Paths of Emancipation: Jews, States, and Citizenshipby Pierre Birnbaum
Throughout the nineteenth century, legal barriers to Jewish citizenship were lifted in Europe, enabling organized Jewish communities and individuals to alter radically their relationships with the institutions of the Christian West. In this volume, one of the first to offer a comparative overview of the entry of Jews into state and society, eight leading historians analyze the course of emancipation in Holland, Germany, France, England, the United States, and Italy as well as in Turkey and Russia. The goal is to produce a systematic study of the highly diverse paths to emancipation and to explore their different impacts on Jewish identity, dispositions, and patterns of collective action.Jewish emancipation concerned itself primarily with issues of state and citizenship. Would the liberal and republican values of the Enlightenment guide governments in establishing the terms of Jewish citizenship? How would states react to Jews seeking to become citizens and to remain meaningfully Jewish? The authors examine these issues through discussions of the entry of Jews into the military, the judicial system, business, and academic and professional careers, for example, and through discussions of their assertive political activity.In addition to the editors, the contributors are Geoffrey Alderman, Hans Daalder, Werner E. Mosse, Aron Rodrigue, Dan V. Segre, and Michael Stanislawski.
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Paths of Emancipation
Jews, States, and Citizenship
By Pierre Birnbaum, Ira Katznelson
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 1995 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
EMANCIPATION AND THE LIBERAL OFFER
Pierre Birnbautn and Ira Katznelson
Best known for Berlin Alexanderplatz, the mordant novel filmed on an epic scale by Fassbinder, Alfred Doblin was a writer, physician, psychiatrist, and socialist, and a quite thoroughly assimilated Jew. In 1924, he published Reise in Poland. This travel memoir includes evocative and, in retrospect, remarkably poignant descriptions of Jewish life in Warsaw, Vilna, Lublin, Cracow, Lemberg, and Lodz. Doblin's personal history, his skills as an interested observer, and the timing of his trip make his text a revealing companion for more analytical attempts to apprehend Jewish emancipation in the West, treated not as a unity or a singular experience but as a complex variegated family of instances.
Doblin wrote at the end of what might be called the long century of emancipation, the period assayed in this book. The epoch opened with the creation of a new American Republic with a constitution that proscribed religious tests for office and with the annulment by the French National Assembly in September 1791 of all legal barriers to citizenship "affecting individuals of the Jewish persuasion." These radical departures effectively opened up the prospect that Jews in these countries and elsewhere could secure civic integration without the quid pro quo of religious conversion or the provision of specific utilitarian services to the state and its rulers, as had been the case for the several hundred Court Jews who had served various monarchs in the development of their fiscal instruments. A third revolution, that of the Bolsheviks, concluded the protracted era of emancipation by eliminating any formal distinction between Jews and other Soviet citizens.
At the time of his journey, Doblin had lived for three decades in Berlin, a span that began only some twenty years after German Jews had achieved full legal and political emancipation. By the early 1920s, a great gap had opened with which he tried to come to terms: in the West there were many Jews whose traditional life and learning were fading, while in the East there were what appeared to be—misleadingly, from the vantage point of Berlin—fossilized Jewish communities, in which the vast majority of the world's Jews still resided, most only newly emancipated. Yet, even then, Jews as acculturated as Doblin were forced to deal with the incapacity of Jews or Gentiles to make issues of Jewish difference evanesce into a world of liberal individualism and rights.
"Emancipation" is a congested term. It is a shorthand for access by Jews to the profound shifts in ideas and conditions wrought by the Enlightenment and its liberal offspring: religious toleration, secularization, scientific thought, and the apotheosization of reason, individualism, the law of contract, and choice. It entailed a shift in legal position, both for the collectivity and its individual members. Much as for slaves unshackled from bondage, colonized subjects freed from imperial domination, or serfs liberated from neo-feudalism, emancipation conduced a double transformation: in standing, as Jews moved from the position of presociological and prepolitical persons to become sociological and political actors, and in the creation of new options, based on rights, for them. Admission to citizenship, the central hallmark of legal emancipation, also implied access to state power and the control of capital, and it raised fresh questions about the status of community, culture, and minority rights. Although the precise provenance of the term "emancipation" is open to some question (its first usage has been located in the 1828 political writings of W. T. Krug in Wurttemberg by Jacob Katz and Reinhard Kosseleck, but others have found earlier applications of the term in the dozen preceding years), the language used from the start to discuss the process of Jewish incorporation spoke of civic status, naturalization, national equality, and the granting of equal political rights.
At its core, Jewish emancipation was concerned with three sets of issues about citizenship and rights: (1) whether broadly liberal and republican doctrines and institutional arrangements grounded in Enlightenment values would come to govern transactions between the state and civil society to provide fresh potential bases for Jewish citizenship; (2) whether such innovative formulas for political participation, once in place, would prove sufficiently encompassing to include the Jews; and (3) whether the terms of admission to the polity these arrangements countenanced would permit a far-reaching or narrowly gauged pluralism for Jews seeking both to take up the offer of citizenship and remain meaningfully Jewish.
