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An example of state-sponsored atheist anti-Judaism. The Soviet book "Judaism Without Embellishments" published by the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR in 1963 shows typical antisemitic imagery and allegations: "It is in the teachings of Judaism, in the Old Testament, and in the Talmud, that the Israeli militarists find inspiration for their inhuman deeds, racist theories, and expansionist designs..."


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Antisemitism · Jewish history

Religious antisemitism is a form of antisemitism, which is the prejudice against, or hostility toward, the Jewish people based on hostility to Judaism and to Jews as a religious group.[1]

It is sometimes called theological antisemitism; but usually distinguished from anti-Judaism, which is usually described as a critical rejection of genuine Jewish principles and beliefs.

Origins of religious antisemitism

Father Edward Flannery in his The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty-Three Centuries of Antisemitism, traces the first clear examples of specific anti-Jewish sentiment back to Alexandria in the third century BC.

Flannery writes that it was the Jews' refusal to accept Greek religious and social standards that marked them out. Hecataetus of Abdera, a Greek historian of the early third century BCE, wrote that Moses "in remembrance of the exile of his people, instituted for them a misanthropic and inhospitable way of life." Manetho, an Egyptian historian, wrote that the Jews were expelled Egyptian lepers who had been taught by Moses "not to adore the gods." The same themes appeared in the works of Chaeremon, Lysimachus, Poseidonius, Apollonius Molon, and in Apion and Tacitus. Agatharchides of Cnidus wrote about the "ridiculous practices" of the Jews and of the "absurdity of their Law," and how Ptolemy Lagus was able to invade Jerusalem in 320 BC because its inhabitants were observing the Sabbath.[2]

According to William Nichols, religious antisemitism may be distinguished from modern antisemitism based on racial or ethnic grounds. "The dividing line was the possibility of effective conversion ... a Jew ceased to be a Jew upon baptism." However, with racial antisemitism, "Now the assimilated Jew was still a Jew, even after baptism ... . From the Enlightenment onward, it is no longer possible to draw clear lines of distinction between religious and racial forms of hostility towards Jews... Once Jews have been emancipated and secular thinking makes its appearance, without leaving behind the old Christian hostility towards Jews, the new term antisemitism becomes almost unavoidable, even before explicitly racist doctrines appear."[3]

History of Christian antisemitism

Blood libel against Jews

Blood libels are accusations that Jews use human blood in religious rituals.[4] Historically these are accusations that the blood of Christian children is especially coveted. In many cases, blood libels served as the basis for a blood libel cult, in which the alleged victim of human sacrifice was elevated to the status of martyr, and in some cases, canonized. Although the first known instance of a blood libel is found in the writings of Apion, who claimed that the Jews sacrificed Greek victims in the Temple, no further incidents are recorded until the 12th century, when blood libels began to proliferate. These libels have persisted from then through the 21st century.[5]

Islamic antisemitism

Muhammad's attitude towards Jews was basically neutral at the beginning. During his lifetime, Jews lived on the Arabian Peninsula, especially in and around Medina. They refused to accept Muhammad's teachings. Eventually he fought them, defeated them, and most of them were killed.[6] The traditional biographies of Muhammad describe the expulsion of the Banu Qaynuqa in the post Badr period, after a marketplace quarrel broke out between the Muslims and Jews in Medina[7][8] and Muhammad's negotiations with the tribe failed.[9] Following his defeat in the Battle of Uhud, Muhammad said he received a divine revelation that the Jewish tribe of the Banu Nadir wanted to assassinate him. Muhammad besieged the Banu Nadir and expelled them from Medina.[10] Muhammad also attacked the Jews of the Khaybar oasis near Medina and defeated them, after betraying the Muslims in a war time, allowing them to stay in the oasis only on the condition that they deliver one-half of their annual produce to Muslims.

Pre-modern times

According to Jane Gerber, "the Muslim is continually influenced by the theological threads of anti-Semitism embedded in the earliest chapters of Islamic history."[11] In the light of the Jewish defeat at the hands of Muhammad, Muslims traditionally viewed Jews with contempt and as objects of ridicule. Jews were seen as hostile, cunning, and vindictive, but nevertheless weak and ineffectual. Cowardice was the quality most frequently attributed to Jews. Another stereotype associated with the Jews was their alleged propensity to trickery and deceit. While most anti-Jewish polemicists saw those qualities as inherently Jewish, ibn Khaldun attributed them to the mistreatment of Jews at the hands of the dominant nations. For that reason, says ibn Khaldun, Jews "are renowned, in every age and climate, for their wickedness and their slyness".[12]

