Dohm, Christian Wilhelm von°
Dohm, Christian Wilhelm von°
DOHM, CHRISTIAN WILHELM VON°
DOHM, CHRISTIAN WILHELM VON ° (1751–1820), German historian, economist, and diplomat. He was among the first to advocate "reformation" of the Jews and their customs, as well as improvement of their civil status. Dohm studied theology and law, and in 1779 entered the Prussian state service as royal archivist in Berlin where he met Moses *Mendelssohn. In 1786 and in 1797 he represented Prussia at the Congress of Rastatt, and in 1807 entered the service of the Kingdom of *Westphalia established by Napoleon. Dohm pursued the study of history and political science and wrote a number of books on these subjects.
His well-known work on the Jewish question, Ueber die buergerliche Verbesserung der Juden ("On the Improvement of the Jews as Citizens"; 1781, 17832), was undertaken at the instance of Mendelssohn who had asked him to draw up a memorandum in favor of the Jews of *Alsace. In this work Dohm reviews the history of the Jewish people in exile in order to point out the constant deterioration of their situation as a consequence of oppression and attacks. He argues that repression inevitably corrupts the character of the victim peoples as evidenced by the history of the Irish and the Gypsies. These examples are adduced to confirm his description of the Jewish character in his own time: "The Jews have wisdom, a sharp intellect, they are assiduous, persevering, and are able to find their way in every situation"; their ritual precepts, even though they encourage pettiness, educate them to fulfill their duty rigorously. On the other hand this nation has "an exaggerated tendency.… to look out for gain in every way, a love of usury … defects which are further aggravated in many of them by their self-imposed segregation owing to their religious precepts as well as rabbinical sophistry.… The breaking of the laws of the state restricting trade, the import and export of prohibited wares, the forgery of money and precious metals are the natural result" of these flaws of character. However, "if our reasoning is correct, we shall find that the oppression from which they still suffer and the restrictions imposed on the trades open to Jews are the true reasons for their shortcomings. Concomitantly we have also discovered the means by which they can be cured of this corruption so as to become better people and more useful citizens." Dohm finds no intrinsic evil in the Jewish religion and literature, and argues on this point against the anti-Jewish agitator Johann *Eisenmenger. He appreciates the enlightened Jewish intellectuals of his time, "these admirable men who attained eminence in the sciences and the arts." To eradicate the evil and abolish its consequences, Dohm suggests a series of measures for improving the situation of the Jews and hence their character. His proposals reproduce some of the ideas held by proponents of Enlightened Absolutism and in some points resemble the Toleranzpatent issued at that time by Emperor *Josephii. Joseph Dohm plans to educate the Jews to identify themselves more closely to the state, and to serve it, by putting an end to oppression and by abolishing the economic restrictions imposed on them, as well as by encouraging them to participate in the culture of the environment. The educational effort and the grant of equal economic and civil opportunities to the Jews would be worthwhile to enlightened governments aiming at justice and the increase of their population. The Jews are preferable to new settlers since "they are more deeply rooted in the countries they inhabit than a foreigner can be, even after a considerable time; they know no other homeland besides the one which they already have and do not long for a home in a distant land."
Dohm thus voiced the climate of opinion prevailing in enlightened Christian and Jewish circles of Berlin. He aroused German public opinion to consider the Jewish problem as of political and social significance. His opinions had wide reverberations and provoked numerous and stormy debates. The antisemites accused him of being bought by the Jews. The Jewish maskilim were grateful to him for the way in which he described the situation of the Jews, and for his aims, with which they were basically in agreement.
F. Reuss, C.W. Dohms Schrift ueber die buergerliche Verbesserung der Juden… (1891); M.W. Rapaport, Chr. W. Dohm der Gegner der Physiocratie und seine Thesen (1908); W. Cohn, in: zgjd, 1 (1929), 255–61; Graetz, Gesch, 11 (1900), index; W. Gronau, Chr. W. Dohm… (Ger., 1824); B. Dinur, Be-Mifneh ha-Dorot (1955), index.
[Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson]