Wednesday, January 26, 2011
G. K. Chesterton and Jewish Hats
I think it would make a wonderful discussion exercise to hand out a sample of G. K. Chesterton's writing about Jews to be read by a group and ask them to judge whether or not Chesterton was an anti-Semite. I suspect that a more Haredi audience would actually find that they relate very well to Chesterton and accept where he is coming from. A group of more liberal Jews would find Chesterton utterly offensive.
In my mind at least, Chesterton wrote one of the most eloquent pieces on the importance of Jews maintaining a separate mode of dress. Chesterton states:
Thus we cannot help feeling, for instance, that there is something a little grotesque about the Hebrew habit of putting on a top-hat as an act of worship.
Nobody can say that a top-hat was among the strange utensils dedicated to the obscure service of the Ark; nobody can suppose that a top-hat descended from heaven among the wings and wheels of the flying visions of the Prophets.
It is solely the special type and shape of hat that makes the Hebrew ritual seem ridiculous. Performed in the old original Hebrew fashion it is not ridiculous, but rather if anything sublime.
For the original fashion was an oriental fashion; and the Jews are orientals; and the mark of such orientals is the wearing of long and loose draperies. To throw those loose draperies over the head is decidedly a dignified and even poetic gesture.
It may be true, and personally I think it is true, that the Hebrew covering of the head signifies a certain stress on the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom, while the Christian uncovering of the head suggests rather the love of God that is the end of wisdom.
But this has nothing to do with the taste and dignity of the ceremony; and to do justice to these we must treat the Jews as an oriental; we must even dress him as an oriental.
I have felt disposed to say: let all liberal legislation stand, let all literal and legal civic equality stand; let a Jew occupy any political or social position which he can gain in open competition; let us not listen for a moment to any suggestions of reactionary restrictions or racial privilege. Let a Jew be Lord Chief justice, if his exceptional veracity and reliability have clearly marked him out for that post. Let a Jew be Archbishop of Canterbury, if our national religion has attained to that receptive breadth that would render such a transition unobjectionable and even unconscious. But let there be one single-clause bill; one simple and sweeping law about Jews, and no other.
Be it enacted, by the King's Most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and the Commons in Parliament assembled, that every Jew must be dressed like an Arab.
(New Jerusalem kindle 3078-3114.)
I can only imagine what Chesterton might think if he had lived to see black fedora hats go out of fashion among non-Jews and be embraced by Haredim as the national Jewish hat.