Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Jewish Isolationist Plan to Stop Anti-Semitism

One of the fascinating things about the Republican Party today is the growing fracture over our military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Contrast this to the lead up to the Iraq war in 2003, which saw a united Republican Party standing behind their president against a Democratic Party caught between its Vietnam era anti-war wing and the "New Democrats" of the Bill Clinton era. The attitudes to the two parties to foreign interventions have gone in cycles over the past two decades. In the early twentieth century, up until the Cold War, the Republican Party was consistently the more isolationist party.

With World War II held up today by both parties as the "good war," it is difficult to appreciate how strong the opposition was to American entrance was. The Republicans were against it as were most Democrats. President Franklin Roosevelt supported the war, but was a highly isolated political figure. It is easy to forget these facts, because the isolationist party in America mysteriously collapsed over the course of a single day, December 7, 1941, leaving an America that supported war not just with Japan, but with Germany even though they did not attack us.  
There was strong Jewish support for the war, certainly far above the general American population, before Pearl Harbor. This was hardly an unmixed blessing for Roosevelt. For all the hindsight talk about how American Jewry sold out Jews in Europe during the Holocaust, it is important to understand how difficult a situation the Jewish community was in. Jews knew that Roosevelt was the best man they could reasonably hope for and that he was going out on a limb politically and legally to aid the British war effort against Nazi Germany. The most counter productive thing they could do was to openly lobby for such actions, making it "the Jew's war."

As it should surprise no one there were isolationist Jews. For example we have the Communist affiliated Jewish People's Committee led by Rabbi Moses Miller, Ben Gold and William Weiner. We have a pamphlet, A Jew Looks at the War, by Miller, written in 1940. Miller declares:

The American people do not want to get involved in this war. They were fooled once before by nice phrases. And it was a costly mistake. Thousands of America's finest youth were killed in that war. The American people want no more of such bloodshed.

The Jewish people of America likewise are against this war. The Jewish people do not want one single American young man to lose his life over there. The Jewish people know that War No. 1. did not solve the Jewish problem but created a Versailles Treaty, created a Hitler, and led to War No. 2 which can only create an even worse Versailles, more Jewish suffering, and can only lead to War No. 3. The Jews of America therefore join with all of the American people in demanding that America stay out of this war. (Pg. 30.)

This pamphlet was written before the invasion of the Soviet Union so I would be curious as to how that might have effected Miller's views.

Miller main concern was anti-Semitism. I am certainly willing to accept that he believed what he was saying, though his arguments, particularly in hindsight, appear rather ironic. For example, at one point in the pamphlet, he quotes Rev. Asher Perlzweig of the British section of the World Zionist Congress as saying that if the war were to continue for another year a million Jews would starve to death in Poland. Miller took Nazi anti-Semitism as a given and assumed that they would do nothing to protect Jews and that as long as the war went on, Jews would disproportionately suffer from the natural depredations of war like starvation and disease. The possibility that the Nazi leadership had a "Final Solution" planned never entered his mind as the possibility failed to register with just about everyone else.

In thinking about American involvement in World War II, I must admit a conflict. Obviously if the United States had not fought against Hitler, I, as the grandchild of Hungarian Holocaust survivors, would not be here today. For that matter, American action saved European Civilization. That does not mean that it was in the interest of the United States to have fought this war at the cost of over a half a million servicemen.    

Suing Julius Streicher for Anti-Semitic Libel

 Julius Streicher was the editor of Der Sturmer, a Nazi tabloid that most Nazis apparently were embarrassed by. Streicher's hate filled preaching against Jews would earn him a spot at Nuremberg, where he was hanged. I my mind he serves as the ultimate example of the limits of free speech. From the perspective of the Nuremberg prosecution, Streicher was not merely a journalist, who held anti-Semitic opinions and used the press to make his opinions known, but part of a conspiracy to facilitate the murder of Jews by dehumanizing them.

It is important to keep in mind the distinction advanced by John Stuart Mill. Speech in of itself causes no empirical harm to others and therefore is a protected liberty. Being able to pursue one's own good in one's own way as long as one does not cause physical harm to others means that one is free to hold any opinion, from the virtues of cannibalism to putting Jews into ovens, no matter how offensive they might be to others and engage in theoretical discussions with others about them even for the purpose of convincing others of the rightness of such opinions. The moment, though, that one speaks with the intention that other people act in a certain way, such speech ceases to be speech and becomes an action. If such "speech" leads to physical harm, such as people being stamped upon in the rush to exit a crowded theater after someone shouted fire, then it is no different from any other action that leads to physical harm. In the case of Nuremberg this principle was important as without it none of the defendents could likely have been charged; the criminal actions in question where actually carried out by other people. Most of the defendents simply gave orders; in Streicher's case he simply helped convince people to carry out those orders.

It should be noted that this restriction on speech is different from modern notions of banning hate speech. Hate speech is defined based on its ability to cause non-physical harm, such as feeling hurt and dehumanized, to others. For the purposes of hate speech it is irrelevant whether the speech actually caused physical harm or if it was intentional.      

