The Causes of Hostility Towards Jews: A Historical Overview
September 21, 2003: The following extracts are from a much larger work entitled When Victims Rule. We strongly recommend that anyone who wishes to be well informed regarding the present state of our Planet - a powder keg waiting for a spark to blow us all into oblivion - should read this work in its entirety. But, as we know all too well, very often our readers simply do not have the time to devote to research. That is why so many of them rely on us to pull the various pieces together and condense it and present the results here on the web. That is the purpose of this condensation, though in fact, it is quite lengthy itself.
In conjuction with When Victims Rule, we also recommend that the reader who has not done so, read our own series: Who Wrote the Bible followed by Part Two of Pathway to the Light Pole Shift. This will provide the trans-millennial context in which to place the reality of Judaism and its daughter religions, Christianity and Islam. See also Professor Israel Shahak's Jewish History, Jewish Religion.
In order to understand the present and prospects for the future, something must be understood about the past.
Jews claim their origins to a seminal patriarch, Abraham, in the land of Ur (today part of Iraq) 4,000 years ago. Abraham was not a farmer or village member of a settled community. He was likely one of the "wandering" tribes of his time, a citizenship less, "outsider" social class known as the "Apiru," or "Habiru" (Hebrews) who were scattered across a wide area of the Middle East, from Syria to Egypt. [ANDERSON, p. 33]
According to traditional Jewish religious belief, God is reputed to have singled out 75-year old Abraham among all people on earth and struck an arrangement with him, providing his progeny the consummate family inheritance:
"If Abraham will follow the commandments of God, then He, in His turn, will make the descendants of Abraham His Chosen People and place them under His protection ... God at this time stipulates only one commandment, and makes only one promise." [DIMONT, p. 29]
The initial agreement, by modern standards, seems extraordinarily peculiar. God's commandment was that all males by the eighth day of birth must have the foreskin of their penises cut off, a painfully literal branding of Jewish distinction around the male procreative organ:
"God ... said to Abraham ... You shall circumcise the flesh of the foreskin and that shall be the Covenant between Me and you." GENESIS: 17:9-13
With this physical marking, notes Barnet Litvinoff, "no male child born of Jewish parentage is ever allowed to forget he is a Jew ... it reminds him of the doctrine of the chosen people." [LITVINOFF, p. 5]
"As a sign of this sacred bond, of being special seed, Chosen," notes Herbert Russcol and Margarlit Banai, "The Lord of the Universe commands Abraham" to circumcize "every man child among you." And as the Torah states it: "I will establish my covenant between Me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant." [RUSSCOL/BANAI, 1970, p. 173]
Is this alleged commandment by God to the Abrahamic "seed" in Jewish tradition not racial?
"Circumcision," says Lawrence Hoffman, "has thus remained the sine qua non of Jewish identity throughout time. Jews came to believe that it warded off danger, and even saved Jews from damnation, that the sign of circumcision was tantamount to carrying God's ineffable name carved in the flesh, that it was a means of attaining mystical unity with the creator, and that it brought about visionary experience." [HOFFMAN, p. 11]
It also symbolized, on the male genitals, special attention to the genetic continuance of the progeny of Abraham, that -- if they obeyed the laws and demands of God -- they would someday be as "numerous as the stars."
"By the very sexual act itself," says Philip Sigal, in explaining traditional thinking, "the circumcized mystically transmits the covenant to the foetus." [SIGAL, p. 20]
Until the 20th century, it was normal that during the mezizah phase of the circumcision ritual, the mohel (the expert who performed the circumcision) took the infant's "circumcized member into his mouth and with two or three draughts sucks the blood out of the wounded part. He then takes a mouthful of wine from a goblet and spurts it, in two or three intervals, on the wound." [ROMBERG, p. 45] Today, notes Rabbi Immanuel Jacobovits, "the original method of sucking by mouth tends to be increasingly confined to the most orthodox circles only." [JACOBOVITS, p. 196]
In exchange for circumcision and following God's orders, the Jews were promised the land of Canaan (the land mass of today's Israel, more or less), a place that was already inhabited. [DIMONT, p. 29]
This land for circumcision exchange is the root of Jewish tradition, from which centuries of rules, regulations, dictates, interpretations and other additions have followed. God's spiritual link to Jews is understood to have originated, of all things, around a piece of real estate commonly understood to be part of the "Covenant," which, says Alfred Jospe, "is the agreement between God and Israel by which Israel accepts the Torah [Old Testament] .... The concept of covenant signifies the consciousness of what the truth is." [JOSPE, p. 15]
"The covenant," adds Will Herberg, "is an objective supernatural fact; it is God's act of creating and maintaining Israel for his purposes in history." [EISENSTEIN, p. 274]
"The covenant made for all time means that all future generations are included in the covenant," notes Monford Harris,
"Being born into this covenental people make one a member of the covenant. Berith is election. This is very difficult for moderns to understand, let alone accept. It is our modern orientation that sees every human being as an 'accidental collocation of atoms,' the birth of every person as purely adventitious. From the classical Jewish perspective, being born to a Jewish mother is a divine act of election." [HARRIS, M., 1965, p. 90-91]
"For Israel," notes Edward Greenstein, "God's immanence found expression in the perception of God as a superperson." [GREENSTEIN, E., 1984, p. 89]
The idea that God was some kind of tradesman, and that he was a distinctly dialectical Other to humanity, as a Lord, King, Patriarch, Commander, and even Warlord of a worldly provenance has -- with the religious commentaries and meta-commentaries that evolved from His commands in Judaism -- provided fuel for modern scholarly debate about Jewish (and linked strands of Christian) creations in the world of secular affairs, most particularly in their materialist, rationalist, and patriarchal flavors. The result, in today's Orthodox Judaism, says Evelyn Kaye, is a "community [that] has developed an insular, single-minded approach which is completely intolerant of any views that differ from its own." [KAYE, p. 23]
Whatever else they believed, Jews have traditionally understood themselves to be -- by hereditary line -- special, intrinsically better than other people: they were divinely esteemed. The Old Testament stated it plainly:
"For you are people consecrated to the Lord your God: of all the peoples on earth the Lord your God chose you to be His treasured people." [DEUTERONOMY 7:6]
The notion that Jews -- originally defined racially as the Israelite progeny of Abraham (and a special lineage through his son Isaac, then Jacob, and so on) -- are the "Chosen People" of God is the bedrock of Jewish self-conception and it resonates deeply in some form to Jewish self-identity to this day. What exactly such a mantle of greatness confers has, for most, changed drastically over (particularly recent) centuries, and is still a delicate source for self-reflection and debate, ranging from traditional racist theories against non-Jews (still entertained by many Orthodox Jews, and most of Zionism) to more modern, liberalizing, and even secular notions that Jews are destined to lead humankind to some kind of redemptive glory.
The extraordinary self-perpetuating ethnocentric premises of traditional Judaism have been remarked upon by many modern scholars. Likewise, they have often addressed the drastically different ethical and spiritual views of Judaism and Oriental religious faiths (such as Hinduism and Buddism). Such a gap is poignantly illustrated in this story by the great popular folklorist, Joseph Campbell:
"A young Hindu gentleman came to see me, and a very pious man he proved to be: a worshipper of Vishnu, employed as a clerk or secretary of one of the Indian delegations at the UN. He had been reading the works of Heinrich Zimmer on Indian art, philosophy and religion, works that I had edited many years before, and which he wanted to discuss. But there was something else he wanted to talk about too.
"You know, " he said after we had begun to feel at home with each other, "when I visit a foreign country I like to acquaint myself with its religion; so I have bought myself a Bible and for some months now have been reading it from the beginning; but you know" ... and here he paused, to regard me uncertainly, then said, "I can't find any religion in it!"
... Now I had of course been brought up on the Bible and I had also studied Hinduism, so I thought I might be of some help.
"Well," I said, "I can see how that might be, if you had not been given to know that a reading of the imagined history of the Jewish race is here regarded as a religious exercise. There would then, I can see, be very little for you of religion in the greater part of the Bible."
I thought that later I should perhaps have referred him to the Psalms; but when I then turned to a fresh reading of these with Hinduism in mind, I was glad that I had not done so; for almost invariably the leading theme is either the virtue of the singer, protected by his God, who will "smite his enemies on the cheek" and "break the teeth of the wicked;" or, on the other hand, of complaint that God has not yet given due aid to his righteous servant: all of which is just about diametrically opposed to what an instructed Hindu would have been taught to regard as religious sentiment.
