Darwin's Jews: Online Reader

Lucien Wolf



  1. Introduction
  2. Primary Source: "What is Judaism?"
  3. Excerpts from other writings
  4. Select bibliography
  5. Discussion forum


1. Introduction ⇧ top

Lucien Wolf (1857-1930) was born in London but educated at the Athénée Royale in Brussels and in Paris. He became a celebrated journalist, diplomat, and communal authority, acting as a committee member of the conjoint committee of the Anglo-Jewish Association and the British Board of Deputies, the two representative bodies of Anglo-Jewry. Wolf was the founder-president of the Jewish Historical Society of England (JHSE) and co-authored with Joseph Jacobs Bibliotheca Anglo-Judaica: A Bibliographical Guide to Anglo-Jewish History (1888); as a historian his most important contributions were in the area of Anglo-Jewish history after the expulsion of 1290. He also became well-known as an expert in the area of antisemitism. In this context, his key publications included a lengthy article on antisemitism for the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1910) and The Myth of the Jewish Menace in World Affairs (1920).

Wolf’s essay “What is Judaism?” (1884) was part of a lengthy and highly public debate with the antisemitic Oxford historian Goldwin Smith. It was written in response to Smith’s biologically racist views as expressed in an article entitled “The Jewish Question” published in 1881 in the popular and influential magazine, Nineteenth Century. For Wolf, the underlying principles of the Jewish Law were fundamentally about race hygiene (the term 'eugenic' had not yet been coined) and he saw the ascendency of Jewish legalism as the moment when a new chapter in the history of human evolution began, as humans took control of their biological development in a deliberate, intelligent manner. As he saw it, the Law selected for certain traits and had profoundly shaped the historical significance of the Jewish people. The Mission of Israel was in effect a demonstration of religio-ethical progress by means of the creation of a model superior race. Against the antisemitic claims of those who opposed the social integration of Jews on a racist platform, Wolf offered a two-pronged defence. Firstly, he sought to establish the Jewish race as a paradigm of self-directed evolution to which the rest of (Western) humanity could aspire and, secondly, he offered an analysis of antisemitism that revealed it to be immoral and intellectually redundant. Antisemitism, he suggested, was best understood as Gentile resentment of Jewish vitality and physical continuity; the clear implication was that such entrenched hostility could only be countered by a radical reassessment and appreciation by Christianity of Jewish legalism and its contribution to humankind’s evolutionary history.

Wolf’s theory did not have any long-term influence within the Anglo-Jewish community and he soon lost interest in attempting to explain antisemitism in terms of race science. In his encyclopedia entry on antisemitism written many years later, he made no reference to the subject, preferring to focus on social dynamics and in particular Gentile resentment of Jewish emancipation and integration into wider European society.


2. Primary source ⇧ top

Lucien Wolf, "What Is Judaism? A Question of Today" in The Fortnightly Review XXXVI, (1884): 237-256.

The anti-Semitic agitation which for more than five years has exercised a disturbing influence in continental politics, appears at last to be subsiding. Discredited by the sanguinary logic with which the Russian peasantry gave effect to its teachings, disgraced by its connection with the monstrous conspiracy of Tiszra-Eslar, it recently received in England something very like a coup de grace in the shape of the Montefiore Centennial festivities and the refusal of the Lord Mayor to allow its leader, Herr Hof-Prediger Stöker, to take part in the Luther Commemoration at Mansion House. He would, however, be a very hopeful person who should profess to think that the final chapters in the history of Judaeo-Christian differences have now been written. I am not so subjectively a Jew as not to have seen in anti-Semitism something more than a mere spasm of moral atavism; and I think the time has now arrived when it may be confessed that if the form the agitation assumed was reprehensible, its nature was far from unworthy [of] some measure of philosophic analysis. It is, I believe, quite as much in the interests of Judaism as of Christianity that an enquiry into the origin of anti-Semitism should now be encouraged; nay, it is of importance in the interests of the future peace of the world.

To my mind the primal cause of all agitations against the Jews is to be sought, not so much in the passions stimulated by theological differences, as in the irritating mystery of the persistence of Judaism, notwithstanding the assurances of Christianity that Judaism has long been moribund. According to all Christian belief - and to this extent the records of Christianity receive an unquestioning ascent from those who have ceased to accept its dogmas - Judaism was only a rude precursor of the so-called universal religion of Jesus, and consequently should long ago have passed away. But the Hebrews today constitute everywhere a social force. In every country of Europe their influence is felt, and there is no small amount of truth in the anti-Semitic assertion that in Germany, at least, the national aspirations “are stifled by an overmastering Judaism.” Is it extraordinary that this mystery should irritate men’s minds, and that there should be violent outbursts against the domination which is not merely foreign but almost phantasmic?

The outbursts have, fortunately, passed away, but the mystery remains. Thoughtful minds continue to be exercised by the question, What is Judaism? - not merely the Judaism of the synagogue, but the principle by which the Hebrew people has lived, the principle [238] which actuates its phenomenal history, and is represented today in all lands and all societies by so remarkable a vein of humanity. It can hardly be otherwise. No honest attempt has been made to solve the question. The synagogue, now passing through a transition period, cannot authoritatively answer it, and even if it could it would hesitate, when persecution is still only of yesterday, to accept the responsibility of putting forth an explanation that must necessarily be polemical, and might involve invidious pretentions and comparisons. The church dares not compare its traditional hopes with the facts of everyday life. Nothing seems left but conjecture. The more hopeless conjecture becomes the greater its fascination; and hence the longer the question, “What is Judaism?” is left unsolved, the more must the relations of Jews and non-Jews be fraught with danger.

One of Professor Goldwin Smith’s articles on the Jewish Question contains a passage which is often struck me is coming very near solving this bewildering problem. Indeed, were it not that Mr Smith is so dominated by the traditional view of the relationship of Christianity to Judaism, he must, when the leading idea of that passage was suggested to him, have considerably altered his estimate of Judaism. The following is the passage to which I refer:-

“There is between the modern Jew and a compatriot of Luther a certain divergence of general character and aim in life connected with religion which makes itself felt, beside the antagonism of race. Judaism is material optimism, with a preference to a chosen race, while Christianity, whether Catholic or Protestant, is neither material nor in a temporal sense optimistic. Judaism is legalism, of which the Talmud is the most signal embodiment; and here again it is contrasted with Christianity and the Christian ideal, which is something widely different from the mere observance, however punctual, of the law. In the competition for this world’s goods it is pretty clear that the legalist will be apt to have the advantage, and at the same time that his conduct will often appear not right to those whose highest monitor is not the law.

