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political world

The Jews, An Interesting Overview of Jews and Judaism Interacting With the World

Monday, October 15, 2012

This book provides much detail, of which one review can only cover a little. Particularly interesting are items about Jewish successes in such things as medicine, science, Hollywood, banking, capitalism, and Communism.

The blood libel directed against Jews preceded Christianity, and accusations of ritual murder were sometimes directed at the early Christians. (p. 31). In the Middle Ages, Jews enjoyed almost near universal literacy because of religious obligations. (p. 133). During this time, Maimonides taught that the human-like attributes of God, including forgiveness, were merely human ideas about what God is like and how God acts. Other rabbis declared his works heretical, and burned them. (p. 10)

Bermant points out that it is incorrect to suggest that Jews were ever forced to become usurers. However, financial circumstances encouraged this trend, as did the unwillingness of Christians to engage in usury owing to religious objections. (p. 23). Jews later became bankers in part because, even when they were allowed to own land, Jews had generally preferred to keep their wealth in portable form. In addition, their contacts with fellow Jews facilitated the taking of financial risks. (p. 41).

When they entered Poland in large numbers, Jews became situated between the nobility and the peasantry. Bermant comments, (quote) In Poland, the Jews became so numerous, prosperous, and entrenched, that they began to lose something of their caution...Rabbis warned that Jews were sowing a terrible harvest of hatred, but while the revenues rolled in the warnings were ignored. Moreover, the Rabbis themselves were beneficiaries of the system. (unquote)(p. 26) To the Jews, (quote) The Pole was almost the reincarnation of Esau, `a cunning hunter, a man of the field', cheerful, bucolic, feckless, licentious and improvident. (unquote) (p. 26).

The Jews had their share of prejudices against goys. Bermant writes that, (quote) The medieval Jew had but slight contact with Christians or Christianity, and everything he knew of them both he abhorred.(unquote)(p. 22). In addition, (quote) The Jew, in ancient times at least, also had an extravagant idea of the sexual tastes and aptitudes of the gentile. The Talmud, for example, decreed that one shouldn't stable one's [donkey synonym] with a non-Jew in case it should be buggered. (unquote)(. 29). Bermant adds, (quote) It is further true that Rabbis were at pains to explain that the contemptuous references to gentiles in the Talmud were not concerned with gentiles as such, but with idol worshippers, and that the Russians and Poles were not idol worshippers. (unquote)(p. 35) [Some would dispute the latter premise.]

Although this would change later, Poles as of the early 20th century often had a low opinion of the capabilities of Jews as soldiers. Interestingly, none other than David Ben Gurion shared the same assessment of Jews. In his description of Jewish settlers in Palestine during the same time (the early part of the 20th century), Ben Gurion commented, "`Jews did not readily take to bearing arms. As a people we have an ingrained abhorrence to violence.'" (p. 207).

Bermant touches on Polish-Jewish relations leading up to the period of Poland's re-acquisition of independence in 1918, "They bring to mind the complaints of Polish nationalists in Hapsburg Galicia that Galician Jews were rather more interested in being Austrians than Poles, which they were, and who, in the light of their subsequent experience within an independent Poland, could blame them? Jews may not be rootless cosmopolitans but they have generally felt happier within the larger nationalism than the smaller." (p. 241). The informed reader may find Bermant's logic puzzling, even if his opinion about the benign nature of Austrian rule is accurate. How were the Jews supposed to know the future, and act accordingly? Besides, in Russian-ruled Poland, Russian anti-Semitism was, by any rational measure, much more severe than Polish anti-Semitism, yet this did not prevent most erstwhile Polish Jews from being more commonly pro-Russian than pro-Polish.

The author mentions aspects of the German-Jewish symbiosis and, although he does not develop this theme, makes it obvious why erstwhile Polish Jews living in German-occupied Poland were generally unwilling to challenge the status quo by supporting the resurrection of the Polish state. Jews, at perhaps about 1% of Prussia's population, assumed, by 1925, the status of 15% of Prussia's dentists, 18% of her doctors, and 25% of her lawyers. (p. 128).

Bermant's chapter on Jewish radicalism (Zydokomuna) is enlightening. He quotes von Plehve, the Tsarist Minister of the Interior, who estimated that Jews, at less than 5% of Russia's population, constituted over 50% of her revolutionaries. (p. 160). Most Jewish revolutionaries came from prosperous families. (p. 160). The author attributes Jewish over-involvement in Communism to a reaction against anti-Semitism. However, he quotes Karl Marx's virulent anti-Semitic statements (p. 161), yet fails to explain why Jews generally overlooked this form of anti-Semitism.

Now consider the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. Bermant identifies fourteen prominent members of the Communist government who were Jewish. He adds that four of the seven members of the first Politburo were Jews. (p. 169).

Jews faced onerous persecution in Nazi Germany. Interestingly, Jewish scientists Otto Warburg and Fritz Haber were left alone throughout the Nazi years. (p. 117).
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