Of Anti-Semitism

Scott Alexander Gabriel Reiss

24 Nisan 5764 (15 April 2004)

When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism.

Martin Luther King, as quoted by Seymour Martin Lipset in “The Socialism of Fools: the Left, the Jews and Israel” (1969)


The word anti-Semitism2 and its cognates refer specifically and exclusively to hatred of the Jews3. Both historical accuracy and semantic clarity necessitate this restriction. Without well-defined terminological distinctions between anti-Semitism, anti-Arabism4, and Islamophobia, each with its own myths, grudges, history, and influences, it becomes impossible to characterize such obviously heterogeneous phenomena as inter- and intra-ethnic antipathy in the Near East.5 This is not an academic quibble over taxonomy, but the result of an aggressive strategy of identity politics. There is no reason for Arabs to be deemed victims of anti-Semitism, rather than of anti-Arabism, except to deny the nature and history of anti-Semitic hatred of the Jews.

Anti-Semitism may be politically colored, may carry religious overtones, or it may appear as “motiveless malignity”6, however the roots of xenophobia are always to be found in the malice bearer’s inner fears and sorrows, not in the alleged misdeeds of the scapegoat7. Anti-Semitism may be ignorant or merely indifferent to knowledge. It never arises from reason or experience.

Few will identify themselves as anti-Semites. It therefore behooves us to examine anti-Zionist and anti-Israeli claims.


Zionism8 may be defined as “a policy for establishing and developing a national homeland for Jews in Palestine” (WordNet).

For three thousand years Jews9 have written, read, and commented literature in the Hebrew10 language, an unbroken cultural tradition that links contemporary Jews to their forebears, the ancient Israelites11. Thus, in his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (1670), Baruch Spinoza, the Marrano Jewish Dutch lens grinder and philosopher, shows great admiration for the hermeneutics of the biblical exegesis (c. 1156) of Abraham ibn Ezra12, the Jewish Spanish mathematician and philologist.

Abraham ibn Ezra - The Parma Psalter (c. 1280)

Psalm 13713 celebrates, laments, and threatens brutally to avenge the fallen capital of Judah:

Abraham ibn Ezra, The Parma Psalter (c. 1280)

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.

We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.

For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

How shall we sing the Lords song in a strange land?

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.

If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.

O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.

Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

King James Version14 (1611)

על נהרות בבל שם ישבנו גם בכינו בזכרנו את ציון

על ערבים בתוכה תלינו כנרותינו

כי שם שאלונו שובינו דברי שיר ותוללינו שמחה שירו לנו משיר ציון

איך נשיר את שיר יהוה על אדמת נכר

אם אשכחך ירושלם תשכח ימיני

תדבק לשוני לחכי אם לא אזכרכי אם לא אעלה את ירושלם על ראש שמחתי

זכר יהוה לבני אדום את יום ירושלם האמרים ערו ערו עד היסוד בה

בת בבל השדודה אשרי שישלם לך את גמולך שגמלת לנו

‏אשרי שיאחז ונפץ את עלליך אל הסלע

Unvocalized Masoretic Printed Text (c. fourth century CE)

Salamone Rossi - The Songs of Solomon (1622)

Salamone Rossi, The Songs of Solomon (1622)

Due to its non-ASCII characters, super- and subscript diacritical or cantillation marks, and right-to-left direction, Hebrew is notoriously hard on editors and web browsers. The following site offers an Aramaic and several Hebrew versions of the Bible, some of which (the unvocalized texts) seem to display well in both Mozilla (Netscape) and Internet Explorer on computers whose operating system is not Hebrew-enabled:


The poem appears to have been written between 586 and 538 BCE (date of the liberation of the Jews from Babylonia by King Cyrus II of Persia), or in any case before 516 BCE (date of the destruction of Babylon15 by King Darius I of Persia, and of the construction by the Jews of the second Temple in Jerusalem16).

Authorship has been diversely attributed to King David (died c. 970 BCE) and the prophet Jeremiah (absent from Babylonia17), however the narrators claim to be a Levite singer18 seems compelling.

The Jewish Zamir Chorale of Boston performs the biblical text of Al Naharot Bavel (1996) set to music by the Jewish Italian composer Salamone Rossi in 1622. The melancholy harmonies of the motet capture the elegiac mood of the lyric.

The Jews, who traditionally learn Hebrew in childhood, and who do not practice proselytism, have historically shown little interest in translation of the Bible. Orthodox Christians long relied on the Greek Septuagint (third to second centuries BCE) and Roman Catholics on the Latin Vulgate (c. 383-405 CE), both of which bear the traces of historical literary decline. The confluence of four historical movements, capitalism, the Renaissance, humanism, and the Reformation, created the linguistic and literary conditions most favorable to the translation of the Bible. The Early Modern German and English languages bloomed and begat baroque literary masterpieces, the Wittenberg Bible (1534) by Martin Luther et al. and the King James Version (1611), worthy echos of the jubilation19 of the Ancient Hebrew.

