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Antisemitism: Its History and Causes

jan peczkis|Monday, April 4, 2016

The author was a French Jew, and professed to offer a middle view--between that of the anti-Semite and the philo-Semite. (p. 5). My review is based on the original 1903 English-language edition of the 1894 French work. Owing to its comprehensiveness, I can only focus on a few issues


Nowadays, the usual tendency, by many Jews and the usually left-wing academics, is to blame Christian teachings about Jews (deicide) for anti-Semitism. Lazare, in contrast, realizes the fact that anti-Semitism predated Christianity, and that it had multiple causes. He offers this explanation:

(quote) But this race has been the object of hatred with all the nations amidst whom it ever settled…Which virtues or which vices have earned for the Jew this universal enmity? Why was he ill-treated and hated alike and in turn by the Alexandrians and the Romans, by the Persians and the Arabs, by the Turks and the Christian nations? Because, everywhere up to our own days the Jew was an unsociable being. Why was he unsociable? Because he was exclusive, and his exclusiveness was both political and religious, or rather he held fast to his political and religious cult, to his law. (unquote). (pp. 8-9).


Lazare’s portrayals of Jews, quoted below, do not square with the notion of Jews being severely restricted, and they hint at Jews being not merely "different" and separatist, but also contemptuous of non-Jews. They also suggest that Jews were resented, not out of envy of their achievements, but because of the unfair advantages that had led to the Jewish successes:

(quote) …they [Jews] enjoyed complete self-government, as in Alexandria; they had their own chiefs, their own senate, their ethnarch, and were not subject to the general municipal authorities. Everywhere they wanted to remain Jews, and everywhere they were granted the privilege of establishing a State with the State. By virtue of these privileges and exemptions, and immunity from taxes, they would soon rise above the general conditions of the citizens of the municipalities where they resided; they had better opportunities for trade and accumulation of wealth, whereby they excited jealousy and hatred. (unquote). (p. 12).

(quote) Why were the Jews hated in all those countries, in all those cities? Because they never entered any city as citizens, but always as a privileged class. Though having left Palestine, they wanted above all to remain Jews, and their native country was still Jerusalem…Moreover, they separated themselves from other inhabitants by their rites and their customs; they considered the soil of foreign nations impure and sought to constitute themselves in every city into a sort of a sacred territory. (unquote). (p. 29).


Fast-forward to medieval Europe. Lazare characterizes the Jewish mindset, notably as pertaining to professions such as usury, as follows:

(Unquote). An energetic, vivacious nation, of infinite pride, thinking themselves superior to other nations, the Jews wished to become a power. They instinctively had a taste for domination, as they believed themselves superior to all others by their origin, their religion, their title of a “chosen race,” which they had always ascribed to themselves. To exercise this kind of power the Jews had no choice of means. Gold gave them a power which all political and religious laws denied them, and it was the only one they could hope for. As possessors of gold they became the masters of their masters, they dominated over them, and this was the only way to deploy their energy and their activity. (unquote). (p. 105).

[However, it is not true that Jews turned to usury because they were forced to do so by law or circumstances. Please click on, and read my detailed review, of The Chosen Few: How Education Shaped Jewish History, 70-1492 (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World)].


Lazare repeats the standard exculpatory arguments for the racism in the Talmud. However, he rejects the common one about the antigoyism applying only to the pagan peoples of Talmudic times, and not to Christians. (p. 263).

Furthermore, he realizes that the antigoyism had become generalized in the Jewish mind, (quote) Because this book, the Talmud, contained also egotistic, cruel and nationalist precepts directed against strangers. Preserved in this book of enormous authority, in this Talmud which to the Jew had been a code, an expression of their nationality, which has been their soul,--these cruel or narrow-minded assertions have acquired at least a moral if not a legal force. The Talmudist Jew who found them attributed to them a permanent import, he applied them to all his enemies, he made of it a general rule toward strangers to his faith, his law, his beliefs. (unquote). (pp. 264-265).

Finally, Lazare notes that, at this time (1894), while Talmudism and Jews-as-nationality reigns among the Jews of places such as Russia and Poland, “This intolerant aversion toward the stranger has disappeared among the Western Jews…” (p. 266).


The anti-Christian parody, TOLDOT JESHO (TOLEDOT YESHU) was published by Raymund Martin, and translated by Martin Luther into German. (p. 174).

Lazare rejects the argument that revolutionary Jews are no longer Jews. They may be irreligious and assimilated, but they retain Jewish characteristics. (pp. 314-315).

The author treats the modern secularization of the Jews as part of the eventual and inevitable dying-away of religion among both Jews and gentiles. (p. 327).
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