The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, an almost fanatical love of
justice, and the desire for personal independence--these are the features of
the Jewish tradition which make me thank my stars that I belong to it.
Those who are raging to-day against the ideals of reason and individual
liberty and are trying to establish a spiritless State-slavery by brute
force rightly see in us their irreconcilable foes. History has given us a
difficult row to hoe; but so long as we remain devoted servants of truth,
justice, and liberty, we shall continue not merely to survive as the oldest
of living peoples, but by creative work to bring forth fruits which
contribute to the ennoblement of the human race, as heretofore.
Is there a Jewish Point of View?
In the philosophical sense there is, in my opinion, no specifically
Jewish outlook. Judaism seems to me to be concerned almost exclusively with
the moral attitude in life and to life. I look upon it as the essence of an
attitude to life which is incarnate in the Jewish people rather than the
essence of the laws laid down in the Thora and interpreted in the Talmud. To
me, the Thora and the Talmud are merely the most important evidence for the
manner in which the Jewish conception of life held sway in earlier times.
The essence of that conception seems to me to lie in an affirmative
attitude to the life of all creation. The life of the individual has meaning
only in so far as it aids in making the life of every living thing nobler
and more beautiful. Life is sacred--that is to say, it is the supreme value,
to which all other values are subordinate. The hallowing of the
supra-individual life brings in its train a reverence for everything
spiritual--a particularly characteristic feature of the Jewish tradition.
Judaism is not a creed: the Jewish God is simply a negation of
superstition, an imaginary result of its elimination. It is also an attempt
to base the moral law on fear, a regrettable and discreditable attempt. Yet
it seems to me that the strong moral tradition of the Jewish nation has to a
large extent shaken itself free from this fear. It is clear also that
"serving God" was equated with "serving the living." The best of the Jewish
people, especially the Prophets and Jesus, contended tirelessly for this.
Judaism is thus no transcendental religion; it is concerned with life
as we live it and can up to a point grasp it, and nothing else. It seems to
me, therefore, doubtful whether it can be called a religion in the accepted
sense of the word, particularly as no "faith" but the sanctification of life
in a supra-personal sense is demanded of the Jew.
But the Jewish tradition also contains something else, something which
finds splendid expression in many of the Psalms--namely, a sort of
intoxicated joy and amazement at the beauty and grandeur of this world, of
which, man can just form a faint notion. It is the feeling from which true
scientific research draws its spiritual sustenance, but which also seems to
find expression in the song of birds. To tack this on to the idea of God
seems mere childish absurdity.
Is what I have described a distinguishing mark of Judaism? Is it to be
found anywhere else under another name? In its pure form, nowhere, not even
in Judaism, where the pure doctrine is obscured by much worship of the
letter. Yet Judaism seems to me one of its purest and most vigorous
manifestations. This applies particularly to the fundamental principle of
the sanctification of life.
It is characteristic that the animals were expressly included in the
command to keep holy the Sabbath day, so strong was the feeling that the
ideal demands the solidarity of all living things. The insistence on the
solidarity of all human beings finds still stronger expression, apd it is no
mere chance that the demands of Socialism were for the most part first
raised by Jews.
How strongly developed this sense of the sanctity of life is in the
Jewish people is admirably illustrated by a little remark which Walter
Rathenau once made to me in conversation: "When a Jew says that he's going
hunting to amuse himself, he lies." The Jewish sense of the sanctity of life
could not be more simply expressed.
An Answer to a Questionnaire
It is important that the young should be induced to take an interest in
Jewish questions and difficulties, and you deserve gratitude for devoting
yourself to this task in your paper. This is of moment not merely for the
destiny of the Jews, whose welfare depends on their sticking together and
helping each other, but, over and above that, for the cultivation of the
international spirit, which is in danger everywhere to-day from a
narrow-minded nationalism. Here, since the days of the Prophets, one of the
fairest fields of activity has lain open to our nation, scattered as it is
over the earth and united only by a common tradition.
Addresses on Reconstruction in Palestine
Ten years ago, when I first had the pleasure of addressing you on
behalf of the Zionist cause, almost all our hopes were still fixed on the
future. To-day we can look back on these ten years with joy; for in that
time the united energies of the Jewish people have accomplished a splendid
piece of successful constructive work in Palestine, which certainly exceeds
anything that we dared to hope then.
