Marx's 1843 manuscript titled On the Jewish Question was written in response to Bruno Bauer's effort to formulate the conditions of emancipation of the Jews from legally sanctioned religious persecution and denial of a political voice. As is fairly common with Marx, he acknowledges the merit of the work to which he is responding, but he then explains why his interlocutor's reasoning is fundamentally flawed. In the process, Hegel's unhappy influence on Marx's mode of expression results in a typically brilliant but unduly long exercise in parsing and remedying every possible misconception that a reader might find in Bauer's statement. As a result, a profoundly important question -- What are the conditions of emancipation? -- may become hidden in the crisscrossing turgidity of Marx's presentation. In the present instance, the question is finally answered in conceptually straightforward and uncluttered terms only at the very end of the second section of the manuscript.
While I am sometimes annoyed by the long-winded complexity of various things Marx has written, I remain astonished by his erudition. His references to and quotations from the constitutions of Pennsylvania and New Hampshire are quite pertinent given the nature of his argument in On the Jewish Question. But how many Nineteenth Century scholars writing about the circumstances of the Jews in Germany would find their heads sufficiently well-stocked to have this sort of little-known information available for constructing their point of view? Perhaps for one as well-informed as Marx, clean-cut brevity should not be expected.
In any case, for Marx emancipation of Jews and all others requires that they recognize that religions represent transitory stages in the social, cultural, intellectual, and material development of the human race. Religions emerge and function, in differing ways and with varying levels of utility, as one of the ways of dealing with prevailing circumstances. When circumstances change, conditions may be right for human beings to divest themselves of religious beliefs and practices that separate them, one from another, and that deny the inherently social nature of all people, obscuring their fundamental commonality and shared interests.
Problematically, however, in English translation, Marx invites the charge that he is an anti-Semite by characterizing Jews as "hucksters," people whose place in what he later called the social relations of production preordained that if they were to survive they necessarily gave priority to economic matters, even over spiritual ones. Marx, thus, saw Jews as eminently practical in the mundane exchanges and routine activities of civil society. As such, an ironic outcome of their position was that Jews who had been denied legally sanctioned political authority might, nevertheless, acquire the economic resources that gave them power over those to whom access to political authority had been granted. The Jew as huckster, therefore, may have had clout comparable to or even surpassing that of the wealthiest and best connected non-Jew member of the bourgeoisie.
If we were to try to interpret On the Jewish Question as a statement made by an author who was not anti-Semitic, we might try the plausible assertion that capitalism requires something like practical hucksterism of all who would secure the material means of survival in their everyday world. In an inherently conflict-ridden capitalist society, each is at odds with all others, without regard to religious preference. Everyone, in a broad sense, becomes a huckster, seeking economic advantage even if only as a means hanging on to a threadbare life. The social relations of capitalism make all, whether capital or labor, hucksters of one sort or another. In this sense, capitalism makes everyone a Jew.
Nevertheless, even though I am favorably disposed toward Marx and his worldview, I think that accepting the immediately foregoing explanation requires a substantial stretch -- perhaps even a leap of faith! -- as compelling evidence that Marx's position was not that of an anti-Semite. Much more important, however, is the far more plausible claim that capitalism reduces us all to the status of hucksters. If Jews are practical hucksters, their liberation requires elimination of the conditions manifest in the social relations of capitalism that make hucksterism necessary. If this were accomplished, all others -- Jew and non-Jew -- would be liberated as well.
For readers who would like to acquire a clearer, more complete understanding of Marx's thought at this stage of his intellectual development, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 provide much that is extremely interesting and useful including a chapter titled "Crude Communism." In that chapter Marx acknowledges that the material, cultural, and social resources for a communist society did not exit, and failure to understand that could result in disastrous results. In addition, the Manuscripts of 1844 are a good deal more readable than On the Jewish Question.