This essay, by Dr. Mark Dillof, first appeared in The Journal for the Study of Antisemitism and is being reprinted here, with their kind permission.
The key to understanding antisemitism lies in Judaism itself. This is because what Judaism esteems most highly is the very thing that incurs the wrath of antisemites. There is something that they intuitively hate about Judaism, even though they cannot articulate what it is. Nor do Jews seem to know what it is. And judging from the existing research, those who have studied antisemitism are also in the dark.
What, then, is it about Judaism that incites antisemitism? Of the various theories that have sought to answer that question, two are relevant to our investigation. One focuses on morality and the other on envy. Together, they can get us two-thirds to the answer. The final leg of the journey requires venturing into unknown territory. That’s where we shall finally unravel the mystery of antisemitism.
The Dread of Morality
The world is full of people fleeing their conscience. Some are tormented by what they’ve done. Far more feel guilty for sins of omission. They haven’t become the person they know they need to be. Nor are they living as they know they should be living. Among this very large class of people, are those who anathematize anyone who reminds them of their moral failings. Some, for example, lash out at their parents or spouse for this reason. Others despise their clergymen or their teachers. But some hate the Jews.
It’s not that the Jews seek to remind them of their faults. Those who are antisemitic may never have actually spoken to a Jew. It’s just that the Jews, by being who they are, offer an implicit criticism of the guilt-ridden person’s manner of living. This is because at the heart of Judaism is a moral vision of life. The path to salvation is straight and narrow, which means that it is possible to stray from the path, to be in sin and to be punished by God. The antisemite projects upon the Jews his inner-accuser and hates them for that reason.
Obviously, not all Jews obey the Ten Commandments, are observant and subscribe to the tenets of their faith. One can get lost in worldliness, become a humanist, a postmodernist, a relativist, a nihilist, an atheist, an apostate, or a convert to another religion and still not escape the sway of the moral law. Nor does it ultimately matter whether or not one acts righteously. A Jew can even become an antisemite (as was Karl Marx), a hypocrite, a malefactor, a thief or a con artist (such as Bernard Madoff). However, for those under the sway of the moral vision of life, there is never any real escape from “the hound of heaven,” the inner demand that one’s heart be pure and one’s actions be scrupulous.
Even in the most secular of Jews, a kind of collective Jewish consciousness exists, the inheritance of thousands of years of history. Needless to say, all human beings — with the exception of those who are puerile, imbecilic, sociopathic or downright iniquitous — are, to varying degrees, under the sway of “the moral law within,” as Immanuel Kant called it. However, for no other people is the demand to be righteous so deeply ingrained in their identity, such that they continually judge their actions under moral categories. This problematic sense of self — which elevates us from the animal level of being, where instinct holds sway, to the truly human — owes much of its development to the moral struggles of the Jewish people.
It is shallow to contend that morality is merely a social phenomenon, as had Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, and other influential modern thinkers. Moral awareness is fundamental to what it means to be a human being, even if it comes into its own, in a decisive way, historically, in Judaism. What is relevant, then, is that to be born Jewish is to be so thoroughly imbued with the moral vision, that all of one’s actions are judged in terms of their rectitude or lack of it.
Antisemites, although harboring a distorted view of Judaism, intuit that it embodies a disturbing truth, one that they both fear and loath. It is morality, then, that they despise and hate. They hate those who are concerned about divine judgment, because it reminds them of their own moral failings.
There is, though, something related to morality for which the Jews are also hated. It is the same thing for which the ancient Greeks executed Socrates. Like Socrates, the Jewish people are forever asking questions — the big questions. After all, the god of the Jewish people not only permits his people to question him, He insists that they do. Thus have the Jews become freethinkers, philosophers and iconoclasts.
The ancient Greeks, therefore, executed Socrates for the same reason that antisemites have murdered Jews: they hoped to remove the source of their self-doubts. Critical thinking is related to morality, for some of the questions that emerge for a person who becomes reflective are: Is my life founded in truth or do I inhabit a world of ephemeral shadows? How, then, should I be living? What is the good life? What is most holy?
Here, again, it is not that the Jews regularly engage people of other faiths in philosophical debate. It is just that antisemites correctly intuit that the Jewish people are thinkers and are, therefore, dangerous. Thus antisemites project their inner-questioner upon the Jews, who are viewed, in a kind of medieval morality play, as devils casting unsettling doubts everywhere. Freud correctly considered projection to be a defense mechanism.
Apropos are the various anti-intellectual movements, which provide a milieu favorable for the virus of antisemitism to pullulate. Fascism, although not intrinsically antisemitic, is the most notorious of such movements. It rejects the intellect in favor of the body, and thinking in favor of feeling. It views the products of the mind — including ideas, culture, morality, and religion — as alienating us both from our “organic” relation to nature and from our animalistic instincts. And it rejects individualism in favor of collectivism.
