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One of the most sensitive areas in intergroup relations is religion. The fact that Christians and Jews were tolerant of one another in such matters and accorded each other frequent courtesies is proof that they were willing to live together in amity. Apparently the motivation for this mutual toleration is the American folk principle of live and let live, the realization, although at times a reluctant one, that American citizenship and religious profession and practice are and should be two separate nontangential worlds. Religion may separate men; American citizenship is a bond that unites, that ameliorates, or overrides the centrifugal force of theological belief and prejudice. It may well be that Jews and Christians began to realize that humanity is more important than theology.1


Here in the United States Jews have helped Christians build their sanctuaries ever since the early eighteenth century when New York Jewry made a contribution to the Trinity Church building fund. This tradition of rallying to the aid of Christian neighbors has continued down to the present day. Wherever Jews have lived they have responded generously. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Newport, Arkansas, has memorial windows dedicated to the memory of Aaron Hirsch, a local merchant; his name is also engraved on the cornerstone, for he donated the lot for the first building. In Springer, New Mexico, there is a stained glass window in the Methodist Church to commemorate the generosity of Sol Floersheim and his Christian partner who gave the ground on which the church was erected.

Interfaith aid has not been only a one-way street—from Jews to Christians. Numerous references document similar help from Christians to Jews. If the motive which impelled Christians to help erect synagogs was largely, if not primarily, an economic one, undoubtedly, too, when land agent Aaron Levy gave a lot to the Lutherans in his new town of Aaronsburg it was with the hope that a church would attract settlers. Christian land speculators were convinced that if Jews built a synagog, other Jews would be attracted and the town would prosper. Jews, therefore, were frequently given plots, substantial subsidies, and urged to build sturdy edifices. When Natchez Jewry built its temple after the Civil War the captains of the river packets made generous gifts. This was good business. A Presbyterian minister in a Southern town went to a Jew who kept his store open on Saturday and asked him why he did not attend services. When informed that the Jews had no synagog he went out on a lecture tour, raised money, and gave it to the Jews that they, too, might build a mansion for their Father. The motivation here was a religious one.2


The dedication of a synagog was a great occasion in the life of a nineteenth-century town. The Christians were fascinated by the prospect and most eager to witness the ceremonies; local and state dignitaries were nearly always present and the Masons often laid the cornerstone. Max Lilienthal, summoned to Vicksburg in 1870 to dedicate the first synagog building in the state, made more than one address while in Mississippi. Said the governor to him after one of his talks: “Your religion is my religion.” Two years later Lilienthal consecrated Temple Emanu-El in Milwaukee, aided by the minister of the Plymouth Congregational Church, while the choir sang Ave Maria. To be sure this last gesture was not planned by the congregation. Christian clergy was nearly always present at these Jewish affairs, not necessarily because a dedication was a religious act, but because the establishment of a synagog—a new church!—was a public communal event of civic importance.3


In evaluating the significance of interfaith relations in the United States of the nineteenth century it must constantly be kept in mind that for almost two millennia Christianity had looked with contempt upon Jews and Judaism. Any change in this attitude for the better was in a sense revolutionary. Yet this is what was occurring in some towns in the 1850’s. In Charleston the rabbi was treated as a recognized clergyman; on one occasion he was even invited to read a psalm at a Christian religious service. Isaac M. Wise spoke twice in one day in a Presbyterian Church in Seymour, Indiana, in 1861. The Jew, Michael Allen, who served as chaplain of the Fifth Pennsylvania Cavalry for a brief period, solved his bi-religious problem by holding nondenominational services and avoiding all references to Judaism and Christianity!

Beginning in the year 1867 Lilienthal spoke in Unitarian churches; he was not entirely devoid of a feeling of guilt for this religious fraternization so he wrote that he was seeking to impel the Gentiles in the direction of Judaism. Though some Unitarians had a special place in their thinking for Jesus, this liberal sect drew closer to the Jews; neither group accepted the divinity of Jesus. They huddled together for comfort against a common opponent, the orthodox Christian. When a Rochester Unitarian minister fell ill, Rabbi Max Landsberg took his place for seven weeks. Most Jews were pleased; a few raised their eyebrows. In 1882 George Jacobs of Philadelphia addressed a Sunday audience on board ship. And the Catholics? Together with a Catholic priest and a Protestant pastor, the Kansas City rabbi Samuel Schulman spoke in a public hall to a huge Irish-Catholic audience on Saint Patrick’s Day. When, a few years later, the rabbi left town, a priest came to his pulpit to wish him Godspeed. By 1900 it was a commonplace for a rabbi to speak in a Christian church. It was a day when both Jew and Christian treasured hopes for the millennium.4


Once again interfaith was not a one-way road; ministers, primarily Unitarians, began to mount Jewish pulpits in the late 1860’s as the tempo of liberalism increased after the War. Had men learned the futility of prejudice and hate? One of the first churchmen to talk from a synagog pulpit on the East Coast was the Unitarian, H. W. Bellows. This was in 1879, the year of the Corbin affair. He told his audience in Temple Emanu-El that snobbery was difficult to eliminate: “Reason cannot exterminate what never rested on reason.” Though Gentile preachers in Jewish pulpits were a postbellum novelty, Christians in the United States had been attending synagogal services for over a century. Then as now Christians came not to worship but to listen; they were seized with curiosity; the Jews are the people of the Old Testament through which God had spoken to the Christian world. When B’nai Yeshurun in Cincinnati was consecrated in 1848, it was reported that a sizable proportion of the audience was Christian. Rabbi Raphall toured the East lecturing to Christians, primarily on the beauty and meaning of Hebraic literature.

Liberalism began to make itself felt in some of the Protestant churches in the last years of the century. This atmosphere of tolerance may have been encouraged by the realization that all great religions have much in common. Socially sensitive Christians were more concerned about social justice than a Pauline theology that divided Jew and Christian. And as Christian churches moved slowly to the left the Jews met them more than halfway. As early as 1867 Lilienthal was convinced that a liberal Christian “church” was beginning to appear in this country; the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1876 commended the Congress of Liberals for its fight against sectarianism in American government; the Free Religious Association encouraged Jewish participation in its deliberations, and the Jews responded in the 1885 Pittsburgh Platform by emphasizing the great role that Christianity and other religions had played in the attempt to grasp the infinite.

Friendliness between Jew and Gentile was not the monopoly of the radicals. Protestants and Catholics, laymen and clergy, were friendly to rabbis. Gottheil was invited to join in celebrating the jubilee of a Catholic priest, though not in the church. Christian-Jewish unity was documented in a striking fashion in the demonstrations against the Russian pogroms. From 1881 to well into the second decade of the next century practically all Christian groups in this country raised their voices against the murder of men, women, and children because of religious differences. It may well be that these remonstrances were in a sense a declaration of faith in the American political system as much as an affirmation of a common humanity, yet they did serve to bring Jew and Christian together. This rapport was heightened in the years 1911 to 1913 when the Americans learned that the Russians had accused a Jew, Mendel Beilis, of killing a Christian to use his blood for religious purposes. The American people were shocked that the Muscovites would revive this medieval libel to justify pogroms and divert attention from Russian tyranny.

