Anti-Semitism: The Spiritual Causes and Cures



Our father, Abraham, heard the Divine call which led him to take a different path in a world where the nations had forgotten the life-giving mission that the Creator had given to humankind. Abraham had the courage to be different, and regarding his radical role, the Midrash states in the name of Rabbi Judah:


“All the world is on one side, and he (Abraham) is on the other side.” (Midrash Genesis Rabbah 42:8)


The New York Times (May 29, 2006) reported on the Pope's visit to Auschwitz, where he addressed the issue as to why the leaders of Nazi Germany wanted to destroy the entire Jewish people. The Pope said:


“Deep down, those vicious criminals, by wiping out this people, wanted to kill the God who called Abraham, who spoke in Sinai and laid down principles to serve as a guide for mankind, principles that are entirely valid.”  


The Pope added that  “this people, by its very existence, was a witness to the God who spoke to humanity”; thus, from the perspective of the Nazis, explained the Pope, “God finally had to die and power had to belong to man alone, to those men who thought that by force they had made themselves masters of the  world.” 


As we discussed in this series, we, the People of the Torah, have a spiritual raison d’etre; moreover, the Book of Isaiah states that the Compassionate One proclaimed to our people, “You are My witnesses” (43:10). It is therefore not surprising that our tradition reveals that there are various spiritual causes for the hatred of our people which exists in every generation and which has forcefully resurfaced in our generation. The Pope gave his own view regarding one of the spiritual causes of anti-Semitism, and in this letter we shall begin to discuss a Torah perspective on his view. We shall also discuss why the Pope’s words pose a challenge to his own leadership role:


Dear Friends,


Anyone with even a superficial knowledge of Jewish history will recognize that we are not a nation of conformists. As Abbie Hoffman, the Jewish radical of the late 1960’s, commented:


“I see Judaism as a way of life. Sticking up for the underdog. Being an outsider. A critic of society. The kid in the corner that says the emperor has no clothes on. The Prophet.” (Tikkun, July-August  1989)


A courageous and independent-minded individual who challenges the accepted beliefs and values of his society will initially be viewed as the “outsider” – the unpopular social critic. It is only when his views are finally accepted that he gains the lasting friendship and respect of the other members of his society. A courageous and independent-minded people that challenges the accepted beliefs and values of the other peoples will initially be viewed as the “outsider” – the unpopular social critic. It is only when their views are finally accepted that they gain the lasting friendship and respect of the other peoples. The classic example of such a people are the People of Israel. At the very beginning of our history we were an independent-minded people that had the courage to be different. In a world in which every people, tribe, and family had its own god – all fighting and competing with each other – we managed to preserve the ancient truth of the One Creator of all life, “Who created the heavens and stretched them forth; Who firmed the earth and its produce, Who gave a soul to the people upon it, and a spirit to those who walk on it” (Isaiah 42:5). When other peoples worshiped the various gods of lust, wealth, and power, we served the One Creator Who calls upon the human being “to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). When other peoples made gods in their image, we served the Compassionate One Who made all human beings in the Divine image, with the capacity to emulate the Divine compassion and love, as it is written, “And you shall walk in His ways” (Deuteronomy 28:9).


The radical ideas of our people were viewed as a threat to the pagan world view. The rulers of the pagan nations felt particularly threatened by the idea of One God Whom all nations and rulers must serve. In fact, the most powerful of these rulers saw themselves as gods; thus, the vision which our people represented was viewed as a threat to their own power. An example of the arrogant view of these rulers can be found in the following rebuke which the Prophet Ezekiel gave to the King of Tyre: “Your heart was proud and you said, ‘I am a god, I sat in the seat of God in the midst of the seas.’ But you are a human being and no god, though you considered your heart like the heart of God” (Ezekiel 28:2). These type of proclamations reinforced the idea that Israel is the “outsider, a critic of society.”


We officially assumed the role of the “outsider” when we stood at Mount Sinai and received the Torah – the Divine Teaching which gives us the potential to become “a kingdom of ministers and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). According to Jewish tradition, the hatred of the other nations towards our nation began when we received the Torah at Mount Sinai. In fact, the Talmud teaches that the name “Sinai” alludes to “sinah” – a Hebrew word for hatred, for when the Torah was given, the pagan nations began to hate the People of Israel. (Shabbos 89a – See the commentary of “Iyun Yaacov” on this page, as well as the commentary of Rebbeinu Bachya on Leviticus 20:26.)


