Israel Zangwill’s Melting Complexity

Joseph Leftwich

In 1911 Zangwill was invited to address the Race Congress held in London. His thesis was one he was always repeating, which was the kernel of his Melting Pot, that “the Jew demonstrates the comparative superficiality of all human differences. Like the Colonel’s lady and Judy O’Grady all these peoples are the same under their skins—as even Bismarck was once constrained to remark when, saw Prussians and Frenchmen lying side by side in the community of death.” Speaking of Jewish assimilation, he asked, “should Jews so readily assimilate to all these types, were these types fundamentally different? Not only is every race akin to every other, but every people is a hotch-potch of races.” “To preserve the Jews, whether as race or as a religious community,” he went on, “is no part of the world’s duty, nor would artificial preservation preserve anything of value. Their salvation must come from themselves. Civilisation is not called upon to save the Jews, but it is called upon to save itself. And by its treatment of the Jews it is destroying itself.” He was the President of the Jewish Territorial Organisation, and he was busy wrestling with the problem of the Russian Jews.

So Zangwill drew the attention of the Congress to the plight of the Russian Jews, five or six million in number, shut up in the Pale, “In insisting that Russia abolish the Jewish Pale I am pleading for the regeneration of Russia, not of the Russian Jew,” he said. He quoted a Russian Liberal who had said: “Russia cannot enter the Temple Freedom as long as there exists a Pale of Settlement for the Jews.” Then he pleaded for the creation of a Jewish State, or at least a “Jewish land of refuge upon a basis of local autonomy, to which, in the course of the centuries, all that was truly Jewish would gravitate.” Even that weighed more with him because it would mean for “the world getting rid of the Jewish problem,” and because it would “foster world-peace and establish in the heart of the Old World a bridge of civilisation between the East and the West, and a symbol of hope for the future of mankind.” When Zangwill joined Herzl in the Zionist movement, he confessed afterwards, the universal idea was uppermost with him. He found Herzl, “though an incarnation of all that is best in the Jewish type, curiously ignorant of Judaism, and content to accept a Jew as a phenomenon purely biological. If in the end I endorsed his political conception, it was partly because of sympathy with a great man, and partly because I saw there was no real contradiction between the spiritual ideal and a definite locale for it, which locale could be at once a land of refuge for oppressed and, a working model of a socially just commonwealth.”

More than the fulfilment of Zionism, more than a Jewish land, Zangwill wanted universal Peace and human brotherhood. “Were the landlessness of the Jews the only obstacle to universal peace I should be the first,” he said, “to waive their claim. Jerusalem, which means the heritage of peace, would be better built so than by actual restoration. The mere fact that a group of people hates its neighbours affords no basis for reverence.” He not only foresaw and disliked the Jewish State born out of hatred for the British; he, who had been a rebel from his father’s Judaism, also declared himself utterly opposed to the new Godless Jewish nationalism which believes Jewish attachment adequately fulfilled in devotion to the nation and State. “What would make the old Jews turn in their graves would be to read atheistic articles by Jerusalem journalists,” he wrote, “or to witness crusades of the young colonists of Palestine against the Holy Sabbath. Political Zionist though I am,” he said, “I cannot share the intolerance for the Jews of the old type who live in Jerusalem,” whom his father was one. “I feel more strongly than ever,” he declared, “that in these frowsy greybeards poring over their obsolete Talmuds and hugging their worm-eaten traditions to their caftaned breasts, we have a finer type of humanity than the Prussian Junker, in all his bravery, and that it pays a people better to keep up such a standing army of mystics and students than to nourish the insolence of a military caste. If the purpose of Zionism was merely to beget other national type of the Western pattern, it would not be worth the striving.”

Zangwill even came to respect his father's “Six hundred and teen precepts of the Mosaic code, a sanctified sociology, an order in human affairs, an attempt at practical idealism.” He realised that “there is in fact no real contradiction between the spirit and a letter which codifies it for practical purposes.” As he said of Wells, Zangwill “had all the stigmata of Hebrew prophecy—lips touched with the burning coal can speak no otherwise.” It is true that he regarded himself as “spiritually adult,” and therefore himself not needing to adhere rigidly to each letter of the code, which was rather for “spiritual minors.” “The spirit that has come of age will automatically do what the immature spirit has to be commanded to do,” he said. It was also, as with many people, a matter of mood. “The modern Jewish agnostics I understand, and in some moods sympathise with,” he said.

SOURCE: Leftwich, Joseph. Israel Zangwill (New York: T. Yoseloff, 1957), pp. 174-175.

Title of this extract is mine. — RD

[Paradoxes of Time Travel]
From “Without Prejudice”

by Israel Zangwill

First Universal Races Congress, London, July 26-29, 1911: Selected Bibliography

L. L. Zamenhof & the Cultural, Religious, Professional & Political Context
of 19th-20th Century Eastern European Jewish Intellectuals:
Selected Bibliography

Zamenhof & Zamenhofologio: Retgvidilo / Web Guide


Ĝirafo: Israel Zangwill

Israel Zangwill - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A Doll’s House Repaired (1891)
by Eleanor Marx & Israel Zangwill

Israel Zangwill (1864 - 1926)
by Meri-Jane Rochelson
Jewish Virtual Library

Israel Zangwill at Project Gutenberg

Fandopoto - Vikipedio
(Melting Pot — in Esperanto)

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