Page 90 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 23

Basic HTML Version

e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
8 4
In other words, Graetz began with the third age as described in
his historical essay and devoted nine volumes to it. The first three
volumes came at the end, and did not appear until 1872. The
diaspora age was thus the one that engaged his heart and to
which, in fact, he made his greatest and most lasting contributions.
I t was the second time within a half century that the entire
history of the Jews was told, itself an indication of the history-
mindedness of the age. Marcus Jost had achieved a similar vast
undertaking in an eight volume work completed in 1828 and
subsequently continued into his own time in two further volumes
published in 1846. The difference between the two efforts, how-
ever, was the difference between a pedestrian, although well-
organized, recital of facts, and a fresh, warm, moving and imagin-
ative story of heroic battles of the spirit won and lost. Both Jost
and Graetz had to research the source material, and both were
pioneers; but Jost was the historian of people with a past, Graetz
of a people with a future.
The quality of his
got Graetz in trouble with the
Orthodox Jews, the Reform Jews and with the Christian scholars.
The Orthodox Jews did not like his rationalization of miracles
and his developmental approach to history and religion. The
only miracle he was convinced of was the miracle of Jewish
survival. Notwithstanding unspeakable hostility, the Jewish
people not only survived, but contributed to western civilization,
he said in his preface to the English edition of his work. When
the fourth volume of the German edition was published—actually
the first to appear—the Reformers attacked it vigorously for
treating Talmudic law with respect, unlike Jost who had treated
it with the disdain then acceptable to the “advanced״ spirits.
As to the Christian scholars, there was little about Graetz’s
viewpoint they found to their taste. They had never given much
thought to Jewish history after the destruction of the Second
Temple. So far as they were concerned, the story of the Jews
ended with Jesus; the rest was mere survival so that punishment
might be visited on the people that had failed its mission. Graetz
not only continued Jewish history beyond that point, telling the
diaspora story with conviction, but made of it something for the
Jews to be proud of and for the Christians to be ashamed of.
Heinrich von Treitschke, the ex-Pole who was the official his-
torian of the Prussian State, even resented Graetz’s pointing out
that revolutionary France had long preceded Germany in granting
emancipation to the Jews.
Graetz had been aware, even while writing, that his presenta-
tion would arouse antagonism, but this did not keep him from
pursuing his own course. He maintained a consistent view of the
Jewish people as exemplifying a religious ideology which it
studied, developed, applied and suffered for. This is why he