Those who despise both mind and morality often anathematize the Jews, who highly value mind and morality. This was certainly the case when Fascism emigrated from Italy to Germany, where it transformed into Nazism. Fascism would merely be of historical interest, were it not for the fact that it has reappeared in what writers like Christopher Hitchens have called “Islamofascism.”
The Envy Factor
There is another, equally pernicious, factor that comes into play in antisemitism: envy. Of course, the Jewish people were certainly not always materially successful. They were terribly persecuted in Russia and Europe, even when they were poor peasants. It might seem that in past centuries there wasn’t much to envy about them. Worldly success is not, though, just a matter of affluence. It also includes such things as becoming a well-balanced individual, achieving a stable and emotionally satisfying family life, seeing to it that one’s children become educated, achieving competence in one’s profession, and developing oneself both intellectually and culturally. And, as we’ve discussed, it means becoming a mench, a person of integrity and moral worth. In all these respects, the Jewish people have excelled to such a degree that they have survived and thrived, despite terrible persecution, to become the envy of the world.
If it were simply worldly success at issue, the Jews would be envied and hated, but not with such virulence, for century after century. As we shall now see, it is not success in itself that is envied, but divinely sanctioned success. Both the flight from morality and envy play a decisive role, but in a manner different than previous theories have conceived.
The Two Triangles
Can a person pursue worldly happiness while living righteously? Every religion provides its own answer to that question. Consider the Star of David, the symbol of the Jewish religion. It is composed of two triangles, one pointing downward and the other upward. Symbolically, one triangle is pointing to Earth and the other to Heaven. The star symbolizes an ideal — the integration of Earth and Heaven, of happiness with spiritual life, of living as a finite human being in accordance with God’s law. The goal, then, is to live your daily life within the purview of a divinely commanded morality.
Judaism believes that a synthesis of Heaven and earthly existence is possible, by virtue of a covenant between God and man (although, in the Book of Job, the way in which God fulfills his end of the bargain is deemed unintelligible to human reason). What is, most essentially, envied about the Jews is their ability to integrate ethical and religious values with worldly success. It is envied and hated because it is evidence of God fulfilling his covenant with the Jews. Therefore, what antisemites most envy are the Jews’ blessedness, the love that they receive from their heavenly Father. Everything that the Jews may have — from affluence to a cohesive loving family to intellectual achievements — are proof that God is upholding his covenant.
The antisemite, feeling bereft of that blessedness, wishes to vilify or murder those who remind him of his unworthiness before God. In that sense, the Cain of the Bible — who, out of envy for his brother Abel, murdered him — was the progenitor of future generations of antisemites. Sometimes the antisemite murders, but most often he slanders. He accuses the Jews of everything from greed to lust to treachery. In other words, he is accusing the Jews of being immoral. These slanders arise out of the belief that if he traduces the Jews — and everyone comes to believe his lies — that the Jews will then no longer threaten his conscience.
We have been arguing that the antisemite envies and resents the Jews, for their worldly success is evidence that they have, by obeying God’s commandments, been granted His blessings. It could be objected, though, that antisemites do not make these theological connections. Perhaps, most have never even heard of the biblical notion of a covenant between God and the Jewish people. Furthermore, some antisemites are atheists, with little interest in religion, other than to denounce it. Finally, some antisemites may discern — as we all do, soon enough — that virtuous people often suffer and that rotten people often seem to prosper. It would seem, then, that those who never heard of a divine covenant as well as those who have rejected in as absurd would have little interest in the Jews and their beliefs. They might mock the Jews for being naïve, but they would not envy and hate them. And, yet, they do envy and hate them! What then is going on here?
The notion of God rewarding a person for virtuous action is not arrived at through reasoning, but is a deep-seated way in which we seek to understand our experience. Furthermore, despite cogent reasons to deny that virtue is rewarded, the continued success of the Jews flies in the face of arguments discounting the efficacy of an ethical and religious life. The mere fact that the Jewish people still exist — despite pogroms, holocausts, and all else — and that they prosper makes one pause for thought: Is virtue really rewarded? Does a covenant really exist between God and the Jews? Whether, in point of fact, there is a God and whether a divine covenant actually exists between God and the Jewish people is not our concern here. We are simply observing that the success of the Jews creates hostility among those people who — whether they consciously realize it or not — have troubling doubts about the morality and legitimacy of the life they are leading.
The love of the Father is a powerful affair, even in the modern world. After all, in many godless totalitarian nations, the people make their dear leader into a god, plastering his photo everywhere. So it is that no one gets over the Father archetype so easily.
