Antisemitism: Its History and Causes. Bernard Lazare 1894


THERE are about eight million Jews scattered over the face of the earth, nearly seven-eighths of which inhabit Europe. Among these Jews figure the Bedouin Jews living on the confines of Sahara, the Daggatouns of the desert, the Fellahs of Abyssinia, the black Jews of India, the Mongoloid Jews of China, the Kalmuk and Tartar Jews of the Caucasus, the blond Jews of Bohemia and Germany, the brown Jews of Portugal, Southern France, Italy and the Orient, the dolichocephalous Jews, the brachycephalous and sub-brachycephalous Jews, all Jews, who, according to the section of their hair, the shape of their skull, the colour of their skin, could be classified, on the strength of the best principles of ethnology, into four or five different races, as we have just shown.

Still, proceeding in this way, we shall really have proven that the race is not an ethnologic unity, i.e., that no people is a descendant of common parents, and that no nation has been formed from the aggregation of cells of this kind. But we shall by no means have proven that there exists no French people, a German people, an English people, etc., and we should not be able to do it, since there exists an English literature, a German literature, a French literature, different literatures all of them, expressing in a different way common sentiments, it is true, but whose objective and subjective play upon the various individuals affected by them is not the same, sentiments common to human nature, but ones which each man and each collection of men feels and expresses in a different way. We have had to reject the anthropologic notion of race, a notion which is erroneous and which we shall see to have given origin to the worst opinions, the most detestable and least justifiable vanities, that anthropologic notion which tends to make of each people an association of proud and egoistic recluses, but we are forced to admit the existence of historical units i.e., separate nations. For the idea of race we substitute the idea of nation, and again we have to make an explanation, for the nineteenth century[130 ] based its belief in nationalities on its belief in race, and an innate race at that.

To sum up. Customarily a nation is called an agglomeration of individuals having in common their territory, language, religion, law, customs, manners, spirit, historic mission. Now, we have seen that a common race, innate race, a race implying the same origin and purity of blood is but a fiction; the idea of race is not necessarily linked with the conception of a nation proof that the Basques, Bretons, Provencals, belong all to the French nation, though very different anthropologically. As for territorial community, it is not a whit more necessary; the Poles, e.g., possess no common territory, and yet there is a Polish nation. Language, too, does not seem indispensable, and indeed one may refer to Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, in which countries two or several languages are spoken but these countries, organized with the exception of Switzerland federatively, permit us on the contrary, to assert that language is clearly the sign of nationality, since in all of them those speaking the same language strive to group together, in other words, that one language tends to become preponderant and destroy the others. Religion was formerly one of the most important forces that contributed to the formation of peoples. We cannot possibly realize what Rome, Athens or Sparta had been, if we disregard the Gods of Olympus and the Capitolium; the same is true of Memphis, Nineveh, Babylon and Jerusalem, and what becomes of the Middle Ages if we leave out Christianity?

Nations, consequently, do exist. These nations may sometimes not be organized under the same government; they may have lost their fatherland, their language, but the nation continues as long as this self-consciousness and the consciousness of that community of thought and interests which they represent by the fictitious background of race, filiation, origin and purity of blood have not disappeared.

Now let us turn to the Jew. We have seen that he does not exist, as far as race is concerned, and those are in error who say: “There is no longer a Jewish people, there is a Jewish fellowship closely united with a race.”[201] It remains to inquire whether the Jew is not a part of a nation composed, like all nations, of various elements, and nevertheless possessing unity. Now, if we leave aside the Abyssinian Fellaheen, some little known nomadic Jewish tribes of Africa, the black Jews of India, and the Chinese Jews, we arrive at the conclusion that by the side of the pointed out differences which distinguish these Jews they possess also common peculiarities, a common individuality and a common type. Still, the Jews have lived in quite contrasting countries, they were subjected to very diverse climatic influences, they were surrounded by very dissimilar peoples. What is it that succeeded in keeping them such as they have remained until today? Why do they continue to exist otherwise than as a religious confession ? This is due to three causes: one depending on the Jews religion; another for which they are partly responsible their social condition; the third, which is external the conditions which have been forced upon them.

