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The process of emancipation, and the period of enlightenment which preceded it, was a painful and traumatic experience for the Jewish people. The steady, but uneven, progress from pariah to citizen was achieved only in Western Europe and involved the rejection and transformation of an ancient way of life which had served the Jew well in all his times of trouble. The enlightened Jewish intellectuals viewed this change as not only inevitable but absolutely necessary if the Jews were to survive both as a religion and a people in the age of capitalism and the centralised, bureaucratic state. A new form of Judaism had be to forged from the anachronistic practices of the old. In this essay we will examine the development of the emancipation movement; the fight for equality with Gentiles, and contend that its underlying motive was to free the Jew from the atrophied social structure which enveloped the ghetto system and reinforced the pariah status of the Jew. In the medieval scheme the Jew was limited socially, ostracised legally and segregated economically. A line was drawn about him and every attempt to cross it was instantly detected and punished. In this way the Gentile helped the Jew to remain Jewish. However, within 25 years from the fall of the Bastille, (1789) the Jew in every land in Western Europe had attained at least partial emancipation. Thus ending almost eight hundred years of systematic isolation and persecution. The attempts by the ‘ancien regime’ to claw back the economic, political and religious freedoms enjoyed by Jews, became increasingly futile as the 19th Century progressed. Only in Eastern Europe did the anachronistic strongholds of orthodox Judaism remain intact, as did the repressive legislation denying Jews equal status with Gentiles. From the 17th Century onwards the changing economic forces surging through the societies of Europe went hand in hand with the philosophy and science of such luminaries as Descartes, Locke and Newton to create the ‘age of reason’. The rich merchants and court Jews brought into the ghetto tales of a new science that had shattered ancient theologies; men were talking of a universal religion of reason, of natural rights which all men shared merely by virtue of the fact that they were men. In such an intellectual atmosphere, religious tolerance was rapidly becoming an accepted ideal, even for Jews. It was in these conditions that the emancipation of the Jews was swiftly, if unevenly, completed. It would be fair to say that the French Revolution (1789) and the years immediately following it, was the high point of the Enlightment. It was in these years that the old feudal systems were swept away in a tidal wave of revolutionary fervour. All men stood before the law as equals; Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality; these were the rights and aspirations for all men. On the 28 September 1791 the French National Assembly finally admitted all Jews to the rights of full French citizenship. This was the first concrete legislation regarding the emancipation of the Jews in Europe, and, in the years that followed, Napoleon’s Grand Army planted the standard of emancipation throughout Western Europe. However, we mustn’t make to many extravagant claims on the innate sense of justice and equality which imbued the French elite during these years, the emancipation of the Jews was a contentious issue over which many political battles were fought right up to the Paris Sanhedrin in 1807. There were sound economic and political reasons for the emancipation: such as releasing the full potential of Jewish capital and enterprise once and for all for the benefit of the French state; dispensing with the relics of corporativism to complete the process of state unification and centralised control. But we are concerned with the thought processes of the enlightment thinkers, the ideological reasoning which provided the justifications for emancipation. This reasoning sprang from a synthesis of the leading liberal thinkers of France, Britain, and Germany and the ‘exception Jews’ who moved freely in the salons of Western Europe. The legislation which guaranteed the equality of Jews with their fellow men in revolutionary France was the culmination of a process of debate which had been gestating for many decades. Prompted by their association with enlightened Jews and the needs of a new economic and political order western liberals began to redefine the status of the Jew. This was reflected by the political philosopher John Toland in his pamphlet, ‘Reasons for Naturalising the Jews in Great Britain and Ireland’ (1714), he maintained that the manifest faults of the Jew were not innate but circumstantial. Granted equal opportunities and dignity they would prove to be resourceful and loyal subjects. This theme was continued by the German scholar Christian Dohm. In his treatise ‘Concerning the Amelioration of the Civil Status of the Jews (1781), Dohm argues that the Jew is not inherently evil, but that the many faults apparent in his nature are a by-product of his treatment by the Gentile. Thus leading to the conclusion that the removal of these negative conditions would render the Jews less ‘harmful’ and prepare them for a gradual increase of rights and improved conditions ‘if and when they may deserve them’. This treatise was closely followed by the Edict of Tolerance (1782) issued by the emperor of Austria, Joseph II. This provided for the civic betterment of the Jews in exchange for a change in their cultural values and institutions. However, what is implicit in these assertions is the use that the Jew can be to the state. There is no recognition of civic parity, or, most importantly, his humanity. This was left to the French Humanists such as Mirabeau and the Abbe Gregoire, who emphasised the injustice of the Jews sub- servient and humiliating position and argued for a radical reappraisal purely within the context of the Declaration of the Rights of Man. The suggestion that Jewish avarice, and a whole host of other unsavoury character traits, was the logical consequence