In the Orient the ultimate divine mystery is sought beyond all human categories of thought and feeling, beyond names and forms, and absolutely beyond any such concept as of a merciful or wrathful personality, chooser of one people over another, comforter of folk who pray, and destroyer of those who do not.
Such anthropomorphic attributions of human sentiment is -- from the point of view of Indian thought -- a style of religion for children." [CAMPBELL, Myths, pp. 93-94]
"If you will obey my voice," God tells Jews in their seminal religious text, the Torah, "and keep my Covenant, you shall become my own possession among all people, for all the earth is mine." [EXODUS 19:5]
This anthropomorphized model of the Israelite God is someone profoundly concerned with ownership, allegiance, and control -- key values in the self-promotive tenets of classical Judaism and their practical application in history. After all, the seminal Jewish religious text -- the Torah (in Christian tradition the first five books of the Old Testament) -- was created as a kind of Jewish family album, an ancient listing of Israelite genealogies and pedigrees that codifies sacred recipes for group solidarity, self-aggrandizement (land conquest, et al), and self-preservation for those with direct ancestral linkage to Abraham.
"The biblical faith [of the Old Testament]," writes scholar Bernhard Anderson, "to the bewilderment of many philosophers, is fundamentally historical in character. It is concerned with events and historical relationships, not abstract values and ideas existing in a timeless realm." [ANDERSON, p. 12]
"The halakah [Jewish religious law] does not aspire to a heavenly transcendence," notes influential modern rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, "nor does it aspire to soar upon the wings of some abstract, mysterious spirituality. It fixes its gaze on the concrete, empirical reality and does not let its attention be diverted from it." [SOLOVEITCHIK, p. 92]
"There is no Valhalla [afterlife Paradise] in Judaism," notes Chaim Bermant, "and no Garden of the Houris, and while there was paradise and hell, both were to be experienced mainly on earth
... Neither heaven with all its joys, nor hell with all its torments (which, as described in the Talmud, are akin to those of Tantalus) have a central place in the Jewish faith, Judaism is of this world and in so far as it believes in the Kingdom of Heaven at all it is as somethng which will become manifest on earth." [BERMANT, C., 1977, p. 16]
Beyond Israelite genealogies, the Torah (the Old Testament) includes an ancient compilation of rules and regulations, elaborated upon in metacommentaries by later Judaic religious texts, especially the Talmud, which codifies correct behavior for all the minutia of daily living. [...]
"Judaism is not a revealed religion," wrote the great German-Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, "but revealed legislation. Its first precept is not 'thou shalt believe' or not believe, but thou shalt do or abstain from doing." [GOLDSTEIN, D., p. 43, in Jerusalem]
"A constant motif of post-Enlightenment ethics," says rabbi Jonathan Sacks, "is the rejection of religious authority as an external command to which one submits. For this reason [philosopher] Hegel is sharply critical of the Jewish structure of law. 'Of spirit,' he writes of Judaism, 'nothing remained save pride in slavish obedience.'
Much of Nietzsche's work is a deepening set of variations on this theme. Judaism, he says, introduced 'a God who demands.'
The autonomous self, central to modern ethics, is radically incompatible with the structures of Jewish spirituality, built as they are on the concept of mitzvah, command." [SACKS, J., p. 100-101]
The all-encompassing and dictatorial manner of Jewish Orthodoxy in the Talmudic (and other) interpretations of the Old Testament is reflected in this observation by Gerson Cohen:
"The Torah encompasses and seeks to regulate every moment of life ... Nothing human is beyond the scope of judgment and its program of prescription. It is for this reason that Torah is often called a way of life, for its purpose is to teach the Jew how to act, think, and even feel." [COHEN, in KLEINE, p. 92]
The obsessive nature of even modern Jewish Orthodoxy within a tight web of restrictive daily dictates, and the surrender to what Israeli scholar Israel Shahak calls its innate "totalitarianism," [SHAHAK, p. 15] is reflected in this comment by Egon Mayer:
"What are the first words that one should utter upon awakening? There is a rule. How many steps may one take from one's bed before washing at least the tips of one's fingers. There is a rule." [MAYER, Suburb] [...]
Charles Liebman and Steven Cohen note that the "halakaha [Jewish religious law] commands that before eating bread a Jew must recite a blessing, and before this blessing the hands must be washed and a blessing recited over the hand washing. Even the manner in which the hands are washed is prescribed: the kind of utensil used, the order in which the hands are washed, the number of times each hand is washed." [LIEBMAN/COHEN, p. 125]
"It is a commonplace," adds Eunice Lipton, "that an abiding and secularized aspect of Jewish tradition is its valuing of sensual satisfaction. Jewish law acknowledges appetite; one is even is told how often one should make love
... One might say that Jewish validation of the senses results from the emphasis on human life in the present as opposed to any interest in any afterlife." [LIPTON, p. 289]
Evelyn Kaye, who grew up in an Orthodox community, notes that "Orthodox Judaism plans to regulate every minute, every action and every thought of life ... [KAYE, p. 126]
... The code of Jewish law dictates a range of regulations for sexual intercourse, including when and where it may be experienced, as well as what to think about during the act." [KAYE, p. 125]
"It is forbidden," says the Code of Jewish Law, "to discharge semen in vain. This is a graver sin than any other mentioned in the Torah ... It is equivalent to killing a person ... A man should be extremely careful to avoid an erection. Therefore, he should not sleep on his back with his face upward, or on his belly with his face downward, but sleep on his side, in order to avoid it." [GANZFRIED, p.17]
"There are even rules," says Kaye, "about what you may think about while you sit on the toilet." [KAYE, p. 17]
Israel Shahak underscores Orthodox Judaism's complex honing of regulations to the point of hairsplitting for even purely theoretical concerns that appear to be extraordinarily esoteric in a modern context:
"During the existence of the Temple, the High Priest was only allowed to marry a virgin. Although during virtually the whole of the talmudic period there was no longer a Temple or High Priest, the Talmud devoted one of its more involved (and bizarre) discussions to the precise definition of the term 'virgin' fit to marry a High priest.
What about a woman whose hymen had been broken by accident?
Does it make any difference whether the accident occurred before or after the age of three?
By the impact of metal or wood?
Was she climbing a tree?
And if so, was she climbing up or down?" [SHAHAK, p. 41]
One of the most profoundly important dimensions of traditional Judaism (one that has had enormous repercussions for Jewish relations throughout history with their non-Jewish neighbors) is its injunction to fellow members that Jews must -- conceptually, and through most of history, physically -- live "apart," "separate," distinct from other human beings.
Jewish self-conception, from its early days, was antithetical and antagonistic to other peoples.
"Separation of Israel from the nations [non-Jews]," says Moshe Greenberg, "in order to be consecrated by God took the extreme form of condemning to death any who worshipped or tempted others to worship alien gods." [GREENBERG, p. 28]
In later years, throughout the Jewish diaspora, this developed into the Jewish self-conception as a "nation apart" -- physically as well as conceptually distanced from all other peoples.
"In their determined efforts to prevent assimilation and loss of identity as a small minority in the midst of a hostile majority," notes the Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion, "the rabbis deliberately set up barriers for the explicit purpose of preventing social interaction with gentiles [non-Jews], and decrees were enacted to erect barriers against this danger. The partaking of meals with gentiles was forbidden ... food cooked by gentiles was banned." [WERBLOWSKY, p. 269]
"The underside to this sense of chosenness [per the Chosen People idea]," says Rabbi Isar Schorsch, "is an inclination to dichotomize the world between 'them' and 'us. Categories of people are set apart by the fact that God has assigned them far fewer mitzvot [commandemnts] to keep. Three of those 100 blessings [Orthodox Jews must recite each day] praise God for 'not having made me a gentile,' 'for not having made me a woman,' and 'for not having made me a slave.'" [SCHORSCH, I., 4-30-99]
Even in a 1988 survey, "more than a third of Reform rabbis -- traditionally the most 'integrated' and 'outreaching' of the major Jewish denominations -- endosed the proposition that 'ideally, one ought not to have any contact with non-Jews.'" [NOVICK, P., 1999, p. 181] [...]
In the ancient Greek and Roman worlds people were polytheists, and relatively tolerant of each other's theology. Judaism, however, was expressed throughout their diaspora as an elitist, confrontational faith, engendering ill will everywhere.
"It was not sensible," says Jasper Griffin, "nor was it good manners [in the ancient world] to allege that other peoples' gods did not exist.
