THE FIFTH CHAPTER
ROTH--I hope you will think me neither presumptuous nor disrespectful when I say, Mr. Zangwill, that you remind me of an ancient if somewhat slighted prophet who, finding himself in a position somewhat similar to yours, did exactly as you do. I am thinking of Balaam whom Og, King of Bashan, dispatched towards Keder to curse Israel. You will remember, who have such a memory for agreeable detail, that a considerable part of the journey had already been consummated when the ass who bore the prophet paused and would go no further. In his rage, you will recall, Balaam lashed the beast, for he did not see, as the poor ass did, that an angel with a sword blocked the way. Like Balaam, you have been sent on a mission which happens to be to bless Israel, and suddenly the ass you have been riding, the Ito, has paused and will go no further, and it is because an angel is blocking your path too. This angel has come to say to you that Israel is already blessed, that Israel is not in need of blessing; Israel is sorely in need of understanding, and of some harsh words that will show him himself as in a mirror. That's the real Jewish Problem, Mr. Zangwill: for Jews to begin to know themselves, for Jews to begin to discover why they are so universally disliked.
Zangwill--If that is the only Jewish Problem, then you can ease yourself, for G. K. Chesterton, Houston Chamberlain, and Hilaire Belloc have solved it for us. I believe they have already named every conceivable reason why Jews are disliked.
Roth--How? By bringing against us, in the pages of their books, charges which have foundation neither in history nor in economics? They began by accusing us of deriving from poor stock, proving their argument by denying us our ancestors and adopting them for themselves. This having been laughed out of court, they revived the old superstition of Jewish ruthlessness in trade, only to be contradicted by their own stock exchange reports. "Anti-Christian!" they cried once more, when nothing is plainer than that we Jews are probably the only true Christians. And now they have discovered a secret international Elders of Zion plotting to gain control of the world. Have we ever shown such an altruistic love of the world that we would be willing to risk our necks to control it? In view of the absence in Israel of any organization for the simplest self-defense, excepting possibly our charities which smack of beggary, it is pitiable even to attempt to answer such a charge. The simple truth is that the Chestertons, Chamberlains and Bellocs represent a multitude of arguments reared in the hope that they will serve as solid intellectual barriers between us and the fruits of a culture we warmed and nurtured in the seed. The true cause of antisemitism is not to be found in their works any more than it is to be found in yours. I call your attention to the fact that there are real reasons why the world dislikes us--reasons more imposing than the trifling things used against us as their stock-in-trade by the Bellocs and the Chestertons who hate us perhaps without knowing why, though it is more likely that they do not care. To get to the understanding of the cause of a disease is in a way to approach its cure, and I do not think that the Chestertons and the Bellocs are anxious to see us cured. Our annihilation would be more welcome to them than our revival. But there are, as I have already said, good, solid reasons why the world should dislike us, and I, a Jew, will utter them. After all, were we Jews not always the best judges of our own faults? Did we ever shrink from shouting our failings from the house tops? We are to-day the most bitterly despised people in the world. Never was a people so simply, so tenaciously, so whole-heartedly loathed. If there are good reasons for this why should we not know them? Why, if we are lacking in grace, should we not be ashamed? Is it not possible that through the instinctive atonement which will come along with the knowledge of our shame we will regain grace?
I am nevertheless glad that you mentioned the Chestertons and the Bellocs. For it is necessary that we should also understand their attitude, or rather their grievance, which is the result of a deeply rooted envy and jealousy.
Zangwill--Why do they envy us? And of what are they jealous?
Roth--They envy our intellectual leadership of Europe whose thought is Jew-born and Jew-bred. Europe not only thinks in Jewish terms, but all her enterprises are motivated by the personalities of Jews. Only once, for one trembling moment, did the mind of Europe raise itself above the turmoil of its mental slavery, in the rhythmic, sentimental meditations of Descartes. But not till the rise of Spinoza did Europe achieve a philosophy. Spinoza is at the heart of European thought: he prevented Descartes who came before him from becoming a prophet, as he prevented Emanuel Kant who came after him from becoming a lawgiver. As it was in the beginning so it still is now. There is not a program, a sentiment or a conviction a European can choose to follow but he must follow a Jew--whether it be Bergson, Marx or Freud.
Why should not the intelligentsia of Europe hate us? Time and again we have humiliated them. We began by giving them Christianity, and for two thousand years they have been trying to live up to it. A continent-full of savages loving plunder and thieving, exulting in rape and incest, were saddled with a religion enjoining them to love their neighbors as themselves. Those mountain chieftains with hidden daggers kept in readiness to strike, those bands of idlers accustomed to hiring out their soldierly services at so much per, were advised to turn the other cheek. If they had only had the presence of mind, how they would have answered their Christian teachers! But the poor European has from time immemorial suffered certain periodic lapses of shyness in which it is difficult for him to deny any one anything. In such a moment it is easy to make him believe that he is good and noble and nothing else. In such a moment Christianity was imposed on Europe. And even though Europeans have not permitted themselves to be swung entirely out of their natural preference for pillage and brigandry, this religion we foisted on them has confused their speech and freighted their treaties with vows they do not mean and cannot understand.
