Page images

Mohammedan rapacity. Though the great majority of those in Palestine are poor and dependent, some may be found there in comfortable circumstances, or even rich; but their wealth appears to those only who gain their intimacy. Dr. Richardson, an English traveller, says, "In going to visit a respectable Jew in the Holy City, it is a common thing to pass to his house over a ruined foreground, and up an awkward outside stair, constructed of rough, unpolished stones, that totter under the foot; but it improves as you ascend, and at the top has a respectable appearance, as it ends in an agreeable platform in front of the house. On entering the house itself, it is found to be clean and well furnished; the sofas are covered with Persian carpets, and the people seem happy to see you." The synagogues in Jerusalem are, from prudential motives, both small and mean. A Jew dares not set foot within the Holy Sepulchre. When, in 1832, the Egyptian troops occupied Palestine, the Jews did not find their condition in the least improved. The common soldier made the best Jew sweep the streets, or perform any menial office.

The accounts received four years ago, of grievous cruelties practised upon the Jews at Damascus and Rhodes, though they excited, especially in Great Britain, unusual sympathy, exhibited instances of suffering by no means extraordinary. In 1823, all the Jews of Damascus, suspected of the crime of having wealth, were thrown into prison, and redeemed their lives only by an enormous payment. In February, 1840, Father Thomaso, a priest, who practised medicine, disappeared, as well as his servant. Certain Turks and Greeks affirmed, that both had been seen in the Jewish quarter the evening before. A Jewish barber was at once seized, carried before the Pacha, and examined under the most dreadful tortures. For a while he protested utter ignorance; but at length, in the extremity of his suffering, at the suggestion of some Greeks standing by, he denounced the seven wealthiest men in the city; declaring, that they had promised him eight hundred piastres, if he would sacrifice the priest, so that they might have his blood for the unleavened bread; which he had refused to do. The Pacha, in a great rage, sent for the seven Jews, and subjected them, notwithstanding their protestations of innocence, to the bastinado and other extreme cruelties, keeping them

on their feet fifty hours, without food or sleep. He then sent for the three chief rabbins, and put them to the torture, requiring them to say if they used blood for the paschal bread. Of course, they denied the charge. The Pacha then sent to the college of children, put all the inmates in prison, loaded them with chains, forbade their parents to visit them, and fed them on a small allowance of bread and water, in hopes of thus extorting from the parents a confession. A Jew who ventured to expostulate with the Pacha, and to represent the absurdity of such an accusation and such proceedings, was at once beaten to death. The Pacha then caused the houses of the accused to be razed to their foundations; and finding no trace of the two persons who had disappeared, he threw the prisoners into a sewer beneath the palace. No longer able to endure such torments, they admitted the truth of the charge. One of them said the blood had been put into a bottle and committed to another of their number; this one, however, denied all knowledge of it, until a thousand strokes with rods compelled him to say he had put the bottle into a certain closet. Of course, it could not be found; but in the closet was a large sum of gold, which the Jew had vainly hoped would save him. Meantime, an astrologer declared he had discovered by his art, that the accused were the murderers of the priest, and five others, whom he named, of the servant. Three of the latter fled before they could be apprehended. Some of the others embraced Islamism and were released. The French consul at Damascus was accused of being one of the chief instigators of these persecutions; but other representatives of different European powers interfered, and the Jews of London sent a commission to remonstrate with the Sultan. Mehemet Ali soon issued orders forbidding further persecution until the matter could be fairly investigated; and when released from the fear of torture, those who had confessed retracted their admission, the barber declaring that they had threatened to torture him to death unless he confessed, and had promised him safety if he would denounce the murderers.

In the island of Rhodes, about the same time, the Christians accused the Jews of sacrificing a child ten years old. Here, again, certain European consuls were said to have been the instigators. Witnesses were found to affirm, that a Greek child had been seen following a Jew on the public 30 No. 127.


highway. The Jew was arrested, thrown into chains, and bastinadoed; his nostrils were pierced with iron, heated stones placed on his head, and a heavy weight on his heart. His persecutors endeavoured to induce him to denounce the chief rabbi; and, at last, he accused several Jews, though not the rabbi. As many of these as could be found were seized, and subjected to similar tortures, under which seven persons suffered until almost deprived of life. The accused, or some of them, were afterwards taken to Constantinople for trial, and their innocence fully established; and the Jewish commission from London, with others who interested themselves for the persecuted people, succeeded in obtaining a firman, dated Nov. 6th, 1840, putting an end to these cruelties both in Damascus and the island of Rhodes, and declaring that the Jews should be protected, and should enjoy the same rights as other nations dependent on the Porte.

