The Jewish self-conception and
enforcement of collective categorical innocence through history;
Jewish martyrology mythology; Jewish legend versus historical fact;
Cecil Roth's pre-Holocaust assessment of the collective Jewish
innocence tradition; the post-Holocaust age of Jewish apologetics;
political use of the Jewish "cult of the persecuted" for modern
The Talmud as an ethnocentric, a
historical compilation; traditional Jewish disinterest in non-Jewish
history; Jewish celebration of its continuously proclaimed
historical martyrdom; secular Jewish historical revisionism to fit
religious "chosen sufferer" models; Jewry's categorical and militant
insistence upon its historical innocence; Jewish conviction that all
non-Jews hate Jews; effects of the "persecution tradition" upon the
psychology of Jewish children; Jewish insistence upon the
martyrological role, even while functioning as economic oppressors.
THE JEWISH COSMOLOGY OF VICTIMHOOD
"I have frequently had hotheaded romantics
assume that our family fled Russia to escape persecution. They seem to
think that the only way we got out was by jumping from ice flow to ice
floe across the Dnieper River, with bloodhoods and the entire Red Army
in hot pursuit. No such thing. We were not persecuted and we left in a
quite legal manner with no more trouble than one would expect from any
bureaucracy, including our own. If that's disappointing, so be it."
I. Asimov. A Memoir. 1994, p. 19
Ask any non-Jewish American what his or her
personal link is to the Roman era, the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, and other
epics of human history and he will tell you: nothing.
He knows nothing about it. And he doesn't care.
For such a late twentieth century American to reflect on his own roots back
to, say, medievalism, is to look with the naked eye for Mars: it is a vague
dot, reputed by others to exist, in the remotest distance. Indistinct.
Unfathomable. Something eternally elusive, lost forever.
Few Americans can trace their family history more than a few generations, if
that. Throughout anyone's own ancestral lineage, however, going back deeply
into time, there obviously exists their own share of participants - as both
perpetrators and victims - in great and minor wars, massacres, invasions,
famines, epidemics, and other disasters of every kind.
Presuming five procreative generations per
century, exponentially, any human being alive today can theoretically claim
direct genetic lineage to over a thousand ancestors back to 1800, over
37,000 people to 1700, over a million back to the year 1600, and over a
staggering billion human beings back to 1400 (thirty generations).
Whatever the mathematically realistic number,
(and Jewish history claims 4,000 years) the deeper we go back into history,
the more we must consider the veritable Milky Way of humanity that preceded
us in direct ancestral lineage; people of every imaginable sort, and they
all knew well the melancholic chords of human suffering, sometimes subtly,
sometimes brutally. Every single one of them.
Today's Americans of French, British, Italian or other European descent find
themselves today lumped together in the generic "white" American community.
Their respective ancestries are stirred together, gone.
Their European origins mean little to them; they
are homogenized in the New World, their identities now expressed - for
better or worse - in the icons of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Billy
the Kid, Babe Ruth, the hallowed Constitution, even McDonald's hamburgers,
or other superficial national icons that ancestrally have nothing directly
to do with them.
The typical American's alienation, disinterest, and lack of connection to
distant history is not characteristic of modern Jews. On the contrary. A
stone thrown in spite through a Jewish window in Italy in the fourteenth
century is a stone thrown into Jewish hearts today. The actions against Jews
by desperate thugs in Poland in the eighteenth century are dumped on Gentile
doorsteps in our time by Jews who are still grieving, still embittered,
still seeking redress.
And when we turn, in more recent history, to the
bestial deeds of Adolf Hitler to conquer the world, we find that Jews have
pulled tightly in a circle to proclaim that everything sinister in the whole
world malevolently labors against them, and them only.
Ultimately, it is a central article of modern Jewish faith - reflecting both
secular and religious attitudes, formed and hardened over the ages - that to
be Jewish is to be always maltreated for innocence by others. Or, perhaps
more correctly to Jewish eyes, as part of this innocence, being Jewish is to
be a victim for the crime of being superior to their persecutors.
This claim to superiority was originally
religiously based, as God's "Chosen People" of Old Testament
tradition. And this Jewish preoccupation - as being victims of their
self-presumed superiority - has been passed down, religiously, over the ages
(traditionally epitomized in Jewish pilgrimage to Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
to bemoan their communal fate, manifest also in the likes of the volume
Sefer Yosippon, anonymously compiled in the
tenth century as a litany of Jewish complaints and miseries).
In the aftermath of Hitler's atrocities against
Jews during World War II, this world-view has come to define, more tightly
than any other aspect of Jewish tradition - and now highly politicized -
modern Jewish self-identity.
But is this true?
From the evidence we have already seen,
are Jews correctly depicted as history's consummate, incomparable,
and innocent victims?
Have Jews pre-eminently and collectively
suffered more than all other human beings, "victims of centuries of
persecution and bigotry?"
[UROFSKY, M., 1978, p. 378]
And for no reason?
Here's a typical view of the Eastern European
Jewish past, by Judith Arcana, who discusses the roots of Jewish
American poet Grace Paley's family to the Jews of Russia:
"One of Isaac's brothers, Russya, was killed
in a workers demonstration in 1905... In the wake of that death,
probably spurred by the retaliatory
wave of pogroms, the family decided to leave Russia. Knowing the
unpredictability of royal whim, Natasha Gutseit, Isaac's widowed mother,
sent the young couple to America before the czar could change his mind
and snatch them back again."
[ARCANA, J., 1993, p. 10]
Here Arcana, who omits the relevance of Jewish
socialist agitation in Russia as a factor in their "persecution" [elsewhere
she notes that even both Paley's parents were socialists, enemies of the
Tsarist regime - p. 9], speculates that the Russian czar would have interest
in "snatching" Jews back to Russia.
In the American context,
"one commonly finds a sentence like this in
many [Jewish] books or articles," says Joshua Rothenberg, "... 'Jews
came to the shores of this country from the ghettos of the shtetlekh
[Eastern European Jewish villages] as a result of the pogroms.' Each
phrase in this sentence is untrue or oversimplified to the point of
There were no ghettos in 19th century
Eastern Europe (except in the metaphysical sense)... And the pogroms
were not the principal reason for emigration: proportionately more Jews
came to the United States from Austrian-ruled Galicia - where there were
no pogroms - than from Tsarist Russia."
[ROTHENBERG, p. 3]
"It has been discovered," says Henry
Feingold, "that religious persecution, even its physical manifestations
of pogroms, rarely furnishes sufficient impetus for Jews to uproot
themselves. Moreover, it cannot account for the thousands of Jews who
chose to leave areas relatively free of religious persecution...
[FEINGOLD, p. 60]
Historians have taken a closer look at the
early acculturation process and have discovered that the highly touted
ability of the Jewish family to withstand the stresses of
transplantation have been overstated. New studies on Jewish vice and
crime and criminality and the discovery of a relatively high divorce and
desertion rate among immigrant Jews present a picture of a community
paying a dear price for establishing itself."
[FEINGOLD, p. 61]
"The lachrymorose recollection of the
shtetl, which are still with us,"
says Daniel Bell, "fail to recall its narrowness of mind, its cruelty,
especially to schoolchildren (to whom a whole series of memoirs, such as
Solomon Ben Maimon's, testify), and its invidious stratification."
[BELL, Reflections, p. 318]
Little remembered is this oppression of Jews by
"Prior to World War I," adds Rothenburg,
"the Kehilah [Jewish governing bodies] were ruled, in most cases, by an
oligarchy of the rich and the [Jewish] clergy. Their excesses,
especially in the area of indirect taxation (kosher meat, etc.) and the
silencing of the protesting voices of the poor, are well-known and
documented. The Kehilahs remained a source of bitter complaint for the
majority of the Jewish population, which had no say in the conduct of
their own community affairs."
[ROTHENBURG, p. 5]
American Jews today hold dear many nostalgic
"Fiddler on the Roof"-type myths about their Eastern European ancestors.
As, however, Jewish author Ivan Kalmar
"A stalwart Jewish peasant, with a native
wit and a naive religiosity, ever sturdy in the face of unending
adversity, he is the epitome of Jewish nostalgia... The Fiddler is so
much part of the way we think of our Jewish background... The Fiddler
image has some basis in reality, but it is also very much part of a
nostalgic reconstruction of our past, an example of what anthropologists
call 'invention of tradition'...
Jewish authors [like Sholem Aleichem,
creator of Fiddler on the Roof] tried to create stereotypes of the Jews
that would identity them with less wealthy groups who were looked at
more favourably by the greater society. Sholom Aleichem's Tevye [hero of
Fiddler on the Roof] is very much a Ukrainian peasant.
To counter the idea of the Jew as a
'parasite,' Sholom Aleichem presents Tevye as a dairy farmer, who sells
not the Gentile peasant's products but his own. North American Jews have
enthusiastically accepted the validity of Sholom Aleichem's Tevye as a
metaphor for the Eastern European Jew of old...
Where finally Tevye finally shows unique
character, he turns out to be a modern Jew. Where he is being a
'typical,' folksy, traditional East European Jew, he resembles the
romanticized Ukrainian peasant... Of course, there were in reality
Jewish peasants like Tevye, but compared to the Slavs, the percentage of
Jews who farmed was miniscule."
[KALMER, I., quoted by PRYTULAK,
L., UKRAINIAN ARCHIVES]
"Having... turned their backs on Poland," notes Jewish scholar Victor
Seidler about modern Jewish perceptions of Eastern European heritage,
"it can be difficult for the second generation [of Jews in America] to
recognize just how Polish their parents were. Things we learned to think
of as 'Jewish' turn out to be Polish."
[SEIDLER, V.J., 2000, p. 74]
"Indeed," notes George Mosse, "when the
first German-Jewish painter, Mortiz Oppenheim, painted scenes from the
ghetto shortly after emancipation, it was transformed, as we have seen,
into a community permeated with German middle-class values."
[MOSSE, G., 1985, p. 80]
Jewish author Howard Jacobson notes
Jewish historic myth-making at an exhibition of photographs of Eastern
European Jews at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles.
Particularly troubling to him was the depiction
of the stereotypically "studious Jew":
"Something is wrong with this exhibition.
Something is wrong with the way we modern Jews idealize a past we
wouldn't touch with a barge-pole if it were offered us again... Why is
Jewish study always made to look so soulful in these sorts of
photographs, so unrelieved, so unvarious, so fucking miserable and
desolating? What is it about Jewish books that make absorption in them
such an invariably heart-rendering business?
What a sell! How have the Jews done it, how
have we persuaded ourselves, but gentiles as well, that anguish and
lamentation and self-abnegation and bodilessness and pathos attach
inalterably and exclusively to our studies? You don't see [St. Thomas]
Aquinas looking into a book like that."
[JACOBSON, H., 1995, p. 192-193]
The distinguished Jewish historian, Salo
Baron, of Columbia University, whose twelve-volume Social and Religious
History of the Jews is the most extensive Jewish history by a single author
in existence, argued a view that, post-Holocaust, has been swept to the
wayside by modern Jewish discourse.
His view was that Jewish suffering in the
European Middle Ages, and throughout history, has been exaggerated. That is,
that the Jews of Europe, as a group, in comparison to their Christian
neighbors, actually had a better life in the Middle Ages, to the 20th
century. For all the claims of massacres and pogroms, according to surviving
documents, the Jewish population actually grew more rapidly than the
Gentiles around them. [LIBERLES, p.
This accelerated in later centuries.
"The two and a half centuries from 1660 to
1914," says Baron, "the Jewish population grew numerically some fifteen
times... while mankind at-large increased by only 250 per cent, Europe
by 350 per cent..."
[BARON, H and J.H., p. 50]
This thesis, addressing later years, is
supported by a non-Jewish scholar of the Ukraine, Orest Subtleny:
"Throughout the nineteenth century,
especially in its latter part, the Jews experienced a tremendous
population rise. Between 1820 and 1880, while the general population of
the [Russian] empire rose by 87%, the number of Jews increased by 150%.
On the Right Bank, this rise was even more dramatic: between 1844 and
1913 the number of its inhabitants rose by 265% while the Jewish
population increased by 844%! Religious sanctions of large families,
less exposure to famines, war, and epidemics, and a low mortality rate
because of communal self-help and the availability of doctors largely
accounted for this extraordinary increase."
[SUBTLENY, p. 276]
Salo Baron argued that his people, the Jews,
were so privileged, relative to non-Jews throughout the European Middle
Ages, that with the coming of the Enlightenment era "emancipation" and
"equality" amounted to "a net loss [to Jews] in status and lifestyle."
[SCHORSCH, p. 383]
Elsewhere, he wrote that,
"it is likely... that even the average
medieval Jew, compared to his average Christian contemporary... was the
less unhappy and destitute creature - less unhappy and destitute not
only by his own consciousness, but even if measured by such objective
criteria as standards of living, cultural amenities, and protection
against individual starvation and disease."
