Many have tried to explain anti-Semitism. Jews have been hated because of economic factors, rulers’ need for a scapegoat, ethnic hatred, racism, envy, and religious intolerance. But in the end, it does not explain anti-Semitism – it’s just examples of what has intensified anti-Semitism.
- Read about the history of anti-Semitism in Europe here (Norwegian).
- Read about the history of anti-Semitism in Arab countries here (Norwegian).
But is there a universal explanation for the existence of anti-Semitism? Yes, that’s what Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin think. The following is a reproduction from their book Why The Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism which was released in 1983:
«Anti-Semites have not been against Jews because Jews have been rich – poor Jews have been hated just as much, the same goes for strong / weak Jews who have been subjected to anti-Semitic harassment, Jews have been hated because they were claimed to have a unpleasant personality – friendly Jews have never been spared by anti-Semites. Anti-Semites have not been against Jews because ruling classes have allowed Jews to become a lightning rod for working class dissatisfaction – pre-capitalist and non-capitalist societies such as the Soviet Union and other communist states have been much more anti-Semitic than capitalist societies.
Anti-Semites have hated Jews because Jews are Jewish. Christian anti-Semites stopped hating rich Jews when they became Christians. The same has been true of almost all other anti-Semites except the Nazis – to whom we will return later.
The main explanation for anti-Semitism is what has made the Jews Jewish – Judaism. There are four basic reasons for this and they are all about the Jewish challenge to the values among non-Jews.
- For thousands of years, Judaism has consisted of three components: God, the Torah, and Israel, that is, the Jewish understanding of God, Jewish law, and the Jews as a people. Jewish loyalty to one or more of those components has been a major source of anti-Semitism because it has made the Jew an outsider, and most importantly – it has been viewed by the non-Jew (often correctly) as a challenge to the validity of non-Jewry. -Jewish gods, laws and / or national loyalties.
The Jews became part of history by professing to the God they considered to be the only God for all mankind, thus denying the legitimacy of any other god. Since then, they have often been considered at war with people’s most valued values. The Jews intensified that enmity towards themselves by living by their own all-encompassing laws in addition to, or even instead of, the laws among their non-Jewish neighbors. And by still holding on to their own national identity in addition to or instead of the national identity among the non-Jews among whom they lived, the Jews have created and intensified anti-Semitic sentiments.
- From its early days For example, the main reason for the existence of Judaism has been to change the world for the better (said in the words of an ancient Jewish prayer that continues to be repeated daily: “to make the world perfect under the rule of God”). It is the attempt to change the earth, to challenge the gods – whether religious or secular, to the communities around them, and to have moral demands on others (even when not done separately in the name of Judaism), has constantly been a source of tension between Jews and non-Jews.
- As if what we have already mentioned was not enough, Judaism has also learned from ancient times that the Jews were chosen by God to take responsibility for making the world perfect. This doctrine of the divine selection of the Jews has been a major source of anti-Semitism.
- As a result of the Jews’ commitment to Judaism, they have lived a higher quality of life than their non-Jewish neighbors in almost every community they have lived. i. The higher quality of life has been expressed in various ways. Just to name a few examples: Jews have almost always been better educated, Jewish families have often been much more stable, Jews helped each other significantly more than their non-Jewish neighbors helped each other, and Jews were much less likely to get drunk , beat their wives, left their children and the like. As a result of those factors, the quality of life of the average Jew – no matter how poor – was higher than the quality of life of a comparable non-Jew in society.
The higher quality of life among Jews comes as a direct result of Judaism. It has challenged non-Jews and provoked envy and enmity. In this way, too, Judaism has been the source of anti-Semitism. “
Since it was the Jewishness of the Jews that was perceived as a threat by non-Jews, the Jews throughout history could “escape” from persecution by converting to the major religions of the communities (typically Christianity and Islam). The Nazis denied the Jews that possibility of escape, by persecuting descendants of Jews (even though they had converted to various Christian denominations, condemned Zionism (the Jewish national movement) and proved their loyalty to their homeland). The Nazis believed that the Jews could never really become non-Jews.
Furthermore, Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin write:
«That it is Judaism, rather than race and economy, that is at the root of anti-Semitism is also an explanation for why totalitarian regimes are always anti-Semitic. By their very nature, totalitarian regimes seek to control the entire lives of their inhabitants and therefore cannot tolerate uncontrolled religious or national expressions, both of which are part of Judaism. “
The anti-Semites’ response to the “Jewish problem” has typically been to demand conversion. If the Jews refused to do so, they were labeled, gathered in ghettos, expelled or murdered.