Religion and Race

Israel Zangwill attempts a difficult task in writing for both a Jewish and a Christian readership. Zangwill’s success lies in the portrayal of not only the similarities between Jews and Christians, but also in the portrayal of their differences. The similarities revolve around the daily social lives of the characters, while the differences stem from the divergence of the respective religions. The many aspects of the relationship between Jew and Christian manifest themselves in the proposed wedding of Schnapsie to her Alfred. While both Daniel and his other daughters find the prospect of a wedding between the Jewish Schnapsie and the gentile Alfred appalling, their reasons for this repulsion differ greatly. The daughters find cause for objection because of social reasons—Schnapsie would marry outside of her kind. She would involve herself with someone she met while slumming, thus shaming the entirety of her family. Daniel’s distaste for the union stems from religious differences. The nature of these different reasons causing a similar reaction reflects the nature of the similarities and differences between Jews and Christians. Just as any family might object to a marriage of one of its members to another deemed socially unworthy, Schnapsie’s sisters react in a manner appropriate to any snobbish, status-conscious middle- or upper-class family. Religion serves as a convenient crutch, supporting their claims of Alfred’s inadequacy, but the heart of their objection rests in the desire to preserve their reputation in their community. Daniel’s response to the proposed marriage supersedes these social differences because the wedding conflicts with his religious beliefs, the very core of his understanding of life. Though he tries to suppress his revulsion, Daniel can no more accept his daughter’s conversion and marriage than he can accept the rebellion of one of his own limbs. In choosing Alfred, she chooses against his entire system of belief and understanding. Daniel’s dismay stems from religious differences between Christian and Jew—his daughter’s decision to accept the religion of the former and abandon that of the latter upsets him greatly. Zangwill presents a certain hypocrisy of race and religion by illuminating these differing responses to Schnapsie’s proposed wedding. In the case of Jew and Christian, these titles surpass mere religious category. In Zangwill’s narrative, they describe behaviors and characteristics—stereotypes—that are expected to be common to all those who fall under either title. “‘And without the religion, what is the use of the race?’” (p. 65). Clearly, Zangwill illustrates that much more than just religion is involved in the relationship between Christian and Jew. Despite these differences and obstacles, Daniel’s religious convictions, which should be the strongest reason for precluding the marriage, are sacrificed for the sake of his Schnapsie’s happiness. If the most fundamental religious difference between Jew and Christian can be overcome for the sake of harmony, then there is hope for understanding and acceptances for all religions and races.