A Survey of Philosemitism

June 1, 2011
Wilhelm Marr

Wilhelm Marr, who in 1879 coined the term "antisemitism"

One would think that with all of the literature devoted to antisemitism, that philosemitism would, for Jews be its heavenly opposite. When Adam Kirsch of The Tablet reviews Philosemitism in History a compilation of articles edited by Adam Sutcliffe and Jonathan Karp,he puts this understandable misconception to rest. For starters, “philosemite” was in the 19th century an epithet that had in 19th century Germany the same negative connotations as “n***** lover once had in the Jim Crow south. Conversely, “anti semite”, a term coined by Wilhelm Marr in 1879, was a label proudly worn by many Germans well before the Nazis came to power.

Kirsch points out that some of the reasons for “loving” Jews are not exactly reassuring. Christian evangelists believe that we will be gathered into Israel, all but wiped out and the tiny remnant converted to Christianity. There are even Christian Hebraists who loved Jewish texts, studied Mishna and Talmud and hated Jews.

Because of the omnipresence of the Hebrew scriptures in a multitude of translations of varying accuracy, it is possible for people who have never met a Jew to form a picture of Jews and Judaism in their mind that might seem awkward when a “philosemite” meets a real live Jew.

There are, for instance many people who only know “Pharisee” as a synonym for a religious hypocrite who loses sight of the big picture while tangled up in religious minutae. In reality, a Pharisee is a Jew who accepts the oral law which elucidates the written Torah. In fact, the Christian scriptures maligned rabbinic Jews with a grotesque caricature. Many Christians would be surprised to learn that Pharisees are alive and well today, and can be found in the Yellow Pages.

My favourite kind of anti semite is Richard Nixon, who distrusted Jews, sent his daughters to schools where they would be less likely to date Jews, and who sent arms to Israel during the Yom Kipppur war at a time when Israel was in real danger of being wiped out.

In an ideal world, Jews would not assimilate, but would be good neighbours with a respectful distance from the non Jewish world. An anti semite like Nixon, who wants Israel to survive but doesn’t want a Jewish son in law, is my kind of guy. There is nothing wrong with having a value system and wanting your children to pass it on.

Anti semitism is like salt in your soup. A little bit, you need, but too much makes the soup inedible. Although anti semitism has cost millions of Jewish lives, it has also preserved us as a people. Someone who doesn’t want you in his social club is doing you and future generations a favour. Someone who wants to kill you and your family is a menace. It’s that simple.

Article in The Tablet

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