Cardozo: Yiddish or Hispanic?

DavidEBernstein at DavidEBernstein at
Tue Sep 6 16:19:30 PDT 2005

The Polish example was quite different than the Spanish/Portuguese example.  
Jews of Germanic culture (hence, Yiddish as a first language) were invited to 
Poland and the Ukraine by local princes, not always ethnically Polish, to 
engage in commerce and otherwise partake in economically useful activities.  The 
Jews primarily lived in towns, the Poles were farmers, and the populations 
didn't mix much.  After a while, the Russians took over, and Jews who fled before 
WWI often think of themselves as coming from "Russia" as Poland, as such, did 
not exist.  The area now known as Poland, as I recall, itself had a bare 
Polish-speaking majority, with large minorities of Jews, Germans, Ukrainians, and 
others.  The Jews internal political organization followed its own boundaries, 
and encompassed primarily Ukrainian-speaking areas.  In short, the Jews lived 
in what is now called Poland, but Polish was never their language, nor 
culture, nor did either they or the Poles consider them to be Polish.

By contrast, the Jews of Spain arrived with the Moors, if not before, and 
could be found in all strata of Spanish society.  They participated in military 
campaigns for and against the Muslims and Christians.  They spoke Spanish (or 
Judeo-Spanish) as their first language.  They served as advisors and financiers 
to kings and prime ministers.  They had, as far as I know, no widescale 
autonomous political existence the way the Polish Jews did.  And, unlike Polish 
Jews restricted to the Pale and Settlement and to certain occupations by the 
Russians, they faced no similar restrictions.  The situation is far more similar 
to German Jews such as Einstein.  If there was an ethnic category of 
"Germanic", like Hispanic, surely Einstein was "Germanic", albeit not "a German Jew" and 
not just "a German".

As a related aside, my Iraqi-Jewish wife's family consider themselves to be 
"Babylonian" Jews and feel that until unceremoniously invited to leave in 1950 
they had more claim to the heritage of the country than do the local Arabs, 
who arrived in Babylonia a good 1,100 years after the Jews.

bobsheridan at writes:
As far as we know, Einstein's theories have been proven correct and the
Germans called him a Jew anyway, and his science "Jewish physics," which
is why he came here in the first place and we undertook, after he wrote 
a famous letter to FDR, the Manhattan Project, to beat Germany to the 

A grandmother of mine, who fled from near Warsaw for America after her
father was murdered in a pogrom over a century ago, considered herself
Yiddish, not Polish, even though she put in a lot of ecumenical
quality-time at bingo in a local Catholic church basement here.

There seems to have been a divide between the Yiddish and their host
countries, no matter how long the association.

If Cardozo was Hispanic, my grandmother was Polish.

I think the first answer to the identity question is what you "claim."

The second is what label others place on you for their purposes, not yours.

Which would you prefer?


David E. Bernstein
Visiting Professor
University of Michigan School of Law
George Mason University School of Law
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