The last decades of the Gilded Age were not without their spiritual advances, for Christian religious liberals and their allies in the Protestant churches sought to unite all men of good faith. The encroachments of massive industrial corporations and the domination of a conservative Republican administration could not destroy Populist sentiments nor deter pious followers of Jesus from extending their social and spiritual horizons. A group of Christians and Jews met in Chicago, November 24, 1890, to discuss social prejudice, the sufferings of Jews abroad, and the furtherance of closer relations between Christians and Jews in this land. Three years later American Jews of all denominations participated as equals in a World’s Parliament of Religions at the Chicago Fair. In New York in 1900 there was a State Conference of Religion to discuss common problems and common goals. At a meeting in New York City in 1909 the state diocese of the Protestant Episcopal Church telegraphed the Reform rabbis of the country then in annual session: God “hath made of one blood all men.” The response was immediate: “Have we not all one father?” Those were the blissful days when Christians came in relatively large numbers to listen to Sunday talks of the American liberal rabbis. This Christian trek to the synagog, to listen, if not to pray, had started no later than the 1880’s when Gutheim preached in New Orleans; it was to continue throughout the country until the end of World War I. Then the stream of visitors began to fade away. Was this an intimation that the long century of liberalism was about to come to an end?5


The growing feeling of understanding and mutual tolerance between Jews and Christians is documented by the willingness to lend or rent one another their churches and synagogs. This interchange became pronounced since the 1870V, there are of course examples that are older. Jews and Christians after a fire or when starting a new congregation did not hesitate to turn to each other. After the Chicago holocaust of 1871, Sinai used the Congregational church; Emanu-El of New York offered its sanctuary on Sunday to the Episcopalians, reserving the vestry rooms for its own Sunday school children. After a fire in the 1880’s the First Presbyterian Church of Fort Wayne found a haven in the local synagog; about seventy-five years later when the Fort Wayne Reformers were building a new temple the Presbyterians invited them to use their church. Six Christian churches have worshipped at different times in the Birmingham, Alabama temple; the first public Jewish service in that city was held in 1882 in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, a rock-ribbed evangelical institution.6


Jews and Christians who were good neighbors in life often became good neighbors in death. Cemeteries laid out side by side were often donated by enterprising real-estate speculators. Christian clergymen sometimes officiated at Jewish funerals when there were no rabbis in town. For want of a Unitarian minister, Birmingham’s Rabbi Morris Newfield graciously officiated when his services were sought. There were times, too, when a rabbi and pastor officiated together, as was the case when Gershom Seixas’s son, Theodore Jonathan Seixas (1802-1880), died in South Bend, Indiana. If the Jew who died was one of the town’s important citizens the burial assumed the proportions of a public ceremony. Thus when Gutheim passed away the public buildings in Baton Rouge, the state capital, were closed; courts were adjourned, the clergy assembled, and one of the great preachers of the South, Benjamin Morgan Palmer, delivered the eulogy. Almost every store in Memphis was closed when Rabbi Sanfield was buried, even the street cars stopped running for a few minutes. When Squire Julius Ochs was laid to rest in Chattanooga, his kinsman Isaac M. Wise made the address for the Jews; a former moderator of the Southern Presbyterian Assembly spoke for the Christians, and the Masons observed their traditional rites with dignity and solemnity.7


A series of diverse interreligious incidents and courtesies may well illuminate even further the nature of interfaith relations. In 1849 the old-line Jews in New York City sponsored a concert on behalf of the newly arrived Jewish immigrants, Germans, of course. Leeser in his Occident was very much in sympathy with the project. He did not object that the concert was conducted in a Christian church but he did bemoan the fact that the program was limited to Italian opera. Why not a Jewish note to remind the auditors of the rock whence they were hewn? A priest contributed liberally in the 1850’s to the new Jews’ Hospital in New York; students at a Christian seminary were eager to secure copies of the Occident; a Jew taught Hebrew at Union Theological Seminary; Judge Albert Cardozo received an honorary degree from Catholic St. John College at Fordham, and the members of the New York YMHA were privileged to listen to a lecture on Hanukkah by a Christian lawyer. Christians were frequently employed as organists in synagogs; the Mobile Presbyterian Church employed a Jew; Christians sang in Jewish choirs and Christian children attended Jewish parochial schools. When the cornerstone was laid for the magnificent Jewish temple in Cincinnati opposite the Catholic cathedral, Lilienthal quoted the psalm: “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together to unity!”8


Lilienthal’s quotation from Psalm 133:1 may only have reflected wishful thinking; the Jewish and Christian masses did not fall on each other’s necks; in the best American tradition they suffered one another. What is true, however, is that individual Christians through their personal lives fulfilled the injunction of the verse from Leviticus: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” A Baltimore church contributed to a campaign for the poor Jews of Palestine and the mayor of San Francisco gave a month’s salary to a Jewish benevolent society. During one of the numerous yellow fever epidemics in Charleston a Christian family nursed a stricken Jewish household; one of the town’s Gentile physicians ministered to the needy Jewish sick for many years without thought of a fee. In 1873 when the effort was made to permit Jews to lead the Tennessee Senate in prayer a member of the House voiced his objection to any minister who did not believe in Jesus Christ. Yet a resolution allowing a Jew to lead in prayer in the House was accepted; it was offered by a Mr. James who made the statement that “the purest religion I ever heard . . . fell from the lips of a Jewish rabbi of Cincinnati.”

When Hayes was president he intervened to give an Orthodox Jewish woman who refused to work on the Sabbath a job: “Anyone who would rather forego an office than violate their Sabbath,” he said, “was a good citizen and worthy of the appointment.” Out of respect for the Jews, the Cleveland stock exchange closed on Yom Kippur. Near New York some Catholic sisters ran a fine convent school patronized by Jews. The Jewish girls who enrolled here were required to keep all the Jewish holidays even though they did not observe them at home. During the days of his ardent love affair with East Side Jewry Lincoln Steffens, the muckraker, observed the Jewish holidays, hammered a mezuzah on his door, and fasted on Yom Kippur. When William James discovered that his summer hotel refused to accept Hebrews he wrote it: “I propose to return the boycott.”9


William James knew full well from his experience with his Jewish students, such as Horace M. Kallen, the acculturational capacity of the new immigrants. Whether these newcomers knew it or not, all of them were borrowing heavily from the cultural stores of their American hosts. These immigrants, fathers and sons, wanted to become one with the common culture, to become Americans and thereby reconcile their older Jewish way of life with the challenges of the newer Anglo-Saxon world. This confrontation of Judaism with the outer world has been an ever-present problem in the life of the Jew. Under the influence of the Deists many Jews had begun to defect in the eighteenth century. Moses Mendelssohn, an observant Jew, came to terms with his inherited faith and the modern philosophies; most of his children, less successful in resolving their traditions and modernism, ended their lives in the Christian camp. The problem for Jewish intellectuals became acute in the nineteenth century as science, critical thinking, and liberalism began to destroy their faith in traditional beliefs and practices.

