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76 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


his would have proved the most readable 3 he 
might have shown us himself, his wise, tolerant, 
enthusiastic self, in them. But instead, we 
possess, in his shelves on shelves of published 
compilations of dead men’s minds, only duly 
labelled and catalogued selections from learned 
mummies, 

The dream of Manasseh was to compose a 
‘Heroic History,’ a significant title which 
shadows forth the worthy record he would 
have delighted in compiling from Jewish 
annals. It is as well, perhaps, that the title 
is all we have of the work, for he was too 
good an idealist to prove a good historian. 
He cared too much, and he knew too much, 
to write a reliable or a readable history of his 
people. To him, as to many of us, Robert 
Browning’s words might be applied— 


‘So you saw yourself as you wished you were— 
As you might have been, as you cannot be— 
Farth here rebuked by Olympus there, 
And grew content in your poor degree.’ 1 


He, at any rate, had good reason to grow 
content in his degree, for he was destined to 
make an epoch in the ‘Heroic History,’ 
instead of being, as he ‘wished he were,’ the 
reciter, and probably the prosy reciter, of 
several. Certain it is that, great scholar, 

1 ‘Old Pictures from Florence.’ 


MANASSEH BEN ISRAEL 77 


successful preacher, and voluminous writer as 
was Manasseh ben Israel, it was not till he 
was fifty years old that he found his real 
vocation. He had felt at it for years, his 
books were more or less blind gropings after 
it, his friendships with the eminent and highly 
placed personages of his time were all uncon- 
scious means to a conscious end, and his very 
character was a factor in his gradually formed 
purpose. His whole life had been an up- 
holding of the ‘standard’; publicists who 
sneered at the ostentatious rich Jew, priests 
who railed at the degraded poor Jew, were 
each bound to recognise in Manasseh ben Israel 
a Jew of another type: one poor yet self- 
respecting, sought after yet unostentatious, 
conservative yet cosmopolitan, learned yet 
undogmatic. They might question if this 
Amsterdam Rabbi were sui generis, but they 
were at least willing to find out if he were in 
essentials what he claimed to be, fairly re- 
presentative of the fairly treated members of 
his race. So the ‘way was prepared’ by the 
¢ standard’ being raised. Which, of the many 
long-closed ‘ gates,’ was to open for the people 
to pass through ? 

Manasseh looked around on Europe. He 
sought a safe and secure resting-place for the 
tribe of wandering foot and weary heart, where, 
no longer weary and wandering, they might 


78 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


cease to be ‘tribal.’ He sought a place where 
‘protection’ should not be given as a sordid 
bribe, nor conferred as a fickle fayour, but 
claimed as an inalienable right, and shared in 
common with all law-abiding citizens. His 
thoughts turned for a while on Sweden, and 
there was some correspondence to that end 
with the young Queen Christina, but this 
failing, or falling through, his hopes were 
almost at once definitely directed towards 
England. It was a wise selection and a happy 
one, and the course of events, and the time 
and the temper of the people, seemed all upon 
his side. The faithless Stuart king had but 
lately expiated his hateful, harmful weakness 
on the scaffold, and sentiment was far as yet 
from setting the nimbus of saint and martyr 
on that handsome, treacherous head. The 
echoes of John Hampden’s brave voice seemed 
still vibrating in the air, and Englishmen, but 
freshly reminded of their rights, were growing 
keen and eager in the scenting out of wrongs; 
quick to discover, and fierce to redress evils 
which had long lain rooted and rotting, and 
unheeded, The pompous insouciance of the 
first Stuart king, the frivolous insouciance 
of the second, were now being resented in 
inevitable reaction. The court no longer led 
the fashion; the people had come to the front 
and were growing grimly, even grotesquely, in 


MANASSEH BEN ISRAEL 79 


earnest. The very fashion of speaking seems 
to have changed with the new need for strong, 
terse expression. Men greeted each other 
with old-fashioned Bible greetings; they 
named their children after those ‘ great ones 
gone,’ or with even quainter effect in some 
simple selected Bible phrase; the very tones 
of the Prophets seemed to resound in White- 
hall, and Englishmen to have become, in 
a wide, unsensational sense, not men only of 
the sword, or of the plough, but men of the 
Book, and that Book the Bible. Liberty of 
conscience, equality before the law for all 
religious denominations, had been the un- 
conditional demand of that wonderful army 
of Independents, and although the Catholics 
were the immediate cause and object of this 
appeal, yet Manasseh, watching events from 
the calm standpoint of a keenly interested 
onlooker, thought he discerned in the listen- 
ing attitude of the English Parliament, a 
favourable omen of the attention he desired 
to claim for his clients, since it was not alone 
for political, but for religious, rights that he 
meant to plead. 

He did not, however, actually come to 
England till 1655, when the way for personal 
intercession had been already prepared by 
correspondence and petition. His Hope of 
Tsrael had been forwarded to Cromwell so 


80 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


early as 1650; petitions praying for the re- 
admission of Jews to England with full rights 
of worship, of burial, and of commerce secured 
to them, had been laid before the Long and 
the Rump Parliament, and Manasseh had now 
in hand, and approaching completion, a less 
elaborate and more impassioned composition 
than usual, entitled, Vindicie Judworum. A 
powerful and unexpected advocate of Jewish 
claims presently came forward in the person 
of Edward Nicholas, the clerk to the Council. 
This large-minded and enlightened gentleman 
had the courage to publish an elaborate appeal 
for, and defence of, the Jews, ‘the most 
honourable people in the world,’ as he styled 
them, ‘a people chosen by God and protected 
by God.’ The pamphlet was headed, Apo- 
logy for the Honourable Nation of the Jews 
and all the Sons of Israel, and Nicholas’s 
arguments aroused no small amount of atten- 
tion and discussion. It was even whispered 
that Cromwell had had a share in the author- 
ship; but if this had been so, undoubtedly he 
who ‘stood bare, not cased in euphemistic 
coat of mail,’ but who ‘grappled like a giant, 
face to face, heart to heart, with the naked 
truth of things,’1 would have unhesitatingly 
avowed it. His was not the sort of nature to 
shirk responsibilities nor to lack the courage 
1 On Heroes: Lect. vi., ‘The Hero as King,’ . 349. 


MANASSEH BEN ISRAEL 81 


of his opinions. There can be no doubt that, 
from first to last, Cromwell was strongly in 
favour of Jewish claims being allowed, but 
just as little doubt is there that there was 
never any tinge or taint of ‘secret favouring’ 
about his sayings or his doings on the subject. 
The part, and all things considered the very 
unpopular part, he took in the subsequent 
debates, had, of course, to be accounted for by 
minds not quick to understand such simple 
motive power as justice, generosity, or sym- 
pathy, and both now and later the wildest 
accusations were levelled against the Protector. 
That he was, unsuspected, himself of Jewish 
descent, and had designs on the long vacant 
Messiahship of his interesting kinsfolk, was 
not the most malignant, though it was perhaps 
among the most absurd, of these tales. ‘The 
man is without a soul,’ writes Carlyle, ‘that 
can look into the great soul of a man, radiant 
with the splendours of very heaven, and see 
nothing there but the shadow of his own mean 
darkness.’1 There must have been, if this 
view be correct, a good many particularly 
materialistic bodies going about at that epoch 
in English history when the Protector of 
England took upon himself the unpopular 
burden of being also the Protector of the 
Jews. 
2 Cromwell, vol. ii. p. 359. 
F 


82 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


There had been some opposition on the 
part of the family to overcome, some tender 
timid forebodings, which events subsequently 
justified, to dispel, before Manasseh was free 
to set out for England ; but in the late autumn 
of 16551 we find him with two or three 
companions safely settled in lodgings in the 
Strand. An address to the Protector was 
personally presented by Manasseh, whilst a 
more detailed declaration to the Common- 
wealth was simultaneously published. Very 
remarkable are both these documents. Neither 
in the personal petition to Cromwell, nor in 
the more elaborate argument addressed to the 
Parliament, is there the slightest approach to 
the ad misericordiam style. The whole case 
for the Jews is stated with dignity, and 
pleaded without passion, and throughout 
justice rather than favour forms the staple 
of the demand. The ‘clemency’ and ‘ high- 
mindedness’ of Cromwell are certainly taken 
for granted, but equally is assumed the 
worthiness of the clients who appeal to these 
qualities. Manasseh makes also a strong point 
of the ‘ Profit, which the Jews are likely to 
prove to their hosts, naively recognising the 
fact that ‘ Profit is a most powerful motive 
which all the world prefers above all other 
things’; and ‘therefore dealing with that 

1 Some chroniclers fix it so early as 1653, 


MANASSEH BEN ISRAEL 83 


point first.’ He dwells on the ‘ability,’ and 
‘industry,’ and ‘natural instinct ’ of the Jews 
for ‘merchandising,’ and for ‘contributing 
new inventions,’ which extra aptitude, in a 
somewhat optimistic spirit, he moralises, may 
have been given to them for their ¢ protection 
in their wanderings,’ since ‘wheresoever they 
go to dwell, there presently the trafieq begins 
to flourish.’ 

Read in the light of some recent literature, 
one or two of Manasseh’s arguments might 
almost be termed prophetic. Far-sighted, 
however, and wide-seeing as was our Am- 
sterdam Rabbi, he could certainly not have 
foretold that more than two hundred years 
later his race would be taunted in the same 
breath for being a‘ wandering’ and ‘ homeless 
tribe,’ and for remaining a ‘settled’ and 
‘parasitic’ people in their adopted countries ; 
yet are not such ingenious, and ungenerous, 
and inconsistent taunts answered by anticipa- 
tion in the following paragraph ?— 


‘The love that men ordinarily bear to their 
own country, and the desire they have to end 
their lives where they had their beginning, is 
the cause that most strangers, having gotten 
riches where they are in a foreign land, are 
commonly taken in a desire to return to their 
native soil, and there peaceably to enjoy their 


84 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


estate ; so that as they were a help to the 
places where they lived and negotiated while 
they remained there, so when they depart 
from thence, they carry all away and spoile 
them of their wealth; transporting all into 
their own native country: but with the Jews, 
the case is farre different, for where the Jews 
are once kindly receaved, they make a firm 
resolution never to depart from thence, seeing 
they have no proper place of their own ; and 
so they are always with their goods in the 
cities where they live, a perpetual benefitt to 
all payments.’ ! 


Manasseh goes on to quote Holy Writ, to 
show that to ‘seek for the peace,’ and to ‘ pray 
for the peace of the city whither ye are led 
captive,’ ® was from remote times a loyal duty 
enjoined on Jews; and so he makes perhaps 
another point against that thorough-going 
historian of our day, who would have disposed 
of the People and the Book, the Jews and the 
Old Testament together, in the course of a 
magazine article. To prove that uncompro- 
mising loyalty has among the Jews the added 
force of a religious obligation, Manasseh 
mentions the fact that the ruling dynasty is 
always prayed for by upstanding congregations 


1 From ‘Declaration to the Commonwealth of England,’ 
® Jeremiah xxix. 7. 3 


MANASSEH BEN ISRAEL 85 


in every Jewish place of worship, and he makes 
history give its evidence to show that this is 
no mere lip loyalty, but that the obligation 
enjoined has been over and over again faith- 
fully fulfilled. He quotes numerous instances 
in proof of this; beginning from the time, 900 
years B.c., when the Jerusalem Jews, High 
Priest at their head, went forth to defy Alex- 
ander, and to own staunch allegiance to 
discrowned Darius, till those recent civil wars 
in Spain, when the Jews of Burgos manfully 
held that city against the conqueror, Henry of 
Trastamare, in defence of their conquered, 
but liege lord, Pedro,? 

