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Jewish History by S. M. Dubnow

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The author of the present essay, S. M. Dubnow, occupies a well-nigh
dominating position in Russian-Jewish literature as an historian and
an acute critic. His investigations into the history of the
Polish-Russian Jews, especially his achievements in the history of
Chassidism, have been of fundamental importance in these departments.
What raises Mr. Dubnow far above the status of the professional
historian, and awakens the reader's lively interest in him, is not so
much the matter of his books, as the manner of presentation. It is
rare to meet with an historian in whom scientific objectivity and
thoroughness are so harmoniously combined with an ardent temperament
and plastic ability. Mr. Dubnow's scientific activity, first and last,
is a striking refutation of the widespread opinion that identifies
attractiveness of form in the work of a scholar with superficiality of
content. Even his strictly scientific investigations, besides offering
the scholar a wealth of new suggestions, form instructive and
entertaining reading matter for the educated layman. In his critical
essays, Mr. Dubnow shows himself to be possessed of keen psychologic
insight. By virtue of this quality of delicate perception, he aims to
assign to every historical fact its proper place in the line of
development, and so establish the bond between it and the general
history of mankind. This psychologic ability contributes vastly to the
interest aroused by Mr. Dubnow's historical works outside of the
limited circle of scholars. There is a passage in one of his books[1]
in which, in his incisive manner, he expresses his views on the limits
and tasks of historical writing. As the passage bears upon the methods
employed in the present essay, and, at the same time, is a
characteristic specimen of our author's style, I take the liberty of

"The popularization of history is by no means to be pursued to the
detriment of its severely scientific treatment. What is to be guarded
against is the notion that tedium is inseparable from the scientific
method. I have always been of the opinion that the dulness commonly
looked upon as the prerogative of scholarly inquiries, is not an
inherent attribute. In most cases it is conditioned, not by the nature
of the subject under investigation, but by the temper of the
investigator. Often, indeed, the tediousness of a learned disquisition
is intentional: it is considered one of the polite conventions of the
academic guild, and by many is identified with scientific thoroughness
and profound learning.... If, in general, deadening, hide-bound caste
methods, not seldom the cover for poverty of thought and lack of
cleverness, are reprehensible, they are doubly reprehensible in
history. The history of a people is not a mere mental discipline, like
botany or mathematics, but a living science, a _magistra vitae_,
leading straight to national self-knowledge, and acting to a certain
degree upon the national character. History is a science _by_ the
people, _for_ the people, and, therefore, its place is the open
forum, not the scholar's musty closet. We relate the events of the
past to the people, not merely to a handful of archaeologists and
numismaticians. We work for national self-knowledge, not for our own
intellectual diversion."

[1] In the introduction to his _Historische Mitteilungen,
Vorarbeiten zu einer Geschichte der pol-nischrussischen

These are the principles that have guided Mr. Dubnow in all his works,
and he has been true to them in the present essay, which exhibits in a
remarkably striking way the author's art of making "all things seem
fresh and new, important and attractive." New and important his essay
undoubtedly is. The author attempts, for the first time, a psychologic
characterization of Jewish history. He endeavors to demonstrate the
inner connection between events, and develop the ideas that underlie
them, or, to use his own expression, lay bare the soul of Jewish
history, which clothes itself with external events as with a bodily
envelope. Jewish history has never before been considered from this
philosophic point of view, certainly not in German literature. The
present work, therefore, cannot fail to prove stimulating. As for the
poet's other requirement, attractiveness, it is fully met by the work
here translated. The qualities of Mr. Dubnow's style, as described
above, are present to a marked degree. The enthusiasm flaming up in
every line, coupled with his plastic, figurative style, and his
scintillating conceits, which lend vivacity to his presentation, is
bound to charm the reader. Yet, in spite of the racy style, even the
layman will have no difficulty in discovering that it is not a clever
journalist, an artificer of well-turned phrases, who is speaking to
him, but a scholar by profession, whose foremost concern is with
historical truth, and whose every statement rests upon accurate,
scientific knowledge; not a bookworm with pale, academic blood
trickling through his veins, but a man who, with unsoured mien, with
fresh, buoyant delight, offers the world the results laboriously
reached in his study, after all evidences of toil and moil have been
carefully removed; who derives inspiration from the noble and the
sublime in whatever guise it may appear, and who knows how to
communicate his inspiration to others.

The translator lays this book of an accomplished and spirited
historian before the German public. He does so in the hope that it
will shed new light upon Jewish history even for professional
scholars. He is confident that in many to whom our unexampled past of
four thousand years' duration is now _terra incognita_, it will
arouse enthusiastic interest, and even to those who, like the
translator himself, differ from the author in religious views, it will
furnish edifying and suggestive reading. J. F.


The English translation of Mr. Dubnow's Essay is based upon the
authorized German translation, which was made from the original
Russian. It is published under the joint auspices of the Jewish
Publication Society of America and the Jewish Historical Society of
England. H. S.





Historical and Unhistorical Peoples
Three Groups of Nations
The "Most Historical" People
Extent of Jewish History


Two Periods of Jewish History
The Period of Independence
The Election of the Jewish People
Priests and Prophets
The Babylonian Exile and the Scribes
The Dispersion
Jewish History and Universal History
Jewish History Characterized


The National Aspect of Jewish History
The Historical Consciousness
The National Idea and National Feeling
The Universal Aspect of Jewish History
An Historical Experiment
A Moral Discipline
Humanitarian Significance of Jewish History
Schleiden and George Eliot


Three Primary Periods
Four Composite Periods


Cosmic Origin of the Jewish Religion
Tribal Organization
Egyptian Influence and Experiences
Mosaism a Religious and Moral as well as a Social and Political
National Deities
The Prophets and the two Kingdoms
Judaism a Universal Religion


Growth of National Feeling
Ezra and Nehemiah
The Scribes
The Maccabees
Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes
Alexandrian Jews


The Isolation of Jewry and Judaism
The Mishna
The Talmud
Intellectual Activity in Palestine and Babylonia
The Agada and the Midrash
Unification of Judaism


The Academies
Beginning of Persecutions in Europe
Arabic Civilization in Europe


JEWS (980-1492)
The Spanish Jews
The Arabic-Jewish Renaissance
The Crusades and the Jews
Degradation of the Jews in Christian Europe
The Provence
The Lateran Council
The Kabbala
Expulsion from Spain


JEWS (1492-1789)
The Humanists and the Reformation
Palestine an Asylum for Jews
Messianic Belief and Hopes
Holland a Jewish Centre
Poland and the Jews
The Rabbinical Authorities of Poland
Isolation of the Polish Jews
Mysticism and the Practical Kabbala
Persecutions and Morbid Piety


The French Revolution
The Jewish Middle Ages
Spiritual and Civil Emancipation
The Successors of Mendelssohn
Zunz and the Science of Judaism
The Modern Movements outside of Germany
The Jew in Russia
His Regeneration
Anti-Semitism and Judophobia


Jewry a Spiritual Community
Jewry Indestructible
The Creative Principle of Jewry
The Task of the Future
The Jew and the Nations
The Ultimate Ideal


What is Jewish History? In the first place, what does it offer as to
quantity and as to quality? What are its range and content, and what
distinguishes it in these two respects from the history of other
nations? Furthermore, what is the essential meaning, what the spirit,
of Jewish History? Or, to put the question in another way, to what
general results are we led by the aggregate of its facts, considered,
not as a whole, but genetically, as a succession of evolutionary
stages in the consciousness and education of the Jewish people?

If we could find precise answers to these several questions, they
would constitute a characterization of Jewish History as accurate as
is attainable. To present such a characterization succinctly is the
purpose of the following essay.





Le peuple juif n'est pas seulement considerable par son
antiquite, mais il est encore singulier en sa duree, qui a
toujours continue depuis son origine jusqu'a maintenant ...
S'etendant depuis les premiers temps jusqu'aux derniers,
l'histoire des juifs enferme dans sa duree celle de toutes nos
histoires.--PASCAL, _Pensees_, II, 7.

To make clear the range of Jewish history, it is necessary to set down
a few general, elementary definitions by way of introduction.

It has long been recognized that a fundamental difference exists
between historical and unhistorical peoples, a difference growing out
of the fact of the natural inequality between the various elements
composing the human race. Unhistorical is the attribute applied to
peoples that have not yet broken away, or have not departed very far,
from the state of primitive savagery, as, for instance, the barbarous
races of Asia and Africa who were the prehistoric ancestors of the
Europeans, or the obscure, untutored tribes of the present, like the
Tartars and the Kirghiz. Unhistorical peoples, then, are ethnic groups
of all sorts that are bereft of a distinctive, spiritual
individuality, and have failed to display normal, independent capacity
for culture. The term historical, on the other hand, is applied to the
nations that have had a conscious, purposeful history of appreciable
duration; that have progressed, stage by stage, in their growth and in
the improvement of their mode and their views of life; that have
demonstrated mental productivity of some sort, and have elaborated
principles of civilization and social life more or less rational;
nations, in short, representing not only zoologic, but also spiritual

[2] "The primitive peoples that change with their environment,
constantly adapting themselves to their habitat and to
external nature, have no history.... Only those nations and
states belong to history which display self-conscious action;
which evince an inner spiritual life by diversified
manifestations; and combine into an organic whole what they
receive from without, and what they themselves originate."
(Introduction to Weber's _Allgemeine Weltgeschichte_, i,
pp. 16-18.)

Chronologically considered, these latter nations, of a higher type,
are usually divided into three groups: 1, the most ancient civilized
peoples of the Orient, such as the Chinese, the Hindoos, the
Egyptians, the Chaldeans; 2, the ancient or classic peoples of the
Occident, the Greeks and the Romans; and 3, the modern peoples, the
civilized nations of Europe and America of the present day. The most
ancient peoples of the Orient, standing "at the threshold of history,"
were the first heralds of a religious consciousness and of moral
principles. In hoary antiquity, when most of the representatives of
the human kind were nothing more than a peculiar variety of the class
mammalia, the peoples called the most ancient brought forth recognized
forms of social life and a variety of theories of living of fairly
far-reaching effect. All these culture-bearers of the Orient soon
disappeared from the surface of history. Some (the Chaldeans,
Phoenicians, and Egyptians) were washed away by the flood of time, and
their remnants were absorbed by younger and more vigorous peoples.
Others (the Hindoos and Persians) relapsed into a semi-barbarous
state; and a third class (the Chinese) were arrested in their growth,
and remained fixed in immobility. The best that the antique Orient had
to bequeath in the way of spiritual possessions fell to the share of
the classic nations of the West, the Greeks and the Romans. They
greatly increased the heritage by their own spiritual achievements,
and so produced a much more complex and diversified civilization,
which has served as the substratum for the further development of the
better part of mankind. Even the classic nations had to step aside as
soon as their historical mission was fulfilled. They left the field
free for the younger nations, with greater capability of living, which
at that time had barely worked their way up to the beginnings of a
civilization. One after the other, during the first two centuries of
the Christian era, the members of this European family of nations
appeared in the arena of history. They form the kernel of the
civilized part of mankind at the present day.

