One of the chief benefits of the study of the past is that it throws light on the problems of the present and helps us to forecast the future. This is why during the terrible struggle that has been going on, so many of us have turned to the records of history for help and direction. It is no less true of our Jewish history.
When we engage in a survey of it, and especially in a study of its course in the allied countries, it is not merely for the purpose of refreshing our memories of what happened in days gone by, but also in order to learn what we might expect to happen in the future and to be fortified in our duty today. “Universal History,” says Lord Acton, “is not a rope of sand but a continuous development; not a burden on memory, but an illumination of the soul.”
The survey of the course of Jewish history convinces us, first of all, that nothing has been so helpful and profitable to the Jew as the progress of democracy. From of old Jewish progress and democracy have gone hand in hand. Every now and then we hear people complain that the Jew is not democratic. This has as much truth in it as the off-hand charge that the Jew is not patriotic or not idealistic. It is a generality unsupported by the facts.
Much more true it is to say that the genius of Judaism has from the first been essentially democratic, and that it expressed itself in democratic institutions and personalities even in remote antiquity, when the world at large was predominantly aristocratic. The Decalogue was a democratic code. The Torah was democratic in form and ideal. And no group of men ever were more representative of democracy in every way—in origin, conduct, and purpose—than the Jewish prophets.
No one can consider these fundamental facts of Jewish history, and what followed from them, without realizing the justice of the affirmation that the Jewish genius has been essentially democratic and that it has made important contributions to the advance of democracy in the world.
On the other hand, the progress of democracy has made everywhere for the advancement and appreciation of the Jew; and this is one of the most valuable and encouraging lessons we gain from a study of the past. In France, in England, in Italy, in Russia, in America—everywhere the promotion of the democratic spirit and law are followed, sooner or later, often promptly, by removal of Jewish disabilities and recognition of the rights and powers of the Jew. A country, or a leader, could not be democratic and fail sooner or later to acknowledge what was due to the Jew. This is why all champions of democracy were advocates of the rights of the Jews—Montesquieu and Mirabeau, Cromwell and Macauley, Cavour and Mazzini, Uvaroff and Milyukoff, Washington, and every other pioneer and hero of democracy. Gladstone in his early days was opposed to the removal of Jewish disabilities, but as a liberal, he was certain finally to turn to the right view, the only view compatible with the ideals of justice and liberty, which are at the core of every democratic feeling and force.
What follows? It follows as the night the day that the Jew has a perfect right to look to democracy for a further vindication of his rights and his place in the world—to hope that the more certain and secure the future of democracy in the world, the more certain and secure shall be the future of the Jew. Some superficial and servile people may contend that it does not matter what kind of government a country has, or under what kind of government we live; the student of history knows that it does matter, that the difference is vital, and if not apparent at any particular moment, certainly clear as the sun in the course of time.
Triumphant democracy will lead to full recognition of the citizenship of the Jew in every country. Apart from basic principles, what the Jew has done during the War cannot fail to earn for him such citizen recognition and complete incorporation in the several nations that are now fighting for life and liberty. The Jew has always been a patriot, but his patriotic devotion, service, and self-sacrifice shown in the present War has never been surpassed and in point of magnitude and scope never equaled. The effect of it will be the abatement of anti-Jewish prejudice and suspicion, increased respect for the Jew, and complete recognition of his position and rights as a citizen everywhere.
Maurice Barrès, a former anti-Semite, has called attention to this effect that the War has already had in France; but it is destined to produce the same effect in every country in which the end of the War will make for the triumph of democracy.
Democracy, however, means not only recognition, but also responsibility, duty as well as rights, service as well as privilege. Jewish history teaches nothing so clearly as that the Jew has persisted not so much because of what the world has done for him, as because of what he has done for the world. The Jew has served. Through light and gloom, amid flood and flame, in days happy or adverse, the Jew has served. He has toiled for mankind. Ebed Adonay—God’s servant, he was called by the ancient Prophet; and such he has been—God’s servant among men, with whose bruises others were healed, and by whose afflictions others were taught and ennobled.
