When Did Anti-Semitism Begin?

When Did Anti-Semitism Begin?

Tomorrow is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a time set aside by the United Nations to remember this dark time in our global history. January 27 was chosen as that was the date of the liberation of the notorious Nazi death camp at Auschwitz in 1945.

We created a booklet, Never Forget, Never Again, to highlight lessons of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism and to help bring understanding to the horrific realities of genocide and terrorism today. Read an excerpt below, and then download the full booklet.

When and How Did Anti-Semitism Begin?

Anti-Semitism is one of the most ancient and tenacious prejudices ever to afflict humankind. And its beginnings are ancient as well. Already in the 6th century B.C.E., in one of the earliest records of ancient anti-Semitism, the Bible records that Haman sought to wipe out all the Jews of the Persian Empire. Why? Because Mordecai, a Jew, refused to bow down to him.

Haman, long ago, exhibited the classic traits of the virulent disease of anti-Semitism. He made unfair stereotypes, projected negative characteristics from individual Jews onto an entire nation, and called for the liquidation of all the Jewish people because of the perceived misdeeds of one Jew. Let us examine what the Bible says about Haman’s hatred for Jews and about the hatred of all other anti-Semites, as well.

In the book of Esther we find Haman saying to King Xeres (Ahasuerus in Hebrew) of Persia: “There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will give ten thousand talents of silver to the king’s administrators for the royal treasury” (Esther 3:8–9).

Haman despised the Jews because they lived and believed differently from others. He accused them of being clannish, unpatriotic to their nation, and disloyal to the king. He planted doubts in the king’s mind about the safety and wisdom of having Jews living in the Empire. Haman finally succeeded in rallying the king and the masses to his anti-Semitic cause by cleverly appealing to their greed. He assured them that by destroying the Jews they would not only rid themselves of their national problem, they would also reap great financial reward in the process. Isn’t this kind of thinking typical of many anti-Semites? Are not most consumed by greed and hatred?

Anti-Semitism is actually a term of recent vintage. It was coined in 1873 by Wilhelm Marr, a German who believed that Jews as a group were unalterably tainted and “racially determined.” Their goal, in his view, was to overrun society and corrupt the pure Aryan German nation. This new concept of anti-Semitism reflected a fundamental shift in attitudes. What was once historic anti-Jewish prejudice that flared up in response to offensive Jewish behavior or beliefs, changed to a view that was anti-Jewish on genetic grounds.

Download the full Never Forget, Never Again booklet for free here.

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