Assimilation has several meanings. In the jargon of many Jewish historians and sociologists it has now come to mean rejection of Jewry and Judaism. In keeping with this definition most nineteenth-century Jews did not assimilate; the well-adjusted Jew, the typical Jew of the post-Civil War era was determined to be fully American and yet remain a Jew. The definition of what constituted Jewishness was arbitrary and personal; it was sufficient, so the Jew believed, that he was resolute in his desire to be loyal to his heritage. There were Jews who did assimilate. The motivations that prompted them are diverse; there is no reason to believe that they themselves knew why they wished to leave their people and its way of life. Some had no Jewish roots, no Jewish education; they were ashamed of their origins; they had no pride in their past; they believed that Jews were an inferior group; they were completely enamored of the “Christian” culture about them. These assimilationists wanted to bury themselves in the anonymous mass about them; they hoped to improve their status by becoming non-Jews.

A common cause for defection was dissatisfaction with the Jewish leadership, lay and rabbinical; imagined personal slights induced sensitive and neurotic men and women to turn against Jews and Judaism. For some reason or unreason a Jew in Jackson, Mississippi, refused to affiliate with the Jewish community, but when his child died he turned to his fellow Jews in his grief. In accordance with traditional practice they provided a simple pine box for the burial; he insisted on an ornamental coffin and when they refused he asked the local Methodist minister to officiate. The latter, with a sensitivity that does him credit, read the Jewish service in an English translation. The bereaved father, furious, was convinced that he had been grossly mistreated by Jackson Jewry.

Many who stayed in the synagog boasted of their unbelief, yet even these pseudo-sophisticates who had indeed lost interest in Judaism, the religion, were not necessarily disloyal to Jewry. They were not defectors even though they were zealous partisans of the new civic religion, modern state nationalism. In reality assimilation became a definitive act only when a Jew became a formal convert to another faith or attempted wittingly to cut himself off completely from Jews and Judaism. In addition the process of assimilation for the runaways was never completed if the Gentile world refused, as it frequently did, to accept them as Christians even after conversion. One must be careful, however, not to confuse assimilation and acculturation although the line between them is hair thin. There are innumerable incidents to support this contention. Christmas trees, parties, dinners, and exchange of holiday gifts had become so common among some Jews by the 1860’s that they viewed these acts as American social usage. In a later generation the Charles Guggenheimers of Lynchberg were famous for their Christmas party with its roast suckling pig and its huge Christmas tree. For this family Christmas was a national holiday. By their own lights Christmas-celebrating Jews were in no sense disloyal to Judaism. There were many paths leading to assimilation; many trod them, but only a few went to the end of the road; they never ceased to be Jews. The Sabbath was observed in the breach, for nearly all retail businesses were open on that day; there was no kashrut, no shohet, little synagog attendance; many were not even members. There was little ritual observance in the home and less Hebrew in the liturgy. With Saint Paul many Jews said: “What profit is there of circumcism?” (Roman 3:1). A large number of the older settlers held the uncouth incoming East Europeans at arms length; each new shipload pushed the natives and “Germans” a little to the left in their attempt to disassociate themselves from the newcomers. Intermarriage was increasing and indifference as well. Isidor Bush was buried in a non-Jewish cemetery though he was an ardent Jew and an outstanding national Jewish leader. His son and wife, though of Jewish background, were not interested in Judaism.10


In relationship to their Jewishness, the Jews of that day may be divided into three categories: religionists, nonreligious ethnicists, and non-ethnicists. Many of the nonreligionists had ethnic loyalties. Despite his disinterest in Judaism, Dr. Abraham Jacobi was always close to Jews and Jewish philanthropic institutions. Jacob Gimbel, son of Adam of Vincennes, tells this story of Samuel B. Judah, the politician who had married out and had reared a Christian family. Once while Judah was debating the political issues of the day with some customers in the Gimbel store, a dark-looking itinerant dropped in and asked for a handout. Judah was about to respond with a silver coin when he looked the stranger in the eye and asked him from what part of the Old Country he had come. “From Spain,” answered the stranger. Whereupon Judah withheld his proffered coin and ran the man out of the store saying: “Your people once kicked my ancestors out of the country; I’ll do the same for you.”11


Those men and women who evinced no interest in Jews or Judaism were assimilationists; they were lost to Jewry. It would seem that many of them were intellectuals, scientists, and professionals; in short, part of the intelligentsia. How many drifted away completely will never be known, but the numbers were probably not inconsiderable. Their defection was not noticed for hundreds and ultimately thousands of new immigrants began to arrive, most of whom were observant Jews. Albert A. Michelson and Joseph Pulitzer were typical of the non-ethnicists, men who were completely divorced from their people. The Blumenfelds of Watertown, Wisconsin, are another example, of sorts. David Blumenfeld, the father, a Forty-Eighter, was a friend of Carl Schurz and a brother-in-law of Rabbi Bernhard Felsenthal, a most fervent Jew and a Zionist. Blumenfeld, however, let his children go to a Christian Sunday School and visit Catholic and Protestant churches. A Christian minister officiated at the marriage of his daughter. Her brother Ralph became one of the most prominent newspaper men in London and a member of the exclusive Carlton Club which till then had admitted no Jews. A visit to Palestine made him a Zionist; Hitler made him a Jew.12


The Rise of the Movement

Jews who seceded from Jewry did not necessarily join another religion; most did not; a few, very few, accepted Jesus. Some went halfway. Those who went halfway joined religious societies which, they felt, did not cut them off entirely from their people. Because of social, emotional, and economic ties, it was not easy for Jews to sever the bonds to the past. Halfway secession is reflected in the relation of Jews to the Ethical Culture Movement. Cultured New York Jews began to join the Society when it was established by Felix Adler (1851-1933) in 1876. Adler, a native of Germany, was the son of Samuel Adler, the rabbi of New York’s Temple Emanu-El. Eager to have his son succeed him, Samuel sent Felix to Berlin where he studied at Geiger’s seminary and at Heidelberg University where he received the doctor’s degree. On his return in 1873 the young scholar spoke at the temple. His address was in the nature of a trial sermon but he was not employed. The reasons for this are not clear. His address may have been poorly delivered; some may have resented his refusal to evoke the name of the Deity; his “theology” may have disturbed members of the board. It is questionable, however, whether his liberalism frightened his auditors; it was hardly decisive. What is more probable is that the congregation which had already employed Rabbi Gustav Gottheil as an assistant had begun to view him as Samuel Adler’s successor.

