The Reason For
"Who has made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up until now? It is G-d who has made us as we are, but it will be God, too, who will raise us up again. Who knows it might even be our religion from which the world and all peoples learn good, and for that reason and only that reason do we suffer. We can never become just Netherlanders, or just English or representatives of any country for that matter. We will always remain Jews."
- From the diary of Anne Frank, April 11, 1944
Anti-Semitism is unique amongst the hatreds in the world in a combination of four aspects: 1) Longevity -- it's been around a long time 2) Universality -- virtually everywhere in the world 3) Intensity -- it's expressed in a particularly virulent manner 4) Confusion -- there is surprisingly little agreement on why people hate the Jews.
Historians offer many "reasons" to explain why people are anti-Semitic: Jews are too powerful or too lazy; too separate or a threat to "racial purity" through assimilation; pacifistic or warmongers; capitalist exploiters or revolutionary communists; the "killers" of Jesus or the progenitors of Jesus; possessors of a Chosen People mentality or an inferiority complex. These reasons have one thing in common -- they have nothing to do with our being Jewish. One might think that we are just the victims of bad luck -- always possessing the needed quality to be hated wherever we are in the world at exactly that time in history.
Do you know who disagrees with the historians? Anne Frank. Writes Anne Frank on April 11, 1944 in her diary: "Who knows -- it might even be our religion from which the world and all peoples learn good, and for that reason and that reason alone do we now suffer. We can never become just Netherlanders, or just English, or representatives of any other country for that matter. We will always remain Jews."
Anne Frank made a point of stressing that Jews have something of special value to give to the world, and that is precisely what the world has resented, and that is why people have persecuted Jews. Anne Frank identifies anti-Semitism as a hatred of Jewishness, a loathing altogether different from the bigotry or racism that other peoples experience.
The Talmud (Tractate Shabbos 69) cites the source of anti-Semitism using a play on words: The Torah - the source of the Jewish system of laws, values and moral standards - was received at Mount Sinai. The Hebrew pronunciation of "Sinai" is almost identical to the Hebrew word for "hatred" - sinah. "Why was the Torah given on a mountain called Sinai?" asks the Talmud. "Because the great sinah - the tremendous hatred aimed at the Jew - emanates from Sinai."
At Sinai Jews were told that there is one God, Who makes moral demands on all of humanity. Consequently, at Sinai the Jewish nation became the target for the hatred of those whose strongest drive is to liberate mankind from the shackles of conscience and morality.
At Sinai the Jewish nation was appointed to be "a light unto the nations." There are those who embrace Jews and the Jewish faith because of that light; but there are also those who want the world to be a place of spiritual darkness. They object to morality. Those would-be harbingers of darkness attack the Jews as the lightning rod for their hatred. This "call to Sinai" - the message entrusted to and borne by the Jews - ultimately transforms the world. Yet, it is this very message that draws forth the wrath of those who would give their last ounce of strength to resist it.
A great many people simply can't cope with the burden of being good. However, when they act in ways that are bad, they can't cope with the resultant feelings of guilt. Try as they may, they can never cut themselves loose from the standards of absolute morality dictated by the Torah. Stuck in this "Catch-22" situation, people turn with their mounting frustrations against the Jews, whom they perceive as personifying humanity's collective conscience.
When the Jews entered the theological arena, they showed people all the mistakes they had been making: Pagan gods are nonsense - there is only one God for all of mankind, Who is invisible, infinite and perfect. Infanticide and human sacrifice are unacceptable. Every human being is born with specific rights. No one can live as he pleases, for everyone must surrender his will to a higher Authority.
On a certain conscious level, people recognize the Jews' message as truth. Those unwilling to embrace the truth have found that the only way to rid themselves of it is to destroy the messengers - for the message itself is too potent to be dismissed.
That is what is so irksome about the Jews, and that is why, for some people, nothing less than total destruction of the Jews will do. If Judaism were just another ideology, people could laugh it off and continue on their merry way. But deep in his soul, every human being recognizes the essential truths of morality - people can't just laugh it off.
For the last 2,000 years the Jewish people have gone through enormous amounts of persecution, hatred - ultimately leading to genocide. And through it all, the Jewish people always held onto being Jewish. And the reason why is that they really understood that it was worth it. They understood what the meaning of being Jewish was, and they were willing to pay the price.
The pain that is part and parcel of being Jewish is obvious; if people cannot see any meaning to that pain, it is unlikely that they will be willing to stand by their Jewish identity. That is why we find such widespread assimilation today - Jews do not see why they should "lose out" on life and set themselves apart from their host societies.
If we can come to understand why Jews are so hated, we can understand who Jews are and, more important, who Jews can be. A powerful effort has been made to remove the Jewish element from anti-Semitism, and in doing so, to ignore the critical message anti-Semitism teaches about the uniqueness and preciousness of the Jew. This alone is a compelling reason for Jews to learn about anti-Semitism and what it means to be a Jew.
This article appeared in the Aish HaTorah Shabbat Shalom Fax written by Rabbi Kalman Packouz; it was based on the "Why the Jews?" seminar which is available online at http://www.aish.com/seminars/whythejews/
Reasons For Anti-Semitism / AntiSemitism
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