Only a madman makes fun of other peoples' religious practices, says the historian Herodutus in the fifth century BCE
... The response of the Jews [to other religions] was felt to be shocking and uncouth, as well as dangerous for everybody."
Jewish rejection of the religions and communities in which they lived "placed an inseparable barrier between them and full acceptance into the classical world; as later on, even more acutely, it did with Christians." [GRIFFIN, p. 58]
The seminal source of Jewish history and sacred law is recorded in the Torah (the Old Testament of the Bible in Christian tradition, consisting of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). Biblical scholars tend to believe that the Old Testament (which sometimes cites conflicting facts in various places) was essentially four different written narratives eventually combined together, each section originally written between 800 to 1600 years after the events described allegedly occurred. [See: Who Wrote the Bible]
Within these texts we read that Abraham and the early Israelites settled tentatively in the land of the Canaanites, but that famine eventually drove them towards Egypt. The ancient Hebrews were reportedly enslaved in Egypt, (a period of momentous impact even in current Jewish collective memory), but were ultimately led back to Canaan -- the Promised Land -- by Moses in a 40-year trek across the desert in the thirteenth century BCE. Moses became instrumental in mediating God's demands to the Hebrew people and instituting laws of behavior and belief for them, known today as the Mosaic code.
It is necessary to again underscore, against the grain of modern popular (and largely secular) Jewish opinion, that the Old Testament is a compilation of stories, genealogies, and Godly dictates that were intended by its Jewish authors to be purely intra-Jewish in scope.
The ten commandments of Moses -- "Love your neighbor, "Thou shalt not kill," and all the rest of it -- did not represent in origin for Jews a universalistic creed.
"Love your neighbor" meant love your fellow Israelite.
"Thou shalt not kill" meant don't kill those of your own people.
"[Jewish] tradition," says Charles Liebman, "argued that the essence of Torah is the obligation to love one's neighbor as oneself, with the term 'neighbor' implying only 'Jew.'" [LIEBMAN, Rel Tre, p. 313]
John Hartung notes that careful inspection of the Torah/Old Testament "Love Thy Neighbor" commandment make this clear, for example, in Leviticus 19:18:
"Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." [Jewish Publication Society translation: other translations include the same qualifier; HARTUNG, 1995]
Louis Jacobs observes: "Among both Jews and Christians the injunction is read simply as 'love thy neighbour as thyself' ... [but] in the original context the [Love Thy Neighbor] verse means: even when someone has behaved badly towards you, try to overcome your desires for revenge but rather behave lovingly towards him because, after all, he, too, is a human being and a member of the covenant people as you are and therefore entitled to be treated as you yourself wish to be treated
... The golden rule to love the neighbour applies only to the neighbour who is a Jew." [JACOBS, L., 1995, p. 323, 324]
Menachem Gerlitz explains the "neighbor" passage:
'And you shall love your neighbor like your own self' -- this is an important rule of the Torah. Every Jew must love his fellow Jew with all his heart. The Baal Shem Tov [founder of the ultra-Othodox Hassidim] used to explain this as follows: Our Torah teaches us to 'love Hashem your G-d with all your heart.' How can we prove to ourselves that we are really fulfilling this commandment? Only through the commandment of loving our fellow Jew like our own selves. Only by truly loving each and every Jew, every son of the Chosen People which Hashem selected from all other nations to love, just like a person loves the son of a dear friend." [GERLITZ, M., 1983, p. 195]
Judeocentrism, not human universalism, is the core of traditional Jewish understanding of the Old Testament.
The influential medieval Jewish theologian, Maimonides, advised that "It is incumbent on everyone to love each individual Israelite as himself as it is said, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.'" [MANKIN, p. 37]
Although there were some Jewish apologetics with this notion as early as Philo, it was Christian and Enlightenment influences that universalized the Ten Commandments, and liberalizing Jews, mainly since the eighteenth century, began to follow suit, bending and broadening the tenets of Judaism (carefully selecting from contradictory religious references) to encompass a humanistic concern for non-Jews in step with modern universalist-oriented values. [...]
The pinnacle of ancient Jewish history was a series of monarchial regimes that represented a turbulent time of failures in living up to Covenantal laws, incessant quarreling, fratricide, genocide, wars of conquest with non-Jewish neighbors, repeated intra-Jewish civil wars, and other struggles for power and control, rife with continuous bloodletting, as violent as any in human history. Most of this is codified as part of the Jewish religious faith/history in the Torah. [...]
The well-known historian, Will Durrant, describes the Israelites' seizure (after the Mosaic moral code was accepted) of the Holy Land from the Canaanites who lived there, like this:
"The conquest of Canaan was but one more instance of a hungry nomad horde falling upon a settled community. The conquerors killed as many as they could find, and married the rest. Slaughter was unconfined, and (to follow the text) was divinely ordained and enjoyed. Gideon, in capturing two cities, slew 120,000 men; only in the annals of the Assyrians do we meet again with such hearty killing. [DURRANT, p. 302]
The chaos, internecine warring and corruption, the straying from the "Covenant," the worship of idols and the fraying of the moral codes of Israelite solidarity resulted in a central Jewish belief that took form in later centuries, that Jews had been scattered in a Diaspora (dispersion) throughout the earth in galut (exile) from the land God gave them, Israel.
But 2,000 years of exile experience, notes Alfred Jospe, "could not shatter the image Jews had of themselves. Destruction and exile were a national disaster but not completely unforeseen. They were part of the divine plan
... The Jew was persecuted not because God had abandoned or rejected him; [The Jew] suffered because he was not equal to his moral task. In the words of the prayer book, 'because of our sins, we were exiled from our land'
... Suffering was defined as punishment and punishment in turn was a call to duty. Exile was God's call to return to the faithfulness inherent in Israel's role as the 'chosen people.' The acceptance of punishment opened the gate to redemption and return to the land." [JOSPE, p. 17]
Such a view of human suffering by Judaism, argues Richard Rubenstein, was "a colossal, megalomaniacal and grandiose misreading of a pathetic and defeated community's historical predicament. To this day Jews can be found who delude themselves with the notion that somehow Jewish suffering and powerlessness have redemptive significance for mankind." [KREFETZ, p. 182]
The key to the Israelite future of divine favoritism, and its special covenantal "mission," was eventually linked to a Messiah who would triumphantly come to lead His people into a glorious future.
Originally the Messiah was understood to be merely a nationalist savior, a great and literal king of the Israelite people; later He was reconfigured as an expression of the one God of the Universe who would lord -- physically and spiritually -- over the earth, not in an after-life, but in the here-and-now. [JOSPE, p. 22-23]
"Judaism," notes Stephen Whitfield, "in all its forms and manifestations, has always maintained a concept of redemption as an event which takes place on the stage of history and within the community. It is an occurrence which takes place in the visible world, unlike Christianity, which conceives of redemption as an event in the spiritual and unseen realm, an event which is reflected in the soul." [WHITFIELD, American, p. 33]
Over the centuries the Messiah was not quick in coming, and not all answers to questions about changing times were clearly indicated in the seminal Torah, so a written tradition of commentary, argument, and interpretation by respected Jewish religious leaders evolved and became codified in a second religious text called the Talmud.
Many argue that it is not the Torah but actually the Talmud -- this later legalese and folklore about the seminal Torah -- that is the crucial source for day-to-day Orthodox Jewish decision making about religious and secular issues.
"The Talmud," observes Jacob Neusner, "is the single most influential document in the history of Judaism." [BORAZ, p. 5]
"Historically speaking," says Adin Steinsaltz, "the Talmud is the central pillar of Jewish culture." [STEINSALTZ, 1976, p. 266]
"The Talmud," adds Robert Goldenberg, "provided the means of determining how God wants all Jews to live, in all places, at all times. Even if the details of the law had to be altered to suit newly arisen conditions, the proper way to perform such adaptation could itself be learned from the Talmud and its commentaries." [GOLDENBERG, R., 1984, p. 166]
[...]The Talmud is so difficult to read and so unwieldly that only lifelong experts even think to tackle the original texts. Hence, the Talmud that explains and interprets the Torah has needed plenty of other vast textual explanations to deal with itself; such influential metacommentaries through history include those of Maimonides (including his Mishneh Torah), Joseph Caro (particularly his Shukan Arukh, which has never appeared unabridged in English), [GOLDENBERG, R, 1984, p. 174] and others.
Many of such works, too, are so large that they are further distilled into more reasonably digestible abridgements. Rashi's 39 volumes of explanation, for example, are much larger than the talmudic texts it addresses. (Rashi's comments are usually printed as part of the text in Talmudic editions printed since the early Middle Ages). [GOLDENBERG, R., p. 139]
It was not until 1920 that the Talmud was translated into another language (German) for the first time. In 1935 it first appeared in English. [...]
