Rome and Jerusalem/Sixth Letter

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Sixth Letter[edit]

The noble representatives of the German spirit-Patriotic Jews-The historian Graetz-Mercier's Essai sur la Litterature Juive-Autumn and Spring equinoxes of universal history and its storms-Sabbatai Zevi Chasidim-Natural and historical religion-The Jewish Mother-Victor Hugo-Boerne, Baruch, Itzig.

You think my judgment in regard to the relation of the Germans to our brethren, as well as of the progressive German Jews to the Jewish people, too severe and dogmatic. You say that there are many noble spirits among the Germans who have banished from their hearts every trace of race prejudice and are permeated with the spirit of justice and humanity. And as for the progressive Jews, you think that many of them have always displayed a fine spirit of self-sacrifice when the honor of their religion or the welfare of their brethren called for -it; and that those noble spirits came principally from the ranks of those who distinguished themselves in the field of science, or commerce, or industry, and thus acquired high positions in society. To these just strictures I willingly subscribe, for I admit that my judgment was too general in its character, and it can only be justified by the fact that it was written under the influence of the Damascus affair. To-day I would hesitate very much before subscribing to it. It cannot enter my mind, at present, to deny the Teutonic race, and especially the German people, whose mental power I esteem so highly, the ability to rise, by means of progress, above race prejudice. The German spirit has other representatives than patriotic Romanticists and philosophic book-dealers. A nation that produced men like Lessing, Herder, Schiller, Hegel, Humboldt and many more champions of humanity, must certainly possess the ability to rise to the heights of spirituality and idealism.

It occurs to me, in connection with what was said before, to relate a story, which will demonstrate the ability of the German spirit to overcome race prejudice. It was told to me by Ludwig Wihl. You have certainly heard of Hecker, who played such an important role in the political affairs of Baden in the forties, and even as late as the famous revolutionary year, 1848. A pure German.' of noblest birth, he began to attract attention in Baden by his much-heralded liberalism, immediately after the year of the Damascus affair. But do you know against which of the "hereditary enemies" this knight of German liberalism directed his attacks? Against the French, you will say? No, this hereditary enemy was rather harmless at the time, and under the leadership of Guizot and Louis Philippe. Was it against the Russians? Not against them. The hereditary enemy, in the attack against which Hecker won his spurs, was none other than the terrible and mighty people, the Jews. Hecker published a series of anonymous articles in the Frankfurter Journal against the emancipation of the Jews. A few years afterward it was this same Hecker who addressed a memorial, on behalf of Baden, to the Berlin Landtag of the Confederacy, favoring the emancipation of the Jews. And when people reproached him for his former opposition to the Jews, he openly confessed, that for a long time he had been unable to overcome his antipathy to the Jews, but that finally the principle of justice and humanity had triumphed in him.

The democrats of 1848 undoubtedly fully demonstrated their superiority over the demagogues of the "War of Liberation," the Romantic lads of the Jahn and Arndt type, whom they left far behind on the road of progress. And yet, on the basis of my long experience, I feel inclined to assert that Germany as a whole, in spite of its collective intellectuality, is in its practical social life far behind the rest of the civilized nations of Europe. The race war must first be fought out and definitely settled before social and humane ideas become part and parcel of the German people, as was the case with the Romance peoples which, after a long historical process, finally defeated race antagonism.

Willing as I am to correct my judgment in regard to German Anti-Semitism, I am still more willing to alter my former opinion, in accordance with your strictures, of our progressive Occidental Jews, and especially those of Germany. Of late there is to be observed in Judaism a wholesome spirit of reaction against the once dominating tendency of cosmopolitan philanthropy, that vague form of humanity which, as Jean Jacques Rousseau aptly remarked, professes to love men in general, so as not to be burdened with the immediate duties of benevolence to the individual. Signs of endeavor to introduce into Judaism a more healthy and natural spirit, I notice everywhere: in America, where new Jewish communities are founded and synagogues built every year; in France, where an attempt was made to found an Alliance Israelite Universelle, which may become an important factor in Jewish life, provided it be animated by a thorough Jewish national spirit; in the German and French literatures, where writers like Kompert, Strauben, Weill and Bernstein have portrayed Jewish life faithfully and beautifully, and with no small measure of success. But most of all is this tendency to regeneration prominent in the literature devoted to the science of Judaism, which, since the publication of the epoch-making History of the Jews, by Graetz, has developed such force that it will soon be able to overcome the nebulous Christianizing spiritualism of the assimilators.

Still earlier, Gabriel Riesser, one of our most progressive German Jews, had the courage to name his magazine, devoted to the interests of our political and civil rights, The Jew Dr. Ludwig Philipson, also, did not hesitate to call his spiritual child by .the name Israel. Again, among the lyric poets, we have Ludwig Wihl who uses his muse to sing of the great memories of our immortal nation. It is certainly a sign of the times that Ludwig Wihl's Westostliche Schwalben, which for the last fifteen years hardly made any impression in Germany, was recently translated into French, with an introduction which attracted the attention of the French press to the Jewish people. Pierre Mercier, the French translator of the Schwalben in his Essai sur la Litterature Juive, an essay on Jewish Literature, expresses his opinion of this literature in a way which I cannot fully endorse. He views Judaism in the same way that Jesus did, namely, from the narrow and one-sided point of view of spiritualism. Yet his conception of the spirit that dominates the Torah is, in spite of its defects, vastly superior in its depth of historical understanding and broadness of sympathy with the Jewish genius, to those of the German historians who carry their Jew-hatred even to the Bible.