In pushing his son Felix, the rabbi of the congregation was resorting to a tradition of nepotism that was not uncommon in the Central and East European communities. The congregants may well have resented it; it was not typically American. It is ironic that a generation later after Gottheil had long officiated as senior rabbi he, too, failed to install his son Richard, an Orientalist, as his successor. With the same design in mind Marcus Jastrow of Philadelphia brought his son Morris, Jr., into Rodeph Shalom as his associate but young Jastrow, another product of the critical German school, broke with Judaism as a religion and resigned. This young man, who was destined to become a fine scholar, taught Semitics at the University of Pennsylvania; Richard Gottheil held a similar post at Columbia. In 1874 Samuel Adler resigned and Gottheil succeeded him. Joseph Seligman and others financed young Adler as an instructor in Semitics at Cornell. After about two years Adler left Ithaca; his critical approach to the Bible may have alienated the authorities at the school. For Protestants heresy was always a dread possibility; to the day of his death, even Isaac M. Wise would allow no one to impugn the divine origin of the Ten Commandments. Adler returned to New York City in 1876 and founded the Ethical Cultural Society.

Adler was not a supernaturalist although he made no outright rejection of theism; he appears to have been a theistic humanist. His “theology” had many sources: Judaism, Emerson and the Transcendentalists, the Unitarians, ethically-oriented Protestants, the Free Religious Association, and, certainly, German idealism, the philosophic teachings which he had absorbed as a student abroad. Young Adler was an ardent humanitarian and social reformer influenced very probably by the social justice elements in the Bible and possibly even by the teachings of England’s Christian Socialists. He was interested in the welfare of the masses enmeshed in the evils of an amoral industrial society. In a larger sense Adler and his friends were part of a limited but intense socially-oriented, liberal, religious and theological movement which was trying to come to terms with the newly industrialized economy. It numbered Jews as well as Christians among its most ardent adherents. Adler rejected static dogma, ancient traditions and practices; he accepted the best in modern science and thinking. While a student in Germany Adler had accepted the validity of the historicocritical method. Thus he could never believe in Moses as the author of the Pentateuch, but in rejecting Judaism because of its mythic traditions—which were not essential for religious belief—Adler threw out the baby with the bath water. This was the konsequent German in him. For this man Judaism and Christianity were both dead or dying. Judaism was too parochial, too national; it could not emancipate itself sufficiently from the past to solve the social problems of the submerged millions. Jews and their mission theory would not save society; all must work together on a common ethical platform if anything was to be accomplished.13

Program of Ethical Culture

Though it denied all theistic sanctions, Ethical Culture was a religion of sorts; it held Sunday services with music; it had preaching, teaching, and even a doxology: Deed not creed. The moral law is a law unto itself; it is its own sanction. Religion is ethics. Ethical Culture was essentially this-worldly in its emphasis on social improvement, on morality and action. Felix Adler and his followers were very much interested in good schools, kindergartens, manual training for children, settlement houses, district nursing, tenement house reform, decent homes for neglected children, the abolition of child labor, and the suppression of prostitution. In a typically Jewish sense Adler stressed the purity of home and family life. In his desire to help, he reached out in all directions, aiding Negroes, attacking corruption in government, urging arbitration in the clothing industry, seeking legal aid for the poor, and publishing a magazine on ethics. To reach his goals he erected social-welfare agencies of his own.14

The Relation of Ethical Culture to Jews and Judaism

Adler came to Ethical Culture through Reform Judaism, undoubtedly influenced by his father who always remained close to him. The young teacher discussed his talks with his father who, though deeply rooted in Jewish tradition, was not hidebound in adhering to its practices. Felix, too, was rooted in Jewish knowledge for he had trained to become a rabbi. His first address was printed at the Hebrew Orphan Asylum Press, the pet charity of Joseph Seligman. To a great degree the Ethical Culture Movement became and remained Jewish. The Temple Emanu-El crowd supplied money and members; the Seligmans and Edward Lauterbach were among his chief supporters. Ethical Culture was a left-wing Reform Jewish movement of anti-dogmatists, social reformers, and, probably, some fugitives from Judaism. It was not unusual for Ethical Culturists to retain membership in the synagog. At the funeral of Joseph Seligman, Adler conducted the service in the home; Gottheil and Lilienthal, rabbis, officiated at the graveside. When Adler went out on his missionary journeys to Chicago, St. Louis, or Louisville, like Saint Paul, he first spoke to the Jews; they were the reservoir whence he drew recruits.

In the short space of a year after the Society was established nonobservant Jews were already stigmatized as “Adler Jews.” The Movement grew rapidly at first; branches were set up in several large American cities; later the Ethical Culturists made their appearance in Europe and even in Japan.15

How Jewish Was Ethical Culture?

Is Ethical Culture a Jewish movement? Jews have never disowned Felix Adler. He was included in the standard Jewish biographical reference works. On the other hand the Movement was so close to classical Reform that its leaders felt threatened; Kohler, Wise, and others attacked Adler. A generation later the Ethical Culture school in New York was patronized heavily by Jews, particularly by those who were denied entrance to the better private schools because of their religion. Morris Raphael Cohen, the philosopher, admired Adler. Emil G. Hirsch and Adler had much in common. Stephen S. Wise, Abraham Cronbach, and Mordecai Kaplan spoke of him with respect; their program and thinking, in part at least, were patterned on his; Stephen S. Wise’s social-welfare apparatus was probably influenced by that of Adler. Few Jews, even the Orthodox, would think of quarreling with his ethical pronouncements, but the Jewish religious denominations differed with him radically. They had a definite traditional God concept; they cherished their own comforting Jewish way of life, and they gloried in their ethnic past. Adler would have none of these. The Orthodox scholar Judah David Eisenstein spoke for more than himself when he wrote in his memoirs that all that Adler taught could be summed up in the eighth verse of the sixth chapter of Micah: “It hath been told thee O man what is good and what the Lord thy God doth require of thee, only to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God.”