Now, if we examine this accepted classification with a view to finding
the place belonging to the Jewish people in the chronological series,
we meet with embarrassing difficulties, and finally arrive at the
conclusion that its history cannot be accommodated within the compass
of the classification. Into which of the three historical groups
mentioned could the Jewish people be put? Are we to call it one of the
most ancient, one of the ancient, or one of the modern nations? It is
evident that it may lay claim to the first description, as well as to
the second and the last. In company with the most ancient nations of
the Orient, the Jewish people stood at the "threshold of history." It
was the contemporary of the earliest civilized nations, the Egyptians
and the Chaldeans. In those remote days it created and spread a
religious world-idea underlying an exalted social and moral system
surpassing everything produced in this sphere by its Oriental
contemporaries. Again, with the classical Greeks and Romans, it forms
the celebrated historical triad universally recognized as the source
of all great systems of civilization. Finally, in fellowship with the
nations of to-day, it leads an historical life, striding onward in the
path of progress without stay or interruption. Deprived of political
independence, it nevertheless continues to fill a place in the world
of thought as a distinctly marked spiritual individuality, as one of
the most active and intelligent forces. How, then, are we to
denominate this omnipresent people, which, from the first moment of
its historical existence up to our days, a period of thirty-five
hundred years, has been developing continuously. In view of this
Methuselah among the nations, whose life is co-extensive with the
whole of history, how are we to dispose of the inevitable barriers
between "the most ancient" and "the ancient," between "the ancient"
and "the modern" nations--the fateful barriers which form the
milestones on the path of the historical peoples, and which the Jewish
people has more than once overstepped?

A definition of the Jewish people must needs correspond to the
aggregate of the concepts expressed by the three group-names, most
ancient, ancient, and modern. The only description applicable to it is
"the historical nation of all times," a description bringing into
relief the contrast between it and all other nations of modern and
ancient times, whose historical existence either came to an end in
days long past, or began at a date comparatively recent. And granted
that there are "historical" and "unhistorical" peoples, then it is
beyond dispute that the Jewish people deserves to be called "the most
historical" (_historicissimus_). If the history of the world be
conceived as a circle, then Jewish history occupies the position of
the diameter, the line passing through its centre, and the history of
every other nation is represented by a chord marking off a smaller
segment of the circle. The history of the Jewish people is like an
axis crossing the history of mankind from one of its poles to the
other. As an unbroken thread it runs through the ancient civilization
of Egypt and Mesopotamia, down to the present-day culture of France
and Germany. Its divisions are measured by thousands of years.

Jewish history, then, in its range, or, better, in its duration,
presents an unique phenomenon. It consists of the longest series of
events ever recorded in the annals of a single people. To sum up its
peculiarity briefly, it embraces a period of thirty-five hundred
years, and in all this vast extent it suffers no interruption. At
every point it is alive, full of sterling content. Presently we shall
see that in respect to content, too, it is distinguished by
exceptional characteristics.



From the point of view of content, or qualitative structure, Jewish
history, it is well known, falls into two parts. The dividing point
between the two parts is the moment in which the Jewish state
collapsed irretrievably under the blows of the Roman Empire (70 C.
E.). The first half deals with the vicissitudes of a nation, which,
though frequently at the mercy of stronger nations, still maintained
possession of its territory and government, and was ruled by its own
laws. In the second half, we encounter the history of a people without
a government, more than that, without a land, a people stripped of all
the tangible accompaniments of nationality, and nevertheless
successful in preserving its spiritual unity, its originality,
complete and undiminished.

At first glance, Jewish history during the period of independence
seems to be but slightly different from the history of other nations.
Though not without individual coloring, there are yet the same wars
and intestine disturbances, the same political revolutions and
dynastic quarrels, the same conflicts between the classes of the
people, the same warring between economical interests. This is only a
surface view of Jewish history. If we pierce to its depths, and
scrutinize the processes that take place in its penetralia, we
perceive that even in the early period there were latent within it
great powers of intellect, universal principles, which, visibly or
invisibly, determined the course of events. We have before us not a
simple political or racial entity, but, to an eminent degree, "a
spiritual people." The national development is based upon an
all-pervasive religious tradition, which lives in the soul of the
people as the Sinaitic Revelation, the Law of Moses. With this holy
tradition, embracing a luminous theory of life and an explicit code of
morality and social converse, was associated the idea of the election
of the Jewish people, of its peculiar spiritual mission. "And ye shall
be unto me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" is the figurative
expression of this ideal calling. It conveys the thought that the
Israelitish people as a whole, without distinction of rank and
regardless of the social prominence of individuals, has been called to
guide the other nations toward sublime moral and religious principles,
and to officiate for them, the laity as it were, in the capacity of
priests. This exalted ideal would never have been reached, if the
development of the Jewish people had lain along hackneyed lines; if,
like the Egyptians and the Chaldeans, it had had an inflexible caste
of priests, who consider the guardianship of the spiritual treasures
of the nation the exclusive privilege of their estate, and strive to
keep the mass of the people in crass ignorance. For a time, something
approaching this condition prevailed among the Jews. The priests
descended from Aaron, with the Temple servants (the Levites), formed a
priestly class, and played the part of authoritative bearers of the
religious tradition. But early, in the very infancy of the nation,
there arose by the side of this official, aristocratic hierarchy, a
far mightier priesthood, a democratic fraternity, seeking to enlighten
the whole nation, and inculcating convictions that make for a
consciously held aim. The Prophets were the real and appointed
executors of the holy command enjoining the "conversion" of all Jews
into "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." Their activity cannot
be paralleled in the whole range of the world's history. They were not
priests, but popular educators and popular teachers. They were
animated by the desire to instil into every soul a deeply religious
consciousness, to ennoble every heart by moral aspirations, to
indoctrinate every individual with an unequivocal theory of life, to
inspire every member of the nation with lofty ideals. Their work did
not fail to leave its traces. Slowly but deeply idealism entered into
the very pith and marrow of the national consciousness. This
consciousness gained in strength and amplitude century by century,
showing itself particularly in the latter part of the first period,
after the crisis known as "the Babylonian Exile." Thanks to the
exertions of the _Soferim_ (Scribes), directed toward the
broadest popularization of the Holy Writings, and constituting the
formal complement to the work of the Prophets, spiritual activity
became an integral part of Jewish national life. In the closing
centuries of its political existence, the Jewish people received its
permanent form. There was imposed upon it the unmistakable hallmark of
spirituality that has always identified it in the throng of the
nations. Out of the bosom of Judaism went forth the religion that in a
short time ran its triumphant course through the whole ancient world,
transforming races of barbarians into civilized beings. It was the
fulfilment of the Prophetical promise--that the nations would walk in
the light of Israel.

At the very moment when the strength and fertility of the Jewish mind
reached the culminating point, occurred a political revolution--the
period of homeless wandering began. It seemed as though, before
scattering the Jewish people to all ends of the earth, the providence
of history desired to teach it a final lesson, to take with it on its
way. It seemed to say: "Now you may go forth. Your character has been
sufficiently tempered; you can bear the bitterest of hardships. You
are equipped with an inexhaustible store of energy, and you can live
for centuries, yea, for thousands of years, under conditions that
would prove the bane of other nations in less than a single century.
State, territory, army, the external attributes of national power, are
for you superfluous luxury. Go out into the world to prove that a
people can continue to live without these attributes, solely and alone
through strength of spirit welding its widely scattered particles into
one firm organism!"--And the Jewish people went forth and proved it.

This "proof" adduced by Jewry at the cost of eighteen centuries of
privation and suffering, forms the characteristic feature of the
second half of Jewish history, the period of homelessness and
dispersion. Uprooted from its political soil, national life displayed
itself on intellectual fields exclusively. "To think and to suffer"
became the watchword of the Jewish people, not merely because forced
upon it by external circumstances beyond its control, but chiefly
because it was conditioned by the very disposition of the people, by
its national inclinations. The extraordinary mental energy that had
matured the Bible and the old writings in the first period, manifested
itself in the second period in the encyclopedic productions of the
Talmudists, in the religious philosophy of the middle ages, in
Rabbinism, in the Kabbala, in mysticism, and in science. The spiritual
discipline of the school came to mean for the Jew what military
discipline is for other nations. His remarkable longevity is due, I am
tempted to say, to the acrid spiritual brine in which he was cured. In
its second half, the originality of Jewish history consists indeed, in
the circumstance that it is the only history stripped of every active
political element. There are no diplomatic artifices, no wars, no
campaigns, no unwarranted encroachments backed by armed force upon the
rights of other nations, nothing of all that constitutes the chief
content--the monotonous and for the most part idea-less content--of
many other chapters in the history of the world. Jewish history
presents the chronicle of an ample spiritual life, a gallery of
pictures representing national scenes. Before our eyes passes a long
procession of facts from the fields of intellectual effort, of
morality, religion, and social converse. Finally, the thrilling drama
of Jewish martyrdom is unrolled to our astonished gaze. If the inner
life and the social and intellectual development of a people form the
kernel of history, and politics and occasional wars are but its
husk,[3] then certainly the history of the Jewish diaspora is all
kernel. In contrast with the history of other nations it describes,
not the accidental deeds of princes and generals, not external pomp
and physical prowess, but the life and development of a whole people.
It gives heartrending expression to the spiritual strivings of a
nation whose brow is resplendent with the thorny crown of martyrdom.
It breathes heroism of mind that conquers bodily pain. In a word,
Jewish history is history sublimated.[4]

[3] "History, without these (inner, spiritual elements), is a
shell without a kernel; and such is almost all the history
which is extant in the world." (Macaulay, on Mitford's History
of Greece, Collected Works, i, 198, ed. A. and C. Armstrong
and Son.)

[4] A Jewish historian makes the pregnant remark: "If ever the
time comes when the prophecies of the Jewish seers are
fulfilled, and nation no longer raises the sword against
nation; when the olive leaf instead of the laurel adorns the
brow of the great, and the achievements of noble minds are
familiar to the dwellers in cottages and palaces alike, then
the history of the world will have the same character as
Jewish history. On its pages will be inscribed, not the
warrior's prowess and his victories, nor diplomatic schemes
and triumphs, but the progress of culture and its practical
application in real life."

In spite of the noteworthy features that raise Jewish history above
the level of the ordinary, and assign it a peculiar place, it is
nevertheless not isolated, not severed from the history of mankind.
Rather is it most intimately interwoven with world-affairs at every
point throughout its whole extent. As the diameter, Jewish history is
again and again intersected by the chords of the historical circle.
The fortunes of the pilgrim people scattered in all the countries of
the civilized world are organically connected with the fortunes of the
most representative nations and states, and with manifold tendencies
of human thought. The bond uniting them is twofold: in the times when
the powers of darkness and fanaticism held sway, the Jews were
amenable to the "physical" influence exerted by their neighbors in the
form of persecutions, infringements of the liberty of conscience,
inquisitions, violence of every sort; and during the prevalence of
enlightment and humanity, the Jews were acted upon by the intellectual
and cultural stimulus proceeding from the peoples with whom they
entered into close relations. Momentary aberrations and reactionary
incidents are not taken into account here. On its side, Jewry made its
personality felt among the nations by its independent, intellectual
activity, its theory of life, its literature, by the very fact,
indeed, of its ideal staunchness and tenacity, its peculiar historical
physiognomy. From this reciprocal relation issued a great cycle of
historical events and spiritual currents, making the past of the
Jewish people an organic constituent of the past of all that portion
of mankind which has contributed to the treasury of human thought.