It never seems to have occurred to Mr Smith that the simple meaning of all this is that the Jews must be the possessors of a system by which they are enabled to adapt themselves more completely to the conditions of life than would be possible were they adherents of Christianity; that if their “legalism” enables them to “have the advantage in the competition for this world’s goods,” the reason must be that “legalism” is peculiarly adapted to the conditions of the competition; and that if Christians fail, in consequence of the nature of their “highest monitor,” to achieve as much as Jews in mundane things, the reason must be that that monitor does not satisfied the requirements of natural law as completely as that of Judaism. To talk, then, about the conduct of the legalist in this world’s strife - where all who elect to take part in it must be bound by the same rules - as not commending itself to “those whose highest monitor is [239] not the law” is very like “damning the nature of things” - depreciating intelligence and skill merely because they succeed where, according to the dogmatic assumptions of Christianity, they ought to fail. The argument virtually says that Christianity is perfect, and that if it is not quite successful and satisfying natural law that is not its fault but the fault of the natural law.

Mr Smith has, however, chanced very near the truth in bracketing “material optimism” and “legalism” together as important elements in Judaism, although he has failed to estimate them at their true value, or to detect the connection between them and the conclusion at which they point. I am desirous of showing in these pages that Judaism is really a system of “material optimism,” expressing itself in a minute “legalism”; that it is a positivistic system, differing only from the latter-day Positivism of Auguste Comte in the respect that it is operated during some thousands of years with results which race it altogether out of the region of empirical philosophy. The definition to be extracted from Jewish history I would express thus: Judaism holds that the possibilities of human knowledge are limited to the visible world. Mankind is consequently taught that temporal happiness is the goal of existence and the whole aim of action. Liberty is ideal happiness, and its ultimate test is progress; and this ideal is the balance by the conquest of the lower propensities by the higher intellectual faculties. Progress is, in fact, founded on the basis of Natural Law or Justice, and the resultant liberty is the highest achievement in temporal happiness possible within the limits of immutable law. The conclusion I would formulate is that the Jews, by their practical observance of this teaching, have acquired a special adaptability to the conditions of life and a peculiar capacity from making the most of them. This enables them “to have the advantage” of which Mr Goldwin Smith speaks.

A clear discrimination between the essential and the accidental in Judaism is requisite in order to understand this definition. The test of the essential in Judaism is its coherent survival amid transient and adventitous accessories, and its consistency, as between cause and effect, with the uniform developments of Jewish character. In other words, the proper method of ascertaining the nature of Judaism must be, not by a collation of Biblical texts, but by an induction from the phenomena of everyday experience. This is rendered necessary by the fact that in Judaism the religion and the race are almost interchangeable terms. The rigid observance during long centuries of a “peculiar” legalism by a peculiarly exclusive people has necessarily resulted in the people becoming the manifestation of its laws. Its physical and historical character is the creation of these laws, and consequently in the development of this character we must [240] recognise the form of essential Judaism. I adopt this method, too, because it is the fairest in view of the recent controversy.

The most striking phenomenon in Jewish life is the survival of the race. There is no more remarkable fact in the whole history of mankind. Other races have managed to protract their separatism but the Jews have, to all appearances, perpetuated theirs. They have outlived the Golden Ages of all the great nations of antiquity and the decadence of the empires of the Middle Ages; they have survived persecution the like of which no other people could have endured, and in an age of culture, which boasts its superiority over all the civilisations of the ancient world, they, notwithstanding the drawbacks of their history, proves still to be superior, physically, mentally, and morally, to the races with which they come in contact. This permanence of the race is no mere caprice of nature; it is to be exclusively attributed to the discipline of the artificial system by which its life has been regulated. In the gradual process of the formation of the people there must have occurred a period when it became distinguished for a high degree of strength and vigour. Such a period is observable in the history of all great nations, but in every case, with the exception of the Jewish, it was permitted to slip away. The strongly-marked optimism of Judaism, the high intelligence of the people, and particularly the contrast presented by the teachings and habits of other races, no doubt induced the Hebrews to price their superiority more highly than any other people. The natural impulse to reject all further infusions of alien blood, as soon as the consciousness of superiority was reached, found every support in their national legends and traditions, and became accentuated by the hostility of their neighbours. Then their exclusiveness became legalised, and on its basis the perfect code of laws was constructed, providing for the unaided progression of the physical capacities of the race, and embodying every dictate of their higher civilisation which might be calculated to maintain their superiority. In short, at a crucial period of its history the optimism of Judaism expressed itself in “legalism.” How far the systems thus formed has succeeded is illustrated by the extraordinary condition in which the Jews have survived to the present day.

It is too little-known that the Jews are as a race really superior, physically, mentally, and morally, to the people among whom they dwell. The fact substantiating this view had been frequently quoted. As far back as 1837 it was noticed by Hoffmann in his Sammlung kleiner Schriften wissenschaftlichen Inhalts that the Jews presented biostatic phenomena differing materially from those of other races. Four years later Christopher Bernouilli, in his Handbuch der Populationistik, followed up Hoffman’s data, with the result of showing that the Jews are a superior race, inasmuch as they increase at a more rapid rate than the indigenous races, that they have less stillbirths, that they lose a smaller number of children in their first year, and that they lived very much longer. Subsequent enquiries have not only confirmed these discoveries, but have added to the others, enlarging considerably the scope of the conclusions they suggest. The moral superiority has, too, been illustrated over and over again by an examination of criminal statistics and the statistics of illegitimate births. As for the notorious intellectual superiority, the figures of public education and professional and public life, in every country show an immense predominance of Jews. I regret exceedingly that considerations of space forbid my reproducing here the statistics themselves.

It must suffice to say that at a rough estimate these figures may be summed up as expressing a general superiority of the Jews over their neighbours of other races and creeds of between 30 and 40%. The significance of this fact cannot be over estimated. It not only proves Judaism to be a still living force, but it shows that such has been its wisdom and power in the past that it has enabled to accomplish of itself a distinct step in the history of the human species. A superiority of 40% can, I imagine, be characteristic as nothing less. I believe that the importance of the superiority of the Jews consists precisely in the circumstances that it constitutes almost a stage in evolution, and certainly one in which the factors are no longer so indeterminate as in all the earlier periods. For here, for the first time, we find the intelligence of man acting as a distinct factor in evolution, and achieving progress not by the natural gravitation of blind instinct, but by a discretionary adaptation to the conditions of life; not by the accidents of external forces, but by a subjective comprehension of natural law. Similar phenomena-that is to say, similar in their effects that radically different in their causes - are not unknown in other spheres where the teachings of Judaism are far from *exerting themselves. The English aristocracy, for example, is almost as exclusive as the Jewish people, and it is well known that, proportionately at least, it possesses a similar intensity of life. But here the cause is not, as with the Jews, a deliberate law of exclusiveness promulgated with the object of conserving the natural advantages arising from a more disciplined life, but it is the natural instinct of a superior class guided by a haughty desire to conserve its traditions, and not by any practical design of perpetuating its physical and mental superiority. And yet the result is the same: a race of men and women distinguished above their fellows for longevity, beauty, and mind.