No religion has ever moulded soul and spirit as has the Jewish religion. Nearly all religions have had a philosophy, ethics, a literature alongside of their religious dogmas; with Israel religion was simultaneously ethics and metaphysics, nay, more, it was law. The Jews had no symbolic independence from their legislation; no, after the return from the second captivity, they had Yahweh and his Law, each inseparable from the other. To become part of the nation one had to accept not its God only, but also all legal prescriptions emanating from Him and bearing the stamp of sanctity. Had the Jew had only Yahweh, he would probably have vanished in the midst of the different peoples that had received him, just as had vanished the Phoenicians who carried only Melkart with them. But the Jew had something more than his God he had his Torah, his law, and by it he has been preserved. He not only did not lose this law when losing his ancestral territory, but, on the contrary, he has strengthened its authority; he has developed it; he has increased its power as well as its property. After the destruction of Jerusalem the law became the bond of Israel; he lived for and by his law. But this law was minute and meddlesome, it was the most perfect manifestation of the ritual religion into which the Jewish religion turned under the influence of its doctors, an influence which may be contrasted with the spiritualism of the prophets whose tradition Jesus carried on. These rites which foresaw every act in life, and which the Talmudists made infinitely complicated, have given shape to the Jewish brain, and everywhere, in all lands, they have shaped it in the same manner. Though scattered, the Jews thought the same way in Seville, York, Ancona, Ratisbon, Troyes and Prague; they had the same feelings and ideas about human beings and things; they viewed things through the same

eye-glasses; they judged according to similar principles. The Jewish type has been formed in a way analogous to that in which were formed and are still forming the type of a physician, the type of a lawyer, etc., types produced by the identity of the social and psychic function. The Jew is a confessional type; such as he is he has been made by the law and the Talmud; more powerful than blood or climatic varieties, they have developed in him the characteristics which imitation and heredity have perpetuated.

Social characteristics were added to these confessional characteristics. We have spoken [202] of the role played by the Jew during the Middle Ages, how internal and external causes, proceeding from economic and psychological laws, led them to become almost exclusively traders, and above all dealers in gold at a time when capital was forced to be creditor in order to be productive. This role was general; the Jews filled it in all countries, not in any particular one only. To their common religious preoccupations were consequently added common social preoccupations. As a religious being the Jew was already thinking in a certain way wherever he was; as a social being he again thought identically; thus other peculiarities were created, which, too, spread peculiarities, the formation of which was general and simultaneous with all Jews. In Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Poland, the legislation against the Jews was identical, a fact quite easy of explanation as in all these lands the legislation was inspired by the church. The Jew was placed under the same restrictions, the same barriers were built around him, he was ruled by the same laws. The Jew obtained a territory on the day he was imprisoned in these Jewries, and the Israelites lived since then exactly like a people that had a fatherland of its own; in these special quarters they preserved their customs, manners and secular habits, scrupulously transmitted by an education which was everywhere guided by the same invariable principles.

This education did not preserve the traditions only, it was preserving the language. The Jew spoke the language of the country he inhabited, but he spoke it only because it was indispensable in his business transactions; once at home he made use of a corrupt Hebrew or of a jargon of which Hebrew formed the basis. For writing purposes he employed Hebrew, and the Bible and the Talmud do not constitute the whole of Hebrew literature. The Jewish literary productivity from the eighth to the fifteenth century was very great. There has been a neo-hebraic poetry of the synagogue, which was particularly copious and brilliant in Spain, [203] there has been a Jewish religious philosophy which was born with Saadiah in Egypt and which Ibn Gebirol and Maimonides developed afterwards; there has been a Jewish theology since the time of Joseph Albo and Jehuda Halevi, and Jewish metaphysics that is the Kabbala. This literature, this philosophy, this theology, these metaphysics were the common property of the Israelites of all countries.

