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Was Marx Jewish?

This otherwise only mildly interesting essay by Eric Hobsbawm on diaspora Jewry raises once again the issue of why Karl Marx is commonly considered to have been a Jew. My understanding is that Marx's parents converted to Christianity, and Marx was raised and educated as a Christian. Marx also expressed notoriously ignorant, prejudiced and hostile feelings towards Jews. Other than the fact that his parents were born Jewish, is there any logical reason that he is often claimed as a Jew? Did his family associate mostly with Jews, or otherwise raised him in a Jewish cultural milieu? For example, did he speak Yiddish in his parents' house? Despite his upbringing, did he consider himself to be Jewish? I'm serious about these questions.

As far as I can tell, anti-Semites like to claim Marx as a Jew because they want to blame the Jews for Communism. "Progressive" Jews also claim Marx, as a "Jewish" advocate of social justice. Also, some Jews take perhaps an odd pride in the idea that the supposed "three greatest thinkers" of modern times--Marx, Freud, and Einstein--were allegedly all Jews. And because halachah (Jewish law) doesn't recognize conversions, I suppose in that sense Marx was technically Jewish. But for all practical purposes, in the absence of other evidence, wouldn't it make sense to call a child raised in the Christian religion by Christian parents a Christian? [Edit: And wouldn't that make the adult Marx a lapsed Christian?] Not that it should really make any difference whether he was in fact Jewish or not. But I am genuinely puzzled by why otherwise careful writers would simply assert that Marx was Jewish without explanation.

UPDATE: According to the comments, Marx's mother wasn't Jewish in any sense of the word. So, really, Marx was LESS Jewish than, say, Barry Goldwater, who had a Jewish father who never converted, and who was, though raised as a Christian, was proud of the Jewish side of his family. I don't think anyone sane thought Barry Goldwater qualified as a Jew, though, so Marx clearly doesn't qualify.

Jim Lindgren (mail):
It's odd but I was just reading Marx on the Jews.

Paul Johnson has argued that Marx's anti-capitalism arose out of his hatred of Jews and his constant problems with moneylenders. Marx generalized his critique of Jewish capitalism to capitalism itself.

This passage nicely shows Marx's logic:

"Money is the jealous god of Israel, beside which no other god may exist. Money abases all the gods of mankind and changes them into commodities. Money is the self-sufficient value of all things. It has, therefore, deprived the whole world, both the human world and Nature, of their own proper value. Money is the alienated essence of man's work and existence: this essence dominates him and he worships it. The god of the Jews has been secularized and has become the god of the world."
Karl Marx, On the Jewish Questions, 1844.


Jim Lindgren
10.21.2005 1:28am
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Interesting. Who does and doesn't count (and for whom) as a Jew is complicated. Felix Mendelssohn comes to mind. His case is different from Marx's, because he was only baptized at age seven or so, and IIRC his father didn't become a Christian until some years even after that. But he grew up as a Christian, wrote a large amount of seemingly sincere Christian music (Elijah may be the better-known oratorio, but Paul came first!), and is yet still regarded as a Jewish composer — partly, of course, because he was specifically reviled as a Jewish composer.
10.21.2005 1:41am
Drewsil (mail):
There is such a concept as being ethnically jewish. This probably arises due to the isolation of the jewish gene pool propagated by the isolation (partly self imposed) of the jews in ghettos, as well as taboos against dating a nonjew. This went on for so long that many jews have superficial traits in common as well as some interesting genetic diseases.

I don't really think such racial jewishness is really pertinent or even indicative of anything in particular, but I do believe this is what most of the people you mention are reffering to.
10.21.2005 1:45am
Crane (mail):
I wonder how Marx was viewed by his contemporaries. Did ordinary Christians at the time look on Jews who converted as Christians like themselves, or did they continue to classify them with the group they were born into? If it was more common at the time to think of Jews as being a separate (and morally inferior) race, instead of just a (wrong) religious group, I can see how many Christians might have regarded Jewish converts as not much better than their former fellows.

