A Historian’s Jewel, Part II


He said he regarded “the very poorest Israelite with feelings akin to reverence, as one of the descendants of the most remarkable nation that had ever yet appeared on the face of the earth.” Others might see Jews as “a degraded, illiterate, money-loving race, fit only for the Stock Exchange or to take care of orange stalls.” His view, as Himmelfarb says, was “quite the reverse.”

Ashley said that the Jews had, among other virtues, “habits of study that would defy the competition of the most indefatigable German.”

Himmelfarb records that, in Germany, Ashley, or Shaftesbury, bowed to Jews as he passed them, “to their astonishment.”

He changed his mind about the admission of Jews to Parliament, yielding to public opinion (about the nature of the British state). He argued for the admission of Sir Moses Montefiore to the upper house: “It would be a glorious day for the House of Lords when that grand old Hebrew were enrolled on the lists of the hereditary legislators of England.”

Think about that name “Montefiore.” As David Pryce-Jones pointed out to me, long ago, it is the Italian “Blumberg.” And “Montfleury” is the French. These are all “flowered mountains.” They are all Blumberg, even if with national twists.

Moses Montefiore was indeed a “grand old Hebrew.” He lived to 101 — from 1784 to 1885. I like to think of it this way: When he was born, Mozart was flourishing; Beethoven was 13. He died the same year Alban Berg was born. And Jerome Kern.

As prime minister, Disraeli did not approve the admission of Montefiore to the Lords. Disraeli thought his approval would be “unseemly,” writes Himmelfarb — unseemly because of his heritage (meaning Disraeli’s, of course).

I could not help thinking of Henry Kissinger — of whom it was said, “He has to be especially tough on Israel, you know.”

Himmelfarb writes a neat passage — typically neat: “In two centuries, the ‘Jewish question’ had evolved from the question of the admission of Jews to England to that of the admission of Jews to Parliament. The resolution of both issues had much in common; they came about gradually, incrementally, civilly, by way of compromise and conciliation.”

Thomas Arnold, Matthew’s dad, was no philo-Semite: “The Jews are strangers in England, and have no more claim to legislate for it than a lodger has to share with the landlord in the management of his house.”

Son was not like father.

Walter Scott did not start out in the philo-Semitic camp — rather the opposite: “Jews will always be to me Jews. . . . They are money-makers and money-brokers by profession and it is a trade which narrows the mind.”

To borrow from a popular song, “My, my how he grew.”

A passage from Ivanhoe:

. . . there was no race existing on the earth, in the air, or the waters, who were the object of such an unintermitting, general, and relentless persecution as the Jews . . . Upon the slightest and most unreasonable pretences, as well as upon accusations the most absurd and groundless, their persons and property were exposed to every turn of popular fury; for Norman, Saxon, Dane, and Briton, however adverse these races were to each other, contended which should look with greatest detestation upon a people, whom it was accounted a part of religion to hate, to revile, to despise, to plunder, and to persecute.

I’m reminded of an old joke: Someone proposes that the U.N. create a global soccer team, to foster harmony and brotherhood. Someone asks, “But whom would the team play?” The person who proposed the team says, “Why, Israel, of course.”

Back to Disraeli’s novel, Tancred: A character says, “All is race; there is no other truth.”

All too many Americans espouse this dictum. (Like most of those who educated me, or tried to.)

I was quite amazed to read this, in a Himmelfarb footnote: “It was under the name of Tancred that the young Theodor Herzl (the founder of Zionism) had been inducted, as a student in Vienna, into a German nationalist fraternity after the ritual of a saber duel. Herzl later proposed that dueling be officially accredited in the state of Israel as a token of the aristocratic and nationalist spirit of the new country.”

George Eliot and others spelled the name of the author of Tancred D’Israeli — which makes sense, and fits the eye.

Eliot wrote an essay called “The Modern Hep! Hep! Hep!” The title refers to the cry of Crusaders as they fell upon the Jews. Himmelfarb writes, “More recently . . ., ‘Hep! Hep!’ had been the rallying cry of anti-Semitic rioters in Germany in 1819.”

I have — or had! — a much more pleasant association with “Hep! Hep!” I think of Cab Calloway’s “Jumpin’ Jive,” with its regular interjection of “Hep! Hep!” Have a listen.

Enough for today, dear readers. Thanks for joining me, and I’ll see you tomorrow for the third and final part.

To order Jay Nordlinger’s new book, Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.