[LINDEMANN, Esau's, p. 11]
"Throughout the Middle Ages," notes David Biale, "the Jews enjoyed
considerable influence in many of the lands in which they lived... In
addition to their interest Court politics, these Jews participated in
political life in defense of Jewish interests."
[BIALE, POWER p. 69]
"The situation of the Jews in the first half
of the Middle Ages," says Abram Leon, "was... extremely favorable. The
Jews were considered as being a part of the upper classes in society and
their juridicial position was not perceptibly different from that of the
[LEON, p. 128]
"At least some of the Jewish dress of the
Middle Ages," adds Biale, "such as the Jewish hat, originated out of
choice rather than compulsion... The yellow patch [worn by Jews]... was
not originally intended as an instrument for segregating and humiliating
the Jews... but to proclaim publicly that its wearer enjoyed official
[BIALE, POWER, p. 67]
One of the privileges Jews enjoyed throughout
Europe until relatively modern history was that they didn't have to serve in
the local military organizations.
"During the continuous wars of the
sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries," wrote Baron, "... the
Jews were neutral and suffered few losses. If they had been combatants
they might have lost more than in all the pogroms."
[LIBERLES, p. 42]
Yet Medieval Jews were allowed the extremely
significant privilege of carrying weapons, a privilege equal to knights and
one to which all commoners (the overwhelming majority of the population)
were forbidden. [GOLDBERG, p. 123]
Baron also noted that, while there were
certainly Jews who suffered poverty, the surrounding Christian population
was worse off.
And if the Jewish ghettos were, as widely
claimed, abject holes of enforced degradation,
"is it not remarkable that the most typical
Ghetto in the world, the Frankfurt Judengasse, produced in the
pre-Emancipation period the greatest banking house in history?"
[LIBERLES p. 45]
"The Jews," says Israel Shahak, "in spite of all the persecution to
which they were subjected, formed an integral part of the privileged
classes... Jewish historiography, especially in English, is misleading
on this point inasmuch as it tends to focus on Jewish poverty and
anti-Jewish discrimination... The poorest Jewish craftsman, peddlar,
landlord's steward, or petty cleric was immeasurably better off than a
serf [most of the non-Jewish population].
This was especially true in those European
countries where serfdom persisted until the nineteenth century, whether
in a partial or extreme form: Prussia, Austria (including Hungary),
Poland, and the Polan lands taken by Russia. And it is not without
significance that, prior to the beginning of the great Jewish migration
of modern times (around 1889), a large majority of all Jews were living
in those areas and that their most important social function there was
to mediate the oppression of peasants on behalf of the nobility and the
[SHAHAK, p. 52-53]
Jews in Eastern Europe understood the people
around them as, categorically, persecutors.
And "the Jews saw their persecutors as an
inferior race," noted World Zionist Organization President Nahum
"Most of my [physician] grandfather's
patients [in Lithuania] were peasants. Every Jew felt ten or a hundred
times the superior of these lowly tillers of the soil; he was cultured,
learned Hebrew, knew the Bible, studied the Talmud - in other words he
knew that he stood head and shoulders above these illiterates."
[GOLDMANN, 1978, p. 13]
"It would never have occurred to us," said one Jewish immigrant to the
United States, "that the Gentile world [in Eastern Europe] was
happier... On the contrary, we considered our world happier and finer."
"We thought they were unfortunate," says
another, "We were above them, this was the feeling [towards peasants]."
[MORAWSKA, p. 17]
In the face of the commonly cherished belief
among modern Jews that their brethren of Eastern Europe were terribly and
uniformly impoverished, it is a fact that Jews were doing so well (relative
to the non-Jews around them) that non-Jewish servants in Jewish households
Apart from racist folk tales, Zborowski and Herzog note that most Jewish
children in Eastern Europe learned fragments of the surrounding non-Jewish
culture via the Gentile servants in their homes.
"These impressions [of non-Jewish life],"
the scholars write, "[were] available not only to the children of the
rich, for [Jewish] women of modest circumstances who worked in a store
or at the market often had the help of a [non-Jewish] peasant girl in
[ZBOROWSKI, p. 155]
"[Jewish life] was certainly better than the
life of the Russian peasant," remarks Howard Sachar.
[SACHAR, p. 215]
"We were luckier than most of our fellow-Jews in being able to afford
'servants,' if that is the real name for them," declares Chaim Weizmann,
an immigrant from the "Pale" of Russia, an agitator for how bad Jews had
it in his place of birth, and the first president of modern Israel,
"... [My second servant] who outlived the
first and was with us for something like thirty-five years, was a
lovable peasant by the name of Yakim... He had learned to sing, after a
fashion, the Jewish national anthem, Hatikvah; and in moments of
enthusiasm would cry out: 'Come, little ones, let us sing Tikvah!'"
[WEIZMAN, C., 1949, p. 22]
Elsewhere, Weizman adds:
"The teachers and governing authorities of
the schools within the Pale [an area of Russia] were typical Russian
officials, and as such, not free from corruption. So the rich Jew would
use his gold to pave the way for his boy to enter the school... There
were occasions when a rich Jew would hire ten non-Jewish candidates (at
times rather oddly selected) to sit for the entrance examination at the
local school, and thus make room for one Jewish pupil - needless to say
his own son or a protégé."
[WEIZMAN, C., 1949, p. 31]
"Even when the Jewish common people were known to be desperately poor,"
adds Albert Lindemann, "as in Austrian Galicia or parts of the Jewish
Pale of Settlement in tsarist Russia, their overall per capita wealth
still seems to have been greater than that of non-Jews, mostly peasants,
among whom they lived."
[LINDEMANN, Esau's, p. 21]
"On the whole," says sociologist Stephen
Steinberg, "Eastern European Jews [prior to immigration to America in
the late nineteenth century] were unquestionably poor, though decidedly
better off than the surrounding peasant population."
[STEINBERG, p. 97]
What, one wonders, is to be read between this
relativity of being "poor?" How poor could Jews have really been if they
were "decidedly better off" than the non-Jewish peasants (who were most of
the Eastern European population), even hiring Polish servants for their
Another part of Jewish popular mythology is that the Jews were forced
against their will into ghettos in Europe. The widely-believed accusation
that Jews were forcibly segregated, particularly into ghettos, is a
distortion of historical fact. In the Middle Ages most Christian towns
themselves had walls, gates, and locks for protection from outsiders.
The enclosed Jewish ghetto was, in origin, a
Jewish construction, conceived for both protection and
self-segregation from the taint of non-Jewish ways.
"In the thirteenth century," writes Max
Weinrich, "segregated living quarters for Jews were made compulsory. The
fact of the matter is that separate Jewish streets had existed all
along... If the Jews lived together long before segregated living
quarters were imposed upon them, then their segregation must have been
voluntary. It was.
Living apart, no matter how bizarre it may
appear in the light of present day concepts and attitudes, was part of
the 'privileges' accorded to the Jews in conforming with their own
[WEINRICH, p. 105]
As president Nachum Goldmann of the
World Zionist Organization notes:
"It is wrong to say that the goyim forced
the Jews to separate themselves themselves from other societies. When
the Christians defined the ghetto limits, Jews lived there already."
[GOLDMANN, N., 1978, p. 66]
For centuries Jews isolated themselves from
their surrounding non-Jewish neighbors except, of course, for the
necessities of commerce.
"Had the Jews not possessed a deep-rooted
conviction of the truth of their religion," says Jacob Katz, "and had
they not actively sought to maintain their separate identity, the
tendencies inherent in medieval conditions would inevitably have ended
by breaking down the social barrier erected by Jewish ritual."
[KATZ, Ex, p. 40]
"In Orthodox Judaism," wrote anthropologist
Maurice Fishberg in 1911, "a Jew must not eat at the same table with a
Gentile, nor any food prepared by the latter; must not eat or drink from
dishes, with spoons, forks, knives, etc. which have been used by a
Gentile; must not drink wine with the container of which has been
touched by a Christian, Mohammadan, or heathen... I know Jews to feel
nauseated and even vomit when told that the food they have consumed was
not kosher.... It was the intense tribal spirit engendered by his
religion which kept the Jew from intimate contact with the Gentiles,
more than the laws promulgated by Christian states for the purpose."
[FISHBERG, p. 536]
"We [Jews] formed the ghetto ourselves," wrote the Zionist leader
Vladamir Zabotinsky, "...voluntarily, for the same reason for which
Europeans in Shanghai established their separate quarter, to be able to
live their own way."
[KORBANSKI, p. 8]
"The Ghetto was rather a privilege than a
disability," notes J. O. Hertzler, "and sometimes was claimed by the
Jews as a right when its demolition was threatened."
[HERTZLER, p. 73]
Boas Evron cites the work of fellow
Israeli scholar, Yehezkel Kaufmann, in noting that,
"the popular assumption that external
anti-Jewish pressures forced group identify and exclusivity on the Jews
is unconvincing, since historical evidence shows that Jewish exclusivity
and aloofness preceded outside hostility and were thus its cause, not
its result... Jewish communities were always borne by host societies...
They never shared in political, military, administrative, or
[EVRON, p. 53]
In articles in 1928 and 1932, Cecil Roth,
one of the foremost Jewish scholars of his day, set out to debunk the Jewish
myths of incessant persecution by non-Jews through the ages.
"In the first place," wrote Roth, "....the
Jew has always tended to regard as a martyr all persons who died at
Gentile hands... even if he died in a drunken brawl... All those [Jews]
who met a violent end, no matter under what circumstances, were included
under the head of martyrs in the Jewish popular consciousness and
[ROTH, Most, p. 136-137]
This martyr tradition and schema has even
been outrageously used, quite the same, with the identical religious base,
in Orthodox Jewish messianic political quarters in our own day.
Baruch Goldberg, the American-born
Orthodox Israeli doctor who murdered 29 Arabs with an automatic weapon this
decade as they prayed in a Hebron mosque, and who was subsequently beaten to
death, was proclaimed by some Jews to be
kadosh. (This word is commonly translated
as meaning "holy;" it also has connotations meaning "separate" or "apart.")
"A Jew who is killed because he is a Jew,"
wrote Dov Leor (a rabbi for the messianic Gush Emunim organization)
about Goldberg's violent death, "must certainly be called... a holy
martyr... without investigating their previous conduct."
[LEOR, p. 61]
"Baruch Goldstein was the greatest Jew
alive," declared a Jerusalem teacher, Samuel Hacohen, "not in one way,
but in every way... There are no innocent Arabs here, and thank God that
one Jewish hero reminded us that it had become almost legal to kill Jews
in the street. He is the only one who could do it, the only one who was
100 percent perfect. He was no crazy... Killing isn't nice, but
sometimes it is very necessary."
Rabbi Yaacov Perin also announced at
Goldberg's funeral that "One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish
[BROWNFELD, A., 3-99, p. 85]
A 1908 pamphlet, notes Cecil Roth, was
widely circulated in the Jewish community under the title, Jews Hanged or
Burned Alive in Rome.... Because They Refused to Change Their Faith.
Of the hanged Jews listed, all but one were in
fact executed for specific crimes, a harshness rendered no differently to
any other people of past eras.
"This instance," says Roth, "... is
symptomatic of the attitude which Jewish historiography has consistently
adopted. Any popular attack or any governmental persecution in which
Jews were victims is set down outright as an expression of anti-Semitic
In another example, in 1278, on charges of money
clipping [skimming gold or silver content from coinage], 267 Jews were
hanged in London.
This punishment was not merited out to Jews as
Jews, but to those who were disproportiontely "in possession of the greater
amount of ready money."
Those who accumulated money in the Jewish
money-lending and usury era happened to be overwhelmingly Jews, but also
included a lesser number of Christian goldsmiths and such who were similarly
arrested and executed.
"What seems at first blush," says Roth, "[to
be] an act of sheer persecution appears in a closer examination one of
primitively sharp justice."
[ROTH, p. 137]
In the early years of Christianity, in
Alexandria (of today's Egypt), attacks upon Jews rendered in Jewish
historical consciousness as acts of anti-Semitism were really what Roth says
today would be called "an interracial riot."
[ROTH, p. 138]
Roth underscored the precarious existence of all peoples' lives in the
"The modern reader frequently fails to
realize that, generally speaking, life in the Middle Ages was not
secure. For every section of the population the probabilities of meeting
a violent death were high, even in times of comparative peace. Country
people were continually subject to the onslaught of bandits or of
lawless barons, as well as the marchings and counter marchings of armed
[Even] city dwellers ... [ran] the risk of
sack and wholesale murder. The whole of medieval, and a great part of
modern, history is studded with instance of the sort: the devastation of
Attila, the Scourge of God; the ravaging of the Vexin by William the
Conqueror; the sack of a score of German cities during the Thirty Years
There were frequently cases when only a
minority of the population survived, the vast majority being piteously
These events and their like should be borne in mind when one considers
the vicissitudes of any particular racial or religious minority. The
scarlet of Jewish persecution does not stand out on a ground of virginal
[ROTH, p. 138]
In medieval Poland, says Bernard Weinyrb,
"In an epoch and a country where most of the
time people were in danger of attacks by Tatars and Turks, of wars,
soldiers, and robber gangs on the roads, insecurity became the normal
way of life for people who had never known anything different."
