
against this traduction of Jewish culture and educated himself on
the literature of the West. At first he wrote in Hebrew, but discarded that language for Yiddish, then regarded as mere jargon
by the intellectuals. Mendele inveighed against the narrow-mindedness and dogmatism of the Jews in the Pale, but behind his vitriol the Jews could sense his love for his people. In all
his writings he tried to re-create a subconscious Jewish community of feeling. There is such a universality about his Jews in
the Pale that someday, when his works are more adequately
translated, he may be accorded some of the praise now lavished
on the great Russian writers.
In the nineteenth century, careers in literature were frowned
upon by 'most Jewish parents in the Pale, for "what was there to
write about that had not already been written?" Sholem Aleichem's father was one of the exceptions; he encouraged his son
to write. At the age of seventeen, Sholem Aleichem (1859-1916),
brought up on traditional shtetl educational fare, rebelled and
began writing in ·Hebrew and teaching Russian to earn a living.
His first literary effort was a dictionary listing his stepmother's
extensive vocabulary of colorful Yiddish curses. He married a
wealthy landowner's daughter, administered a large estate, lost
his fortune on the stock market, and went back to writing, in Yiddish this time. He left Russia to live in Switzerland, moved to
Denmark, and finally to the United States at the outbreak of
World War I.
Sholem Aleichem was both an artist and an entertainer, the
Jewish Mark Twain, who, because he loved the Jews, was allowed to spoof them, the ghetto, and their rituals. He held before
them a comic image of the "Chosen People" and made them
laugh at themselves. In one sentence spoken by his favorite char acter, Tevye, the dairyman, Sholem Aleichem summed up the
plight of the Jew in the Pale. "I was, with God's help, born poor,"
says Tevye. Sholem Aleichem wrote about the helpless masses
and defended the "sanctity of the insulted and the injured." With
Tevye, the Jewish people could agree on the plight of being a
Jew in the Pale, "If He wants it that way, that's the way it ought
379
to be – and yet, what would have been wrong to have it
different?" But even as they laughed, the Jewish people paused
and reflected.
Polish-born I. L. Peretz (1852-1915) grew up with one foot
in his Hasidic inheritance and the other in the Haskala. He was
university educated, practiced law for ten years, then became a
writer and editor. His first published work was a volume of
Hebrew poetry, but Yiddish fiction soon dominated his writings.
Peretz brought the nineteenth century to the shtetl Jews of Eastern Europe. In many of his stories he turned away from the shtetl
to write of Jewish life in the big town, of the urbanized, proletarianized Jews. He wrote like a modem novelist, with rapid
subtle strokes.
A century of Haskala Hebrew and Yiddish writers began to
have its effect. The Jews in the Pale got the points of the. Stories
– that their afflictions were not part of an eternal design or a pun ishment for their sins; that orthodoxy was not synonymous with
God's commandments; that Hasidism was not a paradise on
earth. As more and more Jews rebelled against orthodoxy, the
rabbinate lost more and more of its power. Jews began to think of
their liberation not in terms of better prayers but in terms of bet ter organization.
Because the Haskala succeeded in creating Jewish values
with which the young emancipated Eastern Jews could identify
themselves, there were no lines of Jews standing in front of the
baptismal fonts in Russian and Polish churches. Instead, they
searched for new answers to the perplexing question of faith in
an age of reason. They did not search for scientific answers, like
Zunz and his school, but for philosophic answers. In this search
they were joined by Western Jewish intellectuals who became
convinced, through the: growing anti-Semitism of the West, that
baptism was not the. answer. Imperceptibly the Haskala of the
East and the Enlightenment of the West began moving closer toward each. other in viewpoint, and by 1900 a symbolic merger
had been made. Out of this merger grew Jewish existentialism,
and', appropriately, the two foremost proponents of this new
380
philosophy, Franz Rosenzweig and Martin Buber, were born on'
the borderland between Eastern and Western Europe. Both. were
products of the Western Enlightenment, and both: seized upon
the underlying psychological base of Hasidism for their new,
modern approach to Judaism.
Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929) was born into an assimilationst German-Jewish family and educated at the universities of
Freiburg and Berlin, with degrees in both philosophy and medicine. About this time, he decided to convert to Protestantism, because he could discern no rational philosophy in Judaism. He
had never had a Jewish upbringing, and he felt it would be intellectually more honest if he entered Christianity as a former Jew
instead of a mere agnostic. As the day before his appointment
with Christianity happened to be the Jewish Day of Atonement,
Franz casually sauntered into the nearest synagogue for a perfunctory "I and Thou" introduction. While listening to the pray ers, he experienced a Jewish reawakening. Instead of entering
Christianity, he re-entered Judaism.
It was at the eastern front in World War I that Franz Rosenzweig composed his main work, The Star of Redemption, written
between battles, advances, and retreats, on postcards and bits of
wrapping paper which he sent to his mother, who transcribed his
notes. In this and other works Rosenzweig tried to rescue Judaism from what he considered its three enemies – orthodox Jewry,
who confused their Talmudic legalisms with the Torah; the
Hasidists, who confused their ecstasy for God with God; and the
political Zionists, who thought of Judaism only as a form of nationalism. Whereas Rosenzweig formerly. had seen faith as a
contest between the mind of man and the commandments of
God, he now realized that faith could be apprehended only as an
encounter between man and God. Faith, he said, was an involve ment with one's self and not an involvement with one's mind.
The last days of Rosenzweig were tragic. He was struck by
an illness which paralyzed his entire body except for one thumb.
He "wrote" his subsequent works strapped in a special chair;
with his thumb he indicated to his wife each individual letter,
381
painstakingly forming first words, then sentences, paragraphs,
and books.
Rosenzweig was strongly influenced in his views by Martin
Buber, a scholar who, in his own lifetime, has come to be looked
upon as a prophet and acknowledged by Jews and Christians as
one of the most influential modern day philosophical theolo gians. Buber developed the Jewish existentialist philosophy
which has influenced the Protestant theologian Paul Tillich and
the Catholic humanist philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev. Today,
Buber 's thinking, like that of Freud, permeates Western culture
and has influenced the writings of educators, sociologists, psy chiatrists, psychologists, philosophers, theologians, and poets.
Buber, born in 1878, of wealthy Viennese parents, was
brought up by his grandfather in Galicia (Poland), where he early
came in contact with Hasidism. After a traditional Jewish upbringing, he attended the universities of Vienna and Berlin,
studying philosophy and art, graduating from the latter with a
doctorate in philosophy. He joined the Zionist movement and, together with a Catholic theologian and a Protestant psychiatrist,
edited a journal on social problems relating to religion. It is his
philosophical works on Hasidism and theology, however, which
have brought him world fame.
Men, said Buber, are capable of a twofold relationship. ·The
first aspect of this relationship, which he calls "objective," per mits man to order his environment. The second, which he calls
"realization," permits him to perceive the inner meaning of his
own existence (or, as the German philosophers call it, Existenz);
hence, "existentialism." Buber also holds that one cannot explain
religion in terms of science ·any more than one can explain sci ence in terms of religion. " He leans heavily on Freudian psycho analytic insights for an ·understanding of the mind of man. Un like Freud, though, ·Buber does not reject religion as an "illu sion" but accepts it as a reality.
Man has a soul, says Buber, his unconscious national soul.
This unconscious soul in the individual Jew is a mirror image of
the collective soul of the Jewish people, a soul which compresses
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four thousand years of Jewish history within it. Therefore, in order to know himself, the Jew must at all times be aware of the
history of his people. The Old Testament, in Buber's view, is the
affirmation of the collective experience of the people of Israel
with God. Each Jew can reexperience this collective encounter
with God on an individual basis, because of the Jewish heritage
preserved in his unconscious. This is the meaning of Buber's now
famous phrase, "I-and-Thou encounter." The key to salvation,
then, according to Buber, is both a collective and an individual
encounter with the Deity through faith – a faith which needs no
dogma. Such a belief neither contradicts reason nor opposes sci ence, and it answers the need of man for faith.
Buber's philosophy is also a protest against the depersonaliz ation of man in modern society because of the dominance of the
"I-It" relation between man and things. The strength of a true
community can arise only out of an "I-Thou" relationship with
God, says Buber.
Existence' will remain meaningless for you if you yourself do not penetrate into it with active love and if you
do not in this way discover its meaning for yourself. ...
And for this very reason the answer to the silent ques tion asked by the modern world is found herein. Will
the world perceive it? But will Jewry itself perceive that
its very existence depends upon the revival of its reli gious existence? The Jewish State may assure the future
of a nation of Jews, even one with a culture of its own;
Judaism will live only if it brings to life again the
primeval Jewish relationship to God, the world, and
mankind.61
In 1938, at the age of sixty, Buber was forced to flee Nazi
Germany. He settled in Palestine, where he became professor of
social philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
The Haskala died with the nineteenth century in the rubble
61 From “The Silent Question" in The Writings of Martin Buber, edited
by Will Herberg, page 314.
383
of World War I. Born in the West, child of the German Enlightenment, and reared in the East, ward of the Jewish intellectuals, the
Haskala was Jewish humanism painted over Western Enlightenment. By having held up the mirror of grandeur to the Jewish
past, the Haskala writers were able to make the people of the
Pale realize the sordidness of their present. By reviving Hebrew
as a secular language and elevating Yiddish to a literary status,
they enriched Jewish culture. The Enlightenment of the West and
the Haskala of the East revived the Jewish will to survive.
This new expression of the will for survival as Jews was
born with Zionism. And it was Zionism which fused Jewry in
Eastern and ,Western Europe with Jewry in the United States.
For two and a half centuries the Jews in America had played a
minor role in Jewish world affairs, but in the twentieth century
they became a force in Jewish destiny. As the history of the
American Jews now commingles with that of the European, we
must cross the Atlantic Ocean for a closer view of this American
segment of the Jewish people, as it vies for the leadership of Diaspora Judaism.
TWENTY-SEVEN
UNITED STATES: THE NEW BABYLON
Jewish history in America is a strange mixture of the familiar and the prophetic. It arrived in South America in the sixteenth
century with the Hispanic explorations, and flowed to North
America in the seventeenth century with the tides of AngloDutch colonial expansion. For its first 250 years, Jewish history
in America was a curious reversal of Jewish history in Europe.
From 1650 to 1900, American Jewry was spiritually and intellectually dependent upon European Jewry, producing no new ideas
of its own. Just as America before 1900 was regarded by nineteenth-century European intellectuals as an inferior nation and
people, so European Jews looked upon American Jews as intellectual inferiors. And just as America after World Wars I and II
began to assume leadership of the Western world, so the Jews in
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America in the twentieth century began to grope for leadership
of world Jewry.
What is the explanation for the opposite intellectual direc tions taken by Jewish history in America and in Europe? One explanation can be found in the parallel drawn by some historians
between the relationship of Rome and Greece on the one hand,
and of America and Europe, on the other. If Americans, as such
historians contend, are anti-intellectual in outlook, followers in
literature, copyists in art, and technicians in science, in contrast
to Europeans, who are pace setters in literature, innovators in art,
and theoreticians in science, then this parallel clarifies the rela tionship between American and European Jews, for whatever
American Jews created prior to about 190C was but a pale imitation of the original European pattern. This also fits in with our
"Diaspora law of talion" – a culture for culture – because Jewish
American culture was as anti-intellectual and pragmatic as Christian American culture. This antithesis is exemplified in the fates
of the four waves of Jewish immigration to the United States.
The first two waves. spanning two and a half centuries between
1650 and 1880 were culturally sterile; the second two waves,
between 1880·and 1950, were culturally fertile.
The Spanish Jews, who arrived as early as 1621, were not
prominent in Colonial affairs, nor did they help shape events in
the American Revolution. They did not become philosophers,
scholars, and statesmen in America as they had in Europe. They
became tradesmen and merchants. A similar fate befell the German Jews who arrived between 1825 and 1880. They became
well integrated, well adjusted, and prosperous, but,. until 1900,
played only a minor role in United States history, developing
none of America's heavy industries, leading no vanguard of progressive social legislation, and gracing no list of contributors to
the literary "flowering of New England."
Then, paradoxically, between 1880 and 1920, when history
washed ashore 2,000,000 despised, poverty-stricken Russian
Jews, Jewish intellectual life suddenly took root in America.
With the fourth immigration wave, which carried on its crest
385
300,000 German Jews made homeless and stateless by the Nazi
terror, American Jewish intellectual life began to flourish. The
center of Jewish intellectual life shifted from the Old World to
the New, just as the center of Jewish intellectual life in Biblical
days had shifted from Palestine to Babylonia after the fall of
Judah in the sixth century B.C.
Jewish history in the New World begins with the very discovery of the Western Hemisphere, and Jews played a far greater
part in its discovery, exploration, and settlement than present-day
historians accord them. Who dares place Jews on the ships that
made these historic voyages, or ascribe to them a share in the
planning? Jewish mathematicians and scientists worked for a
century in laying the groundwork for these expeditions. Abraham
Cresques, a Majorcan cartographer, known in Europe as "Master
of Maps and Compasses," charted the maps European navigators
used to find their way across the seas. His son Judah, known as
the "Map Jew,'' served under the name of Jacomo de Majorca as
the director of the Nautical Observatory at Sagres. When Portugal's prince Henry the Navigator needed a director for his
famed academy of Navigation, he gave the post to Master Jacob,
leading cartographer who came from Majorca's renowned school
of Jewish scientists.
After the Jews were expelled from Spain, the Jewish astronomer Abraham Zacuto, whose books on astronomy had' been
translated from Hebrew into Spanish and Latin, became astronomer at the court of King John II of Portugal. Vasco da Gama
consulted Zacuto before setting out on his expedition to India.
These medieval Jewish scientists, cartographers, and astronomers were, as the French scholar Charles; de La Ronciere expresses it, "the bedrock of the great discoveries, from the voyage
around Africa to the discovery of the New World."
Jewish history in America begins with the expulsion of the
Jews from Spain in the same year and month that Columbus set
sail on his first voyage in search of a trade route to India. Jews
served on board his small flotilla as able-bodied seamen, map
readers, interpreters, and surgeons. As a footnote to history, we
386
must record the fact that the Indians on the Caribbean island
where the flotilla first landed, were greeted in Hebrew and Arabic by one Luis de Torres, a Jewish interpreter aboard the flag ship, for Columbus was certain the natives spoke either Hebrew
or Arabic. It was de Torres, incidentally, who discovered maize
and brought it to Europe, where, with the potato, it enriched the
diet of Western man. Leaving ourselves open to the charge that
we credit the Jews with "everything," we must also note that it
was not Sir Walter Raleigh who introduced tobacco to Europe,
but de Torres and his Christian companion Roderigo de Jerez.
The first settling of Jews in the New World came about
through the signing of a compact between King Manuel the
Great of Portugal and a Marrano, Fernando de Loronha. In exchange for the privilege of settling in Brazil, de Loronha agreed
to explore three hundred leagues of Brazil's coast every year and
build a fort wherever he and his passengers settled. In 1502 de
Loronha's five ships, filled with Marranos fleeing the Inquisition,
set sail for Brazil. Among his few Christian passengers was
Amerigo Vespucci, whose name was given to the American continents.62 In 1503, de Loronha' s Marranos built their first fort on
Brazilian soil.
Jewish settlements in South America grew rapidly as the
Jews expelled from Western Europe searched for sanctuary. By
the end of the sixteenth century, they had cultivated extensive to bacco and sugar plantations, and had developed a sizable merchant and financier class engaged in exporting raw materials and
importing finished goods. Right on their heels, however, fol lowed the Inquisition, to establish branch offices on the new con tinent. Instead of allowing the new economy to develop freely,
62 This was Amerigo Vespucci's second voyage to South America, the
first having been made in 1500 in the service of Spain. After his
second voyage, Amerigo published an account of it, stating his conviction that not India, but a new continent had been discovered. This
led a geographer, Martin Waldseemüller, to suggest the new continent be called "America." Amerigo himself never set foot on North
American soil.
387
the Inquisition, in close cooperation with the Spanish and Portuguese governments, established feudalism. Christian settlers,
instead of arriving to trade and cultivate, as had the Jews, arrived
to despoil and plunder. But for the Inquisition, the dominant
civilization might well have been in South America instead of
North America.
Spain and Portugal did not hold colonial monopoly in the
New World for long. Learning of the gold and silver filling Spanish and Portuguese coffers, England, France, and the Netherlands
sent their own fleets to search for their own Eldorados. The
Dutch, seeing allies in the Brazilian Jews fleeing the Inquisition,
asked them for help in seizing Brazilian trading posts from the
Portuguese. The Dutch soon gained a toehold in Brazil, but, unfortunately, they were expelled by the Portuguese in 1654, and
the Jews fled in all directions. Jewish history in the United States
is generally dated from September of that same year, when
twenty-three of these fleeing Jews arrived in New York City, then
known as New Amsterdam, and asked its choleric governor,
Peter Stuyvesant, for permission to stay.
Though small, New Amsterdam was cosmopolitan, its 750
inhabitants speaking eighteen languages, but not Hebrew. A good
organization man who saw no need for Jews in his organization,
Stuyvesant, a "vice-president" of the Dutch West India Company,
sent a note to the home office asking for permission to expel
them. The Jews petitioned to stay, on the grounds that they had
helped the Dutch in Brazil, and their petition was granted. In
1657 they became Dutch citizens, but hardly had they become
acclimated to their new political status than they became British
subjects by an act of war. In 1664, when the British ousted the
Dutch from North America, the former refugees of the Brazilian
autos-da-fé became British colonials.
Jewish history in the Colonies is the history of individuals
rather than communities, for during this period entire Jewish
communities did not emigrate from Europe, only individuals and
families. As soon as new groups arrived, they dispersed through out the vast American landmass and were absorbed into the
388
American social system.
This absorption was facilitated by two conditions, one the
nature of America's social structure, the other the nature of Purit anism. Because the Colonies never developed a feudal corporate
state, there was no need for a specially exempt ·"Jewish middle
class." The colonists themselves made up the middle class. Furthermore, because no one threatened their existence, the Jews
had no need for self-government. Because they could get justice
in American courts, they did not need their own judgment. In
fact, the entire idea of Jewish self-government never took root in
America.
Another reason for the quick integration of the Jews into the
American scene was the Judaic nature of the Puritan spirit in
New England. The Puritans regarded themselves as the spiritual
heirs of the Old Testament, looking upon the New Testament
only as the story of Christ. It was to the Old Testament they
looked for God, which was one reason that in England the Puritans were viewed as "Jewish fellow travelers." The Puritans compared their flight to America to the flight of the Jews out of
Egypt, and they thought of the Massachusetts Bay Colony as the
New Jerusalem. When Harvard was founded, Hebrew was taught
along with Latin and Greek. In fact, there was even a proposal
that Hebrew be made the official language of the Colonies, and
John Cotton wanted to adopt the Mosiac Code as the basis for
the laws of Massachusetts. Out of this Puritan spirit came many
embodiments of the Mosiac Code in the American Constitution.
The founding fathers and the American people had a steadfast belief in the Old Testament. The development of constitutional law through the body of decisions by the Supreme Court
has acted, in a sense, like a Talmud in interpreting and clarifying
the Constitution, and those decisions have come to function in
American political life much as the Talmud has in Jewish life.
"Proclaim liberty throughout the land, unto all its inhabitants,"
from Leviticus (25:10), is inscribed on the Liberty Bell, which
rang out its message at the first reading of the Declaration of Independence.
389
American Jewish communities were slow to form in the colonial period, developing haphazardly, without plan or organization. There were Jewish settlements as early as 1621 in Virginia,
1649 in Massachusetts, and 1658 in Maryland. By 1733, with the
settlement of Jews in Georgia, they were represented in all thirteen colonies.
The colonial period came to an end with the American Revolution. Jews participated on both sides, as did the other colonists, but, as in Europe, most joined the side of freedom. General
Washington relied on Jewish as well as Christian financiers and
brokers to supply his armies and to back the valueless bills of ex change with whatever fortunes they had at their command. No
proof exists, however, for the legend that Haym Salomon backed
the Revolution with a personal fortune of $300,000 (a fabulous
sum in those days). In his many advertisements, Haym Salomon
represented himself as "Broker to the Office of Finance," and his
job was that of a banker today, selling "war bonds" to the public.
The Jews of the colonial wave of settlers were at first pre ponderantly of Spanish descent, but after 1700 their ranks were
diluted by an admixture of German Jews trickling into the colonies. By 1750 they already outnumbered the Spanish Jews, though
the latter still remained dominant socially for another half a cen tury. Some of these Jewish immigrants and their descendants became prosperous shipowners. Others joined Christian colleagues
in the brisk slave trade. Some pressed with the pioneers into the
American hinterland. A few became cultured gentlemen, who
had their portraits painted by Gilbert Stuart and sent their sons
abroad to study. Most, however, were petty tradesmen who never
rose out of historic obscurity. They did not help frame the Constitution, were not elected to Congress, and were not appointed
to any important judicial or governmental posts. 63
By the close of the first phase of Jewish immigration, which
spanned roughly 175 years, from 1650 to 1825, the Jewish popu63 The first Jewish representative was not elected until 1841, and the
first ·Jewish senator not until 1845, both from Florida.
390
lation in America numbered about 10,000 individuals. Except for
their religion they were indistinguishable from the general popu lation. They wore no yellow badges, no ridiculous peaked caps,
no earlocks, no black caftans. They Americanized their names.
They shed their Spanish, German, Hebrew, and Yiddish, and
spoke English. As there were no synagogues in the Colonies until
1730, religion slowly lost its hold upon these Jews, and an American form of creeping assimilationism set in. Whereas the Jews
in Europe were baptized, in America they just faded out of Judaism via intermarriage, with no formal renunciation of faith. But
against these losses must be set increased fecundity and a trickle
of immigration, which kept the Jewish population rather stable
until 1825.
During the second immigration wave, from 1820 to 1880,'
the Jewish population swelled from 10,000 to 250,000, as Jews
fled to America in the company of seven million Christian
refugees to escape the sanguinary revolutions and counterrevolutions which convulsed Europe during those years. ·Providentially, these events in Europe coincided with the requirements of
the United States. Expanding nineteenth-century America needed
these European refugees as farmers, laborers, and merchants.
The West was opening up and becoming agricultural. The East
was investing its agricultural profits in industry. The country
needed farmers to settle the West and a merchant class to service
both East and West. ·j The Christian refugees, mostly peasants,
headed westward 1 and became farmers. The Jewish refugees,
mostly middle. class, became free enterprisers.
Many of these Jews,-most of them German, did not stay,
long on the eastern seaboard. Musket on shoulder, pack on. back,
they headed southward and ·westward, for Louisville and New
Orleans, far Cincinnati and Cleveland, far Chicago. and St.
Louis. Those who arrived with the Gold Rush headed farther
westward and were among the first to settle in San·Francisco,
where their descendants now constitute some of the oldest and
most elite families. The newcomers worked night and day, lived
frugally, and saved their pennies to accumulate capital to invest
391
in business. The peddler's tray became the drygoods store, and
the drygoods store expanded into the department store. 64 But in
the scramble for riches, learning and scholarship were forgotten.
The slavery issue divided the Jews the way it divided the
rest of the country. Though a few dealt in slaves, most were
strongly abolitionist. Southern Jews faught for the South, not because they believed in slavery, but because they loved the South.
And the Southern Jewish elite sympathized with the Southern aristocracy, which, in the main, was more liberal and better educated than the Northern bluebloods. When the Civil War broke
out, Southern rabbis exhorted Jews to volunteer for the Confederate Gray, and Northern rabbis exhorted Jews to volunteer for
the Union Blue. When the war was over, there were nine Jewish
generals and hundreds of Jewish field officers in the Union
Army. The count was proportionately the same in the Confeder ate Army. The Confederacy also gave the Jews their first American statesman in Judah Benjamin, who served as Secretary of
State under Jefferson Davis.
After the war, American industrial expansion created vast
empires in steel, oil, railroads, shipping lines, chemicals, coal,
and banking, but, with the few exceptions in banking, the Jews
were almost totally excluded. There was a vacuum – which
nature is said to abhor – in the retail field, however, and the im migrant Jews were sucked into that vacuum. As a consequence,
most American Jewish fortunes were made not in industry but in
retailing. Later generations funneled large shares of this wealth
into art and philanthropy. Families like the Guggenheims, the
Warburgs, the Strauses, the Schiffs, the Rosenwalds, have become bywords in American philanthropic and cultural enter prises. They have donated fabulous collections of paintings and
other art works to museums. They have made up the deficits of
symphony orchestras and opera companies, and have given millions for the building of concert halls and museums. They have
64 Most of modem America's giant department stores are outgrowthsof
these early Jewish peddlers' work and ingenuity.
392
established trust funds for scholarships and professional chairs in
the arts and sciences.
