Why the Jews?
Short answer: The Jews gave the world the Ten Commandments, and the world has never forgiven them.
Long answer: Many Jew-haters through the ages have tried to blame the Jews for Jew-hatred, asserting for example that the Jews are rich and therefore spark envy (while ignoring the obvious fact that many others are as rich or richer), the Jews are poor and dirty (ignoring that many others are as poor or poorer, as dirty or dirtier), the Jews are clannish (but failing to note that one man’s “clannish” is another man’s “ethnic loyalty”), the Jews are boastful (but one man’s “boastful” is another man’s “well-earned self-esteem”), etc. Obviously, none of the above, or various other accusations of similar ilk, offers a rational answer to the question of why Jew-hatred is the oldest, most ubiquitous, and most virulent social pathology.
But recently a modern Jew-hater has proffered another reason to explain why Jews are to blame for Jew-Hatred. Her contribution to this millennia-old question is that Jew-hatred is an honest response to an undesirable Jewish characteristic: “chutzpah.”[i] But this time I think the she almost got it right. After all, “chutzpah,” usually translated as “nerve” or “gall” in the sense of a willingness to defy convention or behave in a manner inconsistent with dominant social mores (as in: “How dare he do that! He’s got a lot of nerve!”), can be very discomforting, even threatening, to those who accept convention and conform to the demands of the dominant society.
So this assertion almost hits the proverbial nail right on its proverbial head. Jewish “chutzpah” is indeed, “A,” but not “THE,” problem.
It is important to note that Jews are different, and always have been. According to the Jewish Scriptures, it is their divine destiny to be different. We learn this from the non-Jewish prophet Balaam, in Numbers 23:9 (“…Lo it [Israel] is a people that shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations”).
And, indeed, enough of world Jewry have lived their lives in a way to fulfill this destiny that Jewish history is an attestation to being different. But it takes a lot of “chutzpah” to be different. Social pressure, especially when exercised with violence and intimidation, can be very difficult, dangerous, even lethal, when one displays the “chutzpah” to face up to it, and to stare it down.
For 2,000 thousand years, from Abraham to Jesus, when the world reveled in polytheism, the Jews had the “chutzpah” to say “NO…there is only one God”…and to then suffer the enmity and the derision of the polytheists. For 2,000 years since the onset of Christianity, the Jews have had the “chutzpah” to say “NO…there is more than one way to worship God, there is more than one path to the Father; and we Jews prefer our path”…and to then suffer the brutal, soul-withering, relentless, lethal Jew-hatred of much of the Christian world, a hatred that reached its apotheosis in the Holocaust. For 1,400 years since the onset of Islam, the Jews faced the Moslem world with the same message….and suffered the dhimmitude and persecution that Islam imposed upon the “People of the Book”.
Inherent in the Jewish message of the right to be different is the assertion that all humanity has that same right, and no one should be persecuted for choosing a different path of communion with God. That is a message that we Jews have had the “chutzpah” to relate, on a daily basis for 4,000 years, to a world which for the most part did not want to hear it. And it is only in the past 300 years (since the Enlightenment period in Europe) that this message has begun to take root in the West. Intolerance has most of the Middle East still mired in a medieval mindset. Some people are slower learners than others.
So why is “chutzpah” at least partially the right answer? Why is this “chutzpah” “A,” but not “THE,” problem? Because it is indeed a problem for those for whom difference is a threat. It is a problem for those for whom non-conformity is frightening. It is a problem for those who demand agreement, for whom mindless conformity is a value, for whom uncritical obedience is a virtue. That is why, historically, the Jew has always been the natural enemy of the totalitarian, the dictator, the tyrant. From Haman to Hitler, from Seleucus to Stalin, from Antiochus to Arafat, the Jew has stood up to them all, stared them all down; and in doing so we have paid a horrific price for our “chutzpah”.
But it is important to note that difference is a threat only to the primitive mind. “chutzpah” is a problem only to the insecure soul. Jewish “chutzpah” is truly a problem….for some.
And indeed, only for some. What emerges from global Jewish history over the past 4000 years is that Jews in Muslim and Christian societies, societies with an exclusionary definition of communion with God, create a tension with these societies because the very existence of the Jewish people as a different group, a group which has the “chutzpah” to refuse to conform to the demands of that exclusionary definition, is an affront to the host country’s religious leadership and society. This affront arises from, and stokes, the essential insecurity of the exclusionary society when faced with an undeniable attestation to the viability of a different ideology.
When, even worse, the Jews have the “chutzpah,” the unmitigated gall, to be successful (and perhaps even out-perform the locals of the host religion) despite repression and oppression, bigotry, bias and persecution, that success, achieved against all odds, enrages the locals even more. The result is Jew-hatred which, unchecked, eventually leads to demonization and dehumanization and, finally, to genocide.
The primitive mind fears difference: hence primitive loyalties are first to family, clan, and tribe; and conformity is a natural outgrowth of such loyalties. Alien individuals or groups, on the other hand, are viewed with unease, suspicion or outright hostility; and non-conformity is a threat.
However, in countries where there is not an exclusionary religion, such as the polytheistic societies of India, Black Africa, China, pre-Muslim Arabia (the Himyars), pre-Muslim north Africa (Berber pagans), pre-Muslim Persia (Parthians and Sassanians), pre-Muslim and pre-Christian central Asia (Khazars), pre-Muslim Mesopotamia (Babylonians), and pre-Christian Europe (Celts), where the society espoused, or espouses, one or more religions that tend to be eclectic and inclusionary, there is almost no historical evidence of Jew-hatred; and the Jews’ success in those host countries is celebrated as a welcome contribution to the host country’s well-being. It is as though these societies view Jewish “chutzpah” as an asset.
There is much that the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Taoists, and even polytheists and pagans, can teach us about getting along with one another.
[i] Winkler, Jennifer, “The problem is Chutzpah,” February 2004, available on line at, inter alia, http://www.jewishtribalreview.org/winkler.htm; http://dis.4chan.org/read/newpol/1168770122; and http://beirutnightingale.blogspot.com/2006/07/if-you-cant-handle-it-then-dont-read.html.
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