Commentary Magazine


Hebraism and Hellenism

The present article is adapted from an Adelphi University Theology Lecture

Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy was published one hundred years ago In an inaugural lecture, Roy Fuller, the Professor of Poetry at Oxford, reminds us that “Sweetness and Light,” the first chapter, was Arnold's final lecture when he was Professor of Poetry “Hebraism and Hellenism” is another chapter

There is a difficulty in assessing great men, an irony that will out, but the irony may tell us more about ourselves than about its objects Who has not written that Philosophy I term paper demolishing Hegel? The temptation is old, and the description of it is old Not completely, but yet in some stubborn part of ourselves we would rather forget that if we are taller than our predecessors, maybe it is because we stand on their shoulders And when a man's name is linked to “sweetness and light”—never mind what it actually meant for him, and for Swift before him—the temptation to patronize him becomes all the stronger. Arnold respected Goethe, and Goethe may have something to tell us No man is a hero to his valet; true, but perhaps more because the valet is a valet than because no man is a hero

Is Arnold relevant to us? He refused to be relevant even to his contemporaries, in the terms in which they understood relevance Relevant or not, he can be useful

  • We are solemnly approving of the individualist mob Arnold says “Thinking by batches of fifties is . . . as fatal as thinking by batches of thousands”
  • For us “nonconformity” is good and “establishment” bad Arnold on nonconformity and establishment does not give us a final, full truth, but how many truths are final and full? He says
  • The great works by which, not only in literature, art, and science generally, but in religion itself, the human spirit has manifested its approaches to totality, and to a full, harmonious perfection, and by which it stimulates and helps forward the world's general perfection, come, not from Nonconformists, but from men who either belong to Establishments or have been trained in them. . . Milton, Baxter, Wesley

  • Another good word for us is “dissent.” If I am not mistaken, the founders of Dissent had in mind, favorably, a phrase of Arnold's, “the Dissidence of Dissent” He did not coin that phrase “The Dissidence of Dissent, and the Protestantism of the Protestant religion” was the slogan of a journal of the English Nonconformists a hundred years ago For Arnold the Nonconformists' “Dissidence of Dissent” expressed all that was cranky, Philistine, “hole-in-corner ”
  • And last, for archeological interest.

I remember my father [Thomas, of Rugby], in one of his unpublished letters written more than forty years ago, when the political and social state of the country was gloomy and troubled, and there were riots in many places, goes on, after strongly insisting on the badness and foolishness of the government, and on the harm and dangerousness of our feudal and aristocratical constitution of society, and ends thus “As for noting, the old Roman way of dealing with that is always the right one, flog the rank and file, and fling the ringleaders from the Tarpeian Rock!”

(Arnold withdrew this crusty remembrance from later editions)

for the sake of the present, but far more for the sake of the future, the lovers of culture are the opposers of anarchy

Thus can Arnold be relevant by his very irrelevance, by the shock of his strangeness, by—a word he would not have welcomed—his nonconformity And he did believe that “the men of culture are the true apostles of equality.”

Arnold defines culture, or rather enumerates its elements, astutely Making culture pretty nearly the sum of all good things, he takes care that it will be if not impossible, then difficult to show that his idea of culture is defective, lacking in some essential He is as clever as we, knowing we will look for exposed salients to attack, he strengthens them He defines culture, or inventories it, positively Yet his “culture” affects us not altogether differently from the Polish Marxist philosopher Kolakowski's “socialism” Kolakowski's “What is Socialism?” tells us what socialism is not For instance, it is not a system

in which a person who has committed no crime sits at home waiting for the police. In which there are more spies than nurses and more people in prisons than in hospitals In which one is forced to resort to lies and compelled to be a thief In which the philosophers and writers always say the same thing as the generals and ministers, but always after them

And so on There are seventy-two things that socialism is not “But now listen attentively, we will tell you what socialism is—well, then, socialism is a good thing ” Kolakowski enumerates negatively and Arnold positively, but like Kolakowski's socialism, Arnold's culture is a Good Thing

What G K Chesterton says of Christianity, many socialists say of their religion it has not failed, it has never been tried Matthew Arnold redivivus would say culture has not failed, it has never been tried For culture is Arnold's real religion To him it is more or less what before his revolutionary times, the 19th century, religion proper had been to the great mass of mankind He sees the human spirit, and more particularly the Western spirit, as having not one but two parts, Hebraism as well as Hellenism—“the governing idea of Hellenism is spontaneity of consciousness, that of Hebraism, strictness of conscience”—but he gives the lion's share to Hellenism

