Chosen People

Chosenness: What does it mean to be a Chosen People?

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LESSON PLAN

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A suggested lesson plan outline for incorporating these resources into a 60-minute class.

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Summary

In this unit you can find resources and texts which explore ideas around antisemitism, as explained by Rabbi Sacks. As well as texts from the writings of Rabbi Sacks, you can also find classic Jewish sources, other contemporary Jewish voices, and some broader secular texts to enrich the way you teach this concept in your classroom.

There are many resources provided here for the teacher to choose from when building a lesson or series of lessons on this topic (there are far too many to be included in one lesson only). If you only want to dedicate one lesson to the topic, then a suggested lesson-plan for a sixty-minute lesson is provided which can be used to explore the classic Jewish texts and initial writings of Rabbi Sacks only.

Age: The resources and lesson plan can be adapted by the educator to a wide range of ages, from middle school/key stage 3 (11 years old) upwards, but this unit is most appropriate for high school ages (15-18 years old).

Ask your students to search online in news outlets (for example using Google News) for the word “Antisemitism”.

Using the advanced function ask them to filter their search to:

  • The past week
  • The past 24 hours
  • The past hour

Ask them to record how many articles there are for each of these time periods.

Have them select one article that catches their attention (such as a particularly troubling story, or one that is close to home).

Come together as a class to allow your students to share the stories they have chosen, and to consider some of the following questions:

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Core Questions

  • What article/story did you choose?
  • Why?
  • How prevalent is antisemitism in the world today?
  • How toxic is antisemitism where you live?
  • Have you ever directly experienced antisemitism? How did it make you feel?
  • How long has antisemitism existed?
  • What do you think is the root cause of antisemitism?
  • How can we fight against this?
  • Do you think antisemitism will ever be solved/removed from the world?

A Mutating Virus

What is antisemitism? It is less a doctrine or set of beliefs than a series of contradictions. In the past Jews were hated because they were rich and because they were poor, because they were capitalists and because they were communists, because they kept to themselves and because they infiltrated everywhere, because they held tenaciously to a superstitious faith and because they were rootless cosmopolitans who believed nothing.

The best way to understand antisemitism is to see it as a virus. Viruses attack the human body, but the body itself has an immensely sophisticated defence, the human immune system. How, then, do viruses survive and flourish? By mutating. Antisemitism mutates, and in so doing defeats the immune systems set up by cultures to protect themselves against hatred. There have been three such mutations in the past two thousand years, and we are living through the fourth.

Future Tense, p. 92
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Core Questions

  1. Do you think there is any logic behind antisemitism?
  2. Why is a virus a good analogy to help us understand antisemitism?
  3. Have you ever experienced antisemitism?

The First Mutation

Christianity was an offshoot of Judaism. Its founder and focus was a Jew. As would happen later with Islam, the adherents of the new religion believed that as a development of Judaism, incorporating many of its teachings, Jews would recognise the new dispensation as their own. It did not happen on either occasion. This lack of recognition became a source of hatred. Among the early Christians a series of beliefs slowly took shape that would poison relationships for centuries to come: Jews failed to recognise their own messiah. Worse: Jews were complicit in the death of the messiah. With gathering momentum, already evident in the later gospels, a note of hostility to Jews begins to pervade the emerging literature of the new faith.

Over the next few centuries, beginning with marginal figures like Marcion, and spreading to more central ones like Chrysostom and Jerome, a new genre of works began to appear, known as the Adversos Judeos (‘Against the Jews’) literature, dedicated to demonstrating the blindness and recalcitrance of the Jews. The French historian Jules Isaac gave this the name of ‘the teachings of contempt’. Jews were blind, they were slaves, they were Cain, murderers condemned to wander through the world.

A series of disdainful oppositions was formulated: the Old Testament God of vengeance against the New Testament God of mercy (despite the fact that they were, in Christian belief, the same God); the religion of law against the religion of love; the old, rejected Israel against the new people of the covenant. Not all, but some Christians took the fateful step of defining their faith in opposition to a living people, whom they could not but see as the embodiment of all they rejected. Some of these oppositions remain in place today. This was no longer generalised xenophobia. It was precisely targeted against Jews: it was Judeophobia. That was the First Mutation.

Future Tense, pp. 93-94
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Core Questions

  1. What is the rationale of antisemitism during the period of the “First Mutation”?
  2. Is there a way to escape this kind of antisemitism?
  3. Does this kind of antisemitism still exist today?

