Why the World Hates the Jews; and What We Can Do

By Rabbi Michael Barclay

When Japan attacked the United States in 1941, it was a declaration of war and was treated as such. It was not described as “hostilities”; nor has that term been used to describe any act of war throughout history with the exception of the current attacks on Israel, which most recently included over 600 rockets fired at civilians from Gaza. There have been more resolutions from the United Nations against Israel than all other countries combined.  Blatantly anti-Semitic politicians condemn both Israel and Jews, and other politicians give their tacit approval of this anti-Semitism and say nothing to condemn it.  Although large tragedies like Pittsburgh and Poway receive publicity for a few days, anti-Semitic actions of violence happen both nationally and around the world on a daily basis and are ignored by the media. It seems as if even in the 21st century the words of Mark Twain 150 years ago remain true: “All the world hates the Jew”.

But why is this true, especially when Jesus himself was born, lived, and died a Jew?  How can this prejudice be so deep that it still controls behavior in a time when prejudices against women and all other minorities are being curtailed?  How did anti-Semitism morph into a mainstream acceptance of anti-Israel propaganda?

When gardening, a small weed may have deep and expansive roots. To truly eradicate the weed we must expose the roots and not just pull out the weed. Similarly, if we have any hope of eradicating anti-Semitism in our time, we must see how deeply these roots of prejudice go.  And many of the roots of this bigotry extend back millenia.

We know that Jesus was a Jew, and that after his death the Jewish establishment of the time rejected and even persecuted early Christians.  This leads to parts of the synoptic Gospels being written in response to this persecution as an anti-Jewish polemic (all four of the Gospels are anonymously written years later not by eyewitnesses to Jesus, but by early Christians who experienced persecutions), culminating in the “blood curse” of Matthew 27:24 that blames the ancient Jews for allowing the killing of Jesus. St. John of Chrysostom, the Archbishop of Constantinople (349-407) extends this to the concept of “deicide”, of “killing God” and makes it a cornerstone of his theology.  Although it has nothing to do with actual history, or even the theology of the Christian Scriptures, this 4th century myth of Jews being guilty of deicide is perpetuated through the ignorant masses for almost two thousand years.

In 1144 in Norwich, England, a boy named William is found stabbed to death. The local Benedictine monk Thomas of Monmouth, claimed that an international Council of Jews choose a child to be killed during Easter, and that the blood is used to make matzo for Passover. Not only is this a disgusting idea, but ritual murder, as well as the consumption of blood are strictly forbidden in the Torah (Leviticus 3, 7, 17 among others…this is why kosher meat is so salty: it must be soaked in salt to remove any trace of blood).  But objective truth did not make a difference 1000 years ago, as the Jews were “outsiders”:  immigrants from far away with different habits and customs who were easy scapegoats.  In 1255, this blood libel becomes accepted when the government as Henry III arrests and executes 90 Jews for “ritual murder”. 

Hebrew is a language that does not use vowels in the Torah scroll, only consonants. The context of the sentence allows us to understand what is actually being said. In Exodus 34:29 it says, “And it came to pass, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of testimony in Moses’s hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses knew not that the skin of his face shone with rays of light.”  In Hebrew, “U’Moshe lo yada ki karan ohr panav”.  “Karan” means shone or radiated, but the similar hebrew word keren means “horn” (both words share the root letters of KRN).  Although given the context it clearly means “radiated”, St. Jerome of the 4th century translates the phrase in the Vulgate (latin translation of the bible) as “horn” ( we know this is a conscious choice as he translates the word correctly in his commentary on the Book of Amos written a few years later).  From this mistranslation comes the concept that Jews have horns, perpetuated by Michelangelo’s famous statue of Moses found in the Church of San Pietro.

This anti-Semitic mistranslation becomes the official Latin translation of the Bible at the Council of Trent in the 16th century and remains accepted as the official Bible by the Roman Catholic Church until 1979.

So for close to two thousand years it becomes ingrained in the European consciousness of non-Jews that the Jewish people killed God, drink blood, and have horns. 

As if that were not enough, anti-Semitism is perpetuated throughout Europe in part because of the values of Jewish parents wanting to educate their children. It has always been a classic goal of Jewish parents that their children should be better educated than themselves, and our children become knowledgeable not only in information, but in the process of critical thinking and logic. By studying the debates in the Talmud, Jews from a young age learn how to think critically and logically. Since they could not be landowners in Europe, these skills prepare them for the professions involving commerce.  They served as accountants to many of the noble families of Europe, whose own children were uneducated in mathematics. This led them to be hated by the serfs, from whom they collected money for the noble: and to simultaneously be hated by the nobles out of a fear that the Jew was in some way cheating them. On top of all of the theological myths, they became hated by both sides of the economic scale, and a stereotype of the “money-grabbing Jew” (enhanced by the ancient imagery of Judas selling out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver) became common. This horrific depiction was personified by one of Shakespeare’s most famous characters, Shylock, in The Merchant of Venice. 

For the European, it has been ingrained for 2,000 years that Jews killed God, drink blood, have horns, and are greedy money changers. It is no wonder that this is such a deep part of the subconscious of the European non-Jew that even educated and enlightened people are unaware of their own inherent anti-Semitic biases that are based on horrific myths that have been perpetuated for so many centuries. Often, they are unaware of anti-Semitic behavior not out of hatred, but out of ignorance how their own subconscious biases affect their perception. A perfect example of this is an elementary school principal in Westlake Village saying, “ I’ve lived here all my life, and there is no anti-Semitism in The Conejo Valley” (this was said a mere few months after the painting of swastikas at a local school, desecration of a synagogue, and a sign posted outside of our own temple’s Rosh Hashana services that said “Gas the Jews”). The bias is so ingrained that it is unconscious.