_____________

Hellenism is the specifically Greek tradition Arnold was not one who mocked “culture ! a smattering of the two dead languages of Greek and Latin ”How could you be a Hellenist, Hellenic, if you could not read the Greek authors in their own words? But more generally, Hellenism is mind, intellect—a free mind and a free intellect, resistant to cant and prejudice, connected with imagination and emotion, open to all excellence, past, present, and future It is mind and intellect flexible and self-correcting, the enemy of fanaticism, rigidity, and one-sidedness Therefore culture is largely Hellenic Culture is the best that has been known and thought, the best that has been thought and said in the world, a stream of thought upon everything, the study of perfection, that power which enables us to see things as they really are Or rather, Hellenism is that power Those predicates can be assigned almost indifferently to either Hellenism or culture as their subject

On the other hand, “to Hebraise. is, to sacrifice all other sides of our being to the religious side it leads to a narrow and twisted growth of our religious side itself, and to a failure in perfection”

What has struck many Jews in such definitions or descriptions of Hebraism is that Arnold was not talking about, was in fact not concerned to talk about, the Jews and the Jews' religion, character, ways of being Since the Maccabees, the Jewish tradition itself has insisted on the distinctness of Hebraism from Hellenism, but Arnold was defining the spirit, as he understood it, of sectarian Protestantism in 19th-century England His Hebraism keeps pointing to sectarian Protestant bibliolatry—the doctrine of the open Bible carried to a kind of democratic extreme In that doctrine anyone can read his Bible as well as anyone else, and can understand it as well.

Bibliolatry is not Jewish Classically, how a Jew read and understood the Bible was regulated by the learned, rabbinical tradition No ignorant Jew, in Spain or Germany or Poland, could pretend, even to himself, that he understood the very Hebrew or Aramaic of the Bible or Talmud as well as a learned Jew Why then did Jews never demand an open—i e, vernacular—Bible with nearly the same vehemence as Christians? I think the answer is to be found in this that many Christians were persuaded that the priests kept the Bible in Latin to keep it from the people, a priestly monopoly, while Jews knew that at least in principle, it was the ideal and the effort of Jewish society that every (male) Jew should be taught all the sacred literature he could master—and, along the way, the Hebrew and Aramaic in which it was written When modern Jews began to rebel against Hebrew in favor of the vernacular, that was not because they resented a rabbinical monopoly What modern Jews resented, in fact, was that the rabbis wanted Hebrew not to be a monopoly The rebels thought that their time, and their children's time, was being wasted by rabbis who wanted everyone to be rabbinically learned, or almost (Actually, the scholars tell us that the first full-length translation of any kind was Jewish the Hebrew Bible into Greek In traditional Jewish Bible editions, the Aramaic version has pride of place next to the Hebrew text It alone shares with the text the distinction of being vocalized, and in square characters)

Some years ago Isaiah Berlin revived Archilochus's saying. The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows One Big Thing Hellenism is fox, Hebraism is hedgehog Among the many things that the fox knows—that Arnold, ondoyant et divers, the foxy Hellenist, knows—is the necessity of hedgehog Hebraism Looking about him, Arnold sees an excess of Hebraism and an insufficiency of Hellenism heavy mid-Victorian England is too Hebraic and insufficiently Hellenic. He tries to right the imbalance. At other times in history, he says, there was too little Hebraism and too much Hellenism If he had lived then, he would have tried to right that imbalance But in England, with its Barbarian aristocracy, Philistine middle class, and unknown, half-frightening, half-appealing Populace, his duty is to recall his countrymen to more Hellenism and less Hebraism

He is telling the truth That is how he sees his England But beneath his estimate of what his England needs, there is something more general Arnold believes that while it is possible to have too much Hellenism, it is easy to have too much Hebraism

_____________

Only three years after Culture and Anarchy the work of a young man, of a genius greater though darker than Arnold's, was published—the Birth of Tragedy. Arnold's Hellenism stands under the sign of Apollo, Nietzsche's under the sign of Dionysus For Arnold the great figure of Hellenism, actual as well as symbolic, is Socrates he invokes Socrates in what we may call the peroration of Culture and Anarchy For Nietzsche, Socrates is a fake

