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Milton Viorst on the Emancipation of Europe’s Jews

Posted on Jan 22, 2010

By Milton Viorst

(Page 2)

But another major factor was the increasing dominance of capitalism, for which Jews seemed to have an aptitude, over static agrarian culture. Until modern times, ghettoized Jews had run their own school systems, in which virtually all their children learned to read. They had also developed a wide communications network for consultations on provisions of Jewish law. Some historians theorize further that Jews, used to the daily perils of anti-Semitism, were more comfortable with risk. Whatever the explanation, Jews were better prepared for the new money economy than their agrarian neighbors. Europe, however, resented their success, and in time its dormant anti-Semitism awoke. 

And so Emancipation, buffeted by capitalism, retreated. More than a few Jews, recognizing its fragility, thought they would be protected by conversion. Among the most celebrated, and most sensitive, was Heinrich Heine, the brilliant German-Jewish poet, who is a favorite of Goldfarb. Heine quickly understood that his conversion had gotten him nothing and, in anger, he left Germany for the more liberal France. From Paris he wrote to an old friend, “I am now hated by Christian and Jew. I regret very much that I had myself baptized. … Since then, I have had nothing but misfortune.”


book cover


Emancipation: How Liberating Europe’s Jews from the Ghetto Led to Revolution and Renaissance


By Michael Goldfarb


Simon & Schuster, 432 pages


Buy the book

Emancipation suffered a near-fatal crash in 1881, when the czar’s government in Russia unleashed bloody pogroms on the Jews of the Pale of Settlement. Russia’s capitalism had produced unruly hordes of impoverished workers and peasants, who threatened the regime’s stability. When Czar Alexander II was assassinated—though the perpetrators were not Jews—his successor reasoned that he could pacify the hordes by turning them loose on the Jews. The bloodshed lasted for several years, undermining the conviction of Jews—especially of Enlightenment Jews—that they had a future in Europe. 

That is when Russia’s Jews—my own grandparents among them—fell back on the Jews’ ancient practice of fleeing oppression, and began their mass exodus to America.  Significantly, most Orthodox Jews, heeding their rabbis’ warning to shun godless asylums, remained; half a century later, they became Nazism’s principal victims. But many Enlightenment Jews, more psychologically than legally emancipated, made the unprecedented decision of taking Jewish destiny into their own hands. 

Though the Enlightenment had failed to keep its promises to the Jews, it transformed Europe’s Jewish community. As no Jews before them, post-Napoleonic Jews were heavily secular, unwilling to submit to an inferior social status and skeptical about the sagacity of their rabbis. They were determined at last to be masters of their fate. In West Europe, many took the avenues to influence that liberal societies had opened to them. In the far more repressive East, substantial numbers seized the flag of Marxism or other revolutionary doctrines. But many others joined together to establish a counter-nationalism, called Zionism, where they laid the foundation of a Jewish state. 

All of these Jews, in one way or another, were the offspring of the Enlightenment and of its adopted child, Emancipation. I wish that Goldfarb had told us more about them within this vitally important context. 

Milton Viorst, who has written about the Middle East for 40 years, is currently working on a book on the evolution of the idea of Zionism.

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By P. T., January 25, 2010 at 8:53 pm Link to this comment

“these qualitys has helped us the Humans to survive”

On the other hand, it has gotten many humans killed.

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By johannes, January 25, 2010 at 5:09 am Link to this comment

To Jean Gerard,

Absolutely not at all tru, all the qualitys you name for humans, you think are not good, for our living together,” but these qualitys has helped us the Humans to survive “, all the naîve, and stupid in their innocent thinking people are long time burryd, its in your tribu you survive, this world now is more an jungle than ever, with out any handhold, you geth pushed down and out, maby by eating some pils you can stop it, but on the long run you have had it, with out backing and handholds.

Salutation, Johannes

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By P. T., January 24, 2010 at 8:14 pm Link to this comment

Actually, there is evidence that tribalism and stereotyping (for example, forming quick judgments about threats) has biological roots, with survival functions.  It is a cross-cultural phenomenon.  However, it can be counterproductive today because we are no longer living as cavemen.