Demanding that the Jews Ascend the Cross
Why is it that the United Nations continues to pass endless resolutions condemning Israel? After all, there are presently peoples from all over the globe — from Kosovo to Darfur, from Syria to North Korea — who are being cruelly tortured and murdered. Why, then, is Israel’s condemned for supposedly persecuting the Palestinians? And why is this same anti-Israeli sentiment rife at colleges and universities?
It is because what is known as “anti-Zionism” is but the disguise for a certain insidious species of antisemitism. It consists in seeking to make the Jews suffer the trials of integrating worldly interests with ethical and religious values. For example, the wall that Israel erected to keep out suicide-bomber murders is judged by the anti-Zionists, at the UN, to be illegal. The essential accusation is that if the Jews are really ethical they will give up all of their land, rollover and die. Since most Jews do not honor the absurd demands of the anti-Zionists — which is essentially that they ascend the cross and die for the sins of the antisemites — they are accused of being mean-spirited.
Antisemites choose the Jews for this sort of villainy for they intuitively know that the Jews are sensitive to questions of morality. The antisemites then think — by virtue of the Israel’s refusal of their demands — that they have proved that God’s demand to live ethically is impossible to fulfill. Having apparently proved the Jews hypocrites, the anti-Zionists at the UN — who are, ironically, neither Jewish nor Christian — feel that they are exculpated for their human rights abuses and other criminality. And the many anti-Zionists elsewhere feel free of the moral demands in their own life, such as being honest in business and being faithful to their spouse. There is something truly demonic involved here, a perversion of the truth of Christianity. Such antisemites are essentially saying that unless the Jews ascend the cross, that they, the antisemites, are free to go on sinning.
But many Jews — those of the liberal persuasion — are willing to suffer a crucifixion, to the delight of antisemites. Indeed, some Jews go so far in this direction as to become self-loathing masochists, while simultaneously beating their chests in pride over their apparent moral superiority. These Jews hope that their actions will inspire other people to be moral, selfless and goodhearted.
Such hopes are dangerously foolish, for instead of inspiring antisemites to be good people, the Jews’ largess of spirit causes them to be envied and resented all the more. After all, hatred tinged with envy is not ordinary hatred. Ordinarily, if we act kindly to those who hate us, their hatred is likely to abate. But if their hatred is tinged with envy, our kindness will only exacerbate their hatred. It will exacerbate it because now they will envy our largess of spirit. Of course, antisemites would never admit to envying the Jew’s goodwill; nor do they ever seek to emulate it.
Other Religions and the Two Triangles
There are certainly other religions that have sought a synthesis of ethical and religious values with worldly success. The question naturally arises as to why the practitioners of these other religions have not been vilified as frequently as have the Jews. Let us, then, compare other the Judaic synthesis to that of other religions, for clues to that question.
Only in Judaism does God appear in the guise of a father who takes an active role in the world. Although the Trinity is central to Christianity, the focus is not on the Father, but on the Son, namely Jesus. As such, Christianity does not evoke the type of envy for the love of the Father that Judaism evokes. After all, who envies Jesus nailed to the cross?
Like the Star of David, the cross symbolizes an effort to integrate the horizontal and vertical dimensions of life. The vertical is longer, though, on the cross, indicating Christianity’s shift to otherworldliness. Thus, if the Covenant is to be fulfilled, for Christians, it will have to in Heaven, for this world of ours is a place for suffering and repentance, a “veil of tears.” Anti-Christian sentiment, throughout the ages, has had a different basis than antisemitism. It is not based on envy. In recent years, those who are have been murdering Christians in the Middle East and Pakistan are simply Muslim fanatics, who wish to murder those they cannot convert.
Despite the focus on the Son, there have been “Christians” envious towards the Jews for the love of their heavenly Father. Theologians sometimes cite the so-called “scandal of particularity” — in other words, the notion of “the chosen people” — as a major cause of Christian antisemitism. That notion has, of course, been misinterpreted. To be chosen is not akin to winning a lottery. On the contrary, it means that one has to be chosen to suffer in the service of a holy life. In that sense, it is comparable to the Christian notion of bearing one’s cross. Although Christianity has a long history of antisemitism, in recent years many Christians have displayed brotherly love towards the Jews and have courageously risen to their defense.
The way to integrate religion with the worldly life, has long been a concern for Hindus, as seen, for example in the Bhagavad-Gita. Hinduism is often misunderstood to be polytheistic, but as the perceptive Huston Smith points out, the many gods of the Hindu pantheon are actually manifestations of Brahman, the supreme god. Brahman is really a mystical notion and not a father God. That is why there is far less envy, by the peoples of the world, for Hindus who are both religious and successful. It is similarly why antisemitism among Hindus is virtually non-existent.
