Rome and Jerusalem/Twelfth Letter

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Twelfth Letter[edit]

The beginning of the end-Solidarity of the Jews-Philanthropic illusions-The social animal kingdom-The nurses of progress-The faithful watchmen of the sacred sepulchre of Jewish nationality-The last catastrophe.

It seems that extracts from the French pamphlet which I quoted to you, have awakened in you new thoughts. You think that the Christian nations will certainly not object to the restoration of the Jewish State, for they will thereby rid their respective countries of a foreign population which is a thorn in their side. Not only Frenchmen, but Germans and Englishmen, have expressed themselves more than once in favor of the return of the Jews to Palestine. You quote an Englishman who endeavored to prove, by Biblical evidence, the ultimate return of the Jews to Palestine and simultaneously also the conversion of the Jews to Christianity. Another Englishman attempts to prove that the present English dynasty is directly descended from the house of David and that the stone which plays such an important role in the coronation of English kings is the same on which Jacob's head rested when he dreamt of the famous ladder. A third magnanimously offers all the English ships for the purpose of conveying to Palestine, free of charge, all the Jews who want to return there. These sentiments, however, seem to be, according to you, only a milder form of the desire, which in former ages expressed itself in frequent banishments of the Jews from Christian lands, for which mildness our people ought to be thankful. On the other hand, you see in such projects only a piece of folly which, in its final analysis, leads either to religious or secular insanity, and should not be taken into consideration. Such desires, moreover, if they come from pious Christians, would be opposed by all Jews. On the other hand, if pious Jews were the projectors, all Christians would object to the restoration; for as the latter would only consent to a return to Palestine on condition that the ancient sacrificial cult be reintroduced in the New Jerusalem, so would the former give its assistance to the plan, only on condition that we Jews would bring our national religion as a sacrifice to Christianity at the "Holy Sepulchre." And thus, you conclude, all the national aspirations of the Jews must inevitably founder on the rock of differences of opinion.

Now if rigid Christian dogma and inflexible Jewish orthodoxy could never be revived by the living current of history, they would certainly place an insurmountable obstacle to the realization of our patriotic aspirations. The thought of repossessing our ancient fatherland can, therefore, be taken under serious consideration, only when this rigidity of orthodox Jews and Christians alike, will have relaxed. And it is beginning to relax already, not only with the progressive elements, but even with pious Jews and Christians. Moreover, the Talmud, which is the corner-stone of modern Jewish orthodoxy, long ago counseled obedience to the dictates of life.

If Jewish Nationalism is a live movement, it will not be deterred by any doubts that may arise from devoting its energy toward obtaining political regeneration. Though the time "when the wolf shall dwell with the lamb" has not yet arrived, the ruling majority and the oppressed minority have both alike lost their wolfish appetite and sheepish patience. Religious toleration has become a more general article of creed than any other dogma. Besides, I always think, as I have already remarked, of the future cult of all regenerated nations as being different in form from the present religious cults, which have come down to us from a time when folk individualities were repressed. And finally I must emphasize it again, our future religious worship, like those of other nations, will not precede the regeneration but follow it. The main problem of the Jewish national movement is not of a religious nature but centers around one point, namely, on how to awaken the patriotic sentiments in the hearts of our progressive Jews, and how to liberate the Jewish masses, by means of this patriotism, from a spirit-deadening formalism. If we succeed in this beginning, then no matter how difficult the practical realization of our plan may be, the difficulties will be overcome by experience itself. It is only when we find that the Jewish heart is dead, that the Jews are no more capable of patriotic inspiration, that we shall have to despair of our hope which, as every great historical ideal, cannot be realized without a tremendous struggle.

The Jews have enough common sense, in spite of misunderstood enlightenment and orthodoxy, not to be misled by religious haziness and fanaticism which have no basis in the present life. But it is just this sober sense of reality that our race possesses in a high degree, which will finally win over those of our brethren, whether progressive or orthodox, who still possess a Jewish heart, to the national cause which has its roots deep in the practical soil of reality.

