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Antisemitism

Humanistic Judaism, Summer 1974

Jewish Book Month has always meant an attempt to read books by Jewish writers and Jewish themes. But I must confess that having pursued the current annual output of chauvinistic ego therapy, I much prefer books by anti-Jewish writers on Jewish themes. Not that these enemy authors accurately describe the behavior patterns of living Jews or correctly assess the present state of Hebrew culture. It is just that their vision of the Jew is so much more appealing to the reality. If only we could live up to their expectations!

If one reads the antisemitic classic by Hillary Belloc and Houston Stewart Chamberlain, the imaginary Jew they assault is the extremely attractive figure. Rootless, cosmopolitan, and without patriotism, he embodies all the humanistic virtues. He is a projection of all the values that threaten the tribal mind, the nemesis of clan loyalty and irrational feeling. As a wanderer and international vagrant, the Jew is the enemy of stability, permanence, and landed property. Revolution, change, and fluid money are the signs of his subversion and the expressions of his degeneracy. Condemned to belong nowhere and to live everywhere, he is a perennial outsider, a predator of those who are emotionally involved in a manipulator of those who have intense commitment. The disease of cold objectivity provides his mind and he views all the world with a sardonic smile.

The “villain” of modern sophisticated antisemitic lore has a variety of personal voices, ranging from dirt to sexual incontinence. But the list of his social deficiencies is more intriguing. It reveals the Jew we aren’t but could be. Having responded to the antisemite by adopting his fears and values, the Jew rejects the bigot’s image and strives to prove that he is with the bigot says he isn’t. Instead of greeting the hatred of the enemy as an honor, he desperately wants to be loved by the message and to be heroic in the eyes of the common man.

The recent charges against the Jew in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Russia illustrate this reality. The party bureaucrats have chosen the Jew as a scapegoat for their frustration. They accuse him of the dread sin of “cosmopolitanism” and imply that he is incapable of Polish, Czech, or Soviet patriotism. To be a cosmopolitan is to be, and their eyes, an international adventure, a sophisticate devoid of those simple communal attachment which makes a socialism of scarcity possible. Land is to be loved, not merely lived on; it is to be revered, not nearly rented. If there’s a difference between Jew and Arab, it is that the Jew is a craft imperialist invader and the Arab is the land-loving peasant saint.

The irony of this left is the accusation is that it is a word for word repetition of the fantastic right-wing assault. From the Wagnerians through the anti-Dreyfusards to Adolf Hitler, the principal change against the Jew was his psychic inability to abide by patriotic reasoning. It was not that he betrayed one country for the sake of another. That deception would be forgivable since it at least revealed a passion for some nation or other. It was his being above such feelings they made his presence both intolerable and insidious.

To imagine that the Jew would receive this complaint with ardent applause and pleasure is to give to do as much credit for wisdom as the anti-Semite does. It would imply that our people view Ludwig Zamenhog with his utopian Esperanto invention as more heroic than Moshe Dayan. How far from the truth such an implication would be! For the historic Jewish entry to the cosmopolitan charge was to deny its validity. It was to plead the normalcy of the Jew and the ardor of his patriotic sentiments. Zionists defended their people by pointing out (quite correctly) that, given his own historic soil, the Jew could be as competent a nationalist as the member of any ethnic group. In fact, he could be more devout and more loyal than any other patriot because he had suffered land deprivation for nearly 2000 years and could appreciate the recovery of his homeland all the more. Even the Bible and the Prayerbook reflected the intense commitment of the Jews to Palestine so that every waking Fantasy was attached to the idea of messianic restoration.

The anti-Zionist defended the popular honor by demonstrating that Jews were such gung-ho Americans that the thought of any foreign national agent was alien to both their religion and their sentiments. They assaulted one kind of chauvinism by affirming another. The ideology of the American Council for Judaism is in reality, an inverted form of Zionism. It is never been a cosmopolitan critique of nationalism. It has never questioned the virtue of patriotism. It had only argued about which patriotism.

If we turned to the classic antisemitic charge that the Jews are by nature so rootless that they have conjured up the present monster of a mobile technological society, we find the same differences. The anti-Semite finds a virtue on the farm; he sees an ability in the man of the soil. Those who are rooted in fixed places and pursue simple occupations are morally preferable to international financial speculators and the creators of complex capital wealth. Manure is ethically sounder than money. Jesus is preferable to the Rothschilds. The antisemitic utopia has always been a nation of peasant warriors were bound together by personal friendship and simple trust. It is the futile dream of the village mentality which cannot part with the technological wonders.

