Michael Unterberg
A guy in Efrat

Tales of our Homeland #2: Pinsker’s Ghost

Notes and Suggestions for further reading: 

All of this issue’s ideas come from Pinsker’s magnum opus Auto-Emancipation. This pamphlet, from 1882, remains a relevant and compelling read, in our opinion. You can read the full (and fairly short) text here. The reader can decide for themselves how much of his analysis still applies in our time. Do his ideas apply when a Jewish State exists, but the majority of world Jewry don’t live there? 

Panel 1 Yehuda Pinsker

Panel 2 Odessa Pogroms

Panel 3 Full quote: “[Jews] seeking to fuse with other peoples they deliberately renounced to some extent their own nationality. Yet nowhere did they succeed in obtaining from their fellow-citizens recognition as natives of equal status. 

But the greatest impediment in the path of the Jews to an independent national existence is that they do not feel its need. Not only that, but they go so far as to deny its authenticity. 

In the case of a sick man, the absence of desire for food is a very serious symptom. It is not always possible to cure him of this ominous loss of appetite. And even if his appetite is restored, it is still a question whether he will be able to digest food, even though he desires it. 

The Jews are in the unhappy condition of such a patient. We must discuss this most important point with all possible precision. We must prove that the misfortunes of the Jews are due, above all, to their lack of desire for national independence; and that this desire must be awakened and maintained in time if they do not wish to be subjected forever to disgraceful existence — in a word, we must prove that they must become a nation.”

Panels 4 – 7 Full quote: “With the loss of their country, the Jewish people lost their independence, and fell into a decay which is not compatible with existence as a whole vital organism. The state was crushed before the eyes of the nations. But after the Jewish people had ceased to exist as an actual state, as a political entity, they could nevertheless not submit to total annihilation — they lived on spiritually as a nation. The world saw in this people the uncanny form of one of the dead walking among the living. The ghostlike apparition of a living corpse, of a people without unity or organization, without land or other bonds of unity, no longer alive, and yet walking among the living — this spectral form without precedence in history, unlike anything that preceded or followed it, could but strangely affect the imagination of the nations. And if the fear of ghosts is something inborn, and has a certain justification in the psychic life of mankind, why be surprised at the effect produced by this dead but still living nation.  

A fear of the Jewish ghost has passed down the generations and the centuries. First a breeder of prejudice, later in conjunction with other forces we are about to discuss, it culminated in Judeophobia…

Judeophobia is a psychic aberration. As a psychic aberration it is hereditary, and as a disease transmitted for two thousand years it is incurable. 

Friend and foe alike have tried to explain or to justify this hatred of the Jews by bringing all sorts of charges against them. They are said to have crucified Jesus, to have drunk the blood of Christians, to have poisoned wells, to have taken usury, to have exploited the peasant, and so on. These and a thousand and one other charges against an entire people have been proved groundless… He who tries to prove too much proves nothing at all. Though the Jews may justly be charged with many shortcomings, those shortcomings are, at all events, not such great vices, not such capital crimes, as to justify the condemnation of the entire people…

In this way have Judaism and Anti-Semitism passed for centuries through history as inseparable companions. Like the Jewish people, the real wandering Jew, Anti-Semitism, too, seems as if it would never die. He must be blind indeed who will assert that the Jews are not the chosen people, the people chosen for universal hatred… 

Having analyzed Judeophobia as a hereditary form of demonopathy, peculiar to the human race, and having represented Anti-Semitism as proceeding from an inherited aberration of the human mind, we must draw the important conclusion that we must give up contending against these hostile impulses as we must against every other inherited predisposition. This view is especially important because it should persuade us that polemics are useless and that we should abstain from it as a waste of time and energy, for against superstition even the gods contend in vain. Prejudice or instinctive ill-will is not moved by rational argument, however forceful and clear… 

In human psychology, then, we find the roots of the prejudice against the Jewish nation; but there are other factors not less important which render impossible the fusion or equalization of the Jews with the other peoples to be considered. In the seemingly irrelevant circumstances, that the Jews are not regarded as an independent nation by other nations, rests in part the secret of their abnormal position and of their endless misery. Merely to belong to this people is to be indelibly stigmatized, a mark repellent to non-Jews and painful to the Jews themselves. However, this phenomenon is rooted deeply in human nature. 

Among the living nations of the earth the Jews are as a nation long since dead.”

Panels 8 & 9 Full quote: “No people, generally speaking, likes foreigners… Now, is the Jew subject to this general law to the same extent as the other nationalities? Not at all… The non-Jew pursues his own interest in a foreign country openly and without giving offense. It is everywhere considered natural that he should fight for these interests, alone or in conjunction with others. The foreigner has no need to be, or to seem to be, a patriot. But as for the Jew, not only is he not a native in his own home country, but he is also not a foreigner; he is, in very truth, the stranger par excellence. He is regarded as neither friend nor foe but an alien, of whom the only thing known is that he has no home. 

One distrusts the foreigner but does not trust the Jew. The foreigner has a claim to hospitality, which he can repay in the same coin. The Jew can make no such return; consequently he can make no claim to hospitality. He is not a guest, much less a welcome guest. He is more like a beggar; and what beggar is welcome! He is rather a refugee; and where is the refugee to whom a refuge may not be refused? …

Since the Jew is nowhere at home, nowhere regarded as a native, he remains an alien everywhere. That he himself and his ancestors as well are born in the country does not alter this fact in the least.

In the great majority of cases, he is treated as a stepchild, as a Cinderella; in the most favorable cases he is regarded as an adopted child whose rights may be questioned; never is he considered a legitimate child of the fatherland…”

Michael Unterberg (author) and Zvi Ron (artist) have been making comics together since they were classmates in Yeshivah of Flatbush elementary school. They both live in Gush Etzion.

Please do not reuse without permission from the authors. Thank you. 

About the Author
Rabbi Michael Unterberg is an Israel Educator. He is a very proud father and grandfather, and lives in Efrat.