Americans: Jew and Christian

[Albert Jay Nock’s discussion of the Jewish Problem in America brought into the open the hopes and fears of many conscientious Americans who feel that this issue must be faced without flinching or prejudice in the present emergency. — THE EDITOR]



Congressman, 10th District, New York

THE articles entitled ‘The Jewish Problem in America ‘ are very compelling and very interesting. Mr. Nock and the Atlantic Monthly must be praised for posing the very vexatious problem of anti-Semitism in this country.

However, I do believe that in some instances Mr. Nock has been rather naïve in accepting as fact too much of what he has heard and read concerning this problem. For instance, he says in the July issue: ‘The Civil Service Commission reports 959,146 civil employees in the Federal executive departments. It is impossible to say how many of these are Jews. The highest Jewish estimate I have heard made is 40 per cent. The highest non-Jewish estimate is 63 per cent.’

Mr. Nock does not give us the source of these figures. To say the least, they are fantastic. During my many years as a member of the House of Representatives, I have come in contact almost daily with many branches of our government. I know something of its personnel. While I have never counted noses, it is utterly preposterous to estimate that 40 per cent of the total, or 383,658 Federal civil jobs, are held by Jews. I am sure that if you were to fine-comb the State Department you would find few Jews. Jews in the War and Navy Department are as scarce as hen’s teeth. Check over the list of personnel in the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and all its subsidiaries, such as the Credit Commodity Corporation, Export-Import Bank, Plant Defense Corporation, and so forth, and you will find hardly any Jews. Check the various agencies in the Treasury Department. You might find some Jews there, but the proportion is nowhere near 40 or 63 per cent. It would be more reasonable to say 5 per cent.

In the Post Office Department, any Jews employed would be found in a few large cities such as New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, but there again the percentage is relatively small.

According to the United States Census of Religious Bodies as of 1937, the total Jewish population in this country was 4,770,647. Forty per cent of the total Federal civilian personnel would be more than 8 per cent of the total Jewish population, including men, women, and minors; 63 per cent would be more than 12 per cent of the total Jewish population. I offer these figures to indicate how absurd are the reported estimates of Mr. Nock.



YESTERDAY I saw two portraits of my Jewish husband’s great-grandfather and great-grandmother. They had been painted in Bavaria, where they lived. I looked at their open, their Nordically open, faces; I looked at their straight noses and their richly shaped, kind mouths. I thought of my husband’s grandmother, who came to this country in a sailing vessel. I thought of how she brought up her family in a little Iowa town, forcing her children to stay at home on Saturday, because it was the Jewish Sabbath, and how she kept all seven of them at home on Sunday because that was the Sabbath of their neighbors and must be respected. I thought of how she worked at the needlework guild of one Christian church and sewed in the circle of another, to be impartial.

Lastly I thought of the circle of myth and speculation which non-Jews have placed around Jews. It is a hard circle to break through.

I broke through it with marriage, and not at once, either. Like any non-Jew, I thought there were special attributes of Jewishness. I thought — oh, I thought a hundred things that all non-Jews think. After ten years of a marriage requiring no more adjustment than any other, I know Jews, and I should like to try to dissolve that circle of myth for others. I remember the assumptions well, for I had all of them. Let me discuss a few of the more familiar ones in the light of my own experience.

One of the most often heard — that Jews are clannish — is, of course, true. Perhaps this is no more so than with the Irish or the Italians who live in this country, but, since Jews are more recognizable, their clannishness is the more noticeable. They have their separate fraternities, clubs, camps, summer resorts. Their social life is largely a Jewish one.

Assume for a moment that you have been born a Jew. You begin to learn early, as my children will shortly begin to learn: you learn when you are perhaps six or seven, when the neighborhood children refuse to play with you because you are Jewish. And early your mother says to you (and who can measure the heartbreak?), ‘It’s hard to explain. There really isn’t any reason, but that’s the way the world is. Now let’s have your cousin over; you can play with him and forget about Alice.’ You begin to play with your cousin and other Jews. You can share your hurt. You can, for a brief time, forget it.

As to the next assumption, that Jews are shrewd and tricky, I can only say that I am sure many of them are. I have heard, too, of shrewd Yankees, of Gentile robber barons and of Jewish ones. However, there have been many Jews like Haym Salomon, who helped finance the new American Republic and of whom James Madison later wrote, ‘I have for some time past been a pensioner on the favor of Haym Salomon, a Jew broker.’ The future President wrote, ‘The kindness of our little friend ... is a fund which will preserve me from extremities, but I never resort to it without great mortification as he obstinately rejects all recompense.’

I myself have had little to do with shrewd Jews. In my husband’s family we have often had to put our minds to the problem of this or that unshrewd member: the doctor who could never bring himself to send bills; the trusting business man who again and again took notes which were no good, from shrewd Gentiles; the other who assumed that a verbal agreement between gentlemen was enough. A little traditional Jewish shrewdness would have increased our peace of mind.