The Second Mutation

The second can be dated roughly to 1096, when the first Crusaders paused on their way to the Holy Land to massacre Jewish communities in northern France and Germany, in Worms, Speyer and Mainz. Jews were no longer merely the people who rejected Christianity. They began to be seen as a demonic force, responsible for all the  evils of a troubled age. They were accused of desecrating the host, poisoning wells, engaging in ritual murder and spreading the plague. They were no longer people: they were an active force of evil, children of the devil, offspring of Satan, agents of the Antichrist. It was the beginning of what one historian has called ‘a persecuting society’. In the years following the Black Death alone (1347–50), some two hundred Jewish communities were destroyed. Jews were expelled from Brittany in 1239–40, from Anjou and Maine in 1289, from England in 1290, from France at various periods from 1182 to 1394, and from regions of Germany throughout the fifteenth century.

In Spain, where they had experienced a rare Golden Age, an onslaught took place in 1391, during which synagogues and homes were burned, businesses looted and many Jews murdered. From then on, Spanish Jews faced increasing hostility until their expulsion in 1492. Nor did the tragedy end there. Still to come were Luther’s tirade against Jews (‘their synagogues should be set on fire… their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed… they should be deprived of their prayerbooks and Talmudim’), the invention of the ghetto (Rome 1555, by edict of Pope Paul IV) and the Chmielnicki pogroms (1648–58) during which as many as a hundred thousand Jews died. The experience of Jews in Christian Europe is one of the tragedies of humankind. That was the second mutation: demonic anti-Judaism.

Future Tense, pp. 94-95
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Core Questions

  1. What is the rationale of antisemitism during the period of the “Second Mutation”?
  2. Is there a way to escape this kind of antisemitism?
  3. Does this kind of antisemitism still exist today?

The Third Mutation

The third was born at the very height of enlightened Europe in the nineteenth century. The promise of the Enlightenment was an age of reason, rid once and for all of the prejudices of the past. Rationality would replace revelation; science would displace superstition. There would be a new age of toleration, in which the hatreds of the past would be consigned to history. As the French Revolutionary Declaration put it: all men are born and remain free and equal in rights.

The question was, did this include the Jews?… Against both prediction and promise, the prejudices of the past lived on. Clearly, though, the old rationale for Judeophobia could no longer be sustained. It was religious in origin and logic, and religion no longer had a vote in the secular nation-states of Europe, or in its secularised culture. A new explanation was needed for the old and persisting hatred.

In 1879 a German journalist, Wilhelm Marr, gave it a local habitation and a name. He called it antisemitism. The fact that a new name was needed signals the change from the past. No longer could a rationale for prejudice be based on the sacred texts of Christianity. It was therefore relocated from religion to race. Jews were hated not because of their beliefs but because of their ethnicity. They were an alien race, polluting the bloodstream of Europe. Thus racial antisemitism was born: the third mutation.

The simplest reflection is sufficient to see why this hatred was deadlier than any in the past. You can change your faith; you cannot change your race. While Christians could work for the conversion of the Jews, racial antisemites could work only for their elimination. The logic of genocide was implicit in the third mutation from the beginning. There is, said Raul Hilberg, a straight line from ‘You no longer have a right to live among us as Jews’ to ‘You no longer have a right to live among us’ to ‘You no longer have a right to live’…

By the time the movement had run its course, more than half the Jews of Europe had been murdered, shot, gassed, burned and turned to ash, and there was silence where once European Jewry had lived.

Future Tense, pp. 95-97
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Core Questions

  1. What is the rationale of antisemitism during the period of the “Third Mutation”?
  2. Is there a way to escape this kind of antisemitism?
  3. Does this kind of antisemitism still exist today?

The Fourth Mutation

The new antisemitism is different. It is no longer directed against Jews as individuals. It is primarily directed against Jews as a nation with their own state in their own land. It is a mutant form of anti- Zionism.

It consists of the following three elements. First, Jews are not entitled to a nation-state of their own, a denial, in other words, of the right of Israel to exist. The irony of this development was succinctly stated by Amos Oz. In the 1930s, he said, antisemites carried banners saying: Jews to Palestine. Now the banners read: Jews out of Palestine. He continued, ‘They don’t want us to be there. They don’t want us to be here. They don’t want us to be.’ This is not yet antisemitism. It is anti-Zionism.