We have also successfully stood the severe test to which the events of
the last few years have subjected us. Ceaseless work, supported by a noble
purpose, is leading slowly but surely to success. The latest pronouncements
of the British Government indicate a return to a juster judgment of our
case; this we recognize with gratitude.
But we must never forget what this crisis has taught us--namely, that
the establishment of satisfactory relations between the Jews and the Arabs
is not England's affair but ours. We--that is to say, the Arabs and
ourselves--have got to agree on the main outlines of an advantageous
partnership which shall satisfy the needs of both nations. A just solution
of this problem and one worthy of both nations is an end no less important
and no less worthy of our efforts than the promotion of the work of
construction itself. Remember that Switzerland represents a higher stage of
political development than any national state, precisely because of the
greater political problems which had to be solved before a stable community
could be built up out of groups of different nationality.
Much remains to be done, but one at least of Herzl's aims has already
been realized: its task in Palestine has given the Jewish people an
astonishing degree of solidarity and the optimism without which no organism
can lead a healthy life.
Anything we may do for the common purpose is done not merely for our
brothers in Palestine, but for the well-being and honour of the whole Jewish
We are assembled to-day for the purpose of calling to mind our age-old
community, its destiny, and its problems. It is a community of moral
tradition, which has always shown its strength and vitality in times of
stress. In all ages it has produced men who embodied the conscience of the
Western world, defenders of human dignity and justice.
So long as we ourselves care about this community it will continue to
exist to the benefit of mankind, in spite of the fact that it possesses no
self-contained organization. A decade or two ago a group of far-sighted men,
among whom Herzl of immortal memory stood out above the rest, came to the
conclusion that we needed a spiritual centre in crder to preserve our sense
of solidarity in difficult times. Thus arose the idea of Zionism and the
work of settlement in Palestine, the successful realization of which we have
been permitted to witness, at least in its highly promising beginnings.
I have had the privilege of seeing, to my great joy and satisfaction,
how much this achievement has contributed to the recovery of the Jewish
people, which is exposed, as a minority among the nations, not merely to
external dangers, but also to internal ones of a psychological nature.
The crisis which the work of construction has had to face in the last
few years has lain heavy upon us and is not yet completely surmounted. But
the most recent reports show that the world, and especially the British
Government, is disposed to recognize the great things which lie behind our
struggle for the Zionist ideal. Let us at this moment remember with
gratitude our leader Weizmann, whose zeal and circumspection have helped the
good cause to success.
The difficulties we have been through have also brought some good in
their train. They have shown us once more how strong the bond is which
unites the Jews of all countries in a common destiny. The crisis has also
purified our attitude to the question of Palestine, purged it of the dross
of nationalism. It has been clearly proclaimed that we are not seeking to
create a political society, but that our aim is, in accordance with the old
tradition of Jewry, a cultural one in the widest sense of the word. That
being so, it is for us to solve the problem of living side by side with our
brother the Arab in an open, generous, and worthy manner. We have here an
opportunity of showing what we have learnt in the thousands of years of our
martyrdom. If we choose the right path we shall succeed and give the rest of
the world a fine example.
Whatever we do for Palestine we do it for the honour and well-being of
the whole Jewish people.
I am delighted to have the opportunity of addressing a few words to the
youth of this country which is faithful to the common aims of Jewry. Do not
be discouraged by the difficulties which confront us in Palestine. Such
things serve to test the will to live of our community.
Certain proceedings and pronouncements of the English administration
have been justly criticized. We must not, however, leave it at that but
learn by experience.
We need to pay great attention to our relations with the Arabs. By
cultivating these carefully we shall be able in future to prevent things
from becoming so dangerously strained that people can take advantage of them
to provoke acts of hostility. This goal is perfectly within our reach,
because our work of construction has been, and must continue to be, carried
out in such a manner as to serve the real interests of the Arab population
In this way we shall be able to avoid getting ourselves quite so often
into the position, disagreeable for Jews and Arabs alike, of having to call
in the mandatory Power as arbitrator. We shall thereby be following not
merely the dictates of Providence but also our traditions, which alone give
the Jewish community meaning and stability.