Anti-Jewish sentiments usually flared up at times of Muslim political or military weakness or when Muslims felt that some Jews had overstepped the boundaries of humiliation prescribed to them by Islamic law.[13] In Spain, ibn Hazm and Abu Ishaq focused their anti-Jewish writings on the latter allegation. This was also the chief motivating factor behind the massacres of Jews in Granada in 1066, when nearly 3,000 Jews were killed, and in Fez in 1033, when 6,000 Jews were killed.[14] There were further massacres in Fez in 1276 and 1465.[15]

Islamic law does not differentiate between Jews and Christians in their status as dhimmis. According to Bernard Lewis, the normal practice of Muslim governments until modern times was consistent with this aspect of sharia law.[16] This view is countered by Jane Gerber, who maintains that of all dhimmis, Jews had the lowest status. Gerber maintains that this situation was especially pronounced in the latter centuries in the Ottoman Empire, where Christian communities enjoyed protection from the European countries, unavailable to the Jews. For example, in 18th-century Damascus, a Muslim noble held a festival, inviting to it all social classes in descending order, according to their social status: the Jews outranked only the peasants and prostitutes.[17] In 1865, when the equality of all subjects of the Ottoman Empire was proclaimed, Cevdet Pasha, a high-ranking official observed: "whereas in former times, in the Ottoman State, the communities were ranked, with the Muslims first, then the Greeks, then the Armenians, then the Jews, now all of them were put on the same level. Some Greeks objected to this, saying: 'The government has put us together with the Jews. We were content with the supremacy of Islam.'"[18]

Historian Martin Gilbert writes that it was in the 19th century that the position of Jews worsened in Muslim countries.

There was a massacre of Jews in Baghdad in 1828.[14] In 1839, in the eastern Persian city of Meshed, a mob burst into the Jewish Quarter, burned the synagogue, and destroyed the Torah scrolls. It was only by forcible conversion that a massacre was averted.[19] There was another massacre in Barfurush in 1867.[14]

In 1840, the Jews of Damascus were falsely accused of having murdered a Christian monk and his Muslim servant and of having used their blood to bake Passover bread. A Jewish barber was tortured until he "confessed"; two other Jews who were arrested died under torture, while a third converted to Islam to save his life. Throughout the 1860s, the Jews of Libya were subjected to what Gilbert calls punitive taxation. In 1864, around 500 Jews were killed in Marrakech and Fez in Morocco. In 1869, 18 Jews were killed in Tunis, and an Arab mob looted Jewish homes and stores, and burned synagogues, on Jerba Island. In 1875, 20 Jews were killed by a mob in Demnat, Morocco; elsewhere in Morocco, Jews were attacked and killed in the streets in broad daylight. In 1891, the leading Muslims in Jerusalem asked the Ottoman authorities in Constantinople to prohibit the entry of Jews arriving from Russia. In 1897, synagogues were ransacked and Jews were murdered in Tripolitania.[19]

Modern Islamic antisemitism

There were Nazi-inspired pogroms in Algeria in the 1930s, and massive attacks on the Jews in Iraq and Libya in the 1940s (see Farhud). Pro-Nazi Muslims slaughtered dozens of Jews in Baghdad in 1941.[14] The massacres of Jews in Muslim countries continued into the 20th century. Martin Gilbert writes that 40 Jews were murdered in Taza, Morocco in 1903. In 1905, old laws were revived in Yemen forbidding Jews from raising their voices in front of Muslims, building their houses higher than Muslims, or engaging in any traditional Muslim trade or occupation.[19] The Jewish quarter in Fez was almost destroyed by a Muslim mob in 1912.[14]

Antagonism and violence increased still further as resentment against Zionist efforts in the British Mandate of Palestine spread. Anti-Zionist propaganda in the Middle East frequently adopts the terminology and symbols of the Holocaust to demonize Israel and its leaders. At the same time, Holocaust denial and Holocaust minimization efforts have found increasingly overt acceptance as sanctioned historical discourse in a number of Middle Eastern countries. Arabic- and Turkish-editions of Hitler's Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion have found an audience in the region with limited critical response by local intellectuals and media. See International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust.