More interesting is his judgment of modern Jewish literature, which he considers an antidote against the modern decadent romantic literature. But he errs when he thinks that the wholesome source of this modern Jewish literature is Jewish spiritualization. Jewish life was never wholly spiritualized. Even the Essenes, who flourished among the Jews at the time of the birth of Christianity and to whom Christianity owes its origin, were not a thoroughly spiritualistic sect, and not even the primitive Christians can be considered as such. When the Essenic sect finally did become spiritualized through Christianity, it severed its relations with Judaism, and not even a trace of it can be found. Almost every. important point of departure in the history of the development of the great historical nations was accompanied by movements within that nation which is the bearer and creator of historical religion. The passing from antiquity into the Middle Ages, this autumn equinox of humanity, was heralded by great and stormy disturbances within Judaism which gave rise to Christianity, on the one hand, and to those sects within the pale of Judaism itself, on the other. But the sects were not of an enduring character; as soon as the crisis passed, they disappeared without leaving any traces behind. Also to-day, during the spring equinox of humanity, will the glorious future to which we strive be heralded by movements in Judaism. And although the world has not taken any cognizance of these stirrings in Judaism as yet, they are not therefore of less value than those that took place at the transition period from antiquity to the Middle Ages. Already at the beginning of the modern period, a Messianic movement, such 'as never occurred since the destruction of the Jewish State at the time of Bar Kochba, took hold of Eastern as well as Occidental Jews, a movement the false prophet of which was Sabbatai Zevi, but whose true prophet was Spinoza. Our modern Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes, also I mean the reformers, the rabbinists and the Chasidim will disappear from Jewish history after the crisis has passed, the last crisis in universal history, when all ,the nations, and with them the Jewish people, will have awakened to a new life. Judaism does not allow either spiritualistic or materialistic sects to exist in its midst. Jewish life, like its divine ideal and goal, is undivided, and it is this Monism of Jewish life which acts as an antidote against modern materialism, which is only the reverse side of Christian spiritualism. I do not speak here of philosophical systems or of religious dogmas, or of life conceptions, but of life itself. Life is a product of the mental activity of the race, which forms its social institutions according to its inborn instincts and typical inclinations. Out of this primitive life-forming source springs later the life-view of a race, which in its turn influences life or rather modifies it, but is never able to alter essentially the primal type which continually reappears and takes the ascendancy.

It was the German race that endowed the Christian world with the double aspect of spiritualism and materialism. The author of the Essai sur la Litterature juive is right when he says that we are exceedingly generous in giving the entire credit for the modern love mania to Christianity. It is rather due to the medieval feeling of chivalry. The circumstances which produced this romantic sentimentality arose, not from the influence of Christianity alone, but from the combination of Christianity with old Germanic traditions. Without the contribution of the race genius of the Northern peoples, Christianity would have never occupied that position in universal history which it has occupied for centuries. Had it not been for those brave adventurers, the Teutonic knights of the Middle Ages, whose personal life oscillated between the two opposite poles of gross sensualism and the most abstract mysticism, Christian dualism would never have succeeded in impressing modern life so thoroughly and deeply. Thus it is not theory that forms life, but race; and likewise, it is not doctrine that made the Biblical-patriarchal life, which is the source of Jewish cult, but it is the patriarchal life of the Jewish ancestors that is the creative basis of the religion of the Bible, which is nothing else but a national historical cult developed out of family traditions.

Before the appearance of the Germanic races, there were only two forms of religion, the natural and the historical. The first found its typical expression in Greece, the second in Judaea. Just as the Greek cult had brought to light the perfection and charm of Nature, so Judaism revealed to us the force of the divine law in history. With the entrance of the Germanic race, both natural and historical religion lost their hold over the human mind and their influence was replaced by an apotheosis of the individual. Christianity found among the Northern races a natural inclination for that which in Christianity itself was only a result of the decay of the ancient nationalities, namely, that view of life which sees neither in Nature nor in history the unified divine life, but only the isolated existence of the individual.

As long as the Germanic race dominates Europe, there can be no development of national life. The "religion of love," separated from natural and historical life, had only the salvation of the individual soul in view. The apotheosis of the individual terminated finally in a sentimental, feminine cult, which even to the present day possesses great attraction for our romantic Jews and inspires in them a sympathy for Christianity.

"Love," says Mercier, "was glorified and extolled, in all forms, as the noblest aim in life. The virtue of women, and even their vice, assumed an undue and all too important place in life, so that woman herself came to believe that the fate of the world depends upon her fidelity or infidelity. She therefore shared the fate of all those whom fortune has fondled too excessively, namely through undue flattery she became corrupted. And so it happened that love absorbed all social forces, all family tradition, and finally dissolved itself into sentimentality.