Though nineteenth-century Jews produced businessmen of
note and philanthropists of distinction who contributed to the so cial and cultural consciousness of America, they still did not produce great statesmen, jurists, scholars, or scientists. And the Romantic Revolution, as Vernon Louis Parrington calls the literary
period between 1800 and 1860, included not a single Jewish
name. The picture was equally dismal in Jewish scholarship. No
enlightenment appeared to stimulate a Jewish contribution to
American culture. No Haskala was born to enrich American Jewish life. But when, in the 1880s, America was given an infusion
of Russian Jews, the picture changed dramatically. Again a benign providence timed an immigration wave with the country's
economic needs.
In the 1880s, the alchemy of history combined two events
into a most unlikely result. The crack-up of the feudal system in
Eastern Europe sent millions of immigrants to the United States,
two million of them Jews; and the anti-Jewish measures of Alexander III and Nicholas II squeezed the Jews out of Russia by an
enveloping pincers of pogrom and starvation. These Russian
Jews arrived just as the great , westward expansion was coming
to an end, at a time when America was settling down to digest
the continent she had swallowed, at a time when America was
strengthening her i economic foundation and renovating her social structure. Cities were gaining political ascendancy over rural
areas, industry was subordinating agriculture, and the organization man's voice was beginning to be heard in the nation's Capit al.
Great gaps in the economy remained to be plugged, however. America needed millions of unskilled laborers to tend the
vast industrial complex she had created. She needed additional
millions in the "service industries" to feed, to clothe, and to entertain the people in her swelling metropolitan centers. The im migrations of 1880 to 1920 fitted these needs as if they had been
fitted by an employment agency. The Poles, the Russians, the
393
Rumanians – brawny peasants and unskilled workers – were
siphoned into the steel mills of. Pittsburgh and Youngstown, into
the factories of Detroit and Cleveland, into the mushrooming industries of the Midwest. The immigrant Russian Jews were
tradesmen and artisans, scholars and professionals, who settled
in the cities. They quickly discovered that advancement in in dustry was dominated by gentiles, and that the important commercial positions had already been fitted by the "established"
Jews. The opportunities, they quickly sensed, were in the profes sional fields, in the arts, in the sciences, and in government.
These were long-range goals, however. There was the immediate question of making a living. These Russian Jews were
Luftmenschen 65 whose skills had been essential for survival in
Russia, where the czars had disenfranchised them from land and
job and then had taxed them on what they had been robbed of. In
their desperate struggle for survival, they had perfected skills as
needleworkers, cigar makers, petty tradesmen. If a new skill was
needed for survival, they acquired it. All were united in a com mon poverty and a common dislike of unskilled labor.
Those having skills demanded by the American economy,
especially in the needle trades, found immediate employment.
Those having obsolete skills took to the peddler's tray. Those
who could scrape together a little capital opened "hole-in-thewall" enterprises – candy stalls, tailor shops, grocery stores. Few
looked upon their lowly positions as permanent. Most saw hope
for betterment, if not for themselves, then for their children. Life
was meager and hard, but self-sustaining.
The majority of these immigrants had arrived penniless, all
their worldly belongings wrapped in a bundle. Yet not until every
other means had been exhausted, including the love of relatives,
did they seek aid. Asking for help was something they abhorred.
They looked upon charity as something to give, not something to
get. Only illness, catastrophe, or a dire emergency sent them to a
65 Literally, "people made of air." They were the Jews of the Pale who,
without visible means of support, had to coax a Jiving out of thin air.
394
relief agency, and even as they themselves were receiving aid
they saw nothing incongruous in putting aside a few pennies for
the poor in Russia or Palestine. As soon as they found a job,
however humble, they scurried off the relief rolls. Jews who had
to seek aid did not go to public relief agencies, but to Jewish so cial bureaus organized by the German Jews. At first the prosperous, established, Americanized German Jews had recoiled in horror at the arrival of the pauperized, bearded, orthodox, Russian
"slum Jews." They had withdrawn to their fashionable flats, hop ing the immigrants would disappear if ignored. But American
newspapers, hammering away at the miserable plight of these
people, shamed the German Jews into action. After their initial
shock, they rushed to aid the penniless immigrants with a gener osity unequaled anywhere, any time. They established relief or ganizations, vocational schools, recreational centers, hospitals,
and old-folks' homes. The social agencies and services they cre ated at this time served as models for many New Deal agencies
during the Great Depression.
Most of these immigrants arrived in New York. Some made
their way into other cities, Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, but the majority remained in New York, settling in
the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which had been a fashionable
district during Civil War days but had since been reduced by genteel poverty to a neighborhood of the poor. Sociologists, with
their impressive charts showing the number of toilets (or lack of
them), the number of people per room, the low per capita in come, paint a dismal picture of the Lower East Side Jewish slum.
But their charts do not capture its uniqueness. Though it bred
tuberculosis and rheumatism, it did not breed crime and venereal
disease. It did not spawn illiteracy, illegitimate children, or
deserted wives. Library cards were in constant use. There were
books in many flats, not in fine bindings in mahogany cases as
part of the interior décor, but secondhand books with dog-eared
pages lined up on shelves made of unpainted planks.
Academic honors were snatched away from blue-stocking
neighborhood public schools as the Jewish immigrant children
395
attending slum public schools brought home scholastic prizes.
Families saved their pennies and sent their children to colleges
and universities, to law and medical schools. Within one generation Jewish occupations changed radically, Today the Jews have
practically no representation in unskilled labor, and .less than a
third of them are clerks and salesmen. The rest are either entrepreneurs or professionals – manufacturers, factory representatives, retailers, government career men, doctors and lawyers,
writers and artists, teachers and professors, scientists and scholars.
With the l 920s began the exodus from the slums. As Jews
improved their economic condition they moved to better neighborhoods, and the gentile population fled to the suburbs. The
Jews caught up with them in the 1940s, but this time the gentiles
no longer fled. The Jews were now men of learning or prosperous businessmen. In today's suburbia, it is difficult to tell which
of two Bermuda-shorts-clad gentlemen guiding their power
mowers is the Jewish businessman and which is the gentile vicepresident.
How was this transformation from a peddler in the slums to
a businessman in a split-level ranch home achieved in one gener ation? The answer lies in a qualitative difference between the
Christian and Jewish immigration waves. The Christians who
fled Russia, Poland, Rumania, Hungary, were peasants and workers. The rich, the intellectuals, and the aristocrats did not leave
their countries. With the Jews it was a different story. The entire
community was oppressed; therefore entire communities fled –
rich man, poor man, worker and scholar, orthodox and radical –
taking their entire culture with them. They were not uprooted.
They were transplanted.
World War I put a stop to the boatloads of arriving European
immigrants. Instead, boatloads of American soldiers were
shipped to Europe to "make the world safe for democracy." After
the war, immigration was resumed, but it soon ended as the
American mind reacted to events abroad. Communism was
sweeping Eastern Europe and in each steerageload of immigrants
396
who disembarked at Ellis Island, many Americans saw bearded
Bolsheviks, with the Communist Manifesto in one hand and a
bomb in the other, bent on destroying the United States. An antiRed hysteria swept the country, and grass-roots pressure was put
on Congress to stop the influx of foreigners. Coincidentally, by
this time America had all the labor she needed. Consequently,
Congress responded to the will of the people, and between 1921
and 1924 a series of bills was passed to block the flow of immig ration.
The anti-Red hysteria of the post World War I period contained no anti-Semitism, only a fear of Russian Bolsheviks, East
Europeans, college intellectuals, and labor leaders. When Leon
Trotsky's plan for world revolution failed and Joseph Stalin decided to build "socialism in one country" only, the hysteria subsided. America returned to normalcy and developed that exhilar ating age of nonsense and literature known as the " Roaring
Twenties." But with the depression of 1929 anti-Semitism crept
into American history.
Until 1880 anti-Semitism in America had been practically
nonexistent. Occasional injustices to Jews must not be confused
with Anti-Semitism, for injustice is not exclusively reserved for
Jews. Anti-Semitism flared up briefly during the agrarian depression of 1880-1890, but quickly died out when the slump in farming ended. This Bible-belt anti-Semitism was not national in
scope but was confined to the farming areas affected by the depression. It was, in a sense, a homegrown hate, the expression of
a fear trying to find a reasonable explanation.
The anti-Semitism of the Great Depression of 1929 was entirely different. It was manufactured in Germany and imported
by American Nazis of German descent as part of a plot to undermine the American will to fight Hitler's brand of fascism. Many
Americans, unable to comprehend the nature of a depression in
the world's richest country, fell prey to Hitler's paid propagandists. In the end it was not the United States that declared war on
397
Germany, but Germany that declared war on the United States.66
Significantly, anti-Semitism in America, as in Germany, took
hold, not among the rich and not among the working Class, but
among the declassed. They were among the most ardent followers of the "prophets of deceit" who spread their hate doctrines
throughout the nation via pulpit, press, and radio. Anti-Semitism
as a movement in America died, not because the people who had
embraced it considered it false, but because the depression
ended.
German anti-Semitism did serve, however unintentionally, to
enrich America's cultural life. After 1935, Congress relaxed its
immigration laws to permit the entry of 300,000 Jews and thousands of Christians who were fleeing Europe to escape Nazi totalitarianism. Many of the refugees in this wave were scientists,
scholars, or writers. The vacuum created by their departure from
Europe made itself indelibly felt on the intellectual balance
sheet. In the thirty-eight years between 1901 and 1939, for instance, only fourteen Americans were awarded Nobel prizes in
physics, chemistry, and medicine. 67 In the thirteen-year period
between 1943 and 1955, after the flight of Germany's intellectuals to America, twenty-nine Americans received prizes in these
categories. In Germany, it was the reverse. In the first thirtyeight-year period, Germany received thirty-five Nobel prizes,
whereas in the second thirteen-year period the country received
only five. For the next thirty-five years, these figures are even
more revealing. From 1955 to 1990 one hundred and thirty-two
Nobel prizes were awarded to Americans with only thirteen going to Germans.
66 It is astounding how many Americans are unaware of this fact. The
Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and on
December 8 the United States declared war on Japan. On December
10, Germany declared war on the United States, her chargé d'affaires
handing the formal declaration to the Secretary of State on the morning of December 11. In the afternoon of that same day, the United
States responded with a declaration of war on Germany.
67 No Nobel prizes were awarded for the years 1940 through 1942.
398
The cultural contributions of this newly arrived Jewish intellectual elite enriched the contributions already being made by
American-born Jews. But just as the Jewish Enlightenment in
nineteenth-century Western Europe had been Western in its orientation, so this twentieth-century cultural contribution was
American in its orientation. Though impressive, these Jewish
contributions in America did not have the brilliance of Jewish
contributions in Europe. The European contribution was almost
exclusively intellectual, whereas the American tended more toward the popular arts.
The modern American stage was nourished by the Frohman
and Shubert brothers, Abraham Erlanger, and Daid Belasco. Jews
founded early experimental theaters such as the Group Theatre
and the Theatre Guild. The plays of George S. Kaufman, Lillian
Hellman, Arthur Miller, Elmer Rice, Clifford Odets, Sidney
Kingsley, and Irwin Shaw have received international recognition. The American movie industry was founded by Jews, and
many of its finest directors, actors, and script writers have been
Jewish. The modem musical comedy became a world art form
through the genius of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein
II. The tunes of Sigmund Romberg, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin,
and George Gershwin have achieved semiclassical status. Benny
Goodman made jazz respectable by bringing it to Carnegie Hall.
But with the twentieth century, American Jews also became
scientists, statesmen, jurists, and publishers. Among others, Albert Abraham Michelson, famed for his studies in measuring the
velocity of light and his experiments on the relative motion of
matter and ether, was America's second Nobel prize winner
( 1907) in the sciences. 68 Isidor Isaac Rabi won acclaim and a
Nobel prize for his research in quantum mechanics and his stud ies in the magnetic properties of molecules and atoms. Jacob
Lipman, chemist and biologist, advanced scientific farming in
America through his research in soil chemistry. Hermann Joseph
Muller won a Nobel prize for his pioneering work in the artificial
68 Theodore Roosevelt won the Nobel prize for peace in 1906.
399
transmutation of genes through X rays. Selman Waksman isolated streptomycin, biochemist Casimar Frank discovered vitamins, and Jonas Salk introduced the first vaccine against polio.
Since its inception in 1969, seven American Jews have been
awarded the Nobel prize in Economics, and Henry Kissinger was
awarded the Nobel prize for Peace.
Benjamin N. Cardozo, Felix Frankfurter, and Louis D. Brandeis were appointed to the Supreme Court. Bernard M. Baruch
served American presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Dwight D.
Eisenhower. Oscar S. Straus was the first American Jew to serve
as Cabinet member. Herbert H. Lehman was four times governor
of New York and later a United States senator. Adolph S. Ochs
established the New York Times as one of the world's leading
newspapers. Joseph Pulitzer founded the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the school of journalism at Columbia University, and the
Pulitzer prizes for outstanding achievements in journalism, liter ature, and music. The social thinking of such men as Samuel
Gompers, David Dubinsky, and Sidney Hillman has become so
much a part of the American sense of social justice that no political party would think of turning back the clock. Writers Isaac
Bashevis Singer and Elie Wiesel received Nobel prizes for literature.
America won renown on the concert stages of the world
through the performances of such naturalized Americans as pianists Vladimir Horowitz and Artur Rubinstein; violinists Mischa
Elman, Efrem Zimbalist, Jascha Heifetz, Nathan Milstein, Isaac
Stem, and Itzhak Perlman; cellist Gregor Piatigorsky; and
Beverly Sills for her contributions to the world of opera. The
world will long remember Serge Koussevitzky, the late conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the founder of the
Berkshire Festival. The names of conductors Bruno Walter and
Fritz Reiner are familiar to lovers of classical music, as are those
of American-born conductor Leonard Bernstein and violinist Yehudi Menuhin.
Just as the third and fourth immigration waves wrought vast
transformations in American cultural and intellectual life, the
400
second were wrought a great transformation in Jewish religious
life. Because there was no ghetto tradition in America to overthrow, the German Reform Movement of Mendelssohn, Zunz,
and Geiger,69 brought over by these immigrants established itself
quickly in the United States. It succeeded largely through the efforts of one man, Bohemian-born Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise
(1819-1900). When the congregation of the orthodox Beth El
Synagogue in Albany, New York, engaged Wise in 1846, it little
realized it had acquired a stormy petrel in the twenty-seven-yearold rabbi who had arrived in New York only the week before
with a wife, a child, and no passport. Rabbi Wise began to "reform" his congregation and begat a rebellion. Undaunted, he accepted another orthodox rabbinic post in Cincinnati and, having
learned caution from his previous experience, brought Reform
Judaism in through the back door of diplomacy instead of the
front door of ultimatum. In 1875 he founded the Hebrew Union
College, the first American rabbinical seminary, and in 1900 he
died revered as the father of American Reform Judaism.
It was this Reform Judaism which greeted the orthodox Russian Jews when they arrived. The Russian Jews looked upon the
hatless, clean-shaven, English-speaking, Americanized German
Jews as apostates. The German-American Jews looked upon the
bearded, caftaned, Yiddish-speaking, Russian Jews as apparitions
from the Middle Ages. The impact these German Jews had upon
the youth of the Russian Jews was as great as the impact of the
Greeks upon Jewish youth in Hellenic days. Russian-Jewish
youth soon began to imitate the German Jews in manners, mores,
and dress. When parents would not yield some of their rigid orthodoxy for fear they might lose their Judaism, they lost their
children instead, who in rebellion joined Reform temples, inter married with Christians, or faded out of Judaism through the
back alley of agnosticism. To hold on to their children, the orthodox Jews reformed their orthodoxy. But like so much else in
69 It was Abraham Geiger (1810-1874), born in Wiesbaden, Germany,
who formalized Reform Judaism at the first conference of Reformed
Rabbis, which he convened in 1837.
401
American Jewish life, this "reform orthodoxy" too was a
European innovation. As' the development of reform orthodoxy,
or "neo-orthodoxy," is important to an understanding of modern
Judaism, we must digress to discuss briefly its origins.
Prior .to the German Reform Movement developed by
Mendelssohn, Zunz, and Geiger there had been only one Judaism, based on Torah and Talmud. In the centuries before the confinement of the Jews in the ghettos, Talmudism had been flexible, and great rabbis had constantly tailored it for survival in
changing times. But three hundred years of ghetto life had
hardened the Talmudic arteries. because ghetto rabbis permitted
no change. When, therefore, ghetto rabbis refused to accommodate the Western Enlightenment, a large segment of Jews broke
away to join the Jewish Reform Movement. By 1850 it had become the dominant Jewish religion in Germany, and old, ghetto
Judaism was in danger of dying out.
The course Jewish religious history took in Western Europe
after 1850 resembles the course Western Christian religious history took after 1550. The Catholic' Church, alarmed at the inroads made by the Reformation, instituted a Counter Reformation at the Council of Trent (1545-1563), modernizing and liberalizing the outward forms of Catholicism without changing its
central dogma. Ghetto Jews, alarmed at the inroads made by the
Jewish "Reformation," also instituted a "Counter Reformation,"
modernizing the outward forms of their Judaism without changing its central dogma.
Thus there existed in the late nineteenth century, two Judaisms – Reform and neo-orthodox, which we shall from now on
refer to as "Orthodox." Both believed, however, in the same God,
the same Torah, the same Prophets. But whereas the latter be lieved in the divine revelation of religion, the former believed in
its scientific evolution. The great everyday difference between
them is revealed ín their attitudes toward dietary laws, rules for
observing-the Sabbath, and the composition of liturgy. Just as the
Pharisees in Greco-Roman days held that the cult of priest and
sacrifice was not essential for the preservation of Judaism, so the
402
Reform rabbinate holds that Judaism is neither undermined by
the eating of a ham sandwich nor strengthened by exhaustive
praying in Hebrew.
The Orthodox "Counter Reformation" stopped the stampede
to Reform Judaism with a program of internal renovation. It
Westernized itself by raising the standards of learning and intro ducing secular subjects into its yeshivas, by permitting choirs in
the synagogues, and by sermonizing in the vernacular. It was to
this new orthodoxy that many Russian-Jewish immigrants turned
in order to keep their children in the fold and at the same time
save what they thought constituted the essence of Judaism. An
eighteenth-century Russian Jew of the Pale would look upon an
American Orthodox Jew of today as an apostate.
But Reform Judaism also reformed itself. In their zeal to
modernize, the early reformers had thrown overboard so much
tradition that the residue was barely distinguishable from some
Protestant sects. The final step that almost took the Reform
Movement out of Judaism was the founding by Felix Adler in
1876 of a "secular religion" known as the Society for Ethical
Culture. Its creed, a synthesis of Jewish and Christian morality
applied to everyday life, linked Jews and Christians by one common ethic. As a result, as Reform Judaism began to lose more
and more of its membership to Protestant and Catholic churches,
Reform rabbis quickly made the "Hebrew Word flesh" and began
to serve a slightly more kosher liturgy to their members. Since
then, the American Reform Movement has steadily gained
strength and today has 850 congregations with a membership of
more than 299,000 families.
Inadvertently, America also gave birth to Conservative Judaism, a modern movement, founded by Rumanian-born Solomon
Schechter (1850-1915). Son of Hasidic parents, Schechter attended the yeshivas of Lemberg (Lvov) and Vienna, where he
stumbled on the Haskala. He switched from Talmud to Hegel and
from yeshiva to university. His scholarship attracted wide atten tion, and in 1890 he was appointed Lecturer in Talmud at Cambridge University, England, where he became famed not only for
403
introducing British wit into Talmudic discussions, but also for
identifying the original manuscript of Ecclesiasticus from a fragment, which led to his discovery of other fragments in a synagogue in Cairo. In 1901 Schechter was brought to the United
States by the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York as its
president, with the mission of raising Jewish scholastic standards
in America. His fame attracted many of Europe's renowned Jewish scholars to America.
Schechter, who while in Germany had come under the influence of the doctrines of sociologist Max Weber, held that Judaism was shaped as much by changing social and economic condi tions as by its own inner dynamics. Therefore, he felt that Judaism, if it wished to survive, would have to absorb part of the
civilization in which it lived as well as to establish its own cul tural values. This unique blend of Torah and modern sociology
was the basis for Schechter's new Conservative Judaism, which
drew to itself the conservative elements in Reform and the liberal
elements in Orthodox Judaism. It relaxed some of the dietary restrictions, lifted some of the Sabbath blue laws, permitted an organ in the synagogue, and sanctioned the use of some prayers in
the vernacular. It also allowed its members to adopt many of the
modes, manners, and mores prevalent in gentile society. Today
all three main branches of Judaism – Orthodox, Conservative,
and Reform – are one interlocked faith without any serious,
weakening schisms.
This is not to say that the American Jewish future is set in
stone. Today the American Jew, standing in the lobby of history,
is again being warned about our decreasing numbers. He is still
searching for ways to educate our youth; how to overcome the
results of creeping assimilation and intermarriage with resultant
losses to Judaism of the children of these marriages; how to fight
anti-Semitism; how to interest the unaffiliated Jews and the affiliated Jews who do not attend religious services.
In nineteenth-century France, a French Jew said: "The
grandfather believes, the father doubts, the son denies. The
grandfather prays in Hebrew, the father prays in French, the son
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does not pray at all. The grandfather observes the holidays, the
father Yom Kippur, the son becomes a deist … if not an atheist."
Is this very different from what we are being told today? If he, as
well as many other "doomsayers," had been correct, Jews would
not be here today. But they are – still viable, still strong. Perhaps
this French Jew was not farsighted enough. He stopped counting
too soon. He did not tell us what the great-grandson did.
Are the dire predictions by American Jews more accurate
today than were those we heard in the past? Only the future will
tell. But we do know that past predictions were not. There were
always leaders who refused to give up. These "Diaspora Designers" wrote the scripts that enabled Jews to continue as culture-producing creative people, through two thousand years in
the Diaspora. Today the creative impulse is alive and well. Who
would have foreseen in the early 1900s that by the end of the
century Judaism would have Jews forming their own Havurahs70,
with their own leaders and services, some even leading break away congregations? Or women rabbis who would play major
roles in the rabbinate? Or the shift to Orthodoxy by some while
others are leaving Orthodoxy, all searching for closer ties to
Judaism? Or the role of the Jewish Community Center Associations in competing for membership and leadership with con gregations?
How shall we assess Jewish history in America? But for a
few minor exceptions it was, until the twentieth century, little
more than a banal succession of events, an accretion of Jews
through a series of migrations. The American "Judaism of
plenty" before 1900 was culturally as sterile as was the Russian
"Judaism of poverty" before the Haskala. Then two historical
events – the mass migrations of Russian Jews to America and
Hitler's destruction of European Jewry – swelled the number of
Jews in the United States to over five million and made this
country the center of Diaspora Judaism.
70 Small groups that join together in the spirit of friendship to explore
their Judaism.
405
Do we have here a superficial resemblance to past events or
a genuine repetition of history? In the sixth century B.C. the
Babylonians destroyed the Palestinian center of Judaism just as
in the twentieth century A.D. Hitler destroyed the European center of Judaism. But the idea of Judaism did not die with either
destruction. When history presented the Jews of Babylon with a
passport to return to a reconstituted Palestine, they declined the
invitation, just as American Jews declined a similar invitation to
return to a reconstituted Israel. By their refusal the Babylonian
Jews created the Diaspora; by their refusal the American Jews
perpetuated the Diaspora. In Babylonia, Diaspora Judaism
slowly gained intellectual ascendancy over Palestinian Judaism.
In the twentieth century, history placed the scepter of Diaspora
Judaism in the willing hands of the American Jews.
American Judaism was not shaped by a blueprint; it evolved
out of what was done. It lived itself into existence and thus cre ated its own brand of Judaism. The first Jews who arrived in Colonial America devised ways to remain Jews by willingly amending the nonessentials in Judaism while holding on to the nonnegotiable items. American Judaism is the first and only noncoercive Judaism in Jewish history, and only those aspects that the
Jews wished to retain have survived. Radically changing attitudes toward religion in America have also influenced the Jews.
There is more diversity and more freedom of choice than ever
before.
Judaism in America has been re-forming itself since the first
Jews set foot in New Amsterdam in 1654. Although today we are
facing some of the same problems as in the past, the environment
is different. In Europe the need was to keep the Jews as Jews so
they would not be absorbed into the civilization in which they
lived. In the United States the task is to find ways to keep the
Jews as Jews while they are participating and contributing part ners of that society, teaching youth why to be Jewish, not just
how.
Can American Jewry produce a series of intellectual giants
capable of hammering out the ideas needed for Diaspora surviv406
al? Before 1900, the answer would have been "no." After 1900,
after the influx of Europe's intellectual elite into the mainstream
of American Judaism, the answer could be "yes." If this influx
results only in a physical mixture of European intellect and
American pragmatism, then any present American Jewish intellectual preeminence is transitory, an illusion that will vanish
soon after the immigrant intellectuals have died out. But if, on
the other hand, this infusion results in a chemical reaction
wherein the American Jews will have absorbed the intellectual
vitality of the European Jews and will have expanded on it, then
the United States may well play the role of Babylonia for the
Judaism of the twenty-first century.