The assertion that the phenomena of Jewish life are to be solely attributed to the influence of the peculiar “legalism” of Judaism, however, must be submitted to the test of a comparison with the character of the “legalism” before it can be regarded as proved.

The immediate objections are few and unavailing. The [242] contention that the characteristics of modern Jews are a mere nine days’ wonder, destined to pass away shortly with the people themselves, is disproved by the whole of the marvellous history of Judaism, which these characteristics now enable us to judge in a clearer light and with more precision than formerly. The other two objections are equally unconvincing, as has been shown by one of the most eminent of modern statisticians. “The importance of hard work,” says George Frederick Kolb, “and the temperate habits which may be deemed a peculiarity of the race, I’m not sufficient to account for the superior intensity of life which characterises the Jewish people. Nor can it be said that this is a speciality of Semitic races, as the Phoenicians and Carthaginians have entirely disappeared from off the earth.” There are certainly Semitic races that have survived; but why do they not show the same capacity for progress as the Jews? They are derived from the same great stock, and, since the time of Mahomet, have, ostensibly at least, professed a faith in the same monotheism; but still the fact is undeniable that they are among the rotting branches of the great tree of humanity. Here we find the issue before us narrowed to its true proportions, for here we are enabled to judge what is really the living principle of Judaism. Mohomet, in his rough selection from Judaism, took only the God idea, which, if not quite of inferior importance, was a far less practical value than the educating “legalism.” The result was, as with Christianity, a people with a religion but without a system of life. An admirable illustration of the difference in this respect between the Hebrews and other Semites is furnished by the history of Semitic learning. Brain-power we know to be exceptionally developed among Semitic races. We have it on Professor Chwolson’s authority that “there are fewer stupid individuals among the Semites than among the Aryans;” but the Jews today are the most able of Semitic races. Although the Assyrians had colleges before Europe had learned its alphabet from the Phoenicians, and, long anterior even to the period assigned to Abraham, had established libraries for the study of Akkadian classics, all that today remains of Semitic culture is centred in the Hebrew. And why? Because the Jew first applied law to study. His ancestors had crowded colleges and princely libraries, but he first made the education of the young compulsory. There is then nothing left to us but the peculiar legalism of Judaism to account for the peculiar phenomena of Jewish life. Let us then how far this “legalism” accommodate itself to this view.

I’ve said that it is necessary to discriminate between the essential and accidental and Judaism in order to understand the conception of that teaching as here set forth. There might be some doubt in my mind as to the validity of this theory didn’t require for its illustration that I should pick and choose more [243] or less arbitrarily among the doctrinal features of every period of Hebrew history. This is, however, not at all necessary. In the Mosaic law we have a clear and harmonious system in which the essentials of Judaism alone figure, and which has survived intact to the present day. Throughout many changes in the externals of Judaism, its general character has been conserved, its leading principles consistently developed and its details strengthened, and to its influence alone may be traced the formation of all those distinctive features of Jewish character which may now be said to have rendered Judaism a living social force. I adopt this conclusion irrespective of the questions of date or authorship raised by modern Biblical criticism, as it is quite sufficient for my present purpose that during the period extending from the time of Ezra to that of the Maccabees the teaching of the Law satisfied the highest Jewish conception of life.

A fundamental principle of the Mosaic dispensation is, that racial separatism is necessary for the perpetuation of its teaching. To all but the most hopeless fanatic this principle must be perfectly intelligible. Jewish separatism, or “tribalism,” as it is now called, was invented to enable the Jews to keep untainted for the benefit of mankind not only the teachings of Judaism but also their physical results as illustrations of their value. Of this Universalist meaning of Jewish separatism there can be no doubt. The Biblical account of its inauguration gives us no idea of a “tribal” people; quite the reverse. Abraham is pictured to us not as setting himself above all other peoples, but as revolting from the prevailing idolatry and immorality. The reward promised him is significant. “I will bless thee,” says the Supreme. “I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is on the see-shore… And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed my voice.” The Fidelity with which the Jews have adhered to their separatist law yields in its history the most remarkable instances of self-denial. The Jews are frequently taunted with bloodthirstiness because of the extermination of the Canaanites alleged in the Bible. From a purely philosophic point of view - as Dr Arnold has eloquently pointed out - the substitution of such people as the Hebrews for the bestial Canaanites would not have been a subject for regret even at the cost of a wholesale butchery; but Keunan and other Biblical critics have proved to us that this massacre never could have taken place. The Hebrews only subjected themselves to hardships for the promotion, or rather perpetuation, of their peculiar principles, as witnessed the extraordinary purification of the race which took place at the instance of Ezra and Nehemiah - a colossal sacrifice forming a fitting historical counterpart to the mythic slaughter of the sons of Ham.

The “legalism” which by this means has been handed down to [244] countless generations is worthy of the loftiest sacrifices. Its comprehensiveness is [as] astounding as its wisdom. It legislates even for the child yet unborn, and with singular boldness and thoroughness, six and a element of physical well-being in a wise regulation of the sexual relations. The legislation on the subject has been much neglected by naturalist students of Mosaism. Dr Richardson attributes to carefulness in the rearing of children “much of the Jewish” resistance to those influences which tend to shorten the natural cycle of life. The Jews are certainly model parents, but I believe the superior intensity of life characterising their offspring is, in a greater degree, attributable to the lengthened observance by their ancestors of the Mosaic and Rabbinical laws for ordering the sexual relations than to post-natal care; that is to say, that the Jewish infant is already born with an exceptional capacity for resisting life-shortening influences, and is not wholly endued with it after birth. This, at least, seems to have been the purpose of the laws on the subject. Neither Biblical nor Rabbinical law, for example, refers to women except in relation to the marriage type. That is to say, that the law only takes cognizance of women wear their role in the history of the race commences; for it is only in the married state that their actions are calculated to influence future generations. An unchaste woman was liable to be stoned if she got married. Seduction entailed marriage unless the victim refused; but then, being unchaste, she came within the scope of the first-mentioned law, and could never get married. Marriages within certain degrees of cosanguinity where prohibited. Males were liable to be stoned for intercourse with non-Jewish women, and adultery was also punished by death. Thus, as unchaste women could not marry, and men were practically bound to marry the objects of their illicit passion, sufficiently stringent precautions were taken to ensure healthy parents. From what we now know of the innate morality of the Jewish race it is presumable that prostitution could not have existed among them on a very extensive scale, and hence illicit intercourse became almost impossible. This, together with the reprobation of celibacy included in the law, will doubtless account, to no small extent, for the early marriages which still take place among Jews, and which had hitherto been regarded as a relic of Oriental custom. This class of laws is now no longer operative, except in so far as they accommodate themselves to the laws of the various countries in which Jews reside. Their work in the training of Jewish instincts has, however, not been fruitless if the modern practice of marrying early among the Jews and their general continence mean anything. But if these laws are now comparatively obsolete, there are others of equal importance which, not being amenable to the restrictions of a sovereign legislation, have been enabled [245] to survive. These are the remarkable regulations for ordering the more intimate relations of husband and wife. No less than three kinds of separation are ordered, and these, when they have run their course, are only terminable with the performance of certain prescribed ablutions. In the first place ordinary sexual intercourse renders both parties impure for a whole day and an evening; then the menstrual period involves the strictest separation during the “days of the issue” and the seven subsequent days; and in the third place there is the separation at childbirth, which is 40 days for a boy and 80 days for a girl.