The second set of beliefs is that the existence of Israel is not merely an aberration. It is responsible for all the evils of the world, from a lack of peace in the Middle East to avian flu, the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia, the Danish cartoons blaspheming the prophet Mohammed, the Pope’s criticism of Islam, even the 2004 South-east Asian tsunami. All these have been called Zionist plots. In significant parts of the world, Israel has become the demonic force once attributed to Jews in the worst days of the Christian Middle Ages. Jews and their state are a conspiracy against humanity.

The third proposition—the bridge from anti-Zionism to antisemitism—is that all Jews are Zionists; therefore all Jews are responsible for the sufferings caused by Israel; therefore all Jews are legitimate targets of attack. When the Jewish community centre in Argentina is bombed, when synagogues in Paris, Antwerp, Djerba and Istanbul are attacked, when Jewish cemeteries are desecrated and Jews are physically attacked in the streets, these are not Israeli targets but Jewish ones.

Often the argument is heard that what Jews take as antisemitism is in fact no more than criticism of the state of Israel. I know of no significant figure who takes this view. Criticism of a state and its policies are part of the text and texture of public life. Often the sharpest criticism of Israel’s policies comes from within, from its writers and intellectuals, academics and journalists. That is what makes Israel the free society it is. Israel is not perfect. No nation or government is. Therefore criticism of it is legitimate. If justified, it should be heeded; if unjustified, it should be argued against. Antisemitism is not part of the normal cut-and-thrust of political debate or the clash of national interests.

A set of criteria distinguishing antisemitism from criticism of Israel was set out by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (now the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights). It includes the following: denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour, applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation, using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterise Israel or Israelis, drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, or holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel. Such claims have become standard fare in Arab and (some) Western media and on websites.

Future Tense, pp. 97-98
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Core Questions

  1. What is the rationale of antisemitism during the period of the “Fourth Mutation”?
  2. Is there a way to escape this kind of antisemitism?
  3. Does this kind of antisemitism still exist today?

The Jewish Response

First, Jews must fight antisemitism but never internalise it. That is easier said than done. If you are hated, it is natural to believe that you are hateful, that the defect lies in you. It rarely does. Hate exists in the mind of the hater, not in the person of the hated…

Internalised, antisemitism gives rise to either self-righteousness or self-hatred, neither of which is a constructive attitude. Jews are the objects of antisemitism, not its cause. There has been an almost endless set of speculations about what the cause of antisemitism actually is. Some have seen it in psychological terms: displaced fear, externalisation of inner conflict, projected guilt, the creation of a scapegoat. Others have given it a sociopolitical explanation: Jews were a group who could conveniently be blamed for economic resentments, social unrest, class conflict or destabilising change. Yet others view it through the prism of culture and identity: Jews were the stereotyped outsiders against whom a group could defne itself. Yet others, noting the concentration of antisemitism among the very faiths—Christianity and Islam—that trace their descent to Abraham and Judaism, favour a Freudian explanation in terms of the myth of Oedipus: we seek to kill those who gave us birth. It would be strange indeed if so complex a phenomenon did not give rise to multiple explanations.

But the roots of antisemitism belong within the mind of the antisemite, not among Jews. The response must be to fight it, but never to internalise it or accept it on its own terms. Racial antisemitism eventually cost the lives of six million Jews. But it left another, less visible scar. One of the mistakes made by good, honourable and reflective Jews was to believe that since Jews were hated because they were different, they should try as far as possible not to be different.

So, some converted. Others assimilated. Yet others reformulated Judaism to eliminate as far as possible all that made Jews and Judaism distinctive. When these things failed—as they did, not only in nineteenth-century Germany and Austria but also in fifteenth century Spain—some internalised the failure. Thus was born the tortured psychology known as Jewish self-hatred: the result of Jews ceasing to define themselves as a nation loved by God and instead seeing themselves as the people hated by Gentiles. It was a tragic error. Antisemitism is not caused by Jews; they are merely its targets. There can be antisemitism in countries where there are no Jews at all. Hatred is something that can happen to us, but it is not who we are. It can never be the basis of an identity.

