Reason, Science and Progress:
Modern Pretexts for Judeophobia, Left & Right
Elliott A Green
The Paradox of the Church Fathers
When we consider the
noxious phenomenon of leftist Judeophobia – particularly that of Israeli
leftists – we ought to bear in mind that its roots go back to medieval
Christian theology. Indeed, some issues alive today were discussed in Roman
times by the early Christian writers known as the Church Fathers. They showed
a paradoxical attitude toward the Jews. On one hand, Clement of Alexandria
(3rd century), Eusebios (4th century), and others, considered the Jews
pioneers of rational thought and civilization. On the other hand, they claimed
that an alleged Jewish conspiracy against Jesus, leading to his crucifixion,
had provoked divine punishment of the Jews, leading to the destruction of
their Temple and their city, Jerusalem, and to their exile and dispersion from
their homeland, Judea. On the favorable side, Clement wrote:
philosophy of the Hebrews will be demonstrated beyond all contradiction to
be the most ancient of all wisdom.
(Clement, The Stromata,
On the hostile side,
calamities that immediately after their conspiracy against our Savior
overwhelmed the entire Jewish race...” “[the Roman] governor of Judea
[was]...destroying...unlimited numbers of men, women, and
children...confiscating all their lands...not even from a distance might the
Jews have a view of their ancestral soil...[Jerusalem] was closed to the
Jewish race...[and] colonized by an alien race. (Eusebios, History of the
Church, I:1; IV: 6; Williamson-Louth tr.)
In the same vein,
Isidore of Seville wrote as follows in the 7th century:
Because of their sin against Christ, the Jews were defeated and
dispersed...the wreckage of Jerusalem; the Jews despised...the perpetual
wreckage of Jerusalem.1
The two-fold or
paradoxical depiction of the Jews lasted through the Middle Ages2
and Renaissance till Bossuet in the late 17th century. Meanwhile, Pico della
Mirandola3 had – near the
very inception of the Renaissance – credited the ancient Jews with influencing
the important ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras (in his Heptaplus,
1489), expounding the positive, favorable side of the paradox. Two hundred
years later, as the 17th century waned, Bossuet’s universal history resumed
the paradox of the Church Fathers, placing great importance on ancient Jewish
history and the Jews’ civilizing role. Yet, he also agreed with the Church
Fathers about the punishment that the Jews were to suffer and why. Then, in
the 18th century, a new school of “Enlightenment” rose up that did not speak
in the name of Christianity, and even rejected Christian dogmas, so it seemed.
One might think that this would apply to Christian dogmas on the Jews, as
well. But it was not exactly so. Kant and Hegel received a Christian
education, of course. Voltaire was educated by Jesuits. They retained certain
favorable prejudices about Christianity, as well as certain hostile prejudices
against the Jews.4 Indeed,
certain issues raised about Judaism by the Church Fathers and medieval
Christians are still alive today – particularly among what is called the Left
– albeit in secular garb.
To be sure, the
Enlightenment did not have a uniform attitude towards Jews and Judaism, yet
this school, broadly speaking, was the matrix of growth of what today is the
Left. We know of course that today Left can mean both one thing and its
opposite, and that if loyalty to the working class is a principle of the Left,
as some believe, then it was not a principle of the Enlightenment and has long
ago slipped off the Left’s agenda in practice, and often in theory. But
today’s Left in Israel – those who have identified themselves as Left5
– still tend to enshrine Reason, Progress, and Science. Now, precisely on
these items, Kant, Voltaire, and Hegel hated and/or despised or belittled the
Jews. Although they do not represent the whole Enlightenment, these three are
most significant for their lasting impact in promoting Judeophobia and
contempt for the Jews in what we may call their “modern” form, that is, a form
that does not explicitly or avowedly draw on Christian reasons for Judeophobia.
Christian Dogmas Proven by Reason – The Jews Reject Reason
Medieval Christian theologians
and philosophers believed that they had proven Christian dogmas by reason.6
Therefore, if Jews continued to reject these dogmas, then the Jews were
unreasonable, perverse and rejecting Reason.7
Further, Christians accused Jews of falsely and unreasonably interpreting
their own Holy Scriptures (The Muslim Qur`an, by the way, accuses both Jews
and Christians of falsifying their respective Scriptures), since they refused
to accept what Christians believed were proofs of Jesus as the messiah or, for
example, to see proof of his birth from a virgin in the verse, “Look, the
young woman [`almah] is with child and about to give birth to a son.
And she will call his name Immanuel.” (Isa 7:14)8
God had blinded the Jews, taking all understanding away from them.9
Likewise, the notion that Jews were incapable of reason was a theme of the
anti-Jewish Enlightenment thinkers. To be sure, Rousseau – also of the
Enlightenment – argued,
I will never
believe that I have rightly heard the Jews’ reasoning as long as they do not
have a free state, schools, and universities where they might speak and
argue without risk.10
At that time, Jews were
deprived of many rights enjoyed by Christians, and laws protected the Church
from blasphemy, as Rousseau pointed out. Voltaire, Kant, and Hegel formed
their views of Jews without being bothered by such an argument.
