RABBI ZEVI ASHKENAZI AND HIS FAMILY IN LONDON. A CONTRIBUTION TO THE HISTORY OF THE GERMAN COMMUNITY IN LONDON,

Articles Image

"Say not the former days were better than these." Modern Jewish history confirms the truth of the preacher's counsel (Eccles. vii. 10). Though many saddening phenomena in latter-day Jewish communal life might easily tempt one to play the part of a laudator temporis peracti, & careful scrutiny of history will induce a juster attitude towards the present.

Almost entirely untouched by the duties and interests that stirred the peoples that surrounded them, forced, to some extent, into a vegetative condition, the Ghetto, nevertheless, amidst a history which seemed only to exist for others, possessed a historical life of its own, while the masses of the people were absorbed by the anxiety to earn their daily bread, and by the eager ambition to amass wealth. While high credit must be given to the Talmud for occupying and stimulat? ing the Jewish intellect, we must not overlook the immense superfluity of force in the Ghetto which called for exercise.

Play has usually been regarded as an outlet for unused energies, satisfying the idler's instinctive longing for activity. Here, in the Ghetto, the superabundance of energies found its outlet in paying with everything which engaged the larger world outside in grim earnest. The Ghetto played at power, at politics, at high dignities. The lust for rule and authority, implanted in human nature, sought a field for exercise in the Judengasse. The Ghetto had also its tyrants. If there were no exciting political questions to stir men's minds, disputes had to be created which wTould inflame the community and split it into parties. Now it was the Rabbi, now the Precentor, whose appointment or dismissal formed the shibboleth of the congregation. Especially did Capital attempt to assert within the community that authority which it did not dare to claim without, and sought in the Judengasse honours denied it in the market-place. Among a people outcast and without rights, there arose questions of authority and class interests as in a powerful State. Scholarship strove with wealth for supremacy; Rabbinical prerogative endeavoured to maintain its ground against the arbitrariness of the Parnassim ; local patriotism con? flicted with universal cosmopolitanism. Even though they were only storms in a teacup, the eddying drops were agitated no less wildly. These petty controversies as to the seat of petty authority had their dark shadows, no less than their more pretentious counterparts in. the big world outside. All the noisome brood of base passions?hypo? crisy, treachery, corruption, bribery, rose to the surface. Bloodless were the combats, yet many were the wounded and slain. In the light of the great events outside, the tumult within the Ghetto may have sounded like stage-thunder, and the blinding flashes of lightning have seemed stage-fire; but the human beings who were exposed to the pitiless storm felt its shocks as agonising realities. In regard to the main features of this sketch, the members of the Jewish community of London formed no exception to their co-religionists elsewhere. Though so recently formed, though the circumstances under which its new

Become a member to read the full article
Become a member today

£7

24 hour access to JHSE online resources

Instant access to over 700 articles View the original articles as a PDF
Learn More

£40

Annual JHSE Membership

Members are entitled to a free copy of the latest Jewish Historical Studies, free access to our online resources and associate membership of the UCL Library in London.  In addition, they receive the JHSE Newsletter, special offers on books for sale and pay less to attend our series of lectures and other public events.
Learn More

£20

Student Membership

The JHSE want to encourage students to engage with Jewish history.  Apply for a Student Membership with your university email account and once we have verified your status you will soon have all the benefits of being a full JHSE member.
Learn More

£80

Associate your Institution with the JHSE

Give your members access to JHSE online resources and special offers on book sales.  Use your institutional email account when applying, and once your status is verified we will explain the scheme.  Preferred payment is by credit or debit card.
Learn More
0

Your Cart