Category Archives: Katz: From Prejudice to Destruction

Why Anti-Muslim hostility is comparable to Anti-Semitism

Justifying a view of Muslims as essentially untrustworthy and potentially violent by quoting the Koran has an interesting historical analog.

Johann Andreas Eisenmenger

In 1700 Johann Andreas Eisenmenger collated and published a comprehensive account of the reasons Jews posed a threat to Christian society. Translated, the title was Judaism Unmasked. The Jewish religious texts, Eisenmenger warned, were the evidence that the Jews hated and sought the harm of non-Jews. He brushed aside contemporary Jewish intellectuals who interpreted their own writings more in accord with modern values and went straight to the sources themselves.

. . . casting aside the interpretations accepted by his contemporary Jews in his quest to reconstruct the world of Judaism by studying the sources themselves.

From a range of Jewish texts he set out

to prove the worthlessness of the Talmud to which the Jews attribute religious authority close to that of the Bible. Five chapters are devoted to Jewish beliefs regarding the Messiah and to eschatology and resurrection. All this is intended to prove that the Jews are ingrained with superstitions and illusionary conceptions.

However, Eisenmenger attacks Judaism principally for its attitude toward other religions and their adherents. The point of this attack is to show that the Jews are commanded by their religion to abuse that which is sacred to all other religions, and above all that which is sacred to Christian­ity. The Jewish tradition prohibits robbery, deceit, and even murder only in relations between Jews, while the property and even the life of the Christian are as good as outlawed. If that is the tenor of the tradition into which Jews are initiated from childhood, one should not be surprised by their actual behavior should they be found abusing articles of Christian worship, that is, desecrating the host, or be caught in deceit, robbery, or even murder. (Katz, 17-18)

He supported his belief with Jewish texts saying that the Jews were commanded by their religion to commit the very crimes he accused them of.

Eisenmenger . . . wanted to demonstrate that everything derogatory or discriminatory that appeared in the Jewish tradition regarding any people whatsoever was seen by the Jew as applicable to his Christian contemporaries. The Christians are identified with the minim of whom it had been said, “Lowering down, but not raising up”; with Amalek, whose memory the Jews are commanded to blot out; and even with the seven nations whom the conquerors of Biblical Canaan were commanded to destroy. In the future, in the Messianic age, the com­mandment of destruction would apply to all mankind save the Jews. As the Jews awaited their redeemer every day, it stood to reason that they would carry out the commandment of destruction even in the present on those whom it was within their reach to injure and harm.

Eisenmenger’s point of departure was the belief that the Jews were habitually robbing and murdering their Christian neighbors. He believed the tales of ritual murder, of the desecration of the host and the like, regardless of whether they stemmed from folklore or from medieval chroniclers who failed to distinguish between fact and fancy. He supported his belief with Jewish texts saying that the Jews were commanded by their religion to commit the very crimes he accused them of. In his attempt to make this point, Eisenmenger drives his interpretation to the height of ab­surdity. In every case where he found such expressions as “deserves death” . . . he explained them as requiring a death penalty to be imposed by human hands. . . . Jewish scholars would also interpret metaphors and figures of speech literally whenever the conclusions to be drawn from such interpretations corresponded to their views. . . . To anyone who is knowledgeable in traditional Jewish literature, Eisenmenger’s interpretations read like a parody of both the legal and homiletic literature. . . . . [F]or the reader who is unfamiliar with that literature: he may fall for Eisenmenger’s conclusions, not knowing that they are no more than the very assumptions that preceded the writer’s examination of the material. He may accept the image of the Jews as a community of superstitious fools, hostile to those around them and despising whatever is holy to their neighbors. Completely unscrupulous in their behavior toward the stranger outside their community, therefore they cheat and wrong those who have business contacts with them, and this they do by command of their religion. If they are brought to court, their oaths are not to be trusted because they regard lying under oath of little consequence when their fellow litigant is a non-Jew. Their loyalty to the state is no more than lip service; and, in fact, they violate the law with impunity and are willing to betray their king and serve his enemies as spies and secret agents. The Jew cannot even be trusted in matters of life and death, and Christians who take treatment from a Jewish doctor endanger their lives. Eisenmenger fully believed the reports, in Christian chronicles and folk tales alike, that many a child had died at Jewish hands in order to satisfy ritual needs. Eisenmenger tried to gain the reader’s confidence by quoting chapter and verse demonstrating that the absolutely unethical behavior of the Jew derived from that decadent source of his religion, the Talmud and Rab­binical literature.  (19-20)

According to […], Islam does not develop, and neither do Muslims; they merely are. . . .