Marcion & Luther Deny any Jewish Roots in Christianity
Indeed, far from representing a
new beginning, it seems that Kant and Hegel’s views on Jews derive from – or
were influenced by – specifically German Protestant notions, especially
Lutheran, which represented harsher views of Jews than those of Roman Catholic
tradition. Luther’s own view of Jews harks back in a sense to Marcion, an
early Christian heretic (usual dates: 84 CE-160 CE) whose denial that true
Christianity had Jewish roots was rejected by the Church Fathers. Marcion
rejected the whole Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, and parts of the New, which
as we know, sees the Jewish Scriptures as foretelling Jesus as the messiah.
The mention of
Abraham as an example of faith was eliminated from Galatians (3:6-9), as
well as the connection between the law [Jewish Scriptures] and the Gospels
The church father Tertullian
described Marcion’s beliefs:
down the position that Christ, who in the days of Tiberius was, by a
previously unknown god, revealed for the salvation of all nations, is a
different being from him who was ordained by God, the Creator for the
restoration of a Jewish state, and who is yet to come. Between these, he
interposes a separation of a great and absolute difference as great as lies
between...the law [Jewish Scriptures] and the gospel, as great as is the
difference between Christianity and Judaism. (Against Marcion, IV:6).
Marcion was rejected as a
heretic but his influence did not disappear, rather it paradoxically returned
long after his rejection. Bat Ye’or goes so far as to argue that Marcionism
now shows up today among pro-Islamist churchmen, especially priests from Arab
countries who display the dhimmi attitude of sycophancy toward Muslims
and Islam, and perforce reject any Jewish roots of Christianity.12
Rivka Schechter described
Luther as representing a turning point for the worse in the Christian
perception of Jews. She traces his positions back to Marcion. “Marcion
anticipated Luther by about 1400 years,” she wrote.13
Indeed, Luther represented – among other things – a return towards Marcion’s
view that denied any Jewish element in Christianity.
Luther’s Successors Cancel the Positive Side of the Paradox
Valerio Marchetti has drawn a
line from Luther to subsequent German Protestant scholarship which wrote in
disparagement of the Jewish capacity to produce philosophy or to make a
positive contribution to philosophy and denied that Jews had done so in the
past. This line in fact leads to Kant, born 178 years after Luther’s death in
1546, although Marchetti does not mention Kant or Hegel by name.
Marchetti points out that
German thinkers who elaborated on Luther’s views, formed a trend toward
dejudaizing Christianity and Greek philosophy in the view of Lutheran theology
and in German speculation on the history of philosophy. These German
Protestant theologians denied any positive Jewish influence on ancient Greek
philosophy, particularly rejecting any Jewish connection to or aspect of
At least three
intellectual routes open up [in the second half of the 17th century] that
organize an elaborate desire for the ‘dejudaization’ of German culture.
The first route was to separate
the Hebrew Scriptures from the Talmud, with the Scriptures being taken away
from Diaspora Jews and appropriated to Christianity. Secondly, a separation
was made between the origins of religion and those of philosophy. Religion and
philosophy were deemed to be separate things by their natures. The third route
was a German effort to “restore the pure Athenian [that is, allegedly
non-Jewish] origins of philosophy; hence the Church Fathers are seen as having
overly judaized the origins of philosophy” (especially because they had
endeavored to find Biblical origins for pagan Greek philosophy). Besides
Clement and Eusebios mentioned above, these Fathers include Justin, Origen,
and even Ambrose. Most importantly, German Protestant theologians after Luther
cancelled the paradox in the Church Fathers’ view of the Jews by implanting
the lasting theme in German theology, philosophy, and general German
intellectual life, that the Jews had not contributed to or positively
influenced ancient philosophy. After these successors of Luther, the
predominant German Christian view of the Jews was unfavorable.15
To be sure, Luther’s German
contemporary Reuchlin (1455-1522) had continued the line of the Church
Fathers, asserting a “Jewish-Greek genealogy for Western culture”. (Marchetti)
Reuchlin’s mentor, the Italian
Renaissance scholar, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola,16
had claimed –following the ancient writer Hermippos (3rd Century BCE) – that
Pythagoras had “transferred very many things into his own philosophy from the
One of the specific issues
commonly treated by the German theologians studied by Marchetti was that of
whether Pythagoras was influenced by Judaism or may even have been a Jew or a
convert to Judaism. Evidence –suggestive if not conclusive – for Jewish
influence on Pythagoras does indeed exist in ancient writings in Greek (Hermippos,
Antonios Diogenes, Iamblichos, Diogenes Laertios, and Porphyry). Some Church
Fathers held this view (Origen, Ambrose).18
The notion was picked up by Renaissance thinkers, not only Pico and Reuchlin,
but the British John Selden, the French Philippe Tessière, and others. My
purpose here is not to discuss the veracity of this belief, but the attack on
it. Marchetti reports that several German Protestant thinkers set out to
specifically refute the assertion of Jewish influence on Pythagoras or that he
had had Jewish ties. In doing so, they generalized beyond Pythagoras, finding
“Perpetua...discordia” and “maxima etiam discrepantia”
[“perpetual disharmony...also maximal disagreement”] between ancient Jewish
and ancient Greek thought, according to a doctoral dissertation accepted in
Hamburg in 1700.19 That is,
they refuted not only any affinity of Pythagoras to Jews or Judaism, but any
affinity to Judaism of ancient philosophy in general. Marchetti demonstrates
that German theologians took pains to assert this separation between Judaism
and Greek philosophy. Intending at first to refute Pico, Reuchlin, Selden, and
others, they provided a background for Kant and Hegel’s claims of Jewish
incapacity for philosophy and cultural backwardness, that is, for viewing Jews
and Judaism as inferior. Hence, their works constitute links between Luther in
the 16th century (1483-1546) and Kant and Hegel in the late 18th and early
19th centuries. Note the parallel between Marcion’s claim that true
Christianity did not have any Jewish roots and the claim made in Kant, Hegel,
and earlier German scholars that ancient Greek philosophy did not have any
Kant, Hegel & Voltaire Assert the Backwardness of the Jews
An incapacity for philosophy
implies an incapacity for Reason, Science, and their derivative, Progress, the
three values which the Left has traditionally seen the Jews as lacking. On the
issue of Progress, Kant (1724-1804) and Hegel (1770-1831) gave Christianity
pride of place, although they allegedly did not accept Christian dogmas.