The scientific value of these laws was duly appreciated by the Rabbins. A whole tractate of the Talmud, entitled Niddah, is devoted to their amplification, and with the rough but conscientious medical science deals exhaustively with every circumstance of the conjugal relationship. In one curious detail it adds to the Mosaic law. Regarding the condition of the body previous to menstruation as unnatural and calculated to injuriously affect the offspring, it prohibits intercourse during the two preceding days as well as the succeeding seven, plus extending the Mosaic separation to 12 or 14 days. The object of these laws is evidently, on the one hand, to conserve a high degree of virility by the prevention of excessive indulgence, and on the other, to ensure procreation only at a time of perfect health. That this object was deliberately contemplated is proved by the fact that a child born of intercourse during the menstrual period was prohibited by the Mosaic law from entering “into the congregation of the Lord even to his 10th generation.” It is but too little-known that these laws - the results of which may be traced in the inferior infant mortality among the Jews - are faithfully observed by the majority of Jews and Jewesses even at the present day. The ablutions on the part of the female which must terminate all prescribed periods of separation were bound, of old, to be performed not in private, but at public communal baths. By this means the authorities maintained a certain control over the observance of the laws themselves. At the present day there is no Jewish community without its public bath especially consecrated to this purpose, and these baths are happily well attended. There are, of course, a goodly number of Israelites who, in their superficial study of what they are pleased to call “the spirit of the age,” condemn the far-seeing wisdom of their ancestors, and, inter alia, no longer practice the regulations of Niddah. But unfortunately for them, while they price so “superior” to these ordinances they cannot escape the prescribed penalty of their laxity. They are surely “cut off from their people” as though they were still under an independent Hebrew rule. Jews or Jewesses who ceased during their lifetime to observe the physical laws of Judaism must also cease either in their own [246] persons or in the persons of their descendants, to have any portion in the physical well, being of their co-religionists. By their non-observance of health-maintaining laws they are prima facie calculated to relapse into an inferior state, and are bound to transmit to their offspring a transitional physical condition, insensibly but surely leading to total defection.”

These considerations apply with equal force to the dietary and hygienic laws. The physiological importance of these laws requires no emphasis from me, for it is already been amply recognised by scientists of the highest authority. While the laws for regulating the conjugal relations were evidently intended to ensure the continuous reproduction of strong and healthy Israelites, the dietary and hygienic laws was obviously designed for the maintenance of their health and strength and the protection of their bodies against disease. Thus we find included among the prohibited sources of food or carnivorous animals, the rodents, the carnivorous and Carrion-eating birds, reptiles, amphibia, and mollusca; a list comprising a complete group of beasts, such as the swine, the mouse, the rat, the cat, and the dog, etc, known to be perfect foci of trichinae and other parasites. The communicability two man of parasitic diseases from animals used as food has long been placed beyond all doubt, it having been established that the parasite is simply transferred from the flash of the beast to that of the man, in which it develops with frequently fatal results. The prohibition of mollusca and crustacea is also of considerable prophylactic value. Not a few shell-fish, such as the common mussel, and even the oyster, are at times capriciously unwholesome and even poisonous; and the crustacea I’m not merely the foulest feeders, but their flesh is certainly hard to digests. The explanation of the prohibition with respect to scaleless fish - that is, Fish of the eel type - has only recently been rescued from the speculations of the student of comparative theology and taken in hand by the scientist. The result has been its complete vindication. Mr Reade having bred some eels in a pond which had accidentally become polluted by sewage matter, found the flesh so strongly tainted in consequence as to be quite uneatable. Struck by this fact, he turned some eels into a stream into which the refuse of gas-works flowed, with the result that the eels had a decided flavour of gas. Further experiment demonstrated that, owing to the absence of scales, the eel became a positive absorbent of noxious gases, or particularly of the noxious effluvia of decomposing and, therefore, poisonous matter. The danger of such food has always been duly appreciated by Jewish teachers, and in the special mention of the snail by Moses there is evidence that the lawgiver was not unmindful of the probable unwholesomeness of poison-consuming animals. The Rabbins, too, fully recognise the distinction between the flesh [247] of cattle rendered “unclean” by specific disease and that which becomes unwholesome through poison, a Mishna ruling that if and animal swallows poison or is bitten by a venomous snake, its flesh is forbidden, not because it is thereby rendered “unclean” according to the law, but because it has become a dangerous nutriment. The prohibition of the hare has been explained, too, by the fact that it eats many vegetable poisons, such as the bark of the mezereon.

The dietary laws are not confined to a division of all animals into two classes, the “clean” and the “unclean.” It is another instance of the searching character of Jewish “legalism” that it prescribes even how much of the bodies of permitted animals may be consumed as food. Thus the use of blood is emphatically and repeatedly forbidden. This prohibition and the importance evidently attached to it harmonise so exactly with the lessons of modern science that is it is impossible to regard them as motivated by any consideration other than the public health, especially when the three circumstances are considered that the Mosaic dispensation is the avowed enemy of all superstitious symbolism, but it was endeavoured by its means to break off sharply from all foreign traditions, and that its chief characteristic is its secularity.

The possibility of the blood containing disease germs not immediately affecting the quality of the flash is not the only circumstance tending to disqualify it for food. There is, as has been pointed out by a writer in the Journal of Science, the more conclusive fact that the blood in its normal condition almost invariably contains noxious elements. From the very nature of the double office of the circulatory system this must be so, for while, on the one hand, the blood serves to renew the various parts of the system after their ordinary wear and tear, on the other it has to carry off the natural waste of the tissues. This waste or refuse is ultimately eliminated by means of the kidneys, the sudiparous glands, etc, and then appears in its avowed character of excrementitous matter; but it must always be, to a certain extent, present in the blood, and in the event of any derangement of the action of the kidneys, accumulates inconsiderable and highly poisonous qualities [sic: quantities?] It must, therefore, be evident that the blood is always an undesirable article of food, especially as it is impossible when an animal is slaughtered to separate the arterial from the venous blood, which would be the only means of overcoming the difficulty. “We content,” says the writer in the Journal of Science, “that you use the blood as food approximates very closely to drinking urine, and is not merely loathsome but pro tanto unsafe. That, like liquid and solid excrement, it is valuable for plant food, and that it serves as a pabulum for certain classes of animals, is no proof that it is fit for human consumption.”

