The last number of the North American Review gives a very interesting sketch of the present situation of the ‘chosen people,’ still a host, though but a remnant. From various causes it is difficult to ascertain their numbers, but they cannot be estimated below six or seven millions. “Of the two and a half tribes, Judah and Benjamin, and half Manasseh,” quotes the North American from Judge Noah, “the number in every part of the world may be computed as exceeding six millions. Of the missing nine and a half tribes, part of which are in Turkey, China, Hindostan, Persia, and on this continent, it is impossible to ascertain the numerical force.” * *
“No estimate can be formed of the number of Jews residing in Roman Catholic countries, particularly in Spain and Portugal, who conceal their religion under a Christian garb; probably, there are several hundred thousand of them. The numbers given for Asia and Africa certainly fall short of the truth. They are powerful in Persia and the countries upon the Indian Ocean, in China, and on the borders of Tartary. Black Jews are found in Abyssinia, Ethiopia, and Hindostan. They have a congregation in Calcutta, and are quite numerous on the coast of Malabar, where they speak of brethren residing in Northern India, Tartary and China.
Their position in the East is well known to every reader. Though possessed of some real power, they are not so of any degree of honor or security, and are the mark of insult alike to Turk, Moor and Christian. But the following story of barbarity practiced against them so little while ago, and founded upon the old superstition as to their making human sacrifices, was new to us, and may be so to others.
“The accounts received four years ago, of grievous cruelties practiced upon the Jews at Damascus and Rhodes, though they excited, especially in Great Britain, unusual sympathy, exhibited instances of suffering by no means extraordinary. In 1823, all the Jews of Damascus suspected of the crime of having wealth, were thrown into prison, and redeemed their lives only by an enormous payment. In February, 1840, Father Thomaso, a priest, who practiced medicine, disappeared, as well as his servant. Certain Turks and Greeks affirmed, that both had been seen in the Jewish quarter the evening before. A Jewish barber was at once seized, carried before the Pacha, and examined under the most dreadful tortures. For a while he protested utter ignorance; but a length, in the extremity of his suffering, at the suggestion of some Greeks standing by, he denounced the seven wealthiest men in the city; declaring, that they had promised him eight hundred piastres, if he would sacrifice the priest, so that they might have his blood for the unleavened bread; which he had refused to do. The Pacha, in a great rage, sent for the seven Jews, and subjected them, notwithstanding their protestations of innocence, to the bastinado and other extreme cruelties, keeping them on their feet fifty hours, without food or sleep. He then sent for the three chief rabbins, and put them to the torture, requiring them to say if they used blood for the paschal bread. Of course they denied the charge. The Pacha then sent to the college of children, put all the inmates in prison, loaded them with chains, forbade their parents to visit them, and fed them on a small allowance of bread and water, in hopes of thus extorting from the parents a confession. A Jew who ventured to expostulate with the Pacha, and to represent the absurdity of such an accusation and such proceedings, was at once beaten to death. The Pacha then caused the houses of the accused to be razed to their foundations; and finding no trace of the two persons who had disappeared, he threw the prisoners into a sewer beneath the palace. No longer able to endure such torments, they admitted the truth of the charge. One of them said the blood had been put in a bottle and committed to another of their number: this one, however, denied all knowledge of it, until a thousand strokes with rods compelled him to say he had put the bottle into a certain closet. Of course, it could not be found; but in the closet was a large sum of gold, which the Jew had vainly hoped would save him. Meantime, an astrologer declared he had discovered by his art that the accused were the murderers of the priest, and five others, whom he named, of the servant. Three of the latter fled before they could be apprehended. Some of the others embraced Islamism and were released. The French consul at Damascus was accused of being one of the chief instigators of these persecutions; but other representatives of different European powers interfered, and the Jews of London sent a commission to remonstrate with the Sultan. Mehemet Ali soon issued orders forbidding further persecution until the matter could be fairly investigated; and when released from the fear of torture, those who had confessed retracted their omission, the barber declaring that they had threatened to torture him to death unless he confessed, and had promised him safety if he would denounce the murderers.
In the island of Rhodes, about the same time, the Christians accused the Jews of sacrificing a child ten years old. Here, again, certain European consuls were said to have been the instigators. Witnesses were found to affirm, that a Greek child had been seen following a Jew on the public highway. The Jew was arrested, thrown into chains, and bastinadoed; his nostrils were pierced with iron, heated stones placed on his head, and a heavy weight on his heart. His persecutors endeavored to induce him to denounce the chief rabbi; and, at last, he accused several Jews, though not the rabbi. As many of these as could be found were seized and subjected to similar tortures, under which seven persons suffered until almost deprived of life. The accused, or some of them, were afterwards taken to Constantinople for trial, and their innocence fully established; and the Jewish commission from London, with others who interested themselves for the persecuted people, succeeded in obtaining a firman, dated Nov. 6th, 1840, putting an end to these cruelties both at Damascus and the island of Rhodes, and declaring that the Jews should be protected, and should enjoy the same rights as other nations dependent of the Porte.