Adler had a notable career; he drew large audiences, wrote several books, taught at Columbia, was called to Berlin as an exchange professor at the university, and presided at the Universal Races Congress in 1911. He was an honorable scholarly man who influenced Jewish and Christian liberal religious groups. But the society never grew; it remained small in number. It was threatened with the same ills that were to plague classical Reform: ethics was not enough; myth, tradition, prejudices, emotional ties were lacking. Those few Jews who sought the best of many worlds found it not incongruous to be Jewish Ethical Culturists, religionists, and Zionists.16


The Ethical Culture Jews were not the only ones to enjoy the best of several world for there were others. The Jewish Christian Scientists were a notable example. These adherents of Mary Baker Eddy’s philosophy of healing were undeterred by the adjective “Christian,” by the founder’s conviction that Jesus was God incarnate, and by the pronouncements of the church that no one could be at one and the same time a Christian Scientist and a Jew. Most of the numerous Jews who were affiliated with the new movement or were sympathetic to it considered themselves Jews; many, indeed, were affiliated with synagogs. They joined the Scientists because of the healing program; most of them, it would seem, were women suffering from physical or mental ills. When Jews began to join the Scientists in the early years of the new century, the Jewish masses did not reject them; they sensed that these unhappy people, seeking something they could not find in their own beliefs and practices, had turned to the new teachings for therapy, not out of love for Jesus. Following the dictates of reason and historic tradition Jewish leaders declared the two religions were irreconcilable. For a time the B’nai B’rith in California refused to accept Jewish Christian Scientists as members; the Central Conference of American Rabbis said that no man could be a Jew and a Scientist. Disturbed by the inroads of the new faith, the rabbis talked, harangued, wrote brochures, and denied the validity of faith healing. With time came moderation in polemics and fears. Freud and the psychologists brought new insights. In the 1920’s the rabbis began to talk of counseling, pastoral psychology, and even of spiritual healing.

A few rabbis attempted to counter the seductive attractiveness of Christian Science with Jewish Science. From about 1916 on a Jewish Science Movement made its appearance, one that remained well within the ambit of Reform Judaism. Its prophets were Alfred G. Moses, Morris Lichtenstein, and Clifton Harby Levy; Moses was a Mobilian, the latter two worked in New York City. The movement they built was small and isolated; they were never particularly successful. None of them denied the existence, the reality of evil, disease, death; they did emphasize prayer, love of God, peace of mind, and the legitimacy of emotion. The attraction to Jews of both Christian Science and Jewish Science almost disappeared in the mid-twentieth century with the wide acceptance of professional psychological counselors and psychiatrists, with the growing resort to tranquilizers and other drugs. What is strange is that affiliation with Ethical Culture, Christian Science, and similar groups like Unity and New Thought were not looked upon as apostasy, yet affiliation with Unitarianism was deemed a complete break with Judaism. This is indeed curious, for Christian Science was Christ-oriented; Unitarianism, however, denied the divinity of Jesus. Wrongly Christian Science was looked upon solely as a healing cult, not as a religion; equally falsely, Unitarianism was viewed as a basic Christian denomination. But in history as in politics, vox populi, vox dei.17



Was popular opinion really wrong? Experience may have taught Jewry that those who joined a Unitarian Church were determined to cut themselves off from their people; it was a mode of defection; Jewish Unitarians did not contribute to Jewish charities. The Taussigs of Saint Louis were already Unitarians before the Civil War; it is questionable whether there are any Jews left in that distinguished clan. They intermarried and vanished as Jews. Although intermarriage may well eventuate in assimilation, defection does not necessarily follow in its wake. If the Gentile spouse converts, the family is Jewish and even if the Gentile does not convert but permits the rearing of the children as Jews the family remains Jewish. Many Gentile men and women who married Jews became formal converts; Tarshish is of the opinion that through the conversion of Christians, Jews gain as many adherents to their faith as they lose through intermarriage; marriages out and conversions in balance out one another; so he and others have believed. Intermarriages were common in eighteenth-century British North America and have continued to the present day. Exogamy was nothing new in Jewish life. The greatest Jew who ever lived, King David, was the great-grandson of Ruth, the Moabite, a non-Israelite. Timothy, the companion of Paul, was the son of a pagan Roman father and a Jewish mother who was sympathetic to Christianity. The family circumcised Timothy yet this Jew was to end his life, so it is said, as a Christian bishop. Anacletus II, an antipope, was the descendant of an intermarriage; and Shylock’s Jessica ran off and married a Christian.


Why intermarriage in the United States of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? Largely for the same reasons that had prompted it for centuries. Jews were indifferent to their faith; the assimilatory influences of the milieu were almost irresistible; men and women fell in love; intermarriage, so careerists thought, would bring their goals closer, quicker. The lack of a suitable Jewish mate may well have encouraged marriage out. Native Jews might well feel that the choice of mates was limited when the Jews about them were immigrants of a lesser or alien culture. Thus such natives preferred not to marry or sought a Gentile of good family and breeding. In the late nineteenth century an acculturated Jewish family of German origin in Norwich, Connecticut, offered no objection when the children visited the churches or attended a Christian Sunday School. There was no Jewish community in town. When the Russian Jews came in and established an Orthodox synagog the girls in the family attended a service but could not understand a word of the Hebrew. They never went back. The girls never married; but a son married out.

Congregations were unhappy with intermarriage but inconsistent in the reaction to this threat to survival. None was in sympathy with it and until the advent of the Reformers even discouraged would-be proselytes. Thus many of the children of intermarried couples were lost to Judaism. Congregations vacillated in formulating the rules regulating the burials of those Jews who had Christian spouses, and they found it difficult to fix the criteria for full membership of those who had not married Jews. The constant influx of Orthodox immigrants tended to reinforce the ban against all who deviated from traditional norms. Non-congregational groups, the social, philanthropic, and fraternal societies, tended to be more permissive, and as the decades passed even the congregations found it difficult to maintain an intransigent attitude. Early nineteenth-century tradition-true Rodeph Shalom of Philadelphia passed stringent rules against those who had intermarried but made an exception for Aaron Moses Dropsie; his son Moses who came to Judaism somewhat belatedly left a large legacy which brought Dropsie College into being. In Mikveh Israel, Rodeph Shalom’s rival, the Gratzes stood out as the pillars of this the first congregation in the city. Maritally speaking, the second generation of this distinguished family was an interesting lot. Two of the girls never married, one of whom was the renowned Rebecca. She would marry no Gentile and there is no evidence that she was ever courted by an acceptable Jew. Her brother Ben married a Christian; two other brothers married Gentiles but kept them under cover and two brothers remained bachelors but may have had “unofficial” Gentile families.