[WEINRYB, p. 159]
The miseries caused by the sack of Rome in 1527,
Christian crusades against Muslim-controlled Jerusalem in 1096, Leon in
1197, Malaga in 1487, Naples in 1494, Padua in 1509, Tunis in 1535, or,
"a hundred other occasions" were at least
equivalent tragedies to Jewish descriptions of "Jewish martyrdom."
[ROTH, p. 138]
"It is probably the fact," says Roth, "that
in the course of the medieval wars and disorders, the Jews normally
suffered more than any other section of the population. This was not
necessarily, however, because they were Jews, but simply because they
belonged to the more opulent class... on the capture of a town (by an
army), the first objective of the assailants would naturally be the
streets of the goldsmiths and the street of the Jews."
[ROTH, p. 139]
Likewise, Jews - perceived as affluent and
exploitive outsiders to native populaces - suffered the same way at the
hands of mobs as did Italian traders in London in 1439 and 1455, and at the
"Hansa Steelyard" in 1494. Jews were also subject to random "acts of
rapine," like any Christian - or other community - of the Middle Ages, as
happened in the Jewish part of Asolo, in northern Italy, in 1547.
Perpetrators in that case were punished by the central government.
While Jews were sometimes required to wear special badges of identification
in the European Middle Ages, it was a norm of discrimination for the era.
Muslims also had to wear such marks of "outsider" distinction in Christian
Conversely, in the Muslim world, Christian
communities were also faced with such laws and legislation of
discrimination, sometimes even in clothing. And of course Jewish law itself
has various nomenclature and attendant rules for treatment of various
categories of non-Jews as second-class, or worse, people. (Even in modern
Israel, Arabs are discriminatorily noted as such on national identity
"Some current histories," said Roth in 1932,
"appear to assume the Jews were sole victims of
the Spanish Inquisition... Strictly,
this is so far from the truth that a precisian might retort that [the
Jews] never came under the [Inquisition's] scope, save in exceptional
cases, since the activities were essentially confined to [Christian]
apostates and renegades."
[ROTH, p. 141]
Those "Jews" who risked trouble were those among
the Marranos/Conversos, who disingenuously represented themselves as
Christians and were thereby subject to the same scrutinization for religious
conformance as that directed upon any other Christian.
Widely targeted were Christian heretics, not the
As M. Hirsh Goldberg notes,
"Contrary to popular belief, Jews who openly
remained Jews were not tortured or killed as part of the inquisition
proceedings. The Inquisition was specifically authorized by the Church
to root out heresy among Catholics, so only heretical Christians and
Jewish converts to Christianity accused of secretly reverting to Judaism
[GOLDBERG, M. H., 1979, p. 16]
"[T]he Holy Inquisition in Portugal," notes Arnold Wiznitzer, "did not
persecute Jews who never had been Catholics. Only persons of Jewish
origin who had been born Catholic, or those, born Jews and baptized
later, who had deserted Catholicism openly or secretly were subject to
the Inquisition since they were considered as being apostates."
[WIZNITZER, A., 1957, p. 64]
"The Inquisition," notes Joachim Prinz, "is considered one of the many
traumatic experiences of Jewish history, and as such, it is always
spoken of with dread. But, of course, the Inquisition had no power over
Jews at all. It was established for the purpose of dealing with
Christians who had deviated from their faith. The Marranos who were
called into account for their secret practices appeared not as Jews but
as allegedly heretical Christians... No unconverted Jews were ever
called to the tribunals."
[PRINZ, J., 1973, p. 44]
"Living under the Inquisition," adds Goldberg in another volume, "caused
Jews to make some curious adjustments, as can be seen in the family of
Manoel Pereira Coutinho, who had five daughters - all nuns in a convent
in Lisbon - while in Hamburg his sons were living openly as Jews."
[GOLDBERG, M. H., 1976, p. 109]
"All Jews know about the Inquisition," wrote David Goldstein, a Jewish
apostate, "but of Jewish [-perpetrated] injustices they know hardly
[GOLDSTEIN, p. 117]
"The name of Torquemada," wrote Jewish
author John Cournos in 1937, "the loathsome Grand Inquisitor, was a
byword among us children, as it was in other Jewish households."
[GOLDSTEIN, p. 117]
This view that the Inquisition somehow centered
on Jews still remains widespread in the community today, as proclaimed in a
1990 issue of the American Jewish Congress magazine devoted to the subject
of Jewish identity.
Ignoring the Christian target groups of the
heresy trials, Zvi Bekarman remarked that,
"The Inquisition is brought to us as one
more proof of the suffering of the Jews."
[BEKERMAN, p. 14]
Despite all the Jewish lamenting of pogroms and
massacres upon their ancestors, the Catholic-Protestant massacre of St.
Bartholomew's Day in the 1500's was as spectacularly horrible as any Jewish
medieval misfortune to that time.
Nor, adds Roth,
"was persecution of the Jews in its acutest
form [ever] systematic."
(The later World War II Holocaust
scenario, which of course was systematic, will be addressed later at
length in its own chapter)
Jews were often blamed for the epidemic of
the Plague and the Black Death that swept Europe in the Middle
Ages (while Jewish communities were relatively free from the disease,
[HERTZLER, p. 95]
but such causal connection to medieval minds was not to the detriment of
Non-Jews were also accused of, and murdered for,
causing the Plague in Palermo in 1526, in Germany in 1530, 1545, and 1574,
at Casale Monferrat in 1536, and other places throughout Europe.
In Breslau, in 1349 sixty Jews were executed for
having caused a town fire,
"but," says Roth, "when one recalls that 300
years afterwards the Great Fire of London was [blamed upon] the Papists,
one realizes that the Jews had no monopoly on unjust accusations."
[ROTH, p. 144]
Jewish communities themselves had irrational
superstitions to scapegoat others and to explain disease and other
Says Zborowski and Herzog:
"If an epidemic strikes the
shtetl, prayers are, of course,
offered up. Other steps consist chiefly in marrying off two orphans or
cripples, so that God will be mollified by the good deeds of the
worshippers... Whenever there was an epidemic in the shtetl they
used to blame it on peoples' sins. They tried to find the guilty ones
and expose them to the public... Another method for getting rid of an
epidemic was to get two orphans if possible and to marry them off on the
[ZBOROWSKI, p. 224]
"it was... dangerous to be an old woman in
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries"' when witch hunts put 100,000
unfortunates on trial for sorcery in Germany alone.
[ROTH, p. 145]
Some 30,000 such victims are reputed to have
been burned alive or torn to pieces in England, and over a two hundred year
period in Scotland, an average of two hundred "witches" were burned at the
stake each year.
Throughout Europe gypsies were sporadically
singled out for persecution and blame, and various Christians and other
non-Jews from time to time were executed for the charge of cannibalism.
Lest modern Jews feel too smug in the brutal superstitions of the ancient
Gentiles, the Talmud itself notes an instance when eighty Jewish women were
hung at one time at the instigation of a fellow Jew,
"Simeon the Son of Shetach," in Ashkelon for
the crime of being witches.
[HARRIS, p. 174]
When coming across a witch, the Talmud
recommends that the passerby,
"should mutter thus, 'May a potsherd of
boiling dung be stuffed in your mouths, you ugly witches!'"
Some rabbis even opined that a witch may be
either male or female, but,
"most women are witches."
[HARRIS, p. 190]
Even "the best among women," said Rabbi
Shimon ben Yochai, "is a witch."
[HARRIS, p. 191]
The Talmud also details the various manners of,
"stoning, strangling or beheading Jewish
'blasphemers and idolaters' Such criminals were also buried up to their
knees in manure, and their mouths forced open by strangling. Molten lead
could then be poured 'into his bowels.'"
[HARRIS, p. 170]
The persistence of the Jewish mythology of
unique persecution, says Roth, has much to do with their longevity and
communal dispersal throughout Europe and the world.
The persecution of the
Albigensians of France, for instance, is known by hardly anyone
today because their destruction was singularly localized, they were
completely wiped out, and there is no one interested in heralding their
the Waldenses of France, and various
"The Jews," notes Roth, "are an inseparable
element in the history of every country in Europe... and thus have an
advantage, as it were, of a superior publicity service; and no
historian, even a Gentile, could fail to be impressed by this insistent,
pathetic, unique record."
[ROTH, p. 147]
Roth goes to the essence of the Jewish mythos of
"In the classical period... with its
holocausts and heroes, the lot of the Jewish people was much the same as
that of the ancient Britons, the Iberians, and the Gauls; and the
leaders of those peoples' struggles for freedom deserve to be remembered
as much as the Jewish martyrs who are commemorated each year on the
ninth of Ab.
But this is far from the case. Generally,
they are forgotten, save by a few industrious antiquarians; and they
have no place today in the proud memories of any people. The reason is
very plain. The races for which they fought are long since dead. The
Jews are still alive."
[ROTH, p. 147]
These insightful observations were written by
Roth in 1932.
The rise of German fascism and its
institutionalized inhumanity was still only rising. Yet we can see here in
Roth's unusually honest overview of Jewish history the broader, foundational
context for current Jewish thinking about themselves to this day. Of course
the so-called Holocaust of World War II has completely solidified the
traditional view of the persecution of Jewry and obliterated Roth's broadly
realistic brand of Jewish historiography.
To a now militant Jewish polemic, their community's European experience in
World War II merely confirms the Jewish mythos of unique and eternal
victimization and martrydom.
It is monolithic, irrefutable, immutable, and
immoveable: Jews argue they were uniquely "singled out."
There will be a great deal more about the
Holocaust and its part in Jewish identity in its own chapter. For immediate
purposes, it is enough here to recognize the historical context for modern
Jewry's fundamental self-conception: that of humankind's foremost - and
superlative - victims, passed along as part of religious faith century after
century, reified in Jewish cosmology at every turn.
Roth's early 1930's view, in the context of rising Nazi fascism and worry
about anti-Semitism spreading in America, has been completely muted in our
own day, and Jewish apologetics about Jewish identity and history began
rising in direct proportion to the gravity of the growing German threat.
By 1941, a Jewish author, Oscar Janowsky,
reviewed - in the same Jewish journal that earlier published Roth's
critiques of the Jewish victimization cosmology - two new books that
championed Jewish history. Each book was authored by well-respected Jewish
One of them was Cecil Roth. Janowsky's title for
his article was "Apologetics for Our Time."
In the context of German Nazism, even Roth was
swallowed by the demands for Jewish positive image-making against all and
any self-critical Jewish commentary.
"Both authors," wrote Janowsky, "would
readily concede that the purpose [of these books] was not to write
'history' of the accepted variety. Our age requires apologetics, and
this sad need has been filled by the authors."
[JANOWSKY, p. 225]
This "sad need" was so great that a 1951 volume
entitled The Hebrew Impact on Western Civilization even stated bluntly in
its very first sentence:
"This book is a book of propaganda."
[RUNES, D., p. vii]
In 1947, Milton Steinberg wrote a volume,
Basic Judaism, explaining the faith for both Jews and,
"those many non-Jews who happen to be
curious about Judaism."
[STEINBERG, p. viii]
Here Steinberg's apologetic, in doing his part
to engender a positive Jewish public image (like so many others to our own
day), was grossly untrue:
"Judaism is totally unaware of race. Though
the Tradition loves to trace the House of Israel to the Patriarchs,
blood descent is no factor in its calculations."
[STEINBERG, M., p. 99]
With World War II and the disaster that befell
humanity - and the Jews within it - looming soon over Europe, this
apologetic methodology (as well as a resultant Jewish militancy) about
Jewish history has continued in a rarely interrupted straight line to the
present day. (Examine, for example, the gushingly laudatory content of the
popular 1999 bestseller by a non-Jewish author: The Gifts of the Jews).
In fact, the mythology of perpetual Jewish
victimhood was well along as an exploitable tool by American Jews and
Zionists as a political devise at the beginning of the Twentieth Century,
where Jewish woe centered upon anti-Jewish riots and attacks in Eastern
Europe, particularly in Russia.
"Some of the atrocities [against Jews]
initially reported," writes Albert Lindemann, "were exaggerated or
simply did not occur, and some Jews made false claims in the hope of
getting relief money from Western Europe and America."
[LINDEMANN, p. 154]
Many of the exaggerations were also created to
enhance Zionist propaganda to garner sympathy and support for a Jewish state
An important target of Zionist propaganda and
historical exaggeration was American Jews.
