Saturday, January 13, 2024

A Look at the Early Origins of Anti-Semitism and Its Effects Today


Anti-Semitism is perhaps the oldest forms of prejudice in the world.  At its heart is  the hatred of Jews and Judaism. Anti-Semitism includes a general belief that Jews are no long the "chosen people" as stated in the Bible due to their rejection of Jesus as the new "Messiah who would usher in a "Kingdom of God" on Earth. 

This role as "chosen" was annexed by a new sect known as "Christians" (from the Greek "Christos" for "anointed" similarly as a king or prophet who using olive oil). Based on their belief that Jesus was the anticipated messiah of prophecy, and through him, all believers were now the "chosen" or "elect" of God. They also believe that since Jews rejected Jesus as the messiah, they also have forfeited their divine "blessings" or "birthrights" including their right to the Holy Land.  That now belongs to Christians.

The Catholic Church, since the Council of Nicaea in the 4th Century, considers itself the sole legitimate arbiter of Christianity, has, historically, been at the core, of anti-Semitism down through the centuries. some even consider it the originator of anti-Semitism.  The Eastern Orthodox Church broke off in 1054 over a number of technical and doctrinal issues, but most notably the infallibility of the Bishop of Rome, now known as the "Holy Father" or Pope and head of the "catholic" or universal church in what became known as "The Great Schism".   

It was here, starting in the 4th Century, the Vatican begins issuing official edicts or "Bulls" to enforced Church orthodoxy. In 1095, Pope Urban II called for the liberation of Jerusalem from the Muslims in what was  the first of eight major church sponsored crusades (in realty, there were dozens of crusades, though without the direct support of the Vatican).

 Pope Urban, in his directive, openly referred to Jews as "Christ killers" and "devils", and urged the crusaders to convert or murder any Jews they encountered along the way (the same applied to Muslims or non-conforming Christian sect which didn't recognize the sole authority of the Vatican as well). 

It's worth noting that even before reaching the Holy Land, those of the First Crusade (aka the "People's Crusade"), in keeping with the Pope's instructions, attacked Jewish communities in Germany in what became known as the "Rhineland Massacres of 1096". As many as 2000 Jewish men, women, and children were murdered; some were burned while others were hanged or simply run through by a pike, sword, or whatever was handy in the name of God.  

Throughout history, Jews were forced to move from one town to another, or from one country to the next; whoever would let them settle, at least for a little while. Special taxes were almost common place and restrictions were routinely placed on them. Most notably where they could live. In the east, most were limited to the "Pale of Settlement" which encompassed parts of modern Lithuania, Belarus, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine. It was extremely poor and diseases were commonplace.

 In other places, be it in Poland, Germany, France, Spain, or England, they were herded into small, cramp sections of cities known as "ghettos". These areas were often known to be largely run down, rat infested, with little in the way of sanitation or access to fresh water. Residents had strict curfews. Failure to comply meant beatings caught by authorities. It was often much worse, especially if you were female.

Permission had to be requested to live outside of the ghetto (which could just as often be revoked). It often involved paying another tax or fee (bribe). Jews were often prohibited from owning land (though they may work for someone else who owned the land) just as some occupations were closed to them.

Have you ever wondered why Jews are associated to certain types of jobs such as pawn shops, rag collectors, "patchers" (individuals who patched or repaired pots and pans), or tailors?  That's because in most countries Jews weren't allowed to own property, particularly farmland. They could work on farms or even manage large estates, but never own them.

As a result, many moved into towns and cities where they could find other lines of work. Many would become tailors, and since they were often prohibited from joining trade guilds, were only permitted to fix broken items such as pans, pots, or furniture. In time, some became plumbers, roofers, painters, glaziers, and so forth. Ragmen collected bits of cloth and made them into towels for instance.

