Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 45.djvu/108

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diæval society rendered the same service to Christian virtue that professional prostitutes do to female chastity. We have a striking illustration of this point of view in a decree issued in 1219, by the German emperor Frederick III, permitting the Jews to dwell in Nuremberg and to take a percentage for the use of money. Inasmuch as this business, he said in justification of his edict, is essential to the growth of commerce and the prosperity of the city, it will be a lesser evil and wrong for Jews to practice usury than for Christians, since the former are a stubborn and stiffnecked race, and, if they persist in their perversity, as they probably will do, are doomed to be damned anyhow.[1]

The Hebrew, on the other hand, heartily reciprocated the Christian's contumely, and could hardly conceal, under the prudent disguise of mock humility, his disdain for the upstart Nazarene. He not only deemed it a religious duty to cheat him in money matters, but thought it perfectly right to use him as an agent in base or criminal transactions which a good Israelite could not conscientiously perform.

This mental and moral attitude, which even the modern Hebrew still maintains, is strikingly exemplified by the following incident: Between 1820 and 1830 a band of burglars, numbering over one hundred persons and consisting entirely of Jews, made property so unsafe as to create a panic among the inhabitants of the Prussian provinces of Posen and Brandenburg. The chief of the band was a certain Loewenthal in Berlin, and all the members of it were extremely devout attendants of the synagogue and strict observers of every jot and tittle of the Levitical law. They never broke into the houses of Jews and never stole on the Sabbath, since such an act would be a desecration of the sacred "day of rest"; but, rather than let an exceptionally favorable opportunity escape, they sometimes employed a so-called schabbesgoï [schabbesgoï (Sabbath-Gentile) is a Jew-German term for the Christian attendant or servant who does for an Israelite on the Sabbath the things which his religion forbids him to do for himself] to commit the crime for them, and, if necessary, did not hesitate to have some one of their own number accompany him on his burglarious expedition a couple of thousand yards or so, the limits of a Sabbath day's journey. In case one of the band was suspected of any particular offense and arrested, the surest and speediest way of clearing himself was to prove an alibi by the testimony of two witnesses, as the law required. But the pious Hebrew regards perjury with peculiar abhorrence, and fears above all things to take a false oath. Shylock was

  1. [We have referred to this characteristic decree in The Popular Science Monthly for December, 1891, p. 176, in illustration of another subject.]