An example of this hatred can be found in Psalm 83, which describes how an alliance of pagan nations tried to destroy the People of Israel. The opening verses of this psalm indicate that a primary motivation of their attempt to destroy us was their hatred of the One God which we represent:


“O God, do not hold yourself silent; be not deaf and be not still O God. For behold, Your foes are in uproar and those who hate You have raised their head. Against Your people they plot deviously, they take counsel against those sheltered by You. They said, ‘Come, let us cut them off from nationhood, so Israel’s name will not be remembered any longer!’ For they take counsel together unanimously, they strike a covenant against You.”


Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, in his commentary on the above passage, explains that the nations feel threatened by the moral and ethical demands of the One God Whom Israel represents. He writes:


“God stands in the way of men and nations with His absolute power as a ruler and with the absolute requirements of His moral law, for both of which He sent Israel as a memorial and messenger among the nations. Judaism, with its concept of the invisible God and its idealistic view of the world and of life as a whole, has always been thoroughly hated by those who capitalize upon the degeneracy and corruptability of man. The advent of Israel as a nation among nations – bare of all those things upon which the other nations base their existence – represents such a protest against the entire social and political structure of the rest of the world that the nations would desire nothing more than the elimination of Israel from their midst.”


Even when we are not properly fulfilling our potential, our very existence serves as a reminder of the universal Divine sovereignty and the higher moral law. In this spirit, Rabbi Hirsch points out that the very name of our nation, “Yisra-El” – which means “God is sovereign” – as well as our persistent survival, proclaim the ultimate and universal supremacy of the Divine rule. This is a message which arrogant and corrupt nations fear. For example, when the nations heard how the Compassionate One redeemed us from the bondage of Egypt and broke the power our oppressors, they became worried, as it is written, “Nations heard and trembled” (Exodus 15:14).


With the rise of the modern age, there were a number of secular dictators that viewed our independent-minded people as a threat to their power. Stalin, the ruler of the Soviet Union, and the modern Haman who ruled Germany, can serve as examples. This modern Haman and his many followers not only wished to destroy our physical presence on earth; they also wished to destroy our spiritual presence on earth. In their evil and perverted way, the German oppressors understood that we represent the Divine ideals which they hated. As a result of this hatred, they burned synagogues, Torahs, and all Jewish books. In fact, any book written by a Jew was destroyed, and any music composed by a Jew was banned! They wanted to destroy the entire Jewish people and all traces of the ideals that we brought into the world. In their view, each Jew – regardless of his or her level of observance – was a living representative of the “dangerous” ideals which needed to be eliminated from the new Aryan society ruled by the powerful and the physically strong. It is remarkable that this modern Haman, who almost succeeded in conquering the world, saw our stateless and unarmed people as his greatest threat!  His hatred and fear of our people is a reminder that we contain within ourselves a spiritual strength which threatens all evil rulers and their followers. In his own perverse way, this German leader re-affirmed that the God of history chose our people for a unique and universal role.


As we mentioned above, the current Pope, a German, made this very point; however, if he truly believes what he said, then his words should inspire him to take a strong leadership role against the current revival of anti-Jewish hatred, including the attempts to destroy the State of Israel and its people. Why, then, is the Pope failing to take a strong leadership role on this issue? At the very least, he should publicly and forcefully protest against the following examples of anti-Jewish hatred and urge his many millions of followers to also publicly protest:

A. From the Jerusalem Post (13 Iyar, 5767 - May 1, 2007):

Sheik Ahmad Bahr, acting Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, declared during a Friday sermon at a Sudan mosque that America and Israel will be annihilated and called upon Allah to kill Jews and Americans “to the very Last One.” Following are excerpts from the sermon that took place last month, courtesy of MEMRI. ...The Hamas spokesperson concluded with a prayer, saying: “Oh Allah, vanquish the Jews and their supporters. Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them all, down to the very last one. Oh Allah, show them a day of darkness. Oh Allah, who sent down His Book, the mover of the clouds, who defeated the enemies of the Prophet, defeat the Jews and the Americans, and bring us victory over them.”

