Has Israel a Future?

a senior oration by  Walter Gelston McNeil, class of 1894
delivered at Commencement, Dickinson College, June, 1894

transcribed and annotated by Robert Reeves, October 1999

The Jew is a cosmopolitan. There is no country on the face of the earth where he is unknown. This wide scattering is a result of age-long persecution. Heathens, Mohammedans(1), and Christians, disagreed in so many other things, have united to accomplish his ruin, but have not been able to effect it. His survival is an unparalleled spectacle. No other people has suffered such oppression and dispersion without being extirpated.(2)
Withersoever the Jew has gone, he has become acclimatized and has prospered. In contrast is the full end which has been made of his enemies. Where are the Egyptians? All that is left of them is the cold, lifeless mummy. What is there of Assyria,(3) of splendid Babylonia(4)? Only clay tablets and relics, vast and valuable, but valuable only as indication of what used to be. Of Rome we have only the fragments of a once mighty law. While all these peoples are gone, the Jew still lives. His existence is the more remarkable, when his antiquity is remembered. His origin is traced back clearly and acknowledgedly to Abraham(5), who went from the land of the Chaldees(6) in the dawn of the centuries. This man's posterity was an ancient people when the modern world came to exist. When England, and Germany, and France, and Spain were in the travail of birth, Israel was far advanced in years. This hoary people continues to this day, and is known the world over.
The Jewish people has stood for certain great truths; its mission has been to give them to the world. Monotheism and Providence. There is but one God, and he is a personal God (no blind force) interested in the affairs of men. To the Jews were "committed the oracles of God,"(7) says Paul(8). During a long period of years, that they might guard these oracles they were isolated from the other people, they were governed by a strict ritual. Out of this isolation and ritualism, and out of the age-long oppression which they have suffered, have come the modern Jews. Their future is a problem which interests the entire world. The student of social matters, and of political affairs, as well as the Jew himself, is concerned with it. The more carefully the present condition of this people is studied, the clearer does it appear that they will have a significant future.
The Hebrew makes himself at home everywhere. If no hindrance is offered, he becomes quickly nationalized. It is remarkable how easily he adapts himself to any and every place, entering at once into the life and spirit of his new home. Yet the son of Israel remains distinct from all the nations among whom he lives. Whether it is in Alexandria, or Berlin, or London, or New York, the observer can mark out the Jew distinct and separate from the people about him. The exclusiveness is mutual, both the people into which he has gone and the newcomer himself agreeing to it. This ubiquitous(9) man may, however, be said to be nationalized. It is on this wise, as one has said, that he emphasizes the characteristics of whatever people he dwells among. The American Jew, as an illustration, does enthusiastically what the people in America do, makes a god of gold. In every country where he is found he is a man of the country, but always a Hebrew.
Everywhere the Jew makes a success of business. It is not from his ranks that the inmates of alms-houses come, but by the labor of his hands he provides for his family. He understands more thoroughly than any other people both the theory and the practice of business. Not by some magic does he succeed. Patience, energy, persistent industry, economy are the qualities that enter into his work, by virtue of which his success is attained. So well does he understand business and so industrious is he, that when in the darkest times, when others' fortunes are crumbling, he prospers(10).
It is to this fact of his success in life that the Jew owes most of his enemies. While he succeeds, others fail. They therefore hate him. Their very hate has helped him; the tyranny of the years has taught him the value of money. Perhaps it has also made him forget his scruples. "The ages have succeeded," says Mr. Leroy-Beulien, a recent writer, "in warping the conscience of that people in whom the word conscience has had its origin." But it is not the warped conscience so much as his many admirable business qualities that have given the Jew his position in the business world today. His success is a fact. In the commercial affairs of Germany, of England, of America the Hebrew is the leading power. Does it mean anything?
Money-making is not the only ambition of the Hebrew race. They were a nation of students before they gave themselves to this employment. Their ancestors were "the money-changer, the broker, the second hand dealer, the usurer(11)," but not these alone. Among the Jews, as among all other ancients, agents of business were held in ill repute. The man of honor in the Hebrew nation was the rabbi, the interpreter of the Law. The student was held far superior to the banker. Nor have the Jews forgotten their ideal. "I do not know a more intellectual race," says the writer already quoted. Everywhere they are availing themselves of the educational advantages of the day. In the public schools, in the colleges, and universities their names are prominent upon the role of honor. Modern statesmanship tells of many mighty men who were Jews. There was Castelar of Spain(12); Gambetta(13), of France; Disraeli(14), of England, and many others, some of them erratic, but no less able in intellect. Theological research, than which no subject has had more powerful advocates, furnishes Jewish names, such as Neander(15), Delitzsch(16), and Edersheim(17). Each year this people gets new prominence in fields where intellect has play. It was only recently that a debate took place in the French Chamber(18), which showed the strength of the Hebrews in France. While there are only 100,000 Jews in the country, 11 are among the high officials in the Ministry of Agriculture, 21 in the postal and telegraph service, 27 in the Ministry of Finance, 30 in the Ministry of Public Works, and 35 in the Ministry of Public Instruction. France is only an illustration of the intellectual force of the people are displaying among all the nations.
During all the ages Israel has possessed high moral character. In contrast with other nations, she has understood and observed the laws of morality and of physical beauty. They were written down specifically in her ritual. It is undoubtedly owing to their possession of this Law that the Jews have escaped the contamination of sin in their touch with other peoples, and especially that they survived the Middle Ages. Today they are marked for their temperate habits, and are well behaved. The proportion of the criminal class in their population is very much below that of any other people.
As a part of the moral idea is the family spirit of the Hebrews. They have always been known for their love of home, for the care of the mother for her children, and for the chastity of the marriage relation. Parental amenities and privileges have always been held very dear by them. In their histories are to be found very beautiful pictures of home life, none of which is quite so touching as that which a few glimpses suggest that the Nazareth(19) house of Jesus was. It has been the mission of the Hebrews to uphold the moral idea. What of the future?
The religious aspect of the Jewish question is interesting. Changes are taking place in the views of many of the race, and they are abandoning the religion of their fathers. In many cases synagogues are organized and conducted on altogether unorthodox principles. The rabbi in one of them recently made the following defence(20) of the observance of Sunday instead of the seventh day: "The Jew and Judaism cannot get along with a mere make-believe Sabbath. He must have a real Sabbath, a Sabbath observed, where the spiritual concerns of life take precedence over the material. For if Judaism is going to live at all, it cannot live upon a falsehood." Many others of the dissenting Jews drift into infidelity, for this is the only possibility open to them when they altogether reject Judaism and refuse to believe in Christ(21). But there are counter influences at work. Of late years there has been a movement toward a deeper religious culture, of which the organization known as The National Council of Jewish Women(22) is an index. The reports of the work of the society affirm progress and disclose a great and growing desire of the members to known the Bible and Judaistic literature, and to be engaged on the practical side of religion, philanthropy, in which work Jewish methods are "altogether admirable." Here at the close of the nineteenth century is witnessed organized and encouraged effort to maintain a system that long ago fulfilled its mission and that seemed to be decaying.
It thus appears that in every sense the Jews have been and are a remarkable people. Notwithstanding the age-long oppression they are found, as we see, adapting themselves to the entire globe and achieving wonderful success everywhere. So far all the facts of their history agree with predictions made centuries ago; so that, as Keith says, we could write a "description of them in the very terms of the prophecy." Other prophecies remain unfulfilled, and men are asking concerning the future of this people. It is a question in which the whole world is interested. None can answer. But we dare believe that a people with such a past and so remarkable in the present will occupy a prominent place in the future. We can venture as far as Bishop R. S. Forster and say that the preservation of this people (and inferentially, their present status) "can only be explained by the further part they are yet to act in the accomplishment of remaining unfulfilled prophecies, when from among the nations, in some unforseen way, God will gather his chosen people around the long rejected standard of their Messiah, and restore them the land given to Abraham and his seed. We do not venture upon the interpretation of unfulfilled prophecy; but that these wonderful people are to have a conspicuous part in the role of coming events we do not doubt."(23) No man can say more than this; no man can say less.
Walter G. McNeil(24)
Baltimore, MD

