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Anti-Semitism, Past and Present

From left, Mark Shapiro, Ph.D., Weinberg Chair of Judaic Studies at The University of Scranton, and Mark Cohen, Ph.D., the Khedouri A. Zilkha professor of Jewish Civilization in the Near East, Emeritus, and professor of Near Eastern Studies, Emeritus, at Princeton University, who presented the Weinberg Judaic Studies Institute spring lecture recently on campus.
May 22, 2018
By: Eric Eiden ’19, student correspondent

“Anti-Semitism is defined as a religiously-based complex of irrational, mythical and stereotypical beliefs about the diabolical, malevolent and all-powerful Jew infused in its modern secular form with racism and the belief that there is a Jewish conspiracy against mankind,” said Mark Cohen, Ph.D., the Khedouri A. Zilkha professor of Jewish Civilization in the Near East, Emeritus, and professor of Near Eastern Studies, Emeritus, at Princeton University. He spoke at the Weinberg Judaic Studies Institute lecture at The University of Scranton recently.

Dr. Cohen presented his views on the past and present state of Muslim-Jewish relations by addressing Islamic views of the Jewish community in the middle ages at the lecture titled “Modern Myths of Muslim Anti-Semitism.”

“I can say with a great deal of confidence, in agreement with other seasoned scholars, that such anti-Semitism did not exist in the Islamic world in the middle ages,” Dr. Cohen said. “Of course, we should not make the mistake of thinking Jews lived in the middle ages as equals of Muslims.”

According to Dr. Cohen, Jewish people in the Islamic world were treated as second class subjects because they did not recognize the prophet Mohammad and the Quran.

“This kind of unbelief was not as threatening to Islam as Jewish unbelief was to Christians,” Dr. Cohen said. “For unbelief in Christianity means rejection of Jesus as messiah and as God.”

Even though Jews were treated this way, along with Christians, if they obeyed the laws in the Islamic nations they were offered benefits from the rulers, according to Dr. Cohen.

“As respected people of the book, the Jews and Christians enjoyed the status of a protected people,” Dr. Cohen said. “Who were entitled to security of life and property, freedom from forced conversion, communal autonomy and equality in the market. In return for the payment of an annual poll tax and recognizing the superiority of Islam by maintaining a low profile.”

Dr. Cohen then moved onto the rise of Muslim anti-Semitism in the modern age and provided reasons for this rise.

“The first is colonialism, which disrupted the traditional Muslim society,” Dr. Cohen said. “It engendered resentment against those Jews who identified with the European colonizers and the civilizing mission that seemed to be a path to modernization.”

This path towards modernizations from the Christian European colonizers seemed to separate Jews and Muslims in Dr. Cohen’s eyes.

“Colonialism drove a wedge between Arab Jews and Arab Muslims, who resisted colonialism,” Dr. Cohen said.

“Another factor is nationalism, influenced by European secular nationalism and imported into the middle east in the 19th century, where it undermined some of the pluralism and relative tolerance that marked Muslim society in early centuries,” Dr. Cohen said. “In the case of Zionism, nationalism pitted Arab against Jew as rival claimants to the same land.”

“Muslim anti-Semitism took off later in the 19th century, during the colonialism period, when European Christian Missionaries came to promote Christianity, at the expense of any other religion, fostered western style Anti-Semitic Jew hatred,” Dr. Cohen said.

The Weinberg Judaic Studies Institute was created in 1979 through an endowment funded by the local Jewish community. The Institute fosters a better understanding and appreciation of Judaism, Israel and their histories. It supports visits to the University by Jewish scholars and writers and supports library acquisitions, publications, faculty research, travel and other scholarly endeavors. The work of the Institute was further enhanced by a $1 million gift from Harry Weinberg in 1990.

 

Eric Eiden ’19, Throop, is a journalism/electronic media major at The University of Scranton.
Eric Eiden ’19, Throop, is a journalism/electronic media major at The University of Scranton.
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