It is often said that Jews are more emotional, and my first impulse would be to say yes, for I fall back into my old, non-Jewish judgments now and then, and I remember my emotional father-inlaw. Yet there is my mother-in-law, who is as silent about her emotions as the little Spartan boy with the fox.

When I had my children in a Jewish hospital, I listened to a good deal of wailing at the wall (and did a little myself, I am told). As I lay in bed I thought, ‘Of course, this is a Jewish hospital.’ When I progressed to the wheel-chair stage and went calling on my neighbors, I discovered that some of those wails had been Jewish, it is true, but as many had been Catholic and Lutheran.

Psychologically, I was a Gentile for twenty-six years. Now I am a Jew. I have learned, for instance, to see a J on a printed page long before my eye has read the intervening words. I prefer not to discuss winters in Florida with nonJews. Jews themselves comment unhappily on the kind of Jews in Florida.

For a Jew is born with many additional burdens. He is his brother’s keeper as no non-Jew can ever be. Since many Jews are easily identified, what bad manners one exhibits are attributed to all. The bad manners of a non-Jew are his alone.

I have walked up and down suburban and downtown streets, collecting money both for the Community Fund and for the Jewish Welfare Drive. I have been turned down again and again for the Community Fund — and with justification. I have never been turned down for the Jewish Welfare Drive, although the justification was as great. ‘But that’s for their own,’ you say. Yes, but so is the Community Fund for our own.

‘Yet,’ one hears over and over, ‘when all is said and done, Jews are different — Oriental, not to be assimilated.’

I have been entertained in an Orthodox or Kosher home, which presumably is as far as one can go in ‘ differentness ‘ and ‘Orientalism.’ I have not been passed butter at table in that house, or eaten any form of pork. The furniture was of an elaborate design; the colors were too gaudy for my taste. I have been in non-Jewish homes which were too elaborate and gaudy for my taste, and I have been in Catholic homes where no meat was served on Friday.

Below this surface difference? The usual run of faults and virtues, with kindness, hospitality, and love of children predominating. Are these qualities different, or Oriental?

Orthodox Jews have maintained, in their synagogues and their homes, certain traditions and pageantry which reformed Jews no longer practise. Look for Orientalism, even of this surface kind, in the reformed Jew’s life, and you will find none. I shall never forget the surprise and disappointment I felt at my first Jewish temple service of the reformed kind: except that certain responses were read in Hebrew, I might have been in the Congregational church I had attended all my life!

There is my husband’s cousin, who read Mr. Nock’s article on the way back from her college reunion and hurried to meet me for lunch. Her merry Nordic face crinkled up as she said to me, ‘Do you find depths of Orientalism in me which you cannot fathom? Do you in your husband?’ We both laughed.

One reason often given for this feeling of ‘difference’ is that Jews are urban people, and cannot work with their hands. When I hear this said I think of this same cousin and her husband, of their enormous vegetable garden, their eighty apple trees, all the product of their four Jewish hands. I think of another pair of Jewish friends who have a chicken farm which they largely work themselves. I think of the agricultural miracles which have been accomplished in Palestine by Jewish hands.

Lastly there is the statement that intermarriage between Jew and Gentile can never work. Because of it I looked for differences between us which I could put down to race, and for years I braced myself to detect those differences and to meet them with courage and, I hoped, with wisdom.

But with complete honesty I can say that I have never found what I could label by my own old standards, or the world’s standards, as Jewish. I do not feel ill at ease or out of place in the home of my husband’s parents or relatives, or in any Jewish home I have entered. Nor, conversely, does my husband feel ill at ease in the home of my parents or that of a non-Jewish friend. I have never had to call upon either courage or wisdom to meet a ‘Jewish difference.’ However, both courage and wisdom will certainly be called upon in years to come in helping our half-Jewish children to meet the world — but that is a different story.

In short, my own experience has made me conclude that Jews have the same virtues and vices as other people, and that, could Jews live in real security, without constant fear of the next persecution, you, the non-Jew, could find no more trace of racial difference than I have found.



President, Jewish Theological Seminary of America

THE myth of the ‘Jewish problem’ in our time is reminiscent of the equally unreal ‘Christian problem’ of ancient Rome. Perhaps, indeed, no better handbook on the ‘Jewish problem’ exists than Tertullian’s discussions of his contemporary ‘Christian problem.’ Like modern writers on Judaism, Tertullian has to devote pages to demonstrating that his group does not constitute a separate ‘race’; that it is not the cause of public calamities; that its members are patriotic; that they pray for the welfare of the government; that they cannot all be held responsible for the derelictions of a few; and that they differ from other Romans only in their religious faith and practice. ‘No name of a crime stands against us,’ he says, ‘but only the crime of a name!’

