Antisemitism: Its History and Causes. Bernard Lazare 1894


WHEN the first breath of freedom swept over the world at the dawn of the sixteenth century, the Jews were but a nation of captives and slaves. Cooped up in the ghettoes, whose walls their own foolish hands helped only to make thicker, they were retired from human society, and, for the most part, lived in a state of lamentable and heartrending abjection. Their intellect had become atrophied, as they had themselves barred all the doors and shut all the windows through which air and light might have come to them.

The number of those who had escaped this abasement was very limited, and the Jews who succeeded in keeping a free brain and proud spirit were in the lowest minority. These were mostly physicians, as medicine is the only science permitted by the Talmud; at the same time there were philosophers occasionally, and we shall see the role they played in Italy during the Renaissance.

Toward the end of the fifteenth century, the Jew had become the serf of the Imperial Chamber in Germany; in France he was the king’s serf, the serf of the lord, less even than a serf, for a serf could still own something, while a Jew in reality had no property; he was

a thing rather than a person. The king and the lord, the bishop or the abbot, could dispose of all his belongings, i.e., of all that seemed to belong to him, since for him the possibility of owning was purely fictitious. He was taxable at will; he was subjected to fixed imposts, without prejudice to confiscations, and while, on the one hand, the Church was making every effort to attract to it the Jew, on the other hand, the baron and church dignitaries kept him in his condition. If he turned to Christianity he lost his possessions in favour of the lord, who was anxious to make good the loss of the taxes which he could no longer levy on the convert, and thus it was to his interest to remain in the slaves’ prison. He was looked upon as a beast, impure and useful at that, as lower than a dog or hog, to which the personal toll likened him, however; he was the one forever accursed, he upon whom it was lawful, even meritorious, to shower the blows which the Crucified had received in Pilate’s pretorium.

The only country where the Jews could claim the dignity of human beings was closed to them at the opening of the sixteenth century. The capture of Granada and the conquest of the Moorish Kingdom had deprived the Jews of their last refuge. The whole of Spain became Christian on the day (January 2, 1492) when Ferdinand and Isabella entered the Mohammedan city. The holy war of the Spaniards against the infidels ended victoriously, and the Moors in existence were cruelly persecuted in spite of the security which had been granted them. The victory having aroused on the one hand fanaticism, and the national sentiment on the other, Spain, now free from the Moors, wished to get rid of the Jews, whom the Catholic king and queen expelled the very year of Boabdil’s fall, while the Inquisition doubled the severities against the Marranos and the descendants of the Moriscoes.

Still, the time of great sorrows had passed for the Jews, notwithstanding that the circumstances to which they had been reduced were lamentable. They began to descend the hill which they had so laboriously climbed, and if they found as yet no complete security in their paths, they met with more humaneness, more pity. The manners soften at this epoch, the souls become less rude, people actually acquire the idea of a human being; this age when individualism increases, better understands the individuals; while personality develops, more tenderness is displayed towards the personality of the other.

The Jews felt the effects of this state of mind. They were despised all the same, but they were hated in a less violent way. It was still sought to attract them to Christianity, but that was by persuasion. They were banished from a good many cities and countries; they were driven from Cologne and Bohemia in the sixteenth century; the trade-bodies of Frankfort and Worms, led by Vincent Fettmilch, forced them to leave those cities; but as serfs of the Imperial Chamber, they were efficiently protected by their suzerain. If Leopold I sent them out of Vienna, if later on Maria Theresa expelled them from Moravia, these decrees of exile had but a temporary effect, their consequences were felt but for a short time; and when the Jews re-entered the cities by virtue of un- doubted tolerance, they were not molested. The massacres of Franconia and Moravia, the funeral piles of Prague, were exceptions in the sixteenth century, and as for the extermination ordered in Poland by Chmielnicki, in the seventeenth century, they reached the Jews by ricochet only.

Hereafter there have been no systematic persecutions, except those kept up in Spain against the Jewish converts, and in Portugal when introduced by the Pope Clement VII, at the request of John III, and after the massacres of 1506. Even there the inquisition was entrusted to the Franciscans, who had shown themselves less cruel than the Spanish Dominicans.