"You have to speak to American Jews in
superlatives," remarked Nachum Goldmann, for many years the president of
both the World Zionist Organization and World Jewish Congress, "Cool,
balanced, analysis makes no impression on them, and exaggeration is
[GROSE, p. 162]
Elsewhere, in 1978 he noted that his Zionist
group alone had spent,
"millions of dollars on propaganda."
[GOLDMANN, N., 1978, p. 63]
A pioneer strategist in the use of the
accusation of anti-Semitism as a propaganda device was Theodore Herzl,
a Viennese journalist and playwright, the man most credited for the
successful promotion of the Jewish "return to Israel" Zionist ideology.
"understood the true nature of propaganda,"
notes former Israeli diplomat, Moshe Leshem," of the emotional appeal."
"In truth... noise amounts to a great deal," Herzl noted in his diary,
"A sustained noise is in itself a noteworthy fact, world history is
nothing but noise."
[LESHEM, p. 85]
Among the most reported Russian anti-Jewish
pogrom sites at the turn of the century was Kishinev. (This incident led to
the creation of the Jewish lobbying agency, the American Jewish Committee in
1903). [HALKIN, p. 54]
Chaim Weitzmann, another Zionist activist
and the first President of the state of Israel, wrote to a member of
the wealthy Jewish Rothschild family
(instrumental in funding early Jewish settlements in pre-Israel Palestine):
"Eleven years ago... I happened to be in the
cursed town of Kishinev ... In a group of about 100 Jews we defended the
Jewish quarter with revolvers in our hand, defended women and girls...
We slept in the cemetery - the only safe place and we saw 80 corpses
brought in, mutilated dead...”
"Thus Weizmann," says Albert Lindemann, "reports that he personally saw
eighty mutilated corpses in a single place, when the death toll for the
entire city was later generally recognized to be forty-five. But there
is another problem with the account he provides. It is pure fantasy.
Weizmann was in Warsaw at the time."
[LINDEMANN, p. 164]
The long - and continuing - Jewish defamation
of Poles and Poland, as part of a broad Zionist propaganda policy and
secular Jewish victimization theology, has been going on for a long
For all western Jewry's complaints about massive
Polish violence against Polish Jewry, in 1919 Hugh Gibson, the United
states minister to Warsaw, wrote that,
"It is ridiculous as we are told about every
incident where the Jew gets the worst of it and a great many incidents
that never happened at all. These yarns are exclusively of foreign
manufacture for anti-Polish purposes."
Two prominent and powerful American Zionists -
Louis Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter (both United States
Supreme Court justices) - confronted Gibson to complain about his dispatches
"They complained that my reports on the
Jewish question had gone round the world and undone their work [in
proclaiming enormous violent Polish anti-Semitism]," said Gibson,
"... They finally said that I had stated that the stories of excesses
against the Jews were exaggerated, to which I replied that they
certainly were and I should think any Jew would be glad to know it...
[They] seemed to be interested in agitation for its own sake rather than
in learning the situation... Their efforts were concentrated on an
attempt to bully me into accepting the mixture of information and
misinformation which they have adopted as the basis of their
Felix handed me a scarcely veiled threat
that the Jews would try to prevent my confirmation by the Senate [then
pending]... They made it clear to me that they do not care to have any
diagnosis made that is not based entirely on Jewish statements as to
conditions and events and doesn't accept them at face value. If they are
not ready to go into the question honestly I don't see how they can hope
to accomplish anything for their people...
[American Jews have embarked upon] a
conscienceless and cold-blooded plan to make the condition of the Jews
in Poland so bad they must turn to Zionism for relief."
[GROSE, p. 94-95]
In 1923 the United States Vice Consul to Warsaw,
Monroe Kline, added that,
"It is true that the Pole hates the Jew...
The Jew in business oppresses the Pole to a far greater extent than does
the Pole oppress the Jew in a political way."
[GROSE, p. 95]
More recently, Leonard Fein notes Jewish
fears of assimilation that could erase them as a people, and the emotional
cloud that informs Jewish perception of the facts of history:
"Deep down - and sometimes not so very deep
- we [Jews] still believe that we depended on the pogroms and
persecutions to keep us a people, and that we have not the fibre to
withstand the lures of a genuine open society. It is seduction, not
rape, that we fear the most, and nowhere is the seducer more blatant,
less devious, than here in America."
[in SILBERMAN, p. 165]
The Jewish limited historical memory (and
corresponding embracement of legend) and its singular focus on its
martyrological tradition has also been systematically exploited to
buttress Zionist reasoning for the necessity of the modern state of Israel:
a home for Jews from worldwide anti-Semitic persecution.
The lengths some Jews will go to enforce - and
create - the martyrological/persecution tradition for political purposes was
noted by Wilbur Crane Eveland, a former CIA agent stationed in Iraq
in the early years after the foundation (1948) of today's Israel. A few
months before his arrival to that country in 1950, a bomb went off "outside
a Passover gathering," underscoring Arab hostility to Jews and encouraging
10,000 to move to the new Israeli state.
Eveland wrote that
"Just after I arrived in Baghdad, an Israeli
citizen had been recognized in the city's largest department store: his
interrogation led to the discovery of fifteen arms caches brought into
Iraq by an underground Zionist movement. In attempts to portray the
Iraqis as anti-American and to terrorize the Jews, the Zionists planted
bombs in the United States Information Service Library and in
synagogues. Soon leaflets began to appear urging Jews to flee to
Although the Iraqi police later provided our
embassy with evidence to show that the synagogue and library bombings,
as well as the anti-Jewish and anti-American leaflet campaigns, had been
the work of an underground Zionist organization, most of the world
believed reports that Arab terrorism had motivated the flight of the
Iraqi Jews whom the Zionists had 'rescued' really just in order to
increase Israel's Jewish
[FEURLICHT, p. 231]
Aware from personal experience about the facts
in such matters, in 1998, an Iraqi-born Jew and former Zionist activist,
Naeim Giladi, wrote that he wanted,
"to tell the American people, and especially
American Jews, that Jews from Islamic lands did not emigrate willingly
to Israel; that to force them to leave, Jews killed Jews."
[GILADI, p. 1]
In 1975 Jewish CBS reporter Mike Wallace
journeyed to another Arab nation, Syria, to do a 60 Minutes program on the
Years later, he noted his own biases (about
alleged Syrian anti-Semitism) that were destroyed when he actually went to
"[Before I went to Syria] I had a strong
impression of what life was like for [Jews] there. From Jewish friends
in America, I had heard the same stories over and over again: The Jews
in Syria were confined to ghettos and were constant victims of
A tight curfew was imposed on them and they
were not allowed to have telephones or drives automobiles. Nor were they
permitted to worship in synagogues of study in their traditional
language, Hebrew. In short, the Syrian Jews were forced to live as
prisoners within their own country."
[WALLACE/GATES, 1984, p. 282]
All this, as Wallace soon learned upon visiting
Syria, was complete nonsense.
Jews owned cars; Jews had classes in Hebrew.
Although the Jewish community was under close surveillance by the Assad
regime, Wallace is careful to note that so was everyone in that police
state. The CBS reporter interviewed a variety of Jews in the Arab country.
Speaking to a Jewish teacher, Wallace notes his
surprise to her response about the myths he had heard about Syrian
"Then I mentioned all the stories I had
heard about how badly the Jews were treated in Syria, and when I asked
her where she thought they came from, she replied in an almost
malevolent tone: 'I think that it's Zionist propaganda.'"
[WALLACE, M., 1984, pl. 285]
Cecil Roth, in his overviews of Jewish
history with its attendant polemics and apologetics (let alone some of the
fraudulent escapades of modern Zionism), argued that the continued
suppression of an honest evaluation of the Jewish past could come back to
"By suppression we play into the hand of the
anti-Semite, who may one day make capital out of the innocent humanity
we have chosen to ignore. But, above all, by repression we are faithless
to the most sacred charge of history, which is the pursuit of truth."
[ROTH, p. 423]
Back to Contents
THE JEWISH COSMOLOGY OF VICTIMHOOD
"I also tried to avoid becoming
uncomfortably hooked on anti-Semitism as the main problem in the world.
Many Jews I knew divided the world into Jews and anti-Semites, nothing
else. Many Jews I knew recognized no problem anywhere, at any time, but
that of anti-Semitism... Such is the blindness of people that I have
known Jews who, having deplored anti-Semitism in unmeasured tones,
would, with scarcely a breath in between, get on the subject of
African-Americans and promptly begin to sound like a group of petty
And when I pointed this out and objected to it strenuously, they turned
on me in anger. They simply could not see what they were doing. I once
listened to a woman grow eloquent over the terrible way in which
Gentiles did nothing to save the Jews of Europe. 'You can't trust
Gentiles,' she said. I let some time elapse and then asked suddenly,
'What are you doing to help the blacks in their fight for civil rights?'
'Listen,' she said, 'I have my own troubles.' And I said, 'So did the
Gentiles.' But she only stared at me blankly. She didn't get the point
I. Asimov. A Memoir, 1994, p. 20, 21
For nearly fifteen centuries in their diaspora,
after the Jewish/Roman historian Josephus, the Jewish community taught and
re-taught only its religious dogma and martyrological mythos to define its
past, present, and future.
Until the Enlightenment in the late 18th
century, the Jewish ghettos were filled with people cloistered away under
rabbinical blinders. Jewish "history" was all history, and it was entirely
framed in the religiously-based conventional framework for understanding the
world: Jewish exceptionality, Jewish martyrology, and an apocalyptic
vision entwined in Jewish suffering in search of atonement.
[LOPATE, p. 306]
As Jacob Neusner notes:
"What strikingly characterizes the
imagination of the archaic Jew is the centrality of Israel, the Jewish
people in human history, the certainty that being Jewish is the most
important thing about oneself, and that Jewishness, meaning Judaism, was
the dominant aspect of one's consciousness."
[NEUSNER, J., 1972, p. 62]
Simon Dubnov, a prominent and
well-respected Jewish historian, notes that Jews were so self-isolated from
the non-Jews around them that for centuries their own history was merely the
recycled meta-commentaries about their seminal myths of Chosen People
"Talmudic literature (including the
Midrashim)... hardly contained any material concerning social dynamics
which is necessary for history in the true sense. The leaders of the
nation that was deprived of its kingdom seemed to have lost interest in
the events of the world around them...
The historian is greatly distressed when, in
the scores of volumes of talmudical literature, he finds merely vague
hints at events of the first five centuries of the Christian era, and
searches in vain for chronological data. He has a sense of shame for the
nation... which... lost its ability to perpetuate its experiences, even
in simple chronicles...
The one-sidedness of the Jewish sources, which illuminated only the
spiritual side of life, created a false historical perspective."
[DUBNOV, p. 436-438]
Robert Goldenberg notes that, in Jewish
"great rabbinic leaders... became both
disembodied bearers of a an elaborate legal tradition and also heroes of
a marvelously rich tradition of legend... From the historian's point of
view, the Talmud thus becomes a terribly frustrating book. It is rich
with stories that may - or may not - reflect the way certain events
happened, and it is full of legal discussions that may - or may not -
report the actual content of early rabbinic scholarly activity.
Everything is fascinating, everything is potentially an open window on
the past, but nothing can be trusted."
[GOLDENBERG, R., 1984, p. 157]
"Jews have suffered and Christians have suffered [throughout history],"
wrote Rabbi Richard Singer, "Mankind has suffered. There is no group
with a monopoly on suffering and no human beings which have experienced
hate and hostility more than any other. I must say, however, that it is
my impression that Jewish history has been taught with a whine and a
whimper rather than a straightforward acknowledgement that man practices
his inhumanity on his fellow human beings."
[ZUKERMAN, p. 66]
"[A] disability for the Jews in modern times," says Barnet Litvinoff,
"has been their own obscurantism. If all the questions of how to live
were to be answered only in the wisdom of the Talmud, there could be no
intellectual explorations, and therefore no progress."
[LITVINOFF, p. 10]
"[Rabbis] had cut off [the Jewish community]
from the community of nations," wrote Bernard Lazare in 1894 about the
Jewish ghetto mentality, "They had made of it a sullen recluse, a rebel
against all laws, foreign to all feeling fraternity [with others],
closed to all beautiful, noble, and generous ideas; they had made of it
a small and miserable nation, soured by isolation, brutalized by a
narrower education, demoralized and corrupted by an unjustifiable
[LAZARE, p. 14]
"The Eastern European Jews," notes Raphael
Patai, "(with a few very notable exceptions) considered interest in all
realms of non-Jewish intellectual endeavor as un-Jewish and therefore
prohibited. Even the readings of books other than the Bible, the Talmud,
the codes, and the Midrashim was strictly forbidden, and has remained so
to this day in those circles in which the Eastern European Yeshiva
[PATIA, R., 1971, p. 294]
"Jews lived with memory, so that redemption might be hastened," adds
Stephen Whitfield, "but they did not live with history. The rabbis...
made little effort to record the history of their own post-Biblical
era... The first post-medieval attempt at a history of the Jews was
written by a gentile, Jacques Basnage... Only... under the impact of
modernization … could Jews... wrest meaning from Jewish life and
[WHITFIELD, p. 29-30]
Basnage's 17-volume work, published between 1706
and 1711, has been called by one twentieth-century Jewish reviewer,
"the basis for the science of Jewish
history; and though his work was far from perfect, it remained the best
for a century to come."
