In his book, Lonely but not Alone, Rabbi Cardozo speculates that anti-Semitism is rooted in Christianity, but not for the reasons we might have thought:
Why are we hated so much? For thousands of years we have been the scapegoat for all the problems of the world. We brought pestilence to Europe; we killed non-Jewish children to use their blood for baking matzot; we were responsible for Germany’s economic woes. The list goes on. Today, the State of Israel is referred to by some as a “cancer” in the Middle East, responsible for all the upheavals in the region. Millions of people are convinced that we’re causing a third world war and that without Jews the earth would be a Garden of Eden. Remove the Jews from power at the White House and things will go much better. We have been attacked as no other nation has, and only seven decades ago we paid the price of losing six million of our people in the Holocaust, including more than a million innocent children, who were subjected to the most aggressive and barbaric methods of torture. Why is this? Sigmund Freud made, I believe, a most profound observation about this. He claimed that “the hatred for Judaism is at bottom hatred for Christianity.” The world hates us not because we killed Jesus but because we gave them Jesus. Most nations are deeply disturbed by Jesus’ insistence that man be deeply religious and believe in one God Who demands ethical behavior, as well as by the notion of the Kingdom of God. Heavily involved in idol worship and all its abominable practices, these nations couldn’t cope with all the Jewish ideas that Jesus promulgated. In fact, Jesus went further than some Jewish teachings demanded. He stated that man should never get divorced, should “turn the other cheek” to one’s enemy, and so on. So he actually outdid the Torah. This was too much for many gentiles to bear.
Since Avraham, Jews stand for the unity of God and far reaching moral principles. This caused major disruptions within a world which was dedicated to idol worship and immoral practices such as child sacrifice and sexual license. Nobody had ever heard about this God and nobody was prepared to give up on their immoral practices. So the world was little interested in Avraham’s message and this resulted in much animosity. But at the time of Jesus and even more at the time when the church started to dominate the Christian world, Christian Anti-Semitism and therefore Western Anti-Semitism became blatant as Freud explains. The irritation now spread to the West and was in fact identified with Christian monotheism and deep jealousy for the contribution Jews made to the western civilization and their absolute rejection of Jesus as the messiah.
A lively discussion ensued! Below are some of our views on what causes anti-Semitism.
There are two options, and I waver, depending on what I believe at the moment.
When I’m not feeling frum, when I feel that perhaps there is not a God, or not a God who takes an active role in history, or at least not a God who takes a role in the bits of history I would like altered, then anti-semitism seems random. We tend to ascribe reasons to events post-facto, finding a coherent narrative to explain phenomena. I am not saying there is no anti-semitism — of course there is! But its rise and flourishing could be random. Bad things happen. Sometimes, cataclysmically bad things happen and are sustained, and feed and grow, for no particular reason. Anti-semitism has taken root in the mind of the world, for whatever reasons, and, because most people are intellectually and morally lazy, it grows. It is a universal attribution error to notice facts that confirm your bias and to discount ones that do not. So one will always find reasons to feel justified in hating Jews.
Everyone thinks their own experience is unique. I bet if you speak to an Armenian or a Kurd, she would say that the Armenian or the Kurd experience and the Armenian or the Kurd persecution is unique. Whoever you ask would say the same thing. We know ourselves the best and we all think we’re special. That is not to say that the Jews have not been targeted in higher numbers or percentages of population in modern times, but I think that has more to do with Nazi efficiency and technology than anything else. I am sure that the Ottomans would gladly have killed more Armenians if they could have done so.
If there is an active God (which is something I believe most of the time) then surely it is God’s will that the Jews (and others!) are eternally persecuted. I don’t like it. I don’t claim that it means that there is ultimate Goodness in this phenomenon and that one day all will become clear. But, when I’m feeling frum, it does all seem God-directed to me. How the heck else could it be that the world believes such ridiculous things about us? How the heck else could it be that the UN is so preoccupied with Israeli transgressions, while ignoring true and rampant evil?
But saying anti-semitism is God-directed is not the same as saying it is good or that there are discernible reasons for it. I disagree with those who call the Shoah a punishment (!) and I am not alone, of course. It was horror and destruction for God’s own reasons that we cannot understand and should not accept.