of Christian persecution was a view that was becoming widely accepted among the intellectual French elite. It was a view that was championed by the Count de Mirabeau. In 1787 this distinguished rationalist published a tract entitled ‘On Moses Mendelssohn and the Political Reform of the Jews’. While recognising that Mendelssohn was an exception Jew, Mirabeau ventured to predict that Mendelssohm was merely a particularly brilliant example of the untapped reservoir of Jewsih talent in the ghetto world. “Do you want to make the Jews better men, useful citizens?” he wrote. “Banish from society all debasing distinctions against them: open to them all avenues of subsistence and livelihood.” (Sachar:p.55) Mirabeau’s sentiments were echoed by the liberal cleric, Abbe Gregoire, “If the Jews have faults,” the abbe suggested, “it is Christian society which is responsible…In their place would we not be worse?” (ibid) It was this vein of enlightened thought which eventually brought emancipation to the Jews of France. As Berr Isaac Berr, a Merchant Banker from Nancy, noted on the day that the National assembly voted equal rights for Jews: “From being vile slaves, mere serfs, a species of men merely tolerated and suffered in the empire, liable to heavy and arbitrary taxes, we are, of a sudden, become the children of the country, to bear its common charges, and share in its common rights.” (Flohr:p.108) However, what is most interesting in this brief review of western liberal thought is the ommission of any overt attacks on Judaism. Rather the finger of blame is directed towards the Christian attitudes for producing the cultural backwardness of the Jews. Therefore Judaism was not disparaged, but the conditions which produced it where. Were then, in regards to Judaism, did the Jewish intellectuals stand? Was it Christian attitudes which prevented the Jew from becoming assimilated with his Gentile brethren, or was it the obscurantism of Judaism which kept the Jew chained to his pariah status? Clearly emancipation could not effectively have been extended as an act of grace from above unless the Jewish community was prepared intellectually and emotionally for entrance into the West. In contrast to life outside the ghetto the stifling conditions of Jewish thought and orthodoxy were becoming increasingly apparent to those already exposed to the philosophy of the enlightenment. Many Jewish thinkers sought to highlight these iniquities, explain why they had come about, and argue for a reappraisal of the direction and content of Jewish culture. Two of the most eloquent and influential of this school of thought were Naphtali Herz Wessely (1725-1805) and David Friedlander (1750-1834). In his controversial work ‘Words of Peace and Truth’ (1792), Wessely sought to marshal Jewry’s support of the Edict of Tolerance issued by the Austrian Emperor. Joseph II instructed the Jews to establish schools in which to teach their children to read and write the German language in addition to a curriculum concentrating on secular subjects. While continuing the theme of the historical role of the Gentiles in forcing the Jews to isolate themselves from the outside world, Wessely now called for a re-evaluation of the cultural milieu which this course of action had produced. Wessely differentiated between the teachings and knowledge of the Torah; and ‘human knowledge’ “This ‘human knowledge’ benefits the commonweal, as it teaches how to avail oneself of all things under the sun. It is responsible for man’s success in all his worldly endeavours and provides a means for every man to be an aid to his fellow through his affairs and actions.” (Flohr:p.63) For Wessely ‘human knowledge’, consisting of eductaion in the arts and sciences, were a prerequisite for a fuller understanding of the knowledge of God; the two were not mutually exclusive; “Where human knowledge ends, the divine teaching begins, instructing us on what is beyond man’s power of reason.” (ibid) The historical alienation of the Jews had led them to eschew human knowledge and concentrate on the few things which were allowed them: trade, commerce, and the teachings of the Torah and Talmud. Becoming in the process ignorant in the ways and means of the outside world, even losing proficiency in their own historical language, Hebrew, to embrace an international patois, Yiddish, which only added to their isolation. Wessely went on to add, “There is one people in the world who are not sufficiently concerned with ‘human knowledge’ and who have neglected the public instruction of their youth in the laws of etiquette, the sciences and the arts. We, the children of Israel, who are dispersed throughout all of Europe, have turned our backs on these studies…. Seeing that we are treated with a heavy hand and that in the eyes of the oppressors we are beneath tha rank of man, we have lost the inclination to pursue the study of ‘human knowledge’…. The few superior individuals among our ancestors ceased to teach the people this ‘human knowledge’ for they knew that even the sweetest wisdom is bitter to the embittered soul.” (ibid:p.64-65) Thus Wessely believed that the stultifying ritualism and obscurantism, which characterised the ghetto and much of Jewish learning, was an historical anachronism which had long since served its purpose. If the Jews were to become worthy, respected, and valued citizens they must avail themselves of the new learning, as knowledge of these subjects could only strengthen the House of Israel and mend the breaches made by preceding rulers. David Freidlander was much more vehement in his attacks on orhtodox rabbinical authority; whose practises and attitudes, he believed, would eventually result in a widepsread conversion to Christianity and the dissolution of the Jewish religion. In a private letter written to a business associate (1792) Freidlander puts his case for religious reform in the strongest terms…”I do not have to tell you about the conception of God which the rabbi’s define as religion. Three thousand years after the granting of the Torah, these rabbi’s are still busy pondering the question whether on consumption of