The Study of Man: Jewish History Freshly Appraised
As the first encyclopedic contribution of a school of Jewish learning relatively new to these shores, the publication of volume one of The Jewish People: Past and Present is an event of some magnitude in one area of the social sciences. This is doubly true if those prophets are right who see the tradition that produced it as destined to occupy the leading role in Jewish scholarship in America in the decades ahead, now that it has begun to strike root here.
This volume is the first serious collective effort of its kind in English since the Jewish Encyclopedia was issued more than forty years ago.
The Jewish Encyclopedia was one of the most solid achievements of the type of Jewish scholarship that was developed in Germany in the 19th century under the name of Wissenschaft des Judentums. The methods of the Wissenschaft des Judentums are primarily philological, its emphasis theological, and its spirit Emancipationist and defensive. In the United States it is still dominant; its practitioners are mainly professors and scholarly graduates of the Conservative and Reform rabbinical seminaries, and its organs are such publications as the Jewish Quarterly Review, the Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, and the Hebrew Union College Annual.
The Central Yiddish Culture Organization’s (CYCO’s) The Jewish People is in a different tradition: its genesis is East European, not German; its methods incline more to sociology than to philology; its spirit is secular, not religious; and it tends to value Jewish nationalism above Emancipation. (It is not altogether free of defensiveness, the desire to “dispel misconceptions.” Only in the Yeshiva, the traditional rabbinical seminary of Poland and Lithuania, could the Jewish scholar remain relatively unaffected by the outside world’s hostility to Jews and Judaism, not feeling the need to convince non-Jews and fortify Jews by a demonstration of “Jewish contributions to civilization” and the civic virtue of Jews throughout their history.)
Those who believe that the future of institutional Jewish scholarship in this country lies with the tradition represented by The Jewish People argue that it is a tradition that seems to share the interests, tastes,’ and insights of the mid-20th century, and is therefore readily adaptable to American needs. They add that to win the field it need only learn to subordinate some of its present specifically East European preoccupations.
As always when one contemplates Jewish history—so ancient, yet so contemporary, relevant, and personal—this rich book (in which 4000 years of Jewish experience are variously considered) raises anew the old, old questions: permanence and change, tradition and innovation, the theme and the variation. Old questions, however, can be considered in new ways, and the modernity of The Jewish People is its most attractive feature.
Some centuries before the Second Temple fell, Ecclesiastes was regarding himself and his generation as decadent, with a historical knowledge encompassing every possible combination and permutation of human circumstance: “There is nothing new under the sun.” He was not entirely accurate. Let us, for example, look at the tension between universalism and particularism in Amos, who was as remote from Ecclesiastes as Chaucer from Eliot:
- “Are ye not as the children of the Ethiopians unto Me, O children of Israel? saith the Lord. / Have I not brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt, / And the Philistines from Caphtor, / And Aram from Kir?”
- “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; / Therefore I will visit upon you all your iniquities.”
In essence, we find in these two opposing passages perhaps the same tension we find in The Jewish People. Specifically it is quite different. The sameness and the difference would be pointless without each other.
“Alienation” and home—that most modem of all spiritual problems—form a motif of tension closely involved with particularism-universalism and exile-redemption. For the most part, the exiles of the early Babylonian Captivity did not find it easy to heed the advice of their contemporary, Jeremiah: “Build ye houses, and dwell in them, and plant gardens, and eat the fruits of them; and take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands; and multiply ye there, and be not diminished. And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray unto the Lord for it; for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.” They remained alienated. They asked: “How shall we sing the Lord’s song / In a foreign land?” A thousand years later the men of the Talmud taught that together with Israel the Divine Presence was in exile. Two thousand years later the Cabalists developed a variant theory. In The Jewish People Gershom Scholem’s remarkable chapter on mysticism and Cabala analyzes “Luria’s theory of Judaism,” which joins the modem sensibility with 16th-century mysticism in a common vision of the spirit of alienation brooding over man and nature:
“It is manifested as a great mystery of the Galut (Exile) and the Redemption. For the theory of the Shebirah [shebirat ha-kelim, the Breaking of the Vessels] means only that, in essence, everything is in exile. And the Kabbalists were able to explain that the historic exile of the Jewish people was at the same time the most important symbol of the condition of the universe, with the entire creation in bondage. Diaspora and Redemption thus acquire a cosmic-mythical background that explains the tremendous attraction which these ideas exercised, especially from the 16th to the 18th century. Again, in another leading principle of the new Kabbala, this motif comes to the fore: the evolution from the concept of the migration of the souls to that of the exile of the souls. . . . Not merely the world as a whole must be redeemed; because its orderliness has been disturbed, every soul must toil in many transmigrations and forms of existence to cleanse itself of the defilement introduced into it by the sin of Adam. The severest punishment which can befall a man is the lot of the ‘naked soul’ (neshamot artilaot) for which there is predestined neither punishment in Gehenna nor incarnation in a new metamorphosis. . . . The existence of the straying souls, which find no resting place anywhere, is the frightening symbol of all the evil of the Diaspora.”
