The Jews' Complaint Against "Americanism"

The International Jew, by Henry Ford


From the earliest record of the Jews' contact with other nations, no long period of years has ever passed without the charge arising that the Jews constitute "a people within a people, a nation within a nation." When this charge is made today it is vehemently denied by men who pose as the defenders of their people, and the denial is more or less countenanced by all the Jews of every class.

And yet there is nothing more clearly stated in Jewish teaching, nor more clearly indicated in Jewish life, than that the charge is true. But whether the truth should be used against the Jews is quite another question. If the Jews are a nation, their nationality founded upon the double ground of race and religion, it is certainly outside the bounds of reason that they should be asked or expected to de-racialize, de-nationalize and de-religionize themselves; but neither is it to be expected that they should bitterly denounce those who state the facts. It is only upon a basis of facts that a solution of any problem can come. Where blame attaches is here: that the evident facts are denied, as if no one but the Jews themselves knew that there are such facts.

If the Jews are to be continuously a nation, as they teach, and if the condition of "a nation within a nation" becomes more and more intolerable, then the solution must come through one of two things: a separation of the "nation" from the rest of the nations, or an exaltation of the "nation" above the rest of the nations. There is a mass of evidence in Jewish writings that the leaders expect both of these conditions to come — a separate nation and a super-nation; indeed the heart of Jewish teaching is, as quite fully illustrated in the last article, that Jewry is a separate nation now, and on the way to becoming a super-nation. It is only those appointed to address the Gentiles who deny this: the real rabbinate of Israel does not deny.

Now, in any investigation of the Jewish Question, the student is struck over and over again by the fact that what the Jews most complain of, they themselves began. They complain of what they call anti-Semitism; but it must be apparent to the dullest mind that there could never have been such a thing as anti-Semitism were there not first such a thing as Semitism.

And then take the complaint about the Jews having to live in ghettos. The ghetto is a Jewish invention. In the beginning of the invasion of European and American cities the Jews always lived by themselves because they wanted to, because they believed the presence of Gentiles contaminated them. Jewish writers, writing for Jews, freely admit this; but in writing for Gentiles, they refer to the ghetto as a surviving illustration of Gentile cruelty. The idea of contamination originated with the Jews; it spread by suggestion to the Gentiles.

And so with this fact of the separate "nation"; it was the Jews who first recognized it, first insisted upon it and have always sought to realize that separateness both in thought and action.

Nay, more, the true and normal type of Jew today believes that the influence of Americanism, or of any civilized Gentile state, is harmful to Judaism.

That is a serious statement and no amount of Gentile assertion will be sufficient to confirm it. Indeed, it is such a statement as the Gentile mind could not have evolved, because the trend of Gentile feeling is all in the opposite direction, namely, that Americanization is a good thing for the Jew. It is from authoritative Jewish sources that we learn this fact, that what we call civilizing influences are looked upon as being at enmity with Judaism.

It is not the Gentile who says that the Jewish ideals, as ideals, are incompatible with life in our country; it is the Jew who says so. It is he who inveighs against Americanism, not the American who inveighs against Judaism.

As this article is one with the last, the same method of impassive presentation of the testimony will be followed. Readers of this study of the Jewish Question should know that neither rhetoric nor emotion will contribute a single element to the solution of the Question. We prefer to leave rhetoric and emotion to the anti-Semites who call names and to the pro-Semites who are apparently reduced to the same necessitous level.

Now, the first thing to know is this: that though Americanism is yet unfinished, Judaism has been complete for centuries; and while no American would think of pointing to any part of the country or any group as representing the true and final type of Americanism, the Jews quite unhesitatingly point to parts of the world and to certain groups as representing the true type of Judaism.

Where is the type to be found which Jewish writers recognize as the true one?

The Jew of the ghetto is held up in Jewish treatises as the norm of Judaism.