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By jean Gerard, January 24, 2010 at 2:35 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Nobody here points out that racism and discrimination are learned behavior, just
like other behaviors based on national/cultural negative feelings about
“outsiders,” “strangers”, “people who are different from us,” etc. etc.
  Such nonsense is a hangover from tribalism and dies hard because it is based on
the idea that “I am better than you, he, she, them” and thinking I am better
makes me feel better about myself.  It’s primitive, it’s childish, it’s stupid and
therefore people who hold onto such notions are always having to find
justification for them.  It’s because this.  It’s because that.
  There seems to be no end to the fantastic nonsense we cook up to prevent all of
us from joining forces as humans and working together for a better world for all
of us.

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By dihey, January 24, 2010 at 12:37 pm Link to this comment


By way of my peace offering here is a classical Dutch-Jewish joke. In Dutch of course.

Brammetje komt thuis van school en gaat meteen door naar de werkkamer van zijn vader.
Vader: Zo Bram, wat heb jij vandaag op school geleerd?
Bram: Ik heb Frans geleerd papa.
Vader: Frans? Wat is Frans?
Bram: Frans is een taal papa.
Vader: Zo, zo, een taal. En wat voor een taal is dat Frans?
Bram: Bijvoorbeeld le tau-ro dat is de stier. Of le cha-pa-o dat is de hoed.
Vader: Oi zo!
Brasm: Ja papa oi-zo dat is de vogel!

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By johannes, January 24, 2010 at 4:24 am Link to this comment

To P.T.

Wath you say is tru, but not in general, in my country their was some times an ugly feeling between some people, but thats normal, the older generations always spoke abot their Jews as the old folks.

In Germany was it very different, much richer in general as the German citizen, and lots of Jews in the politic left party’s, what was giving the possibility to atack them, with good excuses to the public.

On the other hand Jewish writers who claim that Jews are not accepted socialy, they have to look to and to blame the Israel governements for their onhuman behaviour, against other thinking people.


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By P. T., January 23, 2010 at 11:48 am Link to this comment

Anti-Semitism would increase during economic downturns of emerging European capitalism.  There was a good chance, for example, the pawnshop owner in town was Jewish, and such were the petite bourgeois Jews with which local people were likely to come in contact.  That fueled negative generalizations.

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By johannes, January 23, 2010 at 11:08 am Link to this comment

To dihey,

Ach you think I am damn serious, well I am, but don’t pity me please, pity is something unworldly, and looks very empty to me, ach again damn serious.

Yes I am missing the “JOKES” from Amsterdam, living in France is tiresome, and boring, not much pleasure, or it must by eating, the social live is gone, in Holland we like “gezelligheid” in other language they do not have a term for this, cosyness maby.

Well I jump of my horse, and stand by?

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By dihey, January 23, 2010 at 9:59 am Link to this comment

Oh Johannes. Don’t be so damn serious. Get off your high horse. Can’t you spot tongue-in-cheek? If you cannot I pity you because you might not know what that is.

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By NYCartist, January 23, 2010 at 9:53 am Link to this comment

  I am happy that you will read James Carroll’s work, “Constantine’s Sword” (a Catholic graduate of seminary, son of a US general)on the history of the Church’s relation to Jews and the origins of Jew hating.  Up through the Holocaust in Europe.

  Please reread my other comment.  On your reply that “not so much hatred of Jews”: I shall use another example.  In the US, White people insist by a large marjority that there is no longer much racism against Black people.  In the same polls, Black people indicate that there is much prejudice and racism against Black people.  (Source:Tim Wise,
google his website on white racism education.  I think it’s  His speeches, writing are online.  The point:it is the perception of the people to whom the discrimination is directed that is more accurate on discrimination.

