Chapter 7: Mingle Bells
To Be Jewish, or Not to Be Jewish—That Is the Question
Nazi Germany—Horror Beyond Words
As pointed out earlier in the chapter, another notable example of Jewish assimilation and rejection took place in Germany, preceding and during World War II. The horrific consequences of the unfolding that took place in Germany have been thoroughly discussed and analyzed, and there is not much to add concerning what took place. What we should point out, however, is the repetition of the culprits that affected the Spanish Inquisition and ultimate expulsion from Spain.
Historically, German Jewry did not enjoy the freedom and affinity with its host duchies and cities as did the Jews in Spain. Instead, for centuries they would wander from city to city, reside where permitted, always under harsh restrictions and discrimination, and at times, such as during the Crusades, suffering persecution, expulsion, and even massacres.
And yet, starting from the 16th century, in tandem with the Renaissance, the Jews in Germany enjoyed relative peace. While they did not receive equal status or citizenship at any of their hosting cities or duchies, they were left to run their own lives relatively uninterrupted and separate from the rest of the German society.
“Behind their ghetto walls,” writes Sol Scharfstein in Understanding Jewish History: From Renaissance to the 21st Century, “following their own traditions and their own way of life, Jews weathered the storms of the centuries that followed, the struggles between Christians, between the church and princes, and the wars and revolutions set off by the new conditions and new ideas.
“…[Pope] Paul IV argued that it was foolish for Christians to be friendly to a people who had not accepted Christ as their savior. In a papal bull he decreed that Jews living in areas controlled by the church were to be confined in the ghettos. They would be permitted to leave the ghetto in daytime to go to work, but forbidden to be outside at other times. The ghetto gates were to be closed at night and on Christian holidays,” and the gates were “…guarded by non-Jews watchmen who controlled the entry and exit of those imprisoned inside.”[i]
But contrary to popular belief, initially the Jewish ghettos were not compulsory. That came later, once the Jews were already concentrated in their living areas. Renowned historian, Salo Wittmayer Baron, wrote that “Jews had fewer duties and more rights than the great bulk of the population. …They could move freely from place to place with few exceptions, they could marry whomever they wanted, they had their own courts, and were judged according to their own laws. Even in mixed cases with non-Jews, not the local tribunal but usually a special judge appointed by the king or some high official had competence.”[ii]
A few pages later, continues Prof. Wittmayer Baron, “…The Jewish community enjoyed full internal autonomy. Complex, isolated, in a sense foreign, it was left more severely alone by the State than most corporations. Thus, the Jewish community of pre-Revolutionary days had more competence over its members than the modern Federal, State, and Municipal governments combined [relevant to 1928, year of publication]. Education, administration of justice between Jew and Jew, taxation for communal and State purposes, health, markets, public order, were all within the jurisdiction of the community-corporation, and in addition, the Jewish community was the fountainhead of social work of a quality generally superior to that outside Jewry.
“…A phase of this corporate existence generally regarded by emancipated Jewry as an unmitigated evil was the Ghetto. But it must not be forgotten that the Ghetto grew up voluntarily as a result of Jewish self-government, and it was only in a later development that public law interfered and made it a legal compulsion for all Jews to live in a secluded district.”[iii]
Thus, relying on each other for their subsistence, the Jews grew closer, cultivated their own literature, and lived modestly and piously. Once again, we see that when Jews stick together, they are unharmed. And once again, we see that when cohesion and unity are not the Jews’ choice in life, circumstances impose it upon them from outside. Albeit coercive, it is always unity that keeps them safe.
And yet, despite the safety provided by unity, and the fact that Jews, as Prof. Grant noted, are “inassimilable,” as soon as the door opens and the Jews are allowed outside, they begin to mingle in the very same manner that brought upon them the calamity in Spain—cultural assimilation, and, worse yet, religious assimilation. Somehow, we always seem to forget the words of our sages, who repeatedly claim, “When they [Israel] are as one man with one heart, they are as a fortified wall against the forces of evil.”[iv] Indeed, as we have shown throughout this book, the neglect of unity is what caused the ruin of the Temple and the dispersion of the people from its land, and indeed every calamity that struck the Jews since then.
