Perhaps no minority, religious or ethnic, has stirred more controversy and debate than that of the Jews. Involving varying and sometimes contradictory views and reviews, discussions on the Jews can be traced in literature and religion, art and philosophy, politics and sociology, folklore and mythology. In English literature, to be specific, the Jew makes recurrent appearance as an unmistakable character coupled with certain qualities, almost "standardized". This cannot pass unnoticed by any avid reading of English drama, fiction and poetry from the Renaissance to modern times. From William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe to present-day novel, the Jew is shaped in such away as to become the type of the cunning, opportunist and selfish usurer.
But irrespective of the fictional presentations and misrepresentations of the Jew in English belles lettres, it is feasible to reconstruct the un/ biased opinions held on the Jews as mirrored in the more serious in-depth writings and arguments of the non-fictional prose works of the age of the industrial revolution. Here, the intellectual treatment of the Jewish minority is usually geared with the irritating and alarming atmosphere of a transitory period which saw developments that led to the making of our own epoch. Not only is this period significant for its vast transitions which foreran modern convictions and prejudices, it is also significant for the influence it exerted in the shaping of Jewish discontent and in the sharpening of their unrest within an opposing, anti-Semitic social climate in Europe. To be sure, this is the age that witnessed the accumulation of capital coupled with the predominance of ideas of nationalism and their consequent chauvinist offshoots. Such circumstances should have contributed to the making of Jewish antipathy to the social arena where they found themselves and, therefore, to the ripening of their aspirations for a racist movement which combines them into unified political action like Zionism: hence the relevance of this topic to our own era.
Although incidental, Carlyle's and Irving's (albeit American) references to Judaism are by no means insignificant as they come up within the context of their preoccupation with history as a "Letter of Instructions". (1) Both writers discuss Judaism to support their arguments to justify the advent of Islam as a reaction and correction to the deteriorating religious traditions of pre-Islam Arabia.(2) In his early works, the Calvinist and Bible-bound Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) echoes his obsession with the Biblical prophets with their painful search for ultimate truth, identifying his fictional hero, Teufelsdrockh, (an autobiographical figure, to be sure) with the wandering Jew.(3) This self-identification with the wandering Jew is expanded to include the universal prophetic type with a covert predilection to define Carlyle's own social role.(4) With an eye on his own future social aspirations, he presents history as a tool of prophecy.(5)
But outside the conceptualized "wandering Jew", the incarnation of the insightful and heroic, Carlyle's opinion of the Jews deteriorates. He seems to draw a clear-cut dividing line between the sublime universality of the wandering Jew and the Jews in history. In the "Hero as Prophet: Mahomet: Islam" (1840), he treats the Jews as a self-centered, closed ethnic community inferior to the Arabs so as to pave the way for his theory that they deteriorated in the course of time, losing the original tenets of their religion.(6) They do not seem to him like the Jews of the Old Testament, chockfull with stories of the prophets. In his discussion of the Book of Job, " one of the grandest things ever written with pen", (7) Carlyle infers that the noble universality of this book does not fit in with their sectarian awareness. "One feels," he states, " as if it were not Hebrew: such a noble universality, different from noble patriotism or sectarianism"(Heroes, 49). For him, one of the significant virtues of the advent of Islam is its eradication of the confused and confusing Jewish "vague traditions" (Heroes, 55) with their "idle wire drawings" (Heroes, 63).
Carlyle's doubts about the Jewish mind's capability to produce "A noble Book: all men's Book" (Heroes, 49) create a sonorous echo in the Orientalizing imagination of Sir Richard F. Burton (1821-11890). The latter's secular (at times atheistic) mentality, stemming from avowed anti-religious convictions, sets him free from the restraints that colored Carlyle's treatment of the Jews so as to pass outrageous attacks on the Old Testament. Based on the teachings of their holy writ, the Jews are forever enemies of non-Jews, according to Burton
There is no more immoral work than the "Old Testament."
