The Social Disability of the Jew

"You cannot do the Jews and the community at large a greater service than by excluding the undesirable members of their race."
“Wer darf das Kind beim rechten Namen nennen?” – Goethe

In the great carnal trinity of Hunger, Sex, and Hate, Hate has forever been the goad of race against race. The pages of history drip with the blood of nations. Religions destined to calm the surge of passions, but added new incentives to destruction. From this hideous nightmare of suffering, stronger than race, stronger than creed, must come an ultimate awakening – the awakening of the moral nature in man. The gospel of righteousness, calling more insistently than ever, must finally lift the burden of bigotry and dogma weighing on the earth.

The share of the Jewish race in this suffering we do not wish to magnify in order to bolster an argument. All nations have had, their martyrdom and many have succumbed. The Jewish race has survived, denationalized, heterogeneous in composition, homogeneous in fellowship, modern in its aspirations.

Wherever scattered, it is confronted with the problem of adaptation.  Its civil liberty in Europe dates from the French Revolution, but its mean average of emancipation ranges over considerably less than a century. Within that incredibly short space of time, the Jewish race has been transformed from an immured tribe of aliens into a people of cosmopolitan citizenship.  It has found a safe anchorage and a definite opportunity to work out its own salvation, with its problem of assimilation largely dependent on the intelligence of the various nations within whose borders it makes its home.

In Russia, Rumania, Spain, and Portugal the struggle is carried on in the spirit of medievalism. In the other countries of Europe, racial and religious acerbity is intensified by economic and political agitation. These factors, although impotent to alienate the civil rights of the Jew, persist in the form of social intolerance. The liberated Jew of Europe, secure from persecution by church and state, is still exposed to the game laws of the social chase. England and France probably rank highest in point of tolerance; while intellectual Germany and the restless kingdom of Austro-Hungary offer the spectacle of a clashing of classes, in which the baiting of Jews is an eruptive phenomenon. We therefore perceive that civilized Europe, although shamed into the granting of civil rights, has not yet humanized itself above social persecution.

Gauged by European standards, we have no Jewish question in the United States. There is no open revolt, no persecution in masses, no partisan propaganda. The Jews in this Republic have never, as a class, suffered from civil disabilities. Our political, economic, and religious freedom is absolute. And still our equivalence is not established. We realize, smouldering under an apparently calm surface, a general antagonism against our race. The problem is usually regarded as a skeleton in the closet. Among the Jews it is treated strictly as a family affair; among our Christian population, either with open offensiveness, or with a show of discretion supposed to pass for delicacy. We see in this aloofness an example of the same pernicious prudery which educators have recognized in the suppression of a scientific understanding of the sex relation. It is, therefore, the writer's belief that an open discussion of the situation not only is permissible, but will be helpful to a better understanding.*

We have two groups of Jews in America: the orthodox and the liberal. The former are steeped in the ritualism of the past, and cling to race and religion with a tenacity which stamps them voluntary aliens. Whatever education the orthodox Jew has, expresses itself in Talmudic lore, an object of almost as much curious interest to the liberal Jew as it would be to Christians. The offspring of these ancient Jews, influenced by environment, gradually drift into the liberal ranks, although filial loyalty often delays the flowering of conviction into action. But the Jew who really counts in America, who comes into intimate contact with his American countrymen, is the liberal Jew -and when we speak of Jews in this essay, we have this group in mind.

It is this group, too, which is most alertly cognizant of the social restrictions of the race. For though present conditions, compared with the persecutions of history, might be considered almost ideal, the Jewish people, having within an incredibly short period of emancipation risen to the level of modern nations, are almost as sensitive to the finer

disabilities under which they labor as were their forbears to ancient and mediaeval torture.

But this same ascent, which has rendered the organism of the Jew more finely sensitive, has also given him perspective. For fifteen centuries the civil and canonical law of the Talmud cemented the people into a homeless nation, cohesive and stationary through its religion. It was of necessity a religious tribe, separated by the Gentile and separating itself from the Gentile in order to insure its salvation and to protect its life. But to-day, the solidarity of the Jews as a racial and particularly as a religious entity is undergoing a tremendous change. And the American Jew of to-day can look beyond self-preservation and his tribe and leisurely and hopefully review his situation.