The visitor in New York has perhaps seen on Central Park west the massive synagogue of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews. Its famous rabbi was the Rev. Dr. D. de Sola Pool. He is the author of the following words:

"In the ghetto the observance of Judaism was natural and almost inevitable. The regimen of Jewish life was the atmosphere that was breathed. * * * Not only did public opinion make it possible for men to go bearded, to keep the head covered at all times, to carry the palm branch in the public street, or to walk the street in stockinged feet on fast days, but public opinion made it almost impossible for a Jew to profane the Sabbath or the Passover regulations, or openly to transgress any of the main observances" — and as we shall later see, the learned rabbi considers these conditions more preservative of Judaism than are American conditions.

Rev. Dr. M. H. Segal expresses the view that Jewry in the more modern portions of Europe and America was really kept alive by the infusions of immigrants from Poland and Lithuania. Asserting, in agreement with other Jewish leaders, that the Jewish center of the world has been, until now, in Russia and Poland, Dr. Segal says:

"The war has destroyed the last traces of the declining Jewish society which has dragged out its feeble existence in the semi-medieval ghettos of Poland and Lithuania. With all their growing feebleness, these communities were yet the last refuge of Judaism in the Dispersion. In them there had still survived something of the old Jewish life, some of the old Jewish institutions, practices and traditions. These communities also supplied such vitality as they could afford to the attenuated and atrophied Judaism in the communities of the more modern states of Europe and America."

The idea is not at all uncommon — that large infusions of "real Jews" from the Old World ghettos are desirable and necessary in order to keep Judaism alive in countries like the United States.

Israel Friedlaender, whose name just at present in held in peculiar honor by the Jews, and justly so, was a man of most enlightened intellect, and he too recognized the service of the ghetto stream to Judaism. In his lecture, "The Problem of Judaism in America," he speaks about the de-Judaizing tendency of absolute freedom, such as the Jew has always enjoyed in the United States. This tendency, he says, is corrected in two ways — by anti-Semitic influences and "by the large stream of Jewish emigration, on the other hand, which, proceeding from the lands of oppression to the lands of freedom, carries with it, on or under the surface, the preserving and reviving influences of the ghetto."

The same authority, in an article entitled "The Americanization of the Jewish Immigrant," frankly prefers the Jew fresh from the ghetto to the Jew who has been influenced by American life.

He says that he "prefers the kaftan-clad, old-fashioned Jew, with the unattractive appearance and ungainly manners, whose whole life is dominated by the ideals and mandates of an ancient religion and civilization * * * to that modernized, amphibious creature, the gaudily attired, slang-using, gum-chewing, movie-visiting, dollar-hunting, vulgar and uncultured quasi-Americanized 'dzentleman.'"

The "kaftan-clad, old-fashioned Jew" of whom Mr. Freidlaender writes is the Polish Jew, 250,000 of whom are coming to the United State as "a preserving and reviving influence" upon Judaism in the United States.

Not to use more space, however, on the identity of the normal type of Jew as precisely stated by those who have expressed themselves on this subject, it is possible to preserve the idea and add its logical complement, by quoting some testimony on the Jewish view of Americanization.

What now follows is of special interest because it is so generally stated and received throughout Jewish circles, that the center of Jewry has shifted to America. That is the form in which Jewish spokesmen make the statement: they say "America," not the United States.

A little story — a true one — may be worth while here. It may throw a sidelight on the use of the word "American" as used in the testimony. A certain editor of an American newspaper gave a trifling bit of publicity to this series of articles. Jewish advertising was withdrawn from his columns by the chairman of the Anti-Defamation Committee of the local lodge of B'nai B'rith, which chairman was also an advertising agent who handled all the Jewish advertising in that city. The editor, not being a wise man, yielded to the bull-dozing methods used upon him, and in a half-hearted bit of editorial praise for the Jews used the word "Americanism." The advertising agent toyed with the word in the manner of one who, having a weak Gentile in his power, would make the best of it.

"Why did you say, 'Americanism'? Why did you not say 'civilization'?" he asked.

The editor to this day thinks it was a bit of captiousness. It was not. There is meaning in it.