Are we perhaps already beginning to see the emergence of a
new Judaism on American soil, just as a new Judaism emerged
on Babylonian soil, where the cults of sacrifice and priesthood
died and where the institutions of rabbi, prayer, and synagogue
were born? In American Reform Judaism these three institutions
are beginning to assume different functions. The rabbi is no
longer only an interpreter of Talmudic Judaism but a counselor
and an interfaith mediator; prayer is no longer an exclusively
persona} intercession with God but praise of the Creator; the
synagogue or temple is no longer exclusively a place of worship
but also a social community for expressing one's ties to Judaism.
Just as the Pharisees discarded the third of the Torah and Talmud
dealing with sacrifice and priesthood, so Reform Judaism discarded another third of the Torah and Talmud dealing with dietary and ritual laws, leaving the last third, which it considers the
core of Judaism – its code of ethics, morality, and justice. And a
whole new institution has been developed in America and adopted by Jews all over the world – organizational Judaism, which
includes organizations such as Jewish Federations, National
Council of Jewish Women, Jewish Community Center Associations, American Jewish Committee, Hadassah, B'nai B'rith and
its Anti-Defamation League, among many others. Will it be the
historic role of American Jewry to usher in the Spinozian Age of
Judaism-the universalist phase?
407
Before proffering an answer we must pick up the thread of
Jewish history in Europe from World War I in 1914 to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Between these two events
occurred a world tragedy which left a blot on the escutcheon of
man and the mark of Cain on the German people.
TWENTY-EIGHT
THE BROWN-SHIRTED CHRIST KILLERS
On January 30, 1933, history played a trick on the world and
made Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany. Jubilant Germans
spilled into the streets "heiling" the brown-shirted stormtroopers
marching in triumph down Unter den Linden, little knowing that
in a few short years they would drench the world in blood and go
down in history as the barbarian's barbarians; little suspecting
that within one decade they would choke in the sands of the
Sahara, drown in the waters of the Atlantic, die on the steppes of
Russia, and be crushed in the ruins of their own cities.
From that first day in power to that April day in 1945 when,
with Berlin ablaze, Hitler shot himself through the mouth, the
Germans exterminated with systematized murder 12 million men,
women, and children, in concentration camps, by firing squads,
and in gas chambers. Of these 12 million victims, 7 million were
Christians and 5 million were Jews71 – 1.4 Christians for every
Jew. But because the Nazis shouted "Kill the Jews," the world
71 The figure usually quoted for the number of Jews murdered by the
Nazis is 6,000,000, but facts tend to support a figure of 5,000,000.
Justice Jackson at the Nuremberg trials cited 4,500,000 Jews killed
by the Germans. Today, the highest estimate is 5,600,000, the lowest
4,200,000. This difference is accounted for by guessing Jewish
losses in territories held by the Soviet Union. Gerald Reitlinger gives
the figure of 5,000,000. "I believe it does not make the guilt of the
living Germans any less if the figure of six million turns out to be an
overestimate," he says. (The Final Solution, p. 469.) Howard M: Sachor puts the figure at 4,200,000 to 4,600,000, stating that "the figure of 6,000,000 released at the end of the war has since been discounted." (The Course of Modern Jewish History, p. 452.)
408
blinded itself to the murder of Christians.
The irony is that, in spite of all the murder and the bloodshed, it did not impede the march of Jewish history. The Third
Reich, which Hitler boasted would endure for a thousand years,
perished after twelve. The Jews, whom Hitler boasted he would
eradicate, survived to create a new, independent Jewish state.
The perplexing question is, how could the Nazi infamy happen in Germany, a culture creator in Western civilization? The
answer is that Germany is a fusion of two contradictory strains
of thought and feeling. One is the Germany of Beethoven and
Brahms, of Goethe and Schiller, the Germany of lofty idealism,
of the open universe, of unlimited possibilities of human
achievement. It is this Germany which evolved and nurtured her
humanism, art, music, and literature.
But there is also another Germany of the authoritarian philosophers and militarists, of Fichte and Hegel, of Bismarck and
Kaiser – the instigators of the closed universe and the massemensch (mass man). It is this authoritarian Germany which subverted the liberal and idealistic strains of the other Germany,
calling them "Judaizing influences." This judgment may well be
true, for the sublimation of the evil in man – a sublimation essential for the survival of society – is precisely the universal func tion of religion, the function of Judaism.
World War I marked the visible turning point in Germany's
history, when these authoritarian influences gained total ascend ancy and total power. "The Hun," said Winston Churchill, "is
either at your throat or at your feet." After four years of fighting
in World War I, the Germans capitulated. As long as they fought
in someone else's territory, they could stand the devastation they
wrought. But when the war was carried to their own soil, they
did not have the stamina the French had. German sailors, their
submarines no longer supreme, mutinied. German soldiers threw
down their rifles. And. the Kaiser, instead of standing by his nation in her hour of defeat, fled to Holland. After the Peace Treaty
of Versailles, Germany whined about her hardships, begged for
money, and blamed the Jews for her defeat in order to save her
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"honor." "We Germans did not lose the war," was the German
song of the twenties. "It was the Jews who betrayed us." Selfpity gnawed away at her former greatness, leaving only a hollow
shell as prey for men who would force her into barbarism.
World War I brought devastation not only to Germany but to
Eastern Europe as well. The Jews especially fared badly. They
had tactlessly chosen to live in a sector of land where German
and Russian armies locked for four years in a gigantic struggle
for power. When the Russians retreated in bitter defeat, they
killed Jews for being German sympathizers. When the Germans
were forced to make "tactical withdrawals," they killed Jews for
being Russian informers.
The end of World War I brought a brief period of hope for a
better life to Europe's millions, Christians and Jews alike; but
this hope was soon laid to rest with other dead hopes. At the urgent promptings of President Woodrow Wilson, certificates of
democracy were handed out to people who had no conception of
what democracy was, and to rulers who had no intention of en forcing its principles. Overnight, Wilson created the new "democracies" of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary,
Yugoslavia, Albania – all formerly parts of the Russian, Austrian,
and German empires. It was in this borderland of twenty-fourhour democracies that German anti-Semitism found immediate
acceptance and became the highest form of statesmanship. The
only two exceptions were Finland and Czechoslovakia, also created at this time.
Why should there have been such a ready acceptance of anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe? A review of economic reality offers an explanation. World War I had shattered the feudal economies of these newly created states. Artificial boundaries cut
across their economic lifelines. After the surgery on Austria-Hungary, for instance, Austria got the scenery and Hungary
got the coal and iron deposits. The landed gentry and aristocrats
who, before the war, had regarded work as demeaning and the
professions as fit only far Jews, now had to find jobs or starve.
The middle class was destitute. Workers, pressed to the point of
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starvation by falling wages in "democracies" that had little social
legislation, cast flirtatious eyes on communism as a solution to
their problems.
Instead of countering these threats with injections of democracy as Finland and Czechoslovakia did under similar circumstances, the rulers of these East European countries resorted to
the tranquilizer of fascism. The specter of a communist danger
was dangled before the declassed, who were told over and over
again that ·if the "Jewish problem" were solved, then the problems of the declassed would be solved. The worried and impoverished white-collar class welcomed this soothing political philosophy. The Jews were legislated '' out of the professions and out
of industry so that the aristocrats could take over jobs they had
formerly despised. As economic conditions worsened, anti-Semitic legislation was increased. It is ironic that the states
that tried to save themselves from communism by cooperating
with the Nazis now came under the domination of communism.
And it is in some of these states that farmer hatreds burst into
flames with the fall of communism in the early l990s.
The German Weimar Republic that rose out of the chaos
which the fleeing Kaiser had left was weakened by the cynical
men who were appointed to administer it. They paid 'lip service
to the new democratic institutions, but they allowed assassina tion to undermine the Republic. Between the years " 1918 and
1925, right-wing terrorist organizations murdered more than
three hundred prominent liberal men in office – Catholics, Protestants, and Jews. The ruling clique gave tacit ·approval to these
acts of violence. by imposing wrist-slapping sentences on the
criminals when they were brought to "justice.
It was in this general atmosphere of terrorism that a defunct
general named Erich von Ludendorff and a jobless house painter
named Adolf Hitler staged the now notorious 1923 Munich beer
hall putsch, with the avowed intention of overthrowing the Bavarian government. The putsch failed. Ludendorff was set free by
the minions of Munich law enforcement, and Hitler was given a
five-year sentence, of which he served less than one.
411
The career of Hitler the Führer had begun. Without the help
of Junkers, industrialists, and militarists who made the error of
thinking he was their tool, it would have been impossible. Adolf
Hitler's road to power was a straight one. He preached a simple
political gospel. The communists, the Jews, and the Versailles
Treaty had brought on the evils which had befallen Germany. By
outlawing communism, by exterminating the Jews, and by repudiating the Versailles Treaty he would make Germany great
again. In increasing numbers the declassed voted far Hitler's
party, which, with each election, increased its representation in
the Reichstag. In 1929, the aged General Paul von Hindenburg –
a symbol of Kaiser, Junker, and Herrentum – was taken out of
mothballs and trotted out as a candidate far president to run
against Hitler. Hindenburg won the election, but four years later
he yielded to the threats of Hitler and made the farmer Austrian
house painter Chancellor of Germany. Within ten years of his release from prison, Hitler was the sole ruler of the Third Reich, as
Germany was now called, and his party, the National Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei , known as NAZI, became the
only legal party in the land.
Who was this Adolf Hitler, this contemporary Hun, who, by
pandering to the bestial in man, triggered the most heinous blood
orgy in history? Biographers have sought in vain for deep, hidden motives in his make-up which would account far his actions.
Sinister though he was, it is difficult to take him seriously. Insig nificant in appearance, undistinguished in face, his countenance
would be easily forgotten if not for the Charlie Chaplin mustache
and the ersatz Napoleon hair lock. Perhaps there was no depth to
seek.
Adolf Hitler's father, Alois Schicklgruber, the illegitimate
son of a vagrant and a servant girl, was thrice married. Out of the
third union with a peasant girl twenty-three years younger than
he, Adolf Hitler was born in 1889. His whole life was a cliché.
He was a poor student, an undistinguished soldier, an unsuccess ful house painter, and pathetic in his ambition to become an artist
because he had no talent. Statesmen who came into contact with
412
him were appalled by his ignorance and vulgarity.
What then was the nature of the hold Hitler had on his followers? Wherein did he differ from other racists? To say that he
had hypnotic, spellbinding powers is to say nothing. Perhaps the
answer is that whereas other racists merely toyed with the idea of
making murder a civic virtue, Hitler made it a reality by opening
the Pandora's box of man's unconscious mind. Hitler freed those
evil impulses which man has tried to chain and tame in the name
of civilization ever since his emergence from the primeval forest.
It was not by accident that those who rose to the highest posts in
Hitler's inner circle were drug addicts like Goering, sadists like
Heydrich, and murderers like Himmler.
Once Hitler had political power there was no holding him ii
back. The entire state was organized for brutality. In 1935 the
Reichstag passed the so-called "Nuremberg Laws," disenfranchising all those deemed to have "Jewish blood" – which included anyone with one Jewish grandparent. It is interesting to
note that Hitler considered the Jewish strain four times stronger
than the Aryan. One by one the Nuremberg Laws stripped the
Jews of their professions and their businesses; blackmail stripped
them of their liquid assets. The businesses of the Jews fell into
the appreciative hands of the Germans. The liquid assets found
their way into the pockets of Nazi party officials. Hundreds were
hauled off to concentration camps, where they were greeted by
the Christian prisoners who had preceded them.
"The fact that German and anti-Semitism had evolved into
anti-Christianity must be considered a highly significant symptom," said the Russian Orthodox Catholic theologian Nikolai
Berdyaev.72 This basic anti-Christianity of German Nazism is
something that is almost totally overlooked by popular historians
and journalists. Though Nazi ideologies had proclaimed anti-Christian doctrines ever since the party was formed in 1919,
only anti-Semitic slogans were stressed in world headlines. Yet
the Nazis wanted to obliterate Christianity as much as they
72 Christianity and Anti-Semitism, page 2.
413
wanted to expunge Judaism. In the Nazi view, Christianity represented a danger because it weakened the Aryan strain of blood
through proselytization. They held that "Aryan Christianity" had
been betrayed by St. Paul; they contended that Christian
churches were a sham and a fraud; and they preached that the
Catholic Church was the most dangerous of all because it was
both Jewish and international. The Nazis taught that National Socialism was the only true gospel, the sole faith and salvation of
the German people, and that Hitler was the sole savior.
This gibberish is incorporated in official Nazi works from
which stemmed both anti-Semitic and anti-Christian doctrines. If
one believes the anti-Semitic, one should also believe the anti-Christian, for both had a single purpose. Hitler's aim was to
eradicate all religious organizations within the state and to foster
a return to paganism.
In 1933 Germany signed a concordat with the. Vatican, guar anteeing the freedom of the Catholic Church. A year later Dr.
Erich Klausner, head of the Catholic Action organization, was
murdered by Hitler's stormtroopers. In an attempt to discredit the
Church, monks were brought to trial on immorality charges. In
1935 the Protestant churches were placed under state control.
Protesting ministers and priests were sent to concentration
camps. They had become "subversives" on a par with the Jews
and Communists. Pope Pius XI, realizing the anti-Christian
nature of Nazism, charged Hitler with "the threatening storm
clouds of destructive religious wars ... which have no other aim
than ... that of extermination." But the Nazi shouts of "Kill the
Jews" drowned out the warning voice of the Pope and the agonized cries of the tortured in the concentration camps.
The first concentration camps were collection points where
the Gestapo – the German secret police – could send people they
wanted to terrorize into submission. Most early inmates were the
so-called "politicals" – communists, socialists, liberals, republic ans, ordinary Germans who opposed Hitler's policies of violence,
including, of course, the persona! enemies. of high Nazi functionaries.
414
During the first five years of the Nazi regime, therefore,
most concentration camp inmates were Christians. Jews were relatively late arrivals, the result of German anti-Semitism, which
progressed in five stages, picking up at each stage a momentum
of violence from its own inner dynamics. The first stage began in
1933, with the Nazi accession to power, and consisted mostly of
the looting of Jewish shops, occasional beatings, and a boycott of
Jewish businesses. The second stage set in with the enactment of
the Nuremberg laws in 1935. The third stage began in 1939 with
the mass arrest of 20,000 Jews, bringing with it the first systematic physical violence and the first mass detentions in concentration camps.
Until 1939, Jews had been allowed to leave Germany upon
the payment of a ransom to the German state, and by that year
300,000 of Germany's 600,000 Jews had left the country. In 1939
the ante for emigration was raised to the total wealth possessed
by each individual Jew. At this time Nazi statesmen also conceived the idea of holding Germany's remaining 200,000 Jews as
hostages for the payment by world Jewry of a ransom of one and
a half billion Reichsmarks. Negotiations were begun in Geneva,
but with the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Poland, Germany
broke off all talks. The fourth stage began in 1940-with the de portation of all German and Austrian Jews to specially created
ghettos in Poland, where they were allowed to die of disease and
starvation.
The fifth and last stage, the so-called " final solution," was
instituted by Hitler himself. It was after the invasion of Russia in
1941 that the purpose of the concentration camps changed from
that of detention to that of extermination, and murder became a
full-time occupation for Germans. The "final solution," as envisaged by Hitler, included not only the murder of all Jews in
Europe, but also the enslavement of "Christian subhumans" like
Russians, Poles, Rumanians, Hungarians, and Yugoslavs, and
their reduction in number through a ruthless program of planned
extermination. The enslavement was to be accomplished by exporting these nationals to Germany as slave laborers, their
415
murder was assigned to special task forces known as Einsatzgruppen.
As millions of able-bodied Germans were drafted from
fields and factories to fight on the Russian front, millions of
Christian civilians were sent from the occupied countries to Germany to work as slave laborers. When they became too ill or too
feeble to work, they were shipped to the new model concentration camps to be disposed of. An unending stream of such slave
labor poured into German – 7,500,000 in five years. Here, in the
one thousand camps which had mushroomed in Germany and adjacent territories, several million Russians, Frenchmen, Poles,
Belgians, Yugoslavs, Dutchmen, and other European nationals
died horrible deaths from starvation, disease, and torture.
Though a few hundred thousand East European Jews were
sent as slave laborers to Germany, and then disposed of in the
same manner as Christian slave laborers, most were "liquidated"
(to use the language of dehumanization) by the four Einsatzgruppen assigned to the four German fronts in Russia. Each Einsatzgruppe consisted of 500 to 900 men commanded by a general. Their mission was to march behind the Wehrmacht – the regular German Army – to round up civilians, Christians as well as
Jews, and shoot them. Most Einsatz troops were Nazi party
members who had volunteered for this dangerous job.
Their procedure for mass murder was as follows: Jews, or ,.,
Czechs, or Poles, or Russians were rounded up, marched to a
deserted area and forced to dig pits or trenches, after which they
were forced to undress, lined up in front of the trenches, and ma chine-gunned. Those that fell along the edges, dead and
wounded, were shoveled by soldiers or bulldozers into the pits,
and dirt was thrown over all, the dead and the living, the adults,
the children, and the infants. Altogether, the Einsatzgruppen
were responsible for the murder of several million Christians and
a million Jews.
Though the Nazi hierarchy did not question the bravery or
hard work of the Einsatzgruppen, they were dissatisfied with its
methods, not on the grounds that these methods were inhuman,
416
but because they were too slow and too costly. Nazi science was
asked to step in and offer a solution. Freed of. the restraints of
any "Judaizing tendencies," Nazi scientists could exercise their
ingenuity to the fullest. They experimented – on human beings,
of course – by injecting air into the veins, severing arteries, test ing various poisons, and so on, but these methods were rejected
because of the time and labor involved. Serendipity succeeded
where ingenuity failed. A jubilant Nazi reported he had stumbled
upon the perfect method. Having some 600 Russian prisoners of
war to dispose of, he had experimented with an inexpensive,
easy-to-manufacture gas known as Zyklon B, a hydrogen cyanide. Within a few minutes all 600 Russians were dead. An effective way of quickly disposing of millions had been found.
The entire Jewish phase of the " final solution" was placed in
the hands of one Adolf Eichmann, a slender, owlish, failure-prone salesman of oil products, who, through a rapid rise
within the Nazi hierarchy, had become a cynical, boastful, sycophantic S.S. lieutenant colonel, with a frumpy wife and a glamorous mistress. When apprehended fifteen years after the war by Israeli agents, Eichmann modestly disclaimed any credit for his
achievement, but we must not underestimate the enormity of the
task that faced him back in the exhilarating days when German
armies were victoriously slashing their way into Russia.
The old concentration camps had to be modernized for mass
murder. Additional camps, large enough to handle hundreds of
thousands of Jews at a time, had to be built. Means for transport ing millions of Jews from all over Eastern Europe to these camps
had to be provided. New railroad spurs had to be built, as these
camps were off the main arteries. Corps of special camp attend ants had to be recruited and ·trained, records kept. Soon a sizable
segment of the German population was diverted from the war effort for the planning, building, and staffing of these murder
camps. Generals on the Russian front complained that winter
uniforms for the troops were arriving late because trains had
been diverted; industrialists complained they were being pirated
of skilled labor. But nothing was allowed to interfere with the
417
"final solution."
Though there was a shortage of steel for tanks and airplanes,
there was no shortage of steel to build furnaces for the disposal
of the cadavers. This excerpt from a business letter from the dir ector of the Didier Works in Berlin gives proof of the knowledge
German industrialists had of the use of their products:
For placing the bodies into the furnaces, we suggest
simply a metal tray moving on cylinders. Each furnace
will have an oven measuring only 24 by 18 inches, as
coffins will not be used. For transporting corpses from
the storage points to the furnaces we suggest using light
carts on wheels, and we enclose diagrams of these
drawn to scale.
With German efficiency, chambers for the administration of
Zyklon B gas were built to resemble large shower rooms. Arrivals were informed they would have to take a shower, were
ordered „to undress, and then were herded into the " shower
rooms." Small children were often thrown in after the adults. The
steel doors to the gas .chambers were shut. Then the amethystblue Zyklon B crystals were funneled through the large-holed
shower nozzles into the hermetically sealed room. The hydrogen
cyanide gas released from the crystals slowly rose to the ceiling,
slowly gassing the people in the room, slowly turning the gasping, retching bodies into bright pink, green-spotted, convulsed
corpses. Peepholes in walls and ceiling, protected by safety
glass, were provided for Nazi officials who had a compulsion to
view the agonized writhings of naked men and women choking
to death. Through these peepholes they could watch, entranced,
several performances a day.
New industries develop special skills, and the concentration
camp industry was no exception. Adept Sonderkommandos
learned to apply grappling hooks with skill to separate the bod ies. Trained technicians learned to pry dead lips apart and deftly
knock out gold-filled teeth. Talented barbers dexterously shaved
the heads of dead women. Six days a week, the new elite worked
418
in the concentration camps. On Sunday they rested, went to
church with their wives and children, and after church talked
with horror about the eastern front where Russians were killing
German soldiers, and commented on the barbarity of the Americans who were dropping bombs on civilians.
At the Auschwitz concentration camp 7,000 Germans were
thus employed. Here, seventeen tons of gold were collected from
the dead. The hair from the shaven heads was ·used in the manu facture of cloth and mattresses. The ashes of the bodies were
used as fertilizer for German victory gardens. Mens sana in corpore sano – a sound mind in a sound body. Fatty acids were
salvaged for making inexpensive soap. This is a good formula,
according to a Danzig firm: "Take 12 pounds of human fat, 10
quarts of water, and 8 ounces to a pound of caustic soda and boil
for two or three hours, then cool."
Why did the Jews not fight back? The answer is not as complicated as some psychologists and sociologists have ·made it out
to be. This "pacifism" of the Jews has been attributed to such diverse causes as a Jewish death instinct, collective guilt com plexes, self-hatred obsessions, and self-punishment wishes. Such
answers betray the inner anxieties of the writers more than they
illuminate the dilemma of the Jews.
The fact is that the Jews, as well as the rest of the world,
were at first totally unaware of the existence of the " final solution," which was kept in strictest secrecy by the Nazis. When the
horrible truth did begin to seep out, the Jews, along with the rest
of the world, refused to believe that anyone could be so inhuman.
Not until 1943 did the Jews begin to realize that the rumors of
death camps were all too true. But by this time it was too late for
effective resistance. Jewish communities had been broken up,
Jewish communications had been shattered, and Jewish leadership had been killed. The Jews at this point could offer no more
resistance than could the American soldiers on Bataan once they
had surrendered. When the American soldiers found out about
their death march, there was nothing they could do except march,
fall by the wayside, and die. The Jews, too, marched, fell by the
419
wayside, and died. But in the end the will to survive triumphed,
and both Americans and Jews lived to see their enemies vanquished.
Why did not the Jews kill a Nazi or two before they were exterminated? They did, but not for long. The Nazis were too cunning for them. They knew the love the Jews had for their children. As brought out at the Nuremberg and Eichmann trials, the
moment a Jew showed the slightest sign of rebellion, the Nazis
tortured not him, but his or some other Jew's children. An infant
would be torn in two by its legs in front of its parents; a child's
head would be smashed against a tree and the bloody remains
handed to the mother; a teenage girl would be raped and then im paled on a bayonet while her brothers and sisters were forced to
watch. It was not Jewish morale which was low, but German.
The fact which shames German psychologists and sociologists is
that the suicide rate of the Jews inside the concentration camps
was lower than that of the Germans outside. In the few instances
where Jews retained some community organization, communications, and leadership, they did rebel and take up arms against the
Germans.
The most spectacular of several such rebellions was that of
the Warsaw ghetto in 1943. Warsaw was one of the collection
points for Jews from Eastern Europe. Just as the Romans during
the siege of Jerusalem built a wall around that city, so the Germans built a wall around the Warsaw ghetto, sealing it off tightly.
Here, in an area meant for 50,000 people, were enclosed as many
as 450,000 Jews; here they were herded and "stored" until
shipped to the gas chambers of Treblinka, Belsen, Maidanek,
Auschwitz.
There were 40,000 Jews left in the ghetto on that fateful day
in January 1943, when the first armed resistance took place.
Only 7,000 could bear arms. Through ingenuity, bribery, and
raids the Jews had built a small stockpile of arms – World War I
rifles, machine guns, and a collection of Molotov cocktails
(bottles of gasoline with flammable wicks for use against tanks).
The uprising took place when four companies of stormtroopers –
420
800 men – under the pretense of looking for factory workers, arrived in the ghetto to escort their next haul of Jews to the concentration camps. But this time they were met with lead instead
of supplication. Shocked, the black-booted SS men scurried for
cover. For three days the battle raged. In the end it was not the
Jews but the Nazis who were forced to retreat.
The Nazis were outraged at this rout of their SS troops, but
not beyond prudence. The campaign to crush these rebellious
ghetto Jews was put under the command of General Jürgen
Stroop, who was rushed to Warsaw at the head of a special combat group with attached artillery units.