So looking, he can see that competition is one cause of the conditions under which his people labor. An expatriated race, the Jews are forced to adapt themselves to the character of the people among whom they are scattered, coerced into a constant struggle for assimilation and amalgamation. The French Jews must be Frenchmen; the German Jews, Germans; the American Jews, Americans. In every country they are obliged to grope for their place in the commonwealth, and they ardently strive to find it.  Thus, as the Jewish people make themselves numerically felt in all civilized communities, and as their intellectual endowment raises them, not only above the submerged citizens, but into the active class of competitors in commerce, science, art, and the professions, friction is unavoidable. Yet the source of the Jews' tribulations lies much deeper than competition.


*"As to the Jewish element in ‘Deronda,’ I expected from first to last, in writing it, that it would create much stronger resistance, and even repulsion, than it has actually met with. But precisely because I felt that the usual attitude of Christians toward Jews is -I hardly know whether to say more impious or stupid, when viewed in the light of their professed principles, I therefore felt urged to treat Jews with such sympathy and understanding as my nature and knowledge would attain to. Moreover, not only towards the Jews, but towards all Oriental peoples with whom we English come in contact, a spirit of arrogance and contemptuous dictatorialness is observable which has become a national disgrace to us. There is nothing I should care more to do, if it were possible, than to rouse the imagination of men and women to a vision of human claims in those races of their fellow-men who most differ from them in customs and beliefs. But towards the Hebrews we Western people, who have been reared in Christianity, have a peculiar debt, and, whether we acknowledge it or not, a peculiar thoroughness of fellowship in religious and moral sentiment. Can anything be more disgusting than to hear people called 'educated' making small jokes about eating ham, and showing themselves empty of any real knowledge as to the relation of their own social and religious life, to the history of time people they think themselves witty in insulting?  They hardly know that Christ was a Jew. And I find men, educated, supposing that Christ spoke Greek. To my feeling, this deadness to the history which has prepared half our world for us, this inability to find interest in any form of life that is not clad in the same coat-tails and flounces as our own, lies very close to the worst kind of irreligion. The best that can be said of it is that it is a sign of the intellectual narrowness -in plain English, the stupidity - which is still the average mark of our culture." - (Life and Letters of George Eliot.)

It is traditional to account for anti-Jewish feeling on the score of religion. But this should seem rather out of date. We are not arguing with the ignorant and stupid demi-Christians, who have never learned that Christianity, by reviling Judaism, strikes its parent. We are not arguing with the Christian who forgets that Christ was a Jew and spoke the language of the Jew. We are not arguing with the Christian who, had Christ been born nineteen centuries later, might have been so blinded by race prejudice as not to recognize in him the Saviour. We shall not argue with the Christians who are a house divided against itself, and whose religious history is soaked in Christian blood for the greater glory of God. The conversion of "Christians" to Christianity is still an unfinished task, and will keep our friends busy for generations to come. "This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me."

The opprobrium of covetousness and craftiness which history has heaped upon the reputation of the Jew still clings. The usual philo-Semitic defense is, that these traits are the direct result of the Jews' debarment through long centuries from all pursuits other than the commercial. This defense merely explains, cannot condone, laxity in commercial honor. No race has a monopoly of honesty, and it would be difficult to prove that the Jew is either worse or better than his neighbor. We should say that the commercial standard of the Jew is governed by the community in which he lives; or, in the words of the German statesman, every country has the Jews it deserves. If the American Jew has been outstripped by the predatory ruthlessness of the Christian American financier, his inferiority must be charged less to a lack of business acumen than to the absence of that magnificent criminality which an awe-struck community witnesses, and sometimes admires, in the American plutocrat. The abject panic into which our President's attempted enforcement of the eighth commandment is throwing a certain class of emasculated Americans should serve to check the finger which points to the mote in the eye of the Jew. Moreover, the dishonest Jew is never a leader of his people; nor do the brethren of his race conceal their intimate contempt. The conscience of Israel is never cold. We denounce the hypocrisy of praise at the grave of a man who has not lived an upright life. Our church gives cold refuge to men who would cover misdeeds by piousness. We honor above all men the scholar and the man of consistent good deeds.

The causes of feeling against the Jews, then, may be said to be not primarily religious or commercial. What are they?