Perhaps Marx was hostile toward Jews in part because he resented being treated like one by other Christians?
10.21.2005 1:46am
Troy H:
Let's be real clear here. Marx was, seeming from his "fruits" as we like to say -- a nominal Christian and thus not a Christian. I know the demographics, etc. but still not a Christian. Ditto those "Christians" who reviled Marx for his real or alleged "Jewishness".
10.21.2005 1:56am
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Drewsil, that's probably right. The fact that you can talk about "a secular Jew" or a "Jewish atheist" today and be understood, not met with the incredulity the phrases demand if taken literally, shows that the "ethnic" usage is old, very old. Certainly the Nazis were not especially interested in whether people of Jewish descent were or were not practicing the Jewish religion. Even in Inquisitorial Spain, where conversion was the official desideratum and was supposed to make everything right, marrano (converted-Jew) families remained under scrutiny for generations, IIRC.
10.21.2005 2:07am
Proud Generation Y Slacker:
Thus goes the old question of who exactly is a Jew. Is there a satisfactory answer? The distinction between Jewish religion and Jewish ethnicity has, for most Jews throughout history, been meaningless, but there have always been exceptions. With so many American Jews now completely secular or marrying non-Jews, it's becoming common to have only one or the other aspect. Benjamin Disraeli, probably the best-known example from the Victorian era, was a Christian baptized in the Church of England at birth, but he was proud to be a Jew. I guess Marx couldn't reconcile his ethnic heritage and his religious creed.
10.21.2005 2:21am
Proud Generation Y Slacker:
Michelle:

Even the Nazis made many, many exceptions for persons with one-half or less Jewish ancestry. Supposedly there were tens of thousands of German nationals, usually serving in the military, each with a Jewish parent,who received exemptions from the Nazi race laws and later, internment and genocide. Famous examples include Erhard Milch, whose father was Jewish, and General Heinrici, whose wife was half Jewish. I guess the point is that the definition of a Jew often depends on what you want it to be.
10.21.2005 2:36am
Steve:
There is absolutely a distinction between the ethnic issue and the religious issue. As a non-practicing Jew myself, my view has always been that you are whatever you consider yourself.
10.21.2005 2:41am
Buck Turgidson (mail):
David,
You are under the mistaken impression that the conversion to Christianity was a religious experience and somehow de-Judified Marx and his family. Certainly, by German standards--and standards of all European countries for most of the XIXth and XXth century, conversion did not somehow change Jews into non-Jews. A Jew was always an ethnic/racial label. A Jew could no more stop being a Jew by virtue of conversion than a black man could become white (in their eyes) by embracing the Catholic Church.

The second point I mentioned above refers to conversion as a social--assimilatory--experience that had nothing to do with religious beliefs. In fact, the net result for most Jewish "converts" in that period was complete secularization. In this, the Jews of mid-XIXth century differed from their predecessors only 25-50 years earlier. The Marx family, in which little Karl was raised, was considerably different, spiritually, from the Mendelssohn family that gave us Felix and Fanny. Mendelssohn's father--the philosopher and chormeister Moses Mendelssohn--converted to Lutheranism in the early XIXth century and adopted a Christian family name for his children--Bartholdy. The conversion was a purely pragmatic exerience for Moses--he remained a fundamentally Jewish philosopher, but it opened the doors to plum music positions for his children. So the paradox was of Moses, the father, a Jew, raising children who were Lutheran--by his choice.

The situation with Marx was even more difficult to explain from a religious perspective. His family, while nominally converting, made no effort to enculturate into the new religion. The function of conversion, in this case, was even more purely social--to demonstrate desire for assimilation--than it was for Moses Mendelssohn. The reason for this was a secularist socio-philosophical movement that swept through the Jewish community in Germany, Austria and Russia through the XIXth century. The adherents of the movement argued that the only way that Jews could be allowed full citizenship in their adopted countries was through complete and utter cultural assimilation. Religious conversion was a cultural and a pragmatic step, not one based on a change or desire of change in beliefs.