But Christianity was only the first of a long series of Jewish enterprises of which Socialism is the culminating imposition. Instinctively Europe is as much against Socialism as she has always been against Christianity. Why are they gradually accepting Socialism? Europe is simply living though another one of her periods of shyness. But don't worry. Europe will soon recover. Only see what has just happened here in England. Why did the railway workers and the longshoremen allow the Government to starve the coal miners into submission? "You held better and steadier jobs than we did during the war, so you can afford to strike." Was that not the substance of the reply of the railroad workers and the longshoremen to the appeal of the coal miners? I tell you that just as Christianity has failed to make Christians of them Socialism will fail to make men of them.
In the meantime Socialism and Christianity are abiding, irritating symbols of Europe's mental enslavement to Israel. When the Chestertons and the Bellocs talk of race purity and patriotism they lie in their throats. They know that we are racially purer than they are. They know that we are better patriots than they are. It is their intellectual slavery which rankles in them, and once this is understood we can afford to ignore them completely.
Zangwill--Suppose I grant you our intellectual leadership--I do not think it is possible to deny it--have not the Europeans leadership in everything else, in the conduct of great cities, in the arts, in military science? That is having so much more than we have that I still do not see why they should be angry or envious.
Roth--Suppose I show you a steed of pure blood, with legs of extraordinary slenderness and agility, a black shining skin and eyes that flash fire. But suddenly appears a man with a whip, and the beast's sides begin to quiver, his nostrils dilate rapidly with resentment. The man with the whip is his rider.
Zangwill--But you said something about the real causes of antisemitism. You are sufficiently violent to strike the truth even though it be kind to you, and I am curious.
THE SIXTH CHAPTER
ROTH--Remember, we are engaged in an inquiry which is to lead us to the roots of antisemitism. If nothing is to bar our understanding of the vital facts we must go about our inquiry resolutely, fearlessly, careless alike of whether we offend Israel or Israel Zangwill.
Roth--In the Jewish Aguda there is a paragraph concerning the beauty of Rabbi Jochanan. "I am," said Rabbi Jochanan, "the last of Jerusalem's beautiful ones." Often, as I make my way through the Jewish quarter of some world metropolis, the words come back with a pang to remind me that the degradation of a people is always accompanied by a corresponding debasement in its external appearance. What a difference between the Greeks we see every day in Soho and the Greeks to be found in the pages of Elie Faure! Such a difference, in a milder way, has come about in our own people. If you need further proof of how truly this spirit works you need only note that no sooner did the hope and pride of Israel flare up in the rise of the idea of a Jewish national revival than we saw ourselves suddenly glorified in the appearance of Theodore Herzl--the first handsome Jew in two thousand years. But Herzl died as quickly as our hope, and once more we labor away on the dead level of our external stupor which, in a way, feeds the flames of universal dislike. To illustrate: though we are not by any means the first people in the world to be persecuted, we are the first to have been picked out individually for the contempt and assault of our neighbors. Other peoples before us and during our time have been disapproved of, but they were either attacked as a body or they were let alone as a body. The people of Israel might be at war with no one, yet every single Jew lives always under the frowning menace of a personal assault that may come from any one, from anywhere.
Zangwill--What are you driving at?
Roth--Has it ever occurred to you, Mr. Zangwill, that, on the whole, we are not a pleasant people to look at?
Zangwill--Surely I cannot hope to dissuade you from this by asking you to look more intently at me. But are you in earnest?
Roth--Very much in earnest. Look at our men, look at our women. Look particularly at our women.
Zangwill--It seems to me that Jewish women are admired the world over, and for their beauty precisely.
Roth--Jewish women are good, healthy and hard working, and they are lacking in none of those feminine allurements which release in us forces important for the perpetuation of the race. But they are almost wholly without beauty--that cool, carefree, elusive grace which nourishes the seed of our peculiarly human grandeur. Thick-ankled, heavy-bosomed and dark-browed, our women are earthly and earthy. You are probably thinking that the responsibilities of Jewish motherhood have been too grave to be favorable to the development of anything carefree and cool. That is probably a good explanation, but unfortunately it does not alter the fact that Jewish women are unattractive.
