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03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Jewish Liberation From The Ghetto: Excerpt From "Emancipation"

Michael Goldfarb
GlobalPost

An excerpt from Michael Goldfarb's new book, "Emancipation: How Liberating Europe's Jews from the Ghetto Led to Revolution and Renaissance."

No event since the end of World War II has had a longer and more difficult effect on international relations than the establishment of the State of Israel. The idea of a political state for Jews was a direct result of Jewish emancipation. It was first proposed by Moses Hess, a man forgotten by history.

Hess was a self-effacing man who opened doors for more energetic and determined leaders. He introduced Karl Marx to the term Communism. Marx in return dubbed him the "Communist Rabbi." Hess published "A Communist Credo" several years before Marx wrote the "Communist Manifesto." Marx "borrowed" the opening line of his world-shaking pamphlet from Hess. "A specter is haunting Europe -- the specter of Communism."

Moses Hess also opened the door for Theodore Herzl. The reason was simple: Twice during his lifetime, Jew hatred had bubbled up into bizarre international incidents in which the naked prejudice of a section of European society spilled out. In 1858, Edgardo Mortara, a Jewish child in Italy, was seized from his parents by Catholic Church authorities on the grounds that the boy's nanny, a semi-literate peasant, had secretly baptized him. The incident became an international cause celebre. And Hess decided something had to be done.

Moses Hess was convinced there was no possibility that Jews could ever live safely among Europeans. There would always be a large element in the European population whose worldview was founded on Jew hatred. Hess had agitiated for political systems based on universal theories of the brotherhood of man. Workers of all the world were supposed to unite regardless of which country they lived in. Now he was beginning to doubt that such an internationalist view was correct.

Race science was an intellectual trend in 1862 and Hess was not immune to some of its ideas: There really were different national and racial characteristics among people. Hess believed the Jews were a nation and two millennia of diaspora had not changed their national characteristics. Until they were established in their own state they could never hope to be recognized as equals.

Hess published a book, "Rome and Jerusalem: the Last National Question." Some of what Hess prophesied in 1862 can make a modern reader gasp. "The German hates the Jewish religion less than the Jewish race; he objects less to the Jews' peculiar beliefs than to their peculiar noses." He sees clearly where this hatred is leading: "The race war must first be fought out and definitely settled before social and humane ideas became part and parcel of the German people." The Jews, he writes are a "nation which, having once acted as leaven of the social world, is destined to be resurrected with the rest of the civilized nations."

Then Hess steps back from prophecy to advocate a political solution to the dilemmas of emancipation: the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. The Jewish community, he points out, is reforming itself out of existence in Germany to obtain a civil equality that is not on offer. If there was a Jewish state, accepted as an equal member of the company of nations, they could have that citizenship and still live anywhere they liked, just as a Frenchman could live in England, if he chose.

He advocated buying up parcels of land in Palestine and resettling Jews there; not emancipated Jews from Western Europe but those of North Africa and Russia and Poland, places where emancipation had not occurred and where oppression, rather than prejudice, scarred lives. The new Jewish state would be a light to the nations showing them how to live in socialist harmony.

Over the centuries there had been occasional calls for re-establishing a Jewish state in Palestine, but they had been made by millennarian Protestants eager to live out the prophecies of Revelation. This was an entirely different concept. Hess proposed a modern secular Jewish state, not a religious one, a nation like any other.

Theodore Herzl was 2 years old at the time Hess wrote this book. Three decades later, working as a journalist in Paris, he covered another bizarre international incident caused by prejudice, the court martial of Alfred Dreyfus. Herzl's response to the Dreyfus case was identical to that of Hess to the earlier incidents of Jew hatred. But Herzl didn't just write about the need for a Jewish state. He set up the Zionist movement.

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