1. Of, or relating to, Mohammed or Islam. ("Mohammedan." Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 1998 ed.)

2. To destroy completely: wipe out. ("Extirpate." Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 1998 ed.)

3. Kingdom of northern Mesopotamia that became the center of one of the great Empires of the ancient Middle East. It was located in what is now northern Iraq and Southeastern Turkey. ("Assyria." Encyclopædia Britannica. 1898 ed.)

4. Ancient cultural region occupying southeastern Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (modern southern Iraq, from around Baghdad to the Persian Gulf). Because the city of Babylon was the capital of this area for so many centuries, the term Babylonia has come to refer to the entire culture that developed in the area from the time it was first settled about 4000 B.C. ("Babylonia." Encyclopædia Britannica. 1898 ed.)

5. First of the Hebrew patriarchs and a figure revered by the three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. According to the Biblical book of Genesis, Abraham left Ur, in Mesopotamia, because God called him to found a new nation in the undesignated land that he later learned was Canaan. He obeyed unquestioningly the commands of God, from whojme he received repeated promises and a covenant that his "seed" would inherit the land. ("Abraham." Encyclopædia Britannica. 1898 ed.)

6. Chaldees, from Chaldea, refers to an ancient Semitic tribe originally occupying the low alluvial land about the estuaries of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Gradually they became the dominant people of Babylonia. Chaldees are also people named in Babylonian lore. ("Chaldea." Encyclopædia Britannica. 1898 ed.)

7. The author may be referring to Romans, chapter 3: "To begin with, the Jews are entrusted with the oracles of God." (Bible.)

