Commentary Magazine

The Greeks, the Romans & Captain Dreyfus

Lady Beaconsfield said she never could remember which came first, the Greeks or the Romans. Because I studied Latin before trying to learn a little Greek, for me the Romans came first. And peculiarly, it was through the Romans and their literature rather than the Bible that I first began to feel how old the Jews are.

One of the Ciceronian orations I read as a student was the Pro Flacco. Flaccus was a Roman governor in Asia, on trial for having exceeded the norm of gubernatorial rapacity. Defending him, Cicero asks for a change of venue. The Jews, he says, have a grudge against Flaccus, over a matter of gold they had meant for the Temple (which was not to fall until more than a century had passed); and the mob, especially the Jewish mob, hangs out where the trial is taking place. “You know,” Cicero argues, “how numerous the Jews are, how they stick together, how important the Jewish vote is”—quantum valeat in contionibus.

It was almost contemporary. If that sort of thing was not being said aloud very much any more, it was still being thought. A generation earlier it had been said aloud, by intellectuals and police. For Cicero the Jews of Rome were hardly more alien and disquieting than the Jews of New York for Henry Adams, Henry James, and Police Commissioner Theodore Bingham. Those New Yorkish Jews of Cicero's Rome, though closer in time to Abraham than we to them, were already about as far from Moses as we are from Hengist and Horsa, as far from David as we from William the Conqueror. If I had known that the passage in Pro Flacco is the earliest reference to Jews in Latin literature, it would have made an even stronger impression on me: the first time a Roman writer mentions us, he worries about the Jewish vote! Cicero was not taught to dislike us in church or in parochial school. He is pre-Christian.

In a Horace course we read two (of the three) poems in which he uses the word Jew. In one poem Horace says, “Let Apella the Jew believe it, I won't”—it meaning superstition. In the other he asks, “Do you want to offend the circumcised Jews?”—a genteel rendering of vin tu curtis Iudaeis oppedere? Horace, too, is pre-Christian.

Since I was also studying Jewish history, I knew about an annotated collection, in Greek and Latin with French translations, of everything the pagan Greek and Roman authors had written on the Jews and Judaism—Théodore Reinach's Textes d'auteurs grecs el romains relatifs au judaïsme. It has been reprinted, and is a useful book to own.

It is useful not only for ancient but also for modern Jewish history, having a preface by Reinach which suggests almost as much about him and other modern Jews as his collection tells about antiquity. The book was published in 1895, with the preface dated November 1894. The Dreyfus case had broken in October 1894.

The Dreyfus case—anti-Semitism; and anti-Semitism not in “medieval” Russia, nor even in politically backward and culturally reactionary Germany, but in France, which had just celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the great Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. It was in large part because of the Dreyfus case that Herzl underwent his fateful change. Herzl published his Jewish State in 1896 and presided over the First Zionist Congress in 1897.

Noting that Jews first appear in Greek literature shortly after Alexander the Great and in Latin literature with Cicero, Reinach says that the pagan writers are indispensable to our knowledge of Jewish history in those times, for want of Jewish sources. The rest of the preface follows, in condensed translation or in paraphrase:

This compilation (Reinach writes) also allows us to follow the course of Greco-Roman opinion about Jews for six centuries. The destiny of peoples, like that of individuals, depends in large measure on the sympathy or antipathy they evoke; especially the destiny of the Jews, whose political subordination made their very existence dependent on the good or bad will of their masters or neighbors. The ancients' opinions of the Jews and Judaism have been transmitted, as part of the heritage of classical civilization, to the Christian church and modern states. This scornful sentence in Tacitus, that accusation by Posidonius or Apollonius Molon, finds an echo in our day; and a scribbler in the employ of an anti-Semitic rag could be Apion come to life again. Prejudices put into circulation two thousand years ago inspire anti-Jewish laws and persecutions now.