Anti-Semitism is definitely not random! It’s centered around the traditions that reacted against Judaism. It’s not because we gave Jesus to the world—it’s just that the problem is that Jesus had to be a Jew, because Christianity came from the same core drive as anti-Semitism. These cultures weren’t infected with anti-Semitism, as something external to them. Rather, they come from the same drive.
It’s central to Judaism that we have an inherent aspiration to truth, and that’s a living accusation to the people amongst whom the Jews live. Christianity provided a structure which neutralized that accusation, and they needed the legitimization of a Jew (who was dead and therefore not in a position to deny it).
We often hear that we live in a “Judeo-Christian” civilization. And yet, Christianity is reactive rather than adoptive of Judaism. The drive to expand Christianity was a drive to offer relief from the uncomfortable message that the Jews represented. Therefore, it put on the same kind of garments as Judaism, without the obligations. And that’s why it spread. Islam was a civilization of conquest from the beginning.
So I hate the misnomer of a “Judeo-Christian civilization”; there is nothing in common between Judaism and Christianity but the misappropriation of Jewish themes.
My experience of anti-Semitism is at one remove, mainly through the media. I have no theory of anti-Semitism. That we are witnessing a resurgence of anti-Semitism – in the guise of anti-Zionism – is personally a huge disappointment. Its sheer relentless persistence makes me feel like I’ve had the stuffing knocked out of me. I thought it had ended.
Growing up I would hear from people of my parents’ generation words like, “don’t be so friendly with goyim because, under the surface, they hate us.” When I heard such things, I would say to myself, “you are trapped in an earlier generation; we have moved beyond that”. Now I realize that I spoke too soon. In England, the most outspokenly anti-Zionist professions are the journalists and university teachers, the two professions which should par excellence be dedicated to the impartial, unbiased pursuit of truth. One expects to find in such areas – academia, the arts etc. – independence of mind but even here, herd mentality is disappointingly prevalent.
Even in the most educated and cultured, there is a seductive thrill in being able to unleash one’s self-righteous anger on a scapegoat. It is intoxicating. I feel there is something of this in contemporary anti-Semitism/anti-Zionism.
Calev ben Dor
I identify with a lot of things people have said, and especially with what Yael Valier said. It’s difficult to deny that there is a constant historical hatred for Jews that seems to be unique. But at the same time there will always be a certain amount of hatred for people who are different.
I did experience anti-Semitism growing up, but had I been black or Muslim or Sikh, I would also have suffered. People don’t like others who are different, and we have been the ultimate “Other” for many years. We were a powerless, stateless minority. So it’s inevitable that bad things would happen and sometimes we take that as anti-Semitism.
Not every bad thing that happens to us has to be defined as Jew hatred. I don’t think the destruction of the first Temple was anti-Semitism. Babylon simply got fed up with our rebellion, we chose the wrong allies, so they invaded, killed us and destroyed the temple. Similarly with the second Temple
Our narrative is that we are always hated by the nations. But all nations have their narratives. I’m sure the Syrian people also feel that no one wants them; it’s not just that countries shut their doors to Jews. They shut their doors to everyone.
Ultimately, hate is a psychological element; and so I want to give a psychological reason. I offer that the reason the world hates Jews is because we demonstrate simultaneously a superiority and inferiority complex (according to a therapist I know, these two are really the same thing). We are highly talented and intelligent, and are given to both arrogance and self-blame, as well as taking ourselves very seriously—a form of narcissism. Any human being like that is going to be irritating to those around him or her! Behavior like that gives rise to feelings of strong discomfort in the people in the environment.
Rabbi Cardozo, you write: “Hate from an external source can’t be the main reason for one’s survival.” But maybe it really is the cause of our survival, on a utilitarian level, intentionally engineered by God to be that way. He designed the world so that they would always hate Jews, and thus the Jews could never just assimilate and forget who they were. As soon as mass assimilation started taking place, e.g. in 1930s Germany, a pogrom or Holocaust would arrive to remind them who they were. In this way the Jews would be forced to continue being different, which is a necessary prerequisite for what God needs from them to carry in the world.
(Of course, I have no idea what God wants. I am based the above analysis on the principle that we can deduce God’s “desires” by looking closely at the world He created and extrapolating that that is the way that God wants it, give or take…)
From first grade on, I attended private school because the local high school had a reputation for anti-Semitism—not the elementary, but down the road. The school was about 25-30% Jewish, not religious—where many people missed one day of school for Rosh Hashanah, but only one other family missed two days for it. It was at home that I experienced the slightest bit of something…I must have been about 11—still in elementary school—when a neighbor said, you don’t look Jewish! I was utterly taken aback.
