Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests


When Anti-Semitism Makes Sense

posted by David Klinghoffer
From pagan times down to this very moment, the Jews have been widely reviled by other people. Anti-Semites will say that makes sense, since there really is something obnoxious about Jews. While anti-Jewish prejudice can be explained in part by reference to other religions and their holy books, or by a demonic strain in ancient and modern cultures, I think there may be something not wholly irrational in the anti-Semite’s complaint against us. The Torah portion for this week, Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1), sheds light on this.
When God launched the project of acquainting his human creatures with himself, he chose neither to overwhelm them with his presence, which would have ruled out a meaningful relationship with man, nor to allow them the “out” of readily explaining away his signs as purely natural phenomena, which would similarly imperil the goal that God had in mind. So he chose Moses as his spokesman to the Jews precisely because the man was not an articulate, compelling or otherwise charismatic leader or orator. That emerges from a verse in the parsha. On being informed of his assigned role, Moses complained that he was a nobody, to which God answered that was exactly why he wanted him for the job: “Just this will be the sign unto thee that I have sent thee” (Exodus 3:12). As Rav Hirsch explains, the “sign” that he was God’s choice would be the fact that Moses had no natural, personal resources that would allow him to accomplish as a leader what he was about to do. His success would have to be explained in Godly, not natural, terms. 

So too God gave the Jews the hard and rocky land of Israel because its ability to flourish, unlike Egypt’s with its yearly rising Nile, would be dependent not on natural factors but on spiritual ones. The holy land would not flower under the hand of just any people. Thus also with the world itself that God created and all the life in it that he made to serve mankind’s needs. Creation cannot be explained satisfactorily in terms of entirely material, mechanical, unguided forces. At the same time it doesn’t overwhelm us with evidence of the Creator’s design. This is a theme we’ve discussed here often. 
And so too, finally, the Jews themselves, his Kingdom of Priests with their assigned role of spreading knowledge of the One God to other peoples. If the success of the Jews in this could be explained away as a result of some natural, fortuitous gift of charisma or attractiveness, if everyone just loved and admired Jews and automatically wanted them in their fancy colleges and country clubs, then it might well be explained away in just that fashion. To forestall the possibility, what did God do? If the logic behind his selecting Moses applies as well to his selection of the Jewish people as a whole, then it would not be suitable at all if the Jews were a people naturally crowned with outstanding charm, grace, elegance, tastefulness, decorum, beautiful speech and manners, and other likely characteristics that draw human beings to other human beings. A “sign” of having been chosen could be a lack of such gifts relative to what you might expect, perhaps detectable most clearly in religious Jews.
Anyway, it’s a hypothesis.


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Bruce Galbreath

posted January 7, 2010 at 7:57 pm


An ingenious conjecture. It may even be true. But, based on the evidence of my own experience, I must say (as a non-Jew) that the Jewish people I have known have been above average (on average) in “attractiveness” in the many ways that quality might be measured.



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Mike

posted January 8, 2010 at 6:24 am


That’s disgusting.
You’re saying that some ancient myth is a better reason to harbor sentiments against a group of people than, say, something that the members of that group actually did? That’s plain stupid. (Not to say that the Jews or anyone else did anything wrong.)
Jews are no less attractive than anyone else, and there is some evidence that, as a group, they are somewhat more intelligent than other white Europeans. The reason for the fancy colleges, country clubs and financial institutions (possibly the intelligence as well) is a simple historical accident: when Jews were persecuted in Europe, they were banned from owning land and had to go to other lines of business than farming. These included trade and working as goldsmiths, which evolved to the present-day banking system. This is all perfectly explainable without God. Being persecuted is not special to Jews, there were plenty of other groups in Europe who suffered similar treatment, but didn’t develop a culture of getting educated and going into business.
Then again, letting His selected people get almost exterminated in the most horrific manner pretty much sounds like a typical pastime for the God of the Old Testament.