We see, then, that in reference to content Jewish history is unique in
both its halves. In the first "national" period, it is the history of
a people to which the epithet "peculiar" has been conceded, a people
which has developed under the influence of exceptional circumstances,
and finally attained to so high a degree of spiritual perfection and
fertility that the creation of a new religious theory of life, which
eventually gained universal supremacy, neither exhausted its resources
nor ended its activity. Not only did it continue to live upon its vast
store of spiritual energy, but day by day it increased the store. In
the second "lackland" half, it is the instructive history of a
scattered people, organically one, in spite of dispersion, by reason
of its unshaken ideal traditions; a people accepting misery and
hardship with stoic calm, combining the characteristics of the thinker
with those of the sufferer, and eking out existence under conditions
which no other nation has found adequate, or, indeed, can ever find
adequate. The account of the people as teacher of religion--this is
the content of the first half of Jewish history; the account of the
people as thinker, stoic, and sufferer--this is the content of the
second half of Jewish history.

A summing up of all that has been said in this and the previous
chapter proves true the statement with which we began, that Jewish
history, in respect to its quantitative dimensions as well as its
qualitative structure, is to the last degree distinctive and presents
a phenomenon of undeniable uniqueness.



We turn now to the question of the significance to be attached to
Jewish history. In view of its peculiar qualities, what has it to
offer to the present generation and to future generations as a subject
of study and research?

The significance of Jewish history is twofold. It is at once national
and universal. At present the fulcrum of Jewish national being lies in
the historical consciousness. In the days of antiquity, the Jews were
welded into a single united nation by the triple agencies of state,
race, and religion, the complete array of material and spiritual
forces directed to one point. Later, in the period of homelessness and
dispersion, it was chiefly religious consciousness that cemented Jewry
into a whole, and replaced the severed political bond as well as the
dulled racial instinct, which is bound to go on losing in keenness in
proportion to the degree of removal from primitive conditions and
native soil. In our days, when the liberal movements leavening the
whole of mankind, if they have not completely shattered the religious
consciousness, have at least, in an important section of Jewry,
effected a change in its form; when abrupt differences of opinion with
regard to questions of faith and cult are asserting their presence;
and traditional Judaism developed in historical sequence is proving
powerless to hold together the diverse factors of the national
organism,--in these days the keystone of national unity seems to be
the historical consciousness. Composed alike of physical,
intellectual, and moral elements, of habits and views, of emotions and
impressions nursed into being and perfection by the hereditary
instinct active for thousands of years, this historical consciousness
is a remarkably puzzling and complex psychic phenomenon. By our common
memory of a great, stirring past and heroic deeds on the battle-fields
of the spirit, by the exalted historical mission allotted to us, by
our thorn-strewn pilgrim's path, our martyrdom assumed for the sake of
our principles, by such moral ties, we Jews, whether consciously or
unconsciously, are bound fast to one another. As Renan well says:
"Common sorrow unites men more closely than common joy." A long chain
of historical traditions is cast about us all like a strong ring. Our
wonderful, unparalleled past attracts us with magnetic power. In the
course of centuries, as generation followed generation, similarity of
historical fortunes produced a mass of similar impressions which have
crystallized, and have thrown off the deposit that may be called "the
Jewish national soul." This is the soil in which, deep down, lies
imbedded, as an unconscious element, the Jewish national _feeling_,
and as a conscious element, the Jewish national _idea_.

It follows that the Jewish national idea and the national feeling
connected with it have their origin primarily in the historical
consciousness, in a certain complex of ideas and psychic
predispositions. These ideas and predispositions, the deposit left by
the aggregate of historical impressions, are of necessity the common
property of the whole nation, and they can be developed and quickened
to a considerable degree by a renewal of the impressions through the
study of history. Upon the knowledge of history, then, depends the
strength of the national consciousness.[5]

[5] A different aspect of the same thought is presented with
logical clearness in another publication by our author. "The
national _idea_, and the national _feeling_," says
Mr. Dubnow, "must be kept strictly apart. Unfortunately the
difference between them is usually obliterated. National
feeling is spontaneous. To a greater or less degree it is
inborn in all the members of the nation as a feeling of
kinship. It has its flood-tide and its ebbtide in
correspondence to external conditions, either forcing the
nation to defend its nationality, or relieving it of the
necessity for self-defense. As this feeling is not merely a
blind impulse, but a complicated psychic phenomenon, it can be
subjected to a psychologic analysis. From the given historical
facts or the ideas that have become the common treasure of a
nation, thinking men, living life consciously, can, in one way
or another, derive the origin, development, and vital force of
its national feeling. The results of such an analysis,
arranged in some sort of system, form the content of the
national idea. The task of the national idea it is to clarify
the national feeling, and give it logical sanction for the
benefit of those who cannot rest satisfied with an unconscious

"In what, to be specific, does the essence of our Jewish national
idea consist? Or, putting the question in another form, what
is the cement that unites us into a single compact organism?
Territory and government, the external ties usually binding a
nation together, we have long ago lost. Their place is filled
by abstract principles, by religion and race. Undeniably these
are factors of first importance, and yet we ask the question,
do they alone and exclusively maintain the national cohesion
of Jewry? No, we reply, for if we admitted this proposition,
we should by consequence have to accept the inference, that
the laxity of religious principle prevailing among
free-thinking Jews, and the obliteration of race peculiarities
in the 'civilized' strata of our people, bring in their train
a corresponding weakening, or, indeed, a complete breaking up,
of our national foundations--which in point of fact is not the
case. On the contrary, it is noticeable that the
latitudinarians, the _libres penseurs_, and the
indifferent on the subject of religion, stand in the forefront
of all our national movements. Seeing that to belong to it is
in most cases heroism, and in many martyrdom, what is it that
attracts these Jews so forcibly to their people? There must be
something common to us all, so comprehensive that in the face
of multifarious views and degrees of culture it acts as a
consolidating force. This 'something,' I am convinced, is the
community of historical fortunes of all the scattered parts of
the Jewish nation. We are welded together by our glorious
past. We are encircled by a mighty chain of similar historical
impressions suffered by our ancestors, century after century
pressing in upon the Jewish soul, and leaving behind a
substantial deposit. In short, the Jewish national idea is
based chiefly upon the historical consciousness." [Note of the
German trl.]

But over and above its national significance, Jewish history, we
repeat, possesses universal significance. Let us, in the first place,
examine its value for science and philosophy. Inasmuch as it is
pre-eminently a chronicle of ideas and spiritual movements, Jewish
history affords the philosopher or psychologist material for
observation of the most important and useful kind. The study of other,
mostly dull chapters of universal history has led to the fixing of
psychologic or sociologic theses, to the working out of comprehensive
philosophic systems, to the determination of general laws. Surely it
follows without far-fetched proof, that in some respects the chapter
dealing with Jewish history must supply material of the most original
character for such theses and philosophies. If it is true, as the last
chapter set out to demonstrate, that Jewish history is distinguished
by sharply marked and peculiar features, and refuses to accommodate
itself to conventional forms, then its content must have an original
contribution to make to philosophy. It does not admit of a doubt that
the study of Jewish history would yield new propositions appertaining
to the philosophy of history and the psychology of nations, hitherto
overlooked by inquirers occupied with the other divisions of universal
history. Inductive logic lays down a rule for ascertaining the law of
a phenomenon produced by two or more contributory causes. By means of
what might be called a laboratory experiment, the several causes must
be disengaged from one another, and the effect of each observed by
itself. Thus it becomes possible to arrive with mathematical precision
at the share of each cause in the result achieved by several
co-operating causes. This method of difference, as it is called, is
available, however, only for a limited number of phenomena, only for
phenomena in the department of the natural sciences. It is in the
nature of the case that mental and spiritual phenomena, though they
may be observed, cannot be artificially reproduced. Now, in one
respect, Jewish history affords the advantages of an arranged
experiment. The historical life of ordinary nations, such nations as
are endowed with territory and are organized into a state, is a
complete intermingling of the political with the spiritual element.
Totally ignorant as we are of the development either would have
assumed, had it been dissevered from the other, the laws governing
each of the elements singly can be discovered only approximately.
Jewish history, in which the two elements have for many centuries been
completely disentangled from each other, presents a natural
experiment, with the advantage of artificial exclusions, rendering
possible the determination of the laws of spiritual phenomena with far
greater scientific exactitude than the laws of phenomena that result
from several similar causes.

Besides this high value for the purposes of science, this fruitful
suggestiveness for philosophic thought, Jewish history, as compared
with the history of other nations, enjoys another distinction in its
capacity to exercise an ennobling influence upon the heart. Nothing so
exalts and refines human nature as the contemplation of moral
steadfastness, the history of the trials of a martyr who has fought
and suffered for his convictions. At bottom, the second half of Jewish
history is nothing but this. The effective educational worth of the
Biblical part of Jewish history is disputed by none. It is called
"sacred" history, and he who acquires a knowledge of it is thought to
advance the salvation of his soul. Only a very few, however, recognize
the profound, moral content of the second half of Jewish history, the
history of the diaspora. Yet, by reason of its exceptional qualities
and intensely tragic circumstances, it is beyond all others calculated
to yield edification to a notable degree. The Jewish people is
deserving of attention not only in the time when it displayed its
power and enjoyed its independence, but as well in the period of its
weakness and oppression, during which it was compelled to purchase
spiritual development by constant sacrifice of self. A thinker crowned
with thorns demands no less veneration than a thinker with the laurel
wreath upon his brow. The flame issuing from the funeral pile on which
martyrs die an heroic death for their ideas is, in its way, as
awe-inspiring as the flame from Sinai's height. With equal force,
though by different methods, both touch the heart, and arouse the
moral sentiment. Biblical Israel the celebrated--medieval Judah the
despised--it is one and the same people, judged variously in the
various phases of its historical life. If Israel bestowed upon mankind
a religious theory of life, Judah gave it a thrilling example of
tenacious vitality and power of resistance for the sake of conviction.
This uninterrupted life of the spirit, this untiring aspiration for
the higher and the better in the domain of religious thought,
philosophy, and science, this moral intrepidity in night and storm and
in despite of all the blows of fortune--is it not an imposing,
soul-stirring spectacle? The inexpressible tragedy of the Jewish
historical life is unfailing in its effect upon a susceptible
heart.[6] The wonderful exhibition of spirit triumphant, subduing the
pangs of the flesh, must move every heart, and exercise uplifting
influence upon the non-Jew no less than upon the Jew.