To "Americanize" means, in our ordinary speech, to bring into sympathy with the traditions and institutions of the United States, but the Jews do not mean only the United States when they say "America." They mean also South and Central America — where so many revolutions have occurred. There are large numbers of Jews in Argentina, and many are found in other countries. The next place to be extensively colonized will be Mexico. If the people of the United States see a Jewish ambassador sent to represent them in Mexico, they must know that the invasion of that country is about to begin. If the ambassador is not himself a Jew, it will be well to scrutinize his connections; there may be reasons which will make it necessary to employ a "Gentile front" for a time.

Now, it would probably give a wrong twist to the fact to say that the Jewish leaders are anti-American, but it is true that they are against the "Americanization" of the Jewish immigrant stream. That is, the trend of "Americanism" is so different from the trend of "Judaism" that the two are in conflict. This does not indicate treason toward American nationalism, perhaps, so much as it indicates loyalty toward Jewish nationalism.

But the reader must himself be the judge as to how far the difference goes. The testimony which will now be given divided itself into two parts: first, that relating to the American state in particular; second, that relating to any Gentile state.

After he had spoken in praise of the old type of Jew, as seen in the foreign ghettos, Dr. D. de Sola Pool added:

"To a large extent the adult Jewish population of the United States has been reared in Jewish communities of this type of Jewish inevitableness. To a large extent the young generation is being reared in an atmosphere in which this type of Jewishness is unknown, or at least strange and impossible. Jewish religious observance in the United States is becoming increasingly difficult and increasingly rare."

Describing the antagonism between the American and the Jewish tendencies, he continues with this reference to the effect of "Americanism" on Jewish modes of worship:

"On the platform officiate a cantor and a preacher, who turn their backs to the ark and address themselves to their congregation. The tallith and similar externals are un-American, and have consequently been sacrificed. The 'American' worships with bare head; therefore the American of Jewish persuasion must also doff his headgear when at worship. Hebrew, an Oriental language, is not an American tongue. The American prays in English, which all understand, and accordingly the American of Jewish faith has Anglicized his ritual. Such a ritual is not susceptible of being chanted with traditional Jewish Chazzanuth, and the music of the temple has therefore been brought up to date by the introduction of an organ, sacred music borrowed from non-Jewish neighbors, and mixed choirs in which non-Jewish singers are almost the rule * * * The Jewish Sabbath is out of keeping with the environment, and the only way in which it seemed to be possible to save it was by celebrating it with a Friday evening temple service after supper, and resting, and sometimes also attending temple on Sunday."

It is not difficult to detect underneath these words the tone of criticism for such "Americanization." It is a criticism which is fully justified by conditions. And it must be remembered that it was not uttered by a "kaftan-clad, old-fashioned Jew," but by a learned rabbi with a magnificent temple on Central Park west, a man whom our government has seen fit to honor.

But that is not all that Dr. de Sola Pool objects to. Nor does he mince words in making his objections known: "If so far, Reform has avoided the logical end of the process and has stopped short of identifying itself with Christianity, it has Americanized Judaism by dropping the elements that are characteristically Jewish and un-American, and has thereby created an almost non-sectarian Judaism housed in an almost non-sectarian Temple."

It will be noticed that the learned doctor uses the word "American" as one accustomed to quite another atmosphere. A further illustration is found in this:

"Neglect of the un-American dietary laws is usually the first step that the Americanizing Jew takes in asserting his Americanism."

The "un-American dietary laws" are, of course, the Jewish dietary laws. But if any Gentile writer had so referred to them he would have been abused as a hostile witness.

It is very curious indeed to read the long list of complaints against modern conditions in their power to bring about the "decay of Judaism." The ghetto, which makes for separateness, is frequently heralded as the true safeguard of Judaism. Intercourse with the world is dangerous. "Americanizing" influences are distrusted.