For that community is not, and must never become, a political one; this
is the only permanent source whence it can draw new strength and the only
ground on which its existence can be justified.
For the last two thousand years the common property of the Jewish
people has consisted entirely of its past. Scattered over the wide world,
our nation possessed nothing in common except its carefully guarded
tradition. Individual Jews no doubt produced great work, but it seemed as if
the Jewish people as a whole had not the strength left for great collective
Now all that is changed. History has set us a great and noble task in
the shape of active cooperation in the building up of Palestine. Eminent
members of our race are already at work with all their might on the
realization of this aim. The opportunity is presented to us of setting up
centres of civilization which the whole Jewish people can regard as its
work. We nurse the hope of erecting in Palestine a home of our own national
culture which shall help to awaken the near East to new economic and
The object which the leaders of Zionism have in view is not a political
but a social and cultural one. The community in Palestine must approach the
social ideal of our forefathers as it is laid down in the Bible, and at the
same time become a seat of modern intellectual life, a spiritual centre for
the Jews of the whole world. In accordance with this notion, the
establishment of a Jewish university in Jerusalem constitutes one of the
most important aims of the Zionist organization.
During the last few months I have been to America in order to help to
raise the material basis for this university there. The success of this
enterprise was quite natural. Thanks to the untiring energy and splendid
self-sacrificing spirit of the Jewish doctors in America, we have succeeded
in collecting enough money for the creation of a medical faculty, and the
preliminary work isbeing started at once. After this success I have no doubt
that the material basis for the other faculties will soon be forthcoming.
The medical faculty is first of all to be developed as a research institute
and to concentrate on making the country healthy, a most important item in
the work of development. Teaching on a large scale will only become
important later on. As a number of highly competent scientific workers have
already signified their readiness to take up appointments at the university,
the establishment of a medical faculty seems to be placed beyond all doubt.
I may add that a special fund for the university, entirely distinct from the
general fund for the development of the country, has been opened. For the
latter considerable sums have been collected during these months in America,
thanks to the indefatigable labours of Professor Weizmann and other Zionist
leaders, chiefly through the self-sacrificing spirit of the middle classes.
I conclude with a warm appeal to the Jews in Germany to contribute all they
can, in spite of the present economic difficulties, for the building up of
the Jewish home in Palestine. This is not a matter of charity, but an
enterprise which concerns all Jews and the success of which promises to be a
source of the highest satisfaction to all.
For us Jews Palestine is not just a charitable or colonial enterprise,
but a problem of central importance for the Jewish people. Palestine is not
primarily a place of refuge for the Jews of Eastern Europe, but the
embodiment of the re-awakening corporate spirit of the whole Jewish nation.
Is it the right moment for this corporate sense to be awakened and
strengthened? This is a question to which I feel compelled, not merely by my
spontaneous feelings but on rational grounds, to return an unqualified
Let us just cast our eyes over the history of the Jews in Germany
during the past hundred years. A century ago our forefathers, with few
exceptions, lived in the ghetto. They were poor, without political rights,
separated from the Gentiles by a barrier of religious traditions, habits of
life, and legal restrictions; their intellectual development was restricted
to their own literature, and they had remained almost unaffected by the
mighty advance of the European intellect which dates from the Renaissance.
And yet these obscure, humble people had one great advantage over us each of
them belonged in every fibre of his being to a community m which he was
completely absorbed, in which he felt himself a fully pnvileged member, and
which demanded nothing of him that was contrary to his natural habits of
thought. Our forefathers in those days were pretty poor specimens
intellectually and physically, but socially speaking they enjoyed an
enviable spiritual equilibrium.
Then came emancipation, which suddenly opened up undreamed-of
possibilities to the individual. Some few rapidly made a position for
themselves in the higher walks of business and social life. They greedily
lapped up the splendid triumphs which the art and science of the Western
world had achieved. They joined in the process with burning enthusiasm,
themselves making contributions of lasting value. At the same time they
imitated the external forms of Gentile life, departed more and more from
their religious and social traditions, and adopted Gentile customs, manners,
and habits of thought. It seemed as though they were completely losing their
identity in the superior numbers and more highly organized culture of the
nations among whom they lived, so that in a few generations there would be
no trace of them left. A complete disappearance of Jewish nationality in
Central and Western Europe seemed inevitable.
