Antisemitism: A Historical Survey

by Mark Weitzman

Director of Government Affairs, Simon Wiesenthal Center
Past Chair, Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance

This article was originally written in 1994 for a forthcoming volume that was commissioned by the Council of American Jewish Museums. It is published here with the kind permission of Ori Soltes, editor of that volume. I have made only a few minor changes in the text to reflect current issues. Since antisemitism is an artificial word that connotes a conflict between semite and antisemite that does not exist in reality, I prefer the spelling antisemitism. In this article I have followed individual authors choices when quoting or citing their works. 

Antisemitism is, for Jews, one of the most simple, yet paradoxically also one of the most complex of phenomena. It is simple in that almost every Jew feels like they either have direct experience or at least an expert knowledge of it, and yet it is so complex that scholars still cannot agree on its exact definition.

The definitions offered range from a broad description of antisemitism "as a term denoting all (my emphasis) forms of hostility manifested toward Jews throughout history,"1 to narrower contexts that refer only to actions that cross certain specified lines (i.e. - legal restrictions, physical violence, etc.).2 These descriptions are often modified by reference to a specific type of antisemitism, such as "economic", "racial" or "theological" antisemitism. Although the subject has been studied from many perspectives and disciplines, there is still much that remains uncertain, including questions regarding its origins and the motives of its adherents.

It can be said that from its very beginnings the Jewish people have had to contend with anti-Jewish behavior. Turning to the Bible itself, Jewish thinkers have found in the conflict between Esau and Jacob, Pharaoh's or Haman's planned genocides, or even Amalek's attack in the desert, that the archetypes of antisemitism are rooted in the depths of Jewish memory. The Scroll of Esther as well as the Apocryphal books of Judith and Tobit have been viewed, in the words of one popular history, as being "the first evidence of those virulent anti-Jewish attitudes that were to become so frequently directed at major Jewish communities"3 in the Diaspora. The debate over historical references to antisemitism intensifies when we turn to the classical Greco-Roman period. One expert has written that "Ancient Anti-Semitism was significant and widespread" and came "from governments, mobs and intellectuals."4 He concluded that antisemitism of the masses was deep-seated and ready to burst into violence while the antisemitism of the intellectuals was uninfluential in this mass belief and that the masses' belief was motivated by the fear of Judaism as a non-tolerant monotheistic religion that would close down the more tolerant pagan religions. This would be accomplished by the aggressive Jewish proselytization together with Jewish self-organization had created a large and cohesive bloc that usually operated in cooperation with non-Jewish governments (the series of armed rebellions against Antiochus of Syria and Rome were more exceptions than the rule), causing resentment amongst some local populations; when taken all together, this potent combination created the antisemitic beliefs that periodically erupted.5

Another scholar, Shaye J.D. Cohen, raises an important point. He warns us that the use of the term antisemitism for this period is in itself problematic because it is "not only anachronistic, but misleading."6 Since there was no concept of race in the ancient world, "antisemitism" makes no sense. There was also no picture of Jews as moneylenders, usurers, or economic exploiters, nor were there charges of dual loyalty, all of which would become mainstays of traditional antisemitic stereotyping. Some of the anti-Jewish acts that did take place were even understandable as reactions to Jewish rebellions and other actions. Furthermore, there existed a pattern of successful proselytization, which would indicate an openness or even sympathy to Judaism. A survey of classical authors who commented on Jews or Judaism found that 18% were favorable, 59% neutral and 23% unfavorable.7 Cohen concludes his discussion by saying that "a discussion of Anti-Judaism in antiquity that ignores the other half of the question, the power of the attraction exerted by Judaism in the Greco-Roman world, is lachrymose indeed."8 This distinction is extremely important to keep in mind. Antisemitism usually does not exist in a vacuum, but rather exist in a context of both balance and nuance.

Whatever one chooses to conclude about the definition of ancient anti-Judaism, there is no question that the birth of Christianity changed the situation dramatically. Many experts find the roots of modern antisemitism to be firmly imbedded in aspects of Christian theology. For Christianity, originating as it did within Judaism, the issue involved both the separation and creation of an identity distinct from Judaism. It also posed the question of how Jews, who accepted the Bible as the authoritative voice of God, did not accept the Messiah and religion that was for Christians, foretold in those scriptures. This meant that either the Christian reading of the Bible was false, or else that the Jews consciously and willfully denied the truth of the sacred text. The rivalry between Christian and Jew was not only internal. Both groups had strong proselytizing tendencies, and eventually they competed against each other for the ultimate prize - the Roman Empire. It was this competition that drove Paul to eliminate compliance to Jewish Law as a requirement for conversion; a move which "changed the course of the world's history."9 The picture derived from those early sources, including the Gospels and the Church Fathers, has been termed "The Teachings of Contempt."10 These teachings develop three themes: A) Jews were responsible for deicide, i.e., the murder of the "Son of God" - Jesus.11 B) The Judaism that existed at the time of Jesus was degenerate.12 C) The punishment for the crime of deicide was dispersion.13

It was not only what was said, but the heavily charged language that helped create this "Adversus Judaus" tradition. The Book of Revelations described the "Synagogue of Satan" (2:10, 3:9) making explicit a linked identity between the Devil and the Jews that would continue for centuries; and in particular, the language of John Chrysostom (late 4th-early 5th Century) stood out for it's invective.14

As the Roman world became Christianized, these attitudes were reflected in the legal codes, such as that of Theodosian (438). This code forbade Jews from interfering with conversions to Christianity, from owning Christian slaves (and later any slaves - thus helping remove Jews from all except small substinance farming), from proselytization amongst Christians, and from building new synagogues, and throughout all this Judaism was referred to as "nefarious," "sacrilegious" and in other negative terms.15

Ultimately, for Christianity, Jews had not only become dispersed (punished) for the crime of deicide committed in their degenerate condition, but Christianity "had polarized the actors of the Bible (original-Old Testament) into bad Jews and good Hebrews and thought of themselves as the descendants of the Hebrews and the true Israel."16 In this reading, all of God's promises and blessings were earmarked for Christianity and all the curses and punishments were reserved for Judaism.

