“What is needed is the leaven—what is needed is the seed of fire. The heritage of Israel is beating in the pulses of millions; it lives in their veins as a power without understanding, like the morning exultation of herds; it is the inborn half of memory, moving as in a dream among writings on the walls, which it sees dimly but cannot divide into speech.… Who says that the history and literature of our race are dead? Are they not as living as the history and literature of Greece and Rome…? These were an inheritance dug from the tomb. Ours is an inheritance that has never ceased to quiver in millions of human frames.”
George Eliot, Daniel Deronda (1876)
A historical leitmotif as eternal as human folly itself is that when Jews pretend not to be Jews, the only long-term outcome is catastrophe.
This is hardly to say that it is forbidden for Jews to learn the languages, use the technology, and obey the secular laws of the nations in which they are resident. Instead, it is answering “I am a Greek”—or “I am a comrade like you”—when asked “Are you a Jew?” which assures future disaster.
Acculturation vs. Assimilation
Throughout history, Jews have been faced with the fundamental human conundrum of how to live in a world in which they are perennial strangers. After all, obstinate, intransigent insularity is not always a virtue, let alone helpful.
As Jews streamed out of the ghettos torn down by benevolent Napoleonic decree, their new-found and well-earned freedom also unleashed the throbbing Judenschmerz (“Jewish pain”) which afflicted so many nineteenth-century European Jews. The natural human urge to be accepted as full citizens of the wider society seized Jews across the Western world, most famously the poet Heinrich Heine. Medieval Christian hatred for Jewish particularism—not to mention Jewish particularism itself—was what had relegated Jews to the ghettos in the first place. It was universalism, both political and spiritual, which had freed the Jews. Therefore, universalism was, as Heine wrote in speaking of his nominal conversion to Christianity, “the admission ticket to European civilization.”
Yet, indeed, Jewish tradition is defined by particularism. From idolatry down to tattoos, Judaism forbids much of the outer world’s trappings. Furthermore, Judaism is far more than just a religion. “Judaism,” as Alan Dershowitz writes in his book The Case for Peace, “is a civilization that began as a religion” (p. 32). In other words, “Judaism” is like a button with a pull-down menu on a website, including the protruding list of
Religion—apart from alphabetical position—is only “last” on this list because it is the seed from which all the others germinate. Yet, a plant is not only its roots. An infection which enters through the farthest leaves can poison an entire tree if left untreated or unpruned. Judaism is not simply a corpus of books which can be left in a rabbinic library and divorced from life. Whether a Jew is Charedi or an atheist, it is an undeniable fact that these nine aspects of Jewishness form a self-contained solar system of planets which, like the bodies which orbit our Sun, make up a whole.
In the realm of politics, this means that Jews, put bluntly, are not in need of the nations’ failed ideas. This is to say that Judaism, while open-minded and welcoming, is an entity unto itself, and does not require fundamental transformation.
This does not mean that Judaism is required to exist in a vacuum. Particularism should never be confused with Nation of Islam-style separatism. One way to put it is the difference between acculturation and assimilation.
To acculturate is to responsibly absorb those aspects of the host culture which are non-threatening to one’s particularism, or at least to admire what may even be t’reif with a knowledge that it is t’reif in the first place. One pledges allegiance to the host society, abides by its statutes, becomes educated in its culture, and is able to enjoy what one can. One can even admire the exquisite art of the pagan ancient world in a museum so long as one knows full well that such paintings and statues are but lifeless things of wood and stone. One discriminates between what is holy and what is not, and has the knowledge and maturity to know avodah zarah when it presents itself.
To assimilate is completely different. In a Jewish context, assimilation is the explicit rejection of one’s discriminating faculties. There is no difference between what is holy and unholy. The many gods of the past and present—celebrities and politicians included—are not mortal or dead, but ever-living deities. The Jewish people—with their culture, ethnicity, geography, history, language, law, nationhood, philosophy, and religion—first became a people when God “married” them with the Covenant of Sinai. God proclaimed that His “bride” would love no other from that day to this, and He would refrain likewise. Assimilation is the rejection of God’s embrace and a divinely inspired heritage which has miraculously survived century after century of typically lethal threats to its survival.
