By Athenaeum B & W (R.A.)
The 1916 Amsterdam New York Board Manual gives a glimpse into commercial and social life in upstate New York 100 years ago.
Out of dozens of commercial advertisements in the Manual, only one contains a telephone number. Perhaps more significantly, one can observe that the officers of the Amsterdam Board of Trade proudly publish pictures of the houses in which they reside. Views on privacy seem to have changed a lot over the last 100 years. Another interesting change: The decline of prominence and influence of fraternal societies.
But looking at the Constitution of the Amsterdam New York Board of Trade, it appears one thing has not changed: The temptation to capture organizations for the pursuit of partisan politics. The final Article of this constitution provides as follows:
Partisan politics and sectarian religion shall not be introduced in the business or deliberation of the Association.
In the epilogue to his collection of essays on the “Legacy of Israel,” Professor Abrahams addresses head-on the distinction between “Israel” and such entities as “Greece” or “Rome.”
He points out that although Greece and Rome exist on a map, their ancient culture is largely vanished. At the same time, in his view, there still exist representatives of ancient Israel around — the Jews — even though there is no Israel on the map. Or at least there was not in the 1920s.
Professor Abrahams makes an interesting prediction, excerpted here:
Excerpt from Epilogue
It is clear that there can and will be no more gifts of the kind which are described in many of the previous essays in this volume. The Jews will no longer act even as intermediaries in philosophy or science. They will not influence Law or Scholarship, as they may have influenced it in the past. Individual Jews may, and doubtless will, play their part and rise to eminence, but it is not as Jews that they will do so. Their Jewish religion or Jewish birth will be an accident.
Nearly 100 years after this essay was written, one can ask if there are — or if there will be — important Israeli contributions to mankind. In the past few years, Tel Aviv has risen to prominence as an important startup hub and by many accounts is number 1 outside of the United States. Modern Israel is also widely acclaimed for its innovations in the areas of cyber warfare and unmanned military aircraft. Time will tell.
Nathan Isaacs was an American law professor who taught at Harvard in the early part of the 20th century. Professor Isaacs was a Jew who saw Zionism as an opportunity for Jewish legal thinking to inform the framework of a Jewish State.
Professor Isaacs wrote an essay, published first in 1927, regarding the influence of Jewish law on Western law. Here is an Excerpt.
Professor Isaacs approvingly discusses the hypothesis that the quarantine and isolation of lepers in medieval Europe was based on Jewish law. At the same time, he notes that biblical precedents have been cited “in favour of slavery and against the emancipation of women.”
This of course raises the question: How much of the supposed influence is simply a matter of advocates seeking to rationalize or justify the positions they have already espoused? Moreover, one can ask how Professor Isaacs’ own views were shaped by his unusual position as a Jewish academic in a largely non-Jewish setting; living in the early days of Zionism but well before the Jewish state was founded?
The Baganda: An Account of Their Native Customs and Beliefs was written by John Roscoe, an Anglican missionary who lived from 1861 to 1932. The book was first published in 1911.
The Baganda contains several references to slavery which was taking place at the time:
In the first reference, the author is not coy about his views on slavery, referring to the “revolting site meeting the Arab slaver with his victims in chains labouring under the weight of tusks of ivory and other merchandise.” (p. 2).
A later reference seems more sympathetic: “The status of slavery was not so dreadful in Uganda as in many other countries. In many cases, the worst that could be said against it was that a slave was deprived of his freedom, that neither his wife nor his children were his own, and that his life was at his master’s disposal. On the other hand, if a man married his slave girl, and she had children, she became free, and her children were acknowledged by the clan.” (p. 14).
So why the difference? As a Christian missionary, did Roscoe have strong feelings against Arabs who would have been primarily Muslim? Was it that he was sympathetic with the specific group he was studying? Did he see Arabs as outsiders that part of Africa?
Readers’ thoughts are welcome.
The Legacy of Israel is a collection of essays published in 1927 by Oxford University Press. The Preface states that “[i]t is a companion to The Legacy of Greece and The Legacy of Rome”
Excerpt from Preface
Of course, in 1923, modern Israel had yet to be created and the editor was using the word “Israel” to refer to “Judaism and the Jewish view of the world.” One can contrast this with the words “Greece” and “Rome,” which in 1923 referred to specific geographic locations. At the same time, the editor later explains in the Prologue that the words “Greece” and “Rome” are meant to refer to specific cultures which came to an end.
At the same time, the Prologue suggests that in the United Kingdom in the early 20th century, it was common to think of “Israel” as a “community living in both the Christian and Muhamadan worlds.” (p. xxxvi).