Future Tense, pp. 106-108

Antisemitism is not a belief. It is a sickness and one that has little to do with Jews. Let me explain. The world is constantly changing, and change is very hard for people to bear, especially when they experience it as a form of loss. The easiest way of coping with it is to blame someone else. In the wilderness the Israelites did this to Moses. The fact that he had liberated them from slavery was irrelevant. They accused him of bringing them out into the desert to die.

Blame is a sickness and a very dangerous one. It defines you as a victim. It absolves you from responsibility. It allows you to say that the problems you are experiencing are someone else’s fault, and were it not for them you would not now be suffering. This is false and ultimately self-destructive, but it is a comforting thing to believe.

Who then do you blame? Someone who is [a] close enough to be a plausible candidate, [b] different enough to be not like you, and [c] harmless or weak or forgiving enough for it not to be dangerous to blame them. No one blames those they genuinely fear.

For centuries Jews filled that role in Christian Europe. They were religiously different. In the nineteenth century they were deemed to be racially different. Today they fulfil that role in an Islamic Middle East. They are not Arab. They are not Muslim. They are different.

Antisemitism is a projection, and is caused not by Jews but by internal conflicts in the societies that give rise to it. Today the Middle East, and to some degree Europe, are riven by conflict. The world is changing, economically, politically and technologically almost faster than people can bear. So they search for someone to blame. It can be the West; it can be America; or it can be the Jews. Since Jews are smaller and weaker than the West or America, it usually lands up being them.

Letter 16: Antisemitism in Letters to the Next Generation, pp. 55-56

I believe that a terrible fallacy was born in the minds of the Jews of the nineteenth century, one that has wreaked havoc with Jewry ever since. The fallacy was that Jews are the cause of antisemitism. Therefore if Jews change, antisemitism will disappear. This is false simply because Jews are the object rather than the cause of antisemitism, and this is something else altogether— not less fearful, nor less tragic in its consequences, but different.

One of the best-known facts about antisemitism is that its existence does not require the presence of Jews. It exists in countries that do not have, perhaps never had, a significant Jewish population. Jews can fight antisemitism, but they cannot cure it. Only anti-Semites can do that. That is what the Church has been attempting to do, often with great courage, since the Holocaust. It is what Germany has tried to do in its own wrestling match of the soul. Tragically, of course, antisemitism has not died. It has merely traveled, and today it exists in the form of an Islamic anti-Zionism no less demonic than its Christian antecedents.

The only sane response to antisemitism is to monitor it, fight it, but never let it affect our idea of who we are. Pride is always a healthier response than shame. Some years ago a Rabbi told me of an episode that happened to him in Russia. Glasnost was in its early days. For the first time in seventy years, Jews were free to practice Judaism openly. He had gone there to help in the revival of Jewish life. He discovered, as many did at that time, that “openness” meant also that antisemitism could be more freely expressed.

A Letter in the Scroll, p. 213
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Core Questions

  1. Who is to blame for antisemitism?
  2. How should we respond as a people?
  3. How can you respond as an individual?

Lessons to be learned for humanity

The root cause of antisemitism [is] spelled out by the world’s first recorded antisemite, Haman, when he said to King Ahasuerus, ‘There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people.’ Antisemitism is the paradigm case of dislike of the unlike, the fear of the stranger, the outsider, the one not like us. It is the hatred of difference.

Throughout history, Jews have borne the burden of difference. Whether in Christian Europe or the Muslim Middle East, they were the quintessential Other. That is Judaism’s great contribution to humanity: to show that one can be other and still human, still a loyal and active citizen, still make contributions to every field of human endeavour, still be loved by God and held precious in his sight.

That is our argument to humanity: antisemitism—the hatred of difference—is an assault not on Jews only but on the human condition as such. Life is sacred because each person—even genetically identical twins—is different, therefore irreplaceable and non-substitutable. Every language, culture and civilisation (within the terms of the universal moral code) has its own integrity and because each is different, each adds something unique to the collective heritage of humankind. Cultural diversity is as essential to our social ecology as biodiversity is to our natural ecology. Antisemitism begins with Jews, but it never ends with them. A world without room for Jews is one that has no room for difference, and a world that lacks space for difference lacks space for humanity itself. The only adequate response to the fear and hatred of difference is to honour the dignity of difference. That is the Jewish message to the world, and if Jews are true to it they will discover that though they have enemies, they also have friends.