First and most powerful among them is the instinct of race hatred, to which the Jew is constantly and acutely exposed, because of his expatriation and his intimate mingling with other races. In the intermingling of races in America, the differentiation between the Frenchman, the American, the German, the Italian, assumes the character of a good-natured incoalescence, whereas the sentiment against the Jew usually crystallizes into active rebuff.

The physical causes for this animosity reside largely in the Jewish type. Though the various separate characteristics which repel the "Aryan" from the Jew can easily be pointed out in other races (Aryan included), a cumulative burden of idiosyncrasies weighs on our unfortunate people. It goes without saying that the Jewish type is not uniform, nor do we wish to concede that the caricaturist is always true to nature, but it must be acknowledged that the typical Jewish figure is not pleasing to the eye. The great masters in painting and sculpture have almost always modified or falsified the Jewish type in deference to aesthetic demands. This unfavorable physical impression is heightened by certain mannerisms, such as exaggerated gestures, by the peculiar voice inflection which grates on the ear, and by the distortion of the English language of which so many of our "prominent" Jews are guilty. Although these physical attributes are shared by other Oriental and also by the Latin races, they reach a climax in the Jewish type, which in its culmination is unsympathetic to the Anglo-Saxon, the Oriental, or the Latin people. It is not agreeable to touch on this phase of our inquiry; but the importance of physical repulsion can hardly be overestimated.

A visitor from Altruria might wonder why a race of people of intelligence, cleanly, moral, law-abiding, sober, industrious, prosperous, should be socially undesirable in a democracy. The following incident may offer an answer.

Several years ago the writer, on a vacation voyage, met a judge of one of our higher courts. He was a thoughtful man, refined in manner, moderate in speech, and a close observer of human affairs. Our conversation happened to drift to the subject of the education of the American Indian and to that of college fraternities. The question whether an Indian might be eligible for a college fraternity was, rightly or wrongly, answered in the affirmative. We then asked why Jews were personae non gratae in fraternities. Our friend answered very quietly, and without the slightest suggestion of harshness, "Because the Indians have better manners." There then ensued a gap of silence which became rather oppressive. But it struck the writer very forcibly that the probe had touched the sore. The remark has rankled ever since, and is responsible for this contribution to the Atlantic Monthly. Society will condone any fault more readily than offenses against good taste. Does not the social disability of the Jew in the United States hinge on this point?

It is easy enough to see why this charge is defensible. Our Jewish immigrants have come to America to earn their bread. The majority, when landing, are poor, without the advantages of an education. They mend their worldly condition, but not their minds. The result is obvious. Their possession of material wealth and of the comforts of life gives them a false sense of social values. Secure in the conviction that they possess the great desideratum, they become self-assertive. They forget that the money which buys them a box at the opera or an apartment at a fashionable hotel has not bought for them culture. They take the shadow for the substance. The defense that they are merely copying the American parvenu is no justification.

Do my Jewish readers wonder that the doors of summer hotels, where our parvenus sprawl in shameless familiarity, are closed to them and their people? I have not a single word of defense of the vulgar exhibitions of Jewish people in public places. These upstarts bring the blush of shame to the face of every decent Jew, who would show more loyalty to his race by open condemnation than by halfhearted defense or pouting resentment.

The exclusion of Jews from college fraternities is another case in point, in many frank interviews with fraternity men we have received the impression that they do, not want Jewish boys because of their bad manners. This is a sane and commendable stand. On the other hand, we know of instances where Jewish boys were "rushed" for a fraternity, and dropped just in time, with rather undignified alacrity, when they announced their racial "disability." These boys were young fellows of culture, and apart from their origin, desirable associates in every respect. Their exclusion was an expression hidebound prejudice, rearing its head in the institution which more than all others should be liberal in thought.

Now we wish to say to the young men of American colleges that from them will spring the representative men of the future of this Republic. The university stands for education and culture, for liberal thought and decent action, for justice, and for all the qualities which combine to make a gentleman. It stands for a type of man, unfortunately rare, of the stamp of the man Roosevelt. Do you represent that type? Are you loyal to the spirit of the Constitution of your country when you debase your manhood in blind intolerance? Are you good Christians? Does your faculty, which supplies you with Jewish teachers, connive at your actions? Do you honor Jesus when you spurn the race from which he is sprung? Do you remember Emerson's "the education at college of fools?" You cannot do the Jews and the community at large a greater service than by excluding the undesirable members of their race. But you cannot afford to stultify yourselves by a sweeping generalization.

