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The Jewish people famously do not assimilate into the local cultures in which they live, apparently by design. Observant Jews maintain a kosher diet and other Jewish laws which prevent them from socially relating to their non-Jewish neighbors. The Bible even tells about Biblical heroes who refused to set aside Jewish customs and law: Daniel comes to mind, from when he defied the order of Darius the Mede to abstain from praying to G-d for 30 days (Daniel 6:8-15), as does Mordechai who refused to bow down to Hamen as if he were a god (Esther 3:2-5). Hamen, even cites Jewish refusal to assimilate as a reason for the King to order genocide (Esther 3:8).

Do 20th Century Jewish historians and religious leaders think that Jewish cultural and religious differences caused them to be singled out by the Nazis? If not, what reasons do such scholars attribute the rise of Nazism and its overt anti-semitic policies in light of the fact that other groups were ravaged by the Nazis, also?

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closed as off-topic by Isaac Moses, Gemini Man, Shmuel Brin, Double AA Feb 12 '14 at 22:51

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I think you have the basis for a question that might fit into the format of Mi Yodeya, specifically, and Stackhouse, generally. I'm going to edit your question to focus on what post-Holocaust Jewish scholars believe, since that does not ask posters for their personal opinion, but rather something that has more meaning, perhaps. –  Bruce James Feb 12 '14 at 17:48
@BruceJames i appreciate it. i did and do not know how to properly ask this question –  caseyr547 Feb 12 '14 at 17:49
@IsaacMoses I'm surprised that my revision of the question did not help. Rabbis have long taken positions on the spiritual causes of the Shoah,including blaming secularization and Zionism. Was my edit peer reviewed? –  Bruce James Feb 13 '14 at 1:15

5 Answers 5

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Since you're interested in the "secular" explanations for anti-Semitism, I suggest you learn about the history of anti-Semitism. There are countless good books on this subject.

I am not a historian, but I am familiar with some of the historical literature on this topic. So I will give you a brief explanation of my understanding of why the Nazis hated and tried to kill all Jews, regardless of their level of observance.

Traditional Christian anti-Semitism was brutal, and often resulted in not only oppression but also periodic massacres of Jews. Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, even suggesting rounding all Jews into camps and killing them (in a book called The Jews and their Lies), but no Christians ever went that far. The Nazis had a completely different ideology than these Christians, which made them much worse.

Nazism rejected basic tenets of Judeo-Christian philosophy, in which each person is valuable in the eyes of G-d and deserves and basic respect and dignity. They were inspired by the philosopher Nietzsche, who criticized Judeo-Christian morality as a "slave morality" rather than the supposedly noble morality of the "superman," and by the ultra-nationalist and pseudo-scientific notion that Germans were the master race and destined the rule over inferior peoples.

They also had the strange and contradictory belief that the Jews were the root of all evil. Whatever problems existed in society--the excesses of capitalism, revolutionary socialist movements, prostitution, cosmopolitanism--they blamed it on the Jews. They believed that whether or not the Jews were religious, there was some aspect to their soul or biology that caused them to bring evil to the world. Jews were in fact over-represented among bankers, stock-brokers, tax collectors, intellectuals and socialist activists, but of course this doesn't prove that Jews were somehow driven to spread evil.

Many Germans were probably also inspired by the Tzarist forgery the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which claimed that Jews were conspiring to run the world to their benefit and everyone's else's detriment. This document remains popular around the world, particularly the Muslim world, and the Iranian government even prints its own official copies. Of course the Protocols are completely untrue, but they are a significant influence on anti-Semitism throughout the world.

Ultimately, the differing cultural characteristics of the Jews, whether you're talking about observances or personality characteristics or whatever, that existed in reality had virtually nothing to do with why the Nazis did what they did. A bizarre and extreme ideology, something called eliminationist anti-Semitism (see the book Hitler's Willing Executioners), was the cause of the Holocaust. Mere resentment against Jews for being different culturally may have played some role in stoking pre-Nazi anti-Semitism, but it was not a significant factor in Nazi anti-Semitism.

As mentioned in another answer, Jews have traditionally believed that whatever bad things happened to us are sent by G-d in reaction to sin. However, this is a major area of debate, and it doesn't really answer your question, which is about secular explanations. But I'll just mention that not everyone believes the Holocaust was caused by G-d's reaction to many Jews' abandonment of the commandments. For example, the Lubavitcher Rebbe said that the sins of the Jewish people alone would not be enough to justify the Holocaust, even if all the sins from the beginning of time were added together.

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wow ok i think this is a better answer tailored to my question because it gives your secular interpretation of history. –  caseyr547 Feb 12 '14 at 17:31

Historians look at causes of anti-semitism, whether it is in reference to the Holocaust or whether it is with reference to earlier or more recent attacks on Jews. Historians generally will say there were six causes of anti-semitism:

•Economic: Jews are hated because they possess too much wealth and power. •Chosen People: Jews are hated because they arrogantly claim they are the chosen people. •Scapegoat: Jews are a convenient group to single out and blame for all the troubles. •Deicide: Jews are hated because they killed Jesus. •Outsiders: Jews are hated because they are different than the rest of society. •Racial Theory: Jews are hated because they are an inferior race.