Each of these issues was pressed forward with a high degree of urgency once Jewish opportunities for social and spatial mobility and for novel definitions of identity multiplied after the American and French Revolutions, and, later, after other initiatives made it possible for increasing numbers of Jews like Doblin to participate in the discrete spheres of modernity without undergoing the entry ritual of baptism. The inventory of possibilities possessed by organized Jewish communities and by individual Jews for forging relationships with the main institutions and cultures of the Christian West altered decisively, if unevenly. Whether by virtue of movement across the Atlantic, or as a result of the removal of extant barriers to equal participation in the state, the economy, and civil society, or by virtue of the collapse of rights-less regimes, or the triumph of new, less enclosed forms of nationalism, Jews now were thrust into radically altered possibilities and predicaments.
Doblin himself was the son of Jews from Posen who had moved West, and, in so doing, had detached themselves from the tight embrace of religious-communal authority. In Berlin, the family attended synagogue only on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, where they prayed in German and Hebrew. Doblin's parents spoke Yiddish, Polish, and German, and they could read Hebrew; of these languages, he knew only German. He thought of himself neither as a member of the Jewish masses he observed on his trip nor as an enlightened Jew, but as "a west European passerby." Later, after moving to the United States, he converted to Catholicism, taking advantage of two options, one ancient and one recent, available to Jews who wished to get away.
Among its virtues, Doblin's travel account reminds us that the great mass of world Jewry remained unemancipated long after the French Revolution. Even in countries like the Netherlands, where emancipation came in 1796 on the heels of the creation of a unitary state the previous year, the new liberality initially had an impact exclusively for the narrow stratum of Jews situated to take advantage of the access now on offer. Thus, while Jews in Vienna were able to achieve a remarkable overrepresentation in educated classes and professions, even including parts of the military, the vast majority of Austrian Jews lived in penurious and unintegrated conditions in Bukovina and Galicia. Only on the eve of their mid-twentieth century catastrophe did European Jews virtually everywhere, including Russia, lose their legal and political disabilities to become citizens of modern national states.
Doblin's Polish report shines a very bright light on the soon-to-be-extinguished plurality of Jewish life-forms at the conclusion of the era of emancipation. He recorded his impressions without knowledge of the unimaginable horrors just around the corner. Unmarked by the teleological issues and pressures that the reference point of Nazi genocide presses on us today, the quaint innocence of Doblin's travelogue enhances its value as a historical marker. He wrote when it was still possible for some Jews to believe, as Hannah Arendt once put it, that they were "people in general" who happened to be Jews, and when it was still possible to celebrate this as a positive liberating value, at a time when choices for Jews about what it meant to be Jewish under conditions of emancipation seemed more consequential than they soon proved to be.
Well before the early 1920s the rumblings had begun. Certainly, the universalism of the American and French Revolutions and the liberating sense provided by the apparent fusion of aspirations for the general liberation of humankind in 1848, which promised to carry Jews to a bright new day, had given way by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to a sober and anxious recognition of the practical limits to Enlightenment humanism at a time of demotic nationalism and global war. Emblems of disappointment dotted virtually all of Europe's landscape. In the East, the reaction to anti-Jewish riots, even to the Kishinev pogrom of 1903 or the Odessa pogrom of 1905, was muted, not just by forces of romanticism and reaction but among many socialists and liberals who feared too close an identification with Jewish causes. The quickening pace of industrialization and urbanization in Poland and Russia produced a growing confrontation between Jews in the towns positioned as middlemen between the dominant and the peasant classes and Slavic newcomers who found Jews in niches they wished to occupy. In the West, Houston Stewart Chamberlain's immensely influential two-volume study, The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, declared the emergence of the Jews from Europe's ghettos to be the century's defining characteristic, bringing with it dangers of contamination and contagion. In France, the Dreyfus affair was enfolded in a robust and popular anti-Semitism that sought to expunge the alien Jewish element from the state. In Austria, where anti-Semitism defined a pivotal axis of politics in the capital, the granting of full male suffrage in 1905 led to a larger parliamentary delegation for the anti-Semitic Christian Social Party and the Czech Social Party than for the Social Democrats—the "natural" party of the newly enfranchised working class. In Doblin's Germany, which was one of the latecomers to political emancipation, high Jewish visibility in the press, banking, the professions, literature, the arts, scholarship, and radical politics engendered popular petitions to reverse legal emancipation; furthermore, this visibility led to exclusions from the judiciary, the officer corps, and the higher civil service and to a growing partition of civil society into Gentile and Jewish clubs and associations by means of the widespread device of Aryan clauses. During the Great War, German nationalism was suffused with Christian symbolism, revealing "a deep gulf between Germans and Jews" who were reminded of their status as uncomfortable outsiders in a Germany of "the Volk community, the camaraderie ... wrapped in a Christian analogy." It was not only to an anti-Semite like Count Heinnch Coudenhove-Kalergi that emancipation seemed a fiasco.
