Reading taken from Bernard Lazare’s, “Anti-Semitism: Its History and Causes”, 1894.
General causes of Anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitism is often defined as prejudice, hatred of, or discrimination against Jews due to their Jewish heritage.
Lazare provides a brief history of Israel since its dispersion (since the beginning of its expansion beyond the boundaries of Palestine).
-Lazare observes that in the history of the Roman conquests the conquered bowed to Rome when she extended to them the laws which governed the empire but how this is not so with the Jewish people. As was observed by Spinoza, “the laws revealed by God to Moses were nothing but laws for the special government of the Hebrews.”
-The Jew lived under the rule of a lord, Yahweh, who could neither be conquered nor assailed, and knew only but the law. Yahweh said to the Jews, “Ye shall believe in the one God and ye shall worship no idols,” he also provided them with rules of hygiene and morality; he designated the territory where sacrifices were to be offered, and also determined the manner in which that territory was to be governed.
-The Jew ‘could not accept the laws of strange nations; nor could he think of submitting to them; he could not abandon the divine laws, eternal, good and just, to follow human laws, necessarily imperfect and subject to decay’. As a result, wherever the Jews founded colonies, they insisted upon permission to follow their religion as well as exemption from the customs of the people amongst where they had settled.
As well as these somewhat controversial issues, it was also their fear of contamination that separated the Jews from the world and made their isolation ‘even more rigorous’.
Lazare describes the soul of the Jew as ‘twofold’ – both mystic and positive.
Of the Jewish love for gold, Lazare believes there ‘can be no question’. The nations among whom the Israelites have lived, their manners, their customs, their religion, the philosophy even of the nations in whose midst Israel has developed, for Lazare, determine the particular character of anti-Semitism, which changes with time and place.
Nationalism and Anti-Semitism
Lazare describes the Jewish race as a race that is not an ethnologic unity. In order to understand them ‘we have had to reject the anthropologic notion of race’. He goes on to explain how religion was formerly one of ‘the most important’ forces that contributed to the formation of peoples and how no religion has ever moulded soul and spirit as has the Jewish religion.
After the return from the second captivity, the Jews had no symbolic independence from their legislation, only Yahweh and his Law. Lazare explains that to become part of the nation one had to accept not only its God, but also all legal prescriptions emanating from Him and bearing the stamp of sanctity. However, the Jew had something ‘more’ than his God he had his Torah, his law, and by it ‘he has been preserved’.