Of all the simply silly slanders from which 
his people had suffered, such, for instance, as 
the kneading Passover biscuits with the blood 
of Christian children, Manasseh disposes 
shortly, with brief and distinct denial; per- 
tinently reminding Englishmen, however, that 
like absurd accusations crop up in the early 
history of the Church, when the ‘very same 
ancient scandalls was cast of old upon the 
innocent Christians.’ 

With the more serious, because less abso- 
lutely untruthful, charge of ‘ usury,’ Manasseh 
deals as boldly, urging even no extenuating 
plea, but frankly admitting the practice to be 
‘infamous.’ But characteristically, he pro- 

1 In 1369. 


ee a te eee ee ee ee ee 


86 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


ceeds to express an opinion, that ‘ inasmuch as 
no man is bound to give his goods to another, 
so is he not bound to let it out but for his own 
occasions and profit,’ ‘only,’ and this he adds 
emphatically — 


«It must be done with moderation, that the 
usury be not biting or exorbitant. .. . The 
sacred Scripture, which allows usury with 
him that is not of the same religion, forbids 
absolutely the robbing of all men, whatso- 
ever religion they be of. In our law it is a 
greater sinne to rob or defraud a stranger, 
than if I did it to one of my owne profession ; 
a Jew is bound to show his charity to all men ; 
he hath a precept, not to abhorre an Idumean 
or an Egyptian ; and yet another, that he shall 
love and protect a stranger that comes to live 
in his land. If, notwithstanding, there be 
some that do contrary to this, they do it not 
as Jewes simply, but as wicked Jewes.’ 


The Appeal made, as it could searcely fail 
to do, a profound impression—an impression 
which was helped not a little by the presence 
and character of the pleader. And presently 
the whole question of the return of the Jews 
to England was submitted to the nation for 
its decision. 

The clergy were dead against the measure, 


MANASSEH BEN ISRAEL 87 


and, it is said, ‘raged like fanatics against the 
Jews as an accursed nation.’ And then it was 
that Cromwell, true to his highest convictions, 
stood up to speak in their defence. On the 
ground of policy, he temperately urged the 
desirability of adding thrifty, law-respecting, 
and enterprising citizens to the national stock ; 
and on the higher ground of duty, he passion- 
ately pleaded the unpopular cause of religious 
and social toleration. He deprecated the 
principle that, the claims of morality being 
satisfied, any men or any body of men, on the 
score of race, of origin, or of religion (‘tribal 
mark’ had not at that date been suggested), 
should be excluded from full fellowship with 
other men. ‘I have never heard a man speak 
so splendidly in my life,’ is the recorded opinion 
of one of the audience, and it is a matter of 
intense regret that this famous speech of 
Cromwell’s has not been preserved. Its elo- 
quence, however, failed of effect, so far as its 
whole and immediate object was concerned. 
The gates were no more than shaken on their 
rusting hinges—not quite yet were the people 
free to ‘ go through.’ 

The decision of the Council of State was 
deferred, and some authorities even allege 
that it was presently pronounced against the 
readmission of the Jews to England. The 
known and avowed favour of the Protector 


88 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


sufficed, nevertheless, to induce the few Jews 
who had come with, or in the train of, Man- 
asseh to remain, and others gradually, and by 
degrees, and without any especial notice being 
taken of them, ventured to follow. The 
creaking old gates were certainly ajar, and 
wider and wider they opened, and fainter and 
fainter, from friction of unrestrained inter- 
course, grew each dull rust and stain of pre- 
judice, till that good day, within living 
memories, when the barriers were definitely 
and altogether flung down. And on their 
ruins a new and healthy human growth sprang 
quickly up, ‘taking root downwards, and 
fruit upwards,’ spreading wide enough in its 
vigorous luxuriance to cover up all the old bad 
) past. And by this time it has happily grown 
impervious to any wanton unfriendly touch 
which would thrust its kindly shade aside and 
once again lay those ugly ruins bare. 
Manasseh, however, like so many of us, had 
to be content to sow seed which he was des- 
tined never to see ripen. His petitions to the 
Commonwealth were presented in 1655, his 
Vindicie Judeorum was completed and handed 
in some time in 1656, and in the early winter 
of 1657, on his journey homewards, he died. 
His mission had not fulfilled itself in the com- 
plete triumphant way he had hoped, but ‘life 
fulfils itself in many ways,’ and one part at 


MANASSEH BEN ISRAEL 89 


any rate, perhaps the most important part, of 
the Hebrew prophet’s charge, had been both 
poetically and prosaically carried out by this 
seventeenth century Dutch Jew. He had 
‘lifted up a standard for his people.’ 


CHARITY IN TALMUDIC TIMES 
SOME ANCIENT SOLVINGS OF A MODERN PROBLEM 


‘Wuar have we reaped from all the wisdom 
sown of ages?’ asks Lord Lytton in one of 
his earlier poems. A large query, even for so 
questioning an age as this, an age which, dis- 
carding catechisms, and rejecting the omni- 
scient Mangnall’s Questions as a classic for its 
children, yet seems to be more interrogative 
than of old, even if a thought less ready in its 
Tesponses. Possibly, we are all in too great 
a hurry nowadays, too eager in search to be 
patient to find, for certain it is that the world’s 
already large stock of hows and whys seems to 
get bigger every day. We catch the echoes in 
poetry and in prose, in all sorts of tones and 
from all sorts of people, and Lord Lytton’s 
question sounds only like another of the hope- 
less Pilate series. His is such a large inter- 
rogation too—all the wisdom sown of all the 
ages suggests such an enormous crop! And 
then as to what “we,” who have neither 


CHARITY IN TALMUDIC TIMES 91 


planted nor watered, have ‘reaped’ from it! 
An answer, if it were attempted, might 
certainly be found to hinge on the ‘we’ as 
well as on the ‘wisdom,’ for whereas untaught 
instinct may ‘reap’ honey from a rose, trained 
reason in gathering the flower may only succeed 
in running a thorn into the finger. What has 
been the general effect of inherited wisdom on 
the general world may, however, very well be 
left for a possible solution to prize competitors 
to puzzle over. But to a tiny corner of the 
tremendous subject it is just possible that we 
may find some sort of suggestive reply; and 
from seed sown ages since, and garnered as 
harvest by men whose place knows them no 
more, we may likely light on some shadowy 
aftermath worth, perhaps, our reaping. 

The gospel of duty to one’s neighbour, 
which, long languishing as a creed, seems now 
reviving as a fashion, has always been, amongst 
that race which taught ‘love thy neighbour 
as thyself,’ not only of the very essence of 
religion, but an ordinary social form of it. It 
is ‘law’ in the ‘family chronicle’ of the race, 
as Heine calls the Bible; it is ‘law’ and 
legend both in those curious national archives 
known as Talmud. Foremost in the ranks of 
livres incompris stand those portentous volumes, 
the one work of the world which has suffered 
about equally at the hands of the commen- 


92 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


tator and the executioner. Many years ago 
Emmanuel Deutsch gave to the uninitiated a 
glimpse into that wondrous agglomeration of 
fantastically followed facts, where long-winded 
legend, or close-argued ‘law,’ starts some 
phrase or word from Holy Writ as quarry, and 
pursues it by paths the most devious, the 
most digressive imaginable to man. The work 
of many generations and of many ‘masters’ in 
each generation, such a book is singularly 
susceptible to an open style of reading and 
a liberal aptitude of quotation, and it is 
no marvel that searchers in its pages, even 
reasonably honest ones, should be able to 
find detached individual utterances to fit into 
almost any one of their own preconceived 
dogmas concerning Talmud. On many sub- 
jects, qualifications, contradictions, differences 
abound, and instances of illegal law, of pseudo- 
science, of doubtful physics, may each, with a 
little trouble, be disinterred from the depths 
of these twelve huge volumes. But the ethics 
of the Talmud are, as a whole, of a high order, 
and on one point there is such remarkable and 
entire agreement, that it is here permissible 
to speak of what ‘the Talmud says,” meaning 


opinion, and not the views of this or of that 
individual master, The subject on which this 
unusual harmony prevails is the, in these days, 


CHARITY IN TALMUDIC TIMES 93 


much discussed one of charity ; and to discover 
something concerning so very ancient a mode 
of dealing with it may not prove uninterest- 
ing. 

The word which in these venerable folios is 
made to express the thing is, in itself, signifi- 
cant. Inthe Hebrew Scriptures, though the in- 
junctions to charitable acts are many, an exact 
equivalent to our word ‘charity’ can hardly be 
said to exist. In only eight instances, and 
not even then in its modern sense, does the 
Septuagint translate npt¥ (¢zedakah) into its 
Greek equivalent, éenyortvn, which would 
become in English ‘alms,’ or ‘charity.’ The 
nearest synonyms for ‘charity ’ in the Hebrew 
Scriptures are Mp7¥ (tzedakah), well translated 
as ‘righteousness’ in the Authorised Version, 
and 11pn (chesed), which is adequately rendered 
as ‘mercy, kindness, love.” The Talmud, in 
its exhaustive fashion, seems to accentuate the 
essential difference between these two words. 
Tzedakah is, to some extent, a class distinction 5 
the rights of the poor make occasion for the 
righteousness of the rich, and the duties of 
izedakah fd liberal and elaborate expression 
in a strict and minute system of tithes and 
almsgiving.t The injunctions of the Penta- 


1 Maimonides, in his well-known digest of Talmudie 
laws relating to the poor, uniformly employs tzedakah in 
the sense of ‘ alms.’ 


Be ee 


94 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


teuch concerning the poor are worked out by 
the Talmud into the fullest detail of direction. 
The Levitical law, ‘ When ye reap the harvest 
of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the 
corners of thy field’ (Levit. xiv. 9), gives 
occasion of itself to a considerable quantity of 
literature. At length, it is enacted how, if 
brothers divide a field between them, each has 
to give a ‘corner,’ and how, if a man sell his 
field in several lots, each purchaser of each 
separate lot has to leave unreaped his own 
proportionate ‘ corner’ of the harvesting. And 
not only to leave unreaped, but how, in cases 
where the ‘corner’ was of a sort hard for the 
poor to gather, hanging high, as dates, or 
needing light handling, as grapes, it became 
the duty of the owner to undertake the ‘reap- 
ing’ thereof, and, himself, to make the rightful 
division; thus guarding against injury to 
quickly perishable fruits from too eager hands, 
or danger of a more serious sort to life or limbs, 
where ladders had to be used by hungry and 
impatient folks. The exactest Tules, too, are 
formulated as to what constitutes a <field’ and 
what a ‘ corner,’ as to what produce is liable to 
the tax and in what measure, Very curious it 
is to read long and gravely reasoned arguments 
as to why mushrooms should be held exempt 
from the law of the corner, whilst onions must 
be subject to it, or the weighty pros and 


Nhe ETE ghee eo - 


CHARITY IN TALMUDIC TIMES 95 


cons over what may be fairly considered a 
‘fallen grape,’ or a ‘sheaf left through forget- 
fulness.’ Yet the principle underlying the 
whole is too clear for prolixity to raise a smile, 
and the evident anxiety that no smallest loop- 
hole shall be left for evading the obligations 
of property compels respect. 

