Pertinent and Impertinent
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Pertinent and Impertinent

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In the history of almost every people there comes a moment when the poor and oppressed rise up against their oppressors, when the disinherited attack the privileged, when a class war convulses society and often destroys a civilization. The war of the Helots in ancient Sparta, the uprising of the peasants in the Middle Ages, the French revolution, and, in our days, the revolution in Russia, are a few instances to show that sooner or later there strikes an hour when long-endured privation and despair explode into the terrors of a class war.

Only Jewish history is strangely free of these almost universal events. There are in our history external as well as internal wars—Juda fights against Israel—but never does one class rise against the other in order to demand with the weapons of destruction the social justice that is denied to its members.


Two reasons are responsible for this fact. Firstly, Jewish social legislation has always prevented the poor from being burdened with hopelessness and despair. However dire their present circumstances might be, they could always look forward to a better time. Even the slave had hope as the companion of his labors, for after a stated time debts were remitted, the pawned land returned to its owner, the slave received his freedom. Hope was the safety valve that prevented social upheavals in the history of the Jews.

Then there is a second reason. The rich men and women in Israel, in ancient times as well as today, considered themselves merely custodians of their wealth and administered it for the benefit of the community. Not only did they give alms and engage in social welfare work—that was merely regarded as a duty—but from their surplus they always endowed educational and recreational institutions, helped artists and scientists, and in short spent their money in such a way that their wealth was a blessing and not a curse to their fellow men. Just to cull at random a few examples let me remind you of the educational work done by Sir Moses Montefiore, the colonization activities of the Rothschilds in Palestine, of Baron de Hirsch in the Argentine, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lewisohn Stadium, the impetus which dramatic art received through the Neighborhood Playhouse, creation of the Lewisohn sisters, and the concerts donated by the Nauheim and Guggenheimer families.


Perhaps one of the most touching instances of the way in which our rich uphold this fine tradition came to my attention the other day. I happened to glance through a scientific publication, Mizraim, published by the noted Egyptologist, Professor Nathaniel Julius Reich. It is a splendid work, typographically truly beautiful and containing much that is even of interest to lay persons. And in his introduction Professor Reich acknowledges that this publication could not have been brought forth without the generous help of Mr. and Mrs. Lessing Rosenwald, who have not only materially backed him in his undertaking but have encouraged him with their never-failing interest and friendship.

If in every nation rich men, instead of spending their money ostentatiously on selfish pleasures, had devoted themselves to such activities, bitterness, jealousy and envy would never have poisoned the hearts of the poor and led finally to the upheaval of class war. That this is true, Jewish history proves: A history that is a record not of pernicious revolution but of beneficent evolution.

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