Jews, therefore, have a responsibility to preserve that unique civilization. And, in doing so, have the discernment and wisdom to learn from history’s lessons. One of the most important lessons is the disaster of assimilation into the fraudulent tolerance of secular leftist ideology.
Judaism vs. Socialism
The profound social upheavals of the eighteenth century’s final years laid before Western European Jews their first chance to grapple with the choice between acculturation and assimilation. It was partially for assimilation into this new, post-Biblical world of “universal” morality that Heine reluctantly bought his admission ticket in 1825. And there was a new political force circling Europe: socialism.
“Judaism,” however, “is not communism,” wrote the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in a commentary to Parashat Kedoshim in the Book of Va-Yik’ra (Leviticus):
The concept of equality we find in the Torah specifically and Judaism generally is not an equality of wealth.… Nor is it an equality of power: Judaism is not anarchy. It is fundamentally an equality of dignity. We are all equal citizens in the nation whose sovereign is God.
The piteous irony lost on many Jews over the past two centuries is that Sacks’ sage words and the great literati of socialism are in complete agreement on this point in particular.
Most European anti-capitalism was drenched in anti-Jewish bigotry from its genesis in the Middle Ages. In the lands of Akh’kenaz (today’s central Germany and northern France), market economics had always been deeply and derisively associated with Jews. Jewish communities were mostly situated in towns, as owning and working farmland was sometimes forbidden and always impractical given the constant danger of expulsion. Pressed by Church decree into money-lending, banking, and trading within largely agrarian societies, Jews became synonymous in many envious Christians’ minds with the idea of profit without labor. We take it for granted today that most vendors buy inventory which they did not grow or craft and sell it for a profit, but, prior to the nineteenth century, most Europeans’ contact with trade was through selling surplus crops or crafted objects produced with their own physical toil. From their perspective, the most noticeable exceptions to this rule were the people the Church had raised them to damn as their savior’s murderers and the seed of the Father of Lies.
It is no surprise, then, that the coming of the Age of Enlightenment, out of whose utopian ideals socialism arose, at best, proved a disappointment. In Germany especially, the “new” epoch which so many Jews, like the socialist Heine himself, hoped would free them from medieval hatreds wasted little pity on them. In his classic study Wagner: Race and Revolution, the late scholar of anti-Semitism Paul Lawrence Rose (1944–2014) demonstrates the sad truth that almost nothing had changed for the better by Heine’s time:
In this revolutionary faith, as in the old Christian one that it was superseding, the Jews played a crucial symbolic role. The Jews represented, not only in theory but in real life, precisely that enslavement of the human spirit from which the German Revolution promised redemption. The Jews were the epitome of unfree mankind, bound to fearful, self-interested, irrational obedience to a God whom they could not understand…. [Immanuel] Kant dismissed Judaism as ‘not really a religion at all, but merely a union of a number of people’…. The fastidiously critical philosopher could, when it came to the subject of the Jews, write without any critical compunction what has been called the most antisemitic page in world literature: ‘A nation of usurers… bound together by a superstition… outwitting the people amongst whom they find shelter… A whole nation of pure merchants as non-productive members of society… They make the slogan “let the buyer beware” their highest principle in their dealings with us.’p. 7.
Indeed, Kantian “liberalism”—which some scholars recognize as indispensable to later socialist doctrine—was a rich well of anti-Jewish prejudice as antique and reactionary as every idea it sought to supplant. Kantian philosopher Jakob Friedrich Fries (1773–1843) railed against the peril of Jewish assimilation and called for a return of the medieval laws mandating that Jews wear distinguishing badges on their clothing. As Rose documents, his 1816 polemic On the Danger Posed by the Jews to German Well-Being and Character demanded the “extermination of this Jewish commercial caste” (p. 13). Through his professorship at the University of Jena, Fries later helped instigate the anti-Semitic “Hep-Hep” riots of 1819, a pogrom aimed at crushing Jewish demands for emancipation which spread across Germany for more than two months and even bled into Denmark and Poland.
