JEWISH-AMERICAN HALL OF FAME • JEWISH MUSEUM IN CYBERSPACE
ANTI-SEMITIC BIGOTRY AS CHRONICLED BY HISTORICAL MEDALS

Benjamin Weiss Ph.D.


 
BIGOT: A person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance. Merriam Webster.com 2013

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

While prejudice exists towards many religious and ethnic groups, over the ages bigoted acts against the Jews have been among the most prevalent, severe and unrelenting. This intolerance has manifested itself from the relatively inconsequential, such as slurs, insults and distribution of anti-Semitic paraphernalia (Eisler, 2014), to the devastating, including confiscation of property, expulsion from countries, and mass slaughter.

Volumes have been written about anti-Semitism and its effects, but the question still remains as to the root causes of anti-Semitic attitudes: Why have they existed for centuries, and how have they been passed on from generation to generation? This article will attempt to examine this issue using historical medals as a backdrop and primary source of information.

Although the word anti-Semitism did not exist prior to the race theory of the 19th century, the sordid history of anti-Semitic acts and of using Jews as scapegoats goes back hundreds of years and has taken many forms: religious, economic, social, racist, ideological and cultural. As many of the populace were illiterate at the time, various art forms, such as paintings, drawings and in some cases medals were often used to spread these calumnies.

Among the more common types of slanders against the Jewish community throughout the ages were the false accusations that they caused wide-spread diseases and other natural or man-made disasters. An example of one such charge is that Jews were responsible for the Black Death, which killed as many as 200 million people in Europe during the fourteenth century, and for which Jews were blamed and many burned alive (figure 1). These and a multitude of other false accusations of Jews have resulted in oppression and abuse of the Jewish community almost beyond belief.

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