Little room for doubt on any disputed point 
of partition do these exhaustive, and, occasion- 
ally, it must be owned, exhausting, masters 
leave us, yet, when all is said, they are careful 
to add, ‘ Whatever is doubtful concerning the 
gifts of the poor belongeth to the poor.’ The 
actual money value of this system of alms, the 
actual weight of ancient ephah or omer, in 
modern lbs. and ozs. would convey little mean- 
ing. Values fluctuate and measures vary, but ‘a 
tithe of thy increase,’ ‘a corner of thy field,’ 
gives a tolerably safe index to the scale on 
which isedakak was to be practised. Three 
times a day the poor might glean, and to the 
question which some lover of system, old style 
or new, might propound, ‘ Why three times? 
Why not once, and get it over?’ an answer is 
vouchsafed. ‘ Because there may be poor who are 
suckling children, and thus stand in need of food 
in the early morning; there may be young children 
mho cannot be got ready early in the morning, nor 
come to the field till it be mid-day ; there may be 
aged folk who cannot come till the time of evening 


96 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


prayer.’ Still, though plenty of sentiment in 
this code, there is no trace of sentimentality ; 
rather a tendency for each back to bear its 
own burden, whether it be in the matter of 
give or take. Rights are respected all round, 
and significant in this sense is the rule that if 
a vineyard be sold by Gentile to Jew it must 
give up its ‘small bunches’ of grapes to the 
poor; while if the transaction be the other 
way, the Gentile purchaser is altogether 
exempt, and if Jew and Gentile be partners, 
that part of the crop belonging to the Jew 
alone is taxed. And equally clear is it that 
the poor, though cared for and protected, are 
not to be petted. At this very three-times-a- 
day gleaning, if one should keep a corner of 
his ‘corner’ to himself, hiding his harvesting 
and defrauding his neighbour, justice is 
prompt: ‘Let him be forced to depart,’ it is 
written, ‘and what he may have received let it be 
taken out of his hands.’ Neither is any preference 
permitted to poverty of the plausible or of the 
picturesque sort: ‘ He who refuseth to one and 
giveth to another, that man is a defrauder of the 
poor,’ it is gravely said. 

In general charity, there are, it is true, 
certain rules of precedence to be observed ; 
kindred, for example, have, in all cases, the 
first claim, and a child supporting his parents, 
or even a parent supporting adult children, to 


CHARITY IN TALMUDIC TIMES ° 97 


the end that these may be ‘versed in the law, 
and have good manners,’ is set high among 
followers of tzedakah. Then, ‘ The poor who are 
neighbours are to be regarded before all others ; 
the poor of one’s onn family before the poor of 
one’s own city, and the poor of one’s onn city before 
the poor of another's city. And this version of 
‘charity begins at home’ is worked out in 
another place into quite a detailed table, so 
to speak, of professional precedence in the 
ranks of recognised recipients. And, curiously 
enough, first among all the distinctions to be 
observed comes this: ‘Ifa man and woman solicit 
relief, the woman shall be first attended to and 
then the man.” An explanation, perhaps\ajusti~ 
fication, of this mild forestalment of women’s 
rights, is given in the further dictum that 
‘Man is accustomed to wander, and that 
woman is not,’ and ‘Her feelings of modesty 
being more acute,’ it is fit that she should 
be ‘always fed and clothed before the man,’ 
And if, in this ancient system, there be a 
recognised seale of rights for receiving, so, 
equally, is there a graduated order of merit in 
giving. Eight in number are these so-called 
«Degrees in Alms Deeds,’ the curious list 
gravely setting forth as ‘ highest,’ and this, it 
would seem, rather on the lines of ‘considering 
the poor’ than of mere giving, that tzedakah 
which ‘helpeth . .. who is cast down,’ by 
G 


98 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


means of gift or loan, or timely procuring of 
employment, and ranging through ‘next’ and 
‘next,’ till it announces, as eighth and least, 
the ‘any one who giveth after much molesta- 
tion.’ High in the list, too, are placed those 
‘silent givers’ who ‘let not poor children of 
upright parents know from whom they receive 
support,’ and even the man who ‘ giveth less 
than his means allow’ is lifted one degree 
above the lowest if he ‘give with a kind 
countenance,’ 

The mode of relief grew, with circumstances, 
to change. The time came when, to ‘the 
Hagars and Ishmaels of mankind,’ rules for 
gleaning and for ‘fallen grapes’ would, per- 
force, be meaningless, and new means for the 
carrying out of tzedakah had to be devised. 
In Alms of the Chest, nap (kupak), and Alms 
of the Basket, npn (tamchui), another ex- 
haustive system of relief was formulated. The 
kupah would seem to have been a poor-rate, 
levied on all ‘residents in towns of over thirty 
days’ standing,’ and ‘Never, says Maimonides, 
‘have we seen or heard of any congregation 
of Israelites in which there has not been the 
Chest for Alms, though, with regard to the 
Basket, it is the custom in some places to 
have it, and not in others,’ These chests 
were placed in the Silent Court of the Sanctu- 
ary, to the end that a class of givers who went 


CHARITY IN TALMUDIC TIMES 99 


by the name of Fearers of Sin,’ might deposit 
their alms in silence and be relieved of re- 
sponsibility. The contents of the Chest were 
collected weekly and used for all ordinary 
objects of relief, the overplus being devoted to 
special cases and special purposes. It is some- 
what strange to our modern notions to find 
that one among such purposes was that of 
providing poor folks with the wherewith to 
marry. For not only is it commanded concern- 
ing the ‘brother waxen poor,’ ‘ If he standeth in 
need of garments, let him be clothed ; or if of 
household things, let him be supplied with them,’ 
but ‘if of a wife, let a mife be betrothed unto him, 
and in case of a woman, let a husband be betrothed 
unto her.’ Does this quaint provision recall 
Voltaire’s taunt that ‘Les juifs ont toujours 
regardé comme leurs deux grands devoirs des 
enfants et de l’argent’? Perhaps, and yet, 
Voltaire and even Malthus notwithstanding, it 
is just possible that the last word has not been 
said on this subject, and that in ‘improvident’ 
marriages and large families the new creed of 
survival of the fittest may, after all, be best 
fulfilled, 

Philosophers, we know, are not always con- 

1 xonN ONT (yeree chet). These ultra-sensitive folks 
seem to have feared that in direct relief they might be 
imposed on and so indirectly become encouragers of wrong- 


doing, or unnecessarily hurt the feelings of the poor by too 
rigid inquiries. 


A | 


a= 


100 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


sistent with themselves, and if there be truth 
in another saying of Voltaire’s—‘ Voyez les 
registres affreux de vos greffes crimines, vous y 
trouvez cent garcons de pendus ou de roués 
contre un pére de famille ’—then is there 
something certainly to be said in favour of the 
Jewish system. But this by the way, since 
statistics, it must be owned, are the most 
sensitive and susceptible of the sciences. 
This ancient betrothing, moreover, was no 
empty form, no bare affiancing of two paupers ; 
but a serious and substantial practice of raising 
a marriage portion for a couple unable to marry 
without it. By Talmudic code, ‘marriages 
were not legitimately complete till a settle- 
ment of some sort was made on the wife,’ who, 
it may be here parenthetically remarked, was 
so far in advance of comparatively modern legis- 
lation as to be entitled to have and to hold 
in as complete and comprehensive a sense as 
her husband. 

But whilst Alms of the Chest, though pretty 
various in its application,! was intended only 


1 We read, in medinval times, of the existence of wide 
‘extensions’ of this system of relief. In a curious old 
book, published in the seventeenth century, by a certain 
Rabbi Elijah ha Cohen ben Abraham, of Smyrna, we find 
list drawn up of Jewish charities to which, as he says, 

all pious Jews contribute.’ These modes of satisfying 
‘the hungry soul’ are over seventy in number, and of the 
Most various kinds. They include the lending of money 


CHARITY IN TALMUDIC TIMES 101 


for the poor of the place in which it was col- 
lected, Alms of the Basket was, to the extent 
of its capabilities, for ‘the poor of the whole 
world” It consisted of a daily house-to-house 
collection of food of all sorts, and occasionally 
of money, which was again, day by day, distri- 
buted. This custom of ¢amchui, suited to those 
primitive times, would seem to be very similar 
to the practice of ‘common Boxes, and common 
gatherynges in every City,’ which prevailed in 
England in the sixteenth century, and which 
received legal sanction in Act of the 23rd of 
Henry VIII.—‘Item, that 2 or 3 tymes in 
every weke 2 or 3 of every parysh shal appoynt 
certaine of ye said pore people to collecte and 
gather broken meates and fragments, and the 
refuse drynke of every householder, which 
shal be distributed evenly amonge the pore 
people as they by theyre discrecyons shal 
thynke good.’ Only the collectors and distri- 
butors of kupah and tamchui were not ‘certaine 
of ye said pore people, but unpaid men of 
high character, holding something of the 
position of magistrates in the community. 
The duty of contributing in kind to tamchui 
was supplemented among the richer folks 


and the lending of books, the payment of dowries and the 
payment of burial charges, doctors’ fees for the sick, 
legal fees for the unjustly accused, ransom for captives, 
ornaments for bribes, and wet nurses for orphans. 


102 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


by a habit of entertaining the poor as 
guests;! seats at their own tables, and 
beds in their houses being frequently re- 
served for wayfarers, at least over Sabbath 
and festivals.2 

The curious union of sense and sentiment 
in the Talmudic code is shown again in the 
regulations as to who may, and who may not, 
receive of these gifts of the poor : ‘ He who has 
Sufficient for two meals, so runs the law, ‘may 
not take from tamchui; he who has sufficient for 
Sourteen may not take From kupah.? Yet might 
holders of property, fallen on slack seasons, be 
saved from selling at a loss and helped to hold 
on till better times, by being ‘meanwhile sup- 
ported out of the tithes of the poor.” And if 
the house and goods of him in this temporary 
need were grand, money help might be given 
to the applicant, and he might keep all his 
smart personal belongings, yet superfluities, an 
odd item or two of which are vouchsafed, must 
be sold, and replaced, if at \n, by a simpler 
sort. Still, with all this excessive eare for 


? Spanish Jews often had their coffins made from the 
wood of the tables at which they had sat with their un- 
fashionable guests. 

? This custom had survived into quite modern times—to 
cite only the well-known ease of Mendelssohn, who, com- 
ing as a penniless student to Berlin, received his Sabbath 
meals in the house of one co-religionist, and the privilege 


CHARITY IN TALMUDIC TIMES 103 


those who have come down in the world, and 
despite the dictum that ‘he who withholdeth 
alms is “impious” and like unto an idolater,’ 
there is yet no encouragement to dependence 
discernible in these precise and prolix rules. 
« Let thy Sabbath be as an ordinary day, rather 
than become dependent on thy fellow-men,’ it 
is clearly written, and told, too, in detail, how 
‘wise men,’ the most honoured, by the way, 
in the community, to avoid ‘dependence on 
others, might become, without loss of caste or 
respectability, ‘ carriers of timber, workers in 
metal, and makers of charcoal.’ Neither is 
there any contempt for wealth or any love of 
poverty for its own sake to be seen in this 
people, who were taught to ‘rejoice before the 
Lord,’ In one place it is, in truth, gravely set 
forth that ‘he who increaseth the number of 
his servants’ increaseth the amount of sin in 
the world, but this somewhat ascetic-sounding 
statement is clearly susceptible of a good deal 
of common-sense interpretation, and when 
another Master tells us that ‘charity is the 
salt which keeps wealth from corruption,’ a 
thought, perhaps, for the due preservation of 
the wealth may be read between the lines. 

On the whole, it looks as if these old- 
world Rabbis set to work at laying down 
the law in much the spirit of Robert Brown- 
ing’s Rabbi— 


a it a er 


104 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


‘Let us not always say, 
Spite of this flesh to-day, 
I strove, made head, gained ground upon the whole. 
As the bird wings and sings 
Let us ery, ‘All good things 
Are ours, nor soul helps flesh more now than flesh 
helps soul.’ 


