Wednesday, May 8, 1991
History 328: Antisemitism in Historical Perspective
. . . in ideological arguments, logic and consistency are hardly decisive; the train of thought is not guided by the quest for truth but by the need to justify prior beliefs.-- Jacob Katz, From Prejudice to Destruction
Before the so-called Enlightenment of the eighteenth century in western Europe, there existed systems of belief about Jews and women designed to justify their inferior places in society. With the growing interest in rationalism and liberal theory, however, thinkers such as the English Deists and French philosophes were forced to consider that members of both groups might be as worthy as the thinkers themselves were of the individual liberties they were stressing. Liberal theory, the conception of human beings as genderless, rational entities carried around by physical bodies, was an increasingly compelling point of view during the Enlightenment, but it presented significant problems to those who wanted to justify the continuing realities of antisemitism and antifeminism. Instead of helping eliminate these prejudices, the intellectuals of the period often tried to come up with different justifications for them.
In my examination of the persistence of antisemitism and antifeminism, I am taking a theoretical approach, working within the history of ideas; I am not exploring the social manifestations of these ideas in any depth. What I would like to do is first explore how the justifications for prejudice against Jews changed during the Enlightenment, and then how the nature of prejudice against women changed during the same time; and finally, how these changes paralleled each other.
For an exploration of antisemitism during this time, the entry in the Encyclopedia Judaica under the heading "Enlightenment" is a helpful place to begin. The writer of the encyclopedia's article briefly discusses the new secularism and the rise of the French philosophes such as Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Voltaire. These thinkers and their contemporaries undermined the religious basis of prejudice against Jews with their increasing reliance on reason instead of faith. Their arguments against Christianity often led to a sympathy with Jews, the victims of Christian intolerance. Still, two factors undermined this new sympathy. First, the Jews' plight was revealed not to help the Jews themselves, but to condemn Christianity; second, the Jews were treated by philosophes "not as real individuals, but as a useful abstraction."
Jewish people themselves were often mistrusted. Their religion was treated as "superstition," and their anti-social particularism condemned. The prevailing attitude toward Jews seems to have been that ideally, they would receive rights as all citizens would, but that their Judaism would be a necessary casualty of this emancipation. The Jews' refusal to give up their beliefs and heritage contributed to a significant "anti-Jewish fervor, " especially among Diderot, d'Holbach, and Voltaire. The philosophes' "war on Christianity" led to a reviling of its Jewish origins and a hatred so deeply emotional that it is inexplicable by rational means. Even while admitting this inexplicability, the author suggests several more reasons for this fervor, again citing the anti-social particularism of the Jews, and mentioning a resentment of Jewish economic success.
In From Prejudice to Destruction: Anti-Semitism, 1700-1933, Jacob Katz discusses the importance of the Christian tradition at greater length. He says that "rationalism did not bridge the [Jewish-Christian] schism, but succeeded only in changing its character" (13-14). Noting that there is a "heavy hereditary burden, going back to the Middle Ages and ancient times, [looming] over the relationship between the Jew and the non-Jewish world" (13), Katz discusses Johann Andreas Eisenmenger's Entdeckes Judenthum, published about 1710. Eisenmenger's book, says Katz, summarizes and exemplifies many of the traditions of medieval Christian anti-Judaism. Eisenmenger makes a tremendously learned inquiry into Jewish legends and traditions, but he emphasizes peculiar aspects of and attitudes toward Judaism to make it look subversive and evil. He does not take into account the change in Jewish tradition over time, but instead treats all the Talmudic and Mishnaic texts as "guides for the daily behavior of the Jews" instead of as "books for study" (16). To back up his claims of Jewish eccentricity, Eisenmenger, according to Katz, interprets texts far more literally than Jews ever did (17), and argues that Jews hold other religions and their believers in contempt. Katz comments, "Eisenmenger drives his interpretation to the height of absurdity" (19).
Eisenmenger's inquiry into the nature of Judaism is noteworthy for its willingness to bend texts and ideas to fit its own purposes. Katz treats it as an expression of the theological bases of antisemitism, and says that it might be considered "obsolete in its own time" (23). Somewhere between 1680 and 1715, what Katz calls the "rationalist reorientation" supplanted the theological approach for many thinkers. Scholars such as Fénelon, Bayle, and Toland turned to rationalism to "explain natural phenomena, the essence of man, human society and its development" (23). Their rationalism also "confronted the earlier view of the world that had dominated the minds of men and found it to be the product of imagination and delusion" (23).