Another passionately anti-Semitic Kantian was Fries’s mentor, proto-socialist Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814). A seemingly contradictory figure, who was both a revolutionary Jacobin and a founding father of German nationalism, Fichte held that “free” moral reasoning would liberate humanity from Jewish-imposed darkness. In his Closed Economic State (1800), he argued for an autarkic national community in which the state created perfect equality through price controls and cutting off foreign trade, a proposal which some recent scholarship suggests influenced Stalin’s policy of protectionist collectivization. Yet Fichte also wrote the Contribution to the Correct Understanding of the French Revolution. In this far-reaching, “liberal” treatise, he claimed that the Germans, the true chosen people, had been “crucified” by the Jews, whom he caricatured (with a straight pen) as European man’s chief oppressor and the most primitive of political reactionaries. He also, as Rose quotes him, “joked” that, “As to giving them civil rights, I see no way other than that of some night cutting off their heads and attaching in their place others in which there is not a single Jewish idea.” This he wrote in 1793, the year of the guillotine. Fichte’s ghoulish fantasy, Rose believes, greatly amused Hitler, who remarked “in Mein Kampf that holding down several thousand of the chosen people’s heads under poison gas in World War I might have made the war worthwhile” (p. 9).
With the Industrial Revolution—a relatively late-comer to the areas in which most European Jews lived—and all its associated traumas, demonization of Jews in the name of the swelling urban poor quarters grew louder and louder. Jewish factory owners, it was claimed, were the ones most responsible for working honest former peasants to death while they lived in luxury, and Jewish merchants sold near-worthless goods for far more than their true price. Perhaps no strain of socialism would do more to spread such conspiracy theories throughout the century of emancipation and beyond than Marxist socialism.
Marx—in contrast to his friend Heine’s post-baptismal regret and lifelong identity crisis—showed no ambivalence in repudiating and slandering his Jewish origins to the uttermost. Arguably influenced somewhat by Fichte—indeed, Marxists.org proudly hosts some of his writings—and very much so by Kant, Marx, born to a family of converted Jews, “emancipated” himself from his Jewishness by championing his own ideology’s inherent anti-Semitism. What is taught in neither universities nor Hebrew schools today is that Marx was himself a virulent racist who lavished upon his (former) fellow Jews nothing less than the most maniacal contempt. In his 1843 screed “On the Jewish Question,” Marx declared “Money” to be “the jealous god Israel”; that “the monotheism of the Jew” is a squalid, idolatrous tyranny “which makes even the lavatory an object of divine law”; the “Jewish religion” rejects “man as an end in himself”; “Huckstering” is the Jew’s “worldly religion”; and that, in the end, “the emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism.” Marx himself unmistakably characterizes the Jewish people as a whole—not just “capitalists”—as the supreme masterminds of economic injustice. In a bizarre and venomous passage in Das Kapital, he writes that “The capitalist knows that all commodities, however scurvy they may look, or however badly they may smell, are in faith and in truth money, inwardly circumcised Jews, and what is more, a wonderful means whereby out of money to make more money.”
If Jews, as Marx believed, are themselves the heart of the bourgeoisie, and said bourgeoisie must be overthrown by any and all means—violent revolution both included and prescribed—then the only possible conclusion, truly, is the unthinkable. In a nightmarish allusion to events in his native Germany precisely one century after “On the Jewish Question,” Marx’s vision of utopia (like Fries’s before him) cannot logically be described as anything less than a world without Jews.
Despite Marx’s central (and subsequently airbrushed) place in the history of secular anti-Semitism, a small but vociferous group of European Jews beset with Judenschmerz found themselves drawn to his message of an atheist renaissance in which “all hitherto existing society” was erased. Exploited and oppressed for centuries, Jews frustrated with the burden of being Jewish saw in Marxism an extraordinary opportunity: a revolution against the established European order which had so degraded them, and an escape from the ranks of their despised people.