The prohibition of blood has been reiterated with much emphasis [248] by the Rabbins, and that the present day both in the Jewish method of slaughtering animals and the domestic treatment of the meat it is rigourously obeyed. The strict enforcement of the Mosaic injunction by the Rabbins is extremely curious, for it would seem to show that they had already a pretty clear idea of the inherent unfitness of blood for food. That they had at any rate a knowledge of the nature of blood far in advance of their times is proved by a recommendation of Rabbi Judah in reference to the slaughter of animals. He suggested that, in addition to severing the trachea and oesophagus, the blood should be poured out from the vessels of the neck; this at a time - some 1700 years ago how to when arteries, as the name implies, were believed to contain only ever. But besides these there is evidence that the Rabbins specially suspected the alimentary value of blood in the prominence they gave to its elimination in their system of slaughtering and preparing animal food. One of the most important features in this system was an elaborate examination (Bedeka) of the carcass before it could be declared fit for Jewish food; but in no case - however healthy the tissues - was it permitted to forego a thorough removal of its blood.

The examination of carcasses prescribed by the Rabbins, and faithfully carried out at the present day, is of an extremely rigourous and subtle nature, and completes the system by which the selection of animal food is governed. We have seen that certain animals are absolutely forbidden and that in all cases the blood is prohibited. There still remains, however, the flash itself of the permitted animals to be dealt with. The conditions on which alone this is allowed to be eaten are singularly minute, and, as Dr Henry Behrend has said in a pamphlet on the communicability of diseases by means of animal food, “it is not saying too much to assert that these laws, carried out in their integrity, render the consumption of meat affected with specific maladies practically impossible.” The authorised communal killer is trained not only to kill in accordance with Jewish laws, but also to make a sufficiently careful inspection of the pathological state of the beast after death, and he is bound to declared unfit for food if it showed the slightest blemish. The lung is specially ordered to be examined and tested, so that pleuropneumonia, tuberculosis, bronchitis, and pulmonary maladies generally have little chance of escaping detection. So severely made this investigation be pursued that the lung is frequently submitted to inflation while underwater for the purpose of ascertaining whether a perforation exists. “The extreme care of these early students of physiology (the Rabbins),” says Dr Maurice Davis, “in their examination of the lungs seems to point to the dicta of modern science which indicate the air passages, with their moist mucus membranes, as highly probable inlets of the morbid particles floating in the [249] atmosphere.” The value of Bedeka, even though carried somewhat to excess, is indisputable. Dr Behrend tells us that the animal diseases transmissible to man through ingested meat are seven in number, viz., cattle-plague, swine-typhoid, pleuropneumonia, foot and mouth disease, anthrocoid diseases, erysipelas, and tuberculosis. By the observance of Jewish dietary laws it is impossible for animals affected by any of these diseases to be eaten. On the other hand, under non-Jewish systems these diseases are broadcast with criminal recklessness. Dr Carpenter stated some time ago in the British Medical Journal that an inspector of the Metropolitan Meat Market had declared upon oath that 80% of the meat sent to the London market had tubercular disease; and a letter addressed by a Mr Jenkins to the Times a few months ago, calculated in reference to this same fact, that “at least 375,000 of the inhabitants (of London) annually run the risk of being tainted with consumption and of transmitting it to their unborn children.” What wonder then that tuberculosis has so many victims? “If the seriousness of a malady,” says Dr Koch, of Berlin, “be measured by the numbers of its victims, then the most dreaded pests which had hitherto ravaged the world - plague and cholera included - must stand far behind the one now under consideration. One seventh of the deaths of the human race are due to tubercular disease, while fully one third of those who die in active middle age are carried off by the same cause.” One more quotation, and I’ve done with the Jewish dietary laws. It is from Dr Behrend’s interesting pamphlet, and runs as follows:-

“I am myself decidedly of opinion that the care bestowed upon the examination of meat the use of the Jewish community is an important factor in the longevity of the race which is at present attracting so much attention, and in its comparative immunity from scrofula and tubercle, to which Dr Gibbon, the Medical Officer of Health for Holborn, has so markedly alluded. Naturally such cases do not produce an immediate effect, but their transmission through innumerable generations must eventually bring about a decided result and exercise a considerable influence in building up the mental and physical toughness of the Jewish people, which has been so long an object of wonder, and which, in conjunction with their steadfastness, cohesion and valour, Goethe considers to be their chief claim before the judgement-seat of nations.”

We now come to the hygienic laws - the “legalism” by which the external conditions of health are defined. These are also very minute. The Mosaic regulations on the subject of personal cleanliness applied to an extraordinary number and variety of circumstances. Again and again we read, “he shall bathe his flesh in water,” and not only his flesh but also his garments, household utensils, and everything he touches while in an unclean state. It has been justly observed by a modern writer that “in the ancient Israelitish community few persons would be able to pass a week without an entire washing.” Under the mosaic government cleanliness was [250] literally regarded as akin to godliness; and yet until comparatively recently the very contrary was the case in Europe, both in theory and practice. It is not surprising that in the Middle Ages the Jews, with their frequent ablutions - not to speak of their superior constitutions - should’ve escaped epidemic diseases to which the unwashed non-Jewish communities fell an easy prey. Not only did the monks endeavour to afflict their souls by a deliberate avoidance of soap and water, but the general public seem to have avoided washing from inclination. The filth in which people then elected to live must have been frightful, when we find that even the wealthy and high-placed were frequently eaten up by vermin. Moquin-Tandon, in his Zoologie Medicale, gives a list of historical personages whose lives paid the penalty of their uncleanliness - a list comprising such names as Philip II of Spain, Cardinal Duprat, and Bishop Foucquau. Substantially the Mosaic laws of personal cleanliness are still observed by Jews. It is often made the subject of remark that the ghetti, in certain towns, appear dirty and unwholesome, yet there cannot be the slightest doubt that the classes of Jews inhabiting them are infinitely more cleanly in their personal habits than the classes of non-Jews inhabiting similar squalid lanes and back-streets. The truth is that the Jews so situated have not and never have had any authority beyond their own thresholds, and it is only now that public sanitation is beginning to utilise that “legalism” for purifying the public thoroughfares which the Mosaic code taught thousands of years ago. It would be superfluous here to recapitulate the different features of that “legalism” in as much as the Jews have so long been debarred from taking advantage of it. Suffice to say that its general system anticipated the modern dry method of disposing of sewage; that in its laws of disinfection we find a complete prototype of the regulations laid down by Sir James Simpson in 1848 for stamping out small-pox, and now generally followed, and that the principle of small “cottage” hospitals at present being everywhere adopted is one clearly set forth in the Levitical laws. The strict observance of this hygienic system during their national existence must have formed in the Jews a special capacity for resisting zymotic diseases, and this capacity they have no doubt been able to preserve under less felicitous circumstances by their observance of the more personal details of the system which were within their control. To the general value of the whole system of Mosaic hygiene Dr Carpenter bore suggestive testimony in an address delivered before the Sanitary Congress held at Brighton in 1881. He said, “obedience to the sanitary laws laid down by Moses is a necessary condition to perfect health, and to a state which shall give as power to stamp out zymotic diseases. If these laws were observed by all classes, the zymotic death-rate would not be an [251] appreciable quantity in our mortality list” - would be less, in fact, than among Jews at the present day.