By means of metrical analysis Morris Halle20 (born Pinkowitz), the Jewish Latvian professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose family fled to America in 1940, has proposed a calligramic disposition of the verses (slightly emended) that reveals a picture-poem of the renovated Temple. Thus the graphemes illustrate what the morphemes commemorate. As the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure showed in two posthumously published works, while the sign, the association of signifier to signified, is arbitrary and conventional (Cours, 1916), poetry serves to motivate it (Anagrammes, 1964).21

Nostalgic and bloodthirsty, the psalm abounds in such macabre images as tears falling on the waters of the Euphrates, lyres gibbeted from poplar trees22, palsied hands, swollen tongues, the ransacked citadel, lapidated children. This atmosphere of blighted desolation inspired T.S. Eliot’s allusion in The Waste Land (1922). The narrative structure falls into four anachronical parts: exile (v. 1-4), recollection (v. 5-6), history (v. 7), and revenge (v. 8-9), corresponding to the present, memory, the past, and the future. The narration closely matches this partition, as both speaker and addressee change accordingly: we/ø (unexpressed), I/thou (Jerusalem), ø/thou (Lord), we/thou (daughter of Babylon). The poet employs the figure of speech apostrophe to personify the despoiled city, God, and the city of deportation. The meter reinforces this grammatical and rhetorical parallel, as scansion of the three vocatives yields the following anapestic feet: /ye•ru•SHLAIM/, /ye•ho•VAH/, /bath ba•VEL/. The last constitutes a beautifully sinister phonemic and graphemic alliteration, the identical letter beth representing both consonants [b] and [v] (contextual variants) in written unpointed Hebrew.23

Model of the Temple described in Ezekiel 40-48 as
                  interpreted by Solomon bar Isaac (alias Rashi,
                  1040-1105) and Moses ben Maimon (alias
                  Maimonides, the Rambam, 1135-1204)


Model of the Temple described in Ezekiel 40‑48 as interpreted by

Solomon bar Isaac (1040‑1105), aka Rashi, and

Moses ben Maimon (1135‑1204), aka Maimonides, the Rambam

Marc Chagall - The Capture of Jerusalem by
                  Nebuchadnezzar (1956)

The narrator begins with the tale of a topical event, the labor strike of the enslaved bards, who seize the means of production (their instruments) and refuse to entertain their captors. This job action leads to a universal reflection on alienation: how to stay true to oneself on foreign soil? The noun אדמת “land, (red) earth” starts an elaborate paronomasia on the name of Edom (aka Esau, frère ennemi of Jacob, aka Israel), derived from the adjective אדם “red, ruddy” because of the color of his hair or complexion24, and from whom are said to descend the Edomites, historical enemy of the Israelites. Follows a dramatization of what Sigmund Freud25, the Jewish Austrian psychoanalyst, would call (some 2,500 years later) the return of the repressed. The hysterical symptoms of aphasia and paralysis give symbolic shape to the work stoppage of the players, voices that will not sing, fingers that will not pluck the harp strings. This pathological reenactment of the insurrection triggers a flashback to the primal scene (the pillage of Jerusalem, entailing the death or abduction of tens of thousands of Jews and the desecration of the Temple), source of the trauma, with its compulsive repetition of the imperative ערו “plunder”. It is an irony of lexicographical history that Luther translates “rein ab”, eerily foreboding the Nazi policy of Judenrein. Finally a flashforward envisions hallucinatory vengeance. The poet vindictively puns on the name of the capital city of the Edomites, Petra “The Rock” in present-day Jordan (the Hebrew proper and common noun סלע, instead of the verb סקל “stone, lapidate” used elsewhere in the Bible26). The hymn itself seems to represent the esthetic answer to the liturgical question asked in verse four: it is a strange song indeed that one sings in a strange land.

Marc Chagall, The Capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (1956)


Before his definitive departure for the land of Israel, the Jewish Spanish poet and physician Yehuda Halevi expressed that same homesickness in this heart-rending Zionide (song or elegy of Zion):

My heart is in the East, and I in far-off West.

How can I taste that which I eat? Where is the zest?

How shall I pay my vows and bonds, while Zion lies

In Edom’s fetters, I under Arab arrest?

My eyes smile to forsake the opulence of Spain.

My eyes yearn to behold the dusty Temple blest.

(Translation by the author of the present article.)