Thus, consequently, the Jews had the same religion, manners, habits and customs, they were subjected to the same civil, religious, moral and restrictive laws; they lived in similar conditions; in each city they had their own territory, they spoke the same language, they enjoyed a literature, they speculated over the same persisting and very old ideas. This alone was sufficient to constitute a nation. They had even more than that: they have had the consciousness of being a nation, that they had never ceased to be one. After they had left Palestine, in the first centuries before the Christian era, a bond always tied them to Jerusalem; after Jerusalem had been plunged in flames, they had their exilarchs, their Nassis and Gaons, their schools of doctors, schools of Babylon, Palestine, then Egypt, finally of Spain and France. The chain of tradition has never been broken. They have ever considered themselves exiles and have deluded themselves with the dream of the restoration of Israel’s kingdom on earth. Every year, on the eve of the Passover they have chanted from the depth of their whole beings, three times the sentence: “Leshana haba b’Yerushalaim” (the next year in Jerusalem !). They have preserved their ancient patriotism, even their chauvinism; in spite of disasters, misfortunes, outrages, slavery, they have considered themselves the elect people, one superior to all other peoples, which is characteristic of all chauvinist nations, the Germans as well as the French and English of today. At one time in the beginning of the Middle Ages, the Jew was really superior, because, he, the inheritor of an already ancient civilization, the possessor of a literature, philosophy and above all experience, which should have given him the advantage, came into the midst of barbarian children. He lost that supremacy, and in the fourteenth century even, his was already a culture lower than the general culture of those in the same class with him. But he has religiously kept this idea of supremacy, has kept on looking with disdain and scorn upon all those who were strangers to his law. However, he was taught to be such by his book, the Talmud pervaded by a narrow and ferocious patriotism. The book has been charged with being anti-social, and there is some truth in this accusation; it has been claimed that it is the most abominable code of law and ethics, and therein lay the error, since it is neither more nor less execrable than all particularist and national codes. If it is anti-social, it is so only in that it represented and still represents a spirit differing from that of the laws in force in the country where the Jews lived and that the Jews wanted to follow their code before following the one to which every member of society was amenable, and again it is unsocial only in a relative sense, as the law was not always uniform and custom invariable in all parts of the States. At one moment of history it appeared fatally anti-human, because it remained immutable while everything was changing. Its brutality has been exposed by the Christian antisemites, because this brutality shocked them directly, but in saying, “Kill even the best of Goyim,” Rabbi Simon ben Jochai was no more cruel than was Saint Louis, who thought that the best way of arguing with a Jew was to plunge a dirk in his belly, or than the Pope Urban III when he wrote in his bull: “Everybody is allowed to kill an excommunicate if it is done from zeal for the church.”

One thing, besides, has to be taken into account. Some modern Jews and philosemites have rejected with horror those aphorisms and axioms that had been national aphorisms and axioms. They say that the invectives against the goyim, the Mineans, were directed at the Romans, the Hellenes, the Jewish apostates, but they were never aimed at the Christians. There is a great deal of truth in these assertions, but there is also a great deal of error. When Judaism was fought by the rising Christianity, all the hatred and wrath of hired assassins, patriots, pious people turned upon the Jews who were converting themselvesthe Mineans. When deserting the national faith they deserted the battle against Rome and the enemy; they were traitors to their country, to the Jewish religion; they lost interest in a struggle that was vital for Israel; gathered around their new temples they looked with an eye of indifference upon the fall of the national glory, the disappearance of their autonomy, and not only did they not fight against the she-wolf, but they even unnerved the courage of those listeningto them. Against them, against these anti-patriots, formulas of malediction were drawn up; the Jews placed them under the ban of their society, it was lawful to kill them, just as it was lawful to kill “the best of goyim.” Similar exhortations would be found at all periods of patriotic struggles, among all nations; the proclamations of the generals, the calls to arms of the tribunes of all ages contain just as odious formulas. When the French, for instance, invaded the Palatinate, it must have been a rule, nay, even a duty, for all Germans to say: “Death even to the best of Frenchmen !”

There came a day when the Jew had but one enemy in Europe the Christian who persecuted, hunted, massacred, burned, martyrized him. As a consequence he could not experience any very tender feeling toward the Christian, the more so that all the efforts of the Christian were bent on destroying Judaism, on annihilating the religion which from that time on constituted the Jewish fatherland. The goy of the Maccabees, the Minean of the doctors, turned into the Christian, and to the Christian all the words of furious hatred, wrath and despair found in the book, were applied. To the Christian, the Jew was a despicable being, but to the Jew the Christian became the goy, the execrable stranger, who fears no pollution, who maltreats the elect nation, one through whom Judah suffers. This word goy comprehended all the passions, scorns, hatreds of persecuted Israel against the stranger, and this cruelty of the Jews toward the non-Jew is one of the things that best prove how long-lived the idea of nationality was among the children of Jacob. They have always believed themselves a people. Do they still believe it at present?

Among the Jews who receive a Talmudic education, and this means the majority of the Jews in Russia, Poland, Galicia, Hungary, Bohemia and the Orient, the idea of nationality is still as alive at present as it had been during the Middle Ages. They still form a people apart, fixed, rigid, congealed by the scrupulously observed rites, by the unvarying customs and the manners; hostile to every innovation, to every change, rebelling against all attempted efforts to detalmudize him. In 1854 the rabbis anathematized the Oriental schools founded by French Jews, where profane sciences were taught; at Jerusalem, an anathema was hurled, in 1856, against the school established by Doctor Franckel. In Russia and Galicia, sects like those of the New Chassidim are still opposing all attempts made to civilize the Jews. In all these countries only a minority escapes the Talmudic spirit, but the mass persists in its isolation, and however great its abjection and its humiliation, it ever holds itself the chosen people, the nation of God.