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Michael

posted January 8, 2010 at 3:50 pm


You may be overlooking Numbers 12:3 in which God cites Moses as the most humble man who had ever lived. For your analogy to be compelling, the Jews would have to be presented as comparably humble. I’m not sure that such an argument would be compelling.
This is not a slam at the Jews. Most {groups, tribes, nations, etc.,} are characterized by pride and, in the worst cases, group-chauvinism. Jews are no more nor less humble than other comparable groups.
Just a minor nit: I would object to your claim that God “let” the Israelites “get almost exterminated”. The Biblical narratives clearly show that the tragedies suffered by the nation of Israel, while at the hand of God, were not tragedies ala hurricanes, earthquakes, and unprovoked war. In all cases, these horrors were punishments for transgressions (especially their loss of faith).
More on this humility argument:
Judaism calls its people to a life of service (i.e., love of the stranger, widow, and the orphan). Uniquely in world history, the ancient Jews established institutions for the care of widows and orhpans (e.g., leverite marriage) and treated strangers in their midst as a brother. Judaic ethics are replete with injunctions whose design is to civilize and humble human behavior (the rape laws spring to mind).
Jewish society/culture was much admired during the 2nd temple period and many gentiles sought conversion. However, by that time the Jews had adopted as culturally defining norms, a very strict and unyielding set of rules under which conversion would be permitted (circumcision was a big problem, strict food laws, etc.,).
When Paul of Tsarsus advanced a Judaism that, among other features, did not require obedience to the covenantal nomism of the Jews but only to the moral injunctions of the Torah, the floodgates opened and the gentiles washed in — to become Christians to be sure, but at the time they understood themselves to be Jews.
In other words, I argue that Jews are no less ordinary than other religious cultures. If they’ve lost anything, it’s a sense of the humility of Moses (see my post at http://thussaidthelord.blogspot.com/2009/06/humility-and-ability-to-see-god.html). I find myself wondering whether lack of a sense of group humility (correctly understood) may be one of the causes of antagonism to the Jews.
Blessings to you and yours,
Michael



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Robbie

posted January 10, 2010 at 2:33 am


Michael, I agree with you that Paul advanced an idea/a religion/a peoplehood that went beyond Jew and gentile. But I don’t know that he saw himself or his converts as Jews. In Galatians 3:14, Paul writes, “that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” Paul, who claims to be a Jew, seems here to be identifying more with gentiles. I also agree with you that gentiles found something attractive about Judaism in the 2nd Temple period, but the Jews in that period, and even before, were ambivalent toward the gentiles and other “questionable” Jewish groups, like the Samaritans and the Idumaeans (which–I’ll beat this drum again–I think Paul might’ve been an Idumaean and a relative of the Herods, which is why rabbinic literature identifies Rome and Christianity with the Idumaeans’ ancestor Esau). Perhaps Christianity and antisemitism serve God’s purpose in that they keep the Jewish people distinct, i.e. holy, while allowing (through the Christian Old Testament) Torah to flow to the gentiles.



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Your Name

posted January 10, 2010 at 9:14 am


Anti-semites seem to have higehr standards foir Jews than for other people. They fault Jews for doing things that everyone does. For example, Jews are critisized for liking money. But everybody likes money. Its only a problem when Jews like money. There are atrocities happening alll over the world now. But the wordl is focused only on Israel and the Palestinians. A few years ago, Palestinians themselves where throwing each other off of rooftops. Nobody cared very much. But liet the Israelis defend themselves, and the U.N. has to convene a commision tho investigate. Egypt is building a fence along its border with Gaza with the help of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and nobody cares. But Israel’s security fence was a big problem for everyone.



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Mark2

posted January 10, 2010 at 12:50 pm


So far, no one has interpreted “When Anti-Semitism Makes Sense” as “When Anti-Semitism is Justified.” Whew.
YourName writes: “But Israel’s security fence was a big problem for everyone.”
Including those Jews whose lives were saved by that fence?