Not only bad manners, but other faults which may be charged against the Jewish people, are fostered by the close family affiliation of the Jews. That this condition has arisen from necessity rather than choice does not alter the fact, or invalidate the statement that it is the Jew himself who must remedy the situation. For remedied it must be. This close family affiliation has, through its very excess, ceased to be an unmixed virtue. It serves to perpetuate objectionable idiosyncrasies, and narrows the sympathies. Not all the lavishness with which the Jew contributes to charities can give him the true spirit of altruism, so long as his interest is so strongly centred in his family. The projection of self into the next of kin savors strongly of selfishness masquerading as love. And the deadly monotony of family reunions is the thief of individual development. "Why," says Emerson, "should we assume the faults of our friend, or wife, or father, or child, because they sit around our hearth or are said to have the same blood? All men have my blood, and I have all men's." Men should not be able to say of us, "If I know your sect, I anticipate your argument." Rather we should be able to say, "I shun father and mother, and wife and brother, when my genius calls me."

We believe that the Jewish home is the nursery for the perpetuation of idiosyncrasies which tend to aggravate, instead of to relax, the social disabilities of the Jew.

Another of the most intense Jewish characteristics is the adoration of the child. The physical well-being of our offspring is made to assume undue priority over the spiritual life. Physical privation for the child, even within the limits of hygienic restraint, wrings the tender heart of the Jewish parent. Hence the fear of disease obtains to a degree little short of monomania. It is not difficult to perceive the softening influence of this domestic management. The child, become an object of anxious solicitude, is usually restrained from the more hardy play of his young neighbors, and a retarded physical development is the result. In the mean time, he becomes excessively self-conscious. Excluded from physical competition, he attempts to assert himself mentally—too frequently to the ill-concealed delight of doting parents who find compensation in the precociousness of their stunted children. The product of this bad training is a high-strung child, lacking in physical courage and over-impressed with its importance in the community. Its egotism, extending into the years of adult life, is bound to receive some very painful shocks. In the interest of fairness, this is the place to state that the children of Christian Americans, although usually not permitted to suffer in physical development, are likewise shamefully pampered. They share with Jewish children a distorted view of the relation of things, —enormously enlarged and distorted images of their tastes, their clothes, their likes, their aversions, and their talents,— and they have in addition a large bump of irreverence.

The suppression of physical development in Jewish children makes them a tempting butt for their neighbor. The bully is usually safe in hurling a race insult against the Jewish boy. The Irish, who also seem possessed of a comical inclination to class themselves among the oppressed nations, would give short shrift to any one venturing aspersions against their race. The Jew would make a better man and a fitter protagonist for his people if he possessed the qualifications to resent a race insult, not by "dignified" silence, but by the more direct manual argumentum ad hominem.

It has been conceded in this essay that a heavy burden of responsibility for the intolerance against the Jews rests on the Jew himself. The most intelligent among our Jewish friends consider the situation hopeless. They reason that you cannot alter the Jew and cannot alter the Gentile. We beg to differ most emphatically.

A ceaseless process of adaptation is gradually modifying the Jewish type. Climate, environment, unconscious and conscious adoption of customs and manners, cannot fail to exercise their cogent influence. The French Jew is easily distinguishable from the German Jew, the German from the Russian. The Jew who, by establishing himself in a country town, dissociates himself from his own flock and comes into closer contact with his Christian neighbors, frequently exhibits refinement of manners considerably beyond that of his city cousin. The physical type of many Jews all over the civilized world has been so modified through adaptation (not by any means to their disadvantage), that they have become unrecognizable to their own race.