With the perpetration of Holocaust, and the discovery of the horrors of the Nazis, it became very difficult for any sane person to publicly express anti-Semitic views. There was such a level of collective guilt over the Holocaust that the anti-Semitic bias of two thousand years was briefly held in check. But attitudes that are ingrained so deeply in the subconscious are not so easily removed.

The bigotry of anti-Semitism could not be publicly expressed immediately after World War II. But it quickly found a different form of expression as “anti-Israel”.  Consider the following:

  • Israel has never started a war in the Middle East
  • Upon its establishment in 1948, Israel is attacked by Egypt, Syria, trans Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Yemen
  • 14 conflicts are initiated by the Arabs between 1951 and 1956
  • Jordan and Syria attack in 1956 in the Sinai War
  • Egypt, Syria, and Jordan attack Israel in 1967
  • In the War of Attrition between 1967 and 1970 Israel is attacked by Egypt, Syria, Jordan, PLO, and USSR
  • In 1973 Israel was attacked on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, by Egypt, Syria, Jordan, PLO, and Lebanon
  • In the 1982 Lebanon war Israel is attacked by the PLO, Muslim Lebanon, and Syria. Israel responds to guerilla attacks by going into Lebanon, and then after winning, backs away to let the Lebanese handle their own internal politics
  • In the first intifada of 1987 to 1993 Israel is constantly attacked by Hezbollah through Lebanon and Syria
  • In the second intifada of 2002-2005 Israel is attacked by Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorists through Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan
  • Israel was attacked by Hezbollah in 2006
  • In 2008 Israel was attacked by Hamas in the Gaza War
  • In 2014 Israel is attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah, Israeli teenagers are kidnapped, terror tunnels are built to kill Israeli non-military civilians
  • Hamas, which is not the elected representatives of any particular Arab nation, has continually sponsored attacks against Israel. As recently as May of 2019 over 600 Rockets have been launched from Gaza on to Israeli civilians

There is no historical nation of Palestine. Rather it was a protectorate and the people who currently call themselves Palestinians are in actuality Jordanian refugees who were not integrated into their own nation of Jordan after Jordan attacked and lost multiple wars.

All of these facts about the situation in the Middle East are incontrovertible. The Arabs, who outnumber the Israelis over 20 to 1, have initiated every conflict in the Middle East. As Golda Meir once famously said, “If the Arabs put down their weapons today, we would have peace tomorrow. If Israel put down its weapons today, there would be no Israel tomorrow”.

But the anti-Semitic bias of the European non-Jew based upon two thousand years needed a way to be expressed.  And so that bias against Jews became a bias against Israel. The anti-Semitic subconscious quickly embraced the Arab propaganda of Israel as a bully, etc.  When Israel retaliated against hundreds of rockets fired against them, they were called persecutors and the Arabs firing those rockets were viewed as heroes in the media.  The brief respite of anti-Semitism found in the 20 years after the Holocaust was supplanted with a hatred for Israel.  The anti-Semitism was still there, but Jews could be attacked now through this anti-Israel rhetoric as opposed to the obvious anti-Semitism of the last centuries that included horns, drinking blood, etc.  Arab attacks of war are called “hostilities”; the United Nations makes repeated resolutions condemning Israel; and politicians like Omar, Tlaib, and Ocasio-Cortez have become so bold in their anti-Semitism that they are now not only condemning Israel, but repeating the anti-Semitic trope of hatred against Jews that has been recited for centuries.

For all these reasons, the sad statement of Mark Twain is still true, and much of the world continues to hate us. It is a hatred based on 2000 years of horrific myths culminating in the Holocaust of the last century, perpetuated through anti-Israel policies and speech today; and manifested through incidents like the horrible shootings in both Pittsburgh and Poway.

But as Jews we believe there is a way to fight this Darkness.  We must always fight evil by shining light and remembering that we are to be a “light unto the Nations”.

The first step in shining that light is to reveal the roots of the weed of anti-Semitism. All of us, Jew and non-Jew alike must be knowledgeable in the depths of the roots historically and theologically of anti-Semitism. We must be aware how the BDS and anti-Israel groups are merely the most recent manifestation of this ancient anti-Semitic bigotry.  And we must point out to people how their anti-Semitism is the result of two thousand years of influence.

If you are a Jew, the greatest way to bring that light is to involve yourself in a Jewish community on a regular basis. The combined light of two candles is greater than the sum of its parts, and every Jew must be involved in some way in Jewish communities. There is a difference between a “community of Jews” which may be more influenced by the non-Jewish anti-Semitic attitudes that are prevalent throughout academia and media; and Jewish communities that are committed Jewish values, ethics, and survival.

If you are a Gentile, then I implore you to become one of the “righteous Gentiles” that will save the world.  Realize how many anti-Semitic attitudes are based in ancient and ugly myths, share that knowledge with your brothers and sisters, and make a conscious choice to respect our choice to be Jews. If God accepts how we all pray, then why can we not accept each other? Moreover, as I have said to many of my Christian friends, I believe that when the Messiah comes, the Jews will say “welcome” the Christians will say “welcome back”, and we will all accept him and a time of peace…where the vision of the prophets shall come true that all nations shall go together to the Mountain of the Lord.

Let us all shine a light upon the roots of this weed of anti-Semitism by not accepting it from others, from our politicians, and from within ourselves.  The roots are deep, but the light of each of our souls combined can be stronger than any Darkness.

Rabbi Barclay is the Spiritual Leader of Temple Ner Simcha (nersimcha.org) and the author of “Sacred Relationships:  Biblical Wisdom for Deepening Our Lives Together” (Liturgical Press).  He can be reached directly at RabbiBarclay@aol.com.