In our own Ice Age William Barrett, a non-Jewish intellectual writing in COMMENTARY (September 1946) on “The Promise and the Pale,” claims the ironically and equivocally alienated world of Sholom Aleichem as his own spiritual fatherland, and presumably his comrades’ as well; the intellectuals of the Age of Reason used to locate their spiritual fatherland in France, a rather more comfortable place than the Pale. Daniel Bell, a Jewish intellectual writing in the Labor Zionist Jewish Frontier (November 1946) on “A Parable of Alienation,” preaches a mission somewhat different from the ethical monotheism conferred by classical Reform upon Israel, the Light of the Nations, in the Age of Enlightenment and Emancipation. Bell’s is a mission of alienation. He sees in Zionism a certain vulgarity, as it were, for Zionism offers little promise of a continuing purity of alienation; and while conceding the masses to Zionism, since alienation is too exacting a mission for them, he rallies the elite to their own more arduous duty.
We have here all manner of “influences”: the Second Isaiah, who prophesied the Suffering Servant of the Lord; the men of the Talmud, who sought out the Afflictions of God’s Love; Thorstein Veblen, who a generation ago feared that Jewish scholars in a Jewish Palestine might in the end deprive the world of their unillusioned clarity by becoming as parochially safe and sane as their respectable Christian colleagues in Christendom, and all the literature of High Prophecy, with its reliance on the Saving Remnant.
Jewish history abounds in this kind of theme and variation, of which the development is still unfinished and the beginnings go back to an almost mythical past. The Jewish People: Past and Present is sensitive to this interplay, giving it a focus that brings it closer to our modern eyes and understanding.
The preface to The Jewish People tells us: “The present work is based principally on the three volumes of Yidn [’Jews‘], issued in the years 1939-1942 as an integral part of the General Encyclopedia (in Yiddish),” and then goes on to give us something of the scope and spirit of the work. “The particular virtue of these volumes is that the contributors and editors who have compiled them were both intimately acquainted with the throbbing Jewish life and actively participated in the cultural and spiritual creative work of East European Jewry. A considerable number of outstanding scholars of Europe, America, and Palestine are represented in the present work.
“The first volume contains monographs on anthropology, archaeology, Jewish history, the origin and development of Jewish religion, Jewish mysticism and Cabala, the Messianic movements, as well as Jewish statistics, economic development, and migration movements.
“The subsequent volumes will comprise monographs and articles on Jewish demography, the development and evolution of social and national movements, anti-Semitism, the history of Jewish literature, art, theater, languages, etc.”
The project of publishing a general encyclopedia in the Yiddish language was undertaken in 1930 in honor of Simon Dubnow, then seventy years old. In 1934 the Dubnow Fund issued the first volume of the Algemeine Entsiklopedie in Paris and announced that nineteen others would follow shortly. Subsequently, it was decided to concentrate in a few volumes of the twenty a collection of Jewish monographic literature under the title Yidn. By 1944 eight volumes had appeared, of which five were in the traditional encyclopedia form and three in the Yidn series. Volume five of the Entsiklopedie proper, which completes the letter Aleph and begins Bet, is prefaced by a statement that the editors still intend to follow out the original plan. Most of them had been able to come to the United States after June 1940, when France fell before the German armies.
