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

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SECOND. Since it is primarily the limitation of the Jews to commerce which has had a detrimental influence on their moral and political character, a perfect freedom in the choice of a livelihood would serve justice, as well as representing a humanitarian policy which would make of the Jews more useful and happier members of society.

It might even be useful, in order to achieve this great purpose, if the government would first try to dissuade the Jews from the occupation of commerce, and endeavor to weaken its influence by encouraging them to prefer such kinds of earning a living as are most apt to create a diametrically opposed spirit and character – I mean artisan occupations. The sedentary way of life and the quiet industry exacted by these are contrary to the restless wanderings of the Jewish trader; the peaceful enjoyment of the present, the contentment with small gain are contrary to his greed for profit and his speculation on the ups and downs of the money market. At the same time the heavy physical labor and more substantial nourishment of the artisan will have beneficent effects on his physical constitution; the mechanical skill will call forth new talents; the uniformity of the work, the moderate financial success, will bring the Hebrew closer to the respectable citizen and inhabitant of our cities. Besides, the transition to artisan would be comparatively the easiest to make for the great mass of Jews, since it requires no great education nor substantial fortune. It is my opinion, therefore, that the great purpose of the government would be achieved with the utmost certainty if it encouraged the Jews to become artisans. The government could justly require that a Jewish father with several sons allow one of them to become an artisan. It could decree that not more than a certain number of Jewish merchants should reside in any one place, or that those beyond a certain number should pay an extra tax which could be used to subsidize and encourage Jewish artisans. [ . . . ]

NINTH. The written laws of Moses, which do not refer to Palestine and the old judicial and ritual organization, as the oral law are regarded by the Jews as permanently binding divine commandments. Besides, various commentaries to these laws and argumentations from them by famous Jewish scholars are held in the same respect as laws. Therefore, if they are to be granted full human rights, one has to permit them to live and be judged according to these laws. This will no more isolate them from the rest of the citizens of the state than a city or community living according to their own statutes; and the experience made with Jewish autonomy during the first centuries in the Roman Empire as also in some modern states has shown that no inconvenient or detrimental consequences are to be feared. Although this does not necessarily mean that the laws should be administered by Jewish judges, this would always be more agreeable to them and would avoid many difficulties arising from ignorance of the complicated Jewish jurisprudence in Christian judges which requires the knowledge of the Hebrew language and Rabbinics. It would therefore be better to leave litigations between Jew and Jew in civil cases to their own judges in the first instance, but also to permit the Jews to start court proceedings at the court of the regular Christian judges. These as well as the higher instances to which Jews might appeal from the decision of the Jewish judge, would of course have to decide according to Jewish laws; [ . . . ]

Source of English translation: Ellis Rivkin, ed. Readings in Modern Jewish History. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, 1957, pp. 12-69.

Source of original German text: Christian Wilhelm von Dohm, Über die bürgerliche Verbesserung der Juden [Concerning the Amelioration of the Civil Status of the Jews] (1781). Hidesheim and New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 1973, pp. 26-39, 91-100, 107-13, 125-26.

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