Again, as in the classical era, the record was not totally one sided. Popes such as Gregory the Great (590-604) attempted to protect Jews according to the rights that they were allowed while maintaining a balance of not allowing Jews more rights than they were permitted.17

This basic pattern would continue to dominate European Jewish history for hundreds of years, well into the medieval period. Robert Chazan, who has studied this period extensively, points out that antisemitism is a combination of both inherited stereotypical themes that combine with the existing majority (in this case Christian) society as well as the Jewish minority to form the specific manifestations of antisemitism that are particular to that time and place.18 For example, in the medieval period, the papacy's call for crusades to retrieve the Holy Land was not, in and of itself, antisemitic. But, the reality of an armed crusade against infidels, when faced with the presence of the stereotyped "Killers of Christ" in their midst, resulted in an ideology and outburst of violence aimed at the Jewish communities of Worms, Mainz and Cologne (in the German Rhineland) during the First Crusade of 1095. Interestingly enough, the Second Crusade was preceded by calls for protection of the Jews by prominent churchman, such as Bernard of Clairvaux.19 Even this call, however, was built upon antisemitic stereotypes, as Bernard wrote: "the Jews are not to be persecuted, killed, or even put to flight... for they remind up always of what our Lord suffered. They are dispersed all over the world so by expiating their crime they may be everywhere the living witness of our redemption."20 Jewish protection was thus linked to Christian witness. It was also around this period that circumstances (economic growth that required fluid capital, along with Church attacks on Christian usury against Christians), combined with the traditional limitations on the Jewish presence in certain professions (agriculture, guilds, etc.) to create a specific Jewish specialization in banking and moneylending that would lead to further stereotyping. (The aforementioned Bernard of Clairvaux was also one of the earliest to use the term "to Jew" in reference to moneylending.)21

The stereotype of the Jew as the financial manipulator was not the only new antisemitic image that developed in this period. Norwich, England in 1144 saw the first recorded case of an allegation of ritual-murder, the charge that Jews tortured and murdered Christian children. A century later, the stereotype of blood-libel grew out of the ritual murder belief. This charge claimed that Jews used the blood of Christian children on Passover for ritual purposes (e.g. - in the making of matzah, or for drinking instead of wine). At around the same time the allegation of host desecration originated. This canard claimed that Jews manipulated Christians who owed them money into giving the host or wafer (used in Mass) to the Jews, who then used it to mutilate and torture the body of Jesus as they had done at the time of the Crucifixion. (The Catholic belief in transubstantiation, which holds that sacramental elements of the wafer and wine change into the literal body of Christ, made that charge particularly damning). These images would become staples of antisemitic stereotyping and would prove to be both deadly and long lived, lasting well into the Twentieth Century.

Negative stereotypes did not only exist in theologically based popular folklore; they would eventually have practical results by entering the realm of law. Restrictions on dress and moneylending (Fourth Lateran Council, 1215), as well as on Jewish religions literature (the burning of the Talmud, Paris, 1240) all combined to place definite limitations on Jewish life, to cripple Jewish economic strength, to separate Jews from non-Jews and to create a more rigid structure of Jewish social inferiority. The old acceptance of Jewish existence was itself now questioned. Recently, scholars have pointed out that the early conditional tolerance for Judaism was based on the premise that Judaism had not changed (i.e., was still the recipient of some Divine promises, thus the Jew was neither heretic nor unbeliever), but, beginning in the twelfth century, that view itself came under question. The attacks on the Talmud were motivated by the belief that rabbinical, post-biblical Judaism has, in fact changed from the original Biblically centered belief; it now constituted, in it's Rabbinic form, a new, man-made heresy.22 The combination of legal restriction, deadly suspicion, (the plague of the Black Death (1347-1350) was blamed on Jews poisoning the wells of European Christendom and caused anti-Jewish mob violence that resulted in thousands of deaths), demonization (e.g., the portrait of the Judensau - of Jews being suckled by a sow which became one of the most common caricatures in Medieval art), taken together created a situation where Jews were no longer welcome in Christian society, and consequently were forced into exile. During this time Jews were expelled from, among other places, France (1182), England (1209) and, of course, from Spain (1492). The Spanish expulsion was, for the Jews of the medieval period, both the most dramatic and traumatic of experiences. Throughout the dark days of medieval European Jewry, the secure and culturally vibrant community of Spain had flourished, producing a "Golden Age." However, the Catholic reconquest of Islamic Spain resulted in the infamous edict of Ferdinand and Isabella that expelled the Jews of Spain. The expulsion of the Jewish community was not the only result; to help keep Spain free of heretics, the Inquisition was given great power. The role of the Inquisition is often misunderstood - it had no authority to pursue Jews, only to pursue heretics within Christianity. Thus, it's target became the "conversos" (also known as "Marranos"), those born Jewish (or to what had once been Jewish families) who had, on the surface, been converted to Christianity; but who secretly retained some sort of practice or belief in Judaism. It was the Spanish experience that introduced the concept of "blood" or "racism" to antisemitism, and made even conversion an insufficient shield to Jews.