This may, in part, explain Karl Marx's neurosis when it came to his ethnic identity. It was one of the undersirable effects of the movement and one of many reasons why a secular counter-movement formed alongside the radical religious movements (Chabbad, etc.). The new secular movement became known as Zionism and it advocated full rights to be given to the Jews of Europe without cultural assimilation. Eventually, the movement transformed into the more familiar form of Zionism that also advocated first emigration to Palestine, then the formation of a separate Jewish state. It should be easy to recognize how the two secularist movements (largely affecting Germany, Austria and France) clashed with each other, as well as with religious authorities of Eastern Europe (Poland, Lithuania, Russia). In contrast, it was the Russian government, for example, that took assimilatory duties for the Jewish population, employing often draconian measures, including forcible removal of children from Jewish families, as well as an expanded military draft (earlier, Jews in Russian territories had been exempt form conscription).

Also note that this particular wave of conversions among Western European Jews was very different from an earlier one in Spain (and several smaller ones in other parts of Europe, including Germany). The earlier conversions--whether volutary or not--were based on an adopton of a new faith. The trouble was, that the neighbors often remained skeptical and suspicious both of the motives and the practice of the New Christians (hence the derogatory term Marranos). In 1492, converted Jews were slaughtered by Spanish mobs alongside those who remained steadfast. The Inquisition took care of a substantial number as well, ironically being led by scions from Jewish families that had converted earlier (usually following reports from neighbors and "friends").

When Jews migrated to other parts of Europe, notably the Netherlands and the British Isles, some remained Christian while others reverted to Judaism. A third group was so disillusioned by the whole process that they remained secular. To a large extent, this group was responsible for the secularization of Western European culture (among them was one Baruch/Benedict Spinoza). This is also one reason that the Nederlands ended religious tests for citizenship (although not for public office). The US was the first country to expand the Dutch innovation and to grant full citizenship to Jews, including the ability to hold public office.

A decent book on Jewish history would give a much better account than the one I attempted here.
10.21.2005 3:07am
CrazyTrain (mail):
As usual, David, you can't even get this right. Only Marx's father was Jewish, so in fact he was not haalchically Jewish. By the way, Halachah does "recognize conversions" such as Jewish converts. It also recognizes that Jews can leave and convert out of the religion.

Keep trying though.
10.21.2005 3:19am
Vladimir (mail):
A really helpful book by Jerry Muller is called "The Mind and the Market".

The chapter on Marx contains a summary biography and many quotations.

http://tinyurl.com/8u7g4
10.21.2005 3:30am
Bill (mail):
This thread underemphasizes that the most relevant thing about Marx's religious views was the athiesm at the center of his whole world view.

That said, Marxism has been interpreted in Christian terms by McIntyre ("Marxism and Christianity") and others ("liberation theology"). And, as the thread mentioned, secular Jews have also viewed Marx's thought in light of related traditions.

I think I remember having read that Marx's father's family was not only Jewish, but also had at least one rabbi in it. But I could be wrong there.
10.21.2005 4:15am
Emanuele Ottolenghi (mail) (www):
Marx's grandparents were devout Jews. His father converted for business reasons. Marx himself was baptised at age 6. As for the question of 'Who is a Jew' it depends who you ask. But as the Israeli Supreme Court stated in a 1962 decision on whether a Polish Catholic monk, a former Jew who converted during WW2, could be entitled to Israeli citizenship under Israel's Law of Return, the litmus test is what the average man on the street will think. And the shared opinion, in the view of the Court, was that a convert, especially one who is a priest for another religion, is DEFINITELY not a Jew. I suspect that same logic would apply to Karl Marx. So why is he considered a Jew? Mainly on account of his Jewish origins, which in modern anti-Semitism (racially based) count despite the personal convictions, the beliefs or even the formal statements of abjuration of the person in question. According to a racially based answer to the question 'Who is a Jew?' (and bear in mind that racial theories have been, fortunately, exposed as scientifically groundless long ago), Marx remains a Jew even if he is a convert who preaches anti-Semitism. According to common sense, Marx was not a Jew. He was an antisemite.
10.21.2005 7:01am
Eric:
Are you asking a 19th century German legal question or a historical question? I don't see the relevancy of your questions or arguments to the historical issues. Marx was somewhat Jewish. Jews and their descendents, however you want to define it were disproportionately involved in socialism and communism. It is meaningless to note this fact without reference to the factors that made those ideologies attractive to Jews in the 19th century, some of which are the same as the factors that made the ideologies attractive to non-Jews, but also including the discriminatory restrictions and duties that only Jews were subjected to of both a legal and extralegal nature.