Its deity is an ancient Hebrew of the worst type, who condones,
permits, or commands every sin in the Decalogue to a Jewish
patriarch, qua patriarch. He orders Abraham to murder his
son and allows Jacob to swindle his brother; Moses to slaughter
an Egyptian, and The Jews to plunder and spoil a whole people.(8)
It is this omnipresent awareness that the Jews make a closed blood community, professing a non-missionary religion based on the myth of the "chosen people", which imposes on the Europeans suspicions that they are unreliable citizens. Citizenship comes second to religion. Indissoluble and self-alienating in the societies they nominally belong to, the Jews seem responsive to the foreign enemy and, therefore, apt to treason. It is accordingly not far-fetched to recall the cruelties that afflicted the Jews under the third Reich as an expression of the age-old accumulation of anti-Jewish sentiments that saw in the Jew a probable traitor in times of war or turmoil. The persistence of this suspicion is by no means baseless as historical evidence testifies to the dual and unreliable allegiance of the Jews. Washington Irving (1783-1859) in his account of the fall of the Iberian peninsula in the hands of the Arabs singles out treachery as a major factor in the rapid defeat of Gothic Spain.(9) He dwells at length on the Jewish rabbi's secret meeting with the Arab martial leader, Tariq. His speech serves not only to display the Jews' readiness to hand Toledo to the conqueror, but also to mark the persecution imposed on the Jews by the Christians. "Know, O leader of the host of Islam", states the old rabbi, approaching the Arab chieftain:
I am sent to thee on the part of the children of Israel resident in Toledo. We have been oppressed and insulted by the Christians in the time of their prosperity , and now that they are threatened with siege , they have taken from us all our provisions and our money ; they have compelled us to work like slaves, repairing their walls; and they oblige us to bear arms and guard a part of the towers. We abhor their yoke, and are ready, if thou wilt receive us as subjects and permit us the free enjoyment of our religion and our property , to deliver the towers we guard into thy hands, and give thee safe entrance into the city.(10)
This embassy shows that the Jews are not really interested in their fellow countrymen and in who rules them as much as they are interested in their material prosperity and religious independence. Hence, their siding with the strong against the weak, the conqueror against the conquered. Whether Muslim or Christian, Arab or Spaniard, it does not matter. What matters most is allegiance to the religious faith that eventually isolates them from other people.
It should also be worth noting that, to the European mind, there is a persistent correlation between Arab and Jew. This European phenomenon, of course, is an outcome of the Aryan myth that flourished in this age and catered for the difference between the Aryan and the Semite. This distinction enhanced treating both Arabs and Jews merely as Semitic people with singular intellectual traits different from the Aryan. Even a humanist like Matthew Arnold does not escape this distinction, developing and expanding it to encompass two different mentalities denoted as "Hebraism" and "Hellenism". (11) Under the influence of Ernest Renan and Count Gobineau.(12) Arnold broadens the gap between the Aryan and the Semitic to be unbridgeable. In one of his less researched works, "A Persian Passion Play", a treatise that focuses on the defeat of the Aryan Persians by the Semitic Arabs, he traces the incongruity between the two races to irreconcilable racial origins.(13)
At full swing in the age of the industrial revolution, susceptibility to Aryanism made most of the intellectual treatments of the Jews tend to put them in the same basket of the Arabs. Though distinguishing between Arab and Jews, Carlyle did assure his audience that the Arabs were of "Jewish kindred" (Heroes, 48). The sweeping generalizations of Renan and Gobineau within the domineering categorization of Semite vs. Aryan gave vent to much diminutive statements of particular significance. It should be significant to remember that a statesman, novelist and thinker like Benjamin Disraeli, himself of Jewish origin, tended to think of the Arabs as "simply Jews on horseback, and all are orientals at heart".(14) Even "progressive" thinkers like Karl Marx and Frederick Agels were carried away by the same wave of Aryanism. In a letter to Marx (May 1853) Engels wrote, "the Jews were nothing more than a small Bedouin tribe, like the rest".(15) Writing back to his disciple (June) on the "Hebrews and the Arabs", Marx noted a "general relationship can be proved among all oriental tribes, between the settlement of one part of the tribes and continued nomadic life of the others". (16) Racially, as well as religiously alien; the Jews were viewed with suspicion and treated with isolationist notions in nineteenth-century Europe.
Nowhere is the antipathy against the Jewish minority more clearly stated than in a significant essay by Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-59) where he surveys the major accusations set against the Jews in an attempt to justify the eradication of the "Civil Disabilities of the Jews" (January, 1831). Within the seemingly super-heated debate in the House of Parliament on whether the Jews were to be admitted into political power in an overwhelmingly Christian country, Lord Macaulay begins his defense of the Jews by recalling and criticizing the sectarian basis of depriving the British Catholics of assuming important positions in the government. His secular (as opposed to sectarian) frame of mind facilitates his approach to such governmental offices merely as "crafts", professions not really different from that of a cobbler: do we ask a cobbler of his religion before handing our shoes to him for mending? (17) Secularism facilitates this puzzling juxtaposition between a cobbler and a statesman, a Catholic and a Jew.
