The concept of Jewish self-hatred first popped up in Berlin in 1930, in German philosopher Theodor Lessing’s book “Der Juedische Selbsthass.”
Lessig declared it a psychotic pathology and cited Jews who actually invited Aryans to exterminate them like vermin. He had converted to Christianity while he was a student, but became Jewish again after reading Zionist anti-assimilationist literature, and used the term to castigate anti-Zionist Jewish intellectuals.
At 28, German poet Heinrich Heine abandoned Judaism for Lutheranism. Three years earlier, in 1822, the Prussian government had introduced a law barring Jews from academic positions. Heine claimed that the only reason he converted was because Christianity was “the entrance ticket to Western Civilization.”
In one of his satiric poems, Heine described Judaism as “the Jewish sickness of the centuries,” without a cure, “a gloomy sorrow” passed from father to son.
Karl Marx, Heine’s third cousin once removed, was a good deal more vehement. A descendant of a long line of rabbis, he also converted to Christianity. In his tract, “Zur Judenfrage,” he wrote that “Money is the jealous God of Israel…. The social emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of the society from Judaism.”
He borrowed money from the Bamberger family and referred to father and son as “Jew Bamberger” and “little Jew Bamberger.” He wrote to Engels that the holiday resort where he stayed contained “many Jews and fleas.”
In his article “The Russian Loan,” he was harsher: “We find every tyrant backed by a Jew. . . .The cravings of oppressors would be hopeless, and the practicability of war out of the question, if there were not. . .a handful of Jews to ransack pockets.
“…. real work is done by the Jews, and can only be done by them, as they monopolize the machinery of the loan-mongering mysteries by concentrating their energies upon the barter trade in securities…. There is ever one of these little Jews ready to make a little suggestion or place a little bit of a loan…. The fortunes amassed by these loan-mongers are immense, but the wrongs and sufferings thus entailed on the people and the encouragement thus afforded to their oppressors still remain to be told…. It is only because the Jews are so strong that it is timely and expedient to expose and stigmatize their organization.”
The German Jewish statesman Walter Rathenau didn’t help his people when he published “Hear, O Israel” in 1897. He suggested “the conscious self-education and adaptation of the Jews to the expectations of the Gentiles.” As the first step toward self-criticism, he proposed: “Look at yourselves in the mirror!.. Nothing, unfortunately, can be done about the fact that all of you look frighteningly alike and that your individual vices, therefore, are attributed to all of you. As soon as you recognize your unathletic build, your narrow shoulders, your clumsy feet, your sloppy roundish shape, you will resolve to dedicate a few generations to the renewal of your outward appearance … two thousand years of misery cannot but leave marks too deep to be washed away by eau de cologne.”
Assimilate and imitate the Gentiles, Rathenau ordered. He did. He later withdrew the essay from his collected writings. He served as foreign minister in the Weimar Republic and was assassinated in 1922.
People often call Jews self-hating if they don’t see eye to eye with them. One of my favorite jokes is about the Jew who’s been stranded alone on a deserted island for years. One day a boat appears and a man approaches him. The Jew gives him a tour of the island, proudly pointing out the house that he built, the synagogue that he built, the other synagogue that he built. “Why does a Jew living alone on a deserted island need two synagogues?” asks the visitor. “Ah, well,” answers the Jew, “that one I wouldn’t be caught dead in.”
The term sometimes is used to discredit Jews who differ in their lifestyles, interests, or political positions from their accusers. Jews who are critical of Israel may be considered self-hating by those devoted to Israel. Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jews may feel intolerant about differences, as may religious and secular Jews in general. It’s impossible for some people to embrace huge swathes of humanity simply because they share an accident of birth.
And let us not forget the antipathy which sometimes exists between Eastern and Western European Jews, between Ashkenazim and Sephardim, between Zionists and anti-Zionists. Can someone be opposed to the very existence of Israel without being a self-hating Jew? A leading critic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Noam Chomsky, characterizes Israel as a “mercenary state” and has earned the enmity of Israel’s supporters.
Some blame the European Enlightenment for making Jews feel inferior. It was believed that Judaism was primitive, tribal, and devoid of ethics. When Jews were granted emancipation and citizenship, they often felt that they had to prove their loyalty.
New York psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Arlene Heyman writes that “if someone hates you, your first impulse may be to feel you deserve it. A child makes sense of the world and gains the illusion of control by believing he is badly treated by his mother because he deserves it. If you have a cruel mother, if you’re in the hands of an angry god, you don’t have a chance; but if your mother is hitting you for your own good, then you can keep a tie with a ‘good’ mother and take your anger at her out on yourself: you are bad, you will try harder, your self-esteem suffers, you don’t deserve better, you are lucky to get slapped around. So you add self-destructiveness to your mother’s hatred and you help do yourself in. On a larger scale, when Hitler declared war on the Jews and people throughout the world joined him, some Jews felt they must have brought this on themselves, they must be getting what they deserved, otherwise why would the universe (the mother) treat them so?
“One moves toward the New Testament’s ‘To them that hath shall it be given, and from them that hath not, even what they hath shall be taken away.’
“It is also a fact that some of the most vehement anti-Semites were converted Jews. Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor of Spain, came from a family of conversos, Jews who had converted to the Catholic faith. The psychological mechanism here may be identification with the aggressor. One takes on the views of the majority and persecutes one’s fellows. On a more homely level, children who have been beaten often grow up to beat their own children.”
These days, a popular form of anti-Semitism is perceived as being anti-Israel. It goes beyond legitimate opposition to Israeli government policy. It’s also prevalent among ultra-nationalists who declare that the Jews control government, media, international business and the financial world.
Bigotry against Jews is far from over. Let’s hope that Jewish self-hatred is.
Dusty Sklar of Fort Lee is a writer whose stories and articles have appeared in many places. She is the author of “Gods And Beasts: The Nazis and the Occult.”