The objections of progressive Jews to the restoration of the Jewish State have their ultimate ground, not in that spiritual education which does not shrink from the difficulties lying in the path of a great work, nor calculates beforehand the amount of sacrifice required in the realization of the same, but they rest in the moral and intellectual narrow-mindedness which is unable to rise to a high humanitarian standpoint, from which one can view the depth of the misfortune of the people as well as the means of their salvation. The Jewish religion, thought Heine, and with him all the enlightened Jews, is more of a misfortune than a religion. But in vain do the progressive Jews persuade themselves that they can escape this misfortune through enlightenment or conversion. Every Jew is, whether he wishes it or not, solidly united with the entire nation; and only when the Jewish people will be freed from the burden which it has borne so heroically for thousands of years, will the burden of Judaism be removed from the shoulders of these progressive Jews, who will ultimately form only a small minority. We will all then carry the yoke of the "Kingdom of Heaven" until the end.

At the height of the movement of enlightenment, when everybody was intoxicated by it, people could be easily fascinated by the illusion that it is best for the entire Jewish people to surrender its national religion and devote itself to humanitarianism, a cult which, according to them, was destined to absorb Judaism as well as all individual life; To-day, even the most superficial rationalist cannot cherish such a philanthropic illusion. Though lacking a deeper conception of life, of Nature and history, the historical movement among our contemporary Jews has accomplished its purpose of opening the eyes of the rationalists; for even in the Occident, where the Jews are closely united to the general culture by a thousand bonds, the injury done to the ancient Jewish cult by enlightenment is slight.

Even to-day, the great majority of Occidental Jews pay homage to their ancient religion. Neither emancipation nor Christian proselytism, with its bait of material advantages, has succeeded in estranging the majority of Jews from their traditions. On the contrary, there have appeared of late, even among those who were formerly estranged from Judaism, men who display strong sympathies for the ancient Jewish mode of life. The leveling tendencies of the assimilationists have remained and will always remain without influence on those Jews who constitute the great Jewish masses.

The masses are never moved to progress by mere abstract conceptions; the springs of action lie far deeper than even the socialist revolutionaries think. With the Jews, more than with other nations which, though oppressed, yet live on their own soil, all political and social progress must necessarily be preceded by national independence. A common, native soil is a primary condition, if there is to be introduced among the Jews better and more progressive relations between Capital and Labor. The social man, just as the social plant and animal, needs for his growth and development a wide, free soil; without it, he sinks to the status of a parasite, which feeds at the expense of others. The parasitic way of existence has played an important role in the development of human history and is by no means restricted to the Jews. As long as science and industry were not sufficiently developed, the land in the possession of any nation was never large enough to maintain the entire population; and the nations were therefore forced, either to make war one upon the other and thus acquire slaves, or to divide their own population into ruling and serving classes. But this regime, which was based upon the exploitation of men, collapsed as soon as modern science and industry began to dominate the world.

The civilized nations are at present making preparations for a common exploitation of Nature. This will be carried on by means of labor based on scientific principles, all social parasites being excluded. They are preparing themselves for the new era through struggles for free national soils, by attempts at abolishing race and class rule, by endeavoring to organize an Association and by the cooperation of all the forces of production. In this Association, the antagonism between capitalistic speculation and productive labor, as well as the contrast between philosophic speculation and scientific work, will simultaneously disappear. I know well that the need of wholesome and just labor conditions, which should be based solely on the exploitation of Nature by man, is also strongly felt in Jewry. I know of the great efforts which are being exerted on the part of the Jews to train our younger generation as useful laborers. But I know also that the Jews in exile, at least the majority of them, cannot devote themselves successfully to productive labor; in the first place, because they lack the most necessary condition-an ancestral soil; and, secondly, because they cannot assimilate with the peoples among whom they live without at the same time denying their national religion and tradition. Those commendable efforts to improve the condition of Jewish labor will, therefore, while they indirectly cause the destruction of the Jewish cult, be as fruitless, on the whole, as the endeavors of the Reform movement, which leads directly to the same result. In exile, the Jewish people cannot be regenerated. Reform or philanthropy can only bring it to apostasy and to nothing else, but in this no reformer, not even a tyrant will ever succeed. The Jewish people will participate in the great historical movement of present-day humanity only when it will have its own fatherland. As long as the great Jewish masses remain in their low position, even the relatively few Jews who have surrendered their national traditions, in order to escape the fate of the Jewish people, will be more painfully affected by the position of the Jews than the masses, who feel themselves only unfortunate but not degraded. Hence, no Jew, whether orthodox or not, can conscientiously refrain from cooperating with the rest for the elevation of the entire Jewry. Every Jew, even the converted, should cling to the cause and labor for the regeneration of Israel.