The Jews feverishly prepared for the German counterattack,
converting cellars into bunkers, mining the streets, and establish ing a maze of connecting passages through the sewers. They expected to hold out a week at the most; so did Germany's propaganda minister, Herr Joseph Goebbels, who noted in his diary,
"The Jews have actually succeeded in making a defensive position of the Ghetto. Heavy engagements are being fought there
which led even to the Jewish Supreme Command issuing daily
communiqués. Of course this fun won't last long." 73 But both
Jews and Goebbels were wrong. The Jews resisted for six weeks.
General Stroop, after careful planning, launched his counter offensive in March. From a safe distance his artillery batteries
laid down a barrage over the ghetto. Block by block the artillery
fire raked the buildings, forcing the defenders to take refuge in
cellars and sewers. Then the black-uniformed S.S. men attacked
with automatic rifles and machine guns, mortars and tanks.
Armed with rifles, a few machine guns, hand grenades, and Molotov cocktails, the Jews first fought the Nazis to a standstill,
then slowly forced their retreat. Jewish youths gave their lives to
smash burning bottles of gasoline against German tanks, and
Jewish partisans fired point-blank into the frightened faces of the
SS men as they tried to escape their burning tanks.
The shelling of the ghetto was resumed. It became a hell of
73 Louis P. Lochner, ed., The Goebbels Diaries. 1948. Page 351.
421
exploding shells, crumbling buildings, and moving walls of
flame. In desperation the Jews appealed to the Polish underground for help, but in vain. The Poles hoped the Germans
would solve their "Jewish problem" for them. Little did they
realize the surprise that history had in store for them. When, in
July 1944, the Polish underground staged its own uprising
against the Germans, the Poles begged the Russians to come to
their aid. But just as the Poles had refused to come to the aid of
the Jews, so the Russians refused to come to the aid of the Poles.
The well-armed Polish underground army of 150,000 men was
annihilated. The Germans had solved Russia's "Polish problem"
for her.
As the outcome of Jerusalem's fight against Rome was inevitable, so the end of the ghetto fight against Germany was also
inevitable. Disease, starvation, and mounting casualty figures
from the murderous artillery fire took their toll. There was no
one left to fight and the defense collapsed. It is estimated that the
Germans expended more artillery shells in subduing the Warsaw
ghetto, defended by a handful of bedraggled Jewish partisans,
than they did in the initial capture of Warsaw in 1939, when it
was defended by the Polish Army. General Jürgen Stroop wrote a
seventy-five-page battle report to the Führer in Berlin, and a
proud Hitler awarded the general an Iron Cross to ease his
Halsschmerzen.74 When General Alfred Jodl, Chief of Operations
of the German Armed Forces High Command, heard this report
read at the Nuremberg Trials, he could not contain himself. "That
dirty, arrogant SS swine," he shouted. "Imagine writing a seventy-five-page boastful report on a little murder expedition,
when a major campaign fought by soldiers against a well-armed
enemy takes only a few pages."75
74 Literally "neck pains," a derisive term used by German soldiers to
describe the pains generals felt around their necks until they could
promote an Iron Cross for themselves. They sacrificed men in desperate military gambles and exaggerated battle accounts in the quest
of balm for such Halsschmerzen.
75 G. M. Gilbert, Nuremberg Diary (Signet, 1961), page 68.
422
The world, however, took little note of the Warsaw uprising.
It was too busy following the daily communiqués of the twofront World War. But Adolf Eichmann noted it, and in his diary
set down that a chill of fear swept through Germany upon the
news. Even Goebbels was apprehensive. "It shows what is to be
expected of the Jews when they are in possession of arms," he
jotted in his diary. 76 And the Jews too noted it, Jews in concentration camps, Jews in America, Jews in Russia, Jews in Palestine.
In Germany orders were issued that henceforth there were to
be no large concentrations of Jews anywhere. Their extermination was to continue to the bitter end, at an accelerated pace.
Even as German armies retreated in Russia and France, the death
trains with their human cargoes kept rolling to Germany's gas
chambers, and the chimneys continued to belch fine layers of
warm, human ashes over the countryside and to fill the air with
the sickening-sweet odor of the "bakeries," as the Germans jestingly called the crematoriums. Only when Allied soldiers crossed
Germany's borders did a frantic scramble begin to eradicate all
traces of concentration camp activities. But the Allied advance
was too swift, and what the world had refused to believe re mained intact for all the world to see.
Three million Jews perished in these death camps. Most
were Jews from Eastern Europe, with a small minority from the
West. To the glory of France, Belgium, Holland, and Italy, let it
be said that they refused to cooperate with Germany in the deportation of their Jewish nationals. In Italy the Pope denounced
German atrocities and called upon the Italians to resist German
demands to hand over the Jews.
The Fenno-Scandian countries (Finland and Scandinavia)
deserve a standing ovation from the world. Under the nose of
their Quisling government, the Norwegians helped most of the
country's Jews to escape into Sweden. The King of Denmark
publicly wore the yellow Star of David, which the Nazis had prescribed for the Jews, and took part in the planning of an "under76 Louis P. Lochner, ed„ The Goebbels Diaries, 1948, page 351.
423
ground" organization of students and Boy Scouts which led Denmark's Jews to a flotilla of fishing boats waiting to take them to
Sweden, which, in true Christian spirit, welcomed all Jewish
refugees. Though allied with Germany in a war against Russia,
Finland's Field Marshal Karl Gustav Mannerheim informed the
Germans that if but one of Finland's 1,700 Jews were seized, Finland would tum around and declare war on Germany. The Finns,
said the Field Marshal, would not stand for the murder of any of
their citizens. Mannerheim also ordered all Jewish soldiers attached to units fighting under the Nazi and Finnish flags to be
transferred to units fighting under Finnish flags only.
Quite different was the story in Eastern Europe. Poland's action was the most shameful. Without a protest she handed over
2,800,000 of her 3,300,000 Jews to the Germans. Poor Poland
was to discover that the Germans had even more contempt for
her than for the Jews. The Germans slaughtered like cattle over
1,500,000 Poles. In Rumania and Hungary, the picture was almost equally dismal. Half the Jews perished in these two countries; only the arrival of Soviet troops saved the remainder.
As for the fate of the Jews in Soviet Russia, the picture is a
confused one. How should one classify the hundreds of thou sands of Jewish refugees who fled to Russia from the East
European border states? When Germany invaded Russia, she
rounded up refugee Jews and Russian Jews, as well as Russian
partisans, to be slain by the Einsatzgruppen or sent to the death
camps. At no point, however, did the Russian people or government abandon Jews to the Germans.
History must note the heroic actions of Yugoslavia, Greece,
and Bulgaria, whose peoples put the principle of human dignity
above safety and expediency. Nazi reprisals in Yugoslavia were
especially vindictive. They slaughtered 1,380,000 people – 10
percent of Yugoslavia's population. The Greeks, never anti-Semites, put up a fierce resistance, and the Germans declared
the death penalty for anyone harboring Jews. King Boris II, archreactionary, willingly signed away the citizenship of the Bulgarian Jews, but when the Bulgarian people found out the
424
hideous fate awaiting the Jews they staged a huge mass demonstration. The Church also protested. No more death trains left
Bulgaria, and in September 1944 the Germans were driven out.
World War II was coming to an end. In the spring of 1945,
the Russians were driving 12 million German soldiers across
Germany's frontiers. On the western front the Allies crossed the
Rhine into Germany. German cities were ablaze, the Führer shot
himself, and the Germans begged for peace. The Nazis, who had
boasted to the world that they would fight to the last man in their
mountain redoubts, did not even put up a token resistance. It was
"Kamerad, don't shoot." The intrepid Einsatzgruppen, who had
resolutely followed the German armies, now led the retreat.
Whereas the Wehrmacht . soldier wore his uniform with pride,
the SS Nazi troops dishonored their uniforms, shedding them in
cellars, fields, and ditches, garbing themselves in the protective
coloration of peaceful peasants. The Nazi soldier did not surrender – he deserted.
Most of the Nazis branded as war criminals by the Allies
were eventually ferreted out and brought to trial. All pleaded in nocent; all betrayed the Führer to whom they had sworn undying
fealty; all accused him of being an archmurderer and fiend; all
pictured themselves as sheep merely following orders, as if to
execute an order for murder exonerates the murderer instead of
making him an accessory. Some begged for their lives, other
committed suicide, few walked with dignity to the gallows.
Hitler little realized how apt was the punishment he himself de creed for his would-be assassins after the attempt on his life on
July 20, 1944. The Aryan conspirators were stripped naked,
hanged with piano wire from meathooks on the walls, and left
dangling like carcasses in a butchershop.
World War II represents the biggest killing spree in the his tory of man. Never before had so many been killed in so short a
time at so high a cost. With the war over, the world could assess
the price it had had to pay for Hitler and anti-Semitism. In six
years of war, 17,000,000 able-bodied men of military age were
killed in battle; 18,000,000 civilians were killed as a direct result
425
of war; and an additional 12,000,000 people were murdered by
the Nazis. The Germans, who in 1933 had jubilantly "heiled"
their Führer, could now mournfully count their dead: 3,250,000
battle deaths, 3,350,000 civilian dead, and some 5,000,000
wounded. Of 20,000,000 buildings, 7,000,000 were completely
destroyed or severely damaged. The Germans, who time after
time had complained to the world that they were destitute and
had begged America and England for money, somehow found
$272,000,000,000 to spend for their six-year war. Hitlers do not
come cheap.
This chapter in ignominy is now completed. How do the
Jews feel about this episode in their history? In the main, their
feelings can be summed up succinctly. For the Nazis: contempt
for abasing man below the level of the beast. For the Germans:
pity for not having had the courage to fight the cancer that de based them. For the world: shame at its failure to fight for the
dignity of man until forced to fight for its own life. But there is
also a grim moral in this wholesale betrayal of the Jews. Those
who curried favor with the Nazis betrayed not only the Jews but
also their own people. Those who collaborated most with the
Nazis in the end became their victims.
Since the war, holocaust museums have been set up all over
the world to commemorate the dead – in Europe, in the United
States, in Israel. But this history of the Jews in Nazi Germany
would be little more than the story of a meaningless interlude of
murder if we failed to place it in a larger context. If we do not
bury these dead millions with honor, safeguard their dignity, and
give meaning to their sacrifice, then future generations will regard them merely as so many sheep led to the "slaughter-bench
of history," like the forgotten millions murdered by Attila. We
must recognize the fact that Nazism"was not just anti-Semitic but
anti-human. Because Nazi beliefs of racial superiority had no
basis in fact, Nazism was like a nightmare, unfolding without a
past or future in an ever-moving present. Because none but German Aryans were qualified to live in the Nazi view, it stood to
reason that everyone else would be exterminated. The chilling
426
reality is that when the Russians overran the concentration
camps in Poland they found enough Zyklon B crystals to kill 20
million people. Yet there were no more than 3 million Jews left
in Europe. The ratio of contemplated mass killing was no longer
1.4 Christians for every Jew, but 5.3 Christians for every Jew.
Nazi future plans called for the killing of 10 million non-Ger manic people every year.
The world will perhaps disbelieve this as it once disbelieved
the existence of gas chambers and death camps. The imagination
of the rest of the Western world could not encompass such anti-human concepts, because the Western mind was still imbued
with Jewish and Christian humanism and concerned with spiritual values, whereas in Germany these had been expunged by
Nazism. If the Christian reader dismisses what happened in Germany as something which affected a few million Jews only, he
has not merely shown his contempt for the 7 million Christians
murdered by the Nazis but has betrayed his Christian heritage as
well. And, ·if the Jewish reader forgets the 7 million Christians
murdered by the Nazis, then he has not merely let 5 million Jews
die in vain but has betrayed his Jewish heritage of compassion
and justice. It is no longer a question of the survival of the Jews
only. It is the question of the survival of man.
Once out of the Nazi cul-de-sac, Jewish history regrouped
its forces and continued toward its previously announced goal of
creating a new Jewish state. The motivating force behind this
course was Zionism, which had its origins in the Haskala and
Western Enlightenment. We therefore must return to nine teenth-century Europe to retrieve the ideological strands of Zionism which Jewish leaders wove into a design for Jewish survival.
TWENTY-NINE
THE WILL TO WIN: FROM ZIONISM TO THE
STATE OF ISRAEL
May 15, 1948, was a bad day for the United Nations. On that
day the armies of five Arab countries – Egypt,77 Transjordan,
Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon – invaded Israel with the avowed intention of annihilating that new state, which only the day before had
so proudly proclaimed its independence. It was clear, of course,
that there was nothing the United Nations could do. Helplessly it
closed its eyes and braced itself for the inevitable. Poor Jews!
They had again met tragedy. But such, alas, seemed to be their
fate!
After a few weeks, however, the sound of shooting took on
the ominous quality of a Jewish victory. Alarmed, the United Nations opened its eyes and saw the Arabs losing the war. Means
for quick action were found. The General Assembly met in special session and Count Folke Bernadotte was dispatched on a
peace mission to Israel before a Jewish victory could take the
Jews to Cairo.
From the attic of their history the Jews had taken down the
symbolic shield of David and the armor of bar Kochba. Once
again, after 2,000 years, they were marching under Jewish generals giving commands in Hebrew. Shattered was the stereotype
held by the West of the Jew as a man of meekness. What had
happened?
What, indeed, had happened? The Jews had had no armies
of their own since 135 A.D., when bar Kochba had led them ·in
their third uprising against Rome. Where had these Jewish
armies advancing on Cairo come from? Since the sixth century
77 Strictly speaking, Egypt, of course, is not an Arab nation, though 90
percent of its people profess the Moslem faith. The vast majority of
today's Egyptians are of Hamitic descent, with the Arab Bedouins
composing the largest minority group. Only a small minority, the
Copts, are true descendants of the ancient Egyptians.
427
428
A.D. the Jews had been a minority in Palestine. Now they were
fast becoming the dominant majority. As late as 1900, Palestine
had been a barren, stony, cactus-infested patch of desert. Now it
was a modem agricultural and industrial state, its desert serrated
by fertile fields and planted with beautiful cities. Where had the
scientific farmers, the industrial workers, the managerial and
professional hierarchy who had wrought this transformation
come from? Here was a modem democratic state, with a parliament, a Supreme Court, and an independent judiciary. How had
all this come about as if overnight? The world had seen revolutions before, but never one like this.
Contrary to popular opinion, revolutions are not started by
the oppressed masses, nor are they overnight phenomena. They
are generated by intellectuals who come from the bourgeoisie or
the aristocracy. Revolutions also have long incubation periods,
which often take half a century before the infecting idea breaks
out into the rash of revolt.
Before a successful revolution can deliver its promised state,
it must undergo three stages of gestation, each in. charge of a set
of specialists whom we shall call " intellectuals," "politicals," and
"bureaucrats." First come the intellectuals, who question existing
institutions, point out their inefficiencies, and draw blueprints for
a new society. The intellectuals behind the French Revolution
were such men as Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Condorcet.
The ideas which inseminated the American Revolution belonged
to a quartet of English philosophers – Locke, Hobbes, Bacon,
Burke. The intellectual parents of the Russian Revolution were
Marx and Engels. These intellectuals were not the offspring of
workers and peasants, but the progeny of the bourgeoisie and the
aristocracy.
The ideas of the intellectuals slowly germinate in the minds
of other men, giving birth to the politicals, whose function it is to
carry the new gospels to the people, organize them into armed
opposition, and establish the new state. The politicals are, as a
rule, "hotheads" who keep events in constant turmoil, hindering
the establishment of a stable government. In due course, the
429
politicals in France, America, and Russia seized the revolutionary ideas of their respective mentors and fomented their revolutions Robespierre, Danton, and Marat in France; Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, and Franklin in America; Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin78 in Russia – none, incidentally, workers or peasants.
The task of the bureaucrats, who sooner or later must supplant the politicals to insure the success of the revolution, is to
restore tranquillity and to institutionalize the radical new ideas
into a normal way of life. French history after the entry of Napoleon is too complicated to be summarized in one sentence, but
the revolutionary ideas which he codified were so firmly established that they survived more than a century of turmoil. Fifty
years after the American Revolution, the revolutionary principles
of 1776 were so firmly embedded in the national consciousness
that an era of good feeling welded together the diverse elements
of the nation's heterogeneous population. In Russia, bureaucracy
was so firmly entrenched thirty years after the revolution that the
Russian premier could leave the country without fearing it would
be stolen from him during his absence.
The war in Israel was also the symptom of a revolution – the
Zionist Revolution – which, except for one unique difference,
followed the classic pattern. The difference was the addition of a
fourth set of specialists, the "motivators," who were essential to
the Zionist Revolution. To Robespierre's axiom that "omelets are
not made without breaking eggs," we must add the maxim that
78 Stalin could with equal right be classified either as a "political" or as
a "bureaucrat," because he stood midway in the revolutionary process. Though he was one of the triumvirate who made the Russian
Revolution, it was also he who began its bureaucratization, although
he never succeeded in giving it stability because he kept it in revolutionary turmoil through purges. Stalin's background, too, shows this
split, He stood midway between the white-collar and worker class.
His father was a petty artisan, a cobbler, and Stalin himself studied
for the priesthood until dismissed from the seminary for his revolutionary leanings.
430
revolutions cannot be made without people. The Zionists were
fully aware that there were not enough Jews in Palestine to establish a nation. The historic task of the Zionist motivators was
to motivate enough Diaspora Jews to migrate to Palestine to assemble the parts for a new Jewish state.
The Zionist Revolution, just like the French, American, and
Russian Revolutions, began with the work of intellectuals. The
Haskala Zionists were the revolutionary intellectuals who criticized the existing state of Jewish-affairs and outlined the ideal istic blueprint for a new state. Next, the motivators went to work,
diverting waves of European emigrants to Palestine. They, in
turn, were followed by the politicals, who spread the new gospel
of Zionism among the Jews. After they had established the new
state of Israel, the bureaucrats, following historic precedent, took
over.
Actually, "Zionism" was a new name for an old ideology; it
simply signifies "a return to Zion"79 – that is, a return to Jerusalem. The idea of such a return has permeated Jewish thinking
ever since the earliest days of the Diaspora. Though the Jews had
lost physical possession of Palestine, they had never given up
their hope of someday again establishing their capital in Zion.
Modem Zionism differed in one important respect from this old
aspiration. Until modem Zionism, most Jews had always thought
that a messiah would lead them back to the Promised Land. The
Zionists shifted this responsibility from the shoulders of a messiah to the shoulders of the Jews. Having saddled themselves with
this responsibility, the Zionists reappraised this "Zion," this future homeland of the Jews. What had happened to Palestine,
since the days of the abortive rebellion of bar Kochba in 135
A.D.?
Palestinian. history from Emperor Hadrian in the second
century to Ben-Gurion in the twentieth century is a fascinating
study in the rape and conquest of a country that refused to acqui79 Zion was the original name for the Jebusite stronghold in Jerusalem.
When the city was captured by King David, he made "Zion" a symbol for Jerusalem itself.
431
esce gracefully or die expediently. After Hadrian's death the Jews
returned to Jerusalem, acquired Roman citizenship, and shared in
the spirit of amity which suffused the third-century Roman Empire. This era of domestic tranquillity, exemplified by the progressivism of Emperor Alexander Severus, who kept statues of
Moses and Christ in his private chapel, came to an end in 325
with the accession to power of the Christians.
Forty years later the two royal brothers, Valens and
Valentinian, split the Roman world in two. Palestine, after six
hundred years of Western influence under the Greeks and the Romans, was taken back to Orientalism by the Byzantine Empire, as
the eastern half of the Roman Empire was then called. During
two and a half centuries of Byzantine rule, the Jewish population
in Palestine for the first time dwindled to a minority through
death and migrations. Palestine became a battleground for clashing Byzantine and Persian armies, a stage for warring Christian
sects, and the scene of an intense relic hunt. The first two were
physically dangerous; the last was psychologically enervating.
Especially ferocious was the Athanasian-Arian controversy
regarding the homoousian or homoiousian nature of Christ – that
is, whether Christ was "consubstantial" or "of like nature" with
God. "The furious contests which the difference of a single diph thong excited," to use the words of Edward Gibbon, led to the
slaughter of tens of thousands of Christians and of any stray
Jews who got in the way of the argument.
With the hardening of Christian dogma, the belief grew that
if part of a saint or martyr were placed in a church or a cathedral,
that edifice would become sanctified. As most early saints and
martyrs had died in the Holy Land, Palestine became the scene
for the most intensive hunt for relics in the history of man.
Throughout the land the search went on for an arm, a finger, a
toe, even a single bone with which to consecrate an altar or a
sacristy.
The Jews and Christians who remained in Palestine welcomed the Persian victors in 614, but they barely had time to become acquainted when, in 638, they had a new set of masters, the
432
Mohammedans. The subsequent five-hundred-year Arab rule was
broken by the Crusaders when they captured the Holy Land in
1100. For almost two hundred years the Crusaders held on to
their precarious toehold, until they were ousted by an incredible
species of men known as Mamelukes – the Arab name given to
the Turkish slaves in Egypt.
The Mamelukes rebelled against their Egyptian masters in
1250, seized power in 'Egypt, defeated the Crusaders, made
Palestine an Egyptian province, stopped the Mongol invasion of
Genghis Khan, and held the frontiers of Egypt intact for 267
years. They were fine horsemen, but incapable of political organ ization. Forty-seven Mameluke sultans, either illiterate or insane,
held the throne of Egypt for an average tenure of less than six
years each, and as a rule vacated the throne the way they had acquired it – by assassination. Yet they built magnificent universit ies and mosques, made Cairo the showplace of the world, and
without effort reduced the populations of Egypt and Palestine by
one third. Their end came in 1517 when the Ottoman Turks annexed Egypt and Palestine to their ascending empire.
A century of magnificent Turkish rule brought tranquillity
and Jews back to Palestine. Marranos, Kabalists, Talmudists
flocked to that country to build businesses, establish schools,
write books. Then the Ottoman Empire, aided by corruption and
privilege, settled on a course of steady decline. Jewish hopes for
an amelioration of conditions revived briefly in 1798 when, hav ing bypassed Lord Nelson's fleet in a Mediterranean fog, Napoleon landed in Alexandria with 32,000 men, the number Alexander the Great had used in conquering the ancient Eastern world.
Napoleon captured Jerusalem and drove north to Acre but was
forced to retreat when he could not take that stronghold.
Palestine was recaptured by the Turks, and by 1860 the "land of
milk and honey" was a barren desert which could barely support
12,000 Jews. It was at this juncture of Jewish Diaspora history
that the idea of transforming the Palestinian desert back into a
land of milk and honey took hold. Under the stimulus of Zionism, the Jews again became active agents in Palestinian history.
433
But it was not until the 1920s, when the Ottoman Empire was
disbanded by the Allies after World War I, that the Arabs, too,
became active agents in Palestinian history.
World events and the needs of the Zionists embraced each
other at the most propitious moments as if on a divinely pre arranged "planned parenthood" schedule, fostering five Palestinian immigration. waves at the right times and in the right succes sion. In the first wave of 1880-1900 came the tillers of the soil to
break the ground. In the second wave of 1900-1914 came the scientific farmers and laborers to build the country's agriculture. In
the third wave of 1918-1924 came the young people, the entrepreneurs, the speculators, to build cities, found industries, organ ize an army, and establish educational institutions. In the fourth
wave of 1924-1939 came the intellectuals, the professionals, the
bureaucrats, to draw blueprints for democracy and statehood. In
the fifth wave, after World War II, came Jews from every walk of
life to fill the gaps in all ranks. By 1948 the Zionist intellectuals,
motivators, and politicals had accomplished their tasks. The Jews
had an army and a blueprint for their state. An idea for survival
had been forged into a tool for survival.
The chain reaction from the idea of Zionism to the reality of
Israel was touched off about 1860, at which time the messianic
concept of a "return to Zion" began to change into the political
concept of a "return to Palestine." This change in Jewish outlook
coincided with the beginnings of the transformation of the anti-Jewishness of the Middle Ages into the anti-Semitism of the
Modem Age. Jewish intellectuals divined the difference between
anti-Jewishness and anti-Semitism. They maintained that the Jew
could no longer find peaceful existence by fleeing from one
country to seek asylum in another, but could save himself only
by establishing a country of his own. In the way the rhapsodic
Prophets had taught that God wanted morality, not sacrifice, so
the political Zionists taught that God wanted self-reliant Jews,
not submissive ones.
The road from the Diaspora back to Jerusalem was paved
with a succession of ideas contained in a series of books pub434
lished between 1860 and 1900, the first of which was prophetic ally entitled Rome and Jerusalem, an intensely Jewish book written in 1862 by Moses Hess (1812-1875). Handsome, fiery Hess
married a French prostitute to show his defiance of orthodox
Jewish traditions. Contrary to dire predictions, Hess lived happily with his grisette, who dearly loved her strange Jew and his
strange life in a world of ideas she had never known existed.