Rational investigation into Christianity proved both beneficial and detrimental to the Jews, as the Encyclopedia Judaica indicates. The investigation into "natural and historical phenomena with detached human understanding" (Katz 23) worked in two directions for Jews: it led eventually to emancipation, but it also established new bases for antisemitism and contributed to arguments used to justify the Holocaust. Christian invective against Jews was often cited as evidence of the evils of Christianity, because rationalists argued that Jews, being human beings, had as much claim to basic dignity and human rights as anyone else. On the other hand, attacks on Christianity inevitably led to attacks on its origins. As Katz says, "Judaism was made an object of criticism by virtue of its connection with Christianity" (25). Thus an author's approach to criticizing Christianity determined his attitude toward Judaism.
In his essay "The Attitude of the Enlightenment towards the Jew," Paul H. Meyer traces the main currents of Enlightenment thought concerning the Jews. He, too, suggests that the scholarly approaches to the Jewish question during this time often depended on the personal interests of the investigators. Those scholars who advocated equality for the Jews usually did so because they had no personal quarrel with Jewish people, and wanted to call attention to the evils of Christianity for discriminating against worthy human beings. For instance, discussing Montesquieu's sympathy for the Jew, Meyer notes that
On the one hand, he [Montesquieu] was married to a Protestant and naturally sympathized with the predicament of any minority; on the other, he was a Gascon and therefore particularly familiar with a part of France where a westernized and Sephardic minority in no way taxed the patience of the rest of the population. (1175)
Meyer points out that anti-Jewish and antisemitic sentiments seem to have been more likely for thinkers who encountered Ashkenazic Jews, who often "remained firmly attached to the letter of a creed which western thinkers of the period were bound to find highly uncongenial" (1175).
The increasing reliance on the power of human intellect enabled thinkers to take radically new approaches to questions of religious faith. The English Deists argued that faith in God "was demanded by human reason and logic" (Katz 27), and attacked the idea that religion was revealed by God to humankind. Katz presents John Toland, a Deist, as an example of a thinker who uses this new approach to present ancient Judaism favorably "as a system of beliefs and a social and political way of life" (27). Toland's positive stance, however, is yet another example of praising Judaism in order to disparage Christianity. Meyer notes that Toland's own struggle with "an Anglican church that could be branded as a satellite of Roman Catholicism" led him to take "delight in picturing the Jews as age-old victims of fanaticism, bigotry, and corrupt priests" (1165). Even as he advocates equal treatment for Jews, Toland, too, treats them as a "useful abstraction."
Both Katz and Meyer discuss another approach to criticism of Christianity, an approach far less helpful to Jews. Even as some Deists portrayed Judaism favorably, others used the new perspective on the Bible to argue against the validity and usefulness of the Old Testament, and therefore against the value of Jewish tradition. Katz says that most Deists wanted to "prove that the Bible could not be regarded as revelation because the morality in it conflicted with the qualities of the beneficent God whose existence was required by human reason" (29). Still, English thinkers of the eighteenth century did not connect this new criticism of the Bible with the Jews of their time, most likely because Jews had been absent from England so long that the English were less likely to bear hostility toward them. Katz says that the Deist doctrine "had to be removed from its original context, given pungency, and directed toward a concrete target," and that "the primary translator and and transformer was Voltaire" (33). Voltaire's virulent antisemitism merits a great deal of consideration in and of itself.
Voltaire is a tremendously complicated figure in this discussion. Meyer suggests that his influence was largely responsible for the "acceptance of the liberal ideas that had made such headway since the middle of the [eighteenth] century, combined with all the old anti-Jewish prejudices, now bolstered by economic and political rather than the traditional religious arguments" (1197). The move away from theological arguments against Jews toward more economic, political, and social ones is very much characteristic of the current of thought during the Enlightenment, and Voltaire is one of the most important figures in this development.