Usually, classical literature is unfavorable, indeed contemptuous, toward the Jews and Judaism, Reinach observes. But that was not always so. Nearly all the ancient authors were freethinkers, partial to a kind of vague monotheism or pantheism that they were able to reconcile in practice if not in theory with the polytheism of the masses. How could they not have respected the Jews, who had arrived at an idea of God as elevated as that of Greek philosophy? The simplicity and moral purity of the Jews' belief, the austere grandeur of their worship, their unremitting and zealous study of the Torah, which superficially seemed so akin to metaphysical speculation—in the beginning these aroused the interest and admiration of the Greek philosophers. Similarly favorable attitudes are also to be found in Roman literature.

But very quickly other features of Judaism evoked hostility: religious particularism and social particularism.

No one objected (the preface continues) to the Jews having their own God, but why should they deny the existence of other gods? Since Anaxagoras and Socrates, the philosophers had known how to pay lip service to the gods. What right had the Jews to show themselves more philosophical than the philosophers? The Jews had the arrogant bad taste to make of the universal God their own particular God, and to seek to impose Him on the other nations together with all the local, national forms that marked His worship in Jerusalem. When, as a natural consequence of their intransigent monotheism, the Jews refused to take part in the worship of the deified emperors, Jewish religious particularism began to look like rebellion and treason. For Apion the Jews were simply atheists, and at a certain period in the history of Roman legislation the crime of “Judaism” was so characterized.

What is more, the religious law of the Jews embraced their entire life in a web of distinctive observances which not only made them different from others but also separated them in daily life. Haman could have been the spokesman of most educated pagans (Esther 3:8):

Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus: “There is a certain unassimilated [meforad: separated, apart] people scattered amongst the peoples in all the dominions of your empire, whose laws are different from those of every other people and who do not keep Your Majesty's laws. Consequently it is not fitting for Your Majesty to tolerate them.”

Educated Greeks preached the abolition of all differences, the fusion of all peoples, the unification of the world—provided, of course, that these things were done under the auspices of Hellenism. Though with the same ambition, Reinach says, the Jews were a small minority. While waiting for the world to be converted to their Law and their way of life, the Jews wanted at least to protect their own individuality and the purity of their religion. They erected barriers around themselves because experience had taught them how seductive Greek civilization was, and how dangerous to Jewish faith, once the “hedge of observances” was overthrown. Jewish social particularism was an outgrowth of religious particularism. In order not to violate their religious laws, the Jews had to refuse to eat with pagans, take part in their games, serve under their banners, intermarry with them. Thus, though Jews might be Greek in culture and manners, they were perceived as alien.

Irritation with these unassimilated competitors expressed itself in pagan literature mostly by variations on the charge of amixia—keeping apart, clannishness. The pagan writers continued to level this charge against the Jews down to the end of paganism, centuries after the rise of Christianity. Amixia was easily transformed into misanthropia, hatred of the human race—an accusation which Christianity was to take over.

Everything else was secondary, Reinach believes. Racial anti-Semitism is the invention of modern pedants, economic anti-Semitism the product of medieval laws and modern industry and finance.

The first sharp attack on the Jews in Greek literature was by the Hellenized Egyptian priest Manetho (about 280 B.C.E.). According to Manetho, the Egyptian kings expelled the ancestors of the Jews because these were unclean lepers. For many centuries this tale was enormously influential. The Roman writers, who even in anti-Semitism were the faithful pupils of the Greeks, preferred it to all other accounts of the origins of the Jewish people.

For the pagans of the Hellenistic age the Jews were still unclean: dirty, smelling bad. The stupid, primitive Jews were simultaneously slavish and rebellious, obstinate and excitable, rash and cowardly. They were lustful, miserly, the scum of the earth. Their religion was a barbarous superstition, senseless and filthy. In their Holy of Holies they worshiped the golden head of an ass. According to Apion, every year they captured a Greek, fattened him, and sacrificed him to their God, and then feasted on his entrails. This is the origin of that slander of ritual murder which was to result in the shedding of so much innocent blood in the Middle Ages. Christianity should not have forgotten that it too was not spared this slander, as well as the slander of ass worship, when it first came into being.