According to Robert Satloff, Muslims and Arabs were involved both as rescuers and as perpetrators of the Holocaust during Italian and German Nazi occupation of Morocco, Tunisia and Libya.[20]

According to a Pew Global Attitudes Project report released on August 14, 2005, Anti-Jewish sentiment was endemic. Of six Muslim majority countries surveyed, all have high percentages of their populations with unfavorable views of Jews. Turkey reported that 60% had unfavorable views of Jews, Pakistan reported 74%, Indonesia reported 76%, and Morocco reported 88%. 100% of Lebanese Muslims viewed Jews unfavorably, as did 99% of the Jordanian people.[21]

Anti-Judaism and antisemitism

Some scholars distinguish anti-Judaism from antisemitism entirely. Historian Gavin Langmuir, for example, defines anti-Judaism as "a total or partial opposition to Judaism—and to Jews as adherents of it—by men who accept a competing system of beliefs and practices and consider certain genuine Judaic beliefs and practices as inferior."[22]

Langmuir argues that anti-Judaism is concerned with exaggerated accusations against Jews that may contain a kernel of truth, whereas antisemitism (which he says dates back in Europe to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries) is based on false suppositions.[23] Langmuir believes that labeling Jews as "Christ-killers" is an example of anti-Judaism, but that accusations of well-poisoning are antisemitism.[23] In his view, anti-Judaism and antisemitism have existed side by side from the twelfth century onwards and have strengthened each other ever since.[24]

Franklin Littel rejects such distinctions. In his view:

In some circles it has become fashionable to speak of early Christian 'anti-Judaism' rather than 'anti-Semitism'. But to the victim this is a distinction without a difference. It also lifts from the Churches the guilt of preaching and teaching theological anti-Semitism, the closed system of rejection of the Jews which the midrashim of the Church Fathers developed."[25]


  1. See, for example:
    • "Anti-Semitism", Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2006.
    • Johnson, Paul. A History of the Jews, HarperPerennial 1988, p 133 ff.
    • Lewis, Bernard. "The New Anti-Semitism", The American Scholar, Volume 75 No. 1, Winter 2006, pp. 25-36. The paper is based on a lecture delivered at Brandeis University on March 24, 2004.
    • Antisemitism is more commonly used than "religious antisemitism" or "anti-Judaism." The Encyclopaedia Britannica, for example, defines "antisemitism" to include religious antisemitism: "hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group." ("Anti-Semitism", Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2006.) Also see "Anti-Semitism", Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
  2. Flannery, Edward H. The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty-Three Centuries of Antisemitism. Paulist Press, first published in 1985; this edition 2004, pp. 11-12.
  3. Nichols, William: Christian Antisemitism, A History of Hate (1993) p. 314.
  4. "Blood Accusation", Jewish Encyclopedia, retrieved 7 May 2007.Jewish Encyclopedia
  5. "The World: Saudi Editor Retracts Article That Defamed Jews", Los Angeles Times, March 20, 2003, fetched 19 the April 2008, [1]
  6. Laqueur 191–192
  7. Akram Diya al Umari (1991) Madinan Society At the Time of the Prophet, (Virginia: International Islamic Publishing House and the International Institute of Islamic Thought) "The Expulsion of Banu Qaynuqa"
  8. Rodinson (1971), pg. 172-3
  9. Watt (1956), pg. 209
  10. Stillman Jews of Arab Lands 14
  11. Gerber (1986), p. 82
  12. Lewis (1999), pp. 129–130
  13. Lewis (1999), p. 130; Gerber (1986), p. 83
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 Morris, Benny. Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001. Vintage Books, 2001, pp. 10-11.
  15. Gerber (1986), p. 84
  16. Lewis (1999), p. 128
  17. Gerber (1986), pp. 84–85
  18. Lewis (1999), pp. 136–137; Gerber (1986), p. 86
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Gilbert, Martin. Dearest Auntie Fori. The Story of the Jewish People. HarperCollins, 2002, pp. 179-182.
  20. Righteous Muslims. A briefing by Robert Satloff by Rachel Silverman, Jewish Exponent, December 14, 2006 (Middle East Forum, December 11, 2006)
  21. PEW Globel Attitudes Report statistics on how the world views different religious groups
  22. Langmuir (1971, 383),[2] cited by Abulafia (1998, part II, 77).
  23. 23.0 23.1 Abulafia (1998, part II, 77), referring to Langmuir (1971).
  24. Abulafia (1998, part II, 77), citing Langmuir (1971, 383–389).
  25. Franklin H. Littell. "Breaking the Succession of Evil" in Levon Chorbajian and George Shirinian (eds). Studies in comparative genocide, Palgrave Macmillan, 1999, ISBN 0312219334, p. 239.


  • Abulafia, Anna Sapir (ed.)(1998). Christians and Jews in Dispute: Disputational Literature and the Rise of Anti-Judaism in the West (c. 1000-1150) (Variorum Collected Studies Series). Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate. ISBN 0-86078-661-7.

See also

External links

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