The conventional Jewish response to this recurrent charge has been nothing short of ludicrous. Instead of greeting the assault with gratitude and with a site “that it should only be true,” the apologists resist the claim with all their might. Brainwashed by the pervasive propaganda over conservative morality, they plead the agricultural virtues of the Jews. Fearful of the label of the “city slicker,” the apologist is eager to explain that Jews ceased to be farmers because they were forced up the land by Gentile prejudice (as though ceasing to be farmers was some sort of hideous social crime would require justification, rather than a magnificent liberation from Village conformity).

The founders of modern Israel carried this apology to absurd lengths. They took highly sophisticated professionals, physicians, lawyers, and scientific intellectuals, and turned them into orange growers on the pretext that the return to the soil was necessary for Jewish redemption. Stung by the accusation of domestic anti-Semites, Baron de Hirsch, subsidized the shipment of thousands of Eastern Jews to the pampas of Argentina and cold planes of Saskatchewan. That the majority of the settlers deserted their Homestead and preferred the life of one of Buenos Aires and Winnipeg was a continual source of embarrassment to the Jewish establishment. After all, a nation of only merchants and intellectuals seem to grossly abnormal. The romance of the Kibbutz, which exalts the simple virtues of communal agricultural living, is a function of this discomfort. Jews are unwilling to be the avant-garde of the total urbanism and are unwilling to find it pleasurable. Although we are in the oldest continuous bourgeoisie in the Western world, we deplore our situation and prefer pastoral dreams.

Even the charge of Jewish secularism is regarded as a threat and insult. Instead of congratulating ourselves on our mass abandonment of worship and prayer with its complementary preference for science and analysis, our conventional defenders plead our piety and our ancestral connection with religious devotion. The modern Jew was embarrassed by his incipient humanism. He feels that Jews are to be devout and is willing to support institutions to make it appear as though we are. Within the framework of this concession, the rabbi becomes a substitute bigot. His role is to chastise Jews for what the anti-Semite deplores in them-namely, their skeptical reason. Our people annually subject themselves to high holidays denunciations of their loss of faith, which echo the bigots’ accusation and endorse its validity. The prospect of finding skepticism attractive and virtuous is beyond the vision of the average Jew. He prefers to defend his nonexistent piety against all assault, or at least to apologize for his absence.

As to the assertion that Jews undermine stable societies by their over-reliance on intellect and reason, the Jewish apologist resists its claim. He counters the charge by maintaining (quite accurately) that Jews can be as irrational as anybody else. After all, only a very sentimental people would have preserved the religious tradition over 3000 years without the need to admit change. Even reform denies that it is new and amusingly suggests that is nothing more than the revival of prophetic thought. The Jew was presented, and the official propaganda of television and newspaper, as much more the descendants of Abraham than the brother of Einstein and Marx. While Jewish middle-class children plant relevant attacks on the bastions of the establishment, their parents plead their respectability. While hordes of Jewish university students question the rationality of war, military conscription, and national boundaries, their fathers finance historical studies to demonstrate that Jews are as American as apple pie. The latter often perverse enough to praise the Bible they never read and old virtues they never practice.

If the modern anti-Semite turns conventional and hurls the old epithet of “Christian killer,”  few Jews have the courage to say “Why not?” Most of our people either become obnoxiously innocent, shifting all the blame, in scapegoat fashion, and to the shoulder of dead Romans who can no longer defend themselves, or, with understandable self-pity, irrelevantly describe the crucifixion of the Jew by the Christian world. The heart of the matter, the personality, and teachings of Jesus is too sacred to assault and remains beyond reproach. In fact, in Jewish propaganda, official Christianity is always safely distinguished from the real doctrines of the saint, while the Jewishness of Jesus is repetitively affirmed.

It would be inconceivable for the modern Jewish apologized to denounce the teachings of Jesus as a harmful religion. To assert that the romance of poverty, the view of virtue as simple, the glorification of good intentions above competence, and the preference of intuitive faith over intellect are doctrines designed to maximize fantasy, childish dependency, and low-self-esteem is totally unacceptable as a contemporary Jewish answer. Such current religious here as it is the Baal Shem Tov and Hasidism might even get caught by the same accusation. And, while interfaith dialogueniks are willing to discuss the sins of Christians, they are not willing to discuss the mental deficiencies of Jesus.