To complicate matters even further, there are even two versions of the Talmud, of Babylonian and Palestinian origin. The latter (called the Yerushalmi), however, is rarely used, even in religious circles. Jacob Neusner notes that "it fills hundreds of pages with barely intelligible writing. [It is] famous for its incomprehensibility ... The Yerushalmi has suffered an odious but deserved reputation for the difficulty in making sense of its discourse." [NEUSNER, 1993, p. x]
A fundamental current of Talmudic discourse, however, is noted by Herman Wouk:
"Talmudic political judgment often shows the bitterness of a people trodden by wave after wave of oppressors." [WOUK, p. 201]
And what of its legal and moral direction which shifted in emphases so much over the centuries as was politically expedient? This from Wouk again, a devout Jew:
"Since the Talmud reports the sayings of hundreds of savants over many centuries, it abounds in contradictory maxims, in conflicting metaphysical guesses, in baffling switches from cynicism to poetry, from misanthropy to charity, from dislike of women to praise for them
.... In a word, one can say almost anything about this recording of the talk of wise men through seven centuries, and then find a passage to support it." [WOUK, p. 201]
"The Jewish tradition is so rich in the diversity of its sacred texts," adds Alan Dershowitz, "that one can find an antidote to virtually any unacceptable statement." [DERSHOWITZ, p. 132]
The "antidotes" to every troubling statement in the Talmud suggest a chameleon-like capacity, a religious faith that has the ability to change colors in different milieu, and readily adapt to pressures around it. This capacity is based upon "pilpul" (pepper), a "dialectical technique of reconciling apparently contradictory concepts in the Talmud's texts, often by straining original meanings through the needle's eye ... [It later] degenerated into little more than sophistry." [SACHAR, p. 65] [...]
Although Talmudic reasoning considers a variety of argument, Israeli lawyer Uri Huppert explains the fundamental underlining of its "intolerant" discourse:
"It is beyond any doubt that the halachic-Talmudic reasoning is reached by considering a variety of opinions, hence the sophisticated rabbinical 'responsa' -- questions and answers -- are regarded as the very essence of halachic Judaism.
But by the same token, this Judaism cruelly rejects, prohibits, and excommunicates any step or expression that collides with the legalistic-dogmatic concept of Orthodox Judaism, which is xenophobic and intolerant by definition, as expressed by the [modern] Orthodox rabbinical establishment." [HUPPERT, U., 1988, p. 197]
The Talmud is full of anecdotes, advice, folk wisdom, and material that, by modern standards, affects the non-Jew with feelings of incredulity (but sometimes insult and indignation as we will see later). It is not hard to imagine why so many Jews flocked from the rabbinically controlled ghettos in the European Enlightenment era.
Many modern, secularized Jews have looked with dismay upon the wisdom of their ancient sages. We learn in the Talmud, for example, that:
"One who eats an ant is flogged five times forty stripes save one." [HARRIS, p. 71]
"Demons ... have wings like angels ... [and] they know the future." [HARRIS, p. 76]
"A dog in a strange place does not bark for seven years." [HARRIS, p. 84]
"For night-blindedness, let a man take a hair-rope and bind one end of it to his own leg and the other to a dog's, then let the children clatter a potsherd after him, and call out, "Old man! dog! fool! cock! ... " [HARRIS, p. 191]
"The bald-headed, and dwarfed, and the blear-eyed are ineligible for the priesthood." [HARRIS, p. 88]
"Only kings ... eat roast meat with mustard." [HARRIS, p. 88]
"The Rabbis have taught that a man should not drink water on Wednesdays and Saturdays after night fall ... An evil spirit ... on these evenings prowls around..." [HARRIS, p. 92]
"These things cause hemorrhoids: -- eating cane leaves, the foliage and tendrils of a vine, the palate of cattle, the backbones of fish, half-cooked salt fish, wine, lees, etc." [HARRIS, p. 106]
"These things are detrimental to study [including] walking between two camels...; to pass under a bridge beneath which no water has flowed forty days; to drink water that runs through a cemetery..." [HARRIS, p. 116]
"It is not right for a man to sleep in the daytime any longer than a horse sleeps. And how long is the sleep of a horse? Sixty respirations." [HARRIS, p. 157]
"The daughters of Israel burn incense for [purposes of] sorcery." [HARRIS, p. 188]
Jewish apologists like Alan Dershowitz exclaim immediate indignation at anyone who dares to excerpt such material, despite the fact that they very much represent -- in page after page -- the "folk" flavor of the ancient Talmud.
Cloaking himself as protective defender of both Judaism and Christianity, and going back one generation from the interpretive Talmud to the Torah itself, he argues that "A classic technique of both anti-Semitism and anti-Christianity has been to cull from Old and New Testament biblical prescriptions that when taken out of context seem bizarrely out of place in contemporary life." [DERSHOWITZ, p. 332]
What, one wonders, do Dershowitz-like commentators have in mind for the correct "context" for understanding Talmudic admonitions, from which anti-Semites have always found a treasure trove of disturbing material?
They are just as bizarre when left in their original context, probably more so since hundreds, if not thousands, of the same sorts of archaic perspectives reinform each other, and those who are doing the "culling" are usually the religiously pious.
Such "bizarre cullings" as above are not Talmudic aberrations but are part of a common tone of an interwoven multi-rabbinical catalogue, from the very particular perspective of "being Jewish" hundreds of years ago.
Such expressions of "folk wisdom" are not just that, they are explication of a distinct religion, and are argued about over and over, debated to this very day in Orthodox circles not towards discard, but towards (in their essential meanings, however they are conjured) use.
When confronted with the details of Talmudic guidance and logic, some liberal-minded Jews can't actually stomach what they find.
Jane Rachel Litman notes that, when faced with the teachings of the ancient rabbis, some Jews respond with abject denial: i.e., arguing, on modern terms, that the old rabbinical sages couldn't have possibly meant what they wrote:
"The background sound in the small library is muted but intense. Pairs of scholars lean over their talmudic texts whispering energetically, trying to puzzle out the meaning of the particular sugya, passage. The teacher directs them back toward the group and asks for questions. One student raises a hand:
'I don't understand verse 5:4 of the tractate Niddah. What does the phrase 'it is like a finger in eye' mean?
The teacher responds, 'This refers to the hymen of a girl younger than three years old. The Sages believed that in the case of toddler rape, the hymen would fully grow back by the time the girl reached adulthood and married. Therfore, though violated, she would still technically be counted as a virgin and could marry a priest. It's an analogy: poking your finger in the eye is uncomortable, but causes no lasting harm.
There is a collective gasp of breath among students. Their dismay is palpable. They do not like this particular talmudic text or the men behind it. But its authors, the talmudic rabbis, hardly wrote it with this particular group of students in mind -- mostly thirty- and forty-year old women in suburban Philadelphia taking a four-week class titled 'Women in Jewish Law' at their Reform synagogue.
The questioner perists. 'I don't understand. Are you saying this refers to the rape of a three year-old girl?'
"Or younger,' the teacher responds dryly.
'I don't see how it says anything about rape and hymens. You must be mistaken. I don't believe the rabbis are talking about rape at all. I think this statement has nothing to do with the rest of the passage.'
The teacher (I'll admit now that it was me, a second-year rabbinic student) responds, 'Well, that's the common understanding. What do you think it means?'
The woman is clearly agitated, 'I don't know, but I do know that it couldn't be about child rape.'
This is week three of the class. The woman does not return for week four. Denial." [LITMAN, R., SEPT 2000]
Litman, the rabbinic student, then confesses that "I find [Elizabeth Kubler] Ross's model helpful when addressing sacred Jewish texts that are violent or xenophobic, that speak of child abuse, human slavery, or homophobia with gross insensitivity. Like so many of my colleagues and students, I often drift confusedly through denial, anger, grief, rationalization (a form of bargaining); sometimes reaching acceptance, sometimes not." [LITMAN, R., SEPT 2000]
Another Jewish religion teacher, Deena Copeland Klepper, notes that "there are many passages in the Bible that make us squirm." She cites Pslam 137 from the Torah, where Israelites are enjoined to dash innocent Babylonian babies against the rocks.