Voltaire builds on the work of the English Deists. Using their rationalism to develop his own criteria for evaluating history and historical groups, he constructs an elaborate argument much more dangerous to the Jews than those I have discussed above, because it treats Jewish tradition and the Old Testament as the bases for all the flaws of Christianity. Katz describes Voltaire's methods of inquiry as emphasizing an anthropological approach to history, using carefully determined criteria for evaluating past societies. These criteria include Voltaire's own strict moral code, his definition of reasonableness, scientific and cultural productivity, and an ability to sustain what he called a proper political system (40).
Meyer indicates that the conclusions Voltaire draws from this supposedly objective system of inquiry are actually quite biased. Citing the "irrelevance of his numerous gratuitous aspersions cast on the Jews as individuals, as in Candide," and his "frequent and deliberate distortions of the facts related in the Bible" (1177), Meyer would agree with Arthur Hertzberg, author of The French Enlightenment and the Jews, who writes that Voltaire was widely regarded as "the enemy not only of biblical Judaism but of the struggling Jews of his own day" (286). Meyer continues,
There is no question but that Voltaire, particularly in his later years, nursed a violent hatred of the Jews and it is equally certain that his animosity, made respectable by his moral stature at a time when the old-fashioned accusations current in the middle ages would have been greeted with derision, did have a considerable impact on France. (1177)
Hertzberg mentions that Voltaire "did have two direct, unfortunate dealings with Jews at various points of his life" (283), thus lending credence to Meyer's implication that thinkers whose patience had been taxed by less assimilated Jews were more likely to attack Jewry; but Hertzberg argues that such an interpretation of Voltaire's motives is overly simplistic.
Hertzberg cites Voltaire's own letter to Isaac de Pinto, a prominent Jewish economist of the mid-eighteenth century, as an example of the complicated nature of Voltaire's attitudes toward Jews. In the article that prompted de Pinto's Apology for the Jewish Nation, Voltaire justifies his inquiry by arguing that "It is certain that the Jewish nation is the most singular that the world has ever seen; and although, in a political view, the most contemptible of all, it is on various accounts, worthy of consideration" (qtd. in Mendes-Flohr 252). He characterizes Jews as stateless vagabonds and idolaters and emphasizes biblical notions of Solomon's sacrifices to "strange gods." Making further references to their place in the ancient world, he says, "The Jews never were natural philosophers, nor geometricians, no astronomers . . . In short, we find them only an ignorant and barbarous people, who have long united the most sordid avarice with the most detestable superstition and the most invincible hatred for every people by whom they are tolerated and enriched" (253). Responding to de Pinto's apology for the Jews (qtd. in Mendes-Flohr 253-5), Voltaire says, "As you are a Jew, remain so. But be a philosopher" (qtd. in Mendes-Flohr 256).
Hertzberg notes that this famous letter to de Pinto, in which Voltaire promises to "take care to insert a cancel-leaf in the new edition" of his work to "make reparation" for "attributing to a whole nation the vices of some individuals," is not, as many have argued, solid proof that Voltaire accepted "enlightened" Jews. Voltaire never did insert this promised cancellation, and years later he referred to "these marranos" as "the greatest scoundrels who have ever sullied the face of the earth" (Hertzberg 284-5).
Pointing out that Voltaire "wrote an enormous library in the course of his long life, and . . . contradicted himself on many matters," Hertzberg moves away from discussing whether or not Voltaire was an antisemite to address more relevant and answerable questions: "What did Voltaire's contemporaries understand him to say? What was his legacy to the next age?" (285-6).
Katz, Meyer, and Hertzberg all cite overwhelming evidence that Voltaire was perceived as a vehement antisemite. Katz says that "The image of the Jews that arises from Voltaire's description of Biblical times is that of a people inferior from every point of view: culturally, religiously, ethically, socially, and politically" (41). Hertzberg discusses specific uses of Voltaire's work as justification for social, political, and economic discrimination. Most notable is Hertzberg's discussion of the affair of "false receipts" in Alsace in 1777. An Alsatian judge named Hell distributed hundreds of forged documents to peasants so that these peasants could claim they had paid their debts to moneylending Jews. Hell's justification for his actions made clear "that he had read with great care the anti-Jewish pronouncements" of Voltaire. Hell cited the Christian myth of the blood libel, the idea of the Jews' being more loyal to the Jewish nation than to their country, and their power in the economic realm to explain why he distributed the "receipts" (Hertzberg 288).
