- A Convenient Hatred: The History of Antisemitism by Phyllis Goldstein
Phyllis Goldstein’s survey of the history of antisemitism, A Convenient Hatred: The History of Antisemitism, admirably fulfills the goals and objectives of its publisher, Facing History and Ourselves: “linking the past to the moral and ethical questions of our time through a rigorous examination of the root causes of antisemitism, racism, and other hatreds.” Likewise, its companion volumes have sought the same goal through the exploration of other themes and issues. Goldstein’s reflection on her desire to produce a volume on antisemitism began with the expansion of that phenomenon following the 9/11 catastrophe and she has been working on the book over the past five years.
An interesting and well written survey—not simply a reference book—the impact of the book results from reading it entirely. While this is a powerful book, the problem of dealing with so comprehensive a problem as the history of antisemitism is reflected in the many approaches to the subject in the course of the twentieth century. James Carroll’s very fine book, Constantine’s Sword (2001), for example, focuses on Christian antisemitism, as do many other treatments of the topic. This perspective of Jewish-Christian relations has been only one way of addressing antisemitism—there have been others. In his book The Changing Face of Antisemitism (2008), Walter Laqueur provided an excellent, but brief analysis of the topic and mentioned that there are some 40,000 volumes on modern antisemitism. His book emphasizes the “changing” face of antisemitism. A major question is why another book on antisemitism is needed. Part of the answer to that question lies in Langer’s view of the “changing face” and Goldstein’s increasing awareness of the changing and increasing state of antisemitism since 9/11. Given the growth of racism and hatred, including antisemitism, as documented in 2011 by Anti Defamation League and by Southern Poverty Law Center surveys of the growing incidence the activities of hate groups in the United States and similar studies of antisemitism abroad, Goldstein’s goals [End Page 152] and those of Facing History and Ourselves to illustrate the changing face of antisemitism is fully justified.
The early part of the Goldstein treatment, while setting the tone of the book, is too brief to provide a full understanding of the early history of the subject. The treatment often gives the impression of jumping from one topic to the next with too little coverage. The far more comprehensive treatment of the evolution of Judaism and Christianity in James Carroll’s book is, of course, much more substantive. In his interesting book, AD 381, Charles Freeman clarifies the importance of Theodosius in utilizing the power of the state in insisting on the Nicene Creed, allowing the Bishop, Ambrose, to persecute pagans and Jews alike, and ultimately placing the power of the state behind the codification of Christianity through the work of Augustine of Hippo. This radical change represented a rejection of the toleration that had previously been part of the Roman Empire and helps to explain the tragic history of Jewish-Christian relations.
Goldstein’s discussion of Jewish-Muslim relations is interesting and, although brief, does a creditable description of the development of the Muslim empire, the role of the Jews in that empire, and treatment of Jews by Muslims. While coverage of the early to high middle ages is traditional, Goldstein focuses on the dangerous incitement of anti-Jewish mobs and pogroms by priests who made clear to the Christian populace the appropriateness of attacking Jews. This antisemitism was augmented by the development of the standard changes of ritual murder, the allegation of blood libel, the argument that Jews were somehow responsible for the Black Plague, and growing concerns about Jewish money lending, and these charges were used as justification for the pogroms perpetrated by the crusaders on their way to wrest control of the Holy Land from the Muslims. Goldstein leads us through the difficult medieval period culminating in growing antisemitism in expulsions of the Jews from...