At her best, woman is not a satisfactory contrivance, her function being to perpetuate the race rather than its glory. But in every community except our own there are women of exceptional spirit and beauty who free themselves of the grosser implications of their primal function and with that act free their men also, if only for a moment, from the grip of an evil fatality. We Jews, of all civilized peoples, alone do not know the pleasure of this blessed release, except when we dare break the bonds and intermarry, which usually only serves to make matters worse. Not that Jewish women do not strive to be free and beautiful. But alas, their striving is saddening. In the face of that is it to be wondered that the greatest Jews of the Diaspora took to themselves gentile wives? Except poor Herzl--and how bitterly did his Julia oppose his every Jewish idea!
What I have said of Jewish women is true, even more true, of Jewish men, though in East-European rabbis idleness occasionally breeds a luxuriously bristling beast lacking only courage to challenge admiration. The trouble with our men is that they are so intent on the wares they sell that their facial expressions take on the appearances of the things they trade with, be they rolling pins or pickles. I know a man on a corner of Houston Street of the Jewish east side of New York who has been selling pickles for thirty-five years, and if he is still there his face is the faithful image of any one of the dozens of pickles to be seen on his stand. Certain trade resemblances have become of an hereditary importance. A red-headed Jew always looks like a carrot, a little pot-bellied Jew like a potato, or, if he is a big potbellied Jew, like a sack of potatoes. Even the beard, ornament of every earthly creature except the goat, fails us.
Zangwill--But surely there are homelier peoples than the Jews?
Roth--Yes, Poles, Ukrainians, and Hungarians, but since they pretend to nothing, aspire to nothing, the world lets them go by without a word. With us who have always the word beauty on our tongue it is different, for beauty is expected of us.
Zangwill--Suppose I were to grant you this, and I certainly do not, for every day I see Jews of great dignity and beauty of person, is it not possible that our mean appearance is only the reflex of the world's hostility, so that you are really attributing the cause of the disease to the effect?
Roth--No, I do not think our ungainliness is the product of persecution. If we had ever been a beautiful people we would have learned to prize beauty more. Have you ever noticed that in the Bible, which is the most ancient and most reliable account of our history and our motives, beauty is mentioned only as a symbol of vice?
Zangwill--No, it never occurred to me before.
Roth--The Bible praises Sarah for her faithfulness, Deborah for her rhetoric, Miriam for her good voice, Esther for her courage and Hannah for her devotion. But only those women are mentioned for their beauty whose fascination had a vicious aspect or helped somehow in the instigation of slaughter--such women being Vashti and Tamar. Suppose you try to remember whether the Bible mentions any man for his personal beauty?
Zangwill--Nothing is actually said about it in the Biblical narrative, but can you doubt that Moses had beauty? "His eye was not dim nor his natural force abated"--at a hundred and twenty! And there was David, and there was David's precious son Absalom.
Roth--I do not doubt that Moses, David and Absalom were men of beauty. But I understand, as you do not, the reluctance of the Jewish historian to praise beauty even in heroes when beauty was so scarce among the people for whom he was writing.
Zangwill--You are confusing history with poetry, which is the art of praise.
Roth--And since the histories in the Biblical narrative were written by poets who praised God lavishly, is it too much to expect them to praise what they see of the beautiful in man?
Zangwill--Our histories were written by men who, unlike the Greeks, could not be expected to be moved to praise by beauty in their own sex.
Roth--Your reply is wily but inaccurate. Our historians were poets, which is to say men of truth, and had there been beauty to see they would have recorded it. Perhaps you do not remember that we are the only people on record who have ordered in the national sacraments the destruction of beauty?
Roth--"When thou goest forth into battle against thine enemies," commanded Moses, "and the Lord thy God delivereth them into thy hands, and thou carriest them away captive, and seest among the captives a woman of goodly form, and thou hast a desire unto her, and wouldst take her to thee for wife; then thou shalt bring her home to thy house; and she shall shave her head and pare her nails." Would there have been need for such precaution against the allurements of gentile women if Jewish women, even then, had not been lacking in grace? Does not this commandment clearly express fear lest the presence of gentile women in the midst of Israel result in the wholesale abandonment of Jewish women?
But what a horrible commandment is this business of shaving hair and paring nails! Dante finds in the seventh circle of Hell an island devoted to the torture of those who desecrated works of art. Surely there must be another similar island in Hell for those who cut off the hair of women, and pare their nails. But this, I fear, is the sum of our traditional attitude towards beauty. Is it not time to begin to resent it?
Zangwill--You are mistaken. There is no such attitude. Jews merely do not think that physical beauty represents a positive good, and they would merely attempt wherever it is possible, to prevent it from working evil.
Roth--Oh, there is positive value in beauty. There is virtue in beauty, too. When I read in Euripides how, when she was in danger of being despoiled by the angry Greeks, Helen was snatched up into heaven by the gods, I feel that there has been a triumph in the imagination of a whole people. For our lack of faith in beauty we have been punished with the plainness of our race, which is a pity, for we really have such a fine instinct for beauty.
