top of page
< Back

An English Voice on the Emancipation of the Jews

Dr. Hartwig Hirschfeld

<plain_text><page sequence="1">AN ENGLISH VOICE ON THE EMANCIPATION OF THE JEWS. By Dr. HARTWIG HIRSCHFELD. (Paper read before the Jewish Historical Society of England, March 18, 1907.) For many years I have been interested in the history of the emancipa? tion of the Jews in the various European countries. Historians may find it more practical to treat the question of the emancipation of the Jews separately; but, as in other provinces of study, a comparative research must yield important results in more than one respect. It would especially throw a strong light on the character and constitu? tion of each nation where a Jewish question existed. If, e.g. the Jew Bill of 1753 had not been repealed, the position of the Jews in this country would have been better than that of the Jews in Prussia after the so-called emancipation in 1812, nay, even superior to that of the Christian citizens of the same state. For emancipated Jews in the British empire would have been citizens of a free country, enjoying parliamentary government, whilst in Prussia (as in the whole of Germany) Jews, even after the edict of 1812, remained the servants of an absolute monarch, all of whose subjects, especially those of the middle and lower classes, possessed either very limited rights or none at all. Now, had these conditions any influence on the final attitude of England 1 However great the agitation among the masses in this country was in favour of repealing the bill, it is open to question whether foreign forces were not at work to induce the Government to consent to the repeal. For it is improbable that foreign countries, and Prussia in particular, could be indifferent to a measure with such far-reaching results. Only in 1750, Frederick of Prussia (who boasted that in his State every one was allowed to find the road to heaven in his own fashion) issued an edict concerning 128</page><page sequence="2">AN ENGLISH VOICE ON THE EMANCIPATION OF THE JEWS. 129 the Jews which does little credit to the Philosopher King. At this time most cordial relations existed between Prussia and England, as the latter had assisted Prussia with men and money during the wars with Austria and France. If England had offered an ideal asylum to the Jews, without the restriction of an alien's bill in the modern sense, Prussia must naturally have feared a general emigration of her wealthiest Jewish subjects to England. However limited freedom was allowed to the Jews of that country, they were too valuable a source of income to a State which needed every groschen it could get, to be allowed to emigrate. The beginning of the Seven Years' War, which took place in 1756, arrested the progress of the Jewish question in the whole of Germany. For fully twenty-five years afterwards there is a remarkable void in the literature either in favour or against the admission of Jews to the rights of citizenship. It is all the more interesting that an English nobleman published the following anonymous pamphlet: Lettre ou reflexions tVun Milord ? son correspondant ? Paris, a Londres Van 1767. From the circumstance that the pamphlet was written in French and addressed to an imaginary friend abroad, we may conclude that its author did not confine his attention to his own country, but extended it also to others which harboured Jewish inhabitants. It was not the condi? tion of the Jews in England which had induced him to pen his words, but, as he says, an article in a Dutch journal which showed him the difficulties placed in the way of the emancipation of the Jews. Before quoting a few extracts from the letter, I must confess that they are not taken from the French original (for which I searched in vain in the Catalogues of the British Museum), but from a printed German translation in my possession. This only increases the import? ance of the pamphlet, as it testifies to its international character, as well as the weight attached to the arguments it advances. I have said before that the literature in the German language on the Jewish question is scant during the period when this pamphlet was written. Lessing had ventured the first hit at the Jew-baiters in the comedy, Die Juden, which was published in 1747. His Nathan der Weise did not appear till 1778; but, though these dramas impressed a few of the more enlightened, they had no effect in Government circles. It was in 1781 that Christian William Dohm, a high Prussian official, and an admirer of Mendelssohn, VOL. VI. I</page><page sequence="3">130 AN ENGLISH VOICE ON THE EMANCIPATION OF THE JEWS. published his famous treatise, Uaber die b?rgerliche Verbesserung der Juden. This work made such a sensation that two years afterwards a new edition became necessary. It struck the first telling blow at the founda? tions of intolerance, although the effect was slow in becoming apparent. It was not accidental that in October of the same year the Emperor Joseph II. of Austria issued his famous Toleranzedikt, which abolished the most humiliating regulations which had been invented both to degrade and despoil the Jews in his States. One must not, however, interpret the Toleranzedikt as a promulgation of absolute tolerance. It was only a guide how to tolerate the Jews of the country. There remained ample restrictions. To return to Dohm's book, it was a prolonged study of the history of the Jews that had convinced him that the degradation of the Jews was merely the outcome of a policy of withholding the rights of men and citizens from them. "[In Holland and] in England," he says,1 "the Jews, with the minimum of restrictions, enjoy the rights, not indeed of citizenship, but