What About the Jews?

From the “Exodus Series Paintings” by Maria Lago

What About the Jews?

Over yesterday and today has hung the heavy cloud of the shooting in the Pittsburgh synagogue.

The feelings that settled over me immediately were desolation and isolation.  Plus a welling up of the fright and sense of hopelessness that hovers, always, along the sides of The Well of Time.

Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers, his novelization of the Book of Genesis, begins,

Very deep is the well of time.

What does that say to me?  There is expectancy.  A story will unfold in time.  It will, because it already has.  There is no danger that the story can be lost, misremembered, or misunderstood.  It’s the story that discloses itself simultaneously with its divinely shaped meanings.  One is safe.  One is within the Ur Story, the tale of human relations with the God who has person-to-person relationships.  There is no way to fall out of it – this well of time.

So, a deranged shooter comes in from a side door and sprays the still-living players with his loaded weapon and rallying cry, “Death to all Jews!”

Why?  Well, I’m no psychologist but I tend to think we are what we believe.  It seems he shares the basic belief of the anti-semite about “the Jews”: that they are a uniform entity, powered by a single, undivided will, able to reach into every corner of this planet, to help itself at the cost of harming every human being and every good thing.

When you think of it, the anti-semite’s belief pays a sort of inverted tribute to the claim God makes for the descendants of Father Abraham:

In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

It’s God’s very promise to the Jews, only with the word “cursed” put in place of “blessed.”

So the rather special, set-apart status of the Jews is acknowledged by the anti-semite, in a manner of speaking, more than by people who don’t seem to suffer from the morbid syndrome I call “Jews-on-the-brain.”

The Bible records, and everyday experience confirms, that Jews don’t all think alike, don’t all will the same things, and don’t act as a single, united force in the world.  Since not every anti-semite is stupid, surely many of the bright ones would have noticed this fact.  Why then is their hypothesis not refuted by these counter-examples?

You might say, well, that’s the nature of prejudice.  It is resistant to empirical evidence when the evidence does not confirm its outlook.  Yeah but such resistance is not confined to bigots.  We’re all resistant to anomalies that might tend to undermine our worldviews.  If we weren’t, we’d be changing our worldviews twice a day at least.  We give up our beliefs only reluctantly, over time, when reality finally compels us to let go of them.

Yet anti-semitism has a strange, more-than-ordinary resistance to reality.  If one form of it goes out of style, the syndrome reappears, reenergized and decked out in a brand new disguise.

The Jews are the marker left

 by God’s dealings with humanity. 

Nobody knows what to do about that historical fact.  Is the sincere anti-semite trying to erase that marker?


He’s a very sincere fellow.

You’ve got to give him that.

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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