To the 5th Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism
Too much discussion is spent on how to fight anti-Semitism, without realizing that we cannot fight evil unless we understand its roots. While anti-Semitism has shown paradoxical faces, and many explanations have been offered, there is one that is almost completely ignored, though it may quite well be the primary cause of the ongoing hate that is felt towards Jews and Israel.
In his book Moses and Monotheism, Sigmund Freud tried to understand Jewish history and the formation of the people of Israel and Judaism. Although, due to many unproven assumptions, this work has come under heavy criticism by eminent scholars, it is remarkable that numerous theologians and sociologists are in agreement with Freud’s understanding of anti-Semitism.
Freud suggests that anti-Semitism is the result and expression of resentment felt by many Christians, as well as secular people, who hold the Jews responsible for the creation of the Christian religion and morality:
They have remained what their ancestors were, barbarically polytheistic. They have not yet overcome their grudge against the new religion which was forced on them, and they have projected it on to the source from which Christianity came to them….The hatred for Judaism is at bottom hatred for Christianity…(1)
This is a most profound observation. When carefully reviewing the history of Christianity and Western civilization, it becomes clear that both are deeply indebted to Judaism for many of their moral values. These Jewish values were often contested, ridiculed and fought against. Millions of newborn Christians raised in the pagan world of Rome were unable to extricate themselves from morally questionable practices and beliefs rooted in that world. As a consequence, Christianity, throughout all of its history, became entangled in many polytheistic beliefs, giving birth to a religious society that was never at ease with the fundamental concepts of monotheism. This resulted in a complex psycho-religious condition, trapping millions of Christians in an uncomfortable situation in which they could not distinguish between authentic monotheism with its moral demands on one hand, and pagan practices on the other. With the exception of some of Christianity’s erudite thinkers, most of its spokesmen could not free themselves from this influence.
In 1948, well-known Christian thinker Arthur Roy Eckardt asked whether the Christian Church could ever supersede the Synagogue in the struggle against paganism. His answer was No, because the Church itself is subject to pagan distortions: “Against all idolatries Judaism protests: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord’” (2). He and others, including renowned Protestant philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich, postulated that there would always be a need for Judaism, because it is “the corrective against the paganism that goes along with Christianity” (3).
Sigmund Freud’s observation is therefore not surprising. Not only was it a near impossibility for Christians to accept the oneness of God, but even more unsettling were the consequences. This God’s ethical demands on men required much self-discipline and therefore encountered strong opposition. The bottom line was the awareness that Jesus was a Jew, who incorporated many Jewish ethical values into his teachings, and this turned a great number of early Christians against their own religion.
In his 1940 study of anti-Semitism, Zionist leader and author Harry Sacher stated that anti-Semitism is “Europe’s revenge on the prophets.” The Jew is persecuted because he brought ethics and the conception of sin into the Western world:
The European Christian cannot forgive the Jew for giving him Christianity….It is not because they are ‘good Christians’ that the Europeans are instinctively anti-Semites. It is because they are bad Christians, in reality repressed…pagans (4).
It is Jesus that the anti-Semites fear. They launch their assault on those who are responsible for the birth of Christianity. They spit on the Jews not because they were Jesus killers, but because they are Jesus givers.
Part of the Western world has always tried to cause a divorce between Judaism and Christianity, since it cannot accept that Christianity is greatly indebted to Judaism. It therefore calls for the destruction of Judaism so that the uncertainty of its conscience and the reality of its guilt can be obliterated. Resisting its own destiny, it needs to destroy those who bring that destiny to mind. The Jew spoils the anti-Semite’s life by emphasizing the ethical demands of the Torah, which, despite their often inaccurate absorption into Jesus’ teachings, still remind him of those demands. The anti-Semite therefore re-enacts the crucifixion of his savior by torturing and killing the Jew who represents the teachings that Jesus had adopted.
So, it is not surprising that when Jews are forced to defend their country and declare war on terrorists, many people are delighted at having found an opportunity to accuse Israel of war crimes. While they are fully aware that their own countries would have annihilated a criminal organization that fired thousands of rockets on their own citizens, they cannot bring themselves to admit the legitimacy of such action when it concerns the Jews. They are the victims of their own subconscious animosity against Jewish values propagated by their messiah.
