THE BIBLICAL ORIGINS OF ANTISEMITISM
Hatred for the Jewish people is so intense and so longstanding that it almost defies rational explanation. Yet, everything (but God Himself) has a beginning; and so it is with this oldest of hatreds.
Ever since Babylonia’s conquest of the biblical kingdom of Judah and its expulsion of much of the Jewish population thereof to the other Lands of the Babylonian Empire in the 6th Century BCE, the plight of the Jewish communities in the Lands of the Diaspora (whether in the pagan world, the Christian world or the Muslim world) have, with limited exceptions, followed a familiar historical pattern. Jews were initially welcomed to foreign Lands due to the perceived economic advantages that would accrue to the host realms. Although they were often restricted to certain occupations deemed beneath the dignity of elite society and/or to certain geographic areas, many Jews nonetheless became fabulously wealthy and thereby politically influential, while simultaneously demonstrating loyalty to and enriching the Lands in which they resided.
However, Jewish success (even if that success helped trigger the economic, political and military ascendancy of the Lands in which Jewish communities resided) often bred Gentile revulsion towards the Jewish people. This revulsion is what has come to be known, in modern times, as Antisemitism; and it has historically arisen from one or more of the following societal triggers:
“Disdain” -- because elements of the Gentile population viewed resident Jews as an alien component of their xenophobic society. Thus, they deemed Jews to be both inferior and undesirable. Ironically, Jewish success often had the counterintuitive effect of increasing Gentile disdain for Jews, as it was offensive to elements of the Gentile population that a portion of the inferior population should enjoy more success than a majority of the superior population.
“Resentment” -- because elements of the Gentile population considered Jewish success to be at their expense. Thus, since the unscrupulous Jews had reciprocated the generosity of their host Land by enriching themselves, such Jewish wealth constituted the rotten fruit of a national crime, namely, the Jewish theft of that Land’s resources.
“Greed” -- because elements of the Gentile population (or the government itself) coveted the tangible products of Jewish success. Thus, they sought various pretexts upon which to confiscate Jewish assets.
Finally, “Cognitive Dissonance” -- because elements of the Gentile population could not theologically accept the evident fact that, while the Jews were rejecting and thereby implicitly blaspheming the god(s) of the Gentile population, many of these blasphemers were simultaneously being blessed with both financial and political success far superior to that enjoyed by most of the Gentile population. However, at least with respect to Christianity and Islam, the foregoing description of the nature of the cognitive dissonance experienced by elements of the Gentile population is inadequate to describe its magnitude. For, Christianity traditionally taught its adherents that the Jews murdered Jesus, while Islam traditionally taught its adherents that the Jews serially attempted to murder Mohammed.
However, underlying all of the above-described societal triggers is the Root Cause of Antisemitism: Gentile Envy of Jewish Success.
The resultant Jew-hatred routinely led to three basic forms of retribution against the Jewish population of a host Land, set forth in escalating order of severity:
(a) false accusation (sometimes initiated or confirmed by self-loathing Jews mired in apostasy), often metastasizing into demonization;
(b) asset confiscation, followed by expulsion, which was sometimes followed (after the passage of sufficient time and after consideration of the pecuniary benefits to be reaped) by readmission, and which was virtually always followed (after the passage of sufficient time and in response to the demands of elements of the Gentile population) by the repetition of the aforesaid cycle; and
(c) massacre and, sometimes, a mixture of slave labor and genocide.
Often, elements of all three forms of retribution were combined (e.g., after a public campaign of Jew-demonization, Jewish assets would be confiscated and many thousands of Jews would be massacred, with the survivors being given the choice of conversion, expulsion or death).