But events turned out otherwise. Nationalities of different race seem
to have an instinct which prevents them from fusing. However much the Jews
adapted themselves, in language, manners, and to a great extent even in the
forms of religion, to the European peoples among whom they lived, the
feeling of strangeness between the Jews and their hosts never disappeared.
This spontaneous feeling is the ultimate cause of anti-Semitism, which is
therefore not to be got rid of by well-meaning propaganda. Nationalities
want to pursue their own path, not to blend. A satisfactory state of affairs
can be brought about only by mutual toleration and respect.
The first step in that direction is that we Jews should once more
become conscious of our existence as a nationality and regain the
self-respect that is necessary to a healthy existence. We must learn once
more to glory in our ancestors and our history and once again take upon
ourselves, as a nation, cultural tasks of a sort calculated to strengthen
our sense of the community. It is not enough for us to play a part as
individuals in the cultural development of the human race, we must also
tackle tasks which only nations as a whole can perform. Only so can the Jews
regain social health.
It is from this point of view that I would have you look at the Zionist
movement. To-day history has assigned to us the task of taking an active
part in the economic and cultural reconstruction of our native land.
Enthusiasts, men of brilliant gifts, have cleared the way, and many
excellent members of our race are prepared to devote themselves heart and
soul to the cause. May every one of them fully realize the importance of
this work and contribute, according to his powers, to its success!
The Jewish Community
A speech in London
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is no easy matter for me to overcome my natural inclination to a
life of quiet contemplation. But I could not remain deaf to the appeal of
the O.R.T. and O.Z.E. societies;[Jewish charitable associations.]
for in responding to it I am responding,
as it were, to the appeal of our sorely oppressed Jewish nation.
The position of our scattered Jewish community is a moral barometer for
the political world. For what surer index of political morality and respect
for justice can there be than the attitude of the nations towards a
defenceless minority, whose peculiarity lies in their preservation of an
ancient cultural tradition?
This barometer is low at the present moment, as we are painfully aware
from the way we are treated. But it is this very lowness that confirms me in
the conviction that it is our duty to preserve and consolidate our
community. Embedded in the tradition of the Jewish people there is a love of
justice and reason which must continue to work for the good of all nations
now and in the future. In modern times this tradition has produced Spinoza
and Karl Marx.
Those who would preserve the spirit must also look after the body to
which it is attached. The O.Z.E. society literally looks after the bodies of
our people. In Eastern Europe it is working day and night to help our people
there, on whom the economic depression has fallen particularly heavily, to
keep body and soul together; while the O.R.T. society is trying to get rid
of a severe social and economic handicap under which the Jews have laboured
since the Middle Ages. Because we were then excluded from all directly
productive occupations, we were forced into the purely commercial ones. The
only way of really helping the Jew in Eastern countries is to give him
access to new fields of activity, for which he is struggling all over the
world. This is the grave problem which the O.R.T. society is successfully
It is to you English fellow-Jews that we now appeal to help us in this
great enterprise which splendid men have set on foot. The last few years,
nay, the last few days, have brought us a disappointment which must have
touched you in particular nearly. Do not gird at fate, but rather look on
these events as a reason for remaining true to the cause of the Jewish
commonwealth. I am convinced that in doing that we shall also indirectly be
promoting those general human ends which we must always recognize as the
Remember that difficulties and obstacles are a valuable source of
health and strength to any society. We should not have survived for
thousands of years as a community if our bed had been of roses; of that I am
But we have a still fairer consolation. Our friends are not exactly
numerous, but among them are men of noble spirit and strong sense of
justice, who have devoted their lives to uplifting human society and
liberating the individual from degrading oppression.
We are happy and fortunate to have such men from the Gentile world
among us to-night; their presence lends an added solemnity to this memorable
evening. It gives me great pleasure to see before me Bernard Shaw and H. G.