The moral superiority of Jews is to be accounted for by a reference to the same “legalism.” I vented so much in detail into the physical “legalism” of Judaism that I feel it unnecessary to do the same with the moral code, not only because it would unduly lengthen this article, but because the physical laws suffice to illustrate the practical nature of Judaism. I may then confine myself to a general view. The moral “legalism” closely approximates to the physical not only in its stringency and minuteness, but also in its guiding principle. The former is based on a naturalistic appreciation of the paramount importance of natural law, and this, transmuted into its ethical equivalent, is Justice. The spirit, then, of the Jewish moral law is a spirit of the most uncompromising justice. It teaches not only the sublime principle, “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” but it even prescribes a treatment of animals which, within the limits of human necessities, is not inferior to the treatment prescribed for one’s fellow-man. The domestic animal is to enjoy the same rest as his master, his food and lodging are to be cared for, his work is not to be made too burdensome, and he is to be protected against mean and ungenerous restrictions. We are not to hunt or torture even the wild beasts for our pleasure, and in slaughtering for food we must employ every expedient that shall render death rapid and painless. Everywhere we are taught not that we have rights to claim that we have duties to discharge. We are all fractions of one universal whole, with responsibilities bounded neither by species nor time. When the physical laws bid us take every advantage of God’s great gifts - to avoid both asceticism and excess it is not for the benefit of individuals, but in deference to the trust by which every individual is responsible to the community and posterity. In the same way the moral law recognises the indissoluble links which bind mankind to all God’s creatures, and enjoins upon us the extensive practice of good not to promote a personal welfare beyond the grave, but to advance the general welfare in this world. This ideal of justice carries with it, in the domain of civil and criminal law, a law of expiation and reparation contrasting strongly with the Christian injunction of repentance that grows out of the Christian ideal of Mercy. And in this Judaism, as in everything, is strictly logical. There can only be one form of justice, and if mercy does not accommodate itself to that form it is injustice. To pardon manifest iniquity is not mercy but injustice; on the other hand, to take a conscientiously appreciative and enlightened view of extenuating circumstances, and, when the occasions require, to rise superior to the mere letter of the law, is not mercy but justice. Thus punishment is not always considered sufficient, and in cases of theft [252] restitution is ordered even at the expense of personal slavery. In the political system we find this ideal of justice translating itself into a perfect democracy. Everyone is equal before the law - even the priest has no power, being only, as M. Darmesteter has pointed out, l’homme du culte et du sacrifice; the franchises universal, and by the periodical redistribution of property a drastic but characteristic attempt is made to solve a social problem that has never ceased to puzzle statesman. The application of so specific a “legalism” to moral duties cannot but have had a powerful influence in moulding the moral character of the Jewish people. While other religious systems contented themselves with impracticable maxims and lofty but illusory parables, Judaism promulgated a practical and well-defined law. Jews could always be better than the law, but in it they found prescribed a minimum of duty, the discharge of which could not be avoided.

The exceptional mental power displayed by modern Jews is curiously enough not so much the product of special laws of education as it is the, to some extent, uncontemplated result of the efforts made to impress the physical “legalism” of Mosaism upon Jewish instincts by way of the Jewish mind. The study of the Mosaic law was untrammelled by any of those restrictions to which other religious systems, in their fear of enquiry, have been obliged to resort. “The law of Moses,” says Isaac Disraeli in his Genius of Judaism, “can never fall into neglect while the principle of Judaism acts on its people, but possesses a self-regenerating power. This law is not locked up in a classed volume, to be consulted only by the administrators of the law, but is thrown open among the people, who themselves deliver it one to another.” This may have been partly a consequence of the democratic tendency of Mosaism, by which the priesthood were deprived of all authority, and the people, in this sense, declared to be a nation of priests; but it must have been more particularly adopted as a precaution against the law falling into desuetude. There was nothing in the law that could not be easily understood. It prescribed a simple system of life as a protection against temporal ills, and it promised as the natural reward of its adoption the avoidance of such ills and the accomplishment of “length of days.” So simple and easily tested a system had then nothing to fear from discussion, but, on the contrary, everything to gain; and hence it was that the mere injunctions to “teach them diligently unto thy children,” and to “talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down and when thou rises up,” acquired an inherent and undying force in the education of the people and the training of the Jewish mind. The explanation of the law was soon found to comprehend the whole cycle of human wisdom, and consequently the [253] establishment and maintenance of public schools became early a prominent feature in Jewish society. Nineteen hundred years ago Jewish education was, as a system, as highly developed as the best modern European system. At that period Rabbi Joshua Ben Gamala founded the first system of compulsory education, and in his time a public school was established in every town in Judaea, and all the children of the locality were forced to attend it.

This concludes my comparison of the peculiar phenomena of modern Jewish society with the practical injunctions of Mosaism. It will, I think, be regarded as establishing this important fact: that Professor Goldwin Smith’s assertion that Judaism consists of a legalistic system of life is true; but beyond this it also shows that this system, so far from meriting the approach suggested by Mr Smith, is of great wisdom, and - in its guiding spirit at least - of illimitable application and usefulness. It shows too, that the prevalent belief among Christians, that Judaism belongs to a perfunctory order of things - that it is a sterile and decaying “boulder of the primeval world” - must be false. This delusion has grown out of the extravagant hopes of Christianity, and been nourished on its guilty fears. Its maintenance is one of the last and most obstinately cherished fictions of the Church, for it is naturally felt that were once proved that Judaism has persisted in spite of the Christian dispensation, and that it has persisted to the temporal advantage of its disciples, then at least the justice of God as pictured by Christianity must be called into question. There is, of course, always the Christian consolation, so openly hinted at by Mr Smith, that “my kingdom is not of this world;” but now, with better means of satisfying the cravings of life, this ideal cannot have the attraction it had eighteen hundred years ago, when almost anything was better than to continue the miseries of existence. It only wants the proof that Christianity is not the legitimate offspring of Judaism, that its arrogation of the ancestry and traditions of the most brilliant of historic phenomena is to a great extent and imposture, to give it its death-blow in the minds of millions of its adherents. And this is what the persistence of Judaism is bringing in its train. Nowadays Christianity cannot stand on its merits - not even on the merits of an asserted superhuman revelation. 