The Church's concern with heresy was not unfounded; but when a major challenge came, it came not from the Jews but from Germany, within the heart of Christendom. Martin Luther's attack on Catholicism saw the end of the Catholic Church's position as sole guardian of religious values. In this vein, Luther's early writings included appeals "to accept them (Jews) benevolently"23; however, when this approach did not pay off with increased Jewish baptism, Luther turned vitriolic on the subject of Jews. "First their synagogues . . . should be burned . . . secondly, their homes should be likewise . . . destroyed . . . Thirdly, they should be deprived of their prayerbooks and Talmuds . . . Fourthly, their rabbis forbidden under threat of death to teach . . . Fifthly, passport and travelling privilege should be absolutely forbidden. Sixthly, all cash and valuables ought to be taken from them . . . Seventhly, let the young and strong Jews and Jewesses be given (tools) and let them earn their bread by the sweat of their noses . . . (Ultimately) let us apply the same cleverness (expulsion) as the other nations."24 The Spanish innovation of "Mala Sangre" (bad blood - referring to Jewish heritage) and Luther's words, when taken together, provide an obvious foreshadowing of Adolph Hitler's program.

This basic mixture continued unchanged in it's essentials until the rise of the Enlightenment. The adherents of the Enlightenment believed "that a universally valid method had finally been found for the solution of the fundamental questions . . . This method consisted in the application of those rational (that is scientific) rules . . . (that overturned the) ignorance and error, superstition and prejudice, much of it deliberately spread by priests (i.e. religion, and other) ruling classes . . . as a means of keeping men obedient to their will."25 The reference to priests using religion as a means of suppression meant that the Bible, and the received traditions associated with it were now viewed critically, especially in comparison with the pagan antiquity of Greece and Rome. It did not take long before this criticism became an unveiled attack on Judaism, which was seen as the original Biblical religion. Voltaire, the most famous and influential of the "philosophes" of the Enlightenment, described Jews as a people "who have long united the most sordid avarice with the most detestable superstition and the most invincible hatred for every people by whom they are tolerated and enriched."26 For this type of existence, according to Voltaire, Jews "deserve to be punished."27 As Arthur Hertzberg has written, Voltaire was the "vital link . . . who provided a new international, secular anti-Jewish rhetoric in the name of European culture."28

Thanks to the Enlightenment and its followers, antisemitism no longer had to rely on religion for its authority. At the same time as Jews were entering Western European society in unprecedented numbers, Jew haters were utilizing all the new tools of culture against them. Karl Marx, in analyzing economics and class, portrayed "Money (as) the zealous God of Israel, before whom no other God may be."29 This radical emphasis on Jewish economic interest, publicized by the offspring of a Jewish family (Marx's father was baptized in 1817, one year before Karl's birth), often fixated on successful Jewish financiers like the Rothschilds. It played off the medieval image of Jewish moneylending; and played into both the radical Left charges of Jewish dominance through international capitalism and the radical Right charges of Jewish dominance of international Bolshevism (later communism). Later, these types of popular stereotyping were evident in the conspiracy myths of Jewish plans to control the world, as popularized in the forgery of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. According to the Protocols, Jewish "learned men decided by peaceful means to conquer the world for Zion with the slyness of the symbolic serpent" i.e. by secret conspiracy. (The Protocols themselves were concocted by Russian right wing forgers in the 1890's.)30

At the same time, (1850) the German composer Richard Wagner was complaining of Jewish "decadence" and influence in music; later Wagner would be one of the first since the Spanish Inquisition to reinject racism into antisemitism. In a letter written in 1891 he writes "that I hold the Jewish race to be the born enemy of pure humanity and everything noble in it. It is certain that it is running us Germans to the ground."31

This period also saw the introduction of the term antisemitism. Introduced in 1879 by the German writer, Wilhelm Marr, it was originally meant to "impart a new, nonreligious connotation to the term anti-Jewish" but, within a short period it became "popular specifically among writers and scholars . . . because of it's scientific pretensions (as well as the) uncertainty over the intent (of the user) of hatred of the Jews."32

Wagner's antisemitic beliefs were tied into the new scientific currents. Scholars investigating the new "science" of race, using writings such as Gobineau's Essay on the Inequality of the Human Race (1853-1855), together with the findings of Social Darwinism, created a climate where racism was perceived to rest on scientific evidence. Wagner's son-in-law, Houston Stewart Chamberlain contributed a work, Foundations of the Nineteenth Century" (1899) which influenced many, including Adolf Hilter (In Mein Kampf Hitler laments the "indifference" with which governments "passed by (Chamberlain's) observations").33

Chamberlain was not Hitler's only influence; politically, the mayor of Vienna, Karl Lueger, who helped pioneer political antisemitism, served as Hitler's role model. Lueger was the first politician to be elected to office in Europe on an explicitly antisemitic platform. Ruling Vienna from 1897 until his death in 1910, his influence on the young Hitler (who spent 1907-1913 in Vienna) cannot be minimized.34 Lueger showed Hitler the extent to which antisemitism was popularly accepted. The most dire effect of this new form of antisemitism consisted of it's use of pseudo-scientific authority to create a climate where nothing the Jew could do, including conversion, could change their essence. To the religious, cultural and social stereotypes of the past was now added the authority of science to create a world where a "Final Solution" could be the answer to Europe's "Jewish question." As Raul Hilberg has written "since the fourth century after Christ there have been three anti-Jewish policies: conversion, expulsion and annihilation. The second appeared as an alternative to the first, and the third emerged as an alternative to the second."35

The Holocaust brought together all the strands of past antisemitism, connected them and produced a system devoted to the total annihilation of the Jewish people in Europe (and in other countries projected to fall under Nazi rule). Jews were dehumanized, (by being described as "untermenschen" - subhuman), demonized,36 and condemned theologically.37 They were economic manipulators, both capitalist38 and communist.39 They were sexual corrupters, polluting racial bloodlines,40 as well as being traitors to Germany, responsible for the German defeat in World War I.41