less than a morsel, one must recite the grace after meals or not. He who does recite the grace belongs to the Jewish religion, and he who does not make such a blessing. does not belong.” (ibid:p.79) Freidlander was scathing in his condemnation of the rabbi’s who rejected reason and revelled in revelation and superstition. The rabbi’s were confined within the four walls of the Halakhah and knew nothing of the outside world, furthemore their example and teachings were preventing the cultural and educational development of the Jew. Freidlander contrasted the difference between the Gentile and the Jew. The Gentiles frequently probed their religions in order to eliminate the chaff, to purify their morals and to improve their faith. “The Jews, on the other hand, who have started out on the highest level, constantly deteriorate. The ignorance of our people accumulates in a most frightful manner, and in twenty years you will hardly find a man who is able to read the Torah.” (ibid) Freidlander believed that the Jewish people must not only throw off the the oppressive yoke of the Gentiles, in their quest for emancipation, but remove the antiquated, superstitious, and irrational beliefs of traditional Judaism as propounded by the rabbi’s and communal leaders. “Only if we are free, neither afraid of the ruling party nor intimidated in our enlightenment, by the threat of excommunication and the refusal of burial rites, will it be possible to raise Israel’s prestige, our Torah and the teachings of Moses from the dust.” (ibid) These thoughts and arguments were part of a much wider debate which was raging between orhtodox rabbinical authority and the advocates of reform and enlightenment. The reformers emphasised the need for secular education and the greater assimilation of the Jews into the outside world; only if these values and mores were adopted could the Jews survive in a rapidly changing environment. The traditionalists, however, viewed this as heresy and a recipe for the collapse of Judaism, which, if it was to survive, must remain true to the traditions of the centuries. In essence the reformers wanted to develop a new basis for Judaism, while the traditionalists wished to cling to the old. However, any discussion of the enlightment, and its role in turning Jews from pariah’s into citizens, would not be complete without mentioning the role of Moses Mendelssohn in its development and prosecution. Mendelssohn, by virtue of his intellect and standing, in both the Jewish and Gentile communities, greatly influenced the process of emancipation through his translation of the Torah into German and his belief in the benefits of secular education. Between 1778 and 1783 Mendelssohn set about the massive task of translating the Torah into classical German and was thus the awakener of secular interests among his own people. This seemingly considerate and uneventful task was fraught with tremendous consequences. In all the ghettos of Germany until this time Yiddish had been the vernacular. A barrier of language separated the Jewish masses from the Gentile world; keeping them isolated, introspective and prone to regard all things Gentile as hostile and threatening. The translation taught the Jew to speak German and prepared him for his impending liberation. Mendelssohn, and others of his ilk, began the emancipation, or Haskalah, by giving the Jew a tongue to speak with and eyes to read with. However, what is more important than the fact that Mendelssohn facillitated emancipation through linguistics, is the criticism, from the leading Jewish scholar of the time, which was implicit in his reasoning. A letter he wrote to a friend concerning his reasons for the translation of the Torah is extremely enlightening in this respect: “This is the first step to civilisation, from which my nation, alas, has held itself so aloof that one might almost despair of the possibility of improvement.” (Steinberg:p.190) Therefore Mendelssohm recognised the inadequacy of Jewish culture and wished to change it for the better, the better being assimilation with Western culture. In this sense Mendelssohn was admitting a form of cultural inferiority, this was quickly seized upon by other members of the Jewish elite who saw this as a justification for rejecting their heritage, a position which eventually heralded the the traumatic process of adjustment during the 19th Century. CONCLUSIONS The age of the enlightenment and emancipation lifted the siege of the Jewish communities. With the lifting of this state of siege the accumulated customs of centuries became exposed to the rational analysis of the science of ‘reason’. The Haskalah movement aimed to prepare Judaism for a new challenge; the challenge of becoming citizens instead of pariahs. They viewed with concern the concentration of Jews in trade and commerce, to the typical life of the Jewish student which was devoid of any concern for a future livelihood. To the ceremonial life of the ghetto which had become laden with all sorts of bizarre customs, rites and superstitions which had lost all meaning and significance. To these cosmopolitan Jews the embarrassing charges of obscurantism and superstition from their Gentile contemporaries rang unerringly true in their ears. In order to revitalise an ailing culture it was necessary to hack away at the ancient tentacles of Judaism which were threatening the very survival of the entity it was meant to preserve. The Haskalah movement was acknowledging a primary law of nature: an organism which fails to respond and adapt to a changing environment will perish. Moses Mendelssohn, and the concerned reformers who preceded and followed him, charted a course for the reinvigoration of the Jewish people in the turbulent years of the 19th Century, preparing them for the role of citizen instead of the accustomed role of pariah. BIBLIOGRAPHY JACOB KATZ OUT OF THE GHETTO 1973 JACOB KATZ TOWARDS MODERNITY 1987 PAUL MENDES-FLOHR THE JEW IN THE MODERN WORLD 1980 HOWARD SACHAR THE COURSE OF MODERN JEWISH HISTORY 1958 MILTON STEINBERG THE MAKING OF THE MODERN JEW 1967


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