The Roots of Anti-semitism-History’s Oldest Hatred
A renewed anti-Semitism, disguised as the demands of “intersectionalists” against the privileged ( read “Jews”) on the left, with the violence of “White-supremacists” on the other, has once again reared its head.
In this light, I present here rough notes on anti-Semitism in its various manifestations over history, gathered from various sources.
First, on the occasion of my father’s Yahrzeit, I am posting his essay on the roots of modern anti-Semitism. A copy of the original is posted at the end of this post.
This essay on the topic of anti-Semitism, was published in the National Jewish Monthly of the B’nai B’rith. It is interesting to note, however, that the editorial staff denounced the position my father took on this topic in a sidebar directly adjacent to the column.
The following is a transcript of the article:
Anti-Semitism Is Based On New Factors, Not Religion
By Rabbi Dr. William Weinberg c early 1960’s
Neither Hitler, nor the Dreyfusards, nor the anti-Semitic right-wingers who between the two World Wars grouped themselves around the daily “L’Action Francaise,” fought under the faded banner of the church. We must not be deceived by smuggled-in pieties. Nazism’s anti-Jewish ideology was not based on the theological antagonism between the Pharisees and Jesus. The Nazis did not adorn themselves with the symbol of the cross but with the swastika, which stood for many things but not for Christian myths or beliefs. Hitler was not a modern Torquemada, and the gas chambers were not regarded by him as auto-da-fe, a place for burning heretics.
It is wrong in our day and age to identify anti-Semitism, primarily, with religious intolerance, though the words are still used interchangeably, especially by Jews. The religious wall turned long ago into a “paper curtain.” If we are still excluded from some clubs or neighborhoods, it’s not for our disbelief in Jesus. The idea that hostility toward us is, mainly and directly, the result of religious intolerance, is a product of frustration. The seed of anti-Semitism is undoubtedly Christian; the root and branches are not. Creeds are not the insignia of our present-day civilization, and the Christ-killer myth rarely, if ever, pops up in conversations. To the best of my recollection, no Nazi ever threw the New Testament at me, nor did any Russian anti-Semite, during the four years I was a refugee in the Soviet Union. Anti-Semitism is essentially a-religious, thoroughly secularized and materialistic.
We are under a spell and look in the wrong direction. Out of fear of another Holocaust, we have put up a warm blanket of belief that if only the churches got less nasty, most Jew baiting would disappear. And yet I venture to say that if every trace of religious discrimination against us were wiped away overnight, it would have the same effect as a heart operation on a broken leg. In September 1938, Pope Pius stated clearly, “Anti-Semitism is…a movement in which we, as Christians, cannot have any part whatever…. Spiritually we are Semites.” Did this noble statement prevent the Germans, the Ukrainians, the Poles, and Lithuanians from slaughtering Jews? Does the contemporary left- or right-winger pay much attention to church statements? Does the average Catholic study them?
Modern anti-Semitism is primarily a secular movement, and large parts of it are anti-Christian…. We must look for friends who themselves are power factors, for men ready to protect their liberties, law, and peaceful procedures for the redress of their grievances—within the framework of our Constitution.
We need an increased realism and sobriety with which to approach the modern varieties of Jew hatred. This is a job for politicians, political scientists, criminologists, and psychopathologists rather than for theologians.
The Bible is strikingly silent on what motivates us to evil. We are told of Cain and Abel, “Vayomer Kayin el Hevel Akhiv”—“Cain said to Abel, his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose against Abel his brother and killed him.” The Hebrew word Vayomer (and the word said) introduces a quotation, yet there is no quotation. What is it that Cain said to Abel? What did Abel say back to him? What were they talking about? The Bible does not care. It only cares that Cain and Abel were brothers and one brother killed the other.
What mattered to the biblical scribe was not the cause of the quarrel, but the consequence. The world spent years in bloodshed because of this act of Cain against Abel in the twentieth century.
The Bible already hints at the problem of a minority in a foreign land. In the case of Jospeh, Potiphar’s wife harps on the tune of “ Hebrew who plays with us”; Pharaoh: “They have become numerous and too powerful, they will join with the enemy against us(and leave us!).
First known case of Jew-baiting-an attack on the Jewish colony at Elephantine, year 400 BCE!
Blood libel- first propagated by Antiochus supporters against Jews-reported by Apion, the first systematic anti-Semitic theoretician, in 1st century Egypt, but much older-Jews capture a Greek for sacrifice.