[6] "If there are ranks in suffering, Israel takes precedence of
all the nations--if the duration of sorrows and the patience
with which they are borne ennoble, the Jews are among the
aristocracy of every land--if a literature is called rich in
the possession of a few classic tragedies, what shall we say
to a National Tragedy lasting for fifteen hundred years, in
which the poets and the actors were also the heroes?" (Zunz,
_Die synagogale Poesie_. Translation by George Eliot in
"Daniel Deronda.")

For non-Jews a knowledge of Jewish history may, under certain
conditions, come to have another, an humanitarian significance. It is
inconceivable that the Jewish people should be held in execration by
those acquainted with the course of its history, with its tragic and
heroic past.[7] Indeed, so far as Jew-haters by profession are
concerned, it is running a risk to recommend the study of Jewish
history to them, without adding a word of caution. Its effect upon
them might be disastrous. They might find themselves cured of their
modern disease, and in the possession of ideas that would render
worthless their whole stock in trade. Verily, he must have fallen to
the zero-point of anti-Semitic callousness who is not thrilled through
and through by the lofty fortitude, the saint-like humility, the
trustful resignation to the will of God, the stoic firmness, laid bare
by the study of Jewish history. The tribute of respect cannot be
readily withheld from him to whom the words of the poet[8] are

"To die was not his hope; he fain
Would live to think and suffer pain."

[7] As examples and a proof of the strong humanitarian influence
Jewish history exercises upon Christians, I would point to the
relation established between the Jews and two celebrities of
the nineteenth century, Schleiden and George Eliot. In his old
age, the great scientist and thinker accidentally, in the
course of his study of sources for the history of botany,
became acquainted with medieval Jewish history. It filled him
with ardent enthusiasm for the Jews, for their intellectual
strength, their patience under martyrdom. Dominated by this
feeling, he wrote the two admirable sketches: _Die Bedeutung
der Juden fuer Erhaltung und Wiederbelebung der Wissenschaften
im Mittelalter_ (1876) and _Die Romantik des Martyriums
bei den Juden im Mittelalter_ (1878). According to his own
confession, the impulse to write them was "the wish to take at
least the first step toward making partial amends for the
unspeakable wrong inflicted by Christians upon Jews." As for
George Eliot, it may not be generally known that it was her
reading of histories of the Jews that inspired her with the
profound veneration for the Jewish people to which she gave
glowing utterance in "Daniel Deronda." (She cites Zunz, was
personally acquainted with Emanuel Deutsch, and carried on a
correspondence with Professor Dr. David Kaufmann. See
_George Eliot's Life as related in her Letters and
Journals_. Arranged and edited by her husband, J. W. Cross,
Vol. iii, ed. Harper and Brothers.) Her enthusiasm prompted
her, in 1879, to indite her passionate apology for the Jews,
under the title, "The Modern Hep! Hep! Hep!"

[8] Pushkin.

When, in days to come, the curtain rises upon the touching tragedy of
Jewish history, revealing it to the astonished eye of a modern
generation, then, perhaps, hearts will be attuned to tenderness, and
on the ruins of national hostility will be enthroned mutual love,
growing out of mutual understanding and mutual esteem. And who can
tell--perhaps Jewish history will have a not inconsiderable share in
the spiritual change that is to annihilate national intolerance, the
modern substitute for the religious bigotry of the middle ages. In
this case, the future task of Jewish history will prove as sublime as
was the mission of the Jewish people in the past. The latter consisted
in the spread of the dogma of the unity of creation; the former will
contribute indirectly to the realization of the not yet accepted dogma
of the unity of the human race.



To define the scope of Jewish history, its content and its
significance, or its place among scientific pursuits, disposes only of
the formal part of the task we have set ourselves. The central problem
is to unfold the meaning of Jewish history, to discover the principle
toward which its diversified phenomena converge, to state the
universal laws and philosophic inferences deducible from the peculiar
course of its events. If we liken history to an organic being, then
the skeleton of facts is its body, and the soul is the spiritual bond
that unites the facts into a whole, that conveys the meaning, the
psychologic essence, of the facts. It becomes our duty, then, to
unbare the soul of Jewish history, or, in scientific parlance, to
construct, on the basis of the facts, the synthesis of the whole of
Jewish national life. To this end, we must pass in review, by periods
and epochs, one after another, the most important groups of historical
events, the most noteworthy currents in life and thought that tell of
the stages in the development of Jewry and of Judaism. Exhaustive
treatment of the philosophical synthesis of a history extending over
three thousand years is possible only in a voluminous work. In an
essay like the present it can merely be sketched in large outline, or
painted in miniature. We cannot expect to do more than state a series
of general principles substantiated by the most fundamental arguments.
Complete demonstration of each of the principles must be sought in the
annals that recount the events of Jewish history in detail.

The historical synthesis reduces itself, then, to uncovering the
psychologic processes of national development. The object before us to
be studied is the national spirit undergoing continuous evolution
during thousands of years. Our task is to arrive at the laws
underlying this growth. We shall reach our goal by imitating the
procedure of the geologist, who divides the mass of the earth into its
several strata or formations. In Jewish history there may be
distinguished three chief stratifications answering to its first three
periods, the Biblical period, the period of the Second Temple, and the
Talmudic period. The later periods are nothing more than these same
formations combined in various ways, with now and then the addition of
new strata. Of the composite periods there are four, which arrange
themselves either according to hegemonies, the countries in which at
given times lay the centre of gravity of the scattered Jewish people,
or according to the intellectual currents there predominant.

This, then, is our scheme:

I. The chief formations:
a) The primary or Biblical period.
b) The secondary or spiritual-political period
(the period of the Second Temple, 538
B. C. E. to 70 C.E.)
c) The tertiary or national-religious period
(the Talmudic period, 70-500).

II. The composite formations:
a) The Gaonic period, or the hegemony of
the Oriental Jews (500-980).
b) The Rabbinic-philosophical period, or the
hegemony of the Spanish Jews (980-1492).
c) The Rabbinic-mystical period, or the hegemony
of the German-Polish Jews
d) The modern period of enlightenment (the
nineteenth century).



In the daybreak of history, the hoary days when seeming and reality
merge into each other, and the outlines of persons and things fade
into the surrounding mist, the picture of a nomad people, moving from
the deserts of Arabia in the direction of Mesopotamia and Western
Asia, detaches itself clear and distinct from the dim background. The
tiny tribe, a branch of the Semitic race, bears a peculiar stamp of
its own. A shepherd people, always living in close touch with nature,
it yet resists the potent influence of the natural phenomena, which,
as a rule, entrap primitive man, and make him the bond-slave of the
visible and material. Tent life has attuned these Semitic nomads to
contemplativeness. In the endless variety of the phenomena of nature,
they seek to discover a single guiding power. They entertain an
obscure presentiment of the existence of an invisible, universal soul
animating the visible, material universe. The intuition is personified
in the Patriarch Abraham, who, according to Biblical tradition, held
communion with God, when, on the open field, "he looked up toward
heaven, and counted the stars," or when, "at the setting of the sun,
he fell into benumbing sleep, and terror seized upon him by reason of
the impenetrable darkness." Here we have a clear expression of the
original, purely cosmical character of the Jewish religion.

There was no lack of human influence acting from without. Chaldea,
which the peculiar Semitic shepherds crossed in their pilgrimage,
presented them with notions from its rich mythology and cosmogony. The
natives of Syria and Canaan, among whom in the course of time the
Abrahamites settled, imparted to them many of their religious views
and customs. Nevertheless, the kernel of their pure original theory
remained intact. The patriarchal mode of life, admirable in its
simplicity, continued to hold its own within the circle of the
firmly-knitted tribe. It was in Canaan, however, that the shepherd
people hailing from Arabia showed the first signs of approaching
disintegration. Various tribal groups, like Moab and Ammon,
consolidated themselves. They took permanent foothold in the land, and
submitted with more or less readiness to the influences exerted by the
indigenous peoples. The guardianship of the sublime traditions of the
tribe remained with one group alone, the "sons of Jacob" or the "sons
of Israel," so named from the third Patriarch Jacob. To this group of
the Israelites composed of smaller, closely united divisions, a
special mission was allotted; its development was destined to lie
along peculiar lines. The fortunes awaiting it were distinctive, and
for thousands of years have filled thinking and believing mankind with
wondering admiration.

Great characters are formed under the influence of powerful
impressions, of violent convulsions, and especially under the
influence of suffering. The Israelites early passed through their
school of suffering in Egypt. The removal of the sons of Jacob from
the banks of the Jordan to those of the Nile was of decisive
importance for the progress of their history. When the patriarchal
Israelitish shepherds encountered the old, highly complex culture of
the Egyptians, crystallized into fixed forms even at that early date,
it was like the clash between two opposing electric currents. The pure
conception of God, of _Elohim_, as of the spirit informing and
supporting the universe, collided with the blurred system of heathen
deities and crass idolatry. The simple cult of the shepherds,
consisting of a few severely plain ceremonies, transmitted from
generation to generation, was confronted with the insidious, coarsely
sensual animal worship of the Egyptians. The patriarchal customs of
the Israelites were brought into marked contrast with the vices of a
corrupt civilization. Sound in body and soul, the son of nature
suddenly found himself in unsavory surroundings fashioned by culture,
in which he was as much despised as the inoffensive nomad is by
"civilized" man of settled habit. The scorn had a practical result in
the enslavement of the Israelites by the Pharaohs. Association with
the Egyptians acted as a force at once of attraction and of repulsion.
The manners and customs of the natives could not fail to leave an
impression upon the simple aliens, and invite imitation on their part.
On the other hand, the whole life of the Egyptians, their crude
notions of religion, and their immoral ways, were calculated to
inspire the more enlightened among the Israelites with disgust. The
hostility of the Egyptians toward the "intruders," and the horrible
persecutions in which it expressed itself, could not but bring out
more aggressively the old spiritual opposition between the two races.
The antagonism between them was the first influence to foster the germ
of Israel's national consciousness, the consciousness of his peculiar
character, his individuality. This early intimation of a national
consciousness was weak. It manifested itself only in the chosen few.
But it existed, and the time was appointed when, under more favorable
conditions, it would develop, and display the extent of its power.

This consciousness it was that inspired the activity of Moses,
Israel's teacher and liberator. He was penetrated alike by national
and religious feeling, and his desire was to impart both national and
religious feeling to his brethren. The fact of national redemption he
connected with the fact of religious revelation. "I am the Lord thy
God who have brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt" was
proclaimed from Sinai. The God-idea was nationalized. Thenceforth
"Eternal" became the name peculiar to the God of Israel. He was,
indeed, the same _Elohim_, the Creator of the world and its
Guide, who had been dimly discerned by the spiritual vision of the
Patriarchs. At the same time He was the special God of the Israelitish
nation, the only nation that avouched Him with a full and undivided
heart, the nation chosen by God Himself to carry out, alone, His
sublime plans.[9] In his wanderings, Israel became acquainted with the
chaotic religious systems of other nations. Seeing to what they paid
the tribute of divine adoration, he could not but be dominated by the
consciousness that he alone from of old had been the exponent of the
religious idea in its purity. The resolution must have ripened within
him to continue for all time to advocate and cherish this idea. From
that moment Israel was possessed of a clear theory of life in religion
and morality, and of a definite aim pursued with conscious intent.

