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Excerpts from the Pamphlet by Gabriel Riesser proposing the Emancipation of the Jews (1831)

In his published response to Paulus, Defense of the Civil Equality of the Jews with Respect to the Proposals of Mr. H.E.G. Paulus (1831), Gabriel Riesser (1806-1863), a Hamburg lawyer and Vice President of the Frankfurt National Assembly, challenged the basis of Paulus' ideas with regard to the emancipation of the Jews. Christian convictions, Riesser argued, were not a precondition for citizenship rights.

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The civil employment of the Jews

A third point that Dr. P. advances against the Jews from the standpoint of the public interest is the civil employment of many of them, commerce, and the way they engage in it. This subject – viewed from a purely legal standpoint, from simple principles of national economy that look toward general utility – leads to the simplest of legislative results, yet unfortunately it often gets confused because of interference from foreign religious (or, as Dr. P. would like to call it, national) connections, to which is frequently attached a tendency that advances the interests of the few who hope for advantage from excluding the Jews from competition* – at the cost of consumers as a whole who stand to gain from that competition, since they are absolutely authorized to choose freely – and which [tendency] attempts to disguise this intention under all manner of pretenses.

[ . . . ]

But it is laughable, [ . . . ] as if commerce were something special and especially damaging for those Jews who engage in [the kind of] commerce legally permitted to everyone – since there are penal laws for the illegal kind, which are applicable to Jews and Christians alike. Here Herr Dr. P. is talking about things that he once heard discussed from afar, without connecting this to a clear conception. He obviously has no idea what he is talking about when he, e.g. on p. 40, portrays the conclusion of business deals between purchasers and sellers, the brokerage business, as something corrupt, [and] quite peculiar to the Jews. Anyone who has observed the course of business deals in commercial cities even for a few moments could have told him that all commercial deals are concluded by brokers, and that e.g. in Paris the profession of the commodity and exchange brokers (courtier de commerce, agents de change) is highly esteemed.

Dr. P. also talks a lot about "hagglers," and he defines them on p. 47 as "middlemen making an indeterminate usurious profit by dealing in every easily grabbed product." I leave it up to practical statesmen to decide whether this concept has the requisite definiteness to serve as the foundation for a law. But here, above all, there is a need to ask the simple question that can alone lead to a result, and concerning which Dr. P. nowhere provides any proper information, which brings the matter into a confusing chiaroscuro: is the kind of commerce described here permitted or forbidden to Jews and Christians? For it has to be assumed that no civilized** state's legislation would any longer allow the former to do something that it would forbid the latter to do: and should anything like this exist anywhere, it would be the duty of legislation to immediately tear out this weed at the roots. – Now if it is permitted, and if those who engage in it stay within the limits of what is legal, then it is nonsense to object to the fact that they are practicing a profession that is legal and open to them. But if it is forbidden, as usury is everywhere, and as peddling is in some countries, for Jews and Christians, then those who do it make themselves guilty of transgressing the law, and so they should be punished for this with the same penalty, but do not let those pay for their offense who have nothing in common [with them]. Tepidness about applying existing laws, negligence by judges and civil servants with the result that the real transgressors go unpunished – are [these] not [things] that a legal system with a sense of honor would aspire to advance as grounds for legislation? And where such tepidness and negligence is shown toward certain violations, is it not at least equally exhibited toward Christians and Jews? Is it not so that when a Jewish usurer goes unpunished, the same is the case with the Christian one?

[ . . . ]

* A depiction of this tendency – so shrill that I, at least as far as the honorable profession of university teacher is concerned, would reluctantly want to subscribe to it – may be found in the little publication that Herr Dr. P. takes as his point of departure: A word on the emancipation of the confessors of the Mosaic belief in Baden by a Christian Badenser. 1831, p. 26. [All footnotes are original.]
** A state in which this sort of thing occurs would have to be stricken at once from the ranks of the civilized.

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