Home page The Occident and American Jewish Advocate Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library


The Prospect


In our last we sketched briefly from the information accessible to us a slight picture of the sufferings and prospects of the Jews in Russia, and when one sits down to consider it attentively, and then reflects that it never was better with them, and occasionally even worse, as active persecution was now and then added to fill to overflowing their cup of affliction, wonder must cease at the great want of industry observable among them, and of which the enemies of Judaism have made so often the basest uses to denounce them as vile, intriguing, and indolent. Oppress a man day by day; spit upon him when he is distressed; forbid him under pains and penalties from following any noble pursuit; compel him to snatch up a living by any resource which ingenuity can devise, except manual labour, agriculture, or the learned professions; show him that you and every other one around him are his enemies: and what do you think you will of necessity transform him into? Into what you charge the Russian Jews to be, and which, nevertheless, they are not,—artful, intriguing, and indolent. No doubt they exhibit traits which we would condemn, if we could rightfully judge them by the standard according to which we judge those who are untrammelled in their actions; but we cannot believe, in fact the confessions of all travellers are opposed to it, that they are sunk so low, as a race less ardent in their love for the pure and holy would have done had they been exposed to the same deteriorating influences. We assume the worst as the truth; we will admit that the moral sense of our fellow-Israelites has been greatly blunted, that they have become inferior to the better classes of the other inhabitants; but what do we admit thereby? only that the cruelties of their oppressors have at length produced their natural results; that after ages of ignominy our spirit has been subdued, and we have become willing to submit to the evils of our position as a thing natural and almost necessary to our being. With all this it is admitted that there is a degree of enlightenment prevalent among the northern Jews, far above that of the condition of the labouring classes, who also, from the force of servitude and subjection to the owners of the soil, have become stinted in their moral growth, and deformed in the capacity of their spirit. But what produces this difference so apparent to those even who sketch our manners with no especial degree of favour to ourselves or our religion? Even that very religion, for the sake of which we are oppressed and trodden under foot; its pure morality; the apparent truth with which it appeals to our conviction; the simplicity with which it can be taught in all its essence in a moment of time; the inextinguishable hope of a happy future it opens to the minds of its possessors; the conviction it impresses on the spirit of its followers, that all acts of God are for the ultimate good of the world;—all these qualities of our faith combined, we insist, have thrown a sanctifying influence over the children of sorrow, who only go to rest to end a day of oppression, and rise again from their humble pillow to look forward for new exactions.

But, see how thn tyrants of the earth gloss over their new acts of iniquity, by appealing for justification to a state which they or their predecessors have alone produced. They slay the spirit by all means of mental torture, and still they profess to fancy that the oppressed should be generous, cheerful, and obedient to laws which render them aliens on their native soil. And there are Jews, too, who profess to flatter their taskmasters, and join in. the hue and cry against their suffering brothers; they, too, cast stones at those they deem behind the march of improvement, forgetful, perhaps, of their earlier years, when the evidence of fanaticism, the cantword “Hep, Hep,” was made a signal for brutal assault upon Jewish dwellings; for this occurred as late as 1819, a year memorable in this enlightened age, for a senseless attempted renewal of the scenes of the middle ages. They forget it was the mere force of circumstances, evidently the work of Providence, which placed them of late in a more forward path for improvement; and still—still—what real progress has been made in political equalization, except in a few countries, amongst no more than two hundred thousand Jews? Let modern history, the occurrences of every day, answer:—the Jew is still oppressed, still regarded with aversion. Nay, even in liberal England, enlightened France, educated Scotland, our free America, there are associations to wipe out the Jewish name from the pages of the events of the day, an attempt (though, blessed be God, unsuccessful in every point of view) which, if it could be accomplished, would effect the very thing to avoid which we braced all the persecutions of all the nations of the earth; the Heathen, the Christian, the Mahomedan, of every shade of opinion, of every form of government. Had we thought proper to yield to what the converters ask of us to do, we need not have stood as the mark of contempt, of obloquy, and hatred; we might have revelled in the luxuries of the earth, been ourselves among those who now rule over their fellows. And well was it said by the greatest of English poets of this century [Byron]:—

“Were my bosom as false as thou deem’st it to be,
I need not have wandered from far Galilee;
It was but abjuring my creed to efface
The curse which, thou say’st, is the crime of my race.”

