Tuesday this week saw Ephraim Mirvis, Britain’s Chief Rabbi,...
How does the many-headed Hydra express itself?
It's time for a good hard look at anti-Semitism to see if we can get a handle on it. Historians admit that it is the longest and deepest hatred in human history. There have, of course, been many other hatreds but none can compare to a hatred against a single people group that has lasted well over 2000 years and shows no sign of abating.
So how do we explain this ancient hatred? Many have tried.
There has been the sociological angle where the Jews were always an alien minority with a distinctive culture of their own, out of harmony with the culture of the surrounding Gentile nations. If this was true then the birth of a new Jewish nation, the State of Israel, would have removed anti-Semitism, which it clearly hasn't. Then there's the economic angle, where the Jews have been accused of taking away jobs and money from Christians. This derives from the medieval insistence that money lending was the only occupation a Jew was fit for. You could hardly blame the Jews for the fact that, out of this restriction came great skills developed in international trade and finance and that, all over the world, Jews are found in positions of power of wealth. This provokes jealousy from others, leading to hatred. Then there's the ethnic angle, where the Jews are believed to be a separate race from others, an inherently inferior one that is bent on polluting and corrupting the other inherently superior races. Character traits that have been attributed to the Jew to fuel anti-Semitism include the world conqueror, the coward, the money grabber, the show-off, the rootless wanderer (Wandering Jew), the heartless capitalist, the corrupter. These images were often the subject of popular cartoons in the 19th Century in Europe, particularly in Germany. This was a key tenet of Nazism and we can see where that led.
Then there's the political angle, as mentioned earlier. Anti-Zionism is a key component of Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism, a reaction to the presence of the tiny Jewish state of Israel on "Muslim" land. Then there are the conspiracy theories. The Jews (Zionists) are bent on world domination. This is the Zionist conspiracy and is much loved by Neo-Nazis and fundamentalist Muslim groups. A key mantra of these folk is Holocaust revisionism, where they state that the Nazi Holocaust never really happened. Others on the lunatic fringe have stated that Communism is also a Jewish conspiracy, though these people have gone quiet since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The explanation that, for obvious reasons, is most popular among anti-Semites is the one that puts the blame fair and square at the feet of the Jews themselves. It's because they choose isolation and a solitary existence for selfish, exclusive reasons, the reasoning goes. They continue to berate the Jews for their stubborn regard for their Torah, refusing to kow-tow to any other laws, as a factor that encourages hatred by others. It's a reason, of sorts, but it speaks more negatively about these other nations than the Jews themselves, if their only sin is to live according to the laws that God gave them!
Then there's the religious angle, mentioned earlier. The Jews killed Christ, so it's up to us to wreak God's vengeance on these cursed people (so it goes).
In Greek mythology there was a creature called the Hydra. It was a water serpent and it had many heads. When a head was cut off, two new heads appeared. Anti-semitism, too, as we have seen, is many-headed and every new generation seems to be able to add a freshness to this ancient hatred. Yet there was a way of killing the Hydra and, later in this book, we will discuss the identity of the Hydra of anti-semitism and how we can, like the Greek hero Hercules, find a way through its defences.
Orthodox Jews themselves see it in Biblical terms. The Midrash refers to two verses in the Book of Malachi:
"... the LORD says. "Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated ..." (Malachi 1:2-3)
From this comes the observation, "It is a well known principle that Esau hates Jacob" and, from this, rabbis equate Esau with the whole Gentile world, saying, in essence that anti-Semitism is a law, a mysterious principle laid down by God in His wisdom! So, the idea is that, rather than question the wisdom of God in this issue, they should seek to find ways of living with it. It's a sad conclusion, but it's the only rational way they could look at it, within their worldview.
We end on a sombre note because, next week, we are going to witness a moment in time when all of the historical justifications for anti-Semitism came together in one place and raged, unchecked, for over a decade.
(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book Outcast Nation ,