19- Reasons or Excuses

Continuing our talk on Antisemitism, Rabbi Lehrfield speaks more on why it's the most unique hatred.


Hey everyone. I'm an Menachem Lehrfield, and this is Zero Percent, where we explore world-changing ideas introduced by Judaism, ancient wisdom for modern living. We left off last episode talking about antisemitism, the world's oldest hatred. But it's not just the oldest hatred in the world. It's also the most unique hatred. The very fact that we need a word for it speaks to the uniqueness of antisemitism. Antisemitism isn't just one more unfortunate example of hatred in the world. There's something unique about it. Number one, the longevity. Edward Flannery, who's a Catholic priest, writes in The Anguish of the Jews, a history of antisemitism. He says, "As a historian of antisemitism looks back over the millennia of horrors he has recorded, an inescapable conclusion emerges. Antisemitism is different because of its longevity and consistency."
As we pointed out last time, as long as there have been Jews, there has been a hatred of Jews it is existed. As long as the Jewish people have existed. No other hatred has endured this long. But it's not just how long the hatred has endured. It's also how universal it is. Antisemitism is found worldwide, no matter what continent or what time period. Antisemitism has always been a constant. I don't think anybody quite captured the universality of antisemitism quite like Tom Lehrer. He was a comedian and a satirist in the '50s and '60s. And he wrote a song for National Brotherhood Week. And perhaps we'll have an episode later on talking about why so many Jews have gone into comedy and why comedy has been an outlet for so many Jewish people. But I think it takes a Jew to really understand and capture this concept of universality.
So he wrote a song for National Brotherhood Week and the punchline verse goes like this. He says... (singing). That's the one thing everyone can agree on. In the article we started with last time Concerning the Jews by Mark Twain, many people are familiar with the part we quote at the end of the article. But the truth is the entire article is quite fascinating. Mark Twain actually is writing all of this in a response to a question that was asked by a Jewish lawyer. He wrote into Mark Twain in response to an article that Mark Twain himself had written previously, called Stirring Times in Austria, where Twain writes about his experiences in Austria and what was going on there politically. And the questioner says, "In your article," again, this article is Stirring Times in Austria, "you say that in the rioting which followed," there were lots of riots back and forth. He says, "all classes of people were unanimous only on one thing, i.e. being against the Jews." The one thing they could agree on is that they hated the Jewish people.
He goes on to ask more, and we'll get to that question in just a little bit. But the point I want to bring out is just how universal this hatred is. No matter where you go, no matter where you come from, there seems to be this hatred, and throughout history. In every region where Jews have lived, they've been hated. No matter where they settled, no matter whom their host, antisemitism eventually appears. It's quite shocking. Between the years 250 of the Common Era and 1948, a period of 1700 years, Jews in Europe alone experienced an average of one expulsion for every 21 years. In 1290, we were expelled from England, and France in 1306, then again in 1394, in Hungary in 1349, and again, in 1316, in Austria in 1421. We were expelled from various places in Germany throughout the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, from Lithuania in 1445 and 1495, the famous one in Spain during the expulsion from Spain in 1492, in Portugal in 1497, Bohemia and Moravia in 1744 and '45, and 71 other countries.
That's a lot of places to get kicked out of. And that's just till 1948. From 1948 to 1967, talk about ethnic cleansing, which is a expression that we throw around a lot. From 1948 through 1967, almost every single Jew, that's close to a hundred percent of the Jews living in Aden and Algeria and Egypt and Iraq and Syria and Yemen, every single one of those Jews over 500,000 of them, were forced to flee their homes, fearing for their lives in the wake of pogroms, assaults, massacres. So this is another way in which the hatred of the Jewish people, antisemitism, is unique among the hatreds of the world.
But it's not just in how universal the hatred is. It's also how intense the hatred is. When a group is hated, they usually become the butt of ethnic jokes. Sometimes they're subject to discrimination. Jews, on the other hand, are subject to attempts at genocide. The word genocide itself was created to describe the Holocaust. But that's not where it started. I'm talking about the pogroms through the Crusades, the Holocaust itself, Iran's nuclear threats right now. These are attempts to exterminate a people that represent, as we said last time, just a tiny minority of the world's population.
You never should have even heard of a Jewish person. We make up, like we said, said 0% of the population. And yet the hatred is so intense, it's not just discrimination. It's not even just persecution. We're talking about genocide. Over and over and over again. Look at Jewish history from the Egyptians in ancient times to the Greeks and the Persians, and the Persians in the Purim story to the Germans in Nazi Germany to Iran today. The intensity with which people have hated the Jews is unprecedented.
So antisemitism is unique. It's unique in the longevity. It's been around since almost the beginning of time. The universality of it, no matter where you go throughout time and throughout space, people have hated the Jews, and number three, the intensity. But it's number four that I think really sets antisemitism apart. And that is the irrationality, right? We see from Tom Lehrer song that antisemites throughout the world agree that they hate the Jews. Mark Twain, in his comments, agrees to that. No matter what, we don't know why antisemitism exists. We can talk about that. We don't know what they hate about it. We can talk about that. But everyone agrees that they hate the Jewish people. But there's surprisingly little agreement on exactly what they hate.
There's what we would call normal hate. In Bosnia, people are persecuted over territory and religion. In Ireland, it's national independence and religion. African Americans were, and unfortunately still are, hated in some places for racial reasons. But no one has yet offered a single universally accepted reason to explain why people hate the Jews. People hate the Jews because we're too liberal and we're too conservative. We're lazy and an inferior race, but we're also dominating the economy and taking over the world. We're stubbornly maintaining our separateness, but also assimilating and posing a threats to racial purity through intermarriage.