A few became loan brokers or ran pawnshops. Some became accountants and managed the money of wealthy...Christian...families, especially among the aristocrats. This is how the famous (or infamous) Rothschild financial house got their start. In a very few countries, some managed to become advisers of members of the elite, particularly in politics, and fewer yet ran for office (such as England's Benjamin Disraeli) and even became titled themselves. It wasn't uncommon, however, they had to leave their Jewish heritage behind in order to do so.

However, these were very few and far between. In fact, you could say they were rare to the point of hardly being believable even at the time itself. For the overwhelming majority, stories of the Rothschilds or Disraeli were the stuff of legends . For the rest, there was the constant and ever present danger of eviction on a moment's notice; forced to leave with just a few hours advance warning.

That meant leaving pretty much everything behind or selling (if you could) whatever you didn't need to virtually nothing since the only ones remaining were your Christian "neighbors". For those who were even only slightly better off, there was always the jealousy and rumors. Most just scavenged whatever remained of your existence.   However, perhaps what was worse were the pogroms.

Pogroms were little more than orchestrated violent riots directed at the closest Jewish settlement (commonly referred to as a "shtetl" in Eastern Europe). Generally these protests were result of some trumped up claim that a Jew from the shtetl stole of goose or seen after curfew. In reality, pogroms were just an excuse to intimidate Jews (such were the way Jews were thought of).

Worse is when a local child went missing or was found dead (usually accidently drowning, etc). Jews were often seen as the culprit. In the case of missing children, they were accused of "blood libel", which was perhaps one of the most heinous of charges which could be brought against a Jew. Essentially, it accused the individual of murdering the child and then using their blood (sometimes their bones) in the making of matzo or unleavened bread, to been eaten of the Jewish Sabbath (or especially on one of the special Holy days like Passover).   

Homes and businesses were burnt down, and if caught out, Jews were often beaten, robbed, raped, or in worse cases, murdered.  There was little that the local could do about it. Reporting the crime to authorities was useless. The pogroms were often ordered by the local lord who also happened employed some of the Jews since they couldn't own land. 

Thus they risked losing their income, home, a small tract to grow their own meger crops, all of which they desperately needed by reporting the crime! Church authorities were also often involved with these pogroms and it was frowned on to even speak with the priests and forbidden to enter a church. Then there were the inquisitions.  

Beginning in 1194, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of Faith was founded for the sole purpose of flushing out what the Church defined as "heretics" through investigations and trials. In reality, they sought out and eliminated those perceived to be enemies or threats to the Church. Like the Mafia of old, they were the "enforcers". They inspired terror wherever they went. They relied on rumors, lies, circumstantial evidence, hearsay, and even considered moles and birthmarks to be direct evidence!

They were often summoned at the request of a monarch or powerful lord who used the act of calling for an inquisition as their own personal "proof" of devotion to the God and the Church. Many used the inquisition as a means to rid themselves of potential threats to their authority, thus preventing or reducing the chances of being assassinated, a coup, and ensuring loyal.

They were also handy for getting rid of troubling groups ranging from gypsies, various religious sects such as the Cathars and Waldensians, Hussites, or emerging Protestants following the Reformation. During the subjugation of South America by the Conquistadors in the 1500's, the Church used inquisitions against the native populations (which later expanded into what's now southwest United States).

Punishment by the Church appointed court could consist of anything from simple confession of your "guilt" and the utterances of a few prayers ("donating" a few coins didn't hurt either) all the way up to being burned at the stake (the Church often took possession of whatever you owned to boot).

Beatings and other tortures such as waterboarding or the rack were commonly employed as was "dunking" in vats of boiling or freezing water to force your confession (interspersed with prayers and promises of "divine forgiveness"). Individuals could be stripped naked and intimately "inspected" for signs of demonic or Satanic possession (including females and children) by these allegedly chaste priests. Conviction was often viewed as random, but assuredly, the "guilty" would be found out.

Technically, the torture couldn't endanger the life of the accused. It could not result in the permanent injury or loss of one's arms or legs (including hands, feet, nose, eyes, ears, or tongue) although nothing were off limits when it came the application of torture itself. In addition, once used the torture may not be reapplied, therefore you got one trip to the torture...err...I mean confession chamber. But, how does this apply to Jews and Anti-Semitism?

