Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin on Why So Many People Hate the Jews

A memorial outside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 30, 2018. Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks/Creative Commons

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.

Why did Robert Bowers go into Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh exactly one year ago, and start shooting, and not stop shooting until he had killed 11 hapless people, whose sole “crime” was to show up for services, and worship, and pray?

It is really quite simple.

Robert Bowers not only hates Jews.

Robert Bowers hates Judaism.

In particular, this part of Judaism.

One of the congregations that uses space in Tree of Life synagogue is Congregation Dor Hadash, a Reconstructionist synagogue, a vocal and visible supporter of HIAS, founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Since HIAS’ inception in 1881, its mission has been to help refugees and immigrants. HIAS helped some of your grandparents and great-grandparents when they resettled in the United States. It proudly proclaims: “Once, we helped refugees because they were Jewish. Today, we help refugees because we are Jewish.”

Bowers could not abide that. In a post on social media, he wrote: “Open you (sic) Eyes! It’s the filthy EVIL jews Bringing the Filthy EVIL Muslims into the Country!! HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

In the fevered imagination of Bowers, the very idea that nonwhite, non-Christian immigrants would come to this country is tantamount to racial genocide.

So, yes: Bowers hates Jews and Bowers hates Judaism. What he would have found singularly distasteful are the words imbedded in this week’s Torah portion: that all human beings are created in the image of God.

And yet, the question still plagues us: Why us? Why do so many people hate the Jews?

Exactly 125 years ago, the French Jewish literary critic Bernard Lazare wrote the first serious history of anti-Semitism. The word itself had existed for barely 20 years.

He was the first person to ask that question: Why do people love to hate the Jews?

Lazare believed that it was because Judaism was radical and revolutionary.

After all, Judaism stood for an abstract, transcendent God that had neither a form nor a shape. In the ancient pagan world in which Judaism first emerged, that was scandalous.

It got worse. The Jews had the chutzpah to say that this invisible, shapeless God actually cared about morality and justice.

So, why do people hate the Jews? Why wouldn’t they? You have a people that lost its homeland and was powerless; which refused to assimilate; a people with its own teachings and books and language and rituals and holidays and meanings. This people defies everything that we know to be true! What is with this people?

That is why the distinguished Catholic scholar and priest Edward H. Flannery said:

“It was Judaism that brought the concept of a God-given universal moral law into the world”; willingly or not, “the Jew carries the burden of God in history (and) for this he has never been forgiven.”

Let me go yet one step further.

One of the most prolific thinkers in the contemporary world is George Steiner, who is a professor of comparative literature at Oxford and Cambridge.

In 1981, Steiner wrote a novel called “The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H.” Steiner imagines that Hitler is alive and that Israeli agents have found the 92-year-old Hitler in the jungles of South America. They arrest him and bring him to trial, where he takes the stand in his own defense.

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Source: Religion News Service