[GOLDBERG, M. H., 1976, p. 212]
Although Jewish history usually highlights
Christian intolerance and the periodic burnings of the Talmud, the earliest
printings of even this religious tract were accomplished with substantial
As M. Hersch Goldberg notes:
"Pope Leo X, who reigned from 1513 to 1521,
encouraged the printing of the first complete edition of the Talmud.
Under his patronage, fifteen volumes of the Babylonian Talmud were
printed in Venice beginning in 1519... Another Christian played an
important part in preparing that historic edition of the Talmud. The
printer Daniel Bomberg (whose name may sound Jewish, but who was a
Christian) had set up his press in Venice in 1516.
He devoted great care and attention in
printing the Talmud... Seemingly fascinated with Jewish literature,
Bomberg is said to have done more to spread Jewish learning than any
other printer of his time... Over the years, Bomberg printed
approximately two hundred books of Jewish interest."
[GOLDBERG, M. H., 1976, p. 210-211]
The Talmud itself, of course, is not history,
but religious polemic.
"Memory of the past," says Yosef Yerushalmi,
"was always a central component of Jewish experience; the historian was
not its primary custodian."
[WHITFIELD, AMERICAN, p. 30]
"The [Israelite] prophet," notes Old
Testament scholar John Allegro, "saw
Yahweh [the Israelite God]
as a cosmic deity, lord of the heavenly hosts and forces of nature, but
at the same time still the special god of Israel, a tribal deity whose
main interest was the welfare of his Chosen People. Thus it followed
that whatever the grand strategy in the Creator's mind, it involved the
destiny of the Jews, and all history was directed to their
[ALLEGRO, J., 1971, p. 58]
"Most Jews have a slight knowledge of Jewish history," says Chaim
Bermant, "This is true even of those in Yeshiva (college of higher
learning), for the Yeshiva is devoted largely to the study of the
Talmud, and the Talmud, though encyclopedic in scope, was completed by
the sixth century and events beyond that date are largely terra
incognita, except where they are echoed by liturgy and lore."
[BERMANT, C., 1977, p. 18]
The above observations, and one of the theses of
this volume, point to a Jewish identity that is at its conceptual roots -
even for the secular today - religious in complexion and fundamentally
Firmly going against the grain of popular Jewish proclamation that they, and
their old religion, Judaism, are the root of everything wise and wonderful
on earth, a Jewish author and social activist, Maurice Hindus, wryly
observed in 1927 that,
"The force that first pried the Jewish mind
open to radical doctrines of a modern nature had its origin not in
Jewish but in distinctly non-Jewish intellectual associations...
[Political philosophers] Marx and Lassalle were steeped in Western, that
is, modern Gentile culture, Gentile philosophy, Gentile science...
It is only after the Jew began to ram down
the gates of the ghetto and to make excursions into the intellectual
temples of his Christian neighbors, only after he had laid aside
the Talmud and the
Shulchan Aruch for modern, western,
that is Gentile, history, biology, psychology, science, that he embarked
on a career of achievement in modern arts and science...
The old Jewish civilization, with its rigid
orthodoxy and its emphasis on Jewish superiority, compelled aloofness
from worldly intellectual intercourse even as it compelled social
isolation. It frowned on the perusal of modern literature, philosophy,
social theory, even on the study of foreign, that is Gentile,
[HINDUS, p. 369-370]
"Guided by the dictum that 'all that is new is forbidden by the Torah,'"
says Charles Silberman, "the rabbis spoke as though the slightest
deviation from tradition was a lapse into heresy."
[SILBERMAN, p. 171]
"The Jewish nature does not produce its rarest fruits in a Jewish
environment," noted Israel Abrahams, "... It was ancient Alexandria that
produced Philo, medieval Spain Maimonides, modern Amsterdam Spinoza."
[FEUERLICHT, p. 38]
"One can be ignorant of all the sayings of
the wise old rabbis," notes Ann Roiphe, "and still acknowledge the Magna
Carte, the Declaration of Independence, the words of Rousseau, Hobbes,
Emerson, the art of Leonardo da Vinci, Michealangelo and Dante, the
science of Darwin, Newton and Galileo.
These were not Jewish, and the great Jewish
thinkers, Freud, Marx and Einstein, Claude Levi-Strauss, studied at
Christian universities and learned form Christian scholars... The great
universities of the West were founded without Jews... The Christian
world created Oxford, Cambridge, the Sorbonne, Harvard, and Yale."
[ROIPHE, 1981, p. 209]
These perspectives do not reflect the mainstream
current of modern Jewish history, however.
For most, the self-repeating myths of the
wonders of Jewish Talmudic scholarship and its attendant Jewish
martyrology were - and are - central to Jewry's understanding of its
In the late nineteenth century, for example,
Heinrich Graetz, the seminal "modern" Jewish historian, was only
following a long line of self-portrayal when he introduced one of his
volumes of Jewish history with what he felt to be the essence of their
"The long era of the dispersion, lasting
nearly seventeen centuries, is characterized by unprecedented
sufferings, an uninterrupted martyrdom, and a constantly
aggravated degradation and humiliation unparalleled in history... "
[GRAETZ, v. 4 Intro, in LIBERLES p. 104]
In 1911 a Jewish anthropologist, Maurice
Fishberg, blamed common Jewish "nervous disposition" largely on historic
"Considering that in medieval times
massacres of Jews were quite frequent... it may be said that many of the
survivors have remained with unstable nerves, and that a fair proportion
of neurotics and psychopathics have inherited their nervous disposition
from their maltreated grandparents... Any people, no matter what race,
could not remain with healthy nerves under the ban of abuse and
persecutions to which the Jews were subjected."
[FISHBERG, p. 532]
In 1917, H.G. Enelow framed the same
world view this way:
"There is no history as full of hardship and
suffering as the history of Israel. But there is none so heroic, either.
That is just what has made it the most heroic history in the world. That
because the Jews were chosen for a divine work, they have to suffer a
[ENELOW, p. 45]
Likewise, another nineteenth century Jewish
scholar, Leopold Zunz, made the convergence of Jewish superiority and
"aristocracy" through suffering explicit in a quote that eventually became,
"perhaps the best known in modern Jewish
[ROTH, Most, p. 136]:
"If there be an ascending scale of sufferings, Israel reached its
highest degree. If the duration of affliction, and the patience with
which they are borne, confer nobility upon man, the Jews vie with the
aristocracy of any country."
[SCHULMAN, p. 34]
A 1954 "High Holy Days Prayer Book" for Jewish
congregations even devoted two pages to quotes (including the one
immediately above) by secular Jewish commentators, a legendary Jewish
martyrological history framed here as the expression of religious faith.
Other lamentations in the prayer book included:
"Combine all the woes that temporal and
ecclesiastical tyrannies have ever inflicted on men or nations, and you
will not have reached the full measure of suffering which this martyr
people was called upon to endure."
"The thousand years' martyrdom of the Jewish people, its unbroken
pilgrimage, its tragic fate, its teachers of religion, its martyrs, its
philosophy, champions - this whole epic will, in days to come, sink into
the memory of men."
[SILVERMAN, M., p. 386-387]
Fredda Herz and Elliot Rosen
understand such self-definitions as "aristocratic" victims to be essential
to modern Jewish temperament:
"Jews anticipate attack from non-Jews, while
privately reassuring themselves that they are 'God's chosen people.' The
assumption is that suffering is a basic part of life. This suffering may
even reinforce the notion that they are superior to others by virtue of
their burden of oppression."
[HERZ/ROSEN, p. 367]
In 1993, one of England's chief rabbis,
Jonathan Sacks, framed Jewish resistance to assimilation in the land
they lived as a noble sacrifice, the willingness to stand loyal with a
relentlessly subjugated, oppressed people:
"For the most part, Jews [through history]
did not say, 'What advantage is it to remain part of the people of
Israel, seeing that they are humiliated and persecuted? It is better for
me to join my destiny to those who have power.' They declared their
willingness liheyet miyisrael, to be counted among Israel."
[SACKS, J., p. 131]
"[The] self-image of Judaism," says Philip Sigal, "as originating in
bondage and redemption indelibly engraves itself upon the group memory
and it became the permanent mythos of its origin. Beside that,
documentable history is irrelevant. All that has transpired since
antiquity is wedded to that theology."
[SIGAL, p. 1]
Israeli scholar Boas Evron notes that,
"Long historical memory, delving into
centuries-old, even millennia-old, disasters, massacres and wrongs
(accompanied by the convenient forgetting of wrongs and atrocities
perpetrated by ones' own people against others), lachyrmorose
self-righteousness, are all characteristics of groups whose
experience is basically passive, as the Jews have been politically for
thousands of years. In such groups, the consciousness of being victims
accumulates and poisons the very being of its members.
At times these characteristics become the primary content of their
self-awareness as a group, a perverted focus of their self-identity.
Finally, this suffering becomes a source of pride. ('I am persecuted
and hated, a sign that I am valuable and unique, for which I am envied
and hated'), rather than engendering a desire to be rid of it."
[EVRON, p. 109]
The cloaking of Jewish martyrological legend
over an authentic Jewish history in the real world is noted by another
Israeli, Meron Benvenisti:
"It is an ahistoric philosophy of an
ahistoric people. It sustained us for two thousand years and is so
imbued in our psyche that it was not altered even when we made the
profound leap from an ahistoric, dispensed, and powerless people to an
historic, independent, and powerful nation [Israel]."
[BENVENISTI, p. 73]
"The belief that the Jewish people had always been the passive sufferer
of Christian persecution," says Hannah Arendt, "actually amounted to a
prolongation and modernization of the old myth of chosenness."
[FEUERLICHT, p. 35]
"The more desperate the oppression," writes
Raphael Jospe, "the more oppressors reinforced the Jewish view that
they, the victims, were the Chosen People, and that the oppressor
religions were all the more morally spiritually bankrupt."
[JOSPE, R. p. 130]
Michael Aronson notes the way that riots
against Jews in Russia in the late nineteenth century were simply plugged
into traditional interpretive Jewish martyrological frameworks focusing on
categorical Jewish innocence:
"In Jewish consciousness, three biblical
images are deeply ingrained as archetypes of Jewish oppression. First is
that of the Pharoahs, who enslaved the Children of Israel in Europe.
Next, are the treacherous and murderous Amalekites, who attacked the
Children of Israel in Sinai after their exodus from Egypt and became the
symbol of causeless hatred.
And third is the archetypical murderer Haman
(by tradition a descendant of
Amalek), who tried to destroy all the
Jews in the Persian Empire. From the very beginning of anti-Jewish
outbreaks in 1881, the biblical images must have sprang to people's
minds and influenced their interpretation of events.
Indeed, these images were invoked repeatedly in both journalistic and
historical literature on the pogroms written by Russian Jews, and
[ARONSON, p. 9]
Like many Jewish or Gentile historians tainted
by martyrological contagion, Bryan Moynahan's index to the Jews' role
in his book about the last 100 years of Russian history reflects almost
solely the Jewish victimology theme:
in Great War
[MOYNAHAN, p. 266]
Prominent Jewish psychoanalyst and child
psychologist Bruno Bettelheim once wrote an article about the
popular social psychology surrounding (famous Nazi victim) Ann Frank,
noting the special state of "innocence" the Jewish people decree about
themselves, a blanket character afforded no one else:
"Some time ago I questioned in print why
there is such vast admiration for
The Diary of Ann Frank. I received many
reactions, positive and negative, but whether those who let me know
their reactions agreed or disagreed, they all shared one feature: a deep
compassion for what they called the 'innocent' victims of Nazi
aggression... I was further startled to find that in the many
communications I received, the adjective 'innocent' was applied only by
Jews to Jewish victims.
Nobody referred to the innocent Gypsies or the innocent Jehovah's
Witnesses, though they, like the Jews were internal minorities, one of
which, the Gypsies, was exterminated in toto. Maybe I overlooked it, but
despite search I can recall no popular reference to the innocent
Norwegians, for example, who the Nazis also killed in numbers."
[BETTELHEIM, 1991, p. 257]
"Jewish consciousness is cultivated consistently from the moment they
are capable of understanding the spoken word," observed Maurice Feurlich
in 1937, "... I had the theme, Children of a Martyr Race, dinned
into my consciousness so deeply that it became the basic element of my
emotional life. Almost the first words I understood were "oppressed
people," "martyrs," "prejudice," "persecution." Like all other Jewish
children, I emerged with a 'Persecution Complex' which grew stronger as
I grew older...