Zangwill--It is well for you to talk of beauty. But what of the virtues of homeliness? Are they not to be considered?
THE SEVENTH CHAPTER
ROTH--The virtues of homeliness--very interesting. What are the virtues of homeliness?
Zangwill--Peace, modesty, contentment, hope, comfort. The most important of them are already named.
Roth--Now which one of these important virtues appears to you to be the most important of all?
Zangwill--I do not wish to be too certain, but for the moment I venture to suggest modesty. You are at liberty to agree with me.
Roth--I agree, with no reservations. But are we a modest people? I think it would be difficult for ever a race-blind Jew to insist that we are a modest people. But let us make certain, first of all, that we are not in a blind alley. I am not, please believe, reiterating that naive conceit of the gentiles that the coarseness of our nature reveals itself in the indelicacy of our behavior in clubs, cafes and theaters which are conceived in boisterousness and all the joys thereof. It seems to me about as sensible to be modest in the theater as it is to drink buttermilk in a beer saloon, though undoubtedly both are being done. I am thinking of something truly vicious and devastating--our international boisterousness.
Zangwill--By which you mean?
Roth--Our pacifism, among other things. Why, I want to know, have we Jews appointed ourselves the peacemakers of the world? Why have we relegated to ourselves the stupid and ungrateful task of going about crying out for peace among the nations? We are not even ourselves a peaceful people, for we harbor, perhaps, more dissension in Israel than is to be found among all the rest of the nations on earth combined. Without even a good-humored understanding amongst ourselves, we go about preaching the importance of an understanding of friendship among the peoples. Suppose complete disarmament were really the wisest course for European polity to adopt? Is it not plain, at the same time, that the Jews as a people have nothing to lose from any one of the evils which, it is easy to conjecture, might befall a nation because it has prematurely disarmed? Our eagerness to disarm our neighbors is just a tragic phase of our national boisterousness.
Zangwill--You seem to forget that we Jews have always been indoctrinated with the ideas of peace.
Roth--Yet the only land we ever owned we wrested by the forcing power of the sword from another people. The laws we profess came to us out of a violent manifestation of the laws of nature. And our ceaseless rebelliousness against existing social orders is proverbial.
Zangwill--Is it also boisterous for a people to insist on its own rights?
Roth--No. But we are always insisting on the rights of others.
Zangwill--Naturally, since we combine with a sense of justice a sense of humanity.
Roth--But I tell you that it is rank interference, and no more than that. How impertinent of us to demand rights belonging to those who gained them at risks which we were not called upon to share! Besides, an ancient people like the Jews should be able to refrain from sniffing at the heels of petty reforms. Are we not old enough yet to realize that as long as a government keeps clear and free the circulation of its sewers and banks, everything else is trivial and of no consequence?
Zangwill--But is it enough that we should merely remain alive and solvent?
Roth--It is most important that we should remain solvent.
Zangwill--You forget that to mean anything at all our life must be regulated according to certain standards.
Zangwill--Human life is nothing if it is not properly preserved.
Roth--We live properly when we live well.
Zangwill--Nevertheless we must be very careful. Man is an organism which grows until it begins to decay, and then it grows no longer. After that----
Zangwill--Death and the end of everything, for when life has passed out of man there is nothing else.
Roth--There you are. You touch the very roots of our strange boisterousness, our pacifism, when you remember our insistence on the sacredness of human life. In a world in which it is gravely necessary for a man to kill his neighbor we cry out: "Thou shalt not kill."
Zangwill--Why must we kill?
Roth--Once more, I must cite scripture at you, for the only way to dispute our laws effectively is to quote them. In one of those pleasant, rather longwinded speeches in which he ordained for us a vague and violent future, Moses, advising us as to what we should do with the peoples who would inevitably succumb to our prowess, insisted that no matter what mercies we ever show other peoples, Amalek must be destroyed. He must not just be destroyed. The destruction must be complete, extending to his women, his children and even his cattle.
I submit to you, Mr. Zangwill, that this Amalek is a very profound, a very sacred social symbol. Every nation, every man, every woman has such an Amalek, something that must be completely destroyed. The law which bids us destroy Amalek is sacred, for it is very precious to our natures. In the face of a law so deeply ingrained in human nature is it not obvious that the Jewish insistence on the sacredness of human life is a little irksome?
Zangwill--In a world in which killing is done so indiscriminately and with such ceaseless enthusiasm I think it is necessary that there should be at least one people dedicated to the propaganda that human life is sacred.
Roth--Our propaganda is much too effective. We make our claim much too eloquently. I have an experience in mind which illustrates my point.
