Lecture #2 - February 15, 1971 - 46:59 min (mp3)
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Mosse emphasizes the breakthrough that Dohm’s 1781 “About the Improvement of Jewish Citizenship” constituted. Dohm was a clergyman, but also a man of the Enlightenment. Between 1711 and 1781, the Enlightenment triumphed among intellectuals and administrators. This new rationalism and optimism shines through Dohm’s book when he remarks that he cannot conceive of a human group that is incapable of improvement. Another argument Dohm takes from Adam Smith, who had held that the power of the state increases with the number of its productive citizens: At the moment, he pointed out, Jews are only consumers; if they were to be made productive they would be an asset to the state. For the Jews, this would be difficult because of the long history of their degeneration. Dohm was concerned about characteristics of the Jewish masses and saw some obstacles to Jewish emancipation: First, Jewish particularism-above all the idea of chosenness-was often interpreted as contempt for others. Moreover, their commercial structure was based on commerce instead of production. For Dohm, these obstacles were due to historical developments and constituted a general concern that was also evident in France. For example, in 1806, Napoleon submitted to the Jewish community a series of questions, concerning for example intermarriage, usury from Jews as opposed to non-Jews, and whether Jews considered the French to be brothers. In response, the tortured answers given by Jewish notables were casuistic rather than straight answers, a result of the separateness built into Jewish tradition.
The solution for Dohm depended on the environmentalism of the Enlightenment, based as it was on Lamarckian anthropology. The environmental explanation of evolution proposed that evolution could be controlled by controlling the environment. Dohm’s concrete solution was that Jews must leave their old professions and become farmers and artisans, since moral and civic improvement were dependent on Jews reforming their occupations. Dohm idealized the peasant and the artisans, who for him were the “noble savage.” Therefore, Jews had to leave the ghetto and the urban spaces and get in touch with the land. Dohm’s “arcadia” remained the ideal for many Jews and gentiles. It was the opposite of commercial and intellectual activity; peasants and craftsmen were the antitype of the puny, intellectual Jew. Jews consequently founded orphanages that aimed to make Jewish children peasants and soldiers. (Mosse remarks that Nordau’s later distinction between muscle and coffeehouse Jews, the idea that Jews must cease to be traders to abolish the Jew as the ghetto type, began here). Secondly, Jews had to learn the vernacular and expand their curriculum beyond religious instruction to include secular German or French subjects, as taught in Mendelssohn’s day school. Finally, military service was seen as the greatest school for citizenship. These general solutions were also forwarded by another religious figure, Abbe Gregoire, who based his work on Dohm.
What did this look like in practice? The Austrian empire was of vast importance here: Joseph II issued the famous “Toleranzpatent,” or act of toleration, of 1781 that covered the Jews of the Austrian Empire. It abolished a whole series of humiliating restrictions, such as the body tax. Also, theoretically all trade was opened to Jews, but in practice this was not quite true: no Jew could get into guilds which had a Christian oath. In effect, this meant limiting Jews to only opening new trades. Important in the edict is the program of reeducation. Another humiliating fact of Jewish existence (not only in Austria) was that every Jewish marriage had to be approved by the authorities; this was an effort to keep the Jewish population down. Joseph did not abolish it, but used it for his re-education program: Jewish marriages were henceforth only permitted if both partners had attended a state school. Furthermore, all Jewish business transactions had to be conducted in the German language. It is also significant that Jewish communal autonomy and rabbinic jurisdiction was abolished. Yet, even when toleration was used for the reeducation of the Jews, Vienna was still closed to them (though it should be kept in mind that it remained closed to Protestants as well). Vienna was kept Catholic. Finally, military service was made compulsory for Jews. This led to riots in Galicia, but was enforced under Dohm’s idea that military service was the best school for assimilation. In all German states, this meant the end of the Jewish middle ages.
Apprenticeships for young Jews became compulsory- except for Prussia, as Wilhelm von Humboldt disagreed with emancipation for reeducation: He favored using toleration to reeducate the Jews. For Humboldt, the state was a legal, not an educational institution. Individuals needed to be treated according to their individuality, not based on their religion and their origins. Yet how could you determine whether Jews had become better people, better citizens? Obviously, there was no answer to this question. Humboldt applied his general ideas on the limitations of state power to the Jewish problem. He believed in emancipation because the unnatural situation of the Jews demoralized the nation. With complete, unconditional emancipation, Jews would naturally become Christians. He moved among Mendelssohn’s children, who had all become Christians. Accordingly, the Hardenberg Edict (Prussia) was the only emancipation edict that did not have any educational program. However, opposition to it was so great that Hardenberg and Humboldt left it to the Prussian king to decide whether Jews should enter state offices. The king never decided. Complete emancipation also only applied to Jews who had lived in Prussia under royal protection. This meant that in 1812, 30,000 Jews were emancipated; while 3000 (those who lived in Posen and eastern parts of Prussia) were not. Those who were omitted became the “east Jewish problem” in Germany, creating a Jewish population that was essentially stateless.
The ensuing violent reaction to Jewish emancipation centered on question of whether Jews could educate themselves without enforced measures of education. The question whether Jews were “a state within a state,” first raised by Fichte, became a general question regarding the Jews. Napoleon’s actions made a tremendous impression on all opponents of emancipation: Napoleon, in reality, did not consider the Jews Frenchmen. He had his own “eastern Jewish problem” in Alsace and Lorraine. For that reason, Napoleon restricted Jewish commerce. In fact, he abrogated emancipation in France until 1815. The ghetto, central to France, was located in the borderland with Prussia. Louis XVIII was very friendly to Jews, but the fact that Napoleon treated them as a separate nation made a fateful impression on the Germans. In Germany, emancipation faced several problems from the very beginning. The stereotype of the Jew remained alive; the idea was to make the Jew cease to be a Jew. If he refused, he was in fact the stereotype.
Inward corresponded to outward stereotype; the 18th century was the beginning of the “Jewish nose” and similar physical markers. As for the Jews themselves, the terms of emancipation were from the beginning gladly accepted by many who strove to modernize Judaism. The ghetto civilization started to spill over, facilitated by the fact that there were no real frontiers until 1918; neither custom or passport officials. There was no awareness of how many people were in a state. Soon, little ghettos sprung up in most western cities. These spurred on the indigenous Jews to modernization, because they wanted a wall between themselves and the orthodox, unenlightened Jews of the east, seen by them as a remnant of the Middle Ages. The acceptance of the reeducation of the Jews by many Jews was connected to the idea that the uneducated ghetto-Jews were the cause of anti-Semitism. Western Jews and gentiles alike thought that the east European Jewish masses would not get out of their poverty until they had become modern and enlightened. It was generally thought that orthodox religion was an obstacle not only to enlightenment, but to prosperity. The name “Jew” was dropped. Until 1810, the Jewish journal “Sulamith” carried the subtitle “a journal for the promotion of culture and humanity among the Jewish nation.” After 1810, “Jewish nation” was replaced by “Israelites.” Then, “Israelite” was dropped and substituted with “mosaic.” Even rabbis had first of all to “preach the love of country.” In the new synagogue in Potsdam, the Prussian eagle was put up at the arc. Rabbis had to accept the conditions of emancipation, since those were the roads to emancipation and citizenship. Reeducation meant modernity.