They cowardly take revenge on the Jews, whose biblical forefathers laid the foundations of justice and morality, which they now proudly use to condemn those Jews. What irritates them more than anything is the knowledge that Israeli soldiers try to do everything in their power not to hurt civilian populations, such as the Palestinian one, in contrast to their own armies that would surely have taken much more aggressive action and left thousands dead.
Nothing infuriates the anti-Semite more than observing those he hates maintaining a strong moral sense, even in the middle of a war that threatens their very survival.
When looking at Europe, we see an increase in pagan attitudes and a decrease in Judaic values. Consequently, Europe is headed for more trouble, which will only be reversible once it understands that the de-legitimization of Israel and Jews is its own undoing. It is the Europeans’ good fortune that there are still many non-Jews among them, including honest Christians, who fully understand this and try to turn the tide.
While radical Islamic hatred of Jews is complex, I would argue that in many ways it is not much different from old-fashioned anti-Semitism of the Western world. In today’s Muslim circles, many of the biblical morals have been radicalized to the point that they have become impossible to live by. When sexual mores do not allow women and men to interact with each other in a natural manner; when so many other taboos have become extreme; and when the death penalty is often used to enforce these laws, life becomes thoroughly intolerable, causing misery and poverty to reign supreme. Subconsciously, many Muslims hold Jews responsible for these unbearable situations, and somewhat like anti-Semitic Christians they believe it was Judaism that brought them this type of extreme Islam. They are totally unaware that it was not Judaism that introduced these extreme views but radical Islam itself. Together with their strong opposition to a Jewish State in the midst of vast Arab territory, tiny Israel becomes a thorn in their flesh especially because it has managed to keep this kind of extremism out of its own country. Israel, then, as the physical representative of Jewish moral consciousness, becomes the source of ongoing hate.
For Jews, the realization of this fact is crucial. While we must help to combat anti-Semitism in every way possible, we should be aware that it is not a Jewish problem. Its solution will be possible only when the world makes peace with ethical Judaism. Only when Jews will be able to convince the world of the power of Jewish ethics, and will ensure that it is taught in every classroom, church and mosque is there a chance that anti-Semitism will slowly come to an end.
In the meantime, we Jews should turn anti-Semitism on its head and use it as a source of pride. We should stop teaching our young people that we are victims of the longest and the most vicious hate fest in all of history for no reason. The reverse is true! We are hated for very good reason. We are hated because our people, throughout all of history, had the courage to stand up and protest against a world that was committed to paganism, brutality and injustice.
We have to teach our children that just like the prophets, we too are tasked with continuing to be the moral conscience of this world. And Judaism is our guide.
Let us at least be hated for the right reasons and be proud of it.
(1) Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism (New York: Knopf, 1939) p 145. See: Will Herberg, Judaism and Modern Man: An Interpretation of Jewish Religion (New York: Atheneum, 1973) p. 284.
(2) Arthur Roy Eckardt, Christianity and the Children of Israel (New York: King’s Crown Press, 1948) pp. 146-147.
(3) Quoted by Eckardt, op. cit., pp. 146-147.
(4) Harry Sacher, “Revenge on the Prophets: A Psychoanalysis of Anti-Semitism,” Menorah Journal Vol. 28 (Fall 1940) No. 3.
Questions by the David Cardozo Think Tank
- According to Freud, Christians “have not yet overcome their grudge against the new religion which was forced on them, and they have projected it on to the source from which Christianity came to them….” Is anti-semitism simply the expression of self-hate? Argue for and/or against.
- The line between self-righteous priggery and the model of moral rectitude can be a fine one. How is one to maintain that moral compass without falling into arrogance?
- Both sides of the debate whether Man (humankind) is fundamentally good or fundamentally evil agree that through moral and ethical conduct, Man can achieve goodness, and that that is desirable. If, however, “the Jew is persecuted because he brought ethics and the conception of sin into the Western world,” then perhaps the truly desired mode of existence is uncontrolled wantonness and chaos. Discuss.
- If anti-semites were able to be successful in wiping the Jews off the map (God forbid), what would happen to Christianity, according to the claim that Christianity “calls for the destruction of Judaism so that the uncertainty of its conscience and the reality of its guilt can be obliterated”?
- Consider the parallels between the historical anti-semitism of Christianity and the rising anti-semitism of radical Islam. How are the similarities and differences of origins manifest in the expression of anti-semitism in the modern world?