This is why when Democracy finally arose and demanded the freedom of the Jew, there could be no doubt as to his merit and his right. And in the future, too, the Jew will have to continue to serve and to bestow upon the world those benefits for which he was created.
It is foolish to think that the Jew’s problem can be solved in terms merely of happiness and comfort for himself. Not for that was he created. It can be solved in terms only of service—of service to the world! The Jew will never be able to run away from recognition of this fact, which is of the very essence of his soul and his existence.
With the coming of his complete recognition as citizen, will come the increased spiritual responsibility of the Jew. Not only will he have to take part in the political and economic reshaping of the world. He will have to justify his spiritual isolation or separateness. He will be called upon to make his Religion, his peculiar spiritual ideal, count in that spiritual and religious reconstruction which the world will need after the War.
Is there no balm in Gilead? Has the Jew’s Religion nothing to contribute to the healing of mankind’s spiritual wounds? If so, the days of his Religion are numbered. But if it has, as we proclaim it has, then the Jew will have his part to play, and his duty to perform, when upon the coming of peace mankind starts to set up again the fallen tabernacles—enters upon the process of religious and spiritual reconstruction.
And this duty and part the Jew will have not in one corner only—not in one only secluded, far-off spot, but everywhere, in the midst of the world, amid the storm and stress of the world’s life, amid the agony of human suffering and need, where every other Religion will be at work, and men will be engaged in the momentous tasks of rebuilding and rejuvenation.
There are those who indulge in the sweet, idyllic dream of the Jew departing from the common strife of mankind and betaking himself to Zion, and there, amid bucolic surroundings, developing into a spiritual entity the like of which has never been on land or sea. A pleasant dream, this! But history is against it. History shows that although the classical period of the Jew lay in Palestine, since then the Jewish genius has flourished and produced its best fruits in lands other than Palestine.
It is idle to expect reproductions of classical periods. The very contact with the rest of the world, the very friction with other men’s thoughts, the very variety of environment, has made for the vitality and versatility of Israel’s genius. And in the future, also, it is in the world at large that the Jew will be called upon to serve, and to prove his capacity and his commission as a factor in the spiritual advancement and the moral up-building of the human race.
This is not to say that there may not or shall not be a new centre of Jewish life and glory in the old land of Israel’s fathers, in Palestine. On the contrary, we all pray there may be! Every loyal Jewish heart is bound to Palestine, and no true Jew but wants to see it restored and renewed as a place of beauty and of joy. If upon the close of the War, Jews, under proper guarantees, are allowed to settle in Palestine as a matter of right and not merely as a favor, let us hope that those who migrate there, directed by necessity or idealism, will find their heart’s desire and will develop a life of which the world and the Jew might be justly proud. Toward the securing of such safeguards we ought all to work together. It must form one of the fruits of the War.
But to think that the resettlement or reconstruction of Palestine is going to dispose of the universal Jewish problem, is a chimera. We need but think of the difficulties that will surround the new settlement, difficulties of a political and religious, as well as of an economic, character—of the small number of Jews the country will be able to absorb, of the many years it will take before Palestine can support in comfort as many as even a million Jews—we need but think of the large number of Jews who do not believe in the formation of a separate Jewish nation, to realize that they who assume that the creation of a new centre, and particularly of a Jewish State, in Palestine would wholly solve the Jewish problem, feed on flowers of phantasy.
The Jew’s place is in the world at large, the world now engaged in the most momentous struggle of history, and in the world at large he will have to show that capacity for service which will justify his past and make his future secure and glorious!
In such a spirit let us dedicate ourselves to the defense of democracy and the championship of Judaism. In such a spirit let us bear the burdens of the War. Many of our dear ones are engaged in the actual combat. Let us take pride in their sacrifices! Let us call those blessed who shall outlive this combat and be allowed a part in the reconstruction of the future. May they help in the promotion of democracy, in the perpetuation of Judaism, in the advancement of those forces of liberty, justice, and brotherhood which are destined some day to bring peace and joy and good-will to the world!