Our Israelitish Brethren

"Our Israelitish brethren are now subjected to a trial peculiar to themselves. From being persecuted everywhere, they are beginning to be honored and sought."
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Did the reader ever try to compute what it has cost our Israelitish brethren to keep two Sundays a week, and four sets of holidays a year? Besides their own religious and national festivals, they have been compelled, generally under ruinous penalties, to abstain from business on those of the countries in which they have dwelt.  Thus in Catholic countries, for several centuries, they were obliged to be idle:

1.Fifty-two Sundays;
2. Thirty holidays of obligation;
3. Fifty-two Saturdays or Sabbaths;
4. An average of twelve other holidays of their own: total, one hundred and forty-six days per annum, or about two days in every five!

In Protestant countries, the usual number of idle days, including their fifty-two Saturdays and twelve festivals and fasts, has been one hundred and ten, or about two days in every six. In other words, the Jews in Catholic countries have been obliged, by law and conscience, to abstain from business nearly three days a week, and in Protestant countries a little more than two.  Of late years, since Catholics have become much less strict in the observance of Sundays and holidays, the Jews suffer more inconvenience in Protestant than in Catholic lands.  The rigor of the Scotch and the Puritan Sunday is especially grievous to them, even to the present hour; while in Paris, Hamburg, and Vienna Sunday is, in some branches of business, the best day of the week.

This fact of the double set of holidays would alone have sufficed to exclude them from agriculture. A ripe harvest will not wait from Friday till Monday for any of our scruples; and two good planting days lost in a late, wet spring would often make the difference between a crop and no crop. Fancy a market-gardener in strawberry time, or a florist in May, obliged to cease work half an hour before sunset Friday afternoon, and unable to offer anything for sale till Monday morning! Even the thirty Catholic holidays of obligation placed the farmers of Catholic countries under a disadvantage that was obvious to all who lived near the line dividing a Catholic from a Protestant country. Voltaire, who lived for thirty years close to the frontier of France, within two miles of Protestant Geneva, dwells upon this in many a passage of exquisite satire.  Readers remember the scene in which the priest rushes from the tap-room, "red with wrath and wine," to rebuke the yeoman who had "the insolence and impiety" to plough his field on a Saint's day, "instead of going to the tavern and drinking like the rest of the parish. The poor gentleman was ruined: he left the country with his family and servants, went to a foreign land, turned Lutheran, and his lands remained uncultivated for many years." If thirty extra holidays were a serious injury to French farmers, it will not be questioned that ninety-four made agriculture an impossible pursuit to Israelites.

Except where Jews lived together in large numbers, as in Poland and some parts of Germany, the same fatality of their lot sufficed to exclude them from most workshops, counting-rooms, and stores.  Who could take an apprentice with the understanding that he was to be always absent on Saturdays?  Who, a clerk, on the condition of not having him on the busiest day of the week?  Even here, in these free cities of America, where Jewish merchants and bankers are often obliged to employ Christian clerks, they labor under the disadvantage of having to pay salaries for three hundred and nine days' work per annum, while only getting two hundred and fifty-seven days' attendance.  In short, if the reader will take the trouble to trace all the consequences of the conscientious adherence of our lsraelitish brethren to their holy days, he will discover that during many centuries of their dispersion among Christian nations, that adherence would have been enough of itself to confine their able men to the trade in money and jewels, and their ordinary men to petty traffic and hard bargaining.  Money at interest keeps no holy day. Like the trees of the Scotch laird in the novel, it grows while the owner sleeps. It earns revenue both while the lender prays in the synagogue and while the borrower worships in the cathedral. On Good Friday as on the Day of Atonement, through merry Christmas and joyous Purim, on the days of Passover, the fourth of July, the fifth of November, still it yields its increase. Hence strong Israelites usually deal in money; and as to the rank and file, we must allow, if we would be just, that the trader who has to keep his shutters closed two or three days a neck must, as a general thing, carry as business at small expense, and make the most of every transaction.

But if, a thousand years ago, the Jews had reached that point of development which would have enabled then with a good conscience to give up their seventh-day Sabbath, and rest only on ours, it would not have availed to give them a choice of occupations.  In the night of superstition, no Jew could own or hold land on endurable conditions in any country of Christendom. Nor could he belong to any guild of mechanics; and hence he could not be himself a mechanic, nor apprentice his son to a mechanic.  He could not lawfully hire a Christian servant in some countries. He could not enter a university or a preparatory school in any country; and so the liberal professions were closed to him.  He could not be an artist, even if any Christian prince would have bought pictures of him, because, in the black ages, there were only two kinds of pictures that yielded much revenue or renown, -New Testament scenes, and indecent pictures from the Greek and Roman poets.  The former a Jew could not paint; the latter he would not, for the Jews have preserved, through all vicissitudes, a certain chastity of mind and taste, which makes such subjects abhorrent to them. A good Jew knows better than must men the unutterable preciousness of an unprurient soul and an uncontaminated body; for there is nothing which his religion inculcates so sedulously and in so many ways. At the present hour they are probably the chastest seven millions of people under the sun.