Moreover, Jews as Orientals, could only be culturally stagnant. To Kant and
Hegel, the ancient Jews (and other ancient Oriental peoples) were clearly
inferior to the Greeks in regard to culture.20
Kant believed that Judaism was not “spiritual” or “moral”. It had no
conscience or moral intention, nor was it a true religion.21
Indeed, Kant drew up a ladder or hierarchy of religions, with Judaism on the
bottom rung.22 Further,
“Only in Judaism did Kant refuse to identify an inner moral kernel.”23
Yovel argues that,
that the laws of Judaism had religious content...Kant was removing from
Judaism even the tiny smidgen of worth that one might expect that a
historical conception such as his would confer on Judaism.24
More important for our theme,
Kant propounded that, unlike Judaism, Christianity was grounded in Reason, a
prejudice commonplace in medieval Christian philosophy/theology.25
Further, Kant saw the Jews as opposed to Progress, which for him personally
took the place of religion. Kant went so far as to insist that “few if any of
the origins of Christianity are Oriental [including Jewish], most of them
being Occidental.”26 Since
he saw Christianity as Western and as capable of Progress, and Judaism as
Oriental and little related to Christianity, and the Orient as incapable of
Progress, then Christianity was necessarily superior to Judaism, an Oriental
religion. It also followed from this that Judaism was incapable of Progress.
Hegel likewise believed that
Christianity represented progress compared to Judaism. He belittled the role
of Judaism in world culture. According to him, the Jews suffered “a want of
culture”.27 The young
Hegel, in Yovel’s summary of his view, claimed that “Judaism had not made any
positive contribution to European culture or to the world spirit”28
Further, in Hegel’s “historical
scheme, the Greek world is regarded as an antithesis to the Oriental world and
consequently to Judaism...the Hellenic ideal is the rejection of Judaism.”29
Even within the Oriental world, the Egyptian religion was superior to Judaism.30
When the ancient Jews had their national independence, it provided them merely
with enough to eat and drink, “only a mediocre existence”.31
Thus they were incapable of producing prosperity. In view of this claim, Hegel
seems to implicitly contradict himself when he argues that Judaism is the
least “natural” religion since it aims at dominating nature technically. Be
that as it may, Judaism’s “positive” rather than “natural” character led to
the greatest slavery of man,32
according to him.
Nevertheless, in his later
writings, Rotenstreich asserts, Hegel modified his position on Judaism to a
less hostile view.33
Therefore, he may be considered less hostile than Kant. Unlike Kant, Hegel
advocated the emancipation of the Jews, that is, equal civil rights in the
state for Jews as individuals. However, Yovel comments that Hegel
paternalistically “refused to recognize a more profound equality of Jews, an
equal spiritual and historic status as a people and community.”34
Further, Hegel held that once a nation had fulfilled its world-historic
mission, it could not again take on such a mission.35
“The Jews...could not again have a history.”36
Hence, Hegel and strict Hegelians must perforce oppose Zionism which embodied
a Jewish effort to act out of character, as designated by his philosophy. That
is, the Jews had already performed their historic role (in the best case) and
could not have another. Zionism contradicted Hegel’s dicta and therefore must
cause cognitive dissonance among the believers, which in turn might elicit
anger and hatred.
Returning to Voltaire
(1694-1778), he was a Deist and carefully studied Marcion.37
He sets out to degrade and belittle the Jews. Ironically, in his work
Dictionnaire Philosophique (eds. 1764, 1769, etc.), Voltaire betrays
his purpose by devoting a great deal of space to those whom he wishes to
belittle, thus implying by the attention that he gives them that the Jews are
much more significant and formidable than he would have the reader believe.