Arnold's Hellenism is like Freudian ego, his Hebraism like superego. He wants to lighten the burden of Hebraic superego, letting in Hellenic ego The ego is the guardian of the reality principle, and one definition that Arnold gives of Hellenism is that it helps us to see things as they really are. Nietzsche agrees that Hebraism is superego Much more than Arnold, he wants us liberated from Hebraic superego But for Nietzsche the liberation is not in the name of ego It is in the name of id—passion, instinct, primal force

The god of ego is Apollo, the god of id Dionysus. Apollo is “ordre et beauté,/Luxe, calme, et volupte” (especially if we are not vulgar about luxe and volupte) Dionysus is orgy, ecstasy—etymologically “ecstasy” is standing outside one's self—derangement of the senses, blood, lawlessness Dionysus is the horse, Apollo the bit and bridle It is quite clear which is primary and which secondary. Roy Campbell says:

You praise the firm restraint with
                                         which they write—
    I'm with you there, of course
They use the snaffle and the curb all right,
    But where's the bloody horse?

That is, id-Dionysus first and ego-Apollo a long way second.

Is it to be guilty of an it-is-no-accident, Leninist kind of argument to recall that Campbell was a fascist—called himself a fascist—and fought in Spain for Franco? A spokesman for Dionysian theater (the producer, in fact, of Dionysus in 69), a man of the Left rather than the Right, has said: “Ecstasy doesn't come cheap. You pay for it in blood” He has written. “The hidden fear I have about the new expression is that its forms come perilously close to ecstatic fascism”

Who are, or should be, the chief custodians of Hellenism? Professors of Greek When Arnold thought of professors of Greek, he was likely to think of his friend Jowett, priest of the Church of England, translator of Plato, Master of Balliol, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford But so was Nietzsche a professor of Greek, and so is or was Norman O Brown From Jowett to Brown—that is the history of Hellenism since Arnold If Arnold were our contemporary, he might say that the balance had tipped again and had to be redressed again, particularly since the preponderant Hellenism of our time is not at all what he had in mind

As a cozy, even endearing specimen of our Hellenism, consider the Beatles' Yellow Submarine The Blue Meanies are the enemy, cruel, destructive For them, “yes” is a dirty word When an inferior clicks his heels and salutes his superior, he does not say, ”Yes, sir “A Blue Meanie says, “No, sir”

The submarine, as a phallic symbol, is a symbol of life The submarine's element is the ocean: the ocean is the womb, it is the mother of all living things, the origin of life Yellow is life the sun is yellow, it nurtures life

Blue is coldness, gloom, death, laws that forbid pleasure are blue laws, blue Monday is suicide Monday In the middle of the film a throwaway line, apparently unmotivated, is spoken: “That's funny, you don't look blueish ”It makes no difference how this was intended trust the tale, not the teller Blueish, Jewish; blue is Hebraism.

Yellow is Hellenism The end of the film is an insistent yellow flashing Yes, love, yes, love, yes, love It celebrates the victory of yellow and yes and love over their enemies, blue and no and—what is the enemy of love? Hate? Death?

Celebrating yes is rather more highbrow than this may suggest Nietzsche praises the yea-sayers and dispraises the nay-sayers Joyce's Ulysses ends much as Yellow Submarine does In that famous soliloquy of Molly Bloom's, she says yes, yes, yes—to life, to love; to adultery

And indeed, Hebraism has a way of saying no and not The preeminent sequence of Hebraic noes and nots is in the twentieth chapter of Exodus (with a variant m the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy):

I am the LORD thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage Thou shalt have no other gods before Me Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down to them nor serve them, for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. Thou shalt not murder Thou shalt not commit adultery Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife nor anything that is thy neighbor's

Is Yellow Submarine exoteric, public propaganda for Dionysian Hellenism? How could it be? It is pleasant not ecstatic, calm not violent, tranquil not lawless On the surface it is even sexless. At most, Dionysianism is hinted at—in its “yes,” with its recollection of Molly Bloom, and its “love,” which is ambiguous The Hellenism that Yellow Submarine exemplifies for us and commends to us may well be Apollonian Which leads to a supposition There is a play about an extraordinary physician, Dr Knock, who has discovered that un homme bten portant est un malade qui s'ignore—a well man is a sick man unaware. In like manner, and from one point of view, perhaps, Apollonian Hellenism is sometimes Dionysian Hellenism unaware, or without the courage to be aware.

_____________

We come now to a difficult question, the question of woman, the womanly Routinely, the neo-femimsts of our time condemn the Jewish tradition for subordinating women. Less is said about the Greek tradition—Sparta, even Periclean Athens; or Plato.