As the Jewish emancipation progressed and German Jews were allowed into the German Christian society, they gradually became estranged from their spiritual roots. Toward the end of the 18th century, they were so eager to be admitted into the Christian society that they would do virtually anything to be accepted. Thus, according to Professors of Jewish culture and history, Steven J. Zipperstein of Stanford University and Jonathan Frankel of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, in 1799, only a few years after the start of the Jewish emancipation, David Friedlander, one of the Jewish community’s most prominent leaders, went as far as to suggest that Berlin Jews would convert to Christianity en masse.[v]
But even without converting, German Jews were willing to relinquish everything their forefathers had held sacred. “In order to prove the absolute loyalty of the Jews to state and country,” write Zipperstein and Frankel later in their book, “[the Jews] were ready to remove from the prayer-books any reference to the age-old hope for a return to the ancient homeland in Palestine and to interpret the dispersion of the Jews across the world not as Exile but as of positive value, as the way for the Jews to carry the message of monotheistic ethics to all of mankind, as a divinely ordained mission. Thus, the Reform movement made it possible to claim that the Jews constituted a strictly religious community divested of all national attributes, that they were Germans (or Poles or Frenchmen, as the case might be) of the ‘Mosaic persuasion.’ In this way, reformed Judaism became the symbol, as it were, of a readiness to trade in age-old beliefs in exchange for civil equality and social acceptance.”[vi]
The relinquishing of the Jews’ connection to Zion, the land of Israel and the desire for the Creator—the Law of Bestowal—symbolizes more than anything the extent to which German Jews had alienated themselves from their heritage. As we have seen so many times, and as we learn from the teachings of our sages throughout history, once the Jews willingly abandon their role, they are forced back into it by the very nations within which they strive to mingle.
Alas, the German Jews did not know this fact. They were in exile, banished from the quality of bestowal and oblivious to their task. They were ignorant of their mistake that the minute they traded cohesion for acceptance by the general society, they put their future and the future of their children in harm’s way. While no one could have predicted the magnitude of the horror that would befall them, the path toward it had been paved, and their conduct continued to shore it up.
From approximately 1780 through 1869, despite several setbacks, gradual advancement of the Jewish emancipation took place. Eventually, “The law of equality was passed by the Parliament of the North German Confederation on July 3, 1869. With the extension of this law to the states united within the German Empire, the struggle of Germany’s Jews for emancipation achieved success.”[vii]
But the price of the success was the complete abandonment of everything that had kept the Jews together. According to Werner Eugen Mosse, Professor Emeritus of European History at the University of East Anglia, “In 1843, the first radical Reform society—rejecting circumcision and calling for the moving of the Jewish Sabbath to Sunday—came into existence to Frankfurt. …In the next two or three decades, the religious Reform movement would re-structure the religious service in most large communities and develop into the Liberal religious movement which dominated twentieth-century German Jewry.
“…The pressure for social integration into general society led many to abandon practices which they felt set up a barrier against social intercourse (e.g. the dietary laws), while the need to be economically competitive forced many to do business on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. In addition, many acculturated Jews found themselves repelled by the traditional Jewish service for aesthetic reasons.”[viii]
“Another aspect of Reform closely tied to education,” continues Prof. Eugen Mosse, “was the new ceremony of confirmation. This ceremony, based on Christian models, was intended to supplement (or more rarely, replace) the traditional bar mitzvah. Both girls and boys, on graduating from religious school, were given a public oral examination on the bases of the Jewish religion and were then blessed by the rabbi and formally inducted into Judaism.”[ix]
Thus, just as it happened in Spain some four centuries earlier, the Reform Jews were in effect becoming “Ashkenazi conversos.” According to Donald L. Niewyk, Professor Emeritus of History at SMU, “The vast majority of Jews was passionately committed to the well-being of its sole Fatherland, Germany.”[x]
And just as it happened in Spain, when the tide began to turn against the Jews, and anti-Semitism began to rise in the Weimar Republic of Germany, the Jews were blissfully oblivious to the sounding alarms. “Not a few saw anti-Semitism as a positive boon that alone could keep the Jews from gradual amalgamation with the larger society and ultimate disappearance as a distinctive religious group,” narrates Prof. Niewyk.[xi] Without noticing that letting the nations keep us together instead of doing so ourselves bears unimaginable consequences, Dr. Kurt Fleischer, the leader of the Liberals in the Berlin Jewish Community Assembly, argued in 1929 that “Anti-Semitism is the scourge that God has sent us in order to lead us together and weld us together.”[xii] This, again, proves right the earlier-cited words of Prof. Cohn-Sherbok: “The paradox of Jewish life is that … without anti-Semitism, we may be doomed to extinction.”[xiii] Indeed, how tragically right they all are.
