Torah For Today: Antisemitism

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Torah For Today: Antisemitism

Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson looks at a topical issue and delves into the Jewish texts for a response

Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson executive director of Chabad of Belgravia, London

A protester burns the Israeli flag.
A protester burns the Israeli flag.

Antisemitic attacks in London last month reached the highest level ever recorded. What does the Torah say about antisemitism?

Antisemitism is the greatest conundrum at the heart of Jewish existence. Why have we been so hated by the family of nations?

Much ink has been spilled trying to explain what antisemitism is, what causes it, and why, whenever it looks like things are getting better, it rears its ugly head again.

But what does Judaism itself have to say about antisemitism?

The Talmud says that Mount Sinai, the place where the Torah was given, was named so because it initiated the nations’ hatred, sinah, of Jews.

At Sinai, the Jewish nation was tasked with the sacred duty to be “a kingdom of priests” and to serve as beacons of morality and justice to the world.

As a consequence of accepting this mandate to be “a light unto the nations,” the Jewish people became the subject of the oldest and most persistent hatred in history.

Hitler, one of the most notorious antisemites who ever lived, summed up this sentiment chillingly in a private conversation with his confidant, Hermann Rauschning: “The struggle for world domination is between me and the Jews. All else is meaningless. The Jews have inflicted two wounds on the world: Circumcision for the body and conscience for the soul. I come to free mankind from their shackles.”

Historically there have been two contradictory reactions to the Jewish people, Judeophobia—frustration and hatred directed at the voice of conscience Jews represent, or on the other extreme, Judeophilia—admiration and the desire to learn from and emulate the Jewish people.

There is thus created an irrational aura of simultaneous fear/suspicion and awe/infatuation around the Jewish people in the eyes of the world.

Ultimately, Judaism is a distinction that Jews cannot hide from. History has demonstrated that assimilation doesn’t help prevent antisemitism, as evidenced in the fate of 20th century German Jewry, who had achieved an extraordinary level of integration into the highest echelons of society.

In fact, assimilation serves only to advance the cause of the antisemite in ridding the world of its moral torch-bearers.

Commenting on the unique role and presence of the Jews in the drama and development of human society, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook pointed out that all of the great civilizations throughout time such as Egypt, Greece, Persia, and Rome appeared on the stage of history, made their contribution, said their piece, and moved on.

The Jewish people, however, emerged onto the stage of ancient history and are still standing here, stuttering—for we have yet to clearly articulate the message that we are here to say.

Instead of going underground to hide our Jewish identity, as some tend to do during times of persecution, let us stand up and proudly proclaim to the world the message that we were summoned at Sinai to deliver.

Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson serves Beit Baruch and is executive director of Chabad of Belgravia, London

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