Irrational Beliefs About Jews
Selective perception is a common condition which may be observed constantly, as we see only what we expect and ignore reality because we are wedded to our prejudices. Because my name is Gerhard, I am constantly called Gerard by people such as doctors, teachers, and numerous bureaucrats, even as they look at the written name in front of them. Americans do not use Gerhard, therefore we “see” Gerard.
This common conduct is unimportant. However, the Jewish people have suffered terrible persecutions and horrors as selective perception made the word Jew in English, Juif in French, and especially Jude in German, an opprobrium or harsh criticism.
This means that for centuries the European Jews were viewed according to insulting and demeaning expectations in utter disregard of actual Jewish behavior and beliefs. Most important was that those who would not accept the official religion, i.e. Christianity, were traitors and enemies of the government. Therefore when the Roman emperor Theodosius declared Christianity the official religion, Jews became enemies of the state. The only exception to the public recognition of Christianity as the state religion was the brief reign of the emperor Flavius Claudius Julianus, commonly called Julian the Apostate (331-363) [Apostate means rebel, because he sought to reinstate the Greco-Roman religion and abandon Christianity. He also wanted to have the Jews rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem].
Christians could from then on use their governmental power to attack Jews while inventing all kinds of lies about Jewish greed, Jews drinking Christian blood, Jews defiling churches, etc. These beliefs were invented by a Jew named Barnabas, who had converted to Christianity in the first century and declared in a book that all Jews must convert or be expelled from Christian society. These hateful demands were perpetuated, century after century, and can be found again in the writings of Martin Luther (1585-1646), and later by the Nazi propagandists in the 1930s and 1940s.
William Shakespeare (1546-1615) wrote The Merchant of Venice, in which he perpetuated hatred of all Jews by creating the monster Jew Shylock. Shakespeare had never seen a Jew, since all Jews were expelled from England by King Edward in 1290. They were allowed back in 1649 as a result of the Cromwell revolution and the murder of Charles I, King of England.
Christians of all denominations
did not only attack Jews. They also attacked each other. Consider that for
thirty years, from 1618-1648, Protestants and Catholics fought the Thirty Years'
War and killed each other over whether the Protestants could wipe out all
Catholics and Catholics could defeat all Protestants. At the Peace of Westphalia
in 1649, it was decided that no side had won but that the population had to
accept the religion of the ruler of each kingdom or principality. Germany was
not a country but a geographic expression until 1870, when William I of Prussia
was elected emperor of all German states. It is not called Germany but
Much earlier, in 1095, Pope Urban
II left Rome for his native France and preached the First Crusade by telling the
peasants that their oath of
allegiance to the landlords was null and void if they would go to Israel and
defeat the Muslims who had captured that land. During the so-called Crusades,
Christians traveled to Israel and defeated the Muslims for a time, but lost the
Kingdom of Jerusalem to the Muslims after one hundred years (1099). Before
traveling to the Holy Land and fighting the well-armed Muslims, the Crusaders
murdered thousands of unarmed Jews all over Germany and France. This led to the
movement of German Jews to Poland where medieval German became Yiddish.
Islam was the creation of
Mohammed, who lived from 570 CE to 630 CE, during which time he attacked Jews
and Christians in favor of his version of religion, mostly copied from the Jews.
Even before Judaism and therefore
Christianity became known in the Roman Empire, there were constant wars
concerning religion among innumerable peoples. Therefore the Roman author
Lucretius wrote a book called De
Rerum Natura in which he proclaimed Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum, or
“Religion has pursuaded us to cause so much misery.”
All these wars, persecutions, and
mass murders are related to selective perception, as we see all the “faults”
of the other man but not our own.
It is evident that the German people and almost all other Europeans pretended that the Jews were responsible for all things wrong in the world, even as the Germans and their allies did those things which Jews could not have done. For example, Jews were accused of excessive greed. Yet, Christians ran into every home of murdered Jews and stole all the money, furniture kitchen, bedding utensils, art objects, and anything else of value left behind by the Jews they, the Christians, had gassed to death. To this day, innumerable Europeans “own” property stolen from the Jews their grandparents had murdered.
Evidently irrational beliefs are more persuasive than facts, as Jews living now are called “Christ Killers” when no normal person would believe that someone living today could have killed someone living 1900 years ago. Would you accuse all Baptists living now of killing Abraham Lincoln in 1865 because his killer, Booth, was a Baptist?
It is selective perception that the Germans are highly supported as having been “brainwashed” by Hitler when in fact Germans murdered Jews for 1600 years before Hitler was even born. Ukrainians are Nazis. Yet their mass murder of the Ukrainian Jews is ignored today, as the barbarian Russians attacked the Ukrainians. Here is the record of the Ukrainians. In 1941, the Ukrainians sided with the Nazis and showed them the homes of Jews. Then the Nazis and the Ukrainians together invaded Jewish homes and killed whole families in their own homes, even shooting little children and sick people in their beds. The Ukrainians then rounded up 32,000 Jews and in two days, September 30 to October 1, 1941, murdered all of them at a ravine called Babi Yar. Further, Ukrainians volunteered to be murderers of Jews in German built concentration camps and then the Ukrainians formed an SS Division which fought with Germany during the Second World War. Yet, selective perception makes the crimes of the Ukrainians invisible.
Obviously, most of us do not want to live in reality. We want to live under the shadows of our preconceived notions, reject all facts, and keep killing each other while disregarding the greatest of Shem Yisborach’s commands. “You shall live humbly with your God and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Indeed, there are some of us who do all that. There is a Fellowship of Christians and Jews. There are endless examples of kindness and help for those in need. All is not lost. Indeed we can be what Leviticus 19:20 demands of us. This is particularly important for us Jews, who have no need to attack one another because we differ in our religious views. Instead, now is the time when we remember that great reminder by Hillel who taught, “Kol Yisrael Chveyrim,” “Veohavto Reacho Komaucho."
Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including The American Jewish Community in the 20th and 21st Century (2021).