Did you know that Judaism has been around for almost 4,000 years?
This fascinating religion started in the fertile crescent, then expanded outward into the world through its tight-knit diasporas. Jews carry on the same traditions, maintaining the Hebrew language. Without Judaism, we wouldn’t have Christianity and Islam, either.
But sadly, this beautiful tradition has been plagued by a specter since the beginning: antisemitism.
Everyone knows about the Holocaust. And yet not everyone realizes that the discrimination against Jews was in full force long before that point.
How did antisemitism start? In this antisemitism guide, you’ll be one step closer to understanding this bigoted belief. And then, hopefully, you can be the positive change in the world that puts an end to it.
What Is Anti-Semitism?
First, what is a Semite? Semite comes from the word Shem, Noah’s son, who some believe was the progenitor of the Semite peoples. In earlier times, this term referred to many of the people dwelling in Northern Africa, the Levant, and the Middle East.
In the current era, we don’t use Semite to describe people. Rather, this refers to a group of languages, specifically the Afro-Semitic language family. This includes Arabic and Hebrew.
While Semitic used to refer to a wide group of people, the term antisemitic relates only to one: the Jews. Antisemites coined the term in 1879, although antisemitic behaviors existed long before that point. Therefore, antisemitism means persecution, discrimination, hate, and prejudice toward Jews.
Antisemitism isn’t always violent. It can come in the form of unfavorable and mistrusting attitudes towards Jewish people. A common form of antisemitism is the stereotype that Jews love money and secretly control the world.
Unfortunately, this hate can turn catastrophic. The Nazis executed an estimated 6 million Jews alone, more than half of the 11 million Holocaust victims. Jews refer to this horrific event as the Shoah.
The Tribal Mindset
It can be hard to comprehend how racist and discriminatory practices come into being. So the best way of understanding antisemitism is to take a brief dive into human psychology.
Humans are a tribal species. We subconsciously divide ourselves into “us” and “them.” We see this everywhere we go: sports teams, armies, even fans of certain celebrities.
This tribal mindset benefited our species in its twilight years when humans lived in literal tribes. Resources were scarce, and humans needed to fight tooth and nail to obtain them.
Luckily, humans don’t need to live like that anymore. Resources are abundant, and yet the tribal mindset remains. Humans form into groups by nature, and those groups can become hostile to out-groups.
Tribalism is all about seeing the differences between “us” and “them.” This can be skin color, language, and in this case, religion and tradition.
Jews were an insular culture. They tended to marry other Jews and had rituals and traditions that were different from others. Sabbath day observance and circumcision are two examples of Jewish traditions.
With so many differences, many began to–unfortunately–see Jews as “them.”
How Did Antisemitism Start?
It’s important to understand that Jews have been the minority for most of history. Romans, Greeks, and later Christians and Muslims surrounded them on all sides. Perhaps the beginning of antisemitism is the claim by Christians that Jews killed Jesus.
This Christ-killer claim was not just for religious motives, but political ones, too. Whenever someone needed to take power from a Jew or get something done, they could use antisemitism. This riled up the people, turning them against the Jews.
In short, antisemitism tips the scale in favor of the ruling bodies.
Everyone from the Romans to the Christians drove Jews out of their homes. This is the reason Jews exist across the world. The diaspora is a result, in great part, of persecution and violence.
As such, Jews had to adjust to new communities. They needed a way to make money to survive. And so, in many cases, Jews turned to lending money.
The Christian bible forbids usury, which means collecting interest off loans. Jews, on the other hand, had no restrictions. This allowed Jews to become wealthy money lenders to Christian kings and lords.
Defaulting on Debts
Christian kings would often take out Jewish loans to fund their wars. Of course, they weren’t too happy when it came time to pay back that loan. So rather than pay the interest on their loans, people would instead massacre the Jews.
This sad state of affairs meant that people found every reason possible to hate the Jews. They relegated them to ghettos, restricted their rights, and harassed them. To protect themselves, Jews became more insular and kept to themselves.
This deeply-rooted antisemitism remained for years. Eventually, Hitler made use of it again to blame the struggles of the Third Reich on Jews. The result was a massacre, the likes of which had never been seen before.
The brutality of the Holocaust should have been the ultimate demonstration of what hate does. It should have stifled any further antisemitism in our societies. But, unfortunately, it didn’t.
Antisemitism is alive and well in far-right movements. The protests in Charlottesville are a testament that many still hate Jews with a passion. Even though this hate is unfounded, it leads to synagogue shootings and bombings in our modern era.
Organizations like the Creative Community for Peace intend to end this unacceptable bigotry in our societies.
You can help to stop antisemitism. Combat hate with knowledge. Bigotry falls apart when you scrutinize it.
Donate to Holocaust remembrance organizations. Share articles and videos on the Holocaust and the damage antisemitism does to vulnerable minorities. Above all, do not fall victim to the us/them mindset.
How did antisemitism start? Now you know it has a long history in the West. It has plagued the Jewish people, giving them no respite for generations.
This side of humanity can rear its ugly head, but with your efforts, we can stop antisemitism in its tracks.
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