The Yiddish prefaces make sorrowful reading. The depression first, the rise of Nazism later, then the fall of France and the scattering of men and documents—all the upheavals of the 30′s are cited in apology for delays in publication. Even after they had found the physical and relative financial security of America, editors and contributors were working with the knowledge that East European Jewry, to which they had dedicated their encyclopedia, was doomed to the gas chambers.
Now they must know that Yiddish, the language of East European Jewry, may soon survive only as an ancient tongue like Aramaic. At the Zionist Congress in Basel last December, a resolution was introduced to establish a chair in Yiddish at the Hebrew University. Ten years ago this would have been an invitation for a truce (or a new struggle) in the war between Hebraists and Yiddishists; today the Hebraists, no longer fearful of a powerful rival to Hebrew, are concerned only with preserving an archaeological treasure. To the Yiddishist this must seem the end. For him Yiddish means Jewish; when he says “Yidishe literatur,” for example, he may have in mind either Yiddish or Jewish literature, but usually he is not aware of any distinction between the two.
The Algemeine Entsiklopedie, undertaken in honor of Dubnow, is Dubnowian in its ideological tone. Dubnow, with Graetz the greatest of modern Jewish historians, was not only a scholar, but also a political leader in Russian Jewry before the Revolution of 1917, the founder of the Jewish People’s party (Yiddishe Folks-partei) after the abortive Revolution of 1905. He was more than eighty years old when he died, during the Nazi occupation of Latvia. In Yidn, the late E. M. Tcherikover’s chapter on historiography summarizes Dubnow’s philosophy of Jewish History thus:
“To Dubnow, Jews are not a religious group maintaining itself by virtue of its metaphysical mission in the world, but a concretely living people [‘folk’], which has never ceased to struggle for its autonomous existence, both in the social and in the spiritual spheres, and which in the course of its history has by itself created unique forms for its survival (organs of autonomy), which substituted for the functions of statehood. This conception strongly influenced Jewish historiography, especially in Eastern Europe.”
The Dubnowian spirit thus includes, in the first place, Jewish nationalism, which in one or another of its varieties characterizes the writings of every Jewish contributor to the present volume. In the second place, it includes secularism, which is not seriously impugned by an occasional note of nostalgia for the warm old Judaism of childhood. The tone of the Jewish Socialist Bund is also dominant, though not with the unchallenged authority of the major Dubnowian doctrine. To the degree that Bundism is socialism of the Social-Democratic school, there is no disagreement. In the sense of sharing a populist or plebeian bias and a belief in the brotherhood of all men, all the Jewish contributors can be considered socialist. The differences arise over the Bundist attitude toward Zionism, which is reserved, not to say hostile. For the editors of Yidn, Palestine is Palestina. This usage is an effective shibboleth for distinguishing coolness from sympathy to Zionism, Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel) being the term used by sympathizers. A significant group of contributors to the Entsiklopedie are Zionist, however, including perhaps a majority of those appearing in The Jewish People. In short, the ideology is that of a work closely associated with the Yivo (Yiddish Scientific Institute), described by Milton R. Konvitz in the January COMMENTARY.
The contents of the first volume of The Jewish People fall under three main heads: anthropology, history and religion, and sociology and economics.
The first part, anthropology, includes “Race Theory in the Light of Modern Science,” by M. F. Ashley Montagu, and “The Anthropology of the Jewish People,” by J. D. Brutzkus. Professor Montagu is one of the two contributors to the present volume who do not appear in Yidn, and the inclusion of his chapter here is logical, if one expects the defensive note to be more urgent in an English than in a Yiddish work.
For Professor Montagu, the term “race” is meaningless, pre-Mendelian; it should be abandoned, since it distracts attention from the proper emphasis on genes and mutation. Jews are “racially” very mixed, and the “Jewish appearance” is primarily a culturally-determined complex, like the appearance of Frenchmen, Italians, or any other historical and cultural group in modern society. Dr. Brutzkus, on the other hand, speaks of distinct blood types and physical appearances among Jews, both varying according to geography. Montagu will probably seem more convincing, more “modern,” to most of us.
Professor Montagu believes that the villainies of political racism could be exorcised if enough people were taught what nonsense the concept of race is. This may be so, but, as Louis Breier has pointed out, men willing to war under the banner of blondness or longheadedness may be no less willing to war for their particular configuration of genes and the chain of their mutations.