Having offered a diagnosis that relied, in great part, on scientific and medical authority, the proposed Nazi solution followed suit. As one Nazi doctor at Auschwitz put it "The Jews are the gangrenous appendix of mankind. That's why I cut them out."42

The art of the Nazi period reflected these themes. Jewish art and artists were banned, as Jews either "corrupted"43 or produced "degenerate" art. Nazi views of Jews referred back to traditional antisemitic caricatures. Newspapers like Der Steurmer, children's books like The Poison Mushroom, adult books and movies like the Eternal Jew, all portrayed Jews as obscene sexual corrupters, corpulently gross financial manipulators or ritual murders. Sometimes the images were updated from the medieval originals, other times the originals and the new images were featured in the same source to demonstrate the unbridled historical claim of Jewish depravity. For every single antisemitic description in print, an equivalent caricature could be found in image. Kiosks in German cities were often decorated with these images, the worst of which came from Julius Streicher's semi-pornographic newspaper and publishing house, both named 'Der Steurmer.'

Despite the overwhelming and deadly attitude of antisemitism in the Third Reich, there were a small number of individuals and organizations, such as Zygota in Poland, who risked (and sometimes lost) their lives in the effort to save Jews. Particularly in Eastern Europe, where the heritage of violent local antisemitism was still strong, these efforts stand out as models of human conduct.44

After the Holocaust, postwar antisemitism in its most extreme forms was frowned upon by Western society, (with the exception of fringe elements), but the tradition and stereotypes were maintained by the Soviet Union and Arab countries. This antisemitism was combined with a virulent anti-Zionism, to form a new hybrid that had its root in Middle Eastern political and religious conflicts, exacerbated by Cold War politics. Recently, the political antisemitism that was sponsored by some communist countries, particularly the Soviet Union, and the Arab countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia appears to have lessened with the new political realities. The collapse of the Soviet Union removed a large extent of the ideological and financial support of this political antisemitism, leaving it to flourish in the rhetoric and policies of states such as Libya, Iran and Iraq. While there were earlier stages of Moslem antisemites, "the real penetration of antisemitism, however, dates from the nineteenth century" spurred by Christian Arabs and Western Christian emissaries.45

Current Arab antisemitism, which is mostly borrowed from Western sources, differs from the past. Bernard Lewis, the great scholar of Islam, has written that "For most of the fourteen hundred years or so of the Arab Jewish encounter, the Arabs have not in fact been anti-semitic as that word is used in the West (my emphasis) . . . because for the most part they are not Christians."46 Lewis is not telling us that Jewish life under Islam was a paradise; but he is telling us as another scholar put it, to avoid "the misleading analogy or comparison with the European Jewish experience."47 Antisemitism under Islam has to be viewed in it's own terms, not through foreign perspectives. It also has to be viewed with the understanding that both the Moslem experience (and so, consequently, the Jewish experience under Islam) varied over different times and places, and as a result of varying conditions.

The founding period of Islam began with Mohammad and continued until Islam had firmly established itself.48 The Koran, which dates from this period, records the initial Jewish opposition to Mohammed, and his triumph over the Jews of Medina. However, Mohammed also recognized a kinship with Jews, and accepted them as a "people of the book." This created a fundamental ambivalence in the view of the Jew, who on one hand were the descendants of Abraham and on the other were distorters of the Bible. While the Koran contains many anti-Jewish statements49 an early "hadith"50 has Mohammed saying "He who harms a member of the protected nation - I shall be his prosecutor on the Day of Judgement."51

In practice this ambivalence became reflected in the dual applications of tribute and tolerance. Once the Jews agreed to pay tribute, thus acknowledging their humiliation and subjection, they were granted the status of "dhimmi." In return they were extended the right of religious freedom, some forms of civil and political rights, and were able to benefit from some of the economic successes of the later Islamic world. The status of "dhimmi" was not necessarily a comfortable one. Restrictions on the "dhimmi" as found in the Pact of Umar (the basic document that spelled out the relationship) included 1) Not to use the Koran in jest or falsify it's text 2) Not to speak falsely or contemptuously of the Prophet Mohammed 3) Not to speak irreverently or derisively of Islam 4) Not to touch or marry Moslem women 5) Not to proselytize amongst Moslems or to make any attempt upon their lives or property 6) Not to aid enemies of spies Minor conditions included 7) Not building any house higher than those of Moslems 8) Not to ring bells or read their (holy) books aloud 9) Not to ride horses (asses and mules were allowed) 10) Not to drink wine in public (alcohol being forbidden to Moslems) and for Christians, not display their crosses and swine 11) They shall bury their dead in silence and not allow lamentations or sounds of mourning to be heard 12) They shall wear the "ghiyar" (a distinguishing sign), that was yellow for Jews, blue for Christians.52 Interestingly, as can be seen from the above, Christians (and even Zoroastrians) shared in this category. The status was activated upon payment of the tribute (which came as a land tax and a poll tax).