Culture clash- Jews spred through Greek and Roman societies- a large number in Rome and Alexandria. Very popular. Jewish ideas make inroads, 1 in 10 of Roman Empire are Jews-many more are “ Jew-lovers.” But there is a reaction, especially in Alexandria. Manetho-about 3rd century BC proposes theory of Jews as a nation of robbers and lepers. Tacitus- around year 100- despises Jews.
Religious Anti-Semitism- Anti-Judaism- against an idea, not against a people
Christianity- note-Modern Christians have changed greatly in their preaching , especially the Catholic Church, as well as the major Protestant denominations.
The conflict among Jews between the Jesus people and the bulk of Jews becomes a conflict in which the two sides try to put more distance between them. As the Roman Empire turns on Jews and on Rabbinic Judaism in particular (Deuterosis), the early Christian texts reflect a re-editing, to place the blame, on Jesus crucifixion, from the Romans, to the Jews, “ His blood be upon us and upon our children.” Deicide ( God-killer) and the Jew condemned to eternal wandering become the regnant motif.
The conflict is flamed by the early church thinkers. Church Fathers, such as John Chrysostom, went further in their condemnation John Chrysostom held, as most Church Fathers did, that the sins of all Jews were communal and endless, All Church Fathers applied the passages of the New Testament concerning the alleged advocation of the crucifixion of Christ to all Jews of his day, the Jews were the ultimate evil. John Chrysostom went so far to say that because Jews rejected the Christian God in human flesh, Christ, they therefore deserved to be killed: "grew fit for slaughter."
The split is grounded in Roman law-Theodosius code: In 404, Jews were excluded from certain governmental posts. In 418, they were barred from the civil service, and from all military positions. In 425, they were excluded from all remaining public offices, both civilian and military—a prohibition which Justinian I repeated.
Continued in 1215 Lateran Council Jews are forced to wear distinct clothes( yellow badge A Moslem practice.) Practices incorporated demeaning to Jews.
BUT- also, defense of Jews rights- Sicut Judaeis (the "Constitution for the Jews") was the official position of the papacy regarding Jews throughout the Middle Ages and later. The first bull was issued in about 1120 by Calixtus II The bull forbade, besides other things, Christians from coercing Jews to convert, or to harm them, or to take their property, or to disturb the celebration of their festivals, or to interfere with their cemeteries, on pain of excommunication.
Islam- Much of Islamic preaching continues in this same path path-Unfortunately for Islam and the world, it had adopted the tropes of Christianity. Level of out-spoken anti-Semitism is greater by all means, even in countries that had no major Jewish settlement such as Indonesia or Malaysia!
Mohammed- rose to power with Jewish allies- and then, when they fail to back him, he turns on them. What starts as a result of political power struggle becomes magnified into a fight between Islam and Judaism.
Intensified in the Hadith( Oral traditions)-Especially of Al Bukhari, who is considered authority behind most Islamic militants today. This statement is part of the charter of Hamas, for example
The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews, when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdullah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (the Boxthorn tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews. (related by al-Bukhari and Muslim).Sahih Muslim, 41:6985, see also Sahih Muslim, 41:6981, Sahih Muslim, 41:6982, Sahih Muslim, 41:6983, Sahih Muslim, 41:6984, Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:56:791,(Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:52:177)
Even with Islamic tolerance-limits-
Jizya tax-dhimmi status. 2) Yellow badge 3) Even in Golden Age of Spain-- periods of forced conversion and explusioon- Almohades-forced conversions. Pogroms in Cordoba and Granada
In Shiite regions- extreme intolerance-1) Jews are impure. 2) Exile of Jews from capital of Yemen, Sana-Galut Mauza 1600’s.3) Iran-strong laws restricting Jews, Forced conversion in Isfahan 1600’s, Mashad 1800’s.
On the one hand, Moslem rulers wanted Jews; I e. Sultan Suleiman invited Jews into the Ottoman empire with open hands. On the other hand, as Islamic world interacted with west, anti-Semitism gets stronger and is deeply ingrained- even before the rise of State of Israel.