[9] This is the true recondite meaning of the verses Exod. vi,
2-3: "And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the
Eternal: and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto
Jacob, as _El-Shaddai_ (God Almighty), but by my name
Eternal I was not known unto them."

Its originators designed that this Israelitish conception of life
should serve not merely theoretically, as the basis of religious
doctrine, but also practically, as the starting point of legislation.
It was to be realized in the daily walks of the people, which at this
very time attained to political independence. Sublime religious
conceptions were not to be made the content of a visionary creed, the
subject of dreamy contemplation, but, in the form of perspicuous
guiding principles, were to control all spheres of individual and
social life. Men must beware of looking upon religion as an ideal to
be yearned for, it should be an ideal to be applied directly, day by
day, to practical contingencies. In "Mosaism," so-called, the
religious and the ethical are intimately interwoven with the social
and the political. The chief dogmas of creed are stated as principles
shaping practical life. For instance, the exalted idea of One God
applied to social life produces the principle of the equality of all
men before the One Supreme Power, a principle on which the whole of
Biblical legislation is built. The commands concerning love of
neighbor, the condemnation of slavery, the obligation to aid the poor,
humane treatment of the stranger, sympathy and compassion with every
living being--all these lofty injunctions ensue as inevitable
consequences from the principle of equality. Biblical legislation is
perhaps the only example of a political and social code based, not
upon abstract reasoning alone, but also upon the requirements of the
feelings, upon the finest impulses of the human soul. By the side of
formal right and legality, it emphasizes, and, in a series of
precepts, makes tangible, the principle of justice and humanity. The
Mosaic law is a "propaganda by deed." Everywhere it demands active,
more than passive, morality. Herein, in this elevated characteristic,
this vital attribute, consists the chief source of the power of
Mosaism. The same characteristic, to be sure, prevented it from at
once gaining ground in the national life. It established itself only
gradually, after many fluctuations and errors. In the course of the
centuries, and keeping pace with the growth of the national
consciousness, it was cultivated and perfected in detail.

The conquest of Canaan wrought a radical transformation in the life of
the Israelitish people. The acquiring of national territory supplied
firm ground for the development and manifold application of the
principles of Mosaism. At first, however, advance was out of the
question. The mass of the people had not reached the degree of
spiritual maturity requisite for the espousal of principles
constituting an exalted theory of life. It could be understood and
represented only by a thoughtful minority, which consisted chiefly of
Aaronites and Levites, together forming a priestly estate, though not
a hierarchy animated by the isolating spirit of caste that flourished
among all the other peoples of the Orient. The populace discovered
only the ceremonial side of the religion; its kernel was hidden from
their sight. Defective spiritual culture made the people susceptible
to alien influences, to notions more closely akin to its
understanding. Residence in Canaan, among related Semitic tribes that
had long before separated from the Israelites, and adopted altogether
different views and customs, produced a far greater metamorphosis in
the character of the Israelites than the sojourn in Egypt. After the
first flush of victory, when the unity of the Israelitish people had
been weakened by the particularistic efforts of several of the tribes,
the spiritual bonds confining the nation began to relax. Political
decay always brings religious defection in its train. Whenever Israel
came under the dominion of the neighboring tribes, he also fell a
victim to their cult. This phenomenon is throughout characteristic of
the so-called era of the Judges. It is a natural phenomenon readily
explained on psychologic grounds. The Mosaic national conception of
the "Eternal" entered more and more deeply into the national
consciousness, and, accommodating itself to the limited mental
capacity of the majority, became narrower and narrower in compass--the
lot of all great ideas! The "Eternal" was no longer thought of as the
only One God of the whole universe, but as the tutelar deity of the
Israelitish tribe. The idea of national tutelar deities was at that
time deeply rooted in the consciousness of all the peoples of Western
Asia. Each nation, as it had a king of its own, had a tribal god of
its own. The Phoenicians had their Baal, the Moabites their Kemosh, the
Ammonites their Milkom. Belief in the god peculiar to a nation by no
means excluded belief in the existence of other national gods. A
people worshiped its own god, because it regarded him as its master
and protecting lord. In fact, according to the views then prevalent, a
conflict between two nations was the conflict between two national
deities. In the measure in which respect for the god of the defeated
party waned, waxed the number of worshipers of the god of the
victorious nation, and not merely among the conquerors, but also among
the adherents of other religions.[10] These crude, coarsely
materialistic conceptions of God gained entrance with the masses of
the Israelitish people. If Moab had his Kemosh, and Ammon his Milkom,
then Israel had his "Eternal," who, after the model of all other
national gods, protected and abandoned his "clients" at pleasure, in
the one case winning, in the other losing, the devotion of his
partisans. In times of distress, in which the Israelites groaned under
the yoke of the alien, the enslaved "forgot" their "conquered"
"Eternal." As they paid the tribute due the strange king, and yielded
themselves to his power, so they submitted to the strange god, and
paid him his due tribute of devotion. It followed that liberation from
the yoke of the stranger coincided with return to the God of Israel,
the "Eternal." At such times the national spirit leaped into flaming
life. This sums up the achievements of the hero-Judges. But the traces
of repeated backsliding were deep and long visible, for, together with
the religious ideas of the strange peoples, the Israelites accepted
their customs, as a rule corrupt and noxious customs, in sharp
contrast with the lofty principles of the Mosaic Law, designed to
control social life and the life of the individual.

[10] "Ye have forsaken me," says God unto Israel, "and served
other gods; wherefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry
unto the gods which ye have chosen: let them deliver you in
the time of your tribulations" (Judges X, 13-14). The same
idea is brought out still more forcibly in the arguments
adduced by Jephthah in his message to the king of Ammon (more
correctly, Moab), who had laid claim to Israelitish lands:
"Thou," says Jephthah, "mayest possess that which Kemosh thy
god giveth thee to possess, but what the Lord our God giveth
us to possess, that will we possess" (Judges xi, 24). Usually
these words are taken ironically; to me they seem to convey
literal truth rather than irony.

The Prophet Samuel, coming after the unsettled period of the Judges,
had only partial success in purifying the views of the people and
elevating it out of degradation to a higher spiritual level. His work
was continued with more marked results in the brilliant reigns of
Saul, David, and Solomon. An end was put to the baleful disunion among
the tribes, and the bond of national tradition was strengthened. The
consolidated Israelitish kingdom triumphed over its former oppressors.
The gods of the strange peoples cringed in the dust before the
all-powerful "Eternal." But, with the division of the kingdom and the
political rupture between Judah and Israel, the period of
efflorescence soon came to an end. Again confusion reigned supreme,
and customs and convictions deteriorated under foreign influence.
Prophets like Elijah and Elisha, feverish though their activity was,
stood powerless before the rank immorality in the two states. The
northern kingdom of Israel, composed of the Ten Tribes, passed swiftly
downward on the road to destruction, sharing the fate of the
numberless Oriental states whose end was inevitable by reason of inner
decay. The inspired words of the early Israelitish Prophets, Amos,
Hosea, and Micah, their trumpet-toned reproofs, their thrilling
admonitions, died unheeded upon the air--society was too depraved to
understand their import. It was reserved for later generations to give
ear to their immortal utterances, eloquent witnesses to the lofty
heights to which the Jewish spirit was permitted to mount in times of
general decline. The northern kingdom sank into irretrievable ruin.
Then came the turn of Judah. He, too, had disregarded the law of
"sanctification" from Sinai, and had nearly arrived at the point of
stifling his better impulses in the morass of materialistic living.

At this critical moment, on the line between to be and not to be, a
miracle came to pass. The spirit of the people, become flesh in its
noblest sons, rose aloft. From out of the midst of the political
disturbances, the frightful infamy, and the moral corruption,
resounded the impressive call of the great Prophets of Judah. Like a
flaming torch carried through dense darkness, they cast a glaring
light upon the vices of society, at the same time illuminating the
path that leads upward to the goal of the ethical ideal. At first the
negative, denouncing element predominated in the exhortations of the
Prophets: unsparingly they scourged the demoralization and the
iniquity, the social injustice and the political errors prevalent in
their time; they threatened divine punishment, that is, the natural
consequences of evil-doing, and appealed to the reason rather than the
feelings of the people. But gradually they elaborated positive ideals,
more soul-stirring than the ideals identified with the old religious
tradition. The Prophets were the first to touch the root of the evil.
It is clear that they realized that alien influences and the low grade
of intelligence possessed by the masses were not the sole causes of
the frequent backsliding of the people. The Jewish doctrine itself
bore within it the germ of error. The two chief pillars of the old
faith--the nationalizing of the God-idea, and the stress laid upon the
cult, the ceremonial side of religion, as compared with moral
requirements--were first and foremost to be held responsible for the
flagrant departures from the spirit of Judaism. This was the direction
in which reform was needed. Thereafter the sermons of the Prophets
betray everywhere the intense desire, on the one hand, to restore to
the God-idea its original universal character, and, on the other hand,
while strongly emphasizing the importance of morality in the religious
and the social sphere, to derogate from the value of the ceremonial
system. The "Eternal" is no longer the national God of Israel,
belonging to him exclusively; He becomes the God of the whole of
mankind, the same _Elohim_, Creator and Preserver of the world,
whom the Patriarchs had worshiped, and to whom, being His creatures,
all men owe worship. His precepts and His laws of morality are binding
upon all nations; they will bring salvation and blessing to all
without distinction.[11] The ideal of piety consists in the profession
of God and a life of rectitude. The time will come when all nations
will be penetrated by true knowledge of God and actuated by the
noblest motives; then will follow the universal brotherhood of man.
Until this consummation is reached, and so long as Israel is the only
nation formally professing the one true God, and accepting His blessed
law, Israel's sole task is to embody in himself the highest ideals, to
be an "ensign to the nations," to bear before them the banner of God's
law, destined in time to effect the transformation of the whole of
mankind. Israel is a missionary to the nations. As such he must stand
before them as a model of holiness and purity. Here is the origin of
the great idea of the spiritual "Messianism" of the Jewish people, or,
better, its "missionism," an eternal idea, far more comprehensive than
the old idea of national election, which it supplanted.

[11] Two Biblical passages, the one from Deuteronomy, the other
from Deutero-Isaiah, afford a signal illustration of the
contrast between the religious nationalism of the Mosaic law
and the universalism of the Prophets. Moses says to Israel:
"Thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy
God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself,
above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The Lord
did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were
more in number than any people: for ye were the fewest of all
people. But because the Lord loved you...." (Deut. vii, 6-8).
And these are the words of the prophecy: "Listen, O isles,
unto me, and hearken, ye people, from far! The Lord hath
called me... and said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel,
in whom I will be glorified! But I had thought, I have labored
in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain; yet
surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God.
For now said the Lord unto me... It is too light a thing that
thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
and to restore the preserved of Israel: no, I will also give
thee for a light to the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach
unto the end of the earth" (Is. xlix, 1-6).

