*Jewish Emancipation: A History Across Five Centuries*

That is the new and excellent book out by David Sorkin.  I feel I have read many good books on Jewish history, and I don’t always see the marginal value of adding to that pile, but this one really delivered.  Plenty more detail without losing any conceptual overview.  Ever wonder what exactly happened to Jewish emancipation, and why, as the Napoleonic conquest of Europe was reversed?  This is the place to go.  By the way, in the middle of the eighteenth century there were more Jews in Curacao, Suriname and Jamaica than in all of the North American colonies combined.

You can order it here, worthy of my year-end “best non-fiction of the year” list.


The most recent (mainly) Jewish history I've read was a history of Jerusalem. Unfortunately it included both real Jewish history (roughly speaking, from the time the Assyrians breezed into the area) and the tosh passed off as earlier history.

To be fair to the author he did drop a hint to that effect.

There was never an Emancipation in the Muslim countries where most of the Jews lived till quite recently. Jewish history is far larger than the transitory European episode. BTW, Emancipation ("haskalah") was a historical catastrophe for the Jewish communities in Europe, it caused their gradual weakening and disappearance.

Yeah, not being stucked in the ghetto was really a tragedy... Imagjne the tragedy of being treated like human beings. Nothing worse ever happened to Jews.

So many approximations in two small sentences ! (Too bad because I believe that what you really mean to say is right).

It is not true that "most of the Jews lived in the Muslim word till quite recently". In 1900 certainly more than three quarters of the Jews lived in the Christian world (easy to look up on wikipedia). Difficult to find precise estimates, but I am sure that in 1500 there were also more Jews in the Christian world than in the Muslim world. In the Christian world there were all the Askenazi Jews, plus all the Sephardi Jews coming from Spain to Italy, south of France, Britain and the Netherlands. (In fact I doubt there ever was a time in History - since Muslim conquests - with more Jews living in Muslim countries than in Christian countries. Perhaps Sorkin's book has the answer)

The European period represents 2000 years of Jewish history, and counting. 2000 out of 3500, if we are generous. That's hardly a "transitory episode".

Emancipation did not cause the "gradual weakening and disappearance" of jewish communities in Europe. Nazism, and other episodes of antisemitism, did, by killing the Jews or making them go away. In countries were antisemitism was (relatively!) low, like France and the UK, Jewish communities are still important.

Even the statement "There was never an Emancipation in the Muslim countries in the Muslim countries" is not literally true. Since most Muslim countries with Jews were colonized by European powers, Jews there received, at least in part, an European style emancipation. For instance, in Tunisia and Morocco, Jews had the right (like Muslims, and of course Christians) to attend the free public school, benefits from all the public services, do any job they wanted, marry whom they wanted, etc. They just didn't vote in French elections, since they were not French. (In Algeria, they had the same rights, and in addition they voted, since they were French -- most of them, at least). Similar things happened in British Egypt, in Italian Lybia, and later in the "mandates" in the Middle East (Syria, Palestine, Iraq). In Iran, which was not colonized, Emancipation happened nevertheless under the Pahlavi dynasty.

Jewish communities do not only care about whether or not the place was antisemitic or not. In USSR, where some places had no antisemitism (I lived in a closed science-city, where jews were actually praised), their communities dissapeared almost completely as soon as it was possible to immigrate to Israel.

Yes, emigration to Israël is also a cause of disappearance of Jewish communities. (That's not the same as Emancipation. If there were was a right that Jews had most of the time in their European history, it was the right to leave).

But we may wonder why Jews of France, for instance, emigrated to Israel in much lesser proportion than Jews of USSR. Of course, economic conditions and living standards explain a big part of this: they are better in Israel than in Russia, and on average better in France than in Israel (though it depends on how much you value sun and sea). But antisemitism is part of the equation too. Russian Jews I know who came to the US, to France, or to Israel (mathematicians mostly, but not only) have been victims, in their life and career, of antisemitism. Even if in some places, there were no antisemitism in Russia, there was some globally, and this surely has played its role in Jewish emigration from Russia (and former USSR). In France too, the current (moderate) wave of antisemitism brought by immigration from Muslim countries is causing a slight, but perceptible increase of the rate of emigration to Israel.

