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166 The Jewish Quarter/// Revieic.
ARE THE JEWS A NATION TO-DAY?
Under the title of "the National Idea in Judaism" in a
previous issue of the Quarterly, Lady Magnus essays to prove
" that those who would dissociate the national from the
religious, or the religious from the national element in
Judaism, attempt the impossible." It will be the arrogant
purpose of this article to " attempt the impossible." Lady
Magnus' mode of treatment is the historical. Someone has
said that you can prove anything from history, and in support
of that opinion, I, too, will look at the question historically,
to show what different impressions the same pictures make on
We find the early growth of the Jewish religion and nation
so completely interwoven that it is difficult to separate the
purely national from the purely religious. The Mosaic Code
indiscriminately enjoins duties touching political economy,
civil justice, domestic industries, local hygiene, and the Ten
Commandments. Church and State were one, and it is-
difficult and sometimes impossible to point out just where
religion left off and politics began. The earliest Jewish
government was a theocracy. National conquests were treated
as religious conquests — a species of Holy War, the "exter-
mination of the heathen" being principal and the acquisition
of territory subordinate. Joshua, the soldier, who made Israel
a nation, was the logical successor of Moses the law-giver,
who gave Israel its religion.
Eli, the judge (a sort of chieftain), was also the priest ; and
Samuel, the prophet, anointed the first king. King Saul was-
deposed on religious grounds for not putting to death Amalek,
the national and hence the religious enemy. To King David
is ascribed part of the early liturgy, and King Solomon builds
the first Temple.
The prophets strangely intermingled ethics and politics.
Their sterling appeals for righteousness constantly branched
off into local government matters.
Even the Messianic idea which later became so prominent a
religious doctrine in Judaism, and more especially in
Christianity, was at first simply the hope for an ideal ruler —
a second Kin<j David.
Are the Jews a Nation To-day? 167
After the Restoration the High Priest held the temporal
power. The fall of the nation seemed for the moment as
though it necessarily must involve the fall of the religion;
and the ninth of Ab has been observed for 1800 years as a
day of religious humiliation.
Those who survived and did not entirely lose hope based
that hope simply on the regaining of Judsea, and regarded part
of their religious duties in a condition of temporary suspension.
The Bar-Cochba insurrection was more than a struggle for a
lost kingdom, and Rabbi Akiba's participation was consistent
with the religious undercurrent of the memorable tragedy.
When that last desperate effort failed, and Hadrian made
the iron enter their souls ; when " Jewish disabilities " began,
and it was considered a misfortune to be a Jew, then the
hope of regaining Judaea became the intensest yearning of their
intense natures. But as time wore on, the possibility of
attaining that hope by natural means, or the course of war,
became more and more visionary. Only by some supernatural
intervention at some distant period could they picture the
hope for restoration — only by some mighty upheaval of the
universe. Only the " hand of the Lord can accomplish this
thing." Thus the old hope deepened into a conviction and
became a doctrine of Judaism.
When driven from city to city, and from land to land, with
the mob shouting their Hep ! hep ! after them, their deepest
consolation was that all this condition was temporary.
Sooner or later the Lord would claim his peculiar people and
" speedily rebuild Jerusalem." No service now entered the
Ritual without the expression of this hope. " This year we
are slaves, but next year we shall be free." To-day it pervades
the entire orthodox liturgy, and although their complete
toleration in many countries enables them to await this
restoration with a good deal of equanimity, still the belief
prevails that the Jews are a nation yet, still in this condition
of temporary suspension, still vaguely expecting to return
This brief survey might seem to favour Lady Magnus'
theory that " it is impossible to dissociate the national from
the religious in Judaism," and may strengthen the inference
that we are yet a nation. Unfortunately for any such
opinions, that complete interweaving of religion and nation
is not peculiar to Jews and Judaism; it is common to all
antiquity. The evidence proves too much. We might state
as a general rule that national boundaries and religious
boundaries were identical, and hence that there Avere about
168 The Jewish Quarterly Review.
as many religions as nations, and that the death of a nation
generally meant the death of its religion.
Gods played as large a part in the Trojan war as men.