These sublime teachings were inculcated at the moment in which Judah
was hastening to meet his fate. It had become impossible to check the
natural results of the earlier transgressions. The inevitable
happened; Babylon the mighty laid her ponderous hand upon tiny Judah.
But Judah could not be crushed. From the heavy chastisement the Jewish
nation emerged purified, re-born for a new life.



The rank and file of a people are instructed by revolutions and
catastrophes better than by sermons. More quickly than Isaiah and
Jeremiah, Nebuchadnezzar brought the Jews to a recognition of their
tasks. The short span of the Babylonian Exile (586-538 B. C. E.) was a
period of introspection and searching self-examination for the people.
Spiritual forces hitherto latent came into play; a degree of
self-consciousness asserted itself. The people grasped its mission. At
last it comprehended that to imitate inferior races, instead of
teaching them and making itself a model for them to follow, was
treason to its vocation in life. When the hour of release from the
Babylonian yoke struck, the people suddenly saw under its feet "a new
earth," and to "a new heaven" above it raised eyes dim with tears of
repentance and emotion. It renewed its covenant with God. Like the
Exodus from Egypt, so the second national deliverance was connected
with a revelation. But the messages delivered by the last
Prophets--especially by "the great unknown," the author of the latter
part of the Book of Isaiah--were too exalted, too universal in
conception, for a people but lately emerged from a severe crisis to
set about their realization at once. They could only illumine its path
as a guiding-star, inspire it as the ultimate goal, the far-off
Messianic ideal. Meanwhile the necessity appeared for uniform
religious laws, dogmas, and customs, to bind the Jews together
externally as a nation. The moralizing religion of the Prophets was
calculated to bring about the regeneration of the individual,
regardless of national ties; but at that moment the chief point
involved was the nation. It had to be established and its organization
perfected. The universalism of the Prophets was inadequate for the
consolidating of a nation. To this end outward religious discipline
was requisite, an official cult and public ceremonies. Led by such
considerations, the Jewish captives, on their return to Jerusalem,
first of all devoted themselves to the erection of a Temple, to the
creating of a visible religious centre, which was to be the rallying
point for the whole nation.

The days of the Prophets were over. Their religious universalism could
apply only to a distant future. In the present, the nation, before it
might pose as a teacher, had to learn and grow spiritually strong.
Aims of such compass require centuries for their realization.
Therefore, the spiritual-national unification of the people was pushed
into the foreground. The place of the Prophet was filled by the Priest
and the Scribe. Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah were permeated by the
purpose to make religion and the cult subservient to the cause of
national union and isolation. The erection of the Temple, the solemn
service with the singing of Psalms and the public reading from the
"Book of the Law" (the Pentateuch, which underwent its final redaction
at that time), the removal of whatever might arouse the remembrance of
strange and heathen institutions--these were the levers of their
unifying activity. At first sight this activity might appear almost
too one-sided. But if we summon to mind a picture of the conditions
prevailing in those days, we are forced to the conclusion that, in the
interest of national restoration, a consistent course was imperative.
In point of fact, however, some of Ezra's innovations testify to the
broad-minded, reformatory character of this activity; as, for
instance, the public reading of the Pentateuch, introduced with a view
to making the people see the necessity of obtaining detailed knowledge
of the principles of its religion, and obeying the precepts of the
Law, not blindly, but with conscious assent. The object steadily aimed
at was the elevation of the whole body of the people to the plane of
spirituality, its transformation, in accordance with the Biblical
injunction, into a "kingdom of priests."

This injunction of civilizing import became the starting point of the
activity of all of Ezra's successors, of the so-called school of the
_Soferim_, the Scribes, those versed in the art of writing. The
political calm that prevailed during the two centuries of the Persian
supremacy (538-332 B. C. E.), was calculated to an eminent degree to
promote spiritual development and the organization of the inner life
of the people. During this period, a large part of the writings after
the Pentateuch that have been received into the Bible were collected,
compiled, and reduced to writing. The immortal thoughts of the
Prophets clothed themselves in the visible garb of letters. On
parchment rolls and in books they were made accessible to distant
ages. The impressive traditions transmitted from earliest times, the
chronicles of the past of the people, the Psalms brought forth by the
religious enthusiasm of a long series of poets, all were gathered and
put into literary shape with the extreme of care. The spiritual
treasures of the nation were capitalized, and to this process of
capitalization solely and alone generations of men have owed the
possibility of resorting to them as a source of faith and knowledge.
Without the work of compilation achieved by the _Soferim_, of
which the uninstructed are apt to speak slightingly, mankind to-day
had no Bible, that central sun in world-literature.

These two centuries may fitly be called the school-days of the Jewish
nation; the Scribes were the teachers of Jewry. In the way of original
work but little was produced. The people fed upon the store of
spiritual food, of which sufficient had been laid up for several
generations. It was then that the Jews first earned their title to the
name, "the People of the Book." They made subservient to themselves
the two mightiest instruments of thought, the art of writing and of
reading. Their progress was brilliant, and when their schooling had
come to an end, and they stepped out into the broader life, they were
at once able to apply their knowledge successfully to practical
contingencies. They were prepared for all the vicissitudes of life.
Their spiritual equipment was complete.

Nothing could have been more opportune than this readiness to assume
the responsibilities of existence, for a time of peril and menace was
again approaching. From out of the West, a new agent of civilization,
Hellenism, advanced upon the East. Alexander the Great had put an end
to the huge Persian monarchy, and brought the whole of Western Asia
under his dominion (332 B. C. E.). His generals divided the conquered
lands among themselves. With all their might, the Ptolemies in Egypt
and the Seleucidae in Syria hellenized the countries subject to their
rule. In the old domain of the Pharaohs, as in Babylonia, in Phoenicia,
and in Syria, the Greek language was currently spoken, Greek
ceremonies were observed, the Greek mode of life was adopted. Athens
ceded her rights of primogeniture to New Athens, Alexandria, capital
of Egypt, and cosmopolitan centre of the civilized world. For a whole
century Judea played the sad part of the apple of discord between the
Egyptian and the Syrian dynasty (320-203 B. C. E.). By turns she owned
the sway of the Ptolemies and the Seleucidae, until finally, in 203,
she was declared a Syro-Macedonian province. Here, as in the other
parts of their realm, the rulers devoted themselves energetically to
the dissemination of Greek culture. Meeting with resistance, they had
resort to main force. At first, indeed, a large part of the people
permitted itself to be blinded by the "beauty of Japheth," and
promoted assimilation with the Greeks. But when the spread of
Hellenism began to threaten the spiritual individuality of Judaism,
the rest of the nation, endowed with greater capacity of resistance,
arose and sturdily repulsed the enemy.

Hellenism was the first gravely dangerous opponent Judaism had to
encounter. It was not the ordinary meeting of two peoples, or of two
kinds of civilization. It was a clash between two theories of life
that stood abruptly opposed to each other, were, indeed, mutually
exclusive. It was a duel between "the Eternal" on the one side, and
Zeus on the other--between the Creator of the universe, the invisible
spiritual Being who had, in a miraculous way, revealed religious and
ethical ideals to mankind, and the deity who resided upon Olympus, who
personified the highest force of nature, consumed vast quantities of
nectar and ambrosia, and led a pretty wild life upon Olympus and
elsewhere. In the sphere of religion and morality, Hellene and Judean
could not come close to each other. The former deified nature herself,
the material universe; the latter deified the Creator of nature, the
spirit informing the material universe. The Hellene paid homage first
and foremost to external beauty and physical strength; the Judean to
inner beauty and spiritual heroism. The Hellenic theory identified the
moral with the beautiful and the agreeable, and made life consist of
an uninterrupted series of physical and mental pleasures. The Judean
theory is permeated by the strictly ethical notions of duty, of
purity, of "holiness"; it denounces licentiousness, and sets up as its
ideal the controlling of the passions and the infinite improvement of
the soul, not of the intellect alone, but of the feelings as well.
These differences between the two theories of life showed themselves
in the brusque opposition in character and customs that made the
Greeks and the Jews absolute antipodes in many spheres of life. It
cannot be denied that in matters of the intellect, especially in the
field of philosophy and science, not to mention art, it might have
been greatly to the advantage of the Jews to become disciples of the
Greeks. Nor is there any doubt that the brighter aspects of Hellenism
would make an admirable complement to Judaism. An harmonious blending
of the Prophets with Socrates and Plato would have produced a
many-sided, ideal _Weltanschauung_. The course of historical events
from the first made such blending, which would doubtless have
required great sacrifices on both sides, an impossible consummation.
In point of fact, the events were such as to widen the abyss between
the two systems. The meeting of Judaism and Hellenism unfortunately
occurred at the very moment when the classical Hellenes had been
supplanted by the hellenized Macedonians and Syrians, who had accepted
what were probably the worst elements of the antique system, while
appropriating but few of the intellectual excellencies of Greek
culture. There was another thwarting circumstance. In this epoch, the
Greeks were the political oppressors of the Jews, outraging Jewish
national feeling through their tyranny to the same degree as by their
immoral life they shocked Jewish ethical feeling and Jewish chastity.

Outraged national and religious feeling found expression in the
insurrection of the Maccabees (168 B. C. E.). The hoary priest
Mattathias and his sons fought for the dearest and noblest treasures
of Judaism. Enthusiasm begets heroism. The Syrian-Greek yoke was
thrown off, and, after groaning under alien rule, the Persian, the
Egyptian, and the Syro-Macedonian, for four hundred years, Judea
became an independent state. In its foreign relations, the new state
was secured by the self-sacrificing courage of the first Maccabean
brothers, and from within it was supported by the deep-sunk pillars of
the spiritual life. The rise of the three famous parties, the
Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Essenes, by no means testifies, as
many would have us believe, to national disintegration, but rather to
the intense spiritual activity of the people. The three tendencies
afforded opportunity for the self-consciousness of the nation to
express itself in all its variety and force. The unbending religious
dogmatism of the Sadducees, the comprehensive practical sense of the
Pharisees in religious and Rational concerns, the contemplative
mysticism of the Essenes, they are the most important offshoots from
the Jewish system as held at that time. In consequence of the external
conditions that brought about the destruction of the Maccabean
state[12] after a century's existence (165-63 B. C. E.), the Pharisee
tendency, which had proved itself the best in practice, won the upper
hand. When Judea was held fast in the clutches of the Roman eagle, all
hope of escape being cut off, the far-seeing leaders of the people
gained the firm conviction that the only trustworthy support of the
Jewish nation lay in its religion. They realized that the preservation
of national unity could be effected only by a consistent organization
of the religious law, which was to envelop and shape the whole
external life of the people. This explains the feverish activity of
the early creators of the Mishna, of Hillel, Shammai, and others, and
it interprets also the watchword of still older fame, "Make a fence
about the Law." If up to that moment religious usage in its
development had kept abreast of the requirements of social and
individual life, the requirements out of which it had grown forth, it
now became a national function, and its further evolution advanced
with tremendous strides. For the protection of the old "Mosaic Laws,"
a twofold and a threefold fence of new legal ordinances was erected
about them, and the cult became more and more complicated. But the
externals of religion did not monopolize all the forces. The moral
element in the nation was promoted with equal vigor. Hillel, the head
of the Pharisee party, was not a legislator alone, he was also a model
of humane principles and rare moral attainments.