That said, I was never surprised by anti-Semitism or the recent rise (dismayed that it would happen—absolutely, but not surprised). Perhaps (!) that’s because I had read a good deal of Holocaust literature, even as a child, which may have given me an understanding that there is always going to be anti-Semitism. Whether that’s from God, a difficult understanding of the “Chosen People,” or…I don’t know. In any case, I always took it as a given.
In the early 90s, my sister was a student at the very liberal Brown University. She’s not religious, her name doesn’t sound obviously Jewish, yet someone painted a swastika on her dorm room door. ABC News Tonight did an expose on the rise of anti-Semitism on college campuses at the time, and my sister’s comment on television was, “if it’s happening at Brown, what does that say about everywhere else?!”
I don’t think that anti-Semitism is a function of religion at all. One of the great themes in classical Greek theater is the idea that “Whom the gods would destroy, they first drive mad.” In our age we have a new version of this: “Whom God would destroy, He first makes them anti-Semitic.
It is our very “peoplehood” that is the basis of the hatred. Both Christianity and Islam aspire to transcend nationhood, peoplehood, and statehood. They wish to become communities of faith, ungrounded in commonality of culture and history. The same is true of the new religions of secular liberalism, Communism, and Capitalism. Societies that try to divest themselves of all the “earthly” trappings of a cultural body often attack their own cultures as something vulgar—a sort of cultural equivalent to the vision of the body as the enemy of the soul. To the extent that these cultural origins are believed to be Jewish, attacks on Jews may be part of the “mortification of the flesh” of a society’s cultural body.
The trouble is, religious beliefs alone provide very little real commonality. The fact that Christian countries have completely failed to mount humanitarian initiatives on behalf of Middle Eastern Christians is not due to a fault in Christianity. It’s just that solidarity is not built on faith but on a sense of peoplehood—the gritty physical reality of shared customs, languages, and historical memory.
We Jews epitomize the very notion of cohesive peoplehood, which has outlived almost all previous empires and nations. This fact alone makes us an accusation in the face of those cultures that have bet their future on religious ideas alone. As a people, we have a future, something that is begrudged by those who do not.
Whatever we may say about the persecutions of the past, I think the relationship today, in general, is radically different. There has been a shift in the Christian world, particularly in the last 50 years since Nostra Aetate. Another major change has been the growth of the Evangelical movement worldwide with a reading of Scripture that draws them towards Judaism and Israel.
My wife and I host Christian groups in our home for Shabbat on a regular basis. They want to know everything about our theology and practice. They are also very respectful. Presently, in my teaching, I have more Christian than Jewish students.
At this moment in our history, there seems to be a convergence—of ideas, shared values, and a common enemy in Radical Islam. The relationship is sorting itself out as root and branch, the older and younger sibling.
Having been born in Israel, it’s easy for me to ignore anti-Semitism. Even though we are attacked every day, here we are the strong side. When someone says something anti-Semitic here, I’m not afraid, so I don’t notice it. Twelve years ago we could hear the shooting in Gilo. So you have to be aware of anti-Semitism. You can’t ignore the fact that people want to destroy the State, which is anti-Semitism by definition.
Hamas has its own ideology and theories and I respect that. I don’t feel surrounded by anti-Semites. The anti-Semites are not exactly among us. They are outside of us. Usually, people don’t dare express anti-Semitic feelings here.
When you read about the Romans and what they did to the Jews after the destruction of the Second Temple, you see anti-Semitism spelled out in black and white. It wasn’t just an issue of nationalism. They write about how much they hated Jews.
In the same way, I think Palestinian violence is driven by a theory. You can say it’s about their right to exist, etc. But then you have to ask yourself why they started after the British left. Nobody cared about al-Aqsa before 1917. Not after 1948, and not after 1967—they simply didn’t care. Now suddenly the Muslim world wakes up and uses al-Aqsa as an excuse.
In 1938, Australia said, we can’t take Jews. Why? Because we have no anti-Semitism, and we don’t want any!
Just the other day in Crown Heights, someone was stabbed and punched by someone who said, “I’m tired by the Jews.” I remember the riots when I was eleven. We felt threatened.