After this manner, at any rate, are set forth, 
and in this sense are interpreted in the Talmud, 
the Biblical injunctions to tzedakah, to that 
charity of alms-deeds which, as society is con- 
stituted, must, as we said, be considered some- 
what of a class distinction. 

But for the charity which should be obli- 
gatory all round, and as easy of fulfilment by 
the poor as by the rich, the Talmud chooses 
the other Synonym DN (chesed), and coining 
from it the word Gemiluth-chesed, which may 
be rendered ‘the doing of kindness,’ it works 
out a supplementary and _ social system of 
charity—a system founded not on ‘rights,’ but 
on sympathy—dealing not in doles, but in deeds 
of friendship and of fellowship, and demand- 
ing a giving of oneself rather than of one’s 
stores. And greater than tzedakah, write the 
Rabbis, is Gemiluth-chesed, justifying their dic- 
tum, as is their wont, by a reference to Holy 
Writ. ‘Sow to yourselves in righteousness 
(tedakah), says the prophet Hosea (Hos. x. 
12); ‘reap in mercy (chesed)’ ; and, inasmuch 


CHARITY IN TALMUDIC TIMES 105 


as reaping is better than sowing, mercy must 
be better than righteousness. To ‘visit the 
sick,’ to promote peace in families apt to fall 
out, to ‘relieve all persons, Jews or non-Jews, 
in affliction’ (a comprehensive phrase), to 
‘bury the dead,’ to ‘accompany the bride,’ 
are among those ‘kindnesses’ which take rank 
as religious duties, and one or two specimens 
may indicate the amount of careful detail 
which make these injunctions practical, and 
the fine motive which goes far towards 
spiritualising them. 

Of the visiting of the sick, the Talmud 
speaks with a sort of awe. God's spirit, it 
says, dwells in the chamber of suffering and 
death, and tendance therein is worship. Nurs- 
ing was to be voluntary, and no charge to be 
made for drugs; and so deeply did the habit 
of helping the helpless in this true missionary 
spirit obtain among the Jews, that to this day, 
and more especially in provincial places, the 
last offices for the dead are rarely performed 
by hired hands. The ‘accompanying of the 
pride’ is Gemiluth-chesed in another form. To 
rejoice with one’s neighbour's joys is no less a 
duty in this un-Rochefoucauld-like code than 
to grieve with his grief. A bride is to be 
greeted with songs and flowers, and pleasant 
speeches, and, if poor, to be provided with 
pretty ornaments and substantial gifts, but 


106 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


the pleasant speeches are in all cases, and 
before all things, obligatory. In the discursive 
detail, which is so strong a feature of these 
Talmudic rulings, it is asked: ‘But if the 
bride be old, or awkward, or positively plain, 
is she to be greeted in the usual formula as 
“ fair bride—graceful bride” ?” «Yes, is the 
answer, for one is not bound to insist on un- 
comfortable facts, nor to be obtrusively truthful; 
to be agreeable is one of the minor virtues, 
Were there anything in the doctrine of metem- 
psychosis, one would be almost tempted to 
believe that this ancient unnamed Rabbi was 
speaking over again in the person of one of 
our modern minor poets: 


‘A truth that’s told with bad intent 
Beats all the lies you can invent.’1 


The charity of courtesy is everywhere in- 
sisted upon, and so strongly, that, on behalf 
of those sometimes ragged and unkempt 
Rabbis it might perhaps be urged that polite- 
ness, the politesse du ceur, was their Judaism 
en papillote. «Receive every one with pleasant 
looks,’ says one sage,2 whose practice was, 
perhaps, not always quite up to his precepts ; 
“where there is no reverence there is no 
wisdom,’ says another ; and as the distinguish- 
ing mark of a ‘clown,’ a third instances that 

? William Blake. 2 Shimei. 


CHARITY IN TALMUDIC TIMES 107 


man—have we not all met him ?—who rudely 
breaks in on another's speech, and is more 
glib than accurate or respectful in his own. 
And as postscript to the ‘law * obtaining on 
these cheery social forms of ‘charity’ a tomb- 
stone may perhaps be permitted to add its 
curious crumbling bit of evidence. In the 
House of Life, as Jews name their burial- 
grounds, at Prague, there stood—perhaps 
stands still—a stone, erected to the memory, 
and recording the virtues, of a certain rich 
lady who died in 1628. Her benefactions, 
many and minute, are set forth at length, 
and amongst the rest, and before ‘she clothed 
the naked,’ comes the item, ‘she ran like a 
bird to weddings.’ Through the mists of 
those terrible stories, which make of Prague 
so miserable a memory to Jews, the record of 
this long-ago dead woman gleams like a rain- 
bow. One seems to see the bright little 
figure, a trifle out of breath may be, the gay 
plumage perhaps just a shade ruffled—some- 
how one does not fancy her a very prim or 
tidy personage—running ‘like a bird to wed- 
dings.’ She seems, the dear sympathetic soul, 
jn an odd, suggestive sort of way, to illustrate 
the charitable system of her race, and to show 
us that, despite all differences of time and 
place and circumstances, the one essential con- 
dition to any ‘ charity > that shall prove effectual 


108 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


remains unchanged ; that the solution of the 
hard problem, which may be worked out in a 
hundred ways, is just sympathy, and is to be 
learnt, not in the ‘speaking from afar’ of rich 
to poor, but in the ‘laying of hands’ upon 
them. The close fellowship of this ancient 
primitive system is perhaps impossible in our 
more complex civilisation, but an approxima- 
tion to it is an ideal worth striving after. 
More intimate, more everyday communion 
between West and East, more < Valentines’ 
at Hoxton are sorely needed. Concert-giving, 
class-teaching, « Visiting,’ are all helps of a sort, 
but there are so many days in a poor man’s 
week, so many hours in his dull day. Sweet- 
ness and light, like other and more prosaic 
products of civilisation, need, it may be, to be 
‘laid on’ in those miles of monotonous streets, 
long breaks in continuity being fatal to 
results. 


MOSES MENDELSSOHN 


«I wish, it is true, to shame the opprobrious 
sentiments commonly entertained of a Jew, 
but it is by character and not by controversy 
that I would do it.’!_ So wrote the subject of 
this memoir more than a hundred years ago, 
and the sentence may well stand for the motto 
of his life; for much as Moses Mendelssohn 
achieved by his ability, much more did he by 
his conduct, and great as he was as a philo- 
sopher, far greater was he asa man. Starting 
with every possible disadvantage—prejudice, 
poverty, and deformity—he yet reached the 
goal of ‘honour, fame, and troops of friends’ 
by simple force of character; and thus he 
remains for all time an illustration of the 
happy optimistic theory that, even in this 
world, success, in the best sense of the word, 
does come to those who, also in the best 
sense of the word, deserve it. 

The state of the Jews in Germany at the 
time of Mendelssohn’s birth was deplorable. 
No longer actively hunted, they had arrived, 
at the early part of the eighteenth century, at 

1 In the correspondence with Lavater. 


110 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


the comparatively desirable position of being 
passively shunned or contemptuously ignored, 
and, under these new conditions, they were 
narrowing fast to the narrow limits set them. 
The love of religion and of race was as strong 
as ever, but the love had grown sullen, and 
of that jealous, exclusive sort to which curse 
and anathema are akin, What then loomed 
largest on their narrow horizon was fear; and 
under that paralysing influence, Progress or 
prominence of any kind became a distinct 
evil, to be repressed at almost any personal 
Sacrifice. Safety for themselves and toler- 
ance for their faith, lay, if anywhere, in the 
neglect of the outside world. And so the 
Poor pariahs huddled in their close quarters, 
carrying on mean trades, or hawking petty 
wares, and speaking, with bated breath, a 
dialect of their own, half Jewish, half German, 
and as wholly degenerate from the grand old 
Hebrew as were they themselves from those 
to whom it had been a living tongue. Intel- 
lectual occupation was found in the study of 
the Law; interest and entertainment in 
the endless discussion of its more intricate 
Passages; and excitement in the not infre- 


MOSES MENDELSSOHN 111 


fear for its possible effects, half of repulsion at 
its palpable evidences. The tree of knowledge 
seemed to them indeed, in pathetic perversion 
of the early legend, a veritable tree of evil, 
which should lose a second Eden to the wilful 
eaters thereof. Their Eden was degenerate 
too; but the ‘voice heard in the evening’ still 
sounded in their dulled and passionate ears, 
and, vibrating in the Ghetto instead of the 
grove, it seemed to bid them shun the for- 
bidden fruit of Gentile growth. 

In September 1729, under a very humble 
roof, in a very poor little street in Dessau, was 
born the weakly boy who was destined to work 
such wonderful changes in that weary state of 
things. Not much fit to hold the magician’s 
wand seemed those frail baby hands, and less 
and less likely altogether for the part, as the 
poor little body grew stunted and deformed 
through the stress of oyer-much study and of 
something less than enough of wholesome 
diet. There was no lack of affection in the 
mean little Jewish home, but the parents could 
only give their children of what they had, and 
of these scant possessions, mother-love and Tal- 
mudical lore were the staple. And so we read 
of the small five-year-old Moses being wrapped 
up by his mother in a large old shabby cloak, 
on early, bleak winter mornings, and then so 
carried by the father to the neighbouring 


112 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


‘Talmud Torah’ school, where he was nourished 
with dry Hebrew roots by way of breakfast. 
Often, indeed, was the child fed on an even 
less satisfying diet, for long passages from 
Scripture, long lists of precepts, to be learnt 
by heart, on all sorts of subjects, was the 
approved method of instruction in these 
seminaries. An extensive, if somewhat parrot- 
like, acquaintance at an astonishingly early 
age with the Law and the Prophets, and the 
commentators on both, was the ordinary result 
of this form of education ; and, naturally co- 
existent with it, was an equally astonishing 
and extensive ignorance of all more everyday 
subjects. Contentedly enough, however, the 
learned, illiterate peddling and hawking fathers 
left their little lads to this puzzling, sharpening, 
deadening sort of schooling, Frau Mendel and 
her husband may possibly have thought out 
the matter a little more fully, for she seems 
to have been a wise and prudent as well as a 
loving mother; and the father, we find, was 
quick to discern unusual talent in the sickly 
little son whom he carried so carefully to the 
daily lesson. He was himself a teacher, in a 
humble sort of way, and eked out his small 
fees by transcribing on parchment from the 
Pentateuch. Thus, the tone of the little 
household, if not refined, was at least not 
altogether sordid; and when, presently, the 


MOSES MENDELSSOHN 113 


little Moses was promoted from the ordinary 
school to the higher class taught by the great 
scholar, Rabbi Frankel, the question even 
presented itself whether it might not be well, 
in this especial case, to abandon the patent, 
practical advantages pertaining to the favoured 
pursuit of peddling, and to let the boy give 
himself up to his beloved books, and, following 
in his master’s footsteps, become perhaps, in his 
turn, a poorly paid, much reverenced Rabbi. 

