Understanding the 20th Century
5 days ago
[Ginsberg] That is a very good line, and I think it’s totally true. The animus is some form of displaced anti-Semitism.
[Tablet] Is that what I’m saying? I actually think that American Jews are in this sense way too quick to label such feelings as anti-Semitism, even when the effects may be anti-Semitic.
[Ginsberg] I think you’ve characterized it very well. It’s not 1930s anti-Semitism, but it’s a resentment. It’s a resentment of a particular evil that the Jews have done, which is the Jews have undermined WASP America but refuse to do the same thing in their own country.
You know, there’s an old joke: Three elderly Jewish Communists in the Bronx are talking. They’re in their eighties. One is in a wheelchair. So they say, “Abie Cohen, have you heard from him lately?” “Abie, he’s had some health problems but he’s living in Los Angeles in a nursing home, still working for socialism.” “All right, what about Mike Abramowitz, have you heard from him?” “Well, you know Mike is in rehab, he fell, he broke his hip, a lot of problems. But even in the nursing home he’s fighting for socialism!” So someone says, “What about Moe Goldberg?” “Oh, Moe, he moved to Israel, didn’t you know that?” “Well, is he fighting for socialism?” The guy answers, “In his own country? What kind of man do you think he is?!”
So I think as Jewish humor often does, that captures the point that you made. I’ve actually had students say exactly this. They say, “How come in my high school we couldn’t sing Christmas carols; however, in Israel they can establish a religion?” And they believe that it was the Jews who brought this about in the United States. And are they wrong? No.
“How come in my high school Whites are a minority in the same school that was all-White when my parents attended. However, in Israel they can enact immigration laws that keep out non-Jews?” And they believe that it was the Jews who brought this about in the United States. And are they wrong? No.
As the title of this study suggests, Allan and Helen Cutler believe that the tendency of medieval Christians to see the Jew as an ally of the Muslim was the decisive factor in the development of anti-Semitism. In making their case, the Cutlers challenge conventional wisdom, which holds that anti-Semitism originated in the charge of deicide (that Jews killed Jesus) and the Jews' anomalous socio-economic status in Europe. Although the Cutlers' study is poorly written and far too lengthy, it offers an intriguing and ultimately convincing argument.
The logic of their case can be reduced to a syllogism: (1) Medieval Christians feared and hated Muslims. (2) Medieval Christians saw Jews as the allies of Muslims. (3) Therefore, medieval Christians feared and hated Jews.
On the first point, the Cutlers are correct to note the presence of a pervasive fear of Muslims among medieval Christians. That fear began with the emergence of Islam and lasted until the 19th century. In 634, just two years after Muhammad the Prophet's death, for example, the patriarch of Jerusalem referred to the Muslims as "the slime of the godless Saracens [which] threatens slaughter and destruction." This early view was later echoed many times over; for centuries, the role of arch-enemy, in myth and literature, was filled by Muslims.
This is understandable, for Muslims, who inhabited a belt of territories extending from Morocco to Egypt to Turkey to Siberia, physically surrounded medieval Christendom. Muslims were also the most constant enemy: with only one exception (the Mongols), every serious military threat against Christian Europe after the 10th century was launched by them. The Muslim danger continued to preoccupy the Christians of Europe for more than a millennium, until after the second siege of Vienna in 1683.
Muslims also differed from the other invaders - Germans, Bulgars, and Hungarians - in presenting a religious and cultural danger as well as a military one. Hungarians would eventually accept European culture and convert to Christianity, but Muslims brought with them a rival civilization which not only withstood Christianity but even seduced Christians from their faith. For all these reasons, Muslims were the outstanding enemy of Christendom.
Second - and this is the heart of the Cutlers' study - Jews were seen as close associates of Muslims. There was some justice to this view: the Hebrew language shares much with Arabic, and Judaism shares much with Islam; on the most abstract level, both are religions of law, while Christianity is a religion of faith. More specifically, they share many features such as circumcision, dietary regulations, and similar sexual codes. Further, because the Muslims were preeminent in the medieval centuries, "Jews themselves associated Jew with Muslim." When this became known among the Christians, it much harmed the Jews' position. Most damaging of all, Jews on occasion helped Muslim troops against Christians (as in the initial Arab conquest of Spain) and some Jews held prominent positions in Muslim governments at war with the Christians. Even when they did not actually take part in the fighting, "Jews usually rejoiced when Christian territory fell into Islamic hands."
The Cutlers marshall a variety of textual and pictoral proof to make their case that medieval Christians saw a deep connection between Jew and Muslim. To take one of each: An influential twelfth-century Christian text includes the bizarre statement that "A Jew is not a Jew until he converts to Islam." The woodcut in a book of religious disputation published in 1508 pictures a Jewish and a Muslim figure: while the Jewish figure carries a banner with the name "Machometus" (Muhammad), the Muslim's banner depicts a Jew's hat.
The Cutlers conclude:
Since the rise of Islam, the primary (though by no means the only) factors in the history of anti-Semitism have been the following: the association of Jew with Muslim, the longstanding European tendency to equate the Jew, of Middle Eastern origin, with the Muslim, also of Middle Eastern origin; the intensely held Christian feeling that the Jew was an ally of, and in league with, his ethnoreligious cousin the Muslim against the West; the deep-seated Christian apprehension that the Jew, the internal Semitic alien, was working hand in hand with the Muslim, the external Semitic enemy, to bring about the eventual destruction of Indo-European Christendom.
Third, Christian fear of Muslims affected the view of Jews. In order to prove this thesis, the Cutlers must show that Christian anti-Semitism varied in response to Christian-Muslim relations. The status of Jews had to decline as Christian animosity toward Muslims increased; conversely, Jews had to be better off when wars against Muslims ceased.
The authors do establish this point in a broad-brush sort of way, more by assertion than through a close look at the record. They argue that far fewer anti-Semitic outbreaks occurred in 700-1000, when Muslims were still a distant concern, than in 1000-1300, when they had become the victims of intense hostility. The Cutlers date the transition to about 1010, when rumors spread through France that the Jews had helped the Fatimid rulers of Egypt destroy the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. In retaliation, the Jews of Orleans were made to pay with their lives.Source
American and world Jewry should be ready and willing to put much more of its community-relations time, money, energy, and imagination into urging Christians and Muslims to enter into genuine dialogue and reconciliation.
[the Pope should] ...transform his office and mission from a more narrowly Christian into a broadly Abrahamic one . . . to create a new spiritual and institutional unity between Jews, Christians, and Muslims.-