But Macaulay's argument attains a convincing dimension by affiliating power with wealth. If the legislature is power, money is power as well. In the age of utilitarianism money manufactures members of parliament (CDJ, 136), according to Macaulay. Although meant to refute objections to the Jews' claims to assume political power, he fails to overlook the age-old inherent correlation between the Jews and usury as he begin his argument by a reference to the power of the creditor over the debtor (CDJ, 136). Rather than mobilizing anti-Jewish sentiments, as is the situation with Shakespeare's Shylock, Macaulay's argument seems to aim at pacifying the wrath of wealth by neutralizing and / or using it to serve multi-purpose ends. The moneylender is to be employed not isolated, accordingly. One is bound to conclude that the writer aims at passing a piece of implicit warning to the nation: if the legislators deprive the Jews of occupying important offices, their wealth / power may turn destructive and revengeful because "where wealth is, there power must inevitably be" (CDJ, 136). Deprivation leads to isolation and, the latter, to desolation. He believes that the Jews could, not only nominate members of the parliament, they were also capable of exerting tremendous influence on the more decisive authority of the monarchy. Largely anticipating today's trans-border power of money, Macaulay believes that the money market (controlled by Jewish capital) is Trans-national and, therefore, global. In their Diaspora, the money-minded Jews can also be seen as Trans-border despots. In his analysis of the might capital could have on kings and presidents, he foreruns contemporary globalization. This precursor of globalization affirms that the Jew may govern the money-market, and the money-market may govern the world . The minister may be in doubt as to his scheme of finance till he has been closeted with the Jew. A congress of sovereigns may be forced to summon the Jew to their assistance . The scrawl of the Jew on the back of a piece of paper may be worth more than the royal word of three kings, or the national faith of three new American rep ublics. (CDJ, 136)
The alarming risk comes from the hypothesis that the Jews prefer their faith to their country because an "English Jew looks on a Dutch or Portuguese Jew as his countryman" (CDJ, 136). But Macaulay is careful here, as he does not sort out the Jews for this ancient accusation, trying to include all other religious groups that suffer from discrimination in this category of unreliable patriotism. For him, allegiance to one's homeland corresponds with the justice allotted to him because the risks of "foreign attachments are the fruit of domestic misrule"(CDJ, 137). Accordingly, he forges a piece of criticism to his own nation's maltreatment of the Jews. "If the Jews have not felt towards England like children", he writes, "it is because she has treated them like a step-mother" (CDJ, 137). Englishmen, he retreats to the past, used to "murder them, and banish them, and rob them" (CDJ, 136). When he compares the exclusion of the Catholics from power with that of the Jews, Macaulay is not only condemning the cruelties with which his forefathers treated the Jews, he is also "apologizing" to them implicitly. And the ultimate meaning of his argument is that "their hatred to their countrymen would not be more intense than that which sects of Christians have often borne to each other" (CDJ, 137).
We, however, should not miss the covert implication of Macaulay's line of thinking: for the government to be sectarian, it means that it is ultimately turning fellow citizens into enemies. Injustice at home begets domestic enemies. Sectarian discrimination is an act of treason. And it is a grave treason for the members of the parliament to reason about the Jews "as our forefathers reasoned about the Papists" (CDJ, 139), (Catholics in Britain remained subject to certain political disabilities till 1829) .(18) If so understood, Macaulay is actually twisting the whole situation: those who accuse the Jews of readiness to treachery are themselves accused of infidelity to their own country due to their sectarianism.
To further support his argument, Macaulay ridicules the popular ideas held by the Britons on the Jews, particularly the idea of their destiny as wanderers waiting the time of their "restoration" to Palestine. He dismisses such ideas as legends, unattainable and impossible. Comparable to the Christian belief in the return of the Messiah, the Jews' return to Palestine, "at some undetermined time, perhaps ten thousand years hence" (CDJ, 139), is sheer myth! Ironically, he tries to verify this hypothesis by asking his fellow countrymen to check if the British Jews behave like sojourners, temporarily residing in Britain (CDJ, 140). In line with the growing contemporary views that the Holy Writ should not be taken at its literal, surface meaning, Macaulay thinks that some of the scriptural prophecies were misunderstood and mistaken for indisputable facts (CDJ, 140). With devaluing and belittling such talk about the Jews' aspirations to Palestine, he turns to the "religion of mercy" to eradicate the intolerance against them (CDJ, 141). It is interesting to note that the Jews did not have to wait "ten thousand years" to migrate to Palestine as they were admitted into this multicultural, multi-religious land by the British Empire whose "Balfour Declaration" served as the cornerstone in the foundation of the Zionist entity.