The “legalism” of Judaism is, however, only the outward expression of its abiding principle. Let us now briefly enquire what that principle is. If the popular conception of Judaism as a great spiritual religion - the legitimate progenitor, in fact, of Christianity - be correct, then that system is guilty of a glaring contradiction in expressing itself in so practical and material a “legalism” as that I have just sketched. It must be evident, however, that this “legalism” never could have been the product of a spiritual system, and hence [254] we are forced to one of two conclusions, either that the theory propounded in the Pentateuch is not the one on which the “legalism” was originally founded, or that the popular estimate of that theory is false. It is to the latter opinion that I now address myself. I will endeavour to show that Mosaism is also in its fundamental character the rationalistic system I have described it.

The “material optimism” so obviously animating the whole of the mosaic “legalism” is, in itself, strong presumptive evidence of the rationalist character of the theory of Judaism. Fortunately, it is not necessary to rely exclusively on a mere argument of this character. A fair examination of the Five Books yields, I think, the suggested result. In its God idea and its attitude towards the problem of a future state the Pentateuch is consistent and sufficiently explicit. In the one case it safeguards itself against all idolatry by refusing to admit anything beyond the fundamentally logical idea of the unity, and in the other it recognises the limits of human knowledge by altogether avoiding an attempt at a solution of a problem humanly speaking insoluble. This virtual assumption that the limits of human knowledge can extend no farther than those of the visible world appears to me to be the central idea of Judaism. We have as a consequence a presentment of the Deity which is almost entirely that of a great ethical abstraction - the principle of morality and justice at the root of all social well-being; and we have also as another and strictly logical consequence the teaching that temporal happiness is the goal of existence, and the whole aim of an action that should be regulated in accordance with the Justice, i.e. the workings, of nature.

The purely ethical character of the Mosaic God idea is apparent in the context of all there is of systematic teachings in the Pentateuch. Professor Wellhausen, one of the most painstaking of modern Biblical critics, seems to have been much impressed with this fact. In a recently published article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, he thus describes the conclusion of which is arrived:-

“The religious starting-point of the history of Israel was remarkable, not for its novelty but for its normal character. In all ancient primitive peoples the relation in which God is conceived to stand to the circumstances of the nation - in other words, religion - furnishes a motive for law and morals; in the case of none did it become so with such purity and power as in that of the Israelites. Whatever Jehovah may have been conceived to be in His essential essence - God of the thunderstorm or the like - this fell more and more into the background as mysterious and transcendental; the subject was not one for enquiry. All stress was laid upon His activity within the world of mankind, whose ends He made one with His own. Religion thus did not make men partakers in a divine life, but contrariwise it may God a partaker in the life of men; life in this way was not straightened by it, but enlarged. The so-called “particularism” of Israel’s idea of God was in fact the real strength of Israel’s religion. It thus escaped from barren mythologising is, and became free to apply itself to the moral tasks which are always given and admitted being discharged only in [255] definite spheres. As God of the nation, Jehovah became the God of justice and of right; as God of justice and right, He came to be thought of as the highest and at last as the only power in heaven and earth.”

This, I think, fairly accurately expresses my idea, and I quoted as the deliberate opinion of one who has devoted almost the Labour of a lifetime to the collection of the materials on which is conclusions are based, in order to obviate the tedious task of recapitulating a lengthy collection of texts and other evidence here. Sufficient proof for my present purpose of the soundness of this theory may be found in the evidence that the silence of the lawgiver in respect to a future life was not accidental, was in short the result of a deliberate conviction that “the subject was not one for enquiry.” In the conclusion of the 30th chapter of Deuteronomy this question seems to me to be placed beyond all reasonable doubt. Even in the faulty translation of the authorised version we are told distinctly that the law is a secular law, designed exclusively for the temporal welfare of the people. It involves no question of immortality, but only a choice between “life and good, death and evil.” It is to be observed in order “that thou may slip and multiply;” but in the event of it being neglected “ye shall surely perish,” that is to say, “ye shall not prolong your days upon the land,” as it is subsequently explained. And then in a noble exhortation to “love the Lord thy God,” and “obey his voice,” we are told, not that He is essentially the focus of a spiritual existence, but that “He is thy life and the length of thy days.” In brief, having recognised that the world is governed by the operations of unvarying law, and not by incessant divine intervention, the Mosaic teaching deified this principle of law or justice is the highest power within the reach of human apprehension. This done, it could know nothing of a future life, and there was consequently no reason whatever to deal with the question, not even in order to show its insolvability. At the same time so sensible was the lawgiver of the moral dangers of all superstitions of this character that he prescribed the severest punishments for soothsaying and witchcraft, and any jugglery in short which might tend to impair human self-confidence by the suggestion of daemonic control of human destinies. Further, though not absolutely necessary, light is shed on the nature of Mosaism by that conclusion of the Leyden School of Biblical critics which, in effect, regards the law as of later date than the prophets. This theory introduces an order into the history of Jewish thought which must commend itself to the experience of historical students, in as much as it founds rationalistic views on the subsidence of spiritism, and abandons the improbable suggestion that the latter was the offspring of the former.

The substantial difference between Judaism and Christianity is, then, that the one desires to teachers how to live, the other how to [256] die. Judaism discourses of the excellence of temporal pleasure, the divinity - if I may be permitted the expression - of length of days; Christianity, on the other hand, emphasises the excellence of sorrow and the divinity of death. The practical tendencies of modern Christians are, needless to say, diametrically opposed to this ideal teaching - it could hardly be otherwise where it is sought to guide the human by the superhuman - but its evil effects make themselves nonetheless felt whenever its votaries, or, I should rather say, its victims, necessarily unarmed for temporal conflict, are, in their pursuit of temporal happiness, brought into competition with a people who during long ages have elaborated a discipline having for its sole object the attainment of this very form of happiness. Judaism, the materialistic teaching, is then found to have resulted in Judaism, the physical force; and if today it is only in its subtler operations a preponderating force in social life, the reason is that on every occasion that it’s dominating tendencies have manifested themselves to the material disadvantage of Christians the latter have immediately taken refuge in the force of their numerical superiority, and, in contradiction of the leading principles of their faith, or rather in unconscious recognition of the inadequacy of these principles, have attempted to achieve a prohibited material prosperity by an equally reprobated persecution. In a way a certain brake has been imposed upon the influence exerted by the Jews on the world; but their decimation and oppression never at any time constituted a victory over Judaism by Christianity.

