20- A Unique Hatred
In this episode, Rabbi Lehrfield continues unpacking the classic reasons for Anitsemitism.
Hey everyone, I'm Menachem Lehrfield and this is Zero Percent where we explore world changing ideas introduced by Judaism, ancient wisdom for modern living. In our last episode, we were looking at the different reasons that are often given and cited for why antisemitism exists. And we began to explore whether or not these were just excuses or if they were in fact the real causes. It's important to know why antisemitism exists, because if I know why it exists, perhaps I can try to get rid of it, I can eliminate it. We mentioned the most often given reason for antisemitism, which is economic, that Jews hated because they possessed too much wealth and power. And we talked about how the source of that, or part of the source of that was the propaganda campaign known as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which is still in print today and is continuously spread as a lie throughout the world.
We said obviously that can't be true. The whole idea that you can get a bunch of Jews in a room and they would agree on something is completely absurd. But aside from that, we pointed out that even at times when Jews were poor and penniless, they were still hated. So whether Jews were rich or poor, whether they were powerful or weak, they were still hated. So therefore that can't possibly be the reason for antisemitism. A subcategory of this might be the idea of Jews as money lenders, which again, if you think about it is kind of backwards because Jews were not hated because they were money lenders, rather they were money lenders because they were hated. As a Jew through most of our history, it was forbidden for us to engage in normal commerce. It was forbidden to engage in agriculture. We couldn't practice law or medicine except among Jews. By the way, I think that's why there are so many Jewish hospitals is that Jews practice medicine for Jews because they weren't allowed to practice medicine for anybody else.
The reason why so many top New York law firms have Jewish names in their title is because for a long time, law firms wouldn't hire Jews. But way before that, it was actually forbidden for Jews to enter a lot of these areas and therefore money lending, which was forbidden for Christians to lend to anybody was a great field for Jews to go into. It was the perfect profession for somebody that was not able to own land, to attend university or to enter any normal job or occupation. So money lending could not have been the cause of antisemitism because the fact that Jews went into money lending was a direct result of antisemitism. So once again, the reason for antisemitism has nothing to do with economics. It's not because Jews are powerful or rich, because even when they were weak and poor, they were still equally hated.
The next idea that's given for why antisemitism exists is this idea of the chosen people, that Jews are hated because we arrogantly claim that we're the chosen people. Before we explain the concept of the [foreign language 00:03:33] the idea of Jewish chosenness, let's first look at other peoples. Christians believe that once Jews rejected Jesus, the Christians became the new chosen people. That is their belief. So if they are the current chosen people, why is there no hatred towards them because of that idea. Muslim theology claims that when Mohammad appeared on the scene, God then made the Muslims his chosen people. Even America has a degree of chosenness as part of our national identity, early Americans claimed the idea of Manifest Destiny. They believed that their actions were divinely willed and that there was some divine reason that chose them to spread westward, getting rid of the native inhabitants.
China sees herself as... I'm probably mispronouncing this as [foreign language 00:04:35] which means the middle kingdom, the center of the universe. In fact, the word China even relates and is connected to that concept. Now, as far as I know, nobody hates the Christians, Muslims, Americans, or Chinese specifically because they believe that they are so to speak chosen in some way, so why would that be a reason to hate the Jewish people?
And also when you look at the concept of Jewish chosenness, does it really mean that we are better? That's not what I ever learned. Jews don't believe that they are better than anybody else. We don't believe that we are the center of the universe. The Jewish concept of chosenness, the concept of being the [foreign language 00:05:24] is that we... I say we, I mean our ancestors chose a relationship with God. And as a result of that, he sealed a covenant with us promising that we would be here forever.
And even though it has defied all the laws of history, and we should not be here right now, we are. And that's only a direct result of God's promise that we would be an eternal people as a result of the covenant that we sealed. But it's not that God chose us out of the blue, it's that our ancestors chose God. They chose a relationship with him. And as a result we have certain responsibilities. As William Norman Ewer says, "How odd of God to choose the Jews." It's not so odd. The Jews chose God.
