An academic who writes about law, Philip Slayton was surprised when a publisher friend approached him and suggested he write a book on antisemitism. Despite his initial reluctance, Slayton eventually delved into a years-long process of research — the result of which is Antisemitism: An Ancient Hatred In The Age Of Identity Politics.
One of things that separates this book from others like it is Slayton’s unique perspective as a lawyer and a legal scholar. He moves between sections that feel personal and others that maintain an academic distance. Slayton’s politics also seem to defy expectations. At certain points, he aligns himself with the far left, as when he speaks about Israel. At others, he abandons that worldview and attacks leftist identity politics.
Although the book’s timeline isn’t arranged chronologically, readers will leave with many key takeaways about both ancient and modern antisemitism. Slayton introduces his readers to topics like the history of Jews in Turkey, the role of modern-day Evangelicals in antisemitic discourse, the plight of today’s French Jews, and the ills of social media. Although the book doesn’t lend itself to a full exploration of any of these topics, Slayton whets his readers’ appetite and includes useful sources in his footnotes, should they want more information.
The author also peppers his book with stories of individual struggles, particularly those suffered during the Holocaust. These narratives put a human face to the many statistics he brings forth and demonstrate what’s really at stake when we talk about antisemitism.
Throughout the book, Slayton questions many of the statistics he cites. In a time of much hysteria, Slayton calls for cooler heads. Not all antisemitism, he explains, should get the same reaction. Rather, he outlines different kinds of antisemitism, such as degrading speech, violence, and quotas. It is to our peril, Slayton concludes, to treat all acts of hatred and discrimination against Jews the same. Each demands its own tailored response.
Rabbi Marc Katz is the Rabbi at Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, NJ. He is author of the book The Heart of Loneliness: How Jewish Wisdom Can Help You Cope and Find Comfort (Turner Publishing), which was chosen as a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award.