[This] more than anything else constitutes
the Jewish consciousness we have today... Our persecution complex makes
us abnormal in dealing with our neighbors... For few of us have the
courage to admit that the fault might rest in our personal makeup. It is
true of human nature generally that men seek to blame for failure
everywhere but their own doorstep, but we Jews divulge from the normal
when this becomes a mental habit with which we constantly salve the
wounds of our failures."
[GOLDSTEIN, p. 116]
"It became customary [in the Middle Ages] to record the names of the
victims of persecutions," says Leon Poliakov, "many lists are preceded
by the evocation of the 'cities of blood'... Thus the memory of the
first martyrs was perpetuated and a tradition was created and
strengthened, inspiring succeeding generations to follow the lead and
example of their ancestors."
[POLIAKOV, p. 84]
The ancestors have followed the lead well.
In a 1984 survey, 94% of American Jews were
found to believe that,
"Jews have a uniquely long and tragic
history of persecution."
[LIEBMAN/COHEN, p. 31]
"One critical element in this statement,"
note Charles Liebman and Steven Cohen, "is the word unique. The image of
Jewish victimization has its political and psychological uses, and as a
result Jews often have a deep emotional investment in preserving their
image as a uniquely long-suffering minority. Leading Jewish spokesmen
have resisted efforts to deny Jews their history of extraordinary
persecution and to diminish the singularity, the distinctiveness, of
[LIEBMAN, COHEN, p. 31]
"All the Jews must internalize past events
as if they happened to them only yesterday," explains Meron Benvenisti
about traditional Jewish victim identity, "My father still feels the
agony of the expulsion from Spain as if it happened to him personally
and not five hundred years ago."
[BENVENISTI, 1989, p. 73]
Jewish religious history - and Jewish identity
itself - has always been founded upon the idea that non-Jews are out to
"For Thy [God's] sake are we killed all the
day long," proclaims the Torah/Old Testament. "We are counted as sheep
for the slaughter."
"Eysor soyneh l'yaakov," wrote Joshau
Halberstam in 1997, "[is] a phrase well known to Jews brought up in
traditional homes. The literal translation of the phrase is 'Esau hates
Jacob,' but the names are always understood as referring to the gentile
hatred of Jews, an enmity that is presumed to be perpetual."
[HALBERSTAM, p. 215]
Rabbi Moshe Zvi Neriyah, director of a
network of religious Zionist high schools in Israel, and a former member of
the Knesset, publicly declared that there were two kinds of Gentiles,
"those that simply hate us and those who
attempt with all their power to destroy us."
[LIEBMAN/COHEN, p. 59]
Holocaust is not a national insanity that happened once and
passed," remarked a former Israeli Minister of Education in 1984, "but
an ideology that has not passed from the world and even today the world
may condone crimes against us."
[LIEBMAN/COHEN, p. 61]
A number of Jewish religious fast days,
including the traditional ninth of Av, the tenth of Tereth, the seventeenth
of Tammuz, and the third of Tishri, commemorate "national and communal
Most are linked to the destruction of the First
Temple (physically memorialized today in Jerusalem at what is widely known
as the "Wailing Wall") by non-Jewish enemies.
At one time in Jewish history thirty-six such
fast days of mourning were observed each year.
[YOUNG, p. 263]
"Three times a day," notes Howard Sachar,
"and oftener on special occasions, pious Jews prayed for the Restoration
[of the destroyed Temple]."
[SACHAR, p. 309]
Even at Jewish marriages, wrote Alfred Siegel,
"you know how it is to be a Jew. In the hour
of pleasure he remembers his pains, and even in the ecstatic instant of
a wedding he breaks a glass under his foot to remind himself of the
crash of the Temple in Jerusalem. A Jew is never entirely happy."
[GOLDSTEIN, p. 115]
Samuel Heilman notes the way the story of
the biblical Samson is treated in an ultra-Orthodox religious school
"This Samson was not the Jewish Hercules as
much as the weakened and tormented Jew who begs God to allow him
to avenge the injustices he has suffered."
[HEILMAN, S., 1992, p. 247]
Heilman also notes that the traditional Queen
Esther story (in which she saves the Jewish people in Persia from
destruction from an arch-enemy), and the yearly Jewish celebration of the
story at Purim, may be simply a borrowed tradition from another people,
plugged into the Jewish martyrological base.
As Heilman notes,
"Purim in Israel comes at the end of winter
and commemorates the deliverance of the Jews of ancient Persia from the
genocidal decree of Vizier Haman... There are some scholars who argue
that in fact the [Purim] holiday precedes the scroll [about Esther] and
simply enshrines the principle of Jewish salvation from all those who
have tried to destroy the [Jewish] nation. And indeed, Jewish tradition
is filled with many local 'Purims,' each with its own 'megillah'
commemorating the deliverance of the Jews in question from disaster.
Some of those scholars who see Purim in such
relative terms argue that it arose in Persia as a Jewish counter holiday
to many of the pagan winter festivals. Others cite the absence of any
evidence of a king named Ahasueras in Persian records as well as the
similarity of the names Esther and Mordechai to the ancient Babylonian
gods Ishtar and Marduk as evidence of a linkage with precursor
[HEILMAN, S., 1992, p. 109]
A tradition of reciting the names of local
"martyrs" to the faith was a widespread tradition among Jews in Europe for
centuries; modern Israel has its own remembrance "Day of Holocaust and
The mass suicide of 900 Jews at the fortress of
Massada rather than surrender to Roman
attackers is a major icon in modern Israeli mythology. In the Biblical
Exodus tradition, the Egyptian Pharoah also chases Jews to annihilate them;
in the Book of Esther, as noted above, Jews are saved from an evil Persian
court minister, Haman, who sought their destruction.
Still recited today as part of the yearly Jewish
Passover rituals, Jews say,
"In every generation they [non-Jews] rise
against us to annihilate us: Bekhol dore omdm alaynu l'khalotaynu."
Other aspects of the Passover seder, notes
Stephen Whitfield, include the identification,
"with the fate of [Jewish] ancestors so
fully that the distinction between past and present has in effect been
One way to attain this collapsing of time is,
"to raise a piece of matzah and announce (in
the present tense): 'This is the bread of affliction which our
forefathers ate in the land of Egypt.'"
[WHITFIELD, American, p. 29]
Other forms of Jewish martyrology
reportedly evidenced in the Middle Ages were occasions of mass suicide
(including the slaying of fellow family members) if threatened with forced
conversion to Christianity.
"Medieval Christians... tended to perceive
it not as the extraordinary behavior of individual Jews but as
behavioral practices sanctioned by the Jewish community and law. In the
minds of some it encouraged and confirmed the perceptions of the Mosaic
law as harsh and Jews as murderous."
[REL.&THEO. 38, 863, 1995]
The rabbinical tradition itself, notes Nahum
Glatzer, is rooted in a martyrological world view:
"Talmudic tradition preserves the memory of
the chief scholars who suffered martyrdom rather than bow to the
imperial [Roman] decree that forbade the study of the Torah... The story
of the Ten [rabbi] martyrs became one of the motifs of medieval Jewish
[GLATZER, p. 175-176]
One talmudic tradition even notes 400 Jewish
children who were reputedly,
"captured for shameful purposes. They all
leaped to their deaths into the sea."
[GLATZER, p. 183]
The Jewish cosmology of eternal victimization is
virtually celebrated in our own day.
In a 1985 "fact-filled, fun-filled" book for
children, for instance, The Jewish Kids' Catalogue, there is a
section on the Jewish experience in World War II, including a full-page
photograph of children walking towards Nazi box cars.
The caption reads:
"Orphan children from the ghetto of Lodz
boarding a train that will take them to death camps."
[BURSTEIN, p. 67]
In 1987 a Jewish psychologist, Ruth Bers
Shapiro, took public exception to another children’s' book entirely
the Holocaust entitled The Children
Remember; it was created for 4-8 year-olds.
Such early socialization to the Jewish Cult
of the Persecuted worried Shapiro; she suggested that the Jewish
"needs to anticipate how this information
will be absorbed and shaped by the child's inner life."
[GALLOB, B., p. 15]
Emblazoning perceived martyrdom in communal
memory is central to Jewish tradition.
"The Hebrew Bible," notes Peter Novick,
"contains the verb 'to remember,' in its various declensions, 169 times
(along with numerous injunctions not to forget). Yet what Jews are
enjoined to remember is almost always God's handiwork; secular history,
insofar as such a category is even admitted by tradition, gets short
shrift. Mourning and remembering the dead are, of course, traditional
[NOVICK, P., 1999, p. 10]
Jewish author Paul Cowan notes the
socialization of his half-Jewish son into Jewish tradition:
"One night in March 1973, we were invited to
a puppet show dramatizing the story of Purim. At the dramatic high
point, when the evil Persian vizier Haman threatened to murder all the
Jews, Matt ran across the room and threw himself into Rachel's arms,
pleading for comfort. 'Mom, he won't get me, will he? I'm only
[COWAN, P., 1987, p. 24]
In 1986, Ze'ev Chafets, a Jewish American
immigrant to Israel, and eventual head of the Israeli Government Press
Office, noted something wrong with his six-year old daughter Michal:
"I noticed a change coming over her.
Suddenly she became afraid to go to bed in the dark; often she had a
hard time falling asleep. A few times she cried out in the middle of the
night and woke up with a headache. Obviously, something was bothering
Eventually Chafets managed to get his daughter
to tell him what was wrong.
As he tells it:
"Abba [Father]," she sobbed, "Why does
anyone want to kill us?"
"Michali, what do you mean? Who wants to kill us?"
"Us, the Jews. Everyone wants to kill the Jews. But why, Abba? What have
we done wrong?"
I was stunned by the question, and by Michali's fear. One of the reasons
I had decided to live in Israel was to bring up children free of tics
and neuroses of diaspora life. And now here was my sabra [Israeli-born]
daughter shaking with insecurity.
"Who told you that everyone wants to kill
Jews?" I almost shouted.
"Our teacher. She told us about Haman and Pharoah the King of Egypt. And
Hitler. Abba, he puts Jews in the oven and burns them up. And the
Michali burst into tears.
"Abba, is John one of those Christians?"
John was a friend of mine who worked for the
international Red Cross.
"Yes, baby, John is a Christian, but he doesn't want to hurt you."
[CHAFETS, p. 89-90]
Similarly, in 1993 an Israeli scholar noted with
concern the comments of a colleague's kindergarten-age daughter:
"Daddy, I know that on Passover we celebrate
our freedom from the horrid Egyptian Pharaoh who wanted to keep us as
slaves. On Purim we are happy because brave Queen Esther convinced the
King to hang the wicked Persian Haman who wanted to destroy all the
Jews. On Hanukah we celebrate our freedom from our Greek enemies. Daddy,
tell me - who were our enemies on Tu Bi-Shevat [Israel's national
Myron Aronoff calls such a story a
manifestation of Israel's "national paranoia."
[ARONOFF, p. 57]
This paranoia, of course, is not just Israeli;
it is a foundation of Jewish identity. And for the little girl who wondered
about the Jews' enemies against trees, they are there to be conjured.
In a 1987 appeal by the Jewish National Fund
to Americans for money to plant trees in Israel, a recent forest fire
was highlighted as a "suspected arson" by Arabs, and fund-raising for trees
is often requested to honor children Holocaust victims.
[LIEBMAN/COHEN, p. 32]
Steven Cohen notes four main themes in the Jewish victimization
mythology (Cohen frames them in the past tense, but they are, for most Jews,
as viable as ever):
"1) pre-modern Jews viewed life among
2) Jews believed that Gentiles hate Jews.
3) They believed that Christian culture and civilization are inferior to
4) They believed that individual Gentiles have personality characteristics
which are inferior to those of Jews."
[COHEN, Uses, p. 26]
In our own time "Pulitzer prize-winning" Jewish
historian and former president of the American Academy, Barbara Tuchman,
(In 1967 Tuchman argued in the New York Times
that the United States should intervene militarily for Israel in its war
with Arabs. [FEUERLICHT, p. 196]
Tuchman, daughter of wealthy financier Maurice Wertheim and niece of a
former secretary of the treasury, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., obviously can't -
with a straight face - claim victim status herself without some serious help
from the Jewish martyrology tradition).
[CHRISTOPHER, p. 219]
In her 650-page volume on "calamitous" European
society in the fourteenth century, originating in her interest in the
Bubonic plague, Jews are represented solely in relation to her own sense of
their socio-political victimization. Of all the possibilities of a group of
human beings over a century, (including the story of their own experience
with the epidemic)
Tuchman frames virtually the entirety of Jewish
experience as merely a sponge for abuse from Gentiles.