Wells, to whose view of life I am particularly attracted.
You, Mr. Shaw, have succeeded in winning the affection and joyous
admiration of the world while pursuing a path that has led many others to a
martyr's crown. You have not merely preached moral sermons to your fellows;
you have actually mocked at things which many of them held sacred. You have
done what only the born artist can do. From your magic box you have produced
innumerable little figures which, while resembling human beings, are compact
not of flesh and blood, but of brains, wit, and charm. And yet in a way they
are more human than we are ourselves, and one almost forgets that they are
creations not of Nature, but of Bernard Shaw. You make these charming little
figures dance in a miniature world in front of which the Graces stand
sentinel and permit no bitterness to enter. He who has looked into this
little world sees our actual world in a new light; its puppets insinuate
themselves into real people, making them suddenly look quite different. By
thus holding the mirror up to us all you have had a liberating effect on us
such as hardly any other of our contemporaries has done and have relieved
life of something of its earth-bound heaviness. For this we are all devoutly
grateful to you, and also to fate, which along with grievous plagues has
also given us the physician and liberator of our souls. I personally am also
grateful to you for the unforgettable words which you have addressed to my
mythical namesake who makes life so difficult for me, although he is really,
for all his clumsy, formidable size, quite a harmless fellow.
To you all I say that the existence and destiny of our people depend
less on external factors than on ourselves remaining faithful to the moral
traditions which have enabled us to survive for thousands of years despite
the heavy storms that have broken over our heads. In the service of life
sacrifice becomes grace.
Among Zionist organizations "Working Palestine" is the one whose work
is of most direct benefit to the most valuable class of people living
there--namely, those who are transforming deserts into flourishing
settlements by the labour of their hands. These workers are a selection,
made on a voluntary basis, from the whole Jewish nation, an ?lite composed
of strong, confident, and unselfish people. They are not ignorant labourers
who sell the labour of their hands to the highest bidder, but educated,
intellectually vigorous, free men, from whose peaceful struggle with a
neglected soil the whole Jewish nation are the gainers, directly and
indirectly. By lightening their heavy lot as far as we can we shall be
saving the most valuable sort of human life; for the first settlers'
struggle on ground not yet made habitable is a difficult and dangerous
business involving a heavy personal sacrifice. How true this is, only they
can judge who have seen it with their own eyes. Anyone who helps to improve
the equipment of these men is helping on the good work at a crucial point.
It is, moreover, this working class alone that has it in its power to
establish healthy relations with the Arabs, which is the most important
political task of Zionism. Administrations come and go; but it is human
relations that finally turn the scale in the lives of nations. Therefore to
support "Working Palestine" is at the same time to promote a humane and
worthy policy in Palestine, and to oppose an effective resistance to those
undercurrents of narrow nationalism from which the whole political world,
and in a less degree the small political world of Palestine affairs, is
I gladly accede to your paper's request that I should address an appeal
to the Jews of Hungary on behalf of Keren Hajessod.
The greatest enemies of the national consciousness and honour of the
Jews are fatty degeneration--by which I mean the unconscionableness which
comes from wealth and ease--and a kind of inner dependence on the
surrounding Gentile world which comes from the loosening of the fabric of
Jewish society. The best in man can flourish only when he loses himself in a
community. Hence the moral danger of the Jew who has lost touch with his own
people and is regarded as a foreigner by the people of his adoption. Only
too often a contemptible and joyless egoism has resulted from such
circumstances. The weight of outward oppression on the Jewish people is
particularly heavy at the moment. But this very bitterness has done us good.
A revival of Jewish national life, such as the last generation could never
have dreamed of, has begun. Through the operation of a newly awakened sense
of solidarity among the Jews, the scheme of colonizing Palestine launched by
a handful of devoted and judicious leaders in the face of apparently
insuperable difficulties, has already prospered so far that I feel no doubt
about its permanent success. The value of this achievement for the Jews
everywhere is very great. Palestine will be a centre of culture for all
Jews, a refuge for the most grievously oppressed, a field of action for the
best among us, a unifying ideal, and a means of attaining inward health for
the Jews of the whole world.