לבי במזרח ואנכי בסוף מערב

איך אטעמה את אשר אכל ואיך יערב

איכה אשלם נדרי ואסרי בעוד

ציון בחבל אדום ואני בכבל ערב

יקל בעיני עזב כל טוב ספרד כמו

יקר בעיני ראות עפרות דביר נחרב

(c. 1141) לבי במזרח

The first word of the poem לבי “my heart” is a near-homonym of the poet’s family name הלוי “The Levite” (omitting the prefixed article ‑ה, and considering [b] and [v] as allophones).27 This eponymy sets the lyrical and confessional tone of the poem. The narrator’s heart is in the East as Jews traditionally turn in prayer to face Jerusalem.28 Contemporaries such as Benjamin of Tudela29, the Jewish Spanish explorer of the Far East, considered Iberia to be the western end (סוף, etymon of the Hebrew name of Spain and its inhabitants, the Sephardim30) of the world. The repetition of the interrogative adverb followed by its synonymous cognate (איך, איך, איכה “how?”) establishes a comparison of dysgeusia to sacred debt that can be redeemed (שלם “pay”) only in Jerusalem31. These spiritual obligations, נדרי “vows” and אסרי “bonds”, are then opposed to temporal tyranny. The poet uses a rich, alliterating internal rhyme to identify his subjection (בכבל “in fetters”) to Moslem Arab rule with Jerusalem’s occupation (בחבל “in ropes”) by the Christian (Edomite, in its rabbinical Hebrew acceptation) crusader kings of the house of Anjou. The two prepositional phrases occupy the same position (the middle, anapestic foot between the two iambs, after the designation of the victim and before the name of the oppressor) in the hemistich of the fourteen-syllable hexameter: u‑/uu‑/u‑||u‑/uu‑/u‑ (where u represents an unstressed syllable, ‑ a stressed syllable, / a foot division, and || the cæsura).32 In an AABACA scheme, the three cognates מערב “West”, יערב “sweet”, and ערב “Arab” rhyme with חרב “desiccated”, bringing to the fore the narrator’s preference of the dearth of Zion to the wealth of Spain. The parallel construction יקל/יקר בעיני “It is an easy/dear thing to my eyes” (l. 5-6) underlines the paradox that precipitated the poet’s perilous journey to the East. Halevi seems to have died in Egypt before he could reach the ruins where once stood the Sanctuary (דביר33) of the Temple of Solomon. The Jewish Italian genealogist Gedaliah ibn Yahia tells the probably apocryphal tale of the death of the poet, trampled by an Arab horseman outside the gates of Jerusalem (The Chain of Tradition, 1587).

Babylonian Talmud (c. 550 CE) Tractate Berakoth
                  folio 30a

The Diaspora

Babylonian Talmud (c. 550 CE)

Tractate Berakoth folio 30a

The Jews brought teleology to historiography precisely because of their bitter experience of the endlessly postponed goal of homecoming in the Diaspora34. The theme of return dominates poetry, history, and philosophy from the first Exile after the destruction of the first Temple by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II in 586 BCE35a, through the second Exile in 135 CE after the destruction of the second Temple by the Roman Emperor Titus in 70 CE35b, and beyond ostracism from the nations of Europe, notably:

Not of their own free will have the Jews wandered. If Israel is not their home, then they have none.

In 1930 nearly ten million Jews lived in Europe. By 1945 that population had shrunk by more than half. The lucky few escaped death in Germany and Poland to such places as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Palestine, South Africa, and the United States. Many of those who remained had become homeless, orphans, even stateless, and found safe haven in the nascent state of Israel. As Ashkenazi Jews fled south to join their Sephardic brethren, so European anti-Semitism followed them to the Levant, where it met and merged with kindred sentiment36. Oriental and Occidental anti-Semitism have maintained this collaboration ever since. The Jews of the Arab world fled persecution from Aden to Aleppo, from Cairo to Tripoli, as Arab anti-Semitism paradoxically forced a million Jews to return to their homeland, even as new laws forbade their emigration.37 Half a century later a million Jews liberated from the former Soviet Union took refuge from anti-Semitism in Israel.

To say that these people and their offspring, who could not stay where they were and have nowhere else to go, do not belong in Israel, is simply to condemn them to doom. They cannot go back where they came from. They are already there.

Mufti of
                  Jerusalem Amin al-Husseini with Adolf Hitler, his host
                  in Berlin (1941)

Group Psychology & Monomania

Mufti of Jerusalem Amin al‑Husseini with

Adolf Hitler, his ally and host in Berlin (1941)

European literature offers many colorful representations of anti-Semitism as law. In this example, written for the public stage and played (according to the 1633 quarto) for the reigning sovereigns of England, the fictional governor of Malta presides:

Barabas: How! equally?

Ferneze:                         No, Jew, like infidels;

For through our sufferance of your hateful lives,

Who stand accursed in the sight of heaven,

These taxes and afflictions are befallen,

And therefore thus we are determined.

Read there the articles of our decrees.

Officer: “First, the tribute money of the Turks shall all be levied amongst the Jews, and each of them to pay one half of his estate.”