It was our creed against which the tyrants of the ancient world contended, and Antiochus, and Caligula, and Titus, and Hadrian, and Sapores, and the Caliphs, and Philip Augustus, and Edward, and Ferdinand, and who else the oppressors may have been, would gladly have heaped honours on our heads had we but declared that we had no portion in Israel, that we renounced the worship of Jacob’s God. But we have sacrificed our earthly happiness to our God, to use the words of the same poet:—

“I have lost for that faith more than thou canst bestow,
As the God who permits thee to prosper loth know;
In his hand is my heart, and my hope;—and in thine,
The land and the life which for him I resign.”

In Palestine we might have remained as the allies and friends of the Romans; our blood would not have flowed at Alexandria had we worshipped the idols of Greece and of Italy; in the lands of the Crescent we could have flourished as the followers of Mohammed; and in Christendom our genius would have ruled the ascendant had we acknowledged the Nazarene. But we went forth to battle, though the struggle was, to our own conviction, in vain; whilst the column of smoke from the burning temple ascended to heaven, the defenders of their country preferred death to life; when the enemies in the cities of Egypt conspired to slay the defenceless, these did not hide their devotion to the Redeemer of their fathers; when the bloody banner of the Arabian prophet was borne aloft; the children of Israel did not quail before the danger and the terrors which walked over the earth before it; and when, at its fall in Hispania, the rule of the man of Nazareth became firmly established in the western portions of Europe, when no house of refuge was left whither the exiles could wander, still the same truth was professed, the same faith was proclaimed, and we perished—but perished with the hope of salvation in Him who called Abraham from Ur in Chaldea.—Are not, then, those enemies of Israel who endeavour to lure away the members of our household from the secure fold of the everlasting Shepherd? And whether it be by governmental tyranny or by private temptations, it is the same eternity which we have to dread, and it is ours to wage the same uncompromising opposition as we did during the fiercest struggle in the day of battle; not indeed with the sword and the bow; but by opposing the same unconquerable will, the same stubborn resistance to approaches of sin, no matter how tempting the offers which the snarers of the innocent may and do hold out as a bait to the unwary. It is worse than folly to flatter the modern governments for their mercy, which circumstances, not their charity, have forced from them; and equally wrong is it to denounce our suffering brothers for being behind in the race of improvement. No one must understand us as though we were ungrateful for the ameliorated state of our position in nearly every country; on the contrary, we are truly thankful to the Saviour of Israel for his bounty, and we feel gratitude to the instruments He chose to effect his purpose, chiefly the estates of Holland, who first opened an asylum to our fugitives from the dungeons of the Inquisition; to Oliver Cromwell, the fitting messenger who destroyed arbitrary rule in the island of Britain; to the members of the Convention who framed the Constitution of the United States; and to the Constituent Assembly of France, in which Abbe Sièyes declared that it ought only to be inquired whether the Jews were men, to entitle them to the privileges of citizens. To these circumstances was our amelioration owing, that is to say, to revulsions in politics which forced their actors—who were men of profound sagacity, and, no doubt unconsciously to themselves, instigated by that invisible providential influence by which the wrath of men is rendered subservient to the general good—to extend the range of liberty so as to oppose, by this means, the attachment to a former order of things in the hearts of their countrymen, in making it the interest of all who were benefited, to resist the return of the systems which had been overthrown, not alone by public resolves, but also by the force of arms in the hands of a victorious faction or party. We do not deem it necessary to enlarge upon the well­known facts, that not one of the revolutions to which we have just referred was the work of an harmonious public suffrage; for in all of them rivers of blood were shed to force an improved state of political affairs upon a large and unwilling party. But it is not our business to discuss the subject any farther than it refers to the Jews; and we contend, then, that we were benefited by political revulsions solely, and that the progress in times of peace has been exceedingly slow; nay, that even what was promised in times of need, as in Prussia and Poland, has been withheld since a return to order left the rulers free to forge new fetters for their subjects. If, then, Jews have not advanced in agriculture and the mechanic arts; if they still cling with ardour to the pursuit of small business; if they feel still an aversion to the governments who oppress them, whose fault is it? are the sufferers alone to blame? are the circumstances which coerce them to be accounted as nothing?