To read these things, Reinach concludes, is painful but useful, for the history of prejudice is not the least important part of the history of the human mind. And he adds:

Yet not everything the ancients said about the Jews is prejudice, error, or calumny, and their criticisms may give us food for thought. When a philosophical historian notes how ancient and persistent certain allegations are, he will try to discern what they may contain of truth. The contemplation of the misunderstandings of former times will demonstrate even to the most cautious that emancipated Jewry has had both the need and the duty to reconcile loyalty to its religious tradition—our honor in the face of history—with thorough inward and outward assimilation to fellow citizens of other religions. Such an attempt was impossible or dangerous in ancient or feudal society, where, to a greater or lesser degree, religious practices embraced and penetrated all of political and civil life; but in a secularized society, like that which has emerged from the Revolution, this no longer represents either danger or serious difficulty. That is why assimilation has been victorious everywhere—at least where external causes have not delayed or still delay this inevitable development.


Thus Reinach. Though the word anti-Semitism had been coined less than twenty-five years earlier, in the 1870's, he uses it to characterize much of ancient writing. Many Jews have never heard of the pre-Christian, pagan origin of anti-Semitism. Mention it, and they will respond with astonishment or disbelief. Yet some hear the Megillah read every year, and have hissed Haman since childhood. Can it be that they take Ahasuerus for Constantine?

A classical scholar, and therefore familiar with earlier, less exhaustive compilations, Reinach knew when he began his work that he would find anti-Semitism in his material. Perhaps, though, he had not expected anti-Semitism to be quite so dominant—for the same reason that less learned Jews are surprised to hear that anti-Semitism existed at all in pagan antiquity. A devoted child of the Enlightenment, Reinach must have started with an assumption that the good, post-Socratic minds of pagan antiquity, uncontaminated by revealed religion generally and Christianity specifically, would be relatively free of prejudice and hate against the Jews.

By 1894 anti-Semitism, not only as a sentiment but also as an organized political movement, had been growing rapidly for a score of years. Mostly it was associated with the clerical Right. The secular Left, whether bourgeois or socialist, was less anti-Semitic. In Reinach's preface there may be a hint that he or someone like him had had the idea of compiling statements about the Jews in early Christian literature. Christian texts would certainly be not less poor in anti-Semitism than Reinach's pagan texts, but neither would they be overwhelmingly richer. The fathers of the Enlightenment had prided themselves on locating their spiritual and intellectual ancestry in pagan antiquity instead of Christianity, but here was pagan antiquity not decisively different, for a Jew, from Christianity. Reinach himself tells us that in some measure Christian anti-Semitic literature derives from and depends upon earlier pagan literature, and that the anti-Semites of his day often were only repeating baseless lies first written down centuries before Christianity.

Reinach said this more than seventy-five years ago. It still holds. I know a woman who left Poland in 1969, with the publication of an article by Kazimierz Sidor, a high-ranking Communist, in Soldier of Freedom, the journal produced for the troops by the Ministry of Defense. In Sidor's Marxist interpretation of Jewish history, as set forth to the Polish soldiers of freedom. it is not true that Moses, at God's command, led out the children of Israel from the Egyptian house of bondage. Rather, the Egyptians expelled the Israelites because the Israelites were lepers.

Thus does a pagan Egyptian priest's hatred of the Jews 2,250 years ago become a Marxist's teaching today. As far as I know, among all the slanders against Jews in Christian literature—some, to repeat, of pagan origin—Manetho's slander does not appear. Manetho and Apion—it was against Apion that the first anti-anti-Semitic tract was written, by Josephus—owe their revival in our time to a so-called socialist who can have nothing but contempt for Christianity. Arthur Hertzberg's French Enlightenment and the Jews, which is about the 18th century, should have prepared us for the Polish Marxist enlightenment of the 20th century.

The most remarkable statement in Reinach's preface is his conclusion. Having noted how many of the things said by his classical authors are mere nonsense and lies; having demonstrated that what evoked the hatred and contempt of pagans toward Jews and Judaism was the Jews' determination to remain Jews; having implied that they could have escaped that hatred and contempt by ceasing to be Jews; having emphasized the continuity of ignorant and mendacious anti-Semitism from pre-Christian antiquity down to his own day—having done all this, Reinach concludes that there must be some truth to ancient anti-Semitism, and that therefore the Jews are under not only a prudential but also a moral compulsion to assimilate!

