Why The Jews?
Why the Jews?
This question has been asked throughout the ages without any definitive answer. Thus, it behooves us to first take a look at some previous attempts and understand where they fail. Previous attempts take a look at any number of possible causes individually; one at a time. There are six primary commonly proffered causes which are: economic, 'the chosen people', scapegoating, deicide, being outsiders, and racial inferiority. Authors will typically try and focus on one cause at a time and find some time in history when it was absent and anti-Semitism persisted and thus disprove it as a cause. The flaw in any such analysis is the result of perceiving anti-Semitism as a single-cause effect.
Like so many things in the world, anti-Semitism is a multi-causal effect. That is, you can't remove any one cause and remove the effect of anti-Semitism. Human height is determined similarly, as a multi-causal (polygenic) trait. There are many genes (units of inheritance) that determine human height, all of which interact with one another. Thus simply turning off one gene for human height has complicated effects on the overall resulting height of any given person. This multi-causal type analysis must be applied to anti-Semitism in order to yield any meaningful results.
Anti-Semitism should be conceived as a tree of causes and effects. At the root of that tree is a societal need for an underdog. What started the tree growing was one of the proffered causes: 'the Chosen People'. I'm reminded of the story my father tells from his youth. He went around the neighbourhood proudly announcing that he was Superman. One of the older boys decided to challenge his claim and threw him straight over a fence saying: "If you're Superman, let's see you fly!" My father landed face first in the dirt laying his claim to rest.
Like the older boy was to my father, the Roman Empire was the challenger to the Jewish empire's claims of being the chosen people of God. The Roman Empire conquered many peoples throughout its existence, but none with the 'pomp and circumstance' embodied in the 'Judea Capta' coin, coined to celebrate the victory of the Roman Empire over the 'Chosen People'.
The defeat of the Jews at the hands of the Romans set off a host of effects which themselves, historically, also became causes of anti-Semitism. As a dispersed people we were outsiders in the many countries of the Diaspora. Persecution of outsiders and using such people as scapegoats is a side effect of the predatory instinct. The 'proud' lion of the animal kingdom doesn't attack the leader of the pack wildebeest but instead attacks the weakest of the herd. Likewise in human relations, we tend to pick on the people with the least chances of mounting an effective reprisal. Thus we see that the chosen people quickly became the people of choice when it came to choosing a scapegoat.
Recall in grade school, that there was always that one kid that the rest of the kids chose to pick on. Once the group had decided that s/he was the 'one', there was very little that the bullied kid could do about it. So too is the story of the disenfranchised Jews. This brings us to the next proffered cause of anti-Semitism that is deicide, that is, killing Jesus. Tom Harpur in his book, "The Pagan Christ" discusses the advent of Christian dogma. The authors of the gospels were left with a choice as to whom to pin the blame for the death of Jesus on. Given that they were living in a Roman dominated world, and were wary of further ruffling the feathers of the Roman eagle, they chose to pin the blame on the Jews who were incapable of offering a defense. This incipient pattern of scapegoating the Jews for any number of problems would be repeated time and again throughout history.
Jealousy of Jewish successes and wealth is another commonly offered explanation of anti-Semitism. As a scattered and shattered people, our choices of employment were few in the Diaspora. Throughout the middle ages, excluded from the feudal and manorial systems, they were relegated to be artisans, traders and moneylenders. In a forced separation of the Jews and the secular world, the Jews developed high intellectualism in the study of the Holy Torah, the sole survivor of our former glory. This penchant for developing intellectualism in isolation is, at once, our strongest and weakest characteristic. Nonetheless, the Jews developed economically valued skills by virtue of our intellectualism and our forced experiences as moneylenders. This accounts for our disproportionate contributions and participation in lucrative economic realms.
Finally, we deal with the anti-Semitic accusations that the Jews are of a 'lesser' race. This is best exemplified by Hitler's use of Hegel's precepts of euthanasia. Hegel mutated Darwin's work to allow for the application of 'natural selection' to human populations. This pseudo-scientific theory allowed the Jews to be viewed as 'less fit' than other races, and the horrors of the Second World War that followed. To any rational being, any such race based attacks fail immediately, since the Jews are a people encompassing many races. However, the purpose of anti-Semitism is to allow for a scapegoat people. In order to do that, humans must circumvent their natural empathy for fellow humans, by reducing them in status. Thus it is necessary to see the Jews as a lesser race in order to make way for blaming them for any conceivable need. Thus when it comes to categorizing a people, it is necessity, rather than logic, that is the mother of invention.
Another cause for anti-Semitism, not commonly discussed, is historical disadvantage. As far as labels go, they tend to stick. If "all the world is a stage" as the Bard suggests, then the Jews are typecast as the underdog. This suggests that were we able to remove all the multi-causal causes of anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism would persist due to a deep-seated societal need for underdogs, with Jews as the long favoured choice. It will always be possible to find reasons to hate the underdog as long as the need for the underdog exists.
Thus, the only solution to anti-Semitism is to eliminate the societal need for an underdog. How does one eliminate the need for an underdog? I leave you to the privacy of your own thoughts where the answer resides.
About the Author
Martin Winer is a Jewish author interested in social issues.
By day, he's a Computer Scientist, developing http://www.rankyouragent.com/