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The Challenge to Jewish History

Presidential Addresses
delivered before the Jewish Historical Society of England,
October 20, 1936, and January 11, 1938


In the course of the last few years, as is obvious to all who follow current tendencies in thought and politics, the position of historical studies in the world has changed. They were formerly considered a scholastic backwater, to be explored by the ordinary reader only for occasional diversion, or, in rare cases, inspiration. But recent events have abolished the time-honoured conception of the "cloistered student." It is precisely the student and the scholar (as the Germans in particular discovered long ago) who can mould the conceptions of the rising generation, and thereby of a nation as a whole and it is in the universities, the schools and the academies that the present struggle between freedom and obscurantism, liberty and authority, more
especially centres.

History is in the forefront of the struggle : and Jewish history above all. Down to the last century the attack against us was on a theological basis. We were informed that our beliefs, our religious practices, our infidelities, disqualified us from forming part of the political or economic organisation of the Christian state, and marked us off as fit subjects for persecution and attack. This was followed, of course, by the corollary that any Jew who abandoned his ancestral faith was relieved immediately and completely from the discrimina? tion which he had previously suffered. But the decay of religious feel? ing on both sides during the course of the past couple of generations has altered this. On the one hand, it is impossible, in this ostensibly tolerant world, to base restrictions (as was formerly the case) on sectarian grounds. On the other hand, the weakening of Jewish allegiance brought into existence a large category of persons against whom anti-Semitism could no longer express itself in religious terms. The basis of the attack therefore altered, from religion to race; and its justification, from theology to history. We are no longer told that those who believe as we do can have no part in a Christian state, but that there is something in our blood which renders us, ipso facto, bad citizens. It is alleged that the part we have played in European life has from the outset been disruptive and deleterious: that our contributions to modern culture have in every case been corrosive and harmful: that we have been, and are, fighting a deliberate battle for the overthrow of the best values in the so-called " Aryan " civilisation : that this poison is inherent in our blood, and cannot be modified or thrown off, either by formal change of religious allegiance or by im? memorial length of association with the traditions of any particular country.

The campaign against us, on these lines, is not a sporadic one. It is the whole keynote of the new anti-Semitism. It is the official

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