Future Tense, pp. 110-111

Antisemitism is a deadly doctrine. It endangers Jews. But it also ultimately destroys antisemitic societies themselves. The reason should be obvious. When you blame others and define yourself as a victim, you abdicate responsibility for solving your own problems. That is why medieval Christendom, Nazi Germany, Czarist Russia and the Soviet Union – massive powers in their day – died from internal decay. You cannot build a viable religion, society or identity on prejudice. Hate endangers the hated but it destroys the hater.

In the last month of his life, Moses gave the Israelites an unusual command. He said, “Do not hate an Egyptian for you were strangers in his land” (Deuteronomy 23:8). What did he mean? The Egyptians enslaved the Israelites and tried to kill every male child. Was that a reason not to hate them? Surely the opposite was the case.

What Moses was doing was very profound. He was telling the next generation that if they continued to hate Egyptians, they would still be slaves – to the past, to resentment, to a sense of grievance. Moses would have taken the Israelites out of Egypt but he would not have taken Egypt out of the Israelites. He was stating one of the deepest truths of all: If you want to be free, you have to let go of hate.

That is a message we must insist on at every opportunity. Antisemitism matters not because Jews are Jews but because Jews are human. You cannot deny someone else’s humanity without endangering your own.

Letter 16: Antisemitism in Letters to the Next Generation, pp. 57-58
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Core Questions

  1. What lesson must the world learn from antisemitism?
  2. How can the Jewish people help this lesson to be learned?
  3. How did Rabbi Sacks do this during his lifetime?

“Antisemitism matters not because Jews are Jews but because Jews are human. You cannot deny someone else’s humanity without endangering your own.”

Letters to the Next Generation 2: Reflections on Jewish Life

“Antisemitism is a deadly doctrine. It endangers Jews. But it also ultimately destroys antisemitic societies themselves.”

Letters to the Next Generation 2: Reflections on Jewish Life

“Antisemitism is a projection, and is caused not by Jews but by internal conflicts in the societies that give rise to it.”

Letters to the Next Generation 2: Reflections on Jewish Life

“The only sane response to antisemitism is to monitor it, fight it, but never let it affect our idea of who we are. Pride is always a healthier response than shame.”

Radical Then, Radical Now, p. 205

“Nor am I a Jew because of antisemitism or to avoid giving Hitler a posthumous victory. What happens to me does not define who I am: ours is a people of faith, not fate.”

Radical Then, Radical Now, p. 217

“Antisemitism is not a unitary phenomenon, a coherent belief or ideology. Jews have been hated because they were rich and because they were poor; because they were capitalists and because they were communists; because they believed in tradition and because they were rootless cosmopolitans; because they kept to themselves and because they penetrated everywhere. Antisemitism is not a belief but a virus. The human body has an immensely sophisticated immune system which develops defences against viruses. It is penetrated, however, because viruses mutate. Antisemitism mutates.”

The Jonathan Sacks Haggadah, p. 36 (Essays)

“Racial antisemitism was a more deadly form than any of its predecessors, because whereas religious convictions can be renounced, races can only be exterminated.”

The Jonathan Sacks Haggadah, p. 37 (Essays)

“For Jews, the response to antisemitism must be to fight it but never to internalise it or accept it on its own terms.”

The Jonathan Sacks Haggadah, p. 41 (Essays)

“Antisemitism – the hatred of difference – is an assault not on Jews only but on the human condition as such.”

The Jonathan Sacks Haggadah, p. 43 (Essays)

“Jews cannot fight antisemitism alone. The victim cannot cure the crime. The hated cannot cure the hate. It would be the greatest mistake for Jews to believe that they can fight it alone. The only people who can successfully combat antisemitism are those active in the cultures that harbour it.”

Future Tense, pp. 108-109

“Antisemitism begins with Jews, but it never ends with them. A world without room for Jews is one that has no room for difference, and a world that lacks space for difference lacks space for humanity itself.”

Future Tense, p. 111

“Antisemitism is never ultimately about Jews. It is about a profound human failure to accept the fact that we are diverse and must create space for diversity if we are to preserve our humanity.”

Future Tense, p. 129

“The best way of curing antisemitism is to get people to experience what it feels like to be a Jew. The best way of curing hostility to strangers is to remember that we too, from someone else’s perspective, are strangers. Memory and role reversal are the most powerful resources we have to cure the darkness that can sometimes occlude the human soul.”