"I have read Pslam 137 with adults in Jewish history classes many times," Klepper says, "it is the best way I know to communicate the anguish of the Israelites in exile from their homeland. And yet reading the text also elicits a horrified reaction in my students. Against the familiarity of the first part of the psalm, that final vengeful outburst against innocent children shocks; it violates my students' modern sensibilities." [KLEPPER, D., APRIL 2001]
For all such Talmudic injunctions, the enduring capacity for the Talmud (and other Jewish religious metacommentaries) to be entirely malleable as an authoritative work to fit the occasion at hand is noted by Jacob Katz; of seven Talmudic commentators expressing an opinion about a seminal religious dictate concerning apostasy, "three succeeded in twisting the meaning of the sentence into the opposite of its obvious intention." [KATZ, Ex, p. 81] [...]
Lothar Kahn notes prominent secular Jewish author Arthur Koestler's views about such Talmudic reasoning:
"The survival of a brand of scholasticism in today's Talmudic schools was an intellectual shock [to Koestler]. The acrobatics in logic in which it indulged appeared to aim at the same intellectual and moral evasions as the practices relating to Sabbath and Pesach. Interpretations of Mosaic Law, specifically devised to evade the original law, struck him as a form of mental corruption." [KAHN, L., 1961, p. 151]
The Talmud has always functioned as a flexible apparatus to shift and adapt the Jewish faith over the centuries to current needs and political expediencies. There is enough conflicting argument in the Talmud to prove or disprove virtually anything, resolve from the shelf any theological -- or practical -- emergency, depending on which way contemporary winds blow.
In the Talmud, for example, (Sanhedrin 59a) one old sage, Johanan, opins that "A Gentile who takes up the Torah [Old Testament] is deserving of death." This, to say the least, can be rather disconcerting to find, especially for all the millions of non-Jews who have dared to read the Old Testament, but the admonition to kill is there in seminal Jewish religious literature.
Of course, on the same page another rabbi, Meir, takes an opposite stance and claims it is meritorious for anyone to absorb the Bible. (UNIV JEW EN, v. 3, p. 4]
Both opinions are there, both are legitimate, both religiously sanctioning what a devout Jew essentially chooses to believe, based upon his or her evaluation -- generally within current convention of a maze of interpretations and emphases -- of conflicting rabbinical arguments.
Despite the extremely malleable capacities intrinsic to the Talmud, one of its historical standards to our own day -- in the Orthodox context (which is what all Jews were till the Enlightenment) -- is religiously sanctioned racism, rooted in the Chosen People ethos and the notion that Jews were superior to all others and destined to remain "apart" from them.
"The Talmudic mind," says Norman Cantor, "is hostile to ethnic equality and to universalism. It is very anxious to enforce an ideal of communal purity. All possible contacts with Gentiles are to be avoided." [CANTOR, p. 206]
"It is the Talmudic mentality and customs," wrote David Goldstein, a Jewish apostate, in 1940, "that are largely responsible for the enmity of non-Jews towards Jews. This enmity also exists among Jews themselves, for revolt is the keynote of modern Jews, revolt against Rabbinism, Orthodox Judaism, which is Talmudism." [GOLDSTEIN, p. 130]
"Learning the classic Jewish texts in the yeshivot (religious schools) of both western and eastern Europe," notes Edwin Boraz, "involved generations of traditions. The Talmud became part of the genetic code of our people." [BORAZ, p. 3]
And what is included in this "genetic code?"
"Sadly," says Rabbi Isar Schorsch, "a low estimate of non-Jews pervades much of Talmudic liteature. The Mishna admonishes Jews not to leave their animals unattended at the inn of a gentile, because gentiles are suspected of engaging in beastiality. Gentiles are described also as liable to rape and murder, so that a lonely Jew should avoid their company
... [T]reatment of the 'other' remains a problem for Judaism. In a divided world, we are entitled to take whatever measures will advance our narrow interests. And it is such a world, in which holiness and hatred are intertwined, that [jailed American fraudster] Rabbi Frankel inhabits." [SCHORSCH, I., 4-30-99]
Flagrant religious directives, in classical Judaism, for racist positions (and worse) against all non-Jews, however, are difficult for the non-Jew to research for many reasons.
Relatively few Jews, for instance, are inclined to address such a subject in detail (for fear of fueling "anti-Semitism") in English publications. (Non-Jews who address the Talmud critically are routinely dismissed as anti-Semitic). It is usually addressed more safely, "privately," in Hebrew. [...]
The Israeli social critic, Israel Shahak, addresses another example of this systematic deceit and dissimulation about Jewish history by noting the 1968 English-language volume, The Joys of Yiddish, by Leon Rosten. Shahak notes that the book
"is a kind of glossary of Yiddish [the Jewish traditional language of central and eastern Europe] [with].... an etymology stating ... the language from which the word came into Yiddish and its meaning in that language
... The entry shaygets - whose main meaning is 'a Gentile boy or young man' -- is an exception: there the etymology cryptically states, 'Hebrew origin,' without giving the form or meaning of the original Hebrew word.
However, under the entry shiksa -- the feminine form of shaygets -- the author does give the original Hebrew word, shegetz (or, in his transliteration, shegues) and defines its Hebrew meaning as 'blemish.'
This is a bold-faced lie as every speaker of Hebrew knows.
The Megiddo Modern Hebrew-English Dictionary, published in Israel, correctly defines shegetz as follows: 'unclean animal': loathsome creature, abomination ... wretch, unruly youngster; Gentile youngster." [SHAHAK, p. 26]
Edwin Freeland notes that:
"The etymological history of the word shiksa itself is instructive ... The Hebrew word shakaytz means to abominate, to utterly detest. In the Bible there are constant admonitions not to eat or take the shikutz (masculine noun form), literally, the abominated thing, into one's house." [FREEDLAND, E., 1982, p. 508]
For popular consumption in English, however, the word shiksa is usually carefully censored. In A Dictionary of Yiddish Slang and Idioms, for example, "shikseh" is simply defined as "Non-Jewish girl (also used to imply an impious or wild Jewish girl)." [KOGOS, p. 70]
But most Jews know better.
Yossi Klein Halevi, who grew up in an American Orthodox community, notes that the word "shiksa" means "a gentile woman, that nasty Yiddish word implying 'slut.'" [HALEVI, MEMOIRS, p. 224]
When Israeli Ze'ev Chafets married a non-Jewish woman in 1997, he had to face more firmly the institutionalized Jewish racism (and moral double standards) against his new wife:
"Jews who would rather cut off their tongue than say 'nigger ' or 'spic' and consider 'kike' and 'Hymie' fighting words talk about 'goyim' and 'shiksas' with blithe indifference. They assume that we can't be guilty of prejudice because we are all victims ... But terms like 'shiksa' ... no longer sound like charming Yiddishisms to me; they seem like slurs." [BROWNFELD, p. 85]
A minority of non-Orthodox Jews who haven't studied their own traditional literature, or Yiddish and Hebrew, in detail, may not even be aware of the range of such objectionable (by modern moral standards) material in seminal Jewish religious texts. Nor do informed Jews invite an examination of the full context of Jewish-Gentile relations through history.
In the last few decades whenever such material is brought to public attention, however rarely, its exposure is attacked by Jewish organizations as "anti-Semitic canards," distorted and misrepresented excerpts from their original contexts.
Throughout history it has usually taken apostate Jews to reveal them to the non-Jewish community.
"Among the first generation or two of Dominican friars [in the Middle Ages]," says Norman Cantor, "... were a remarkable number of Jewish converts. The reason that the friars ... could engage in a lengthy debate with the rabbis in their public disputations in France and Spain was that these debating friars were almost invariably former rabbis or rabbinical students, or sons of rabbis." [CANTOR, p. 179]
"Most often," notes Leon Poliakov, "by making the conversion of the Jews and the denunciation of Jews their chief vocation [Jewish apostates] constituted a true scourge for the Jewish communities.... [POLIAKOV, p. 167]
... The role of the renegade Jew ... has always been of prime importance during the persecutions of the Jews." [POLIAKOV, p. 69]
In the year 1236, for example, Nicholas Donin, a Jewish convert to Christianity, "approached Pope Gregory IX with a list of charges against rabbinic Judaism." [COHEN, J., 1982, p. 60]
According to Donin, notes Jeremy Cohen, "the rabbis [of the Talmud] allegedly instructed the Jews to kill Christians and ruled that the Jew may blamelessly cheat and deceive Christians in any way possible ... The Talmud, claimed Donin, licensed murder, theft, and religious intolerance, and it included strictures against trusting Gentiles, honoring them, or even returning a lost piece of property to them. The worst outrage for Donin was the prayers in the Jews' daily liturgy uttered against Christians and apostates." [COHEN, J., 1982, p. 68, 71]
A compilation was also made, "probably in large part by converts from Judaism," [COHEN, J., 1982, p. 65] which resulted in "a collection of objectionable excerpts from the Talmud and Jewish liturgy according to topic, over one hundred folios listing the passages in the order of their appearance in the Talmud." [COHEN, J., 1982, p. 65] The result of a Papal investigation of the Talmud resulted in its public burning.