This status was the fundamental condition of Jews in the Islamic world. When that world achieved wealth, Jews shared to some extent. When intellectual creativity flourished, Jews participated - to some extent. But, despite the toleration extended, Jews never achieved real civil, political or military power. Any sustained attempt to raise their status met in failure. If, after viewing classical Islamic antisemitism on its own terms, we then wish to compare it to Christian antisemitism we can, once again, follow Bernard Lewis' formulation that Jews under Islam "were never free from discrimination, but only rarely subject to persecution; their situation was never as bad as in Christendom at its worst, nor ever as good as in Christendom at its best . . . (unlike Christendom) there were no fears of Jewish conspiracy and domination, . . . of poisoning wells or spreading the plague, and even the blood libel did not appear among Muslims until . . . the fifteenth century" (when it came from Christians).53 For Islam, Christianity was the enemy, the target at whom polemics were aimed. Jews were relatively unimportant, even powerless. However, as Islam lost power, Christians, particularly Europeans, began exerting religious and economic interest. While the blood libel was an early precursor, European Christian's antisemitic writings, particularly from the French, entered the Moslem world, along with ritual murder accusations, in the nineteenth century. All that was missing was racial antisemitism, which, for obvious reasons, never became popular in the Islamic world (although, in World War II, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem joined the Nazi cause, as did a contingent of Bosnian Moslems who joined the S.S.). Today, however, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism includes usage of all the stock stereotypes of antisemitism and anti-Zionism, along with a general anti-Western and anti-secular ideology to fuel its fanaticism.

In Europe and the countries that made up the former Soviet Union, many of the traditional extreme nationalist ideologies are making a comeback. Whether it is Pamyat or Zhirinovsky in Russia, Le Pen in France or the Neo-Nazi movement in the reunited Germany, segments of the population are attempting to bring back aspects of traditional xenophobia, including antisemitism.

In the United States, antisemitism never developed in the same manner as Europe. Despite drawing on the same heritage of European Christian traditions, the United States never saw the establishment of one dominating religion that had the secular authority of the state to back it up. While there certainly were isolated acts of violence, (such as the Leo Frank lynching in Georgia in 1916), there is no history of state sponsored or supported mass violence against Jews, as there was in Europe. Further, the creation of a country of minorities meant that Jews would not be bearing the brunt of racism, which, in the United States, has focused more on skin color than on belief.54

Nonetheless, antisemitism has been an integral part of the American Jewish experience. While the days of quotas and most overt antisemitism may appear to be past, there still exists a lurking presence of antisemitism on the fringes of American life. Appearing both on the right (professional Holocaust deniers, skinheads, and extremist groups like Aryan Nation or Christian Identity) as well as on the left (Louis Farrakhan and other extremists) antisemitism still has the potency to enter the mainstream, as demonstrated by the recent presidential campaigns of Pat Buchanan and David Duke and the Oklahoma City Bombing. Another distributing trend is the growing use of cyberspace (computer networks) to spread antisemitic propaganda.55

Today, the fight against national and international antisemitism is led by groups such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League. Through programs of coalition building, political and social action, education, research, publicity and remembrance, these groups attempt to aggressively confront racism in general and antisemitism in particular. The focus on the history of antisemitism, including the creation of Museums that memorialize the Holocaust, is tied into the oft-repeated maxim of George Santanyana "Those who ignore the past are condemned to repeat it."56

Jewish life in the 20th century has fluctuated between the lows of the Holocaust and the highs of the birth of the land of Israel. To either totally ignore, or to minimize the reality of antisemitism, or to dwell on it to the exclusion of the positive experiences of Jewish life is to do a disservice to the totality of the Jewish experience. History especially as the history of human interactions, demands our attention. "Survival", as Abraham Joshua Heschel has written: "means we must carry on our independent dialogue with the past."57

This bibliography was originally prepared in 1994. I have not updated it as more recent bibliographical information can be found under the library listings at this site.

The writings on antisemitism form an immense literature. Almost every work on Jewish history contains reverences to the subject. While I have selected some specific works on antisemitism in general, as well as some that reflect specific times, places or themes, the following in no way resembles an exhaustive bibliography. To aid in accessibility I have limited my selections only to books available in English.

General Histories

The classical work on the subject remains Leon Poliakov's four volume work The History of Antisemitism (New York, 1976-1985). More recent one volume histories include Jacob Katz's From Prejudice to Destruction: Antisemitism 1700-1933 (Cambridge, 1982), and Robert Wistrich, Antisemitism, The Longest Hatred (New York, 1991).

The collection of essays edited by David Berger, History and Hate (Philadelphia, 1986) is an excellent introduction to recent scholarship on antisemitism. Antisemitism Through the Ages, edited by Shmuel Almog (Oxford, 1988) contains 26 detailed studies.

Theories of Antisemitism

Two well- known, and much debated theories of antisemitism can be found in Jean-Paul Sartre, Anti-Semite and Jew (New York, 1948) and Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (part I), Antisemitism (New York, 1958). A more recent work that elevates scholarship on the subject to a higher level is Gavin Langmuir's History, Religion and Antisemitism (Berkeley, 1990). Also recommended is Langmuir's Towards a Definition of Antisemitism (Berkeley, 1990). Another recent work, William F. Buckley Jr.'s In search of Antisemitism (New York, 1992) is a highly personal, even idiosyncratic discussion from an unusual perspective.


For the classical period see John Gager, The Origins of Anti-Semitism: Attitudes Towards Judaism in Pagan and Christian Antiquity (New York, 1985). The examinations of Christian antisemitism are many. Two worthwhile volumes are Rosemary Radford Reuther, Faith and Fratricide (New York, 1974) and Alan T. Davies, Antisemitism and the Foundations of Christianity (New York, 1979). Jules Isaac's pioneering work, The Teaching of Contempt: Christian Roots of Antisemitism (New York, 1964) is still valuable. Bernard Lewis' Semites and Anti-Semites (New York, 1986) is the most famous examination of Islamic antisemitism, while Bat Ye'or's The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians Under Islam (London/Toronto, 1985) is also relevant.