- “We are hated for very good reasons.” What are those reasons? Can you turn anti-Jewish sentiment into a badge of pride, or do you shrink at the claims made against the Jewish people and Israel? Do you find yourself hating others for similar reasons?
Nelson Lee Novick, M.D. says
I certainly agree with Rabbi Cardozo that antisemitism has been a pervasive phenomenon throughout the millenia. And I certainly concur that perhaps for a large portion of the Christian world, in particular, antisemitism is rooted in an unconscious tension between the Mosaic code and paganism’s desire to renounce or ignore that code in favor of coveting, robbing, raping, and murdering without moral restraint. Hitler, yemach shemo ve-zichro himself, in Mein Kampf, made it clear that the success of his struggle was based upon the unrestrained pagan Volk triumphing over the shackles of the Mosaic Code, a triumph that would result in the Aryan people being able to take as much Lebenstraum as it wanted, and enslave whomever it wanted whenever it chose.
However, like all the social science and economic theories that have been proposed for hundreds of years intended to encompass the total phenomenon of antisemitism, the above, too, falls short, I believe of explaining it.
Long before the rise of Christianity, Hashem clearly outlined to the Jewish people that so long as they recognized only Him and so long as they submitted to his Laws, i.e. the Mosaic Code, all would go well for the Jewish people. However, if they did not, the opposite would be their fate. And so it was time and again throughout all of Tanach. The people would time and again intermarry with their surrounding neighbors and intercalate their pagan gods of Astarte and Baal alongside G-d and strayed and would “do evil in the sight of the L-rd.” And so Hashem would send the Canaanites, the Phillistines, the Midianites, the Amorites, the Edomites, and later the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans as the instruments of his reproof of the Jewish people for their errant ways in hopes of turning them back to Him in the hour of dire distress.
In short, antisemitism, therefore, is not necessarily the product of the inner conflict within the Christian mind between unrestrained paganism and the Jewish morality and restraints transmitted to them through their Jewish Jesus. The origin of antisemitism, like its demise, instead hinges upon the actions of the Jewish people themselves, as a people of the covenant, not on the base motivations of others. In short, if the Jews honor their part of the covenant, their brit, that goes back to Avraham, the first monotheist, then G-d will cause all wickedness and antisemitism to leave the world and ALL knees, Jew and non-Jew, will bend to him.
Professor Nelson Lee Novick, M.D.
Stephanie Kuol Makes says
One factor I see evident in anti-Semitic sentiment is not so much that the root of it is blaming Jewish people for Christianity or Islam, it is the fact that these religions have failed to truly empower people. Muslims and Christians despite the outward proclamation made as to each being the only true faith in God and to each being the supreme faith, the fact can often be that both Muslims and Christians can be very disempowered within both religions and this can cause people to look for someone to blame. The blame for their woes is somehow a subconscious cry for help, because as the Torah makes clear Jews are to be a light to the nations, (light means to reveal to them Will and Wisdom of Hashem, Torah)
Constantly calling people racist and anti-Semitic however is never going to solve any problems, it just creates more fear and distrust, and prevents the greater goal from being achieved.
Every Jew has the power to empower. For me as a teacher in a classroom to gain any authority and manage behaviour in a distracting class of thirty students, I have to first learn to ignore a lot of disruptive behaviour and challenge and take action only on serious behaviour issues. If not I would spend my whole lesson pointing a finger and feeling miserable at what a terrible job I had. Only over time, with an absolute belief in your own ability to teach and the belief that the education you are giving the student ultimately empowers a child to succeed in the society they are a part of, can you overcome some of the many obstacles that bad behaviour often presents in a classroom environment. You win people over by empowering them to succeed and not only do you win the person who has directly benefited from your service but consequently every parent, relative and friend. Actions speak louder than words, so even faced with the barrage of negativity a teacher has to suffer each day by unwilling students, your determination, resolution and belief in what you are doing ultimately reaps dividends. It is however an astonishingly hard task to achieve even within the microcosm of a classroom because everybody is afraid and this fear takes total bitachon in Hashem to overcome.
However take this model to a society at large and see that people have been subject to years of bad teaching and guidance and wonder what can be done to empower those people that so desperately need to be taught properly with the vision of ultimately empowering them to succeed as human beings in the global society. Once people attain true empowerment within themselves they no longer feel like victims and are not looking for someone to blame. It might be hard to truly empower others, if you are not empowered first as a Jew with the knowledge of having a divine directive and mandate from Hashem to do so.