Barabas: How! half his estate? I hope you mean not mine.

Ferneze: Read on.

Officer: “Secondly, he that denies to pay, shall straight become a Christian.”

Barabas: How! a Christian! Hum, what’s here to do?

Officer: “Lastly, he that denies this, shall absolutely lose all he has.”

Christopher Marlowe, The Jew of Malta (c. 1589)

The Christian ruler’s shrewd policy is to blame his isle’s military besiegement on the Jews, expropriating them to appease to the Ottoman invaders, thus diverting his subjects’ anger and thwarted nationalism away from his knights and towards a vulnerable target. The English dramaturge, rumored to have worked as a secret government agent, shows sparkling lucidity in the theater of political science. It is fitting that Machiavelli incarnate speaks the tragedy’s stunning Realpolitik prologue.

Historically the Jews were not allowed to worship in peace. The Hebrew monotheistic God was transformed by the Christians and Moslems, who then sought to impose their anthropomorphoses upon the Jews. In medieval Iberia, for example, Jews were threatened with forcible conversion to Catholicism by the Castilians in the north, to Islam by the Moors in the south.38

The American novelist Herman Melville keenly analyzes a phenomenon in the private sphere analogous to that showcased by Marlowe in the public sphere:

Small reason was there to doubt, then, that ever since that almost fatal encounter, Ahab had cherished a wild vindictiveness against the whale, all the more fell for that in his frantic morbidness he at last came to identify with him, not only all his bodily woes, but all his intellectual and spiritual exasperations. The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. That intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; to whose dominion even the modern Christians ascribe one-half of the worlds; which the ancient Ophites of the east reverenced in their statue devil;Ahab did not fall down and worship it like them; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred white whale, he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.

Moby Dick (1851)

In this abnormal psychology on the sea, the subject, unable to wrestle with his own demons, displaces his emotional, physical, and metaphysical anguish to an external object, in the case of Ahab’s neurosis the leviathan39, in the case of anti-Semitism the Jews.

Marc Chagall - Levi (1962)

Marc Chagall, Levi (1962)

The Land of Israel

Those who do not identify themselves as anti-Semitic may refer to themselves as anti-Israeli. Such a person might speak no Hebrew, might not have visited Israel, might never have even met an Israeli. How can he still claim to be anti-Israeli? What would the French think of such nuances aimed at their own land? Surely it is not the rocks and stones of Israel that have offended our hypothetical objector. If not the land of Israel, then perhaps the government is at fault.

The State of Israel

According to World Audit Democracy 2003, Israel ranks fortieth in democracy among the 149 nations rated, in the third of four divisions in descending order of political freedom. For the sake of comparison, Greece (34th) is rated one division higher, Romania (60th) in the same division, Turkey (102nd) one division lower. The countries neighboring Israel are all ranked in the fourth division as follows: Jordan (96th), Lebanon (123rd), Egypt (127th), Syria (127th). The territory administered by the Palestinian Authority is not listed.


Israel is an electoral democracy, and therefore its government represents the people, who may thus reasonably be held responsible. Can our hypothetical objector identify a past government of Israel that was more to his liking? Or can he at least imagine a government of Israel that he would prefer, and that could realistically be chosen by the current electorate in the foreseeable future? If not, then perhaps the people of Israel bear the blame.

The People of Israel

Which people exactly share the guilt, Israeli Arabs (Palestinians of Moslem and Christian faith), Orthodox monks, caretakers of the Christian holy sites, guest-workers from Ghana and the Philippines? Alas it would seem that only Jewish Israelis are incriminated.

The Jews

Violent crimes of anti-Semitism have been committed on all six inhabited continents in this young century. The following example is taken from an Amnesty International report dated 10 May 2002:

In France, hostility toward Jews has led to a particularly serious wave of attacks. The French police recorded 395 anti-Semitic incidents between 29 March and 17 April, 63 percent of which involved anti-Semitic graffiti. Between 1 January and 2 April, 34 “serious anti-Semitic actions” were recorded, referring to attacks on Jewish persons or property, including synagogues and cemeteries. In March and April, several synagogues, in Lyon, Montpellier, Garges-les-Gonesses (Val d’Oise) and Strasbourg were vandalized, while the synagogue in Marseille was burned to the ground. In Paris, a crowd threw stones at a vehicle transporting pupils of a Jewish school, and the vehicle’s windows were broken. The authorities are now investigating these attacks.


If only Israeli Jews are to blame, then why should there be concerted attacks on the Jews of Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa, and Australia? Guilt by association? If the international community of Jews is at fault, then the problem is not Israel, nor even Zionism; it is anti-Semitism.


