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Why the Jews?: The Reason for Antisemitism Paperback – August 12, 2003

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (August 12, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743246209
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743246200
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #157,828 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Dennis Prager, one of America's most respected thinkers, is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host and syndicated columnist. He has written four books, including the #1 bestseller Happiness Is a Serious Problem. He has lectured on all seven continents and may be contacted through his website, www.dennisprager.com.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One: Why Jew-Hatred Is Unique

Hatred of the Jew has been humanity's greatest hatred. While hatred of other groups has always existed, no hatred has been as universal, as deep, or as permanent as antisemitism.

The Jews have been objects of hatred in pagan, religious, and secular societies. Fascists have accused them of being Communists, and Communists have branded them capitalists. Jews who live in non-Jewish societies have been accused of having dual loyalties, while Jews who live in the Jewish state have been condemned as "racists." Poor Jews are bullied, and rich Jews are resented. Jews have been branded as both rootless cosmopolitans and ethnic chauvinists. Jews who assimilate have been called a "fifth column," while those who stay together spark hatred for remaining separate. Hundreds of millions of people have believed (and in the Arab world many still do) that Jews drink the blood of non-Jews, that they cause plagues and poison wells, that they secretly plot to conquer the world, and that they murdered God.

The universality of antisemitism is attested to by innumerable facts, the most dramatic being that Jews have been expelled from so many of the European and Arab societies in which they have resided. Jews were expelled from England in 1290, France in 1306 and 1394, Hungary between 1349 and 1360, Austria in 1421, numerous localities in Germany between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, Lithuania in 1445 and 1495, Spain in 1492, Portugal in 1497, and Bohemia and Moravia in 1744-45. Between the fifteenth century and 1772, Jews were not allowed into Russia; when finally admitted there, they were restricted to one area, the Pale of Settlement. Between 1948 and 1967, nearly all the Jews of Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen fled these countries, fearing for their lives.

The depth of antisemitism is evidenced by the frequency with which hostility against Jews has gone far beyond discrimination and erupted into sustained violence. In most societies in which Jews have lived, they have at some time been subjected to beatings, torture, and murder solely because they were Jews. In the Russian Empire during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, mass beatings and murders of Jews were so common that a word, pogrom, was coined to describe such incidents. And these pogroms were viewed by their antisemitic perpetrators as being of such significance that they were equated with the saving of Russia.

On a number of occasions even beating and murdering Jewish communities was not deemed sufficient. Antisemitic passions have run so deep that only the actual annihilation of the Jewish people could solve what came to be called by antisemites the "Jewish Problem." The basic source of ancient Jewish history, the Bible, depicts two attempts to destroy the Jewish people, that by Pharaoh and the Egyptians (Exodus 1:15-22) and that of Haman and the Persians (book of Esther). While it is true that the historicity of these biblical accounts has not been proven or disproven by nonbiblical sources, few would dispute the supposition that in ancient times attempts were made to destroy the Jews. Indeed, the first recorded reference to Jews in non-Jewish sources, the Mernephta stele, written by an Egyptian king about 1220 B.C.E., states, "Israel is no more."

Jewish writings from the earliest times until the present are replete with references to attempts by non-Jews to destroy the Jewish people. Psalm 83:5 describes the enemies of the Jews as proponents of genocide: "Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation, that the Name of Israel may no more be remembered." Just how precarious Jews have viewed their survival is reflected in a statement from the ancient, and annually recited, Passover Haggadah; "In every generation they rise against us in order to annihilate us."

On three occasions during the last 350 years, annihilation campaigns have been waged against the Jews: the Chmelnitzky massacres in eastern Europe in 1648-49, the Nazi German destruction of Jews throughout Europe between 1939 and 1945, and the attempt to eradicate the Jewish state by its enemies.

For various reasons, the Chmelnitzky massacres are today not well known among Jews and are virtually unknown among non-Jews; perhaps the Holocaust tends to overshadow all previous Jewish suffering. Yet without denying the unique aspects of the Nazi Holocaust, there are a number of significant similarities between it and the Chmelnitzky massacres. In both instances, all Jews, including infants, were targeted for murder; the general populaces nearly always joined in the attacks; and the torture and degradation of Jews were an integral part of the murderers' procedures. These characteristics are evidenced by the following contemporaneous description of a typical Chmelnitzky massacre:

Some of [the Jews] had their skins flayed off them and their flesh was flung to the dogs. The hands and feet of others were cut off and they were flung onto the roadway where carts ran over them and they were trodden underfoot by horse....And many were buried alive. Children were slaughtered in their mothers' bosoms and many children were torn apart like fish. They ripped up the bellies of pregnant women, took out the unborn children, and flung them in their faces. They tore open the bellies of some of them and placed a living cat within the belly and left them alive thus, first cutting off their hands so that they should not be able to take the living cat out of the belly...and there was never an unnatural death in the world that they did not inflict upon them.