These accumulated statements of cruelties practiced upon the Jews, especially in Mohammedan countries, if taken by themselves, would undoubtedly give an exaggerated idea of their sufferings. It must be recollected, that vast numbers of them are too poor in reality, and many others too poor in appearance, to tempt cupidity; that their oppressors treat them with some degree of leniency, as they do the brutes subjected to their service, from motives of self-interest; that the rulers often protect them from the malice of the people, in order that their own revenues may not suffer; that the natural feelings of humanity, quite extinct in no human breast, unnerve the arm of persecution; and that the necessary influence and ready artificers of a race preëminently shrew and intelligent save them from many immanent perils.”
In this country, France, Holland and parts of Germany, their freedom is almost complete, and few privileges are denied them, except by private prejudice. Napoleon gave an impulse in the true direction here, as on so many other subjects. In England, their position casts a strange blur on her pompous advocacy of the cause of human freedom. But it is not the only one. In Italy, Spain, Portugal, they are scarcely tolerated.
The following impressive account of the ceremony to which they are yearly subjected in Rome is extracted from the Journal of Mr. Whyte, a Scottish clergyman:
‘The palace where we assembled, a part which is the foundation of the ancient Roman treasury, stands on the Capitol, the most celebrated of the seven hills of the Eternal City. At one end of its most spacious hall there sat enthroned the senator of Rome, the highest civil magistrate. Before him kneeled four venerable rabbis, dressed in the attire of their highest and holiest festivals; there seemed to settle down upon their expressive countenances the melancholy of felt humiliation, mingling with conscious dignity, while the oldest of them read, on bended knees, a petition couched in the humblest terms, and pleading that the Jews might be allowed to remain another year in Rome. Rising with the pride of delegated authority, and with a look of tyranny, the senator read a letter from the pope, in which he condescended to prolong the stay of God’s ancient people for another year in Rome, provided their conduct should be submissive and orderly, and on the condition that they should pay a certain sum as tribute money. Before leaving the posture of suppliants, the venerable four presented each a bundle of flowers to the senator.—I suppose in token of their gratitude, and as a pledge that the tribute would be forthcoming. That very day the sum was paid, and the week after it was expended on the races of the Carnival; where it is difficult to say whether cruelty or folly predominates. During the Middle Ages, the pope used, on the occasion above alluded to, to place his foot upon the necks of the rabbis; but although this revolting ceremony has fled before the light of the nineteenth century, still the Jews are confined within a walled inclosure, in the filthiest part of the city, on the banks of the Tiber: sentinels are stationed at the two gates, and none of them must be seen upon the streets after ten o’clock at night, and before a certain hour in the morning.’—pp. 194, 195.
Mr. Ridley H. Herschell, a converted Jew of London, where he now edits the “Voice of Israel,” adds to the particulars given by Mr. Whyte, the fact, that the annual tribute is, by compulsion, paid on the Jewish Sabbath, a day which the Jews consider profaned by the receipt or payment of money; that it is presented in the form of a promissory note in a bouquet of flowers, which may explain part of the former description; and that, when he witnessed the ceremonial, the payment was “followed by a contemptuous command to ‘Begone,’” on which he heard severe comments among the Roman Catholic spectators. He also mentions, that the Jews of Rome are obliged, at each Carnival, to compound, by another payment, “for the obligation to find so many Jews to run a race in the Corso.”
This touching mention is made of a circumstance spoken of by the author of ‘Eothen’ with such low and barbarous sarcasm:
“The dead buried in the Holy Land are expected to be the first to rise in the Messiah’s day; and so strong has been the desire of burial there, that, in the seventeenth century, large quantities of Jewish bones were yearly sent thither to be interred.—Ship-loads of this melancholy freight might often be seen at Joppa.”
There are excellent accounts of the situation of the Jews in Germany, of an old-fashioned Rabbinical education, and of the influence exerted by Mendelssohn on the culture and growth of his nation; for there is now culture and growth among them. The girdle which so tightly repressed the vital energies of the nation is broken, and the form and proportions of the Jewish man are expanding and approximating to the modern European standard.—Nay, more! the Jew who is thoroughly ‘emancipated’, inclines to join or even to head the extreme radical party, which it is to be wished may earn the name, so readily arrogated by each innovator, of Reform party. A movement party is, to be sure, necessarily a Reform party, but has no right to assume so noble a name, unless its leaders, at least, if not the party in general, are intelligent or prophetic of the principles which must animate the next development of organic life.
