The Jews by Albany Poyntz

We have already alluded incidentally to the Jews. But the children of Israel have been too long and too perseveringly an object of persecution to all Christian nations, not to demand a more extended consideration.

Mankind, in the present age, though scarcely less disposed than of old to exercise the tyrannical influence of the strong over the weak, appear to have substituted political for religious animosities; and the war of sects has been converted into the feuds of parties. The days of the fagot and the pile are happily at an end; and instead of martyrs, sacrificed in the name of religion, the victim is forced to exclaim on the scaffold: “Oh, liberty! in thy name, how many crimes are committed!” The number of human victims sacrificed to religious intolerance in the various countries of the world, would, however, afford grounds for a fearful computation.

The very existence of the Jews may be regarded as among the miracles of the Christian religion. A wandering nation, without King, without country, without secular laws, maintained together only by the strength of a common worship, could never have resisted the persecutions and proscriptions of centuries, but for the intervention of the chastening hand of God. Even in the countries where their existence is the happiest, stigmatized by public detestation, and in highly Catholic nations treated as lepers, as parias, as infected sheep—condemned to the hardest, and most ignominious tasks—beaten, spat upon, despoiled, plundered, tortured, massacred—a prey to the cupidity of the great, and the brutality of the little—such is the history of the Jews from the days of Titus to the present time. Nevertheless, they not only subsist, but flourish, in spite of the universal prejudice against the name; maintaining unchanged, their laws, customs, usages, and even physiognomy. The abhorrence with which they are regarded by other nations, has necessitated intermarriages from generation to generation, which serve to maintain the pure identity of the race.

The Romans not only detested the Jews for the same motive which produced their hatred of the Christians, namely—the impossibility of converting them to the worship of the false Gods of Paganism, but confounded Jews and Christians together in a common persecution. Yet this equality before the tribunals and executioners of the Emperors and Pro-Consuls of Rome, never availed to diminish the mutual hatred subsisting between them. No amalgamation was possible between them, even amid the flames of a funeral pile. Nero, on one occasion, attempted to illuminate Rome by means of Jews steeped in resinous matter, and thus committed to the flames.

No sooner had the Christians obtained supreme power, than they began, in their turn, to inflict upon the remnant of Israel all the persecutions they had themselves sustained at the hands of the Romans. The Jews were compelled to wear a cap surmounted by horns, to show that they were pre-destined to eternal punishment; and in a Council held at the Lateran, at the commencement of the thirteenth century, they were forced to adopt for robes, stuff of a yellow colour, bearing the representation of a wheel or rack. During Passion Week, and at Easter, it was lawful to attack them with any degree of ferocity. In many cities, it was the custom to inflict corporeal punishment on a Jew publicly, every Good Friday, before the great door of the Cathedral; in some, a positive crucifixion took place!

Eight times have the Jews been driven out of France. Dagobert enjoined them to embrace Christianity, on pain of banishment; Robert the Pious issued the same edict; Philip Augustus, after crucifying several at Bray sur Seine, caused all their synagogues to be burned, seized their possessions, released their creditors, appropriated to himself a fifth of their substance, and the remainder to landholders of adjoining estates. Philippe le Bel dismissed them the kingdom, leaving them only the funds indispensable for the journey. Nevertheless they returned, to be again exiled by Charles VI. Under Louis XIII, was issued a new edict of banishment. It was only under Louis XVI, one of the most humane of Kings, that the Jews were restored to rights of citizenship in France. Nor was their condition better, at the same epochs, in Great Britain and other adjacent countries.

A singular chance directed the attention of Napoleon to the condition of the Jews. A representation of Racine’s “Esther” was given one night at the Opera for a benefit; and the following morning, Talma happening to breakfast with the Emperor, the conversation turned on the performance of the night before. As they were discussing the character of Mardochée, Champagny, afterwards Duc de Cadore, made his appearance, who was at that time Minister of the Interior. Napoleon instantly began interrogating him concerning the position and resources of the Jews in France; and desired that a report might be drawn up on the subject, and speedily submitted to him.

Champagny lost no time in obeying; and the results of this accidental circumstance was the removal of the civil disabilities of the Jews.

The prejudice, however, attached for so many years to the remnant of Israel, is far from extirpated; and though in more than one country of Europe, the honours of chivalry have been bestowed upon wealthy Jews, influential in the financial operations of the kingdom, and consequently in its politics, the popular feeling against them is unchanged. It is even carried to a most unreasonable degree; and the Jews are reproached with the very pursuits and professions forced upon their adoption by Christian persecution. Commercial speculations were of course the sole resource of a people without country, and without protection; and though we are indebted to them for the useful financial substitute of bills of exchange, we use the name of Jew almost synonymously with that of extortioner, without regard to their commercial importance and utility.

The emancipation accorded them in France, was given chiefly for considerations developed ten years before by Monsieur de Clermont Tonnerre, and other celebrated orators before the National Assembly.

“The Code of Moses,” argued they, “is conceived in a twofold spirit—a religious, and a legislative. The political laws which it contains, have ceased to be important—being only applicable to a nation nationally combined and organized; whereas the Jews are a scattered and wandering tribe, rather than a nation. The religious laws are a case of conscience; serving to enlighten the spirit, and guide the social morality of the children of Israel. From the period of the destruction of the Temple, the Jews have politically ceased to exist; and these religious laws may be said to operate in France, upon Frenchmen of the Jewish persuasion; in Poland, upon Poles of the Jewish persuasion; in Germany, upon Germans of the Jewish persuasion, and so forth.”

Upon this showing, civil rights were conceded to them in France, on condition of their contributing their quota to the maintenance of the laws and Government of the country in which they were naturalized.

Till this epoch, a prejudice had prevailed in France that it was an article of faith and duty among the Jews, to deceive and defraud a Christian whenever it lay in their power; and that they were bound, from the moment of their birth, by the Jewish law, to a strong animosity towards us Christian people. Horrible rumours have been revived, at different times, in different countries, of secret sacrifices of the Jews, in which the blood of a Christian was a necessary component.

These questions were openly met and discussed in a manly and temperate manner, in the great Sanhedrim, composed of the highest and most enlightened Jewish authorities; when a peremptory denial was established to all these injurious charges. Prejudices nearly as absurd, and quite as groundless formerly existed in England against the Catholics; the removal of their civil disabilities being equally the result of the progress of public enlightenment.

As regards the question of usury so often imputed to the Jews, experience has proved of late years, that the most notorious extortioners of this description are of the Christian faith; and it is a question of ethics to inquire whether there be greater turpitude in openly demanding an interest of thirty per cent for a loan of money, or in obtaining the same profit by sale or barter of commodities. A considerable number of tradesmen who pride themselves upon their strict integrity, require a much higher ratio of profit than the per centage of the money-lending Jews; nor is it necessary to remind the reader that some of the most eminent bankers in Europe, renowned equally for their probity and liberality, are of the Jewish persuasion.