Amazingly, all of the foregoing was portended by three events described in the Torah portion of the Hebrew Bible:
A. The first event happened after the death of Abraham, when Abimelech, king of the Philistines in Gerar, in violation of his non-aggression pact with Abraham, orchestrated the economic and physical harassment of Abraham’s son, Isaac. As the Torah relates:
So Abimelech gave orders to all the people: “Anyone who harms this man [Isaac] or his wife [Rebecca] shall surely be put to death.” Isaac planted crops in that Land and in the same year reaped a hundredfold, because HaShem blessed him. The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy. He had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him. So all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the time of his father Abraham, the Philistines stopped up, filling them with earth. Then Abimelech said to Isaac, “Move away from us; you have become too [economically] powerful for us.” So Isaac moved away from there, and encamped in the Valley of Gerar, where he settled. Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them. Isaac’s servants dug in the Valley and discovered a well of fresh water there. But the herders of Gerar quarreled with those of Isaac and said, “The water is ours!” So he named the well Esek, because they disputed with him. Then they dug another well, but they quarreled over that one also; so he named it Sitnah. He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarreled over it. He named it Rehoboth, saying, “Now HaShem has given us space, and we will flourish in the Land.” From there he went up to Beersheba. That night HaShem appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you, and I will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.” Isaac built an altar there and called on the Name of HaShem. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well. Meanwhile, Abimelech had come to him from Gerar [proper], with Ahuzzat, his personal adviser, and with Phicol, the commander of his forces. Isaac asked them, “Why have you come to me, since you hate me, and drove me away?” They answered, “We saw clearly that HaShem was with you; so we said, ‘Let there now be an oath between us -- between us and you. Let us make a treaty with you that you will do us no harm, just as we did not harm you, but always treated you well, and sent you away peacefully. And now you are blessed by HaShem.” Isaac then made a feast for them, and they ate and drank. Early the next morning the men swore an oath to each other. Then Isaac sent them on their way, and they went away peacefully. (Genesis 26:11-31)
Note the initial welcome extended by the Philistines to Isaac, followed by their resentment and jealousy-fueled greed towards his economic success. Note the Philistines’ destruction of Isaac’s inherited assets (i.e., the wells created by his father Abraham) and their confiscation of his created assets (i.e., the wells created by him). Note the Philistines’ summary expulsion of Isaac from Gerar proper, followed (after consideration of the benefits to be reaped) by their request for a new non-aggression pact with him, which necessarily implies that he would be permitted to reenter Gerar proper.
Moreover, in a stunning example of the continuing prescience of the Torah, the above biblical passage describes how the Philistines destroyed all of the wells created by the deceased Abraham. In doing so, the Philistines sought to erase all historical evidence of Abraham’s former habitation in the Land of Israel, precisely in order to void Isaac’s inherited claim thereto, thereby allowing them to falsely proclaim that Isaac’s success was made possible only by his theft of Philistinian resources. This explains the Philistines’ concise and blunt reaction to Isaac’s creation of a new well (which Isaac named “Esek”, meaning “Dispute”): “The water is ours!” (Genesis 26:20). It is not coincidental that, Today, the “Palestinians”, being the modern namesake of the Philistines (as the word “Palestine” is ultimately derived from the biblical Hebrew-language word “Pelishtim”, idiomatic meaning: “Philistines”, literal meaning: “Invaders”), consistently assert that the Jewish people lack any historical connection to the Land of Israel, precisely in order to void the Jewish people’s present claim thereto, thereby allowing them to falsely proclaim that modern Israel’s success -- as well as its very creation and continued existence -- has been made possible only by its theft of “Palestinian” resources.
