Scott A. Tepper
#BaalTefilla #DeadHead #ShalomAleichemHeyNow

Let’s get rid of ‘antisemitism’

Before you roll your eyes and remark, “Great idea, Rabbi Obvious,” please note the quotation marks. I mean it’s time to retire the term. Yes, it’s been the well-known brand name for hatred of Jews for almost 150 years, but for at least three reasons it just isn’t the right term anymore, if it ever was.

  1. It’s not even our term. I recently relearned that “The term ‘anti-Semitism’ was coined in 1873 by Wilhelm Marr, a German political agitator in his work, Victory of Judaism over Germanism. His thesis was that Jews were conspiring to run the state and should be excluded from citizenship.”[1] So we allowed someone who hates us to name that hate. No, it’s time we decided that we are going to name that hate.
  2. It’s not precise. The term “Semite” is derived from the name of Biblical Noah’s youngest son Shem. Rashi and others associate the names of Shem’s offspring with nations of Mesopotamia, the Arabian Peninsula, and even Asia. Add to that, “Semite” was “derived from an 18th-century analysis of languages that differentiated between those with so-called “Aryan” roots and those with so-called ‘Semitic’ ones… Within this framework, Jews became ‘Semites’… [Marr] could have used the conventional German term Judenhass [hatred of Jews], but that carried religious connotations that Marr wanted to de-emphasize in favor of racial ones. Apparently more ‘scientific,’ Marr’s Antisemitismus caught on.”[2] These days there are 2 ethnicities generally associated with “Semite”: Jews and Arabs. Arabs are hated in various ways, e.g. Islamophobia (but not all Arabs are Muslims and vice versa), and waves of anti-Arab sentiment that occur in reaction to events like the oil boycott of 1973, the phenomenon of oil-rich sheiks buying properties all over the world in the 1980s, and the 9/11 attacks. But there are no rumors of an Arab conspiracy to control banking/media/the world order, no Arab space lasers, etc. The term “antisemite” is too easy to dilute with the argument “Arabs are Semites!” There are Arab antisemites, so it’s just clumsy. The term was also a way to make the German Jew the “other” since the Ashkenazi Jew (Ashkenaz referring to the land called Germany) could too easily “pass” as a true German. Marr discovered a way to “other” the most assimilated German Jew.
  3. It’s too genteel. Marr labeled hatred of Jews in a way that sounds like a high-minded intellectual framework, a scientific perspective, as noted above. Antisemitismus just sounds so academic. It almost sounds politically correct. Hatred should labeled like hatred. It’s important for the brand. Even Judenhass is more honest and precise.

So what do we call this multi-faceted and deep-seated hate? I’ve been using “Jew-hate” for a few years. It’s short and punchy and perfectly clear to whom the hatred is directed. Because it is so direct, it makes people feel uncomfortable. Good. Acknowledging the existence of a prejudice should make people uncomfortable.

Writing this post, I came up with another idea — let’s call it Judeophobia. It turns out that I’m not original in that thought. The Zionist thinker Leon Pinsker proposed it in his writing “Auto-Emancipation”, published in 1882. Pinsker was a physician, and he saw Jew-hate as a pathology: “Judeophobia is a variety of demonopathy.”[3] It’s a far better term because it addresses my three points above:

  1. It’s our term. A Jew came up with it. Let us name the hatred against us.

2. It’s far more precise, in a couple of important ways:

    • It is clear that this is an attitude towards Jews, not some ambiguous group.
    • It gets to the root of the hate – fear of Jews. It’s not about being “against” something or some group of people. It’s the fear that we Jews will use our worldwide cabal to control everything, to gain money, power, and influence with the goal of eliminating pure [insert your own] culture. Today, it’s “Jews will not replace us.” The authors of the Torah expressed the fear using the good old (2200 years old) disloyalty trope: “Come-now, let us use-our-wits against [the Israelite people] lest it become many-more, and then, if war should occur, it to be added to our enemies and make war upon us or go up away from the land!” (Exodus 1:10) You can hear Wilhelm Marr in Pharaoh’s cabinet. Everett Fox’s translation reveals the irrationality of the fear. Note that Fox translates ve-‘alah as “or go up away” instead of “and go up away”. He exposes the Judeophobe’s conundrum: “Oh no! Those damn Jews are either going to push us out, or they’re going to leave and we’ll lose the slave labor that sustains our ongoing development projects! We can’t have either of those!” So the only solution is a Final Solution

3. It’s less genteel than the other term. As noted above, it makes the speaker say, “Jew”, identifying the object of the hatred. And you might have “intellectual” reasons to be “anti” something. But a phobia is irrational. Nobody wants to have an irrational fear. Judeophobia sounds more like the disease that all hatreds are. We can see Judeophobia as a specific manifestation of generalized xenophobia. The hater suffers from the affliction and acts out by afflicting others. If we call it a disease or a pathology, we can look at how to treat it. We can also seek allyship with others who are unjustly feared.

4. The term is known and in use. At least one counselling resource site uses it:

You’ve had a good run, “antisemitism.” You’ve been a useful rallying cry for people who sought acceptance in the general society and asked, “Why are you opposed to/anti-us?” After 150 years, maybe we need to use a new term (that’s not so new) to shake ourselves and the general society up a bit and bring focus to the problem and ask “Why do you fear us?” Pinsker thought Judeophobia would exist as long as there are Jews. It will be tough to prove him wrong; maybe adopting his term can help.

I promise, b’li neder (without a vow), to write something more fun before Pesach.




About the Author
Scott A. Tepper (Him etc., a/k/a Reb Zisha) has been a ba’al tefilla and teacher in Boston's Jewish community and beyond for decades. Scott has a BA in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University and an Ed.M. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He created and teaches the webinar “Grateful Jews – Exploring Jewish Connections to the World of the Grateful Dead” and is a member of the Grateful Dead Studies Association. His first Grateful Dead concert was May 7, 1977 at the original Boston Garden. Scott's primary career has been in applications and software training.
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