Not in God’s Name, p. 188

“The significance of antisemitism, though, is its effect not on Jews but on antisemites. It allows them to see themselves as victims. It enables them to abdicate moral responsibility. Whatever is wrong in the world, ‘It isn’t our fault, it’s theirs. They did it to us. After all, they control the world.’ The result is that hate paralyses the mind and perpetuates the very failures that caused defeat or underachievement in the first place.”

Not in God’s Name, p. 261

“There is, in short, nothing in Judaism to suggest that it is the fate of Jews to be hated. It is neither written into the texture of the universe nor encoded in the human genome. It is not the will of God.”

Essays on Ethics, p. 254

“Jews cannot cure antisemitism. Only anti-Semites can do that, together with the society to which they belong. The reason is that Jews are not the cause of antisemitism. They are the objects of it, but that is something different. The cause of antisemitism is a profound malaise in the cultures in which it appears. It happens whenever a society feels that something is badly amiss, when there is a profound cognitive dissonance between the way things are and the way people think they ought to be. People are then faced with two possibilities. They can either ask, “What did we do wrong?” and start to put it right, or they can ask, “Who did this to us?” and search for a scapegoat.”

Judaism’s Life-Changing Ideas, p. 226

“The appearance of antisemitism is always an early warning sign of a dangerous dysfunction within a culture, because the hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews.”

The Power of Ideas, p. 48

“Antisemitism is the hardest of all hatreds to defeat because, like a virus, it mutates, but one thing stays the same. Jews, whether as a religion or a race or as the State of Israel, are made the scapegoat for problems for which all sides are responsible. That is how the road to tragedy begins.”

The Power of Ideas, p. 209

Rabbi Lord Immanuel Jakobovits

Yes, I do believe in the Chosen people concept as affirmed by Judaism in its holy writ, its prayers, and its millennial tradition. In fact, I believe that every people — and indeed, in a more limited way, every individual—is “chosen” or destined for some distinct purpose in advancing the designs of Providence. Only, some fulfil their mission and others do not. Maybe the Greeks were chosen for their unique contributions to art and philosophy, the Romans for their pioneering services in law and government, the British for bringing parliamentary rule into the world, and the Americans for piloting democracy in a pluralistic society. The Jews were chosen by God to be ‘peculiar unto Me’ as the pioneers of religion and morality; that was and is their national purpose.

Eleff, Z. 2016. Modern Orthodox Judaism: A Documentary History. Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society, 260–264

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook

At the maturity of the world, when the splendor of Israel’s holiness is revealed, there is no room for strayers, for outsiders, to base an establishment that would repel the Light of Israel, to enforce some mystical enlightenment or faith that would stand outside of the (Israelite) Nation’s existence, honor and holy influence. For the supernal light and splendor of unity – whose highest fundamental, the light of truth in its clarity lives in it – is connected to the unique quality of Israel.

The Lord his God is with him and the trumpet of the King is through him.

Because of the descent of the world and the lowering of the Israelite soul, the higher unity is separated from its source of unity and ascends above to the heavens. In the world of the living there appears but the glow of the lower unity, drawn from secondary sources and subject to foreign domination. Knesset Yisrael (Ecclesia Israel) shudders, she shrieks in pain: Woe is to me, my soul is weary! Secrets of Torah are transmitted to outsiders. The Torah is burnt, her scrolls fired and the letters fly, and for the dear children of Zion, ash (efer) has replaced glory (pe’er). The understanding of heart arise at midnight, their hands on their loins as a woman in childbirth: on account of the suffering of the world, of Israel, of the Shechinah (Divine Presence), of the Torah, they cry and mourn. They realize the depth of pain, its source and effects. They know that all the troubles and darkness, all the rivers of spilt blood, all the sufferings and wanderings, all the derision and hate, all the wickedness and pollution, are but a vague echo of the supernal pain, the pain of heaven, the pain of the Shechinah (Divine Presence), the pain of the essential ideal when sundered from the source of its joy, and the supernal ideal is connected to the spirit of people and the choice of man, the Return of Israel and the exaltedness of the volitional spirit. They [i.e., the understanding of heart] call for Return – We are to Yah and our eyes are (turned) to Yah.

