Anti-Semitism in History
Anti-Semitism: A Definition
According to the American Heritage Dictionary
(2006), Anti-Semitism is defined as “hostility
towards or prejudice against Jews or
It is important to realize that “Judaism” is a
religion, whereas “Jew” was considered by
most cultures to be a “race.”
70 B.C.E.: Jerusalem is conquered by the
Romans. The Jewish temple was destroyed
and Jews were ordered to begin worshipping
Roman gods. Most Jews resisted.
About a hundred years later, Christianity
began to spread after the death of Jesus.
Eventually, it became the official state religion
of the Roman Empire.
Judaism vs. Christianity
By the 4th century, Jews were disliked by
Christians in general. Important Christian
leaders, such as St. Augustine, called Jews a
“wicked sect” and said they should be driven
into permanent exile due to their wickedness
(de Cruet, 1997).
Anti-Semitism Becomes Law
Laws were passed in Christian nations during
this time that forbid Christians to eat with or
do business with Jews.
By the 6th century, Jews were not allowed to
employ Christians as servants, hold public
office, or even be seen on the streets during
“Holy Week,” which is the week
commemorating the time between the “Last
Supper” and the crucifixion (de Cruet, 1997).
Think about this:
It is clear that such laws were meant to make
life difficult for Jews. How could these laws
also make life difficult for the Christians they
were meant to “protect?”
In 1096, the Crusade against the Muslims
began. Christian leaders wanted to take
control of Palestine, since it was the
birthplace of Jesus.
On their way to the Middle East, the Crusaders
attacked Jewish communities. Jews were
given a choice: be baptized as a Christian or
be killed. Most chose death. Nearly 10,000
Jews died in the first 6 months of the First
Crusade (de Cruet, 1997).
“Leave No Single Member Alive”
The leader of the First Crusade, Godfrey Bouillon,
vowed “to leave no single member of the Jewish
race alive.” He ordered his troops to burn down
the synagogue in Jerusalem with the
congregation trapped inside (de Cruet, 1997).
Painting from the
Large numbers of Jews fled to Eastern Europe
and other places in an attempt to escape
By the 13th century, Germany required all Jews
to wear cone-shaped hats so they would not
be mistaken for “real” Germans. In other
countries, they were required to wear yellow
badges on their clothing to identify them as
Jews (de Cruet, 1997).
Jews had few ways of earning money, except to
become moneylenders. The Catholic Church
felt that it was sinful for a Christian to be a
moneylender, and so they allowed the Jews
to take on this position in the community.
This, however, led to a stereotype of Jews
Eventually, Jews were driven out of the banking
industry as well.
Rise of Ghettos
By the end of the 15th century, Jews were
almost totally isolated from their Christian
neighbors. In many countries, they were
forcibly confined in ghettos, which were
sectioned off from the rest of the city by high
walls that gave them a prison-like aura.
Think about it
Today in the U.S., there are areas, especially in
inner cities, that are called “Ghettos.” Is the
use of this name appropriate for these areas?
Why or why not?
Taking the Blame
Jews became scapegoats for
societies wrongs more regularly,
and were portrayed as servants of
the devil (de Cruet, 1997). The
Black Plague was even blamed on
Jews, who were accused of
poisoning wells, among other
Over the course of a few hundred years, most
Jews were pushed from central Europe and
ended up in Poland and Russia. However,
those countries were not free from danger. In
1648-1649, thousands of Polish Jews were
killed. In the late 1800’s, Jews in both
countries were slaughtered in organized
mass killings called “pogroms” (de Cruet,
Viva La France!
One of the side effects of the French Revolution
was a call by many French Christians for the
emancipation of Jews. By the mid 1800’s,
most western & central European Jews were
enjoying new freedoms brought about by this
emancipation (de Cruet, 1997).
In 1933, Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of
Germany, and quickly mounted a campaign
of heavy-handed propaganda against Jews.
This would culminate in the “Final Solution,” a
plan to physically annihilate the Jewish race,
along with other undesirable members of
An Example of Anti-Semitic Nazi
A Children’s book
entitled “Trust No
Fox on his Green
Heath And No
Jew on his Oath”
by Elwira Bauer
This book included
lines such as
“From the start the
Jew has been
anti-semitism. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language,
Fourth Edition. Retrieved January 15, 2008, from Dictionary.com website:
De Cruet, R. H. Perez. “A Brief History of Antisemitism.” The Holocaust Project.
Retrieved January 15, 2008, from The Holocaust Project Website:
Calvin College. German Propaganda Archive. Retrieved January 15, 2008, from the
Calvin College wesite: http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/