On the ship which brought me to England I met a young Chinaman who made a very significant comment on the Jewish Problem. "You hold life too precious, you Jews," he said, "and life is not everything." I did not fully understand him till a few days ago when I read that several millions of Chinamen have recently perished for lack of food. Millions dying while the granaries of Western Europe are full! My head reeled with the remembrance that in 1904 the whole Jewish world marched through the important cities of the world bearing black flags of mourning because in Kishanev some evil peasants had fallen on the Jews, causing casualties of less than half a hundred, and the words of that young Chinaman came back to me: "You Jews hold life too precious--and life is not everything." Did not we Jews give the world a religion based on the sufferings of one man? I suddenly understood the sacrifices as a symbol of the subservience and inferiority of the rest of the animal world to mankind. Human life must not only be preserved, it must be cherished. "Love thy neighbor as thyself" was never modified to read "providing he be worthy of love." Because he is human it is presupposed that a man is worthy of love. What was Europe before we entered it? A slaughter house. What is Europe now that we have agitated up and down it for two thousand years? A slaughter house. Have we altered things at all? Oh, yes: the slaughter is now conducted on lines of conscience. By establishing the belief in the sacredness of human life we have merely helped to elevate murder to a very high social plane. We have given murder an attractive significance. A man may be a beast too mean to be allowed to lick the front steps of a temple, but he need only slit the throat of his neighbor to become immediately an object of the fascinated contemplation of the world, a man selected for the scorn of the writers of editorials and the endless curiosity of lady journalists.
Jewish love of life is no mere whim. It is something fundamental in us. We pursue it with a confidence in its ultimate good that is both ardent and contagious. Where do we not encounter it? In literature, in the theater, in the market we show ourselves unwaveringly sensitive to every pulse of joy and pain; we sublimate its significance, praise its beneficences, and, altogether, look to it as though it were a golden bridge which, when crossed, will leave us at the golden gate of an assured and comfortable future. And going as we do about the shabby routine of life as though every step were bringing us nearer to some mysterious, much desired reward, we attract the easily credulous gentile who, following us step by step, ultimately discovers himself before a common wormy grave. The disillusionment is heartrending. He dies cursing us.
Zangwill--Should it be accounted a fault that our love of life is so contagious? Is it not rather the fault of life that it falls below our vision of it?
Roth--Your question is purely rhetorical, but my quarrel is not with life, but with you, and I am merely pointing out to you that this exceeding love of life is one of the causes of anti-semitism.
Zangwill--But if you bar even our enthusiasm for life, what do you leave us?
Roth--Life itself. Is that not enough?
Zangwill--It is useless. Jews have been too long used to spicing their life ever to consent to take it raw again?
Roth--I do not ask them to take it raw. I ask them not to swallow it, and so avoid indigestion.
THE EIGHTH CHAPTER
ZANGWILL--Since you object to Jewish pacifism, attributing to it some of the hatred leveled at us, how do you account for the fact that the only Jew the Gentiles have chosen to follow was perhaps the greatest pacifist that ever lived?
Roth--I presume you mean Jesus of Nazareth.
Zangwill--No other. You have the rare merit of remaining perfectly unmoved in the presence of the obvious.
Roth--But is it really so obvious that Jesus was a pacifist?
Zangwill--You are not content with remaining unmoved before the obvious, so you torture it.
Roth--Suppose I suggest to you that it takes the courage of a fighting heart to preach peace before an embattled world?
Zangwill--If your preacher is himself a warrior. But don't you see that Jesus spoke of peace because it was not in his nature to speak of anything else?
Zangwill--Since Jesus was all love, all kindness, daring in him would have been to try to appear to be anything else.
Roth--I see that you are content to believe many more things than you understand. Has it ever occurred to you to examine more closely the legend of Jesus the Pacifist, the lover of mankind?
Zangwill--I have read the New Testament.
Roth--Then you have read it, as it is read by the rest of the world, with eyes tightly shut. For myself, I have searched vainly through the New Testament for traces of the legendary Jesus, but whereas his doctrine is the doctrine of Hillel I find that his heart is the heart of Samson when the pillars of the Temple are crumbling under his arms. I find him a man so profoundly embittered by life, so repulsed by his fellow creatures, that he is satisfied to leave nothing as he found it. For one must believe either that Jesus was a fool unlearned in the ways of the world, or that, knowing the importance of the words to which he gave utterance, he was prepared to throw the whole existing world into turmoil so that nothing of it might remain in the state in which his tormented eyes beheld it. This man of peace gave the lie to the code of Moses, and overturned the tables of the hateful money-changers.