B. The second event happened after Isaac’s son, Jacob, then residing in Paddam Aram (in the Land of Aram Naharayim), had secured the agreement of his father-in-law, Laban the Aramean, that, after having worked for so many years to enrich Laban, Jacob could finally begin to enrich himself for the sake of his wives and children. As the Torah relates:
After Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me on my way so that I can go back to my own homeland. Give me my wives and children, for whom I have served you, and I will be on my way. You know how much work I’ve done for you.” But Laban said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, please stay. I have learned by divination that HaShem has blessed me because of you.” And he [Laban] said, “Name your wages, and I will pay them.” Jacob said to him, “You know how I have worked for you and how your livestock has fared under my care. The little you had before I came has increased greatly, and HaShem has blessed you wherever I have been. But now, when may I do something for my own household?” And he [Laban] said, “What shall I give you?” And Jacob said, “Do not give me anything; but if you will do this one thing for me, I will go on tending your flock and watching over it. Let me go through all of your flock today and remove from it every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb and every spotted or speckled goat; that will be my wages. And my honesty will testify for me in the future, whenever you check on the wages that you have paid me. For, any goat in my possession that is not speckled or spotted, or any lamb that is not dark-colored, will be considered stolen.” And Laban said, “Agreed; let it be as you have said.” However, he [Laban] removed [from Jacob] on that same day all the male goats that were streaked or spotted, and all the speckled or spotted female goats -- all that had white on them -- and all the dark-colored lambs, and he placed them in the care of his sons. Then he put a three-day journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob continued to tend the rest of Laban’s flock. However, Jacob took fresh-cut branches from poplar, hazel and chestnut trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flock when it came to drink. When the flock was stimulated and came to drink, it mated in front of the branches; and the flock gave birth to streaked and speckled and spotted ones. And Jacob segregated the lambs, and he made the rest face the streaked and dark-colored ones [intermixed] among the flock of Laban. And [then] he made a separate flock for himself [consisting of the streaked and speckled and spotted animals], and he did not [thereafter] mingle them with the [original] flock of Laban. Whenever the stronger [portion of the] flock was stimulated, Jacob would place the branches in the troughs in front of [that portion of] the flock so that it would mate near the branches, but if [that portion of] the flock was weak, he would not place them [the branches] there. So, the weak ones [which were born with a uniform appearance] went to Laban and the strong ones [which were born with streaks or speckles or spots] to Jacob. In this way, the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys. Jacob heard that Laban’s sons were saying, “Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.” And Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him was not what it had been. (Genesis 30:25 - 31:2)
Note Jacob’s loyalty to, and his enrichment of, Laban. Note the draconian asset restrictions voluntarily undertaken by Jacob in order to prove his honesty to Laban. Note Laban’s disregard of that loyalty, enrichment and honesty in surrender to his own jealously-fueled greed, leading him to confiscate Jacob’s meager negotiated assets on the same day that he had agreed to Jacob’s proposal for that asymmetrical asset division. Note that, despite initially being impoverished by Laban’s wholesale theft of his assets, Jacob nonetheless managed to overcome that daunting setback to become enormously wealthy. Note the deep resentment felt by Laban and his sons towards Jacob, due to the latter’s baffling economic success. Note how Laban’s sons justified their resentment of Jacob by proclaiming that Jacob’s wealth was not honestly created by him, but was, instead, the result of a successful scheme by him to impoverish their father.
Consequently, Jacob became frightened and fled together with his family, pursued by Laban and his sons, who eventually overtook Jacob. In the meantime, God had appeared to Laban in a dream, warning him against any attempt to harm Jacob. As the Torah further relates:
And Jacob became angry, and he took up his grievance with Laban. And Jacob spoke up, and he said to Laban, “What is my crime? How have I wronged you that you hunt me down? Now that you have searched through all my goods, what have you found that belongs to your household? Put it here in front of your relatives and mine, and let them judge between the two of us. “I have been with you for 20 years now. Your sheep and goats have not miscarried; nor have I eaten rams from your flocks. I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself. And you demanded payment from me for whatever was stolen by day or night. This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes. It was like this for the 20 years I was in your household. I worked for you 14 years for your two daughters and 6 years for your flocks, and you changed my wages 10 times. If the God of my father -- the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac -- had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night He rebuked you.” Laban answered Jacob, “The women are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flock is my flock; and all that you see is mine. Yet what can I do today about these daughters of mine, or about the children they have borne? (Genesis 31:36-43)
Note that, despite God’s Intervention and despite Jacob’s painstaking rebuttal and blunt rebuke, Laban continued to covet Jacob’s assets. Unsurprisingly, Laban justified his greed by convincing himself that he was merely attempting to recover his own stolen property, which explains Laban’s blunt, albeit false, retort to Jacob: “The women are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flock is my flock; and all that you see is mine.” (Genesis 31:43)
C. The third event happened after Jacob and his 11 other sons, as a reward for the fact that Joseph’s stewardship of the Egyptian economy had saved Egypt from a catastrophic region-wide famine, were invited by the Pharaoh to settle in Egypt. As the Torah relates:
When the news reached Pharaoh’s palace that Joseph’s brothers had come, Pharaoh and all his officials were pleased. Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Tell your brothers, ‘Do this: Load your animals and return to the Land of Canaan, and bring your father [Jacob] and your families back to me. I will give you the best of the Land of Egypt and you can enjoy the fat of the Land.’ “You are also directed to tell them, ‘Do this: Take some carts from the Land of Egypt for your children and your wives, and get your father and come. Never mind about your belongings, because the best of all the Land of Egypt will be yours.’” (Genesis 45:16-20)
Note Egypt’s initial generous welcome to Joseph’s extended family.