Unfortunately, do you do not live up to the expectations of anti-Semites? We are not as cosmopolitan, as urbanized, as skeptical, as intellectual, and as bold as they imagined us to be. If only we could achieve this status. If only we could be as dangerous and is threatening other enemies insist we are. We would then be the vanguard of a liberal society and the pioneers of a new and more meaningful ethic.

Anti-Semitism and Jewish Humanism

Humanistic Judaism, Spring 1983, Volume 9, No. 1

Saying something positive about anti-Semitism hardly seems rational. In the century of the Holocaust, such a statement seems an insult to the innocent martyrs to Nazi evil.

What could possibly be positive about the hateful force that has killed millions of Jews, humiliated thousands of others and filled our lives with fear and anxiety?

We all know that many Jews are masochists and that they thrive on suffering and persecution. The thought of happiness and pleasure fills them with dread. But do we want to praise masochism? Are there no more creative ways of serving their needs than finding them anti-Semites?

We all know that many Jews fear that Jewish identity in the Diaspora will fade away in a friendly environment and that anti-Semitism is necessary to motivate most Jews to remain Jews. (Look at the Jewish awakening in the Soviet Union.) but why turn the society into a virtue? How valuable is an identity that only persecution can sustain?

We all know that the state of Israel was made possible by the Holocaust. Without Nazi hostility, the Zionists would never have motivated a sufficient number of Jews to choose Palestine. Nor would the desire for a Jewish state have become so intense among the Jewish masses. Nor would American Jews, motivated by guilt and anger, have pressured their own government so relentlessly. But is any Jewish state worth the price of six million dead? Would we not forego the state of Israel if they could be restored to life?

So, of course, we start out our analysis by clearly stating that if we had our “druthers”, we would choose a Jewish history without anti-Semitism. But since we are not in control of the social forces that determine human events and since anti-Semitism has, indeed, been an integral part of the Jewish experience, we can seriously ask — have there been any useful consequences of this terrible assault?

For Jewish humanists who value their Jewish identity, the truth of the matter is that the parts of the Jewish personalities that are humanistically most interesting were produced by anti-Semitism.

Let me explain.

The Jew of ancient times was a pious peasant. He was a more likely candidate for the moral majority in the A.C.L.U. Attached to his family, clan, tribe and ancestors, he revered them all. Like most village people, he believed in the rightness of his own ways and was hostile to aliens.

In the Christian world, Jews became bourgeois pariahs, tolerated because they were economically necessary. Once their economic usefulness was threatened by competitors, they became “devils,” conspirators of evil who are worthy of death and destruction.

After the Enlightenment secularized a good part of the Christian world, the Jewish “devil“ became a secular “devil.” Instead of the old accusations of ritual murder in the stabbing of wafer hosts, the image of the world conspirator emerged. No longer viewed is only a religious enemy, the Jew became the racial foe, the atheistic planner of both materialistic capitalism and immoral communism. Since he invented both sides of a quarrel, he kept the Gentile world in social turmoil.

The danger of secular anti-Semitism was its exportability. A Christian setting was no longer necessary. Even Arabs (who were Semites) could enjoy it.

“The parts of the Jewish personality that are humanistically most interesting were produced by anti-Semitism.”

The Christian personality was not altered by anti-Semitism. Hostility to Jews flowed quite naturally from its dogma, its intensity, and its fanatic piety. Since the Christian world experienced power and success and kept Jews in a lowly position, fact and faith coincided. Experience and propaganda did not seem too far apart. The world had the semblance of order and justice.

But anti-Semitism had the opposite effect on the Jewish personality. Anti-Semitism separated fact from faith, experience from propaganda. The suffering of the Jews hardly seemed consistent with divine justice and love, especially for the favorites of God. Rabbinic Judaism might promise happiness in the future. But the rabbis found it difficult to explain the fury of the present.

Some Jews responded to the onslaught with guilt. They assumed that their suffering was due to their bad behavior and not to God’s injustice. They became even more pious, even more faithful. Some Jews discovered that resignation and appeasement were comfortable postures. They felt safer as pitiable creatures than as powerful ones.

But many Jews responded with anger. Since the religious establishment would never allow such an unworthy feeling to be openly expressed to God, it was redirected. Hostility to Gentiles was a safe alternative, so long as it was verbalized within the group.

Ultimately, the anger manifested itself in three behaviors and attitudes which became an important part of the Jewish personality in modern times, especially the European Ashkenazic one. These responses were attempts to preserve Jewish dignity, sins anger, as a positive emotion, is an expression of defiance, a defense of one’s own space against intruders.