of man, and show themselves useful members of the State. In England even the Jews were, by Act of Parliament, declared worthy of naturalisation, which was an experiment both of humanity and politics, but which the mad resistance of the mob forced to be abandoned the year after." He showed that no other means of livelihood had been left to the Jews than trade, and even this was but the privilege of the wealthiest, whilst the vast majority was forced to earn a bare living by petty bartering and money lending.2 "Should many industrious and good citizens," he asks, "be less useful to the State, because they origi? nated from Asia, and were distinguished by wearing a beard, and a special traditional way of adoring the Supreme Being1?"3 It would be necessary to prove, he urges further, that their divine demands contradict the laws of justice and love of humanity, if one wished to justify the refusal to grant them the full rights of citizenship, whilst allowing them to enjoy those of man in a limited measure only. It is known that the Jewish religion contains no such doctrines. It is only the mob which, deeming it lawful to deceive a Jew, accuses him of finding in his laws the permission to deceive Gentiles. Dohm, then, discusses the position of the Jews in the various countries of Europe during the Middle Ages, 1 P. 76. 2 P. 9. P. 14.</page><page sequence="4">AN ENGLISH VOICE ON THE EMANCIPATION OF THE JEWS. 131 and the privileges granted to certain individuals by some rulers. He makes the following nine propositions: 1. To grant the Jews equal rights with all other subjects; 2. to remove the restrictions of occupation, notably handicraft ; 3. agriculture ; 4. to enforce the use of the German language in book-keeping; 5. to admit the Jews to art, science, and offices of state; 6. to admit their children to public schools ; 7. to cast off prejudice, and to treat the Jews as brother citizens; 8. to allow them full liberty in the performance of their religious needs, building of synagogues and appointment of teachers; 9. to give the rabbis the right of settling, in the first instance, petty quarrels between Jew and Jew. It is not difficult to discover the Jewish hand in all this. Indeed, the author was prompted by no other than Moses Mendelssohn. The latter had received from the Jews in Alsace a memorandum on their position and aspirations. He handed it over to Dohm, who published it as an appendix to his book. Mendelssohn himself had now an opportunity of entering the arena, not, indeed, as an independent champion of his brethren, but as Dohm's second. Even the weapon which he used was not a new one, but he chose a work famous in Anglo-Jewish history, viz. Menasseh b. Israel's Vzndicice Judceorum, of which he published a German translation (Berlin, 1782). Modestly he styled his book an appendix to Dohm's treatise; but he provided it with a lengthy introduction of "philosophical rather than polemical character. He acknowledges having discussed the subject with Dohm, whose intention, he says, was not to write an apology for Judaism or Jews, but to plead the cause of humanity. He points out the injustice to which the Jews had been exposed, and refutes the standard accusations, comments on various points in Dohm's book, and concludes with earnest admonitions to his brethren. If his attitude was not heroic, it was high-minded and dignified, and could not but impress the impartial reader. At all events these publications caused such a sensation that the year after (1783) a second and enlarged edition of Dohm's book appeared. In this he showed that the possession of civic right and landed property by Jews, far from being detrimental, would be of great advantage to the older citizens. The peculiarities of the Jewish doctrines would not prevent the Jews from attaining general education and adopting modern ideas. He challenges the statement that the Jews would be bad soldiers, and shows that the reasons advanced against allowing them to be agriculturists</page><page sequence="5">132 AN ENGLISH VOICE ON THE EMANCIPATION OF THE JEWS. and craftsmen were greatly exaggerated. Finally he shows that Eisen menger's ill-famed denunciation of the Jewish oath in dealing with Christians was an unmitigated libel. With these publications there opens a rich controversial literature which was not confined to Germany. Dohm's book was translated into French 1 and into English.2 A kind of bibliography relating to the subject is given in a special note to the eleventh volume of Graetz's Geschichte,2, but it is by no means complete. It is not my intention to entertain you with titles of books, but I will only mention one or two of these treatises. Dohm's labours were not entirely without effect. In 1787 a Prussian edict was promulgated which abolished several degrad? ing fees which the Jews had been obliged to pay, and ordained that Jewish householders and tradesmen should, after swearing allegiance to the king in the ordinary way, be regarded as Prussian subjects in the ordinary sense. Many others of the numerous petty States in Germany hastened to revise the paragraphs of their law-codes concerning the Jews. There is an interesting little book entitled Eticas ?ber die b?rgerliche Verfas? sung und Verbesserung der Juden, by Carl Georg v. Zangen,4 which gives a survey of all these regulations, which granted Jewish subjects little liberties instead of liberty, and only betray the stupid intolerance of the legislators. I cannot withstand the temptation to refer to another little book entitled Ideen ?ber die Behandlung der Juden in Deut seidand, by Martin Heinrich Friedrich Pilger.5 It is an eloquent plea for the cause of Jewish liberty. Beginning with a passionate indictment of religious fanaticism and its consequences, the little book gives a bird's-eye view of the oppres? sion of the Jews in the various epochs of history and its effect on the Jewish character. The prime cause of the hatred of the Jews, the author says, is a religious one, but is devoid of justification. One of the prin? cipal reasons of the Crusades, during which many Jews lost their lives, was greed of land and money. The author denounces Eisenmenger's repeated calumnies that the Jews poisoned wells and murdered Christian children.6 Eisenmenger's work, he says, is full of falsehoods. If he had to prove his accusations he would blush with shame, betray his black 1 Dessau, 1782. 