Reinach does not deny that we must remain loyal to our religious tradition. For him that is our honor in the face of history—which means, by implication, that not God but honor wants us loyal. Honor has replaced God. In an early biography of Moses Mendelssohn we read that Mendelssohn despised apostasy for reasons of honor, though he would gladly have joined his friend Lessing in a society where there were no longer either Christians or Jews. Apparently the same can be said of Reinach, except that he would probably have preferred the company of the Frenchman Voltaire. But honor did not keep the Mendelssohns Jewish. Henri Bergson's grandchildren are Catholic. Michel Debré, the Catholic former prime minister of France, is the grandson of Rabbi Simon Debré, a prominent contemporary of Reinach's.

What is that unnecessary separatism which Reinach would have us abandon, both as an offense against citizenship in a secular society and as an impediment to our free association with our fellow citizens? No doubt he is thinking of such things as kosher food, and no doubt he thinks that if we discarded it we would be striking a blow against anti-Semitism. Presumably the grain of truth he sees in anti-Semitic accusations is that some Jews will eat nothing but kosher food.

Was it because of kosher food that the anti-Semite Drumont gained a huge following in France? The title of Drumont's book was La France juive, “Jewish France.” Drumont and his fellow anti-Semites were not complaining that the Jews persisted in eating kosher food (few did), or praying in Hebrew (few prayed), or going to (or staying away from) synagogues rather than churches. The anti-Semites' complaint was that the Jews were too successful—by sneaky means, of course. Théodore Reinach does not caution the Jews against success. With his brothers Joseph (author of an Histoire de l'affaire Dreyfus, in four volumes) and Salomon (author of the once famous Orpheus: A History of Religions), Théodore was conspicuously successful in academic and public life. The French Jews gloried in such successes as those of the Reinach brothers.


In 1971 Oxford published The Politics of Assimilation: A Study of the French Jewish Community at the Time of Dreyfus, by the young scholar Michael R. Marrus.1 An old lady is said to have been grateful to Gibbon for the wealth of pious sentiment he provided in the footnotes to his Decline and Fall. Not the least charm of Marrus's book resides in his quotations:

  • A lady, explaining why she will not convert to Christianity: “I haven't enough religion to change my religion.”
  • A Jewish publicist: “Let there be neither Jews nor Christians except at the hour of prayer, for those who pray! That is what France proclaimed . . . by the Declaration of the Rights of Man.”
  • The author of a modern Jewish history, 1828: Judaism is “too Asiatic for European nations.”
  • A Jewish philosopher: The French Revolution is “our second law of Sinai.”
  • A Jewish historian: “The time of the Messiah had come with the French Revolution . . . which substituted for the old Trinity of the Church that other Trinity . . . ‘Liberty! Equality! Fraternity!’”
  • A rabbi: The Revolution is “our modern Passover.”
  • Another rabbi: France has been “designated by Him who directs the destinies of humanity to work for the emancipation of all the oppressed, to spread throughout the world the great and beautiful ideas of justice, equality, and fraternity which had formerly been the exclusive patrimony of Israel.”
  • Théodore Reinach, in his frequently reprinted Histoire des israélites: “Each country has the Jews that it deserves [= You made me what I am today, L hope you're satisfied]. . . . Every Jew today having heart and memory is a son of the France of 1791.”

Marrus reports the universal belief of the French Jews (including Emile Durkheim) that anti-Semitism was not really French but something made in Germany, or actually a German plot against France. And he gives us the effusion of a Chief Rabbi of Paris to the effect that Jews and anti-Semites alike are loving sons to their mother France! Their conflict is in a sense only rivalry in love for her; but an unrestrained rivalry (and here the Chief Rabbi's language must not be denatured by summary) would “incur the risk . . . of afflicting her whom we encompass with our veneration, and—which would be even graver—of weakening, by the contrariety of our efforts, the efficacy of our filial tenderness and our devotion.” That rabbi's name was Dreyfus. Could the homonymous captain be any less patriotic? Of the captain it was said that if he had not been Dreyfus he would have been anti-Dreyfus.

Most striking of all is the doctrine or outlook that Marrus calls Franco-Judaism, as expounded by James Darmesteter. The French-Jewish community admired Darmesteter for his synthesis of Jewish and French values, and orientalists throughout Europe considered him as a leader in their field. (His specialty was the Avesta.)