Rav Kook, Orot, Jerusalem: Maggid Books, 2015 edition, p. 128

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

The aloneness of the Jewish People is today very pronounced. The existence of the state dovetails with this aloneness. Herzl did not understand this aloneness in a metaphysical and meta-historical fashion. He did not see the uniqueness of Jewish history [a history] that was totally foreign to him. On the other hand, he saw and experienced the hate for the Jewish people in reality. He recognized this reality and this aloneness as a fact. He explained them in political terms. However, the aloneness of the Jewish people is one of the clear signs of the nation which exists as a chosen nation. The aloneness is a result of the election [of the Jewish people]. A great individual is lonely. Moses, our teacher, was lonely. A great nation is alone. This is part of the covenant that God established with the Jewish people. That is part of what makes it unique. A lonely individual is creative. A lonely nation is also a creative one. It is clear, therefore, that the State of Israel expresses the greatness of the Jewish people and its uniqueness in the world. After 1,900 years of destruction and exile, the nation returns to its land and rebuilds ancient ruins.

J. B. Soloveitchik, Community, Covenant and Commitment: Selected Letters and Communications, New York: Meotzar Horav, 2000, p. 233

Rabbi S. R. Hirsch

The Bible terms Israel segulah, a peculiar treasure, but this designation does not imply, as some have falsely interpreted, that Israel has a monopoly of the Divine love and favor, but on the contrary, that God has the sole and exclusive claim to Israel’s devotion and service; that Israel may not render Divine homage to any other being.

Hirsch, S. R. 1969. The Nineteen Letters on Judaism (Prepared by Jacob Breuer, based on the translation by Rabbi Dr. Bernard Drachman). Jerusalem: Feldheim Publishers.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

My people were brought to America in chains. Your people were driven here to escape the chains fashioned for them in Europe. Our unity is born of our common struggle for centuries, not only to rid ourselves of bondage, but to make oppression of any people by others an impossibility.

Address the American Jewish Committee convention in 1958

There are Hitlers loose in America today, both in high and low places… As the tensions and bewilderment of economic problems become more severe, history(‘s) scapegoats, the Jews, will be joined by new scapegoats, the Negroes. The Hitlers will seek to divert people’s minds and turn their frustration and anger to the helpless, to the outnumbered. Then whether the Negro and Jew shall live in peace will depend upon how firmly they resist, how effectively they reach the minds of the decent Americans to halt this deadly diversion….

Address to the National Biennial Convention of the American Jewish Congress, 14th May 1958

When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism!

Response to a student criticising Zionists following the Six Day War, at a dinner at Harvard University, on 27th October 1967.

We cannot sit complacently by the wayside while our Jewish brothers in the Soviet Union face the possible extinction of their cultural and spiritual life. Those that sit at rest, while others take pains, are tender turtles and buy their quite with disgrace.

The denial of human rights anywhere is a threat to the affirmation of human rights everywhere.

Jewish history and culture are a part of everyone’s heritage, whether he be Jewish, Christian or Muslim.

Address to 50,000 people in 32 States at demonstrations for Soviet Jews via a telephone hook-up, on 11th December 1966.

Elie Wiesel

Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.

Interview with U.S. media, 1986

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

The Nobel Peace Prize speech, 1986

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death.

Interview with U.S. media, 1986

No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.

Interview to Parade Magazine, 1992

The Holocaust is a unique event, but it has a universal significance which must be memorized incessantly.

Unfortunately, anti-Semitism still exists. It has been alive for more than 2,000 years, and will likely continue living. I thought that the memory of the Holocaust would shame those boasting anti-Semitic opinions. I was wrong. It still exists in different countries, and it seems people are no longer ashamed to be anti-Semitic.

There are anti-Semites who are only anti-Israel,” he explains. “Once I thought that anti-Semitism had ended; today it is clear to be that it will probably never end. It might weaken sometimes, but it will continue existing, because in different countries there is no shame in being an anti-Semite. We must remember that anti-Semitism led to Auschwitz. Without anti-Semitism there would have been no Auschwitz.

Interview with Ynet, 28th January 2014

And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

Night

Deborah E. Lipstadt

The clueless antisemite is an otherwise nice and well-meaning person who is completely unaware that she has internalized antisemitic stereotypes and is perpetuating them. The only proper response, however hard it may be for you, is to politely tell this person that what she said comes under the category of an insidious and insulting ethnic stereotype.”

To try to defeat an irrational supposition—especially when it is firmly held by its proponents—with a rational explanation is virtually impossible.

