Every week on Monday, the Council and our invited guests weigh in at the Watcher’s Forum with short takes on a major issue of the day, the culture or daily living. This week’s question: Why Antisemitism?
Bookworm Room: The obvious answer, of course, is that in the West, the Jew is the perpetual outsider and in the Muslim world, the holy book instructs Muslims to be genocidal antisemites. Another obvious answer is that the medieval laws forcing Jews into being financiers (because they were barred from so many other professions but, unlike Christians, they were allowed to charge interest on money) meant that they became inextricably intertwined with the idea of capitalism., Leftists therefore hate them reflexively — never mind the actual facts on the ground, which is that for the majority of Jews throughout history have had little or nothing to do with capital and capitalism.
Honestly, though, I think the real answer is a more abstract one and it relates to the second and third core issues in the Bible. The first core issue in the Bible, of course, is God and each Jew’s relationship with God. While I suspect many are jealous of the Jews’ special relationship with God, I doubt that it drives too much antisemitism.
On the rare occasion I’ve had people speak sneeringly to me about the Jews’ status as “God’s chosen people,” I’ve reminded them that this covenant hasn’t always been a blessing to the Jews, reminding the snarkers that, while it’s true that Jews have outlasted all other societies on earth, this longevity has too often been paired with genocidal antisemitism. As Teyve said in Fiddler on the Roof, “We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”
As I said, the real issue for antisemites lies in the second and third issues the Bible raises. The second core issue is the moral demands Judaism places on people. These are hard demands that require us to be our best selves in relationship to God, our spouses, our family, and our society. And finally, the third core issue is the Biblical obsession with justice — not fairness, not equality, not feeling good, but justice.
Morality and justice are concepts that are antithetical to totalitarianism of any stripe, whether it’s economic, theocratic, aristocratic, oligarchic, fascist, nationalist, or something I haven’t named or that hasn’t even come into being. These concepts are inimical to immorality and cruelty. By their very existence, they mean that evil people and evil societies know, deep down inside, that they are evil, and that they put the actors outside of God’s love, protection, and his covenant. Even atheists, deep down, know that, if there’s an afterlife, they will not fare well there if they deviate from Biblical rules for good conduct.
In other words, Judaism is a mirror in which people are forced to acknowledge whether they are good or bad, moral or immoral, just or unjust. And for the bad, the immoral, and the unjust, every living Jew they see is an painful reminder of their existential failures.