Edward Said, see How anti-Muslim hostility has replaced the old anti-Semitism

Jewish history was also conceived as a single historical unit both by Jewish tradition and by Christianity, the latter, of course, regarding the ap­pearance of Jesus as a decisive turning point. However, while the tradi­tional concept, Jewish or Christian, was that the unity derived from a divine mission, Voltaire explained it in terms of permanent qualities deeply rooted in the spirit and character of the people. Evidence of these characteristics could be taken from any period in the history of the people: after all, periodization is essentially an external matter, and time creates no barriers between generations. Consequently, Voltaire’s method allowed him to transfer his data from one period to the next and to attribute the basic characteristics of the Biblical people to later generations. Likewise, it is hardly surprising to find the converse: qualities discovered in later periods are attributed to Biblical Jews. That Jews are drawn to money and that they deal in business transactions and usury could be postulated in the light of their occupation in the Middle Ages and modern times, and Voltaire projects this stereotype back to the Biblical age. For example, the Bible does not indicate explicitly any desire on the part of the Jewish people to rule over other nations, but in the Talmudic and medieval periods deluding images of the Messianic era did arise. These were the basis for the Christian polemic contending that the Jews sought world domination. Ex post facto, polemicists found supporting material for this view in the Bible as well; Voltaire accepted their Christian accusations and incorporated them in his rationalistic indictment. (42-43)

Katz describes a list of other prominent names through history who followed the arguments and methods of Eisenmenger and Voltaire, too many to cover here in any sort of detail. The point is clear:

The reference to the Talmudic sources, usually based on Rohling’s Talmudjude, became a steady feature of anti-Semitic propaganda.

Or if not the Talmud, it was the Old Testament that rang out the warning:

Duhring, on the other hand, held, as we have seen, the Old Testament’s teaching responsible for Jewish immorality and regarded the “recent citation of Talmudic instances” to be superfluous. (267)

One dramatic scene . . .

In a gathering of some five hundred participants in April 1882, a speaker named Franz Holubek declared that “The Jews have not shown themselves worthy of emancipa­tion . . . The Jew is no longer a co-citizen. He made himself our master, our oppressor . . . Do you know what gives these people the right to put their foot on our neck? The Talmud, in which you Christians are called dogs, donkeys, and pigs.’’ This invective provoked an uproar in the au­dience, causing the police to dissolve the meeting. Holubek was indicted for interreligious incitement but in the ensuing trial, defended by Pattai, he was found innocent. The line of defense was that the alleged invective conformed to scholarly established truth as stated in the learned treatise The Talmudjude, by August Rohling, professor of Hebrew literature at Charles University in Prague. (285)


Katz, Jacob. 1982. From Prejudice to Destruction: Anti-Semitism, 1700–1933. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.


 

More on Islamophobia as an analog of Anti-semitism

Following on from Islamophobia Really Is a Twin of Anti-Semitism . . . .

I find it interesting to compare the various attitudes towards Jews in France between 1780 and 1880 (chapter 8 and others of Jacob Katz’s From Prejudice to Destruction: Anti-Semitism, 1700-1933) with attitudes towards Muslims that we are witnessing today.

In Australia (and the situation does not seem to me to be very dissimilar in other Western countries) we have divided social attitudes towards Muslims. Some of us are willing to welcome the Muslim community, especially recent refugee arrivals, with open arms. Others are worried that too easily accepting them brings problems: their values are too different; they do not assimilate; they protect would-be terrorists; they sympathize with terrorists; they pose a threat to the future cultural landscape of the country; they threaten to introduce sharia law.

So it is interesting to read of a similar divide in nineteenth century French society. Though a minority, it appears, were willing to carry on the hopes of rights for the Jews that the French Revolution seemed for a moment to promise, others could not put aside their fears and suspicions concerning the consequences of Jews being fully accepted as equals with equal rights. Their values were too different; they did not assimilate; they were capable of any crime imaginable, “cheating, forgery, treason” (after all, they were all the children of deicides); they posed a threat to the wellbeing of non Jews — they would reduce other French people to destitution; they cheated and robbed in their business dealings; they had no moral principles worthy of a civilized community; etc.

As long as Jews kept to themselves they were seen as incorrigibly unfit for mainstream French society; when some Jews took advantage of certain liberties introduced with the French Revolution and gained positions as heads of major companies or teachers in universities, they were seen as an even greater threat to the long-term well-being of society.

