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Hatred Begins with the Letter in Jewish History

Israel overcomes hate. (via X, formerly Twitter)
Israel overcomes hate. (via X, formerly Twitter)

When looking back at 2,000 plus years of Jewish history, it appears that Jewish hatred begins with the letter H.

Haman

The Book of Esther read by Jews on the holiday of Purim is a tale of good versus evil in the land of Persia (present day Iran). Jewish Queen Esther and her uncle, Mordechai, represent “good.” Haman, the king’s chief advisor and second in command represents “evil.”

Haman earns the king’s trust through deceit and conniving, and he takes his power to the next level. All residents of Shushan must bow down to him, a true narcissist. Mordechai refuses. He will not bow down to a mortal, only to G-d.

Haman seeks revenge for this insult by having the king issue a proclamation to destroy the entire Jewish people of Persia. Queen Esther’s revelation to the king that her life is on the line, too, saves her people. Haman and sons are hanged, and the Jews of Persia are allowed to defend themselves.

In addition, the king gives Esther and Mordechai power to reverse Haman’s evil decree. The Jews of Persian could now arm themselves and defend themselves against their attackers. On Purim we celebrate the Jew’s permission to defend themselves against attack.

Roman Emperor Hadrian

Born January 24, 76 AD, Hadrian was known in the Roman world for his literary pursuits and many building projects throughout the Empire. He ruled from 117 to 138 AD. However, his legacy in the land we now call Israel is anything but stellar.

Hadrian aimed to transform Jerusalem into a Roman metropolis, and in 132 AD, he banned the practice of circumcision. A short time later, many Jews in Judaea revolted under the charismatic Bar Kokhba. This revolt was successful at the start. But by 135 AD, it had been extinguished and Bar Kokhba killed, with enormous losses on both sides.

What was Hadrian’s purpose? He wanted to eliminate the Jews and wipe out their religion. Jewish prisoners were sold into slavery. He forbade the teaching of the Torah, renamed the province Syria Palaestina and changed Jerusalem’s name to Aelia Capitolina. Synagogues were replaced with Roman temples. He issued an edict barring Jews from even looking at their fallen capital. Many prominent rabbis violated this edict and martyred themselves in the process. (We recite the murder of 10 prominent rabbis during the Yom Kippur service.) Hadrian’s efforts had a lasting effect: the Jews would not regain control of their ancestral homeland for over 1,800 years.

Heraclius

In the beginning of the seventh century, Persia made an attempt to conquer the Fertile Crescent in the hopes of defeating the Byzantine Empire.

The Jews of Judea were hoping for a more lenient rule from Persia, and joined the fighters. In 611 CE, Persia conquered Syria and Judea. Approximately 60-90,000 Christians were killed by the Persians with the help of Jewish soldiers.

However, Jewish life under Persian rule was harder and crueler than under the Byzantines. Jewish leaders worked out a deal with the Byzantine emperor, Heraclius, to help him retake what was called the Holy Land. In 629 CE, the Byzantines succeeded in winning back all the territory conquered by the Persians.

When Heraclius gained control of Judea, the Jews went to him to remind him that he had promised religious freedom. Heraclius turned to the Christian clergy for advice. They told him he should fast for a week to atone for any possible sins. When the week was up, Heraclius ordered all Jews killed and all synagogues destroyed. The Jews who weren’t caught up in the slaughter fled to Egypt.

Heraclius also ordered forced conversions for all Jews in the Byzantine Empire and urged the king of the Franks to kill all Jews (which he refused to do).

Henry III of England

The Jews in England were considered the property of the Crown, and traditionally were used as a source of cheap loans and easy taxation in exchange for royal protection against antisemitism. During King Henry’s early years, the community flourished and became one of the most prosperous in Europe. Subsequently, the monarchy stood to profit considerably from a strong Jewish community in England.

In 1239, King Henry introduced different policies, possibly trying to imitate those of Louis of France. Jewish leaders across England were imprisoned and forced to pay fines equivalent to a one-third of their goods. Furthermore, any outstanding loans were released. Huge demands for cash followed – £40,000 was demanded in 1244, for example, of which around two-thirds was collected within five years. These tariffs destroyed the ability of the Jewish community to lend money commercially.

The financial pressure King Henry placed on the Jews caused them to force repayment of loans, fueling anti-Jewish resentment. A particular grievance among smaller landowners such as knights was the sale of Jewish bonds. These bonds were bought and used by rich barons. Members of King Henry’s royal circle used the bonds to acquire lands of lesser landholders through payment defaults.

King Henry had built the Domus Conversorum in London in 1232 to help convert Jews to Christianity, and efforts intensified after 1239. As many as 10 percent of the Jews in England were converted by the late 1250s in large part because of their deteriorating economic conditions. The blood libel against Jews, a tragic staple throughout Jewish history, received a royal validation when King Henry III of England accepted the claims of the mother of a young boy found dead in 1255.