This intolerant aversion toward the stranger has disappeared among the Western Jews, the Jews of France, England, Italy and a great portion of the German Jews. [204] The Talmud is no longer read by these Jews, and the Talmudic ethics, at least the nationalist ethics of the Talmud, have no longer any hold on them. They no longer observe the 613 laws, have lost their fear of impurity, a horror which the Eastern Jews have preserved; the majority no longer know Hebrew; they have forgotten the meaning of the antique ceremonies; they have transformed the rabbinic Judaism into a religious rationalism; they have given up the familiar observances, and the religious exercise has been reduced by them to passing several hours in the year in a synagogue listening to hymns they no longer understand. They can’t attach themselves to a dogma, a symbol; they have none of it; in giving up the Talmudic practices they have given up what made their unity, that which contributed to forming their spirit. The Talmud had formed the Jewish nation after its dispersion; thanks to it, individuals of diverse origin had constituted a people; it had been the mould of the Jewish soul, the creator of the race; it and the restrictive laws of the various societies have modeled it. It appears that with the legislators abolished, the Talmud left in disdain, the Jewish nation should inevitably have died, and yet the Western Jews are Jews still. They are Jews, because they have kept perennial and living their national consciousness; they still believe they are a nation, and, believing that, they preserve themselves. When the Jew ceases to have the national consciousness he disappears; so long as he has this consciousness, he continues to be. He practices his religious faith no longer, he is irreligious, often even an atheist, but he continues to be, because he has a belief in his race. He has kept his national pride, he always fancies himself a superior individuality, a different being from those surrounding him, and this conviction prevents him from assimilating himself, for, being always exclusive, he generally refuses to mix through marriage with the peoples surrounding him. Modern Judaism claims to be but a religious confession; but in reality it is an ethnos besides, for it believes it is that, for it has preserved its prejudices, egoism and vanity as a people a belief, prejudices, egoism and vanity which make it appear a stranger to the peoples in whose midst it exists, and here we touch upon one of the most profound causes of antisemitism. Antisemitism is one of the ways in which the principle of nationalities is manifested.

What is this question of nationalities? By it is understood “the movement which carries certain populations, of the same origin and language, but constituting a part of different States to unite in such a way as to make a single political body, a single nation.” [205]

Simultaneously with proclaiming the rights of the land, formerly the property and domain of the peoples the Revolution overthrew the old conception of rule and dynasty on which the nations were founded; the land, formerly the property and domain of the kings, now became the domain of the people that occupied them. The royal government in itself constituted the national unity the representative, constitutional government placed that unity somewhere else: in the community of origin and language. The artificial bond being broken, a natural bond was sought for; there have been efforts on the part of nations to acquire an individuality; they all strove for the unity they lacked. It was about 1840 that nationalist ideas especially manifested themselves, they began the work, and contemporary Europe was founded through them. The theory of a National State was wrought out by the savants, historians, philosophers, poets of a whole generation.

On these ideas of nationalities Russia and Germany have been and are resting to make up their empire, Pangermanic or Panslavic; and is not this Panslavism, and this Pangermanism what agitates the East of Europe, do not the destinies of that part of Europe depend on this remote or near clash of theirs ?

It would be out of place to discuss here the legitimacy or illegitimacy of this movement. It will suffice for our purpose merely to state its existence. How do the peoples construe this tendency into unity? In two ways: either by uniting under the same government all individuals who speak the national language, or by reducing all heterogeneous elements coexisting in the nations, for the benefit of one of these elements which becomes preponderant and whose characteristics henceforth become the national characteristics. Thus the Germans have endeavoured to assimilate the Alsatians and Poles; the Russians compel the Poles to maintain the Russian universities which denationalize them; in Austria the Germans try to absorb the Czechs; in Hungary, “Slovak orphans are taken from the places where their native tongue is spoken and removed to Magyar comitats.” [206] If these heterogeneous elements do not let themselves be absorbed, there comes a struggle, a violent struggle often, which is manifested in many various ways from persecution down to expulsion in some cases.

Now, in the midst of the European nations the Jews live as a confessional community, believing in the latter’s nationality, having preserved a peculiar type, special aptitudes and a spirit of their own. In their struggle against the heterogeneous elements which they contained, the nations were led to struggle against the Jews, and antisemitism was one of the manifestations of the effort made by the peoples in order to reduce these strange individualities.