If one appreciates fully the infinitely tragic role which the Jewish people has thus far played in history, he must also inevitably perceive the only way that will bring salvation to our misery. This solution is at present not as impractical as it may look at first sight. It is in accordance with the sympathies of the French people and with the interests of French politics, that after France's victorious armies shall have overthrown the modern Nebuchadnezzar, France will extend its, work of redemption also to the Jewish nation. It is to the interest of France to see that the road leading to India and China should be settled by a people which will be loyal to the cause of France to the end, in order that it may fulfill the historical mission which has fallen to it as a legacy from the great Revolution. But is there any other nation more adapted to carry out this mission than Israel, which was appointed for the same mission from the beginning of its history?

"Frenchmen and Jews!" I hear you exclaim. "If so, then the Christian German reactionaries were right in their denunciations of the Jews!" Yes, my dear friend, the animal instinct which scents the enemy in the distance is always infallible. Reaction has everywhere recognized its mortal enemy in those who stand midway between reaction and revolution and who act as the midwife of progress, the giant who is to smite reaction over its head. For it is a law of organic and social life history, that the mediate being whose existence is limited to the transition epoch, should pave the way from the imperfect to the more perfect and higher scales of life.

Frenchmen and Jews! It seems that in all things they were created for one another. They resemble one another in their humane and national aspirations, and differ only in such qualities as can only be complemented by another nation, but which are never united in one and the same people. The French people excel in alertness, in the humanistic and sympathetic quality to assimilate all elements; the Jews, on the other hand, possess more ethical seriousness than the French, and in meeting other types, the Jew will rather impress his stamp on his environment than be molded by it. The French can rule the world because they absorbed the best of the entire human race. The Jews can only be masters of their own flock, and with the holy fire which they have kindled in their own midst, they will warm and enlighten a world composed of heterogeneous elements, and thus prevent this world from disintegrating into its elements and relapsing into the chaos out of which it was raised once before by Judaism.

The generous help which France has extended to civilized peoples toward the restoration of their nationality, will be remembered longer by our nation than by any other. How easily will we come to an understanding with this humane French people about our religion and its sacred places in Palestine. But matters have not gone so far yet. The Jewish people must first show itself worthy of the regeneration of its historical cult; it must first feel the necessity of a national restoration if it would reach that point. Until then we need not think about building the Temple; we must win the heart of our brethren for the great work which will finally bring eternal glory to the Jewish nation and salvation to humanity.

For Jewish colonization on the road to India and China, there is no lack, either of Jewish laborers or of Jewish talent and capital. Let only the germ be planted under the protection of the European powers, and the tree of a new life will spring forth by itself and bear excellent fruit.

You smile at my innocent belief in Jewish patriotism. You have undoubtedly read the Ghetto Scenes and you will possibly remind me of the hero, Mendel Wilna, who possessed a fixed idea to persuade the Rothschilds to devote their capital and energy to the rebuilding of the Holy City and Temple, but who only succeeded in winning over a child to his pious belief. The child, when he grew up and attended the University became so wise that he concluded that only children and fools can dream of rebuilding Jerusalem. By quoting this episode, you wish to demonstrate that the Jewish poet did not see any deeper meaning in the patriotic feeling of pious Jews than considering them merely as a kind of Jewish Christmas trees, able to amuse only little children and elderly fools. All this, dearest friend, is true, but it applies only to the modern poet who is influenced by the Germanic spirit and not to a poet like Judah Halevi, who poured out his heart's blood in his Jewish poetry. Halevi, actuated by longing for the land of his dreams, grasped the pilgrim's staff, only to find a grave for himself in his beloved land. Nor does the poet's description characterize real Jewish life. You certainly remember the proverb: "'Children and fools tell the truth." The thought which inspired the nervous Mendel Wilna and little Moischele, has been the fundamental thought of all pious Jews from the time of the destruction of Jerusalem until the present day. And there are such Jews-let it not worry Mr. Kompert, even among the Rothschild brothers.