At any rate you can't even blame Marx for communism, if you want to blame someone blame the Czars and associated absolute rulers who tried to crush all forms of dissent in such a way that the only recourse left was revolution.

This post is insufficent but it touches on the points I would like other posters to elaborate.
10.21.2005 7:08am
Frank Drackmann (mail):
What does Grouch Marx's ethnicity have to do with anything???
10.21.2005 9:26am
Jam (mail):
Let me throw this in the mix. There are historians that say there is evidence that Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus) may have been a Jew.
10.21.2005 9:34am
Richard Bellamy (mail):
I think this sums it up very well:


I'm Jewish. Count Basie's Jewish. Ray Charles is Jewish. Eddie Cantor is goyish. B'nai Brith is goyish. Haddassah, Jewish. To me, if you live in New York or any other big city, you are Jewish. It doesn't matter even if you're Catholic. If you live in New York, you're Jewish. If you live in Butte, Montana, you are going to be goyish even if you're Jewish. . . All Negroes are Jewish.


--Lenny Bruce (Jew and New Yorker)
10.21.2005 10:48am
Public_Defender:
Under at least some Protestant faiths, you cannot say that Marx was a Christian just because his parents were. A person is not a Christian unless he or she makes an affirmative decision to become one.

I don't know if Marx ever made such a decision.
10.21.2005 10:54am
Roach (mail) (www):
Does this matter. If you're born Jewish and are an atheist, you can make aliyah to Israel. If you're born Jewish and you convert to Christianity you cannot. If you're born Christian and convert to Judaism, you can.

What does this say to us?
10.21.2005 11:26am
Abdul:
As Groucho once said when told he couldn't swim at a WASPy club because he was jewish: "My son's only half Jewish, can he go in up to his knees?"
10.21.2005 11:43am
okozark (mail):
I still do not understand what is meant by "ethnically" Jewish or "racially" Jewish. These are rather archaic terms. No doubt Marx had a sense of residual Jewishness because of 19th century anti-semitism. I know Christians who qualify very easily as ethnic Christians---not because they are Greek Orthodox or Russian Orthodox, but because they self-identify as Christians minus the truly spiritual aspects of Christianity. I know Christians who are skeptical of the divinity of Jesus but who still identify as Christian. James Dobson would have a cow, but it seems to come down to self-identification. There is no real difference between being an ethnic Christian and being an ethnic Jew. After all, Morrocan Jews and Polish Jews are ethnic is some way, but they are certainly not the same ethnic group.
10.21.2005 12:52pm
Doc (mail):
I've always been fond of the old definition that says "A Jew is anyone who another Jew says is a Jew."

This definition asserts the communal, "group" nature of Jewish identity. That is, you cannot have a singular Jew.

I don't buy the argument that you are what you say you are (i.e., Marx is only Jewish if he considers himself Jewish) -- because our identities are not purely self-determined. (Others have some say in who we are, whether we like it or not.)

And I don't buy the either/or mentality that says "Marx was not a Jew; he was an anti-Semite." This suggests that Jews cannot be anti-Semites. This is ridiculous; Jewish history is full of what is known as "Jewish self-hatred." There are books written on the subject. The great American novelist Philip Roth is undeniably Jewish, but frequently accused of anti-Semitism by fellow Jews.