B. From the Associated Press, THE JERUSALEM POST (Jun. 3, 2007):

Iran's hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday said the world would witness the destruction of Israel soon, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

The Pope should also take a stronger and more vigorous stand against the Holocaust denial which is spreading through the world with the active help of the leader of Iran and some other Muslim leaders. 


It is no secret that the Christian Church had a major role in causing Christian nations to view the Jewish people as the cause of evil in the world; thus, the Pope should take a strong stand against the attempts of many Europeans and certain liberal Christian groups in America to make Israel the scapegoat for the world’s problems. For example, there are tragic examples of genocide and brutal denial of basic human rights in the world today; yet, these groups, especially in England, are calling for an international boycott of Israel. Even Israeli academics are to be shunned.


Regarding this growing trend to make Israel into the scapegoat, a leftwing American Jewish journalist, Richard Cohen, made the following comments in the Washington Post (April 24, 2007) regarding the votes by British journalists to boycott Israel:


“The British journalists, like the academics before them, dare to tread where an army of goons has gone before. If they do not recognize the ember of anti-Semitism still glowing within them, they ought to park themselves before a mirror and ask why, of all the nations, they single out Israel for reprimand and obloquy. This business of assigning to Jews a special burden, for seeing in them more of mankind’s bad qualities and less of its good, has a dark and ugly pedigree.”


I hope that other Jews who like to view themselves as “progressive” will strongly protest against this ugly and dangerous trend; moreover, they should have the courage and self-respect to tell their non-Jewish colleagues that there can be no progress for the world if our people are once again being made into the scapegoat by a corrupt world. These Jews should also strongly protest against the increasing ant-Semitism and urge their non-Jewish colleagues to join them. They should not just publicly and forcefully express their concern about the global warming of the physical environment; they should also publicly and forcefully express their concern about the global heating of the social environment through the fiery calls to murder Jews and to destroy Israel, as well as through the attempts to make Israel into the scapegoat for the world’s problems. I therefore hope that such strong statements of protest will appear in the various Jewish publications devoted to peace, the environment, helping the world’s poor, and other social causes.


I would also urge that all Jews involved in interfaith activities have the courage and self-respect to stand up for our people and to ask their non-Jewish colleagues to protest against the calls to murder Jews and destroy Israel, as well as to protest against the calls to make Israel into the scapegoat of the world through various boycotts. If, however, some of these Jewish interfaith activists ignore the danger facing our people in their desire to be “loved” and accepted” by others, then instead of labeling their activities “interfaith,” I would label them as “inter-farce”!


A universal vision that does not embrace the People of Israel is not truly universal; moreover, one cannot save the world at the expense of the People of Israel. On the contrary, we need to remember a central theme of the Prophets of Israel: The God of history assigned to our people a unique and universal role which will lead to world redemption.



Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)


Related Teachings:


1. Even when the nations turn against us, we need to remember that we can find in their midst “chasidei umos ha'olam” – the loving ones among the nations – who are striving to serve the Compassionate One; moreover, as Maimonides reminds us, they merit to have a share in the World to Come (The Laws of Kings 8:11).


2. Our tradition calls upon us to remember and honor those among the nations who befriend our people. In this spirit, Rabbi Hirsch cites the verse “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6), and he explains that this prayer is not only for our sake, but also for the sake of those among the nations who are our true friends, as this psalm also states: “For the sake of my brethren and friends, I will wish that peace be yours” (ibid v.8). In his commentary on this verse, Rabbi Hirsch writes:


“This wish is not based upon one-sided, selfish motives. May the fulfillment of this wish benefit all those who would join Israel as brethren and companions. And in the salvation that will blossom forth for Jerusalem, may that ideal be perfected at long last which had received its first foundation with the erection of the House of the Lord on Mount Moriah in the midst of Jerusalem for the future of Israel and of humankind.” Rabbi Hirsch then refers us to Isaiah 2:2-4, which describes the pilgrimage of the nations to Jerusalem in order to study the ways of the Compassionate One.

Hazon - Our Universal Vision