Matthew Arnold considers himself to be a disciple of Spinoza, but it is with Nietzsche that Spinoza joins hands, in hostility to woman and the womanly. We know what Nietzsche says about woman, and about Hebraism. For Nietzsche, Hebraism—Judaism and Christianity—is the resentment and revenge of the weak: women and slaves. Spinoza, contemptuous of the moral and psychological state of the Jews, says that the foundations of their religion have effeminated their character. That is, Judaism has made the Jews womanish For Spinoza, pity is muliebris misericordta, womanish pity—not in praise of woman but in dispraise of pity.

Though etymologies prove nothing, they can suggest something Greek hystera means “womb,” as in surgical words like “hysterectomy”; but its best-known derivative is “hysteria”: Hellenically, the womb generates hysteria. From Hebrew rehem, “womb,” derives rahamim, “pity”. Hebraically, the womb generates pity. Hellenism has something anti-woman, anti-womanly, misogynist; and so has our culture, high or low, under Apollo's sign or Dionysus'. The eponymous Marquis de Sade, a hero for our time, was homosexual. One picks up a newspaper and sees a review of an edition of Oscar Wilde's criticism. The review quotes the editor as recalling for us that André Gide, having read Wilde first, says he has found Nietzsche less exciting than he would have been otherwise; and that for Thomas Mann many of Nietzsche's aphorisms might have been expressed by Wilde, and vice versa. It was because Wilde was what he was, the reviewer goes on to say, that he linked art with lawlessness and criminality, and independently of Nietzsche was moved to transvalue all values.

Surely Arnold never heard of his older, Italian Jewish contemporary Samuel David Luzzatto, but Luzzatto also thought a great deal about Hellenism and Hebraism—which he called Atticism and Judaism/Abrahamism Like Arnold, Luzzatto recognizes the necessity of both; but unlike Arnold, he gives priority to Hebraism. Luzzatto cannot forgive Spinoza that muliebris misericordta. Luzzatto prefers the Rabbis' “He who feels no pity is not of the seed of Abraham”; and quotes the 19th-century German classicist Bockh, “Mercy is no Hellenic virtue.” (What I know about Luzzatto I owe to Shalom Spiegel's Hebrew Reborn.)

Not long ago the rabbi of my congregation preached on the unpromising lesson in Leviticus (Shemini) about clean and unclean foods Conceding the force of the jokes about stomach religion and of the arguments for a concern with higher things than hooves and cuds, fins and scales, he said only that Judaism—the Jewish tradition—is a unitary, a whole regimen. The Rabbis, serious about what is kosher and what is not, legislated, in what he insisted was the same spirit, about other things as well. He cited Tosefta Avodah Zarah:

Whoever sits in the stadium [where gladiators fight] is a murderer [sharing the guilt, with the others there, for encouraging gladiatorial combat] But R. Nathan says it is permitted, for two reasons because he [sc, a Jew in the stadium] can shout [for mercy, when the victorious gladiators ask whether to spare or to kill the defeated] and thereby save lives; and by testimony can help a woman to be remarried.

The last parts needs explanation: A Jew who has been in the stadium can testify that he has seen the woman's husband die—a Jewish captive of the Romans sent as a gladiator to the arenas. Then, known to be a widow, she is allowed to remarry.

So for those most Hebraic of Hebrews, the Rabbis, helping a woman to remarry was a motive not unworthy of mention with saving lives. Womanish. As Edmund Wilson has just reminded us, Tacitus called the Jews enemies of the human race because, among other reasons, they were uncivilized—un-Hellenic—in that they refused to practice infanticide. (Infanticide means killing babies, usually girls—in the ancient world the popular means of keeping children few enough to prevent the parceling of estates.) The blues have been saying no for a long time, even to such sensible, pleasurable, useful, or civilized things as gladiatorial shows and infanticide.

Maybe Yellow Submarine, in indicting blueness and meanness, lacks the courage, the honesty, to admit to itself what the worship of Dionysus requires. Nietzsche did not lack courage or honesty. He was explicit about what follows once we say—as he says—that the God of Hebraism is dead. What follows is that we recognize Jewish (or Jewish and Christian) mercy, and kindred notions, to be nothing more than the restraints that the envious weak, women and slaves, try to impose on the strong; and the duty of the strong—aristocratic, heroically hard—to throw off those restraints. Nietzsche said he would believe only in a god who could dance. Like its original, the Bacchae of Euripides, Dionysus in 69 is about dancing, and the producer (a Jew), who knows about ecstatic fascism and about blood as the price of ecstasy, is described as rejecting Judeo-Christian culture. At least he is candid: “If you dance with Dionysus you kill Pentheus—that is the action of the play.”