The permanence (as well as depth) of antisemitism is attested to by the obsessive attention given to the "Jewish Problem" by antisemites throughout history. At one time or another nearly every major country that has had a large Jewish population has regarded this group, which never constituted more than a small percentage of its population, as an enemy. To the Roman Empire in the first century, the European Christian world for over fifteen centuries, the Nazi Reich, the Soviet Union, and to the Arabs and much of the Muslim world, the Jews have been or are regarded as an insufferable threat.

Jews have been perceived as so dangerous that even after their expulsion or destruction, hatred and fear of them remain. The depiction of Jews as ritual murderers of young Christian children in Chaucer's "Prioress's Tale" in The Canterbury Tales one hundred years after all Jews had been expelled from England attests to the durability of antisemitism. So does the characterization of Jews as usurers who wish to collect their interest in flesh in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, three hundred years after the Jews' expulsion. A more recent example was Poland in 1968, when for months the greatest issue for Polish radio, television, and newspapers was the "Unmasking of Zionists in Poland." Of the thirty-three million citizens of Poland in 1968, the Jews numbered about twenty thousand or less than one-fifteenth of 1 percent.

How are the universality, depth, and permanence of antisemitism to be explained? Why such hatred and fear of a people who never constituted more than a small minority among those who most hated and feared them? Why, nearly always and nearly everywhere, the Jews?

Many answers have been offered by scholars. These include, most commonly, economic factors, the need for scapegoats, ethnic hatred, xenophobia, resentment of Jewish affluence and professional success, and religious bigotry. But ultimately these answers do not explain antisemitism; they only explain what factors have exacerbated it and caused it to erupt in a given circumstance. None accounts for the universality, depth, and persistence of antisemitism. In fact, we have encountered virtually no study of this phenomenon that even attempts to offer a universal explanation of Jew-hatred. Nearly every study of antisemitism consists almost solely of historical narrative, thus seeming to indicate that no universal reason for antisemitism exists.

We reject this approach. To ignore or deny that there is an ultimate cause for antisemitism contradicts both common sense and history. Antisemitism has existed too long, and in too many disparate cultures, to ignore the problem of ultimate cause and/or to claim that new or indigenous factors are responsible every time it erupts. Factors specific to a given society help account for the manner or time in which antisemitism erupts. But they do not explain its genesis -- why antisemitism at all? To cite but one example: the depressed economy in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s helps to explain why and when the Nazis came to power, but it does not explain why Nazis hated Jews, let alone why they wanted to murder every Jew. Economic depressions do not explain gas chambers.

The very consistency of the passions Jews have aroused demands a consistent explanation. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, medieval and many modern Christians and Muslims, and Nazis and Communists have perhaps only one thing in common: they have all, at some point, counted the Jews as their enemy, often their greatest enemy. Why?

Among Jews, this question has been posed only in the modern era. Until the modern age, Jews never asked, "Why the Jews?" They knew why. Throughout their history, Jews have regarded Jew-hatred as an inevitable consequence of their Jewishness. Contrary to modern understandings of antisemitism, the age-old Jewish understanding of antisemitism does posit a universal explanation for Jew-hatred: Judaism, meaning the Jews' God, laws, peoplehood, and claim to being chosen. The historical record, as we shall show, confirms the traditional Jewish view that the Jews were hated because of Jewish factors. Modern attempts to dejudaize Jew-hatred, to attribute it to economic, social, and political factors, and universalize it into merely another instance of bigotry, are as opposed to the facts of Jewish history as they are to the historical Jewish understanding of antisemitism.

Antisemites have not hated Jews b...

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Customer Reviews

This book is well researched.
ruben lisker
It's a good book, and Prager is a fine writer who does his homework; I'm just not sure that all of his conclusions are bang on.
Steven Cain
This is the most provacative, thought provoking book I have ever read.
A. Berkowitz

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 95 people found the following review helpful By Gary Selikow on February 2, 2007
Format: Paperback
In the last six years in particular, since Arafat launched a war of terror against Israel's people, I have often wondered what the reasons are for the intense hatred and violent rage, especially by Moslems and the Left, of Israel and her people.
The country where I live, is periodically rocked by nationwide paroxysms of vicious rage and murderous hate of the tiny nation of Israel,encouraged by the ruling party and it's allies, civil society, universities and the media.
This is the world's latest incantation of Jew-hatred, the world's longest and most intense hatred, as Dennis Prager explains in this fascinating and illuminating work.
Prager begins by outlining some of the violent attacks on Jews and Israel in Europe and elsewhere, which has become the disease permeating the world as we begin the 21st century.
Prager mentions the United Nations-sponsored World Conference on Racism, in Durban, South Africa in August 2001, which, while failing to mention human rights abuses and genocide in China, Rwanda or anyplace in the Arab world, turned into a violent fest of hate and rage against Israel.