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Dan

posted January 11, 2010 at 3:20 pm


How were all the Native Americans, various African tribes, as well as Islamic semitic peoples able to flourish in the deserts around the world (the Assyrians, Persians, Medes, etc, etc)?
It appears their gods are just as good at helping them as your god. But, because this relies on the supernatural, it is untestable.
Or, I dunno, maybe it’s like, ummm, eat or die. Make due and survive or die or be slaves. But we all know we can’t have any sort of rational explanation. Only emotional, mythological explanations demanding a diety that no one can find will suffice.
Which brings us to your claimed “hypothesis”.
How would you test such a hypothesis? What methodologies would you employ and which controls would you run? How do you plan to analyze the data and disemminate your findings and conclusions?
No, your idea is just a mythology rooted thought, it is not a scientific hypothesis as we cannot test god’s desires (I’d be happy if we could just find him, her, or it).
All this may help explain why the Discovery Institute has such a difficult time with science as they do not seem to understand basic principles of how science operates; thus helping to explain why they are so anti-science, as laid out in the Wedge Document, and seek nothing less than to rid the world of modern science and materialism. Just a hypothesis.



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Mark2

posted January 12, 2010 at 8:10 am


“Dan writes: “thus helping to explain why they are so anti-science.”
It goes without saying that “what one considers anti-BAD science” is interchangeable with “anti-science.” Right?
Oh wait, this diversion of yours has nothing to do with antisemitism.



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Emily with the Kippah

posted January 13, 2010 at 8:48 am


Mark2, what exactly is “Bad Science?” I’m curious as to the credentials you carry that allow you to make such a sweeping judgment.



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Shalomsense

posted January 13, 2010 at 12:26 pm


Re. Dan’s point about the desert, I’d thought Klinghoffer was using it in a metaphorical sense? Thought the blog was very interesting.



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Mark2

posted January 13, 2010 at 2:10 pm


Emily asks, “Mark2, what exactly is “Bad Science?” I’m curious as to the credentials you carry that allow you to make such a sweeping judgment. ”
If you look at my post carefully, you’ll notice the complete phrase I used was: “what one considers anti-BAD science”
It doesn’t matter what my credentials are. The fact is that the DI folks attack, rightly or wrongly, what they consider to be bad science; and not that they are anti-science, which is a charge that belongs in the dustbin.



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Emily with the Kippah

posted January 17, 2010 at 12:25 am


Mark2, you are the one who made a distinction between “science” and “BAD science.” Actually your credentials matter quite a bit if you make such a declaration. Creationists attack what they cherry-pick to be “bad science.” But Science isn’t like your Bible. You can’t just cherry-pick what you want from it.



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Mark2

posted January 18, 2010 at 2:41 am


Hi Emily,
You wrote, “Actually your credentials matter quite a bit if you make such a declaration (of distinction between “science” and “bad science.”) I agree. But I didn’t make the distinction; I only claimed that the DI folks, some of whom actually do have decent credentials, make the distinction, as should everyone to the best of his understanding.
What I said about DI attacking what they consider (not what I consider) to be bad science is no different from a student of history attacking some of the writings of good historians. One should pick those things he thinks are true and discard what he thinks isn’t. We can argue that these students shouldn’t just ignore concensus and all that, but that’s not the point. The point is that they shouldn’t be accused of being anti-history. They love history. If they’re bad at it, or heck, even if they aren’t always honest about it, that’s a different question.
(Your charge about cherry picking from the Bible is misplaced, since I don’t believe one should do that. Kindly don’t respond by claiming that I do; this forum is not the place for it.)



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Your Name

posted January 19, 2010 at 1:27 pm


What about the hyperethnocentrism of Jews? Perhaps its a chicken and egg sort of question – but Jews would go into foreign lands, keep to themselves to such an extent they developed their own language dialects [Ladino, Yiddish]. While they certainly had and have every right to preserve their traditions, given the essentially tribalistic {in the pure sense} nature of Judaism, there was more of an ‘us’ and ‘them’ aspect between Jews and their host countries than might otherwise have arisen.
Your speculation about what “God” did {whose God? The Hebrew God of the OT? That God is unrecognizable to me vis a vis the “God” of the New Testament} is quaint, but foolish. Indeed, the “Chosen People Myth” is probably the ultimate root of anti-Semitism.
This isn’t to excuse racism, by the way – indeed there is no excuse whatsoever to hate someone based on their ethnic background; however it is absurd nonsense to neglect the role of Judaism’s twin ethnic-ethical pillars and egoistic mythology in engendering irrational hatred.
Perhaps if we coddled the absurd fairy tales of religion less, we might grow to see that what divides us is the particular lies our parents told us about Life, The Universe, and Everything.
I don’t have answers to those questions – and neither do you, sir.



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