As it turned out, Hitler, too, thought that the Creator was using the Nazis to do His work. In Mein Kampf, he wrote similar words to the abovementioned statement of Isabella, queen of Spain, about the Lord punishing the Jews through the king: “Eternal Nature inexorably avenges the infringement of her commands. Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”[xiv]
Since the Creator is the quality of love and bestowal, the Jews’ emergence from the ghettos exposed their exile from that quality. Consequently, instead of bringing solidarity and mutual responsibility to their host societies, they were spreading egotism, which is ruinous to any society, and were therefore met with intolerance and repulsion soon after their acceptance. German philosopher and anthropologist, Ludwig Feuerbach, connected Jews with egotism in the following manner: “The Jews have maintained their peculiarity to this day. Their principle, their God, is the most practical principle in the world—namely egoism. And moreover, egoism in the form of religion. Egoism is the God who will not let his servants come to shame. Egoism is essentially monotheistic, for it has only one, only self, as its end.”[xv]
Indeed, who would welcome such a menace into society? It is precisely that egotism that causes each and every nation within which we live to rethink, and eventually regret and repeal its openness.
The one thing that made Jews unique and powerful in ancient times was their unity, their altruism, and as we have shown, that was the one thing that Abraham and Moses wished to give to the world. At first, the nations welcome us into their midst, subconsciously hoping we will share with them that quality. But upon discovering that we are giving them the opposite, their joy turns to disillusionment and anger. As long as we continue to disappoint the nations, we will continue to receive the same treatment, and the trend is showing that the means by which they’ll show their disappointment will grow even harsher.
[i] Sol Scharfstein, Understanding Jewish History: From Renaissance to the 21st Century (Printed in Hong Kong, Ktav Publishing House, 1997), 163-164.
[ii] Salo W. Baron, “Ghetto and Emancipation: Shall We Revise the Traditional Views?” in: The Menorah Treasury: Harvest of Half a Century (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1964), 52.
[iii] Salo W. Baron, “Ghetto and Emancipation: Shall We Revise the Traditional Views?” in: The Menorah Treasury: Harvest of Half a Century, 54-55.
[iv] Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein, Shem MiShmuel [A Name Out of Samuel], VaYakhel [And Moses Assembled], TAR’AV (1916)
[v] Assimilation and Community: The Jews in Nineteenth-Century Europe, Ed: Jonathan Frankel, Steven J. Zipperstein (UK, Cambridge University Press, 1992), 8.
[vi] Assimilation and Community: The Jews in Nineteenth-Century Europe, Ed: J. Frankel, S.J. Zipperstein, 12.
[vii] “Emancipation,” Jewish Virtual Library, url: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0006_0_05916.html
[viii] Werner Eugen Mosse, Revolution and Evolution: 1848 in German-Jewish History (Germany, J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck) Tubingen, 1981), 255-256.
[ix] Eugen Mosse, Revolution and Evolution: 1848 in German-Jewish History, 260.
[x] Donald L. Niewyk, The Jews in Weimar Germany (New Jersey, Transactions Publishers, New Brunswick, 2001), 95.
[xi] Niewyk, The Jews in Weimar Germany, 84.
[xiii] Cohn-Sherbok, The Paradox of Anti-Semitism, XIV (Preface).
[xiv] Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (US, Noontide Press, 2003), 51.
[xv] Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, trans. Marian Evans (London, John Chapman, 1843), 113.