We shall never fully understand anti-Semitism. Deep-rooted, complex, endlessly persistent, constantly changing yet remaining the same, it is a phenomenon that stands at the intersection of history, sociology, economics, political science, religion, and psychology. But it is often the most elusive phenomena that are the most intriguing, and here fascination and profound historical significance merge to make this subject a central challenge to Jewish historians.
Despite its nineteenth-century context and its often inappropriate racial implications, the term anti-Semitism has become so deeply entrenched that resistance to its use is probably futile. The impropriety of the term, however, makes it all the more important to clarify as fully as possible the range of meanings that can legitimately be assigned to it. Essentially, anti-Semitism means either of the following: (1) hostility toward Jews as a group which results from no legitimate cause or greatly exceeds any reasonable, ethical response to genuine provocation; or (2) a pejorative perception of Jewish physical or moral traits which is either utterly groundless or a result of irrational generalization and exaggeration.
These definitions can place an atypical and sometimes unwelcome burden on historians, who must consequently make