8. Paul, the Apostle, Saint. Original name is Saul of Tarsus, a 1st century Jew, who, after first being a bitter enemy of Christianity, later became an important figure in its history. A leading apostle (missionary), he played a decisive role in pushing Christianity beyond the limits of Judaism to become a worldwide religion. ("Paul, the Apostle, Saint." Encyclopædia Britannica Online.  [Accessed 12 October 1999].)

9. Existing or being everywhere at the same time: constantly encountered. ("Ubiquitous." Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 1998 ed.)

10. Here the author relates a common stereotype about the Jewish people.

11. One that lends money, especially at an exorbitant rate. ("Usurer." Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 1998 ed.)

12. Emilio Castelar y Ripoll (1832-1899), statesman and author, one of the most powerful champions of Spanish Republicanism in the later half of the 19th century. He was president of the first Spanish republic from September 1873 to January 1874. ("Castelar y Ripoll, Emilio." Encyclopædia Britannica Online[Accessed 16 October 1999].)

13. Léon Gambetta, French republican statesman who helped direct the defense of France during the Franco-German War of 1870-71; he also helped found the Third French Republic. ("Gambetta, Léon." Encyclopædia Britannica Online. [Accessed 16 October 1999].)

14. Benjamin "Dizzy" Disraeli, Earl Of Beaconsfield, Viscount Hughenden Of Hughenden. Disraeli, of Italian-Jewish descent, was twice the British Prime Minister and he provided the Conservative Party with a twofold policy of Tory democracy and imperialism. ("Disraeli, Benjamin, Earl Of Beaconsfield, Viscount Hughenden Of Hughenden." Encyclopædia Britannica Online. [Accessed 16 October 1999].)

15. Johann August Wilhelm Neander (1789-1850), member of the Preterist revival in the 19th century, he contributed to the overall understanding of scripture through cosmological eschatology. ("Neander, August." Encyclopædia Britannica. 1898 ed.)

16. Franz Delitzsch (1813-1890) was the publisher of Saat auf Hoffnug, a journal published by the Jewish revivalist mission in Germany near the end of the 19th century. (Heinrichs, Wolfgang. "The Image of the Jew in the Protestant Jewish mission in the German Empire: an outline based on the observations of Saat auf Hoffnug: Zeitschrift für die Mission der Kirche an Israel." Zeitschrift fur Religions-und Geistesgeeschichte. [Netherlands] 1992.

17. Reverend Alfred Edersheim, renowned Bible expert, born March 7th 1825 in Vienna, Austria, he was one of the preeminent scholars on matters of scripture and Jewish social customs. Edersheim's body of work is still considered one of the most useful tools in the study of Judaism and Christianity.  He passed away March 16th, 1889 in Menton, France.(Edersheim, Alfred.  The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.  New York: A.D.F. Randolph, [188-?]; Biographical Data - Alfred Edersheim.  1999.  12 Oct. 1999.

18. French Chamber [of Deputies]: lower house of the French legislature bicameral legislature under the Third Republic. ("France, history of." Encyclopædia Britannica Online.  [Accessed 16 October 1999].)

19. Nazareth, historic city of Lower Galilee, in northern Israel; it is the largest Arab city of the country. In the New Testament Nazareth is associated with Jesus as his boyhood home, and in its synagogue he preached the sermon that led to his rejection by his fellow townsmen. The city is now a center of Christian pilgrimage. ("Nazareth." Encyclopædia Britannica. 1898 ed.)

20. Here the author uses the British spelling of the word.

21. The reader should note the author's ethnocentric viewpoint in reference to comments made about Judaism. The author appears to believe that the Jews' rejection of Christ, and therefore Christianity, is the source of most of their current problems. Specifically, he states that the uprise in infidelity among the Jewish people is directly related to the absence of Christ in their faith.

22. The National Council of Jewish Women [NCJW], founded in 1893 by Hannah G. Solomon, is a volunteer organization founded improve the quality of life for women, children, and families through Jewish values. The NCJW also attempts to ensure individual freedoms and rights for all through its practices. (National Council of Jewish Women. 1999. 12 Oct. 1999.)

23. This quotation from Bishop Foster reflects the view of messianism that was prominent in 19th century, following the political emancipation of the Jews in many countries. It promotes an idea of progress through enlightened actions though was generally more secular than the author of this quotation would lead the reader to believe.

24. McNeil, Rev. Walter Gelston. Born Nov. 5, 1871, Baltimore, MD.; parents, Hugh and Alice Elizabeth McNeil; preparatory school, Baltimore City College and Dickinson Preparatory School; entered 1890; A.B., 1894; A.M., 1897; Clergyman; member of Baltimore Conference, Methodist Episcopal Church, 1898-1904, and Exeter St. Church, 1904-; Baltimore, MD; Phi Delta Theta, Phi Beta Kappa; Union Philosophical Society. (Alumni Record. George L. Reed, ed. Carlisle, PA: Dickinson College, 1905; Microcosm. Harrisburg, PA: J. Horace McFarland Co., 1892.)