"But we may wonder why Jews of France, for instance, emigrated to Israel in much lesser proportion than Jews of USSR."

Though I don't suppose most of us would wonder very long.

"Of course, economic conditions and living standards explain a big part of this": isn't that what would nowadays be screamed about as an anti-semitic trope?

The great migration of Jews to America occurred in the 19th century and coincided with the rapid capitalist development of the era. Why? While capitalist development greatly benefited a few, on the whole Jews suffered because it eradicated many of the traditional occupations that Jews occupied. A rising population of Jews in Europe, declining economic opportunities for Jews in Europe, and oppression and persecution of Jews in Europe combined to trigger a mass migration of entire Jewish families to America. And they didn't all end up in NYC: the low country has a large population of Jews, whose ancestors migrated to America in the 19th century and who today are highly successful leaders in business, the professions, and the arts.

Lehman Brothers was founded in Alabama and moved to NY when cotton trading did.

It is likely deeply false economic history to suggest that either Jewish employment levels or income suffered even in the slightest due to economic development in Europe in the 19th to early 20th century. What tosh.

How's this for a coincidence: the first global anthology of migration literature, edited by Dohra Ahmad and reviewed in today's NYT: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/09/books/review-penguin-book-migration-literature-dohra-ahmad.html

crikey we give up
its time for brekkie
why were there so may jews in the caribean and not so many
in the colonies circa 1750

They were sephardic communities kicked out of Spain and Portugal. Most went to the Netherlands. They ended up in the colonies of these countries. Many were involved in international trade including the slave trade. There were even a lot of swashbuckling jewish pirates stealing cargo fro. The country that had evicted them.

A Note on how politics can quickly change...

"The Parnas: A Scene from the Holocaust" by Silvano Arieti, Rabbi Harold S. Kushner

"It can be said without hesitation that after the unification of Italy, there was no other country either in Europe or in the whole world where Jews felt so well integrated into the general population. If anti-Semitism existed, it was minimal and confined to certain small circles. In this climate, needless to say, Italian Jews prospered. Many of them belonged to the upper bourgeoisie or to the intelligentsia. Although they never numbered more than 80,000, their impact on Italian life was considerable, especially in the cities of Ferrara, Milan, Turin, Venice, Rome, and Trieste. They especially excelled in the field of mathematics. Every student of higher mathematics knows the names of such innovators as Tullio Levi Civita, Giuseppe Peano, and Vito Volterra. Italy was the first Christian country to have a Jew as premier, Luigi Luzzatti, who held that office in 1910 and 1911. In fact, until Mussolini began to yield to Hitler’s wishes, all had gone well between the Italian Jews and the rest of the Italians. But the man who on August 28, 1934 had rejected German racism with a grandiloquent sentence—“Thirty centuries of history allow us to look with sovereign disdain and piety on certain theories followed north of the Alps”—four years later began to imitate the Nazi leader with an anti-Semitism that, while not as fanatic as the German’s, was nevertheless unequivocal. Many Jews began to prepare to leave Italy. I was one of them. "

And about Venice, a tale of personal heroism...

"The Parnas: A Scene from the Holocaust" by Silvano Arieti, Rabbi Harold S. Kushner

"On September 17, 1943, the Germans ordered the parnas of the Jewish congregation of Venice, Giuseppe Jona, to prepare a list of the names and addresses of the Venetian Jews. He was given one day. During that time he warned as many members of the Jewish community as he could reach to escape from the city and then killed himself before the Germans arrived to demand the list. In spite of his efforts, more than 300 Venetian Jews were captured, including those who were in the Jewish home for the aged. In Ferrara, on November 14, 150 Jews were taken, and not fewer than 710 were captured in Trieste between October and January 1944."

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