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The outpouring of love and support for Jews following the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings has deeply touched me. I’m not surprised by it, but the reminder of the inclusiveness in our community is one more tribute to Ricochet. In one of the many posts I read, someone asked, “Why have the Jews always been treated this way?” It may have been a rhetorical question, but I took it at face value and decided to share my views about the reasons for anti-Semitism.
It’s important to say at the start that there is no way to provide every explanation for anti-Semitism:
Perhaps the most striking facet about Jew-hatred is its irrationality. There are as many reasons for hating Jews as there are people. Everything that upsets, hurts, or displeases people they often attribute to the Jews. Jews have been blamed for manipulating the media to their needs, usury, blood libels of various forms, well poisoning, dominating slave trade, disloyalty to their host countries, organ harvesting and AIDS spreading.
In addition, the Jews are not the only group that experiences hatred of others. You only need to look at the list of 20th and 21st genocides to see that the Jews are not uniquely victims of hatred.
The Jews have endured as a people and religion, however, longer than any other group, and have been on the receiving end of loathing and violence for a very long time:
Between the years 250 CE and 1948 CE — a period of 1,700 years — Jews have experienced more than eighty expulsions from various countries in Europe — an average of nearly one expulsion every twenty-one years. Jews were expelled from England, France, Austria, Germany, Lithuania, Spain, Portugal, Bohemia, Moravia and seventy-one other countries.
The reasons for these rejections vary, but here are a few:
Economic reasons: Even though Jews as a whole were often among the poorest people in any given population, they also included people who were financially successful. Part of the reason for their success was because Jews were strong advocates of education in their families; they also were unable to own land in many countries and therefore developed a reputation as moneylenders, a profession open to them. As a result, they were seen making profits on the backs of others by charging interest (although Jews were not permitted to charge interest to other Jews).
Deicide: Historically the Jews were blamed for killing Jesus. In 2011, however, Pope Benedict VI declared that the Jewish people were not collectively responsible for the death of Jesus. Nevertheless, there are Christians who hold to this belief and hold all Jews responsible for killing Jesus.
Outsiders: Many people regard Jews as outsiders for many reasons, particularly their Jewish practices and in some cases, their appearance and clothing. Jewish efforts to assimilate were not successful, however, as we saw in the actions of Nazi Germany.
Despised Race: Calling the Jews a race is incorrect; Jews are represented in most races of the world and are not exclusively any race. Not only that, anyone can convert to Judaism.
Chosen People: In spite of the Jews being labeled as elitists for their designation as a chosen people, that call from G-d is not always easy. “Chosen” speaks to the command by G-d that we are to bring the Noahide Laws to the rest of the world: not to worship idols, not to curse G-d, to establish courts of justice, not to commit murder, not to commit adultery, not to steal, and not to eat flesh torn from a living animal. Many of us live out these laws simply through our own example; it is a great responsibility, not to be taken lightly.
The most recent attacks on Jews come from the hatred of Israel and Zionism. There are some who say that Judaism and Zionism can’t be conflated, but for all intents and purposes to our enemies, they are the same.
For another description of the reasons Jews are hated, you might want to view this video.
All of these reasons could, of course, be listed in more detail, depending on the time period and the civilization in which Jews have lived.
Can anything be done to eradicate anti-Semitism? I think not, although there are many things that can be done to help protect and defend Jews, by Jews themselves, by their countries and communities. But this is one reason why I think it will persist:
A conviction that Jews are responsible for all the problems and must therefore fix them implies that anti-Semitism does not arise during crises because Jews are easy scapegoats, as some believe. Quite the contrary, in people‘s eyes Jews are indeed the perpetrators. When things are fine people let Jews be. But when troubles ensue, the Jews are blamed for causing it. Evidently, willingly or unwillingly, Jews never stopped being the chosen people—chosen to fix the world. And the reason why there is anti-Semitism is very simply that the world is still not fixed.
And so it is.