Judaism, as far as I know is the only religion that does not actively try and proselytize to others because we don't need to save anybody. Nobody needs to be saved. You don't need to be a Jew to be a good person and merit the world to come. As far as I know, we're the only calendar system that doesn't begin with an influential person of the Jewish faith. We don't start with Moses or the Sinai revelation or the building of the temple. Our calendar system begins with Adam. Adam was not a Jew. Jews believe you don't need to be a Jew to be a good person.
We're not trying to get other people to join because we don't think that they need it necessarily. You can be a good person and not be a Jew. So this concept of chosenness doesn't really make sense to be the reason, the source of antisemitism. Besides, what happens when Jews reject the notion of being a chosen people, when Jews reject that extra responsibility that we believe that Jews were given. According to this theory, if that is the reason for antisemitism, then one would think that when a Jew rejects that concept and doesn't believe it, it should cause antisemitism to disappear. And yet in the 1800s in Germany, the Jews of Germany who were some of the most assimilated Jews in world history, they said, "We are Germans of the mosaic faith." They didn't even consider themselves Jews. They said very famously, "Berlin is our Jerusalem."
So they saw themselves as no different from their non-Jewish brothers and sisters and yet they were hated and persecuted just the same. So you've been through the top two reasons that are given for why antisemitism exists and show that both of them are no more than excuses, both the economic reasons and the idea of the Jews claiming that they are the chosen people. The next reason that's given is the idea of the scapegoat, that the truth is it's kind of arbitrary. It happens to be that the Jews were the easiest people to blame for the ills of society. And therefore they were singled out, blamed and hated.
And the truth is, this idea does seem to have some merit. There certainly is some truth in this. The Jews in Germany were accused for all of the ills of society. They were accused of having brought socialism and communism to Germany. They were blamed for Germany losing World War I and a cause of all the economic problems in the 1920s that followed World War I. Hitler, like many dictators, needed to divert blame for all the problems his nation was facing by ascribing them to some innocent victim. And this theory states that Hitler randomly chose the Jews as his scapegoat to divert attention away from all the other problems that German society was facing. The problem though is what came first, the chicken or the egg? The first prerequisite for a perspective scapegoat is somebody that the people already hate. You need to find somebody out there willing to hate, or it's not going to work.
If you try to attempt and divert attention from someone's own shortcoming by blaming a group that has nothing to do with that and that's not already hated, the people are not going to accept it. If Hitler would've got up and said all of the nation's problems, all of Germany's problems, and the reason why we lost World War I, and the reason why we're in economic difficulty right now, all the problems are because of the midgets. They'd say, what? That's nothing to do with anything. He never could have gotten an entire nation, almost an entire continent to turn against the midgets. The scapegoat theory is simply a barometer indicating the level of hatred that already exists.
The people and the society already hated the Jews. There were already antisemites and therefore, yes, the Jews might've been a convenient scapegoat. Hitler may have used the Jewish people as a way of covering up all the problems in German society. But it only works because the antisemites were already there. The Jewish people are the people that people love to hate. Rabbi Meyer, the rabbi here at Aish of the Rockies gave a great analogy just a couple of months ago, at least thankfully not here in Colorado, but in other places in Maryland and places in the Northeast, they had the phenomena of the cicadas. These are these insects that bury themselves underground and every, I think it's 14 years or something. They pop up and the come up for a few months, then they all die. And what's interesting is that the cicadas are there all along, they just don't come up on top of the surface.
And he said, "The same is true with these antisemites. The reality is that they're there under the surface. They're there just waiting for things to pop up, waiting for someone to stoke those coals. And then they just pop up like those cicadas and the hate rises." Unfortunately, like we said in the first episode, that's kind of what we're seeing right now here in America and throughout the world is once it becomes okay to use antisemitic tropes and to use language and speech that is hateful towards the Jewish people, so then it attracts those who already have those feelings, who already feel that way. But it's hard to believe that the Jewish people have always just randomly been a convenient scapegoat. It must've started first. There must have been a reason beforehand why people hated the Jews and therefore we were a convenient scapegoat to blame all of society's problems on. So that can't be a reason either, just an excuse.