Still the Jews did not change. Such as we have seen them right in the Middle Ages, we find them also at the moment of the the Reformation; morally and intellectually the mass of the Jews was perhaps even worse. But if they had not changed, those by their side had changed. People were less believing, and therefore less inclined to detest heretics. Averroism had prepared this decadence of faith, and the part played by the Jews in the spread of Averroism is well known; so that they thus had worked for their own benefit. The majority of Averroists were unbelievers, or more or less assailed the Christian religion. They were the direct ancestors of the men of the Renaissance. It is owing to them that the spirit of doubt, as well as the spirit of investigation, had worked itself out. The Florentine platonists, the Italian Aristotelians, the German humanists came from them; thanks to them Pomponazzo composed the treatises against the immortality of the soul; thanks to them, too, among the thinkers of the sixteenth century sprang up the theism which corresponded with the decadence of Catholicism.

Animated by such sentiments, the men of this period could not glow with religious indignation against the Jews. Other preoccupations engaged them, though, and they had to abate two powerful authoritiesscholasticism and the supremacy of Rome. The struggles of the preceding century, the schisms of the West, the license in the manners of the clergy, simony, the sale of benefices and indulgences, all these had weakened the Church and impaired the Papacy. There were protests rising against them on all sides. “The clergy must be made moral,” said the Father of the Vienna Synod (1311). The movement of the Hussites, that of the Frerots, the Fraticellians, the Beghards, had already been a protest against the wealth and corruption of the Church; but the Papacy was incapable of reform, and the Reformation had to take place outside of and against it.

The Humanists were its promoters. Everything turned them away from Catholicism. The Greeks of Constantinople, fleeing from the Turks, had brought to them the treasures of the ancient literatures. By discovering a new world Columbus was to open for them unknown horizons. They were finding new reasons for combating scholasticism, that old servant-maid of the Church. The humanists were becoming sceptics and pagans in Italy, but in Germany the emancipating movement which they helped to bring about was becoming more religious. To beat the scholastics the humanists of the empire became theologians, and went to the very sources in order to arm themselves better; they learned Hebrew, not as Pico di Mirandola and the Italians had done, in the way of a dilettante or out of love for knowledge, but in order to find therein arguments against their opponents.

During these years which ushered in the Reformation, the Jew turned educator, and taught the scholars Hebrew; he initiated them into the mysteries of the kabbala after having opened to them the doors of Arabic philosophy. Against Catholicism he equipped them with the formidable exegesis which the rabbis had cultivated and built up during centuries: the exegesis which protestantism, and later on rationalism, would make good use of. By a singular chance the Jews, who had consciously or unconsciously supplied humanism with weapons, had also given it the pretext for its first serious battle. The contest for or against the Talmud was the forerunner of the disputes over the Eucharist.

The struggle started at Cologne, the city of the inquisition and capital of the Dominicans. A converted Jew, Joseph Pfefferkorn, once more denounced the Talmud before the Christian world, and, with the aid of the great inquisitor, Hochstraten, obtained from the Emperor Maximilian an edict authorizing him to examine the contents of the Jewish books and destroy those which blasphemed the Bible and the Catholic faith. From this decision the Jews appealed to Maximilian, and succeeded in having the power originally conferred upon Pfefferkorn transferred to the archbishop elector of Mayence. As his advisors the archbishop took the doctors, the humanists, and among them Reuchlin, who felt no unbounded sympathy for the Jews, having even attacked them once upon a time. But though he scorned the Jews in general, he was a hebraizer for all that, and as such was doubtless more interested in the Talmud than in the inquisitorial tribunal with its arrests. He, therefore, violently fought the projects of Pfefferkorn and the Dominicans, and not only declared that the books of the Israelites ought to be preserved, but even maintained that chairs of Hebrew ought to be created in the universities. Reuchlin was accused of having sold himself for the gold of the Jews. He replied with a terrible pamphlet, The Mirror of the Eyes, which was condemned to be burned.

