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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 
different minds. 



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 
to Jerusalem. 

II. 

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 
Catholic. 

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. 

III. 

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 ? 

IV. 

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.