Hess, strongly influenced by Spinoza, had argued as early as
1841 for a humanistic United States of Europe, had joined the
Socialist movement, and was for a while associated with Marx
and Engels. He had participated in the German Revolution of
1848 and had been sentenced to death, but had escaped to Paris.
Because Hess viewed socialism as a humanitarian ideal, he.
could not accept the Communist materialistic interpretation of
history or the idea of class war. He broke with the left-wing
movement, returned to Judaism, and brooded upon the problem
of the Jews. The result of his cogitation was Rome and Jerusalem. Its ideas foreshadowed Zionism and influenced the future
leaders of the movement. In this book Hess advocated the return
of the Jews to Palestine, there to create a spiritual center for Diaspora Judaism.
These ideas were polished and refined by Russian-born
Peretz Smolenskin ( 1842-1885), another refugee from orthodoxy. At the age of eleven, Smolenskin had seen his slightly
older brother impressed into the Russian army by "choppers" 80;
at the age of twelve he had absorbed the Talmud by rote and
rod;by the time of his bar mitzvali (confirmation) he had had
enough of shtetl life and ran away from home. For twelve years
he wandered across the face of Russia. At the age of twenty-five,
Smolenskin appeared in Vienna, where he became an intellectual. There he founded the Hebrew literary monthly in which he
published his now famed essay The Eternal People, asserting
that the Jews were a nation of intellect, kept together by the
80 Army officials who "grabbed" Jewish children and carted them away
for military service.
435
Hebrew language. Smolenskin also prophesied that Jewish intellectual values would someday become the cherished possessions
of mankind, and that Palestine would once again become a world
center where Jewish genius would flourish.
In the 1880s Zionist intellectuals began to run into Zionist
motivators, such as Rabbi Samuel Mohilever (1824-1898), who
launched the first Zionist immigration wave to Palestine. Mohilever founded a political action organization, Lovers of Zion. A
plank in its platform called for the purchase of land in Palestine
for its members, and its slogan "On to Palestine" echoed through
the shtetls of Russia and Poland.
The Lovers of Zion found one of its most able leaders in a
Haskala intellectual, Judah Pinsker (1821-1891), a former officer
in the Russian Medical Corps. Seeing his fellow Jews massacred
in the Odessa pogrom, even as he preached the integration of
Jews and Russians, Pinsker executed an about-face and denounced assimilationism as a futile sop to the anti-Semites. In a
pamphlet, Auto-Emancipation, he urged the Jews to seek territorial independence and to return to a Jewish national consciousness. Anti-Semitism, said Pinsker, was a peril which no Jew
could escape by migrating from a minority status in one country
to a minority status in another. He also raised a new, or rather
old, battle cry, that of Rabbi Hillel of Roman days – "Im ayn
anee Lee, mee Lee?" (If I am not for myself, who is?) It was a
call to stand up on one's feet and fight instead of sinking down
on one's knees to pray. The way had been paved for Theodor
Herzl (1860-1904), the founder of what is now termed Zionism.
Herzl, the pampered son of a wealthy, half-assimilated Jewish family in Budapest, was raised in an atmosphere of luxury
and German culture. He was greatly attached to his mother; his
only playmate as a child was his sister; and his adolescent heroes
were Goethe, Napoleon, and Bismarck. He studied law in Vienna, but became a journalist.
As one views the portraits of this strikingly handsome, un smiling, prophetic figure, dressed in elegantly tailored suits, it is
hard to imagine that during his early manhood he was a success 436
ful playwright, author of cream-puff bedroom comedies in which
wives were constantly being seduced by handsome young rakes
and husbands made amiable cuckolds. As a journalist, Herzl affected a supercilious, cynical literary style which made him the
darling of Viennese society. One simply had to read Herzl every
morning with one's croissants and coffee.
The turning point in Herzl's life was the Dreyfus Affair.
Herzl had been sent to France by his Vienna employers to cover
this celebrated case. At first, he felt certain that Dreyfus was
guilty, but, after becoming convinced of the captain's innocence,
he joined the Dreyfusards. A prevailing cliché about Herzl is that
the Dreyfus Affair made him aware for the first time of the exist ence of anti-Semitism. Actually, anti-Semitism had been one of
Herzl's constant problems and he had even toyed with the idea of
baptism as a way out. L'Affaire Dreyfus made him come to grips
with his problem.
For the first time Herzl realized that anti-Semitism stemmed
from the social structure, and that personal salvation could not be
gained through baptism. Once Herzl chose to identify himself
with the Jews and Judaism, he became great almost overnight.
Once he turned to the problem of Jewish survival, all superciliousness, all mocking pretense left him. With a cry of the French
mob,·"Death to the Jews," still echoing in the depths of his soul,
Herzl sat down to write his Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State),
published in 1896. In this slim book he outlined the Zionist ideal,
turning the messianic currents of longing for a return to Zion into
a political force. The book created a sensation.
Herzl threw himself into the task of organizing an interna tional Zionist movement and in 1897 convened the historic First
Zionist Congress held in Basel, Switzerland. To a wildly cheering delegation, Herzl proclaimed the aims of the Zionist movement – "to create for the Jewish people a homeland in Palestine
secured by public law." Zionism was not to be a trickle of indi vidually subsidized Jews returning to Palestine, but a mass
movement of farmers and workers, managers and entrepreneurs,
scholars and intellectuals.
437
The world at large took little note of this Zionist Congress in
Basel. To the world press it was only a crackpot Jewish organiza tion holding another meeting. Nor did the world note the replica
of the Jewish coin used in the days of the bar Kochba rebellion
against Rome, which each member in the Zionist organization received. But the Basel Congress touched off a conflagration
among the mass of Jews. The rich Jews, the assimilationist Jews,
rejected Herzl and his Zionist ideas. Many Reform rabbis attacked him. But the poor, the ignorant, and the orthodox flocked
to his banner. It was no accident that Zionism originated in the
West, not in the East; out of the European Enlightenment, not the
Jewish Haskala. It was not the Jew in Herzl but the universal
man in Herzl that brought forth secular Zionism. But it was the
Jews from the East who gave it dimension. They did not look
upon Zionism as mere nationalism; they looked upon it as a continuation of the Jewish tradition, thus making it something that it
was not but what it was to become.
What was the hold this man Herzl, this rich, handsome exassimilationist had on the imagination of the poor, the oppressed,
the orthodox Jews of Eastern Europe? It was three-fold. First,
there was a grandeur and a dignity in Herzl's concept of a voluntary exodus, not to a wilderness, but to a Jewish state from which
the voice of the Jews would again be heard in the councils of the
world. Secondly, there was an impelling majesty in his entire ap proach – an impatience with caution, a lofty disregard for detail.
The strength of Herzl was his total ignorance of Judaism. His
mind was not confused by irrelevant facts. He had a vision that
made all old facts irrelevant as it created new ideas. Herzl's Zionism was not a piecemeal program, but a total concept. By merely
identifying themselves with this as yet nonexistent state, the im poverished Jews in Eastern Europe gained status in their own
eyes. And finally there was Herzl himself, his stately image, his
commanding appearance, and his imperious knock that opened
the doors of royalty. To the Jews, Herzl was already the ruler of
this state-to-be, their Herzl hamelech – "Herzl the King."
Herzl committed one great blunder before he died, but such
438
was his popularity that, although this blunder would have proved
fatal to anyone else, it was overlooked in him. A split had de veloped in the ranks of the Zionists between the Herzl motivators, who felt that persistent diplomacy would win the fight for a
Jewish state, and the Zionist politicals, who felt that not "hat-inhand" but "gun-on-shoulder” would decide the issue of Palestinian independence. At the Zionist Congress in 1903, when Herzl
proposed that the Zionists abandon Palestine for Uganda81
(where the British government had promised him land), a magnificent furor broke out. The great Herzl was accused of being a
traitor. Realizing his blunder, he joined the opposition in order to
preserve a unified Zionist organization. He died the following
year, at the age of forty-four.
The Zionists decided to redeem Palestine by buying land on
a grand scale for all Jewish settlers. Suddenly, the scraggy soil of
Palestine, neglected for fifteen centuries by its alien custodians,
acquired value. Though prices asked by Arab and Turkish landholders were outrageous, the Zionist Jewish National Fund paid
them. By 1948, when the State of Israel was founded, the Jews
had paid millions of dollars for 250,000 acres of desert land, had
settled 83,000 Jews on the land, had founded 233 villages, and
had planted 5,000,000 trees on soil which but fifty years previ ous had been barren. Before 1880 there had been about 12;000
Jews in Palestine, mostly the pious and orthodox who had come
to live out their days and be buried in the Holy Land. From 1880
until World War I, Hess's Rome and Jerusalem, Smolenskin's The
Eternal People, Pinsker's Auto-Emancipation, and Herzl's The
Jewish State motivated 115,000 Jews to settle in Palestine. The
"intellectuals" and the "motivators" had done their work. After
World War I the "politicals" took over.
World War I almost killed the Zionist movement. Britain had
81 It is said that in 1903, when Weizmann heard that Britain had offered
Uganda for Palestine, he asked, "Suppose I were to offer you Paris
instead of London, would you take it?" The answer came: "But, Mr.
Weizmann, we have London." "That is true," said Weizmann, "but
we had Jerusalem when London was a marsh."
439
counted on Turkey to come into the war on the side of the Allies.
Instead the Ottoman Empire sided with the Germans, portending
calamity for both the British and the Jews. To Britain it meant
that her Suez Canal lifeline was in danger. To the Palestinian
Jews it spelled physical disaster. Every Jew suspected of sym pathy with the Allies – the knowledge of a little English was considered proof of sympathy – was hanged; 12,000 Jews were deported because they were not Turkish citizens; and Zionism itself
was declared illegal.
During World War I the now famed Balfour Declaration was
born. It was an expression of gratitude from the British government to the Jewish people for the part they played in the Great
War. England's brilliant chemist, Chaim Weizmann, had been
called into the British War Office to find a way of producing synthetic cordite, an explosive essential to the British war effort,
previously manufactured from acetone, a chemical imported
from Germany before the war. Weizmann discovered such a process and turned it over to the British government.
Weizmann was both a chemist and a Zionist, and he knew
little beyond these two disciplines. He was a man of dignity and
strength. The Jewish masses viewed him, like Herzl, with awe –
a Jewish scientist who could mingle with the elite. He spoke
flawless English, but he also spoke the Yiddish of the Jewish
masses. He was a Jew, yet he walked with gentiles. His wit was
that of a Jewish ghetto man, parochial and universal. American
Zionists viewed with suspicion his love for Britain; indeed, he
saw British democracy through the eyes of the upper classes – he
did not see their soldiers with bayonets on the frontier of empire.
Regarded with misgivings by many Jews, he was tolerated by
them because he was the only one who had easy access to British
ministers. And, in fact, though outwardly democratic, he thought
his own judgment infallible. He could mimic the masses, but un derneath it all he had a contempt for them. His love was for the
aristocracy. Yet he remained a Jew – unashamedly so – and a
staunch Zionist.
When, therefore, in 1917, Weizmann approached the British
440
government with a request that it assume a protectorate for a na tional Jewish home in Palestine, Jewish contributions to the British War effort (his among them) helped assure a favorable reply.
Through Lord Balfour, the Foreign. Secretary, the British government let it be known on November 2, 1917, that "His
Majesty's Government view with favor the establishment in
Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people .... " As a
deeply religious man, Balfour felt that Christianity owed the
Jews an immeasurable debt. He was a Christian Zionist who, like
Lloyd George, J. C. Smuts, Sir Mark Sykes, and many other Englishmen, saw the Bible as a living thing and believed fully in its
divinity. To them, instead of sounding like preposterous nonsense
about the Jews returning to Zion after a 2,000-year absence, it
sounded like fulfillment of prophecy.82
Jubilation among the Jews was great. "We hear the steps of
the Messiah," Weizmann exclaimed after the signing of the
Balfour Declaration.
During World War I, in exchange for the promise of an Arab
revolt against the Ottoman Empire, Britain secretly also gave her
qualified support for Arab independence. The artificial boundaries in the Arab world that we now regard as engraved in stone
did not exist until after World War I, when the Ottoman Empire
was neatly dismembered by England and France in a series of
clinical lessons known as "peace conferences." The divisions
were not made for sound ethnic or geographical reasons but as
repayment for favors granted and promises made during the war.
Thus the Middle East was subdivided like pastureland for suburban development into lots called Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan,
Iraq, and Saudi Arabia by a series of treaties anchored in oil
wells and tied to Britain and France. This carving up of the
Middle East complicated the Palestinian question, but not nearly
82 There was hardly a British statesman who was not convinced that the
universal, the international Jew represented a force that was good for
Britain to have as a friend in these perilous times. The image of the
Jew in the 1910s was totally different from that propagated by anti-Semites in the 1930s.
441
as much as did the Arabs themselves when they exploded a diplomatic bombshell by making public the secret correspondence
between the King of Hejaz and the former British High Commissioner in Egypt, Sir Arthur Henry McMahon. In this correspondence the British guaranteed the Arabs certain Middle Eastern territories if they would revolt against the Turks, which they subsequently did under the leadership of the famed Lawrence of Arabia. The Arabs insisted that Palestine was part of the promise,
though the McMahon correspondence did\not mention Palestine
by name.
There is no reason to doubt the good faith of either the Arab
or the British claims. The confusion stemmed from the wording
in the correspondence, which can be interpreted either way.
Neither is there any merit in arguing which took precedence, the
Balfour Declaration or the McMahon correspondence; they were
documents of equal validity. The subsequent course of Palestinian history would have been essentially the same even if neither
had existed. The fundamental issues boil down to this: The Arabs
claimed the right to be the sole rulers of Palestine by virtue of
Mohammed's conquest of that country in the seventh century and
by virtue of constituting a majority of the population at the end
of World War I. The Jews claimed the right to Palestine by virtue
of their conquest of that country in the twelfth century B.C., and
by virtue of having been a majority in that country far longer
than the Arabs. All else is rationalization.
Between 1918 and 1936 about 150,000 Jewish immigrants
settled in Palestine, speeding its transformation from desolation
to fertility. Towns sprang up in the desert and boomed into cities.
Villages, factories, schools and orange groves dotted the
formerly barren fields from Haifa to Ascalon. As with America
during frontier days, Palestine too was being built on faith, hope,
and speculation. Robber barons and speculators in quest of the
quick buck followed behind the Jewish settlers, buying land,
speculating in real estate, and selling "futures" in blue-sky enter prises. Instead of scorning them, we shall praise them. They were
in many instances responsible for the success of otherwise im 442
possible ventures. These scalawags and snollygosters who des cended on Palestine between 1918 and 1936 anchored down
corners for hotels, and for office and apartment buildings, where
prudent virtue saw only sand and cactus. They helped build
Palestine as surely as their Christian counterparts had helped
build America a century earlier.
Arabs also benefited by the Jewish introduction of Western
science and industry into Palestine. Before the arrival of the
Jews, Arab fellahin (peasants) stood next to the Chinese coolies
on the lower rungs of the world 's income ladder, working for a
pittance from morning till night for the effendis (landholders)
who owned most of the land. Of the 650,000 Arabs in Palestine
in 1922, over 100,000 were desert nomads, and the rest, with the
exception of the small class of effendis, were landless peasants
who lived no better than European serfs at the time of the Crusades. The fellahin burned camel dung for fuel, slept in the same
huts with their animals, faced a life-expectancy of thirty-five
years, and, until death came, had no hope for a better future.
This mode of existence began to change drastically with the
arrival of the Jews, who paid equal wages to Jew and Arab. Effendis no longer could get cheap labor to till their soil. Fellahin
went to work for the Jews in factories and in the white-collar oc cupations opening up in the cities. The modern sanitation meth ods and free clinics introduced by the Jews benefited the Arabs
especially, infected as they were with trachoma, venereal disease,
and rickets.
By 1930 the trend toward higher living and health standards
for the Palestinian Arabs was well established and constituted a
clear and present danger for the feudal system ·throughout the
Middle East. Feudal Arab leaders, afraid of losing their priv ileges, embarked on a program to destroy the seat of democratic
infection, cleverly using the forces of emerging Arab nationalism. The British sat by and did nothing, not because they were
anti-Semitic – which they were not – but because they had an
empire to preserve. The course of British policy would have been
no different had the Jews not been Jews, but Frenchmen or Itali443
ans.
The historic fact was that the Jews in 1918 had been confronted with a monumental challenge and had committed a mo numental blunder. They underestimated the force of nascent Arab
nationalism and followed the British lead in opposing it. Even
before the end of World War I, some Zionist leaders had foreseen
the impending struggle for power and realized that even if the
Jews were to conquer Palestine with the hoe, they would have to
hold it with the gun. The establishment of a Jewish army, they argued, was absolutely essential.
The father of such an army was colorful, Russian-born
Vladimir Jabotinsky (1880-1940), who, in his British officer's
uniform, pince-nez, and riding crop, was the image of a Kipling
pukkah sahib. Jabotinsky began his career as the Rome correspondent for an Odessa newspaper, but switched to being a mule
skinner during the opening phase of World War I. He organized
the Zion Mule Corps, placing it at the disposal of General Allenby, in command of British forces fighting the Turks in
Palestine. In 1915 he also organized Jewish battalions to fight
with the British against the Turks. It was the remnants of these
combat-tested companies which Jabotinsky used to form the
Haganah, the Jewish army in Palestine, and in 1920 it repelled
the first Arab attack on the Palestinian Jews. For the effrontery
of this Jewish victory, Jabotinsky was sentenced to fifteen years'
imprisonment by the British, but was freed within a year. Jabotinsky retired temporarily, again taking up the pen, translating Bialik's poetry into Russian, and Dante and Edgar Allen Poe into
Hebrew. He was to exchange the pen for the sword once again in
1934.
With the ascent of Hitler to power, a new type of Jew began
immigrating to Palestine, propitiously timed with the country's
economic development. By 1936 there were 60,000 German
Jews in Palestine, providing her with much-needed scientists, engineers, managers, chemists, and re-. search men to increase her
productive capacity and to improve the quality of her goods. But
even more importantly, eminent scholars now staffed Palestine's
444
educational institutions, and financial experts and government
career men provided her with the framework of self-government
even while she remained ostensibly a mandated territory under
Britain.
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the effendis were not
fools. They saw what was happening. If the Jews in Palestine
were to be destroyed, it would have to be soon. Accordingly,
Arab leaders in Palestine made a secret alliance with the Nazis.
In exchange for German money and arms, Arab leaders promised
to support Hitler in case of open conflict between Germany and
England. Britain sat back and waited, having every expectation
that Jews and Arabs would exhaust themselves, leaving the British in control. But such was not to be the case.
The expected violence flared up in 1936. Well supplied with
arms by the Nazis, the Mufti and his forces struck with fusillades
of rifle fire in city and countryside, on street and highway, from
buses and cars. All Palestine was an armed camp, but the official
Zionist policy was to use the Haganah for defense only, not-for
counterattacks. Jabotinsky violently disagreed with this policy,
urging the Jews to strike back at both Arabs and British. He organized an underground paramilitary force known as the Irgun,
whose threefold aim was to fight the Arabs to a standstill by taking the war to them, to force the British to leave Palestine, and
boldly to declare Palestinian independence. As Arab terror increased, the ranks of Jabotinsky's Irgun swelled. The Arabs were
adamant in their stand-Jewish immigration to Palestine must
stop; Jews in Palestine must remain a minority group; and the
leadership of the country must be vested in Arab hands. The
Jews were equally adamant in their stand that Jewish immigration to Palestine must continue. Jews in Europe were fleeing the
Nazi terror in increasing numbers, and as the doors to other
countries were closing to them, Palestine was their only hope.
Alarmed at the increasing violence, the British appointed a
six-member inquiry group, the Peel Commission, to look into the
Palestinian mess and make recommendations, never suspecting
that it would come up with the solution it did. The Peel Commis445
sion took a long look, found the British Mandate unworkable,
and recommended that Palestine be ··partitioned into separate
Jewish and Arab states. The Jews accepted the recommendation
with misgivings and the Arabs rejected it with gunfire. To pre vent a partition of Palestine, the British quickly came up with a
compromise solution, the White Paper of 1939, which was accepted with reluctance by the Arabs and rejected with gunfire by
the Jews. This White Paper proposed that Jewish immigration be
limited to 15,000 a year for five years and then stopped altogeth er.
The White Paper led to the first open Jewish defiance of the
British. Young Jews volunteered to serve in Jabotinsky's underground army. The attitude of the Irgun was that the British, in
preventing Jewish immigration, had allied themselves with the
Arabs and were therefore as much a target for attack as were the
Arabs themselves. Arrogantly, Irgun youths tweaked the tail of
the British imperial lion. The British lion roared in pain and went
out in an Irgun hunt. But the Irgun was as agile as the lion was
relentless. Jews and British were caught in an enmity neither had
desired but which ·events had forced upon them.
When Britain became embroiled in World War II, 130,000
Jews clamored for enlistment in the British Africa Corps. The
wary British feared to arm so many Jews. Nevertheless, out of
sheer necessity, Britain did accept 30,000, who fought as independent companies. Grudgingly the British admired the courage
of these Jewish soldiers; ruefully Rommel's Afrika Korps found
out that against Jews armed with guns they were not supermen.
As the British had suspected, the Jews fought not only for
the pleasure of meeting the Nazis in combat, but also to train
themselves for the inevitable future showdown in Palestine.
Once the war was over, everybody jockeyed for position. When
the curtain rose again in 1945 on the Palestinian drama, the actors sprang to life, taking the same parts they had in 1941; British
policy was still the White Paper; Arab policy was still to oppose
all Jewish immigration; and Jewish policy remained that of unrestricted immigration.
446
Terror again erupted in 1946 when the British refused to admit 100,000 Jews from Germany, as proposed by United States
President Harry S. Truman. Enraged by the British policy of barring Jewish refugees from Palestine and by the detention of
refugee Jews on the island of Cyprus, Irgun leaders determined
to force a showdown on the issue. Irgunists dynamited the King
David Hotel, the Jerusalem headquarters of the British, killing
eighty British officers and men, and wounding seventy others.
Goaded into reprisals, the British ordered a boycott of all Jewish
shops. Far from shattering Jewish unity, however, this solidified
Jewish sentiment against British rule.
The British repeated history by embarking on the same futile
policy that they had in American colonial. times when the Americans had defied British rule. Instead of reexamining their
policies in Palestine, instead of listening to the voices of concili ation in their own Parliament, the British imposed fines on anyone suspected of having helped or harbored a Jewish immigrant.
In spite of this, in five years the Jews smuggled 113,000 immigrants into the country under the guns of the British. When Britain
protested this mass violation of law to the Jewish Agency, it
replied with some acerbity that the British were violating human
law by denying the homeless European Jews their rightful sanctuary.
Britain retaliated by disarming the Jews, by mass arrests, by
hanging Jewish leaders. But new weapons seemed to grow in the
desert (where the Jews had hidden them), mass arrests bred mass
defiance, and the hanging of Jewish leaders gave birth to an Irgun "law of talion" – the hanging of a British officer for a Jewish
noncom, a higher British officer for a Jewish officer. The entire
country was a seething camp of rebellion. In 1947, harassed Britain, beset with even more serious troubles in other parts of her
empire, declared she had had enough of the Palestinian problem
and dropped it in the lap of the United Nations.
The United Nations, meanwhile, had sent a special committee to Palestine to investigate the situation. It came back ·with
basically the same recommendations made by the Peel Commis447
sion in 1937 – that the British Mandate be terminated and that
Palestine be partitioned into an Arab and a Jewish state. On
November 29, 1947, the General Assembly voted 33 to 13 for
partition. The Jews accepted the decision; the Arabs defied it.
After twenty-six turbulent years, the British Mandate had come
to an end.
In spite of what happened, in spite of the White Paper and
the reprisals, the British must elicit our admiration. Under the
most trying circumstances, they had behaved like civilized sol diers representing a civilized nation. They fought hard and lost
courageously. They were not animated by evil intent or inhuman
policies, but by affairs of state and the will to preserve their em pire. The fact that friendly relations exist today between Israel
and Britain testifies to the realization of the Israelis themselves
that Britain had been a formidable foe, not an anti-Semitic enemy, and that Israel had won, not because she was mightier, but
because Britain was beset with other, more pressing problems.
As evacuation day, May 14, 1948, drew closer, Arabs began
to flee. Between February and May before the British had left,
thousands of Arabs had already fled. The first to flee were their
leaders and upper and educated classes. Why? Arabs say the
Jews had frightened them with their threats of massacres. The
Jews said the Arabs simply heeded the commands of their leaders to leave so the Arabs could "drive the Jews into the sea,'' after
which the Arabs would return to reclaim their land, implying that
those who remained would be regarded as renegades. Thus was
laid the groundwork for the Arab refugee problem.
The State of Israel was officially born at 4:00 P.M., Friday,
May 14, 1948, at the Tel Aviv Museum, where the Jews listened
to Ben-Gurion proclaim the independence of the State of Israel.
