Dovid Vigler

Anti-Semitism—a Disease of the Mind

The Talmud’s Psychological Profile of anti-Semites

Until eight months ago, anti-Semitism used to be something we read about in the history section of the library. But today it’s everywhere. And it’s overwhelming. Who would have believed that the world would turn on the Jews in our modern times with such animosity? Sadly, it seems like the world has learned nearly nothing from 2000 years of persecution of the Jews.

When so many people are against you, you can easily begin to doubt your own sanity. Could all those haters be wrong? In six stunning words in the Talmud, anti-Semitism is defined as a disease—a mental illness. And it changes everything.

Haman is perhaps the most famous anti-Semite in Jewish history. Living 2200 years ago in Persia (modern day Iran), this powerful Prime Minister attempted to wipe out all Jews in a single day but ended up being hanged from a tree. We’ve dedicated an entire Jewish holiday to his dramatic downfall—the festival of Purim.

The Talmud (Chullin 139b) asks:

“Where in the Torah is there a reference to Haman?”

The answer of the Talmud plays on a pun in the narrative of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. After G-d allowed them to enjoy all the fruits of the lush Garden of Paradise, he forbade them from eating from one single tree—the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. When they succumbed to temptation, G-d asked them if they indeed ate of the forbidden fruit. Thus the Talmud answers:

The words“Hamin Haetz (Did you take from the Tree?)” (Genesis 3:11) can also be read as “Haman”

Though the Talmud doesn’t elaborate on the strange etymological connection between Haman and Adam and Eve, connecting the dots between these two stories teaches us volumes on what motivated them.

In both of these Biblical stories, the protagonists had much much more than the average person. Adam and Eve were frolicking in Paradise. Haman was enjoying untold power and influence as the second most powerful politician on earth—second only to King Achasverosh, ruler over all the known world at that time. Yet, both of them were deeply disturbed by a seemingly minor imperfection: Though Adam and Eve were able to enjoy all the pleasures of Paradise, they were forbidden to indulge in the fruits of one single tree. Similarly, Haman had all of the king’s subjects bowing to him—save Mordechai the Jew who refused to do so.

Instead of overlooking their extremely minor limitations, these characters found no rest and were driven to madness in their obsession to fully satisfy their cravings. Adam and Eve could not control their passions and ultimately ate from the forbidden fruit, resulting in the curse of mortality imposed upon themselves and all of the human race. Haman too, unable to find rest in one Jew not bowing to him, sought to wipe out the entire Jewish population and ended up being hanged from the very gallows that he had erected for Mordechai.

In this context, we interpret the question of the Talmud with far greater depth than what first meets the eye. Instead of playing a curious game of scrabble, the Talmud is asking what is the psychological profile of anti-Semites like Haman? The answer is no less breathtaking than the courage of such a question—a self absorbed, crazed obsession to have it all. The Talmud is making it very clear that anti-Semitism is nothing short of a mental illness. Indeed, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks called it “a profound psychological dysfunction, a disease masquerading as a cure.”

Anti-Semites the world over accuse Israel of being a colonial state—robbing the poor Palestinians of their own state. They mindlessly blame the Jews with the most heinous crimes such as racism, apartheid, and even genocide, the facts notwithstanding. They claim that it’s a dispute about land. And if the Jews would only give the Palestinians their own land, all would be peaceful.

Israel gave the Palestinians their own land in 2006 when they gave them autonomy over the Gaza strip. Israel’s northern border with Lebanon is an internationally recognized border, yet Hezbollah and their Iranian handlers have fired over 20,000 deadly rockets, missiles, and suicide drones on Israel in the past eight months.

Muslims are the majority in 49 countries. The Arab League counts 22 member countries. There is only one Jewish state—and it’s the size of the state of New Jersey! Instead of being grateful for the incredible abundance that they have, the Arab enemies of Israel refuse to allow the Jews the little that they have.

This has nothing to do with land. The Talmud is teaching us that, like the famous anti-Semite Haman, what drives today’s anti-Semites is nothing other than a mental disease—an obsession to have it all. Like their Persian ancestor, Haman, modern-day anti-Semites demand to have what rightfully belongs to others as well. And this will ultimately be their downfall.

If it was a Palestinian state that the Arabs were after, they would never have turned down the opportunity to have one so many times. In 1947, 1993, and 2000 they were offered a Palestinian state on a silver platter. Instead of graciously accepting what they claim to so passionately seek, they declared war on Israel, betraying their true intentions. It’s not that they need a state, as much as their mad obsession with us not having one! How poignant were the words of Golda Meir when she observed that “they hate us more than they love their own children.” 

Though he had every reason to fear Haman, Mordechai of the Purim story responded with dignity and grace. Refusing to cower, he calls the Jewish nation together in unity and prayer as they prepare to fight anti-Semitism with moral integrity coupled with skilled diplomacy and military might.

In much the same way, we too must never react to anti-Semitism with fear. Understanding its roots as a mental imbalance of our enemies diffuses the toxicity of its impact. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The victim cannot cure this disease. Now is the time for us to be like Mordechai—standing fearlessly before our enemies as we proudly represent our Jewish faith and the rest of our nation.

All this meshugas does bring with it an unexpected side effect: For seventy-five years since the Holocaust, we seemed to have fallen into a lull—a false sense of security. Whilst the older generation had a sensitivity to Jewish customs, tradition, and observance, the younger generation seems to have moved away from it, losing interest in Jewish traditions that seem less relevant and necessary. But the rise of anti-Semitism this year has forced us out of our slumber—reminding us of the critical importance of our Jewish identity, in ways that we could never have anticipated.

Pain is real, but so is hope. G-d gives his hardest battles to his toughest soldiers.

Rabbi Dovid Vigler
Chabad of Palm Beach Gardens

6100 PGA Blvd, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418  | 561.624.2223

Instagram @JewishGardens

About the Author
Raised in South Africa, Rabbi Dovid Vigler is the founder and spiritual leader of Chabad of Palm Beach Gardens in Florida. As a gifted orator and creative thinker, he strives to share the beauty and depth of Jewish Mysticism in a clear, conversational and down-to-earth manner. Whether in his popular in-person and written sermons or in his thought provoking Torah classes on social media, he raises his students to new heights by transforming ancient pearls of wisdom into modern solutions to timeless quandaries His weekly Radio Show—The Schmooze—was internationally broadcast on six stations, reaching nearly one hundred thousand listeners weekly for almost a decade. His most recent book, “If G-d is Good, Why Can Life Be So Bad?” is renowned for its unprecedented approach to making timeless Jewish mysticism understandable and relatable even to most uninitiated readers. It is available on Amazon. His inspirational books, seminars, essays and uplifting messages can be found on Follow his daily teachings at
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