Hertzberg also considers the pamphlet by an author who wrote under the pseudonym "Foissac" and "used the anti-Jewish arguments of the Enlightenment quite overtly" (289). This pamphlet quotes Voltaire's most antisemitic arguments, attributing perversity, ignorance, barbarity, avarice, leprosy, fanaticism, and usury to Jews (289-90). Hertzberg concludes, "The enemies of the Jews thus quoted Voltaire to prove that not merely their religion but their essential and lasting character was evil" (290).
Emphasis on "essential and lasting character" as differentiated from Jews' religious faith was the basis for the antisemitism, as opposed to anti-Judaism, particular to the Enlightenment. Paul R. Mendes-Flohr and Jehuda Reinharz, editors of the collection The Jew in the Modern World: A Documentary History, title a chapter "Political and Racial Anti-Semitism," indicating one of the greatest changes in the nature of prejudice against the Jews during the Enlightenment. They argue that the time's growing emphasis on the modern state led to a need for "cultural and national integration" (250), not tolerance or acceptance of difference. The perception of Jews as "fundamentally incompatible" with this integration contributed to a new brand of prejudice, setting the Jews apart as an inherently different racial group whose political loyalties were always subject to questioning.
Thus, with the growing emphasis on human reason and rationality, the religious bases for hatred of Jews gradually gave way to even more insidious justifications for antisemitism. Meyer clearly articulates the nature of the new prejudice in a discussion of the French Revolution, citing "its principle of granting everything to the individual Jew but nothing to the Jewish faith" (1189). When it suited a thinker's argument, Jews were generally admitted to be human beings, ostensibly worthy of civil rights and equal status as citizens, but their religious faith and heritage and even their supposed racial differences kept them from being completely assimilated into European society. Even though there were many who strongly advocated emancipation for the Jews, the enemies of the Jews found more than enough virulent antisemitism in the currents of Enlightenment thought to reinforce their bigotry.
In many ways, the shift in attitudes toward women during the Enlightenment closely parallels the shift in attitudes toward Jews. Originally, women were not discriminated against because of their religion or because of anything they could change about themselves; they were first believed to be inferior versions of men. When the emphasis on rationalism suggested that women might be as reasonable and worthy as men, both feminists and antifeminists sought new ways to differentiate women from men (Laqueur 18). In order to investigate this search, I believe it is necessary to discuss what the perceptions of women were before the Enlightenment; to do this, I refer to Ian Maclean's book The Renaissance Notion of Woman.
In the chapter "Medicine, anatomy, physiology," Maclean discusses the attempts of many Renaissance scholars to reconcile the ideas held by classical scholars about sex differences with new, contradictory evidence. He distinguishes Renaissance study of medicine from medieval study by mentioning the sixteenth-century publication of great editions of the writings of ancient medical scholars such as Aristotle, Hippocrates, and Galen, and the "growth of experimental anatomy" (28). When Renaissance scholars found ideas in the ancient writings that contradicted what they were discovering, they reinterpreted the writings or their observations to try to reconcile the old and the new. Even those who attacked the old schools of thought were still very much influenced by them.
Discussing the Greek and Roman discourse about women's anatomy and physiology that interested Renaissance medical scholars, Maclean cites Aristotle's belief that the
male animal is one that generates in another, whereas the female generates in herself. She is further characterized by deprived, passive and material traits, cold and moist humours and a desire for completion by intercourse with the male. (30)
He compares this belief to Galen's view that the female reproductive system is an inside-out version of the male reproductive system that did not descend because of a lack of sufficient heat at generation.
Maclean considers the psychological implications of women's unique physiological characteristics by quoting a long passage from the Historia Animalium, a passage which differentiates the "`mental characteristics of the sexes'" and describes woman as "less spirited...more compassionate than man, more easily moved to tears, at the same time is more jealous, more querulous, more apt to scold and to strike" (42). Finally, Maclean outlines the ways in which Renaissance medical scholars characterized the female physical attributes as inferior to men's, and concluded that although woman is indeed perfect in her own sex, she is still a lesser being than man.