Medieval antisemitism particularly involving Christianity's negative perception of Judaism, is covered in the works of Robert Chazan, Daggers of Faith (Berkeley, 1989) and Jeremy Cohen, The Friars and the Jews: Evolution of Medieval Anti-Judaism (Ithaca, 1982). Isaiah Schachar, in The Judensau: A Medieval Anti-Jewish Motif and Its History (London, 1974) studies one of the longstanding pictorial images of antisemitism. Joshua Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews: The Medieval Conception of the Jews and its Relations to Modern Antisemitism (New Haven, 1943) and R. Po-chia Hsia, The Myth of Ritual Murder: Jews and Magic in Reformation Germany (New Haven, 1988) both portray antisemitic attitudes in Christian popular images. Heiko Obermann deals with The Roots of Antisemitism in the Age of Renaissance and Reformation (Philadelphia, 1984). Arthur Hertzberg begins the entry into modernity in The French Enlightenment and the Jews (New York, 1968) while Leon Poliakov explores the advent of racial antisemitism in The Aryan Myth: History of Racist and Nationalist Ideas in Europe (New York, 1977). Hillel Levine's The Economic Origins of Antisemitism: Poland and Its Jews in the Early Modern Period describes how Eastern European economic conditions contributed to the Holocaust. Norman Cohn's Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of the Jewish World and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (New York, 1967) is a study of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the infamous classic text of antisemitism, while Jean-Denis Bredin, in The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus (New York, 1986) portrays one of the major antisemitic events that had a significant impact upon the modern world. While the Holocaust, as the classic manifestation of antisemitism has an immense literature of its own, two works that help to describe some of the components that contributed to it are Peter G.J. Pulzer's The Rise of Political Anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria (New York, 1964) and George Mosse's Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism (New York, 1978). Robert Wistrich's Hitler's Apocalypse: Jews and the Nazi Legacy argues that the antisemitic ideology of Nazism lived on even after 1945.

Post Holocaust antisemitism is examined in the collection edited by Michael Curtis, Antisemitism in the Contemporary World (Boulder and London, 1986). Holocaust denial is the subject of Deborah Lipstadt's Denying the Holocaust (New York, 1993) while Harold Brackman's Ministry of Lies: The Truth Behind the Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews focuses on one major current example of black antisemitism. Religion and the Racist Right, by Michael Barkun, (Chapel Hill, 1994) studies the latest versions of antisemitism and the American extreme right, while Leonard Dinnerstein surveys the broader range of the American experience, in his Anti-Semitism in America (New York, 1994).

Finally, Simon Wiesenthal's Every Day Remembrance Day (New York) is a historical calendar of antisemitism, while Sander L. Gilman's Jewish Self-Hatred: Anti-Semitism and the Hidden Language of the Jews (Baltimore and London, 1986) looks at expressions of antisemitism from Jews themselves, while Jehuda Reinharz's collection Living with Antisemitism: Modern Jewish Responses (Hanover, London, 1987) is, as stated, a survey of Jewish reactions to modern antisemitism in its various guises and places.


Antichrist - The archenemy of Christ and Christianity, who will appear at the Last Days. It was believed that he would have many Jewish followers which ultimately led to an identification of Jews with this figure.

Antisemitism - First used around 1879, the term describing hostility prejudice and fear of Jews, also gave a racial and scientific gloss to anti-Judaism.

Aryan - Originally referring to Indo-European speaking peoples; in Nazi and later racist thought it came to be applied to specifically Teutonic (and sometimes Anglo-Saxon people of pure [i.e. non-Jewish and non-racially mixed] heritages).

Blood Libel - A Christian myth that originated in the 12th century and has persisted into the 20th Century. It states that Jews are commanded to murder Christian children and to use their blood in the preparation of Matzot (Passover bread).

Christian Identity - A pseudo - theological belief of United States extremists, who claim that they as white Aryans, are the Jews of the Bible and thus are the inheritors of God's promise. Consequently, Jews are the archenemy with whom an ultimate struggle must be fought.

Dhimmi - Protected minority, the status assigned to Jews (and Christians) who paid a tribute to Islam. By demonstrating that they accepted the supremacy of Islam they were tolerated, but forced to accept humiliating conditions.

Final Solution - The term used by the Nazis to cloak their plan of murdering all of Europe's Jews.

Foetor Judaicus - The distinctive stench attributed, in the Middle Ages to Jews in punishment for their crimes against Jesus.

Ghetto - The term originated in medieval Italy, and originally referred to the only section of a city where Jews were allowed to reside. It was usually walled and locked at night. The Nazis revived the term for the areas of cities where they crammed the Jewish population (mostly in Eastern Europe) prior to transporting them to the camps.

Host Desecration - The Medieval Christian belief that Jews would steal and defile the consecrated wafer used to celebrate mass.

Jihad - Islamic Holy War against the unbeliever (some say that it is an internal struggle waged by the believer to control his/her self).

Judenrein - The Nazi goal of a Europe "free of Jews".

Judensau - A medieval illustration showing a sow feeding a brood of Jews, demonstrating both the uncleanliness of the Jews and the Jewish connection to the devil. Jews were also often shown with horns, to further drive home that connection.

Limpieza de Sangre - Post Inquisition Spanish concept that made purity of blood (i.e. no Jewish ancestry) a requirement for entry to certain social and professional areas.

Marranos - Jews who publicly accepted Christianity, but secretly adhered to Judaism in Spain and Portugal beginning in the 15th Century. The term was a contemptuous one, and probably referred to swine; it appeared to have been used more by outsiders than by the marranos themselves.

Numerus clausus - The limiting of Jewish participation in professions, universities, civil service, etc. to their proportion of the population.

Passion Plays - Medieval plays that reenact the trial death of Jesus. Jews were caricatured in these plays and presented as guilty of the charge of deicide. The Plays have continued to our time, although many have been revised to remove the antisemitic content.