War and peace were decided by religious oracles, and national
policies were generally in the hands of the priests. Not
merely Israel, but many early nationalities were theocracies.
Socrates was put to death by the civil authorities for denying
the gods of Greece. Treason was heresy, while patriotism
and piety were synonymous terms. A subject's obeisance
partook of religious significance, and eventually a Roman
emperor became, by virtue of his position, a Roman god.
When Persia overthrew Babylon, the Babylonian gods fell
as a logical consequence. That the Israelites continued to
observe a religion other than that of their conquerors and
governors shows that the work of differentiation had com-
menced. For prior to this time religion as a distinct and
separate institution was not only not known, it would not
even have been understood.
This strong union of religion and nation is true even later
than antiquity. For Christianity was accepted in Europe by
nations, not by individuals, and when Protestantism was
introduced, the particular creed of the princes was to decide
the creed of the principality, and each of the European nations
created for itself that form of Protestantism best suited to its
national peculiarities. And prior to this time the Empire of
Rome came to be identified with the realm of the Church.
The theory survives to-day in the paradoxical phrase, Roman
The history of Judaism is not more closely interwoven with
that of Judaea than is the history of England with that of the
English Church. Ever since the time of Henry VIII. the
sovereign has been head of the Church. From that time till
the reign of Queen Anne the great national question was the
religious question, and then the creed of the nation was de-
clared by Act of Parliament. Opposition to the dethrone-
ment of James II. came from the belief in the " divine right
of kings." The foundation of the Irish Question has always
been and always will remain a religious problem.
Thus we see that the fact that Judaism was early associated
with a nationality is no reason why it need always be
associated with a nationality as an integral part of itself,
since that union was part of a larger truth. That our reli-
gion and nation are to-day separated is the best reply to the
question whether Judaism could exist independently. We do
not find it necessary to carry about with us in maturity all
the appurtenances of our childhood. When manhood comes
they may be hindrances instead of helps. The embodiment
Are the Jews a Nation To-day? 169
of a nation may have been necessary for the growth of the
religious idea. But once developed, it was able to throw aside
the chrysalis coat of nationality and soar forth free.
To the question then, Are we a nation to-day ? I answer
emphatically, No ! What remnant of Jewish government and
political power remained during the existence of the Second
Temple was completely overthrown in the year 70. The
country that Jews once owned belongs to others, and has been
out of Jewish hands ever since Borne became an Empire.
"What has not intervened since then? Empires and nations
have risen and changed hands and fallen time and again
since the plough was passed over the ruins of Herod's Temple.
Jews to-day are found in all countries, and are citizens in
many, and in some instances they know no other, and care to
know no other nation than the land of their birth. A nation
forsooth, without a land, without an acknowledged govern-
ment (for even the ecclesiastical chiefs are only local), without
a geographical or even a linguistic unity, since Hebrew is a
living tongue only to a few ! Is not this harder to conceive
than the farce of the Holy Boman Empire ? Could the Poles
to-day in Austria, Bussia and Germany, call themselves a
nation ? And yet the partition of their land is an event com-
paratively of yesterday.
All people might find themselves belonging to different
nationalities if they only go back to sufficiently distant
ancestors. Americans are anything but Americans. The
English are British as far as they are Britons, Germans to
the extent that they are Saxons, and French in as far as
they are Normans. It may be an interesting question to
ask to what extent the past grants possession to the present.
What title has a poor man to money that once was his ?
What title have we to Judaea by virtue of the fact that our
distant ancestors in antiquity once owned that land ? Are
we a nation because our distant ancestors were a nation ?
What objection to some ghostly Boman Empire arising, and
on the strength of our ancient tributary condition imposing
modern procurators ?
That Israel is at present a nation de jure, and will in the
future again be a nation de facto, is an idea that has partly
been kept alive among Israelites by Gentiles. It is, in a
measure, a result of Gentile interpretation of the prophets.
It is not fair either to the prophets or to the truth to attempt
170 The Jewish Quarterly Review.
to translate poetic vision into prosaic fact. The ideal pictures
of a future national restoration should be treated as ideal
pictures, and nothing more. But even when literally inter-
preted we can find later conditions in Jewish history as fulfil-
ment of these visions. Not that we approve this method of
explaining the prophets. The Jewish prophets were not
oracles, or wizards, or fortune-tellers. So to read their words
is to degrade them, and to deprive them of their spirituality.