The same is true for the other Eastern religions. Buddhism, for example, is a religion without a god. Furthermore, Buddhists are not generally known for worldly ambitions. Consequently, Buddhists are neither envied, nor are themselves prone to envy nor are known to be antisemites.
Islam does have a father God, namely Allah. But Allah is distant and remote, and does not intervene in human affairs the way that the Hebrew god does. Furthermore, Islamic theology is founded upon a deterministic metaphysics. A person’s fate was decided before he was born. As such, there is less a sense that worldly success is a sign that a person has won God’s favor. Consequently, it less likely that religious Muslims, who attain worldly success, will be envied and hated to the degree that the Jews are. Although Muslims do not inspire envy, they are themselves prone to envy. Islam is still, after all, an Abrahamic religion. It therefore inherits, to a certain degree, the Jewish notion of a God who rewards the faithful. As such, Muslims are capable of envy and antisemitism.
What about paganism? Pagans do not worship the Father God. On the contrary, they worship the Divine Mother, often in the form of nature. Atheists, on the other hand, would appear not to worship anything at all. Upon examination, we discover that some actually have a pseudo-religious notion of the Millennium that will be brought about by scientific progress. Other atheists actually worship the state. Dictators, like Joseph Stalin, correctly perceive that religion is in competition with the worship of the state and its leader.
Consequently, any sort of secular totalitarian creed, whether it be communism or fascism, is likely to be hostile to Judeo-Christian values. Even though those on the political left have consciously rejected Judeo-Christian values, they still have a proclivity for antisemitism. That is because, as we have suggested, they have not truly rejected these values. On the contrary, they have simply put old idols in new bottles.
Summary and Sobering Suggestions
Previous studies of the role of Jews in the Christian and Islamic worlds have told us how antisemitism has been able to spread. We discern that it is carried along by a scandalous narrative, such as the libel that Jews drink the blood of Christian children or the fantasy of a Jewish world conspiracy, articulated in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Although helping us to understand Christian and Islamic antisemitism, such studies never get to very heart of the mystery, for antisemitism is thousands of years older than those religions. Indeed, antisemitism is as ancient as Judaism itself. In order to have made sense of this hatred, we have sought to grasp its essence, independent of time, place, circumstances and narrative.
Here, then, is the essential hatred that lies behind a thousand slanders: the Jewish people’s worldly success appears to be proof that — by following God’s commandments — they have had God’s blessings conferred upon them. It is envy for the love and approval of the Heavenly Father that is most bitter to the antisemite. Once again, these connections are not consciously made by the antisemite. Having emerged from subterranean depths, they are all the more powerful.
More than likely, antisemitism will always exist, just as will alcoholism, domestic violence, terrorism, criminal activity and other social ills. What is important is the degree of its severity, for antisemitism can range from relatively mild to virulent. It really depends upon the spirit of a nation. The Jews have thrived in the United States partly because most Americans are far less susceptible to the poison of envy than most other people. Thanks to capitalism, with the opportunities it offers to improve one’s lot in life, most Americans are too busy building their own lives to obsess over what other people have on their plate. (Of course, during hard times there is a danger that a demagogue will foment class warfare and envy, thus indirectly creating the type of milieu that breeds antisemitism.)
The Jewish people have also thrived in America because there is a fundamental connection between American exceptionalism and the notion of the chosen people. In other words, Americans have traditionally viewed themselves as having a God-given mission to spread liberty and democracy to the peoples of the world. They have seen themselves chosen in that respect. American idealism has made the United States the most generous nation; time after time, Americans have selflessly contributed their goods and at wartime sacrificed their lives to assist the peoples of other nations. And, like the Jews, they have become hated for their goodness. Indeed, they have become the “ugly Americans.” In any case, where the spirit of capitalism, democracy and liberty exists, the Jewish people are welcome, but it is unlikely that this spirit will ever prevail worldwide.
Many people believe that education is the antidote to antisemitism. But the German people, one of the most educated in the world, elected Adolph Hitler to be their leader. Furthermore, antisemitism — in the guise of anti-Zionism — presently flourishes at many universities, including Ivy League ones. That’s not surprising since universities have been transformed into indoctrination centers for the leftwing variety of antisemitism. When the doctors have become carriers of the disease, there is little hope.
What is really needed are teachers who — blending exorcism with Socratic midwifery — can free students from antisemitism, as well as the many other demons that can possess the soul. That would require teachers who have themselves been delivered from evil, but such individuals are hard to come by. After all, one of the most influential philosophers of the Twentieth Century, Martin Heidegger, was himself an admirer of Hitler. And one of the last century’s profoundest psychologists, C.G. Jung, got aboard the National Socialism bandwagon. Consequently, unless teachers can first become truly educated, there is little hope that education on a mass scale can minister to an ailing body politic.
The world being as it is, the Jewish people must…
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