Jews & Power

Jeff the Jew* emails: Dear Luke,

You really have been posting up a storm since Shabbat ended.

I do think that you are in error about Jewish history. Jews have not always for 2600 years been a reviled minority. After Christ but before Constantine, Judaism was widespread throughout the Roman world. Jews were not discriminated against. It was only with the widespread adoption of Christianity (which many of the Jews also embraced) that Jews began to be mistreated. With the rise of Islam, although Jews were driven from Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, Jews continued their places of prominence without discrimination (despite efforts today to suggest that the Jews were reduced to dhimmitude) in such places as Tehran, Bagdad, Damascus, Alexandria and Jerusalem. Furthermore as Islam spread to conquer much of Iberia, Jews were a very large minority and were not discriminated against throughout the Iberian Peninsula. It was only when Ferdinand and Isabella (Los Reyes Catolicos) drove the Moors from Spain and then expelled the Jews who wouldn’t convert and then instituted the inquisition that Jews first faced discrimination. The Jews that emigrated to Turkish held areas (such as Turkey, Greece, Cyprus and Rhodes) and North Africa, in particular Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt had no problems, until WWII and after.

The problem is that much of the Jewish perspective is based on anti Semitism in Western Europe (as you know from Albert S. Lindeman’s work) which didn’t really materialize until the mid 17th century. Even then Napoleon welcomed them and unlocked the ghettos at the beginning of the 19th Century. People look at the expulsion of the Jews from England, the Dreyfus affair, pogroms under the Tsar, and the rise of the Nazis as things that can be tied together as some sort of overarching anti semitic strain from Gentiles towards Jews in their midst.

The fact is that Jews probably had a higher standard of living than Russian or Polish peasants, despite being confined to the Pale of the Settlement. Within the Pale, Jews were not a minority, at least not in certain areas. When you read the memoirs of Czeslaw Milocz who was born in Vilna, Lithuania in 1911, you will see that the population was almost equally divided among Jews, Poles, and Lithuanians with a smattering of Ukranians. As you know Vilna was the capital of Jewish learning, the center of Haskalah (as opposed to the ignorant Hasids) and the home of Litvaks (as opposed to the cruder, earthier Galitzianers).

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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