The only answer, really, that can be given to the question "Is/was Marx Jewish?" is this: It depends on what we mean by "Jewish."

Jewishness is an identity that entails multiplicity -- a plurality of identities. These days, one might argue (as I have elsewhere) that one of the most "Jewish" things that a Jew can do is to try to shun or shirk his/her Jewishness. In other words, the very act of shirking one's Jewishness can be seen as a substantiation of one's Jewishness. The tradition of bucking tradition is so strong, within the history of Jewish community and identity, that in a sense Jewishness cannot be escaped.

A Jew is anyone who another Jew says is a Jew.
10.21.2005 1:06pm
rico:
I think that "culturally" Jewish may be more accurate than "ethnically", at least in modern times. A close friend of mine won't date outside "the Tribe" (his term), but he's not remotely religious. It comes down to background experiences, family networks, going out for Chinese instead of opening presents on Christmas, things like that. It's a culture that seems to have it's roots both in shared ancestry and in religion (but not necessarily faith).

And on a side note, I know many non-religious Bosnians that self-identify as Muslims for exactly the same reasons.
10.21.2005 1:13pm
Doc (mail):
"Ethnicity" is used too often as interchangeable with "race." "Race," rightly or wrongly, has reference to some sense or aspect or idea of genetics or biology. (We won't go into why race is really only a socio-cultural construct, and not a biological reality.)

"Ethnicity," however, has no (or should have no) reference to genetics or heredity in the biological sense. Ethnicity has to do with community: a shared sense of values, beliefs, a shared communal history, usually a shared language or special communal vocabulary, etc. In other words, ethnicity refers to a sense of groupness, or a shared group identity.

(Contrast this with "race" -- two people can be of the same "race" but have no sense of shared, communal, group identity, as in the case of two white people, for example.)

Moroccan Jews and Polish Jews do belong to the same ethnicity, insomuch as they share in their sense of Jewishness -- of Jewish beliefs and values, Jewish history, etc. (People can belong to more than one ethnicity, or more than one group identity.)

Some religious groups do have enough of a shared group identity, enough communion, to be considered "ethnic" groups -- but I wouldn't say "Christians" qualify. Perhaps closer-knit Christian groups, like Catholics, or Mormons, or Lutherans, or Seventh-Day Adventists -- these might qualify in some sense as "ethnicities." But "Christian" is much like saying "white" -- the group is too broad and disconnected to constitute an ethnicity, in my opinion.
10.21.2005 1:17pm
Voorhies (mail):
Crzy trian is right in that , Marx mother was Scottish. Nonetheless, you are right in sentiment, Marx has been exempt from being an anti-semite because of his fathers last name.
10.21.2005 2:06pm
Jason Fliegel (mail):
Felix Mendelssohn is an interesting case. His grandfather (not father) was Moses Mendelssohn, a famous scholar who was very much Jewish. But because Mendelssohn was a strong advocate of religious tolerance, freedom of conscience, and the idea of a plurality of religious truths, it's somewhat unsurprising that his son Abraham (Felix Mendelssohn's father) converted to Christianity.

As for Felix, he's the microcosm of what it means to be a Jew in 19th and 20th century Europe. He was highly celebrated during his life, and I don't recall ever having heard of his heritage being an issue -- but then again, Jews were highly assimilated in 19th century Berlin, so even if his parents hadn't baptized him and he had been raised an observant Jew, perhaps it wouldn't have mattered. On the other hand, when the Nazis came to power, statues of Mendelssohn were torn down -- the fact that he had been baptized and raised a Lutherna did not "excuse" his Jewish heritage in the eyes of the Nazis.

On the third hand, Mendelssohn's most famous composition is the Wedding March. It's ubiquitous at Christian weddings, but go to a Jewish wedding and you almost certainly won't hear it precisely because Mendelssohn is viewed as having turned his back on Judaism.