For her “Temptations of Cultural Fascism” (Wiener Library Bulletin, Winter 1968-69), Renee Winegarten takes the title from Saul Bellow: Herzog's “cultural fascism.” She is interested in writers who are liberals, or radicals, or Jews, yet are culturally Dionysian:

The fact that a man really belongs with those who would be the first victims of the Dionysian urge does nothing to lessen the fascination, just as the fact that he is neither aristocratic nor heroic does little to prevent the exaltation of the reader's imagination at the idea of an elite of noble and remarkable souls to which he can fancy he belongs. . . .

Until very recently, for the majority of students and lovers of literature (as Lionel Trilling pointed out), there was no accord between what stirred them in books and practical political life: aristocrats in fancy, they remained democrats or radicals in fact. Yet that disruptive and subversive element in literature which served many readers merely as a stimulant for the imagination has now descended into the streets, in the United States, in France and Germany, even in England. The aristocratic outlook of the exceptional individual or the rare elite has been adopted by those for whom it was never intended: the dissatisfied, half-educated mass of the young. . . . [There] are tokens of a new kind of cultural fascism (emanating from the Left instead of the Right).

An English poet and painter has described the “ambience of tenderness, intelligence, total licence and crackling undercurrents of a kind of sad cruelty” in the Dionysian milieu he used to frequent. From the visitors' graffiti at a Happening he staged, he learned that “what was hell to puritans was heaven to sadistic fetishists.”

For Yellow Submarine, it is the puritan Blue Meanies who are sadistic; and in a Catholic and ecumenical journal of religious thought, a Presbyterian theologian publishes a “Manifesto for a Dionysian Theology,” introduces it by citing Nietzsche's dancing god, and then is silent about killing Pentheus, and ecstatic fascism, and mercy as womanish, slave morality. Wholesome anti-uptightness—that seems to be what he wants to suppose Dionysianism is, and wants us to suppose.

_____________

Why should we keep paying the homage of embarrassment or hypocrisy to traditional religion's virtue? For moderns the dominant religion, the religion that has superseded religion, is a cross between Arnold's culture and Nietzsche's art. Obedient to Nietzsche, we faithfully assert the primacy of the aesthetic: let me, as the lawyers say, incorporate by reference Trilling's Beyond Culture. I would only mention a further resemblance between traditional and modern religion. When the God of religion was pronounced dead, the god of art was proclaimed. That god—or one of his persons—was beauty, but in no time at all “beauty” became just as quaint as “God,” just as otiose and shy-making. Where the central principle of the new religion was, a void now is.

In the old religion, God created. In the new, man—especially the artist—creates. The characteristically modern, Nietzschean insistence is on art as the creative act and element above all others. May this not be in part, as some have suggested, masculine protest, womb-envy? (If so, it is probably truer of the appreciators, the Berensons, than of the artists themselves, who tend to be earthy, not given to mooning about Creativity.) Is “creative” to be taken seriously, has it to do with “create,” is it more than just another OK word, interchangeable with our “relevant” and “meaningful” and with yesterday's “dynamic”? Then, since life is what it is, willy-nilly we have to recognize the womanly—the maternal—as most nearly creative, simply. When Judah Ha-levi said of Greek culture that it bore flowers but no fruit, he knew Greek culture (in Arabic). He meant that it was intellectual and aesthetic rather than moral; but he also knew about traditional Mediterranean forms of masculine protest.

Before we leave the theme of woman and the womanly, a final irony at Arnold's expense is unavoidable. A man so severe about bathos—he thought it characteristically Philistine—should himself stay clear of bathos. In the matter of marriage with a deceased wife's sister, he did not stay clear. That was not, as we may think, only comic stuff for W. S. Gilbert and Bernard Shaw. By Church of England law, marriage with a deceased wife's sister was forbidden. Non-Anglican reformers adduced the licitness of such marriage in Leviticus, among other arguments. Knowing what Arnold knew about Sparta and Athens (“the race which invented the Muses”) and Rome, scourge that he was of the bathetic, he yet allowed himself this:

. . . who, that is not manacled and hoodwinked by his Hebraism, can believe that, as to love and marriage, our reason and the necessities of our humanity have their true, sufficient, and divine law expressed for them by the voice of any Oriental and polygamous nation like the Hebrews? Who, I say, will believe, when he really considers the matter, that where the feminine nature, the feminine ideal, and our relations to them, are brought into question, the delicate and apprehensive genius of the Indo-European race, the race which invented the Muses, and chivalry, and the Madonna, is to find its last word on this question in the institutions of a Semitic people, whose wisest king had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines?