Maclean's work provides an excellent introduction to Thomas Laqueur's essay "Orgasm, Generation, and the Politics of Reproductive Biology." Laqueur begins his discussion by stating that at the end of the Enlightenment, orgasm was no longer considered in medical circles to be necessary to conception, or what he calls generation. After this time, humans -- or at least Westerners -- "no longer linked the loci of pleasure with the mysterious infusing of life into nature" (1), and orgasm became relatively unimportant. He stresses the following point throughout the essay: "An anatomy and physiology of incommensurability replaced a metaphysics of hierarchy in the representation of women in relation to men" (3). In discussing this point, he emphasizes that the perceptions of sexuality are of vital political importance: "Serious talk about sexuality is inevitably about society" (4). When the old social order threatened to fall apart, new definitions of sexuality were necessary to replace the old ones.
Londa Schiebinger makes a point that clarifies the importance of Laqueur's inquiry: discussing the German anatomist Samuel Thomas von Soemmering's publication of what he claimed was the first drawing of a female skeleton, she says that
With his drawing of a female skeleton, Soemmerring became part of the eighteenth-century movement to define and redefine sex differences in every part of the human body. It was in the eighteenth century that the doctrine of humors, which had long identified women as having a unique physical and moral character, was overturned by modern medicine. Beginning in the 1750s, doctors in France and Germany called for a finer delineation of sex differences; discovering, describing, and defining sex differences in every bone, muscle, nerve, and vein of the human body became a research priority in anatomical science. (42)
Schiebinger's major argument is that "it was in the context of the attempt to define the position of women in European society that the first representations of the female skeleton appeared in European science" (42). She addresses directly the question of how "the eighteenth-century denial of human rights to women could be justified within the framework of liberal thought" (43). Relying on the science of a community that excluded women in order to confirm women's inferiority constitutes what Schiebinger calls "a paradox central to the history of modern science" (43).
The attempt to find sex difference in every part of the body reminds us of a similar quest during the Enlightenment: to find and define inherent racial characteristics in Jews. If Jews can be separated out from the rest of the population because of specific, inherent physical traits, then the aim of their enemies to argue Jewish inferiority becomes much easier.
One of Laqueur's major points is that the "dramatic reevaluation" of women's bodies during the Enlightenment came not so much from new biological findings as from new political ideologies looking to find biological bases.
Political theorists beginning with Hobbes had argued that there is no basis in nature for any specific sort of authority--of a king over his people, of slaveholder over slave, nor, it followed, of man over woman. There seemed no reason why the universalistic claims made for human liberty and equality during the Enlightenment should exclude half of humanity. (18)
But fear of women and women's power necessitated a differentiation between women and men, not simply a notion of woman as an unfinished man. Laqueur makes a compelling argument here, citing the male opposition to women's empowerment during the French Revolution, British fear of women's suffrage, and Toqueville's belief in the American destruction of "the old basis for patriarchal authority" (18) as necessitating a new definition of the boundaries between the sexes, even if liberal theory deemed such boundaries archaic.
Even feminists found it necessary to distinguish between men and women in order to create a paradigm in which women's voices could be heard as distinct from those of men. Laqueur presents Rousseau's antifeminist arguments as evidence of "how deeply a new biology is implicated in cultural reconstruction" (19). Rousseau maintains that in the state of nature, society is divided by gender, with "no social intercourse between the sexes, no division of labor in the rearing of the young, and in a strict sense, no desire" (19). The female's refusal of the "male advance" is what causes bitter competition among males, and what causes the fall from this ideal society. If males cannot control themselves, it is woman's fault. Rousseau also makes a great deal of differentiating women from men, insisting that women are constantly reminded of their sex as men are not, and reasoning that "From the differences in each sex's contribution to their union it follows that `one ought to be active and strong, the other passive and weak'" (20). Finally, Rousseau concludes that as women are different from men, so they should not be educated in the same way.
