Seven Myths About the Jews

Ideologies are not the essence of persecution—jealousy, fear, and hatred are. But when these basic human emotions begin to mobilize, they invariably search for one or another kind of twisted logic to make them seem reasonable. Time-honored lies are recruited to fan the emotional embers into flames, and by these lies people persuade themselves and each other that they are doing the right thing. Here are some of them:

1. “Jews run the world.” Contrary to this claim, repeated a few years ago by the prime minister of Malaysia, the Jews have always been weak. The great Jewish gifts to the world—monotheism, the Ten Commandments, resistance against tyranny—were born in a tribal kingdom squeezed between great empires, nurtured in bitter exiles, and annealed in genocide. This led them to a belief in one all-powerful God who could protect them, laws that maintained decency in the face of perverted power, and a searing sense of injustice that goes beyond religion and persists today.

2. “Jews don’t fight, they get others to fight for them.” This too was among the prime minister’s slurs. In fact, ancient Israel was born in violence, as were both Temple and Torah Judaism, and Jewish warriors were always revered. A Roman emperor bragged that he had conquered them when no one else could. The Jews did not have an army of their own for two millennia, but they fought bravely and well for many nations. Where they were discriminated against, they fought for the right to fight. And when they had a chance to return to their own land, they fought like few people have ever fought before or since.

3.“Jews keep to themselves and keep others out.” New genetic evidence demolishes this myth. Jews in every part of the world show a strong mix between Semitic or Middle Eastern genes and those of whatever people they lived among. Russian Jews are in part Russian, Moroccan Jews Moroccan, and so on for every Jewish group in the diaspora. Joseph marries the daughter of an Egyptian priest, Moses the daughter of a priest of Midian, Ruth (a Moabite) becomes the ancestor of King David and the Messiah, and Esther saves the Jews by marrying a Persian king. Non-Jews have been imported and welcomed through marriage and/or conversion throughout Jewish history.

4. “Jews always stick together.” Jews have in reality always fought and bickered among themselves, especially at the level of institutions and movements, and the weakness it caused has been deadly. The destruction of both the first and second Temples was due in part to this infighting, and it threatens Israel today. In addition, Jewish patriots fought on opposite sides in the major wars of Europe and in America’s Civil War, killing each other out of loyalty to larger nations or groups, some of which later savagely turned on them.

5. “Jews came from afar and conquered Israel from outside.” All archeological and historical evidence points to the opposite conclusion. Jewish culture and religion arose in villages in the hills of Galilee and Judea by a continuous process of change. It was created and built up by people who had been there from time immemorial and it was recreated anew in every generation. Some Jews were carried off as slaves in Egypt and Babylon and the Romans later drove them out of the land, but the Jews as a people always had a presence there, and always belonged there far more than anywhere else.

6. “Being Jewish means adhering to Judaism, and nothing else.” Contrary to this claim, the Jews have been a people—not just a religion–from the beginning. In fact, they were a people first. Despite the tremendous power of Judaism and the role it has played in ensuring Jewish survival, in every generation some Jews who rejected religion have played key roles in Jewish life and in mediating Jewish contacts with others. Jews were a people before Judaism, and although they have welcomed countless others into their fold, they are still a distinctive people today.

7. “Jews are always weeping and lamenting.” Jews suffered terribly, but they celebrated life. They sang their warriors’ praises in joy, raised their children in joy, prepared for the Sabbath in joy, danced with the Torah in joy, learned and taught it in joy, practiced professions and made money in joy, traveled the world in joy, and returned to their dangerous homeland in joy. They sang, made jokes, mocked their painful daily lives with countless jokes, quips, and proverbs, and taught their children how to rise above suffering. Jews love life.

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