(“Indo-European race” was the science of his day.) Naturally, Arnold's Hebraic-Hellenic dualism is not original with him. In the early Christian centuries Tertullian asked, Quid Athenis cum Hierosolymis, what has Athens to do with Jerusalem? In Arnold's time Ernest Renan, whom he thought well of, addressed a “Prayer at the Acropolis” to Apollo, god of clarity, reason, and harmony, begging forgiveness for having bothered so much with unclear, unreasonable, and discordant Semitic things But, as Trilling suggests, it is Jews who are most conscious of the dualism Not only Trilling's Heine and Borne, and not only Talmud, Judah Ha-levi, and Luzzatto, but also, in this century, Hermann Cohen and (in COMMENTARY) Leo Strauss1

Arnold cites Heine as a Jew who, because he is modern, prefers Hellenism to Hebraism (In Heine's later years he was to say that being Greek is a young man's game, immature, one ages into being a Jew) There have also been the Jewish Nietzscheans Chernikhovsky's “Before the Statue [= idol, pesel] of Apollo” is even more anti-Hebraic than the title suggests, because that Apollo looks remarkably Dionysian Like the philosophical since antiquity, the poet takes for granted that man creates gods in his image The passionate, warrior Israelites had the passionate, warrior god YHWH, Chernikhovsky says, but then alas! they became Jews, “and bound him in phylactery thongs” And so Babel, with his Cossacks For a Jewish Nietzschean, the Jews were not so virtuously chaste (peace-loving, etc) as they liked to believe They were only eunuchs, self-made womanish

Arnold speaks of the miracles of the rise and spread of Christianity, but if only as an admirer of Spinoza he does not really believe in miracles Neither do we, of course It is less that we have disproved miracles than that we have defined them away By definition, for us, there can be no such thing, especially since our very science is statistical and probabilistic If a miracle is not fraud or delusion, or suggested by superstition and ignorance, it is merely statistically unusual. as, if this table were to fly upward at my command; or a voice were to speak to Moses out of a bush that burned but was not consumed For Arnold as for us, “miracle” is what it was at the beginning—“marvel” is from the same root One gapes, one stares at miracle and marvel.

A rereading of Arnold must make a Jew realize how the old Jewish sentiment of being (or of ancestors having been) caught up in miracle has come to life again In spite of miracle's low standing, in spite of its nonexistence by definition, our renewed consciousness of miracle—of miraculous things done to and through Jews—has brought about a curious reversal Arnold, who knows of the “cultivated and philosophical Jews,” commends their Socinian-like estimate of Jesus to Christians Jews of that sort have also been cultivated and philosophical about God, and miracle. Today they may find it less difficult than Christians, similarly cultivated and philosophical, to imagine the God of history (and of tradition) present and active

Not that Arnold paid much attention to the Jews and Judaism of his time Why should a Victorian Englishman in his position have noticed the Jews and their Judaism otherwise than incidentally? That is almost the best Jews can expect. Even incidentally, it would have been easy for him, natural, to say harsh things Both in what he says and in what he does not say, Arnold is kind to us By the standards of the 18th, 19th, and first half of the 20th centuries, he is a friend.

Certainly he was more a friend than his father. Liking plural establishments rather than disestablishment, Matthew Arnold approved the establishment of the synagogue, as in France Thomas Arnold, who insisted on the harm and dangerousness of a feudal and aristocratical constitution, clearly was not illiberal, but Trilling's Matthew Arnold has this to say of him.

