The Echoes of the Mind (149-2) Jews


The personification of the Devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew. ~ Austrian-born German political leader Adolph Hitler

In the Western world, the perennial out-group since antiquity – subject to frequent persecution and pogroms – has been the Jews.

Jews were despised in ancient Greece and Rome: labeled as atheists for not believing in the Greco-Roman gods. Jews dressed strangely, ate different foods, spoke a different tongue (besides the native one), and mostly kept to themselves. At the same time, Jews were grudgingly admired for their love of learning, their sagacity, and some had wondrous skills in the art of medicine.

Early Gentile converts to Christianity shared this bias against Jews. They read several of the New Testament texts as condemnations of Judaism, most particularly blaming Jews for killing Jesus. (For example, Matthew 27:25 cites Jews as responsible for killing Jesus: “All the people answered, ‘His blood is on us and on our children!’.”)

Always a cultural minority, Jews were often preyed upon by the Christian majority. On the medieval stage, the Jew was a stock character of mockery or hatred. During the crusades, whereas Muslims were the ostensible target, Christian mobs slaughtered Jews and pillaged their homes.

Jews were expelled from France in the early 13th century, followed by England in 1290, after the king could extort no more from them. Jews in Germany suffered repeated massacres in the 14th–15th centuries.

Jews were blamed for causing the Black Death in the mid-14th century. Beginning in the late 15th century, Jews were a target of the Spanish Inquisition.

During the Middle Ages, Jewish real property was repeatedly confiscated. This led them to specialize in valuables that could be readily transported, such as jewelry. Ostracized from labor guilds in the Middle Ages, and so unable to work in the trades, Jews were forced to specialize in finance.

Politically, the Jews were often a convenient scapegoat, especially as their skills and power as moneylenders made them a convenient target.

The Jews are a nervous people. Nineteen centuries of Christian love have taken a toll. ~ English politician Benjamin Disraeli

The harsh terms insisted upon by France after the Great War resulted in hyperinflation and economic depression in Germany in the 1920s. Adolf Hitler’s rise to power was abetted by flaying at the twin threats of communism and rapacious capitalism; in both of which well-known Jewish names were readily identified with, owing to the prominent Jewish role in finance.

Hitler’s rants were, of course, just the beginning. In Germany and Poland, a network of 42,500 facilities were used 1941–1945 to concentrate, confine, and exterminate 11 million people, including 6 million Jews. Nearly 500,000 Germans participated in the planning and execution of the Holocaust: an industry in and of itself. (The image of the 6-pointed star (Star of David) with “Jude” inscribed within was the badge that Jews were forced to publicly wear in Nazi Germany to identify their heritage.)

German Jewish émigrés had a huge effect on US innovation. They helped improve the quality of research. ~ American economist Petra Moser

Anti-Semitism simmers in Europe today for the same reasons as throughout history: the distinctive Jewish culture, which emphasizes learning and diligence, and produces skilled people who garner both admiration and resentment. Jews are the ultimate out-group which out-competes: a perfect formula for persecution.

Given current ongoing political tensions in the Middle East, it is noteworthy that Muslims have historically been much more supportive of Jews than Christians. When Muslims conquered Jerusalem in 638, they allowed Jews to worship freely in the city – a stark contrast to the bans imposed by previous Christian rulers.

While Europeans routinely carried out pogroms against Jews, Muslims consistently offered them refuge. During the Spanish Inquisition, Jews fled to Muslim lands to escape intolerant Christians.

In the 21st century, with anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiments simmering in Europe, the 2 besieged minorities often work together to combat social stigmatization.