Voltaire aimed to show the
Jewish religion and culture as derivative and secondary. The Jews were
imitators and borrowers; by innuendo – thieves. Voltaire asked suggestively,
“Did the Jews take the custom of fasting from the Egyptians, all of whose
rites they imitated up to flagellation and the scapegoat?”38
Voltaire did not ask whether the Egyptians might not have copied from the
Jews. His belittling impulse showed clearly in another entry. “You were almost
always slaves,” he tells the Jews.39
Sometimes he explicitly applies the words “thieves” and “plagiarism” to them
and their works.40 That is,
they were imitators and borrowers, although “thief” can be understood more
literally, as when he called the Jews “Arab thieves”.41
To show his contempt for Jews,
Voltaire calls them Arabs; “the Hebrews, a very recent people...an Arab
horde”.42 Today, of course,
to be called an Arab is flattery, in some circles, or commands the highest
degree of pity. After all, aren’t the Arabs the most unjustly maligned and
abused and persecuted people in History? Aren’t the “Palestinians” – often
depicted in contemporary Western discourse as a collective Jesus– suffering at
the hands of the Jews, as well as being the vanguard of progress? Voltaire
means to demean Jews both by calling them “recent” (the French nation, formed
in the Middle Ages about 2,000 years after David and Solomon’s kingdom held
sway from Jerusalem, is not described as “recent”) and “an Arab horde”. As an
Arab horde, Voltaire means to say, the Jews are not civilized and did not
contribute to the progress of civilization. Curiously, while Voltaire saw the
Jews as Arabs, Kant called the German Jews, “the Palestinians who live among
us”.43 Kant meant thereby
to underscore the alien essence –in geographic origin and ethnic nature, not
only in religion – of his contemporary Jewish countrymen. The Jews were the
Other par excellence.
D’Holbach, Voltaire’s younger
contemporary, was less important than the other three, but he summed up the
common position. The Jews were “cowardly and degraded Asiatics”. Jewish
“superstitions...have only served to retard progress toward true science.”44
One might ask whether d’Holbach would change his mind in view of so many Nobel
prizes for science awarded to Jews out of proportion to their numbers. This
empirical fact, seemingly contradicting his firm conviction, would have
probably led a mind such as d’Holbach’s to suspect something diabolical was
afoot. The cognitive dissonance would likely have angered him.
Voltaire, d’Holbach and their
school of “rationalists”45
spent great energies on “debunking” or ridiculing the Bible where it favorably
presented ancient Israel – especially when it showed Israel radiating
splendor. However, when Voltaire and Company found a Biblical narrative that
put Israel in an unfavorable light, in terms of abstract Christian morals
(which the Christians themselves did not always practice), then they accepted
the truth of the Biblical account. Many of Voltaire’s misrepresentations and
falsehoods were already refuted and exposed in his own time, particularly by
certain French Catholic scholars.46
Yet Voltaire’s hallowed aura as a champion of freedom of speech and thought
has remained in place into our own time.
Esteem for the Jewish Heritage from the Early Renaissance
till the End of the 17th Century
Now, Kant, Hegel, and Voltaire
represented a significant turning point for the worse in the view of Jews held
by the West. Not only the Church Fathers had seen the Jews as pioneers of
civilization, but some of the great minds of the 17th century saw the
constitution set out for Israel in the Bible and transmitted through Moses, as
the model of an ideal republic.47
Consider Petrus Cunaeus, John Selden, Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, etc. Jean
Gerson and Marsilio Ficino in the 15th century and Bossuet in the 17th
followed Eusebios in seeing the Jews as pioneers of philosophy. Eusebios had
For of all mankind these [the
Jews] were the first and sole people who from the very first foundation of
social life devoted their thought to rational speculation...48
Eusebios was echoing the view
of Clement of Alexandria49:
plagiarizing of the dogmas of the philosophers from the Hebrews, we shall
treat a little afterwards...the philosophy of the Hebrews will be
demonstrated beyond all contradiction to be the most ancient of all wisdom.
(Stromata, Book I, chap. 21; trans. Roberts-Donaldson)
While Kant, Voltaire, and Hegel
may have been rejecting Christian dogma, they were also rejecting the ancient
Christian esteem for the Jews, at least as expressed by the Church Fathers.
Now, this rejection of that particular esteem referred to a theme that was to
become highly important in an age that valued the Progress of Civilization.
Progress for the Enlightenment
meant, roughly speaking, improvement over time, movement from the inferior to
the superior as applied to human society; the general movement of civilization
towards the better. It can also be seen as a function of reason, that is,
Progress is a destination or objective pertaining to reason and realized,
achieved or fulfilled in history. In some views, progress is a historical
necessity. The Christian tie to the notion of progress lies in Christianity’s
long seeing itself as superseding Judaism; thus being a higher, superior stage
of religion. Thus it had always represented
Progress in respect of Judaism
(Muslims believe that Islam supersedes both Judaism and Christianity. Muhammad
is considered the last or “seal” of the prophets.)
The Enduring Influence of Kant, Hegel & Voltaire on Modern
Ideologies & on Scholarship on Ancient Times
Kant and Hegel defined the Jews
as inimical to or incapable of Progress. Hegel and Voltaire saw them as
incapable of Civilization. To d’Holbach, they were an obstacle to Science.
They all –implicitly or explicitly – saw the Jews as hostile to or incapable
of Reason. They all saw the Jews as alien, backward, and unprogressive. The
Jews were stripped of dignity and pride, of human worth, more than before.
They were degraded by the new conception. Thus, from the beginnings of Leftism,
major streams within it defined the Jews as incapable of adhering to –or
hostile to – the core values of Leftism – Reason, Progress, and Science.