Tt was a serious matter to decide, There 
was much to be said in favour of the higher 
path; but the market for Rabbis, as for 
hawkers, was somewhat overstocked, and the 
returns in the one instance were far quicker 
and surer, and needed no long unearning 
apprenticeship. The balance, on the whole, 
seemed scarcely to incline to the more dignified 
profession; but the boy was so terribly in 
earnest in his desire to learn, so desperately 
averse from the only other cdreer, that his 
wishes, by degrees, turned the scale; and it 
did not take very long to convince the poor 
patient father that he must toil a little longer 
and a little later, in order that his son might 
be free from the hated necessity of hawking, 
and at liberty to pursue his unremunerative 
studies, 

From the very first, Moses made the most 
of his opportunities; and at home and at 

H 


114 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


school high hopes began soon to be formed of 
the diligent, sweet-tempered, frail little lad. 
Frailer than ever, though, he seemed to grow, 
and the body appeared literally to dwindle as 
the mind expanded, Long years after, when 
the burden of increasing deformity had come, 
by dint of use and wont and cheerful courage, 
to be to him a burden lightly borne, he would 
set strangers at their ease by alluding to it 
himself, and by playfully declaring his hump 
to be a legacy from Maimonides. ‘ Maimon- 
ides spoilt my figure,’ he would say, ‘and 
ruined my digestion ; but still, he would add 
more seriously, ‘I dote on him, for although 
thosd long vigils with him weakened my body, 
they, at the same time, strengthened my soul : 
they stunted my stature, but they developed 
my mind.’ Early at morning and late at 
night would the boy be found bending in 
happy abstraction over his shabby treasure, 
charmed into unconsciousness of aches or 
hunger. The book, which had been lent to 
him, was Maimonides’ Guide to the Perplexed ; 
and this work, which grown men find sufficiently 
deep study, was patiently puzzled out, and 
enthusiastically read and re-read by the per- 
severing little student who was barely in his 
teens. It opened up whole vistas of new 
glories, which his long steady climb up Tal- 
mudic stairs had prepared him to appreciate. 


MOSES MENDELSSOHN 115 


Here and there, in the course of those long, 
tedious dissertations in the Talmud Torah 
class-room, the boy had caught glimpses of 
something underlying, something beyond the 
quibbles of the schools; but this, his first 
insight into the large and liberal mind of 
Maimonides, was a revelation to him of the 
powers and of the possibilities of Judaism. 
It revealed to him too, perchance, some latent 
possibilities in himself, and suggested other 
problems of life which asked solution. The 
pale cheeks glowed as he read, and the vague 
dreams kindled into conscious aims: he too 
would live to become a Guide to the Perplexed 
among his people! 

Poor little lad! his brave resolves were soon 
to be put toa severe test. In the early part 
of 1742, Rabbi Frankel accepted the Chief 
Rabbinate of Berlin, and thus a summary stop 
was put to his pupil’s further study. There is 
a pathetic story told of Moses Mendelssohn 
standing, with streaming eyes, on a little 
hillock on the road by which his beloved 
master passed out of Dessau, and of the kind- 
hearted Frankel catching up the forlorn little 
figure, and soothing it with hopes of a ‘some 
day,’ when fortune should be kind, and he 
should follow ‘nach Berlin.’ The ‘some day’ 
looked sadly problematical ; that hard question 
of bread and butter came to the fore whenever 


yi 


4 
i 


en 
<< 


116 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


it was discussed. How was the boy to live in 
Berlin? Even if the mind should be nourished 
for naught, who was to feed the body? The 
hard-working father and mother had found 
it no easy task hitherto to provide for that 
extra mouth; and now, with Frankel gone, 
the occasion for their long self-denial seemed 
to them to cease, In the sad straits of the 
family, the business of a hawker began again 
to show in an attractive light to the poor 
parents, and the pedlar’s pack was once more 
suggested with many a prudent, loving, half- 
hearted argument on its behalf. But the boy 
was by this time clear as to his vocation, so 
after a brief while of entreaty, the tearful 
permission was gained, the parting blessing 
given, and with a very slender wallet slung 
on his crooked shoulders, Moses Mendelssohn 
set out for Berlin. 

It was a long tramp of over thirty miles, 
and, towards the close of the fifth day, it was 
a very footsore, tired little lad who presented 
himself for admission at the Jews’ gate of the 
city. Rabbi Frankel was touched, and puzzled 
too, when this penniless little student, whom 
he had inspired with such difficult devotion, at 
last stood before him; but quickly he made 
up his mind that, so far as in him lay, the 
uphill path should be made smooth to those 
determined little feet. The pressing question 


MOSES MENDELSSOHN 117 


of bed and board was solved. Frankel gave 
him his Sabbath and festival dinners, and 
another kind-hearted Jew, Bamberger by 
name, who heard the boy’s story, supplied 
two everyday meals, and let him sleep in an 
attic in his house. For the remaining four 
days? Well, he managed ; a groschen or two 
was often earned by little jobs of copying, and 
a loaf so purchased, by dint of economy and 
imagination, was made into quite a series of 
satisfying meals, and, in after-days, it was told 
how he notched his loaves into accurate time 
measurements, lest appetite should outrun 
purse. Fortunately poverty was no new ex- 
perience for him; still, poverty confronted 
alone, in a great city, must have seemed 
something grimmer to the home-bred lad than 
that mother-interpreted poverty, which he 
had hitherto known. But he met it full-face, 
bravely, uncomplainingly, and, best of all, with 
unfailing good humour. And the little alle- 
viations which friends made in his hard lot 
were all received in a spirit of the sincerest, 
charmingest gratitude. He never took a 
kindness as ‘ his due’ ; never thought, like so 
many embryo geniuses, that his talents gave 
him right of toll on his richer brethren. 
‘Because I would drink at the well,’ he 
would say in his picturesque fashion, ‘am I 
to expect every one to haste and fill my cup 


Ra ah a a ns s 


118 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


from their pitchers? No, I must draw the 
water for myself, or I must go thirsty. Ihave 
no claim save my desire to learn, and what 
is that to others?’ Thus he preserved his 
self-respect and his independence. 

He worked hard, and, first of all, he wisely 
sought to free himself from all voluntary 
disabilities ; there were enough and to spare 
of legally imposed ones to keep him mindful 
of his Judaism. He felt strong enough in 
faith to need no artificial shackles. He would 
be Jew, and yet German—patriot, but no 
pariah. He would eschew vague dreams of 
universalism, false ideas of tribalism. If 
Palestine had not been, he, its product, could 
not be; but Palestine and its glories were 
of the past and of the future; the present 
only was his, and he must shape his life 
according to its conditions, which placed him, 
in the eighteenth century, born of Jewish 
parents, in a German city. He was German 
by birth, Jew by descent and by conviction; 
he would fulfil all the obligations which 
country, race, and religion impose. But a 
German Jew, who did not speak the language 
of his country? That, surely, was an anomaly 
and must be set right. So he set himself 
strenuously to learn German, and to make it 
his native language. Such secular study was 
by no means an altogether safe proceeding. 


MOSES MENDELSSOHN 119 


Ignorance, as we have seen, was ‘protected’ 
in those days by Jewish ecclesiastical au- 
thority. Free trade in literature was sternly 
prohibited, and a German grammar, or a Latin 
or a Greek one, had, in sober truth, to run 
a strict blockade. One Jewish lad, it is 
recorded on very tolerable authority, was 
actually in the year 1746 expelled the city 
of Berlin for no other offence than that of 
being caught in the act of studying—one 
chronicle, indeed, says, carrying—some such 
proscribed volume. Moses, however, was 
more fortunate; he saved money enough to 
buy his books, or made friends enough to 
borrow them; and, we may conclude, found 
nooks in which to hide them, and hours in 
which to read them. He set himself, too, 
to gain some knowledge of the Classics, and 
here he found a willing teacher in one Kish, 
a medical student from Prague. Later on, 
another helper was gained in a certain Israel 
Moses, a Polish schoolmaster, afterwards known 
as Israel Samose. This man was a fine mathe- 
matician, and a first-rate Hebrew scholar; 
but as his attainments did not include the 
German language, he made Euclid known to 
Moses through the medium of a Hebrew 
translation. Moses, in return, imparted to 
Samosc his newly acquired German, and learnt 
it, of course, more thoroughly through teach- 


120 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


ing it. He must have possessed the art of 
making friends who were able to take on 
themselves the office of teachers ; for presently 
we find him, in odd _half-hours, studying 
French and English under a Dr. Aaron 
Emrich1_ He very early began to make 
translations of parts of the Scripture into 
German, and these attempts indicate that, 
from the first, his overpowering desire for 
self-culture sprang from no selfishness. He 
wanted to open up the closed roads to place 
and honour, but not to tread them alone, not 
to leave his burdened brethren on the bye- 
paths, whilst he sped on rejoicing. He knew 
truly enough that ‘the light was sweet,’ and 
that ‘a pleasant thing it is to behold the sun.’ 
But he heeded, too, the other part of the 
charge: he ‘remembered the days of darkness, 
which were many.’ He remembered them 
always, heedfully, pitifully, patiently; and to 
the weary eyes which would not look up or 
could not, he ever strove to adjust the 
beautiful blessed light which he knew, and 
they, poor souls, doubted, was good. He 
never thrust it, unshaded, into their gloom: 
he never carried it off to illumine his own 
path. j 

Thus, the translations at which Moses 


1 Better known to scholars as Dr. Aaron Solomon 
Gompertz. 


MOSES MENDELSSOHN 121 


Mendelssohn worked were no transcripts from 
learned treatises which might have found a 
ready market among the scholars of the day ; 
but unpaid and unpaying work from the 
liturgy and the Scriptures, done with the 
object that his people might by degrees share 
his knowledge of the vernacular, and become 
gradually aud unconsciously familiar with the 
language of their country through the only 
medium in which there was any likelihood of 
their studying it. With that one set purpose 
always before him, of drawing his people 
with him into the light, he presently formed 
the idea of issuing a serial in Hebrew, which, 
under the title of The Moral Preacher, 
should introduce short essays and transcripts 
on other than strictly Judaic or religious sub- 
jects. One Bock was his coadjutor in this 
project, and two numbers of the little work 
were published. The contents do not seem 
to have been very alarming. To our modern 
notions of periodical literature, they would 
probably be a trifle dull ; but their mild philo- 
sophy and yet milder science proved more 
than enough to arouse the orthodox fears of 
the poor souls, who, ‘bound in affliction and 
iron,’ distrusted even the gentle hand which 
was so eager to loose the fetters. There was 
a murmur of doubt, of muttered dislike of 
‘strange customs’; perhaps here and there 


eS ee 


122 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


too, a threat concerning the pains and penalties 
which attached to the introduction of such. 
At any rate, but two numbers of the poor 
little reforming periodical appeared; and 
Moses, not angry at his failure, not more than 
momentarily discouraged by it, accepted the 
position and wasted no time nor temper in 
cavilling at it. He had learnt to labour, he 
could learn to wait. And thus, in hard yet 
happy work, passed away the seven years, from 
fourteen till twenty-one, which are the seed- 
time of a man’s life. In 1750, when Moses 
was nearly of age, he came into possession of 
what really proved an inheritance. A rich 
silk manufacturer, named Bernhardt, who was 
a prominent member of the Berlin synagogue, 
made a proposal to the learned young man, 
whose perseverance had given reputation to 
his scholarship, to become resident tutor to 
his children. The offer was gladly accepted, 
and it may be considered Mendelssohn’s first 
step on the road to success. The first step to 
fame had been taken when the boy had set 
out on his long tramp to Berlin. 