Having fled the clutches of their religious heritage, many Jewish Marxists imitated their role model and set about destroying any connection to their own heritage. As Natan Sharansky—perhaps the most famous and heroic Jewish victim of Marx’s political delusions—wrote with Gil Troy in Tablet in 2017:
Those Jews who wanted to join the global communist revolution to change the world felt that they had to prove themselves by denouncing their people still living in their shtetls, their small, cloistered Jewish communities. One archetypal such Jewish radical was the German Marxist Rosa Luxemburg. Swept up by what we could call the critical class theory of her day, seeing the entire world through the Marxian lens of class struggle in the hope of bringing equality to all, Luxemburg, like many Jews of her day, was happy to jettison her Jewish particularism to fulfill her universal vision.
…Some radicals even deemed the pogroms and other Jew-bashing outbursts necessary chapters in the “class struggle”—the violent birth of a new and better world.
Luxemburg—most infamous for her unironic maxim of “socialism or barbarism”—cruelly denounced her own Jewishness to the point of refusing to pity Jewish victims of both communist and tsarist pogroms. “I have no room in my heart for Jewish suffering,” Luxemburg snarled to a somewhat less self-loathing friend in 1917. “Why do you pester me with Jewish troubles? I feel closer to the wretched victims of the rubber plantations of Putumayo or the Negroes in Africa.… I have no separate corner in my heart for the ghetto.” Luxemburg’s zeal soon proved as suicidal in practice as it was in theory. During the communist uprising against the post-war German government in 1919, she would be captured, tortured, and murdered by members of the government-backed Freikorps, a paramilitary gang of re-mobilized veterans who believed that traitorous Jews like her had sealed Germany’s defeat in the Great War. Many Freikorps paramilitaries would later join the National Socialist German Workers Party, and, 14 years later, eventually succeed in overthrowing the Weimar Republic where their Marxist rivals had failed. To them, Luxemburg’s indifference to “Jewish suffering” mattered for nothing.
Still, the greatest failure was the most obvious. Many Jews had ignored more than a century of warning signs. Socialist and “liberal” revolutionary philosophers had spent generations making clear that Jews as Jews were not welcome in their world-to-come. Their culture was degenerate and miserly; their ethnicity was racially poisonous; their current geographical residence should be rid of them; their history was one of just and deserved suffering; their language was embarrassing and bizarre; their laws were backward, primitive, morally repellant, idolatrous, and a present danger to their neighbors; their national identity, or lack thereof, was a threat to all others; their philosophy of life was, at best, irrelevant, at worst, asinine; and their religion, the very fount of their civilization, was obsolete, evil, and a menace to all mankind.
Even so, some Jews still felt compelled to prefer anti-Jewish socialism over Judaism anyway. In fact, even more nonsensically, some would, out of zeal for socialism, exactly contradict what socialists had been angrily disproving for a century: that socialism was Judaism. In later years, Jews like these, especially leftist rabbis from the Reform and Reconstructionist movements in the United States, sought to conflate the ethical values of Tanakh’ with counterfeit, communist ones. As if to justify their rejection of their own Jewishness to themselves, they maintained that their treason was in the service of the inheritance they had abandoned. Translated into Marxist language, the words of Amos and Isaiah become demands for “social justice” and wealth redistribution, tzedakah an omnipotent state’s responsibility to coercively “care” for the people, and tikun olam a mandate to remake the world in the image of one which could never be. It is true that the State of Israel was founded by utopian socialists, but Zionist socialism uniquely affirmed (however superficially) the holistic reality of Jewish civilization, even though it rejected the Jewish religion (a near miss of too great an importance to discuss at present).
Yet, not only had they blindly ignored the unmentionable truth that their own ideology was originally invented as a revolution against Judaism, socialist Jews had missed the main point. Why would all of socialism’s great minds have spent so much time degrading Judaism as the root of all evil if it was not a full-fledged civilization unto itself? Should Kant, Fichte, Fries, Marx, and all the others’ vicious, obsessive protestations have been for nothing? And did attempting to conform to them do Jews any good?