Interestingly throughout the years up to 1880 the authors of major works warning the French nation about the Jewish threat to society did not see the “degenerate nature” of the Jews as racially determined. They viewed the problem as primarily a cultural and religious one; the Jews were “damaged” by their primitive religious beliefs and customs. Many anti-semites, among socialists like Fourier and among the clergy of the church, believed that Jews could become worthwhile citizens eventually, but only through being isolated from their communities and undergoing thorough “re-education”, or by becoming Christians and leaving their Jewish ways and associates entirely.

The biological determinism concept — what we tend to think of as the essence of racism — emerged only later in France.

Anti-semitism was not at this time a “racist” phenomenon. But it was anti-semitism no less.

So those today who insist that their “Islamophobia” or their “critical pronouncements about Muslims” and the threat they pose to society today is not racism and therefore cannot be compared with anti-semitism are not quite correct.

Another interesting contemporary rhyme with history is the few names of the minority group who do come over to the mainstream society and turn against their former religious group.

The anti-Jewish front received unexpected reinforcement from a type of Jewish convert peculiar to the first decades of postrevolutionary France. . . . France produced a type of convert . . . who himself became active in propagating Christianity and assailing his former coreligionists, his “brethren in the flesh.” The emancipated Jew in France had, seemingly, no reason for changing his religion. But paradoxically it is in France that we meet a whole category of converts who demonstrated their conviction by becoming active in missionary work and joining hands with other detractors of Jews and Judaism. (pp. 116f)

Some of these converts (e.g. Theodore and Alphonse Ratisbonne) had in fact grown up with an education that contained relatively minimal Jewish content, or had had negative experiences that estranged them from their Jewish communities, so it was easy for such persons to break away and turn on their fellow Jews. But their Jewish history nonetheless gave them a prominent status within the Church and wider society as “Jews who had seen the light”. These converts, we can well imagine, were excellent propaganda value to “proving” just how degenerate the Jews they left behind really were.

One thinks of a number of prominent names of ex-Muslims who today share public platforms with bigoted Islamophobes. Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s past history with her Muslim family and community is shrouded in unanswered questions and checkered with moral ambiguities, for example. No doubt some other ex-Muslims really have suffered terrible injustices that nothing can excuse, but we become part of a wider problem if we brand all Muslims as abnormally abusive. (More positive voices I have found are Maryam Namazie and Elham Manea.)

Just some passing thoughts as I continue to read Katz.

 

 

Islamophobia Really Is a Twin of Anti-Semitism

In his opening chapter of From Prejudice to Destruction: Anti-Semitism, 1700-1933 Jacob Katz introduces readers to Johann Andreas Eisenmenger, a late seventeenth century intellectual whom he identifies as setting out the blueprint for the survival of antisemitism beyond the Christian era of the Middle Ages. Katz points out that, ironically, just as the European world was beginning to slough off the domination of Church, superstitions and ignorant prejudices and to move at last in the direction of rationalism and secularism, to a time when states were beginning to grant citizenship and basic rights to Jews, antisemitic attitudes among both elites and the public appeared to take a vicious turn for the worse.

The explanation, Katz believes, must include a focus on historical heritage:

A heavy hereditary burden, going back to the Middle Ages and ancient times, has loomed over the relationship between the Jew and the non-Jewish world. This heritage was partly accountable for the enmity that broke out just when one might have expected it to have been eradicated by the change in historic circumstances. . . . .

Fate decreed that a certain Christian writer, Johann Andreas Eisenmenger, should have arisen at just that moment in the history of anti-Semitism and concentrated the tradition of medieval anti- Jewish doctrines in his great work Entdecktes Judenthum. (Katz 1980, p.13 – The title Entdecktes Judenthum translates as “Judaism Uncovered”.)

Johann Eisenmenger, 1654-1704

One would expect the Age of Reason and the ensuing Age of Enlightenment would rid the world of the scourge of racism.

However, rationalism did not bridge the schism, but succeeded only in changing its character, and so the denunciations of Eisenmenger did not drop out of sight for more than a brief period. They kept coming up, and his book nourished the anti-Semitic movement directly and indirectly at all stages of its development. . .  (p. 14, bolding mine in all quotations)

My interest in reading Katz was to further understand the history and nature of modern antisemitism but his discussion of Eisenmenger’s book pulled me right back to so many anti-Islamic writings I have across on the web. The approach, the method and assumptions with which Eisenmenger “identified” the reasons for the “untrustworthy” and even “murderous” nature of the Jews were exactly the same as the way many fearful people today find reasons to fear Muslims as “untrustworthy” and even “murderous” at heart by studying their religious writings. read more »