There is no ‘Jewish problem.’ The problem confronting the people of the United States cannot be resolved into regional, sectarian, or group components. It is an indivisible unit. We all face a common peril, and must participate in the common task of preserving and advancing our inherited liberties. If we succeed, the bogies that haunt us in the present gloom will disappear. If we fail, nothing else matters. ‘Certainly,’ said Thomas Browne, ‘that man were greedy of Life, who should desire to live when all the world were at an end.’

Obviously any disaster to the American people will strike some part of it with especial severity. Involvement in war may mean the bombardment of New York or of the Panama Canal; economic adversity may stimulate hatred toward certain groups. But these considerations cannot make war a problem for New York or the Canal Zone, or economic adversity the special concern of some segment of the population. We are all Americans, united both in safety and in peril.

Agitation against special groups may cause them grave hardships. But these hardships are inconsequential in comparison with the harm done the whole American civilization. America is more than a standard of living: it is a standard of life. Its essence is the concept of universal human worth and dignity, of coöperation despite differences, and of unity amidst diversity. Its federal system demonstrates that distant regions, with conflicting interests and varying cultural traditions, can be welded into an effective national Union. Extending the federal principle to wider areas, our statesmen are today forging hemispheric loyalties which may very well take their place among the great historic achievements of our time. Despite occasional lapses, the United States has almost consistently endeavored to extend the ideals of neighborliness and good will wherever its influence has reached. Alone among the victors of 1918, it sought no spoils of war. Though its resources enabled it to control both ocean approaches to its shores, it offered, in 1921, to share the dominion of the Atlantic with Great Britain and France, and of the Pacific with Japan.

The United States has been in the van of the movement to eradicate the two oldest forms of human injustice—the degradation of women and of children. Only the abolition of war and poverty could equal the significance of these reforms for the human race.

Much still remains to be achieved. Vast areas in our life have not yet been permeated by the concepts of human dignity and equality. Yet, since the foundation of their first settlements on the rim of the wilderness, Americans have been trying to create a Commonwealth which might be free from the heathen inequalities and hostilities persisting in the secular substructure of European life.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of the American people has been the growth of a sense of fellowship among the religious groups themselves. Never before in history have the various denominations displayed such mutual understanding and comradeship. De Tocqueville, visiting the United States about a century ago, noticed this, and regarded it as a good omen for the future of the young republic. There is no desire to reduce the religious creeds to a common denominator, necessarily so universal as to be meaningless. But, together with undiminished devotion to the different traditions, there is a recognition of a common background in the teachings of the Prophets, and of a common purpose in the realization of the Will of God.

This American mode of life and thought is today being challenged by two rival systems, the different types of totalitarianism in modern Europe. Totalitarianism, in both its forms, constitutes a major attempt to destroy all theistic religions, and the institutions stemming from them. It is thus the very antithesis of Americanism. It has nothing but contempt for the concept of human dignity. It looks for salvation to conflict rather than coöperation. It thrives on hatred and discord.

In its efforts to destroy democracy, good will, and the sense of human dignity, totalitarianism grasps at every opportunity to foment division among us. It stirs up distrust of the United States in the Latin-American republics. Its leftist wing arouses the animosity of the laborer for the employer, its rightist wing that of the employer for the laborer.

Above all, totalitarianism is jealous of fellowship among the religious groups. It rightly regards this fellowship as the final expression, as well as the supreme bulwark, of American liberties.

Much of the emphasis on the ‘Jewish problem’ is part of the totalitarian endeavor to create dissension among us. Every effort is made to persuade the Jew that he faces a distinctive problem, and to persuade other Americans that the Jew constitutes such a problem.

There are those who predict that the aftermath of war will be economic collapse; and that, under the influence of totalitarian propaganda, economic collapse will produce Mr. Nock’s Frankenstein, an ‘Occidental mass-man,’ who in his hungry rage will rend his fellow citizen in pieces. If such a future be in store for America, the victims of persecution will be the fortunate ones; for it is infinitely better to suffer persecution than to inflict it.

But the likelihood is quite the reverse. The totalitarian attempt to divide Americans has evoked a deeper consciousness of national unity and a firm determination to achieve even more thorough understanding and integration. This amazing resurgence suggests that the present ideational struggle, vast and comprehensive as it is, and associated with unprecedented military operations, may be the last gasp of a dying paganism. The rise of totalitarianism may ultimately be the means of clarifying the relations of the theistic religions — Christianity, Islam, and Judaism — to one another, and to human civilization. Carefully considered, the events of our time point not to a decline of our civilization, but to the development of a far loftier civilization and more complete democracy than any we have yet seen. They indicate the fruition, rather than the destruction, of American liberties.