The Jews alone had the good sense to subordinate sexual to maternal love, Alexander Weill puts the following words in the mouth of a Jewish mother: "Should a true Jewish mother care for love? Love is a wicked form of idolatry. A Jewess must love only her God, her parents and her children. ..." The little old grandmother in Komper't's story says: "God cannot be present everywhere at the same time; He therefore created the mother..." Maternal love is represented in the Jewish novel as the basis of family life, as its passion and mystery. It is .the same type of the Jewish mother which is repeated in all Jewish novels. There rises before me the picture of the Jewish mother, her face serene but pale, a melancholy smile plays around her lips and her deep, penetrating eye seems to gaze toward the distant future."

When you read these words of Mercier, you will certainly be reminded of your own mother, to whom this description aptly applies. There arose before me, also, on reading this description of the Jewish mother, the image of my own mother, whose features I still remember. I lost her in my youth at the age of fourteen, but till recently she appeared to me almost every night in my dreams, and I remember her words, as if they were uttered but yesterday, which she spoke to me when she visited me in Bonn. We were already in bed and had just finished the evening prayer. Then, speaking in an animated voice, she began: "Listen, my child, you must study diligently. Mohrich was one of my ancestors, and you are fortunate that you are studying under your grandfather. It is written that 'when grandfather and grandchild study the Torah together, the study of the divine Law will never more forsake the family, but will be handed down from generation to generation.'" The words of my mother must have impressed me deeply, for I still remember them distinctly, although I have never since heard nor read about the legend in regard to grandfather and grandchild.

Thus the thought of his children constitutes the central point around which the life and love of the Jew moves. Love is too strong an emotion in the Jewish heart, too Vast, to spend itself in sexual attraction and not embrace in its depth the generations of the future. And because of the fact that the eye of Jewish love is turned toward the future, the Jewish people has produced so many holy seers. A childless union is nowhere so much deplored as among the Jews. According to the rabbis, a childess man is like unto the dead. Only the Jews could heartily join the great French poet, Victor Hugo, in his prayer:

Preserve my loved ones, Lord, I pray, My kith and kin,-my enemies spare, That never in the evil day Our summers may of flowers be bare, Our cages lacking trilling key, Our honeycombs devoid of bee, Or childless house to ever see.

I close with the above verses cited by Mercier, a subject which we discussed at some length, but in the interests of the national regeneration of our people, it must be constantly emphasized. If it is gratifying to see that inspired poets and writers champion the cause of our nationality, it is still more fortunate that the loyalty to a people, with whose help the oppressed nation will reawaken, was not unknown among the Jews. What would this people, I mean the French, think of us, when during the springtime of nations, the daybreak of the French Revolution, not a sound of loyalty and sympathy was heard in the midst of our nation? But thanks to the French translator of the Schwalben" the stain was removed from our name. Although neither Wihl nor the other Jewish writers and poets have expressed themselves for our own political regeneration, they have, at least, shown to the world that progressive Judaism also cherishes patriotic memories, and that through some stimulus this poetic and ideal patriotism may be converted into a strong and mighty force of action. And, therefore, I do not doubt, that from now on, progressive Jews will labor for the political regeneration of our people with the same energy that other Jews, in other times, have labored for the emancipation of the Jews in the lands of exile. The springtime of nations which is about to merge into the fruit-ripening Summer, will not pass without leaving a lasting impression upon our Occidentat brethren. Among the Jews, also, Spring will quietly fructify the buds, and the bloom of a new life will suddenly surprise every beholder. The young Jewish generation, sensitive to every high and noble ideal, will enthusiastically join the Jewish national movement; and once the young branch turns its growing force in that direction, even the barren trunk will soon be covered with leaves and flowers that will be an ornament to Israel.

Till now, however, beloved friend, the barren wood preponderates in Occidental Judaism. Most of the German Jews, as soon as they come in contact with European civilization, begin to feel ashamed of their religion and descent. The Germans have so frequently and thoroughly demonstrated to us that our nationality is an obstacle to our "inner" emancipation, that we have finally come to believe it ourselves and, giving up our Jewish culture and denying our race, have made every effort to be deserving of the "blond" Germanism. Yet in spite of the excellent mathematicians among them, our Jewish Teutomaniacs, who bartered away their Judaism for State positions, grossly miscalculated their chances. It did not avail Meyerbeer that he painstakingly avoided the use of a Jewish theme as the subject of any of his operas; he did not escape, on that account, the hatred of the Germans. The old honest Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung seldom refrained, while mentioning his name, from remarking parenthetically, "Jacob Meyer Lippman Beer." The German patriot Boerne, likewise, did not gain much by changing his family name, Baruch, into that of Boerne. He admits it himself. "Whenever my enemies founder upon the rock of Borne," he writes, "they throw out, as an anchor of safety, the name Baruch." I have experienced it personally, not only with opponents, but even with my own party members. In personal controversy they always make use of the "Hep" weapon, and in Germany it is always effective. I have made it easy for them to wield their weapon by adopting my Old Testament name. Moses. I regret exceedingly that my name is not Itzig.