Robert Misrahi stresses at length the influence of Kant and Hegel on Marx’s
views of the Jews (Marx et la Question juive, 3ème partie). Likewise,
some ideologies today designated “rightist” also took inspiration from Kant,
Hegel, and Voltaire – and this included their view of Jews.50
Needless to add, the notions
and attitudes of Kant, Hegel, and Voltaire exerted immense influence
throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Voltaire inspired libres penseurs,
“free-thinkers” and “skeptics” who often rigidly adhered to Voltairean
prejudices. Kant and Hegel influenced Marxists,51
German nationalists, Nordic racial supremacists, and a myriad of scholars,
particularly Germans, of ancient history, classical studies, archeology,
anthropology, Biblical criticism, etc. Indeed, Schechter argues that they were
continuing in the Lutheran tradition, which ultimately was manifested in
Reich was not the product of an ideology supposedly born at the end of the
19th century and the beginning of the 20th, as most researchers of this
ideology have believed. The ideologues of the end of the 19th century and
the beginning of the 20th were no more than epigones who repeated Lutheran
theological principles that had been hallowed over the course of four
hundred years in German culture and in its religious expression.52
somehow leaves out Luther’s Judeophobic influence on so-called “leftist” and
socialist ideologies, which are also heirs of the Lutheran-Kantian-Hegelian
tradition. In fact, Judeophobia could “infuse itself into both right and left
wing ideologies” in the 19th century.53
Indeed, is it at all useful to distinguish between “left” and “right” as if
they were separate bodies of thought and policy? Especially in the Third
Millenium when much or most of the “left” has adopted Judeophobic notions
widespread among the “right” before World War 2, or perhaps today’s “left” has
merely reinvigorated its own Judeophobic tradition so prominent in the 19th
century and into the early 20th?54
A Leftist Distorts the Church Fathers’ Position on Jewish
Contributions to Civilization
The case of Martin Bernal shows
just how highly charged specific issues judged by Kant, Hegel, and Voltaire
still are. Bernal, a political scientist of Marxist views, has produced a
monumental work, Black Athena, devoted in part to tracing the
increasing scorn for belief in any Eastern influence on Greek and Roman
civilizations – despite abundant Greek and Roman testimony and other evidence
of Oriental influence, including Jewish – which emerged in the late 18th
century and has been the dominant trend since the late 19th century. This
anti-Oriental trend, Bernal complains, was eager to portray ancient Greece as
isolated from the East, from Phoenicia, Egypt, etc. Bernal accepts, in
general, ancient Greek and Latin testimony about Oriental influence on
Classical culture, yet overlooks or misrepresents the testimony about the
Jews. Therefore, ironically, Bernal himself does the same as do the targets of
his criticism when it comes to the Jews. For one thing, he sees the ancient
Jews as geographically isolated from Greece, thus incapable of imparting
antiquity], an inland state with very little contact with the Mediterranean,
let alone the Aegean.
(Martin Bernal, Black Athena II, 1991, p. 6)
Curiously, Voltaire wrote
something equivalent: “...until the time of Alexander there was not the
slightest intercourse” between Greece and Israel.55
What’s worse from the
standpoint of scholarly method is that Bernal misrepresented the writings of
the Church Fathers, such as those quoted above. He claims:
Fathers were united in the belief that the Greeks had learnt most of their
philosophy from the Egyptians – though the Egyptians might have learnt some
of theirs in turn from Mesopotamia and Persia...(Black Athena Vol. I,
1987, p. 24)
Bernal’s self-image as an
iconoclast and corrector of conventional falsehoods does not stand in respect
of the Jews.56
Despite the 20th century
efforts by liberals and leftists to defend Voltaire’s reputation in reference
to their own avowed values, they need to explain the 18th century use of
Voltaire both by a Catholic clerical Judeophobe and by a more secular writer
who rejected emancipating the Jews – who had inferior rights in monarchic 18th
century France. Instead he recommended deporting them to French Guyana.57
Meanwhile, as Frank Manuel has
observed, in the Church, since the French Revolution
(an outgrowth of the Enlightenment) “theological hostility to Judaism
tended to merge with the new ‘scientific’ and political anti-Semitism.”58
The clerics too were eager to be “scientific” like everyone else. Hence, the
ostensibly non-religious 18th century Enlightenment Judeophobia and demeaning
of Jews had the effect of reinforcing the Judeophobia of the Church. Moreover,
the prejudices and generalizations of Kant, Hegel, and Voltaire made an
enduring impression, serving in later generations not only as principles for
ideologues but as paradigms for, inter alia, legions of scholars in
various disciplines – sometimes shaping their perceptions to the detriment of
their ability to perceive contributions to ancient civilization by Jews and
Judaism, as they disregarded ancient Greek testimony about the Jewish role. In
addition they left a lasting impact on “progressive” and “Leftist” thinking
into the 21st century, as well as on some movements ordinarily considered
“Rightist”. Jews attracted by such bodies of thought – perhaps for reasons
such as admiration for Reason, Science and Progress, or the ostensible
universalism, human equality, and social justice that “leftist” movements
preached, or the charms of the Marxist intellectual system, forever disclosing
hidden truths and answering every question – were liable to adopt their
contempt and hostility for Jews and Judaism as well.
The Left in Israel Follows the Medieval Christian Teaching
on the Jewish Rejection of Reason
For more than 100 years, parts
of the Zionist movement have been openly Marxist, while other influences from
German philosophy have reached Zionism and Israel in various ways. In Israel,
issues manipulated by Kant, Hegel, and Voltaire, have continued to inspire
personalities on the Left. As an example, Yigael Tumarkin defended Shulamit
Aloni on the grounds of Reason, Science and Progress; although he acknowledged
that her actions as a minister were not always reasonable:
I stand by
Minister of Education and Culture, Shulamit Aloni, and not because I am one
of her followers.
