THE HISTORY OF THE JEWS. By Dr. M. Friediger, Chief Rabbi of Denmark. P. Haase & Son, Copenhagen, 1934.
EXACTLY one year ago, Christion X, of Denmark, together with other members of the royal family, attended the special services held in the synagogue in Copenhagen in commemoration of the one hundredth anniversary of the establishment of that Jewish place of worship in the Danish capital.
Could anything emphasize more strikingly the good relations that exist between the Jews of Denmark and their gentile fellow-citizens, than this homage paid by the democratic ruler of the Danes to the faith of his Jewish subjects? Of course, Danish Jews had long before 1833 occupied positions of trust and responsibility in the land of the Vikings. But Nordic ancestry to the contrary not with standing, not one breath of religious animosity has for years been permitted to vent itself in that country north of Germany. Scandinavia, including as it does the neighboring Norway and Sweden, has become a byword for religious tolerance and as one reads Dr. Friediger’s great work, “The History of the Jews,” nothing is more evident than the difference in the points of view by the peoples of the Scandinavian north and some of the nations to the southward.
ONLY ONE REGRET
Reading Chief Rabbi Friediger’s monumental work there is only one regret to be expressed, namely, that the Danish language commands a comparatively small audience, and that, therefore, the world at large is excluded from the immediate acquaintance with the masterly array of facts here assembled. It is, however, to be hoped that this void will be filled in due time, and that the English-speaking people will be afforded an opportunity to partake of a literary feast that makes this Jewish history a thing apart, as well as a further exemplification of the never-ending problem of Judaism in its contact with forces, both in agreement with and opposed to, a religious faith that, no matter what the obstacles in the way, persists in confounding intolerance and scepticism, in many instances based on ignorance or sheer malice. It goes without saying that when race hatred and persecutions made conditions intolerable in Germany, those who sought refuge in Denmark found that country a true haven.
As Dr. Friediger sums up the situation today: “It must be the task of future historians to furnish a calm and just presentation, as well as a correct judgment of these events. But one thing is already observable today, and may be put down as a fact; -within, Jewry has been srengthened, and the power of that indomitable spirit that shows itself when the need is greatest, and that history has alotted to the Jewish people, reveals itself once more in the feeling of cohesion.
“All Jewish organizations that have the maintenance of Judaism at heart have joined hands for a common purpose. It is to be hoped that the German Jews, who have furnished world-culture with such great values, will be able to bear this evil burden with true Jewish heroism until justice once more is victorious, and returns to them that which rightfully belongs to them as loyal citizens.”
THE PURPOSE INDICATED
In presenting his data in the customary chronological order where histories of whatever kind naturally are concerned, Dr. Friediger nevertheless from the very first chapter, “The Return of the Jews from Babylon,” indicates his purpose of showing that this hope of deliverance of the Jews from whatever depression may be their fate today is uppermost in his mind.
“At last came the hour of deliverance,” he writes. “After fifty years of exile in hope and longing, the Jews could once again return to their native soil. Shortly after his accession to the throne, Cyrus, in 536 B.C. issued a decree that read: ‘The Eternal, the God of Heaven, has given to me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he left me the task of building Him a house in Jerusalem. He who among you belongs to His people shall go to Jerusalem and there build the house to the God of Israel. God be with him.”
It was ever thus in the history of the Jews down the ages. Oppression, persecution, racial hatred, murder, and then request for the Jews to come back to the country from where they were driven. Dr. Friediger does not pretend to reiterate what has been told a thousand times before, except for the needed purpose of givings his Scandinavian readers, for whom the book is written in the first instance, a connected story of Jewry through the centuries. But there are certain chapters which by their very contents let in new light and range themselves at the very top of the bibliography in question. Where he discusses “The Period of Enlightenment” and “The Equal Rights Question of the Jews,” the Danish scholar touches pretty close to the issues of the hour, with Moses Mendelsohn leading the van and who, as we read here, “was the first Jewish-German author who by reason of his ability and his irreproachable character plainly showed that as a Jew one can make himself as one with his environment’s intellectual atmosphere, and produce a great cultural work without proving unfaithful toward his ancestral belief.”
EVENTS TELL THE STORY
Here again Dr. Friediger lets past events in Germany tell their own story when placed in juxtaposition with occurrences of the present. Not that German Jewry had clear saliing from the time of Mendelsohn until the revolution of 1848 once more gave the Jews of that country privileges heretofore denied them. The name of Gabriel Riesser is here forever associated with the period when reaction had to take a back seat and Germany called a national convention at Frankfurt am Main with Riesser himself as vice-president of the gathering.
“Here,” writes Dr. Friediger, “the constitutional groundwork of the German people was laid, and in which paragraph 16 reads: “The rights of the citizen are independent of and in no manner touch any religious confession. This can in no way effect the duties of the citizen.’
“It was the first time,” adds Dr. Friediger, “that such a paragraph was included in the German constitutional law and gradually this interpretation has been the ruling one in Germany.”
THE GRAVE DANGER
In no other respect do the Jews of continental Europe view with alarm the racial antagonism engendered against them in certain quarters than where it concerns the deprivals of those equal rights which are theirs by virtue of constitutional laws in the countries in question. It is for this reason that Dr. Friediger dwells carefully on what has been transpiring in Germany since the coming of the third Reich, with the dire consequences to the Jewish population. In that one chapter of his book, which virtually is a book in itself, the reader can follow the course of events in France, Germany, Austria and Hungary, Italy, England, Holland, Russia, Poland, Turkey, as the various questions concerning Jewish rights present themselves for solution. It is hardly necessary to point out which of the countries mentioned above are living up to their agreement, and which are not.
like other historians dealing with the subject of Judaism, old and modern, Dr. Friediger makes nationalism and Zionism his deep concern, and he here reveals his complete sympathy with the great work of which Theodor Herzl was the inspiration. He also pays his respect to Chaim Weizmann for what this energetic leader of modern Judaism is doing to perpetuate the Zionistic structure of which Dr. Herzl laid the foundation. As for Scandinavia’s contribution to the progress of Judaism in northern Europe, Chief Rabbi Friediger pays reverent tribute to the late Dr. David Simonsen, his immediate predecessor in that office, whose scholarship won him renown far beyond the immediate borders of Denmark.
Without that intimate relationship that existed between these two outstanding Danish Jews, and their collaboration where all matters concerning their coreligionists were in question, it is difficult to believe that so monumental a work as this “History of the Jews” could ever have become a living fact. The Danish nation it self may well take pride in the knowledge that it was Danish soil that fostered this literary performance which reaches beyond the boundaries of mere religion and dogma in its ultimate effect and becomes a human document applicable to thinking men everywhere.