The second part, dealing with history and religion, is the longest and most interesting. “Israel in the Framework of the Ancient Near East,” by Professor W. F. Albright of Johns Hopkins, is the best short presentation of that subject to be found anywhere. Professor Albright, like Professor Montagu, is a new contributor, not having written for Yidn, and again like Professor Montagu, is not Jewish; he is an outstanding authority on biblical criticism and archaeology. In the past fifteen years or so a revolution has been taking place in these fields, and he manages to communicate the excitement felt over the new discoveries.
“Among the Amorite proper names [recently found in Mesopotamian records of the 18th century B.C.E.] are such good biblical names as Abram, Jacob, Benjamin, Zebulun. Among the most flourishing towns of the age are the cities of Harran and Nahor, both mentioned in Genesis. The patriarchal flavor of the tablets from Mari is, in fact, so great that the excavator, M. Parrot, wrote me once in great excitement: ‘ . . . We have not yet found any mention of Abraham, but almost. . . .’“
There is a certain similarity between the triumphs of the human mind in understanding the physical universe and its triumphs in reconstructing man’s remote past. If the physicist frequently invents whole new systems of mathematics for his purposes, the archaeologist and historian, for their purposes, have mastered languages and deciphered scripts forgotten thousands of years ago. In the early 19th century Champollion won immortal fame for reading the Rosetta Stone and revealing the mystery of old Egyptian. It would be an exaggeration to say that comparable feats have become entirely commonplace in our time, “but almost.” In this resurrection of the millenial dead, literatures, arts, and pantheons have also arisen from their ancient tombs.
Professor Albright’s assertion of the antiquity of the Jewish religious tradition and his characterization of the Age of Moses (1500-1200 B.C.E.) are perhaps his most striking passages. The “Higher Criticism” that flourished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, dominated by German scholarship, treated the biblical sources “as though they represented only a final exilic or post-exilic revision of crude polytheistic originals.” Solomon Schechter used to call this the Higher anti-Semitism, and modern archaeological criticism, on the whole, seems to support him. Professor Albright shows the Age of Moses to be “the final phase of the First Internationalism,” an “age of extraordinary learned activity,” of “strong syncretistic activity” (especially in theology), of a “movement toward a common jurisprudence.”
Professor Sukenik, who contributes the chapter on “History of Jewish Archaeology,” teaches at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and is at present visiting professor in the Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning in Philadelphia. He deserved better at the hands of the editors. In Yidn his monograph covered thirty-four pages of small type; in the present volume it is limited to thirty pages of large type. In cutting, the editors have discarded Sukenik’s discussion of the famous Mesha Stele (Moabitic; 9th century B.C.E.), while retaining his account of some inscribed potsherds that are rather less important. What is left is excellent, particularly the discussion of the synagogue at Dura-Europos (Syrian; 3rd century C.E.) and its art.
The remaining writers in the section on history and religion are E. M. Tcherikover, Gershom G. Scholem, Abraham Menes, and Aaron Steinberg. Tcherikover, on Jewish historiography, is interesting mainly because of the implications of his presentation of Dubnow. What he said in Yidn was meant for one audience, Yiddish—speaking East European Jewry; what his editors have him say in The Jewish People is meant for another audience, English-speaking American Jews. The nuance only shows that Dubnowianism can scarcely be expected to preserve in the America of the 40′s the intensity it had in the Europe of the 30′s. Tcherikover also notes that “modern Jewish historiography . . . was at first markedly apologetic in character,” probably imagining, “We have changed all that.”
