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The Wanderings of the Jews. Presidential Address

F. D. Mocatta

<plain_text><page sequence="1">THE JEWISH HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF ENGLAND. MR. F. D. MOCATTA'S PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS. THE WANDERINGS OF THE JEWS. On December 22, 1901, Mr. F. D. Mocatta delivered his Presidential Address before the Jewish Historical Society of England. The follow? ing is a summary of his remarks:? Mr. Mocatta, who took the wanderings of the Jews as the subject of his address, began by referring to the diffusion of the Jews prior to the destruction of Jerusalem. At that early date they had already scattered into the lands watered by the Tigris and Euphrates, as well as Persia and Arabia; large numbers had settled in Alexandria and other regions of Northern Africa; and others, following the track of Phoenician navigation and commerce, had taken up their abodes on the shores and islands of the Mediterranean, wandering as far from their home as Spain. In the Iberian Peninsular in later days, many congre? gations defended themselves from the onslaughts of the early Christians by asserting that their ancestors could by no means be accused of the death of Christ, since they had already been settled in Iberia before the era of the Crucifixion. The Jews very early abandoned the use of the Hebrew language as a vernacular. Its place was taken by Aramaic and other Semitic dialects in the Eastern Countries, by Greek, and VOL. V. A</page><page sequence="2">2 MR. F. D. MOCATTA'S PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS. in Italy by Latin. The neglect of Hebrew was, however, atoned for by a brilliant period of " renaissance," which lasted from the tenth to the fifteenth century, and which produced many classical compositions of the highest order. The tendency to assimilate the language of the surrounding populations continued through many centuries. After the Mohammedan conquest of North Africa and of Spain, Arabic became a very widespread idiom among the Jews. After Spain freed herself from the yoke of Islam, the Castilian was adopted. At the present day Arabic of the Barbary dialect is spoken by the Jews in a large part of Northern Africa, while along the coasts, both of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, Spanish is the usual Jewish language. Among the Greek islands modern Greek is the general idiom, except in Corfu, where Italian is the general vehicle. Turning to France, Mr. Mocatta pointed out that in the early middle ages the influence of the Jews of that country spread far beyond its limits, and in consequence French was the language spoken by the Jews equally on the banks of the Thames and the Rhine as on those of the Loire or the Seine. The bulk of the Jewish population, how? ever, drifted after a time into Central Europe. At the end of the eleventh century arose the remarkable movement of the Crusades. During the two centuries through which it lasted, the whole population of Central Europe was plunged into a state of intense religious excite? ment, which arrested the progress of civilisation and heightened the flames of religious persecution to fever-heat. In consequence the Jews suffered severely. The Jewish quarters were invaded, the inhabitants slaughtered, all debts due to them cancelled, and all papers relating to them destroyed. The tragedy of Clifford's Tower at York was repeated in many places in Germany and France. Edicts of expulsion followed. From France the Jews were driven in 1306, from England in 1290. Spain waited till 1492, and Portugal followed a very few years later. Vast numbers of the exiles found a hospitable reception in Turkey, where they still abound. During the first three centuries of the Christian Era, the persecution of the Jews does not appear to have been very violent. In the Roman Empire severe disabilities were imposed upon them, but as a rule they were not given over to massacre nor their lives made exceptionally miserable. The conversion of Con stantine to Christianity threatened, however, to render the condition of</page><page sequence="3">MR. F. D. MOCATTA'S PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS. 3 the Jews more difficult. The early fathers of the Church were anxious to accentuate the points of difference between Jews and Christians who had hitherto been often confounded. This became evident at the Council of Nice or Niesea, when a definite form of creed was drawn up and the Calendar altered to suit the requirements of the new Church. Nearly contemporaneous with this was the Council of Elvira, where the proceedings seem to have taken a more pronounced anti Judaic turn. This was also a time of extraordinary excitement caused by the discussions and disputations between Arius and Athanasius upon the doctrine and nature of the Trinity. The Arian doctrines were more in accord with those held by the Jews, but the Athanasian and the Catholic Church gained the day. The Arians were only suppressed after terrible massacres, and the Jews partook of their misfortunes. The Christian Church became a prey to fresh heresies, and Council that followed Council were all agreed in denouncing the Jews and seeking, by rendering their lives impossible, to bring about a general apostasy. The rise of Mohammedanism, however, early in the seventh century brought about a remarkable change. All Christendom, whether in Europe, in the East, or in Northern Africa, seemed to tremble and recoil before the impetuous followers of Islam, who only met with a check before Tours in France in 732. For the Jews the first few generations of Mohammedans announced a persecuting tendency of a very serious type, but in little more than a century a happier state of things set in. The several centuries during which the Moors were dominant in the Peninsula were a period of relief and freedom from persecution, which stands out in bright relief from the dismal picture of suffering and ill treatment which was their constant lot. After the expulsion of the Moors, the Jews suffered grievously. In France, persecu? tions succeeded each other in all parts of the country. The States of which Italy and Germany were made up adopted a less general action, but at different periods followed in expelling the Jews from their dominions. This vast outflow rendered it necessary for the unfortunate Hebrews to find other settlements, where they were exposed to less danger and where they might hope to live without any decided persecu? tion. Such a region presented itself in Poland, over which in the middle of the fourteenth century there reigned Casimir the Great, a wise Prince who sought to spread commercial enterprise in his rather backward</page><page sequence="4">4 MR. F. D. MOCATTA'S PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS. country. In his country the Jews soon obtained a very important position, placed as they were between a proud military aristocracy and an ignorant peasantry. In course of time they pushed on into the neighbouring states, many of which are now absorbed into Austria and Southern Russia. That was the cause of five or six million Jews, almost surrounded by a Slav population, still using as their vernacular a peculiar and corrupt German dialect?J?disch-Deutsch?to which they have clung with extreme pertinacity. From the sixteenth century, except in the countries where the In? quisition held its own, the active persecution of the Jews may be said to have come to a close. Now, at last, in all countries, with two exceptions, exist full liberty and equality before the law. It is left for Russia and Roumania to play the part of oppressors and persecutors for conscience' sake, a sad revival of a shameful past. Disgraceful, however, and lower? ing to civilisation as are those barbarous and anti-social enactments, it would be still more despicable were the Jews to prove unmindful of this long and remarkable history, of their many ages of suffering so heroi? cally borne, of their holy law, which has ever been the guide and strong? hold of their fathers, of their ancient language, and of the glorious mission to which their future points, that through them all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. " Let us be strong and vigorous/' the speaker concluded, " let us be worthy of our past, and fit for what we fondly hope to be our future."</page><page sequence="5">FREDERIC DAVID MOCATTA</page></plain_text>