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While reading Jude the Obscure, I came across this bit in Part First, chapter 3:

People said that, if you prayed, things sometimes came to you, even though they sometimes did not. He had read in a tract that a man who had begun to build a church, and had no money to finish it, knelt down and prayed, and the money came in by the next post. Another man tried the same experiment, and the money did not come; but he found afterwards that the breeches he knelt in were made by a wicked Jew. This was not discouraging, and turning on the ladder Jude knelt on the third rung, where, resting against those above it, he prayed that the mist might rise.
(emphasis mine)

Was Hardy here exposing his own anti-Semitic prejudices here, or was he merely commenting on the general sentiment in England at the time relating to Judaism?

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I think the answer will become clear if you re-read the passage (starting from the beginning of the chapter so that you have the full context) and carefully distinguish the points of view. When I do this, I interpret the passage as follows.

Jude's point of view:

He ascended the ladder to have one more look at the point the men had designated, and perched himself on the highest rung, overlying the tiles. He might not be able to come so far as this for many days. Perhaps if he prayed, the wish to see Christminster might be forwarded. People said that,

What people said to Jude:

if you prayed, things sometimes came to you, even though they sometimes did not.

Jude's point of view again:

He had read in a tract that

What it said in the tract that Jude read:

a man who had begun to build a church, and had no money to finish it, knelt down and prayed, and the money came in by the next post. Another man tried the same experiment, and the money did not come; but he found afterwards that

What the other man claimed, according to the tract that Jude read:

the breeches he knelt in were made by a wicked Jew.

Jude's point of view again:

This was not discouraging, and turning on the ladder Jude knelt on the third rung, where, resting against those above it, he prayed that the mist might rise.

So the offensive phrase is attributed to "another man" by the writers of the tract that Jude read, and even in context it is an transparently absurd and post-hoc excuse for the failure of prayer. Accordingly it seems more likely that Hardy was satirizing the anti-Semitic tendency of writers of religious tracts, and the absurdity of their claims about the efficacy of prayer, than that he was expressing his own anti-Semitic views.

The efficacy of prayer was a popular subject for tract writers. See for example, Remarkable escapes from peril, published by the Religious Tract Society of Great Britain, which is full of incidents like this (page 117):

But mark the power of prayer. In the following winter, while he was still wearing mourning apparel for his son, a letter was delivered to Mr. Richmond, in the handwriting of the very son whom he sorrowed over as being dead, explaining that circumstances had prevented him from setting sail in the Arniston on her return voyage. Thus miraculously was he alone, of all that large crew, preserved.

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This is an impossible question to answer definitively without a supporting quote from the author. No such quote appears to exist: I haven't been able to source anything in which Hardy discusses his religious or racial views. However, we can place this in the wider context of the time

Hardy was born in 1840, at which point acceptance of Jews in British society had turned a corner. Catholics had been emancipated by a series of laws passed in 1829, and Jews hoped that this set a precedent for religious freedom across the board. They were not disappointed: Parliament engaged with the issue and by 1837, matters had advanced to the point where Queen Victoria knighted a Jew, Moses Haim Montefiore. By 1858 Jewish emancipation had been enshrined in law, there was a Jew in the House of Commons, a Jewish baronet, and a Jew sitting as Mayor of London.

The change in attitudes was reflected in contemporary literature. Strong arguments can be made that the work of both George Eliot and William Makepeace Thackeray contain purposeful themes critiquing discrimination against Jews.This does not, of course, mean that anti-semitism vanished over these years. H. Rider Haggard's 1885 novel She contains a chapter in which two characters have a virulently anti-semitic discussion. However, there can be little doubt that it did diminish.

Hardy, therefore, would have been raised at a time when it was not the prevailing cultural attitude. He lived in cosmopolitan London as a student in the 1860's, exactly the time and place in which this chain of events was reaching its zenith. He was also well known for his views on social reform and liberalism. It, therefore, seems unlikely that Hardy would have held much in the way of subconscious antisemitic bias.

What, then, is the reason for this passage? In the novel - which is set in a period roughly contemporary or slightly before its 1895 publication date - Jude is presented as someone who has doubts about the prevailing spirituality of the time. He seems fascinated by an ancient well in the village, which he feels is

"the only relic of the local history that remained absolutely unchanged"

While the new church is seen as the destructive force which bulldozed the remainder of that history, "obliterating" the graves of local families and retaining no record of the original chapel.

Jude is thus someone who is likely to have doubts about the efficacy of prayer as a means of getting things done, turning to it only because it is a socially accepted norm. By offering the suggestion that the only reason for the failure of prayer is due to a man's trousers (breeches) being made by a "wicked Jew", Hardy is ridiculing the notion that prayer works at all. The inclusion of the word "wicked" is as a shorthand to highlight both the non-Christian nature of the Jewish tailor and the idiocy of the suggestion that trousers are sufficient to cause a prayer to fail.

References:
- The Jewish Encyclopedia: Volume 5
- Thomas Hardy: The "dream-country" of His Fiction, Anne Alexander

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    When is Jude the Obscure set - is it contemporary, or set some decades before when Hardy wrote it? Could be relevant to this, if he was writing in a time when the attitude towards Jews in England was changing. – Rand al'Thor Jan 31 '18 at 10:58
  • @Randal'Thor A good question: I don't think it's ever pinpointed in the novel, but the details would suggest it is contemporary with its publication in 1895 or perhaps slightly earlier. Either way, certainly within the period covered by the answer. – Matt Thrower Jan 31 '18 at 11:07
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No, Hardy is not being anti-Semitic here. The passage you quote is a satire against the praying man: it's about how we rationalize why prayer doesn't work. The man's prayers weren't answered, so he assumes it's because his pants were tailored by a Jew.

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  • Nevertheless, there is an implied negative comment about the tailor being Jewish there, which is what the question is asking about. – Gallifreyan Jun 30 '18 at 19:24
  • The question was whether the scene shows anti-Semitism on Hardy's part, and the answer to that is a definite no. Hardy is satirizing (making fun of) precisely that anti-Jewish feeling. The praying man is resorting to his anti-Jewish prejudices in order to rationalize (explain) why his prayer didn't work. – Buster Brown Jul 1 '18 at 22:58

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