Her opinions are
my opinions, but...I cannot justify making provocative proclamations...[by
Aloni – EAG] which are denied the next morning...Nevertheless, I will stand
at her side against any nationalist and clericalist lynch [that is, Jewish
clerical – EAG]. Show me one religious state throughout history that had
progress, tolerance, and a good life for its inhabitants...
Because only the
revolt against religion brought man to progress, democracy, and achievements
in culture and science. Not the ghetto, not the rabbinical courts or the
Kabbalists of Safed brought redemption, but the Jewish Enlightenment...
My heroes are
not the Baal Shem Tov or the Gaon of Vilna, and of course not the eccentric
rabbis of today, who are not capable of arriving at any consensus which is
compatible with the 20th century...
makes us free” [a quotation from Theodor Herzl, according to Tumarkin – EAG]...
clothing is a black flag above elementary morality and our very
existence...The knitted skullcap and the Book of Joshua...will bring about a
second Masada. (Letter to the Editor of HaAretz, “My Sister in Lack
of Faith”, 21 October 199259)
Tumarkin thus demonstrated that
the banner of Reason, Science, and Progress continued to wave among the
Israeli Left in the 1990s,60
while he viewed these values as in fundamental contradiction with Judaism,
seemingly unaware in his hatred for the Jewish religion that his attitudes on
Judaism –particularly his belief that religious Jews are defective in reason –
have roots in another religion. It is unlikely that he comprehended that the
notion of a Jewish incapacity for reason and philosophy go back to medieval
Christians and later, after Luther, through subsequent German theologians to
Kant and Hegel and from them to Marx and other moderns.
Looking back to 1993 with the
benefit of hindsight, we may ask whether Shulamit Aloni – with whom Tumarkin
so profoundly agreed, he believed – was rational or scientific in her advocacy
of the Oslo Accords of that year. Was Aloni more rational than the rabbis whom
she and Tumarkin despised who opposed Oslo [although there were also rabbis,
as we know, who sat with Aloni in the Rabin-Peres cabinet, and thereby helped
to bring about Oslo, whatever they may have subjectively wished]? The
disastrous Oslo accords demonstrate that the left is far from rational or
scientific. It made these accords paying no heed to Clausewitz’ teachings
about war and diplomacy, while it refused and refuses to realize that Israel’s
Arab-Muslim adversaries have their own unique culture and character which must
be understood. Likewise the West – which often reproaches Israel for alleged
moral breaches, while overlooking Arab and Muslim crimes – must be understood.
Gilbert Dahan, La Polémique chrétienne contre le
Judaïsme au Moyen Age, Paris, 1991, p. 127.
Jean Gerson echoed Eusebios and Clement’s positive view of
the Jewish role in civilization in a statement made in 1405 towards the
end of the Middle Ages. Civilization or culture had “started from the
earthly paradise [Eden] and passed successively from there to the Hebrews,
from the Hebrews to the Egyptians, from Egypt to Athens, from Athens to
Rome, from Rome to Paris,” as paraphrased by Edouard Jeauneau, La
Philosophie médiévale, “Que sais-je”; Paris: PUF, 1967, p. 6.
Pico was known to have studied Hebrew with the Jewish poet
Eliyahu Levita. Daniel Malkiel discusses Pico’s interest in Jewish lore
and that of the Italian Renaissance generally, in “Christian Hebraism in a
Contemporary Key”, Jewish Quarterly Review, v. 36, 1, Winter 2006,
p. 123. During the early Renaissance, Hebrew study “was even preferred to
Greek”, writes Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in
Italy, v. I, repr. NY: Harper & Row, 1958, p. 208. As to Pico, “Among
all those who busied themselves with Hebrew in the 15th century, no one
was of more importance than Pico della Mirandola. He...even made himself
familiar with the literature of the Talmud.” Ibid.
Valerio Marchetti describes the trend toward dejudaization
of Christianity and of Greek philosophy in Lutheran theology and in German
speculation on the history of philosophy, which I believe influenced Kant
and Hegel. V. Marchetti, “An Pythagoras Proselytus Factus Sit”,
Dimensioni e Problemi della Ricerca Storica, no. 2, 1996 (in Italian
despite the Latin title). Rivka Schechter describes Luther as representing
a turning point for the worse in the Christian perception of Jews,
referring to “Luther’s successors, the philosophers, the poets, and the
ideologues [who] removed from Germany all inhibitions, and the Third Reich
was the crowning achievement of this process.” See Rivka Schechter,
“Paul-Luther-Goethe-Hitler”, Nativ, vol. III, 1 (12), January 1990;
p. 36 (Heb.).
I am referring particularly to intellectuals and academics
of the older generation.