The division of assignments between Dr. Menes and Dr. Steinberg, on the one hand, and Professor Scholem and Dr. Steinberg, on the other, is not easily understood. Why should Dr. Menes deal with the “Origin and History of the Jewish Religion” (which in itself is barely to be distinguished from the ancient history he treats) while Dr. Steinberg does “The History of Jewish Religious Thought”? And since Professor Scholem writes on Messianism after the expulsion from Spain, why is earlier Messianism assigned to Dr. Steinberg? If, further, some chapters strike the reader as thin in comparison with others, he will find the reason in the preface to Yidn, Vol. A:
“The reader will doubtless detect a certain difference in the construction of the articles by Menes and Steinberg on Jewish history: Menes is much more detailed and comprehensive than Steinberg’s general survey. The volumes of Yidn are after all not an independent work, but an organic part of our Entsiklopedie. There will be no further articles in our future volumes on ancient Jewish history while there have been tens of articles on the history of the Jews in various countries (in the Middle Ages and modern times), and there will be still more. Steinberg’s article in the present volume is in essence only a kind of general introduction to Jewish history in the relevant periods. The same consideration must be borne in mind when reading the other large monographs in Yidn: there are other volumes of the Entsiklopedie, and much of the appropriate material will be found in them.”
The Jewish People, however, is “after all. . . an independent work,” and its editors might have acted accordingly. Finally, readers will be surprised to find no discussion of Karaism or, what is incomprehensible in a work originally meant for European Jewry, Hasidism.
But these are editorial sins. The actual contributions, two chapters each by Professor Scholem and Dr. Menes and three by DT. Steinberg, are models of sensitive and imaginative scholarship. Gershom G. Scholem, a professor at the Hebrew University, is best known for his Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941), which confirmed his reputation as the foremost authority on Jewish mysticism and an eminent student of mysticism in general. Abraham Menes and Aaron Steinberg are not so well known in the United States; each of them attracted notice for work in Jewish studies in the Germany of the 20′s, and each has continued to write on the whole range of Jewish learning, ancient and modern, philological and social. Both have been intimately associated with the Algemeine Entsiklopedie from the beginning.
In Dr. Menes and Dr. Steinberg, Jewish nationalism is particularly strong. Thus Dr. Steinberg, who as a socialist might be expected to favor unequivocally the emancipation from the ghetto that followed the French Revolution, is melancholy over its disruption of the tightly knit Jewish community. Sometimes their Jewish patriotism scarcely avoids lapsing into a wishful kind of ancestor-worship, as when Dr. Menes considers the case of Uriah the Hittite:
“How deeply rooted the sense of national responsibility already was in Israel in the ancient period is shown by the conduct of Uriah the Hittite when Joab dispatched him from the field of battle on a mission to Jerusalem. Uriah did not go down to his house, but slept with the rest of the soldiers at the door of the king’s house. When David asks him why . . . Uriah answers: The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in booths; and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open field; shall I then go into my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife?’” (Another interpretation might be that Uriah knew better than to assert his rights as Bathsheba’s husband after David had taken her for his mistress; or else that the scribe wished to sharpen the contrast between the victim and his murderer.)
A further instance is Steinberg’s description of the challenge of Hellenism:
“Jewish thinkers were now confronted with the task of so interpreting the inherited Jewish tradition, that the contemporary cultural world could immediately grasp the essential differences between pure [i.e., Jewish] universalism and the superficial pseudo-universalism or cosmopolitanism of the Hellenized world.”
The statement could certainly be more objective.
Sometimes partisanship for the masses is almost approval of popular obscurantism. Thus Dr. Steinberg gives his support to the anti-intellectual and reactionary attack on systematic theology that won a 500-year victory among Jews after the persecutions of the late Middle Ages, and he seems to exult in the slogan of the triumphant fundamentalists: “Torah, not philosophy!” If this be deemed curious in a man who is probably not fanatical about the fulfillment of all 613 commandments, one must remember that a plebeian zeal is here reinforced by a nationalist and collectivist passion. The mixture is shown at its most potent in Dr. Steinberg’s treatment of medieval Jewish theology:
“But the development of metaphysical thought, even in religious tradition, brings with it a threat of spiritual division and is usually a symptom of a sort of internal crisis. . . . There is a resurgence of a strong individualistic tendency, the inevitable result of the fact that the ultimate problems of Jewish life and thought were as a matter of fact posited by outstanding individuals, each treating them in his own peculiar way. . . . And even in his ethics of the knowledge of God [i.e., based on the knowledge of God], Bahya [ibn Pakuda] projects the figure of an isolated individual face to face with his Creator, as though the Jew could dispense with his real social environment—the Jewish nation. The perils of this a social and hence anti-social tendency in Jewish religious speculation were felt . . . strongly by . . . Judah ha-Levi. . . .”
