Understanding the Unparalleled Phenomenon of Jewish Self-Hatred
A Small Minority Struggles to Overcome Lingering Remnants of Bitter Centuries in Slavery and in the Ghetto
Unknown in other faith communities, Jewish self-hatred has by now accumulated a long and infamous history transcending centuries. In no other social grouping – religious, racial, ethnic, linguistic – is the will-to-self-loathe as popular or as pronounced. Or seen as a virtue.
Even intellectually, a person can feel swarmed. The mentality of a minority is such that senses are ever alert to the masses in proximity who do not share their background, and so oftentimes overcompensation ensues in the form of pandering and kowtowing before the dominant group. Self-haters bend over backwards to excuse their minority status, or else divorce themselves from it as much as possible.
Assimilationists have only a vague awareness of themselves, and believe that everything distinctly Jewish is in need of an apology. It is oftentimes painful to observe the agonizing gestures and convoluted contortions apologists are willing to undertake in the hope of greater acceptance or tolerance from the world around them. For them, public apostasy equates to self-interest and self-preservation, a misguided notion.
During the Maccabean Revolt (168-134 B.C.E.), Hellenist Jews (‘Mityavnim’) who wished to discard their ancestral tradition in favor of the Greek aesthetic actually underwent procedures to hide their circumcisions. They did not wish to be humiliated in the wrestling arenas or distinguished by their peculiar dress in the amphitheaters and hippodromes. During the Middle Ages, many Jews converted to Christianity to avoid the Inquisition, but some went so far as to denounce Jews to the authorities, resulting in book-burnings of the Talmud and humiliating disputations before reigning monarchs.
This notorious phenomenon goes beyond the mentality of a minority, and in large part results from the fashion in which a weak minority is treated by the powerful majority. For four hundred years the Israelites dwelt in ancient Egypt, and many years were spent in slavery to Pharaohs who required storehouse cities to be built, such as Pithom and Raamses. Conditions were punishing and taskmasters harsh. Even after their Exodus, it took the Israelites many centuries to purge the mindset of slavery from their psyches, and the attendant aspects of their prolonged foreign sojourn (idol worship, superstitions, etc.).
Beginning in Italy in medieval times, ghettos were erected to house Jews in special quarters distinct from the dominant populations of European countries. Constricted and constrained in their milieux, the Jews hunkered down and kept largely to themselves, anxious of the authorities and the sporadic mobs who stormed the walled bastions to wreak havoc on these vulnerable communities. Segregation and the constant threat of persecution, inquisition, pogroms, and expulsions were ingrained in the minds of the susceptible Jews, many of them poor and helpless, all of them deeply impressionable and ever wary of the whims of the Church.
It is these factors that most influence the modern phenomenon of Jewish self-hatred – slavery and ghettoization – and cause some Jews who feel insecure in their identity to resort to the abnegation of self. Judaism becomes just another shackle to escape, another walled ghetto closing them in and condemning them to social isolation. Reactions to this feeling are often adamant and extreme, with little thought given to alternative approaches and attitudes.
Another psychological phenomenon, well-documented in the Holocaust, is that of eventual acceptance by the vulnerable and persecuted of their dominant oppressors’ charges against them. After those in power – the authorities – and the majority of a society repeatedly tell you over an extended period of time that you are sub-human, swine-dogs, filth, and vermin…gradually you start to believe them. The unrelenting message of worthlessness penetrates the human psyche and cements despair within.
Psychiatrists would be quick to point out the fundamental frontier separating the neurotic from the psychotic. For some self-hating Jews, the understandable neurosis of being overwhelmed by the gentile majority merely results in placating and mollifying the non-Jewish masses; they withdraw and hide. However, other self-hating Jews are not content with such prostrations, instead giving over to vitriolic excoriations of Judaism, the Talmud, rabbis, and the universally-preferred punching bag, Israel. Israel-bashing is now the most accepted form of anti-Semitism in the world, less gauche than picking on individual Jews. Not to be outdone by mere outsiders, self-haters desirous of demonstrating the extent of their assimilation are in the front ranks of those pinning the yellow star on Israel’s breast (and thinking themselves liberal heroes for doing so).
Radical Leftists who have occupied university positions – Noam Chomsky and Norman Finklestein are exemplars – have used their professorships as platforms to launch blistering diatribes and spiteful rants against Israel, Zionism, World Jewry, etc. in the hope of the dominant gentile society elevating them to positions of high esteem. The fact that their personal success – their teaching roles, access to research grant funds, and ability to traditionally publish – degrades and alienates their own people is classified as a necessary casualty in the noble effort to assimilate and ascend within a popularly left-wing society.
Long after liberation from chains and emancipation from cloisters occur, the minds of those once oppressed struggle for freedom. Trauma lingers and spans generations, and pathologies can be inherited from parents and grandparents. Tragically, those unable to transcend their insecurities are awash in denial and self-hatred, and find themselves floundering among the few who range themselves against their own people.