The tory Carlyle, with the baser instinct of his party,—which is, to grovel before the strong and trample on the weak,—makes this exclusion of the Jews from all the more honorable and expanding pursuits the occasion of a most bitter taunt.  The celestial powers, he says, when a people have become hopelessly debased, sometimes toss them in utter contempt a great bag of money, as if to say, "Take Eliot! Be that your portion!" How cruelly unjust is this! The Encyclopedia Britannica, an invaluable work, but uniformly narrow and reactionary on religious subjects, while admitting that, in the dark ages, Jews had no choice but to be money-lenders, while allowing that they had no means either of revenge or self-defence, except in extorting usurious interest from their plundering oppressors, stamps with reprobation their "meanness and injustice" in so doing. But the same writer on the same page (Vol. XII. p. 778) has no word of encomium for those heroic Jews, who he says presented their breasts to the sword rather than violate their conscience; nor for those high-minded Jewish maidens and wives, who fastened stones to their bodies and sought refuge in the river from the polluting touch of Christian soldiers.  In one of our best periodicals, while I am writing these paragraphs, I read an impatient paragraph, complaining of the "obstinacy" of the Russian Jews in avoiding agriculture and sticking to petty traffic. As if, in all the empire of Russia, until very recently, an Israelite could own an acre of land, or till a farm to advantage, while forced to observe the numerous festivals of the Greek Church!

The Jews are, in truth, singularly adapted by natural disposition to agriculture, their skill in which once made Palestine a garden.  At the present moment the attention of benevolent and public-spirited Jews is directed to the return of their people to agricultural pursuits, and the scene of the first experiment is Palestine itself.  There are now thirteen thousand Israelites in that country, nine thousand of whom live in or near Jerusalem; and there is no reason in the laws or customs of the land why they should not cultivate the soil.  But hardly a Jew in the world knows how to plough and reap, and the Jews in Palestine—pilgrims and descendants of pilgrims—have been steadily demoralized by the alms sent to them from orthodox synagogues in every part of the world. M. Netter, the agent of the Israelitish Alliance, who was sent to Palestine to inquire into the condition of the Israelites there, reports that this unwise, sentimental almsgiving paralyzes the arms and corrupts the hearts of his people. "As the elders," he remarks, "get a double portion of the alms, and as they themselves distribute whatever little may be left of it, the indigent and lowly get but a very small portion of it. We therefore see parents allowing their children to marry early, in order that the offspring of these marriages may share in these charities and increase the resources of the family. Children are also made to study the Talmud, a knowledge of which brings in an additional income. The weak and powerless are held in abject subjection by their superiors, and frequently seek relief from the English missionaries, who are always ready in such cases."

Here is another example of the pernicious consequences of ill-directed benevolence, from which the future is to suffer so much. The remedy M. Netter suggests is agriculture; although at present not a Jew in Palestine cultivates the soil.  A few of them have tried gardening, and failed, as Christian amateurs generally fail, from ignorance.  An agricultural school and experimental farm, in aid of which money has been subscribed in New York and other capitals, is about to be started in Palestine.  All things must have a beginning, and the disuse of eighteen centuries cannot be overcome in a year or two, but there is reason to believe that the people who once made their land a proverb for its abundant harvests are about to recover their skill in the cultivation of the soil.  In reading Jewish periodicals and in conversing with enlightened Jews, I perceive an impulse in this direction which will produce results where Sunday laws do not hinder.

Who can estimate the reparation which Christendom owes this interesting and unoffending people? How abundant, how untiring, should be our charity in judging the faults of character which our own superstition has created or developed!

Of the giant wrongs to which they have been subjected for the last ten centuries,—the huge Andersonville outrages,—few readers need to be reminded.  In the slaughter of the Jews of Seville, in 1391, thirty-five hundred families were murdered.  In 1492, under Ferdinand and Isabella, three hundred thousand heroic Israelites preferred exile to apostasy. Many of them found a resting-place only in the grave or in the depths of the sea; for neither Portugal nor Italy nor Mohammedan Morocco would tolerate the presence of a people who would not comply with their superstitions, and who, by their frugality, continence, temperance, and industry, absorbed the wealth of every country in which they lived. Those who remained in the Peninsula suffered baptism, and were obliged to conform to the outward observances of the reigning church.  Far more enviable was the lot of those who had accepted banishment. The favorite office of the Spanish Inquisition for two centuries was to "question" the sincerity of those two hundred thousand Jewish converts; and the national amusement was to witness the burning of Jewish Rabbis and Jewish maidens. Similar atrocities were committed, as we all know, in England, Germany, and France.