“Jewish” or not, Jews will always be hated
The natural Jewish crisis of faith which followed the Holocaust only intensified the question of whether there was any point in remaining Jewish. Though it was the very fact that Jews were indeed so successfully assimilated into Western European society that the “racial” menace they posed warranted their extermination, many who survived or lived through that age remained unsure. Some, though completely secular, embraced Zionism as a middle ground between pride in their identity and observance of Jewish religious law. Some changed their names and quadrupled down upon their assimilation. Some, beset by a Judenschmerz more crippling than ever before, attempted to change the very definition of Jewishness itself.
Perhaps the most tragic and fascinating individual example is of Jewish-born British writer Arthur Koestler (1905–1983). Koestler, a secular atheist, was a man of many ideologies, often contradictory. He was a passionate communist who felt the pre-war German Communist Party too moderate to effectively oppose the Nazis, yet became a resolute anti-communist once he realized the truth of Stalin’s terror. He reportedly bullied women with whom he committed adultery into having abortions and advocated for euthanasia while simultaneously opposing capital punishment. And he was a Zionist, but also wrote in his book Promise and Fulfillment that, in the Balfour Declaration, “one nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third” (p. 4). While not technically a leftist, crucially, the theme of his life seemed to be that, because he was a Jew, he could not fit into any consistent community or way of seeing the world. Therefore, it seems, being Jewish was the negative common denominator without which he could be free.
Thus, in his later years, he lent his mind to the problem which had made Theodor Herzl the founder of Zionism: how to solve anti-Semitism. Where, in a fit of open-minded desperation, Herzl had once suggested that all European Jews be baptized, Koestler went even further. In his 1976 book The Thirteenth Tribe, he put forth a then little-known hypothesis that Ashkenazi Jews like him were not the seed of Abraham but of a now-vanished tribe of semi-nomadic Turkic warriors from the Central Asian steppes called the Khazars. The Khazars, it is alleged, converted to some form of Judaism around the year 740 C.E., probably to strengthen their position as a buffer kingdom between the Christian northwest and Islamic south. Koestler claimed that, with the collapse of their empire in the tenth century—which, at its height, stretched between the Black and Aral Seas—the Khazars migrated west and eventually became European Jewry. The historical documentation for this claim is thin at best, the archaeological evidence confusing, and some scholars even believe (with good reason) that the Khazar conversion never happened at all. Similarly, almost no Turkic words are apparent in Yiddish (mostly a mix of medieval German and Hebrew), no Turkic elements (like the horse) appear in Ashkenazi Jewish culture, and, despite multiple attempts, no genetic evidence has been found to prove that Ashkenazi Jews bear any strong relation to Turkic Central Asians. In more recent years, DNA analysis has conclusively shown that Ashkenazi Jews, while possessing a small amount of non-Jewish European ancestry (enough to account for pale skin and so on), are directly and closely related not only to dark-skinned Jews from the Middle East and North Africa (whose Jewish pedigree has never been so questioned) but also to ancient Israelitic skeletal remains. Despite some questionably performed (and mendaciously exaggerated) research to the contrary, most studies indicate that Ashkenazi Jews have no significant connection to any Turkic populations, especially one which no longer exists.
Koestler’s intentions in writing The Thirteenth Tribe were not to denigrate his fellow Jews, as Marx had done in “On the Jewish Question.” Rather, his aim was to remove the classical reason for their victimhood. If, he believed, European Jews had no relation at all to the reviled “Pharisees” of the Christian Bible—the religious hatred which then morphed into the racial one—then the Western world would give a rational sigh and immediately renounce the age-old loathing into which it had poured so many centuries of energy.