Einhorn and Wise, at swords’ points on many issues, were both hostile to intermarriage. Wise’s opposition was based on social as well as religious grounds; differences are a hazard to marital harmony but he was sympathetic to those seeking conversion. When one of his daughters married a Christian he was at first irreconcilable and threatened to disown her, but he was induced to restore her to the bosom of the family. Her children were reared as Jews and a great-grandson became one of the leaders of the Cincinnati Jewish community. Like Wise, most Jewish parents resented and opposed intermarriage. The Coloradoan Solomon Nathan was so angry with the Christian minister who had officiated at his daughter’s intermarriage that he accosted him in a Denver bank and gave him a sound trouncing. On his plea that he was temporarily insane the court merely fined him forty dollars for assault.18

The prevalence of intermarriage, or a growing interest in the subject, is reflected in the contemporary American novel where it recurs frequently as a central theme. In the decades of the 1870’s and 1880’s the rabbis took public notice of this problem; it was evident that intermarriage was on the increase. After officiating at an intermarriage—a very rare occurrence in midwestern rabbinical circles—Rabbi Isaac Moses of Milwaukee was censured by his board, given but a limited vote of confidence by the congregation, and attacked by Wise and the national Jewish press. A writer in a paper edited by Moses agreed that the disparate Jewish and Christian ways of life would make for dissension but hastened to point out that if a rabbi would not marry a couple they could always turn to a civil magistrate. The implication here is clear: if the rabbi rejects the couple they may be lost to Judaism irretrievably.

Zangwill’s play, The Melting Pot, was produced in the United States in 1908; it is in essence a plea for intermarriage. Though this London Jewish writer had himself intermarried this did not diminish his interest in establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine or some other spot in the world where Jews could build a commonwealth of their own and live by themselves. About the same time that Zangwill was allowing himself poetic license by venting his incongruities, Caroline Cohen wrote a foreword to her brochure, Records of the Myers, Hays, and Mordecai Families from 1707 to 1913, pointing out that of these great colonial families only five persons were left who professed Judaism. When they died, she sighed, not one Jew would be left. The descendants of these clans had left no children or had married out and assimilated. As the problem of intermarriage became more severe in the new century the Central Conference of American Rabbis adopted a formal resolution condemning marriages between Jews and non-Jews. This was in 1909.19


The rate of intermarriage among the different socioeconomic groups is not known but it appears that the percentage among those Jews who were active in the general community was high. It is only a guess but it is likely that distinguished Jews who busied themselves with the work of the Jewish community were less prone to marry out. For reasons best known to them alone notable Americans of Jewish descent often intermarried. It would seem that most of them were not conscious of any ethnic bonds; some had social ambitions or were seeking new worlds to conquer. This may or may not explain why August Belmont, James Speyer, Joseph Pulitzer, and Abraham Jacobi took Gentile wives. Frank Etting, a former United States army officer, author, and chief historian of the 1876 centennial exhibition in Philadelphia, married the granddaughter of Chief Justice Roger Taney. Jenny Lind, the singer, a Christian, was married here in the United States to Otto Goldschmidt, a convert to Christianity. J. Barrett Cohen, an important member of the Charleston Jewish community, wed a Christian in a Richmond church; Marie Alice Heine, daughter of a New Orleans banker, became the wife of the Prince of Monaco. Thus she became the first American woman to become the consort of a ruling sovereign. Cinderella married her prince when Rose Harriet Pastor, Russian-born Yiddish journalist, labor organizer, Socialist and Communist, became the wife of Joseph Graham Phelps Stokes, a wealthy New York aristocrat and social worker.20


As implied above it is impossible to determine how many Jews intermarried and drifted away. Unlike some other governments the United States does not gather such statistics and the national Jewish organizations did not attempt to collect data on the marriages between Jews and Gentiles until well into the twentieth century. What records are available would seem to indicate that the percentage of intermarriage was high in the colonial and early national periods to 1840. Malcolm Stem, the genealogist, has estimated that it was about 15 percent. As the Jews began to arrive here in larger numbers after 1840 the percentage declined. Tarshish is of the opinion that even in assimilatory Charleston in the years between 1848 and the Civil War the intermarriage rate was only about 4 percent. The uncompromisingly observant and unhappy Rabbi Abraham Rice said in 1849 that “thousands were marrying Gentile women.” This was an exaggeration but it does indicate that intermarriage was not uncommon.

For New York City during the period 1895-1904 it has been estimated that the rate was less than 1 percent; in New Haven in 1900, 1.1 percent. From 1908 to 1912 the figure for the immigrants in New York City was .64 percent, but the rate for second generation Jews had risen to 4.5 percent. In Des Moines, in a state where there were very few Jews and where intermarriage has always been prevalent, the rate was about 25 percent for the years 1905-1915. In all instances and in all places, however, statistics fail to take into account the fact that some of the Gentile spouses lived as Jews. In the area of close settlement the rate of intermarriage, though on the increase, posed no serious threat to Jewry. The American Jewish masses, immigrant Orthodox Jews, shrank from marriage out of the fold.

The statistical picture in Europe at this time was radically different. In Denmark the percentage of intermarriage was very high in the late nineteenth century, anywhere from 65 to about 90 percent. In Berlin the rate from 1875 to 1904 was somewhere between 14 and 39 percent, though for Germany as a whole intermarriage for Jewish men was about 17 percent and for Jewish women about 14 percent (1920). These numbers, reflecting conditions in an open society of sophisticated middle-class Europeans, are a preview of what would happen to American Jewry in the late twentieth century.21


Many intermarried Jews had no desire to desert; some who were ridden by guilt and eager to demonstrate their zeal were ardent in their loyalties. At any rate Jewry learned to live with intermarriage; it was a chronic malady. But with apostasy there was no compromise; except in the rarest of cases the apostate was despised. The devastating effects of defection are attested to in the lives of the Mordecais of North Carolina and Virginia; members of this family were torn between Judaism and Christianity. Reproaching her daughter, Julia, old Mrs. Jacob Mordecai said to her: “You will be baptised, and when I am brought by sorrow to the grave you will have the happiness of dancing on it and thinking you helped to lay me there.”


In 1918 there were 2,701 Jewish congregations in the United States

Jews were furious with those missionaries who attempted to win over their children through missionary schools where they received food, gifts, and instruction. Yet the activities of these evangelists were not without benefit to the Jewish community. Jewry was compelled to counter the incursions of these proselytizing schools by establishing Jewish free schools and by subsidizing impoverished families lest they turn to the Christians for aid, at a price. Nothing would convince the Jews that the Christian conversionist drive was not a rationalization for cultural and religious genocide. There was no doubt in their minds that no apostate was ever any good. Nevertheless, this did not deter them from preening themselves on the achievements of a Ricardo, a Palgrave, a Karl Marx, a D’-Israeli, despite the fact that they were positive that all apostates had sold their birthright for a mess of pottage. The American Jewish press pointed with glee to any convert in trouble. It recounted the story of a man who came to a small town and was rejected by the local Jewish community as a trouble maker. He then became a Christian, attacked his former coreligionists as cheats, secured a large amount of goods on credit, and decamped. What the Jews were trying to tell the Christians was: “Served you right.”