Anti-Semitism and Academic Youth
So long as we lived in the ghetto our Jewish nationality involved for
us material difficulties and sometimes physical danger, but no social or
psychological problems. With emancipation the position changed, particularly
for those Jews who turned to the intellectual professions. In school and at
the university the young Jew is exposed to the influence of a society with a
definite national tinge, which he respects and admires, from which he
receives his mental sustenance, to which he feels himself to belong, while
it, on the other hand, treats him, as one of an alien race, with a certain
contempt and hostility. Driven by the suggestive influence of this
psychological superiority rather than by utilitarian considerations, he
turns his back on his people and his traditions, and considers himself as
belonging entirely to the others while he tries in vain to conceal from
himself and them the fact that the relation is not reciprocal. Hence that
pathetic creature, the baptized Jewish Geheimrat of yesterday and to-day. In
most cases it is not pushfulness and lack of character that have made him
what he is, but, as I have said, the suggestive power of an environment
superior in numbers and influence. He knows, of course, that many admirable
sons of the Jewish people have made important contributions to the glory of
European civilization; but have they not all, with a few exceptions, done
much the same as he?
In this case, as in many mental disorders, the cure lies in a clear
knowledge of one's condition and its causes. We must be conscious of our
alien race and draw the logical conclusions from it. It is no use trying to
convince the others of our spiritual and intellectual equality by arguments
addressed to the reason, when their attitude does not originate in their
intellects at all. Rather must we emancipate ourselves socially and supply
our social needs, in the main, ourselves. We must have our own students'
societies and adopt an attitude of courteous but consistent reserve to the
Gentiles. And let us live after our own fashion there and not ape duelling
and drinking customs which are foreign to our nature. It is possible to be a
civilized European and a good citizen and at the same time a faithful Jew
who loves his race and honours his fathers. If we remember this and act
accordingly, the problem of anti-Semitism, in so far as it is of a social
nature, is solved for us.
A Letter to Professor Dr. Hellpach, Minister of State
Dear Herr Hellpach,
I have read your article on Zionism and the Zurich Congress and
feel, as a strong devotee of the Zionist idea, that I must answer
you, even if it is only shortly.
The Jews are a community bound together by ties of blood and
tradition, and not of religion only: the attitude of the rest of the
world towards them is sufficient proof of this. When I came to
Germany fifteen years ago I discovered for the first time that I
was a Jew, and I owe this discovery more to Gentiles than Jews.
The tragedy of the Jews is that they are people of a definite
historical type, who lack the support of a community to keep
them together. The result is a want of solid foundations in the
individual which amounts in its extremer forms to moral
instability. I realized that the only possible salvation for the race
was that every Jew in the world should become attached to a
living society to which the individual rejoiced to belong and
which enabled him to bear the hatred and the humiliations that he
has to put up with from the rest of the world.
I saw worthy Jews basely caricatured, and the sight made my
heart bleed. I saw how schools, comic papers, and innumerable
other forces of the Gentile majority undermined the confidence
even of the best of my fellow-Jews, and felt that this could not
be allowed to continue.
Then I realized that only a common enterprise dear to the hearts
of Jews all over the world could restore this people to health. It
was a great achievement of Herzl's to have realized and
proclaimed at the top of his voice that, the traditional attitude of
the Jews being what it was, the establishment of a national home
or, more accurately, a centre in Palestine, was a suitable object
on which to concentrate our efforts.
All this you call nationalism, and there is something in the
accusation. But a communal purpose, without which we can
neither live nor die in this hostile world, can always be called by
that ugly name. In any case it is a nationalism whose aim is not
power but dignity and health. If we did not have to live among
intolerant, narrow-minded, and violent people, I should be the
first to throw over all nationalism in favour of universal humanity.
The objection that we Jews cannot be proper citizens of the
German State, for example, if we want to be a "nation," is based
on a misunderstanding of the nature of the State which springs
from the intolerance of national majorities. Against that
intolerance we shall never be safe, whether we call ourselves a
"people" (or "nation") or not.
I have put all this with brutal frankness for the sake of brevity,
but I know from your writings that you are a man who attends to
the sense, not the form.
Einstein, Albert (1879-1955).
Read more about Albert Einstein
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