Streicher had an earlier brush with Jewish "censorship" in January of 1935 when Rabbi Solomon Gliksman of the Orthodox Congregation Ohel Yitzchak in Danzig attempted to sue him for libel. For those of you not familiar with post World War I Eastern European politics, Danzig was a politically oddity hanging between Germany and Poland. While Danzig was a German city, the Treaty of Versailles made it a "free city" under Polish control. Danzig fell under Nazi control in 1933, but because it technically was not German territory, it became the one "German" city in which Jews could legally strike back. 
Gliksman wrote to the police chief and the attorney general, denouncing Streicher and Bruno Schnorkowski, the main distributer of Der Sturmer in Danzig:

They have transgressed against paragraph 166 of the Penal Code insofar as they have allowed to circulate about 300 copies of the "Sturmer" number 2, 1935, which contained expressions blaspheming God and His laws, in the period of the 7th till the 15th of January 1935, in the Free City of Danzig. There is no doubt that the abominable manner in which the "Sturmer" attacked Jehovah and the Bible has also offended the circles of the Churches existing within the jurisdiction of the Free City of Danzig. For Jehovah is obviously not only the "Jewish God", as the "Sturmer' informs his readers but the Universal God. "Jehovah" is the original pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton, the group of four letters representing the ineffably holy name of the Supreme Being in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, which as is well known, forms the basis of the New Testament.

The assertion that the Holy Scriptures  are a horribly criminal romance is then to be considered a detestable defamation of the Old Testament which constitutes preeminently the basis of all prevailing theological social and ethical concepts. Concerning this I call to witness the experts Count O'Rourke, Bishop of Danzig, Dr. Kalweit, the emeritus General Superintendent at Danzig, and Dr. J. Gruen, the Rabbi of the Jewish Community of Danzig. (Shlomo Gliksman, The Forgeries and Falsifications in the Antisemitic Literature and My Lawsuit against Julius Streicher & Co. pg. 86-87.)

Unfortunately for Gliksman, this attempt to, at the very least, stop the distribution of Der Sturmer in Danzig did not come to much. In April the attorney general wrote back:

A lawsuit against the Editor-in-Chief, the assistant editors and publishers of the "Sturmer" cannot be conducted in Danzig, since the accused live in Germany and are obviously not citizens of Danzig.

Concerning the worker Mr. Schnorkowski, the law-suit against him had to be discontinued for subjective reasons: As the "Sturmer" is not forbidden in Danzig, there is no reason to suppose that the defendant had even the slightest idea of becoming criminally liable by circulating these periodicals.

Finally, the conduct of an objective proceeding of confiscation, according to paragraph 42 of the Penal Code, is unnecessary as the editions of the "Sturmer" challenged by you are no more in stock circulation. For the same reason it is unnecessary to take a stand on the question of the guilt liability of the contents of the periodicals." (pg. 92.)

Note that Gliksman argument was not based on the liberal principals of Mill used at Nuremberg. Instead he argued based on a hate speech principles. Considering that the speech in question was against the Bible and that he wanted to call Catholic priests as friendly witnesses, it should be clear that hate speech is really just the traditional charge of blasphemy brought up to date to make it palatable to modern values.    

Monday, January 16, 2012

Father Schmutz Vs. Sabestian Munster's Hebrew Bible

I have an affinity for playing games with children that they tend to appreciate. I take the basic chase children around and to keep things interesting for all involved, mainly me, I monologue about such deep topics as the virtues of medieval surgery and mine labor for children. For playing with the local rabbi's kids I have developed the character of Father Schmutz (lit. dirt). The name comes from a rebbe I had when I was a child, who told great stories, but which usually featured as their stock villain a Christian priest, who was always given the name Father Schmutz. Looking back I would say that this rebbe was brainwashing children into anti-Christian prejudice. If any teacher tried to do that to a child of mine, I would remove my child from the institution on the spot. In the meantime I think the best way to actively undermine such a worldview is through satire. Thus I have created my own comic super villain priest, who is everything one would expect from a Haredi super villain priest taken to absurdity. Since Father Schmutz is a Haredi super villain priest, he thinks and speaks just like a Haredi would. For example: "Yiddisha kinderlach (Jewish children). I have actually no need to chase you down. With my koychos ha-tumah (powers of impurity), once you hear the kifirah (heresy) spouting from my lashon hara (evil speech) drenched lips you will be unable to resist me and your nishamas (souls) shall be mine." Maybe what we need is a plush huggable talking Father Schmutz doll.

