Why call it “Anti-Semitism”?
Let’s begin by focusing on the term “anti-Semitism” itself. Why do we need a specific term for hatred against the Jews?
We know that there is much religious bigotry in the world. Religious bigotry would describe animosity towards any religious group, whether they are Buddhists, Hindus, or Mormons. There is racism, which could refer to looking down at any other race, whether it is blacks, Asians, or American Indians. And there is xenophobia, which is relevant for any foreign group or outsiders at all.
Why then not refer to the hatred and persecution of Jews by these more generic terms like religious bigotry, xenophobia, or racism? The very need for a distinctive term for hatred of the Jews tells us that the world recognizes that anti-Semitism isn’t simply one more unfortunate example of hatred in the world. It is, rather, a phenomenon that is specific to the Jewish people.
What is it which makes anti-Semitism so distinctive?
Reasons vs. Excuses
The most common reasons given for the hatred and persecution of the Jews are Jews having money, influence, power, intelligence, etc. In fact, there are probably as many attempts to understand anti-Semitism as there are perceptions and distinctive aspects of Jews. An important point to consider is: What is the difference between a reason for something and an excuse? And is there a litmus test to differentiate between the two of them?
The reason for something is the true cause. If it is removed, then, of course, the phenomenon will cease. As an example, let’s say that money, power, and influence were the causes of anti-Semitism in Germany during the 1920s and 1930s. If that were true, then the hatred for Jews in Germany should have significantly diminished after the Nuremberg laws were passed (beginning in 1935), since those laws largely eliminated Jewish money, power, and influence. But, as we know, the hatred only continued to increase. Therefore, it is clear that money, power, and influence of Jews were never the real reason for the anti-Semitism in Germany, but rather only excuses.
Whatever we do, that is what is cited as the reason for the hatred against us. For example, at the same time that Jews in America were accused of being communists, Jews in Russia were being labeled as capitalists. The more that one studies anti-Semitism, the more obvious it becomes that the innumerable “explanations” offered throughout the various societies in which Jews have resided are not reasons at all (whose absence would necessarily result in an end to hatred and persecution), but simply excuses.
Rabbi Asher Resnick serves as a senior lecturer at Aish HaTorah’s Executive Learning Center, and is a senior training lecturer for Aish’s Rabbinical Ordination program. As a close student of Rav Noach Weinberg, zt”l, he developed a special expertise in addressing fundamental issues in Judaism, as well as in bringing classical texts to life. As a bereaved parent, Rabbi Resnick’s extensive writings on loss, suffering and trauma provide a sensitive Jewish perspective on coping with these fundamental life cycle issues. Olami & NLEResources.com is happy to highlight several essays over the coming months featured on his website JewishClarity.com.