The leaders of the Central Yiddish Culture Organization are as critical of Communism as only socialists of their tradition can be, but this passage, transposed into today’s terms, would sound for all the world like a Soviet denunciation of an erring author for bourgeois intellectualist deviationism in failing to provide wholesome, constructive, and affirmative guidance to the masses. Whatever nostalgia for religion nationalists like Dr. Steinberg have is essentially folkish; it must be distinguished from a real concern with religious issues.
Professor Scholem is rather more restrained, though of all the contributors he is probably the most thoroughgoing opponent of rationalism and Emancipation. Discussing the general phenomenon that provoked Dr. Steinberg’s anger, he says:
“F[ritz] Baer in his History of the Jews in Christian Spain was the first to define clearly the function of the Kabbala with reference to Spanish Jewry since 1250. The Kabbalists had become a spiritual force in Jewry, because they appeared not merely as mystics, but also as ideologists of the folk religion. The Kabbala directed its efforts against the secularization of Judaism and the tendency to make of it an abstraction, as the rationalist philosophers of the time tried to do; in this the Kabbala saw a peril to the preservation of Judaism. In the changes that were taking place in the conditions of the Jews of Spain since the Christian kingdoms had completed the conquest or the peninsula, there existed the social background for the rise of the Kabbala as an historical factor . . . a ‘work of national romanticism and mystic-ascetic reform’ (Baer).”
After this it may be necessary to repeat that the section on history and religion is full of excellent things, and that it is not only informative but also stimulative of thought in the highest degree.
Two theories advanced by Dr. Menes are particularly fascinating, the first bearing on the relation between the early Yahweh (“Jehovah”) and his worshipers, as well as the composition of the early Hebrews, and the second on the political and social role of the pre-literary prophets. The following quotations (somewhat pruned) are from his chapters on the ancient history and the religious history of the Jews; they illustrate the sociological sophistication of the work as a whole. (All italics in this passage have been added.)
“Of particular importance is the connection between the Habiru who are mentioned especially in the Amarna texts of the 15th and 14th centuries B.C.E., and the Hebrews of the Bible. In the Amarna texts the Habiru frequently appear as raiders and rebels against the rulers of the Canaanite city-states and the Egyptian authorities. It is recognized by many scholars that the name Habiru refers to a social status rather than to an ethnic group: landless mercenaries, day-laborers, servants and other socially and economically disoriented or dependent elements—tolerated aliens in foreign lands. Most competent scholars now consider that the Hebrews were in one way or another related to the Habiru. We are thus justified in revising somewhat the previously held point of view which considered the early Hebrews as an exclusively ethnic group.
“The anomalous socio-economic status of the early Hebrews can be clearly traced in the traditions in the Pentateuch. The patriarchs, for example, were everywhere accepted only as tolerated strangers and were frequently compelled even to leave their new homes as a result of the enmity of the old-established population. Jacob, the ‘lost Aramean,’ was compelled to toil for Laban for years as a bonded servant. This motif is by no means typical of genuine nomadic or semi-nomadic tribes. The expression ‘Hebrews’ is frequently used in the Pentateuch to indicate individuals or groups in a socially dependent position.
“Yahweh, who later became the God of Israel, was originally, it would appear, merely the God of the Hebrew shepherd tribes in the neighborhood of Sinai and Kadesh, not exclusively nomads.
“The Yahweh devotees are recruited not according to their family or folk-affiliation, but according to their social lot.
“Ishmael and Cain are names of nomad tribes, and the stories of Genesis seek to tell us why the children of Ishmael and Cain led the life of wanderers in the desert. Ishmael was the son of a rebellious bondwoman cast out by her mistress. Gain was a fratricide compelled to leave his home. The nomadic life is thus here considered not as a natural, normal phenomenon, but as a result of social conflicts. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that it was precisely the children of Cain and probably also the children of Ishmael who were the first Yahweh worshipers.