To these nationalist egotists, to these exclusivists, the Jews appeared a danger, because they felt that the Jews were still a people, a people whose mentality did not agree with the national mentality, whose concepts were opposed to that ensemble of social, moral, psychological, and intellectual conceptions, which constitutes nationality. For this reason the exclusivists became antisemites, because they could reproach the Jews with an exclusivism exactly as uncompromising as theirs, and every antisemitic effort tends, as we have seen already, [207] to restore those ancient laws restricting the rights of the Jews who are considered strangers. Thus is realized this fundamental and everlasting contradiction of nationalist antisemitism: antisemitism was born in modern societies, because the Jew did not assimilate himself, did not cease to be a people, but when antisemitism had ascertained that the Jew was not assimilated, it violently reproached him for it, and at the same whenever possible it took all necessary measures to prevent his assimilation in the future.

At all events, there exist contrary, opposing tendencies by the side of these nationalist tendencies. Above nationalities there is mankind; now, this mankind, so fragmental at the start, composed of thousands of inimical tribes that were devouring one another, is becoming a very homogeneous mankind. The different peoples possess a common ground, despite their differences; a general conscience is formed above all the national consciences; formerly there had been civilizations, now we advance towards one civilization; once upon a time Athens resisted its neighbour Sparta; from now on, even if dissimilarities between one nation and another persist, the similarities are accentuated. As by the side of his special qualities constituting his essence and personality, each individual in a nation possesses qualities in common with those who speak the same tongue and have the same interests as he, just so civilized mankind acquires similar characteristics, though each nation preserves its physiognomy. More frequent from day to day, the relations among the peoples bring on a more intimate communion. Science, art, literature, become more and more cosmopolitan. Humanitarianism takes its place by the side of patriotism, internationalism by the side of nationalism, and presently the idea of mankind will acquire more force than the idea of fatherland, which is being modified and is losing some of that exclusivism which the national egoists wish to perpetuate. Hence the antagonism between the two tendencies. To internationalism, which is already so powerful, patriotism is opposed with unheard of violence. The old conservative spirit is elated; it is in training against cosmopolitanism which will some day defeat it; it fiercely fights those who are in favour of cosmopolitanism, and this is again a cause of antisemitism.

Though often exceedingly chauvinist, the Jews are essentially cosmopolitan in character; they are the cosmopolitan element of mankind, says Schaeffle. This is quite true, since they have always possessed in a high degree that mark of cosmopolitanism the extreme facility of adaptation. On their arrival into the Promised Land they adopted the language of Canaan; after a seventy year sojourn in Babylonia, they forgot Hebrew and re-entered Jerusalem, speaking an Aramaic or Chaldee jargon; during the first century before and after the Christian era, the Hellenic tongue pervaded the Jewries. Once dispersed the Jews fatally became cosmopolites. Indeed they did not again attach themselves to any territorial unit, and have had only a religious unity. True, they have had a fatherland, but this fatherland, the most beautiful of all, as, however, every fatherland is, was placed in the future, it was Zion renewed, with which no land is compared or comparable; a spiritual fatherland which they loved so ardently that they became indifferent to every land, and that every land seemed to them equally good or equally bad. Finally they lived under such and so terrible circumstances that they could not be expected to have a fatherland of their choice, and, with the aid of their instinct of solidarity, they have remained internationalists.

The nationalists have been led to consider them as the most active propagators of the ideas of internationalism; they even found that the example alone of these countryless laymen was bad, and that by their presence they undermined the idea of fatherland, that is any special idea of fatherland. For this reason they became antisemites or rather for this reason their antisemitism took on added force. They not only accused the Jews of being strangers, but even destructive strangers. The conservatism of the exclusivists connected cosmopolitanism with revolution; it upbraided the Jews first for their cosmopolitanism, and then for their revolutionary spirit and activity. Has the Jew, indeed, any leaning toward revolution ? We shall examine that.


201. A. Franck, lecture on “Religion and Science in Judaism,” in Annuaire dc la Societe des Etudes Juives, 2nd year.

202. Chapt. VII.

203. Cf. Munk, De la Poesie hebraique apres la Bible, in “Le Temps” of Jan. 19, 1835, and the works of Zunz, Rappoport and Abraham Geiger. Cf. also Amador de los Rios, Histoire des Juifs d’Espagne (1875).

204. I leave apart the Polish Jews of Germany.

205. Laveleye, Le Gouvernement dans la Democratie, v. I, p. 53 (Paris, 1891)

206. J. Novicow, Les luttes entre societes humaines, Paris, 1893.

207. Ch. ix.