But you do not need to overlook the fact that Kompert puts the denial of Jewish nationality into the mouth of a student who, when doubting the regeneration of the Jewish people, only reflects the sceptical spirit of the age. What progressive Jew, especially in Germany, would have dared within recent years to declare himself for the restoration of our nation and face his own friends, who would undoubtedly have declared him mad? In addition, I wish to remark that Kompert bestowed upon the Jewish student, who is theoretically indifferent, but practically devoted to the Jewish nation,-not without purpose-a Bohemian friend who is theoretically inspired by the example of Huss and Zizka, but who becomes ultimately a well-to-do monk, and exchanges the cup and sword for the cross and incense bowl. I do not find, therefore, in Kompert's description of the progressive Jews, any more of that extreme indifference with which, until recently, a great part of German Jewry was charged. Today, as I have said, we cannot accuse them of it without reserve. Remember, dear friend, that I was you who criticized my severe judgment of the progressive German Jews, a criticism to which I must do justice now. I have adapted the wholesome reaction of Jewish patriotism and asserted it in the face of an extreme indifference which had its seat more in "fashion" and in the spirit of the age, than in the heard of the people; and finally it struck root. The longing for the land of our forefathers and the desire to return there which is so strongly displayed by our pious brethren, who even in our days visit the Holy Land in order to be buried there, has finally affected even the heart of our progressive Jews. The frequent journeys to Jerusalem, the support given to our brethren there, the help extended to the educational and charitable institutions in Palestine, all these do not come only from orthodox Jews. These earnest and lasting endeavors to help our brethren in the Orient show that do-day there is no lack of good will among all classes of Jews, to alleviate the misery of their brethren in the Holy Land. This will need only to ripen in the formation of a plan to carry out the great patriotic work.

In Jerusalem, as everywhere, our Jewish philanthropists are confronted with insurmountable difficulties whenever they wish to solve the historical misfortune of our brethren by means of charitable institutions and distributions of alms, or when they expect to introduce moral-spiritual progress among the Oriental Jews by means of theoretical educational doctrines, without any social bases. The acquisition of a common ancestral soil, the organization of the work on a legal basis, the founding of Jewish societies of agriculture, industry and commerce on the Mosaic, i.e., social principles, these are the foundations on which Oriental Jewry will rise again, and in its rise, will rekindle the glimmering fire of the old Jewish patriotism and light the way to a new life for the Jewry of the entire world. On the common ground of Jewish patriotism, all Jewish classes will meet, orthodox and progressive, rich and poor. They will recognize themselves as the descendants of those heroes who fought the mightiest and the most civilized nations of antiquity: the Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks, and Romans, and succeeded in carrying on their struggle to the very end of the ancient world, which they alone survived. They will look upon themselves as children of that race which, unlike any other people of history, has suffered a two thousand year martyrdom, and which has always carried aloft the banner of nationality, namely, the Book of the Law.

I will have to interrupt our correspondence for the present, in order to quote to you from a Hebrew work recently published by an extremely pious scholar. The author, after thoroughly discussion the question of Jewish Nationalism from a Talmudic point of view, arrives at the same results that the Christian Frenchman reached in his brochure A new Oriental Question, and to which I heartily subscribe in all detail. I will city to you a few lines from this work, as I have done in the case of the French pamphlet. The author closes his work with the following words:

Even if the time of Grace has not yet come, when we should think of erecting an altar to the Lord in Zion, even if we cannot expect to win the consent of the Sultan, the following proposal is still practical, especially at a time when under God's Providence, there have arisen in Israel a number of men who possess great political influence or rule, by virtue of their wealth, men like Montefiore, Albert Cohn, Rothschild, Fould, and others. These men are Jewish princes such as the Jewish people has not had since the dispersion. These should organize a Society for the colonization of Palestine, a Chebra Eretz Nosheveth. A large number of the rich and respected Jews of all parts of the world will undoubtedly join them. The program of the organization may include the following activities:

"a. First, it should raise a fund sufficient to buy as many towns, fields and vineyards in the Holy Land as possible. Let the desert turn into the Lebanon and the hilly places to fruit-bearing plains, and the desert shall again blossom like a lily and bring forth fruit like the field blessed by God. And thus, gradually, the Society will acquire hills, and dales, and fields, and villages, which it will in time rent out to the colonists."

"b. Jews from all parts of the world, and especially from Russia, Poland and Germany, should be brought over by the Society and be settled in Palestine. Those who are not practical farmers should be taught under the direction of experienced teachers, employed by the Company. But those who are acquainted with agriculture should be granted a tract of land free of rent for a time, until they are able to pay the company a fixed amount of rent. During the first years, the company should, in addition, make loans of money to the indigent farmers until such time as the land begins to yield its harvests.

"c. Thirdly, a police system must be established by this Society, to protect the colonists from the attacks of the Bedouins, and to maintain law and order in the land in general.

