Anti-semitism

A term coined in the late nineteenth century which signifies hostility toward Jews (not all Semites). In the ancient world, Jews were ridiculed and often persecuted, particularly in Alexandria and later throughout the Roman Empire, on two main grounds: religious exclusiveness seen in their rejection of idolatry, and social exclusiveness arising from their stress on food laws and ritual purity. Christian antagonism to Jews-they were assailed for their unbelief and even regarded as deicides-ensured that the conversion of the Roman Empire brought them little relief. In the Middle Ages, the wealth of many Jews, gained through money-lending as well as trade, provoked hostility. Wild accusations were made: that Jews murdered Christian children at Eastertime (this developed into the “blood accusation,” current from the thirteenth century, that they used Christian blood for ritual purposes); that they desecrated the Host; that they poisoned wells, etc.

The French Revolution worked in the Jews' favor. The National Assembly repealed all repressive measures against them (1791), and the Constitution of Year iii gave them equal rights (1795). Some repressive legislation subsequently enacted was set aside by the July Revolution of 1830. Absolute religious equality was granted throughout the N. German Federation (1869), and this was subsequently extended to the German Empire. Nevertheless, modern anti-Semitism arose in Germany in the 1870s. This seems to have resulted from growing Jewish prosperity, influence, sensitivity, and belligerence. The situation was exacerbated by signs of unified Jewish influence in the Alliance IsraÉlite Universelle and by the migration of Jews from E Europe, especially Russia and Romania, to Germany (and then to England and America).

Anti-Semitism flourished in Germany (where it came to a head in the Nazi atrocities), Austria-Hungary, France (e.g., the Dreyfus case), Romania (where a resolution of the Berlin Congress of 1878 that all Romanian citizens should enjoy equal civil rights was circumvented by the declaration that Jews were foreigners), and Russia (where massacres took place in the early twentieth century). Jews were treated as scapegoats in both Germany and Russia, where millions were liquidated. Today, anti- Semitism often takes the form of anti-Zionism. In the Middle East, the influence of European anti-Semitism and endemic intolerance of ethnic and religious minorities has strengthened anti-Zionism in Arab countries.

Anti-Semitism has causes deeper than Jewish particularism and allegations of ritual killings, secret literature, low Jewish standards of behavior, etc. Its deepest roots lie in Christian, especially fundamentalist, soil. It may well be true, as James Daane has argued, that the belief that the Jews were responsible for the death of Christ and that the Jewish nation lies under the total and final curse of God are the causes of its strength. Jules Isaac sees a third factor in belief that the spiritual life of the Jews was degenerate at the time of Christ.

See J. Daane, The Anatomy of Anti-Semitism (1965).