No doubt many and many a Gentile parent in New York, Boston, Louisville, Dallas and other American cities has witnessed the spectacle of Jewish teachers and "welfare workers" instructing Gentile children in the principles of Americanism, but did anyone ever see a Gentile teacher instructing Jewish children in Americanism?

Recently when the American Legion asked permission of the government to establish Americanization classes at Ellis Island, where tens of thousands of Polish Jews gain entry into the United States, the reply was a refusal, and the reason given was that all the space for charitable institutions was already taken. What charitable institutions? How many of them were Jewish?

"The beginning of this decay," says Israel Friedlaender, referring to the effect of modern life on Judaism, "is obviously coincident with the beginning of Jewish emancipation, that is to say, with the moment when the Jews left the ghetto to join the life and culture of the nations around them."

Mr. Friedlaender even went so far as to say that pogroms against the Jews were "fortunate" in that they drove the Jews back to their Judaism — "Fortunately, however, Russian Jewry was halted on its downward rush toward national self-annihilation. The process of assimilation was cut short by the pogroms, and ever since then the Jews of Russia have stood firmly their ground * * *"

That may be the reason why some Jewish spokesmen of the Jews in America are trying to make this series of articles appear as a "pogrom." There is plenty of evidence to indicate that Jewish leaders have regarded "pogroms," in modern times at least, as very useful in preserving the solidarity of Jewry. However, those who are responsible for the present series of articles, much as they hope to benefit the general situation of the humbler Jews by showing the use which the leading Jews are making of them, must decline to be counted among those who justify "pogroms" on any ground whatsoever.

Justice Brandeis, of the United States Supreme Court, is also an exponent of the idea that, released from ghetto influences, the Jew becomes less of a Jew. He says:

"We must protect America and ourselves from demoralization, which has to some extent already set in among American Jews. The cause of this demoralization is clear. It results, in large part, from the fact that in our land of liberty all the restraints by which the Jews are protected in their ghettos were removed and a new generation left without necessary moral and spiritual support."

Justice Brandeis is a Zionist on these very grounds. He wants the land of Palestine because there the Jews, as he says, "may live together and lead a Jewish life."

Not the United States, but Palestine, is Justice Brandeis' hope for the Jews; he says of Palestine that "there only can Jewish life be fully protected from the forces of disintegration."

Arguing the same question, the Rev. Mr. S. Levy says: "I shall probably be told that the re-establishment of Jews as a nation would mean the recreation of the ghetto. I am frankly prepared to admit the force of the criticism, but with an important qualification dependent on the interpretation of the word 'ghetto.'

"In so far as the national center will insure the existence of the Jewish environment, Jewish atmosphere, and Jewish culture, there will be a recreation of the ghetto." (The italics are Mr. Levy's.)

"The continuance of Judaism, then, is dependent on the existence of an area with an aggregation of Jews living in a Jewish environment, breathing a Jewish atmosphere and fostering a Jewish culture, and these factors must predominate over all other influences."

It is therefore plain that, however startling and improbable the statement may seem when made by a Gentile, the Jews themselves regard the influences of modern lands as inimical to Judaism.

But there is still a further consideration, which is distinctly set forth in Jewish writings, namely, that the trend of the modern State is harmful to all that Judaism holds to be essential to its moral and spiritual welfare.

The modern State is changing, and Jewish observers sense the fact more readily than do the rest of the people, because Jews see in the change both an opportunity and a menace. If the State continues to change according to the trend of the general mind of the world, Jewish ideas of supremacy will find less and less opportunity to be realized — that is the menace. If the change, or the spirit of change can be seized and twisted to Jewish purposes, as was done in Russia, and a Jewish type of State erected on the ruins of the old — that is the opportunity. Readers of these articles know that stimulation of "the spirit of change" is one of the clearest planks in the World Program.

As Cyril M. Picciotto points out in his "Conceptions of the State and the Jewish Question," there is a tendency to "increase the control of the State over the individual." This, of course, has nowhere been done so thoroughly as in Russia under the Jewish Bolshevik regime, but it is not of this that Mr. Picciotto speaks, it is of the tendency observed in the Gentile states; and he asks: "In the face of such a tendency in political development (which it is not rash to assume will be more pronounced in the future than in the past) how does the Jew stand?"

