Spotlight: Judaism and Antisemitism

In the fall of 2023, a new round of debates around antisemitism broke out, in the aftermath of the October 7th Hamas attacks in southern Israel, the Israeli war with Hamas, and the fevered responses to these events on college campuses and beyond. Many see this atmosphere as a frightening resurgence of “the longest hatred,” with a spike in hate-crimes against Jews, the circulation of conspiracy theories about them, and the demonization of Jews and Judaism. Charges of antisemitism were made in the press and social media and on the floors of the US Congress and other political bodies. But it was not always easy to discern, in this heated atmosphere, what counted as antisemitism and how antisemitism should be distinguished (or not) from anti-Zionism. How do such charges work within broader American political culture, or within debates about Israel/Palestine? Should contemporary antisemitism be taken as a continuation of earlier religious or racial forms of anti-Judaism or does it constitute a different and unique political phenomenon? Scholars differ on these questions and even on the spelling of the term (usage is trending to antisemitism rather than anti-Semitism, a term coined in 1879 by Wilhelm Marr to distinguish his own racial/political opposition to—or hatred of—Jews from the Christian religious contempt for Jews and Judaism.

The below selections from Oxford Bibliographies include articles that present a long view on the question of antisemitism, suggesting its sources or tracing continuities between its present manifestations and deep historical roots. Others focus on the contemporary moment, recognizing the connections or distinctions between antisemitism and anti-Zionism, tracing the role of globalization in its development, and exploring attempts to combat antisemitism through legislation. Still others reflect Jewish life in various corners of the globe. In an arena often characterized by as much smoke and heat as light, we hope these readings will illuminate this subject through greater understanding.

Naomi Seidman, Editor in Chief of Oxford Bibliographies in Jewish Studies

From Oxford Bibliographies in Jewish Studies

"The term “anti-Semitism” was coined in 1879 by Wilhelm Marr to distinguish his brand of racialized and politicized Jew-hatred from earlier religious contempt of Jews and Judaism. Modern anti-Semitism was a response to Jewish emancipation (the legal equality of Jews), which was first explored as a possibility by Enlightenment thinkers and first effected during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars."- Jonathan Judaken

"Just when the modern period in Jewish history begins has long been a point of contention among historians. As is true for general history, not every Jewish community experienced the onset of modernity at the same time. It was a long and uneven process."- John Efron

"Queer Jewish American texts study and express perspectives related to alternative experiences of sex, gender, and sexuality among Jews in the Americas. By the late 1960s to the 1980s, a body of creative writing, exegesis, and criticism from gay, lesbian, and bisexual Jewish viewpoints began to appear more broadly and explicitly, gaining new cultural power in the wake of social liberation movements and the emergence of gay and lesbian Jewish congregations."- Golan Moskowitz

"The history of Jews in the Islamic world can be traced back to early 7th-century Arabia, where a number of Jewish tribes thrived and had dealings with Muhammad. But it is only with the Islamic conquests and the extension of Islamic dominion beyond the borders of the peninsula over the course of the following century that the most concentrated centers of Jewish settlement were brought into direct contact with the new religious and political regime."- Arnold Franklin

"Modern Jewish thought has been largely a masculine discursive space in both its historical construction and its focus, which is reflected in the makeup of its accepted canon. Certain figures are generally included in edited collections and syllabi of modern Jewish thought and philosophy."- Andrea Dara Cooper

"Until recently, the field of Jewish-Buddhist studies had been neglected. The dearth of proper academic literature on the relationship between Judaism and Buddhism remains a problem, and despite many meritorious and pioneering studies in recent years, many aspects—historic especially—remain insufficiently researched."- Sebastian Musch

"The notorious pogrom of 9–10 November 1938, also known as “Kristallnacht,” or Crystal Night, was launched by the Nazi leadership to drive the majority of German Jews out of the country before the start of a war. This happened after other options, such as the mass expulsion of Polish Jews two weeks earlier, had mostly failed."- Wolf Gruner

