Commentary Magazine

The Hebrew Impact on Western Civilization, edited by Dagobert D. Runes


The Hebrew Impact On Western Civilization.
By Dagobert D. Runes.
Philosophical Library. 922 pp. $10.00.


The Philosophical Library has published an imposing volume in The Hebrew Impact on Western Civilization. Over nine hundred pages, seventeen contributors, eighteen essays, a moving dedication to “the sainted memory of the six million,” and a purchase price of ten dollars—cry a come-all-ye to “the many, many people in whose midst the Hebrews have lived for thousands of years” (Dr. Runes’s preface).

But only the innocent will lend an ear to the pitch, for were Dr. Runes inclined to accuracy, his Table of Contents would read:



1. Infantile Apologetics, Hollow Fanfaronades
Mr. Hugo Bieber, in an essay on “Jews in Public Office,” sets out to prove that Jewish political activities are not bound “to favor radicalism and revolution” and that “there was and is, no contradiction between their [i. e., Jews’] allegiance to the non-Jewish country where they live, and their loyalty to Judaism.” We are then! confronted with tax collectors moneylenders, minters, court Jews, politicians mayors, cabinet ministers, etc. We learn, too, that Herbert H. Lehman “occasionally . . . restored law and order with courage and energy.”

Richard Van Dyck further reassures us, in “The Jewish Influence on Journalism,” that “Wherever the glorious annals of journalism are written, Jewish newspapermen will be prominent and thus help refute effectively the age-old lie that Jewish journalism necessarily is subversive.”

But enough of timid trumpets; the crowning flourish is William B. Ziff’s seventy-one page eulogy of “The Jew as Soldier, Strategist and Military Adviser.” In pursuing his thesis that “as a fighting people [the Jews] have not been excelled anywhere,” the writer drowns out Isaiah, Johanan ben Zakkai, and other troublesome reeds in a lusty laudamus for slaughter. The illustrious names of Mussolini’s Jewish cohorts, or “others . . . at least half-Jewish by blood” who aided Hitler, are not enough; Bergson and Freud are anschluss-ed in, for they helped develop the principles on which “the important German psychological warfare branch” rested.



2. Tenpins For S. J. Perelman

Most assiduous in setting them up is Dr. Abraham I. Katsh, who leads off the volume with an essay on “The Hebraic Foundations of American Democracy.” Dr. Katsh’s formula calls for a quotation from a source (secondary, to be sure) followed by succinct restatement: Three-fourths of human life are conduct. Hebrew Scriptures deal pre-eminently with conduct. Their influence, at any rate on the English-speaking portion of our Western civilization, is three times as important as the influence of the Greeks’ [a quotation from J. C. Powys]. It would appear from this that one might say that the civilization of Great Britain was influenced by Hebrew Scriptures and by Greek philosophy at a proportion of three to one respectively.”

Mr. Van Dyck achieves a defter anti-climax, dead-pan, recounting the life of one Oppert Blowitz:

“During an outing in a rowboat in the harbor of Marseilles, Blowitz and his lady allegedly threw the sleeping husband overboard and let him drown quietly.

“Be that as it may, it is fact that, while in Paris, Mr. Oppert-Blowitz became acquainted with Prime Minister Thiers.”



3. As Through a Glass, Darkly

Dr. Katsh confounds us with:

“As world attitude changed, the Jews were treated accordingly. As the Middle Ages gave way to the Renaissance, they were able to assume a new position in the emerging world with little effort. The Age of Enlightenment still found them adhering to the old truths. Industrialization affected them as a people almost not at all. Great individuals rose from their ranks as they always had in the past. Now we have emerged into the Atomic Age, and here, too, is valid the basic contribution of the Jews to civilization. As man has pushed back the horizons of learning, he has sought to apply the principles which for over 2,000 years have guided him. Expression and explanation of this opinion is found in every literature but in none more profoundly than the English.”