This is the book's complete index for the
If fourteenth century Jews spent every moment of
their lives fielding insults and running away from vigilante mobs, when did
they have a moment of freedom to record the chain of misery that always
wrapped so tightly around them, so that their progeny might still agitate
with authority about their lack of relief, 600 years later?
Jews did find time, however, in the Middle Ages
to regularly memorialize lists of martyrs during synagogue services,
emphasizing "Jewish suffering and its exaggeration."
[MACDONALD, p. 219]
Tuchman's conviction of non-Jews' unrelieved hatred of Jews through the
centuries as one of the foundations for her perspective of history is
evidenced in her following quote about the Holocaust:
"What lurks in the shadows of ancient memory
[was] a bitter recognition that a Gentile world... would fundamentally
have felt relieved by the Final Solution."
[BAER, p. 64]
Jewish historian Arnold Wiznitzer
reflects the Jewish martyrological base to understand history in his
books about Brazil.
As Jonathan Schorsch notes:
"Much of the American Jewish historiography
from the 1960s continued the monumentalist, nationalist orientation of
its predecessors, and Arnold Witznitzer's work could easily be included
here. A historian of Brazilian history whose work to this day
practically constitutes the field in the English language, Wiznitzer
summed up his findings in his now classic book, Jews in Colonial Brazil.
There he takes great concern to memorialize every 'Jewish' victim of the
[SCHORSCH, J., 2000]
In the Jewish cosmology, Jews can only be
victims, even when they are pre-eminent in the society in which they live.
In 1987, David Schers, for example,
explored "the oppression of those [Jews] who are 'well off' in Latin
"Is it possible," he asked, "to speak of
those who eat well, have attractive lives, and live in relative
prosperity? The case of the Jews of Latin America demonstrates that it
is indeed possible. [They have] alienation, self-hate, and family
conflict... The very invisibility of Jewish suffering... makes it more
painful than might otherwise appear."
[SCHERS, CULTURE, p. 285-286]
Jews, insists Sarah Horowitz, bizarrely,
"victimized by their own positive
stereotypes, which mask the gender, class, ideological and ethnic
differences that distinguish them from one another... The invisibility
of Jewish studies as an academic field [?!] moreover, is hidden behind
the presence of Jews as scholars in all fields."
[HOROWITZ, p. 123]
Jews, who are collectively the wealthiest, most
comfortable ethnic/racial group of people in modern America, [see later
chapter] nonetheless remain insistent in clinging to the identity core as
themselves being victims and never oppressors, economic or otherwise.
"If Jews are, by definition, victims," notes
Edward Shapiro, explaining the common Jewish world view, "then those
Jews who do not sympathize with this cult of victimization are
inauthentic Jews who betray the essence of Jewishness."
[SHAPIRO, E., 1998]
Even Jewish multi-millionaires like financier
Harry Solomon, (whose 1989 estimated worth was $50 million) apparently
fail to see the irony in claiming that,
"We [Jews] are all the victims of our
[KOTKIN, p. 45]
When Celia Heller wrote her book about
the Jews of Poland, she completely ignored historic Jewish commercial
dominance of Eastern Europe [see earlier chapters] and traditional Jewish
self-segregation to preposterously link the Jewish situation there to that
of oppressed African-Americans, evolving from the shackles of slavery:
"The concept of caste is extremely useful in
understanding the situation of Jews in interwar Poland just as it was in
understanding the situation of the Negroes in the United States before
the Civil Rights struggle."
[HELLER, C., 1977, p. 59]
Robert Greene wrote an entire volume
about professional "hustler and swindler" Mel Weinberg
and his role in "Abscam," an FBI sting operation
to investigate white collar crime in America.
Even as a six-year old, however, the future
master scam artist was already primed to his identity as a Jewish victim:
"His mother answered his knock on the door.
'You're late. How did it go in school today?' she asked.
'Not so good,' answered the boy.
'I got left back,' he replied.
His mother stared at him. The message short-circuited her ability to
comprehend, much less believe.
'You must be mistaken,' she said, clearly aware that something was
'Nobody gets left back in the first grade.
Besides, you bring home all those gold stars every day. That means you
are doing wonderful work in school. Why would they leave you back?'
'Because I'm Jewish,' he sighed, fixing his mother with his most earnest
'Because you're Jewish,' she replied in a voice that took on a slightly
'How can that be? This is the Bronx, in New
York, not Poland. Your teacher is Jewish. Why were you left back?'"
[GREENE, 1981, p. 17-18]
"When I was a little kid," says controversial talk show host Howard
Stern, "I was a victim. Many times I would turn the other cheek when I
should have stood tall. I was overly polite when I needed to be firm.
There was something in my personality that avoided confrontation because
I always felt I would lose in a two-way struggle. I never excelled at
anything... I had 'victim' written all over my freakish face. I was a
gawky lamb available for slaughter. I had lived my entire young life as
a sniveling coward. I was the half-Jew who bowed his head and walked
into the gas chamber without putting up a fight."
[STERN, H., 1995, p. 255]
The Cleveland Jewish News notes this
about famous feminist Gloria Steinem:
"Steinem was born to a 'gentle, nurturing'
Jewish father and a Protestant mother who believed in theosophy, a set
of beliefs based on mystical insight. Largely home-schooled until the
age 12 while her 'itinerant' father packed up the family and traveled
around the country, Steinem does not identify with any organized
religion, except when there's antisemitism. 'Then I identify with the
[KARFELD, M., 10-22-1999, p. 20-]
"As Jews," a "leader in the Jewish community" of Brooklyn, New York,
told researcher Jonathan Reider, regarding the Iranian hostage crisis of
1979, "we know what it means to be hostages. We have been hostages since
[REIDER, J., 1985, p. 256]
A.M. Rosenthal (eventually Executive
Editor of the New York Times) and Times reporter Arthur Gelb
even titled their 1967 book about a Jewish Nazi "One More Victim."
The subject of the volume is Daniel Burros,
the King Kleagle of the New York Ku Klux Klan and former official in the
American Nazi Party, who was a vehement hater of Jews.
How, one wonders, is Burros a victim?
Is he a victim of his own choices in
life? Is he a victim of his own racism?
Is he a victim of his own strange
Is he perhaps a victim of A. M.
Rosenthal and the New York Times, who published an expose about
Burros, noting that he was secretly Jewish?
(Burros committed suicide immediately after
publication of the article).
No, insist the Jewish authors, Burros is a
victim of anti-Semitism - his hatred of Jews is something internalized from
an ugly, exterior, non-Jewish world. The authors put it this way (and they
are blaming Gentile society for the creation of the Burros Nazi identity):
"The fact that there is a Jewish condition
disturbs many Jews and they rail against it, but it is a fact
nonetheless, because it cannot be otherwise. It is a condition not
inborn but created, created not so much by Jews but by Gentiles, and
arising from the one simple fact that, being apart, Jews have no privacy
[i.e., if a Jewish mother calls out in public to her son "Irving,"
everyone knows they are Jewish. Rosenthal and Gelb go on to argue that
Jewish "separateness" and "distinctiveness" is an attribute branded upon
Jews by the non-Jewish world, completely ignoring this as an absolute
pillar of historical, and current, Jewish identity]...
No number of laws, no strength of others'
traditions, and no faith in morals or even religion, can protect the Jew
- German Jew, Russian Jew, Brazilian Jew, and American Jew - from
knowing that he was born into a tribe of victims... From the moment he
is aware of his Jewishness and of the history of Jews he is aware that
this history is the biography of the scapegoat, the martyr, the
dispossessed, the wanderer, the outcast, the tortured, the despised or
the pitied, the beaten, the murdered - the victim. What is a Jew? ' A
There is not a Jew who has not said that to
himself, sometimes in a whisper he can hardly hear... Every Jew now
alive has lived in the memory of the ghetto's stench, remembers
Torquemada [of the Spanish Inquisition], and every Jew now alive has an
Auschwitz number on his soul... What is a Jew? A Jew, among other
things, is a prisoner caged in the ugliest of ages, the mind of his own
[ROSENTHAL/GELB, 1967, p. 57-60]
Hence, we are lead to believe - somehow in all
this - the Jewish Ku Klux Klan leader, is born, "victim" of an anti-Semitic
How weird does the Jewish persecution thing get?
Jewish publisher Lyle Stuart even recalls
an incident he had with William Gaines, also Jewish and the publisher
of Mad magazine:
"One day Bill and I were riding in his
Cadillac and he said, 'You know, sometimes when I pass a bus stop I see
those people standing there. I think they hate me. And I said, 'Bill,
you have to get some self-esteem.' And I suggested he see a
psychiatrist, which he promptly did.'"
[TEBBEL, R., 1999]
Jewish author Ben Stein once noted the
mood among the wealthy producer/writer elite of Jewish-dominated Hollywood
[See later chapter about this subject]:
"There was a distinct feeling that, despite
the high pay and the access to powerful media that TV writers and
producers enjoy, they are still part of a despised underclass, oppressed
psychologically, and (potentially) physically by an Aryan ruling class
of businessmen andothers. This feeling was by no means confined to Jews.
The belief in a ruling class of white, East Coast Protestants meeting
occasionally in corporate board rooms to give its orders to whoever
happens to be elected to office is so strong that no amount of argument
to the contrary makes a dent. And hostility to that real or imagined
class is just as strong."
[in ROTHMAN/LICHTER, 1982, p. 107]
Despite the fact that the exploitation,
oppression and sovereignty over non-Jews, as we have seen, is a very
foundation of talmudic Judaism, Jews commonly portray themselves as victims
even in their exploitation of others. In a relentless apologetic and
Zionist-inspired volume (see the later chapter on Zionism).
The Jews of Germany, Nachum Gidal asserts
"the Jews were forced into the role of
pawnbrokers, money changers, and usurers, very public offices and
therefore often hated... Thus 'the Jew' became the tool and the
scapegoat of the rising capitalist economic system."
[GIDAL, p. 40]
Even if this apologetic myth - often cited in
the Jewish community - was true, that they were somehow "forced into" their
historic roles as oppressors of the non-Jewish populace, such
self-preserving actions still represent a self-centered, self-protective
amoralism where self-preservation ("self" being either the individual or
ethnocentric community) is considered the paramount concern.
If we may this way dismiss collective Jewish
responsibility for negative actions against others over centuries, we may
likewise conveniently excuse all Germans who were also "forced" to join the
Nazi movement (or any other collective expression of evil) because there
were no alternative options (short of personal trouble, hardship, and, of
course, danger and self-impairment).
In modern America, even Jews responsible for a huge share of
communist-instigated terror in post-war Poland, are reconceived as "victims"
through a lens that can see nothing else.
As Stefan Korbonski says,
"The ten years of Jewish rule in Poland [in
the Stalinist era] could not easily be forgotten. It was an era of the
midnight knock on the door, arbitrary arrests, torture, and sometimes
secret execution. Most of those responsible for that reign of terror
left Poland and upon arrival in the West represented themselves as
victims of Communism and anti-Semitism - a claim which was readily
believed in the West and earned them the full support of their hosts."
[PIOTROWSKI, p. 63]
"In other words," notes Tadeusz Piotrowski, "these [Jewish] executioners
were transformed into victims."
[PIOTROWSKI, p. 63] [More information
about these people in the Holocaust chapter]
Jewish celebration of communal victimology
is the cornerstone of Jewish identity.
Simon Wiesenthal, the famed hunter of
Nazi fugitives and namesake of
Holocaust remembrance organizations, has even written the
ultimate coffee table book for Jews (Every Day Remembrance Day: A Chronicle
of Jewish Martyrdom) who wish more specific attachment to their
self-perception of historic victimization.
The book is a kind of calendar, listing selected
atrocities against Jews throughout history, at least one for every day of
"That collective Jewish consciousness (of
suffering and martyrdom)," writes Lucy Dawidowicz, "has been and remains
- with justice, I think - one of the central myths of Jewish history,
being an essence distilled from real events and reinforced in nearly
every Jewish generation until our own time by brute reality."
"Every Jew," declares Milton Steinberg, "at
some time or other has reason to conclude that he has been penalized for
[NEUSNER, J., 1972, p. 77]
"The Jews," observed Sir Lewis Namier, both
a Jew and Zionist, "do not have a history, they have a martrylogy."
[RAPHAEL, p. 30]
"Being a Jew and sufferer go together," a
Jewish senior citizen told anthropologist Barbara Myerhoff, "When we
stop suffering, we get rich and secure, we stop being Jews. We become
like everyone else, living for enjoyment only. Without it we don't know
what our purpose is."
[MYERHOFF, p. 198]
"Moral decency, sympathy for the victim,
sympathy for those who suffer," claims Ann Roiphe, reciting the myth she
deeply believes, "these are the building blocks of the mystical
connection Judaism. It seems not so much to be a matter of indulging in
masochism as to be a matter of aligning oneself with innocence."