While officially the Inquisition could not be applied to Jews or Muslims based on previously issued edicts, the use of pogroms were seen as a way to circumvent the edicts. Violent attacks were often conducted against Jewish and Moorish (Muslim) communities. However, since Christians were prohibited from attacking other Christians, if these individuals would convert, they could be spared the beatings, lootings, pogroms, and special taxes. They could be welcomed into the trade guilds and into society in general. The incentives were enormous. All you had to sacrifice was your identity. 

As a result, thousands of Jews and Moors converted and became known as "Conversos" or "Marranos". However, many would later convert back to their original faith. This is where the Inquisition came in. One of the goals of the Holy Office of the Inquisitor was to ensure to loyalty of the masses to the Church and the "sincerity of their faith". 

Thus, a Converso who reverted to their prior faith was seen as "endangering their soul" which, of course, was of primary concern of the Vatican. Therefore, the Inquisitor would round up all the lapsed Catholics they could find and remind them of their commitment. Think of it as a revival with whips and thumbscrews!

In 1478, King Ferdinand II of Aragon and the Castilian Queen Isabella of Christopher Columbus fame ordered up one of these "revivals" in what became known as the Spanish Inquisition (as an aside, Columbus is believed to have been a Converso). What was different from other Inquisitions was that the royal couple were deemed "most Catholic" enough by the Holy See to oversee the Inquisition independently of Vatican, although it's general operation was still staffed by appointed clergy. 

All Jews who had not converted by 1492 were ordered out of the country (Columbus went a step further, he left the continent). All Moors were ordered out by 1501. Anyone who remained would be subject to continued used of the Inquisition. All possessions were to remain.  Not to be outdone, King Philip of Spain applied the same standards to his possessions in the New World starting in 1569.

Portugal got into the act in 1520 with the appointment of a "Grand Inquisitor" by Pope Paul III. Not only were and Moors, it extended to "witchcraft" or form divination (including playing cards) and bigamy. The purpose was to exert political, social, economic, and religious control over the population.

One of the most notorious Inquisitions was requested by the Jesuit priest Francis Xavier in 1540 which became known as the "Goa Inquisition", which was applied almost exclusively on "New Christians" (Jews who had been forcibly converted) reverted back to Judaism, however, it also included Muslims and even Hindus!

There's no existing data telling us how many individuals died during the pogroms or Inquisitions nor the financial loss which resulted. No doubt the loss of lives must have been in the tens of thousands at the very least. We have a general idea that when it came to the various Gnostic Christian sects or other that the Church referred to as "heretical" (such as the Cathars, Arianians, Merovingians, Pelagianism, or orders like the Knights Templars) suffered in the millions.

In terms of financial loss, one can only guess but it was likely in the billions by today's standards, not mentioning the historical artifacts which have been destroyed or hidden away in the caverns of the Vatican's archives. However, to the Holy Office of the Inquisition, no price was too high to maintain Catholic orthodoxy.

Fascist Spain, Italy, and Argentina, with its close Catholic traditions, continued to tie itself to this absolutist orthodoxy while they reigned. Nazi Germany tried to replace it with more vulgar version harkening back to a mix of mythical past and pseudoscience with Hitler as the "New Martin Luther". Communism equally sought to replace organized religion with a purely secular faith where ideology of Marxism, the party and the state served as the three prong godhead. Politicalized Christianly and Critical Race Theory each offer the same possibility today as does radical Islam does.   

Faith, in the form of spiritualism, has been with this from the beginning whereas religion with its dogma, pageantry, and sacrifices sprung in unison with government as means of awe and control. One temporal and the other eternal. We must be aware of all things created by Man for no matter how noble their intent, they inherently contain at least a kernel of vanity and greed, which given time, will block out all light of freedom and poison the soil of enlightenment.


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