Instead, the Khazar theory took on a life of its own. The book, dismissed by scholars at the time as hopelessly amateurish—National Review calling it “a work that has neither the value of a well-executed honest piece of scholarship nor the emotional appeal of a polemic—only the earmarks of a poorly researched and hastily written book”—sadly became a banner for the very racists and Christian anti-Semites Koestler had meant to silence. White supremacists and Christian identitarians seized on the book, using it as proof not only that Jews have no claim to the land of Israel but of Revelation 3:9, which speaks of the “synagogue of Satan,” made up of they who “say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie.” It also failed to counter semi-secular anti-Semitic libels, like those of Jewish financial criminality, governmental control, political disloyalty, racism, and sexual perversion. Today, hordes of anti-Jewish racists—Christian, Muslim, and Nazi alike (not excluding “Dr.” Mahmoud Abbas and Bashar al-Assad)—breathlessly proclaim that “Ashke-nazis” are Khazars, and the “Khazarian Mafia” rules the world. This well-intentioned proposal is now the “revelation” which encodes Jewish deceitfulness into the human genome. Surely, this proves, as Mark Twain said, that “All things are mortal but the Jews.”
Identity mistakenly identified
All attempts at abandoning Jewish civilization in all its totality for something different have failed. Christians refused to trust that converted Jews were true Christians and burned them as marranos; Enlightenment luminaries saw Jews as backward primitives who retarded human progress; socialist and communist revolutionaries condemned Jews as thieves, reactionary tribalists, and capitalist puppet-masters; racial theorists cast Jews as diseased-spreading vermin who must be cleansed from the globe before they infected the “pure” races; and post-modern racist Internet trolls combine all of their predecessors’ delusions to produce the average person’s X feed.
Since the Second World War, Zionism has, appropriately and despicably, been one of the left’s favorite whipping boys. Conceived in socialist ideals, the new State of Israel nevertheless presented a major threat to leftist and Soviet interests. The communists used an ideologically engineered strain of Jewish cultural identity as a means of uniting various ethnic minorities under socialist authority (“socialist in content, national in form”), but Zionism was a 100-meter dash too far. As an affirmation of Jewish particularism, Zionism would rouse Jews within the communist empire to self-determination; but, far more intolerably, it was a re-establishment of Jewish civilization, sovereign and total. Total, too, was the age-old socialist logic loop: immutable Jewish identity barred Jews from ever being true leftists, but Jews could not be allowed their full identity, even abroad, because their sense of identity would destroy socialism.
A major milestone in the saga of Stalin’s descent into anti-Semitic madness was the knowledge that Polina Zhyemchuzhina, his (once) trusted foreign minister Vyachyeslav Molotov’s Jewish wife, held Zionist sympathies and enjoyed warm relations with Golda Meir. Having long hated and distrusted her, Stalin led the Politbyuro in expelling Zhyemchuzhina from the party, a denunciation from which a grief-stricken Molotov abstained. In early 1949, she was arrested by the NKVD and sentenced to the Gulag, from which she, a life-long and loyal communist, was only released after Stalin’s death in 1953. Perhaps she, like so many, would eventually have been disgraced and exiled anyway, but this, undoubtedly, was because she was an unforgivably proud Jew.
Jews from Heine to Marx to Koestler have tried to be everything they are not: Christians, “enlightened” Europeans, socialists, “citizens of the world”—even Khazars. It has only brought them ruin: assimilation never pleases anyone. As in the play Leopoldstadt, despite being mostly baptized, Tom Stoppard’s irreligious family of semi-crypto-Jews are sent to Auschwitz and Dachau regardless.
Jews who have fully converted to the communist faith have embraced contemporary identity politics, not knowing that they were first popularized by none other than the man who sent them to the gas chambers. To Hitler, writes Jonah Goldberg in his masterpiece Liberal Fascism, “Jews were irredeemably Jews, no matter how well they spoke German. His allegiance, like that of all practitioners of identity politics, was to the iron cage of immutable identity” (p. 62). Leftist Jews in more recent decades thought that adoption of post-war CRT and DEI would create a niche in which they could be equal amongst “other” victimized groups who would mutually assist each other’s advancement. Instead, those groups betrayed them and supported their enemies. Whether anti-Semites espouse racial theory or not, Jews will always be Jews.
Jews have their own culture, ethnicity, geography, history, language, law, nationhood, philosophy, and religion. They can go to the opera, watch Seinfeld, salute the Stars and Stripes, and know their Rembrandts well, but they do not need the false salvation of “de-circumcision.” It is replacing the solution with the problem.