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


 


EXPLANATION FOR ANTI-SEMITIC ATTITUDES

Although the term anti-Semitism was not coined until 1879, the practice existed for centuries and even millennia before that. As early as in ancient Rome, the children of Abraham were persecuted and even slaughtered. Throughout history, fables accusing Jews of causing famines, plagues, et cetera were often fabricated and then endlessly repeated (Johnson). In searching for an explanation for these anti-Semitic attitudes, one must explore different possibilities. It could not be just because religious Jews wore distinguishing clothes and therefore were easy targets, or simply because they often separated themselves from non-Jews because of their differences in diet, reluctance to intermarry, and refusal to worship foreign gods or to accept new ones, such as Jesus of Nazareth, leading others to treat them as ‘strangers’.

So the question remains: Why did anti-Semitic feelings persist for such a long time and why do they still exist to this day? Often the question is posed as: What did the Jews do to deserve such a fate? or, What did they do to elicit such behavior in their persecutors? An ancillary question is: For how long would the Jews of every historical period be castigated for the killing of Christ by Romans, even with the concurrence of some ancient Hebrews, an event that occurred millennia ago? Putting the question in this way implies that somehow the Jews were the ones who were at fault for the sufferings they were made to endure, in effect, blaming the victim. The question might more appropriately be asked: What is it about the character or upbringing of the individuals who engaged in these bigoted acts that makes them so intolerant? Did the tormentors receive teaching or indoctrination that encouraged them to behave for centuries and centuries in such an abominable fashion?

The means by which intolerance towards Jews is perpetuated is manifold. One means is through the repetition of stories, taught informally in the home or community and handed down from generation to generation as a part of the group’s culture. This supposition finds support both from anecdotal evidence as well as from carefully researched studies.

A couple of personal anecdotes may be cited to help the reader understand one of the reasons why this writer entertains the view that anti-Jewish teachings in the home initiate and maintain bigotry.

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