2 London, 1784. 3 Pp. 414-1G. 4 Glessen, 1788. 5 Wezlar, 1791. 6 P. 72.</page><page sequence="6">AN ENGLISH VOICE ON THE EMANCIPATION OF THE JEWS. 133 gall and wickedness of heart, and be obliged to retract his nonsense.1 It is absurd to maintain that the Jewish law sanctions the cheating of the Gentile, or that the oath of a Jew when dealing with Christians is not binding.2 There is a large class of Jews, he concludes, who were driven out by their own sovereign lords because they were unable to pay the fees and tolls, and who, without a home, livelihood, or friend, were wandering about in poverty, hunger, and misery.3 One should, however, beware of forming an exaggerated idea of the number and influence of the champions of the Jewish cause, and their voice was drowned in the tumult of the French Revolution and the events connected therewith. The abolition of separate laws concerning the Jews, promulgated by the French National Convention in 1791, found no echo in Prussia, which, at that time, had sufficient troubles of its own. The same year (1803), which marks the beginning of the humiliation of that country by the cession of the left shore of the Rhine to France, saw the revival of an anti-Jewish literature which has no equal in virulence since the days of Eisenmenger. I will only mention the book of Christian Ludwig Paalzow,4 which, being written in Latin, is of academic rather than practical character. This work formed the fulcrum of several publications by the notorious Grattenauer, a Berlin lawyer, who was Eisenmenger's direct heir. His first booklet, bearing the title Against the Jews,5 appeared anonymously, and caused such a sensation that no less than five editions were published in the same year. It begins with a review of Paalzow's book, which the author calls a masterpiece, and of which he would like to see a German translation. According to Jewish doctrine, he says, perjury against a non-Jew or a converted Jew is not an unpardonable sin. His source is Eisenmenger, and so are the quotations, which the latter alleges were drawn from the Rabbinical writings, but which in reality show how he distorted things and how ignorant he was. The work was followed by an appendix with the author's full name, and adorned with the tasteful dedication to Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew, during his stay in Berlin. A supplement to these pamphlets appeared anonymously in the same year under the title, Can the Jews retain their Present Constitution with 1 P. 73. 2 Pp. 79-86. 3 P. 123. 4 De ciuitate Judieorum, Berlin, 1803. 5 Berlin, 1803. .</page><page sequence="7">134 AN ENGLISH VOICE ON THE EMANCIPATION OF THE JEWS. out Injury to the State ?1 The author not only repeated Grattenauer's accusations, but also suggested the removal, by violent means, of all possibility of the propagation of the Jewish race. There is no lower depth to which rabid hatred could sink than this. Now this brings us at last to our nobleman's letter. The German translator only gives his initial B . . ., without even disclosing his faith. There is, however, reason to believe that he was not a Jew. The transla? tion is preceded by an introduction, in which the writer states that he entered the lists for no other reason than to refute the false accusations of Grattenauer and his anonymous accomplice. His work is dedicated "to all well-meaning Christians who are lovers of truth and justice. Religion,"2 he says, "is a unity. The modifications it had to undergo are of no importance if the believer has a true notion of religion. In every religion there is a kind of obscurantism which limits man's liberty of thought. The predilection felt by most men for their particular religion produces prejudices. That is the reason why one religious sect indirectly assists in strengthening the other. It is therefore clear that each religion must have opponents who attack other religions and their followers. "The Jewish religion is the proof of this, because it has had to suffer innumerable attacks. No religious sect has had to endure so much hostility as Judaism. It has always been a stumbling-block to other religious sects without having given the slightest cause for this fact. The founder of Christianity did not wish this." He then quotes several passages from Mendelssohn's introduction to his translation of Menasseh b. Israel's Vindiciaz Judceorum. He praises Prussia as a country in which tolerance and humanity are leading prin? ciples. He regrets that just in the capital a fellow like Grattenauer should presume to write on the question ; a most obscure and ignorant person, who probably only allowed his name to be used for the work of some foolish compiler. The suggestions in his supplements are those of a madman, and are recommended to those who desire amusement. Im? partiality should be united to ingenuousness. Both are to be found in the pamphlet (of Mylord), and nothing further need be said in its recommendation. Written in January 1804. 