[12] The external causes of the downfall of the Maccabean state,
dynastic quarrels, are well known. Much less light has been
thrown upon the inner, deeper-lying causes of the catastrophe.
These are possibly to be sought in the priestly-political
dualism of the Judean form of government. The ideal of a
nation educated by means of the Bible was a theocratic state,
and the first princes of the Maccabean house, acting at once
as regents and as high priests, in a measure reached this
ideal. But the attempts of other nations had demonstrated
conclusively enough that a dualistic form of government cannot
maintain itself permanently. Sooner or later one of the two
elements, the priestly or the secular, is bound to prevail
over the other and crush it. In the Judean realm, with its
profoundly religious trend, the priestly element obtained the
ascendency, and political ruin ensued. The priestly-political
retreated before the priestly-national form of government.
Though the religious element was powerless to preserve the
_state_ from destruction, we shall see that it has
brilliantly vindicated its ability to keep the _nation_

While Judaism, in its native country was striving to isolate itself,
and was seizing upon all sorts of expedients to insure this end, it
readily entered into relations, outside of Judea, with other systems
of thought, and accepted elements of the classical culture. Instead of
the violent opposition which the Palestinian Judaism of the
pre-Maccabean period, that is, the period of strife, had offered to
Hellenism, the tendency to make mutual concessions, and pave the way
for an understanding between the two theories of life, asserted itself
in Alexandria. In the capital city of the hellenized world the Jews
constituted one of the most important elements of culture. According
to Mommsen, the Jewish colony in Alexandria was not inferior, in point
of numbers, to the Jewish population of Jerusalem, the metropolis.
Influenced by Greek civilization, the Jews in turn exercised decisive
influence upon their heathen surroundings, and introduced a new
principle of development into the activity of the cultivated classes.
The Greek translation of the Biblical writings formed the connecting
link between Judaism and Hellenism. The "Septuaginta," the translation
of the Pentateuch, in use since the third century before the Christian
era, had acquainted the classical world with Jewish views and
principles. The productions of the Prophets and, in later centuries,
of the other Biblical authors, translated and spread broadcast, acted
irresistibly upon the spirit of the cultivated heathen, and granted
him a glimpse into a world of hitherto unknown notions. On this soil
sprang up the voluminous Judeo-Hellenic literature, of which but a
few, though characteristic, specimens have descended to us. The
intermingling of Greek philosophy with Jewish religious conceptions
resulted in a new religio-philosophic doctrine, with a mystic tinge,
of which Philo is the chief exponent. In Jerusalem, Judaism appeared
as a system of practical ceremonies and moral principles; in
Alexandria, it presented itself as a complex of abstract symbols and
poetical allegories. The Alexandrian form of Judaism might satisfy the
intellect, but it could not appeal to the feelings. It may have made
Judaism accessible to the cultivated minority, to the upper ten
thousand with philosophic training; for the masses of the heathen
people Judaism continued unintelligible. Yet it was pre-eminently the
masses that were strongly possessed by religious craving. Disappointed
in their old beliefs, they panted after a new belief, after spiritual
enlightenment. In the decaying classical world, which had so long
filled out life with materialistic and intellectual interests, the
moral and religious feelings, the desire for a living faith, for an
active inspiration, had awakened, and was growing with irresistible

Then, from deep out of the bosom of Judaism, there sprang a moral,
religious doctrine destined to allay the burning thirst for religion,
and bring about a reorganization of the heathen world. The originators
of Christianity stood wholly upon the ground of Judaism. In their
teachings were reflected as well the lofty moral principles of the
Pharisee leader as the contemplative aims of the Essenes. But the same
external circumstances that had put Judaism under the necessity of
choosing a sharply-defined practical, national policy, made it
impossible for Judaism to fraternize with the preachers of the new
doctrine. Judaism, in fact, was compelled to put aside entirely the
thought of universal missionary activity. Instead, it had to devote
its powers to the more pressing task of guarding the spiritual unity
of a nation whose political bonds were visibly dropping away.

For just then the Jewish nation, gory with its own blood, was
struggling in the talons of the Roman eagle. Its sons fought
heroically, without thought of self. When, finally, physical strength
gave out, their spiritual energy rose to an intenser degree. The state
was annihilated, the nation remained alive. At the very moment when
the Temple was enwrapped in flames, and the Roman legions flooded
Jerusalem, the spiritual leaders of Jewry sat musing, busily casting
about for a means whereby, without a state, without a capital, without
a Temple, Jewish unity might be maintained. And they solved the
difficult problem.



The solution of the problem consisted chiefly in more strictly
following out the process of isolation. In a time in which the worship
of God preached by Judaism was rapidly spreading to all parts of the
classical world, and the fundamental principles of the Jewish religion
were steadily gaining appreciation and active adherence, this intense
desire for seclusion may at first glance seem curious. But the
phenomenon is perfectly simple. A foremost factor was national
feeling, enhanced to a tremendous degree at the time of the
destruction of Jerusalem. Lacking a political basis, it was
transferred to religious soil. Every tradition, every custom, however
insignificant, was cherished as a jewel. Though without a state and
without territory, the Jews desired to form a nation, if only a
spiritual nation, complete in itself. They considered themselves then
as before the sole guardians of the law of God. They did not believe
in a speedy fulfilment of the prophetical promise concerning "the end
of time" when all nations would be converted to God. A scrupulous
keeper of the Law, Judaism would not hear of the compromises that
heathendom, lately entered into the bosom of the faith, claimed as its
due consideration. It refused to sacrifice a single feature of its
simple dogmatism, of its essential ceremonies, such as circumcision
and Sabbath rest. Moreover, in the period following close upon the
fall of the Temple, a part of the people still nursed the hope of
political restoration, a hope repudiating in its totality the
proclamation of quite another Messianic doctrine. The delusion ended
tragically in Bar Kochba's hapless rebellion (135 C. E.), whose
disastrous issue cut off the last remnant of hope for the restoration
of an "earthly kingdom." Thereafter the ideal of a spiritual state was
replaced by the ideal of a spiritual nation, rallying about a peculiar
religious banner. Jewry grew more and more absorbed in itself. Its
seclusion from the rest of the world became progressively more
complete. Instinct dictated this course as an escape from the danger
of extinction, or, at least, of stagnation. It was conscious of
possessing enough vitality and energy to live for itself and work out
its own salvation. It had its spiritual interests, its peculiar
ideals, and a firm belief in the future. It constituted an ancient
order, whose patent of nobility had been conferred upon it in the days
of the hoary past by the Lord God Himself. Such as it was, it could
not consent to ally itself with _parvenus_, ennobled but to-day,
and yesterday still bowing down before "gods of silver and gods of
gold." This white-haired old man, with a stormy past full of
experiences and thought, would not mingle with the scatter-brained
crowd, would not descend to the level of neophytes dominated by
fleeting, youthful enthusiasm. Loyally this weather-bronzed,
inflexible guardian of the Law stuck to his post--the post entrusted
to him by God Himself--and, faithful to his duty, held fast to the
principle _j'y suis, j'y reste_.

As a political nation threatened by its neighbors seeks support in its
army, and provides sufficient implements of war, so a spiritual nation
must have spiritual weapons of defense at its command. Such weapons
were forged in great numbers, and deposited in the vast arsenal called
the Talmud. The Talmud represents a complicated spiritual discipline,
enjoining unconditional obedience to a higher invisible power. Where
discipline is concerned, questions as to the necessity for one or
another regulation are out of place. Every regulation is necessary, if
only because it contributes to the desired end, namely, discipline.
Let no one ask, then, to what purpose the innumerable religious and
ritual regulations, sometimes reaching the extreme of pettiness, to
what purpose the comprehensive code in which every step in the life of
the faithful is foreseen. The Talmudic religious provisions, all taken
together, aim to put the regimen of the nation on a strictly uniform
basis, so that everywhere the Jew may be able to distinguish a brother
in faith by his peculiar mode of life. It is a uniform with insignia,
by which soldiers of the same regiment recognize one another. Despite
the vast extent of the Jewish diaspora, the Jews formed a
well-articulated spiritual army, an invisible "state of God"
(_civitas dei_). Hence these "knights of the spirit," the
citizens of this invisible state, had to wear a distinct uniform, and
be governed by a suitable code of army regulations.

As a protection for Jewish national unity, which was exposed to the
greatest danger after the downfall of the state, there arose and
developed, without any external influence whatsoever, an extraordinary
dictatorship, unofficial and spiritual. The legislative activity of
all the dictators--such as, Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai, Rabbi Akiba,
the Hillelites, and the Shammaites--was formulated in the Mishna, the
"oral law," which was the substructure of the Talmud. Their activity
had a characteristic feature, which deserves somewhat particularized
description. The laws were not laid down arbitrarily and without
ceremony. In order to possess binding force, they required the
authoritative confirmation to be found in the Mosaic Books. From
these, whether by logical or by forced interpretation of the holy
text, its words, or, perchance, its letters, they had to be derived.
Each law, barring only the original "traditions," the _Halacha
le-Moshe mi-Sinai_, was promulgated over the supreme signature, as
it were, that is, with the authentication of a word from the Holy
Scriptures. Or it was inferred from another law so authenticated. The
elaboration of every law was thus connected with a very complicated
process of thought, requiring both inductive and deductive reasoning,
and uniting juridical interpretation with the refinements of
casuistry. This legislation was the beginning of Talmudic science,
which from that time on, for many centuries, growing with the ages,
claimed in chief part the intellectual activity of Jewry. The schools
and the academies worked out a system of laws at once religious and
practical in character, which constituted, in turn, the object of
further theoretic study in the same schools and academies. In the
course of time, however, the means became the end. Theoretic
investigation of the law, extending and developing to the furthest
limits, in itself, without reference to its practical value, afforded
satisfaction to the spiritual need. The results of theorizing often
attained the binding force of law in practical life, not because
circumstances ordered it, but simply because one or another academy,
by dint of logic or casuistry, had established it as law. The number
of such deductions from original and secondary laws increased in
geometric progression, and practical life all but failed to keep up
with the theory. The "close of the Mishna," that is, its reduction to
writing, had no daunting effect upon the zeal for research. If
anything, a new and strong impetus was imparted to it. As up to that
time the text of the Holy Scriptures had been made the basis of
interpretation, giving rise to the most diverse inferences, so the
rabbis now began to use the law book recently canonized as a new basis
of interpretation, and to carry its principles to their utmost
consequences. In this way originated first the "Palestinian Gemara."
Later, when the Patriarchate in Palestine was stripped of its glory by
persecutions, and, in consequence, the centre of activity had to be
transferred from the Talmud academies of Palestine to those of
Babylonia, supreme place and exclusive dominion were obtained by the
"Babylonian Gemara," put into permanent form about the year 500 C. E.,
a gigantic work, the result of two hundred years of mental labor.