. . . with Jews he was intransigent, believing that they should be barred from the universities and from citizenship He held that citizenship required an almost mystic homogeneity, which was supplied in the modern world by religion He denounced “that low Jacobinical notion of citizenship, that a man acquires a right to it by the accident of his being littered [human beings are born, animals are littered—MH] inter quattuor maria [on the nation's soil], or because he pays taxes” England, he said, was the land of Englishmen, not of Jews, and “lodgers” had no claims to more than an honorary citizenship

he dreaded the possibility of examining a Jew in history at the University of London . . . and of having to avoid calling Jesus the Christ

From Cecil Roth we learn that, though Jews fared much better in England than almost anywhere else, well into the 19th century

it was possible to maintain in the courts Lord Coke's doctrine that the Jews were in law perpetual enemies, “for between them, as with the devils, whose subjects they are, and the Christian there can be no peace”

_____________

What is the lexicographical evidence, in the Oxford English Dictionary? (We will no doubt find worse if we consult OED's German or even French counterpart) OED's first definition of “Jew” is. “A person of Hebrew race, an Israelite “So much for adherence to a faith, identification with a history, practice of a ritual, study of a culture, or Jonah. “I am a Hebrew, and I worship the LORD the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land” OED's second definition is more interesting still: “transf. As a name of opprobrium or reprobation, spec applied to a grasping or extortionate moneylender or usurer, or a trader who drives hard bargains or deals craftily” Thus Coleridge “Jacob is a regular Jew, and practices all sorts of tricks and wiles.” Coleridge! “Jew-bail” is insuffificient bail, and Captain Marryat's “Jew carts” carry stolen goods As a verb (“colloq”) it means “To cheat or overreach, in the way attributed to Jewish traders or usurers,” teste Dante Gabriel Rossetti “But as to his doing and jawings and jewings, William brought me the news”

This sort of thing could have only one effect on Jews who wanted European culture to be theirs and took its standards as theirs Rahel Varnhagen writes of “what was so long the greatest shame, the bitterest sorrow and suffering to me, my Jewish birth” In one of his moods Heine says that Judaism is not a religion, it is a misfortune; being a Jew is like being a hunchback

In good Franz Josef's time, two Jews in a Viennese cafe are arguing about Dr Herzl's idea Neither can convince the other A third Jew has been listening attentively, and they ask him to judge He says he is not a proper, impartial judge. he regards himself as a follower of Dr Herzl's—a Zionist, if you will—though, to be sure, with three reservations. Will he be kind enough to explain? Gladly

First, why Hebrew? Everybody who is anybody speaks German Besides, reviving Hebrew is a mad, utopian scheme Patiently the great Semitist Renan has reminded the half-baked enthusiasts that Hebrew has long been dead, and that in all of human history not one dead language has ever been brought to life again, to be spoken by children and shopgirls as well as the learned

Second, why Palestine? You would have to look hard to find another place so infertile, rocky, and eroded, with such desert and insalubrious marsh, such a lack of natural resources, harbors, and navigable waterways Besides, people are already living there, the Arabs Israel Zangwill is right. we should accept the British government's offer of Uganda It is fertile, and the natives will give no trouble for hundreds and hundreds of years

Third, Dr Herzl's idea is a great idea It needs a great people And whom do you waste it on? Jews!

As an example of usage for a new edition of OED—the present one stops at the 20th century—I submit an order of the day by Lieut General Sir Evelyn Barker, G O C Palestine, after the explosion in the King David Hotel.

you will put out of bounds to all ranks all Jewish establishments, cafes, restaurants, shops, and private dwellings. No British soldier is to have any social intercourse with any Jew. the troops will be punishing the Jews in a way the race dislikes as much as any, by striking at their pockets and showing our contempt for them

That was in 1946, and by one British military authority In 1967 the Institute for Strategic Studies, in London, had other things to say of “the race” Predicting that the 1967 war would be “studied in staff colleges for many years to come,” the Institute for Strategic Studies said that “the performance of the Israeli Defense Force” was “like the campaigns of the younger Napoleon.” (For Napoleon it was the English who were a nation of shopkeepers)

When the Saturday Review asked Harold Macmillan whether Great Britain should try to be like Athens or like Sweden, he ruled out Athens—living on slavery, imperialist, warlike, and overtaken by decay and death He continued

It may well be that Britain will someday follow in the footsteps of Sweden, but if so I'm glad I won't be here to see it

No, the future I hope for Britain is more like that of Israel In the time of Elizabeth we were only two million people, in the time of Marlborough only five or six million, in the time of Napoleon only ten million. The other day, while the world debated, Israel's three millions imposed their will on their enemies They had what any great people need—resolution, courage, determination, pride. These are what really count in men and nations

The new OED may have to enter a new definition

_____________

For a modern Jew this is miraculous A modern Jew is a man whose outlook has been apt to be the one we find in OED—and Heine's equation, and the Viennese joke Some of the most significant modern Jews, native neither to England nor to English culture, have looked upon England and English ways as models Freud, Chaim Weizmann, even Ahad Ha'am. Now comes Macmillan—of the line of Churchill, Gladstone, Wellington—and says what he says With our eyes we see and with our ears we hear the fulfillment of the promise thrice made to Abraham, that the nations of the earth would bless themselves by him and his descendants How long we have been accustomed to the fulfillment of other prophecies, that the nations would curse themselves by us!

