It is customary now for Jews to deny that antisemitism has any connection to Jewish behaviour. But it wasn’t always so.
Not long after the anti-Semitic “Hep Hep”* riots spread across Germany in 1819, some of the more thoughtful Jews got together and set out a programme for Jewish reform. They realised that anti-Semitism was caused by Jewish behaviour and that this behaviour, in turn, was informed by a creed of contempt for non-Jews. To eliminate anti-Semitism, they concluded, Jews had to change.
The combination of problematical Jewish behaviour and belief they called the Judenübel. In German, the basic meaning of the word Übel is Evil. It has the same etymological root as the English word. But it also incorporates a range of lesser significations include illness, malady, problem. Judenübel, then, might be variously translated as: the Jewish Evil, the Jewish Malady, the Jewish Affliction.
These enlightened Jews, led by Leopold Zunz, founded the Society for the Culture and Science of the Jews. Here was their outline of the Judenübel that, as they saw it, had to be addressed.
* The rioters shouted “Hep! Hep! Jude verreck!” (Death to all Jews!). The cry “Hep” (not a German word) was supposedly derived from the Latin “Hierosolyma Est Perdita” meaning “Jerusalem is lost”.
Outline of Matters in Need of Improvement among Jews
THE INNER WORLD OF IDEAS
Religious concepts, especially God’s love and exclusive favoring of the Jews
Intolerance of other viewpoints
Neglect of decent manual labor in favor of ascetic idleness or overly literal observance of ceremonies
Contempt for science; all this leading to
The persistent delusion, contrary to law, that it is permissible to cheat non-Jews
Forms of prayer
Obsolete, harmful, senseless customs
Overemphasis of ceremonial law
INNER CONSTITUTION OF THE COMMUNITIES
Tyrannical rabbis— their power, fanaticism, and uselessness
Lack of authority, hence anarchy, misuse, such as
Alms wasted on idlers
Bad schools or none at all
Effeminate children, therefore Cowardice
Harmful examples in parents’ home
Ignorance, immorality, uncouth Talmud students
Disparity between the teachings of the Law and its observance at home
Faulty and useless instruction at school: Talmud but no instruction in languages and science
No appreciation of learning is evoked among pupils
Badly paid and substandard teachers
Neglect of mother tongue
Neglect of (discrimination against) females
JEWS IN CHRISTIAN SOCIETY
Only trade, mostly petty commerce or peddling, no artisans
Shunning physical labor, no farming
Neglect of self
No physical activity
Little desire to improve situation
No class distinctions
Superficial cleverness, hence misinformation
Lack of thorough, concentrated study
Sham interest in enlightenment
Withdrawal from or forcing themselves on Christians
Uncouth language, comportment, social intercourse, manners
Source “The Pity of it All: A Portrait of Jews in Germany 1743-1933” by Amos Elon
If Jonathan Greenblatt and other Jewish leaders of today are serious about tackling the “problem” of anti-Semitism, they need to display the same kind of enlightened leadership as Leopold Zunz. They must recognise that anti-Semitism is merely a reaction to Semitism or, to put it another way, the Judenübel. Once the Judenübel is addressed, anti-Semitism will simply disappear.