Over nearly two millennia of exile Jews were both the victims and the beneficiaries of the mutual hatred between them and their Gentile hosts
According to 23 & Me, my earliest known male ancestor lived around the year 1,000 CE in Sicily where his family was among those that came to the island from Judea during the late Roman period. It is a matter of historical record that Sicilian Jews were expelled in 1492, the same year that Columbus discovered America and Jews were expelled from the Iberian peninsula. From there, my father’s family doubtlessly meandered through the increasingly hostile landscapes of Western Europe until they reached relative safety in the borderlands between the budding empires of Prussia and Russia, in areas we know of today as Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine.
I am the product of amazing genetic purity; 99.7% Ashkenazi Jewish, with the remaining 0.3% Mongolian more than eight generations ago, likely the result of rape by a member of the Mongolian tribes that still roamed Western Ukraine in mid 17th century. I know the names of my great-grandparents, all of which were as Jewish as could be. My grandparents only learned Russian and Ukrainian after the Bolshevik revolution. Their parents, my great-grandparents, did not speak it at all. They spoke Yiddish and a liturgical version of Hebrew. The only alphabet they knew was the Hebrew alphabet.
When I was born in Kiev in 1963, my family had been in the Ukraine for no less than three centuries, yet not for a moment have I considered myself Ukrainian and neither did any Ukrainians who came into contact with me. From the first nano-second they laid eyes on me they knew I was Jewish, not as a matter of religion, but as a matter of ethnicity and race.
But how can it be? How can we explain that a large group of people live embedded in a society for many centuries and exchange with it nothing of value: neither cultural assets, nor religion, nor DNA, nor commonality of fate or purpose? There are only few examples of this happening in history, perhaps with the Roma and the Amish, both groups that originated elsewhere and kept their language, customs, and genes to themselves. Both groups, however, are radically different from the Jews along at least two dimensions: they are far less numerous, by orders of magnitude so, and they severely limit their interactions with their host cultures, the former by being nomadic and the latter by being substantially self-sufficient. Most importantly, among these foreign embeds only the Jews shared a complicated and ancient history with their host cultures, be they Christian or Muslim.
In fact, Jews in the diaspora were precisely and specifically defined by their utter rejection of the Christian and Muslim extensions of the main idea of Judaism as a religion, monotheism, to those who do not genetically descend from the twelve tribes of Israel. Jews were and still are inherently and mutually antagonistic to the two newer Abrahamic religions because they reject the idea that the Abrahamic covenant with God, the deal that was struck on the foothills of Mount Sinai perhaps as long as four millennia ago, the deal in which the children of Jacob (Israel) would obey His commandments and in exchange would be granted the Blessing of the Land of Israel and the life eternal could ever be extended to anyone who is not genetically Jewish other than by the process of conversion on a purely individual basis.
This mutual antagonism is unavoidable because the idea of the extension of the Blessing to Gentiles is absolutely fundamental to both Christianity and Islam and its negation by the Jews is the absolute negation of the veracity, value, and right of existence of these two religions. It is this antagonism that we have come to know in the West as anti-Semitism or rather anti-Semitism is a 19th century moniker that addresses a certain part of this antagonism. There were no people of Semitic origin in 19th century Europe other than Jews and thus the centuries old antagonism by Christians towards Jews became known as anti-Semitism. In the lands of Islam, many of which were populated by the very Semitic Arabs, such a moniker would make no sense and hence it has never existed there. Antagonism towards Jews, however, was every bit as prevalent there as it had been in Europe.
It is well worth remembering that the Jewish – Gentile antagonism was very much mutual. My grandmothers, my step grandfather, my parents, my friends, all had a rather dim view of Gentiles. We regarded them as perennially drunk, intellectually inferior, and prone to violence. These views were by no means rare in the Jewish communities in the Diaspora; they were the rule, not the exception. We know this not only from personal experience, but from the Siddur, the Jewish prayer book still very much in daily use today. This prayer book contains in it Jewish sentiments from the post-Temple period in the second century AD all the way through the late middle ages when it was substantially canonized. In it are daily expressions of gratitude to the Almighty for not making us Gentiles, for not creating us as the “families of the earth”, for not allowing us to bow down to dumb idols, a clear reference to Jesus on the cross. The Jewish poets, rabbis, and community leaders who wrote these lines, whether they lived in Mainz, in Cairo, or in Granada, had nothing but contempt for their Gentile neighbors and they didn’t bother to hide it.
There can be no question that this mutual antagonism, a deep emotional and psychological state that hearkens back to the very definition of what is a Jew and what is a Gentile, was the one thing that kept Jews from assimilating into their host societies in the Diaspora and thus ceasing to exist as a distinct ethno-religious group. I was born a Jew because all of my post-exhilic ancestors hated Christians and because Christians hated them back.
This is a difficult thing to admit to because Jews may have had the word, but Christians had the numbers and the swords. With their multitudes and their swords, axes, and pitchforks they slaughtered untold millions of my ancestors, all the way to Babi Yar in 1941 Kiev. And yet, it was this hatred that gave us life as Jews just as it took it away. Throughout most of their exhilic existence, Jews could not conceive of assimilating because their Christian and Muslim neighbors hated them and they felt no different towards them. There was little to no intermarriage as my own DNA can attest. We survived.
Today the West, whether Jewish or Christian has substantially lost its religion. The only diaspora of note, North America is assimilating at a genocidal or rather sui-genocidal rate. American Jews do not hate their Gentile neighbors and the Gentiles, as a rule, do not hate them back. The Reformed and to a lesser extent Conservative denominations of Judaism that are native to North America removed many of the anti-Gentile and anti-Christian references from the prayer book, but who cares anyway. Very few American Jews visit synagogues anymore and when they do, they have no clue what the prayer book says because they read no Hebrew, because the English translations are watered down, and because the rabbis deliver sermons that facilitate assimilation rather than fight it.
The only place where the old flame of the exclusivity of the Blessing still burns, the only place where most Jews still believe themselves to be the Chosen People, where millions still frequent Synagogues and understand the exact meaning of every word in every prayer is Israel. Do Israeli Jews hate Gentiles? I do not think so. Do most of them believe that Gentiles in general with the notable exception of righteous Gentiles like President Trump have no love for Jews and that military prowess is the only way to survival in this world? Yes, definitely.
With what in reality is well over half the world’s Jewish population now residing back home in Israel, the survival of our genes or our religion does not depend on hatred; neither our hatred for Gentiles or their hatred for us. It depends only on our ability to maintain a powerful, Jewish, and wealthy State of Israel. There will always be small pockets of Jews in the diaspora, be they ultra-Orthodox or Israeli expat communities. Places like Russia and Ukraine may see temporary revivals of Jewish life. But the book on the bi-millennial exercise in survival on the edge of the sword of mutual hatred is now closed. Anti-Semitism exists, it is in fact growing. It may, once again, cause Jews in the diaspora to move, mostly back home to Israel, but it is now substantially irrelevant except in one way: where once it made Jewish survival in the diaspora possible, it is now making it all but impossible. Jews now have a choice: go home or assimilate. Anti-Semitism wills it so.
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