Pogrom - Russian meaning "devastation". It referred to massacres of Russian and Eastern European Jews, particularly in the 19th Century, but has since gained a more universal application, being applied to mob violence against Jews.

Ritual Murder - Originating in England in 1144, this charge alleged that Jews murdered Christian children in a mocking reenactment of the death of Jesus.

Wandering Jew - The Christian legend of a Jew condemned to wander the earth until the second coming of Jesus, as a punishment for his behavior towards Jesus at the time of the crucifixion. The Jews was most commonly known as Ahasueros, and still appears in literature.

ZOG - Zionist Occupation Government: a term used by American right wing extremist groups to describe the United States government, and its ostensible control by Jewish interests.


1 Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 3, col. 87, in an entry written by Leon Poliakov.

2 Ibid, Other definitions can be found in, for example:   Gavin Langmuir, History, Religion and Anti-Semitism, Berkeley, 1990, p. 275
  David Berger, Anti-Semitism, An Overview in Berger, ed. History and Hate, p. 3
  Poliakov, History of Anti-Semitism, vol. I, P. 4
  William F. Buckley, In Search of Anti-Semitism, New York, 1992, p. 195

3 This belief spans the spectrum of Jewish religious thought. Compare, for example, the remarks of the Reform scholar, and Torah commentator W. Gunther Plaut: "The ancient Amalek has appeared and reappeared in Jewish history in many forms and guises: he wrote the signet ring of the King as Haman; the royal crown of Antiochus; the general's uniform as Titus; the emperor's toga as Hadrian; the riestly robe as Torquemada, the Cossack's boot as Chmielnitzki; or the brown shirt of Hitler. All of them had in common their hatred of Jews and Judaism, and they all failed in their objective to crush the faith and the people of God." (The Torah, A Moderm Commentary, Ed. Plaut, p. 514, New York, 1981) and the comment of the Orthodox scholar Pinchas HaCohen Peli that "the story of anti-semitism in its variegated manifestations is typified according to the Midrash by the animosity originating in the relationship between Jacob and Esau" (Pinchas HaCohen Poli, Responses to Anti-Semitism in Midrashic Literature in Anti-Semitism in Times of Crisis, Ed. Sander L. Gilman and Steven T. Katz, New York, 1991, p. 106. My thanks to my friend, Paul Hamburg, Reference Librarian of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, for this research.) The reference to Esther, Judith and Tobit is from H. Tadmor, writing in A History of the Jews, Ed. H.H. Ben-Sasson, Cambridge, 1976, p. 160.

4 Louis H. Feldman, Anti-Semitism in the Ancient World in History and Hate, Ed. Berger (New York, 1986) p. 15. Menahem Stern's monumental three volume compendium, Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism (Jerusalem, 1974-1984) contains the classical texts in both the original Greek and Latin along with an English translation and commentary.

5 Ibid, p. 36.

6 Shaye J.D. Cohen, Antisemitism in Antiquity: The Problem of Definition, in Berger, Harvest and Hate pp. 45.

7 Feldman, p. 30, pp. 40-41 n. 46.

8 Shaye J.D. Cohen, Antisemitism in Antiquity: The Problem of Definition, in Berger, Harvest and Hate, p. 43-47. Cohen's use of the term lachrymose is an obvious reference to Salo Baron's famous criticism of the "lachrymose" view of Jewish history in Baron, Ghetto and Emancipation, Menorah Journal 14, (June 1928) pp. 515-526.

9 Poliakov, vol. I p. 19. For the issue of Jewish and Christian conflict and identity Langmuir, History, Religion, and Antisemitism, pp. 284-289 gives an excellent short survey, while the three volumes edited by E.P. Sanders, Jewish and Christian Self-Definition, (Philadelphia, 1980-1981) is an excellent collection on various aspects of the early divergences between Christianity and Judaism.

10 Jules Isaac is credited with popularizing the term, especially after the publication of his The Teachings of Contempt: Christian Roots of Antisemitism (New York, 1964).

11 A...Paul (I Thessalonians 2:15) states clearly: "The Jews who killed Lord Jesus and the prophet." The church fathers amplified the blame in the following centuries "For you crucified Him, the only spotless and righteous man" - Justin Martyr (2nd Century). "Since their deicide, the Jews have been blinded" Eusebius (4th Century) "Murderers of the Lord, Assassins of the Prophets" Gregory of Nyssa (4th Century), "God has forsaken the Jews. They have denied the Father, crucified the son Henceforth their synagogue is the house of demons and idolatry" - John Chrysostom - (late 4th - early 5th century). Finally, even the famous Augustine (354-430) repeats the litany. "In your fathers you have killed Christ." All citations from Isaac, The Teachings of Contempt, p. 11.

12 This theme includes the alleged hypocrisy of the Pharisees as expressed in the Gospels of Mark (7:7-8), and Matthew (17:12-20, 23:12-35) "Alas for you, Pharisees and Hypocrites" or "this people (the Jews) pays me lip service, but their heart is far from me," as well as the description of the "carnal" nature of Jewish law, in other words, a formal, legalistic, ritually bound and ossified law. Origen, Contra Celsus IV:22, in Isaac, Teachings of Contempt, p. 44.

13 This theme is spelled out most clearly in the writings of the Church Fathers: "It behooved that city where Jesus underwent these sufferings to perish utterly, and the Jewish nation to be overthrown" Origin, and Augustine "But the Jews who rejected him and slew him (were) dispersed (by the Romans) over the face of the earth." City of God XVIII:46, in Isaac, Teachings of Contempt, p. 45.

