What is the Real Cause of Antisemitism?

Monday, 18 March, 2019 - 8:54 pm


Question of the Week:


It seems like antisemitism is everywhere these days, and almost becoming acceptable again. Why do so many people hate Jews? Why is antisemitism still flourishing today, even in modern society? And what can we do about it?



The deepest analysis of antisemitism can be found in a deceptively simple Talmudic passage. It is discussing the story of Purim. And its wisdom rings true until today. 


Haman was an antisemitic minister in ancient Persia who wanted to see the Jews annihilated. He approached King Achashverosh and offered to pay him a hefty sum in return for permission to fulfil his vile wish to kill the Jews. The King responded, "Keep your money and do with the Jews what you want!"


The Talmud explains the king's response with a parable:

A farmer had a problem. There was a big mound of dirt in the middle of his field. His neighbour had a different problem, he had a ditch in the middle of his field. The owner of the ditch saw the mound and thought, "I would pay money for his mound to fill my ditch." The owner of the mound thought, "I would pay money to get rid of my mound in his ditch." The two finally met, and the ditch owner asked to buy the mound. The mound owner said, "Please take it for free!" 

So too, when Haman offered to pay the king to rid his kingdom of Jews, the king said go ahead! No need to pay. Achashverosh saw the Jews as a mound sticking out in his kingdom. But what Haman saw was a hollow ditch, a deep hole. 


And that is the story of antisemitism.


Achashverosh and Haman represent two layers of hatred, the conscious and the subconscious. On the surface, antisemites hate Jews because they are a mound. But deep down, they hate Jews because they hate the ditch. 


Antisemites make all types of contradictory statements about why they hate Jews. Jews are rich and own everything, or Jews are poor and stateless; they are religious extremists or they are secular cosmopolitans; they assimilate or they stay separate. Jew-haters say, "Go back to Israel!" and they say, "Get out of Palestine!" They say, "The Nazis should have finished the job" and they say, "The Holocaust never happened."

All of these accusations are really saying the same thing: the Jews are a mound in our field. You are in the way. You don't belong here. You are an obstacle, an eye-sore, a blot on humanity. But these are all just pretexts and excuses. None of these is the real reason for antisemitism. The true cause of antisemitism is not the mound, it is the ditch. 

At their core, those who hate others actually hate themselves. Beneath their macho exterior lies a profound emptiness, a vacuous hole in their soul. They subconsciously sense that their ideology is false, their beliefs empty, their lives void of meaning. And when you are empty, you hate those who are full. When you lack meaning, you envy those who have it. And there is no people that represent higher purpose and eternal truth than the Jewish people.

This is why there are antisemites who have never even met a Jew. It's nothing personal. Their hatred is a symptom of their anger at themselves, which they refuse to face, so they project it on an other. And the ultimate other is the Jew, the eternal Jew who has watched civilisations come and go, who has outlived all the ditch owners that tried to wipe him out. 

In every generation there are evil ideologies. They take on various facades, but they share one common feature, they all hate the Jews. If you want to know which ideology is the destructive force of the age, look at the ones that embrace antisemitism. No matter how cultured and intelligent they look, at their core lies a nihilistic ditch, and they are dangerous. 

So what should Jews do about antisemitism? What can anyone do about someone else's existential emptiness? 

We take our cues from the Purim story. The Jews of the time, under threat of annihilation, did not become less Jewish, but more so. We don't fight emptiness by becoming more empty, and we don't make someone else's problem into our problem. In the face of irrational hate, we stay proudly and defiantly Jewish, trusting in G-d and loyal to our people. 

But the Jews of Persia also took political and military measures to protect themselves. Because while we hope that all those haters will one day find some meaning to fill their void, we will not sit by and be victims of those who haven't. 

Haman never filled his ditch. But he gave us Purim. And this year like every year, Jewish children will celebrate and make noise when they hear Haman's name read in the Megillah. Because we won't be swallowed into somebody else's dark ditch. We will continue to fight evil and emptiness, by bringing more light to the world.


Good Shabbos, 
Rabbi Moss 



Talmud Megillah 14a

The Rebbe, Sichos Kodesh Purim 5725 

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