The Image of the Jew in American Literature: From Early Republic to Mass Immigration

The Image of the Jew in American Literature: From Early Republic to Mass Immigration

The Image of the Jew in American Literature: From Early Republic to Mass Immigration

The Image of the Jew in American Literature: From Early Republic to Mass Immigration

Excerpt

Seldom in their history have the Jews been more fervent in their devotion to a country than they were during the founding of the United States. This devotion was expressed in the letter addressed to President Washington by the Newport Congregation on August 17, 1790: "Deprived as we have hitherto been of the invaluable rights of free citizens, we now, (with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty Disposer of all events) behold a Government, (erected by the Majesty of the People) a Government...which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance -- but generously affording to All liberty of conscience, and immunities of citizenship -- deeming every one, of whatever nation, tongue, or language equal parts of the great governmental machine." Indeed, at that time fewer barriers -- legal, economic, and social -- were raised before the Jews of this country than of any other country. The national Constitution guaranteed such equality, even though federal authority over the states had not yet been fully asserted, and some disabilities remained against Jews in some states. Nevertheless, in its treatment of the Jews the United States was the most advanced country in the world.

It would be a profound error, however, to assume that anti-Semitism had in actuality been dispelled by the Bill of Rights. The more we learn about relations between Jews and their fellow countrymen in the early days of the nation, the more evidence emerges of mutual feelings of both tolerance and hostility.

It is remarkable that we do not even yet have a full history of anti-Semitism in the United States, only intensive monographs concerning individuals or periods. Since we have not as yet gained a perspective fully fleshed out as to both the positive and negative attitudes toward Jews, how much more is this the case with respect to the view of the Jewish character as expressed in American literature? Thus a teacher of American literature who has published a . . .

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