From Oxford Bibliographies in Medieval Studies

"In the year 1000, Christian-controlled areas of Europe housed only a tiny proportion of world Jewry. The majority of Jews lived in the Islamic world. Indeed, the largest Jewish communities on European soil were found in those areas of southern Europe under Islamic rule. At the turn of the millennium, western Christendom began a process of invigoration destined to transform this area of weakness, relative to its Byzantine and Islamic competitors, into the most powerful religious-political bloc in the Western world by the year 1500."- Yechiel Schur and Robert Chazan

From Oxford Bibliographies in Latin American Studies

"There has been (essentially unproven) speculation that Jews reached the Americas with Columbus’s voyages. It has even been alleged that Jews paid in part for Columbus’s voyages in order to ensure their transport out of Spain. Yet, the best historical facts have Jews first arriving with early settlers as conversos or as crypto-Jews."- David William Foster

From Oxford Bibliographies in Chinese Studies

"Judaism in China is a unique topic for Jewish religion as China is the only country in East Asia that has had Jews living in its society for one thousand years. Various Jewish communities existed in various places at different times. Since Judaism is not a proselytizing religion, there were no activities of converting any Chinese into Judaism, but there was intermarriage between Jews and Chinese."- Xu Xin

From Oxford Bibliographies in Art History

"This article takes a minimalist approach to the designation of “Jewish” in the category of “Jewish art,” focusing primarily on works that directly engage the modern Jewish experience and the role that Jews have played in the development of new visual media in the 19th and 20th centuries."- Maya Balakirsky Katz

From Oxford Bibliographies in Islamic Studies

"This bibliographic survey addresses various aspects of the historical relationship between Islam and Judaism and encompasses the study of the history, language, literature, culture, society, and thought of the Jews of the Islamic world and the modern Middle East and North Africa as well as the encounters between Muslims and Jews throughout history."- Yousef Meri

From Oxford Bibliographies in Biblical Studies

"The topic of anti-Semitism (or anti-Judaism) in the New Testament is an area of significant debate. Since most of the first generation of Christians (c. 30–60 CE) were Jews who came to believe that Jesus was the messiah, and a dying/rising messiah at that, what does it mean to call Christian Jews (or Jewish Christians) anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish?"- Jeffrey Siker

"The history of Israel has become a highly contentious issue. Through much of the 20th century, most histories were written by removing God from the Bible and combining what was left with archaeological finds interpreted in line with the Bible."- Marc Brettler

"In 167 BCE the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reign from 175–164 BCE) ordered the religious persecution of the Jews living in the satrapy of Coele Syria and Phoenicia. The Seleucid ruler banned the Jewish cult in an attempt to force the Jews (and the Samaritans) to forsake their belief in the God of Israel."- Dov Gera

From Oxford Bibliographies in Renaissance and Reformation

"In its widest sense, the Sephardic diaspora refers to the dispersal of Jews and their descendants from the Iberian Peninsula after the expulsions from Spain (1492) and Portugal (1496) over the course of several centuries."- James William Nelson Novoa

From Oxford Bibliographies in Music

"The concept of “Jewish music” surfaces in public discourse toward the mid-19th century, when conceptions of the essence of Jewish nationhood, often formulated in racial terms, germinated both among Jews and non-Jews on European soil."- Edwin Seroussi

From Oxford Bibliographies in Classics

"The Jewish experience in the Greco-Roman period embraces geographically the region of the Mediterranean basin and encompasses the experience of Jews living both in and outside Palestine, while it covers chronologically the period from Alexander the Great’s conquest to the last centuries of the Roman Empire."- Sandra Gambetti

From Oxford Bibliographies in Cinema and Media Studies

"The outsized contribution of Jews to American entertainment precedes their rise to prominence in the Hollywood movie studios. Spurred by mass emigration from eastern Europe and Russia in the late 1800s, just as mass culture was emerging, immigrant and second-generation Jewish business owners, producers, and artists had already established themselves at the forefront of live theater and popular music by the time motion pictures caught on in the first decade of the 20th century."- Vincent Brook

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