Marrus gives this abstract of Franco-Judaism:

. . . Darmesteter showed explicitly how the ideology of the French Revolution was in fact the ideology of Judaism. . . . Since the time of the Prophets Judaism had rested upon two great dogmas, dogmas which stood for the entirety of the religion. These were what he called “Divine Unity” and “Messianism.” Each of these dogmas had its roots in an ancient biblical tradition; each of them, however—and this was Darmesteter's special contribution—had direct relevance to the modern world which had been ushered in in 1789. “Divine Unity,” the biblical concept of monotheism, meant “the unity of law in the world,” or, in other words, the recognition that the world was ruled by scientific, lawlike principles, and not myth. Messianism, when applied to the world, meant a faith in the “terrestrial triumph of justice in humanity,” the belief in progress and social betterment which was the mainspring of the Revolution. Divine Unity and Messianism were in this way the central doctrines of the Revolution . . . [and] the basis of the modern French state. . . . The Jews, in a sense, had no need to adapt themselves to the culture of France; to some extent at least, on the most profound level, the culture of France had adapted itself to Judaism. The point was that they were essentially the same. . . .

The new capital [of tomorrow's humanity], he felt, would not be Jerusalem, but Paris. . . . With what he believed to be the impending fulfilment of the promise of the Hebrew Prophets, Darmesteter was prepared to dissolve Jewishness in the “catholic union of the future,” to be directed from France; his consolation for this, or perhaps his deference to Jewish history, was a recognition that the “Catholicism” towards with the French were leading the world was in fact the moral equivalent of the ancient Hebrew faith. . . .


German Jews were just as patriotic, and they insisted that it was Germany which best fulfilled the spirit of Judaism. Eminent and distinguished the Darmesteters and Reinachs were, yet less eminent and distinguished than Hermann Cohen, a major philosopher as well as a major Jewish theologian. In the First World War Cohen published a pamphlet entitled Deutschtum und Judentum (“Germanism and Judaism”). A few years ago, in a Leo Baeck Memorial Lecture on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of Cohen's death, Emil Fackenheim presented Cohen's thinking on Germanism and Judaism (among other things):

According to Cohen's pamphlet a unique kinship exists between “Germanism” and Judaism. . . . On the one hand, Judaism is one root of Germanism (the other being Hellenism). . . . On the other hand, Judaism, having lost part of its native essence in the medieval Ghetto, could have regained that essence in its modern form only through German inspiration.

The essence of Germanism is ethical idealism. . . . The core of the many expressions of Germanism, for Cohen, are Kant and Schiller. . . . “What differentiates the German concept of mankind from the humanité of the French revolution is its ethical foundation. The ‘mankind’ of Germanism alone rests on the grounds of ethics.”

Germanism, therefore, has universal significance for all mankind. The future it demands and inspires is universal—peace, socialism, internationalism—; its realization requires the ethical idealism which is the particular product of Germanism. Germanism, therefore, is, in its unique particularity, “The teacher of the world.”

Germanism is akin to Judaism: What Germanism has produced in modern art, poetry, and philosophy Judaism has possessed since ancient days, in the Messianic expectation. . . . “The [Jewish] Messiah was resurrected . . . in the German spirit.” . . . Moses Mendelssohn . . . began to make “Germanism a life-force for Judaism”. . . . His heirs, . . . inspired as they were and are by a German ethical idealism still dormant in Mendelssohn's time, have been enabled to be “as Germans, Jews, and as Jews, Germans.” Indeed, so intimate is the kinship between Germanism and Judaism now that it may be said that Germany is the motherland, if not the fatherland, of all modern Jews.

“Germany is the motherland of all modern Jews.” “Every Jew today is a son of France.” At least four times a week, in the synagogue, Jews who pray repeat the prophecy in Micah (4:2) and Isaiah (2:3): “Torah shall issue from Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” For French Jews, Paris was the new Zion and the new Jerusalem; for German Jews, Berlin. In the preface to his Textes. . ., Reinach is ironical about pagan annoyance with the Jews for their impudence in proclaiming that the universal Word issued from Zion/Jerusalem, when it was so obvious that the universal Word issued from Athens/Alexandria: your particularism isn't universalism, ours is. The same Reinach, like Darmesteter, cannot see this incongruity in the France of his own day, with its fancied universalism. About a universal mission of France they were not ironical. If they had been German, they would not have been ironical about a German mission.