Another such disputation in Barcelona, Spain, occurred in 1262 between Rabbi Moses ben Nahman and Friar Pablo Christiani. Christiani was born Jewish and "he had studied Jewish literature under the direction of Rabbi Eliezer ben Emmanuel of Tarascon and Jacob ben Elijah Lattes of Venice." [COHEN, J., 1982, p. 108]
Elsewhere, "Juan Perez de Montalvian, a Marrano [secret Jew]," notes M. H. Goldberg, "was a priest and notary of the Inquisition. The Society of Jesus founded by Saint Ignatius had numerous monks of Jewish descent. When Saint Ignatius chose a successor to lead the order, he appointed Diego Lainez, who had been born a Jew." [GOLDBERG, M. H., 1976, p. 109-110] [...]
Over the centuries, inflammatory Talmudic passages were "exposed" to the Christian public more and more by non-Jewish authors; in 1700, for example, the German, Johann Eisenmenger, wrote Judaism Uncovered and August Rohling, a professor of Semitic languages in Prague, penned Talmud Jew in 1871. These two works were among the most sensational charges against Jewish tradition and belief; modern Jewish scholarship (and even more so, Jewish popular opinion) generally portrays such texts as fabrication or misinterpretation -- in either case, "anti-Semitic."
"The Talmud," says George Mosse, "was said to be full of exhortations to cheat, lustfulness, usury, and hatred of Christians ... The Talmud had come to symbolize the secret of the 'perverted' religion of the Jews." Rohling decided that it was a "program for domination of the world by the chosen people." [MOSSE, p. 139] [...]
In Germany, notes Nachum Gidal, "one of the most influential opponents of political equality for the Jews was the baptised Jew Freidrich Julius Stahl (1802-1861) who was the founder of Prussian conservatism, leader of the Conservative Party, House of Lords, and member of the Upper House of Prussian Parliament." [GIDAL, p. 17]
In Russia, in 1869, "the infamous Book of the Kahal, ... written by the Jewish apostate Jacob Brafman, made its appearance and seemed to document the already well-known accusation that the Jews constituted a 'state within a state' whose main aim was to subjugate and exploit the non-Jewish population." [ARONSON, p. 42] (Louis Rapoport even argues that Jewish oppression of Jews was even pre-eminent in the Russian communist revolution: "The Jewish Bolsheviks were the most fanatical advocates of suppressing Jewish parties.") [RAPOPORT, L., 1990, p. 29] [...]
Eisenmenger's anti-Jewish work, the argumentative basis for many books critical of Jews that were written later, is particularly noteworthy and bears greater scrutiny. As a dedicated Christian, Eisenmenger's writings were framed as a polemic that impugned Jewish belief and tradition. His opus, Judaism Uncovered (Endecktes Judenthum), was a two-volume set of over 2100 pages, quoting from 200 mostly Jewish sources and was the result of twenty years of research.
The author was a respected scholar and well read in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic. "In short," says Jacob Katz (a well-known Jewish scholar who Israeli critic Israel Shahak singles out as being particularly apologetic when it comes to Jewish religious texts), [SHAHAK, p. 114] "Eisenmenger was acquainted with all the literature a Jewish scholar of standing would have known ... [He] surpassed his [non-Jewish] predecessors in his mastery of the sources and his ability to interpret them tendentiously. Contrary to accusations that have been made against him, he does not falsify his sources." [KATZ, From, p. 14] [...]
Influential Jews of the Royal Court in Eisenmenger's locale and era (Samson Wertheimer and Samuel Oppenheimer, among them) managed to have the book banned by the Hapsburg Emperor; Eisenmenger appealed, and "litigation continued for decades." The author never lived to see the censorship of his book about Jews lifted. [KATZ, p. 14]
"The powerful supplier of the Austrian armies, Samuel Oppenheimer," notes Leon Poliakov, "actually succeeded, for a consideration, in having the work banned. Its 2,000 copies were confiscated as soon as they were printed, and the author died, apparently of grief." [POLIAKOV, p. 243]
Conceding that Eisenmenger's voluminously footnoted citations from Jewish law and religious literature do indeed exist as he says, Jacob Katz argues (as do many Jewish apologists) that just because these citations are undeniably part of Judaism's religious tradition doesn't mean the rules and laws were actually practiced (or, at least, practiced any longer).
Katz asserts that such odious directives from Jewish sages must be understood in terms of the climate of their creation.
"Eisenmenger," says Katz, "consciously ignored whatever later [Jewish] generations read into earlier sources ... [he was] seeking only the original meaning intended by the writers." [KATZ, p. 17] [...]
One of Eisenmenger's principal attacks was upon codified Jewish opinion for treatment of non-Jews and their religions. Eisenmenger cited textual evidence that Jewish religious tradition forbids robbery, deceit, and even murder only within their own community, non-Jews were categorically exempt from moral protection.
If Jews were raised with such beliefs, argued Eisenmenger, it is not hard to believe that they would be inclined to defame Christianity at every chance, as well as rob, swindle, and even murder those not of their own community.
"The nature of the Jewish tradition," writes Katz of such Eisenmenger charges, "its earliest strata reflecting the conditions of the ancient world, enabled Eisenmenger to prove such theses. The legal and ethical systems of the ancient world were dualistic
... In the period of the Mishnah and Talmud, the question of whether the property of non-Jews was protected by law was still under dispute. Certain individuals who were considered subversive -- idol worshippers and the like -- remained outside the absolute protection of the [Jewish] law even in matters of life and death." [KATZ, From, p. 18]
Katz goes on to argue that those rabbinical opinions that asserted, for instance, "that one should actively work towards ["sectarians' and "infidels'"] deaths became merely "theoretical material." [KATZ, p. 18] Or as another apologetic Jewish scholar, Louis Jacobs, puts the Eisenmenger issue:
"There is no doubt that the Talmudic Rabbis, living among pagans, had a poor opinion of the Gentile world around them even while admiring some of its features. At times some of the Rabbis gave vent to the harshest feelings, as in the notorious statement 'Kill the best of the goyyim.'
Johann Andreas Eisenmenger (1654-1704) in his Endecktes Judenthum (Judaism Unmasked) collected such adverse passages in order to prove to his satisfaction that the Jews hate all Gentiles.
It became an important aspect of Jewish apologetic to demonstrate that Eisenmenger had either misunderstood many of the passages he quotes or had taken them out of context." [JACOBS, L., 1995, p. 184-185]
Ultimately, Eisenmenger aligned evidence from Jewish religious law to exhibit an alleged foundation which suggests that, when the Messiah comes, non-Jews would be destroyed. But not only that. Based on the citational evidence he could piece together, Eisenmenger thought "it stood to reason that [Jews] would carry out the commandment of destruction even in the present on those whom it was within their reach to injure and harm." [KATZ, p. 19]
In fact, this theme of vengeful Jewish destruction of non-Jews was addressed in a volume by professor Abraham Grossman in Hebrew, in 1994, specifically investigating Ashkenazi (European Jewish) religious society. A summary of his conclusions in Religious and Theological Abstracts states that
"[The] Ashkenazi believed in the conversion of the Gentiles as part of the redemptive era, following the stage of vengeance ... The idea that a link exists between vengeance to be carried out against the enemies of Israel and the redemption, and that vengeance is a forerunner to redemption, can be found in the Bible, the Talmud, and in apocalyptic literature, and should not be viewed as uniquely Ashkenazi." [REL&THEO, 38:1, 859]
As renowned sociologist Max Weber once noted: "In the mind of the pious Jew the moralism of the law was inevitably combined with the aforementioned hope for revenge, which suffused practically all the exile and post-exilic sacred scriptures. Moreover, through two and a half millennium this hope appeared in virtually every divine service of the Jewish people, characterized by a firm grip upon two indestructible claims -- religiously sanctified segregation from the other peoples of the world, and divine promises relating to this world ...