"By virtue of the natural and historic right of the Jewish people
and of the resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations, we hereby proclaim the establishment of the Jewish state
in Palestine to be called Israel." After the declaration, Ben-Gurion issued a plea to the Arab states to cooperate with the Jewish
nation; which was "prepared to make its contribution to the pro 448
gress of the Middle East as a whole." Instead, Egypt sent a cable
advising it would invade the new state to put an end to it. Three
other Arab states – Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria – did not bother
with formalities but followed Egypt's lead.
President Harry-Truman, two hours after Israel was founded,
was the first to recognize the new state. Four communist countries followed: Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia.
That evening the Israelis toasted their new homeland. The
next morning they manned the front lines to defend it. Years
later, I asked Ben-Gurion what he had thought on the eve of independence. Did he believe Israel could win? His answer indicated
the seriousness of the situation but also the courage and will to
win that prevailed at the time. He said he had believed firmly
that the Israelis could win but that they would suffer 60,000 casualties. (They lost 4,000 soldiers and 2,000 civilians.) There was,
he said, great apprehension. He had been informed that General
Marshall had given President Truman an appraisal of Israel 's
chances of winning a war against the Arabs, the gist of which
was that Israel would best be advised to forget about the state
and come to an understanding with the Arabs who, numbering 30
million and with vastly superior arms and manpower, would an nihilate the Jews in a horrible bloodbath. Most people at the time
seemed to agree with General Marshall. But Ben-Gurion added
that even after listening to ·this statement, Israel's governing
body decided to stay the course.
The Israeli War of Independence ( 1948-1949) contained all
the elements of drama, intrigue, and luck that one associates with
a historical novel. This clash of destinies began when the British
Empire folded its Palestinian tents, hauled down the Union Jack,
and departed. Five Arab armies, led by the spiritual successor to
T. E. Lawrence – General John Bagot Glubb, honorary Pasha –
immediately swooped down upon Israel from all directions, announcing in their first communique that within a week the fight ing would be over and the Jews driven into the sea.
And, indeed, it looked as if the Arabs were right. Of Israel's
total population of 758,700, on the second day of her independ 449
ence she had only 19,000 men to stem the invaders on five
fronts. Many of the defenders who had never held anything in
their arms except wives, children, and Torah, now held Bren and
Sten guns. The Jews were outgunned by the modem weapons of
the Arabs, acquired from British sources. In that first onslaught,
Jewish lines first wavered, then fell back. On May 20, Old Jerusalem fell to the Arabs.
The mistake the British and the Jews had made in 1918 in
underestimating Arab nationalism, the Arabs now made in 1948
in underestimating Jewish nationalism. A will to win swept Jewish ranks and the tide of battle turned. The Jews became imbued
with the historic spirit of their struggle. Here, in this land, their
ancestors had fought Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Sassanids, and Seleucids. Here they had challenged Rome in three uprisings. The tempo of fighting changed from desperate defense to
confidence in victory. Lines solidified. Not an inch of soil was to
be yielded; there would be no retreat, only advance. The Arabs
ran into this wall of psychological resistance and were hurled
back; they could not understand what had happened. As the
French stopped the Germans at Verdun in World War I, so the
Jews stopped the Arab onslaught on all five fronts. The war the
Arabs had thought would be over in a week exhausted them after
a month. On June 11 they gratefully accepted the truce terms
offered by Count Folke Bernadotte of the United Nations.
Both sides used the truce to consolidate their forces, for
neither had any intention of quitting. Under pretense of neutral ity, the West placed an embargo on the sale of all arms, but Israel, anticipating this move, had made advance arrangements to
purchase arms from Czechoslovakia.83 In an airlift known as
"Operation Black" because it was carried on at night, Israeli pilots shuttled rifles, machine guns, 75-mm. artillery, and tanks to
83 In a meeting with Ben-Gurion in Tel Aviv I asked him how he felt
about buying arms from a Communist country. He explained that
with Israel "up against the wall" he would accept arms from the devil
himself, and when the devil became the problem he would find a
solution.
450
the Israeli front in a buildup for the next showdown. Jews who
had served in the British and American air forces shuttled Flying
Boxcars, Hurricanes, and Messerschmitts from the four corners
of the world to Israel, refueling at bases clandestinely arranged
for them in England, France, Corsica, and Yugoslavia by former
comrades in the service. Impatiently the Jews waited for the Arabs to break the truce.
The Arabs were even more impatient for the truce to end.
They had greatly improved their positions with British-made artillery and tanks. A recruitment drive increased their forces from
24,000 to 60,000, whereas Jewish strength increased only to
20,000. There was no doubt that this time victory was within
Arab grasp.
The moment the month-long truce ended, the Arabs
launched an attack that carried them irresistibly forward, right
into the muzzles of Israeli guns. Arab lines sagged; the Israeli
counterattack swept everything in front of it, carrying the war
into enemy territory. The second round of the war I lasted but ten
days. The Arabs cried for a truce, and the obliging Count Folke
Bernadotte came running with white flags and a cease-fire order
– without a time limit.
As with the first truce, the second one too was shamelessly
violated by both sides. The Jews wanted just one more bout with
the Arabs to consolidate their position. The Arabs, convinced
their rout had been a fluke, wanted one more go at the Jews to
finish them off. More arms poured in on both sides.
Only on the Egyptian front had the Arabs been successful. .,
Here the Egyptians were in possession of the Negev Desert. Confident the next thrust would take them to Jerusalem, they broke
the truce. The Jews were waiting for them. The momentum of the
counterattack carried the Israeli armies across Egypt's borders to
the outskirts of the main Egyptian army base of el-Arish on the
Mediterranean. Its fall and capture . would have left Egypt defenseless. England let it be known that if Israel did not retreat, it
would mean war with England. Israel retreated. Egypt sued for
peace, and one by one the other Arab nations followed suit. The
451
war was over. Israel had been redeemed, not by money this time,
but by the blood of her sons. God had been on the side of the bet ter, not the bigger, battalions.
Even as the War of Independence was being fought, Israel's
statesmen concentrated on building the new Jewish state on old
Jewish democratic principles. The first national elections were
held in 1949, and a new Constituent Assembly was proclaimed,
with David Ben-Gurion as Prime Minister and Chaim Weizmann
as President.84 Weizmann was not in Israel when the state was
declared, nor does his name appear on the Israel Declaration of
Independence. Just as Herzl had reached the summit with the
first Congress at Basel, and Weizmann with the Balfour Declaration, so Ben-Gurion reached his zenith with the Declaration of
Independence and the victory of 1948.
Ben-Gurion was a casting director's dream for the part of Israel's Prime Minister. White-haired and sun-tanned, shrewd and
sentimental, tough and benign, Ben-Gurion played with historic
conviction each of the four roles demanded by the Zionist re volutionary cycle. Born in Plonsk, Poland, in 1886, Ben-Gurion
rebelled early in life against shtetl Judaism, exchanging it for the
Haskala and Western
Enlightenment. He fell easy and willing prey to the Zionist
intellectuals, joining the movement and "motivating" himself to
Palestine in 1906, where he became a tiller of the soil and where,
in 1910, he founded a political party and a newspaper. In 1912,
he was ready to change his role from a motivator to a political.
He matriculated at the University of Constantinople Law School,
but when he returned to Palestine he was promptly expelled by
the Turks as a potential troublemaker. During World War I, he
84 Boris Guriel, Secretary to Dr. Weizmann, told me this rather sad
story: "A few days after Weizmann was appointed President, I found
him staring out of a window in his study. As he turned around, I saw
him crying, and I started to leave the room. 'No, Boris, stay.' [Weizmann said] 'I was just meditating about my role in history and why I
did not become Prime Minister. Ben-Gurion was right. It was I who
missed the boat.'”
452
helped recruit Jewish fighters for Jabotinsky's battalions, and
then enlisted himself. After World War I, Ben-Gurion became
one of Palestine's most influential politicians, guiding, prodding,
influencing members of the League of Nations and United Nations, his magnetic personality playing a great part both in the establishment of a Mandated Palestine in 1922, and in the vote Israeli state was proclaimed, Ben-Gurion shed his role as a Zionist
political, realizing this phase of the revolution had become an
anachronism the moment victory had been achieved. He became
the statesman bureaucrat. Boldly he declared the Zionist party
defunct, its mission over, having "committed suicide" by success.
It was time for the bureaucrats to take over to solidify gains, institutionalize new mores, and domesticate revolutionary tempers
into normal activity. A new democracy, based on "liberty and
groceries," had to be secured.
There was to be no second-class citizenship for anyone in Israel. No Jew needed to pass tests to become an Israeli. All he had
to do was to land on Israeli soil and proclaim himself a citizen.
Citizenship was also extended to every Arab living in Israel. The
franchise, universal education, and the right to hold jobs according to ability were granted to all, regardless of religion, sex, or
previous condition of servitude. For the first time in history, Arab
women could vote.
As Ahad Ha-Arn, Bialik, and Tchernichovsky had preached,
Israel was to be not the land of "milk and honey" alone, but also
the land of education and culture. Schools sprang up all over the
country. Education was compulsory. As villages, towns, and cities grew, so also museums and symphony halls, theaters and op era houses, art galleries and colleges appeared. Today a perform ance of Peer Gynt is attended by Israeli Arabs and Jews. The
children of the "insulted and injured" sit with the children of the
former Arab fellahin watching ballet or listening to a children's
concert. In 1960, just twelve years after its birth as a state, Israel
had more newspapers, magazines, and bookstores, more art gal leries, museums, schools, and symphony orchestras per capita
than any other nation.
453
Two factors make this achievement in so short a time even
more remarkable. In 1922, Palestine embraced 45,000 square
miles, which supported 750,000 people. By 1948, Palestine,
through successive partitions by the British and by the United
Nations, had been lopped off to 8,000 square miles. Yet in 1960,
Israel supported 2,000,000 people, of whom about 200,000 were
Arabs; in 1990 there were 4,700,000 people of whom 3,800,000
were Jews and the balance Muslims, Christians, and Druze. Although only a small portion of its Jewish population is native-born, so strong is the Jewish idea that within a few years of
their arrival, Jews from Yemen and Germany, Morocco and Russia, Turkey and Poland, Ethiopia and Iraq, Egypt and Syria have
all been welded into a new Israeli ethos. The people which had
been dispersed for 2,000 years have been reunited into one
peoplehood, one nation.
But Israel was not yet to know the tranquillity of peace. In
the autumn of 1956, the Egyptians, still smarting from their defeat, sent specially trained commandos, known as fedayeen,
across Israeli borders to harass the Jews. They infiltrated the
country at night, and, like Indians in American frontier days, put
the farmhouses along the border to the torch, killed the inhabit ants, and then vanished in the night to the safety of their own
country.
As the Soviet bloc poured more arms and munitions into
Egypt, the Egyptians became bolder in their attacks. The three
Arab states of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria formed a military alliance under a unified command, Nasser announcing again, over
worldwide radio, that he would destroy the Israeli state. Instead,
in eight days, world headlines told a different story. What began
as a hope for a quick victory for Egypt almost erupted into a
third world war.
Quickly Israel mobilized her army, and on October 29, 1956,
rushed it to the front in the Sinai in trucks, taxicabs, and private
vehicles, greeting the surprised Egyptians with a clash of tanks,
roar of airplanes, and an infantry advancing at will, taking vital
positions near the Negev-Sinai border. Within three days the Is454
raeli Army outmaneuvered and outflanked the Egyptian Army,
·slashed its way into the Sinai Peninsula, seized Egypt's stockpiles of military supplies, and stood poised at the Suez, ready to
invade Cairo. The actual fighting was concluded in 100 hours.
The Egyptian High Command ordered their troops to retreat on
November 1, which turned into a rout. 85
However, events suddenly took a turn that could have destroyed Israel. The war entered an international phase. In July,
Egypt had nationalized the formerly international Suez Canal86;
England and France attacked to regain the canal in October. This
action brought the United States into an unanticipated interna85 Israeli troops were shocked at what they saw on their way to El Arish. The Egyptian soldiers, abandoned by their officers, threw away
their weapons and uniforms and trekked back west as the Israeli soldiers bypassed them on their way to Kanatra. El Arish was abandoned. The Egyptians, officers and soldiers alike, lost all sense of
duty as they rushed for transport trucks. Even medical men left
wounded soldiers on operating tables to die in order to get to the
trucks on time. As Israeli soldiers entered El Arish, not a single medic was to be seen, only the wounded and the dead.
86 A hundred and one miles long, 43 feet deep, and 796 feet at its narrowest waist, the Suez Canal stretches from Port Said in the north to
Suez City in the south.
The bright idea for the canal was that of Ferdinand de Lesseps. Given France's blessing in 1854, the project did not get started until
1858 in the face of opposition by the British who saw in it a challenge by France to her empire. An issue of 400,000 shares for 500
francs a share was floated. Half the shares were bought by France,
the other half by Egypt. The canal was finished in 1869.
Now began the intrigue. Egypt held 44 percent of the shares. The
Khedive of Egypt, heavily in debt, sold his shares at a profit to the
British in 1875 for ±:4 million. However, if they had waited another
seven years they would have had it free, for in 1882, Britain occupied Egypt, ousting the French. She now owned the Suez Canal outright.
In 1888, all the maritime powers signed a convention that Suez
should be an open shipping port to all in war and peace, which it remained until 1956
455
tional fray.
On the afternoon of October 30, the Anglo-French forces
sent an ultimatum to Egypt and Israel to withdraw to ten miles
from the immediate vicinity of the Suez Canal so their soldiers
could station themselves along the 'banks of the Suez. Israel accepted. She did not want the canal; she only wanted the Sinai for
a buffer zone. Since Egypt rejected the demand, the Israeli advance continued with infantry and armor supported by the air
force toward the canal.
Luck saved the Egyptians. The United States and Soviet
Russia forced England and France to withdraw from their military venture, and Britain in turn commanded Israel to withdraw
her troops from Egyptian soil, which she did. By her action,
however, Israel had served notice on the Arab world that any violation of her borders would bring military reprisals just as
surely as would a violation of American, Russian, or English borders.
The result was that the Suez, Sinai, and Gaza were returned
to the Egyptians, who were handed a magnificent victory out of a
brutal defeat. 87 Never before had a defeated nation been so gen erously allocated the fruits of victory. For the West the con sequences proved disastrous. Britain lost her power in the
Middle East. For France, who had lost her status as a great power
in 1940, this aborted invasion meant " the end of empire. As for
the United States, this debacle weakened her relationship with
England and France for decades.
Israel, pressured into giving up the Sinai and Gaza, was left
holding a bagful of empty promises. Before the next war, Israel
was to face the establishment of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964; the first PLO raid into Israel in 1965; and continuing Arab rhetoric threatening to annihilate it.
For the Arabs, an armistice was viewed as a continuation of
87 Richard Nixon, who ·was vice-president at the time, wrote several
years later in a letter to Julian Amory that "restraining Britain,
France, and Israel was a major foreign policy mistake" and that Eisenhower shared this view.
456
war by other means. Thus it came about that instead of discuss ing peace, Egypt and her Arab allies prepared for a third war.
Despite a United Nations Emergency Force in place, in 1966,
Arab terrorist attacks against Israel were intensified. Finally, on
May 17, 1967, ready to unleash her "fighting tigers" on Israel, an
emboldened Egypt demanded the United Nations peacekeeping
force be withdrawn. U Thant, Secretary General of the UN, obliged, thereby laying the groundwork for the Six Day War.
Meanwhile, sabotage, fedayeen raids, and shelling from the
Golan Heights – all encouraged by Syria – increased. Israel finally responded on April 7, 1967, after an exchange of fire on the
ground, striking at the artillery positions that were raking Israel.
An air battle ensued. Syria ran to Egypt for help to punish the Israeli bandits who had dared to challenge her. Egypt responded by
massing troops and tanks in the Sinai near the Israeli border.
With the UN Emergency Force gone, Nasser was ready to strike
in the south. He imposed a blockade, first in the Gulf of Akaba,
then in the Suez Canal. He knew full well that Israel had repeatedly warned that bloc"king these straits would be tantamount
to declaration of war.
The United States stepped into the picture rather gingerly
with a declaration that the straits comprised international waters
and could not be blockaded. Nasser, in defiance, replied boldly
that any act, by anyone, to break the blockade would be considered an act of war. The United States backed down, not wanting to go to war with Egypt over a body of water she did not
need.
Encouraged by the U.S. retrenchment, Nasser taunted Israel
with blood-curdling announcements, publicly baiting her to act
on her threat that any closing of the straits would mean war. Nasser said he was "ready to destroy Israel.” Cairo radio blared, "No
Jew will remain alive." Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon chimed in on
Nasser's side. The Soviet Union provided the weapons. The stage
was set.
Israel knew she could not allow a war to be fought on her
soil. She would have to move with ground forces head-on into
457
the waiting Egyptian divisions. Using air power, she would have
to prevent her cities from being bombed.
Surprise was of the essence. On June 5, Israel decided to
strike when radar detected planes and tanks approaching the bor der. The Israeli air force swooped low in a semicircle over the
Mediterranean into Egypt, almost totally destroying Egyptian air
forces on the ground – 300 of 340 planes were left in flames,
with 20 planes shot down in the air Israel issued no announcement.
Hussein of Jordan, misled by Egypt's false military communiqués into believing Egypt was winning the war, and disregarding a message from the Israeli government that Israel had no
designs on Jordan, decided to take his piece of the pie, confident
his divisions could cut the narrow belt of Israel 's waist in two
and capture Jewish Jerusalem. Crossing into Israeli territory, he
forced Israel to respond with a similarly devastating attack
against Jordan. Syria's entry into the fray was met in like fashion.
In the first" day of fighting, Israel lost 19 planes. Egypt,
Jordan, and Syria lost 391. Israel first turned her military might
against Egypt in the Sinai. On June 6, Israel recaptured Sharm El
Sheikh, first by sea, then with paratroopers. After three days, the
West Bank of Jordan, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai fell. On June
7, the Old City of Jerusalem was taken.
On June 8, Egypt, aware of the havoc she had brought on
herself, beseeched the United Nations, through Russia, to send in
a truce team. Syria, still fortified and thinking herself safe, would
not accept a cease fire. Israel, again forced to protect herself,
took the Golan Heights on June l 0. And thus it came about that
Israel, with a military might of 275,000 Jews, had been given no
choice but to beat the hell out of the Arab force of 440,000 Egyptians, Jordanians, and Syrians.
With the conclusion of the Six Day War, Israel was forced to
administer the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights .and prevent uprisings there. She also had to set up plans to keep the na tion and the territories economically viable, as well as to train,
458
ing all religious buildings, and used the bricks to pave the streets.
Israel now made Jerusalem its capital, much to the discomfort of
the UN, the Arabs, and even the United States.
Meanwhile, the Palestine Liberation Organization remained
active against Israel and eventually became a threat to Jordan.
Egypt openly supported the PLO guerrillas in violation of United
Nations Security Council cease-fire resolutions. In the second
half of 1967 alone, there were 1,288 acts of sabotage and border
incidents, with 281 Israeli soldiers and civilians killed and 1,095
soldiers and civilians wounded. By comparison, during the Six
Day War there were 759 total Israeli fatalities. After the Six Day
War, Arab guerrilla forces had also become a serious internal
threat in Arab countries. Revolutions and attempts at revolutions
occurred in Iraq, South Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, and
Saudi Arabia.
At the same time, some political and administrative coopera tion existed between Jordan and Israel. Israeli farmers were allowed to cross into Jordan to sell their crops. Eventually a twoway movement of all goods was permitted and then travel to and
from each side was allowed. This was known as the "openbridge" policy. Though Jordan indicated she was ready to accept
Israel 's right to exist, no other Arab country would consider this,
which put Jordan in a difficult position.
In the West Bank, Israel's attempt to work with Arab officials came to naught. Fearful of reprisals from their Arab
brethren should the West Bank be returned to Arab rule, they remembered how the Egyptians had punished the Gazans who had
cooperated with Israel after the Sinai War.
Israel continued to administer the territories, trying to improve conditions for the Arabs, which they succeeded in doing to
a great extent. The Arabs planned more terrorism and more wars,
leaving Israel with no choice but to insist on a final peace settle ment before she withdrew from any territory.
Even while cooperating with Israel on the "open-bridge"
policy, Jordan openly said she supported the guerrillas, until they
turned on her and demanded that they be allowed to use Jordan
educate, and absorb both the 372,000 88 immigrants who had arrived in the '60s and an equal number expected in the '70s, a total
of 5.5 percent of her population. 89 In those same years the United
States absorbed almost six million immigrants – only 1.5 to 1.7
percent of her population. Israel, left with territories many times
larger than herself and a million more Arab inhabitants, would go
on paying heavily for her victory in the years that followed.
At the time, the world was stunned by the brilliant victory
and full of admiration for Israel, the new David in Jewish history.
But the Arab League, meeting in Khartoum, Sudan, refused to
negotiate with Israel, and the UN decided that Arab pride had to
be saved – all for the ultimate good of Israel. A defeated Arab nation was a menace. The only hope for peace and harmony would
be an Arab world assuaged.
The USSR and the UN agreed with this most peculiar logic.
The United States did, at least, argue that Israel should not be required to withdraw from occupied territories without Arab acceptance of Israel's independence and security. But the Arabs,
confident of further arms shipments from the Russians and support from the UN, haughtily refused and vowed revenge. Never
before in history had the vanquished threatened a new war and
the victors begged for peace! Can one imagine Hitler demanding
to dictate the peace treaty and the Allies agreeing?
Israel, now trebled in size, held the Sinai, the Gaza Strip, the
Golan Heights, and the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). But the
most significant result of the Six Day War was that on June 27,
1967, for the first time since the War of Independence, Jerusalem
was united. In 1948 Jordan had wrested the Eastern Sector of
Jerusalem from the Israelis, destroyed the Jewish section includ 88 This number in only a twenty-year period is larger than the number
of Palestinians displaced in the Arab-Israeli wars (Palestinians no
Arab country would accept, preferring to keep them in refugee
camps). By 1951 Israel had already absorbed over 262,000 Jews
from Arab lands.
89 Since 1989 alone, Israel has resettled almost half a million newcomers – a ratio of one new immigrant to every nine Israelis.
459
460
.!
as the main base of operations against Israel. When King Hussein refused, Yassar Arafat, who had become leader of the PLO
in 1969, launched an offensive in "all parts of Jordan," and King
Hussein was faced with what Israel had been aware of all along,
the reality of what the PLO stood for, their aims, and how they
planned to achieve them. Arafat's plans called for a "scorched
earth" policy to force Hussein to accede to his demand. Although
most of the Arab world was against him, Hussein refused to sacrifice his country to PLO domination, and in 1970 the PLO lost
all their bases in Jordan.
This conflict, called the Black September War, only one of
many in which Arabs fought with Arabs, led to the PLO "invasion" of Lebanon and the eventual establishment of a "state with in a state." It helped lay the groundwork for the Lebanese Civil
War in 1975 and the eventual Syrian control of that country.
Israelis, meanwhile, went back to running their own country,
content to set up programs to administer the new territories, hop ing the Six Day War would lead to peace. What came instead
was yet another war.
In 1969, a change in government brought Golda Meir, an implausible character on the Israeli scene, to power. As a young
woman she came to Israel from her native United States and became involved in politics, often at the expense of her persona!
life and the neglect of her family. Because of her connections in
the States, she had been instrumental in raising large sums of
money for the War of Independence. She was also responsible
for the extension of Israeli aid to emergent African nations and
the establishment of friendly relations with them. By the time she
became Prime Minister she was a grandmother, with a benign
face, a golden heart, and two iron fists unsheathed by velvet
gloves. She had smiled and slugged her way to power, rode in as
a dark horse and ended up an aged Jewish Joan of Arc who saved
Israel in its hour of peril.
***
It was Saturday morning, October 6, 1973, Yom Kippur, the
holiest day in the Jewish year – and the Arabs knew it. At 4:00
461
A.M., word of an imminent attack was brought to Israel's political leaders. Instead of attacking, Prime Minister Meir called a
meeting, and the decision was made to contact Western leaders
to seek their last-minute intervention. The reply to her request
was, "Don't preempt."
For months, Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian President, had practiced the game of political camouflage, and Israel had been getting signals of possible attack from Egypt and Syria. Each time
Israel decided against mobilization. Each time it was a major
gamble to avoid both the international criticism and the staggering costs that mobilization would have brought. This time the
gamble almost failed.
Numerically superior in men and matériel, the Arabs
achieved a strategic and tactical advantage. At 2:00 P.M. on Oc tober 6 Egypt and Syria launched coordinated attacks into the
Sinai and the Golan Heights with an advantage in infantry forces
immediately engaged of 20 to 1 and a tank advantage of 5 to 1.
Partial mobilization in Israel had begun only four hours earlier.