"d. Finally, there should be opened under the auspices of the Society an agricultural school where Jewish youths could receive an adequate preparation for the life of a Palestinian farmer. This school, in which also other sciences will be taught and a knowledge of the Jewish religion imparted, can be established either in Palestine or in any of the lands of the exile; but it must be located in a land where wine and oil and other fruits of the Holy Land are raised, so that the pupils of the school may be prepared to undertake agriculture in Palestine.

"God in his grace will then support us, and we will, though small in our beginning, continually grow and come more and more into the possession of the Holy Land, as the prophet foresaw. We, however, must make the beginning, as I have proved by numerous citations from Talmud and Midrash."

Thus far Rabbi Kalisher, of Thorn.

Was I not right when I praised the practical sense of our people to you and asserted that pious Jews will join hands with the enlightened on the common ground of Jewish Nationalism? From another source we are told, that last December a meeting was held in Australia, which was attended by many Christian and Jewish notables, and where resolutions similar in spirit to the conclusions arrived at by our Frenchman and the learned rabbi were proposed to a large assembly and unanimously adopted!

And thus not only Jews of different lands and different grades of education, but most Christian denominations and different peoples concur in the desire to restore our people to its national heritage. And the most remarkable thing about it is that they all agree on the same means to the end. If I still needed corroboration for the convictions arrived at after years of study and life experience, I should find it in the concurring opinions of different men and peoples, who having started from different points of view, have arrived at the same results. I already foresee the organization of the Society proposed by the pious Jewish patriot, and its ultimate settling of the Holy Land with Jewish colonists under the protection of the Western civilized nations. When the Jewish situation in Palestine is once for all adjusted under the protection of the law, and on the foundation of labor, there will arise in the Holy Land, as in Germany and other European countries, universities conducted by able scholars whose spirit will not conflict with but harmonize with the ancient Jewish national religion.

The faithful watchmen of the sacred grave of our nationality, in spite of their poverty, do not wish to accept help which may injure the ancient Jewish cult, and our Western philanthropists continue to complain that "you cannot do anything with these people." Indeed, the lack of system and the wrong plans of the philanthropists lead to no results; they bring only discord. But at least, do not blame those who would rather die in misery in the Holy Land than give up some precepts of their ancient religion. Blame your ignorance of the needs of Jewry, blame the spirit of the times, when you can show so little success in all your undertakings, whether in the Orient or the Occident.

The rigid crust of orthodox Jewry will melt when the spark of Jewish patriotism, now smoldering under it, is kindled into a sacred fire which will herald the coming of the spring and the resurrection of our nation to a new life. On the other hand, Occidental Judaism is surrounded by an almost undissolvable crust, composed of the dead residue of the first manifestation of the modern spirit, from the inorganic chalk deposit of an extinct rationalistic enlightenment. This crust will not be melted by the fire of Jewish patriotism; it can only be broken by an external pressure under the weight of which everything which has no future must give up its existence. In contradistinction to orthodoxy, which cannot be destroyed by an external force without at the same time endangering the embryo of Jewish Nationalism that slumbers within it, the hard covering that surrounds the hearts of our cultured Jews will be Shattered only by a blow from without, one that world events are already preparing; and which will probably fall in the near future. The old frame-work of European Society, battered so often by the storms of revolution, is cracking and groaning on all sides. It can no longer stand a storm. Those who stand between revolution and reaction, the mediators, who have an appointed purpose to push modern Society on its path of progress, will after society becomes strong and progressive, be swallowed up by it. The nurses of progress, who would undertake to teach the Creator himself wisdom, prudence and economy; those carriers of culture, the saviors of Society, the speculators in politics, philosophy and religion, will not survive the last storm. And along with the other nurses of progress our Jewish reformers will also close their ephemeral existence. On the other hand, the Jewish people, along with other historical nations will, after this last catastrophe, the approach of which is attested by unmistakable signs of the times, receive its full rights as a people.

"Remember the days of old,
Consider the years of many generations;
Ask thy father and he will tell thee,
Thy elders and they will inform thee,
When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance,
When he separated the sons of Adam,
He set the bounds of the peoples According to the number of the Children of Israel."

Just as after the last catastrophe of organic life, when the historical races came into the world's arena, there came their division into tribes, and the position and role of the latter was determined, so after the last catastrophe in social life, when the spirit of humanity shall have reached its maturity, will our people, with the other historical people, find its legitimate place in universal history.