A People Apart: The Jews in Europe, 1789-1939

A People Apart: The Jews in Europe, 1789-1939

A People Apart: The Jews in Europe, 1789-1939

A People Apart: The Jews in Europe, 1789-1939

Synopsis

The twentieth century has seen both the greatest triumph of Jewish history and its greatest tragedy: the birth of the nation of Israel, and the state-sponsored genocide of the Holocaust. A People Apart is the first study to examine the role played by the Jews themselves, across the whole of Europe, during the century and a half leading up to these events. David Vital explores the Jews' troubled relationship with Europe, documenting the struggles of this 'nation without a territory' to establish a place for itself within an increasingly polarized and nationalist continent. He examines the clash within the Jewish community between politically neutral traditionalists and a new group of activists, whose unprecedented demands for national and political self-determination were stimulated both by increasing civil emancipation and the mounting effort to drive the Jews out of Europe altogether. Controversially, Professor Vital concludes that the history of the Jewish people was indeed in crucial respects although certainly not all of their own making; at times by their own autonomous action and choice; at others by inaction and default. This powerful and stimulating new analysis represents a watershed in our understanding of the history of the Jews in Europe.

Excerpt

On 18 December 1744, in the wake of the siege and occupation of Prague in the course of the War of the Austrian Succession and the suspicion (unfounded, as it later turned out) that the Jews of Prague had given aid and support to the Prussians, Maria Theresa of Austria decreed the total and immediate expulsion of the distinguished and long-settled Jewish community of Prague. It was to be carried out almost immediately. It was to be followed in short order by the expulsion of all Jews from all of Bohemia and Moravia. Gzeirot (punitive decrees) of this and other kinds were familiar enough to Jews everywhere throughout their history. The fortunate knew them as a permanent possibility. The less fortunate knew them as a palpable menace. The rule was to do whatever could be done to have them revoked; if not revoked postponed; if not postponed watered down; and if that could not be managed then so far as possible circumvented. What was understood by all, high and low, was that if all else failed, the Jews upon whom the gzeira fell would have to learn to live with it if it was possible to do so and to move on to other lands if it was not. There were no real choices. Outright (for example, armed) resistance was out of the question. Gzeirot, it was necessary to recognize, were characteristic, and in the long term unchanging and unchangeable features of the Exile itself. They might take the form of an increase in the burden of taxation so sudden, steep, and extortionate as to be barely sustainable, or fresh restrictions on—or, worse, an absolute prohibition of—residence in, or temporary entry into, a designated town or territory. They might be measures regulating the dress ofJewish men and women, or laying down rules for the external or even internal furnishing of their synagogues or homes. They could be the establishment of a constraint so severe as to amount to a de facto or even de jure prohibition of the right to marry and raise a family, or to bear arms, or to employ non-Jews, or to be employed by non-Jews, or to bury one's dead in a communal cemetery—and therefore, in effect, to maintain a community ofany kind at all. Commonest of all was the institution of some additional restriction on what was almost invariably highly restricted freedom to engage in particular trades, crafts, or professions.

However, all this said, while the repertoire from which a sovereign ruler or city corporation or the Church (in Rome itself, notably) had . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.