Frank: Mark, as we are currently witnessing an enormous rise in anti-Semitism in this country and around the world, I have been thinking about this issue daily. It is exceedingly difficult for me to understand the reasons why so many people throughout history and in almost every country have found it plausible and reasonable to hate Jews. What is it about our paltry number relative to the world’s population that has caused this aversion to our people? While I have read many theories about the reason for this prejudice and hatred, none is a sustaining and dominant reason.
Sure, we are a successful and generally well- educated people and supposedly God’s chosen, as well as representing “the other” in societies where Jews live; and yes, the high priests in Jerusalem were complicit in giving Pontius Pilot the go ahead to crucify Jesus. But do any of these explain history’s long and pervasive aversion to the children of Israel? We are not all so extraordinarily successful or educated and often we question if we are really a chosen people.
So, recently, I have been impressed with the argument made by some that societies have become infected with a virus, or a cancer of anti-Semitism and that virus or cancer mutates or metastasizes over time depending on what is considered virtuous in that society and then blames the Jew for being opposite of that virtue.
The first question I have for you, Mark, is this:
What do you think of this explanation for anti-Semitism?
Mark: Frank, I do believe there is really something valid in comparing Antisemitism to a chronic, incurable disease, like some elusive cancer, or mysterious virus, each with remedies to reduce the impact or extent of the illness, yet without any successful way to totally cure the patient or eradicate the infection. It does make sense that a society’s perceived virtue sets the stage for blaming the Jew for representing the very opposite of that virtue.
Frank: Right. For instance, in a society that considers religion to be the dominant virtue of its people, leaders of that society use anti-Semitism to describe the Jew as the killer of God.
Every society needs an “other” to blame the problems of that society on. For a society that is capitalistic, the Jew is labeled as a hated communist; and for a communistic society, the Jew is hated as a capitalist.
In today’s America, the virtue of our society is on the emphasis of human rights, anti-racism, and equality. So many in our country are blaming the Jews as being the exact opposite representation of these virtuous principles. Jews are said to violate human rights of Palestinians and in that way are demonstrating bigoted, racist, and apartheid behavior.
In other words, anti-Semitism acts much like a virus or cancer, continuing to evolve and adapt to new circumstances and conditions, but never totally going away.
So, Mark, here is my second question: Do you believe that a treatment for this historical hatred for Jews is remotely possible?
Mark: Well, if there is a cure, it is yet to be discovered despite two thousand years of searching for it.
Frank, you are trying to use logic for a hatred that has consistently defied rational explanation. People hate Jews for so many reasons:
The church spent centuries trying to convert us, or expel us, or torture us, or extinguish our existence.
Various governments or dictators have concluded that we are the disease which they need to eradicate from their midst by eradicating our people.
There are those on the far right who think we are trying to replace their certain way of life. And there are now those on the extreme left who view us as occupiers, colonialists, and oppressors.
So long as there have been Jews, there has been the cancer of anti-Semitism. There is no cure. All we can do is educate others and defend our rights and civil liberties.
And, now that there is a Jewish homeland, we can use the infusion of Jewish strength and power: There is a Jewish army that acts as the first responders to defend the Jewish people from further attack or impact of the virus of Jew hatred.
Frank, does this answer your question? You have been on this earth longer than me. Do you believe there is a cure to be found out there?
Frank: Thanks for reminding me that I am 20 years older than you and yes, it does satisfy my question as I also believe there is no cure for anti-Semitism. It will continue in the hearts of many throughout the lands despite all attempts throughout history to eradicate it. No vaccine of education or good will and no chemotherapy of assimilation will be effective. But for the first time in history there is an antidote. An antidote is defined as a substance taken to counteract a particular poison. The poison in this case is anti-Semitism and the substance is the State of Israel combined with two words that arose from the ashes of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, “Never again.”
Never have we had these two words of “Never again” backed up by an extremely powerful nation for Jews. This is our antidote, and it is our salvation. Antisemitism will live forever, but so will we Jews, thanks to the State of Israel and the two words which changed all that we have previously had to endure. Am Yisrael Chai!
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Rabbi Mark Schiftan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Frank Boehm can be reached at email@example.com