But new times were approaching; the storm foreseen by everybody broke over the Church. Luther issued at Wittenberg his ninety-five theses, and Catholicism not only had to defend the position of its priests, but was also forced to fight for its essential - tenets. For a moment the theologians forgot the Jews, they even forgot that the spreading movement took its roots in Hebrew sources.

Nevertheless, the Reformation in Germany and England as well was one of those movements when Christianity acquired new force in Jewish sources. The Jewish spirit triumphed with Protestantism. In certain respects the Reformation was a return to the ancient Ebionism of the evangelic ages. A great portion of the protestant sects was semi-Jewish, the anti-trinitarian doctrines were later preached by the protestants, by Michel Servet and the two Socins of Sienna among others. Even in Transylvania anti-trinitarianism had flourish since the sixteenth century, and Seidelius had asserted the excellence of Judaism and of the Decalogue. The Gospels had been abandoned for the Old Testament and the Apocalypse. The influence exercised by these two books over the Lutherans, the Calvinists and especially the Reformers and the English revolutionists, is well known. This influence continued to the nineteenth century; it produced the Methodists, Pietists, and particularly the Millenaries, the men of the Fifth Monarchy, who in London dreamed with Venner of a republic and allied themselves with the Levellers of John Lilburne.

Moreover, Protestantism, at its inception in Germany, endeavoured to win over the Jews, and in this respect, the analogy between Luther and Mohammed is striking. Both had drawn their teachings from Hebrew sources, both wished to have the remains of Israel stamp with approval the new dogmas which they were formulating. But the Jews had always been the stubborn people of the Scriptures, the people with the hard nape, rebellious against injunctions, tenacious, fearlessly faithful to its God and its Law.

Luther’s preaching proved vain, and the irascible monk issued a terrible pamphlet against the Jews. [67] “The Jews are brutes,” he said; “their synagogues are pig-sties, they ought to be burned, for Moses would do it, if he came back to this world. They drag in mire the divine words, they live by evil and plunders, they are wicked beasts that ought to be driven out like mad dogs.”

In spite of these violent outbursts and excitement, in spite of the numerous controversies, which had taken place between the protestants and Jews, the latter were not ill-treated in Germany; people had no spare time to busy themselves with them.

Overwhelmed with miseries, decimated by war, ruined, reduced to slavery, a prey to destitution and famine, the peasants of the sixteenth century no longer went for the Jewish money-lender or the Christian usurer, but they aimed higher; they attacked in the first place a whole classof the richand then the social order as a whole. The revolt was general; at first it was the peasants of the Netherlands, then, and chiefly, those of Germany. All over the Empire they founded secret societies, the Bundschuh, [68] the Poor Conrad, the Evangelic Confederation. The peasants of Speyer and of the banks of the Rhine rose in 1503; the bands of Joss Fritz, in 1512; the peasants of Austria and Hungary, in 1515; those of Suabia, in 1524; those of Suabia, Alsace and the Palatinate, in 1525. All marched with the battle cry: “In Christ there is no longer master or slave.” The tradesmen joined them; knights, like Goetz von Berlichingen, placed themselves at their head, and they massacred the nobles and set the castles and convents on fire. In this formidable movement which convulsed a part of Europe until 1535, everywhere leaving deep traces, the Jews had been neglected, they had ceased to be the scapegoat, and the poor wretches, famished and miserable, no longer fell upon them.