“In our present text [of the Bible] Cain appears as a murderer whom God has placed under a curse and banished from the fertile soil. The Cain sign must brand him, according to the accepted notion, as a murderer. In the present biblical text there are preserved traces of an older version, in which Cain appeared in an altogether different light. The sign of Cain was pot one of shame, but of protection, given him by Yahweh ‘lest any finding him should smite him.’ The Kenites [descendants of the eponymous Cain] thus bore a Yahweh sign, considered themselves devotees of Yahweh, lived in the wilderness, in the vicinity of Sinai, and maintained the friendliest relations with Israel. The Kenite Hobab or Jethro was even, according to tradition, the father-in-law of Moses and brought sacrifices to Yahweh.
“The Moses narrative is parallel to the Cain story. Moses, escaped to the desert because he had slain an Egyptian. At Sinai, in the region of the Kenites, God appeared to him, and revealed His name to him. The sanctuary of Yahweh at Sinai—and possibly other sanctuaries of Yahweh—was a place which afforded protection to runaway slaves, social outcasts, and even criminals (Cain and Moses were murderers). For this reason, too, the children of Israel had come to Sinai after escaping from Egypt, and accepted there the faith of Yahweh.
“The servants of Yahweh looked upon themselves as the appointed guardians of all the oppressed, and in particular of strangers. Yahweh is the God of all those who are without the bond of family and tribe. Yahweh sent his messenger to free the Israelites from Egypt, and it is in the name of Yahweh that the Israelite tribes in Canaan wage their wars of liberation against the oppressors.
“The redemption theme plays a central role. Yahweh delivers the Israelites from bondage in Egypt and thus the Israelites become God’s people. The idea of salvation and redemption occupies an extremely important place in the later biblical and post-biblical literature.”
This was an extraordinarily engaging theory for a socialist like Dr. Menes to advance in the 30′s: Yahweh the God of the oppressed and the declassed; the Hebrews not an ethnic, but a disadvantaged social group.
Unfortunately, however, it rests largely on the thesis that the Kenites taught Yahwism to Israel, which has been judged inaccurate. According to Theodor H. Gaster, the idea “that Jehovah [Yahweh] was originally a God of the Kenites” is an “outmoded scholarly theory” (Jewish Social Studies, April 1945). Dr. Menes also assumes a close Habiru-Hebrew kinship, a hypothesis that has been losing favor with scholars in recent years. Incidentally, after consulting the twenty pentateuchal references to “Hebrew” in its various forms, one may not agree that “the expression ‘Hebrews’ is frequently used to indicate a socially dependent position.”
Nor will there be universal agreement with Menes about the pre-literary prophets of the age of Ahab (ninth century B.C.E.): “The struggle against the foreign gods, especially against the Phoenician Baal, had a social background. The Baal cult symbolized the newly introduced Phoenician mores of sophisticated luxury so close to the hearts of the upper classes of Israel. Belief in Yahweh as the one and only God was thus an expression of protest against all the abuses and social evils which were bound up with the money economy. In some Yahwists the opposition to the Canaanite-Phoenician civilization took an extreme form. There arose the so-called nomadic ideal, which called on all faithful Yahweh worshipers to renounce the established social order, and to return to the ideal way of life of the desert period. The Rechabites drank no wine, built no houses, and did not even work the fields, but lived in tents, like the shepherds. Not everyone in the Yahwist circles went so far. The prophets did not abandon a settled life. But even those who did not go so far as the Rechabites were deeply influenced by the nomadic romanticism of the Yahwistic desert traditions.
“It would be an error, however,” Menes concludes, “to regard the prophets as reactionaries whose only goal was the restoration of the old social and economic order. On the contrary, the prophets were radical reformers and Utopians whose arguments were based not on the actual but on an ideal past.”
Here Dr. Menes seems to be arguing with Dr. Julian Morgenstem of the Hebrew Union College, who in his Amos Studies (1941) has no use for the “reactionary back-to-the-desert program of [pre-literary] prophetism.” Dr. Menes’ own implied analogy tells against him. Men like Balzac and Dostoevski, for example, could be “radical reformers and Utopians” (or keen critics of the societies in which they lived, which comes to the same thing in this context), “whose arguments were based not on the actual but on an ideal past,” and at the same time be reactionary to the core. Since the socialist philosophy of history regards the introduction of a money economy as a progressive step in its time, we can only assume that here too Menes defends the spokesmen for the Jewish masses even when they are “objectively” wrong.