All this is so preposterous and abject that it heightens our ever-present temptation to feel superior to the past, to be smugly confident that we would not have been so stupid. In a professorial joke about an earnest young student who is trying to master the art of imagining himself into the past, the student says: “If we the people had been living in the Middle Ages, we would have been serfs.” If we had been living in France or Germany eighty years ago, we would have been followers of Darmesteter, Reinach, and Cohen. “What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed”: we would have believed in Franco-Judaism or in Germano-Judaism.

In the United States we have had what Marrus might want to call Americano-Judaism. Are we not pleased by the Jewish flavor of the Puritans' Christianity? Do we not marvel at the “goodness of fit” between American and Jewish values? In explaining ourselves to ourselves, none of us forgets that the qualities necessary for getting ahead in America—seriousness, diligence, forethought, and so on; what President Nixon has been calling the work ethic, descended from what Max Weber called the Protestant ethic—were the invisible imports that the Jewish immigrants brought with them from their Old Countries.

In England the Jews must have believed in a harmony between Englishry and Judaism (for instance, regard for history and tradition); and in Italy, in a harmony between italianismo and ebraismo (the Mediterranean spirit, and all that). The Polonized Jews must have believed in a harmony between Polishness and Jewishness (Poland the Christ nation).

Nor has this sort of thing been only bourgeois. Even for Hermann Cohen, socialism was a link between Judaism and Germanism.


Darmesteter was glad to recognize messianism as. Jewish and French, and Cohen to recognize it as Jewish and German. In the revolutionary tradition, which dismissed religion as the opium of the people, I used to think that messianism must be, derisively, pie in the sky. When I was growing up, the anarcho-syndicalist Wobblies were already moribund, but one of their songs remained very much alive:

Oh, the preachers come out every night
And tell you what's wrong and what's right.
When you ask them for something to eat,
They reply, in voices so sweet:
“You will eat by and by,
In that glorious land above the sky,
Way up high.
Work and pray,
Live on hay.
You'll get pie
In the sky
When you die.”

Revolutionaries were too tough-minded for messianic nonsense.

Judaism, poor thing, was messianic—one need not have heard of Darmesteter or Cohen to know that. Take the eleventh chapter of Isaiah (the central part of the Prophetical lesson for the last day of Passover):

A shoot shall grow from the stock of Jesse,
and a branch spring from his roots.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
a spirit of wisdom and understanding,
a spirit of counsel and power,
a spirit of knowledge and fear of the LORD. . . .
He shall judge the poor with justice . . .
and with a breath of his lips slay the wicked. . . .
Wolf shall dwell with lamb
and leopard lie down with kid . . .
and a little child shall lead them.
. . . lion shall eat straw like cattle.
Infant shall play over cobra's hole. . . .
They shall not hurt nor destroy
in all My holy mountain,
for the earth shall be filled with the
    knowlege of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

Or, in Maimonides's dogmatic formulation (which a praying Jew knows from his prayer-book): “I believe with perfect faith in the Messiah's coming; and though he delay, nevertheless I will wait every day for him to come.”

A Trotsky can make the messianic Isaiah seem almost down to earth. In Literature and Revolution, Trotsky leads up to this (most recently brought to our attention by Paul Blumberg in Midstream for November 1972):

Man will make it his purpose . . . to raise himself to a new plane, to create a . . . superman. . . . The average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe, or a Marx. And above this ridge, new peaks will rise.

A Lukács can make Maimonides sound impatient and doubting. Georg Lukács died in June 1971 at the age of eighty-six, having lived through Stalinism (and acquiesced in it) and then through all those other splendid things that happened in Eastern Europe. In 1968, after the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, he had granted an interview to a former student, George Urban, for posthumous publication. It appeared in Encounter in October 1971:

Lukács said that in the short term the picture was perhaps [!] still gloomy, but he was concerned here with the broad trends of history. It would take centuries, if not thousands of years [Psalm 90:4: “For a thousand years in Thy sight/are but as yesterday when it is past,/or as a watch in the night”], for the good life based on reason to emerge, but he was certain that was the way in which man's consciousness was moving. There would be setbacks, but the main thrust of development was not open to change.