Laqueur then connects Rousseau's arguments about the consequences of female modesty to the writings of Diderot, who "locates the creation of desire, of marriage and the family if not of love itself, at the moment women first came to withhold themselves from just any man and chose instead one man in particular" (21). Laqueur presents the ideas of Diderot and of John Millar, a prominent figure of the Scottish Enlightenment, as similar to Rousseau's, but not necessarily antifeminist. Millar espouses the claim that "sexual relations...are the most reliable guide to the character of a society" (21), and presents women as a "moral barometer and as an active agent in the improvement of society" (21). Millar sees "betterment" of women's positions -- i. e., their relegation to the home to raise children -- as a sign of moral progress and the positive development of a civilization.
From this exploration of men's ideas, Laqueur turns to a study of the writings of women of the Enlightenment. An underlying theme of women's writing of the time, argues Laqueur, is the hope for the triumph of reason over flesh, or mind over matter. He first discusses Anna Wheeler's book, jointly written with William Thompson. This book refutes James Mill's argument that women are not likely to be ignored or abused because of their sexual power over men. Mill presents men as sexually desirous and women as free from such desire; therefore women can bargain with men. Wheeler and Thompson insist that woman is not at all immune from sexual desire, but instead may be "`more the slave of man for gratification of her desires than man is to woman'" (23) because she cannot seek gratification outside marriage as man can. They also maintain that because women are the weaker sex, they are more apt to be better legislators, ruling fairly and justly instead of trying to oppress others with their strength. Laqueur states that such a belief is not an uncommon one for the time: "Whether through inherent nature...or through centuries of suffering, women are construed as less passionate and hence morally more adept than men" (23).
Laqueur then addresses Mary Wollstonecraft's dilemma of whether or not to consider sexual passion as an important factor in the growth of civilization. She solves this dilemma, Laqueur argues, by taking "the moral high ground" (23) for women, presenting women as the figures who "civilize men and raise children up to virtue." She argues, as did many others, for the control of temper and passion by religion and reason.
The next section, "Reproductive Biology and the Cultural Reconstruction of Women," addresses the goings-on in the scientific world during the Enlightenment. Laqueur stresses the connections of this scientific world to the world of art and society, and then moves to discuss new discoveries that had significant social impact. First of all, he addresses the nineteenth-century discovery that mammals, regardless of environmental stimuli, ovulate regularly and spontaneously, and discusses the implications of this discovery. This finding was not immediately believed to pertain to human beings; the distinguished physician Johann Friederich Blumenbach believed that "`venereal ardour alone...could produce, among the other great changes in the sexual organs, the enlargement of the vesicles" (25). Before the 1840s, there was not enough evidence to convince scientists of spontaneous human ovulation. Laqueur details experiments performed on pigs and dogs to prove spontaneous ovulation in these animals, and he describes the attempts to connect the findings from these experiments to human biology. The difficulty in studying the human female menstrual cycle ensured that an understanding of the "role of the ovaries in the reproductive cycle of mammals was imperfectly understood until the publication of a series of papers beginning in 1900, while the hormonal control of ovulation by the ovary and the pituitary remained unknown until the 1930s" (27).
Even though the human female was hard to study, the studies performed on dogs affected the perception of women nonetheless. Dogs' "heat" was connected with female menstruation, implying that women were only fertile when they were bleeding. Such a notion killed "the old physiology of pleasure and the old anatomy of sexual homologies" (27); the new perception became one of the ovary as woman. Even though such respected scholars as Haller, Blumenbach, Remak, and Muller made credible arguments against the connection of human menstruation to animal heat, Laqueur argues that this connection persisted because of its attractiveness to people such as Pouchet, who wished to establish a rational explanation for the female reproductive cycle. Pouchet called upon "logic" in his quest to "substitute the physician for the priest as the moral preceptor of society" (29), removing power from the clergy and placing it in the hands of objective scientists. Laqueur also mentions that this parallelism of animal heat to women's menstruation "could be just as easily used to prove women's moral elevation as to prove the opposite" (29). If women experience the same thing as animals, it is an example of the wonder of civilization that they do not display the same "quite mad behavior" (30) that animals in heat do.