Here is unexpectedness, improbability, uniqueness That so many are unimpressed does not mean it is unimpressive Aesthetically almost, as a spectacle if as nothing else, it should impress When Toynbee, who is supposed to have a historical imagination, applies to Israel a canting, shabby substitute for thought—“neo-colonialism”—he only shows us that Goethe's valets are numerous and diverse

On the Sabbath of Passover the Torah lesson is read in which the Lord, complementing His redemption of the children of Israel, vouchsafes a revelation of Himself to Moses—or, rabbinically, reveals His “thirteen attributes” “. . . compassionate and gracious, slow to anger,” etc The Prophetical lesson, from Ezekiel, is also about redemption, but future rather than past—redemption that is at the same time revelation

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He set me down in the midst of a valley, and it was full of bones . . . very many . . . and . . . very dry And He said to me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered O Lord God, Thou knowest Again He said to me Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord Thus says the Lord God to these bones Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and ye shall live and ye shall know that I am the Lord So I prophesied as I was commanded and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet Then He said to me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel Behold, they say, Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost, we are clean cut off Therefore prophesy and say to them, Thus says the Lord God Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people, and I will bring you home into the land of Israel And I will put my Spirit within you, and ye shall live then ye shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done it, says the Lord

Jewish triumphalism, some will say, chauvinism, or actually militarism (of megalomaniacal would-be Napoleons)—even some Jews will say that Not so Over all lies the shadow of 1939-1945 Unable to bear thinking of 1939-1945, I appeal to Wittgenstein “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one should not speak.” Dissatisfaction with God's justice is as old with the Jews as Abraham, but after the crematoria, theodicy—arguing for God's justice—is more difficult than arguing for His existence, difficult as that is

If there is any answer at all, if there is any answer for Jews, its elements must be in that chapter from Ezekiel that is read in the synagogue on the Sabbath of Passover The dry bones are the bones of the dead It is only figuratively that the dead live again, nothing can cancel out their deaths Yet there has also been redemption (Hatikvah—not a good poem but, as an anthem, informative—echoes Ezekiel The despair Ezekiel quotes, “Our hope is lost,” is ave-dah tiqwatenu The refrain of Hatikvah is ‘od lo’ avedah tiqwatenu, “our hope is not yet lost”) In Isaiah the Savior God of Israel, a God who conceals Himself, shapes light and creates darkness, makes weal and creates woe It should be possible to mourn darkness and woe, and to rejoice over light and weal

_____________

For the religion of culture and art, theodicy is an even more nearly impossible enterprise than for the older religion The religion of culture and art is a religion of salvation If salvation has any meaning not twisted by perverseness and heartlessness, then it is the god of that religion who has failed most completely and who is, or should be, dead Among an infinity of possible citations, this, mild, is from Ralf Dahrendorf's Society and Democracy in Germany

thousands of alumni of German Gymnasia did not let the cultivated humanism of their intellectual formation prevent them from stamping out people like ants whom one may not notice because one is so busy looking up to the stars that one does not watch the streets.

“Cultivated humanism” is Apollonian Hellenism What might a Dahrendorf not have had cause to say if those Gymnasia had been largely Dionysian? (Let this be said for Apollo, that of all the—it goes without saying, non-Hebraic—gods, he is the least given to drinking blood)

For modern Jews now, the status of Hellenism may be lower than at any time since we became modern, and if only for that reason—though I think not only—the status of Hebraism may be correspondingly higher Ezekiel was Hebraic simply He called Renan's and Chernikhovsky's statue-idols wood and stone, reproved our lust to worship wood and stone, as the nations do; and swore in the Lord's name that with mighty arm and outstretched hand (with which He had redeemed and led Israel forth from the Egyptian house of bondage) He would be King over us For us, now, that Hebraism is still insufficient Even Luzzatto would agree, and so testify even the miracles we have seen But if by itself Hebraism is insufficient, and too simple, yet now, more than in many years, we truly hold it to be essential, and its necessary proportion to be high.

About the Author




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.