I went to Europe when I was twelve, and visited Vienna and Prague. In Austria we heard cries of “Schweine Juden Raus!” We heard “Heil Hitler” a lot. (We dressed recognizably Jewish.)
In a public library in Toronto I once overheard a conversation in which someone said, “Don’t you think the Jewish people are cursed?” It was a new reinterpretation of Am HaNivhar (the Chosen People) for me.
Chaim Potok was in Korea during the Korean War. He grew up thinking that Jews were central to world history. But in Korea, they didn’t even know what Jews were!
The big question is: Is anti-Semitism essential? The Goyim hate us because the Torah was given to us? Is it Jealousy? Or is there a halacha that the goyim that will hate the Jews?
Or, maybe anti-Semitism is purely circumstantial. We cannot be ignored. We are powerful and pose a threat, so we must be demonized. When we try to assimilate, we were killed. When we try to assert our nationalism, the same. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. So clearly something bigger is going on. The whole typology of Esav vs. Yaakov comes up again and again in our sages. It assumes metaphysical proportions. Perhaps this is the archetype of Anti-Semitism.
Yet, I feel it might be unhealthy to have an essentialist view of anti-Semitism. I don’t think that each and every non-Jew tends to hate Jews.
I grew up in Amsterdam. There, you could still feel the War. I went to non-Jewish schools and got called “Jew” and got shouted at. These things are not dangerous, but it’s the way of the world.
I like what Yehudah said. It seems so complex that it seems irrational. There does not seem any utility in it, and so we see it as irrational. It’s hard for me to agree with one specific opinion. I can’t say, “It happens to everyone.”
Sometimes I equate anti-Semitism with the weather. We pray for rain and we believe that rain will fall. People can say that rain is random, and yet we have this idea that it’s not completely random. We think it’s a distribution that we can change without tefilla (prayer). I see anti-Semitism as a communication with God. It might give us some kind of message.
But I don’t think all this started with the Romans; the Persians found reasons to hate us too.
A few observations:
When I wrote about Freuds’ observation about Jesus, that is not to say that that is the only reason for anti-Semitism. I agree that today the Christian community looks differently at Jews than they did in the past. I think some of you are mistaken to think that anti-Semitism is a form of hate that could fall upon anyone else. As someone once said, anti-Semitism is hating Jews more than necessary. Sure lots of non-Jews are hated, but I don’t think you can compare it. Read Emille Fackenheim and David Weiss Halivni.
There was again this week an attack on Shechittah in Holland. I think it is pure anti-Semitism. They use the arguments that totally overlook the cruelty of their own abattoirs. They use “science” to explain why Shechittah is not the best of the best, which may be true, but they ignore their own problems. It is camouflaged anti-Semitism hiding behind animal rights.
Rousseau, who was highly anti-Semitic, said, “If the Jews didn’t exist, we would have had to invent them.” One thing brought up by Marc Shapiro about R’ Yechiel Weinberg, the Seridei Eish (and for which he was attacked), was a conversation between him and a professor Atlas, a yeshiva-educated Jew who became secular. The Seridei Eish said that many things in halacha were very anti-non-Jew, and that this has contributed to anti-Semitism: Our tradition has added a dimension to anti-Semitism, because of our own pronouncements, whether justified or not. All of these Talmudic statements are about idol worshippers who were barbarians. Not about civilized non-Jews. But halachic authorities forgot to abolish these laws and so these laws are shamefully still applied. It is typical example were halacha undermines itself.
When you look at what happened in the Holocaust, and read first hand accounts, it is so absurd and irrational that one starts to wonder whether there was a higher power behind it.
I don’t believe it was punishment. The punishment would be completely out of proportion to the crime. On the other hand, the threat is right there in the Bible; it says that if we don’t observe the mitzvot, terrible things will happen to us. The curses written there look very much like what happened in the Holocaust. But as the Chazon ish stated, these curses were meant for a generation which experienced the Divine presence in a way which could not be denied, while we live in a world where much of this presence has become hidden.
One has to make a distinction between God existing and God being good. R’ Yitz Greenberg wrote that no doubt God exists, but nevertheless, He violated His covenant with us at the time of the Holocaust. So we are no longer required to observe the Torah. So why keep it? Out of choice! Now we are free to keep the mitzvot on our own, as a free people.
 Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism (New York: Knopf, 1939) p. 145. See, also, my Thoughts to Ponder 303, pp. ____ in this book.