[ROIPHE, 1981, p. 187]
Molly Katz, in a book of humor, Jewish
as a Second Language, highlights a number of Jewish cultural traits.
Finding humor in the enduring truths of what the
Jewish community recognizes in itself, she notes that a Jew must,
"always agonize, resent, be disappointed,
gloat, get even, suffer, [and] be positive something terrible is going
Conversely, Jews can,
"never be satisfied, think everything is
fair, be a good sport, feel undeserving, let go of a grudge, ease up,
[or] acknowledge the possibility of any light at the end of a tunnel."
[KATZ, M., p. 72]
"I share... an identification with the tribal suffering," wrote senior
editor Jack Newfield in the Village Voice, "I don't know why, but if I
read of Russian Jews waiting outside a visa office, if I read that a
synagogue was blown up in Brussels, or I read [Jacobo] Timerman's book,
it affects me more on a certain level than when I read about a massacre
in El Salvador or if I read about some atrocity in South Africa. There
is a sense that those are my brothers and sisters."
[BRENNER, p. 55]
"Although American Jews seem rooted,
comfortably integrated in Christian America," wrote Jewish art critic
Donald Kuspit in 1997, "their long history has taught them, with
paranoid precision, that one never knows what persecution and
ostracization the future may bring."
"It isn't easy to find a Jew whose personality hasn't been warped by his
feelings toward gentiles," wrote Jewish commentator James Yaffe in 1968,
"Sometimes the damage is great, sometimes slight; many individuals
succeed in overcoming it, or in learning to live with it, or even in
making something valuable out of it. But the damage, in one form or
another, is almost always there."
[YAFFE, J., 1968, p. 57]
"How can a Jew not be bitter," wondered Ann Roiphe in 1995, "how can a
Jew not be bent by the stories we know, stories that have come to us
through the generations, so many stories of communal disaster, of
individual pain, of lies and exclusions, of expulsions and blood libels,
of Cossacks riding down on our villages, inquisitions and their
instruments of torture, of cold shoulders and cold murders, of blame
placed on our children's heads for plagues, for draught, for flood,
despised for our enforced poverty and envied and loathed for our assumed
[ROIPHE, p. 443]
... It is hard for a Jew not to feel that
the plot of the world, its most central story, is about his or her
destruction, exclusion, failed attempts to find a safe spot."
[ROIPHE, p. 446]
"According to the Hebrew Bible (and its
Christian analogue, the Old Testament)," notes Jewish feminist Andrea
Dworkin, "Jews are God's chosen people. It is not easy to see the
benefits, if any, of this divine chosenness, since the history of the
Jews is one of persecution and oppression... In the often-joined race
for having suffered most, Jews are the group to beat."
[DWORKIN, A., 2000, p. 109]
The Jewish novelist, Bernard Malamud,
took chauvinist Jewish martyrology so far as to subsume all human
suffering under the Jewish umbrella, claiming that "suffering makes all men
Jews." [WHITFIELD, Mult, p. 10]
Jewish philosopher Jacques Derrida,
"says we are all Jews, insofar as people in
the contemporary world are nomads and displaced."
[STEYN, J., 1999, p. 11]
The ridiculousness of such notions may be
quickly dismissed in many ways, most poignantly with a comparison of Jewish
consummate "suffering" to an almost unfathomable kind known by so many, even
today, in the Third World.
As Pascal Bruckner describes his
experience with overwhelming poverty in a Third World train station:
"Here, the suffering are not just little
groups scattered in a crowd; they are laid out, row upon row, on the
bare cement. There are far more of them than there are travelers.
Creatures are lined up in rags made of bags and cloth, with arms that
are eaten away by gangrene and repulsive pustules sticking out.
You walk uneasily past these prostrate figures, as if you were walking
in a swamp, and make your way to the ticket window. Bodies are strewn
about like damaged goods, as if waiting along with their emaciation,
eczema, and lumpus for street cleaners to sweep them up.
It is impossible to tell if they are living
or dead. Nobody pays them any attention... It is an entire race of
crushed, reviled, beaten down remnants, and this tide of flotsam begs
you, calls to you, pulls at you, but so weakly that you push them aside
with a simple movement of your foot."
[BRUCKNER, P., 1986, p. 53]
This is no episodic "holocaust" against a
people who are declared by Evil Ones to have too much power and
influence in surrounding society.
Bruckner's description here is a norm of
survival for entire defined castes in places like India for centuries. Do
these people, an underclass that is an unchanging fixture in Indian history,
merit status as honorary Jews, history's declared foremost sufferers?
Further along on the Jewish martyrological bandwagon, a Marxist and
atheist, Isaac Deutscher, rejected all cultural, religious, and
Zionist definitions of his Jewishness, but said
"I am, however, a Jew by force of my
unconditional solidarity with the persecuted and exterminated. I am a
Jew because I feel the Jewish tragedy as my own tragedy."
[SHAPIRO, p. 8]
"Deutscher's Jewish identity," explains Edward Shapiro, "was dependent
on Jews remaining among the persecuted."
[SHAPIRO, p. 8]
"With the invention of nuclear weapons the
world has become Jewish," decides Eli Wiesel.
[ROSENBERG, D. , p. xiv]
The emotions of the Jewish Persecution
Complex are deep, powerful and often vengeful, as evinced by left-wing
publisher Michael Lerner:
"There are moments when I become so
overwhelmed by the feelings of anger at what was done to my family and
my people that I become sympathetic to the most extreme fantasies of the
Israeli right wingers."
[LERNER, Goyim, p. 430]
On another front, in an article in the feminist
MS magazine, one of its founders and editors, Letty Pogrebin,
"Christian sisters... to try to understand
the immediacy of our [Jewish] mourning and the 5,000 years of terror
that echo in our souls."
[POGREBIN, Antisem, p. 46]
Another "liberal feminist," and regular
contributor to the Village Voice, Ellen Willis, echoed this
view in her own public utterance:
"It is what all Jews, religious and secular,
Zionist and non-Zionist, have in common - our status as outsiders, of
[COHEN, Uses, p. 26]
There are even intra-Jewish concentric circles
of this ideology of incessant victimhood.
In Israel, Orthodox Jews have taken the tool of
self-perceived oppression to understand themselves systematically
discriminated against and persecuted by secular Jewry around them.
"This Orthodox self-perception as victims,"
says Meir Lockshin, "in its most extreme forms, involves seeing the
discrimination against Orthodoxy as systemic. A number of Orthodox Jews
are now saying that the basic structures of Israeli democracy - the
Knesset, the police, the army, and the courts - all discriminate against
Meanwhile, not to be outflanked in the hierarchy
of fellow Jews' feelings of persecution, Shlomo Cohen wields his own
Jewish essence by counter-claiming that,
"I am a secular Jew, a member of a group
that is probably the most oppressed in Jewish life today, certainly in
[COHEN, S. p. 23]
Also in Israel, with the influx of Jews from
Russia to the new Jewish state,
"Russian mafia" head Grigori Lerner (who was
imprisoned in Israel) "in Israel's Russian language press... is being
portrayed as a [victim] of ethnic persecution."
[GROSS, N., 1997, p. 22]
And what about the hyper-religious, far-right
Messianic Gush Emunim movement in the Israeli-Occupied Territories?
Israeli psychologist (and apologist) Tzvi
Moses sees something familiar in their self-obsessions:
"The [Gush Emunim] settlers developed a
feeling of persecution as a defense mechanism, similar to what was
essential in its time to the Jewish nation in exile for its defense and
adjustment in an inimical environment. The existence of such a mechanism
in the psyche of the Jewish nation creates a problematic system in which
change is difficult ... Obstinacy and inflexible thinking typify the
thinking of the Gush today."
[GROSSMAN, D., 1988, p. 42-43]
Even within the elemental unit of the household,
Jewish women have traditionally cultivated complaint of personal suffering
and victimhood abuse to practical ends.
Zborowski and Herzog note that,
"vulnerability becomes a weapon, especially
for the mother. Her suffering serves not only as a rebuke for the past
but also as control of the future."
[ZBOROWSKI, p. 297]
Oppression of Jews is commonly understood by
Jews to have always existed, in varying but usually harsh degrees,
everywhere they went in their exile from the Holy Land.
Most of the world's Jewry, by the Middle Ages,
ended up as a minority people in Christian Europe. Their experiences there,
particularly in relation to the Christian faith throughout medieval times,
are widely believed by Jews today to have lain a foundation for the Nazis'
savage treatment of their people in the twentieth century.
Ann Roiphe goes out to do some calisthenics and lose some calories
and, apparently, this is what runs through her mind:
"Even here in America stepping up and down
in the aerobics classes of our local Jewish community centers we
remember the trains of the Christians, those nation builders who called
us 'Christ killers' as they killed us."
[ROIPHE, p. 444]
Psycho-socially and religiously then, since
ancient history, to be Jewish has always meant exilic misery - exile
from one's country (driven out of the Holy Land in ancient history by the
Babylonians and Romans), from
one's God (who has been traditionally
understood to be angry with too much Jewish disregard for his dictates),
and - increasingly for some, with the rise of rationalism a couple hundred
years ago and estrangement from Jewish tradition in a sea of non-Jews - from
ones' own people.
But always, to be Jewish over the past
millennium there has been an anchoring in the belief that Jews - the
Biblical "chosen people" - are exceptional, and bound, at least, for some
glorious leadership destiny.
Many Jews today - secular or religious - still
quite literally believe that they are God's gift to mankind (often
self-described as "the light unto the world.")
It is also a widely believed article of Jewish
dogma, however, that, even in today's comfortable Western Diaspora, a Jew's
non-Jewish neighbor might at any time turn on him - the Jewish Other,
the ultimate scapegoat - with animosity. For essentially no reason.
(Traditional Orthodoxy's reason for Gentile
hostility, however, is Gentile jealousy because God selected Jewry as His
The successful creation of the modern state of
Israel in recent times (as a direct consequence of Nazi Germany) - and its
overwhelming support by worldwide Jewry - is a communal defense of such
By the end of the 20th century "being Jewish" had reaffirmed its ultimate
expression as both religious and supra-religious collective complaint,
codified as a militantly arrogant politic against the rest of humanity.
There is, of course, considerable evidence across history - over seventeen
hundred years of it - of destructive acts by others against Jews in their
Diaspora ("dispersion"): restrictive laws, harassment, and sometimes large
scale violence. We are not, however, talking about a weekend time span. Nor
are we speaking of anti-Jewish actions that were systematically reasonless.
We are talking about nearly two thousand years
of exile and, quite literally, the life experiences of many millions of
people. Lost to Jewish ideology is the fact that their mistreatment at times
by others has always had a context and that perils, misery, and misfortunes
have also been the common lot of all peoples everywhere - of all faiths,
politics, and social persuasions.
Whenever and wherever Jews suffered, non-Jews
suffered too. Human history is a long and torturous catalogue of social,
economic, and political upheavals; everywhere the struggle for power,
everywhere the struggle for survival. Other peoples have always suffered
too, sometimes catastrophically, in sequence across history, with their own
dilemmas, strife and tragedies, and much of Jewish misfortune has resonated,
inevitably, from others' painful struggles.
Often enough - and this is hotly and routinely
denied, or reductively qualified, by common Jewish discourse these days -
Jews caused other people suffering too. Whatever the case, few peoples have
had the good fortune to survive as an ideological unit as long as the Jews
who culminate a trans-historical diary of troubles and grievances across
thousands of years as a unified expression of their modern selves.
Most other peoples quietly assimilated into
surrounding communities, woefully perished, or began anew.
Many Jews see the presence of a divine hand to account for the fact of their
longevity, that - after 4,000 years and innumerable historical obstacles -
they are still here. Such commentators - and they are legion - always fail
to recognize, however, that untold billions of other human beings are "still
around" too who are NOT Jews, by divine hand or otherwise.
And while not all non-Jews exactly mirror the
same habits, ethnicity, and self-image of their own direct ancestors
thousands of years ago, neither do Jews. Things have changed. Always and
The Talmud itself (a sacred compilation of
Jewish religious opinions over centuries) is a map of such changes. No
Western Jew today - who represents the cumulative absorption of Hellenism,
the Enlightenment, and a myriad of other extra-Jewish historical influences,
as well as a long line of interbreeding with other racial types - would be
recognized as brethren by illiterate Jewish goat-herders living in tents
4,000 years ago.
And meanwhile, untold billions are not
descendants of Abraham. Who cares?
Somewhere back up the ancestral line we all
merge souls to our common human ancestors, of whom no greater covenant in
this world has ever been made.
For Jews who take too much pride in (however
drastically changed) a 4,000-year-old identity linked to a particular
individual (the early Abraham-Isaac-Jacob lineage), one need only scan
the jungles of New Guinea, Africa, and the Amazon to find remote tribes
whose modern religious and ethnic identity still very closely echoes their
unfathomably ancient origins.
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