Very few Jews became converts, although again like intermarriage there is no way of knowing how many. Some of them adventured into Christianity only to return sooner or later to their people. Young Ludwig Lewisohn, living for a time in a small South Carolina town and eager to assimilate, attended the Methodist Sunday School and accepted Christianity as the gospel truth. In later years, as a prominent American writer, he became a zealous Jew and a fervent Zionist. Self-serving missionary statistics are suspect, yet the following report may be accurate. The Society for the Conversion of Jews which closed shop in 1878 said that in its thirty-nine years of activity prior to 1873, it had saved thirty-eight souls.

Far more significant for the study of apostasy is the fact that the Christians themselves rarely accepted converts wholeheartedly. For Christians these neophytes always remained Jews and this to a degree was the attitude to Christians who had one Jewish parent; even these Christian men and women were not accepted with good grace. That Jews who accepted Jesus were not to be trusted is an old English tradition. As early as 1634 John Ford, the writer, attacked the impostor Perkin Warbeck:

                        Your father was a Jew

                        Turn’d Christian merely to repair his miseries.

Benjamin Gratz’s daughter Anna, the charming and aristocratic Mrs. Thomas Clay of Lexington, Kentucky, was baptized at birth yet was frequently referred to by people of lesser social prestige as a “Jewess.” The dean of the law school at Trinity College in North Carolina was the Christian, Samuel Fox Mordecai. He was a candidate for the presidency of the school, an office to which he was not elected. Mordecai is the author of the following ironic verse to which he gave the title “Trinity’s Jewish President”:

                        With trite constructive platitude,

                             I now express my gratitude

                        To each and every person who

                             Heard my ‘naug’ral through.

                        And I am sure that my election

                             Shows great power of selection

                        In those who chose for president,

                             Mr. Mordecai, the Jew.

There can be no question that this Mordecai, great-grandson of an Orthodox Jew, never forgot that he was of Jewish origin, or would they never let him forget it? The founding of the Hebrew Christian Alliance in 1915 was the confession of these Christian fundamentalists who had come over from Judaism that they were happier among their own. Was it also an admission that they were not completely accepted by their Christian fellows?22



The typical Americans believed that the Jew was different, alien in some respects. Nevertheless they put few barriers in his path. Here in the United States for the first time in Diaspora history, the Jew was given a large measure of equality. Civically he was on the same plane as his fellow citizens. Gentiles may have wished that he would evidence less visibility, but they were ready to agree without equivocation that he was entitled to all constitutional rights and immunities. The Jew was respected for his business skills, his generosity to communal charities, his home life. Non-Jews were aware that the number of Jews in almshouses, workhouses, and prisons was minimal. They found this very commendable. Because of their culture, their educational background, their catholicity, rabbis were influential in the community. Most Americans knew the names and followed the careers of such Jews as Joseph Pulitzer, Albert A. Michelson, Louis D. Brandeis, and the earlier bankers, Belmont and Seligman. The Gentiles were not primarily concerned with Jews as Jews but as American citizens. They knew that Joseph Seligman gave charity to Christians as well as to Jews; the World reported that Christians were among the pallbearers at his funeral. With the passing of time Jews found more acceptance. By the 1880’s the American press was less crude, less malicious; the individual Jew had become a Respektsperson. In one western town during this decade Jews, Catholics, and Protestants worshipped together on a Thanksgiving day.23


One wonders if even highly intelligent Americans ever asked themselves what Jewish immigrants—indeed all immigrants—brought in with their baggage. Some non-Jews may have resented the fact that these Israelites were not field hands or common laborers, forgetting that a substantial minority were skilled craftsmen. German Jews, “Dutchmen,” were probably not valued for their cultural wares. People realized that Jews were proficient in commerce and trade, but they were prone to forget that they were literate. They had brought music to America in the pre-Civil War decades when this country could boast of little beyond songs and ballads. The relatively numerous Jews among the Forty-Eighters were versed in literature and philosophy, the sciences and the classics. Politically all Jews, natives or newcomers, were fervent republicans; for the émigrés the United States took the place of the Europe that had failed. It was their new love. The typical Jew of the industrial Gilded Age was set on making money, but his materialism was tempered with political idealism; he valued his inalienable rights. This is the man who, given a choice in the centennial year, commissioned a statue to religious liberty.24


Jews were very sensitive when their privileges were at stake; they had come from Central and Eastern Europe, lands where they were still politically disabled. They wanted full equality in all areas of the economy and religious practice. The Christian Sunday anti-work laws which masqueraded as police regulations annoyed them. Writing in 1850, a Forty-Eighter told a friend that if he wanted to sentence a man to death he would exile him for a Sunday to Puritan New Haven. Despite the emphasis on the machine and the natural sciences, practical matters, Americans did not deprecate the value of the social sciences; they sought more tolerance in religious matters, more balance, a larger degree of permissiveness. Enamored of the American system as they interpreted it, Jews saw no reason to accord special courtesies to any religious group: they believed that they had most to lose if there was any deviation from the spirit and the letter of the Constitution. As a dissenting minority, Jewry served as a goad to democracy and as a barometer of American egalitarianism.25


The general attitude of most Jews to the United States was a warm feeling of gratitude for the gift of citizenship. Political acceptance here was entrée into a unique world of religious liberty, intellectual opportunity, and economic benefits. Thankfulness was strongly tinged with an over-eagerness that was somewhat pathetic, but this is understandable, for behind the Jews lay more than a millennium of humiliating and oppressive decrees. This feeling of insecurity, this willingness to adapt to the new way of life was true of many other immigrants, not only of the Jews. The Jewish newcomer wanted to be friendly; he wanted to document his devotion to the United States by participating spiritedly in the life of the larger community; he wanted to be a good citizen. Hurt, but influenced by the negative stereotypes of himself as an uncouth foreigner, he wanted to be like his white Protestant neighbor.

Eager that his image be a good one, he wanted to stay out of the courts; congregations urged Jews not to litigate with one another; some synagogal authorities even compelled their members to come to them for the adjudication of intra-Jewish squabbles before resorting to the law. Following an eleemosynary tradition of their own they avoided the tax-supported charities and on the whole took care of their poor; low visibility in such matters was deemed expedient and a great virtue. The leaders told their people that the more they went to the synagog (church!) the more their Gentile neighbors would respect them. Jews were eager to conform to American religious mores as long as their own rights suffered no infringement. This desire to be well thought of led them to identify themselves with notable Jews who had little to do with Judaism itself. Status was very important to the immigrants and to the natives too. They wanted to shine in reflected glory. Thus that generation saw the rise of Spinoza societies and lodges; Jews were proud of men like Bernard M. Baruch.

