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Home Questions in Judaism אקטואליה יהודית WHY IS THERE ANTISEMITISM?
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Question - - 02/28/2013
Why have the Jews been persecuted more than any other ethnic group?
Answer by Arachim
In the past, people claimed that Jews were different from gentiles because they kept the Torah, which opposed their own religion in one way or another. The gentiles asserted that it was this opposition to the major religions of the world which gave rise to anti-Semitism throughout the globe.
This claim has been refuted by historical fact. With the rise of the Emancipation in Western Europe, the vast majority of Jews stopped observing the laws of the Torah. Many went so far as to intermarry, and many more endorsed intermarriage, even if they themselves married fellow Jews.
In particular, the communities of Germany abandoned Jewish practice, adopted the dress, language, and mannerisms, social practices and culture of the upper classes of German society. According to those who claimed that Torah observance was the source of anti-Jewish hatred, anti-Semitism should have all but disappeared at that time as a result. At the very least, it should have waned.
Yet history shows us that the actual facts were just the opposite. The wave of assimilation that inundated Western Europe was followed by the fiercest, most brutal and depraved wave of anti-Jewish violence that history has ever known. The more the Jew tried to quell the waves of animosity directed against him whether by assimilating into German society, by intermarrying, or by running to the baptismal font, the more fiercely he was repulsed and persecuted.
Another interesting phenomenon is the fact that, at the time of the Emancipation, the gentiles’ religious commitment was also at an ebb. There is no doubt that the background of this hatred is connected with the religious prejudices from previous centuries, as promulgated by Germany's leading historic figures, Luther in particular. Nonetheless, the fact remains that in the 19th century, religious fervor was pushed into the wings, as music, literature, and the arts took over the limelight on the social scene. Also, we find that anti-Semitic sentiments were expressed also against Jews who had completely abandoned the faith of their fathers in order to become upright citizens of the "Fatherland." Thus we again see that this animosity had little to do with rhyme or reason, religious or secular.
One positive function of the gentiles' ongoing enmity was to stem the tidal wave of assimilation which threatened to drown the Jewish population of Western Europe. When the Jews became more determined to blend in with the gentile population, fiercer opposition was needed to keep them at a distance. This is in fact what happened.
In Spain, it took place leading up to the expulsion in 1492; in Russian, in Poland, and in additional centers of Jewish population, wherever assimilationism became a threat to continued Jewish survival, anti-Semitism raised its ugly head even higher. The most outstanding example of all is Germany of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Amongst all the nations which played willing or unwilling host to the Jewish Diaspora, none witnessed such an impulsive drive to assimilation as Germany. And, in precise counterpoint, no other nation on the face of the globe developed so sophisticated or powerful a mechanism designed to identify and destroy each and every member of the Jewish people, as the Third Reich of the German Fatherland. Even families which had been baptized three generations previously were ferreted out of the "superior race" in an effort to "cleanse it" from the plague of the "Jewish parasites." More than once, upstanding German citizens who considered themselves pure Aryans were arrested and sent off to camps because the Gestapo had uncovered an antecedent, who, unknown to the victim, had been a Jewish convert.
Over the years, most Jews had taken gentile names; now the law of the Reich required them to add the name Sarah or Israel to the name on their identity cards. After decades of imitating the gentile culture around them, in an effort to erase any trace of their Jewish origin, Jews were required to wear a yellow star which would declare to one and all: "We are sons and daughters of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."
These laws, and the inhuman persecutions and genocide which followed in their wake, brought no benefit to the Fatherland. On the contrary, the country lost a major portion of its leading citizens in the fields of finance, business, science, and the arts. Many fled, and a good number of scientists eventually settled in the United States and contributed to the war effort against Germany. Countless others were demoted from their positions, persecuted, and eventually executed or died in the camps.
In retrospect, it is evident that the iron fist which has been raised against the Jewish people over the centuries has served only one positive purpose: to avoid the total self-destruction of the Jewish people through assimilation among the nations of the world. There have been individual gentiles who admired and assisted the Jews, but, as a rule, the gentile has an inborn jealousy and animosity to us. At times, Heaven keeps it under leash, and at other times, allows it free reign. It all depends on whether or not the Jew himself remains loyal to his Jewish identity, or whether he tries to assimilate, so that he needs a reminder that he is not a gentile, and never can become one.
If we ourselves are fully aware of the difference between the Jewish People and the nations, there is no need for the gentiles to remind us. Unfortunately, throughout our long history, we have often tried to live like those around us. At such times, Heaven takes steps to keep the Jewish people from assimilating altogether by "taking the dog off the leash" and allowing him to bark - and, if that doesn't help, to bite - so that we will be reminded that our true role in this world is not to be better gentiles than the gentiles, but to bring the spiritual values of Torah to the nations around us.
When a rebellious child repeatedly plays with matches or runs out into the road, his parents give him a good spanking, for his own good, in order to save his life.
So, too, does Heaven unleash the hatred of those around us when our Jewish identity is endangered. The end goal is to preserve us so that we may fulfill our national destiny to serve as a "light to the nations."
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