A local Jew named Copin confessed that he and a number of other Jews tortured and crucified the child in a ritual killing. This was supposed to be in exchange for his life. However, Copin was nonetheless executed for the crime on the orders of King Henry III. This was the first time that a European monarch accepted blood libel charges against a Jew. Copin was the first Jew put to death in England on a charge of ritual murder. King Henry also ordered the death of 18 other Jews accused of the crime.

Henry III passed the Statute of Jewry in 1253, which attempted to stop the construction of synagogues and enforce the wearing of Jewish badges. His policies up to 1258 of excessive Jewish taxation, anti-Jewish legislation and propaganda caused this very important and negative change.

Hebron Attacks

Through the years, the Jews of Hebron were victims of many attacks. In 1517, the attacks occurred in the final phases of the Ottoman–Mamluk War (1516–17), when Turkish Ottomans ousted the Mamluks and took Ottoman Syria. The massacre targeted the Jewish population of Hebron.

An account of the event, recorded by Japheth ben Manasseh in 1518, mentions how the onslaught was initiated by Turkish troops led by Murad Bey, the deputy of the Sultan from Jerusalem. Jews were attacked, beaten and raped, and many were killed as their homes and businesses were looted and pillaged. Some believe the prosperous position of the Jews of Hebron is what attracted the Turkish soldiers to engage in the mass plunder. Those who survived fled to Beirut. Jews only returned to Hebron 16 years later in 1533.

On August 24, 1929, approximately 69 Jews were killed by Arabs incited by rumors that Jews were planning to seize control of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The event left scores seriously wounded or maimed. Jewish homes were pillaged, and synagogues were ransacked. Soon after, all Hebron’s Jews were evacuated by the British authorities. Many returned in 1931, but almost all were evacuated at the outbreak of the 1936–39 Arab revolt in Palestine. The centuries-old Jewish presence in Hebron came to an end until the State of Israel was created.

This massacre, together with that of Jews in Safed, sent shock waves through Jewish communities in Palestine and around the world. It led to the re-organization and development of the Jewish paramilitary organization, the Haganah, which later became the nucleus of the Israel Defense Forces.

Haidamacks

The Haidamacks were paramilitary bands that disrupted the social order in Polish Ukraine in the 1700s. The bands consisted mainly of peasant serfs who had fled Polish landowners. They ambushed travelers or attacked small settlements not for political reasons but mainly for robbery and murder.

Massacres of Jews took place in various towns in 1738 and 1742. A wave of attacks was perpetrated in 1750. The most violent Haidamack attacks took place in 1768. For example, 700 people—Jews and non-Jews— were killed in the city of Fastov. The Jews who escaped this massacre fled to the city of Uman. The treachery of a Cossack commander named Gonta led to the city’s surrender on June 19, 1768.

Additionally, multitudes of citizens were murdered. Members of the Jewish community attempted to hide but were unsuccessful. The majority of them were killed in the synagogue. The number of victims ran into the thousands and included women and children. Synagogues were razed and Torah scrolls burned. According to some records, the number of victims reached 20,000, both Poles and Jews.

This revolt was eventually suppressed by Russian and Polish troops. The Haidamack movement came to an end. However, the memory of the movement lingered in Ukrainian lore and national literature. It became a legacy of the Ukrainian national movement. The partisan bands that perpetrated pogroms on the Ukrainian Jewish population in 1919-1920 and during World War II were referred to as Haidamacks.

Hitler/Holocaust

What can one write about Hitler? His precise elimination of Jews and “others” (Roma, homosexuals, people with disabilities, political opponents, etc.) is well documented. The world’s blind eye to the fate of the European Jews has been studied, written about, filmed and recorded in oral histories. Despite his intention to destroy the Jewish world, it survived. We Jews are still here!

Hamas and Hezbollah

Hamas was created out of the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in the late 1980s. Its credo and mission are to specifically engage in violence against Israelis (and Jews more broadly).

Hezbollah is based in Lebanon, where its extensive security apparatus, political organization and social services network have fostered its reputation as “a state within a state.” Founded in the chaos of the 15-year Lebanese Civil War, the Iran-backed group is driven by its opposition to Israel and its resistance to Western influence in the Middle East. Hezbollah has been waging a terrorist campaign against Israel.

Hezbollah has been designated as a terrorist group by the United States and many other countries because of its history of global attacks. It is believed that this group has over 100,000 missiles ready to launch at Israel.

The Final Hs?

Perhaps the final Hs can stand not for killers and barbarians who have no respect for life but for humanity, hope and honor. For without these, where would we be?

About the Author
Eileen Creeger is a life-long resident of Baltimore who grew up in an Orthodox Zionistic home. Now retired, she has worked in several administrative positions in local Jewish organizations, including executive director of her synagogue. She also spent several years as a freelance medical editor, and now edits and writes for a quarterly 16-page newsletter for seniors in Baltimore.
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