Apologies in advance if this is too vague of a question, but I really wonder what other people think about this, especially since the story is coming up in a couple of weeks.

I was recently reading a book on the history of Antisemitism, and the first examples of antisemitism were from as early as 500BCE.

I was thinking that the first example would be the story of Shiabud Mitzrayim, or the Egyptians enslaving us. So my question is: When the Egyptians enslaved us, as told in the beginning of Sefer Shemos, was that an Antisemitic act or was it a reasonable political move (or something else entirely)?

In order to define this a little better, let's use the definition of Antisemitism as:

(actions resulting from) prejudice (preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience) against Jews. This definition is culled from various Internet definitions.


Edit: Kudos to sabbahillel for bringing Rav Hirsch's opinion, what about other Mefarshim?

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    If a wicked king arose and (chas veshalom) said, "Black people are becoming too great. We'll enslave them all and keep their numbers down by killing their newborns." would we not consider them prejudice against people who have black skin? I don't think we'd say that he was trying to keep their numbers down because he saw them as a threat to his sovereignty.
    – ezra
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 2:11
  • Not if prejudice is a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience. In this case, it could be easily argued that it was a reasonable measure, and many details of the story would justify this, such as if the Egyptians killed their own children too in mg.alhatorah.org/Full/Shemot/1.22#e0n7 Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 2:18

2 Answers 2


Rav Hirsch explains that the new king carefully and gradually stirred up anti-Semitism in order to drive down the Israelites because they were a single group or caste within the society. All the other elements within the society were divided so that only the Jews could have stood up and resisted the government.

Shmos 1:8

A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know about Joseph.

Rav Hirsch says that this was an overthrow of the kingdom and a new dynasty took over.

וַיָּ֥קָם מֶֽלֶךְ־חָדָ֖שׁ עַל by no means designates an ordinary lawful change of dynasty. קום על is always an overthrow by force.

The Egyptians were subjugated and divided into the different groups so that the invaders were able to control them. The Israelites were unified and could have served as a focus of resistance since the Egyptians still remembered how Yosef had saved them. Thus, the new king carefully built up resentment against them and began forcing them into the position of enemy of society and the lowest of the low (as slaves) so that there would be someone for all the other groups to look down upon.

Note in general: (a) this first anti-semitism was not brought about by anything the Jews had done. Pharaoh could not bring any accusation against them, otherwise he would not have been driven to act against them covertly, בחכמה (verse 10); (b) this first רשעה was engineered from above, did not spring from the people. They were incited from above, Jew-hatred was a political measure which the new dynasty used to strengthen their own position of force and violence. There is little new under the sun and historical events at large are as old as history itself. Whenever a tyrant wished to opress a people, he liked to give them a lower class whom they could opress, and thus be indemnified for his own oppression. Many of the Jew-laws of the Middle Ages and later have to thank this policy for their origin. Similar considerations may have guided this first instigator of the first Jew-Laws. He wanted to compensate the Egyptian people whom he held in oppresive subjection by creating for their benefit a caste of pariahs on which every other caste could look down with contempt and in comparison imagine himself a free man.


Based on your definition of AS as "opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience", I feel that it is important to differentiate between the Egyptian people and Egyptian rulers.

Some suggest that Par'oh had a vast knowledge of Kabbalah and took measures to systematically weaken and destroy the Jewish nation, and thus, he was acting against the Jewish people based on Kabbalah. It is unclear as to whether he had Antisemitic intentions, but likely he had some Kabbalistic motivation to do so, and would then not be qualified as an anti-Semite by the above definition.

However, the rest of the Egyptian people simply acted based on what Par'oh had told them without thinking further about it, and despite them following their ruler, I would suggest that this would qualify as AS.

General Notes:

1) To a bigger discussion, I'm very stumbled by the dilemma of the Evil - as we see, many key characters of the Torah were intrinsically good or bad - Moses, Yizhok, Yaakov were born good, Ishmael, Eisov, Amolek etc were born bad.
So one who's born bad with a mission of doing bad - is he doing a Mitzvah (as commanded) or a transgression? I don't really know. If they weren't bad, we wouldn't know how good are the good guys (that's us).

2) When reading the passages of Zohar and Ariz"l explaining their wicked intentions I wonder - did they spend their entire lives in ס"א's Beis Midrash studying this stuff in parallel to our forefathers learning Torah, or it came to them naturally?

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    What does ס"א mean? Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 13:19
  • ס"א, סיטרא אחרא The "Other Side" - the "evil" one
    – Al Berko
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 14:30
  • The site is meant for English speakers. Non English terms should preferably be translated in the post, or a link could be provided to an explanation.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 14:40
  • "and took measures to systematically weaken and destroy the Jewish nation. So that does not fit your definition." Why doesn't that fit the definition? Maybe he wanted to weaken and destroy the Jewish nation because he was an anti semite.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 14:44
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    I don't see any source for what you are suggesting. Is there somewhere in the Zohar or Arizal that I could find this? Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 16:03

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