Were they as happy in the Catholic countries? Yes, for there, too, they ceased to be the chief and sole enemies of the Church, and it was no longer they that were feared. The relaxation of religious ideas brought in Italy a rapprochement between a certain class of Jews and the various classes of society. First, the humanists, the poets, visited the Jewish scholars, philosophers and physicians. This familiarity had begun in the fourteenth century, when Dante was seen to have for his friend the Jew Manoello, the cousin of the philosopher Giuda Romano; it continued in the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries. Alemani was the teacher of Picodi Mirandola, Elias del Medigo publicly taught metaphysics in Padua and Florence, Leo the Hebrew published his platonic dialogues on love. The Jewish printers, like the scholar Soncino, were in constant touch with the literature of the period; his library was the centre of Hebrew publications, and he even rivaled Aldo by publishing Greek authors. Hercules Gonzago, bishop of Mantua and disciple of the Jew Pomponazzo of Bologna, accepted the dedication of Jacob Mantino, who had translated the Compendium of Averroes, while other princes encouraged Abraham de Balmes in his work of translation. [69] And not only the sceptical, even unbelieving faction, of the Hellenists and Latinists, worshipers of Zeus and Aphrodite more than of Jesus, were on good terms with the Jews, but the lord and the bourgeois were likewise. “There are,” says the bishop Maiol, “persons, and often persons of quality, both men and women, who are so foolish and senseless as to take counsel with Jews over their most intimate affairs, to their own detriment. They (the Jews) are seen visiting the houses and palaces of the great ones, the dwellings of officers, councillors, secretaries, gentlemen, both in the city and country.” People did not content themselves with receiving Jews, they went to their houses, and, what is more, attended their religious ceremonies. “There are among us,” says again Maiol, “some who visit and superstitiously revere the synagogues”; and, addressing them, he exclaims: “You hear the Jews blow their trumpets on the days of their festivities, and you run with your families to look at them.” Thus it went on during the seventeenth century. In Ferrara they went to hear the sermons of Judah Azael, and, in 1676, Innocent XI threatened with excommunication and a fine of fifteen ducats those who frequented the synagogues. After the terrible shock which had just disturbed the Church, they more than ever wished to guarantee security to the Catholic dogma. Julius III had the Talmud burned in Rome and Venice upon denunciation by Solomon Romano, a converted Jew; Paul IV condemned it again at the request of another convert, Vittorio Eliano; Pius V and Clement VIII did likewise.

During the dogmatic and theological reaction which followed the Reformation, the Roman Church, friendly to the Jews heretofore, came to be the only government, almost the only power, systematically to persecute Judaism. Paul IV revived the ancient canonic laws and had the Marranos burned; Pius V banished the Jews from his domains, except from Rome and Ancona, after having issued his Constitution against the Jews, while the Spaniards, as they penetrated further into Italy, were driving them from Naples, Genoa and Milan.

The other sovereigns had not the same motives as the popes to attend to the Jews. And so, from the sixteenth century on, legislation against the Jews ceased. We find only the edict of Ferdinand I against Jewish usuryin Germany; a few decrees in Poland, and much later, the prohibitions of Louis XV and Louis XVI. Again to find anti-Jewish legislation, it will be necessary to study modern Russia, Rumania and Serbia, which we shall shortly do.

Anti-Judaism consisted chiefly in molestations and outrages. The populace delighted in jeering the Jews, and the grandees often gave them a chance to do it. Leo X, that ostentatious pontiff, who was fond of buffooneryhe had at his side two monks to divert him with their pleasantrieswould order races between Jews, and, being very shortsighted, would watch them, glass in hand, from the heights of his balconies. During the carnival in Rome the people would parody the burial of rabbis, and a Jew would be marched through the city streets, mounted backward on a donkey and holding the animal’s tail in his hand. On the ghetto-gates a sow was carved, and they were often covered with obscene groups, in which rabbis were represented. The sow symbolized the synagogueexactly as with the Israelites the Roman Church was designated by the Hebrew name for hogand the Jews were constantly reminded of it; a painter once even related at Wagenseil how he had painted a sow on the door-leaf of the arch of a synagogue which he was engaged to adorn.

With the scholars, the learned and the theologians, anti-Judaism was becoming dogmatic and theoretical. True they wanted to bring the Jews back, but by soft measures. It was no longer a question of burning their books, but of translating them. It was said that now that the Christian faith had struck deep enough roots, there was no danger to believers from publishing Hebrew books, as had been done in the case of those of the Arians and other heretics. Thus it would be possible to know the polemic practices of the Israelites, and it would thus be possible successfully to combat them.

