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:
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:
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.