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Roots of anti-Semitism

The causes of anti-Semitism are hotly debated.

Anti-Semitism is hatred of people because of their Jewish ancestry. The reasons for anti-Semitism may vary from person to person, so that different people are anti-Semitic for different reasons. Some of the suggested causes of anti-Semitism include:

  • Religious reasons
  • Economic reasons
  • Ethnic reasons
  • Political reasons (including anti-Zionism)

Table of contents

Religious Reasons

Disagreement with the religion of Judaism, as such, does not constitute anti-Semitism. Christians, Hindus, atheists, and others are not considered anti-Semitic for believing that Judaism's tenets are not true. However, theological anti-Semitism is not merely a rejection of Judaism: it is a set of theological teachings which condemn the Jews as a people or tradition and which uses hatespeech to attack Jewish beliefs. Theological anti-Semitism is referred to by some historians and scholars as anti-Judaism to emphasize its relationship to the Jewish religion, and to distinguish it from anti-Semitism based on other reasons.

Judaism as an Ethnic Religion

Judaism is distinct in a more fundamental way; historically it has been an ethnic religion[?], and has been termed by some an evolving religious civilization.

Like Christianity and Islam, Judaism is universalist, and allows people from any heritage or background to convert to Judaism. Unlike Christianity and Islam, Judaism has a stronger ethnic component, and Judaism is usually considered to be passed down from the mother to the child. Conversion to Judaism differs from conversion to Christianity, in the sense that conversion to Christianity is purely religious, while conversion to Judaism legally is treated as a quasi-adoption, in which one choose to adopt not only Jewish beliefs, but Jewish ethnicity.

add info on why Judaism being an ethnic religion causes anti-Semitism

Opposition from Christianity

Main article: Christianity and anti-Semitism

Judaic traditions extend at least a thousand years BCE, and is the founding basis for Christianity. Christianity holds some Judaic traditions and texts as sacred, but differs in other aspects.

Theological anti-Semitism has been particularly prevalent in Christianity. Until 1965, for instance, the Catholic Church preached that "the wicked Jews", as a people, were responsible for the death of Jesus Christ. This doctrine was repudiated as part of Vatican II. A small number of Protestant sects still teach it.

A number of Christian preachers, particularly in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, additionally taught that religious Jews choose to follow a faith that they actually know is false out of a desire to offend God. Christian theological anti-Semitism was created by the New Testament's replacement theology, or supersessionism, which taught that with the coming of Jesus a new covenant has rendered obsolete and has superseded the religion of Judaism.

In modern times, the vast majority of Christians and Christian churches condemn anti-Semitism, citing statements from Jesus such as "judge not, lest ye be judged".

Demonic Possession

In the medieval era many Christians believed that some (or all) Jews possessed magical powers; depending on the culture, people believed that the Jews gained these magical powers from making a deal with the devil. These beliefs extended to other non-Christian religions, such as various pagan religions. The Inquisition was one horrific consequence of these beliefs.

This was also often accompanied by beliefs that non-Christian religious practice entailed devil worship, or "Satanic" actions such as drinking the blood of Christian children, in mockery of the Christian Eucharist. This latter belief is known as the blood libel.

In more recent times these beliefs have become very much less widespread. While the Salem witch trials of 1962 and the satanic ritual abuse scare in the 1990s show that such attitudes towards non-Christians do persist, they are in no way comparable to the widespread demonisation and persecution of the medieval era.

  • The Satanizing of the Jews: Origin and Development of Mystical Anti-Semitism Joel Carmichael, 1992

Economic Reasons

In the medieval era, many people believed that Jewish people unfairly took away jobs and money from Christians. One historical theory for the growth of this sentiment points to the medieval Christian prohibition of usury, then defined as the practice of loaning money at interest. Because there remained a demand for the receipt of loans, non-Christians were much more likely to practice moneylending. Furthermore, Roman-Catholic restrictions on what positions could be held by Jews closed off many alternatives, leaving banking as one of the few areas open to them.

This connection became established as a social stereotype in many medieval minds, leading to unjustified resentment of "usurious" Jews. These feelings may well have been fanned by the cynical efforts of debtors to escape their debts. The play The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare contains a character that is an example of such a stereotype, and attitudes toward that character reflected by the play suggest the prevalence of this economic anti-Semitism in medieval and Renaissance Europe.

More commonly, there is prejudice against Jews on account of the fact that Jews are often, in spite of what ethnic and religious differences they have with the population at large, in positions of power and prestige.

Ethnic Reasons

Racial anti-Semitism, the most modern form of anti-Semitism, is a type of racism mixed with religious persecution[?]. Racial anti-Semites believe erroneously that the Jewish people are a distinct race. They also believe that Jews are inherently inferior to people of other races.

In fact the Jews are an evolving religious civilization that started out as a nationality in exile. Most historians, as well as most Jewish people, consider Jews to be an ethnic group with the religion of Judaism at its core.


When of the philosophies of Nazism was the superiority of the Aryan race, and the inferiority of the so-called "semitic races", principally the Jews. The consequence of these philosophies was the Holocaust. It also caused continuing anti-Semitism long after the fall of the Third Reich.

Political Reasons


Anti-Zionism has been used to promote anti-Semitism include events in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the former Soviet Union. It is a common phenomenon in the Arab Middle East, where in most sources there is no distinction whatsoever between the terms "Zionist", "Zionist enemy" and "Jew"; this confluence of terms is held by some to be anti-Semitic.

Zionist conspiracy theories

Many people in fringe groups, such as Neo-Nazi parties and Hamas claim that the true aim of Zionism is world dominance; they call this the Zionist conspiracy and use this to support anti-Semitism. This position has historically been associated with Fascism and Nazism.

In addition, believers in Holocaust revisionism often claim that this "Zionist conspiracy" is responsible for the exaggeration or wholesale fabrication of the events of the Holocaust. Most academics also agree that there is no reliable evidence for any such conspiracy, and an overwhelming amount of historical evidence that supports the mainstream historical view of the Holocaust.

One of the most damaging anti-Semitic tractates published is the infamous Russian literary hoax, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a key part of many anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. This subject has its own entry.

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