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Is there any way to explain anti-Semitism?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg


Library » Jewish Identity » Who/What is a Jew? | Subscribe | What is RSS?


There have been many books written on this topic, and many theories have been offered to explain the centuries-old phenomenon of anti-Semitism. What is so incredible about anti-Semitism is that it is a hatred which is so resilient; it has lasted from the backwards times of the medieval ages through the Renaissance, through the secularization of the majority of the Jews and even continues today in the most progressive, liberal societies. After all, the United Nations, the conscience of the world, is shamelessly anti-Israel.

So any reasoning which is offered cannot fully explain the hatred. For example, you can't say that they hate us merely because of our power, because they wanted to kill us even when we were in the ghettos without a trace of power or influence. You can't say that they hate us because we are different and don't want to assimilate into the nations where we reside, because the Holocaust originated from Germany, the capital of Jewish assimilation.

It really seems that anti-Semitism defies any logic or rationale.

Our sages tell us that (Sifri, Behaloscha 9:10), "It is a known rule, Esau hates Jacob." Similarly we are told (Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 89a), "Why was [the mountain] called Sinai? Because from there hatred [in Hebrew, the word for hatred is "sinah"] spread to the nations of the world."

In other words, it is part of G-d's master-plan for us to be hated by the rest of the world. The adversity is what keeps us unique, separate and focused on our mission. As Balaam said (Numbers 23:9) - when he was blessing us - "Behold it is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations.”


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Posted by: Rina on Feb 19, 2005

Powerful or not, successful or not it seems that a plausible (insofar as any kind of bigotry is plausible) explanation for anti-semitism may that our pride, self-reliance and steadfastness are viewed as utter arrogance. Any people that proudly identify themselves as 'the Chosen' of G-d are asking for trouble. The Jews are seen, not altogether incorrectly, as having some level of contempt for everyone else around them.


Posted by: Cheryl on Mar 23, 2005

If we are, in fact, seen as arrogant and bearing contempt for those around us, might this not be the RESULT of centuries of ongoing contempt and mistreatment on the part of others? I, for one, believe that we have every right to our defense mechanisms; in fact, having them is a healthy response to all that has happened to us. We would be seriously remiss to wander this world without them. It's interesting that keeping to ourselves is interpreted as being standoffish and elitist when, in fact, our friendship isn't exactly actively sought after to begin with. As for pride and self-reliance, these are characteristics that can be attributed to any number of ethnic groups -- Irish, Italians, Poles -- all of whom seem to take great pride in their respective heritages and "stick together" in their endeavors as well as recreation and celebrations. How this is any different, I don't know...except, I suppose, that these people are not Jews, which automatically makes them exempt. Self-hating Jew?


Posted by: Ed, Jacksonville, AL on Apr 07, 2005

I am not a Jew, but have always thought the Jews to be (in general) a particularly pleasant people who have also contributed much to the world, as evidenced by the rather high proportion of Jewish Nobel Laureates, for example. Thus, I have experienced much confusion about this issue. The conventional wisdom is that envy is behind it, but that just doesn't seem sufficient. The arrogance theory never even occured to me and I can't give it much credit. Ultimately, I can only view it as evidence of G-d's adversary at work in human minds.


Posted by: Harel Newman, Chicago, Illinois on May 01, 2005

Assuming that the cause of anti-Semitism is not that we are different just because the Holocaust started in Germany is jumping to conclusions. The reason the Holocaust began in Germany is because the Germans needed a scapegoat and the Jews were more different than anyone else in Germany, making us a prime target. It also is only logical that difference is the reason, because all bigotry is caused by difference. From the hatred of African-Americans in America and going to the persecution of Tibetans in China, difference has always been there. But, Jews are more different from everyone else because no matter what similarities we have, there is always going to be one major difference, our ethnicity. While Judaism is a religion, it is a religion that goes with a people, just like Hinduism only more. You can't be a Christian Jew, because to be a Jew you have to believe in Judaism. Also, an Irish Jew will be first and foremost Jewish in his ethnicity. This is why anti-Semitism is so strong.

Editor's Comment

Interestingly, the Nazis persecuted Christain Jews as well! They weren't too different, were they?

The Chosen People of G-D

Posted by: Anonymous, Jacksonville, FL on Aug 27, 2006

The Jew is the most hated people of all time. This is our identity, in other words it makes us who we are. Our culture understands pain and suffering very well. Therefore we are stronger than any other nation. Just as what doesn't kill you makes you stronger as a person. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger as a nation.

Is there any way to explain anti-Semitism?

Posted by: Moshe G, Maimi, FL on Sep 13, 2006

Interestingly enough, regarding the posting from Jacksonville, FL., that quote (that which does not kill me only makes me stronger) was by Nietzsche, who can be considered the grandfather of German racial supremacy.


Jewish Identity » Non-Jews » Other Religions - Missionaries

(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Rogue son of Patriarch Isaac and Matriarch Rebecca. Elder twin of Patriarch Jacob.
An evil sorcerer employed by the king of Moab to curse the Israelites as they were on the verge of entering Canaan. Although he desired to curse, G-d ensured that only blessings came from his mouth. He was eventually killed by the Israelites in the course of their battle against Midian.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.