Current manifestations: both Sunni and Shiite:
The esteemed President of Malaysia: In a speech made before the Organization of the Islamic Conference shortly before he left office, Mahathir claimed "the Jews rule the world by proxy: They get others to fight and die for them." “We are up against a people who think. They survived 2,000 years of pogroms not by hitting back but by thinking. They invented socialism, communism, human rights and democracy so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong, so that they can enjoy equal rights with others. With these they have now gained control of the most powerful countries and they, this tiny community, have become a world power. . . .”(NY Times https://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/21/world/views-on-jews-by-malaysian-his-own-words.html)
Ayatollah Khomeini was obsessed with Jews,in a book he published in 1970: “The Jews...wish to establish Jewish domination throughout the world since they are a cunning and resourceful group of people, I fear that... they may one day achieve their goal.” Hukumat-i Islami (Islamic governance),
Secular anti-Semitism: Modern roots
Economic anti-Semitism: Jews as a relatively successful population are targeted as threat, not to lower classes, but to upper & middle classes. For example, Jew as money-lender, financier, made it financially worthwhile for English barons to promote expulsion of Jews form England, 1200’s, as way of eliminating debts, taking over Jewish loan against other land owners. Pogroms of 1648 Poland- Jews served as “arenda” superintendents for Polish lords over Ukrainian Cossacks. Russia- end of 19th century- one of largest group pushing for laws against Jews-the merchant classes who could not compete against Jews who could afford to buy/sell lower prices because they lived frugally and saved. Karl Marx- Jew as huckster, as the worst example of capitalism. Persecution of Jews in USSR as corrupt swindlers( Book, Judaism Unembellished- 1962, official Soviet imprimatur)
Nationalist anti-Semitism- especially 19th century- failure of concept of Europe”, “ All Men are Brothers”. Term anti-Semite invented by William Barr to describe his new movement ( it may have been a Jewish scholar who first coined it). The Jew as a distinct and permanently alien nation has no place inside the host nation. European form moves on to rising Arab nationalism, which begins to see the Jew as alien- Farhood in Baghdad. The denial of rights to Jews in the newly freed colonies of North Africa. Albert Memmi-great ideologist of Tunisian independence, colleague of Franz Fanon: “We would have liked to be Arab Jews. If we abandoned the idea, it is because over the centuries the Moslem Arabs systematically prevented its realization by their contempt and cruelty. It is now too late for us to become Arab Jews. Not only were the homes of Jews in Germany and Poland torn down, scattered to the four winds, demolished, but our homes as well. “. . . Never, I repeat, never - with the possible exception of two or three very specific intervals such as the Andalusian, and not even then - did the Jews in Arab lands live in other than a humiliated state, vulnerable and periodically mistreated and murdered, so that they should clearly remember their place.( reprinted in various places).
Judeophobia- The Psychological Basis of Anti-Semitism goes far beyond common xenophobia, the fear of strangers. Hatred of the Jew is psychological phenomenon- Freudian perspective-- Jew as the father figure who must be destroyed. The Jew as demonic, possessed of supernatural powers- the Jew kills the son of God, drinks blood, poisons wells, controls Empires. The Jewish male has designs on the gentile woman, the Jewish female uses her wiles to undermine government leaders. In the the 20th century, it morphed into the modern racial version of Nazism, its most virulent form, leading to the destruction of one-third of all Jews.
The racial basis of anti-Semitism has its roots in Spain after the Expulsion, when the idea of “Pure blood”, ( Limpieza de Sangre”, became a tool of the Inquisition and of power-players to root out Jews by ancestry.
Deep roots, starting with Jewish leaders- Marx himself.
The famous Polish Jewish revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg specifically repudiated any concern with the plight of the Jews in a letter written in 1917, in which she indicated that the exploited of Asia and Africa were “so much closer” to her than the Jews that “I cannot find a special corner in my heart for the ghetto; I feel at home in the whole world.” In “Are the Jews a Race?,” the only book on the Jewish question written by a major Marxist theoretician, Karl. Kautsky, who was also of Jewish origins, criticized Juda ism as the major source of medieval thinking left in the modern world, one which must “dissolve . . . and disappear.” And like Marx, Kautsky wrote about Judaism: “The sooner it disappears, the better it will be, not only for society, but also for the Jews them selves.”
Poland- purge of Jews from major positons-1968, Gomulka, mass arrests, purges form power, expulsion-25,000 left. Similar- Hungary 1950s, Czech during communist takeover.
In Germany, New Left students, in a sickening replay of the behavior of their Nazi predecessors of 1928‐33 (university students were the first stratum in Germany to back the Nazis, giving them majorities in stu dent council elections as early as 1931), chant as they parade: “Mach die Nahe Osten rot; schlag die Zionisten tot” (“Make the Near East Red; smash the Zionists dead”).
Jean Bauberot, former leader of the French Student Christian Association and currently editor of Herytem, a New Left journal, wrote in the May‐July, 1969, issue that to “demonstrate the intricacies of the Palestine problem” leftists must “use expressions which, taken by themselves, appear to resemble certain lines from ‘Mein Kampf.