Sure, Purim is over (Triple Purim fans will have to wait four more years for an excuse to get drunk on Adar 16th), but before you roll up that Scroll of Esther, can we talk about antisemitism?
There are lots of people who dislike the Hebrews / Israelites / Jews in the Bible, but Haman is the first one to get a title that translates to “antisemite,” tzorer haYhudim, as he is called four times.
- And the king removed his ring from his hand and gave it to Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, tzorer haYhudim. (3:10)
- On that day, King Ahasuerus gave to Esther the Queen the house of Haman, tzorer haYhudim. (8:1)
- They killed the ten sons of Haman son of Hammedatha, tzorer haYhudim. (9:10)
- For Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, tzorer kol haYhudim, planned to exterminate the Jews. (9:24)
In that last one, Esther inserts “all” (kol), which underscores what the term tzorer literally means: to bind/ bundle/ collect. Job (26:8), for example, refers to God as “tzorer mayim,” but that doesn’t mean the Almighty is hydrophobic or detests Amy Farrah Fowler. It means He collects water droplets in the clouds.
And Haman is a Jew-bundler par excellence; when Mordecai offends him, he decides to target his entire people. But note that the verse juxtaposes the title not just to Haman, but to his father Hammedatha and his ancestor Agag.
These represent, in fact, three different variations of antisemitism.
- Agagite antisemitism is the classic version. In this view, the Jews are too weak, which is why we must be attacked. “When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all the stragglers” (Deut. 25:18). This pertains on the way out of Egypt, at the border of the Promised Land, throughout the period of the Judges, even as Saul and then David struggle to establish a united Kingdom of Israel.
- Hammedathan antisemitism is the postmodern version. According to this view, the Jews are just too strong, too militaristic, too expansionist. They don’t belong in the Middle East, and their national aspirations threaten all the peace-loving residents of the region. Indeed, it is the job of the lone global superpower to rein in those uppity Jews in Zion. “At the beginning of the reign of Ahasuerus, they lodged an accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem” (Ezra 4:6).
- Hamanist antisemitism is the reactionary version. It’s not about the Jews of Zion, but the international Jew (3:8). “There is a certain people scattered and divided among the people throughout the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different than all the other people, they don’t obey the king’s laws, and it’s not in the king’s best interest to leave them alone.” The Jews are neither weak nor strong, but other: alien, threatening, disloyal.
Fighting antisemitism is not an either/or proposition. Whatever its flavor, it is vile. Those who throw in all members of any race or faith or ethnic group are following in the footsteps of the prototypical tzorer haYhudim. We dare never be silent in the face of such behavior.