Bernhardt was a kind and cultured man, 
and in his house Mendelssohn found both con- 
genial occupation and welcome leisure. He 
was teacher by day, studentby night, and 
author at odd half-hours. He turned to his 
books with the greatest ardour 3 and we 


MOSES MENDELSSOHN 123 


read of him studying Locke and Plato in the 
original, for by this time English and Greek 
were both added to his store of languages. 
His pupils, meanwhile, were never neglected, 
nor in the pursuit of great ends were trifles 
ignored. In more than one biography special 
emphasis is laid on his beautifully neat hand- 
writing, which, we are told, much excited his 
employer’s admiration. This humble, but 
very useful, talent may possibly have been 
inherited, with some other small-sounding 
virtues, from the poor father in Dessau, to 
whom many a nice present was now frequently 
sent. At the end of three or four years 
of tutorship, Bernhardt’s appreciation of the 
young man took a very practical expression. 
He offered Moses Mendelssohn the position of 
book-keeper in his factory, with some especial 
responsibilities and emoluments attached to 
the office. It was a splendid opening, although 
Moses Mendelssohn, the philosopher, eagerly 
and gratefully accepting such a post somehow 
jars on one’s susceptibilities, and seems almost 
an instance of the round man pushed into 
the square hole. It was, however, an assured 
position; it gave him leisure, it gave him 
independence, and in due time wealth, for 
as years went on he grew to be a manager, 
and finally a partner in the house. His tastes 
had already drawn him into the outer literary 


a ee 


124 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


circle of Berlin, which at this time had its 
headquarters in a sort of club, which met to 
play chess and to discuss politics and philo- 
sophy, and which numbered Dr. Gompertz, the 
promising young scholar Abbt, and Nicolai, 
the bookseller, among its members. With 
these and other kindred spirits, Mendelssohn 
soon found pleasant welcome ; his talents and 
geniality quickly overcoming any social pre- 
judices, which, indeed, seldom flourish in the 
republic of letters. And, early disadvantages 
notwithstanding, we may conclude without 
much positive evidence on the subject, that 
Mendelssohn possessed that valuable, indefin- 
able gift,which culture, wealth, and birth united 
occasionally fail to bestow—the gift of good 
manners. He was free alike from conceit and 
dogmatism, the Scylla and Charybdis to most 
young men of exceptional talent. He had the 
loyal nature and the noble mind, which we are 
told on high authority is the necessary root of 
the rare flower; and he had, too, the sym- 
pathetic, unselfish feeling which we are wont 
to summarise shortly as a good heart, and 
which is the first essential to good manners. 
When Lessing came to Berlin, about 1745, 
his play of Die Juden was already published, 
and his reputation sufficiently established to 
make him an honoured guest at these little 
1 Later, the noted publisher of that name. 


MOSES MENDELSSOHN 125 


literary gatherings. Something of affinity in 
the wide, unconventional, independent natures 
of the two men; something, it may be, of like- 
ness in unlikeness in their early struggles with 
fate, speedily attracted Lessing and Men- 
delssohn to each other. The casual acquaint- 
ance soon ripened into an intimate and life- 
long friendship, which gave to Mendelssohn, 
the Jew, wider knowledge and illimitable 
hopes of the outer, inhospitable world—which 
gave to Lessing, the Christian, new belief in 
long-denied virtues; and which, best of all, 
gave to humanity those ‘divine lessons of 
Nathan der Weise, as Goethe calls them— 
for which character Mendelssohn sat, all un-. 
consciously, as model, and scarcely idealised 
model, to his friend. It was, most certainly, 
a rarely happy friendship for both, and for 
the world. Lessing was the godfather of 
Mendelssohn’s first book, The subject was 
suggested in the course of conversation be- 
tween them, and a few days after Men- 
delssohn brought his manuscript to Lessing. 
He saw no more of it till his friend handed 
him the proofs and a small sum for the copy- 
right; and it was in this way that the 
Philosophische Gespriche was anonymously 
published in 1754. Later, the friends brought 
out together a little book, entitled Pope as 
a Metaphysician, and this was followed up 


126 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


with some philosophical essays (‘Briefe tiber 
die Empfindungen’) which quickly ran 
through three editions, and Mendelssohn 
became known as an author. A year or two 
later, he gained the prize which the Royal 
Academy of Berlin offered for the best essay 
on the problem ‘Are metaphysics susceptible 
of mathematical demonstration?’ for which 
prize Kant was one of the competitors. 
Lessing’s migration to Leipzig, and his 
temporary absences from the capital in the 
capacity of tutor, made breaks, but no diminu- 
tion, in the friendship with Mendelssohn ; 
and the Literatur-Briefe, a journal cast in 
the form of correspondence on art, science, 
and literature, to which Nicolai, Abbt, and 
other writers were occasional contributors, 
continued its successful publication till the 
year 1765. A review in this journal of one 
of the literary efforts of Frederick the Second 
gave rise to a characteristic ebullition of what 
an old writer quaintly calls ‘the German 
endemical distemper of Judzophobia.’ In 
this essay, Mendelssohn had presumed to 
question some of the conclusions of the royal 
author; and although the contents of the 
Literatur-Briefe were generally unsigned, 
the anonymity was in most cases but a super- 
ficial disguise. The paper drew down upon 
Mendelssohn the denunciation of a too loyal 


MOSES MENDELSSOHN 127 


subject of Frederick’s, and he was summoned 
to Sans Souci to answer for it, Frederick 
appears to have been more sensible than his 
thin-skinned defender, and the interview 
passed off amicably enough. Indeed, a short 
while after, we hear of a petition being pre- 
pared to secure to Mendelssohn certain rights 
and privileges of dwelling unmolested in 
whichever quarter of the city he might choose 
—a right which at that time was granted to 
but few Jews, and at a goodly expenditure 
of both capital and interest. Mendelssohn, 
loyal to his brethren, long and stoutly refused 
to have any concession granted on the score 
of his talents which he might not claim on 
the score of his manhood in common with the 
meanest and most ignorant of his co-religion- 
ists. And there is some little doubt whether 
the partial exemptions which Mendelssohn 
subsequently obtained, were due to the peti- 
tion, which suffered many delays and vicissi- 
tudes in the course of presentation, or to the 
subtle and silent force of public opinion. 
Meanwhile Mendelssohn married, and the 
story of his wooing, as first told by Berthold 
Auerbach, makes a pretty variation on the 
old theme. It was, in this case, no short 
idyll of ‘she was beautiful and he fell in love.’ 
To begin with, it was all prosaic enough. A 
certain Abraham Gugenheim, a trader at 


128 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


Hamburg, caused it to be hinted to 
Mendelssohn that he had a virtuous and 
blue-eyed but portionless daughter, named 
Fromet, who had heard of the philosopher's 
fame, and had read portions of his books; 
and who, mutual friends considered, would 
make him a careful and loving helpmate. So 
Mendelssohn, who was now thirty-two years 
old, and desirous to ‘settle,’ went to the mer- 
chant’s house and saw the prim German 
maiden, and talked with her; and was 
pleased enough with her talk, or perhaps 
with the silent eloquence of the blue eyes, 
to go next day to the father and to say he 
thought Fromet would suit him for a wife. 
But to his surprise Gugenheim hesitated, and 
stiffness and embarrassment seemed to have 
taken the place of the yesterday’s cordial 
greeting; still, it was no objection on his 
part, he managed at last to stammer out, 
For a minute Mendelssohn was hopelessly 
puzzled, but only for a minute; then it flashed 
upon him, ‘It is she who objects!’ he ex- 
claimed ; ‘then it must be my hump’; and 
the poor father of course could only uncom- 
fortably respond with apologetic platitudes 
about the unaccountability of girls’ fancies. 
The humour as well as the pathos of the 
situation touched Mendelssohn, for he had no 
vanity to be piqued, and he instantly resolved 


MOSES MENDELSSOHN 129 


to do his best to win this Senta-like maiden, 
who, less fortunate than the Dutch heroine, 
had had her pretty dreams of a hero dispelled, 
instead of accentuated by actual vision, 
Might he see her once again, he asked. ‘To 
say farewell? Certainly!’ answered the father, 
glad that his awkward mission was ending 
so amicably, So Mendelssohn went again, 
and found Fromet with the blue eyes bent 
steadily over her work; perhaps to hide a 
tear as much as to prevent a glance, for 
Fromet, as the sequel shows, was a tender- 
hearted maiden, and although she did not 
like to look at her deformed suitor, she did 
not want to wound him. Then Mendelssohn 
began to talk, beautiful glowing talk, and the 
spell which his writings had exercised began 
again to work on the girl. From philosophy 
to love, in its impersonal form, is an easy 
transition, She grew interested and self- 
forgetful. ‘And do you think that marriages 
are made in heaven?’ she eagerly questioned, 
as some early quaint superstition on this most 
attractive of themes was vividly touched upon 
by her visitor. ‘Surely, he replied; ‘and 
some old beliefs on this head assert that’ all 
such contracts are settled in childhood, 
Strange to say, a special legend attaches 
itself to my fortune in this matter; and as 
our talk has led to this subject perhaps I 
I 


130 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


may venture to tell it to you. The twin 
spirit which fate allotted to me, I am told, 
was fair, blue-eyed, and richly endowed with 
all spiritual charms; but, alas! ill-luck had 
added to her physical gifts a hump. A 
chorus of lamentation arose from the angels 
who minister in these matters. The “pity 
of it’’ was so evident. The burden of such 
a deformity might well outweigh all the other 
gifts of her beautiful youth, might render her 
morose, self-conscious, unhappy. If the load 
now had been but laid on a man! And the 
angels pondered, wondering, waiting to see 
if any would volunteer to take the maiden’s 
burden from her. And I sprang up, and 
prayed that it might be laid upon my 
shoulders. And it was settled so.’ There 
was a minute’s pause, and then, so the story 
goes, the work was passionately thrown down, 
and the tender blue eyes were streaming, and 
the rest we may imagine. The simple, loving 
heart was won, and Fromet became his wife. 
They had a modest little house with a pretty 
garden on the outskirts of Berlin, where a good 
deal of hospitality went on in a quiet, friendly 
way. The ornaments of their dwelling were, 
perhaps, a little disproportionate in size and 
quantity to the rest of the surroundings; but 
this was no matter of choice on the part of the 
newly married couple, since one of the minor 


MOSES MENDELSSOHN 131 


vexations imposed on Jews at this date was the 
obligation laid on every bridegroom to treat 
himself to a large quantity of china for the 
good of the manufactory. The tastes or the 
wants of the purchaser were not consulted; 
and in this especial instance twenty life-sized 
china apes were allotted to the bridegroom, 
We may imagine poor Mendelssohn and his 
wife eyeing these apes often, somewhat as 
Cinderella looked at her pumpkin when 
longing for the fairy’s transforming wand. 
Possibilities of those big baboons changed into 
big books may have tantalised Mendelssohn ; 
whilst Fromet’s more prosaic mind may have 
confined itself to china and yet have found an 
unlimited range for wishing. However, the 
unchanged and unchanging apes notwithstand- 
ing, Mendelssohn and his wife enjoyed very 
many years of quiet and contented happiness, 
and by and by came children, four of them, 
and then those old ungainly grievances were, 
it is likely, transformed into playfellows, 
Parenthood, perhaps, is never quite easy, but 
itwas a very difficult duty, and a terribly divided 
one, for a cultivated man who a century ago 
desired to bring up his children as good Jews 
and good citizens. Many a time, it stands on 
record, when this patient, self-respecting, un- 
offending scholar took his children for a walk 
coarse epithets and insulting cries followed 


132 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


them through the streets. No resentment was 
politic, no redress was possible. ‘ Father, is it 
nicked to bea Jew?’ his children would ask, 
as time after time the crowd hooted at them. 
‘ Father, is it good to be a Jew?’ they grew to 
ask later on, when in more serious walks of 
life they found all gates but the Jews’ gate 
closed against them. Mendelssohn must have 
found such questions increasingly difficult to 

answer or to parry. Their very talents, which 

enlarged the boundaries, must have made his 

clever children rebel against the limitations 

which were so cruelly imposed. His eldest 
son Joseph early developed a strong scientific 
bias ; how could this be utilised? The only 
profession which he, as a Jew, might enter, was 
that of medicine, and for that he had a decided 
distaste: perforce he was sent to commercial 
pursuits, and his especial talent had to run to 
waste, or, at best, to dilettantism. When this 
Joseph had sons of his own, can we wonder 
very much that he cut the knot and saved his 
children from a like experience, by bringing 
them up as Christians ? 

