Faith must have weakened, for toleration grew. As knowledge rose it flowed over the fences within which the creeds had preserved their innocence. It became impossible for an educated Christian to hate a modern Jew because of a political crucifixion eighteen centuries ago; and perhaps he had read, in the Gospel of Saint Matthew (xxi, 8), how a multitude of Jews had strewn with palm leaves the path of the beloved preacher as he entered Jerusalem a few days before his death. In any case the Jews in Austria were freed by Joseph II, in the Rhineland by the Revolution or Napoleon, and in Prussia by Hardenberg. They came gladly out of the ghettos, took on the dress, language, and habits of their times and place, became able workers, loyal citizens, devoted scholars, creative scientists. Anti-Semitism remained among the unlettered, but in the literate it lost its religious aura, and had to feed on economic and intellectual rivalries, and on ghetto ways lingering vestigially among the struggling poor.
In Goethe’s Frankfurt hostility between Christian and Jew had been especially strong, and survived longer, because the ruling bourgeoisie there felt the vigor of Jewish competition in commerce and finance. Living quietly among them was Meyer Amschel Rothschild (1743–1812), who was founding the greatest banking house in history by lending to impecunious princes like the landgraves of Hesse-Cassel, or serving as one of England’s agents in subsidizing the challenged kings in their struggle against Napoleon. Nevertheless it was Napoleon who in 1810 insisted on applying to the Jews of Frankfurt the full freedom guaranteed by the Code Napoléon.7
Marcus Herz (1747–1803) came to personify the flowering of Jewish finance into the pursuit and patronage of the sciences and the arts. Born in Berlin, he migrated in 1762 to Königsberg, where Kant and other liberals had prevailed upon the university to admit Jews. Herz enrolled as a medical student, but he attended Kant’s lectures almost as often as the courses in medicine, and his passionate interest in philosophy made him Kant’s favorite pupil.8 Graduating in medicine, he moved back to Berlin, and soon won repute not only as a physician but as well by his lectures on philosophy. His discourses and demonstrations in physics drew a distinguished audience, including the future King Frederick William III.
His life was both brightened and saddened by his marriage to Henrietta de Lemos, one of the fairest women of her time. She made his home a salon rivaling the best in Paris. She extended her hospitality to other Jewish beauties, including Moses Mendelssohn’s daughter Brendel—later Dorothea—and Rachel Levin, wife-to-be of the diplomat-author Varnhagen von Ense. Christian as well as Jewish notables gathered around these three Graces, and the Christians were delighted to find that they had minds as well as bodies, and were alluringly venturesome. Mirabeau attended these gatherings to discuss politics with Marcus, and more frequently to ponder subtler subjects with Henrietta. She relished the admiration offered by Christian notables, and fell into “ambiguous relations” with Wilhelm von Humboldt the educator, then with Friedrich Schleiermacher the philosophic preacher. Meanwhile she encouraged Dorothea—who had married Simon Veit and given him two children—to leave her husband and home and live with Friedrich von Schlegel, first as his mistress and then as his wife.
So the free mingling of Jews and Christians had a double dissolving effect: it weakened the faith of Christians when they found that Christ and his twelve Apostles had intended their religion to be a reform Judaism faithful to the Temple and the Mosaic Code; and it weakened the faith of Jews who saw that fidelity to Judaism could be a severe handicap in the pursuit of mates and place. In both camps the decline of religious belief eroded the moral code.