  Your thought that there isn’t much Jew-hating may or may not be accurate.  I’m glad your mother was a leftist.  Mothers are usually smart.  Again, James Carroll - google some of his peace writing also.  My point is the origin of the hating and bias, which James Carroll shows clearly.  And the reason is that Jews wouldn’t convert and accept Jesus as Messiah.

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By johannes, January 23, 2010 at 8:12 am Link to this comment

To dihey,

Take a step back, and look again, the Indians came in America via the North, about 12000 Years back, well are we not all coming out of Africa, yes we are so wath, go straight and upright, you are a human like all others, on his way to ?

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By dihey, January 23, 2010 at 7:16 am Link to this comment

It never fails to amaze me when I run into a fellow American who is so insecure that he/she doubts or disparages the ‘Americanism’ of all Jews, Irish, Blacks, Latinos, you name it.
Even more amazing, if not hilarious, is the proposition to ship all American Jews to Israel and all Americans of British ancestry to England. In the end the only Americans that will be allowed to remain in our country are the American Indians, the only true ‘Americans’!

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By johannes, January 23, 2010 at 3:14 am Link to this comment

To NYcartist,

I do not belief that their is so much hate, against the Jews.

If you do not agré or don’t like an other person, this is still long way of from hate.

The problem is that if you gif critique, over any subject, theme, or topic, wath has to do with the Jews, they, some stupid people, hang the label of anti-semiet round your neck.

Well in my daily live I have no problem, and never had, to live with other people, with an other fait.

My mother was an lefties scholar, and has knowen Rosa Luxembourg, nice very inteligent woman she always told me, well they where always to be found in the top of revolutionair thinking.

I am more a men from the people, the normal mass of people, the happy few, can look afther them selfs.

Their was also an good American writer from Dutch origine ” Feike Feikema ” he was from Frisian origine, nice to read, the daily struggle of living in small American rural live.


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By coco, January 22, 2010 at 10:30 pm Link to this comment

I am not prejudice and I do appreciate the help of Israel in Haiti. I am also in agreement for Aid to the state of Israel, But I am first an American. And I do not think that a Jewish Americans first preference is to America, or a Jewish American politicians first preference is to America. And don’t tell me that the Jewish creed does not segregate business in America and control a lot of media and Business that way. Somewhat like a game of undeclared monopoly. The resentment that I have did not come naturally. Its just that there’s never a week or sometimes a day that goes by that I am not reminded of the Jewish position in the world. That is, what was and what is today. I am sorry for what has happened to your or their creed of people. However, were they so perfect that they never instigated any of the problems that have tortured and killed many of their race and creed? Hitler was not their first enemy. And a German is not an Arab. And a Jew is not a Christian.
It is somewhat the same with the British. I constantly hear how Churchill was such a leader. How powerful would of he have been without the Russian and American forces? He is also responsible for the creation of American national debt. America wasn’t always in the second world war but was an allied supplier of weapons to the British. After Japan pulled us into the war and American soldiers landed in Europe, Churchill decided he didn’t owe the debt to America any more. That debt is still there. And it goes on, England screams and hollers for American military and the Quagmire’s go on. American debt goes up and nothing gets accomplished for America other than the Euro? What is the Debt of the English Monarchy?
America would do better to look at the worlds interest and not just the dominant interest. As for now its two wars and Haiti.

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By johannes, January 22, 2010 at 4:48 pm Link to this comment

To dihey,

The synagoge I meen is in Cordoba, not far from the statue of the Famous Jewish Docter, Moise Moîmonide in the same small street their is an building to be visited, thats the old Synagoge, they say, I have visited this small building.

I have all so visited Maranen, not far from Cordoba, but that is over 40 years back in time.

As you speak about Toledo, they say that it was for his time one of the biggest city’s in the known world, over 400 000 citizen, in that time big city’s had 80 to 100 000 citizen.


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By dihey, January 22, 2010 at 3:03 pm Link to this comment

And I forgot: there never was a Ghetto in Amsterdam , a city where Rembrandt lived for many years in the Jewish district and he was not the only Christian there. His wife Saskia had lived with her brother next door before she married Rembrandt.