Yet, as the Torah had earlier related concerning the royal banquet that Joseph had prepared for his brothers in Egypt prior to their immigration thereto:
“They [Joseph’s servants] served him [Joseph] separately and them [Joseph’s brothers] separately and the Egyptians who ate with him separately; for, the Egyptians could not bear to eat food with the Hebrews, it being loathsome to Egyptians.” (Gen. 43:32).
Note the disdain displayed by the Egyptian dignitaries (who did not yet know about the familial connection between Joseph and his Hebrew guests) towards Jacob’s family.
Although restricted to animal husbandry, an occupation deemed beneath the dignity of the Gentile population, and although segregated from the Gentile population, Jacob’s descendants nonetheless flourished -- both economically and demographically. As the Torah relates:
Then Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and speak to Pharaoh, and I will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were living in the Land of Canaan, have come to me. The men are shepherds; they tend livestock, and they have brought along their flocks and herds and everything they own.’ When Pharaoh calls you in and asks, ‘What is your occupation?’, you should answer, ‘Your servants have tended livestock from our boyhood on, just as our ancestors did.’ Then you will be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen; for, all shepherds are detestable to Egyptians.” (46:31-34)
Thus Israel settled in the Land of Egypt in the region of Goshen; and they acquired property there and were fruitful and increased greatly in number. (Genesis 47:27)
Eventually, Joseph and his brothers died, and a new Pharaoh arose. Due to the fact that the survival of Egypt and, consequently, the new Pharoah’s own reign, had been made possible only through the loyalty and administrative skills of Joseph, this Pharaoh owed as much of a debt to Jacob’s family -- now known as the “Children of Israel” -- as did his royal predecessors. Yet, this Pharaoh felt nothing but scorn for Jacob’s descendants. As the Torah relates:
Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Children of Israel were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the Land was filled with them. Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people -- the Children of Israel -- have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, they will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country [with their acquired wealth].” So they [the Egyptians] put slave masters over them [the Children of Israel] to oppress them with forced labor, and they [the Children of Israel] built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. But the more that they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Children of Israel. and they worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly. The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shifrah and Puah, “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?” The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” So God was kind to the midwives, and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own. Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.” (Exodus 1:6-22)
Note the widespread success achieved by the Israelites in the Land of Egypt. Note the Pharaoh’s false characterization of the Israelites as dangerous traitors threatening the security and stability of Egypt, thereby demonizing them as a collective “Enemy of the State”. Note the Pharaoh’s imposition upon the Israelites of a regime of slave labor mixed with genocide, which logically would have been preceded by the Pharaoh’s confiscation of Israelite wealth (in the form of coins, precious metals, animal herds and land holdings) -- all justified by the Israelites’ new status as an “Enemy of the State”. A comparison of the dehumanization process (i.e., the accusations of Jewish disloyalty and enmity towards the host Land, the removal of Jews from their occupations, the confiscation of Jewish wealth, and the reduction of Jews to the legal status of chattels) employed by Pharaonic Egypt with that employed, more than 3,000 years later, by Nazi Germany would not be out of place.