The third part of The Jewish People, dealing with sociology and economics, includes “The Jewish Population of the World” (to 1939), by Arthur Ruppin; “The Economic and Social Development of the Jewish People (From the Beginning of the 19th Century up to the Second World War),” by Jacob Lestchinsky; “The Economic Development of the Jews in the United States,” also by Mr. Lestchinsky, and “Jewish Migrations during the Last Hundred Years,” by P. L. Hersch. Ruppin was the founder of Jewish sociological statistics, professor of Jewish sociology in the Hebrew University at his death a few years ago; Mr. Lestchinsky, a Labor Zionist and a pioneer in Jewish economic statistics now in New York, is known for the vigor of his adherence to the doctrine of “the negation of the Diaspora,” asserting the impossibility of a healthy Jewish life outside of Palestine, a doctrine by no means common to all Zionists; Professor Hersch, a Bundist, is a sociologist, professor of statistics at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. Probably the chief reason why this section does not reach the high level of the others is the extreme paucity of trustworthy statistical data about Jews; a corollary reason is the great temptation to erect an elaborate superstructure of theory, judgment, and ideology on exiguous and shaky statistical foundations.
Let one example serve. To prove that the Jews were really not very prosperous in the Kaiser’s Germany, Mr. Lestchinsky gives a series of figures for taxes paid by Berlin Jews to the Jewish Community in 1912. One of the figures shows that “only . . . 4 per cent . . . had an annual income of more than 50,000 marks (at that time about $12,000).” For the United States we can estimate that in 1942, about 2.6 per cent of urban families and single consumers had annual incomes of $10,000 or more. Thus, in a year situated in a phase of the business cycle similar to that of 1912, and with a nascent wartime boom, after thirty years of a steep secular rise in incomes, in a much richer country than Germany, the proportion of urban recipients of incomes of $10,000 or more was less than two-thirds of Berlin Jewry’s “only” 4 per cent with incomes of $12,000 or more in 1912.
The immigration policy of the United States is very much in the news these days. Most thoughtful Americans, eager both to advance American interests and to relieve the sufferings of European victims of the Nazis, advocate liberalizing our immigration laws. The advocates of liberalization have many cogent arguments on their side, enough to avoid using such as will not bear close inspection. To the latter category belongs the accusation that barriers to migration are the cause of overpopulation in the old countries, which seems to be implicit in what Mr. Lestchinsky writes: “The emigration of millions of villagers from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania and Hungary in the decades before 1914 served to counterbalance the natural increase of the rural population and to slow down the shift of the population from the overcrowded villages to the growing cities. . . . The increasing difficulty of emigration to countries overseas [after the First World War] . . . tremendously swelled the population surplus in the above-mentioned countries, particularly in the villages.”
The consensus of modern theorists of welfare economics respecting this general problem, however, is probably best expressed by the socialist Abba P. Lerner in his Economics of Control (1944): “. . . most important of all from the point of view of international justice and stability, there must be complete freedom of migration with exceptions only where there is a genuine danger of overpopulation of the whole world from areas where emigration, by removing the pressure of population, only permits more of the native population to survive, so that they remain almost as crowded as if emigration were not permitted.”
And referring specifically to the area Mr. Lestchinsky mentions, L. R. Chenault (American Economic Review, September 1946) “does not believe that emigration is any solution to the problem of these agrarian countries.” He also cites the “widely accepted opinion among population students that emigration, while relieving pressure to some extent, affords no real or permanent solution for a country with an unfavorable relation of men to land.”
The appearance of the volume is excellent: it is attractively bound, the print is clear and of good size, and the illustrations are fine; one in particular, the frontispiece’s colored reproduction of a detail from the mosaic floor of the synagogue at Bet Alpha (6th century C.E.), is exceptionally handsome. It must be noted, however, that the editing is often careless, as well as routine and unimaginative, unworthy of the high qualities of the contents.
If the succeeding volumes preserve the merits—and avoid the minor editorial defects—of this first, we shall be well served. And if a spirit of friendly emulation prevails between the sponsors of The Jewish People and those of the forthcoming Judaism and the Jews, under the direction of Dr. Louis Finkelstein of the Jewish Theological Seminary, the English-reading public may look forward to an unprecedented wealth of modern, accessible, and superior Jewish scholarship.