Nor can we claim that Protestants have been guiltless toward them. Since I have been interested in this subject, I have found nothing more savage against the Jews than a passage from Martin Luther, in which he offers for the consideration of the Christian public seven propositions:  1. "That we should set fire to their synagogues and schools, and what cannot be burnt should be covered over with earth, that no man may ever discover a stone or brick of it; we are to do this for the glory of our Lord and Christianity." 2. Burn all their houses, and lodge them in stables like gypsies, "in order that they may know they are not lords in this land, but in captivity and misery." 3. Burn all their prayer-books and Talmuds.  4. Forbid the Rabbis, under pain of death, to give instruction.  5. Deny Jews the right of protection on the highways; "for they have no business with the land."  6. "Being neither lords, farmers, nor merchants, nor anything of the kind, they are to remain at home." "You lords shall not, and cannot protect them, unless you would take part in their abominations."  7. Put a flail, axe, mattock, or spindle into the hand, of every "young and strong Jew and Jewess," and compel them to manual labor. This was Luther's idea of the treatment due to the only body of religious people in Europe who could be in sympathy with him in his struggle with superstition. But Luther himself was only half emancipated: for he clung to that fatal, fatal root of bitterness, the belief that human souls can be eternally lost by erroneous opinions.

But we have done worse to these people than murder and torture them. Wrongs like these are occasional; the rack palls at last; and the most infuriate mob of Christians that ever hunted down an innocent people grows weary of massacre at last, and a long period of peace usually succeeds.  In our own day I have seen Protestants in Philadelphia pursuing in blind fury harmless Catholics, burning their churches, and insulting their priests; and I have seen, in New York, Catholics rioting in the massacre of the most inoffensive laboring people in the world.  In three days the fit passes; reason returns; and the very men who inflicted the wounds are ready to assist in healing them. But there is a wrong which all Christians, for many hundreds of years, have done to all Jews, all the time,—we have despised them.  Having excluded them from the occupations most favorable to the development of human nature's better side, we have added to this giant wrong the crueller sling of despising them for not having their better side developed.  Having kept them styed in Ghettos and in Jews' streets age after age, we loathe them because they are not all clean.

Human beings are so constituted and related, that among the most precious possessions any of us can have is the respect and good-will of our community.  Happily, few are aware of this truth, because, like good digestion, the value of such a possession is not known until it is lost.  Those quadroon and octoroon gentlemen of New Orleans knew it, who said to General Butler with so much passion; "We care not on which side we fight; we will fight as long as we can, and spend all we have, if only our boys may stand in the street equal to white boys when the war is over!"  If the reader has ever happened to have his eye upon the face of a well-dressed person at the moment a policeman touched his arm, and he felt that he was arrested, no longer one of the passing throng, no longer a member of the community, no longer a man among men, but a detected thief, whom any boy might make faces at, a thing abhorred and despised, upon whom no countenance could cast a benignant nor even an indifferent look,—if the reader has ever noted the awful shadow that falls upon a human countenance at such a moment, he can perhaps form some idea of what it must be to feel always the contempt of men.  Or still better, if the reader can look back to his school-days and call to mind moments or hours when, for some peculiarity of dress, person, or conduct, he was the object of general derision, either in schoolroom or playground, and can feel still the scorch of the old blush in his cheeks, he cannot be quite ignorant of the value of that unexpressed good-will which usually invests us like the air we unconsciously breathe.

And the Jews were never allowed to forget that they were a despised people. Contempt of the Israelite was embedded in law and exhibited in daily custom.  In Protestant Holland, down nearly to the days of Louis Bonaparte, Jewish paupers were compelled to say their prayers bareheaded, and to work all day Saturday, although they begged the privilege of doing in five days their whole week's work.  It was not till 1790 that this poor boon was granted them.  Some of the watering-places in Germany could show, among their chartered privileges, the right to exclude Jews. At Strasburg, within the recollection of living persons, a Jew had to pay three francs a day merely for the privilege of staying in the town.  In Switzerland, as late as 1851, the contemptuous law was re-enacted, imposing a fine of three hundred francs upon every Christian who gave a Jew employment. In Russia, at the present hour, the government presumes to prescribe what shall be the garb of a Jew.  In New York, London, Paris, and other cities there is an alliance, or society for the sole object of promoting the emancipation of the Jews from the remaining disabilities which the aversion of Christendom has imposed.  Without troubling the reader with a catalogue of similar facts, I can convey some idea of the scorn in which Jews were once held in a more convenient manner by showing how they are now treated in the city of Rome,—Rome being a fragment of the Past preserved, like an Elgin marble, for the inspection of the moderns. In 1860, when there was talk of a congress of European powers for the settlement of international questions, the Jews of Rome prepared a petition for presentation to it, in which some of their grievances were stated.  From this paper we learn that no Jew in Rome can be an artist, nor be a pupil in a school of art, nor frequent a public gallery for practice in art. No college, medical school, law school, or scientific institution can receive a Jewish student.  No Jew can exercise a mechanical trade, except cobbling shoes. Cruellest and absurdest of all, no Jew, fond as he is of music, and gifted as his race is in music, can sing in public or play on an instrument. "Woe to the Hebrew," says the petition, "who dares sing or play in public; for the police and the Holy Office immediately pounce upon him and punish the offence with severe penalties."  This is the more abominable, because nature has signalized this people, not so touch by superiority of understanding, as by talent.  The gifted among them are formed to sing, to play, to compose, to carve, to paint, to personate, to excel in all those arts by which human nature is enchanted and exalted by being exhibited to itself.

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