Our hypothetical objector may contend that he is only repeating arguments that have already been made by such scholars as Noam Chomsky, the Jewish American professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

No useful purpose is served by calling a Jew an anti-Semite, since the subject of that hatred, a Jew, belongs to the members of the object of that hatred, the Jews. The expression self-loathing Jew is reserved for this phenomenon, which is not germane to the question of exogenous anti-Semitism, as distinct from it as masochism from sadism.

Edward Said throws a
                    stone across the border from Lebanon to Israel on 3
                    July 2000.

Edward Said throws a stone across the border

from Lebanon to Israel on 3 July 2000.

Chomsky wrote his thesis on Hebrew morphophonemics, has sojourned in Israel, and can at any time become a citizen, should he wish to do so, under the Israeli Law of Return. He may or may not be a self-loathing Jew; he is not an anti-Semite in any meaningful sense of the word.

Chomsky’s motivation for his political work concerning Israel has no bearing whatsoever on the motivations of independent promoters of those same ideas, as he bears no responsibility for theirs. They must assume responsibility for making his claims their own. They may or may not be anti-Semites, regardless of his status.

That Bernard Lewis, the Jewish British professor emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, and the late Edward Said, the Christian Palestinian professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, polyglots conversant in Oriental languages and culture, should feel passionately about the Levant, and vigorously defend their ideologies, is understandable. The motives of allophone Occidentals who manifest vehement opposition to Israel (while ignoring such trouble spots as Kashmir) may raise doubts.

European Commission President Romano Prodi said in his speech of 19 February 2004:

When Europeans identify a particular country as a threat to peace, I like to think this is a concern at lack of progress in the peace process and the infernal cycle of violence.

Equally, where criticism is levelled at specific policies of the Israeli Government, I like to think this is a normal expression of democratic dissent. And the right to democratic dissent is something the Israelis practise passionately.

But I am aware, and I cannot deny, that some criticism of Israel is inspired by what amounts to anti-Semitic sentiments and prejudice. This must be recognised for what it is and properly addressed.


Jews would no doubt like to share Prodi’s optimism, but the harsh mistress of history has taught them skepticism. Long an ideology of the right, since the twentieth century anti-Semitism has spread across the spectrum to the political left. The nationalist school of anti-Semitism thrives on the right, the internationalist on the left.

Those in the West who defend the right of Palestinians to blow up buses in Israel might understand the problem differently if they had to share the ride.40 To judge from reaction to the recent bombings in Spain, Europeans do not care for this form of political self-expression, when it happens at home.


In a poem addressed to Christendom, included in a letter to Moses Moser dated 25 October 1824, the Jewish German poet Heinrich Heine wrote:

Ein Jahrtausend schon und länger,

Dulden wir uns brüderlich,

Du, du duldest, daß ich atme,

Daß du rasest, dulde ich.

“An Edom!”, Der Rabbi von Bacharach (1840)

A thousand years and longer still,

Together we abide like kin,

My taking breath do you abide,

While I abide your angry sin.

(Translation by the author of the present article.)

The simple language, the figures of speech, syllepsis (duldenabide, transitive and intransitive) and chiasma (ABBA pattern of clauses in l. 3-4), make the adverb brüderlich like brothers all the more damning.

A hundred years later the wrath of the Edomites was such that they would no longer suffer the Jews even to breathe.

In 1821 the same author wrote, with considerable foresight:

Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher
Verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.

Almansor (1821)

That was but prologue yet, wherever books

Are burnt, so in the end will men be burnt.

(Translation by the author of the present article.)

It is an irony of history that the plot of the tragedy sets interfaith love against the background of the Spanish Inquisition, and that the book in question is the Koran.

Heines works, both banned and burned, could not be totally eradicated by the Nazis, who in 1939 unceremoniously re-attributed the song Die Lorelei41 (1823) to Anonymous.

The Jewish German philosopher Hannah Arendt, who fled the rise of the Nazis to France in 1933, and to America in 1941, shows grace and wisdom when she confronts the demons of her past:

Louis Ferdinand Céline had a simple thesis, ingenious and containing exactly the ideological imagination that the more rational French antisemitism had lacked. He claimed that the Jews had prevented the evolution of Europe into a political entity, had caused all European wars since 843, and had plotted the ruin of both France and Germany by inciting their mutual hostility. Céline proposed this fantastic explanation of history in his Ecole des Cadavres, written at the time of the Munich pact and published during the first months of the war. An earlier pamphlet on the subject, Bagatelle pour un Massacre (1938), although it did not include the new key to European history, was already remarkably modern in its approach; it avoided all restricting differentiations between native and foreign Jews, between good ones and bad ones, and did not bother with elaborate legislative proposals (a particular characteristic of French antisemitism), but went straight to the core of the matter and demanded the massacre of all Jews.

The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951)

The surprising string of meliorative connoters (ingenious, imagination, fantastic, new key, remarkably modern) lends irony to the portrait of the great French novelist’s sad moral shortcomings, evil unburdened with banality42.

