Only anti-Semites believe that Jews control the world. Yet anti-Semitism itself has choked and strangled the progress of nations. Writing in the June issue of Commentary, Paul Johnson calls anti-Semitism an irrational disease that brought monumental harm to those who practiced it.
Many of our readers will consider Johnson (History of the Jews, Modern Times, Intellectuals, among others) the greatest and most readable of comtemporary historians. A non-Jew, he waxes so rhapsodic at the beginning and end of his volume on the Jews that kiruv organizations have been known to use wholesale quotations from him to most perfectly frame the contribution of Jews to world society.
Most of our readers can anticipate the contradictions that Johnson points to that make anti-Semitism different from other forms of racism – the fact, for example, that in neighboring countries, Jews were accused of and demonized for traits of opposing polarity. Johnson’s art in this piece is in providing the less common insights. When Spain expelled its Jews, it not only lost some of its most talented to the Protestant Netherlands (and ultimately, to America), but it lost the ability to manage the riches it imported from its conquest of the New World. The silver of the conquistadors wound up bankrupting Spain, rather than enriching it, because it lacked the financial know-how that its expelled Jews possessed. The turmoil that the Dreyfus trial brought upon France weakened her enough to become easy prey to Germany in two World Wars. Hitler’s two greatest blunders – attacking Russia and declaring war on the US – were motivated in great part by his designs to expand his death machine to other parts of the globe. The apparatus installed by Czarist police to persecute Russian Jews became the model to enslave all the Soviet peoples under Stalin.
Johnson sees a connection between old and new anti-Semitism and the current intellectual disease of Europe – demonizing America as the source of all evil, while remaining blind to the corruption within. He does not attempt to explain anti-Semitism itself. We insiders will have no problem seeing the wisdom of the medrash which links the word Sinai with sinah – hatred. Hatred of Jews was assured by the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. The message within that Torah was resisted by some societies with every fiber of their being, and inspired jealousy in others.
This realization came to a head for me in the last few days, when I spent some time dialoging with a Muslim journalist who was intrigued by Orthodox Judaism. Why, he asked, were Jews so hated? As I offered a variation on the above theme, it occurred to me that this was going to be harder than speaking to a committed Christian. It was easier to explain Christian hatred of Jews, based on sharply divided views on the nature of G-d, the roles of faith and action, salvation, sin, etc. Muslims had less of a problem with many of the Jewish assumptions, at least on paper. Then one of my children whispered to me yirah v’ahavah/ fear and love. He had perfectly distilled the part of the message that the rest of the world was not ready for, and that Jews are meant to be exemplars of. Evil is so potent, that it cannot be repelled by faith, strong declarations, or harsh punishment. Man needs to be bound by reminders and restrictions that encompass all of time, not just periodic reminders. This is why we have 365 prohibitions, reflecting the fear and reverence relationship with G-d. A society that could suppress all evil inclination, however, would still be missing the point of existence. Belief in G-d and obedience to His Word is a good starting point, not the end point of submission. G-d is lofty enough, and Man is complex enough, that our climbing towards Him requires fine-tuning every part of our being. Hence the 248 affirmative obligations that train and mold every aspect of ourselves.
No other religious system has this mix and balance, in such degree and detail. The rest is commentary.