Jesus seems to have been first and last a Jew, a beaten Jew, a nationalistic Jew. His teachings sound to me like a cry out of the degradation of the poor in Israel of whose number and destiny he felt himself to be a part. (It must be remembered that though the poet's symbol spreads large, overshadowing wings whose brightness enfolds a world of unsettled objects, the symbol itself, as it appears to the poet, is a homely object whose original setting is in some actual obscure corner of the poet's life.)
Jesus preached of Jews and for Jews. Of all the ancient Jewish leaders of whose words and deeds we have a competent record, he understood best the limitations of idealism outside of Israel, he appreciated most keenly the difference between what may be preached to the goyim and what may be expected from them.
The Gentiles say glibly that Jesus so loved the world that he willingly died to redeem it from sin. But what was there in the world outside of Israel to love? The world Jesus is supposed to have loved consisted of
Rome did not need, nor did she want, to be saved. The Emperor of Rome, writhing on the dungheap of national decay, looked deep into his plate at meal times, and kept himself far from a temple. Love, pity, self-sacrifice--what could even the words have meant to him? He understood only the meaning of power, he wanted only the tribute of obedience. The Roman populace were a credit to their Emperor.
Their lust for conquest had degenerated into a lust for debauchery. Whatever moral indignation had lodged in them had become dissipated in the corrupt versification of Juvenal. Their feasts had been turned into orgies, their temples into brothels, their' amusements into slaughter houses. The auctioning off of Rome among its soldiery was only the logical outcome of the extraordinary coarseness into which Roman civilization had grown.
The mind, the heart, and the hand of the Greek had grown feeble--an outcome of centuries of national debauchery--but his cares and ambitions were at an end at last. His past would be his only future. At his liveliest the Greek had never taken a very generous interest in the affairs of the world, he had been from the very first too busy with protecting himself from the Persian and later from himself. The Greek poets had taken the heart of Greece to the top of Mount Olympus and left it there to freeze among the cold clouds and snows. To the Greek of that day, the Sermon on the Mount would have appeared, had he been allowed the opportunity of reading it, as merely a pompous composition to be held in contempt along with other similar Hebrew imitations of Greek writers.
The Egyptian was what he has been since the dawn of civilization, and what he is likely to remain to the last day of our allotted time: deeply rooted in his strange soil, curious about all natural phenomena, and as far beneath national pride as he was above personal ambition. Because of the instinctive evenness of his articulation the Egyptian is, among the races of mankind, the closest approach to what we may imagine makes up the contentment of the domesticated brutes of our measured fields. Service, of which the cow, the dog, the horse and--to an extent--even the cat, seem to be intelligently aware, is the keynote of the life and genius of the Egyptian peoples. To do what was expected of him was the beginning and the end of the endeavor of the Egyptian. He never wanted to do more than that. He does not want to do more than that to-day. For him surely the message of the Nazarene, had the Nazarene wanted to reach him, would have been both superfluous and meaningless.
Europe, or what constituted Europe then, was the young upstart of the world, crowding the borders of old civilizations, breaking, burning, murdering, pillaging. Europe would first have to suffer the pangs of national birth, development and distress before she could have any use for or understanding of a religion of despair. Surely Jesus could have had very little to say to those savages north of the Mediterranean.
There you have a not exaggerated summary of the world in which Jesus lived. Love it? He abhorred, he loathed, he hated it, and if you have blindly accepted the bias that Jesus had no hatred in his soul for any one or any thing, remember how intensely he hated the Pharisees.
It would perhaps be aside from the point of our argument to establish the truth that the Christian interpretation of the character of Jesus would make him a sort of sublimated idiot. But I cannot pass it by without a word. May I point out to you that love and hatred are essential to each other in people as a balance of character? Wherever you have a human being whose only passions are the passions of hatred you have a madman. Wherever you have a man whose only assets are the passions of love you have another madman. Here Christians might interpose with the argument that this balance of character is not necessary in our conception of Jesus, who was not a man but a god. This seems to me to be an invalid objection, for if we cannot visualize Jesus as even a normal man how would he appear on the higher plane on which we would have to judge him with gods such as Buddha and Jehovah.
In the world he lived in Jesus could see only the Jewish despair which encompassed him. If he had any desire to become a savior it was of his own Jewish world--so strong were the bonds which tied him to it. As he believed in his love for his people, so he believed in himself. One passion was governed by the other.
Zangwill--You would have me believe that Jesus cared nothing about the other nations?
Roth--I would have you believe only what you can understand. I ask you: how could Jesus have had international interests? Jewish politics had been wiped out with the defeat of Bar Cochba. The sword of Rome glittered brightly over the Temple. For the rebirth of a Jewish polity there was no hope, for some time there would be no hope. Jewish hope was buried deep in the blind, impenetrable womb of the future. One could not save, but one could heal. Jesus sought to heal the despair of his people by showing them that if there was for them no chance of a kingdom on earth there were infinite possibilities of a kingdom of heaven. It was to be the kingdom within them as against the cruel, oppressive kingdom without, the heart of mankind against the armies of Rome.