14 Joshua Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews (New Haven, 1943) pp. 20-21.

15 Cecil Roth, The European Age in Jewish History, p. 217 in Louis Finkelstein, The Jews: Their History, Culture and Religion (New York, 1960) Vol. I, and James Parkes, The Conflict of Church and Synagogue, (New York, 1977) pp. 241-242.

16 Langmuir, History, Religion and Antisemitism pp. 286-287.

17 Roth, The European Age in Finkelstein, The Jews p. 217, Robert Chazan, Church, State and Jew in the Middle Ages (New York, 1980) pp. 19-26, Parkes, Conflict of Church and Synagogue p. 236.

18 Chazan, Medieval Antisemitism in Berger, History and Hate, p. 50.

19 Chazan, Church, State and Jew in the Middle Ages pp. 100-108.

20 Ibid. p. 103.

21 Chazan, Medieval Antisemitism in Berger, History and Hate, p. 50.

22 Amos Funkenstein - Polemics, Responses, Self-Reflection in his Perceptions in Jewish History, (Berkeley, 1992) pp. 176-177, 189-193, Jeremy Cohen, The Friars and the Jews (Ithaca, 1982).

23 Luther's Tract of 1523, quoted in Heiko Oberman, The Roots of Anti-Semitism, (Philadelphia, 1984) p. 56, n. 57.

24 Quoted in Robert Wistrich, Antisemitism, The Longest Hatred, (New York, 1991) p. 39-41.

25 Isaiah Berlin, Giambattista Vico and Cultural History in his The Crooked Timber of Humanity, (New York, 1991) p. 51.

26 Quoted in Wistrich, Antisemitism, p. 45.

27 Quoted from Hertzberg, The French Enlightenment and the Jews, (New York, 1968) p. 301.

28 Ibid. p. 313.

29 Quoted in Berlin, Benjamin Disreali and Karl Marx in his Against the Current (New York, 1980) p. 277.

30 Norman Cohn, Warrant for Genocide, (New York, 1969) p. 285.

31 Quoted in Jacob Katz, The Darker Side of Genius: Richard Wagner's Anti-Semitism (Hanover, 1986) p. 115.

32 Moshe Zimmermann Wilhem Marr: The Patriarch of Anti-Semitism, (New York, 1986) pp. 89, 95. It is worth noting that, according to Zimmermann, (p. 91) "the term antisemitism, which is considered by historians as an innovation in the transition from the religious basis of hatred of the Jews to the racial basis was not (emphasis in the original) so initially." Zimmermann also notes (p. 89, p. 167 n. 96) following Reinhard Rurup, that there had been other, incidental uses of the term antisemitism prior to 1879.

33 Adopf Hitler, Mein Kampf, (Boston, 1971) p. 269.

34 Ibid. pp. 55, 121.

35 Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews (New York, 1986) Vol. I p. 8

36 Alfred Rosenberg, Nazi Germany's chief ideologue wrote that Jews were "Chosen as a plague for all other nations by Satan, the Mephisto" Fritz Nova, Alfred Rosenberg Nazi Theorist of the Holocaust, (New York, 1986) p. 118.

37 Hitler, Mein Kampf, p. 307 Jesus "even took to the whip to drive from the temple of the Lord this adversary (the Jews) of humanity . . . In return, Christ was nailed to the cross."

38 Ibid. p. 314 "The Jewish influence grows with terrifying speed through the stock exchange"

39 Ibid. p. 324 "Fear of the Marxist weapon of Jewry descends like a nightmare on . . . decent people."

40 Ibid. p. 325 "With Satanic joy . . . the Jewish youth lurks in wait for the unsuspecting girl whom he defile, thus stealing her from her people."

41 Ibid. p. 305 By "stabbing Germany in the back". Ultimately the Jews were Germany's "misfortune", a "parasite . . . (and) noxious bacillus."

42 Quoted in Robert Jay Lifton The Nazi Doctors, (New York, 1986) p. 232.

43 Hitler, Mein Kampf, p. 326.

44 See, for example, Nechama Tec, When Light Pierced the Darkness, (New York, 1986).

45 Bernard Lewis, Semites and Anti-Semites, (New York, 1986) p. 132.

46 Ibid., p. 117.

47 Jane Gerber, Antisemitism and the Muslim World, p. 74 in Berger, History and Hate.

48 Ibid. p. 75 (I have followed Gerber's model of the stages of Islam).

49 See Gerber, pp. 78-79 for relevant examples.

50 Cited in Gerber, p. 79.

51 "The traditions that go back to the Prophet, or are at least attributed to him" - Annemarie Schimmel, The Mystical Dimensions of Islam, (Chapel Hill, 1975) p. 27.

52 Leon Poliakov, History of Anti-Semitism, vol. IV pp, 37-38, New York, 1973.

53 Bernard Lewis, Semites and Anti-Semites, pp. 120-123.

54 For an excellent short description of the history of antisemitism in the United States see Jonathan Sarna's American Anti-Semitism, in Berger's History and Hate pp. 115-128.

55 For a short summary and dscription of the current status of American extremism see the recent report published by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, The New Lexicon of Hate: The Changing Tactics, Language and Symbols of America's Extremists (L.A., 1997) as well as my article Harnessed to Hate: Theology and Technology as Tools of Extremism in Studies in the Shoah, Proceedings of the XXVII Annual Scholars Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches (forthcoming).

56 A short explanation of the ideas that underlie one of these major museums can be found in Mark Weitzman, Announcing the Future, Facing the Past, pp 133-141 in H. Schreier and M. Heyl, Eds. Never Again! The Holocaust's Challenge for Educators (Hamburg, 1997).

57 Abraham Joshua Heschel, Quest for God, (New York, 1982) p. 112.

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