In 1851 Isidore Bush compounded a formula for Jews, one that would win for them the esteem of their Gentile neighbors. They must help one another, avow themselves Jews, respect themselves. They must avoid peddling and the garment trade, venerate the Bible which means so much to their Christian neighbors, fight all encroachments on their rights as Americans, support the public schools, promote agriculture, and lend no money with land as collateral. This was quite a mélange. In some areas such as agriculture, peddling, and Bible reading he was altogether unrealistic; there is very little evidence to indicate that the nineteenth-century American Jews were moneylenders. Bush was presenting a code which in part reflected his experiences in his native Austria; as such it was applicable only in part to the United States.

Culturally the Jews were confronted by a triple problem: the reconciliation of three civilizations, the German, the Jewish, the American. Ultimately the German heritage was forgotten; in no small degree the Jewish tradition became the victim of western modernism; the American world predominated even for ardent Jews. Good Jews were about 90 percent American, 10 percent Jewish. Few of them, if any, went about their business muttering to themselves: “Go to! Thou art a Jew.” But no matter how determined the Children of Israel were to integrate they were equally determined to survive as Jews; and they did.26



America integrated the Jews, Americanized them; it gave individuals a chance to carve out notable careers. This land gave them a new language, a new vocabulary, new vocations; it opened new horizons of achievement. By 1905, when Jews celebrated the 250th anniversary of the founding of their first synagog on this soil, they had become an influential, affluent Jewry of well over a million. Most of this growth had occurred in the course of but one long generation. Jews were important in commerce, respected as public servants. Those who were well-integrated lived happily in the two worlds of America and Jewry; they were not driven to apologize for their religious origins or their way of life. Individuals and families of eminence were to leave their impress on the larger community. In 1918 Marcus M. Marks of New York City became the father of “daylight saving time” yet found time to further the most effective settlement house on the Lower East Side, the Educational Alliance. In tabulating its human resources around the year 1900 California Jewry could record an impressive list of physicians, surgeons, lawyers, university professors, artists, social scientists, regents of colleges, a metropolitan newspaper owner, a writer of novels, and dozens upon dozens of school teachers. Included among the Colorado citizens of note were a railroad entrepreneur, a politician, a town builder, a leading woman social worker, a United States Senator, physicians, rabbis, and department store owners.

The Fleishers of Philadelphia were a family of consequence. They built a great yam industry. One of the men was the publisher of the Japan Advertiser, the leading American newspaper in that country; another, Samuel Stuart Fleisher, was the founder of the Graphic Sketch Club; still another was an eminent penologist, and Edwin established the Symphony Club whose collection of more than 11,000 items was open to the use of the public. A banking family at its best is reflected in the career of Isaac N. Seligman, the son of the founder. Isaac was an artist, a civic reformer, a musician, a trustee of the New York Symphony and the Oratorio Society. In his college days he had been a member of the Columbia crew that defeated Harvard and Yale; in 1895 he became head of the Seligman banking house. The race is not always to the swift. Henry F. Lewith, a humble autodidact, a linotype operator and a proofreader on a Charleston newspaper, was the man who in 1913 became the driving force behind what was to be known as Be Kind to Animals Week. Largely through his initiative it became a national activity and dozens of cities erected public drinking fountains for horses.27


Would it have made any difference to American history if the Jew had not made his appearance on the American scene from 1841 to 1920? It is difficult to answer this question. He made his presence felt perceptibly in the small towns for there he was most frequently of the elite, an important figure in the commercial and political life of such communities. Nationally his appearance did make a difference in the garment and motion picture industry, in the development of American music, the stage, and some of the natural sciences. The influence of this alert, intelligent group was sensed clearly in the larger towns, primarily in New York City. Attempting to evaluate the impact of California Jews on the state in the year 1860, I. J. Benjamin wrote that they were important in trade, music, philanthropy, and in their support of public institutions. By the 1870’s and the 1880’s American Jews were more visible in cultural fields; this was an age when the country itself had begun to make impressive steps forward not only in industry but also in the arts and sciences. The year 1900 saw the flowering of German Jewry. By that time there was a number of good names in the world of music, drama, scholarship, education, journalism, engineering, art, science, and invention. There was no phase of the cultural life where Jews were altogether absent. The wealthy had begun to distinguish themselves as philanthropists. In commerce, banking, and light industry the Jews had made substantial advances from 1860 to 1920 although the country’s finance and industry were still almost completely controlled by Gentile natives.

Reinforced by mass immigration of the East Europeans the Jews after 1900 continued to make substantial progress wherever they turned. Their reservoirs of talent and skills had grown noticeably. Though in no sense dominant many American Jews were by 1920 prominent in the fields of commerce, law, social welfare, the physical and even the social sciences. A Jew had founded the American Federation of Labor; another had sat in Theodore Roosevelt’s cabinet; Brandeis had been called to the United States Supreme Court. Reform Jewry was particularly innovative in the area of liberal religion; in many of the large urban centers the temple rabbis had become “a light to the Gentiles.” Most of these American Jewish notables were of Central European origin; the precocious East European youngsters who were to win Nobel Prizes in the next generation were still at school.

Up to the year 1920 the chronological list of writers appended to the Oxford Companion to American Literature contains exceedingly few Jewish names. On this side of the Atlantic there were no Jewish names in belles lettres to match the European Heine, Auerbach, Disraeli, or Arthur Schnitzler; there were no important men in philosophy, no social theorists comparable to Karl Marx or Durkheim, no one in music like Meyerbeer, Offenbach, Halevy, or Gustav Mahler, no psychologist like Sigmund Freud. It may be countered, and quite correctly, that Europe’s Jews had enjoyed several generations of integration into secular culture, whereas native American Jews and their immigrant fathers and mothers had been exposed to a superior culture for only a few decades. The parents had no thorough academic training; they had spent their energies in making a living and becoming Americanized. It may also be countered that most parents of the older, the German migration, had put their children into trade, that the newer émigrés after 1880, the “Russians,” were busy struggling to survive in a completely alien milieu.

All this is true: in 1860 Jews constituted fewer than 1/2 of 1 percent of the people in the land; in 1880 less than 1 percent; in 1900, less than 1.5 percent; only by 1920 did they number a little over 3 percent. It is historically and sociologically noteworthy that the Jewish European petty bourgeois villagers were able to come to this new urban industrial world, withstand the shock of the secular threats to their sacrosanct traditions, and in a relatively few years not only fit into American society but even begin to make cultural contributions. There were already about 200 Jews persons who merited recognition in law, literature, the theatre, medicine, finance, trade, journalism, the graphic arts, and the rabbinate—listed in the Who’s Who of 1905. Years later the National Historical Publications Commission recommended the publication in some form of the papers of sixty-six notable Americans. Five—more than 7 percent were Jews who lived during the period, 1840-1920: Judah P. Benjamin, Samuel Gompers, Albert A. Michelson, Joseph Pulitzer, and Adolph S. Ochs. The first four were foreign born; the fifth was a native, son of an immigrant.28

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