All of these theories may be valid to a degree, and perhaps work as a theory if all factors are considered, but to the leading Orthodox rabbis of the post-war era, such as Rav Avigdor Miller, the explanations are nothing of the kind, but are rather excuses used for hatred that in reality has no justification. If Jews are killed for being too wealthy, why are the poorest of the Jews the first to be killed? If Jews are hated for their belief that they were chosen by G-d to inspire the world, why did Hitler even murder those who had renounced those ideas by converting to Christianity? Why should Jews 2000 years later still be blamed forkilling Jesus? If we're killed because we don't assimilate, why were assimilated Jews among the first to be rounded up? And if we're an inferior race, why do we win a disproportionate amount of the Nobel Prizes?

Even in the case of Hamen in the Book of Esther. Although he tried to convince the King that Jews refusal to assimilate made them a good target for extermination, was that his real motivation, or wasn't he just trying to even up a personal score with Mordechai?

Post-war rabbis look at anti-semitism with the attitude that changing the Jew into something closer to the non-Jew will not eliminate anti-semitism. They don't hate us for being Jewish, rather they hate Jews for living Judaism -- being the conscious of the world. To Hitler, the Jewish view of the world was a threat and hinderance for his vision of global leadership. Her said that Jews created "the dirty and degrading self-mortifications of a false vision known as conscience and morality, and from the demands of a freedom and personal independence which only a very few can bear." Sigmund Freud recognized explained: "Jews are hated not so much because they killed Jesus, but because they produced him."

Our rabbis see no product in attempting to isolate a historical reason for anti-semitism; what would be the point. If the hatred is so deeply ingrained that nothing a Jew can do, short of mass suicide, would end it, then why stop being Jewish? Instead some rabbis, Miller being one, have declared that anti-semitism and evil, generally, exist in the world as part of a God-ly plan. The weapon against evil is not evil, but rather goodness. The seemingly endless attacks on Jews because we are Jewish is a challenge from G-d to cause us to work harder at bringing more morality to the world, not less.

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You asked:

Do Jews think that Jewish culture differences caused them to be singled out by Nazism?

Jews believe that ultimately Gcd runs the world and He causes kings (and leaders) to like or dislike the Jews.

Though we do not fully understand God's reasoning, we have been taught that when the Jews do not behave as expected of them, then Gcd punishes them. In the case of the holocaust, a high percentage of German Jews no longer behaved as Jews, and - it's fair to assume - annoyed God, and got punished.

Obviously this is over simplifying the case, as - ultimately - many very devout Jews very killed by the Nazis.

But - to go back to your question - Jews believe that punishment comes from Jews not upholding the Jewish culture differences

You then asked:

If not what do Jews think the secular cause of Nazism was?

Not sure what you mean by the secular cause - but if you mean "excluding divine concepts" as I described, then the answer is: Jews believe that Gcd runs the world in such a way that He cannot be easily detected. So the world runs "naturally" and the political/psychological explanation cause for Nazism can be found in history and philosophy books.

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ok i dont understand judism like you do. i think you don't have a devil to blame for bad things. Is there nothing like Matthew 10:22 for you? –  caseyr547 Feb 12 '14 at 9:38
"and you will be hated by all for my name's sake." –  caseyr547 Feb 12 '14 at 9:38
Christians like me mournfully say Jews were kicked out of europe in the middle ages because the they were rich and the rulers sought to bankrupt the nations debt...do you ascribed that prejudice was caused by God because of a lack of practice? –  caseyr547 Feb 12 '14 at 9:43
@caseyr547 - you are entitled to understand Judaism as you wish; I provided the classical Jewish approach. I have no idea what the context of Matthew 10:22 is, (You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved) and therefore I have no opinion on the subject. Studying Jewish texts is a full time job, and I have no time for non-Jewish texts. –  Danny Schoemann Feb 12 '14 at 9:58
You wrote "Christians like me mournfully say Jews were kicked out of Europe in the middle ages because the they were rich and the rulers sought to bankrupt the nations debt...do you ascribed that prejudice was caused by God because of a lack of practice? " - CORRECT! there's the "real cause" (lack of practice) and then there's the "natural cause" (jealousy, or whatever) so that Gcd can remain hidden. –  Danny Schoemann Feb 12 '14 at 9:59

That doesn't seem to be a comprehensive explanation, as there were plenty of German Jews who observed next to nothing vis-a-vis Judaism. They didn't keep a kosher diet, they called themselves "Germans of a Mosaic Persuasion", and yet the Nazis wanted to kill them all anyhow.

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I'm sorry I wasn't trying to be comprehensive I just want to learn. Do you know why the Germans wanted to kill the basically non-practicing? Was it race like skin color or something? –  caseyr547 Feb 12 '14 at 8:49
i understand why they would hate and kill me i dont understand why they wanted to hate and kill you –  caseyr547 Feb 12 '14 at 8:50

a famous chasidic saying, if you don't make kiddush they make havdolah!

the Nuremberg Laws were a perfect "reminder" of all the things many people of that time "forgot"!

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