Jewish History by S. M. DubnowAn Essay in the Philosophy of History

David King, Charles Franks, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team JEWISH HISTORY AN ESSAY IN THE PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY BY S. M. DUBNOW PREFACE TO THE GERMAN TRANSLATION 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
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  • 1893
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David King, Charles Franks, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team






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 quoting:

“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 Juden_.

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 Moses
Mosaism a Religious and Moral as well as a Social and Political System
National Deities
The Prophets and the two Kingdoms Judaism a Universal Religion


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


Beginning of Persecutions in Europe Arabic Civilization in Europe


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


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 Chassidism
Persecutions and Morbid Piety


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 types.[2]

[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 feeling.

“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 applicable:

“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_ intact.

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 force.

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.