More exotic (owing, I imagine, to literal translation from the German) is almost all of Curtis Lubinski’s “The Jew in Drama, Theatre, and Film.” Witness the following consecutive paragraphs:

“Two lovable personalities died, Paul Graetz in Hollywood and Alexander Granach in New York while appearing in the Broadway cast of A Bell for Adano. He appeared together with Greta Garbo and Felix Bressart in Ninotchka. The film performance of the late Conrad Veidt as Jud Süss is an unforgettable one.

“The playwrights come and go with the actors. It may work the other way around. Any way, when the Jewish performers rose to fame on the German stage, the heydays had dawned for the Jewish dramatists. Their present day generation left Germany and enriched the literature of their new chosen fatherland.”

Though sentences might seem more immune than paragraphs to dislocation, nothing escapes the inattention of Dr. Runes in this work. Since it is probable that the countless instances of grotesque and bizarre prose are in part the responsibility of the translators and editor, it is only fair to the authors not to dwell upon them.



4. Misinformation, Please

A few among the tic-inducers are:

Misdatings: Franz Rosenzweig died in 1929, not 1922; Max Brod was born in 1884, not 1844; Richard Beer-Hofmann was born in 1866, not 1886; Paul Lazarsfeld was born in 1901, not 1915; Herzl’s Der Judenstaat appeared in 1896, not 1869.

Metamorphoses: Graham Wallas becomes Graham Wallace; Sidney Hook joins the City College faculty; the banner of Schelling becomes the ban of Schelling; Durban becomes Durham; Galut, or Galuth, becomes Galud; the Rambam becomes the Ramban; and to top it all, H. L. Mencken becomes a Jew.



5. Trivia

The most offensive examples are Mr. Lubinski’s Hedda-Hopperism, “Queen Mary kissed her [Elisabeth Bergner] on the cheek in tribute to her acting”; and A. A. Roback’s coy retelling, in “The Jew in Modem Science,” of his own discovery that Cantor introduced a Hebrew symbol, the aleph, into mathematics. But let Mr. Roback speak for himself:

“While a student, I once had occasion to look into a ponderous and highly technical work of Bertrand Russell (Principles of Mathematics), probably the clearest philosophical mind of our generation; and was struck by a very familiar symbol. At first I thought that the resemblance between the particular symbol and the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet was but a coincidence. But no, a moment’s scrutiny convinced me that the character was identical with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

“The next question was: Did Russell first introduce the aleph into mathematics, or was there a Jewish hand in it? Naturally the latter hypothesis seemed more reasonable, though we know that often Jewish scientists will go out of their way to conceal their ethnic origin, and might likely draw on a Sanskrit or Chinese source . . .” and on and on.



6. Outside the Pale

Apparently while the editor was napping, Cecil Roth, the distinguished historian, slipped in with an able and interesting essay on “Jewish Cultural Influence in the Middle Ages.” But twelve pages seem less than a warm-up, especially in a volume which allows Mr. Ziff seventy-one. Vergilius Ferm, too, provides some reasonable prose, though less consistently, in “The Fountainhead of Western Religion” (also very short).

Normal, if hardly distinguished, standards of exposition are maintained in Maurice J. Karpf’s “Jewish Social Service and Its Impact upon Western Civilization” (which is marred, however, by homiletics), the late L. L. Bernard’s “Jewish Sociologists and Political Scientists” (though it bogs down too often in catalogues), and Walter Sorell’s “Israel and the Dance.” Fortunately free from catalogue-iris are Martin L. Wolf’s “The Jew and the Law” and Richard Van Dyck’s “The Jewish Influence on Journalism.”

In a volume marked by atrocious editorial negligence, the chief sufferers are Paul Nettl’s “Judaism and Music” and Karl Schwarz’s “The Hebrew Impact on Western Art.” Both essays are, potentially, worthy contributions, and certainly merited some normal editorial attention. Less chaotic prose, more coherent structure, and more effective emphases would have strengthened them considerably. And Mr. Schwarz’s essay, in a volume of this price, should have been accompanied by illustrations (at least of the synagogue at Dura Europos, an important link in the chain of his argument). Funds for this might well have come from the publisher’s obvious saving on binding and proofreading.



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