When one compares Judaism with other salvation religions, one finds that in Judaism the doctrine of religious resentment has an idiosyncratic quality and plays a unique role not found among the disprivileged classes of any other religion." [NEWMAN, A., 1998, p. 163])
Yet, concludes professor Katz, "To anyone who is knowledgeable of Jewish literature, Eisenmenger's interpretations [of central Jewish religious texts] read like a parody of both the legal and homiletic literature ... It is otherwise, of course, for the reader who is unfamiliar with the literature: he may fall for Eisenmenger's conclusions, not knowing that they are no more than the very assumptions that preceded the writer's examination of the material [i.e., anti-Jewish Christian prejudice]." [KATZ, J, From, p. 20]
Unfortunately, this "parody" reading of seminal Jewish religious literature, and its "theoretical theses," as we will soon see, has many Jewish adherents even today, as it always has, and -- with renewed interest in it in the Jewish world today -- is causing moral consternation for the more universalistic, enlightened members of the Jewish politic.
"Eisenmenger neither forged his sources nor pulled his accusations out of thin air," says Katz, "There was a nucleus of truth in all of his claims: the Jews lived in a world of legendary or mythical concepts, of ethical duality -- following different standards of morality in their internal and external relationships -- and they dreamed with imaginative speculation of their future in the time of the Messiah." [KATZ, p. 21]
That admitted, Katz turns to debunk Eisenmenger's volumes of evidence by claiming that the German scholar found only what he wished to find. In other words, the most relevant facts of Eisenmenger's argument, to Katz, are not to be found in the evidence of Jewish religious law and literature, but, rather, in Eisenmenger's underlying paradigm of anti-Semitism.
Is Katz's view true?
Is all this anti-Gentile animosity irrefutably found in Jewish religious literature "obsolete," and did Eisenmenger just piece various facts together to form a false whole?
Or, rather, is it just that pious believers in talmudic Judaism have really never had the political empowerment -- until the creation of modern Israel -- to surface the most disturbing elements of the faith?
Let's turn to Moshe Greenberg for the beginning of an answer to all this, a scholar described by the periodical Conservative Judaism as "one of the leading scholars of Hebrew scripture in the world," formerly the Chair of the Department of Bible Studies at Hebrew University in Israel.
As a young man, Greenberg's first introduction to the racist foundation of Jewish religious literature was in Sefer Hatanya, the central works of Habad hasidim [one of today's ultra-Orthodox groups, also spelled "Chabad"]. Greenberg noted in 1996 that
"What emerged for me, from the study of the first chapters of the book and their antecedents was the discovery that the main stream of Jewish thought is permeated by the genetic spiritual superiority of Jews over Gentiles, disconcertingly reminiscent of racist notions of our time.
Living in Israel for the past twenty years in a Jewish majority that is no more sensitive to the feelings of minorities within it than Gentile majorities are.... [with] Jews in their midst, I have come to realize the vitality of Jewish racist notions, and I am more than ever convinced that the hold Judaism will have on this and future generations will be gravely impaired unless these notions are neutralized by an internal reordering of traditional values." [GREENBERG, p. 33]
Such traditional values may be found in the memoirs of Yossi Klein Halevi (an American Jew who eventually moved to Israel) and what he was taught as a youth at Brooklyn's Talmudic Academy:
"Jews and goyim [non-Jews] were locked in eternal struggle. For now the goyim prevailed. But when the Messiah came, we would triumph. Twenty goyim would cling to each thread of our prayer shawls, pleading to serve us as protection against divine judgment." [HALEVI, p. 68]
One Talmudic Academy teacher taught that "Jews were the center of the world ... Anything extraneous to Jews was of no real interest to us, or, by implication, God himself." [HALEVI, p. 68]
Today's Orthodox Lubavitcher movement (famous for its yearly Chabad telethon to raise money for its projects) also reflects the principles of Jewish racial uniqueness, for example, in its Sefer Hama'Amarim, by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn:
"The Jewish people were granted the unique ability to draw down all Divine effluences through their performance of Torah and mitzvos [the fulfillment of religious commandments] ... [Jews] become vessels for G-dliness ... The reason why only Jews possess this unique quality is because of their power of mesirus nefsh, total self-sacrifice... [SCHNNERSOHN, Y., 1986, p. 2] [...]
Some in today's Jewish community recognize a growing problem with what Jacob Katz disregarded as the "original meanings" of Jewish religious tenets, particularly when reinvigorated by Jewish Orthodoxy and fused to modern Zionism, wherein "theoretical" status is revived as practical actions in the real world. In a 1994 issue of Tradition magazine, published by the Rabbinical Council of America, four questions were posed to a panel of scholars, including this one:
"Has Religious Zionism been guilty of cultivating a negative stance towards Gentiles? How can Israel's chosenness (behirat Yisrael) be so formulated as to avoid its being misinterpreted as either another form of secular nationalism, or an endorsement of negative attitudes towards Gentiles? [FELDMAN, p. 5]
The simple fact that such questions need to be asked, in-house, in a Jewish rabbinical magazine, is revealing.
Of the various responses, Gerald Blidstein, Professor of Jewish Law at Ben Gurion University in Israel, had the most disturbing one:
"Unfortunately -- from my point of view and, it would seem, from the perspective from which this symposium is mounted -- the number of followers of Meir Kahane [the profoundly racist and, some say, even fascist, American-Israeli leader] within the Orthodox movement is not tiny, nor has his militant doctrine found a positive response among small sections of our community. On the contrary: central aspects of his worldview, or at least his basic attitudes, are shared by large segments of observant Jewry in both Israel and America ...
Kahane is merely an unmasked version of what Zionism always was -- racist, brutal, rapacious ...
The modern Orthodox community ... exploits... democratic, humanistic modes of behavior ... for its own benefit. Exploiting values cynically, benefiting from them but not committing oneself to them or internalizing them, ought to be unacceptable." [BLIDSTEIN, p. 11, 14] [...]
The 1995 assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzak Rabin by a zealous Orthodox student, Yigal Amir (whose yeshiva had military training as part of its curriculum), was an event of tragically profound importance to Jews; it brought into ominous focus a very real and very lethal expression of traditional talmudism, underscoring a widening gap between areligious Jews and growing numbers who have revived religious fundamentalism based upon ancient talmudic intolerance, and who now celebrate -- thanks to the creation of the modern state of Israel -- the power to express the angry dreams of their ancestors.
Amir publicly professed his act of murder to be a religious deed (Rabin's willingness to surrender occupied land in peace talks with Arabs was understood to be traitorous to Jewish messianism).
Even in America, four months before Rabin was assassinated, a Brooklyn rabbi, Abraham Hecht, publicly called for the death of any Israeli public official who ceded land to Arabs in peace agreements with them. [JEWISH WEEK, 3-27-98, p. 20]
A year before Rabin's murder, the prime minister spoke to a Jewish audience about (American-born) Israeli doctor Baruch Goldstein, the man who had recently burst into a Hebron mosque with an automatic weapon and slaughtered nearly 30 Muslims at prayer until he himself was beaten to death: "The level of support for a murderous lunatic and the identification with [Goldstein] among some sectors of the public have been greater than I'd estimated at first. I see in this the danger of an Israeli racism, or to be more procise, a Jewish racism." [DERFNER, L, 4-1-94,. 2] [...]
As the Jewish Bulletin noted in 1994, "since the Hebron murders, Israeli teachers have devoted lessons to explaining why Goldstein's deed was an abomination. But at one highly rated Jerusalem school, the Hebrew Gymnasium, about half the students of an 11th grade class gathered off campus after one of the anti-Goldstein lessons, and chanted 'Death to the Arabs,' and 'Goldstein tzaddik,' or righteous man ...
Probably the most disturbing finding came from one of the largest high school in Beersheva. A teacher there polled the class and found that 60 percent of the students supported the massacre." [DERFNER, L., 4-1-94, p. 2] [...]
As a troubled Israeli rabbi, David Hartmann, observed: "The rabbis under radically different conditions prevailing during the third century AD ... encouraged ... hate and destruction. [Rabin's assassin] was no aberration. He was wholly within the normative tradition that has survived frozen through the ages to our own time ...
There are sufficient other resources in the tradition -- humane and pacifist ones -- to counteract the dogmatism. The tragedy is that a group of fanatical and political rabbis has become dominant over all other voices in Israel." [ELON, p. 42] [...]