The Jewish prophets were zealous workers for God and
righteousness ; gifted with that burning eloquence that can
stir whole masses. Let us hope we have long passed the time
for using the Bible as a fetish-book in which to read the
future. The attempt to stretch the Scriptures, in order to
verify favourite dogmas, is one of the distinctions between
Judaism and Christianity. " And he went down into Egypt,
in order that the word might be fulfilled, And I brought my
son out of Egypt," etc., etc. So we must needs think our-
selves a nation, and proceed to purchase Palestine to make
ourselves a nation, " in order to fulfil," etc. These puerile
attempts to help out Providence would be ludicrous if they
were not preposterous. Their logical consequence is mysti-
cism. Lawrence Oliphant, the most sanguine advocate of the
national theory, was, among other things, a mystic. I say
that this theory has been in a measure encouraged among us
by Gentiles. Emma Lazarus was fired with it by George
Eliot. But George Eliot was a Positivist, and therefore did
not advocate the Restoration on Biblical grounds, or by virtue
of religious conviction. She saw the belief smouldering
among the Jews, and thought its realisation would be a mag-
nificent goal for a race she so much admired. Would it ?
This shall be our last consideration.
In summing up the final consequences of this doctrine, we
find that one of the results of calling the Jews a national, as
well as a religious community, has been to confuse the duties
and the relations of both. Some call themselves Jews because
they are born Jews while repudiating all religious obligations ;
others remain within the fold simply by virtue of belonging
to the Jewish race. Thus our fold is filled with a large number
who have practically renounced our faith, who may be agnostic,
perhaps even atheistic, but who claim to belong to us on the
strength of the old national delusion. Thus the religious
obligations of the unreflecting masses become confused and
clouded, and the demoralising effect of the non-observers is
felt throughout our entire ranks.
Are the Jews a Nation To-day ? 171
The national theory is further disadvantageous in that it
keeps alive a retrogressive principle, i.e., the union of Church
and State. This remnant of the past is slowly dying out in
most civilised countries, and those who can read the times
have no doubt of the tendency. It is part of the history of
the growth of religious liberty ; and the complete toleration
that is being gradually realised in nations having a State
religion indicates the beginning of the end. As long as a
particular creed is associated indissolubly with many offices of
distinction and honour, just so long is religious sincerity im-
peded and the ideal religious condition delayed. Why, then,
should we strive to keep alive a decaying principle whose
merits are bound up with primitive civilisation, and in whose
death lies the key to religious advancement ? It is only with
reference to that idea that a Goldwin Smith can find an excuse
for asking the rhetorical question, " Can Jews be Patriots "?
It has another injurious intiuence. The confusion of the
two ideas, the religious and the national, has resulted in
grafting many national observances on to Judaism itself.
Thus local customs have been elevated to the sanctity of
religious duties, and by that very fact have degraded the
really religious. Many observances, obsolete in their applica-
tion and secular at best, have crept into our faith by virtue of
the national doctrine, and have discredited, and in some cases
concealed, the really spiritual. This is, perhaps, one of the
gravest evils under which we labour to-day; and in con-
sequence of the discouraging aspect given to our faith by
this mass of ceremonial many are drifting from the fold.
Finally, it throws us open to the accusation of tribalism.
As long as we shut up our religion within national boundaries,
the Gentiles have a right to reproach us with striving for our-
selves alone. Of all religions ours is most worthy to become
universal. Its rational doctrines appeal to the most en-
lightened; it exceeds in breadth, liberality, and withal in
simplicity, all the recognised faiths ; its ethics are all-compre-
hensive, embracing " the whole duty of man," and its place in
history entitles it to be called, not merely a religion, but —
religion. This is, in fact, our traditional position — long ago
acknowledged by all the nations — to be the teachers of religion.
This, if anything, is our mission, of which we talk so much
but do so little. The time has surely arrived to cut our faith
loose from all political and territorial shackles, to stand
forward as a religion of humanity, as such to go down to
posterity, as such to decide our destiny.
Maurice H. Harris.