Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

The Stubborn Persistence of 'Jew-Hatred'

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

The Stubborn Persistence of 'Jew-Hatred'

Article excerpt

The term "anti-Semitism" hides an ugly history of racialized animus.

THe SHOOTiNGS THAT took three lives this spring at a Jewish community center and retirement complex in Kansas are a reminder that deadly strains of what is usually called "anti-Semitism" remain with us. The fact that the shooter was a deranged white suprema- cist should not prevent us from coming to terms with the roots and survival of Jew- hatred in our culture.

Anti-Semitism is a made-up word that itself gives clues to the history of Jew-hatred in our civilization. The term was coined by German journalist Wilhelm Marr in 1879, one of a number of Jew-haters who were turning longstanding European Christian hatred of Jews into something modern and racial. The "Jewish problem," therefore, became the "fact" that there was a racial group, the "Semites," who were a mortal threat to another racial group, the "Aryans," and therefore needed to be removed from Aryan societies. All right-thinking Germans/Europeans/Aryans, the argu- ment went, needed to unite to combat the Semites through a scientific antisemitismus. The term is usually written "anti-Semitism" in English, but that usage profoundly rein- forces the racist myth that there is a race of "Semites" needing to be opposed by "anti-Semites." The term Jew-hatred is bet- ter because it refuses to participate in this mythology.

Modern racialized Jew-hatred flowed into the 20th century and crystallized most disastrously in Nazi Germany. There, over 12 terrible years, the 19th century anti-Jew- ish program was enacted, and then exceeded. Jews were to be "eliminated" from among the "Aryans," a program that became anni- hilation after 1939, with 6 million Jews murdered.

The paradigmatic evil of the Nazis makes it easy for the casual observer to think that Jew-hatred was born and died with Hitler. But not only did Hitler and his party dine on a modern, racial antisemitismus predating them by decades, even that racialized Jew- hatred was parasitic on an earlier 1,800 years of Christian contempt for Jews.

Christianity and rabbinic Judaism were born together in the late first century. Christianity began as a Jewish messianic movement, and with rabbinic Judaism became the two primary forms of Jewish life to survive the catastrophic Jewish-Roman war of 66 to 73 C.E.

New Testament readers can think of it this way: After 73 C. …

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