Another reason that's given is the idea of deicide that Jews are hated because we killed Jesus. So first of all, it's not true. The gospels apparently I haven't read them inside, but apparently the gospels of Matthew, John, Mark, all specifically state that the Romans killed Jesus. If anything, the Christian should hate Romans at least as much as they hate the Jews. If the reason why they hate Jews is because we killed Jesus. So then the actual people who killed Jesus, the Romans, should have been hated at least as much. Not only that, hatred towards the Jews existed way before Christianity was even born.
Mark Twain and that article that we've quoted several times makes a very interesting observation. He says that, "There were Christians who were persecuted in Rome through error because they thought mistakenly that they were Jews." And he says, "The meaning seems plain. These pagans had nothing against Christians, but they were quite ready to persecute Jews. For some reason or other they hated a Jew before they even knew what a Christian was. May I not assume then..." Says Mark Twain, "That the persecution of Jews is a thing which antedates Christianity and was not born of Christianity? I think so." He concludes.
What's also interesting from a chronological perspective, is that the intense and ongoing Christian persecution of Jews did not begin until The Crusades, over a thousand years after Jesus's death. Now, generally speaking, if you hate someone because of something that happened, you would think that as we say, time heals all wounds. The hatred should be most felt and strongest right when the thing happened and it should get better over time. Why has the hatred gotten worse? Why has it gotten stronger? If anything, the Christian should have hated the Jews as soon as Jesus was killed, not a thousand years later. Raids should have climaxed following his death and then petered out during the two millennia since then. Connected with this idea of deicide is the old myth that was introduced, known as the blood libel. Throughout the middle ages there were rumors that were obviously not true that Jews needed Christian blood.
Do you know why they needed Christian blood? Is it A, for the matzah on Passover. B, because of the hemorrhoids that only Jews had and were only cured through Christian blood? C, that Jewish men menstruate and need blood to make up for the loss of blood. Or four, they lose so much blood in circumcision that they needed Christian blood to replenish it. The answer is all four. All four are reasons that were stated, why Jews needed Christian blood and the libel stated that they would kill Christian babies to get the blood in order to solve one of these four issues. Now, anybody who knows even the most basic laws of kosher understands how ridiculous the blood libel is.
Do you know that the prohibition against eating blood is more serious than pork. That's why we salt our meat. People don't realize this. The reason why kosher salt is called kosher salt is not because the salt is kosher. All salt is kosher. The reason why kosher salt is called kosher salt is because it's the salt that's used to kosher to make other things kosher, because in order to make meat kosher, one of the things that we do is we salt the meat to extract the blood because Jews are not allowed to consume blood. To think that we have a religious right or ritual that is surrounding one of the most serious prohibitions that exists in all of Judaism is obviously preposterous. So once again, deicide, the blood libels it's all made up and it was made up specifically as a reason to hate the Jewish people, but that reason must have existed before.
Some say that Jews are hated simply because they are an inferior race, the racial theory. We saw this in modern times through Nazi Germany, the Nazis believed that Jews were inherently an inferior race. The only problem is that Jews are not a race. Anyone can become a Jew and literally members of almost every race, creed, color in the world have done so at some point of time or another. You go to the Western Wall and or Friday night, you will see Jews of every single stripe, color, race and ethnic background. So that cannot be the reason for hating the Jewish people.
That leaves the last reason that's given for hatred of Jews and that is the idea of the dislike of the unlike. That people hate the Jews because we're different. The problem with that theory is that as soon as we assimilate, as soon as we become like everybody else, then the nation should love us. What happens when the Jewish people assimilate, does antisemitism disappear? Join us on the next episode as we explore what happens when the Jewish people become like everyone else.