The bottom line, then is this -- as with any first- or second- generation whatever, acceptance in either the old group or the new group can be hard to come.
10.21.2005 3:06pm
akiva eisenberg (mail):
Rabbi C. Train:
The idea that a Jew can "transfer out of his religion under Halacha" is not normative Halacha. While an apostate Jew would be (or should I say, would have been) ostracized by the Jewish community, his halachic status as a Jew would not change. The status of his children would depend, as does that of all Jews under Halacha, on matrilineal descent.
In fairness, I note that there are significant, but minority, Halachic opinions that place the apostate Jew in a legal limbo as to his status. Thus they require a "pseudo-reconversion" if he repents and desires to live as Jew again. On the other hand, if he would violate any of the laws pertaining to Jews and not to Gentiles, he could not claim innocence on the basis of his not being Jewish.
BTW, this entire discussion reeks of the same kind of definition-searching as the posts on SSM. On the one hand, "Jewish" is a strictly defined legal/halachic status and has been for thousands of years. On the other hand, it is an ethnic, cultural, emotional, racial, and perhaps political identity which is open to individual interpretation.
If secular law allowed for patents on religion or ethnic labels, the vast majority of those identifying themselves as Jews could be sued for trademark violation. Just because Coke(tm) drinkers identify an arbitrary brown, fizzy drink as Coke, doesn't make it so. Only the original trademark holder has the right to decide. Unfortunately, IMNVHO, most people don't believe that there is a Trademark Holder.
10.21.2005 3:11pm
magoo (mail):
EOM

Harpo
10.21.2005 3:34pm
Doc (mail):
Can you really try to draw a parallel between "identity" and "trademark"?

It's not the same as patent law, but certainly there is a history of defining racial "identities" via secular law. The absurdity of trying to do so is obvious, though. (e.g., if X "drops" of "black" blood are enough to make one "black," then why are X "drops" of "white" blood not enough to make one "white"?)

I think a complex network of self-identification and communal-identification is the best we can do. If you decide you are X, and other people agree with you, then (at least in some circles) you are X. But others may disagree.

What I think is interesting is that you might decide you are not X -- yet enough other people say that you are X, so that (again, in some circles) you are X despite your claims to the contrary.

We see this happen -- perhaps with Marx, and the question of his Jewishness -- but also with other identities, such as "arrogant jerk." I can insist over and over again that I don't participate in or perform this identity, but if enough other people say that I do, then (at least in some circles) that is my identity, like it or not.
10.21.2005 4:33pm
akiva eisenberg (mail):
Doc:
My underlying question is based on the the following axiom system:

a) A religion may have precise, restrictive criteria for membership

b) One who does not meet these criteria is ipso facto not a member of that religion

c) The criteria of a "revealed religion" are set by said revelation and are not open to democratic or socially driven modification

d) Judaism is a religion

d is what appears to be at issue here, since the ethnic, social, conceptual, etc., aspects of being Jewish have been introduced. Perhaps what should be done is introduce an new word, like Jewishish. (Ugh)

What I meant by equating "identity" with "trademark" is axiom c, in that a label for a religion is not in the public domain for free application to "other products."

Not to introduce a new branch to this topic, but a discussion of axiom c would lead into many interesting questions of religion vs. philosophy, revelation vs. man-created, Deocentric vs. Homocentric, etc. But of course, that has been going on, in academic arenas, and on battlefields, for millenia.
10.21.2005 5:31pm
Michael B (mail):
For an extraordinary study of the anti-Semitic roots within German idealism, Michael Mack's review of this subject plumbs the depths.
10.21.2005 5:59pm
David Pittelli (mail) (www):
As noted, to many antisemites (notably the Nazis) Jews are a race, and conversion does not change a Jew's racial identity (or eliminate the need to murder him). But one can be a philosemite, or even a Jew, and see something in this "race" aspect. I doubt many old Jewish mothers would be as happy to see their sone marry a gentile woman who is converting than a Jew from birth. Of course, the Jew from birth generally has some cultural knowledge, even if raised by "Jewish atheists," but not always. Also note that the state of Israel let in many Russian "Jews" whose only claim to Jewishness is in their bloodlines. (Few spoke Hebrew and many had never heard of basic elements of Jewish theology or even holidays.)

