"It's difficult to admit the obvious"
political world

Israel in Europe

jan peczkis|Tuesday, November 22, 2016

My review is based on the original 1907 edition. This work covers a broad swath of Jewish history, beginning with Classical Antiquity. It is rather philosemitic in tone, with a tendency towards a lachrymose interpretation of Jewish history. Because there are so many different issues raised, I focus on just a few of them:


Instead of exclusively blaming Christianity for the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, the author realizes that anti-Semitism had long predated Christianity, and that the Jewish belief in their Chosen-ness had animated anti-Jewish feelings. He quips, “If the Pagan was ready to forgive Jewish eccentricity, no man could tolerate Jewish intolerance; and the resentment which the Jews’ aloofness aroused in the breast even of the educated Gentile is palpable in the pages of many ancient authors. Only three Greek writers make a favorable mention of the Jews…[notably Strabo]…They [Romans] are emphatic and unanimous in their condemnation of Judaism…” (p. 31).


Although the author dwells on Christian persecutions of Jews, he does briefly note that persecutions went both ways. When what was to become known as Christianity had been in its infancy, Jews had first persecuted Christians, such as at the time of the Bar-Cochba [Bar Kokhba] revolt. Abbott writes, “The Jewish Christians, who refused to recognize the new Messiah and to take part in the holy war, were remorselessly persecuted, and the rebellion blazed from one end of the country to the other.” (p. 37).


In later centuries, Jewish-Christian relations also were not black-and-white. Consider slavery. The Church had forbidden Jews from owning Christian slaves, and this was a severe blow against Jewish economic interests. (p. 53). Abbott identifies what had brought this about, “The Jews were large slave-dealers and slave-owners, and it was their custom to convert their slaves to Judaism in order to avoid the presence of Gentiles under their roofs. All slaves who refused to be circumcised were, in obedience to the Talmud, sold again. It was, therefore, the duty of the Church to protect these helpless brutes in human form against proselytism.” (p. 53).


Tales of Jews engaged in ritual murder should be kept in perspective. Such tales were also told about other peoples, and even by the Jews themselves. Abbott comments, “Similar charges, curiously enough, are still brought against the Jews by the Christians of Eastern Europe, by the Jews themselves against Hebrew converts to Islam in Turkey, and by the Chinese against Protestant missionaries…” (p. 102).


Author George Frederick Abbott repeats the canned explanation: Jews are rarely agriculturalists because they had long been restricted to certain occupations and had become a very urbanized people. He then focuses on the Jews in Eretz Israel about 1900 and notes that, with the exception of the Sephardic Jews from Bulgaria and Romania, Palestinian Jews engaged in agriculture and few and far between. The non-Jewish locals did much of the farming. (p. 510). In the end, he identifies the main reason—the Jewish preference for profitable and intellectual vocations. He comments, “The mattock and the hoe are repugnant to the Jewish colonists, who all seek for places in the administration…The most prosperous concern, perhaps, is the wine-growing establishment of Rishon le Sion. Wine-making is the one industry the Jews take to.” (p. 509).


Abbott contradicts the modern exculpatory notion that Poland’s Jews were merely transmitting the exploitive policies of the nobles to the serfs. In actuality, Jews had considerable freedom to act. For example, Jews, as stewards of the estates belonging to the Polish magnates, had the power of inflicting capital punishment on the Polish serfs. (p. 104).

Let us now consider the events that led up to the Khmelnytsky (Chmielnicki) revolt. Jews, as tax farmers, could not only collect taxes, but also invent taxes. (p. 238). Author Abbott characterizes the Jews as “eager to play the despots over those whom fate had placed under themselves” and having a “lust for profit and power” over the peasants beneath them. (pp. 238-239).


In recent centuries, European anti-Semitism had centered on Jews in the economy. In places such as foreign-ruled Poland, the peasants were at the mercy of the Jews, and the Jews were in a position to profiteer and exploit the peasants. Abbott writes, “The improvidence of the agriculturalist and his want of capital have rendered the assistance of the money-lender and the middleman an absolute necessity to him, and this requirement has been naturally supplied by the presence of the Jew, whose sobriety, thrift, energy, and commercial instincts render him especially fit for the vocation. The more improvident the peasantry, the greater are the immediate profits of the Jews, and whilst the former have become steadily impoverished, many of the latter have acquired comparative wealth. There is nothing astonishing, therefore, in the ill-feeling which arisen toward the Jews…” (pp. 338-339).

As Poland’s Jews assimilated to Polish language and culture, Roman Dmowski and other Endeks questioned if such Jews could actually become Poles, and expressed concern over the potential eventual ZAZYDZENIE (Judaization) of Poland. Interestingly, Abbott had a similar take on the emancipated, Polonized Jew, as he quipped, “He can hardly enter into his Polish brother’s soul and realize his modes of thought and feeling.”(p. 498).
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