This study brought about a result quite different from that expected. By scrutinizing the Jewish spirit one came nearer to the Jews, and thereby became more sympathizing with them. Men, like Richard Simon, e.g., who had prepared themselves for scientific exegesis, through talmudists and hebraizing researches, could not look with hatred upon those from whom they held their knowledge. Others were anxious to know when the Jews would be called to Christian communion. The seventeenth century was the most propitious time for the disputes over the recalling of the Jews. In France this question as to whether the Jews would be recalled at the end of the world or before itdivided Bossuet and the Figurists led by Duguet. [70] In England the Millenaries proclaimed the return of the Jews.[71] In Germany also this opinion had its advocates, such as Bengal, e.g. In France, not only did the convulsionaries of Saint-Menard proclaim the approaching entry of the Jews into the Church, but some were seen entertaining these dreams until our days, and in 1809 President Agier fixed upon 1849 as the year of the conversion of the Jews.

All over Europe the Jews enjoyed the greatest tranquility during the eighteenth century. In Poland alone they fared badly for having once lived too well. They had been prosperous there up to the middle of the seventeenth century. Rich, powerful, they had lived on an equal footing with the Christians, treated as though of the people amid whom they lived; but they could not help giving themselves up to their usual commerce, their vices, their passion for gold. Dominated by the Talmudists they succeeded in producing nothing beyond commentators of the Talmud. They were tax collectors, spirit-distillers, usurers, seigneurial stewards. They were the noblemen’s allies in their abominable work of oppression, and when the Cossacks of Ukraine and Little Russia had risen, under Chmielnicki, against Polish tyranny, the Jews, as accomplices of the lords, were the first to be massacred. It is said that over 100,000 of them were killed in ten years, but just as many Catholics and especially Jesuits, were killed as well.

Elsewhere they were very prosperous. Thus, in the Ottoman Empire, they were simply liable to the tax on foreigners and subject to no other restrictive regulations, but nowhere was their prosperity so great as in the Netherlands and England. Marranos fleeing the Spanish Inquisition had settled in the Netherlands in 1593, and thence settled a colony in Hamburg, then, later on, under Cromwell, one in England, whence they had been banished for centuries and whither Menasse-ben-Israel brought them back. The Dutch, as practical and circumspect a people as the English, utilized the commercial genius of the Jews and turned it to their own enrichment. In France Henry II had authorized the Portuguese Jews to settle in Bordeaux, where, on the strength of the granted privileges, confirmed also by Henry III, Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI, they acquired great wealth in maritime commerce.

In the other cities of France there were few of them, and, besides, those residing in Paris or elsewhere had settled there only because of the administrative tolerance. In Alsace alone there was a great agglomeration.

Their splendid condition provoked no violent demonstrations; now and then protests would be heard, they would say with Expilly: “With infinite grief one sees how such base people, who had been received in the capacity of slaves, possess costly furniture, lead a refined life, wear gold and silver on their garments, dress showily, perfume themselves, study instrumental and vocal music and ride horseback for mere diversion.” At the same time, greater and greater toleration was shown them from day to day; the world was drawing nearer to them. Were they, in turn, drawing nearer to the world? No. They seemed more and more to attach themselves to their mystic patriotism; the further they went, the more the dreams of Kabbala haunted them, with ever renewed confidence they awaited the Messiah, and never had the pseudo-Messiahs been received with so much enthusiasm as they were in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Kabbalists exhausted arithmetical combinations to calculate the exact date of the coming of him, who was so longed for. Toward 1666, the date most commonly designated as the sacred date, all Jews of the Orient were raised by the preachings of Sabbatai Zevi. From Smyrna, where Sabbatai had proclaimed himself Messiah, the movement spread to the Netherlands, and England even, and everybody expected the restoration of Jerusalem and of the holy kingdom from the King of Kings, as Sabattai was called. The same enthusiasm was displayed in 1755 when Frank appeared in Podolia as the new Messiah.

These hopes which the illuminism of the Kabbalists entertained helped to keep the Jews apart, but those who were not seduced by the speculations of dreamers, were weighed down by the yoke of the Talmud, a yoke at all events even ruder and more humiliating.