But even go farther, and say, all the blame is ours; that we are anti-social, repulsive, fond of exclusion, and all that. Still we may allege, that as the sea does not become tranquil immediately upon the cessation of the storm which caused its billows to be upheaved, even so will the deteriorating influence of misgovernment remain long after a new state of affairs has been introduced; time only can lay the waves produced by the violence of the hurricane, and time only can assuage the acerbities of feeling produced by ages of oppression, and remove the cramped-like state of the limbs brought about by a long disuse of them, in an exercise in some active and healthy employment. The Israelites have been for ages the mark for every missile which malevolence could forge; every disability imaginable was laid upon them; every pursuit but that of mean traffic was interdicted to them; as a class they are to this day unacquainted with those industrial employments which constitute the wealth of a state, not because they have not been willing fo learn, but because there has not been time yet to unlearn what so much pains was taken to teach them, to despise as ignoble what, so to say, has become second nature, and chiefly because there is not wealth enough among them to acquire landed estates, and to set up their children as masters after they have learned a trade. Those who have acquired the latter have had great struggles almost every where to establish themselves in business, not the least of which is the not working on the seventh day. Still the reports which we have laid already before our readers at various times, prove that a great progress has already been made in that regard; and there can be no doubt that the advance will be sure though gradual, till we firmly believe an outcry will be raised in the Christian states of Europe, that the Jews monopolize all mechanical branches, as is now said they do all sorts of business. But let it not be supposed that we are progressing untramelled by the interference of governments; in our last number we gave the views of Russia, and now we have to add the consistent conduct of another imperial power, that of Austria, which has so successfully laboured to shut out the light of liberty which has even penetrated into the Turkish dominions. We extract from the “Jewish Intelligence,” a part of the report of one of the apostate missionaries who passed through Austria on his way to Palestine; and they who know the peculiar love apostates bear or exhibit rather to Judaism, will not accuse him of saying willingly any thing in favour of our people.

“The Jews contribute largely to the revenues of the State. Thus, the Jews of Bohemia pay 261,000 gulden yearly, (about £26,100 sterling,) into the Emperor’s treasury; those of Moravia 185,000 gulden (or £18,500 sterling), those of Galicia £70,000 sterling. The Jews have also to pay many taxes besides: thus, for instance, the Jew is obliged to pay to government for every pound of meat he buys, two kreutzers, or one penny (two cents). On account of this tax many or the poorest Jews are altogether deprived of meat. Another most revolting tax, is, that every Jew has to pay to Government for every light he burns on the eve of the Sabbath in his own house, five kreutzers, or 2½d. It is well known that in each Jewish house there is found a lamp with seven branches; each branch being so constructed that it may be filled with oil, and burn separately; and that it is a commandment binding on the Jewish women to light this lamp. A poor Jew might say, I cannot pay this tax, and therefore will not light my lamp. The Austrian government has, however, taken care to prevent such an excuse, for the law provides that every Jew must pay for at least two lights. Thus every Jew, even the poorest, must pay a tax of ten kreutzers every Friday. If they burn lights at a marriage, they must pay two shillings (fifty cents) for every light; and on the Day of Atonement ten kreutzers for every wax light used in the Synagogues. With all these humiliating taxes, the Jews are excluded from following many arts and occupations. No Jew can be an apothecary throughout all the Austrian empire.”

So far the extract. Our readers must recollect that it is not from a Jewish source, but from one who labours to destroy us. And still he exhibits such a picture as would almost appear incredible in this age of enlightenment—at least so it loves to call itself. Here we have the practical effects of Christian benevolence as exhibited by one of the most Christian governments! We know not how others feel; but we would spurn Christianity if it had no other objections than its treatment of our poor exiles, even if we could admit the truth of its tenets. And still the government employs this oppression to convert the Jews! and stranger yet than all, there are men, among the rich especially, who love so much the rod and the hand that smite them, that they embrace the faith and the fellowship of their tyrants, so as to cease being Israelites. We take the report of the same missionary as our guide; and we believe his statement, though it appears incredible that men should have so little self-respect as this defection betokens. But let such traitors go: “the poor and afflicted remnant that is left will shelter themselves under the protection of the Lord of hosts,” and maintain their identity after the others shall have been forgotten. We can resist the treason of our members as well as the hatred of the world; but it is this very faintheartedness of the rich which the governments well enough understand, and they shape their course accordingly; but were all who have ample means, to show their adherence to the law and their identity with Israel, we imagine that different measures would soon be adopted.—But we must stop again for the present; we wanted to exhibit the goodness of another great power towards us, and we do so without calling to aid other materials in our hands, than the one paragraph which we have quoted; still this is enough to rouse the indignation of all friends of the rights of man, and we leave herewith the subject for the calm reflections of our readers, whether Jews or Christian, certain that they will blame less than heretofore any defects which they may discover in or see ascribed to the character of the Hebrews, and that they will all admit that only a brave and heroic people could have stood so much evil without losing every hope or noble aspiration.