In the past, Israel had relied on the preemptive strike and fastmoving offensive armor. Now, while mobilizing, she had both to
contain the Egyptian thrust in the Sinai and to stop the Syrian attack on the northern front. Not until October 9 was a decisive
counterblow against Syria successfully executed.
The Israelis had been overconfident. Though they knew. the
Arabs had excellent weapons, they believed the Egyptians would
not know how to handle them. They were wrong. The Arabs had
succumbed to their own myths as well. They believed that a man
with an IQ of 160 would be defenseless against an uneducated
soldier with more sophisticated weapons. They also believed
they would have won the Six Day War if they had struck first,
and so they did just that this time. They, too, were wrong.
As Israel's very existence was threatened, the flow of history
floated through Jewish minds in two contradictory strains. One
was the thought of their ancestors' sacrifices to create and main tain a nation: Joshua, a former slave and head of a nomadic
people, conquering the mighty tribes and kingdoms of Canaan;
462
the first King Saul crushing the Amonites and the mighty Philistines at Michmash, and King David uniting Israel and Judah to
establish the first Jewish mini-empire. The other strain was the
knowledge of what happened after the defeat by the Romans: exile, dispersion, second-class citizenship, anti-Semitism. Never
again. The ' spirit .of their past swept through the Jewish forces
and carried them on a tide of historic fervor to victory. The Egyptians ran out of steam; the Israelis rallied.
Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, then Chairman of the U.S. Joint
Chiefs of Staff, said after the war, "This war, like most, was de cided primarily by the impact of leadership, ability, and
training." It was a war of armies; neither side dared bomb each
other's cities for each had the capacity to devastate the other. By
October 24, when the cease fire was established, Israel had
crossed the Suez Canal, seized 500 square miles of Egyptian territory, trapped 25,000 men in the Egyptian III Corps, and was
free to move at will on the west bank of the Suez Canal. In Syria,
Israel had moved closer to Damascus and held more ground than
before the war started. Once again, it was only political pressure
that halted Israel's advance.
The costs of the victory, however, were enormous. Wit hin
the first week, Israel was in dire need of military equipment. No
one could have anticipated that the United States would resupply
Israel, but, in answer to desperate pleas, Nixon and Kissinger responded with an emergency airlift. They sent 300,000 tons of
critical weaponry between October 14 and November 14 and
continued to send supplies as needed, in addition to a $1.1 billion
congressional appropriation.
The U.S. Defense Department estimates that the Soviet
Union's cost of the 1973 war was more than $2.6 billion, while
American outlays during the war totaled nearly $1 billion, with
emergency aid authorized for $2.2 billion. The cost to Israel was
more than $250 million a day – two and a half times the cost of
the 1967 Six Day War. Israel, in 1973, had to spend 40 percent of
its gross national product on defense, all because the Arabs, the
losing side, refused to sit down to talk about peace.
463
After the Yom Kippur War, how could the Arabs sustain the
myth that they could conquer Israel if only conditions were
right? They had struck first, and on a Jewish holiday, while almost everyone was at prayer. They had Russian support and
sophisticated Soviet weapons. Conditions could not have been
more ·favorable. Yet in only sixteen days, Egypt was begging
Moscow and the United Nations to impose a cease fire to save
the Arabs from another catastrophic defeat. And, as in the three
previous wars, Israel was forced by the major world powers to
stop before consolidating its victory. Golda Meir complained,
"For God's sake, Sadat started the war ... and he has been de feated. Then by political arrangements, he is handed a victory."
Another Israeli official added: "The realization that Egypt could
start a war and the rest of the world would stop it to save her
from defeat is shattering."
Then the impossible happened; Israeli politics took a conservative tilt. Likud, Israel's conservative party, after losing all eight
elections since 1948, survived to win the ninth in 1977. Menahem Begin, its leader, became Prime Minister, riding into power
on a wave of unpopularity.
Begin found himself sitting at the poker table of state with
the Arabs who had piles of chips stacked in front of them, while
he had none. He knew the odds were against him. To even them,
he decided to take a lesson out of American history involving the
annexation of Texas: First send people to settle new territories;
then the settlers ask for statehood. Begin decided to start settling
the occupied territories with Jewish settlers and .announced his
policy boldly on his first visit to Washington. When a reporter
asked him about the occupied territories, Begin answered, "What
occupied territories? I only see Israel, Judea, and Samaria."
A cry of pain went through the Arab nations. All at once Begin had the occupied territories as bargaining chips. The Arabs
would now have to bargain for land rather than Israel having to
bargain for recognition and peace. Sadat eventually would do
what no prior Labor government could do – trade land for peace.
If Begin was a realist, so, fortunately, was Anwar Sadat. He
464
knew his country's economic condition was desperate.. He, like
many of his countrymen, had come to realize that Egypt had
fought for her Arab "friends" to the last Egyptian. The Arabs had
saved face and gained pride; Egypt had lost men, money, and
matériel. The army had been saved only through Western intervention. The country had been devastated by defeat and loss of
morale in spite of all that had been done for it. It was the last
hurrah for the Egyptians. Once many settlers were comfortably
ensconced in the Sinai there would be no way they could be
evicted. Begin was the first to make peace overtures: Sinai for
recognition of Israel.
The world watched on television as Sadat came to Israel to
meet with Begin and receive a royal welcome from the Israeli
public. After prolonged negotiating, and with much "encourage ment" from President Jimmy Carter, the agreement was made
and signed at Camp David. Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt, including oil fields, air bases, and settlements, in exchange for
Egypt's recognition of Israel's right to exist, as well as cast-iron
guarantees for Israel's southern borders with Egypt.
The Egyptian-Israeli treaty demanded heavy sacrifices. It
cost Begin some of his closest political friends. But it cost Sadat
his life. In return for peace, the Israelis also agreed to make concessions over the West Bank and even Jerusalem. But once
again, without even attempting to negotiate, the Palestinians and
the other Arab countries threw away the opportunity. They rejected the Camp David Accords, thus forcing Israel to continue to
retain control over Judea, Samaria, Gaza, and the Golan Heights.
The growth of Arab influences was great in those years. The
Arabs tripled the price of oil, making huge sums of money – not
to improve the life of their people", but to purchase arms, to fin ance terrorism, and to finance their leaders' luxurious lifestyles
while keeping the Palestinians in refugee camps.90 The UN
90 A Palestinian in the West Bank, when discussing the Black Panthers
Arab Death Squads and the murder of Palestinians by Palestinians,
said, "We do not need Arafat anymore. What we need is a Ben-Gurion." ("Meltdown," New Republic, Nov. 1992)
465
passed a resolution equating Zionism with racism; Yassar Arafat
was recognized by the UN as a head of state and appeared on its
platform, gun in holster, as he gave his anti-Israel talk, making it
clear that all of Israel was included as part of his plan for a
Palestinian state. Meanwhile, Iraq had built a nuclear reactor, a
"clear and present danger" to Israel. In June, 1981, Israel bombed
that reactor before it could be activated. The world was dismayed
at this preemptive strike, viewing it as against international law.
That dismay, of course,. turned to pleasure when Iraq invaded
Kuwait in 1990.
After failing to take over Jordan, and after Syria would not
have them, the PLO moved into Lebanon in 1970. They demanded the end of government restrictions against them, freedom of
commando movement and supply in Lebanon, and that they be
allowed to use the country as a base for attacks against Israel. In
essence, they wanted what they could not get in Jordan, a "state
within a state," and they eventually achieved that end. The Lebanese ambassador warned the UN that if the PLO was granted
this request, there would be a strong response from Israel. Lebanese President Charles Helou said the guerrillas must leave
Lebanon and warned that if they used Lebanon's southern border,
Israel would seize part of the country.
Both warnings were ignored.
Thus the PLO had the freedom to infiltrate Israel and to
launch their attacks into the northern part. of Israel from Lebanon. And then there was the Syrian problem. At first Syria
provided support for opponents of the PLO. Then, fearful that
the Palestinian militias, allied to the more radical Lebanese militias, might push Syria into a new war with Israel, for which Syria
was unprepared, Syria sent in an expeditionary force to restrain
them, only to protect itself, not Israel. But neither Lebanon nor
Syria stopped the PLO raids or the shelling of Israel. The situation became intolerable, and the Israelis decided to act.
Their objectives were to stop the raids and shelling with
Katuysha rockets and to destroy the infrastructure of the PLO so
that the raids and shelling could not soon be resumed. The Israel466
is were welcomed with open arms and cheers by the Lebanese in
the south, who had been abused and intimidated and had their
property stolen and their country devastated by the PLO. The Israelis had come to rescue them, and they did temporarily. When,
along with the cache of arms and ammunition controlled by the
PLO, the Israelis also found the PLO plans for the destruction of
Israel, they were sure their mission was none too soon.
But once again the world could not stand by and watch an
Israeli victory. Israel had almost succeeded in ousting the PLO
from Lebanon when outsiders – the United States and the UN –
interfered. 91 The United States pressured Israel to withdraw,
conditioned on the Syrian withdrawal from the Bekaa Valley and
a treaty was signed between Israel and Lebanon even while Israel
warned the United States that without Syria's approval the treaty
would fail. And it did. Syria did not withdraw. Under pressure
from Syria, Lebanon canceled the accord in March 1984. The
result was more shelling, bombing, and the near total political
destruction of what was left of Lebanon. When the United States
sent in a contingent of Marines to separate the warring factions
in Beirut, an Arab car bomb leveled the American compound and
killed 241 marines. As a result, the United States withdrew its
troops. The final irony was that the United States was left with a
brutal hostage crisis in Lebanon that lasted from July 1982 to
December 1991. Syria said it could do nothing. However, when
it served Syria's purpose, after the Gulf War in 1991, the country
assisted in the release of the American hostages and was thanked
by the United States for doing so. But the crisis in Lebanon has
remained central to the problems in the Middle East.
The Lebanese war did break the PLO and turned Arafat from
a dominant factor in the Arab world into a beggar living in
91 In Israel, through the years, suspicion had grown that the United Nations only responded when the Arab aggressors were about to pay
the price for their aggression. This suspicion became a visible reality
with , the Yom Kippur War, although the signs were there after the
Suez and .Six Day War. The Lebanese War confirmed whatever
doubts had remained after the previous wars.
467
Tunisia. He eventually regained some of his power but not the
political or military power he had before the war. The war in Lebanon, called Operation Peace for Galilee by Israel, did cut down
the shelling of northern Israel and weakened the PLO militarily.
Conversely, terrorism increased, and Islamic fundamentalism became stronger, growing into a danger to the Arab countries themselves and threatening to overthrow their regimes.
Why, after thirty-five years and four wars with the Arabs,
did Operation Peace for Galilee create so much anger and accusation both inside Israel and out? For the Israelis, Lebanon both
attracted and repelled. On the one hand there was clearly a need
to defend the country and to protect the Jews in the northern section of Israel as well as the Christian Arabs in southern Lebanon.
On the other hand, Israelis have always found the killing role of
the state hard to accept, and the casualties and costs were partic ularly onerous when international action prevented a clear-cut
result. As to the rest of the world, it is hard to understand why
Lebanon's destruction by the PLO and its takeover by Syria were
allowed to go on with so little effort to prevent them, with
nowhere near the level of anger expressed against Israel. And it
is hard to understand why the world could watch Arabs threaten
and murder and terrorize each other as well as Israelis and Westerners but often only object when Israel fought back.
Was this a just war? If you ask the PLO, the answer is no. If
you ask a citizen of the Galilee or a Christian Lebanese in southern Lebanon, the answer is yes. Henry Kissinger told the Washington Post, "Whatever our opinion ... of the official reason giv en by Israel ... there is no argument over its strategic justifica tion. No sovereign state can tolerate endlessly the strengthening
along its border of a military force wishing to destroy it."
Mr. Kissinger's statement could as well stand as a descrip tion of Kuwait's situation just before the Iraqi invasion in Janu ary 1991. The world, of course, had little difficulty deciding to
act in that situation, but Saddam Hussein made the decision even
easier by invading and destroying Kuwait, another Arab state,
and one of the main oil producers in the region, and by threaten 468
ing to invade Saudi Arabia and control the world's largest source
of oil.
In an unprecedented move, an alarmed United Nations, led
by the United States, voted against Iraq and approved the use of
military force to eject Iraq from Kuwait. Behind this move lay
not only the fear of Iraqi control of oil supplies, but the fear that
Hussein might have an atomic bomb.
The world had loudly decried Israel's swift surprise air strike
in 1981 against Iraq's nuclear reactor. It now viewed that act in a
much better light. But the fear remained that Iraq had replaced
that loss and also increased its supply of poison gas, a gas it had
already used on its own people.
After unsuccessful negotiations with Saddam Hussein, U.S.
President George Bush mobilized a coalition of Arab and world
leaders to face Iraq with armed force. Hussein was forced to
withdraw from Kuwait, and much of Iraq's infrastructure and industrial capacity were devastated, but not before Iraq had set fire
to the oil fields of Kuwait, inundated the Persian Gulf with a
huge oil slick, and fired Scud missiles into Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Though Israel was not directly a part of this Arab-against-Arab conflict, Hussein counted on decades of knee-jerk anti-Israel sentiment as part of his strategy to dominate the Middle
East. By attacking Israel with missiles, he expected to gain the
automatic support of nations like Jordan, Syria, and perhaps even
Egypt, thus breaking up the coalition and stirring up further antiAmerican and anti-Saudi feeling among the Muslim masses.
Would this plan succeed? Jordan felt the pressure from her
large Palestinian population and refused to join the coalition. Israel, ready to defend herself like the Jews in Biblical times, now
faced a dilemma. The coalition, especially the United States, implored her to ignore the danger, suffer the casualties, and do
nothing. But Israel had always been saved by her insistence on
defending herself; in the Middle East, any sign of weakness
could be fatal. Should she strike back at Iraq to protect her cities,
or was destabilization of the coalition the greater danger? Would
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the Arab world's anti-Israel reflexes once again lead them to disaster? Would they actually consider Israel a greater danger to the
Arab world than Saddam Hussein?
In the end, threats by Israel to retaliate against Iraq were not
carried out as a result of military and diplomatic initiatives by
the United States. President Bush, after two phone calls to Prime
Minister Yitzhak Shamir, dispatched Deputy Secretary of State
Lawrence S. Eagleburger to Israel. At a meeting with Shamir and
Defense Secretary Moshe Arens, he was assured that Israel
would not retaliate at that time and pledged to consult with the
United States before taking any action. While reserving the right
to see to their own defense, the Israelis decided to trust their enduring friendship with the United States and wait out the Iraqi attacks. They accepted the American argument that this war had
the potential to change attitudes in the Arab world, and they decided the possibility was worth the risk.
Though Saddam Hussein remained in power, the Gulf War
was brought to a more or less satisfactory conclusion, with the
U.S.-led UN coalition intact. And it did lead to actual peace talks
– Arabs and Israelis sitting face to face, trying to solve the region
's problems, just what Israel had been asking for since the War of
Independence in 1948. The first tentative agreement between Israel and the PLO was signed on September 14, 1993. The next
day, an agenda was agreed upon for Israeli-Jordanian peace talks.
It is, of course, not yet possible to know if old attitudes will be
rekindled or if the talks will finally lead to enduring stability and
cooperation. 92
The State of Israel has been established and has now endured for nearly half a century. Will the peace talks lead to the
fulfillment of Jewish destiny, or are they just another chapter in
the inexorable march of Jewish history?
92 Though the peace talks are still ongoing as of this writing, the situation changes from day to day. See Appendix for background to the
peace talks.
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VIII: CONCLUSION: A CULTURAL MOSAIC
Concluding the odyssey of the Jewish people through
four thousand years of history, venturing a historical
explanation of the remarkable survival of this people
which is as modern and intellectually alive today as it
was four millennia ago.
471
THIRTY
EXILED TO FREEDOM
During the four-thousand-year odyssey of the Jewish people,
from the twentieth century B.C. to the twentieth century A.D.,
they struggled, fought, fell, revived, regressed, and advanced
over four continents and through six civilizations, surviving
against all odds. After wanderings in Canaan, enslavement in
Egypt, destruction in Judah, captivity in Babylon; after contact
with the Greeks, strife under the Maccabeans, oppression by the
Romans; after surviving as a capitalist class under feudal lords,
as a "People of the Book" under Moslem rule, as children of the
ghetto in the late Middle Ages, as statesmen, scholars, and concentration camp victims in the Modem Age, they returned at the
end of a two-thousand year absence to their ancient homeland as
its rulers. Jews, God, and History has been a study of this survival, not in terms of kings, wars, and persecutions, but in terms of
ideas generated by the Jews in response to the challenges hurled
at them by the ever-accelerating force of history.
How should we evaluate this varied and vexing saga? Is the
survival of the Jews a mere accident, their history a meaningless
succession of events – all "bunk," as the Henry Ford school of
history would contend. Or were there deterministic forces behind
their destiny? Should we look to the Marxists for an answer?
Was the survival of the Jews shaped, perhaps, by the material
conditions of their lives? Did the way they tilled their soil and
exchanged their goods give rise to their concept of Jehovah? Did
the social systems of Omri and Josiah inspire their Prophetic
writings? Or are the psychoanalysts right? Is Jewish history the
product of what the Jews repressed in their unconscious? Does
this explain Torah and Talmud, Karaism and Kabala, Hasidism
and Zionism? Or should we tum to the philosophical historians
for an answer? Can Jewish history be explained as a Spenglerian
cyclical evolution? If so, why did the Jews not disappear after
the usual life span of a civilization? Can Toynbee's "challenge
472
and response" theory explain their survival? Must we accept his
version that Judaism as a culture was nothing but a fossil left
over from a Syriac civilization? Or have the Jews perhaps been
aided by a divine force, according to an as yet undisclosed plan?
Can theology give a satisfactory answer?
As it is the task of a historian not only to record the foibles
of man but also to venture an explanation of them, we shall offer
for those who cannot accept the theory of a guiding divinity, an
explanation for Jewish survival consistent with natural law, never forgetting, however, that throughout this colorful panoply of
events and ideas there runs a constant thread – the illusion or
dream or revelation of Abraham that the Jews are God's Chosen
People.
Because we have been taught to view history as Ancient,
Medieval, and Modem, we often fail to perceive history in other
molds, as, for instance, the ebb and flow of civilizations motiv ated not by fortunes of war but by cycles of ideas. In all history,
mankind has failed to produce more than twenty or thirty civiliz ations. Most of them are now dead, a few still struggle for sur vival, some are in their formative stages, none are at the height of
creativity. How did these civilizations arise? What gave them
force? Why did they die? Historians can only speculate. Perhaps
the most valid of such speculations are those of two twentieth-century "metahistorians" – the "fatalistic" or "nonfree-will"
theory of Spengler and the "free-will" theory of Toynbee. Man is
powerless to change the course of his destiny, according to Spengler. Man has something to say about his fate, according to Toynbee. An explanation for the paradox of Jewish survival is implicit
in the theories of these two men who have relegated Jewish history to a minor footnote. Yet how can Jewish history be explained by and incorporated into these two contradictory theor ies? Let us examine more closely the theories of each.
Once a people has been impregnated with the sperm of civilization, its future, in the Spenglerian system, is as predictable as
the course and results of a pregnancy. We can predict a gestation
period, the birth and infancy of a child, its adolescence and ma 473
turity, and finally old age and death. Each of these is comparable
to a cycle in the Spenglerian evolution of a civilization – a spring
phase, giving birth to a new religion and world outlook; a summer phase, culminating in philosophical and mathematical con ceptualizations; an autumn phase, maturing into "enlightenment"
and rationalism; and a winter phase, declining into materialism, a
cult of science, and degradation of abstract thinking, leading to
senility and death.
Quite different is the philosophy of Toynbee, who, in essence, contends that nature constantly presents new and unanti cipated challenges to man. If people do not respond to the initial
challenges, they remain unhistoric, like the Eskimos or the Hottentots, unable to harness their destiny to the chariot of history. If
people respond to the initial challenges, but fail to continue with
adequate responses, their civilizations become either fossils of
history or cliff-hangers left to rot with time. The sphinx of Toynbee's history never volunteers an answer to her riddles. If a civilization responds with the right answers to such challenges, it has
the implied possibility of everlasting life.
Though the Jews have successfully answered the sphinx of
history for four thousand years, both Spengler and Toynbee regard Judaism as an "arrested civilization'' and exclude it from
their lists of civilizations. Why? Because the Jews did not fit into
their definitions of a civilization. But it is precisely in this paradox of Judaism as an "arrested civilization" responding successfully to the challenges of history that we can find the secret of
Jewish survival. This paradox will be clarified if we define Judaism as a "culture" instead of a " civilization." The difference
between these two concepts is clearly stated by Amaury de Riencourt in the introduction to his book The Coming Caesars.
Culture predominates in young societies awakening to
life ... and represents a new world outlook. It implies
original creation of new values, or new religious symbols and artistic styles, of new intellectual and spiritual
structures, new sciences, new legislation, new moral
474
codes. It emphasizes the individual rather than society,
original creation rather than preservation and duplica tion, prototypes rather than mass production, an aesthet ic outlook on life rather than an ethical one. Culture is
essentially trailblazing.
Civilization, on the other hand, represents the crystalliz ation on a gigantic scale of the preceding Culture's
deepest and greatest thoughts and styles, living on the
petrified stock forms created by the parent Culture, basically uncreative, culturally sterile, but efficient in its
mass organization, practical and ethical, spreading over
large surfaces on the globe, finally ending in a universal
state ....
Civilization aims at the gradual standardization of increasingly large masses of men within a rigidly mechanical framework-masses of "common men" who think
alike, feel alike, thrive on conformism, are willing to
bow to vast bureaucratic structures, and in whom the so cial instinct predominates over that of the creative indi vidual.
In other words, culture, according to de Riencourt's definition, corresponds to Spengler's spring, summer, and autumn
phases. The winter phase represents, in de Riencourt's terms, the
civilization which feeds off its parent culture.
The Jews began their historic existence in the full Spenglerian sense – with a spring ushered in by a new religion and a new
way of abstract thinking, which formed the nucleus for an emerging Judaic culture. In Toynbeean terms, they then responded to
the challenges of nomadic existence, to the conquest of Canaan,
to the establishment of a state. They responded to the challenge
of survival in Babylonian captivity, and returned to Palestine,
there to evolve into the autumn phase of their emerging civilization. But they never "progressed" to the decline of their winter
475
phase – that is, they never made the transition from "culture" to
"civilization." They remained suspended, so to speak, at the
height of their culture, between their autumn and winter phases.
What had freed them? As Spengler himself so perceptively observed, "Vespasian's war, directed against Judea, was a liberation
of Jewry." The wars with Rome freed the Jews from the fate
awaiting them as a civilization, by dispersing them into the Diaspora. The Jews were exiled to freedom. Into the Diaspora they
carried with them a highly developed culture, packaged for ex port by Prophets, saints, and scholars. The Diaspora took them to
many lands, to many civilizations. If a civilization went under, as
the Islamic one did, the Jews went under with it. But even as one
civilization was swallowed by history, another one always
emerged, and the Diaspora Jews within the emerging civilization
rose with it. The Jews could set up shop in any land and unfold
their culture in any civilization. Their firm belief that they were
God's Chosen People gave them the will to survive, the Torah
nourished that will to survive, and their men of learning designed
the tools for their survival – but it was the Diaspora itself that
freed the Jews from time, from history, and from death as a civilization. They had stumbled on the secret of eternal cultural
youth. With the Diaspora, the Jews became the civilization hoppers of history.
The existence of a Diaspora, then, has been the one essential
condition for the cultural survival of the Jews beyond the normal
life span of a civilization. Had they not been exiled, had they remained in Palestine, they probably would be no more of a cultural force in world history today than the remnants of the Karaites.
Today, as once before, we have both an independent State of Israel and .the Diaspora. But, as in the past, the State of Israel
today is a citadel of Judaism, a haven of refuge, the center of
Jewish nationalism where dwell only 3,750,000 of the world's
17,500,000 Jews. The Diaspora, although it has shifted its center
through the ages with the rise and fall of civilizations, still re mains the universal soul of Judaism.
Will the Jews continue to survive? If they maintain their will
476
to survive as Jews, if they continue to fashion new tools for sur vival in response to new challenges, and if the Diaspora continues to be a constant factor in their history, then the Jews will
continue to survive as a culture-producing people. But the will to
survive and the ability to respond to challenges will not be
enough without a permanent Diaspora. The Diaspora must be an
ingredient in their history.
Where will be the next center of Diaspora Judaism? That
will depend upon the historic forces that continually rearrange
the patterns of Jewish dispersion. The United States could continue to be that center for the next two or three centuries, but the
American citadel too may prove to be transitory. If Spengler is
right, Western civilization – in which the American civilization is
contained – may be in its winter phase, whereas the Slavic and
Sinic civilizations may be in their spring. Should Western civilization decline, a Jewish Diaspora culture could spring up in Russia or in China.
