Page 165 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

Basic HTML Version

KESSNER/FROM PARNASSUS TO MOUNT ZION
153
self, is on the threshold of accepting her own challenge to the
Jewish world.
By some quirk of fate, moreover, in the same volume of
Century
there was to appear an article by Madame Z. Ragozin, a Russian
journalist; her essay was a defense of the mobs who were
perpetrating the pogroms and a vicious attack upon Jewish char­
acter.35 Before printing this article, the editor of
Century
showed
it to Emma Lazarus who immediately wrote an outraged
response for the May 1882 issue. Gone is the cool detachment of
the Disraeli essay; in its place is moral passion, irony, caustic wit,
superb scholarship, rhetorical strategy, and a clear expression of
her own identification as a Jew connected to all other Jews. To
Madame Ragozin’s charge that there are two kinds of Jews, that a
“vast dualism essentially characterizes this extraordinary race,”
Lazarus answers:
The dualism of the Jews is the dualism of humanity; they
are made up of the good and the bad. May not Christendom
be divided into those Christians who denounce such out­
rages as we are considering, and those who commit or apol­
ogize for them? Immortal genius and moral purity, as
exemplified by Moses and Spinoza, constitute a minority
among the Jews, as they do among the Gentiles. . . .36
Gone from her hero list are Jesus and Paul; gone is her ideal­
istic lament for the Jewish failure to produce “moral purity and
immortal genius.” This essay, entitled “Russian Christianity
Versus Modern Judaism” is the first of a stream of polemical
pieces in defense of her subject and in challenge to her people
that Emma Lazarus would write over the next few years. She had
begun to hit her stride and she revealed it in a vigorous, muscular
prose that belies the words of so many of her admirers —
including her sister —who insisted that she was the consummate,
shy, restrained, Victorian gentlewoman. All Emma Lazarus
lacked was an appropriate object for the passion of her “late-born
woman-soul” — a legitimate focus for the intensity of her moral
and aesthetic passion. She found it in the wedding of her identifi­
cation with her people and her decision to speak and act for them.
35 Madame Z. Ragozin, “RussianJews and Gentiles,”
Century Magazine
23 (1882),
p. 919.
36 Morris Schappes, pp. 63, 69.