While Jews are genetically diverse, with clear effects of intermarriage in Europe to the original Semitic immigrants, they do in fact share a considerable amount of heredity, and have until the past few decades kept intermarriage quite low compared to other minority groups. (I am aware of no other which has survived anywhere near 2,000 years as a distinct minority.)

Finally, if Jews' extraordinary success in the professions, academia and standardized tests is seen as part genetic (controversial I'm sure; remember the reaction to The Bell Curve), then it is not surprising that Jews would see Marx's kinship with themselves (and Freud and Einstein) based on his ancestry.
10.21.2005 6:58pm
Craig Oren (mail):
This is like asking if Benjamim Disraeli was Jewish. His father was Jewish, but got into a fight with the Jewish community (which his father disliked intensely). At age 12, Benjamin was baptized as a member of the Anglican Church. Sinced Jews were barred until 1858 from being members of parliament, the baptism was essential in starting Disraeli's political career. Still, Bismarck (in admiration) referred to Disraeli as "der alte Jude" -- the old Jew. Disraeli publicly took pride in his Jewisn ancestry, and probably most Englishmen regarded him as Jewish. After all, he was Jewish by "race", and that is how Judaism was thought of in the 19th century. Thus it has been held that the Civil Rights Act of 1866, by protecting "races", protects Jews as a group.

Marx is an interesting contrast. Marx was baptised at the age of six. Marx's father had himself baptized because Jews could not practice law. Marx's mother came from a long line of rabbis ahd scholars; Marx's grandfather had been a rabbi. Again, in the 19th century he would be regarded as Jewish.

The Israeli Supreme Court, I should add, is the expert on who is Jewish under the Israeli law of return. It does not purport to decide who is Jewish for religious purposes. The general rule there is that if your mother was Jewish, you are Jewish, few questions asked. Marx or Disraeli could likely have qualified. But, as a non-rabbi, I am not trying to rule on this issue.

May I add that my source on Marx and Disraeli's life is that impeccable conservative, Paul Johnson, in his History of the Jews.
10.21.2005 9:31pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Jason Fliegel,

Thanks for correcting Buck Turgidson re Mendelssohn. Moses Mendelssohn was Felix's paternal grandfather, not his father.

But Mendelssohn's case is proof that "ethnic" anti-Semitism was around long before the Nazis. I don't know whether Mendelssohn was hassled during his lifetime, but Richard Wagner assailed him — specifically as a Jew — in print. That was in 1850, and Mendelssohn had died three years previously, but obviously this was already in the air, yes?
10.21.2005 9:32pm
Baskerville Boozehound (mail):
Benjamin Disraeli and David Ricardo.
10.21.2005 9:52pm
Buck Turgidson (mail):
Yes, thanks for the Moses Mendelssohn correction. I wasn't sure when I was putting it in and consulted an on-line biography that turned out to be erroneous (should have stuck with my initial impulse, but I could not find the name of the father). It makes actually more sense now. Abraham was a musician. He had problems finding and holding jobs as a professional musician. He was also involved in financial transactions (banking), but that had nothing to do with his musical ambitions. This prompted the conversion, but, as I said, the chidren were the primary beneficiaries of this conversion. The family did not fall apart because of the conversion either, as would have been the case earlier (converts used to be "excommunicated", whatever use that might have had). In fact, five of Moses Mendelssohn's six children eventually converted.

