Lew’s comments on David Vital’s “A People Apart”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on March 27, 2015

a people apart & an untitled novel

I have only read a small part of Vital’s book, those chapters dealing with Jewish life in the years between Versailles (1919) and the invasion of Poland (1939), but there were several important insights in those chapters that have great relevance for my novel-in-process. In particular, Vital describes a change in the way European Jews were viewed …

  • the norms of political behavior set by the (19th c) Enlightenment had dissolved
  • post-Versailles antisemitism had a great deal to do with what had been decided at Versailles
  • two related sets of conflicts spread across Europe
    • (1) between those who wished to preserve the Versailles settlement versus those who wished to destroy it
    • (2) between extreme nationalists who promoted the interests of their country to the status of a self-serving moral imperative and their more moderate opponents
  • very little was now heard of a need to bring the Jews into accord with other citizens … of ridding the Jews of their faults of superstition, dress and customs 
  • what was now wanted was
    • (1) removal of Jews from the societal, economic, academic and political structures into which Jews had already been admitted
    • (2) removal from society
    • (3) physical removal from the country altogether
  • for Jewish leaders … the problem was not (as had been expected) to build on the foundations established at by the Enlightenment and enhanced at Versailles … but how to keep these foundations from being completely washed away

I don’t think Vital says it exactly this way, but it seems to me that the changes he describes were very much a backlash against the progress Jews had made after gaining civil rights throughout Europe. Increased Jewish competition with the Christian population in all economic spheres was feared and resented.

This is precisely what happened in Spain after the forced conversion of Jews around 1400 unleashed Jewish competition and then a backlash that led to the Spanish Inquisition and the Expulsion. I have written about these times in Spain in my novel THE HERETIC

 The Heretic (Hereje)



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