1 K?nnen die Juden ohne Nachtheil f?r den Staat bei ihrer jetzigen Verfassung bleiben? Berlin, 1803. 2 P. ix. sqq.</page><page sequence="8">AN ENGLISH VOICE ON THE EMANCIPATION OF THE JEWS. 135 I will confine myself to a few extracts from the pamphlet, which is worthy of standing side by side with Dohm's essays. I have mentioned before that an article in a Dutch paper was the means of showing the author the extraordinary difficulties placed in the way of granting the Jews civic rights. He, thereupon, produced a copy of the petition of his own merchant countrymen, and found in it accusations without evidence; the desire to find crimes, but no crimes discovered; anecdotes without truth or probability; and, in fact, a medley of ridiculous fables wrought in times of darkness which ought not to have found expression in an enlightened century.1 He therefore deems it his duty to defend the Jewish nation which people are pleased to oppress and malign. He then proceeds to give a survey of the changes in the treatment of Jews in the various countries, and begins with France under Francis III. (1515-47), who permitted Portuguese Jews to settle in his country. His successor, Henry II., repeated the experiment in 1550, and the privileges thus granted were confirmed by Louis XIV. in 1658. I only mention these things, which can be found in modern works on the history of the Jews, in order to show that the author has taken the trouble to consult the original sources. For he quotes a collection of Letters Patent published in 1765. He lays stress on the fact that in a royal decree of 1722 they are called Jews, whereas the authors of the said petition maintained that they had been admitted only as Portuguese merchants and Neo-Christians. " How dares the author," he indignantly exclaims, "deny or ignore this fact."2 The author then gives an account of the promotion of individual Jews, astronomers and physicians, to high honours in the French dominions. Then follows a rapid survey of the fates of the Jews in Germany and the lands of the popes. He refutes the accusation of usury. God, who gave them their law, cannot have ordained such wickedness. If they take higher interest than is permitted by law, it is because they are compelled to do so. If they are excluded from all public offices and honours, art and professions, and from every other means of livelihood, but have to pay heavy taxes, they must have recourse to usury. "Give the Jews," he continues, "leave to carry on trade, to work 1 P. 2. 2 P. 11.</page><page sequence="9">136 AX ENGLISH VOICE ON THE EMANCIPATION OF THE JEWS. and to cultivate the arts, handicrafts, and sciences, you will see them employ these in righteousness and to the advantage of the State." 1 This is illustrated by a number of instances of famous Jewish astro? nomers, physicians, and even soldiers. Afterwards he shows how Jewish trade benefited the countries in which it was allowed. " The Jews in England," he says, " have not a little cause to rejoice in the gentle government and indulgence of the nation. They live in perfect liberty, carry on their trade without hindrance, and are left in quiet possession of their property. The wealthy among them are generous, not only towards the poor of their own people, but also towards Christians. Some of them distributed gifts in the districts of their estates in so modest a way that it would be a credit to the best Christians to imitate them."2 " Since the Jews have been received in these countries, the trade of England has increased by half, that of Holland by two-thirds." 3 "As for me," he concludes, "I have used my pen only for justice and sound reason. I wish that both should be victorious everywhere. The world will then be quieter and man happier." 4 Who was the author ? I must confess that all my endeavours to dis? cover his name have been in vain. The only clue he gives to his identity is the information that he had been a merchant, and had inherited the title from an elder brother. His signature is J.B.d.V.S. J.D.R. During my rummages through the peerages of England and Ireland during the eighteenth century I came across a good number of peers who inherited their titles from a brother, and whose creations date from and within fifteen to twenty years prior to the publication of this letter. Yet it would be most interesting to discover the true name of so free-minded a man in an age of prejudice. I must leave this, however, to some one who is better qualified to get at the sources. What effect did the publication of this pamphlet have in Germany ? None. The narrow-minded King of Prussia (Frederick William III.) never felt inclined to grant liberty to anybody, much less to the Jews of his State. All the better that they worked out their own salvation. History was the avenger. When Prussia's humiliation was complete, and Prussia's regiments were ordered to march under Bonaparte against 1 P. 37. a P. 51, 3 P. 60. 4 P. 62.</page><page sequence="10">AN ENGLISH VOICE ON THE EMANCIPATION OF THE JEWS. 137 Russia, the Prussian king published the famous edict of the 11th March 1812, which gave the Jews equal rights, at least on paper. It was not freely given, but under the compulsion of circumstances. My tale might have been much longer, but I fear that your patience is well-nigh exhausted. I will only mention that when, in the February of the following year, this very king issued in Berlin his famous proclamation To my people ! he was right glad to see Jewish volunteers flock to his standard against the French conqueror. The final rehabilitation of the Jews, at least in theory, did not take place till many years afterwards. But that is another story.</page></plain_text>

bottom of page