Anselm of Canterbury and Roger Bacon, for example. For
Anselm, see Jeauneau, op.cit., pp. 41-46. Bacon wrote: “...Christian law
should be preferred...by means of the teachings of the philosophers...For
there, noble testimonies are given concerning the articles of the
Christian faith, namely, the Trinity, Christ, the Blessed Virgin...angels,
souls...eternal life, the resurrection of bodies, the pains of purgatory,
the pains of hell, and the like...Philosophy, however, does not agree in
this manner with the religion of the Jews and of the Saracens, nor do the
philosophers provide testimonies in their favor. Hence...the religion of
the Christians is the only one that should be held.” Opus Maius,
Part Four, Second Distinction, VI:1-2, trans. R McKeon, D McCarthy, E L
Fortin, in Ralph Lerner & Muhsin Mahdi, eds., Medieval Political
Philosophy: A Sourcebook, Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1963, p. 375.
See inter alia, Robert Chazan, “Medieval Anti-Semitism”, in
David Berger, ed., History and Hate: The Dimensions of Anti-Semitism,
Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1986/5747, p. 62, also p. 53.
Dahan supplies a number of instances wherein Christians tried to persuade
Jews of the rationality of Christian dogmas. Dahan, op. cit. Yet, Jews
“dare not speak” their true reasoning in these exchanges, as Rousseau
recognized in Emile, Book IV. The medieval Jewish-Christian
Disputations were theatrical efforts to overwhelm Jews in the name of
reason, backed up by Christian numbers and political power. The Jews were
handicapped in debate of course by Christian blasphemy laws. The
disputations, therefore, somewhat resembled UN General Assembly meetings.
As early as the 4th century, the Church Father Sozomenos
had complained: “...the Jews, although enjoying many very clear prophecies
about the coming of the Christ, remained behind the pagans concerning
faith in Christ; that’s enough said about that.” Sozomenos, History of
the Church, I:1:8; translated from the French version of A-J
Festugière – Sozomène, Histoire Ecclésiastique, Paris: Ed. du Cerf
1983-1986, Sozomenos’ complaint is not yet a claim that the Jews are
incapable of reason, although his attitude may be a station on the way.
Dahan, p. 131.
This follows his statement: “At the Sorbonne, it is as
clear as day that the predictions of the Messiah [in the Tanakh] relate to
Jesus Christ. According to the Amsterdam rabbis, it is just as clear that
they have not the least connection with him.” Rousseau, Emile, Book
Chris Price, “Marcion, the Canon, the Law, and the
Historical Jesus.” at <http://www.christianorigins.com/marcion.html>.
Bat Yeor, “Juifs et chretiens sous l’Islam: Dhimmitude et
marcionisme”, Commentaire, no. 97, Printemps 2002.
Rivka Schechter, p. 31. Leon Poliakov writes that Luther’s
passionate hatred of Jews made the “diatribes of his forerunners seem
bland” by comparison and that it may not have been “equaled to this day”.
L Poliakov, Du Christ aux Juifs de Cour, Paris: Calmann Levy, 1955,
Marchetti, “...si aprono almeno tre percorsi intelletuali
che organizzano una complessa volonta di ‘degiudaizzione’ della cultura
Harry Redner claims that “Anti-Semitism has always played a
part in German philosophy,” H. Redner, “Philosophers and Anti-Semitism”,
Modern Judaism, 22, 2002, p. 115.
Cecil Roth, Jews in the Italian Renaissance,
Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1959, pp. 127-128.
Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Heptaplus, Italian
trans. by E. Garin, Carmagnola: Arktos, 1996, p. 3. Pico’s work
Heptaplus, comments on the seven days of creation and is
described as aiming to demonstrate the priority of the Jewish tradition.
Pico referred to Hermippos [late 3rd Century BCE] who reported Jewish
influence on Pythagoras [cited by Josephus, Against Apion,
I:162-165]. Pythagoras had some definite social and political ideas, so it
is of interest that Pico was a friend of Lorenzo de’ Medici (“The
Magnificent”), ruler of Florence. Ivan Cloulas, Laurent le Magnifique,
Paris: Fayard, 1982, p. 328.
For Ambrose, see Marchetti, op. cit. For Origen, see
Against Celsus, chaps. V, XV. Other Church Fathers giving credit to
Jews for contributing to Greek philosophy included Clement, The
Stromata, Eusebios, Preparation for the Gospel, Justin,
Apology and Hortatory Address to the Greeks. Marchetti comments
that the notion of a “Jewish Pythagoras” was familiar to the Church
Johann Friederich Mayer and Daniel Bandeco, Pythagoras
utrum Fuerit Judaeus [dissertation], Hamburg, 1700; quoted in
Marchetti, op. cit., note 38. Redner claims that, among German
philosophers, “the German was held to have a special kinship” with the
Greeks, a kinship racial or otherwise [Redner, p 116]. If Redner is right,
then Germans around 1700 and since could not acknowledge Jewish influence
on ancient Greek culture, so highly esteemed in Germany, since that would
place themselves in an equal – or even worse, an inferior – position to
the Jews. No doubt there have been exceptions to the rule among
See Hans Reiss (ed.), Kant’s Political Writings,
Cambridge: CUP, 1970, p. 52n. The Greeks, not the Jews, had “an educated
In Kant’s Religion within the Limits of Simple Reason,
quoted in Robert Misrahi, Marx et la Question Juive, Paris:
Gallimard, 1972, p. 152. Kant’s accusation that Judaism is not a religion
originates in Luther writings, according to Schechter, op. cit. p. 32.
Yirmiyahu Yovel, Hidah Afelah, Tel Aviv: Schocken,
1996, p. 34 (Heb.).
Ibid., p. 25.
