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Christian Wilhelm von Dohm, Concerning the Amelioration of the Civil Status of the Jews (1781)

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If I am not entirely mistaken there is one error in this reasoning, namely, that one states as cause what in reality is the effect, quoting the evil wrought by the past erroneous policy as an excuse for it. I may concede that the Jews may be more morally corrupt than other nations; that they are guilty of a proportionately greater number of crimes than the Christians; that their character in general inclines more towards usury and fraud in commerce, that their religious prejudice is more antisocial and clannish; but I must add that this supposed greater moral corruption of the Jews is a necessary and natural consequence of the oppressed condition in which they have been living for so many centuries. A calm and impartial consideration will prove the correctness of this assertion.

The hard and oppressive conditions under which the Jews live almost everywhere would explain, although not justify, an even worse corruption than they actually can be accused of. It is very natural that these conditions cause the spirit of the Jew to lose the habit of noble feelings, to be submerged in the base routine of earning a precarious livelihood. The varied kinds of oppression and contempt he experiences are bound to debase him in his activities, to choke every sense of honor in his heart. As there are almost no honest means of earning a living left to him it is natural that he falls into criminal practices and fraud, especially since commerce more than other trades seduces people to such practices. Has one a right to be surprised if a Jew feels himself bound by laws which scarcely permit him to breathe, yet he cannot break them without being punished? How can we demand willing obedience and affection for the state from him, who sees that he is tolerated only to the extent that he is a means of revenue? Can one be surprised at his hatred for a nation which gives him so many and so stinging proofs of its hatred for him? How can one expect virtue from him if one does not trust him? How can one reproach him with crimes he is forced to commit because no honest means of earning a livelihood are open to him; for he is oppressed by taxes and nothing is left him to care for the education and moral training of his children?

Everything the Jews are blamed for is caused by the political conditions under which they now live, and any other group of men, under such conditions, would be guilty of identical errors. For those common traits of thought, opinions and passions which are found in the majority of people belonging to one nation and which are called its individual character, are not unchangeable and distinctive qualities stamping them as a unique modification of human nature. As it has been clearly recognized in our time, these are influenced by the climate, the food, and most of all the political conditions under which a nation lives. If, therefore, the Jew in Asia is different from the Jew in Germany, this will have to be regarded as a consequence of the different physical environment. If, however, in Cracow as well as in Cadiz he is accused of dishonesty in commerce, this must be a consequence of the oppression to which he is subjected equally in the most distant parts of Europe. The accusation that today's Jews even now regard the Christians with the fanatic hatred which caused some of the ancestors eighteen centuries ago to crucify Jesus, hardly deserves a serious reply. Only in barbarian times could the distant descendants in France and Germany be punished for a crime committed many centuries ago on the Asiatic coast of the Mediterranean. It is a fact that the mutual antipathy of the two religious groups which have a common origin has persisted longer than the philosophic mind would guess and desire after such a long time. But just that is the fault of the governments which were unable to reduce the friction between the religious principles separating them and could not incite in the hearts of Jews and Christians alike a patriotic feeling which should long ago have abolished the prejudices of both groups. These were Christian governments, and we therefore can not deny, if we want to be impartial, the reproach that we have contributed the greater part to the hostile feelings of the two groups. We were always the rulers, and therefore it would have been up to us to induce the Jew to feel humanly by proving that we have such feelings ourselves. In order to heal him of his prejudices against us we first have to get rid of our own. If, therefore, those prejudices today prevent the Jew from being a good citizen, a social human being, if he feels antipathy and hatred against the Christian, if he feels himself in his dealings with him not so much bound by his moral code, then all this is our own doing. His religion does not command him to commit these dishonesties, but the prejudices which we have instilled and which are still nourished by us in him are stronger than his religion. We ourselves are guilty of the crimes we accuse him of; and the moral turpitude in which that unfortunate nation is sunk – thanks to a mistaken policy – cannot be a reason that would justify a continuation of that policy. [ . . . ]

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