Anti-Semi­tism and Its Meta­phys­i­cal Origins

David Pat­ter­son

  • Review
By – May 3, 2016

In this provoca­tive and eru­dite sys­tem­at­ic study of the ori­gins of anti­semitism, David Pat­ter­son argues that it has less to do with eco­nom­ic, psy­cho­log­i­cal, racist, xeno­pho­bic, social, and polit­i­cal fac­tors than with meta­phys­i­cal aspects of the human soul. Although he draws on most of the exist­ing stud­ies of the his­to­ry of this per­sis­tent prej­u­dice” and mas­ter­ful­ly sum­ma­rizes and cri­tiques their per­spec­tives, Patterson’s work does not serve as a his­to­ry of the phe­nom­e­non byt rather as an explo­ration of the deep meta­phys­i­cal roots of Jew hatred which he sees in the most ancient of temp­ta­tions: the temp­ta­tion to be as God and to be free of account­abil­i­ty to and for oth­er human beings. The desire to kill” God dri­ves the desire to kill the Jews; hatred of the Jews is at its core the hatred of the God of the Bible and the moral and eth­i­cal restraints of the bib­li­cal system.

In con­trast to almost all the oth­er stud­ies of anti­semitism, this book takes a con­scious­ly Jew­ish approach, study­ing the texts and teach­ings of Judaism includ­ing the Tanach, Tal­mud, Midrash, Kab­bal­ah, and mod­ern thinkers. There is a sweet revenge” in this approach for these are pre­cise­ly the texts and ideas that the anti­semites den­i­grate and seek to destroy. Under­stand­ing that anti­semitism is a move to elim­i­nate God through the elim­i­na­tion of the pro­hi­bi­tion against mur­der, Pat­ter­son con­tends that the essence of anti­semitism is the essence of evil, so to under­stand it is to under­stand evil. Pro­ceed­ing from the premis­es and text of Jew­ish tra­di­tion, from a God cen­tered approach, Pat­ter­son con­cludes that the only solu­tion to such hatred is to re-infuse the God of lov­ing kind­ness back into our lives and our sensibilities.

The strength of this book is in its scope, its inci­sive and thought­ful analy­sis, and its coura­geous attempt to explore the meta­phys­i­cal and the­o­log­i­cal ori­gins of anti­semitism. It cer­tain­ly is provoca­tive and very sug­ges­tive. For some, it may slide into an analy­sis that bor­ders on reli­gious or the­o­log­i­cal advo­ca­cy, since it leaves unchal­lenged the claims made in the name of Jew­ish texts and com­men­ta­tors. Notwith­stand­ing this point, the informed read­er will find this book a fas­ci­nat­ing, evoca­tive, and fresh approach to an ancient prob­lem well worth their consideration.

Michael N. Dobkows­ki is a pro­fes­sor of reli­gious stud­ies at Hobart and William Smith Col­leges. He is co-edi­tor of Geno­cide and the Mod­ern Age and On the Edge of Scarci­ty (Syra­cuse Uni­ver­si­ty Press); author of The Tar­nished Dream: The Basis of Amer­i­can Anti-Semi­tism; and co-author of The Nuclear Predicament.

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