This busy intellectual activity was as comprehensive as it was
thoroughgoing. Talmudic legislation, the Halacha, by no means confines
itself to religious practices, extensive as this field is. It embraces
the whole range of civil and social life. Apart from the dietary laws,
the regulations for the festivals and the divine service, and a mass
of enactments for the shaping of daily life, the Talmud elaborated a
comprehensive and fairly well-ordered system of civil and criminal
law, which not infrequently bears favorable comparison with the famous
_rationi scriptae_ of the Romans. While proceeding with extreme
rigor and scrupulousness in ritual matters, the Talmud is governed in
its social legislation by the noblest humanitarian principles.
Doubtless this difference of attitude can be explained by the fact
that religious norms are of very much greater importance for a nation
than judicial regulations, which concern themselves only with the
interests of the individual, and exercise but little influence upon
the development of the national spirit.

The most sympathetic aspects of the Jewish spirit in that epoch are
revealed in the moral and poetic elements of the Talmud, in the Agada.
They are the receptacles into which the people poured all its
sentiments, its whole soul. They are a clear reflex of its inner
world, its feelings, hopes, ideals. The collective work of the nation
and the trend of history have left much plainer traces in the Agada
than in the dry, methodical Halacha. In the Agada the learned jurist
and formalist appears transformed into a sage or poet, conversing with
the people in a warm, cordial tone, about the phenomena of nature,
history, and life. The reader is often thrown into amazement by the
depth of thought and the loftiness of feeling manifested in the Agada.
Involuntarily one pays the tribute of reverence to its practical
wisdom, to its touching legends pervaded by the magic breath of poesy,
to the patriarchal purity of its views. But these pearls are not
strung upon one string, they are not arranged in a complete system.
They are imbedded here and there, in gay variety, in a vast mass of
heterogeneous opinions and sentiments naive at times and at times
eccentric. The reader becomes aware of the thoughts before they are
consolidated. They are still in a fluid, mobile state, still in
process of making. The same vivacious, versatile spirit is revealed in
the Midrashim literature, directly continuing the Agada up to the end
of the middle ages. These two species of Jewish literature, the Agada
and the Midrashim, have a far greater absolute value than the Halacha.
The latter is an official work, the former a national product. Like
every other special legislation, the Halacha is bound to definite
conditions and times, while the Agada concerns itself with the eternal
verities. The creations of the philosophers, poets, and moralists are
more permanent than the work of legislators.

Beautiful as the Agada is, and with all its profundity, it lacks
breadth. It rests wholly on the national, not on a universal basis. It
would be vain to seek in it for the comprehensive universalism of the
Prophets. Every lofty ideal is claimed as exclusively Jewish. So far
from bridging over the chasm between Israel and the other nations,
knowledge and morality served to widen it. It could not be otherwise,
there was no influx of air from without. The national horizon grew
more and more contracted. The activities of the people gathered
intensity, but in the same measure they lost in breadth. It was the
only result to be expected from the course of history in those ages.
Let us try to conceive what the first five centuries of the Christian
era, the centuries during which the Talmud was built up, meant in the
life of mankind. Barbarism, darkness, and elemental outbreaks of man's
migratory instincts, illustrated by the "great migration of races,"
are characteristic features of those centuries. It was a wretched
transition period between the fall of the world of antique culture and
the first germinating of a new Christian civilization. The Orient, the
centre and hearth of Judaism, was shrouded in impenetrable darkness.
In Palestine and in Babylonia, their two chief seats, the Jews were
surrounded by nations that still occupied the lowest rung of the
ladder of civilization, that had not yet risen above naive mysticism
in religion, or continued to be immersed in superstitions of the
grossest sort.

In this abysmal night of the middle ages, the lamp of thought was fed
and guarded solely and alone by the Jews. It is not astonishing, then,
that oblivious of the other nations they should have dispensed light
only for themselves. Furthermore, the circumstance must be considered
that, in the period under discussion, the impulse to separate from
Judaism gained ground in the Christian world. After the Council of
Nicaea, after Constantine the Great had established Christianity as
the state-church, the official breach between the Old Testament and
the New Testament partisans became unavoidable.

Thus the Jews, robbed of their political home, created a spiritual
home for themselves. Through the instrumentality of the numberless
religious rules which the Talmud had laid down, and which shaped the
life of the individual as well as that of the community, they were
welded into a firmly united whole. The Jewish spirit--national feeling
and individual mental effort alike--was absorbed in this pursuit of
unification. Head, heart, hands, all human functions of the Jew, were
brought under complete control and cast into fixed forms, by these
five centuries of labor. With painful exactitude, the Talmud
prescribed ordinances for all the vicissitudes of life, yet, at the
same time, offered sufficient food for brain and heart. It was at once
a religion and a science. The Jew was equipped with all the
necessaries. He could satisfy his wants from his own store. There was
no need for him to knock at strange doors, even though he had thereby
profited. The consequences of this attitude, positive as well as
negative consequences, asserted themselves in the further course of
Jewish history.



With the close of the Talmud, at the beginning of the sixth century,
the feverish intellectual activity abated. The Jewish centre of
gravity continued in Babylonia. In this country, in which the Jewish
race had heard its cradle song at the dawn of existence, and later on
_Judaea capta_ had sat and wept remembering Zion, Judaism, after
the destruction of the second Temple and hundreds of years of trials,
was favored with a secure asylum. In the rest of the diaspora,
persecution gave the Jews no respite, but in Babylonia, under Persian
rule, they lived for some centuries comparatively free from
molestation. Indeed, they enjoyed a measure of autonomy in internal
affairs, under a chief who was entitled Exilarch (_Resh-Galutha_).
The Law and the word of God went forth from Babylonia for the Jews of
all lands. The Babylonian Talmud became the anthoritative code for the
Jewish people, a holy book second only to the Bible. The intellectual
calm that supervened at the beginning of the sixth century and lasted
until the end of the eighth century, betrayed itself in the slackening of
independent creation, though not in the flagging of intellectual activity
in general. In the schools and academies of Pumbeditha, Nahardea,
and Sura, scientific work was carried on with the same zest as before,
only this work had for its primary object the sifting and exposition of
the material heaped up by the preceding generations. This was the
province of the Sabureans and the Geonim, whose relation to the Talmud
was the same as that of the Scribes (the _Soferim_) of the Second
Temple to the Bible (see above, ch. vi). In the later period, as in the
earlier, the aim was the capitalization of the accumulated spiritual
treasures, an undertaking that gives little occasion for movement and
life, but all the more for endurance and industry.

This intellectual balance was destroyed by two events: the appearance
of Islam and the rise of Karaism. Islam, the second legitimate
offspring of Judaism, was appointed to give to religious thought in
the slumbering Orient the slight impulse it needed to start it on its
rapid career of sovereign power. Barely emancipated from swaddling
clothes, young Hotspur at once began to rage. He sought an outlet for
his unconquerable thirst for action, his lust for world-dominion. The
victorious religious wars of the followers of Allah ensued. This
foreign movement was not without significance for the fate of the
Jews. They were surrounded no longer by heathens but by Mohammedans,
who believed in the God of the Bible, and through the mouth of their
prophet conferred upon the Jews the honorable appellation of "the
People of the Book." In the eighth century the wars ceased, and the
impetuous energy of the rejuvenated Orient was diverted into quieter
channels. The Bagdad Khalifate arose, the peaceful era of the growth
of industry, the sciences, and the arts was inaugurated. Endowed with
quick discernment for every enlightening movement, the Jews yielded to
the vivifying magic of young Arabic culture.

Partly under the influence of the Arabic tendency to split into
religio-philosophic sects, partly from inner causes, Karaism sprang up
in the second half of the eighth century. Its active career began with
a vehement protest against the Talmud as the regulator of life and
thought. It proclaimed the creators of this vast encyclopedia to be
usurpers of spiritual power, and urged a return to the Biblical laws
in their unadulterated simplicity. The weakness of its positive
principles hindered the spread of Karaism, keeping it forever within
the narrow limits of a sect and consigning it to stagnation. What gave
it vogue during the first century of its existence was its negative
strength, its violent opposition to the Talmud, which aroused
strenuous intellectual activity. For a long time it turned Judaism
away from its one-sided Talmudic tendency, and opened up new avenues
of work for it. True to their motto: "Search diligently in the Holy
Scriptures," the adherents of Karaism applied themselves to the
rational study of the Bible, which had come to be, among the
Talmudists, the object of casuistic interpretation and legendary
adornment. By the cultivation of grammar and lexicography as applied
to the Biblical thesaurus of words, they resuscitated the Hebrew
language, which, ousted by the Aramaic dialect, had already sunk into
oblivion. By the same means they laid the foundation of a school of
rejuvenated poetry. In general, thought on religious and philosophic
subjects was promoted to a higher degree by the lively discussions
between them and the Talmudists.

By imperceptible steps Talmudic Judaism, influenced at once by the
enlightened Arabs and the protesting Karaites, departed from the "four
ells of the Halacha," and widened its horizon. Among the spiritual
leaders of the people arose men who occupied themselves not only with
the study of the Talmud but also with a rational exegesis of the
Bible, with philology, poetry, philosophy. The great Gaon Saadiah
(892-942) united within himself all strands of thought. Over and above
a large number of philological and other writings of scientific
purport, he created a momentous religio-philosophic system, with the
aim to clarify Judaism and refine religious conceptions. He was an
encyclopedic thinker, a representative of the highest Jewish culture
and of Arabic culture as well--he wrote his works in Arabic by
preference. In this way Jewish thought gained ground more and more in
the Orient. It was in the West, however, that it attained soon after
to the climax of its development.

Gradually the centre of gravity of Jewry shifted from Asia Minor to
Western Europe. Beginning with the sixth century, the sparsely sown
Jewish population of Occidental Europe increased rapidly in numbers.
In Italy, Byzantium, France, and Visigothic Spain, important Jewish
communities were formed. The medieval intolerance of the Church,
though neither so widespread nor so violent as it later became,
suffered its first outbreak in that early century. The persecutions of
the Jews by the Visigothic kings of Spain and the Bishops Avitus of
Clermont and Agobard in France (sixth to the ninth century) were the
prelude to the more systematic and the more bloody cruelties of
subsequent days. The insignificant numbers of the European Jews and
the insecurity of their condition stood in the way of forming an
intellectual centre of their own. They were compelled to acknowledge
the spiritual supremacy of their Oriental brethren in faith. With the
beginning of the tenth century the situation underwent a change.
Arabic civilization, which had penetrated to Spain in previous
centuries, brought about a radical transformation in the character of
the country. The realm of the fanatic Visigoths, half barbarous and
wholly averse to the light of progress, changed into the prosperous
and civilized Khalifate of the Ommeyyades. Thither the best forces of
Oriental Jewry transferred themselves. With the growth of the Jewish
population in Arabic Spain and the strengthening of its communal
organization, the spiritual centre of the Jewish people gradually
established itself in Spain. The academies of Sura and Pumbeditha
yielded first place to the high schools of Cordova and Toledo.

The Jewry of the East resigned the national hegemony to the Jewry of
the West. The Geonim withdrew in favor of the Rabbis. After centuries
of seclusion, the Jewish spirit once more asserted itself, and enjoyed
a period of efflorescence. The process of national growth became more
complex, more varied.



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