Mendelssohn himself, all his life through, 
was unswervingly loyal to his faith. He took 
every disability accruing from it, as he took 
his own especial one, as being, so far as he was 
concerned, inevitable, and thus to be borne as 
patiently as might be. To him, most certainly, 


MOSES MENDELSSOHN 133 


it would never have occurred to slip from 
under a burden which had been laid upon him 
tobear. Concerning Fromet’s influence on her 
children records are silent, and we are driven 
to conjecture that the pretty significance of 
her name was somewhat meaningless.1_ The 
story of her wooing suggests susceptibility, 
perhaps, rather than strength of heart ; and it 
may be that as years went on the ‘blue eyes’ 
got into a habit of weeping only over sorrows 
and wrongs which needed a less eloquent and 
a more helpful mode of treatment. 

If Mendelssohn’s wife had been able to show 
her children the home side of Jewish life, its 
suggestive ceremonialism, its domestic com- 
pensations—possibly her sons, almost certainly 
her daughters, would have learnt the brave, 
sweet patience that was common to Jewish 
mothers. But this takes us to the region of 
‘might have been.’ Gentle, tender-hearted 
Fromet, it is to be feared, failed in true piety, 
and, the mother anchor missing, the children 
drifted from their moorings. 

The leisure of the years succeeding his 
marriage was fully occupied by Mendelssohn in 
literary pursuits. The whole of the Penta- 
teuch was, by degrees, translated into pure 


1 Fromet was the affectionate diminutive of Fromm 
—pious. Pet names of this sort were common at that time ; 
we often come across a Giitle or Schénste or the like, 


134 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


German, and simultaneous editions were pub- 
lished in German and in Hebrew characters. 
This great gift to his people was followed by a 
metrical translation of the Psalms; a work 
which took him ten years, during which time 
he always carried about with him a Hebrew 
Psalter, interleaved with blank pages. In 1783 
he published his Jerusalem,! a sort of Church 

and State survey of the Jewish religion. The 

first and larger part of it dwells on the dis- 

tinction between Judaism, as a State religion, 

and Judaism as the ‘inheritance’ of a dis- 

persed nationality. He essays to prove the 

essential differences between civil and religious 

government, and to demonstrate that penal 

enactments, which in the one case were just 
and defensible, were, in the changed circum- 
stances of the other, harmful, and, in point of 
fact, unjudicial. The work was, in effect, a 
masterly effort on Mendelssohn’s part to exor- 
cise the ‘cursing spirit’ which, engendered 
partly by long-suffered persecution, and partly 
by long association with the strict discipline of 
the Catholic Church, had taken a firm grip on 
Jewish ecclesiastical authority, and was con- 
stantly expressing itself in bitter anathema 
and morose excommunication. The second 
part of the book is mainly concerned with a 
Vindication of the Jewish character and a plea 


1 Jerusalem, oder tiber religiose Macht und Judenthum. 


MOSES MENDELSSOHN 135 


for toleration. Scholarly and temperate as is 
the tone of this work throughout, it yet evoked 
a good deal of rough criticism from the so- 
called orthodox in both religious camps—from 
those well-meaning, purblind persons of the 
sort who, Lessing declares, see only one road, 
and strenuously deny the possible existence of 
any other. 

In 1777, Frederic the Second desired to 
judge for himself whether Jewish ecclesiastical 
authority clashed at any point with the State or 
municipal law of the land. A digest of the 
Jewish Code on the general questions, and 
more especially on the subject of property and 
inheritance, was decreed to be prepared in 
German, and to Mendelssohn was intrusted 
the task. He had the assistance of the Chief 
Rabbi of Berlin, and the result of these 
labours was published in 1778, under the title 
of Ritual Laws of the Jews. Another Jewish 
philosophical work (published in 1785) was 
Morning Hours1 This was a volume of essays 
on the evidences of the existence of the Deity 
and of conclusions concerning His attributes 
deduced from the contemplation of His works, 
Originally these essays had been given in the 
form of familiar lectures on natural philosophy 
by Mendelssohn to his children and to one or 


1 Morgenstunden, oder Vorlesungen iiber das Daseyn 
Gottes. 


136 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


two of their friends (including the two Hum- 
boldts) in his own house, every morning. In 
the same category of more distinctively Jewish 
books we may place a translation of Manasseh 
Ben Israel’s famous Vindicie Judeorum, which 
he published, with a very eloquent preface, so 
early as 1781, just at the time when Dohm’s 
generous work on the condition of the Jews 
as citizens of the State had made its auspicious 
appearance. Although this is one of Mendels- 
sohn’s minor efforts, the preface contains many 
a beautiful passage. His gratitude to Dohm 
is so deep and yet so dignified ; his defence of 
his people isso wide, and his belief in humanity 
so sincere ; and the whole is withal so short, 
that it makes most pleasant reading. One 
small quotation may perhaps be permitted, as 
pertinent to some recent discussions on Jewish 
subjects. ‘It is,’ says he, ‘ objected by some 
that the Jews are both too indolent for agri- 
culture and too proud for mechanical trades ; 
that if the restrictions were removed they 
would uniformly select the arts and sciences, 
as less laborious and more profitable, and soon 
€ngross all light, genteel, and learned pro- 
fessions. But those who thus argue conclude 
from the present state of things how they will 
be in the future, which is not a fair mode of 
reasoning. What should induce a Jew to 


waste his time in learning to manage the 


MOSES MENDELSSOHN 137 


plough, the trowel, the plane, etc., while he 
knows he can make no practical use of them? 
But put them in his hand and suffer him to 
follow the bent of his inclinations as freely as 
other subjects of the State, and the result will 
not long be doubtful. Men of genius and 
talent will, of course, embrace the learned 
professions ; those of inferior capacity will 
turn their minds to mechanical pursuits; the 
rustic will cultivate the land; each will con- 
tribute, according to his station in life, his 
quota to the aggregate of productive labour.” 
As he says in some other place of himself, 
nature never intended him, either physically 
or morally, for a wrestler ; and this little essay, 
where there is no strain of argument or scope 
for deep erudition, is yet no unworthy speci- 
men of the great philosopher's powers. Poetic 
attempts too, and mostly on religious subjects, 
occasionally varied his counting-house duties 
and his more serious labours ; but although he 
truly possessed, if ever man did, what Landor 
calls ‘the poetic heart, yet it is in his prose, 
rather than in his poetry, that we mostly see 
its evidences. The book which is justly 
claimed as his greatest, and which first gave 
him his title to be considered a wide and 
deep-thinking philosopher, is his Phedon. 
The idea of such a work had long been 


1 Pheedon, oder tiber die Unsterblichkeit der Seele. 


138 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


germinating in him, and the death of his dear 
friend Abbt, with whom he had had many a 
fruitful discussion on the subject, turned his 
thoughts more fixedly on the hopes which 
make sorrows bearable, and the work was 
published in the year following Abbt’s death. 
The first part isa very pure and classical 
German rendering of the original Greek form 
of Plato, and the remainder an eloquent 
summary of all that religion, reason, and 
experience urge in support of a belief in 
immortality. It is cast in the form of con- 
versation between Socrates and his friends—a 
choice in composition which caused a Jewish 
critic (M. David Friedlander) to liken Moses 
Mendelssohn to Moses the lawgiver. ‘For 
Moses spake, and Socrates was to him as a 
mouth’ (Ex. iv. 15). In less than two years 
Phadon ran through three German editions, 
and it was speedily translated into English, 
French, Dutch, Italian, Danish, and Hebrew. 
Then, at one stride, came fame; and great 
scholars, great potentates, and even the heads 
of his own community, sought his society. 
But fame was ever of incomparably less yalue 
to Mendelssohn than friendship, and any sort 
of notoriety he honestly hated. Thus, when 
his celebrity brought upon him a polemical 
oe the publicity which ensued, not- 
nding that the personal honour in 


MOSES MENDELSSOHN 139 


which he was held was thereby enhanced, so 
thoroughly upset his nerves that the result 
was a severe and protracted illness. It came 
about in this wise: Lavater, the French 
pastor, in 1769, had translated Bonnet’s 
Evidences of Christianity into German; he 
published it with the following dedication to 
Moses Mendelssohn :— 


‘Dear Sir,—I think I cannot give you a 
stronger proof of my admiration of your excel- 
lent writings, and of your still more excellent 
character, that of an Israelite in whom there 
is no guile; nor offer you a better requital for 
the great gratification which I, some years 
ago, enjoyed in your interesting society, than 
by dedicating to you the ablest philosophical 
inquiry into the evidences of Christianity that 
I am acquainted with. 

‘I am fully conscious of your profound 
judgment, steadfast love of truth, literary 
independence, enthusiasm for philosophy in 
general, and esteem for Bonnet’s works in 
particular. The amiable discretion with 
which, notwithstanding your contrariety to 
the Christian religion, you delivered your 
opinion on it, is still fresh in my memory. 
And so indelible and important is the im- 
pression which your truly philosophical respect 
for the moral character of its Founder made 


ee 


Sears 


= 


ee ee ee ee 


140 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


on me, in one of the happiest moments 
of my existence, that I venture to beseech 
you—nay, before the God of Truth, your and 
my Creator and Father, I beseech and conjure 
you—to read this work, I will not say with 
philosophical impartiality, which I am confi- 
dent will be the case, but for the purpose of 
Publicly refuting it, in case you should find 
the main arguments, in support of the facts 
of Christianity, untenable; or should you find 
them conclusive, with the determination of 
doing what policy, love of truth, and probity 

demand—what Socrates would doubtless have 

done had he read the work and found it un- 

answerable. 

‘May God still cause much truth and virtue 
to be disseminated by your means, and make 
you experience the happiness my whole heart 
wishes you. Jouann Caspar Lavater. 

“Zuricu, 25th of August 1769, 


It was a most unpleasant position for 
Mendelssohn. Plain speaking was not so 
much the fashion then as now, and defence 
might more easily be read as defiance. At 
that time the Position of the Jews in all the 
European States was most precarious, and 
outspoken utterances might not only alienate 
the timid followers whom Mendelssohn hoped 

enlighten, but probably offend the power- 


MOSES MENDELSSOHN 141 


ful outsiders whom he was beginning to 
influence. No man has any possible right 
to demand of another a public confession of 
faith; the conversation to which Lavater 
alluded as some justification for his request 
had been a private one, and the reference to 
it, moreover, was not altogether accurate. 
And Mendelssohn hated controversy, and held 
a yery earnest conviction that no good cause, 
certainly no religious one, is ever much for- 
warded by it. Should he be silent, refuse 
to reply, and let judgment go by default ? 
Comfort and expediency both pleaded in 
favour of this course, but truth was mightier 
and prevailed. Like unto the three who 
would not be ‘careful’ of their answer even 
under the ordeal of fire, he soon decided to 
testify plainly and without undue thought of 
consequences. Mendelssohn was not the sort 
to serve God with special reservations as to 
Rimmon. Definitely he answered his too 
zealous questioner in a document which is so 
entirely full of dignity and of reason that it is 
difficult to make quotations from itt ‘ Certain 
inquiries,’ he writes, ‘we finish once for all in 
our lives.’ . . . ‘And I herewith declare in 
the presence of the God of truth, your and my 
Creator, by whom you have conjured me in 