So far from decreasing, the Talmudic tyranny had even increased since the sixteenth century. At this time Joseph Caro had edited the Shulchan Aruch, a Talmudic code, whichaccording to the traditions inculcated by the rabbinistsset up as laws the opinions of the doctors. Up to our time the European Jews had lived under the execrable oppression of these practices. [72] The Polish Jews improved even upon Joseph Caro and refined the already enormous subtleties of the Shulchan Aruch by making additions thereto, and they introduced the method of Pilpul (pepper-grains) into their instruction.

Accordingly, as the world grew kinder to them, the Jewsat least the massesretired into themselves, straightened their prison, bound themselves with tighter bonds. Their decrepitude was unheard of, their intellectual sinking was equaled only by their moral debasement; this nation seemed dead.

However, the reaction against the Talmud had proceeded from the Jews themselves. Mordecai Kolkos, [73] of Venice, had already published a book against the Mishna; in the seventeenth century, Uriel Acosta [74] violently fought the rabbis, and Spinoza [75] exhibited little affection for them. But anti-talmudism displayed itself particularly in the eighteenth century, at first among the mystics, such as, e.g., the Zoharites, disciples of Franck, who declared themselves enemies of the doctors of the law. At any rate these opponents of the rabbinites were unable to extricate the Jews from their abjection. To begin this task, it was necessary for Moses Mendelssohn, a Jew and philosopher at the same time, to array the Bible against the Talmud. His German version (1779)was a great revolution. It was the first blow dealt to the rabbinical authority. The Talmudists, too, who had once wished to kill Kolkos and Spinoza, violently attacked Mendelssohn, and prohibited, under penalty of excommunication, to read the Bible which he had translated.

These outbursts of rage were of no avail. Mendelssohn had followers: young men, his disciples, founded the periodical Meassef, which advocated the new Judaism, endeavoured to snatch the Jews from their ignorance and humiliation, and prepared their moral emancipation. As for political emancipation, the humanitarian philosophy of the eighteenth century was working hard to bring it about. Though Voltaire was an ardent Judoephobe, the ideas which he and the Encyclopaedists represented were not hostile to the Jews, as being ideas of liberty and universal equality. On the other hand, if the Jews really were isolated in the various states, they still had some points of contact with those surrounding them.

Capitalism had by this time developed among the nations; stock-jobbing and speculation were born; the Christian financiers applied themselves to them with a zeal, just as they had applied themselves to usury, just as they had, in the capacity of farmers-general, collected imposts and taxes. The Jews could, therefore, take their place among those whom “discounts were enriching at the public’s expense, and who were masters of all possessions of the French of all classes,” as already Saint Simon was saying.

The economic objections which were raised against their possible emancipation had no longer the same import as in the Middle Ages, when the church wanted to make the Jews the only representatives of the class of money-brokers. As for the political objections, that they formed a State within the State, that their presence as citizens could not be tolerated in a Christian society and was even injurious to it, they remained valid until the day when the French Revolution dealt its direct blow to the conception of a Christian State. And so Dohm, Mirabeau, Clermont-Tonnerre, the Abbot Gregoire were right with regard to Rewbel, Maury and the Prince de Broglie, and the Constituent Assembly obeyed the spirit which had guided it since its inception when it declared on September 27, 1791, that the Jews would enjoy in France the rights of actual citizens The Jews were on the threshold to society.


67. The Jews and their Lies, Wittenberg, 1558.

68. The confederate shoe.

69. Abraham de Balmes translated into Latin the greatest part of Averroes’s writings, and his translations were in use in the Italian universities until the end of the seventeeth century.

70. On this point consult Duguet, Regles pour l’intelligence des Saintes Ecritures, 1723. Bossuet, Discours sur l’Histoire universelle, part II. Rondet, Dissertation sur le rappel des Juifs, Paris, 1778. Anonymous, Lettre sur le proche retour des Juifs, Paris, 1789, etc.

71. Gregoire, Histoire des sectes religieuses, t. II (Paris, 1825).

72. In Russia, Poland and Galicia they are extant even to-day.

73. Consult Wolf, Bibliotheca Hebraea, v. II, p. 798. Hamburg.

74. Exemplar vitae humanae (Published by Limbroch, 1687).

75. Tractatus Theologico-Politicus.