Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Oldest Hate

In the Frum Skeptics Group forum one of the members brought up a recent antisemitic event is Russia (no surprise there) and questioned the cause of antisemitism and supposed the possibility that some statements in classical Jewish texts are xenophobic towards non-Jews and show a sense of superiority for Jews. This thing in Russia is some sort of petition being signed saying that Judaism is a racist ideology because of certain statements taken from a newly translated Russian version of the Kitsur Shulchan Aruch. My response is below.


Stuff taken from Jewish texts, like the Talmud or this Shulchan Arch is used as fodder to promote antisemitism. It is not the cause.

Nowadays antisemitism is merely the continuation of antisemitism from centuries ago. It slid into the social fabric and stayed there even after the initial reasons were no longer relevant. Consider it vestigial hatred.

Its story begins when Christianity begins. I know many religious Jewish views like to make it seem like it began in the time of Pharoah and Amalek, but really not. Those types of acts were not directed at the Israelites because they were Israelites but from much different reasons. Pharoah needed slaves. Amalek was attacking strangers. The anti-Jewish edicts of Antiochus Epiphanes were due because the Jews were seen as strange and he wanted to naturalize them into Greek culture and to set himself as "God-King" as opposed to the revealed God in the Bible. It wasn't because they were Jews that he went after them but just a contingent fact.

Seeing the difference here is key. Yes, Jews have been different and strangers in many areas of the world and have thus received flak from many cultures. But antisemitism means that Jews are hated for no reason other than because they are Jews. Hating strangers is xenophobia and Jews can be as much a victim of that as anyone. But antisemitism is specialized which is why it has a special name.

The beginning of this true antisemitism, as I mentioned earlier, began with the onset of popular Christianity. Christian leaders felt it necessary to separate more from their Jewish origins and with membership ever growing and them gaining power in the capital of Rome, edicts were passed forbidding all sorts of Christian dealings with Jews. This was straight, simple religious discrimination. Not really yet true antisemitism. Religious discrimination happens everywhere.

However, later on as the Jews were being looked on as second class citizens (or not citizens as the case may be) throughout Christian Europe, they gained classical stereotypical impressions and uncomplimentary views on them. As the Jews refused to conform they were seen as aliens living within Christian lands. Unworthy, lowly squatters taking advantage of the generousness of their Christian betters. Jews became demonized in popular culture.

It is from this melting pot, ideas about Jews fermented and stories like the wandering Jew, blood libels, horns, and the like sprung. This was antisemitism. This was seeing Jews _because_ they were Jews in uncomplimentary stereotypical ways. Sure, religious discrimination was still a factor, but Jews were not seen the same as pagans and such. They were given special categories of "evilness."

If you note, antisemitism was largely absent outside of Europe during the Middle Ages. There were some incidents in the Islamic world, but again, the reasons were mostly incidental to them being Jews, not because they were Jews. Jews were oddballs in the Islamic Empire and were subject to the various negative effects of xenophobia which can be found in all cultures. Christians got it as bad, if not worse, than Jews in the Islamic Empire.

Later on, national movements in Europe only exacerbated this fermenting process. If Italy was for the Italians, what the hell are these non-Italian, Jews, doing here? Nazism, extreme nationalism, makes that extremely clear.

Today, much of the classic antisemitic stories and sentiments has been exported from Europe and making the rounds in the Islamic world. This is due to negative feelings in general towards Jews because of the State of Israel. But these antisemitic feelings and stories can be traced back to Europe.

These most recent cases in Russia are nothing new. They are a continuation of the classical social fabric of the past many centuries. You cannot hope to understand antisemitism without knowing that this most recent expression of it has much deeper roots.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

This comforting idea that there is NEVER a reason for non-jews to dislike jews is myopic and absurd. Speaking only of recent Russia, it is clear that there were many jews among the so-called oligarchs who cheated the state and aquired billions of property by illegal means--and then running off with their money to UK and Israel. Can you blame poor and struggling Russians for having a low opinion of them? A good deal of anti-semitism is generated by the evil actions of some jews--and all of us pay for them in the end. Let's be honest about this.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

First of all, there has been antisemitism in Russia for centuries. And I think that not recognizing the historical basis for such feelings leaves people like you looking for the most recent scapegoats for why such feelings exist.

Perhaps the criminal actions of individuals throws some gas on the fire, but the fire has been burning for a long time.

"Can you blame poor and struggling Russians for having a low opinion of them?"

Yes, of course I can. The actions of some do not represent the reputations of anyone else. Let them be upset at individuals but there is no excuse for painting all such people in the same brush.

Anonymous said...

You say with a straight face: "
The actions of some do not represent the reputations of anyone else. Let them be upset at individuals but there is no excuse for painting all such people in the same brush.."
We do it all the time..All Palestinians are terrorists and muderers....All Frenchmen are anti-semites...All goyim have inferior animal souls...etc etc
Love your protective logic....

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

Speak for yourself. I make a conscious effort not to generalize people.

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