And surely the words of Jesus did not sound like the expression of empty doctrine. There is in his words a love of beauty and an infinite pity for the lowly and the suffering about him. For none but the Jews themselves could those speeches have been intended. And that his people might know that he spoke for them only Jesus thus instructed his disciples (Matthew x: 5, 6):
These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentile, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:
But go rather to the lost sheep of the tribe of Israel.
By which you see that not only had Jesus no interest in the gentiles, by whom he understood the nations of the earth outside of Israel, but he was even sensitive to an unimportant feud which the Jews and the Samaritans of that day were engaged in.
Nothing better illustrates for me the illusoriness of the human intelligence and the imbecility of the human judgment than that it has become a universally accepted article of faith that Jesus died for the world. All of his activities were confined to Judæa, his audiences and disciples were Jewish, and his only warfare was with the synagogues of the Pharisees.
Jesus said: "Render unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar's," the silent ironic implication being that nothing is Cæsar's. Why did not Jesus ever go to Rome? It is obvious why he did not go. What business could he possibly have had with the oppressors of his people? Did he ever, in our records of him, even try to get into conversation with them?
Jesus said: "The kingdom of God is within you," but he no more intended that his words should be overheard and repeated by a Roman Emperor or a Roman Pope than Micah intended that his saying about the time when every man should sit peacefully under his own vine and fig tree should be overheard by an Eskimo who, in the event of a millennium, would be sorely pressed to find anything to sit under other than a blubber-press or an iceberg.
THE NINTH CHAPTER
ZANGWILL--What you say about Jesus is very interesting. He has always had a great appeal for me, and few books or paintings of him have passed me by unnoticed. Your conception of him is as surprising as that of a Flemish painter whose name I cannot remember, but whose picture shows a young, magnetic peasant with black hair and black eyes leaning with eager meditativeness towards his disciples across the table. I am really glad we came to this because you have presented Jesus from a new point of view. Even as I speak to you my mind is crowded with accumulating evidence for your presentation, but more of this later. Let us regain the wandering thread of our argument. I remember that you charge us with immodesty on the grounds that rebellion is unbecoming to the Jew who is a stranger to the land he resides in. If you insist on this, how are we to regard the Jew's position among the nations? Does he not in that case become a wanderer on the face of the earth without roots anywhere?
Roth--The Jew is a wanderer to be sure, but he has roots in the various countries in which he resides. These roots are moral roots, and they sink not into the soil but into the spiritual life of the people with whom he happens to cast his lot.
Zangwill--That's probably another good cause for antisemitism. But if the Jew's wandering from one country into another is not out of choice but enforced by the countries which eventually tire of him and develop a rage against him, would not candor compel us to admit that there is really no point to his wandering?
Roth--No. The Jew is not an aimless wanderer over the face of the earth. He is aimless neither as a wanderer nor as a Jew. The beginning of the understanding of Israel is the realization that being a Jew has ever been a choice, though often a fatality. The generations of Jews who bore the Torah through the wildernesses of Asia, Africa, and Europe, are also the generations of Jews who stepped out of the line of march to fraternize with and become lost in neighboring peoples. We will not say of the latter that they abandoned their people, rather let us say that they so loved other peoples that for joy of mingling with them they were willing to give up a proud and precious heritage. It is recorded that a certain Ruth of Moab pleaded with her mother-in-law Naomi to be allowed to worship with her the God of Israel. But how many Ruths have abandoned the God of Israel to pray with gentile lovers at the shrines of Baal?
All the Jews of Goshen did not follow Moses out of Egypt. All the Jews of Babylon did not accompany Nehemiah back to Jerusalem. Nor did all the Jews of Spain prefer the Torah and the rack to the crucifix and peace for a while. It appears to me to be a lamentable error in Jewish historians that they fail to illuminate this double stream of acceptance and rejection in Jewish life. There surely is no disgrace in the truth that thousands of Jews every generation abandon the faith of their fathers, and there is the compensating gain of glory in the realization that every generation millions of Jews choose for their destiny the hard, merciless splendor of remaining Jews. Without an understanding of this element of choice Jewish history loses in heroism and significance. With the choice clearly understood the chimera of the aimless wanderer fades out like smoke.
Zangwill--But if he is not an aimless wanderer, what kind of a wanderer is the Jew?