Also note that earlier--from 1100s to 1600s--at least some of the responsibility for the persecution of Jews falls on Jewish converts to Catholicism. Several converts were responsible for the major "disputations"--essentially public show trials of Judaism and Jewish books. The result of the disputations was largely irrelevant, as the outcome was always the same--books burnt, Jews killed, forcibly converted or exiled, Catholic disputants declaring victory, often followed by an equivalent of a pogrom.
10.22.2005 2:22am
Baskerville Boozehound (mail):
What about Bobby Fischer? He's Jewish and anti-Semitic.
10.22.2005 3:04am
Charles Iragui:
Is it true that Karl Marx's parents would have spoken Yiddish? Wasn't Yiddish the language of the Jews of Eastern Europe? Marx's family was from Trier in the far west of Germany.
10.22.2005 4:04am
IM:
Yiddish did and does still exist in two branches: East and West Yiddish. West Yiddish is almost extinct now, it was spoken in Gemany and other parts of Western Europe. East Yiddish wa spoken in the Polnish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, in the Hungarian kingdom and so on. The use of West Yiddish did cease among German Yews at the end of the 18. Century. East Yiddish survived in Russia, Prussia and Austria as the sucessor states of the Commonwealth. As Eastern Yews migrated westwards to central and western Eurpe and the U.S., they took East Yiddish with them.

In Germany in the 19. and early 20. Century "old" German Yews wouldn't use Yiddish, the newer Immigrants would still use Yiddish but often tried to use the use of the german language as a vehicle of assimilation.

Regarding Marx, his fathers mother-tongue was german, his mothers dutch.
10.22.2005 10:31pm
Doc (mail):
Akiva (and others),
The attempt to distinguish "religious" Jewishness from "ethnic" or "racial" Jewishness is a bit misguided, because it has been "religious" Jewishness that has, from the beginning, incorporated some aspect of "ethnic" or "racial" identity into its "religious" identity. Lineage or geneaology (sp?) has been a crucial aspect of Jewish identity since Jewish identity began, as has the Jew/Goy distinction, which is a question of ethnicity. (The Hebrew goyim and the Greek ethnos are not too far removed from one another in their meaning.)

I don't think you can get too caught up in A,B,C, and D (see Akiva's most recent comment) because this focuses too heavily on "religious" aspects of the identity while discounting ethnic/community identity (which is contrary to the religion's emphasis on this ethnicity).

True, to say one is or is not a practicing or observant Jew, one can point to A,B, and C. But perhaps the new term we need is something like "Jude" instead of "Jew." "Jew" could refer to Jewishness -- to a Jewish identity that is perhaps more socio-cultural than anything else -- while "Jude" could refer to the Judaic identity -- an identity that has more to do with the religion.

And you have the added nicety that "Jude" is the Greek-ified version of "Judah," which is the name of the tribe from which we derive the word "Jew."

Of course, I'm being a bit facetious in suggesting this new term. But it's not altogether unheard of. In academia, there are "Judaic Studies" as well as "Jewish Studies" programs and departments, and my understanding is that the former have a heavier emphasis on religious studies and the latter have a heavier emphasis on cultural and ethnic studies.

One last point: even if I went along with your (Akiva's) notion that Jewish identity is primarily a religious identity, I would still have a problem with the idea that "a label for a religion is not in the public domain for free application to 'other products.'" Religious identity is still like any other identity -- subject to socio-cultural forces.

Take Mormon identity, for example. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has disavowed itself of polygamy since 1890 (or something like that), and has repeatedly condemned the practice and excommunicated anyone found to be continuing it. Yet to this day there are backwoods polygamist communities who proclaim themselves to be "Mormons" -- and large portions of the general American public still associate Mormonness with polygamy, and remain unaware that there has been a split between the two. Thus, in many circles, a polygamist who calls himself a "Mormon" will be recognized as such, despite the "official" religious attempts to strip him of that identity.

Something similar can be said of Jews. Sure, religious authorities may not recognize a certain person as "Jewish" under religious law or requirements. But this doesn't stop communities from according that identity to that individual anyway -- especially an identity like Jewishness, which has such a long history of being tied to lineage and ethnicity as much as (and, in some circles, more than) religion.
10.24.2005 11:08am