These accumulated statements of cruelties practised upon the Jews, especially in Mohammedan countries, if taken by themselves, would undoubtedly give an exaggerated idea of their sufferings. It must be recollected, that vast numbers of them are too poor in reality, and many others too poor in appearance, to tempt cupidity; that their oppressors treat them with some degree of leniency, as they do the brutes subjected to their service, from motives of self-interest; that the rulers often protect them from the malice of the people, in order that their own revenues may not suffer; that the natural feelings of humanity, quite extinct in no human breast, unnerve the arm of persecution; and that the necessary influence and ready artifices of a race preeminently shrewd and intelligent save them from many imminent perils.

The darkest pages of history are those which exhibit Christianity, so called, as a persecuting religion. Before the epoch of the Reformation, bigotry, clothed with ecclesiastical power, was generally leagued with political tyranny and popular malice to oppress and destroy the Jews. To attempt to convert them to the Christian faith without violence was considered by most Roman Catholics as a wholly chimerical scheme, and the undoubted fact of their rejection by God, even more than the dreaded anathemas of the Church, seemed to place them beyond the pale of human sympathies.

Better prospects than at any period of their dispersion brightened before them with the dawn of the Reformation. The principles of that mighty change extended to all the interests of humanity, temporal as well as eternal; and planted the seeds both of religious and political regeneration. The hearts of the Reformers were moved with compassion towards the ancient people of God; and they advocated milder plans than those which had usually been adopted, to bring them over to the Christian faith. They discountenanced and condemned the system of wholesale plunder, from which, under the garb of zeal for the Catholic church, princes and prelates had for ages drawn a bloody revenue. But a period of lethargy among Christians in regard both to the civil and religious state of this people-a period of returning gloom-soon succeeded; and the French Revolution, itself one of the mighty effects of a reformation which necessarily emancipated human error and passion, at the same time with truth and reason, brought the first blessings of permanent civil freedom to any of the Jews of Europe. Previously, however, in this country, where, indeed, there were but few of that nation to enjoy the boon, the Constitution of the federal government had extended its equal rights to all but the colored race, without distinction of Jew or Gentile, Christian or infidel; and still earlier, the same principles had prevailed in the policy of most of the individual States. The constitutions of Massachusetts, Maryland,† and North Carolina ‡ did, indeed, require belief in the Christian religion as a qualification for public office; but they left open to Jew as well as Christian every other field of competition and enterprise. Even the first Hebrew settlers under the Dutch government of New Amsterdam were allowed to acquire a right in the soil; and they were not deprived of this privilege, when the English succeeded to power. There is no country in the world, where the Jews, with political equality entire, as for the most part it is, enjoy so much freedom from popular prejudice, suspicion, and annoyance, and all the ordinary trials of their exile, as in the United States.

But we return to Europe. In the year 1780, the Emperor Joseph, sometimes called, on account of his liberal views and singular zeal for reformation, the "harbinger of the

Chap. VI., Art. 1.

t Sect. 55.

+ Sect. 32.

French Revolution," as soon as he attained full dominion over the hereditary possessions of the House of Austria, relieved the Jews within his territory from many of their burdens. The infidel philosophers and politicians of that age at first opposed their emancipation, because of the Jews' testimony for the truth; but as free principles advanced, or rather, when they had degenerated into a licentiousness that aimed at levelling all distinctions, such malice yielded to the policy of the day, and successive relaxations of the French laws, in 1784 and 1788, were followed, in 1790 and 1791, by a decree of the National Assembly, in answer to memorials from the Jews, granting them the full rights of citizenship. Five years later, a similar enactment was made in Holland.

The performance of Racine's tragedy of "Esther" is said to have excited Napoleon's sympathy for the Jews; and he intended at once to improve their condition, and win them to his own interests. In 1806, their usurious practices led to complaint, and serious question, whether their rights, under the decree of 1791, should not be withdrawn. Whereupon, the emperor convened at Paris an assembly of the principal French Jews, to whom he proposed questions respecting their opinions and practices, with measures for establishing their brethren throughout the kingdom in honest and useful professions. The questions were answered, for the most part, to the satisfaction of the emperor; and he called a grand sanhedrim of seventy-one members, to convert the doctrinal explanations of the first assembly into authoritative decrees; hoping that the Jews out of the kingdom, also, would send representatives, and thus Paris would be made the centre of a powerful influence to unite and control the Jews throughout the world. The sanhedrim assembled at Paris in 1807, a truly venerable body. A few foreign deputies attended; but its authority has never been recognized out of France, nor by all in that country; where, however, it seems to have been productive of benefit, in turning many Jews from dishonest and sordid to respectable and useful employments. Indeed, the decrees of this assembly contained a submissive renunciation of many firm Judaic principles. They declared, that France was the only "fatherland" of the French Jews, that intermarriage with Christians was lawful, and that no trades were prohibited.


« PreviousContinue »