While anti-Semitism was traditionally associated with rightwing populists, vicious anti-Israelism is becoming the culture and raison d etre of 'progressive' intellectual communities.

Prager illustrates that:

* Thousands of academics around the world, have called for an end to support for Israeli researchers, though not an end to support for researchers from any other nation.

* Israeli scholars in Spring 2003 were forced off the board of an international literary journal.
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53 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Lucien the Librarian on April 27, 2006
Format: Paperback
Prager and Telushkin offer a useful historical survey of anti-Semitism and skillfully refute the most common explanations for "the oldest hatred." Where I disagree with them is in their own theory of anti-Semitism's orgins. Simply put, the authors assume that, regardless of historical period, geographic location, or ideology, the typical anti-Semitic individual or organization follows the same essential syllogism:

1. Judaism originated the concept of ethical monotheism, that is, the belief in a supreme God who is just and good and demands the same from human beings.

2. I/We are opposed to (or are unable/too lazy to live according to) ethical monotheism.

3. Therefore, we must hate Jews, the original advocates of ethical monotheism.

Very neat. However, as reviewer Ben notes below, it's doubtful that the average "Joe Sixpack" anti-Semite goes through anything remotely resembling that thought process. Nearly all Jew-haters hate Jews simply because they were taught to do so, by people who were in turn taught to hate Jews, and so forth.

Furthermore, Judaism, with the minor exception of some Jews in the Hellenistic age, has never been a prosyletizing religion. True, there is the rabbinic concept of the universal "Noahide" moral laws binding upon all human beings. However, there is scant instance of Jews *actively* urging their non-Jewish neighbours to observe even these laws, let alone all of Judaism. So how would your average non-Jew even know what Judaism stood for?

Furthermore, the authors' prescription for ending anti-Semitism, promoting Judaism's ethical monotheism even more strongly, is a praiseworthy goal but contradicts their own thesis.
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100 of 125 people found the following review helpful By N. Silva on May 26, 2002
Format: Paperback
As I followed the Arab-Israel conflict I got more and more confused about how people that didn't know anything about the subject, of all walks of life, became more and more prejudiced against Israel in my country with the help, of course, of the media. Since I knew a little about Israel's history and how it had been the target of many neighboring countries since its very beginning, I decided to do a little research to understand what was happening. Part of the research is this book, which really opened my eyes to a very sad picture. Easy to read, the authors use very simple logic and examples (full of quotes) to disprove common myths about anti-Semitism. It shows how Jews have been killed because they were poor or rich, because they were communists or because they were capitalists. In the end, because they were Jews. It gave a me a first idea of what Judaism is. The book was written at the time of the Soviet Union and shows what was happening then. I intend to read more from the same authors because their style isn't aggressive and is coherent with what they preach, in my opinion. It is a warning to those who think that what happens in the Middle East is a Jew problem.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Pieter Uys HALL OF FAME on September 22, 2007
Format: Paperback
In the introduction, the authors point out the rising tide of antisemitism in European society and media by citing specific examples, the warning of Lawrence Summers about the eruption of the plague on campus, the 2001 UN conference on racism in Durban where Israel was demonized, the hatred emanating from the Arab and Muslim worlds, from Muslims in Europe and from the political Left around the globe.

The aim of this book is to confirm the age-old Jewish understanding of the condition, which the authors consider to be a response to Judaism. The intention is to refute attempts to deny the particularly Jewish reasons for the hatred and its contemporary manifestation of anti-Zionism.

Part One: The Explanation, demonstrates the uniqueness of antisemitism as the hatred of Judaism and ethical monotheism, considers other theories like the Chosen People concept, the higher quality of Jewish life, plus other theories and the frightening phenomenon of the hatred of Judaism by non-Jewish Jews like Marx, Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, Abbie Hoffman, Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky.

The Historical Evidence is assessed in Part Two, from the Hellenic and Roman eras through the Christian, Islamic and Secular (Enlightenment) varieties, Leftist, Nazi and Anti-Zionist Antisemitism. For Christianity, the evidence encompasses the hate-filled words of Church Fathers like John Chrysostom of Antioch and Ambrose of Milan, massacres during the crusades, medieval libels, the Catholic and Protestant versions and the abominable words of Martin Luther.
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