Though the position of the Jews in Russia today is as anomalous as it was in Catholic Spain in the fifteenth century, it is not
beyond belief for history to establish a Diaspora center there. In
fact, the Jewish position in Russia today closely resembles that
of the Marrano position in Spain. Though constituting but 1.5
percent of Russia's population, in 1970 Jews were an estimated
12 percent of Russia's top scientists, intellectuals, and scholars.
With the demise of communism, Russia seems, for the moment,
an unlikely site for the next dominant civilization. But we cannot
know what fifty or five hundred years will bring. Since 1967 almost a million of Russia's Jews have gone to Israel and to America, but some will remain, and only time will tell how strongly
the spark of Judaism burns among the ostensibly agnostic Russian-Jewish youth.
Nor is it beyond possibility that a Diaspora center could establish itself in China. In the tenth century, China played host to
a flourishing Jewish community in Kaifeng, important enough
for Marco Polo to mention. This community fell into decay by
the nineteenth century, when history severed its ties with the
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Western Diaspora. Should a world civilization once again arise
in China, it is no more farfetched for a Jewish Diaspora center to
emerge in that vast nation than it was for Diaspora centers to be
established in pagan Babylonia, Moslem Spain, or Catholic Poland.
A fourth possible center of world Jewish Diaspora could be
South America, where the present history of the Jews resembles
their early history in the United States. South America's Jews are
today as dependent on the ideas and culture of the Jews of the
United States as the latter were dependent t upon the ideas of
European Jewry before 1900. Although Judaism in South America today is diffused and decentralized, it would take only a sud den flare-up of intellectual life to make that continent a Diaspora
center.
There still remains the question, Have the Jews been divinely chosen to fulfill a mission, or have they chosen themselves
to fulfill a divine mission? Do we have a hint of the nature of this
mission in Isaiah, who prophesies the brotherhood of man in the
days to come? Will it be the function of the Jews to establish
such a brotherhood of man and, having fulfilled such a predestined role, to disappear? Has Spinoza prepared us for this
with his pantheistic theology for universal man? We cannot
know. We can only speculate.
Let us view Jewish history as the unfolding of a vast Kabalistic drama in three acts, each act two thousand years long. In the
first act – the tzimtzum, or "thesis" – a succession of Jews, like
heroes in a Greek tragedy, are cast by a Divine Director in predestined roles. Without a firm conviction in his preordained role
as the progenitor of the Chosen People, Abraham would have
been a tragic figure. His faith makes him heroic. In this first act,
God continues to assign roles – to Moses, to lead the Jews out of
Egyptian bondage and to give them the Law; to Joshua, to take
them to the Promised Land; to the Prophets, to enlarge the Jewish concept of God into a universal Deity; to Ezra and Nehemiah,
to make sure that the Jews are not swallowed up in this new uni versality. Within the external strife of Jewish history develops
478
the thesis of a Jewish destiny, binding the Jews together into a
people. This internal unity is then shattered with the appearance
of a Christian sect that claims Jesus as the messiah. Just before
the curtain descends, the Christians boldly declare that the role
of the Jews as God's Chosen People is over.
When the curtain rises on the second act of our Kabalistic
drama – the shevirath ha-keilim, or "breaking of the vessels" –
Jerusalem has been destroyed and the Jews scattered in the Diaspora. Having acted for two thousand years as God's Chosen
People, however, they are not prepared to relinquish their former
roles, We now observe a succession i of rabbis, philosophers, and
scholars fashioning new tools of Jewish survival – the
Talmudism of the ivy-league yeshivas, the philosophy of Maimonides, the interpretations of Rashi, the poetry of Halevi, the
codification of Caro, the mysticism of the Kabala, the humanism
of the Haskala, and finally, near the end of the act, the nationalism of Zionism, which reunites a segment of the Diaspora Jews
in Israel. The "vessel," broken for two thousand years, has been
mended. The curtain is falling on the twentieth century. The
second act is over.
Has our drama ended, or is this only an intermission be-'
fore the third act – the tikkun, or "restoration" – in the Kabalistic
cycle? Are the Jews destined to survive another two thousand
years to fulfill an as yet unrevealed role?
Throughout the centuries, the trinity of Jehovah, Torah, and
Prophets, by accident or design evolved two sets of laws, one to
preserve the Jews as Jews, the other to preserve mankind. In their
first two-thousand years, the Jews used that third of the Torah
and Talmud which deals with priesthood and sacrifice to maintain themselves as a Jewish entity in a world of pagan civilizations. In their second two thousand years, they used that third of
Torah and Talmud which deals with ritual and dietary restrictions
to maintain their ethnic unity even as they spread the universal
aspects of Judaic humanism. Left now of Torah and Talmud are
the universal contents only – the third that deals with morality,
justice, and ethics. Does this progression suggest that Judaism is
479
now prepared to proselytize its faith in a world ready to accept
its prophetic message? Is this to be the destiny of the Jews in the
third act?
If man views the Jewish achievement through materialistic
eyes, seeing only an insignificant minority in possession of a
little land and a few battalions, this will seem improbable. It will
not seem improbable if man discards the blinkers of prejudice
and views the world not as a "thing" but as an "idea." Then he
may see that two thirds of the civilized world is already governed
by the ideas of Jews – the ideas of Moses, Jesus, Paul, Spinoza,
Marx, Freud, Einstein. Will the world in the next two thousand
years embrace the morality of the Torah, the social justice of the
Prophets, the ethics of the Jewish patriarchs? If so, then in the
words of Isaiah, there will be "Peace, peace, to him that is far off
and to him that is near."
480
APPENDIX:
THE RECENT HISTRY OF PALESTINE/ISRAEL
the reader the complexity of the problems with which the parties
have had to deal and . emphasize the magnitude and the fragility
of the recent agreements, which, it is to be hoped, will be the
opening of a new bright chapter in the thousands of years of his tory recounted in this book.
Peace in the Middle East is essential, as both Arab countries
and Israel realize. Their numerous wars, Arab-Israeli and Arab-Arab, have not solved the problems. Circumstances arising
out of an incredibly tangled and complicated past have increased
the dangers in the area.
Now, in the last decade of the twentieth century, Israelis and
Arabs – with misgivings on both sides – are searching, face to
face, for a way to live together in peace. No comprehensive dis cussion of these peace talks has been included in the text of the
book, since neither their historical implications nor their possible
results can even be guessed at.
Who is sitting at the table? On the one hand, a new nation
with an old history – democratic, determined – a nation that
would not have been born, much less survived, if it had had to
rely on foreign guarantees or international support. Asked about
U.S. guarantees, Golda Meir responded, "By the time you get
here, we won't be here."
On the other hand, there is a people that has never been a na tion, supported (and often enough mistreated) by an array of Islamic nations, each with its own agenda – none democratic nor
united with the others, and with vast economic, geographic, and
social differences among them.
The following Chronology is by no means comprehensive. It
is not intended as a basis for a final conclusion about the subject,
nor is it intended to apportion praise or blame among the parties.
Rather it is hoped that by pointing out some past efforts, disappointments and frustrations, by describing some of the baggage
that each side brings to the negotiating table, it will suggest to
481
482
Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and
Palestine (Transjordan); Arab
demands for independent nations lead to numerous uprisings.
CHRONOLOGY
JEWISH HISTORY
Jerusalem "mournful, dreary,
and lifeless. Palestine sits in
sack cloth and ashes." (Mark
Twain, 1867)
ARAB HISTORY
Before
1914
Palestine 93 not a separate political or administrative entity;
part of the Ottoman Empire
(1517-1917).
Religious Jews come to die and
be buried in the Holy Land.
First and second large waves of
Jewish immigration. City of Tel
Aviv established 1909. Arab
population in 1.882 is 260,000;
most live in mud -huts without
sanitation; farms average 25
acres.
World War I begins; Balfour
Declaration ( 1917) supports
Jewish homeland.
1914 to
1945
Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916),
secret French-British pact for
postwar division of Holy Land.
Britain encourages Arabs to revolt against Ottoman Empire
with promises of political independence.
Britain captures Jerusalem
(December 9, 1917); 400 years
of Ottoman rule ends. Mutual
recognition of Jewish and Arab
rights in Palestine in Weizmann-Feisal agreement (1919).
Arabs divided on acceptance of
Weizmann-Feisal agreement.
Hardliners win. Grand Mufti of
Jerusalem, who had cooperated
with Ottoman Empire on Germany's side during World War
I, rejects cooperation with
Jews. Grand Mufti instigates
riots in 1920 and 1929 against
Jews and in 1936 and 1939
against British and Jews.
1919-1923: Third wave of Jewish immigration (35,000).
After World War I, Middle East
fractured into Arab "states" –
93 „Palestine" includes the present states of Israel and Jordan un -
til noted; otherwise.
483
Jews believe Balfour Declaration means a homeland to include all of Palestine.
Britain partitions Palestine at
Jordan River and recognizes
Transjordan (March 27, 1921)
giving Arabs approximately 80
percent of Palestine. Arabs believe entire Middle East was
promised to them. Armed rebellion in effort to gain remaining 20 percent of Palestine.94
1920: Britain arrests Jews retaliating in self-defense. Jews
organize self-defense units to
defend settlements. The beginning of Haganah, the defense
forces.
Riots instigated by Grand
Mufti of Jerusalem against
Jews. Britain does not arrest
Arabs who rioted and attacked
Jews.
1922: League of Nations approves British Mandate for
Iraq, Transjordan (present-day
Jordan), and Palestine.
1922: League of Nations grants
French Mandate for Syria and
Lebanon.
1922-1946: Jewish development and increased opportunities draw 100,000 Arab immigrants to British mandated
Palestine and Transjordan.
Jewish and Arab economies internet.
94 Hereafter “Palestine” will refer only to this remaining 20 percent –
not because this is historically accurate but because it become common usage.
484
1924-1928: More Jews immigrate to Palestine; purchase land
from Arab effendi
(landowners); develop land.
Two underground military
groups, Irgun and Stem, begin
campaigns against British and
later against Arab marauders.
British during North African
campaign in World War II.
Jews are restricted from fighting for British, who want an
equal number of Arabs;
30,000-man Jewish Brigade
fights in Italy and Germany.
Inter-Arab fighting for Arab
Palestinian leadership. Arab
leaders either murdered or terrorized to leave country. By
1939 victims exceed 3,000.
Arab attacks against Jews. Jews
defend Jewish communities but
do not retaliate against Arab
villages.
Arabs from neighboring countries infiltrate to attack Jews:
Arab uprisings against British
(1936-39). 800 Arab victims.
Peel Commission Report
(1937), recommends that
Palestine be partitioned into
Jewish, Arab, and British
zones.
Palestinian Arabs and most
Arab states (except Transjordan) reject Peel Commission Report; renew violence
against Jews. Demand end to
Jewish immigration and land
purchases.
Churchill's 1939 White Paper
sets immigration limits; forbids
sale of most Arab lands to
Jews.
White Paper promises Arabs
most of what they want; Higher Arab Committee rejects
White Paper. Arabs unite
against Jewish claims to
Palestine; violence reaches
level of open war.
Secret talks between Ben-Gurion and Arab leaders, Jews reject White Pa per because of
·need to offer asylum to Jews
fleeing Nazi persecution.
When Arab National Defense
Party tentatively accepts White
Paper for negotiation, a member of the party is slain by
Mufti terrorists. Arab leaders
in Lebanon, Syria, and
Palestine talk with Jewish leaders.
Palestinian Jews help supply
British has little support from
485
Arab world during World War
II. Defense of Egypt in British
hands
Arab politics and infighting
continue to follow tribal structures.
UN votes for partition plan that 1945 to
will create a Jewish state:
1948
5,500 sq. mi. to include
538,000 Jews and 397,000 Arabs.
UN votes for partition plan that
will create a Palestinian state:
4,500 sq. mi. to include
804,000 Arabs and 10,000
Jews.
Jews accept plan; prepare to set
up new government and to defend country against Arab attacks.
Arab world rejects plan; prepares for war against new Jewish state. No plans begun for
Palestinian government.
Britain expects Jews to lose
war.
Britain refuses to cooperate
with partition plan.
British financial moves nearly
bankrupt the new state (while
aiding the Supreme Moslem
Council).
Strict embargo on Jews entering Palestine and weapons acquisition.
Britain continues to sell arms
to Arabs. Leaves office buildings and military posts to Arabs as British Mandate ends.
Arab leaders leave Palestine,
causing collapse of political institutions and mass exodus of
Arabs. 175,000 flee during last
week of British Mandate.
Jews give up passive defense;
go on offensive with inadequate manpower and
weapons.
Arabs destroy Jewish military
positions in area allotted to
Jews in partition plan.
486
U.S. asks Jews to delay announcing new state 'Jews reject
request.
Arabs control half of Jerusalem, high ground, road networks, vital stretches of highway from coast. Outnumber
Jews in manpower, quantity
and quality of weapons.
Jewish underground force attacks village of Deir Yassin;
kills Arab inhabitants. Jewish
government arrests men responsible.
Arabs attack doctors and
nurses on road to Hadassah
Hospital; 77 out of 105 people
killed.
The War of Independence (1948):
Britain pulls out. Ben-Gurion
announces establishment of
State of Israel. Calls for development of Mideast and cooperation from Arab states.
Arabs reject new state: Six
Arab nations – Syria, Jordan,
Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, and
Saudi Arabia – invade Israel.
Outnumber Jews 40 to 1.
Arab states invade Israel. Israel
loses Old Jerusalem. Full-scale
fighting erupts immediately.
250,000 Arabs flee. Jews fight
on all fronts. UN does not oppose invasion. Encourages Arabs to leave. 100,000 more do
so.
First truce: violated by Arabs
and Jews. Arabs gain 30 percent of land allotted to Israel in
Partition Plan.
Jews say Arab leaders encouraged Arabs to leave, thus creating refugee problem. 156,000
Arabs remain in Israel after end
of war.
Arabs say Jewish leaders encouraged Arabs to leave, thus
creating refugee problem.
Israel defeats Arab armies;
series of armistice agreements
signed. 6,000 dead, 30,000
wounded, $500 million cost.
Willing to discuss peace negotiations.
Arabs disregard armistice
agreements; reject peace overtures. Demand Israel return to
prewar borders. UN Security
Council supports Arab demands. Gaza taken over by
Egyptian administration; Transjordan renamed Jordan, annexes West Bank despite
protests of most of Arab
League. Refugee camps set up
in both areas.
After War of Independence:
Arabs entitled to full citizenship; 3 Arab members in first
Knesset (1949).
1949 to
1953
Arab movements restricted in
border areas. Arabs are not required to serve in Israeli military to avoid fighting fellow Arabs; their national and cultural
loyalties remain tied to Arab
world.
Israel rejects UN vote to internationalize Jerusalem. Israel
guarantees religious freedom
for all; Arab mosques under
Arab control; Christian buildings under Christian control.
Jordan ignores armistice provisions. Refuses to allow Jews
into West Bank, East Jerusalem, and to the Wailing Wall,
considered the holiest place in
Judaism. In East Jerusalem,
Jordan expels all Jews, desecrates and destroys most Jewish
cemeteries, uses headstones to
pave streets, and destroys sacred places and all houses of
worship.
Second truce: violated by Jews
and Arabs. Israel regains lost
territory plus additional land.
Controls 73 percent of
Palestine.
487
488
1949 Armistice Agreement
guarantees free access to international waterways.
Egypt restricts Israel's right to
passage through Suez Canal
and Strait of Tiran.95
Israel retaliates vigorously. Security Council condemns Israel
for retaliating.
states Syria violated armistice
108 times in 1955.
Israel protests to UN about restriction. UN resolution confirms right to use of waterways.
Egypt ignores UN resolution.
Security Council takes no action.
Britain refuses to sell arms to Israel; France eventually agrees to
do so.
Britain, Soviet Union, and
Czechoslovakia sell arms to
Egypt.
Arab economic boycott of Israel. Penalties applied to companies in Europe, United
States, and elsewhere for trading with Israel.
West Bank and Israeli borders
not clearly delineated.
Jews take over property of Arabs who fled; Israel absorbs
400,000 Jews who flee or were
expelled from Arab lands. Israel agrees to allow return of
Arabs with wives and children
left in Israel.
Arab countries force Jews to
leave; confiscate property and
wealth of 467,000 Jews,
400,000 of whom go to Israel.
Israel willing to discuss return
of refugees who fled if Arabs
will discuss meaningful peace.
Will contemplate taking back
as many as 100,000 Arabs.
Arabs insist refugee problem
be solved before they discuss
peace. UN sets up UNRWA
(United Nations Relief and
Works Agency for Palestine
refugees in the Near East) to
assist and train refugees and
develop relocation projects;
but Arab countries will not allow them to leave the camps.
Continued violations of 1949
armistice. Egypt blockades
Strait of Tiran against Israeli
shipping.
Israeli forces join British and
French and capture Egyptian
bases in Gaza and Sinai. UN demands Israel withdraw unconditionally
Egypt nationalizes Suez Canal.
British and French attack
Egypt in effort to regain Sues
Canal.
Israel gets international assurance of guaranteed shipping
rights through Strait of Tiran.
Returns Sinai to Egypt under
pressure.
Egypt promises to cease attacks and maritime blockades.
Promises not kept.
Retaliating raids against
Palestinian terrorist attacks.
1958 to
1962
Terrorist attacks by Palestinian
forces against Israel from Lebanese territory draw Lebanon
into conflict with Israel.
1964
PLO established. Fatah's first
raid into Israel in 1965. PLO
becomes central feature of
Middle East.
Jordan and Egypt sign a mutual defense pact before Six Day
War.
Suez-Sinai Crisis:
Over 1300 Israelis killed or
1953 to
wounded in guerrilla activities
1957
organized and assisted by Jordan
and Syria. Ignored by the world,
Fedayeen raids into Israel
from Egypt under Egyptian
army control. U.S. Mixed
Armistice Commission report
Six Day War:
June 5,
1967
95 In 1888, the maritime powers had signed a resolution that the Suez
Canal should be an open shipping route to all in war and peace,
which it remained until 1956.
489
490
Egypt orders UN to remove
peacekeeping force; closes
Strait of Tiran to Israeli shipping.
Israel takes preemptive strike
against Egyptian air force on
ground. Israel condemned by
UN.
Egyptian air force effectively
destroyed.
Egypt moves massive forces
through Sinai toward Israel.
Jordan, Syrian, and Iraqi aircraft attack Israel.
UN declares cease-fire; Israel
does not observe it. Israel defeats Arab armies on three
fronts; extends administration
to West Bank, Gaza, Sinai, and
the Golan Heights. Jerusalem
united as Israel's capital.
Arabs do not observe a ceasefire.
UN condemns Israeli annexation of Jerusalem; passes Resolution 242. 96 Not accepted by Israel until three years later.
Egypt and Jordan accept Resolution 242.
UN Security Council ·resolution calls for permanent peace
settlement in Middle East. Arabs still refuse ·to talk to Israelis and continue to finance
terrorists. Heads of Arab states
in Khartoum ·adopt resolution
of Three No's": no recognition,
no negotiation, no peace with
Israel.
After Six Day War:
UN Jarring Mission (1967):
Arabs turn down Jarring sug-
96 Resolution 242 insists on "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of
territory by war ... need to work for peace ... withdrawal of Israeli
armed forces from territories occupied ... sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State ... freedom of navigation through international waterways ... just settlement of refugee
problem ... and a UN Special Representative to visit Middle East to
promote ... a peaceful and accepted settlement."
491
suggests talks between Arabs
and Jews
gestions. Hussein of Jordan
prepared to negotiate, but fear
of overthrow or assassination
prevents cooperation with Israel.
Israel develops relations with
Arabs in territories; establishes
departments for agriculture,
education, mail, telegraph, commerce, and industry with local
residents. Encourages investment in local industry and subcontracts work to West Bank
Arabs.
First Palestinian administration
in area.
No local industry or government offices in the West Bank
under Jordan.
Government begins settlement
activity in Bethlehem-Hebron
area and plans for kibbutzim on
the Golan Heights.
Open Door Policy allows trade
and travel between Israel and
Jordan. Egypt denies citizenship or employment to Arabs
in Gaza; approximately 50 percent unemployed under
Egyptian rule.
War of Attrition:
4,000 casualties since Six Day
War from guerrilla attacks and
artillery shelling.
1968 to
1970
Israel objects to SAM missiles in
Egypt aimed at Israel. U.S. sup-
492
Egypt launches War of Attrition; almost daily artillery barrages across Suez Canal. Soviet
SAM missiles placed along
canal facing Israel. Soviet advisers in Egypt.
plies Israel with Phantom Jets to
counteract Russian strength in
Middle East
1969 to
1971
Jordan convulsed by Palestinian
guerrilla movements. Syria aids
PLO in effort to overthrow
King Hussein. Jordan's army
eliminates guerrilla movement
from Jordan.
PLO moves its operations to
Lebanon. Syria breaks relations
with Jordan. Jordan expels
150,000 Palestinians and their
families.
U.S. emissary Henry Kissinger
asks Israel to act as buffer
between Jordan and Syria. Israel
saves Jordan from Syrian invasion.
Arab states continue to subsidize PLO. Arafat invited to attend meetings of Arab leaders.
Lebanon too weak to prevent
PLO terrorism against Lebanese
and Israel.
Bazooka attack by PLO on Israeli school bus. Israeli armored
units ·retaliate by "mopping up"
terrorist bases in Tyre and Sidon
in Lebanon.
Yom Kippur War:
October
493
Surprise attack on two fronts by
Egypt and. Syria.
Security Council meets but
does nothing. Arabs satisfied
with inaction, believing time to
be against Israel.
Sadat's generals assure him
situation is "not serious." This
major error helps Israel. Egyptian Third Army trapped.
Israeli poll (November 1974) in- 1974 to
1976
dicates 75 percent of Israelis
would return all or nearly all
land acquired in Six Day War for
peace with Arabs.97
Arabs still will not discuss
peace.
Israelis want bilateral and direct
negotiations in any talks.
Arabs demand indirect and collective negotiations in any
talks.
UN General Assembly adopts
Syrian-initiated resolution declaring PLO sole representative
of the Palestinian people.
PLO fires Katyusha rockets into
Israel.
450,000 Arabs living in Israel.
Social and medical care keep
death rate and infant mortality
low. Social benefits equal for
Arab and Jewish 'workers. Per
capita income for Arabs rises 80
percent from 1967 to 1973; no
Arab violence in territories at
this time.
U.S. advises Israel not to pree-
mpt Arab attack. Despite heavy
6, 1973
losses from Egyptian SAM missiles, Israeli troops eventually
cross Suez Canal, trapping Egyptian Army.
PLO breaks into Israeli homes,
kills 41 including women and
children; seizes school, kills 20
children, and wounds 70. Bombs
planted in hotel and Jerusalem
marketplace, killing 39 and injuring 114. Israel retaliates
against PLO bases hidden in
refugee camps in Lebanon.
Palestinian guerrillas kill scores
of civilians in northern Israel.
Israel aids Christian forces in Lebanon's civil war; sets up buffer
zone (security zone) in southern
Lebanon to protect northern Is-
Civil War in Lebanon. Syria
sends 30:000 troops. 60,000
Lebanese killed. Syria first supports the PLO, then, to main-
97 Israel Institute of Social Research, November 22-23, 1974.
494
rael. Medical tent set up at northern Israeli border for Lebanese
citizens.
tain balance of power, fights
them.
Israel rescues hostages from Entebbe.
Air-France airline hijacked,
forced to land in Uganda. 103
Israeli passengers held as hostages in Entebbe, Uganda.
Likud Party defeats Labor Party
(1977).Prime Minister Menachem Begin claims West Bank
for Israel as Judea and Samaria;
believes concessions by Israel
lead only to more demands from
Arabs.
1977 to
1981
President Carter helps negotiate
peace treaty between Israel and
Egypt at Camp David in the U.S.
Israel continues to protect its
northern border with military
force.
Syria installs Soviet surface-toair missiles facing Israel; refuses to dismantle them.
Israel threatens to destroy Syrian
missiles.
Sadat offers to come to Israel to
negotiate land for peace with
Begin. Egypt gets all of the
Sinai (captured in 1967) back
in peace treaty. Jewish settlements in Sinai dismantled.
Israel offers to discuss autonomy
for Palestinians.
continue.
Arab states expel Egypt from
Arab League; reject any peace
overtures.
Israel destroys atomic reactor in 1981
Iraq.
Sadat assassinated by Muslim
fundamentalists.
Israel rejects Saudi suggestion;
no talk of peace.
Saudi Arabia suggests peace
plan same as original UN Partition Plan of 1940s: Israel to
withdraw to pre-1967 borders;
Palestinian state in West Bank
and Gaza; East Jerusalem Arab
capital
Israel adds new settlements in
West Bank. Leads to increased
violence against Jews.
1982
115,000 Jews live in occupied
territories in 142 settlements
among 1.6 million Palestinians.
Israel continues to respond to
terrorist acts by bombing bases
and hideouts of terrorists and
searching out terrorist leaders.
Arab world continues to subsidize terrorism against Israel. Interna