Just at this moment spanning the turn of the century, when Europe's Jews were suspended precariously between modernism and romanticism, universahsm and nationalism, city and country, and assimilation and segregation, their condition engaged the literary imagination of Jews such as Franz Kafka, Joseph Roth, and Arthur Schnitzler who inhabited these borderlands. Read in this context, Dobhn's account of his journey to Poland appears as credulously unaware. Nonetheless, it was the juxta position of his own experience of German emancipation and post-World War I insecurities that motivated his trip. When he published his travelogue, he had left implicit the reasons he chose to go where and when he did. A quarter century later, after the Second World War, he explained:
In the first half of the nineteen-twenties, pogromlike events took place in Berlin, in the eastern part of the city, on and around Gollnowstrasse. They occurred against the lansquenet backdrop of those years, Nazism let out its first shriek. At that time, representatives of Berlin Zionism invited a number of men of Jewish origin to meetings to talk about those events, their background, and also the aims of Zionism. In connection with these discussions, a man came to my apartment and tried to talk me into going to Palestine, which I had no intention of doing. His influence had a different effect on me I did not agree to visit Palestine, but I had to get my bearing about the Jews. I realized I didn't know any Jews I had friends who called themselves Jews, but I could not call them Jews They were not Jewish by faith or by language; they were possibly remnants of an extinct nation that had long since integrated into a new milieu. So I asked myself and I asked others: "Where do Jews exist?" I was told Poland. And so I went to Poland.
Doblin's travels came at a moment when Polish national liberation still was fresh. Walking the recently renamed streets of Warsaw, he had a first encounter with bearded men dressed in ragged gabardine: "They are Jews. I am stunned, no, frightened." His German preconceptions proved inadequate to the discovery of incredible Jewish poverty or an anti-Semitic tabloid that fused liberal nationalism with anti-Jewish venom. Above all, he was staggered to find that these Jews "are a nation. People who know only Western Europe fail to realize this. The Jews have their own costumes, their own language, religion, manners and mores, their ancient national feeling and national consciousness." By contrast, "what you see in western Europe is disfigurement."
As an astute observer, Doblin found the situation of Polish Jews to be unexpectedly complex. He did not happen on a singular ossified "traditional" Jewry. Had he been able to read the region's Yiddish literature, with its preoccupations with secularization, the impact of modernity, the allure of the West, and ties between Jews and non-Jews, Doblin would have been better prepared for the diversity of Jewish existence. What he discovered was that Polish nationalism and transformations to economic and political conditions threatened traditional Jewish autonomy and spawned a surprisingly heterogeneous set of responses by Jews. These included efforts to achieve more vigorous isolation, resignation, or cultural imitation without much participation in the wider society, and active engagement in debates about whether the new Poland would be enthusiastically multinational or a homogeneous entity that would tolerate cultural and religious differences only grudgingly. Doblin encountered the last moments of a massive out-migration, principally to America; a Zionist alternative that pitted Hebrew against the Yiddish vernacular; Communist and Socialist politics; splits between hasidim and mitnagdim; the Jewish Enlightenment, the Haskalah; and local styles of acculturation (ungainly by Berlin standards) that discarded Orthodox dress and demanding religiosity. He also discovered that even the provincial, insular masses had been affected by the wider European currents of emancipation. In spite of fierce, at times violent, anti-Semitic resistance and the hegemony of their antimodern leadership, these Jews, too, were being pulled into the ambit of the modern economy and state. In the industrializing petroleum districts, he found, "Polish, Jewish and Ukrainian workers work side by side," a harbinger of the intensifying integration of the Jewish economy and workforce with the larger, increasingly capitalist, economy. And in the realm of political activity, he noted, "'State,' [and] 'Parliament' loom on the horizon—against the Gaon and the Baal-Shem."
The multilayered process of emancipation Doblin and his family had experienced, and which he observed in Poland, reconstituted Jews as social actors by recasting the problem of group solidarity, that is, "the extent to which members of a group comply with its collective rules without compensation." Michael Hechter has argued that such cohesion is most likely "when individuals face limited sources of benefit, where their opportunities for multiple group affiliations are minimal, and where their social isolation is extreme." Pre-emancipation Jewry had met these conditions, in part by imposition, in part by preference. By altering the structural location of Jewish life within the state, the economy, and civil society, emancipation undermined the conditions that previously had underpinned Jewish cohesion. Desired individual and collective goods now could be procured outside the ghetto. The networks Jews could join multiplied, as their isolation diminished. As a result, the capacity of organized Jewish communities to control deviant behavior became more tenuous. As Jews traversed paths to emancipation, their new condition as members of voluntary communities confronted them with choices that functioned as solvents to dissolve pre-emancipation patterns of Jewish solidarity. These options were concerned both with how to try to engage the wider non-Jewish world in all its dimensions, and about how to be Jewish in the circumstances of emancipation; that is, how to define the character of theological Judaism, the social organization of Jewry, and the qualities of Jewishness as a way of life.
Excerpted from Paths of Emancipation by Pierre Birnbaum, Ira Katznelson. Copyright © 1995 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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