The first post-Torah event, which contained many of the above components, occurred in the Persian Empire of the 6th Century BCE when the king’s viceroy, Haman, convinced the king, Ahasuerus (Xerxes I also known as Xerxes the Great), to permit him to annihilate all of the Jewish communities throughout the Empire. As the Hebrew Bible relates:
And Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom; and their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king's laws; so, it is not befitting for the king to tolerate them [the Jews]. If it pleases the king, let it be written that they [the Jews] be destroyed; and I will pay 10,000 talents of silver into the hands of those that perform the services, for deposit into the king's treasuries.” And the king removed his signet ring from his hand, and he gave it to Haman, son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. And the king said to Haman, “The silver is given to you, the [Jewish] people also, to do with them as you see fit.” And the king's scribes were summoned in the first month, on the thirteenth day thereof, and everything was written according to all that Haman commanded to the king's satraps, and to the functionaries that were over every province, and to the officials of every people; to each province according to its own script, and to each people in its own language; in the name of King Ahasuerus it was written, and it was sealed with the signet ring of the king. And letters were sent by courier to all of the provinces of the king, [instructing the Gentile peoples of the Empire] to destroy, to slay, and to exterminate all of the Jews, from young to old, children and women -- in one day -- on the thirteenth [day] of the twelfth month, which is the month [of] Adar, and to plunder their [the Jews’] possessions. Copies of the document were to be distributed as a decree in every province, and to be published to all peoples, so they should be prepared for that day. (Esther 3:8-14)
Note Haman’s assertion that the Jewish people constituted an alien and disloyal presence that had insidiously spread itself (like a metastasizing cancer) throughout the Empire. Note the disdain inherent in Haman’s statement that it is beneath the king’s dignity to tolerate the continued existence of Jews within his realm. Note Haman’s implication that the resident Jewish populations were a collective “Enemy of the State” and, most importantly, his proposed solution to this national threat -- wholesale genocide. Also note that, as a reward for annihilating the Jewish people, the Gentile perpetrators would be permitted to enrich themselves by confiscating the assets of their Jewish neighbors.
Based upon the totality of the foregoing evidence, it is clear that proto-Antisemitism emerged in biblical times as Gentile revulsion towards Jewish success -- a revulsion born of Envy. Since this revulsion violated the 10th Commandment (“Do not covet …” -- Exodus 20:14 and Deuteronomy 5:18), it not only lacked any moral foundation, but it constituted a Sin against God. Consequently, during the last two millennia, Christianity and Islam each added a theological gloss to this revulsion in order to provide a “moral” justification for this oldest of hatreds. So, Christianity (via its New Testament) declared that the Jews murdered God (in the person of Jesus); and Islam (via its Hadith) declared that the Jews serially attempted to murder the final Prophet of God (in the person of Mohammed). However, the claims of deicide and attempted vaticide both mask the real reason that the purveyors of these religions taught hatred and contempt for the Jewish communities within their midst, namely, the remarkable fact that the Jewish people, after having rejected the supersessionist foundations of both religions, and despite being periodically persecuted on account thereof, continued to thrive and excel -- not only economically, but also intellectually and politically. This enviable success, especially in the face of such daunting adversity, inevitably enraged the adherents of each “True Religion”, which inevitably triggered the next round of persecution. Moreover, since 1948, in reaction to the post-Holocaust delegitimization of theological Jew-hatred in much of the Western World (i.e., the World’s liberal democracies), Jew-haters (including self-loathing Jews mired in apostasy) have added an ideological gloss, expressed as hatred for the State of Israel (qua the Jewish State, representing the sovereign Jew among the nations), to this revulsion in order to provide a replacement (or, for those still wedded to theological Jew-hatred, an additional) “moral” justification for this oldest of hatreds. However, notwithstanding the mutating “moral” justifications for Antisemitism, since the end of the biblical period, the basic mechanisms favored by the Gentile World for imposing retribution against the Jewish people for being too successful have hardly changed since the Days of the Torah.
Yet, in a grand application of the principle of mida k’neged mida (measure for measure), every kingdom, empire and nation that has initially welcomed but has subsequently persecuted the Jewish people has, in turn, suffered the devastation of the prosperous economy and/or military prowess and/or essential infrastructure that were made possible, in part, by the industry and ingenuity of the Jewish communities within its midst. This is in accordance with God’s Declaration to Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you, I will curse . . .” (Genesis 12:3), as subsequently reiterated by the Gentile Prophet Balaam with respect to the Israelites: “. . . Those who bless you are blessed, and those who curse you are cursed." (Numbers 24:9).
© Mark Rosenblit