My gesture of surveying the popular hostility to the Jews (as mirrored in literature) in the nineteenth century is by no means purposeless, as it is no futile retreat to a vestigial past. This hostility to the Jews flared up in an age that saw the making of modern Europe. Alienated and maltreated by the newly industrialized states (Britain, in particular), they were forced to find their way into the making of a political, race-friendly movement, a movement that aimed at combining them and establishing a Jewish "state" for them outside Europe. Zionism is, therefore, a Western, European phenomenon which, unable to pacify the anti-Semitism of the age, sought to escape European hatred into the Arab-Islamic East where age-old tolerance made it possible for them to penetrate the land and the natives. First, they tried the permission of the Ottoman Empire; and then they capitalized on the support of Britain and France that had the lion's share in the dismantled empire of the Turkish "sick man". One is, therefore, bound to believe that the "Sykes-Picot" pact between the European super powers, and the consequent British withdrawal from Palestine were meant to create a power "vacuum" for the Jews to fill. This is the embodiment of the, then, "New World order" envisioned by European colonialism in its golden age. While the race-friendly London was feeding on the popular hostility against the Semitic Jews, Jerusalem was being victimized by faults not of its own.
1. Thomas Carlyle, "On History Again", The Works of Thomas Carlyle, vol. XXVIII (New York: Ams Press, 1980), p. 167.
2. Consult: Muhammed A. Al-Da'mi, " The Intellectual Significance of Carlyle's and Irving's Commentaries on the Pre-Islamic Religions of Arabia", Medieval Encounters: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Culture in Confluence and Dialogue, vol.3, no, 2(July 1997), pp. 142-157.
3. Thomas Carlyle, "Sartor Resartus: The Life and Opinion of Herr Teufelsdrockh," in The Works of Thomas Carlyle, vol.1 (New York: Ams Press, 1980), p. 121.
4. David De Laura, "Ishmael as Prophet: Heroes and Hero-Worship and the Self-Expressive Basis of Carlyle's Art", Texas Studies in Literature and Language, II (spring, 1969), pp.705-732.
5. Al-Da'mi, pp. 142-157.
6. Thomas Carlyle, "On History", in The Works of Thomas Carlyle, vol. xxvii (New York: Ams Press, 1980), p. 83.
7. Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History, in ibid., vol. v., pp.84-9. Subsequent references to this book are to this edition and will be incorporated within the text with page number: (Heroes, p. no.).
8. Richard F. Burton, "Terminal Essay", in The Book of the Thousand Nights and Night, trans. By R. F. Burton, vol. VIII (London: H.S. Nichols Ltd., 1897), pp. 162-3, n.3.
9. Washington Irving, The Conquest of Spain (New York: The Continental Press, N.D.), pp. 64 and 79.
10. Ibid., p.89.
11. The intellectual tenets of Hellenism vs. Hebraism are best shown in Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy in The Complete Prose Works of Matthew Arnold, ed. by R. H. Super (Ann Arbor: The Univ. of Chicago Press, 1980).
12. For an idea on the mutual influence between Renan and Arnold, consult: Flavia M. Alaya, "Arnold, Renan and the Popular Uses of History", Journal of the History of Ideas, 28 (Oct., 1967), pp.551-574.
13. Muhammed A. Al-Da'mi, "The Aryan Dimension of Matthew Arnold's Approach to the Arab-Islamic Orient", Journal of the College of Education for Women, vol. 13, no. 1 (2002), pp. 127-131.
14. Quoted in Edward W. Said, Orientalism (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978), p.102.
15. Karl Marx and Frederick Angels, On Religion (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1985), p. 104.
16. Ibid., p. 106.
17. Thomas Babington Macaulay, Lord Macaulay's Essays and Lays of Ancient Rome (London: Longman's, Green, and Co., 1920), p. 135. Subsequent references to this work are to this edition and will be incorporated within the text with page number: (CDJ, p.n.).
18. David Daiches, A Critical History of English Literature, vol. 4 (London : Secker & Warburg, 1972), p. 944
The Wandering Jew in Victorian Britain
Dr. Mohammed Al-Da'mi