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By dihey, January 22, 2010 at 2:48 pm Link to this comment

The smell emanating from coco is not chocolate but racism.

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By dihey, January 22, 2010 at 2:45 pm Link to this comment

As far as I know there is only one Synagogue active in Spain (Valencia). Is that the one you refer to? I have not seen it. The former synagogue in Toledo is much larger than a two horse stable.

I am always amused when Baruch de Espinoza is trotted out as a Jewish paragon of enlightenment (you did not do that though). Although his parents died as Jews and were buried in the Beth Haim cemetery in Ouderkerk he was not because he was excommunicated for heresy. His name in the register of the Portuguese Jewish Synagogue was crossed out with ink. To the best of my knowledge he did not consider himself a Jew when he died.

It should also be pointed out that several “giants” of enlightenment were rabid anti-Semites. A prime example: Erasmus of Rotterdam.

You are absolutely correct to point out that “The Seven Provinces of the Netherlands” were exceptional at the time even for countries like Denmark and Prussia(!) which allowed Jews to live quietly in their nations. Although life was far from easy even for the relatively wealthy “Portuguese Jews” Amsterdam was one of the few cities in Europe of the 17-th century where Jews were not only allowed to have synagogues but also Jewish schools and hospitals.

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By johannes, January 22, 2010 at 1:45 pm Link to this comment

To dihey,

Yes you are right, most people where using each others, but the Jews where all so helping them selfs, in this visa sersa work.

About the Jews in the Spain in the time of the Moors, they indeed had and great brotherhood, with the Moors, they where very usefull for the Moors with their interlect, but where on the other hand tollorated as the Christians, not more or less, I have seen their misserable small Synagoge, big as an 2 hors stable.


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By johannes, January 22, 2010 at 1:24 pm Link to this comment

To NYcartist,

Not so fast Dear Lady, you know first of all we are all human, than Men and Woman, and than what we wanth to be, or to belief.

But formost we are humans, and that comes with lots of problems, I do not wanth to put them down here, because for that I need to much place,  wath we need is love and respect for each other, than their can not be problems at all.

And you and I know their are nice and bad people, so their are good and bad Jews, as their are bad and good other people, with this other people I come to me, I have known lots of good people and with that come lots of good Jews, I still know and befriend lots of people, good people and surprise surprise lots of Jews, good Jews, so you are old as I am, but I am sure we are friends, and no Judas kiss.

I am a big fan from Soul Bellow, I think he can write exacely the atmosphere of the time say before the 60-70 ties, well I will take some time for your men J.Carrol’s.

Salutation, Johannes

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By coco, January 22, 2010 at 12:44 pm Link to this comment

Enough Jew on the brain in America. Go back to Israel and talk about Jews and their books and their holocaust and Anna Frank and how good the aid their giving Haiti is. How about taken about 100,000 Haitian with you too? Jew politician, Jew Wall street, Jew special interest, Judas..ENOUGH!! And take the stinkin Red coats and all their half wit idea’s with you.

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By coco, January 22, 2010 at 12:43 pm Link to this comment

Enough Jew on the brain in America. Go back to Israel and talk about Jews and their books and their holocaust and Anna Frank and how good the aid their giving Haiti is. How about taken about 100,000 Haitian with you too? Jew politician, Jew Wall street, Jew special interest, Judas..ENOUGH

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By dihey, January 22, 2010 at 12:07 pm Link to this comment

What garbage!“Emancipation is the gift Europe offered the Jews as they entered into the modern world” as if Jews were the passive bystanders to whom the fruits of enlightenment were handed by Europe’s benevolent goys. Let me mention only the name of Karl Marx to show how laughable this thesis is. Or Moses Mendelssohn, or Dr. Johann Jacoby, or Leon Trotsky, or Rosa Luxemburg, or Benjamin Disraeli, Queen Victoria’s favorite Prime Minister.
There was a region of Europe where Jews were treated almost as equals long, long before some enlightened goys got the message. It was called El Andalus and the gift givers were ....Muslims!

