The God Squad: Can we explain the roots of hatred?

January 10, 2014|By Rabbi Marc Gellman

Q: Why is there anti-semitism? What is it about the Jewish culture that causes this to occur? — B., via

A: You've asked me why some people hate other people, and I wish I could answer you in a way that might both explain and end hatred of any person. I'll try, but hatred, like love, is a deep and recondite human instinct.

The first explanation for hatred in general is that we're taught to hate by our families. This is the Rodgers and Hammerstein answer. Their great musical "South Pacific" features a song about prejudice, including the words, "You've got to be taught to hate and fear. You've got to be taught from year to year. It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear. You've got to be carefully taught."


Of course, this doesn't explain hatred of Jews, blacks, Christians or anyone else. It just explains where the hatred comes from and why it's so hard to eradicate. We're sometimes taught to hate by the same people who taught us to love. This makes it very hard to reject parts of what we were brought up to believe and embrace other parts.

Another explanation, particularly for anti-semitism, is our religious teachings. The Christian teaching that the Jews killed Christ has produced two millennia of anti-semitism. The Catholic Church rejected this "teaching of contempt" in the mid-1960s at the Second Vatican Council and in its transformational document, Nostra Aetate.

The facts are that the Romans killed Jesus, and blaming anyone living today for this act is historically and morally misguided. I love our sacred Scriptures, but I must admit that they're filled not only with inspirational moral teachings that have civilized the world, but also with problematic texts that have made life difficult for women, Jews and homosexuals.

I don't believe that the use of Scripture to bolster prejudice is consonant with the main thrust of our revealed scriptures to treat our neighbors as we would wish to be treated.

Finally, I urge you to be careful in wording your question as you did: "What is it about the Jewish culture that causes this to occur?" This is like asking, "What is it about blacks that causes racism?" The answer is: nothing.

Victims of prejudice are not responsible for the prejudice that wounds them. The question to ask is: "What is it about haters that causes them to reject innocent people?" Dear God, I wish I knew.

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