Why Anti-Semitism Has Not Blossomed in Eastern Europe

Dec. 31 2014

When the totalitarian regimes of the Eastern bloc collapsed in 1989, some predicted a return of virulent anti-Semitism. Certainly, it has not disappeared. But the new governments have been overwhelmingly less hostile toward Jews than their predecessors. Paul Berman argues that this is because anti-Semitism and liberty are incompatible:

The anti-Communist revolutions of circa 1989 turned out to be one of the greatest moments of liberation the Jews have ever known: a magna-event in the history of anti-anti-Semitism, and likewise in the history of anti-anti-Semitism’s political subset, which is anti-anti-Zionism. . . .

It was liberalism that brought [this] about. Naturally not everything that took place during the East-bloc revolutions drew on liberal inspirations, which meant that, here and there, populists and priests with old-fashioned manias about the Jews rose to prominence and issued denunciations in a 1930s style, or in a 12th-century style. But the manias did not seem to get anywhere. The larger trend in Eastern Europe veered in liberal directions, even if vaguely; and a malign obsession with the Jews is antithetical to the liberal principle.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Communism, Eastern Europe, European Jewry, Ukraine, Vaclav Havel

On Thanksgiving, Remember the Exodus from Egypt

Nov. 27 2020

When asked to design a Great Seal of the United States, Benjamin Franklin proposed a depiction of Moses at the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, while Thomas Jefferson suggested the children of Israel in the wilderness after departing Egypt. These proposals, writes Ed Simon, tapped into a venerable American tradition:

The Puritans from whom Franklin descended had been comparing their own arrival in the New World with the story of Exodus for more than a century. They were inheritors of a profoundly Judaic vision, melding the stories of the Hebrew scripture with their own narratives and experiences. . . .

For the Puritans, Exodus was arguably a model for understanding their own lives and history in a manner more all-encompassing and totalizing than for any other historical religious group, with the obvious exception of the Jews. . . . American Puritans and pilgrims like John Mather, John Winthrop, John Cotton, . . . and many others placed the Exodus at the center of their vision, seeing their own fleeing from an oppressive England and a Europe wracked by the Thirty Years’ War to an American “Errand Into the Wilderness” as a modern version of the Israelites’ escape into Canaan. . . . [Thus the] Exodus . . . has become indispensable in comprehending the wider American experience. Through the Puritans, the story of Exodus became a motivating script for all manner of American stories. . . .

We read its significance and prophetic power in accounts of slaves who escaped the cruelty of antebellum plantation servitude, and who crossed the Ohio River as if it were the Sea of Reeds. . . . We see it in photographs of the oppressed escaping pogroms and persecution in the Old World, and in the stories of later generations of refugees. Exodus is an indispensably Jewish story, but what more appropriate day than Thanksgiving, this most American and Puritan (and “Jewish”?) of holidays, to consider the role that that particular biblical narrative has had in defining America’s civil religion?

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More about: American founding, American Religion, Exodus, History & Ideas, Thanksgiving, Thomas Jefferson