Laqueur then turns to the arguments of Walter Heape, "the militant antisuffragist and reader in zoology at Cambridge University" (31). Heape states that "`the reproductive system is not only structurally but functionally fundamentally different in the Male and the Female,'" and claims that the effects that this system has on the rest of the body are so powerful that "`the Male and Female are essentially different throughout'" (31). Laqueur notes that there was little medical reason not to believe arguments such as Heape's, because "the basic histology of menstruation--let alone its causes--was not established until...1908" (31). Heape's explanation of the nature of menstruation is a painful, destructive one, with a graphic description of a monthly "`ragged wreck of tissue, torn glands, ruptured vessels'" (32), and so forth. This "soul-wrenching trauma" was thought to control women's lives; Laqueur outlines Mary Putnam Jacobi's refutation of the idea that a "nervous force" leads to menstruation, rendering women "unfit for higher education, a variety of jobs, and other activities that demand large expenditures of the mental and physical energy that was thought to be in such short supply" (32). Laqueur views Jacobi's refutation of this view as basically good criticism, but he remarks that she does not present new ideas about physiological fact. Her biggest contribution, says Laqueur, is a theory that the nature of menstruation is nutritive, not destructive. Although she does not stress the periodic nature of menstruation, she does reemphasize the possibility of a "radical split between woman's mind and body, between sexuality and reproduction" (33) -- the mind over matter theory once again. She attempts to divorce menstruation from sexual impulse, presenting the menstrual cycle as "the ebb and flow of female nutritive rather than sexual activity" (34).
Laqueur points out that Jacobi was wrong, but insists that his goal is not to belittle her work. Instead, he uses her work as yet another example of research used to back up "largely extrascientific considerations" (34). Nineteenth-century scientists, as many researchers before them, had little data available to them, so they bent what they knew to fit "cultural imperatives." In quoting medical texts, Laqueur concludes, "Cultural concerns have free license here, however imbedded they may be in the language of science" (35). Thinkers of the Enlightenment, needing justification for differentiating the sexes, took authority from science. The idea of women's inherent passion was finally abandoned, and a biology of incommensurability finally prevailed.
Thus the discourses about Jews and women during the Enlightenment resemble each other in many ways. The two groups' social positions are very different: women, the only ones who can reproduce, are necessary to society, but Jews, a small group, are not inherently needed and are used much more often as a scapegoat.
Still, the Enlightenment's increasing emphasis on physicality, scientific proof, and justification for beliefs led to the establishment of Jews as a determinably different people whose Semitic characteristics were physically inherent. Many philosophes were willing to grant equal status to Jews as long as they gave up their Judaism, but as soon as they had established that Judaism and Semitic characteristics were inherent in this group, they no longer needed to deal with such a troublesome notion as equality.
This emphasis on physicality was also crucial to determining the place of women in European society. Studies of women's anatomy and the findings of gender differences became new justification for prohibiting women from higher education or social duty. Although women and Jews played very different roles in society during the Enlightenment, those who wanted to make sure that their roles did not change used remarkably similar arguments.
Hertzberg, Arthur. The French Enlightenment and the Jews. New York: Columbia UP, 1968.
Katz, Jacob. From Prejudice to Destruction: Anti-Semitism, 1700-1933. Cambridge [Mass.]: Harvard UP, 1980.
Laqueur, Thomas. "Orgasm, Generation, and the Politics of Reproductive Biology." The Making of the Modern Body: Sexuality and Society in the Nineteenth Century. Ed. Catherine Gallagher and Thomas Laqueur. Berkeley: U of California P, 1987. 1-41.
Maclean, Ian. The Renaissance Notion of Woman: A Study in the Fortune of Scholasticism and Medical Science in European Intellectual Life. 1980. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990.
Mendes-Flohr, Paul R., and Jehuda Reinharz, eds. The Jew in the Modern World: A Documentary History. New York: Oxford UP, 1980.
Meyer, Paul H. "The Attitude of the Enlightenment towards the Jew." Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century. Ed. Theodore Besterman. Vol. XXVI. Genève: Institut et Musée Voltaire, 1963. 1161-1205.
Schiebinger, Londa. "Skeletons in the Closet: The First Illustrations of the Female Skeleton in Eighteenth-Century Anatomy." The Making of the Modern Body: Sexuality and Society in the Nineteenth Century. Ed. Catherine Gallagher and Thomas Laqueur. Berkeley: U of California P, 1987. 42-82.