But the most potent of evolutionary influences is intermarriage. Whatever of Chauvinism exists in the Jewish people is quickly aroused by the suggestion of miscegenation; for the Jewish heart, whether hidden under gabardine or broadcloth, is proud,—proud of a lineage with its colossal Mosaic tradition, which has moulded the western world. To the uncompromising orthodox Jew, intermarriage signifies nothing short of apostasy, and by the liberal Jew mixed marriages are at least mildly deprecated. When a liberal Jew is questioned as to the cause of his misgivings, he will usually reply that miscegenation evidences disloyalty to the Jewish religion and would jeopardize the preservation of the race. When pressed for a definition of the Jewish religion, the liberal Jew, if a man of education, will almost invariably confess to that form of agnosticism which is born of reverence for the unknown and unknowable. You will find that he does not disavow the applicability of reason to questions of faith. You will find him rather skeptical as to the efficacy of prayer; his conception of the Divinity is far from dogmatic; and while the imagery of the immortality of the soul is quite flattering to his ego, he would not be willing to subscribe to the certainty of an hereafter. The argument will usually simmer down to the compromise that Judaism stands for ethics, and that the history of the Jewish race is sublime.

And we shall not quarrel with him on either point. Our understanding will usually terminate in the agreement that the principles of ethics and righteousness have sufficient power of locomotion without the aid of the theologic crutch. To the liberal Jew, the church is not essentially a house of worship. In communities where the Sabbath has been transferred to Sunday, he seeks intellectual diversion, ethical support, and a release from the rote of everyday life in the pleasant gregariousness of the synagogue. If loyalty has not stifled his candor, if allegiance to tottering dogma has not blinded his vision, he must confess that the reformed synagogue is but a way-station on the road to free-thinking.

Assuming these observations to be correct, the Jewish compunctions anent mixed marriages are racial, not religious, and must be modified in compliance with that point of view.

It would be well to remind our Jewish race-purists of some facts in history. Do they remember that the question of mixed marriages caused much confusion in Jerusalem after the return of the Jews from captivity? Do they remember the conversion of Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans to the Jewish faith? Do they remember that the Jews of Gaul and Spain received through various channels and at different periods an infusion of native blood? Do they know that the number of converted Jews during the past fifteen centuries is computed by millions? It is as certain that alien blood, pagan and Christian, flows in Jewish veins, as it is that the Christian nations have a liberal admixture of Jewish blood. The forefather of many a Jew went clad in Roman toga or Athenian pallium. And we would feel constrained to confess ourselves poor diagnosticians if George Bernard Shaw, the enfant terrible of nimble wit in contemporaneous literature, succeeded in disproving the existence in himself of the same strain of blood as coursed in the veins of Heinrich Heine. Israel is much less the offspring of a race than the work of history.  Opposition against the intermingling of Jewish blood with that of other races is as untenable in theory as in practice; first, because no race has shown a greater adaptability to “Aryan" civilization than the Jew (being, in fact, the parent of civilization through the Mosaic law); and second, because the hyphenation of modern races is actually finding a corollary in a constantly increasing Jewish-Gentile sanguinity. As the alien traits of the Jew fade into softer outline, the elements of attraction will outweigh those of repulsion, and national, racial, and religious bigotry will be submerged in an irresistible confluence.

We do not underestimate the power of ecclesiastic resistance on the Christian side. The church has made many concessions to intelligence, and it will make more. An institution so jealous of its power as the church may be expected to fight hard against natural tendencies. But the interchange of pulpits between Jew and Christian is a sign of the times, and evidence that Christian vision has become sufficiently acute to recognize its parent in religion. And in the Ethical Culture movement the effacement is complete. A growing intelligence will do the rest.

If our investigations have been accurate, then, the vexed question of the social disability of the Jew in the United States must find its solution primarily in the self-elevation of the Jewish race; in a modification of the racial type, which is, nolens volens, in constant progression; in better physical development; in the best possible efforts of education, extending particularly to the younger generation of Jewish merchants; in the most earnest nurture of good breeding and culture; in judicious intermarriage; in ethical living.

So far as the Jew is able to understand Christianity, its points of contact with paganism, such as the faith in miracles and the adoration of images, are merely fortuitous. Nor does the pomp of the church seem a true reflection of the simplicity of Jesus. As we understand the Scriptures, Jesus preached essentially a conduct of life. When Jesus comes into his own, there will be no problem of race hatred.

Presented by

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. Who cares about youth? James Hamblin turns to his colleague Jeffrey Goldberg for advice.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. James Hamblin turns to a colleague for advice.

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

Video

Pittsburgh: 'Better Than You Thought'

How Steel City became a bikeable, walkable paradise

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

More in National

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In