Hatred and the Jews
We are witnessing a frightening amount of antisemitism around the world, including in America — where a few members of Congress have expressed openly anti-Israel and antisemitic views. We know of course that both Christianity and Islam have had a visceral animus towards Jews. We also know that the Left hates Jews for being religious and capitalists, and the Right hates Jews for being Marxists. But things can change quickly.
The Catholic Church was once the most aggressive of Jew haters; now it is one of the most positive Christian denominations. Mainstream Protestants were once the most favorably disposed to Jews; now they contain many implacable enemies. It is important to recognize that within each religion, the variations and degrees are huge, both culturally and intellectually. Religious wars are as much within religions as against competing ones. It reminds me of the old saying “I hate my brother. But my brother and I hate our cousin.”
All the monotheistic religions share core messages: That God is the ultimate power behind the universe; that God cares about us (benevolence); that God has revealed His wishes to mankind through holy texts (revelation). All religions say they believe in the importance of the relationship between humans and God, and between other human beings. They also believe in loving, or at least trying to love, one’s neighbors.
The differences between religions are what one might call cultural, social, and behavioral rather than theological. In every religion, you will find pacifists and fanatics, saints and sinners, and rationalists and fundamentalists — though some do seem more prone to violence than others, and certain situations, ideologies, insecurities, and power games lead to greater aggression.
We Jews are a small sliver of humanity and yet we suffer from profound differences within our own ranks, whether in Israel or the Diaspora. There are Jews on the Left and the Right who seem to hate Israel either for political or ideological reasons. There are Jews who intensely dislike other Jews. There are those who want to reach out and those who want to turn inwards. And yet for all of that, I venture to say that those who seek peaceful relations far exceed those who do not. And wherever you look, you will find those who try desperately hard to overcome these differences and build bridges.
Religiously, Judaism and Islam probably have more in common with each other than any other religion. The Muslim centrality of Sharia coincides with Judaism’s prioritizing Halacha. The emphasis on daily ritual rather than occasional observance, modest dress and behavior, and devotion to charity are the essence of both Judaism and Islam. Sufism and Hasidism have more in common than either would like to admit. Christianity would claim the same. But in practice, its emphasis was always much more theological.
People will say that it is politics more than religion that now bedevils relations between Islam and Judaism, and that it is all Israel’s fault. But Jews suffered long before nationalism appeared on the scene. There is a myth that, under Islam, Jews were always treated well and had no reason to seek independence. The truth is that Jews were always treated as second class citizens, dhimmis, tolerated at best. It was worse under the Shia than the Sunnis (and of course much worse under most of Christianity). But even then, how Jews were treated was often random and unpredictable.
Furthermore, political agitation polarizes us and prevents us seeing other points of view. If I care about other Jews being targeted by antisemitism, why should not Muslims feel the same way about other Muslims they see mistreated by Jews or Christians, or anyone else? Isn’t it natural that they should feel for their own first — even when their own are to blame for their suffering as much as others? Have we really reached deadlock? Is there no way forward but eternal conflict?
I wish we could find ways of putting hatred aside. Of course, one has to defend oneself. But that is just one side of the coin. The other is to try our best to forge positive friendships and connections, even if we disagree politically and religiously.
These are the best and the worst of times that I can remember for inter-religious relations. One the one hand, we see increasing hatred of Jews and Israel. On the other, we see more interfaith communication and friendships than ever before.
What should we do? Above all, we should not be afraid — hiding or escaping will not solve anything. Instead, we should reach out to others and start conversations, and try our best, however hard it is, to love our neighbors. We must reach out to the “other.” It is pointless to reject dialogue with others simply by claiming “they hate us.” I am more convinced than ever that we must persevere, and find ways to build bridges. Amazingly, Abraham seems to have been able to defend himself and yet still reach out across the divide and survive. Why can’t we today?
Rabbi Jeremy Rosen received his rabbinic ordination from Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem. He has worked in the rabbinate, Jewish education, and academia for more than forty years, in Europe and the US. He currently lives in the US, where he writes, teaches, lectures, and serves as rabbi of a small community in New York.