On this subject we will add a translation of some pages from ‘Margkraff’s Deutschland’s jüngste Literatur, and Cultur Epoche’—Latest Epochs of the Literature and Culture of Germany—which we shall translate into these columns at another time.
Markgraff has been giving sketches of these celebrated personages, Rahel, the intellectual Queen of Berlin, well described by Carlyle in one of the Foreign Reviews some five or six years since, Börne, and Heinrich Heine. He then goes on to say—“It may well be remarked that Rahel, Börne, Heine, who have had so great an influence on the present state of literature, are not of Christian birth. * * * *
“Menzel is right so far as this, that the Jewish elements have pervaded our literature to a greater extent than is in their present state desirable. The Jewish, uniting with the Christian skepticism, acts with great power. Some say a revenge is hereby taken like that of Shylock, revenge for persecutions endured by the Jews in the Middle Ages, (but which, it should be remembered, were endured no less by heretics among the Christians, such as the Albigenses,) revenge for the injuries which are done them even now, and for the hard-heartedness of Christians, which appoints them their place in the most forlorn center of humanity. But such an excuse only makes a bad fact worse. The honorable mind desires, demands only its right—not its revenge. Let the Jews demand their rights; those will not finally be denied them in Germany; but the practice of their revenge can only be prejudicial to their rights, destroy the true point of view, and confuse all minds, while this subject of emancipation demands for its adjustment a perfectly clear understanding between Jew and Christian.
“Emancipation problems play in this age, whose tendency is to reconcile opposites, a part of great and manifold significance. Cosmopolite ways of thinking get the ascendant more and more, evening and planning on every side; characteristic points and angles are effaced; European ground is well swept and waxed so as to be a fit mirror in which we may see out own smoothed-out and characterless faces. The time of bodily servitude is over, that of heart-service must begin; peasants and serfs are obtaining more freedom; across the ocean they are constantly discussion the question of negro emancipation; on this continent, of that of the Irish and Jews. But what avails it to the Irish that Wellington, what to the Jews that Rothschild is of their blood? These great men raised themselves, but left the people behind. Still believes the common Irishman in ghost and devil—the common Jew in his beloved Koscher, and in the dangerous urgency of Treffo.
“But Judaism has undergone the same division among the cultivated Jews, as Christendom among the cultivated Christians. And it is well when they apply themselves to free their own temple from the endless rubbish of ceremonial and superstition with which it is filled. But they should leave us of the Christian Church to do this work for ourselves.—We are on a par as to the disadvantages of the time; we also have our young men that sympathize with those among them who have taken from under the feet all religious ground-work, and who wear the pale pink ribbons of Bel Esprit with the comfort and poesy-less religion of modern self-consciousness. Among these, in both nations, may be found boys entirely immature in their bodily life, but who have formed their opinions on all conceivable subjects, and seen through and through all the phenomena of this world.—These are the children, the product of modern civilization, who never had any childishness, faith, nor natural fresh feeling; who never have known modesty, humility or shame, and whose memories will not be able to refresh their age with one poetic youthful image; born and brought up in chagrin and ennui, every where, if they cannot bring their dear selves forward, vegetating in chagrin and ennui, and leaving this life of a shallow over-education without love, without comfort, without repentance, without faith, without hope.
“An English Jew, very free from prejudice, D’Israeli, has had the courage, in a spirited writing that under the title “Geist des Judenthums,” Spirit of Jewry, is well known in Germany, to accuse the stiffness of the Jews and their iron laws. He does not depreciate the blessings which would come to the Jews from political emancipation, but asks first from them that they should emancipate themselves from their prejudices and cast off the yoke of Rabbinism and Talmudism, that they should educate the Mosaist youth, not as a young Palestine, but as a young Europe, that thus the emancipation should proceed from the Jews themselves, as one essentially moral and funded on liberation of the mind. For the Talmud is not original law, but traditional additions, and in the old law many things are contained which do not suit the present circumstances. All around the Jewish community has changed; will they not change, too, that there may be harmony between them and the life of their time?