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By NYCartist, January 22, 2010 at 11:13 am Link to this comment

#2 for johannes,
  I went looking for a website to give you.  It’s Center for Jewish History  Happy New Year (I have no connection with the group, nor can I evaluate it for you.)

I hope you will look for James Carroll’s work online and especially his book, “Constantine’s Sword”.  I know it will interest you.  I just convinced a very religious Catholic, who I could call my “best friend” to read it.

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By NYCartist, January 22, 2010 at 11:03 am Link to this comment

johannes, happy New Year.  See my comments,too.

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By NYCartist, January 22, 2010 at 11:02 am Link to this comment

PS Emancipated to death.  James Carroll’s “Constantine’s Sword” goes up and through Auschwitz, starting with the recent “row” over nuns wanting to put a big crucifix in view of the prison,concentration camp and going to the origins of Jew hating by the Church.  My interpretation of it all: Christians are still angry at Jews for not accepting Jesus as Messiah. Simple as that.  All the rest is embroidery.

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By NYCartist, January 22, 2010 at 10:56 am Link to this comment

Oy vey: old stereotypes die hard: such as the one in the review and possibly in the book: “Jews aptitude for capitalism”.  I’m near 7 0 and had to listen to that junk all my life.  Why were Jews forced to dealing with money, such as money lenders in England? Not allowed to own land, and Christians couldn’t be lenders because of biblical interpretation of usury.  Then the English crown relieved the Jewish lenders of their money and subsequently threw them out of England.  How hard is it for a Christian to write about, think about Jews?  For source that I have used (as a Jew, albeit atheist, I remain a Jew, older woman,
based on Jews being a minority and hated):
see “Constantine’s Sword” by James Carroll, nonfiction history of the relation of the Church to the Jews.  This is a great book, written by a scholar who is a Christian (who’d been a priest), is a longtime peace activist and writer for the Boston Globe, along with novels and a nonfiction history of his dad’s workplace, the Pentagon (his dad was a general.

And, great irony: after the Emancipation the Europeans, Nazi-led, exterminated the 6million Jews and the deniers, questioners/“doubters” as one on TD comments likes to be called, are still working from their early Jew-hate learnings.

Ending where we began, old stereotypes on Jews and money: here’s how farflung it’s been used -
example: calling the Chinese the “Jews” of Asia.

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By Alice de Tocqueville, January 22, 2010 at 6:29 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I thought that, also, Catholics or Christians were forbidden to charge interest on a loan, as are Muslims to this day, and that Jews, being restricted from most professions, especially the trades (making things) were thus sort of pushed into buying and selling and the banking profession.

It would be typical for people to blame them for a product of their persecution, just as today many Americans resent, even hate, immigrants especially from Latin America, but insist on electing politicians who make it impossible for them to stay in their own countries; arming dictators, backing punishing trade deals like NAFTA, etc.

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By johannes, January 22, 2010 at 5:03 am Link to this comment

The small country the Netherlands or Holland as you like it, had and have still an good relation with the Jews in general, I give some small facts of this.

The Portugees Jews did give an enormes push forward in thinking and learning, they where real aristocrate, very inteligent, and learnd, ” Spinosa “.

When Pieter Stuyvesant as governor of New Amsterdam, give his permission to the Jews who than living and working in the Dutch collony of Suriname,to come and live and work in New Amsterdam, thats how the first Jews came to live in now ” New York “.

But they created also jalousy, they created wealth much faster as the other citizen, because they worked much more together, as they where an
minority, thats how they did keep together.

In the Ost Frisian part of Germany you still find small houses ” the Jews houses ” and small schools that where schools and Synagoge as well in Yiddis an Synagoge is called the school, most of the time you will find the France houses nearby they where for the France Hugents ” protestants ” who came to live with us in freedom of thinking,and cimentaires every where, in the time people where poor they did stick much more to gether as now, it was necessary to hold together to survive.

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