Friday, September 28, 2007

The Rivals: A Tragedy of the New York Ghetto

A second Amos Dushaw Jewish Christian novel, The Rivals: A Tragedy of the New York Ghetto, was published in 1910.

When Daniel Mendes (a Jewish journalist who appears to be a believer in Jesus) meets Debora Herz, "Dan was indeed surprised to see before him a Jewess whose complexion and features was so foreign to the commonly accepted Hebrew type. She was a perfect blonde, and would easily have passed for a pure Anglo-Saxon" (p. 17).

Dan joins a discussion in a tavern about politics and religion. He says some nice words about Jesus and is almost attacked for it. But then he states that he has no intention of ever joining a Christian church, and that seems to calm people down.

Similarly, another Jewish character, Juda Gold, says that he is a believer in Jesus but not a member of any Christian church.

It turns out that Juda Gold is a former Christian minister. He explains that Jesus of Nazareth "has influenced my life for good in the past and He is still doing so. And let me add this: Jesus has quite a few followers who are not in the Christian Church, and there are quite a number of them among the Jews. I know many of them" (p. 39). It seems that Juda Gold left his affiliation with the church because he found there to be prejudice towards Jews. But he goes on to say: "My present position does not hinder me from believing that the Nazarene is the true Messiah" (p. 44).

Not every Jew in this novel is pro-Jesus. Mr. Herz (Debora's father) says: "You dare tell me in my house that that rascal was the Messiah" (p. 45).

Dan replies, "If you will show me in the writings of the New Tesament any hatred towards the Jew, I, too, will tear it up. The religion of the Nazarene is the religion of love, love for Jew and Gentile alike."

And the not wholly unexpected rejoinder comes from Mr. Herz: "Enough, enough, Mr. Mendes, you must be a secret missionary, stealing into people's homes for the express purpose of promulgating that vile faith. Are you a renegade?" (p. 46). When Dan admits that he is follower of Christ, Mr. Herz kicks both him and Juda Gold out of his house. Debora tells her father that she will continue to see Daniel Mendes, and in response to this, Mr. Herz passionately states, "She is no longer our daughter. We will mourn her as one dead" (p. 49).

Juda and Dan read together from the New Testament one of Jesus' prophecies to his followers: "They shall put you out of the synagogues." ... And then Juda says, "If there is anything [Mr. Herz] hates worse than a Christian, it is a converted Jew" (p. 50). [Nothing like stating the obvious, Juda].

Aunt Esther says in response to Mr. Herz' accusation that Dan is an apostate: "I saw no cross-marks on his arms. I never heard him speak unkindly of our race or of our religion. Would you like it better if he were like these anarchists who are always ridiculing our religion, and yet call themselves Jews?" "Yes" [Mr. Herz replies] (p. 61). [Ok, good point, Aunt Esther. But cross-marks? Is that what you were really expecting from a Jewish convert to Christianity?]

Dan says to Debora: "I love you most dearly, but I could not give up the Nazarene. He has been a light to my soul. I never knew the full meaning of life, God, Man, Brother, and Neighbour until I fell under the beneficient spell of his sublime influence. To know him is to love him. He, and He only, holds the key to the riddle of society" (p. 63). ... "He will put new life into them, -- life into the dry bones of Israel. ... Love, had Israel fallen in line with Christ's purpose nineteen hundred years ago, the world to-day would have been a different world and Isaiah's vision of universal peace would have been realized long ago. Oh, the bigotry of the modern Jew, orthodox and reformer alike! It is this bigotry that drives so many great souls of Israel into the Church, there to be lost among a people who do not appreciate the sacrifice" (p. 64).

Later Dan continues his argument: "The religion of the Nazarene, my dear, is not to be identified with a church or a creed. The religion of the Nazarene finds its fullest expression in the lives of individuals..... The members of this invisible church are to be found in few numbers, at least as compared with the millions of professing Christians" (p. 70).

Mr. Herz is not the only one in the family who is upset about Dan and Debora's relationship. At one point Debora's mother threatens to kill herself if Debora marries Dan the apostate.

Gordin says to Dan, "And yet you believe in the Christian religion?" "I did not say the Christian religion. I said the Gospel," continued Dan. "There is, strictly speaking, no religion of Jesus except as it is practised by individuals. The ecclesiastical machines are in too many instances the chief foes of the Gospel" (p. 111).

In the end, Dan and Debora do not get married. Debora and Gordin "made a special study of Christianity... And while we learned to love Jesus and value his teaching, we failed to find a religion of his in existence. [And we could never become a member of the church]" (p. 116). So Debora does not come to believe his Jesus, and the ill-fated lovebirds go their separate ways.

Amos Dushaw was a tragic figure of the early 20th century, and his fictional creations are equally tragic. Neither he nor his characters could find acceptance in any religious community, whether Jewish or Christian. Ultimately they opted to live their lives as "lonely men of faith."

One striking feature of Dushaw's novels is his depiction of the converted Jew as a Christian missionary. While some of these men were authentic and sincere, the general picture we get from Dushaw is one of corruption and cynical pragmatism. Wandering Jude hopes that the Jewish Christian missionaries of today are mostly of the sincere stripe, but perhaps not, if we are to believe such websites as

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