While it is no longer deemed polite to vent ones genocidal rage in public, twenty-first-century anti-Semitism has not eschewed the element of conspiracy theory run amok, as is manifest in the cybernetic propagation of the calumny that Jews were forewarned of, and therefore accessories before the fact to, the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States (http://slate.msn.com/id/116813).

Arno Breker
                    - Céline (1940)

Arno Breker43, Céline (1940)


If Israel is your bugbear, if you feel the need to belittle the slaughter of millions of Jews in the shameful thousand-year history of European anti-Semitism (the Crusades, the Inquisition, the pogroms, the Holocaust), if you like to call “terrorists”45 uniformed soldiers in the Israeli army, and “heroes” or “martyrs” irregulars who murderously blow themselves up in the crowded souks of Israel, then you are an anti-Semite.

If you are an anti-Semite, this article is unlikely to sway you. Jews can only hope to greet you with Arendt’s watchful eye and its twinkle of wry humor.


1 The author of the present article wishes to thank the numerous scholars who have kindly answered his unsolicited e-mail inquiries concerning points of language or history. The author, whose field is French philology, and who has no access to university resources, bears sole responsibility for any mistakes in the text. Links to external sites do not constitute an endorsement of the content or policies of the target. [Back]

2 First attested in “The Victory of Judaism over Germany” (1879) by the German journalist Wilhelm Marr in the same year that he founded the Anti-Semitic League. [Back]

3 Judaism has historically defined itself in ethnological terms, by matrilineal inheritance, but it is indistinguishable from a culture and religion. [Back]

4 By analogy to pan-Arabism. [Back]

5 Consider, for example, the prejudice to feminism if the word misogyny were drowned in a hypernymic sea of misanthropy. [Back]

6 Coleridge’s famous phrase notwithstanding, Iago shows how racism and misogyny corrupt class struggle, long before Stalin had his Jewish former comrade Trotsky (born Lev Davidovich Bronstein) slain in exile. [Back]

7 First attested in Leviticus 16 passim, e.g. 10: “But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.” [Back]

8 First attested in his periodical Selbst-Emancipation (1884-1894) by the Jewish Austrian journalist Nathan Birnbaum. [Back]

9 First attested as the given name Judah in Genesis 29:35, “And she conceived again, and bare a son: and she said, Now will I praise the Lord: therefore she called his name Judah; and left bearing.” [Back]

10 First attested as the given name Eber in Genesis 10:21, “Unto Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the brother of Japheth the elder, even to him were children born.” [Back]

11 First attested as the given name Israel in Genesis 32:28, “And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” [Back]

12 Robert Browning’s poem “Rabbi Ben Ezra” (1864) is ahistorical. [Back]

13 136 in the Septuagint and the Vulgate (“Super flumina”). [Back]

14 The Jacobean translators italicized interpolated words not found in the Hebrew text, formatting convention alternatively rendered by square brackets. [Back]

15 First attested as Babel in Genesis 10:10, “And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.” [Back]

16 First attested as Salem in Genesis 14:18, “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.” [Back]

17 Cf. Jeremiah 43:6-7, “Even men, and women, and children, and the king's daughters, and every person that Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had left with Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Jeremiah the prophet, and Baruch the son of Neriah. / So they came into the land of Egypt: for they obeyed not the voice of the Lord: thus came they even to Tahpanhes.” [Back]

18 Cf. 1 Chronicles 15:16, “And David spake to the chief of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be the singers with instruments of musick, psalteries and harps and cymbals, sounding, by lifting up the voice with joy.” [Back]

19 יובל “ram’s horn, trumpet, Jubilee”, e.g. Joshua 6:4, “And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams’ horns: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets.” [Back]

20 Prof. Halle has kindly provided photocopies of his texts to the author of the present article. Discounting the tonic or stress accent, he divides the poem into twenty-six lines, according to a pattern of unequal syllabic line length, grouped into five stanzas (v. 1-2, v. 3, v. 4-6, v. 7, v. 8-9), and rotates it clockwise ninety degrees to create a symmetrical diagram. He tentatively dates the psalm after 19 BCE (date of the renovation of the Temple by the Edomite King Herod). [Back]

21 Shakespeare had previously demonstrated this phenomenon. A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but without the two common initial phonemes the word would not remind Juliet of Romeo. [Back]

22 The image may have inspired the lyric: Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.Strange Fruit (1939), written and composed by Lewis Allan, pseudonym of Abel Meeropol, the Jewish American songwriter, schoolteacher, and labor activist who adopted the two orphaned sons of Julius & Ethel Rosenberg, Jewish Americans executed for espionage in 1953 after a trial widely perceived to be anti-Semitic. [Back]