They hate us because we're pacifists, and also because we're warmongers, because we're capitalist exploiters and revolutionary communists. They hate us because we're cheap. But then they also hate us because we're spendthrift. We're possessed of this chosen people mentality, but we also have an inferiority complex. We're too passive and too pushy, too charitable, too selfish, too religious, too secular. Make up your mind. Pick one reason why you hate us. It can't be everything. I don't know of another people, another sect, a religion, an ethnic group, that is hated for so many contradictory reasons. Make up your mind. You all agree you hate the Jews, fine, but make up your mind as to why.
So we've established that the hatred of Jews is unique and it's unlike any other hatred. But we haven't explained why. Why do people hate the Jews? Or to say it more eloquently, in the words of our Jewish lawyer, who is writing to Mark Twain, he asks, "Now, will you kindly tell me why, in your judgment, the Jews have thus ever been and are even now in these days of supposed intelligence, the butt of baseless, vicious animosities? I dare say that for centuries, there has been no more quiet, undisturbing and well-behaving citizen as a class than that same Jew. It seems to me that ignorance and fanaticism alone cannot account for these horrible and unjust persecutions. Tell me, therefore, from your vantage point of cold view, what in your mind is the cause? Can American Jews do anything to correct it either in America or abroad? Will it ever come to an end? Will a Jew be permitted to live honestly, decently and peaceably, like the rest of mankind?"
So let's tackle those questions one at a time. First of all, why do people hate the Jews? As any question of why, we have to understand what is the real reason. The Hebrew word [foreign language 00:11:41] literally is [foreign language 00:11:43], for what. For what? What is the actual reason why a certain thing is happening? And we can usually tell pretty intuitively if somebody is giving us the reason for something, or if it's just an excuse. When my daughter Atara was about three years old, I was tucking her in at night and we were laying down in her bed and she had her puppy that she loved, that she's had since she was a little baby. And she's stalling as she always does. And she asks me to go downstairs to the basement to get some more stuffed animals because Puppy wasn't enough.
So I said to her, because obviously I'm way too lazy to go all the way downstairs and get more stuffed animals, I said to her, "I think Puppy's going to be sad if you get other animals to cuddle with." So she looked at me as if I was an idiot and said, "Daddy, Puppy's not a real dog." We know when excuses are just excuses. We know when they're not real. But the easiest way to tell is simple cause and effect. If something is truly a cause and not an excuse, if we remove the cause, the effect should vanish. That simple cause and effect, that's the way it should work. So let's explore some of the classic reasons that are given for antisemitism, ones that are given by historians and sociologists. And we'll examine these one by one and discuss the validity of each. Let's see if they are truly reasons, causes of antisemitism, or if they're just excuses.
So the most often given reason for antisemitism is economic. The Jews are hated because they possess too much wealth and too much power. This idea was introduced and spread throughout the world in one of the most successful propaganda campaigns in history through a book called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. this was a fictitious book that allegedly recorded the minutes of a clandestine secret meeting between the Elders of Zion, this group of Jews that meet every so often to plan and plot how they're going to take over and control the world. And it was written by Czar Nicholas II. This is the second most widely published book in history. It was translated in almost every single language. And soon enough, this idea spread throughout the world. The person most responsible for spreading these lies throughout America was perhaps Henry Ford, who in 1918 purchased his hometown newspaper, The Dearborn Independent. And a year and a half later, he began publishing a series of articles that took the Protocols of the Elders of Zion a little further, about how this Jewish conspiracy was infecting America and this was the downfall of America.
And he basically serialized this work of Czar Nicholas in 91 different issues. But you have to understand, Ford wasn't just producing this newspaper for the little Detroit area that he was living in and working in. He had this huge network. He distributed half a million copies to dealerships and subscribers. Every time you would buy a Ford vehicle, it would come with a copy of a newspaper that had vicious antisemitic literature about how the Jewish people are infecting America and ruining our country. Now, when we zoom out and look at this reason, is economic success the reason for antisemitism? So first of all, let's say the Jews were powerful and wealthy. Is that a reason to hate them? What's fascinating is in 1919 when Japan fought alongside the white Russians against the communists, the Russians introduced the Japanese to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. And they studied the book. And according to all accounts, they actually believed it.
Now, what was their reaction? They didn't want to destroy and kill the Jews. They formulated a plan to encourage Jews to move to Japan and help boost their economy. It's exactly these wealthy and powerful Jews that they wanted to do business with. So if in fact the Jews are wealthy and powerful, that's not in and of itself a reason to hate the Jews. But all of that is irrelevant because obviously The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a fabrication of the truth. First of all, the idea that you can get a bunch of Jews in a room and they would all agree on something is completely absurd. But besides that, antisemites in the Middle Ages initiated countless pogroms against the Jews who lived in complete and total poverty. If the Jews were so powerful, how come in the Holocaust, they couldn't convince any country to accept the refugees?
The famous St. Louis, which carried Jews who were escaping their death from Nazi Germany showed up on the American shores, and America said, "Sorry, we're closed." And nobody else was willing to take them in. They went back to Europe where they all perished. Whether they're powerful or weak, rich or poor, Jews have been hated equally. So clearly, economic reasons alone are not reasons for hating the Jewish people. They're merely excuses. Join us in our next episode, as we continue unpacking the classic reasons that are given for antisemitism, and continue to explore whether they're reasons or merely excuses. If you haven't done so, don't forget to subscribe and share with some friends.