Periods of History that had a Major Impact on the Jews
The following is the description of a course taught by T. Pavlidis in the Fall
of 2002 as part of the Adult Education Program of
Temple Isaiah at Stony Brook, Long Island, New York
The plan is to cover several periods in world history when events took place
that had a significant effect on the life and/or culture of the Jews. We will
start with Germany during 1930-37 covering the acquisition and consolidation
of power by the Nazis that ultimately led to the Holocaust. There is a strong
parallel between that period and the present because the Nazis received wide
support in order to "fight Communism," much as radical Islam in recent
times received support to "fight Communism."
The next period will be that of a positive era, Hellenism. After Alexander's
conquests most Jews adopted the Hellenistic culture. The period offers several
parallels with current Jewish life in the United States where most Jews have
adopted the mainstream culture.
Depending on the time left and the interests of the participants we will
study such periods as the Roman oppression and the rise of Christianity, the
Hyksos period in Egypt which may be considered to be a pre-history of the Jews.
During the 1920s several observers saw the Nazis as a lunatic fringe,
distasteful, but not to be taken seriously. By the summer of 1936 Hitler was the
undisputed master of Germany, admired by most Germans. How did it happen? The
world-wide depression that started in 1929 pushed the poorer people to see
communism as an attractive alternative and in turn it caused alarm amongst the affluent.
The latter saw the Nazis as means to "fight Communism."
The rise in power of a party that aimed at the elimination of the Jews is
particularly striking in the context of the overall successful integration of Jews into the
German society. The illustration below is from a detail from a memento of
the Franco-Prussian war (1871) showing German Jewish soldiers and officers
holding a field service for Yom Kippur. Comparisons with the current successful
integration of Jews into American society and the support of radical Islam as
means to "fight Communism" are inevitable.
- James Pool Hitler and his Secret Partners (Pocket Books, 1997).
The book documents the widespread support of the Nazis both by the German
establishment and outside powers, such as king of England Edward VIII (later the Duke of
Additional sources will be selected parts from the following:
- James Pool Who Financed Hitler
(Pocket Books, revised edition, 1997).Covering the earlier part of Hitler's rise to power.
- John Cornwell Hitlerís Pope
(Viking, 1999). The role of the man who later became
Pope Pius XII in helping Hitlerís rise to power.
- Joachim C. Fest Hitler
(Vintage Books, 1975, reprinted in 1999, transl. from the German). A
detailed account of political machinations and the use of anti-Semitism to
- William L. Shirer The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
(1960, Simon Schuster reprint 1990). An
excellent overall source, although a bit dated. However Shirer's Afterword
in the 1990 editions is remarkable.
||German Jewish soldiers praying on Yom Kippur during the 1870 Franco-Prussian
war. (Detail from the 5760 Jewish Calendar of the Bínai Bírith Klutzick
National Jewish Museum.)
Examples of Discussion
- The occupation of the Rhineland
Background: In March 1936 Hitler sent his troops to occupy the
Rhineland, a part of Germany that had been demilitarized by a treaty. He did
so against the advice of his generals. He admitted later "if the French
had (mobilized) we would have had to withdraw with our tails between our
legs." Shirer (p. 293) claims that the result from a strong French
reaction "would have been the end of Hitler." Later Hitler himself referred to the 48 hours after the occupation as the
"most nerve-racking" period in his life. (p. 293 of Shirer and pp. 496-497 of Fest). It
was a gamble that paid handsomely because, amongst other things it solidified
his own position within Germany, not only over his own generals but also over
the rest of the population. The remilitarization of the Rhineland was enormously
popular in Germany in its own right and with that action Hitler crossed the
threshold from a politician to a national leader. Before that Hitler's opponents
had hopes that they could get rid of him, but that step extinguished all such hopes.
Question: But was it really such a gamble?
4 of Poolís book (pp.89-113) provides an answer offering evidence that the
new English king (Edward VIII) who had just ascended to the throne (January
1936) provided significant information to Hitler, in effect, encouraging him
in his plan. His future wife, Mrs. Simpson, appears to be have been a
Edward VIII forced to abdicate because of his Ďlove for Mrs. Simpson,í or
because of his pro-German policy? How close did the world come to a
British-German alliance with all its horrendous portents for the Jews?
- Who benefited most from the persecution of the Jews?
While most of the killing of Jews occurred after the start of the war, the
persecution during the 1930ís benefited Hitlerís financial backers.
Chapter 5 of Poolís book (pp. 114-138) describes how this happened. Jewish
owners of major businesses were forced to sell them to "Aryans" at a
fraction (as little as 1/10th or less) of the true value. There was
no publicity associated with this (in effect) confiscation and, since these
Jews generally survived, relatively little attention has been paid to these
Questions: Which companies benefited from this process? What happened
to them? Where are they now? Most important: Was this is a significant
motivation for unleashing the terror against the Jews?
of these confiscations started in 1937, after the occupation of the Rhineland!
HELLENISM AND JUDAISM
I had not realized the extent of the adoption of the Greek culture by the
Jews until I visited the Jewish Museum in Rome. The museum contains a large
exhibit of ancient tombstones, all of them in Greek that are almost
indistinguishable from Greek tombstones I had seen in museums in Athens. In a
few cases one can see a depiction of a menorah otherwise one must read the
text to realize that they are Jewish Tombstones. For example, the word ΑΡΧΙΣΥΝΑΓΩΓΟΣ
(head of the Synagogue) can be found often. That led me to a series of
readings and the eventual realization that modern Jewish culture is second only
to modern Greek culture, and if we exclude the language, barely so, in
containing elements from the ancient Greek culture. (This apparent paradox is
probably due to the uprooting of many ancient Greek traditions in Greece itself
by the Christian church.)
- L. I. Levine Judaism & Hellenism in Antiquity (Univ. of Washington
Press, 1998). The author is on the faculty of the Hebrew University of
Jerusalem. -- Highlight: The concluding
sentence: "Without its ability to change and adapt, Jewish civilization might
well have atrophied long ago. The dynamic interplay between cultures - its
own and others - is an essential feature of the Jewish historical experience."
The supplemental references:
- V. Tcherikover Hellenistic
Civilization and the Jews (Hendrickson reprint in 1999 of the original
1959 edition). The classic treatise on the subject.
- S. Schwartz Imperialism and Jewish Society, 200 BCE to 640 BCE (Princeton
University Press, 2000). The author is on the faculty of the Jewish
Theological Seminary in New York. This is a new book with a startling new
theory of the Jewish history of the period. It is a serious scholarly book,
expecting a significant effort on the part of the reader, so it will not be used
as the main reference of the course.
Example of Discussion
The impact of assimilation
In spite of large scale cultural assimilation during the Hellenistic times
Judaism not only survived but also prospered. (The Encyclopedia Judaica
states that 10-12% of the population of the Roman empire were Jews.) How did
this happen and what implications does it have on modern concerns about