1 The whole correspondence can be read in Memoirs 
of Moses Mendelssohn, by M. Samuels, published in 1827, 


142 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


your dedication, that I will adhere to my 
principles so long as my entire soul does not 
assume another nature.’ And then, emphasis- 
ing the position that it is by character and not 
by controversy that he would have Jews shame 
their traducers, he goes fully and boldly into 
the whole question. He shows with a delicate 
touch of humour that Judaism, in being no 
proselytising faith, has a claim to be let alone. 
‘I am so fortunate as to count amongst my 
friends many a worthy man who is not. of my 
faith. Never yet has my heart whispered, 
Alas! for this good man’s soul, He who 
believes that no salvation is to be found out of 
the pale of his own church, must often feel 
such sighs arise in his bosom,’ « Suppose there 
were among my contemporaries a Confucius or 
a Solon, I could consistently with my religious 
principles love and admire the great man, but 
I should never hit on the idea of converting a 
Confucius or a Solon. What should I convert 
him for? Ashe does not belong to the congrega- 
tion of Jacob, my religious laws were not made 
for him, and on doctrines we should soon come 
to an understanding. Do I think there is a 
chance of his being saved? I certainly believe 
that he who leads mankind on to virtue in this 
prerlal cannot be damned in the next.’ ‘We 
heme - + that those who regulate their 
I ceording to the religion of nature and 


pd 


MOSES MENDELSSOHN 143 


of reason are called virtuous men of other 
nations, and are, equally with our patriarchs, the 
children of eternal salvation.’ ‘Whoever is not 
born conformable to our laws has no occasion 
to live according to them. We alone consider 
ourselves bound to acknowledge their authority, 
and this can give no offence to our neighbours.’ 
He refuses to criticise Bonnet’s work in detail 
on the ground that in his opinion ‘ Jews should 
be scrupulous in abstaining from reflections on 
the predominant religion’ ; but nevertheless, 
whilst repeating his ‘so earnest wish to have 
no more to do with religious controversy,’ the 
honesty of the man asserts itself in boldly 
adding, ‘I give you at the same time to under- 
stand that I could, very easily, bring forward 
something in refutation of M. Bonnet’s work.’ 

Mendelssohn’s reply brought speedily, as it 
could scarcely fail to do, an ample and sincere 
apology from Lavater, a ‘retracting’ of the 
challenge, an earnest entreaty to forgive what 
had been ‘importunate and improper’ in the 
dedicator, and an expression of ‘sincerest 
respect’ and ‘tenderest affection’ for his 
correspondent. Mendelssohn’s was a nature 
to have more sympathy with the errors inci- 
dental to too much, than to too little zeal, and 
the apology was accepted as generously as it 
was offered. And here ended, so far as the 
principals were concerned, this somewhat 


Ayers: 


Mr. Lowell, in like 


144 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


unique specimen of a literary squabble. A 
crowd of lesser writers, unfortunately, hastened 
to make capital out of it; and a bewildering 
mist of nondescript and pedantic compositions 
soon darkened the literary firmament, obscuring 
and vulgarising the whole subject. They took 
‘sides’ and gave ‘views’ of the controversy ; 
but Mendelssohn answered none and read as 
few as possible of these publications. Still the 
strain and worry told on his sensitive and peace- 
loving nature, and he did not readily recover 
his old elasticity of temperament. 

In 1778 Lessing’s wife died, and his friend’s 
trouble touched deep chords both of sympathy 
and of memory in Mendelssohn. Yet more 
cruelly were they jarred when, two years later, 
Lessing himself followed, and an uninterrupted 
friendship of over thirty years was thus dis- 
solved. Lessing and Mendelssohn had been 
to each other the sober realisation of the 
beautiful ideal embodied in the drama of 
Nathan der Weise. ‘What to you makes 
me seem Christian makes of you the Jew to 
me,’ each could most truly say to the other. 
They helped the world to see it too, and to 
recognise the Divine truth that ‘to be to the 
best thou knowest ever true is all the creed.’ 

as ae death of his friend was a terrible blow 
endelssohn, * After wrinkles come,’ says 
ning ancient friendships to 


MOSES MENDELSSOHN 145 


slow-growing trees, ‘few plant, but water dead 
ones with vain tears.’ In this case, the actual 
pain of loss was greatly aggravated by some 
publications which appeared shortly after 
Lessing’s death, impugning his sincerity and 
religious feeling. Germany, as Goethe once 
bitterly remarked, ‘ needs time to be thankful,’ 
In the first year or two following Lessing’s 
death it was, perhaps, too early to expect 
gratitude from his country for the lustre his 
talents had shed on it. Some of the pamphlets 
would make it seem that it was too early even 
for decency. Mendelssohn vigorously took up 
the cudgels for his dead friend ; too vigorously, 
perhaps, since Kant remarked that ‘it is Men- 
delssohn’s fault, if Jacobi (the most notorious 
of the assailants) should now consider him- 
self a philosopher.’ To Mendelssohn’s warm- 
hearted, generous nature it would, however, 
haye been impossible to remain silent when 
one whom he knew to be tolerant, earnest, 
and sincere in the fullest sense of thosé words 
of highest praise, was accused of ‘covert 
Spinozism ’; a charge which again was broadly 
rendered, by these wretched, ignorant inter- 
preters of a language they failed to understand, 
as atheism and hypocrisy. 

But this was his last literary work. It shows 
no sign of decaying powers ; it is full of pathos, 
of wit, of clear close reasoning, and of brilliant 

K 


146 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


satire; yet nevertheless it was his monument 
as well as his friend’s. He took the manu- 
seript to his publisher in the last day of the 
year 1785; and in the first week of the 
New Year 1786, still only fifty-six years old, 
he quietly and painlessly died. That last 
work seems to make a beautiful and fitting 
end to his life; a life which truly adds a 
worthy stanza to what Herder calls ‘the 
greatest poem of all time—the history of the 
Jews.’ 


THE NATIONAL IDEA IN JUDAISM 


Once find a man’s ideals, it has been well said, 
and the rest is easy ; and undoubtedly to| get 
at any true notion of character, one must 
discover these. They may be covered close 
with conventionalities, or jealously hidden, 
like buried treasures, from unsympathetic. 
eyes; but the patient search is well worth 
while, since it is his ideals—and not his 
words nor his deeds, which a thousand cireum~ 
stances influence and decide—which show us 
the real man as known to. his Maker. And 
true as this is of the individual, it is true in a 
deeper and larger sense of the nations, and 
most true of all of that people with whom for 
centuries speech was impolitie and action 
impossible. With articulate expression so 
long denied to them, the national ideals must 
be always to the student of history the truest 
revelation of Judaism; and it is curious and 
interesting to trace their development, and 
to recognise the crown and apex of them 
all in battlefield and in ‘Vineyard,’ in 
Ghetto and in mart, unchanged among the 


148 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


changes, and practically the same as in the 
days of the desert. The germ was set in the 
wilderness, when, amid the thunders and 
lightnings of Sinai, a crowd of frightened, 
freshly rescued slaves were made © witnesses ” 
to a living God, and guardians of a ‘Law’ 
which demonstrated His existence. Very 
new and strange, and but dimly understanded 
of the people it must all have been. ‘The 

lights of sunset and of sunrise mixed.’ The 

fierce vivid glow under which they had bent 

and basked in Egypt had scarcely faded, when 

they were bid look up in the grey dawn of the 

desert to receive their trust. There was 

worthy stuff in the descendants of the man 

who had left father and friends and easy, Sen- 

suous idolatry to follow after an ideal of 
righteousness; and they who had but just 
escaped from the bondage of centuries, rose 
to the occasion. They accepted their mission; 
« All that the Lord has spoken will we do,’ 
came up a responsive cry from ‘all the people 
answering together, and in that supreme 
moment the ill-fed and so recently ill-treated 
groups were transformed into a nation. ‘I 
will make of thee a great people’; ‘ Through 
thee shall all families of the earth be blessed’ ; 
the meaning of such predictions was borne 
in upon them in one bewildering flash, and 
in that flash the national idea of Judaism 


NATIONAL IDEA IN JUDAISM 149 


found its dawn; they, the despised and the 
downtrodden, were to become trustees of 
civilisation. 

As the glow died down, however, a very 
rudimentary sort of civilisation the wilderness 
must have presented to these builders of the 
temples and the treasure cities by the Nile, 
and to the yigorous, resourceful Hebrew 
women. As day after day, and year after 
year, the cloud moved onward, darkening the 
road which it directed, as they gathered the 
manna and longed for the fleshpots, it could 
have been only the few and finer spirits among 
those listless groups who were able to discern 
that a civilisation based upon the Decalogue, 
shorn though it was of all present pleasantness 
and ease, had a promise about it that was 
lacking to a culture, ‘learned in all the wisdom 
of the Egyptians.’ It was life reduced to its 
elements ; Sinai and Pisgah stood so far apart, 
and such long level stretches of dull sand lay 
between the heights. One imagines the 
women, skilled like their men-folk in all 
manner of cunning workmanship, eagerly, 
generously ransacking their stores of purple 
and fine linen to decorate the Tabernacle, and 
spinning and embroidering with a desperately 
delighted sense of recovered refinements, 
which, as much perhaps as their fervour of 
religious enthusiasm, led them to bring their 


en 


y 
? 


—— 


150 JEWISH PORTRAITS 


gifts till restrained ‘from bringing.’ The trust 
was accepted though in the wilderness, but 
grudgingly, with many a faint-hearted protest, 
and to some minds, in some moods, slavery 
must have seemed less insistent in its de- 
mands than trusteeship. 

The conquest of Canaan was the next 
experience, and as sinfulness and idolatry were 
relentlessly washed away in rivers of blood, 
one doubts if the impressionable descend- 
ants of Jacob, to whom it was given to over- 
come, might not perchance have preferred to 
endure. But such choice was not given to 
them ; the trust had to be realised before it 
could be transmitted, and its value tested by 
its cost. With Palestine at last in possession 
of the chosen people, this civilisation of which 
they were the guardians by slowdegrees became 
manifest. Samuel lived it, and Dayid sang it, 
and Isaiah preached it, and the nation clung 
to it, individual men and women, stumbling 
and failing often, but dying each, when need 
came, a hundred deaths in its defence ; per- 
haps finding it on occasion less difficult to die 
for an idea than to live up to it. 

The securities were shifted, the terms of the 
trusteeship changed when the people of the 
Land became the people of the Book. The civi- 
lisation which they guarded grew narrower in 
its issues and more limited in its outlook, till, as 


NATIONAL IDEA IN JUDAISM 151 


the years rolled into the centuries, it was hard to 
recognise the ‘ witnesses’ of God in the hunted 
outcasts of man. Yet to the student of his- 
tory, who reads the hieroglyph of the Egyptian 
into the postcard of to-day, it is not difficult to 
see the civilisation of Sinai shining under the 
folds of the gaberdine or of the san benito. . It 
was taught in the schools and it was lived:in 
the homes, and the Ghetto could not altogether 
degrade it, nor the Holy Office effectually dis- 
guise it. Jews sank sometimes to the lower 
level of the sad lives they led, but Judaism 
remained unconquerably buoyant. Judaism, 
as they believed in it, was a Personal Force 
making for righteousness, a Law which knew 
no change, the Promise of a period when the 
earth should be filled with the knowledge of 
the Lord ; and the ‘ witnesses’ stuck to this 
their trust, through good repute and through 
evil repute, with a simple doggedness which 
disarms all superficial criticism. The glamour 
of the cause, through which a Barcochba could 
loom heroic to an Akiba, the utter absence 
of self-consciousness or of self-seeking, which 
made Judas in his fight for freedom pin the 
Lord’s name on his flag, and which, with the 
kingdom lost, made the scrolls of the Law the 
spoil with which Ben Zaccai retreated—this 
was at the root of the national idea, and its 
impersonality gives the secret of its strength,