Ibid., p. 35.
The Recurring Pattern: Studies in Anti-Judaism in Modern Thought,
NY: 1964, p. 36. The notion of Christianity being superior in rationality
to Judaism is found, inter alia, in Roger Bacon, Opus Maius, quoted
in Lerner and Mahdi, eds., op. cit., p. 375.
Ibid., p. 27. The
words of Rotenstreich. The claim that Christianity does not have roots in
Judaism is identified with Marcion.
In Lessons on the
Philosophy of History, quoted by Frank Manuel, The Broken Staff:
Judaism Through Christian Eyes, Cambrdge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1992, pp. 297, 301. Misrahi, op. cit., quotes a substantial passage
containing this remark, p. 167.
Yovel, p. 123. In this Hegel was following Kant, says Yovel.
In the words of
Rotenstreich, Recurring..., p. 63.
Ibid., p. 61.
Misrahi, p. 162.
Joseph Cohen and Raphael Zagury-Orly, “Hegel, les Juifs, et
Nous”, Temps Modernes, no. 608 (3-4-5, 2000), pp. 286-289.
Recurring..., pp. 63-64.
Yovel, p. 122.
Nathan Rotenstreich, Jews and German Philosophy, NY:
Schocken, 1984, pp. 161-163.
Yovel, p. 122.
Voltaire studied Tertullian’s Against Marcion which
preserves Marcion’s statements. He mentions Marcion sympathetically in the
“Tolérance”, sec. 1.
Voltaire’s British contemporary and sometime critic, Edward Gibbon, was
also part of the “modern” endeavor to belittle the Jews and their
accomplishments. He too belittled the Jews as slaves, claiming that they
were “the most despised portion of their slaves” (of the Assyrians and
Persians). See his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol
II, ed. J.B. Bury, 5th ed., London, 1909; pp. 2-3. For Gibbon also see
Ibid., p. 453.
Voltaire, op. cit.,
“Abraham”, “Job” et passim.
See Charles Lehrmann,
The Jewish Element in French Literature, Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh
Dickinson University Press, 1971; French ed. 1961, p. 121.
Voltaire, op. cit., “Genèse”.
From Anthropology from the Pragmatic Viewpoint,
quoted by Misrahi, p. 149.
Quoted in Leon Poliakov, De l’antisionisme à
l’antisémitisme, Paris: Calmann-Levy, 1969, p. 164.
On Voltaire, see Frank
Manuel, op. cit., especially pp. 112-118; Lehrmann, op. cit., pp. 116-125.
For Voltaire’s own words, see especially his Dictionnaire Philosophique
and Philosophie Générale
For instance, the Abbé
Antoine Guenée, Pierre Guérin du Rocher, Jacques Bonnaud, Abbé Bergier,
This “Political Hebraism” is discussed by Fania Oz-Salzberger,
“The Jewish Roots of Western Freedom”, Azure, no. 13, Summer 2002.
Preparation for the Gospel, VII: 3, Gifford tr.
Stromata, or Miscellanies, I: 21 in Ante-Nicene Fathers, Coxe,
Redner, p. 116.
Misrahi insists on their influence on Marx himself
particularly on the Jewish Question. However, biographies of Marx commonly
stress Marx’s debt to Hegel whereas that to Kant is usually neglected or
underestimated, on this issue in particular. Communists used to quip that
Hegel was standing on his head until Marx stood him right side up [by his
materialist conception of history].
Schecter, p. 30; also see pp. 36-37.
Redner, p. 116.
On socialist Judeophobia see, inter alia, the writings of
Edmund Silberner, Robert Wistrich, Solomon Bloom, George Lichtheim, etc.
See Lehrmann, op.cit.,
The Times Literary
published my letter pointing out Bernal’s misrepresentation of the Church
Fathers, TLS, 15 June 2001. No response from Bernal was published.
The Roman Catholic
clerical bigot C.L. Richard in Arthur Hertzberg, The French
Enlightenment and the Jews, NY, 1968, p. 251; also see Lehrmann, op.
cit.; p. 130
Manuel, op. cit., p.
247. In this vein, the Jesuit historian of philosophy, Frederick Copleston,
disregards the Church Fathers’ teachings as to the Jewish influence on –
even precedence concerning – philosophy. F. Copleston,
A History of
Philosophy: Greece and Rome,
vol. I, London, 1947.
Arieh Stav has collected – in several publications –
statements by Israeli intellectuals presenting a view of Jews and/or the
Jewish religion derived from and/or inspired by the tradition of Kant,
Hegel and Voltaire, as well as Stalin and other Marxists. See for
instance, A. Stav, The Israeli Death Wish, Shaarei Tikva, Israel:
Ariel Center for Policy Research, 1999, especially pp. 52-68; also see
Netta Kohn Dor-Shav, The Self-Destructiveness of the Jews, Shaarei
Tikva, Israel: Ariel Center for Policy Research, 1998, pp. 15-34.
I am referring especially here to academics and
intellectuals and members of the older generation. The younger people –
also called “leftists” – who are militants in Western-financed bodies such
as B’tselem, Gush Shalom, etc., are typically shallow in their thinking
and knowledge, although they may have been firmly indoctrinated by
“non-governmental organizations” financed by Western governments and by
other political indoctrination vehicles. This sort of Left is a separate