Gershom Scholem, a professor at Hebrew University and an author on Jewish mysticism, was outraged when a dozen kabbalists (Jewish mystics) camped outside Prime Minister Rabin's house a few weeks before his murder publicly calling upon "angels of destruction," and prayed for Rabin to die. This occurred, notes Scholem, "in the heart of Jerusalem, in fairly normal times. No one in the religious world cried out to protest. Nobody said it's all nonsense. In other words, they believe (these invocations to black magic) actually work." [ELON, p. 46]
In 1988 another Israeli rabbi, David Ben-Haim, this one a member of the "radical right" messianic religious movement in Israel, dipped into Talmudic texts and other seminal Judaic literature to evidence profoundly disturbing material.
"In a thirty page study that examined all Halakhic authorities on the subject," says professor Ehud Sprinzak of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, "Ben-Haim proves that according to the vast majority, the Torah, when speaking about Adam (a human being), never includes Gentiles in this category. He points out that ten recognized Halakhic authorities repeatedly proposed that Gentiles are more beast than human and that they should be treated accordingly; only two authorities recognize non-Jews as full human beings created in the image of God." [SPRINZAK, p. 273]
"What comes of all this," wrote Rabbi Ben-Haim, "is that according to the prophets, and also according to our sages, the Gentiles are seen as beasts ...
It is possible that one may see these injunctions as racism; another may call it hatred of Gentiles, whoever he is; but as far as the Jew who adheres to the statement of the Torah of Israel is concerned, this is reality and a way of life which were set for the people of Israel by G-d." [SPRINZAK, p. 274][...]
Evelyn Kaye, a woman raised in an Orthodox Jewish community in New York, wrote in 1987 an indicting volume about her life within it and the religiously enforced racism of the ancient sages that still holds firm in Jewish communities to our present day. The foundation of "being Jewish" against the rest of humanity is manifest in the fundamentally hostile attitudes towards non-Jews.
Kaye writes that "The mark of a truly devout Hasidic or Orthodox Jew, as well as many other Jews, is an unquestioned hatred of non-Jews. This is the foundation of ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic philosophy. It is as tenacious, unreasoned, and impossible as anti-Semitism, racism, and sexism. And as intractable... [...]
But the essence of anti-Goyimism is passed to Jewish children with their mother's milk, and then nurtured, fed and watered carefully into a full-blown phobia throughout their lives. In order to avoid being contaminated by these terrible creatures, the Ultra-Orthodox go out of their way to avoid them ... Children ... manage to grow up without seeing one of these dangerous people close up. Their attitudes are then perfectly formed. They know whom to hate." [KAYE, p. 113]
In the 1980s, Samuel Heilman watched an ultra-Orthodox teacher lecture his young students, and noted that "Already at this age, these children knew that goyim represented the absolute other of Yidn [Jews] -- the counterworld. The relation between the two was clear: 'No ideas or institutions that held in the one were valid in the other.'" [HEILMAN, S., 1992, p. 192] [...]
"Sadly," noted Orthodox rabbi Mayer Schiller in 1996, "it is ... the granting of humanity to the Gentile either as an individual or as a people ... that is so often lacking in Orthodox circles. Suffering from a kind of moral blindness, we find it difficult to see the non-Jew as anything more than a bit player in our own drama." [MACDONALD, p. 5] [...]
Jewish publishers eventually became self-censors; offending passages were excised or spaces were left blank on pages for Jewish readers to fill in by oral tradition and memory. The word "Gentile," or the pejorative "goy," (both meaning any non-Jew), for example, was often replaced with the word "other," "Egyptian," "Kushite," "stranger," or other dissimulatives for non-Jewish consumption. In one case, for example, a Jewish scribe's definition of "goyim" as "followers of Jesus Christ" became "those who do not believe in the law of Moses." [POPPER, p. 28] [...]
M. Herbert Danzger writes that "Jewish modernists" (seeking to reframe and redirect morally objectionable passages against non-Jews in Jewish religious literature), argue "that these laws referred not to Gentiles generally but to 'star worshippers,' a precise legal category meaning those who deny the existence of deity, who practice no law and no justice, whose ways are cruel and murderous." [DANZGER, p. 295]
Even if the 'star worshippers' interpretation had credence, who exactly in history ever believed in 'no deity, no law, no justice,' and wallowed in cruelty and murder? Certainly any society anywhere conceives of itself as framed within concepts of some kind of deity, law, and justice, and attributes their lack to its enemies, as does the rabbinical literature. [...]
Michael Asheri, a Jewish American immigrant to Israel, notes modern Jewish apologetics and dissimulation about the subject of idolaters: "Once we get out of the area of friendship and business [with non-Jews], ... it is obvious that to the Jewish way of thinking, many of today's Gentiles are still worshippers of idols.
The use of devotionals in Christian churches is ingeniously explained away by orthodox Jewish thinkers, but Jews are still stringently prohibited from entering churches in which such images are displayed. (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 142:14)
Certainly the practices of present day Hindus and Buddhists must be considered idol worship or the term has no meaning at all.
In addition, the prohibition of yayin nesech, wine made by Gentiles, is based entirely on avoidance of avoda zara [worship of strange Gods]. If some of the Gentiles are not idol worshippers, why does this prohibition continue to be obligatory for all observant Jews?" [ASHERI, M., 1983, p. 332-333]
Asheri next addresses the reason for Jewish secrecy about this delicate subject: the fear of anti-Jewish hostility as a response to the Jewish anti-Gentile tradition. [...]
There are other things about Jewish identity that are best not discussed too publicly.
One of the principles of traditional Jewish law, notes the Israeli social critic Israel Shahak, is that a Gentile's life must not be saved. He cites a line in the Talmud (Tractate Avodah Zarah, 26b): "Gentiles are neither to be lifted (out of a well) nor hauled down (into it)," i.e., if a non-Jew falls into a well a Jew is religiously forbidden from saving his/or her life.
The highly respected Jewish theologian Maimonides takes this example to comment that "it is forbidden to save [non-Jews] if they are at the point of death; if, for example, one of them is seen falling into the sea, he should not be rescued." [SHAHAK, p. 80] (In this context of Jewish religious tradition, Shahak sardonically notes the extremely uncompromising position many outraged Jews can find themselves in when they so vociferously complain that so many countries "stood by and did nothing" to help Jews during the Jewish Holocaust.)
As far as Maimonides is concerned, [...] He is an integral part of modern Orthodox discourse; according to the New Encyclopedia Brittanica (1993), Maimonides is recognized "as a pillar of Orthodox faith -- his creed became part of the Orthodox liturgy [and he is known] as the greatest of Jewish philosophers." [NEW ENCY BRIT, 7, p. 708] [...]
Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburgh, an immigrant from the United States to Israel, has commented that "If you saw two people drowning, a Jew and a non-Jew, the Torah says you save the Jewish life first. If every simple cell in a Jewish body entails divinity, is a part of God, then every strand of DNA is part of God. Therefore, something is special about Jewish DNA ...
If a Jew needs a liver, can you take the liver of an innocent non-Jew passing by to save him? The Torah would probably permit that. Jewish life has infinite value." [BROWNFELD, A., MARCH 2000, p. 105-106]
It is critically important today, of course, for Jewish apologists to find more humane perspectives on the subject of non-Jews in traditional literature.
"Moses Rivkes, a seventeenth century [Jewish] Lithuanian authority, "notes Jacob Katz, "drew the conclusion that, regarding the obligation to save life, no discrimination should be made between Jews and Christians; the same degree was attached to saving either." Rivkes, of course, represents only one man's view and reflects the views he sought to counter. His opinion, note Charles Liebman and Steven Cohen, "only demonstrates the depth of historic Jewish hostility toward the non-Jew and the legitimization that this hostility received within the religious tradition." [LIEBMAN/COHEN, p. 38]
Other disturbing views from Jewish religious literature and tradition include: "When we withhold mercy from others [it] is equal to that for doing (merciful deeds) to members of our own people." [SHAHAK, p. 96]
"If the ox of a Jew gores the ox of Gentile, the Jew is not required to pay damages, but if the ox of a Gentile ... gores the ox of a Jew, the Gentile is required to pay full damages." [MISHNAH, BABA KAMA 4:3]
If after taking a purification bath, a Jewish woman sees a dog, pig, donkey, horse, leper, or a non-Jew ("heathen") before she "meets a friend," she has to take the bath over again. [GANZFRIED, p. 42]
"One should not be alone with a heathen belonging to one of the seven peoples [the Biblical tribes of Canaan from which non-Jews are traditionally understood to have descended], because they are apt to commit homicide." [GANZFIELD, p. 52]
Likewise, "cattle should not be kept in the barns of heathen-owned inns, out of suspicion that they may practice sodomy with them." [LIPMAN, E., 1974, p. 235]
You are visitor number .