He adds: "The time is not far distant when the development of the State will continue on organic and collectivist lines. The central authority will embrace an ever wider area, and will make such a penetration into the recesses of individual freedom as would have been thought inconceivable thirty or forty years ago. Compulsory military service, compulsory education, compulsory insurance are but milestones on the road which logically leads to the adoption of a State morality, a State creed, and of a common way of life. To say this is merely to indicate the probable trend, not to approve it."

"How then, is the State of the future going to deal with a people in its midst which largely preserves its separateness of blood, which in its fasts, its day of rest, its dietary laws, its marriage ceremony, suggests a distinct historic entity?"

The question is a disturbing one to Jews, as is shown by Rabbi Segal's words in "The Future of Judaism." He even says that "the medieval State with all its tyranny and obscurantism" was more favorable to the Jews than the modern type of State. "Its defective organization permitted both individuals and whole classes to live their life in their own way. Hence the medieval State enabled the Jews to organize themselves on semi-national lines, and, as far as circumstances permitted, to create afresh in their dispersion the national institutions and practices of their ancient commonwealth."

They did this, of course, by establishing the ghetto.

"But this has become an absolute impossibility in the modern State," continues the rabbi. "The rise of democracy and the transference of the ultimate power of government from the oligarchy to the majority involves the practical suppression of weak minorities. The identification of the State with the culture and aspiration of a particular nationality leads inevitably to the crippling of and gradual extinction of those classes who do not share that particular culture and those aspirations. The State, moreover, enforces a system of education which is purposely designed to fashion and mold all the inhabitants * * * It also maintains a thoroughgoing organization which embraces all the departments of the public and private life of all its inhabitants, irrespective of class, race, or tradition. There is thus no room in the modern State for Jewish culture, for Jewish national life, or for a specifically Jewish society, with its own specific institutions, customs and practices * * *

"Therefore, Judaism can live and work only with a specifically Jewish society and within a Jewish national organization. The medieval ghetto, with all its narrowness, with all the unhealthy and abnormal conditions of its existence, yet contained such a semi-national society: therefore, Judaism flourished in the medieval ghetto. The modern State, on the other hand, has broken up that specifically Jewish society * * *"

Now, there are the reactions of leading Jewish minds to conditions in American particularly, and to conditions in the modern Gentile State generally. The statement of the antagonism which exists between the two is clear and complete. The Gentiles do not notice that antagonism, but the Jews are always and everywhere keenly aware of it. This throws a light, a very strong light, on all the revolutionary programs to break up the present control of society by sowing dissensions between capital and labor so-called, by cheapening the dignity of government through corrupt politics, by trivializing the mind of the people through theaters and movies and similar agencies, and by weakening the appeal of distinctively Christian religion. A breakdown of Gentile seriousness is the opportunity of the Jew. A colossal war is also his opportunity, as witness his seizure of the United States Government during the recent war. Judaism says that Americanism and Gentile nationalism generally, are harmful to it. Judaism has therefore the alternative of changing and controlling Gentile nationalism, or of constructing a nationalism of its own in Palestine. It is trying both.

This all harks back to what Lord Eustace Percy is quoted in the Jewish press as saying: that the Jew participates in revolutions "not because the Jew cares for the positive side of radical philosophy, not because he desires to be a partaker in Gentile nationalism or Gentile democracy, but because no existing Gentile system of government is ever anything but distasteful to him."

And the same author — "In a world of completely organized territorial sovereignties, he (the Jew) has only two possible cities of refuge: he must either pull down the pillars of the whole national state system or he must create a territorial sovereignty of his own. In this perhaps lies the explanation both of Jewish Bolshevism and of Zionism, for at this moment Eastern Jewry seems to hover uncertainly between the two."

[THE DEARBORN INDEPENDENT, issue of 23 October 1920]