by William B. Ziff Author of "Jewry must About Face!"
It has been seldom in history that any problems have been presented to individual human beings in nearly as intricate and confused a fashion as the problem of his Jewishness is being handed the young Jew of today.
In whatever direction he turns he finds himself on soft ground. Nowhere does he seem to be able to come into complete adjustment with a well-ordered, normal, healthy existence. At best he faces his problems with a certain inward frustration and sense of helplessness.
What is not generally understood is that he is in almost every way worse off potentially than in any previous time in his history. He is so blinded by the vestiges of liberalism that he is totally unable to see the new deploying of forces which must inevitably succeed in ruining him.
The Jew, childish as usual when it comes to estimating self-evident trends, smugly fancies that he is simply faced with the familiar type of anti-Semitism.
His reasoning is apt to be as follows:
1. It is only a momentary condition, accidentally projected onto the stage of world enlightenment.
2. It can be escaped by complete acceptance of the majority personality.
3. It will yield to an educational process, or to a correction of the economic maladjustments of present day society.
In each of these three assumptions the Jew will find that he has been completely in error, that he is facing a far grimmer business than he at present visualizes.
In the western countries he is apt to contrast his position with the largely unrelated situation of the East European Jew. Finding few of the conditions present which the East European Jew faces, he is apt to base his reasoning on deceptive grounds.
To understand his position clearly, he must understand the history and sources of anti-Semitism itself.
It is, of course, impossible to give anything more than a rough outline of this highly complicated business in this short article. But this should suffice for the purpose of a general understanding.
In its original aspect it was nothing more than the disdain of the Roman world for an alien ethical concept with no deep roots in the popular consciousness. In this sense it would be true to say that it was a mere shallow dislike based on unlikeness.
In its second form it represented the strong feeling in any household divided against itself. This was after the advent of Christianity, then practically a Jewish sect. That even at this date it was hardly a purely internecine Jewish affair is due to the then Jewish habit of proselytizing. It was largely the neo-Jews who succumbed to the fascination of Christianity, to them a less rigid interpretation of the Jewish concept.
Christianity, by the absorption of entire peoples, also absorbed more and more of their native doctrines. It gradually differentiated itself completely from its parent. In this process of growth it lost most of its original likeness, and lost at the same time schismatic hatreds of an earlier date.
JEWS BECAME "HERETICS"
The rising power of the orthodox church soon incongruously came to look on Judaism as a heretic sect, and began to put pressure on it to compel it to comform. The Jewish conception began to be looked upon as dangerous to the totalitarian concept of the church.
The tendency to isolate this idea, to rid the body of Christian opinion from the possibility of being contaminated by it.
All this was still largely a matter of doctrine and not yet rooted in the popular consciousness in the form of an irradicable prejudice.
The first great calamity to the Jewish position came from the advent of the Crusaders. Although our Jewish children are among others taught in the public schools that this gentry were gallant, chivalrous and motivated by the most moral of purposes, in reality they were a simple gang of adventurers and land pirates. Bloody, cruel, corrupt and fanatic, these precious gentlemen were actuated largely by the lofty ideals of pillage, rapine and murder.
NO NATIONALISM YET
Up to this time political nationalism as we know it had not yet developed, and Jews everywhere lived in peace with their neighbors.
The onrush of the Crusaders exposed the Jews to a series of sadistic outrages, and whole communities were wiped out in blood, pillaged and forcibly converted.
When Godfrey de Bouillon took Jerusalem in 1105, his first act of piety was to drive the Jews into the synagogue and burn them alive.
This emotional contagion gradually possessed the entire Christian church and crystallized in acts of violence.
As the infection became more acute in one direction the Jews ### themselves up and moved to another.
Popular belief, fostered by the priesthood, soon stood the Jews accountable for every misfortune. Whatever they could not understand became the malicious work of the Jews, who were rapidly becoming an estranged and completely alien people.
ACCUSED IN PLAGUES
Thus, during the great cholera plagues, the Jews were accused of having poisoned the wells, and were horribly massacred in retaliation. Every kind of canard was invented to discredit them, including the well-known one of ritual murder.
In countries where church and state were one, civil legislation closely followed the church dictums against spiritual contamination. Every manner of law was passed against Jewish integration with the national life. They could not own land, belong to the guilds or engage in certain businesses. They were compelled to live in their own quarters.
Being set up as obvious, unprotected targets, the background of anti-Semitism also became complicated with political expediency and the desire for plunder.
These strictures became so severe that the Jewish communities were finally forced to sell themselves to the rising power of the feudal nobles for protection. These nobles possessed their own armies and were virtually independent, and could give them comparative sanctuary against both church and king. In return the Jews became their business agents, go-between men, and emergency scapegoats.
The Jew in this way assumed a new and peculiar place in the social order. He was the noble’s overseer and tax collector, and thus managed to add even more to the hatred already centered on him.
By this time this proud, independent people were obviously semi-slaves. Their self-reliance was taken from them. Their life was one of theories and Messianic dreams.
The only pleasant interludes in this picture of medieval monstrosities were the glorious period of the Spanish Jews and the Jewish Khazar kingdom, which flourished in south Russia.
Finally there came the day of the French Revolution, with its cry of "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity." In this onrush of the liberal spirit, the western Jew suddenly found the dark walls of the ghetto torn down. He stood in the unaccustomed sunlight of freedom.
As contrasted with this happy condition, everything that was Jewish remained as a badge of his former servitude. The old vitality of Judaism gone, all that remained were its garments, and these the emancipated Jew was quick to discard. With it he thought he discarded the hateful past.
What he could not discard was the Jewish consciousness he had developed over these several thousand years. What the non-Jew could not discard was the inner apprehension and dislike which forty generations of churchdom had engrained in him.
While laws had legislated political and economic freedom, no statutes can legislate the conscience. The true expression of condition found itself in accentuated Jewish social ostracism, and a quiet attempt to defeat the liberal, economic, political provisions of law.
The Frankenstein of anti-Semitism having by no means been exterminated, it merely assumed a new directionalism.
What I am attempting to make clear is that in itself anti-Semitism represents an actual though often inarticulate force, long centuries having conditioned it into being, so that it is capable of existing of itself, as apart from any contributing condition.
If it is not allowed one outlet, it will find another perhaps even more dangerous than the first. It has become in measure an engrained characteristic like the fear of night, gregariousness, etc.
During its hidden periods it has time to grow even more virulent. The Jew who always felt that its invisibility was token of its death has always been painfully surprised at its revitalized reappearance. Hysterically he always searched himself to see what he had done to bring it to pass, and made a frightened attempt to meet it by becoming a spiritual eunuch and emasculating himself from his Jewish character.
The whole fine Jewish spirit fell into complete abandonment. He was like an educated foreigner who has learned a language which is not native to him. He speaks it with a grammatical precision which at once betrays his alienness. Thus the Jew became more German than the German and more English than the English, and in this extreme circumspection, perhaps, remained suspect.
The essence of all condition is naturalness, normality and health. The Jewish personality, shriven of its Jewish impulse, became merely a neurotic caricature, an affectation which had lost all driving purpose and strength.
The medieval Jew was not at all subject to this disability. He could solace himself in his hurt and isolation with the knowledge that it was escapable at his own will. He could feel a certain staunchness in adhering to the ideals of his own personality. He knew that at a word from him, the entire social, political and economic world lay wide open for him to enter.
A WAY OUT ONCE
The act of conversion did not compel a racial effacement. He simply became a true believer who had formerly followed the false Jewish doctrine, and was correspondingly honored. Even high po-