Someone actually objected to this style of play on the grounds that confronting kids with a priest who sounds Jewish is only going to confuse them. Christian priests should sound one way and rabbis should another. Part of the problem with this is that, as someone who works with Christian Hebraists, I deal with Christians who sounded like rabbis on a daily basis. For example, here is a little piece from the introduction to the Tanach of that "gadol," early "acharon" and contemporary of the Beis Yosef, "Rabbi" Sebastian Munster:              

The Jewish Sages also erred in this that they added other stringencies on their descendants. The nation ceased to go after the straight path in their studies and enquieries. Their students came after them and drank from their bad water and got up and also piled decrees upon decrees and were stringent upon the multitude with other stringencies to blind the eyes of Israel until the Messiah of the Lord came and opened the eyes of the blind and opened the ears of the deaf and wrote his Torah and new covenant not with tablets of stone like was done before. Rather they were placed in the heart of man like it says: "I will make Israel and Judah a new covenant not like the the covenant which I made with their ancestors for this covenant I will give inside them and upon the heart I will give it." He [the Messiah] came to redeem man not from Egypt like Moses did, but from sin and the judgment and imprisonment in Hell that we may have the peace of the World to Come as it says: "His well being was upon us and by his wounds we were healed." He removed from us the harsh commandments and laws that are not in nature and reason does not support. He was stringent with us with all the stringencies like it says in the Gospel that he warned the children of man as to the commandments and laws that are in nature like stealing, murder, adultery and the like.

Now I will speak to you the Jews. Why are you doing this great evil upon your souls to cut off from you man and woman, child and baby from Judah so that there will be no remanent for yourselves to anger Hashem with the work of your hands by not believing in the words of the prophets that their prophecies were fulfilled  in this that [the Messiah] was sent to you in [his] name to save you and how do you refuse to believe in his signs that no prophet or seer performed. And behold you see that your prayers are not heard and you call out in vain for you have passed through all thorns and you have no more expectation of the salvation that you were relying upon to come to you. And behold the time has already passed which God promised you through his prophets and all the comforts which the prophets prophesied were fulfilled during the Babylonian exile.

For those not familiar Munster, he was a leading early Protestant Hebraist. Early modern Protestantism was quite good at producing Hebrew scholars. This often led to philo-Semitic attitudes toward Jews. By this I mean the belief that Jews just might be savable if missionized instead of expelled. Imagine the danger posed to Jewish children just glancing at this page of Hebrew text that looks like a nice Jewish book, which, as this is the Bible, it technically speaking is. Who else can save them, but Father Schmutz? (Coming to a Jewish store near you.)  

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Sermon against Racism

To continue a little with Hermann Baar and his sermons to orphans, he does confront the issue of racism in strong terms:

My children, a sickly outgrowth of the human heart is that feeling of contempt with which many people look down upon their fellow-citizens, who differ from them as regards race, descent, and nationality. Thus we see that the Mongols, from whom, for instance, the well-known Chinese descend, are treated with a deep-rooted prejudice, while the Hamites or Africans, having been emancipated from slavery only in late years through the noble interference of the Federal government, have joined that bright ring of humanity which forms of all being a large chain of brotherhood. Even the great wars in the Middle Ages and recent times between the Latin and Saxon nationalities have been partly instigated - although questions of a more religious and political nature have served for a pretext - through nothing else but race animosities. The present bitter feeling between England and Ireland, between people of Saxon and Celtic origin, has, besides economical reasons, its main source in the different individualities of both these great nations. (Addresses on Homely and Religious Subjects: Delivered Before the Children of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum vol. II pg. 369-70.)

Baar takes the opportunity to comment about German anti-Semitism, noting that Moses "uttered such humanizing sentiments in a dark and unrefined age when no classical studies were taught in colleges, and no German professors of history and theology like [Heinrich von] Treitschke and [Adolf] Stocker were in existence." (Pg. 370.) 

What I find interesting about Baar's take on racism in America is that he equated racism against blacks with racism against the Chinese and for that matter the Irish. This seems odd and even obtuse to modern ears because we know that the history of black civil rights turned out to be very different and much more difficult. Blacks remain the chief racial issue in this country. Most Americans, unless they know something about American history (or have seen the movie Gangs of New York) are unlikely to have even heard of discrimination against the Irish. The Chinese remain an identifiable minority group, but have largely, following the path set by Jewish immigrants, managed to work their way into upper middle-class respectability.

Baar lacked the benefit of knowing twentieth century history. In the America of the 1880s prejudice against the Irish and Chinese was quite real. It was reasonable for a liberal of the post Civil-War generation to assume that the essential problem with blacks had been solved with the Emancipation Proclamation and the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments. Now that blacks were to all appearances just another minority group like the Irish, Chinese or for that matter Jews all that was left to do was replace race with American nationalism, which could be open to all races, and all racial problems would soon fade away. What Baar could not know was that the South, freed from occupation by Federal troops, would strike back with a renewed regionalist ideology. As refighting the Civil War was not an option, the South made its stand through segregating blacks. As long as the Emancipation Proclamation and the civil rights amendments remained unenforceable the South could claim the victory lost to them at Appomattox Courthouse. This line of thinking is very explicit in the Birth of a Nation movie where the defeated South finally wins the war when the Ku Klux Klan fights off the "mobs of negros" and stops them from voting.


Contrary to Birth of a Nation, the post war years saw tremendous gains for blacks in the South. That tide only began to turn in the 1890s with the passage of Jim Crow laws and the Plessy vs. Ferguson decision of 1896. In essence blacks became the sacrificial victims of the late nineteenth century northern and southern reconciliation, a process which would not become obvious for several further decades.