“What are the reasons behind the continuous historical persecution of the Jewish people throughout history? Why did the Jews specifically go through all of this persecution?”

Great question. Entire books have been written trying to answer that question. I am currently reading two of them, both excellent: Why the Jews? by two American Jewish writers, Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin, and, “Why the Germans? Why the Jews?” by German historian Aly Gotz.

First, it’s important to say that Jews weren’t persecuted everywhere – for example there is no record of any persecution or even hostility to Jews in China and India, where Jewish minorities existed for centuries. The main persecutions happened in the Christian world and, to a lesser extent (depending on time and place), in the Muslim world.

Because Jesus and Paul and all the apostles were Jews, the rejection of Jesus as messiah by most other Jews was a major blow and theological threat to the early church. And it was also much more convenient for the Church to blame “the Jews” for the crucifixion of Jesus than it was those who were really guilty, the Romans – more convenient, both because the Romans were the major power at the time and because Christian missionaries were trying (and largely succeeding) in converting Rome and its empire to the new faith.

Over the centuries, the existence of a powerless and vulnerable Jewish minority in Christian countries led to envy, hatred and occasionally violence against Jews, the “Christ-killers.” The envy came from a complicated mixture of reasons. First, because the Church forbade Jews to own land and so Jews became money-lenders (an activity which the Church forbade Christians to do), and so was born the idea of “Jews control the money.” Money was also portable, and Jews – who were often expelled from the Christian countries in which they lived—were able to take their wealth with them when they had to flee.

There was another reason for envy of the Jews: At a time of widespread illiteracy, most Jewish communities were literate – and that often included women. Also, there was hardly any alchoholism among Jews, as opposed to the situation among Christian peasants. When the ghettos in which Christians kept Jews through the Middle Ages were opened in the 19th century and Jews entered mainstream European society, they were able to succeed far beyond their numbers, precisely because of the social conditions they had nurtured over the centuries. Jews became leading figures in the arts, in media, in medicine, in law, in banking. This led to the Germans – and other Europeans –fearing Jews as taking over their societies.

What defines an anti-semite is one word: “the.” If one says – “Jews are filling positions in many fields,” that is not an anti-semitic statement. But if you say – “the Jews are filling positions” – you are on dangerous ground, because that implies that Jews are an organized force trying to take over non-Jewish societies. Many Europeans came to believe that. And that led to terrible violence against Jews.

There is another dimension to this question. Jews have historically been the great iconoclasts, stubbornly clinging to their faith even when it was dangerous to do so. This began under the ancient Greek pagans, who placed idols in the Jerusalem Temple and which led to the successful Jewish revolt against idolatry which we celebrate today on the Jewish holiday of Hanukah. And then, after Christianity emerged (from within Judaism), we rejected its claim that the messiah had come. Jews said: The messiah could not possibly have come yet, because the world is still a place of tragedy and when the messiah comes the world will be transformed. Christianity took its revenge on our “no” by turning us into a hated symbol: Jewish suffering was proof that God had rejected us. Of course most of the suffering of the Jews was caused by Christians – and so that became a self-fulfilling theology.

Under Islam, Jews had a more complicated fate. Once again Jews rejected a faith that was supposed to appeal to them by its similarity to Judaism. (Both Islam and Judaism are law-based faiths, both have similar rituals like fasting, both the Qur’an and the Torah share many stories, etc.).

The fate of the Jews of Islam was more varied than under Christianity – in Morocco, for example, Jews generally lived well, though there were periods of brutal persecution; in Yemen, they were generally persecuted throughout the centuries. Iraq in the 19th century was far better than Persia in the 19th century. And by the 20th century, Jews throughout the Muslim world were experiencing levels of persecution that led entire communities to flee to Israel.

This is a very basic response. There is so much more to say about each of these issues. I hope this was useful. be happy to continue the conversation.

With best wishes,