23 In a Hebrew instance of Grimm’s Law, the dagesh marks fricatives as plosives. Thus: [v, f, x] > [b, p, k]. Labiodental point of articulation shifts forward to bilabial. Vocalization and velar point of articulation are unchanged. [Back]

24 Cf. Genesis 25:25, “And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau.” [Back]

25 Of anti-Semitism Freud said with simple courage and dignity, in an interview published a dozen years before he fled the Anschluß in 1938: “I speak the German language, and I live in the German cultural world. I had long felt German in intellectual relations, until I observed the growth of anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria. Since then I have preferred to feel Jewish.” (Translation by the author of the present article.) [Back]

26 E.g. Exodus 8:26, “And Moses said, It is not meet so to do; for we shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians to the Lord our God: lo, shall we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, and will they not stone us?[Back]

27 The same pun occurs in 2 Chronicles 29:34, הלוים ישרי לבב “the Levites were more upright in heart”. [Back]

28 In the Babylonian Talmud (c. 550 CE) Tractate Berakoth folio 30a enjoins:

If one is standing outside Palestine, he should turn mentally towards Eretz Israel, as it says, And pray unto Thee towards their land [1 Kings 8:48]. If he stands in Eretz Israel he should turn mentally towards Jerusalem, as it says, And they pray unto the Lord toward the city which Thou hast chosen [1 Kings 8:44]. If he is standing in Jerusalem he should turn mentally towards the Sanctuary, as it says, If they pray toward this house [2 Chronicles 6:26]. If he is standing in the Sanctuary, he should turn mentally towards the Holy of Holies, as it says, If they pray toward this place [1 Kings 8:35]. If he was standing in the Holy of Holies he should turn mentally towards the mercy-seat [vide Exodus 25:17, “And thou shalt make a mercy seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof”]. If he was standing behind the mercy-seat (In the western part of the Forecourt of the Temple.) he should imagine himself to be in front of the mercy-seat. Consequently, if he is in the east he should turn his face to the west; if in the west he should turn his face to the east; if in the south he should turn his face to the north; if in the north he should turn his face to the south. In this way all Israel will be turning their hearts towards one place.

(Translation by Maurice Simon, 1948.)


Graphic Interchange Format (GIF) images of the Babylonian Talmud in the original Aramaic are available on the following site:


A topological guide to the unique mosaic of texts presented by the page layout of the Talmud, the foundation of Jewish scholarship, is available on the following site:


In Connection in Crisis: Israel and the Diaspora (2002) Matt Plen thoughtfully comments:

For one thing, the structure is too tight, too rhetorically crafted for a simple exposition of halacha [Jewish law]. But the real clue comes from the instruction to a person who finds himself inside the Holy of Holies. In the time of the Temple you would have been very unlikely to find yourself inside the Holy of Holies, as it was strictly off limits to all except one person – the High Priest – who was allowed access at one time of year only – the climax of the Yom Kippur service. Similarly, the passage does not discuss the correct direction in which to face when praying, but rather the direction of one’s heart.


Plen’s stylistic remarks are cogent, but the text does in fact give specific corporal guidelines for prayer (north, south, east, and west), even including such particular cases as prayer by the blind and prayer while riding an ass. The opposition of a synecdoche (the face) to a metonymy (the heart) establishes that, if possible, one should turn toward Jerusalem both physically and spiritually, but the latter alone suffices, if the former is not possible. For all its rhetorical flourish, the elaborate wording is better suited to practical application than the more concise rendering: “turn [...] towards the mercy-seat”, for how does one find, in far-off Spain for example, the direction of the mercy seat? One turns toward the next most proximate landmark, either Israel, Jerusalem, or the Temple, depending on one’s location. Halevi takes as a metaphor the kinetic act of prayer, and exploits the homonymy of his name and the Hebrew and Aramaic word לב “heart”, a form of which occurs five times in the Talmudic passage alluded to, translated above as “mentally” in all but the last iteration. [Back]

29 Vide The Itinerary of Rabbi Benjamin (1173) by Benjamin of Tudela (http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/mhl/mhl20.htm). [Back]

30 Cf. Obadiah 1:20, “And the captivity of this host of the children of Israel shall possess that of the Canaanites, even unto Zarephath; and the captivity of Jerusalem, which is in Sepharad, shall possess the cities of the south.”

In “Spain and the Jews” Yair Davidi surveys the canonical interpretations of this hapax legomenon:

Spain is mentioned in the Biblical Book of Obadiah 1:20: “The exiled of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad”: Targum Yehonathan translates “Sepharad” as “Aspamiah” meaning Spain. Rashi says, “These are the descendants of Judah who were exiled to Sepharad… the translation of Sepharad is Aspamiah” (i.e. Spain). Rabbi Abraham Iben Ezra says that this is referring to the exile by Titus (the Roman Emperor who destroyed the Temple) of Jews to Spain. The Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi) says the same. The Abarbanel says that whole settlements in Spain were founded by exiles from Jerusalem who included families descended from King David.