In February 2018, Oskar Deutsch, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Austria, observed that the Vienna-based Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal used to receive antisemitic threats all the time. But those letters were anonymous and there was little means of tracing the writers. Today, Deutsch says, “these threats clearly state exactly who they come from. That is the problem—antisemitic statements are becoming ever more normal.”

When our children fear there is danger in openly identifying as a Jew, it is indeed something that should concern us all.

Antisemitism: Here and Now

I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal’d by the same means, warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, do we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.

William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

Can anything be more disgusting than to hear people called ‘educated’ making small jokes about eating ham, and showing themselves empty of any real knowledge as to the relation of their own social and religious life to the history of the people they think themselves witty in insulting? […] The best thing that can be said of it is, that it is a sign of the intellectual narrowness—in plain English, the stupidity which is still the average mark of our culture.

George Eliot

Hatred of Jews is not only irrational, it is self-destructive, of nations as well as of individuals.

If anti-Semitism is a variety of racism, it is a most peculiar variety, with many unique characteristics. In my view as a historian, it is so peculiar that it deserves to be placed in a quite different category. I would call it an intellectual disease, a disease of the mind, extremely infectious and massively destructive. It is a disease to which both human individuals and entire human societies are prone.

What strikes the historian surveying anti-Semitism worldwide over more than two millennia is its fundamental irrationality. It seems to make no sense, any more than malaria or meningitis makes sense. In the whole of history, it is hard to point to a single occasion when a wave of anti-Semitism was provoked by a real Jewish threat (as opposed to an imaginary one). In Japan, anti-Semitism was and remains common even though there has never been a Jewish community there of any size.

Asked to explain why they hate Jews, anti-Semites contradict themselves. Jews are always showing off; they are hermetic and secretive. They will not assimilate; they assimilate only too well. They are too religious; they are too materialistic, and a threat to religion. They are uncultured; they have too much culture. They avoid manual work; they work too hard. They are miserly; they are ostentatious spenders. They are inveterate capitalists; they are born Communists. And so on. In all its myriad manifestations, the language of anti-Semitism through the ages is a dictionary of non-sequiturs and antonyms, a thesaurus of illogic and inconsistency.

As an example of the self-destructive force of anti-Semitism, the case of Hitler and Nazi Germany is paralleled only by what has happened to the Arabs over the course of the last century.

In Europe, too, anti-Semitism has returned after being supposedly banished forever in the late 1940’s. Fueled by large and growing Muslim minorities, whose mosques and websites propagate hatred of Jews, it has also been nourished by indigenous elements, both intellectual and political. It has even penetrated mainstream parties anxious to garner Muslim votes—New Labor in Britain being a disturbing example.

Paul Johnson

Suggested Lesson Plan on Antisemitism

The following lesson plan is a suggestion of how some of the resources contained in this unit could be incorporated into a 60-minute class period for a high-school age class. This will focus solely on antisemitism in the thought of Rabbi Sacks. If you wish to incorporate the broader secular sources and the other contemporary Jewish thinkers into your class, more than sixty minutes will be necessary.

antisemitism lesson plan cover page magen david

Antisemitism: The Mutating Virus

Download our 60-minute class for high-school age classes


Bet Nidrash on Antisemitism

Having completed your study of this topic, you may wish to embark with your students on a “Bet Nidrash” on the topic, a practical project based on what you have learned and discussed. The term “Bet Nidrash is a play on the term Bet Midrash (study hall) replacing the word for study (Midrash) with the word Nidrash, which means “required” or an “imperative”. This suggests that one’s study should not be just for its own sake, but rather a means to an end, to improve oneself and the world around us.

Rabbi Sacks’ philosophy and writings were always focused not on the theoretical, but on the deeply practical. He urged for the ideas he wrote about to be implemented outside of the walls of the Bet Midrash, in the real world.

  • Ask your students to do the opening activity found on News research
  • Then challenge them with the task of creating a plan to tackle the antisemitism described in the article they chose, and then actually carry it out their plan. This could include writing letters of protest, online protests, or even organising in-person protests. Their project could also involve creating educational programmes for the wider community.
  • After they have implemented their plans, you can bring them back together to discuss what worked effectively, and where they felt the impact was too small, to give them the space and support to consider future ways they could further expand their efforts and increase the effectiveness of their work, thinking long-term as well as short-term about how they can continue to protest antisemitism.