Roth--I fear, Mr. Zangwill, that whatever your opinion on the matter may be, you have unconsciously got into the habit-of-thinking of the Zionists who see Palestine only as a home for Israel, and Israel only as a people to be picked up like so many checkers on a board and transferred to Palestine. In that view there is neither truth, beauty nor tolerance. No good for the Jews can come of it. If there were a clean way of getting into a direct argument with them I would like to remind the Zionists that the first Jew was not Joshua but Abraham, and that before Joshua had a land to conquer Abraham was the guest of the nations of the Arabian peninsula. The Jews in truth have two homelands, the Diaspora as well as Palestine, and the Diaspora is the oldest as well as the most reliable of these homes. There never was a time in the history of Israel when there were not more Jews living outside of Palestine than in it. Is it fair, then, to take it for granted that if the Jew is not in Palestine he is nowhere?
Zangwill--It is a simple enough thing to say that the Diaspora is our home. But have the Jews ever thought of it that way?
Roth--Before God got the nationalist idea was not Abraham a happy, contented, prosperous sojourner of merchakim? If God had never said to Abraham "Lech Lechu" (Go thou) we probably would never have got into trouble.
Zangwill--But you have not yet answered my question, which is a very important one. If we are regular, full-fledged citizens in the countries in which we sojourn, why is it immodest of us to raise our voice in their affairs? And if it is immodest for us to raise a voice in their affairs, what is our citizenship worth?
Roth--Our citizenship in a country entitles us to work in it, to be paid for our labor at least as much as is paid to other natives, to cooperate with the other citizens in maintaining the health and prosperity of the country, and to be permitted to keep the choice of remaining Jews. We are really entitled to everything but the last, and for the privilege of keeping this choice we must consent to waive certain minor privileges, among them the dubious privilege of rebelling against the existing social order.
If the privilege of being a social meddler is too precious for a Jew to surrender, he is not worthy of being a Jew, and should get himself baptized at the nearest church as soon as possible.
Zangwill--Is this the notice you would serve on all our Marxes and Trotskys?
Roth--The Marxes must be forgiven because they are scholars. As for the Trotskys, they have always been a damned nuisance. Would you like to know who was our first Trotsky? I will tell you. It was St. Paul.
Paul, the real founder of Christianity, went about, like Trotsky, proselytizing among the nations. He was certainly the prototype of the modern Jewish radical, his delusions differing only in their material aspects from the delusions of the man who in our day headed the armies of the revolution in Russia.
Between Paul and Trotsky I see a very significant and ominous resemblance. Like Paul the Apostle, Trotsky the Communist despises his own people. Like Paul, Trotsky argues with cunning rather than with wisdom. And there is a similarity between the fruits of their labors for their own people. Out of the preachings of Paul rose the Catholic Church, our worst scourger. Out of the work of Trotsky is arising a Russia whose treatment of the Jews will some day cause the Inquisition to become a gay memory. Already the peasants are murmuring: "The accursed Jews took advantage of our confusion to make themselves our masters." What is yet to come only the blind cannot see.
Paul went to Rome and Trotsky went to Moscow. Both appear to me to cut equally ludicrous figures on the stage of history. When Paul appeared Rome was already in the last stage of her national decay, so Paul talked to her encouragingly of heaven. Russia, defeated by Germany and Austria, was fleeing in confusion from Western battlefields when Trotsky appeared and whispered to her of Bolshevism, the modern substitute for heaven.
Trotsky is the type of Jew who continues to remain in the light of history by continually tumbling out of it. There is no menace more terrible to us than this type which causes nations to distrust us.
Zangwill--Then what should be the active role of the Jews in the Diaspora?
Roth--The Jews should solidify in every nation the forces which maintain law and order. They should be the most skillful laborers, the most enterprising merchants and bankers, the keenest scholars and expounders of the law. In other words, it should be a privilege, not a menace, for a nation to have Jews.
Several years ago Villa, the bandit chieftain of Mexico, on being interviewed by some American correspondents in Washington concerning the future of Mexico, cried out: "Give us at least fifty thousand Jews in Mexico, and see what our future will be!" Do you doubt that he was right?
Zangwill--I do not doubt that Villa was right. But I do doubt whether, once the Jews had succeeded in establishing Mexico's credit, even Villa, who is reputed to be of Jewish blood, would remember it in their favor. Do you not see in your America how the tide of resentment is rising against the Jews even while their hands have not yet been withdrawn from the steel girders of their gigantic development? How long is it, do you think, before the dreaded Lech Lechu will once more be pronounced in the western hemisphere and you will find yourselves wandering out of America?
Roth—A long time, I hope. It is even possible that we may always remain here. I have been reading an article by a Dr. Herbert Adams Gibbons on the Jewish Problem in relation to American ideals which displays so little knowledge of Jewish affairs and such a confusion of opinion concerning Jewish life in general that it strikes me as a painfully accurate summary of the attitude of America towards us. With this idea uppermost, I have carefully studied the article, and I announce to you that I see no reason why we should not be able to conciliate America. Do let me show you how.
Zangwill--I am resigned.