“Before emancipation can take place, there must be a good understanding between the parties concerned, and, in order to such an understanding, they must first have confidence in one another.—The Christians must more and more lay open to the Jews those civic functions which are founded on a moral confidence, and the Jews, so far as possible, avoid every thing which will place their morality in a dubious light; the must not press forward prematurely; they must not only win a harvest for themselves, but sow for their posterity, seeking moral and social more than pecuniary advantages; they must try to put aside certain bad characteristics, of which the race in general, but especially its youth, is accused; arrogance, intrusiveness, babbling, rashness, the tendency, even in the most solemn relations of life, to keep the eye on gain, and make profit out of friendship, out of the inmost relations; their endless inconstancy; their taste for going between, and accommodation; their witticisms upon subjects that are held sacred by the graver part of the Christian world. I speak not here of the Rabbis and all those earnest and dignified Oriental figures of the Jewish world, but of Jews, as modified by modern culture. Emancipation can only take place when their laws and customs cease to be obviously in conflict with Christian institutions. We can as little admit a person educated and bigoted in the temper of Jewry to a share in the affairs of law and State, as an Islamite.
“They talk of the emancipation of the Jews, but never name that of the daughters of the Jews.—Probably, because it seems that they, through the beautiful traits of the race which they possess without its defects and sad alloy, are sufficiently set free. In women the national, the exclusive and one-sided, legal construction and affairs of State are extinguished, while the general human, or general feminine characteristics unite them in one sisterhood or cousinship, shaded only according to the greater or less degree of intensive fire. The best traits of the Jewish race are learned by seeing them in their families; you find there the old eastern hospitality, communicative cheerfulness, frankness, soft insinuation and mental activity, taking part in the life of art and literature and the more general interests, with an unconstrained confiding manner, free from all ceremonial stiffness, such as is not easily to be found among Christians. Like a national sanctuary has this nature of the eastern and southern races been preserved to show in the Jewish family its face in free beauty, unvarnished and undistorted.
“Much has been said of injustice done to the Jews in the Middle Ages, but in this they only suffered with all other faiths and feelings that were not Christian or not Catholic. The Middle Ages cannot be brought to account for their cruel simplicity, but our much-vaunted art of Humanity would be to blame, indeed, if it did not seek to put aside the results of such injustice. Like the Greeks, the Jews have grown mean and deceitful through oppression, and, not being able to obtain justice, have sought for power. We know how they have succeeded in this. The history of the world is so entangled with Loans that it has seemed almost in the power of that king of bankers, and king of kings, Rothschild, to declare her bankrupt.
“A society can have no more dangerous foe than in a corporation, educated in its midst only to be treated like a wild beast, caged up in Jew quarters or Jew streets, as if their very atmosphere was infectious. Thus have the Franks, who, Constantinople, are shut up in their quarter, and kicked aside as unbelieving dogs, fully avenged themselves by infusing among the Turks the restless, feverish blood of civilization, and the poison of skepticism, spoiling the groundwork from which the Mussulman race had grown to its full stature.
“Quickness and sharpness of comprehension, which were remarkable in their native character; have been hightened in the Jews by the difficulties of their position in Christendom. It has had the same effect on their keen with. Other races, under like circumstances, have become peevish, gloomy, or obtuse, but the lightly flowering Oriental blood has aided this faculty of wit to help the Jews over so many obstacles with nimble feet and strong shoulders. This wit is not always based on honor and sincerity, as if the Jews, in ancient times, showed force of imagination, prophetic earnestness, and poetic sublimity far more than traits like these, yet, it must be confessed, that on many points a faithlessness and cunning are betrayed which it requires great straining in the interpreter to convert into something holy for the edification of youth.
“The Jews have had very earnest, conscientious and profound Rabbis and philosophers; also from their midst have come out earnest, conscientious and profound Christian theologians, (as Neander, for instance,) but the present Dilettantism and half-culture favor the production of wit more than any thing else, and of a cold, petty, and skeptical kind of wit. * * *
“Yet now comes on a change. It is perceived of late that Bendemann is not the greatest painter of the time and, that Meyerbeer, neither in invention, originality, nor purity of taste ought to be compared with the heroes of music; we are weary of prostitutions of life, genius and philosophy like those of Heine, and of the indiscreet, meanly suspicious, and partisan tone. “We would, if possible, become more modest, consecrate ourselves as much as possible to production, and, where criticism is needed, use it in the way of examination, not of destruction. The nobler and more honorable Jews, (and we are well aware that an honorable Jew represents honor in the severest sense, and that there are many such,) have seen with anxiety and displeasure the proceedings of many of their literary compatriots. They have regarded them from the Jewish stand-point as persons who were neither fish nor flesh, neither Jew nor Christian, persons who, not unfrequently, were ashamed of their great intellectual powers to the wants and instruction of their nation, made usurious advantage from them to maintain their own vanity.”
Thus far on this chapter writes the critic, whose remarks, if not profound, evince a healthy and generous temper. Like most other writers, he stops just as we begin to discern something really good that might be said, and leaves us to satisfy, as we can, the want he has created.*
“The Modern Jews.” New-York Daily Tribune, 21 April 1845, p. 1.