Jews in the Nineteenth Century

Some remarkable circumstances attest, without a prolonged detail of their miseries, that they have been a people everywhere peculiarly oppressed. The first unequivocal attempt at legislation in France was an ordinance against the Jews. And towards them alone one of the noblest charters of liberty on earth — Magna Charta, the Briton’s boast — legalized an act of injustice (Articles xii, xiii). For many ages after their dispersion, they found no resting-place in Europe, Asia, or Africa, but penetrated, in search of one, to the extremities of the world. In Mahometan countries they have ever been subject to persecution, contempt, and every abuse. They are in general confined to one particular quarter of every city, (as they formerly were to old Jewry in London) ; they are restricted to a peculiar dress ; and in many places are shut up at stated hours. In Hamadan, as in all parts of Persia, “they are an abject race, and support themselves by driving a peddling trade ;—they live in a state of great miser, pay a monthly tax to the government, and are not permitted to cultivate the ground, or to have landed possessions” (Morier’s Travels in Persia, p. 379). They cannot appear in public, much less perform their religious ceremonies, without being treated with scorn and contempt (Sir J. Malcolm’s History of Persia, vol. ii, p. 425). The revenues of the prince of Bohara are derived from a tribute paid by five hundred families of Jews, who are assessed according to the means of each. In Zante they exist in miserable indigence, and are exposed to considerable oppression (Hughes’ Travels, vol. i. p. 150). At Tripolit, when any criminal is condemned to death, the first Jew who happens to be at hand is compelled to become the executioner ; a degradation to the children of Israel to which no Moor is ever subjected (Lyon’s Travels, p. 16). In Egypt they are despised and persecuted incessantly (Denon’s Travels in Egypt, vol. i. p. 213). In Arabia they are treated with more contempt than in Turkey (Niebuhr’s Travels, vol. i. p. 408). The remark is common to the most recent travellers both in Asia and Africa (Morier’s Travels in Persia, p. 266. Lyon’s Travels in Africa, p. 32), that the Jews themselves are astonished, and the natives indignant, at any act of kindness, or even of justice, that is performed towards any of this “despised nation” and persecuted people.

Rev Alexander Keith, 1854

2 Replies to “Jews in the Nineteenth Century”

    1. Then I would recommend not reading the books of Bat Ye’or, The Dhimmis and The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam. I couldn’t even finish the latter, it was so depressing. Both are full of translations of primary sources: letters, diaries, official pronouncements, etc, relating to Muslim treatment of the religious minorities (mostly Jews and Christians) in their midst. They are very difficult reading, in an emotional respect, but if one wishes to have a realistic understanding of the “tolerance” touted for Islamic treatment of its religious minorities, they are absolutely necessary reading.

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