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It's been exactly a hundred years since Mark Twain first revealed himself as an unmitigated admirer of Jewish people. "A marvelous race, by long odds the most marvelous that the world has produced, I suppose." he wrote in "Concerning the Jews," published in March of 1898 by Harper's magazine.

How different after all was Twain from H.L. Mencken, who (after the posthumous publication of his diaries) was attacked as an anti-Semite? As literary critic Joseph Epstein has pointed out, Mencken talked about Jews the way they talked about themselves: "But H.L. Mencken was no anti-Semite. For that he would have had to be, and obviously was not, meshuga."

"Concerning the Jews" was most probably conceived during the latter part of 1897, when Twain was on a lecture tour in Austria, happily rubbing elbows and ideas with Sigmund Freud and Theodore Herzl. The Dreyfus Affair was in full swing and, like Emile Zola, Twain was a staunch defender of the young French army captain falsely convicted of treason. Most likely he was influenced as well by his friend Herzl, whose embryonic ideas about Zionism were fueled by the blatant anti-Semitism festering all over Europe.