Writing no doubt for an initiated readership, Davidi refers somewhat elliptically to the following authorities:

31 Cf. Psalm 116:18-19, “I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people, / In the courts of the Lords house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise ye the Lord.” [Back]

32 Rules governing the scansion of long and short vowels (such as those applied in Classical prosody by Homer and Virgil to the epic dactylic hexameter) may obtain, thus accounting for some of the poem’s ostensible rhythmic irregularities. Halevi could have derived such rules from any of the following sources:

33 Cf. 2 Chronicles 4:20, “Moreover the candlesticks with their lamps, that they should burn after the manner before the oracle, of pure gold;” [Back]

34 The Greek noun διασπορα (Deuteronomy 28:25), in Hebrew זעוה, refers to the Jewish exile from the land of Israel. The attempt by such scholars as Walid Khalidi, the Moslem Palestinian professor of political science at Harvard University, to co-opt the word represents an effort to abscond with Jewish history. [Back]

35 Events conventionally dated and mourned by fasting Jews on the ninth day of the month of Av in the Hebrew calendar. The holiday falls on the 27th of July in the Gregorian calendar year of 2004. [Back]

36 E.g.: “Wherefore for the iniquity of those who are Jews did We disallow to them the good things which had been made lawful for them and for their hindering many (people) from Allah’s way.” (Koran 4:160, translation by M.H. Shakir, 1983.) [Back]

37 Cf. Why Jews Fled the Arab Countries (1995) by Ya’akov Meron and Hitching a Ride on the Magic Carpet (2003) by Yehouda Shenhav. In his polemical attack Shenhav does not refute any of Meron’s factual assertions. Instead he gives examples of Mizrahi (Near Eastern) Jewish Israeli politicians claiming not to feel like refugees. While their feelings are no doubt important, they have no bearing on factual matters of history. [Back]

38 María Rosa Menocal downplays to the point of denial this religious persecution. Cf. Culture in the Time of Tolerance: Al-Andalus as a Model for Our Own Time (2000). Nevertheless, any violence served as a threat, and coercion is attested by emigration and by the subsequent recantation of converted Marranos in exile.

In his Judeo-Arabic Epistle to Yemen (1172) Maimonides, the Jewish Spanish physician and Aristotelian theologian, whose family fled the rise of the Almohads in 1151 first to Fez (Morocco) then to Fustat (Egypt), and whom Menocal commends for writing some of his works in Arabic, eloquently denounced both apostasy and its cause, anti-Semitism:

Remember, my coreligionists, that on account of the vast number of our sins, God has hurled us in the midst of this people, the Arabs, who have persecuted us severely, and passed baneful and discriminatory legislation against us, as Scripture has forewarned us, “Our enemies themselves shall judge us” [Deuteronomy 32:31]. Never did a nation molest, degrade, debase, and hate us as much as they.

(Translation by Isadore Twersky, 1972.)

Sephardic Jews in Turkey, Greece, the Balkans, and the Maghreb spoke Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) for more than four hundred years after their expulsion from Spain, and some continue to do so in Europe and in Israel today. Yiddish (Judeo-German) newspapers such as Forverts (founded 1897 in New York) are still in circulation today. For a thousand years Jews spoke and wrote (from right to left in the Hebrew alphabet) Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Spanish, and Judeo-German for one reason alone: it was their language. It is hardly surprising that many Jews also spoke and wrote vernacular Arabic, Castilian, and High German.

Christians and Moslems who insist that the Jews were happy under Islamic rule need to explain why the Jews themselves expressed such sorrow at the time. [Back]

39 First attested in this acceptation in Job 41:1, Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down?[Back]

40 The author of the present article owes a debt of gratitude to his father משה, who rides the bus to do research in the Mount Scopus Library at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. [Back]

41 Translated by Mark Twain in A Tramp Abroad (1880). [Back]

42 Vide Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963) by Hannah Arendt. [Back]

43 Breker, a favorite artist of Hitler’s, received a fine of 100 Deutsche marks after his denazification trial in 1948. [Back]

44 Cyprus, a recent comparable example, has seldom aroused the passions of anyone except Cypriots, Greeks, and Turks. [Back]

45 Terrorism is the political use of violence by civilians against civilians. Unlawful acts committed by soldiers are war crimes. To blur the distinction between the two constitutes a willful act of obscurantism by the apologists of terrorism. A conspicuous pattern emerges revealing the intent to negate (anti-Semitism), misappropriate (Diaspora), and obfuscate (terrorism) the very words with which the Jews have historically given voice to their suffering, in the hope to stifle that voice, as if the suffering itself could somehow be made to disappear, and with it the responsibility for that suffering. [Back]

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