The direct negation of the Christian ideal involved in the persecution of the Jews was alone an overwhelming testimony to the weaknesses of Christianity; but, more than this, the persecution itself, encouraged by the church under the impression that it was a chastisement for persistent heresy, was in reality no chastisement at all, but only a despairing rebellion against the permanence and indestructibility of Judaism, and at that not even successful. The force of Judaism is today unimpaired by this persecution. It is still the same consistent and persistent force as in the days when, alone among the nations, the Jews refuse to tremble before the climax of Roman power typified in the worship of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. The Roman Empire has passed away, the Capitoline god has been broken up and thrown into the crucible of theological evolution, but Judaism still remains. Is it possible that it can have survived only as a stationary and unproductive force? We know that such a phenomenon would be contrary to all natural law; and indeed the correct appreciation of the undercurrents of history will show that ever since it changed the whole tendency of the complex mythologies of the pre-Christian world, it has been silently engaged in that further Judaisation of mankind which is the sole idea of it singularly practical teaching.

Lucien Wolf


3. Excerpts from other writings ⇧ top

Wolf, Lucien. “Anti-Semitism”, in Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed. (New York: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1910), 134-135.

In the political struggles of the concluding quarter of the 19th century an important part was played by a religious, political and social agitation against the Jews, known as “Anti-Semitism.” The origins of this remarkable movement already threaten to become obscured by legend. The Jews contend that anti-Semitism is a mere atavistic revival of the Jew-hatred of the middle ages. The extreme section of the anti-Semites, who have given the movement its quasi-scientific name, declare that it is a racial struggle—an incident of the eternal conflict between Europe and Asia—and that the anti-Semites are engaged in an effort to prevent what is called the Aryan race from being subjugated by a Semitic immigration, and to save Aryan ideals from being modified by an alien and demoralizing oriental Anschauung. There is no essential foundation for either of these contentions. Religious prejudices reaching back to the dawn of history have been reawakened by the anti-Semitic agitation, but they did not originate it, and they have not entirely controlled it. The alleged racial divergence is, too, only a linguistic hypothesis on the physical evidence of which anthropologists are not agreed (Topinard, Anthropologie, p. 444; Taylor, Origins of Aryans, cap. i.), and, even if it were proved, it has existed in Europe for so many centuries, and so many ethnic modifications have occurred on both sides, that it cannot be accepted as a practical issue. It is true that the ethnographical histories of the Jews and the nations of Europe have proceeded on widely diverging lines, but these lines have more than once crossed each other and become interlaced. Thus Aryan elements are at the beginning of both; European morals have been ineradicably semitized by Christianity, and the Jews have been Europeans for over a thousand years, during which their character has been modified and in some respects transformed by the ecclesiastical and civil polities of the nations among whom they have made their permanent home. Anti-Semitism is then exclusively a question of European politics, and its origin is to be found, not in the long struggle between Europe and Asia, or between the Church and the Synagogue, which filled so much of ancient and medieval history, but in the social conditions resulting from the emancipation of the Jews in the middle of the 19th century.

If the emancipated Jews were Europeans in virtue of the antiquity of their western settlements, and of the character impressed upon them by the circumstances of their European history, they none the less presented the appearance of a strange people to their Gentile fellow-countrymen. They had been secluded in their ghettos for centuries, and had consequently acquired a physical and moral physiognomy differentiating them in a measure from their former oppressors. This peculiar physiognomy was, on its moral side, not essentially Jewish or even Semitic. It was an advanced development of the main attributes of civilized life, to which Christendom in its transition from feudalism had as yet only imperfectly adapted itself. The ghetto, which had been designed as a sort of quarantine to safeguard Christendom against the Jewish heresy, had in fact proved a storage chamber for a portion of the political and social forces which were destined to sweep away the last traces of feudalism from central Europe. In the ghetto, the pastoral Semite, who had been made a wanderer by the destruction of his nationality, was steadily trained, through centuries, to become an urban European, with all the parasitic activities of urban economics, and all the democratic tendencies of occidental industrialism. Excluded from the army, the land, the trade corporations and the artisan gilds, this quondam oriental peasant was gradually transformed into a commercial middleman and a practised dealer in money. Oppressed by the Church, and persecuted by the State, his theocratic and monarchical traditions lost their hold on his daily life, and he became saturated with a passionate devotion to the ideals of democratic politics. Finally, this former bucolic victim of Phoenician exploitation had his wits preternaturally sharpened, partly by the stress of his struggle for life, and partly by his being compelled in his urban seclusion to seek for recreation in literary exercises, chiefly the subtle dialectics of the Talmudists (Loeb, Juif de l'histoire; Jellinek, Der Jüdische Stamm). Thus, the Jew who emerged from the ghetto was no longer a Palestinian Semite, but an essentially modern European, who differed from his Christian fellow-countrymen only in the circumstances that his religion was of the older Semitic form, and that his physical type had become sharply defined through a slightly more rigid exclusiveness in the matter of marriages than that practised by Protestants and Roman Catholics (Andree, Volkskunde der Juden, p. 58).

Unfortunately, these distinctive elements, though not very serious in themselves, became strongly accentuated by concentration. Had it been possible to distribute the emancipated Jews uniformly throughout Christian society, as was the case with other emancipated religious denominations, there would have been no revival of the Jewish question. The Jews, however, through no fault of their own, belonged to only one class in European society—the industrial bourgeoisie. Into that class all their strength was thrown, and owing to their ghetto preparation, they rapidly took a leading place in it, politically and socially. When the mid-century revolutions made the bourgeoisie the ruling power in Europe, the semblance of a Hebrew domination presented itself. It was the exaggeration of this apparent domination, not by the bourgeoisie itself, but by its enemies among the vanquished reactionaries on the one hand, and by the extreme Radicals on the other, which created modern anti-Semitism as a political force.


4. Select bibliography ⇧ top

Langton, Daniel R. "Jewish Evolutionary Perspectives on Judaism, Anti-Semitism, and Race Science in Late 19th Century England: A Comparative Study of Lucien Wolf and Joseph Jacobs." Jewish Historical Studies 46 (2014): 37-73.

Levene, Mark. 2004. "Wolf, Lucien." In Dictionary of National Biography, London, Oxford University Press.

Wolf, Lucien. "What Is Judaism? A Question of Today." The Fortnightly Review XXXVI (1884): 237-256.

Wolf, Lucien. "Anti-Semitism", in Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed. (New York: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1910), 134-146.

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