Not the old-fashioned kind of preachers but Trotsky and Lukács are preaching pie in the sky by and by. Trotsky and Lukács were, in Issaac Deutscher's language, non-Jewish Jews. Karl Kautsky—Lenin's “Kautsky the renegade”—was a Gentile. But though a Social Democrat, and the object of Lenin's and all good Bolsheviks' wrath in another connection, Kautsky was even for them an undisputed Marxist authority on The Jewish Question. In the 1920's International Publishers, the American Communist publishing firm, brought out a translation of the second, postwar edition of his Rasse und Judentum (“Race and Judaism”) as Are the Jews a Race? For the revolutionary, non-Jewish Jews, Kautsky was the teacher that Darmesteter and Reinach had been for the bourgeois French Jews, or Hermann Cohen for the bourgeois German Jews. In the American Communist edition Kautsky's last chapter is entitled “The Last Stages of Judaism.” There he tells us:

Only a victorious proletariat can bring complete emancipation for the Jews; all of Jewry, except in so far as it is already fettered to capitalism, is interested in a proletarian victory. . . . The Jews have become an eminently revolutionary factor, while Judaism has become a reactionary factor. . . . We cannot say we have completely emerged from the Middle Ages as long as Judaism still exists among us. The sooner it disappears, the better it will be, not only for society, but also for the Jews themselves.

The disappearance of the Jews will not involve a tragic process like the disappearance of the American Indians or the Tasmanians. . . . It will not mean a mere shifting of domicile from one medieval ruin to another, not a transition from orthodox Judaism to ecclesiastical Christianity, but the creation of a new and higher type of man.

“A new and higher type of man”: messianism.

Lest even that should be insufficient to reassure would-be ex-Jews about their honor, this Marxist Gentile ends his book with words we might expect from a bourgeois Jew like Darmesteter:

. . . the Wandering Jew will at last have found a haven of rest. He will continue to live in the memory of man as man's greatest sufferer, as he who has been dealt with most severely by mankind, to whom he has given most.

In the worshipful hush left by the eschatology and messianism of Kautsky, Trotsky, and Lukács, even an infidel can be abashed. There are tender souls who cannot do without the opium of their Marxist-messianic religion, and it would be cruel to obtrude too much reality upon them.

Darmesteter, Reinach, and Cohen; Kautsky, Trotsky, and Lukács only teach us what we should have known all along: The most learned, the most gifted, the most intelligent can be absurdly wrong. I do not think Hume was normatively right in saying that reason ought to be the slave of the passions, but I think he was factually right in saying that reason is the slave of the passions. The intelligent and learned find intelligent and learned pretexts for asserting as true what they wish were true. They easily fool themselves and everyone else who wishes to be fooled. We easily fool ourselves.


Marrus mentions Ahad Ha'am only once, in passing. That is unfortunate. Though the judgment Ahad Ha'am passed on the Franco-Jews (and implicitly on the Germano-, Anglo-, Italo-, and Americano-Jews) was not the judgment of hindsight, our own hindsight—including Marrus's—can add little to it. Ahad Ha'am wrote his “Slavishness in Freedom” in 1891, to deny that the Emancipation of the French Jews had made free men and women of them, as they and their admirers delighted to insist; and that as they were, so should all Jews become. Emancipation, he said, had given the French Jews formal civil equality, but the price they kept paying for it, eagerly, was moral enslavement, or slavishness. Free men could not pretend to believe what the best minds of French Jewry pretended to believe. (One of his specimens is something of Reinach's.) The emancipated Jews of the West were less free than the unemancipated Jews of the Czar's domain.

Reinach and Darmesteter were Franco-Jews, Hermann Cohen was a Germano-Jew, Trotsky and Lukács were Marxist-messianic non-Jewish Jews. Ahad Ha'am was a Jew. He compels our respect, they solicit our understanding.


1 314 pp., $12.75.

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