What causes antisemitism? Mr. Beat takes a deep dive to answer this question.
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Music by Electric Needle Room (Matt Beat)
Even though Jews make up less than one quarter of one percent of the world’s population, they are one of the most targeted minority groups in the world. Why all the hate for the Jews?
Before we look at why people hate Jews, also known as Antisemitism, we need to define “Jew.” A Jew is someone who identifies with the cultural community whose traditional religion is Judaism and who traces their ancestry to the ancient Hebrew people of Israel, all the way back to Abraham. Jewish people are considered an ethnoreligious group. Both an ethnic group and a religion. There are plenty who identify as Jews yet are not religious. Israel’s Law of Return, which is the law that gives Jews the right to visit and be a citizen of Israel, says a Jew is someone with either a Jewish mother or who has converted to Judaism.
Anyway, during the time of Jesus in ancient Israel, many were of course Jewish, including Jesus himself. After Jesus died, his followers started a new religion called Christianity. As Christianity spread, and as more and more Roman emperors converted to the religion, Jews became marginalized in society, even though Jews worshipped the same God as Christians did. Roman rulers viewed the refusal of the Jewish community to accept Jesus as the Messiah as a threat. They straight up passed laws that discriminated against Jews. In the year 399, a law saying Jews couldn’t marry Christians, in 439, a law saying Jews couldn’t hold positions in government. In 531, a law saying they couldn’t appear as witnesses against Christians in court. Rumors began to spread that Jews had horns and tails, and that they killed Christian children and used their blood for rituals.
In the Middle Ages, many societies forced Jews to live in segregated ghettos and wear special clothing. The Catholic Church did not allow Jews to own land, so Jews couldn’t build up wealth through property. However, the Church also didn’t let Christians loan money for profit. Jews could, so they often turned to money lending to build up wealth. Due to the fact that nearly every moneylender happened to be Jewish, this ended up creating a stereotype that Jews were greedy. I mean, people who loan money and charge interest throughout history have rarely been seen in a positive light, amIright? Christian rulers used Jewish money to build extravagant churches and build up armies.
By the 11th century, Christianity dominated Europe, and the main minority religion was Judaism. Jews seemed to be the one group Christians could not convert, seen as outsiders. By this time, the Catholic Church was even teaching that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. And then, the Black Death. During the 14th century, the bubonic plague spread quickly across Europe, killing around ⅓ of its entire population. Since this was before science, people had no idea what was causing it. Due to superstition and fear, and without any evidence whatsoever, Christians blamed Jews for causing the plague, accusing them of poisoning wells to spread the disease.