northanger (northanger) wrote,

Esau's Tears

here i was originally going to mention the first & second born, but decided to leave those bits out. so it's kinda funny i'm dealing with heritage tomatoes [+] & Esau's Tears: Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews [+][+][+]. i typed up the first few pages (w/o footnotes). Lindemann begins the first chapter with several quotes, one is Genesis 25:23-26. i decided to expand this a little, Genesis 25:21-28, to better reveal this Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated (Romans 9:13) theme. when i read about the threat of radical Islam & what people think is actually in the Quran i think of this: the story of Jacob & Esau. seems to better illustrate what's going on than Isaac & Ishmael, because in Romans 9:15 is what i think is one of the most interesting phrases in the bible: I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

Genesis 25:21-28 ~ 21 And Isaac intreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to enquire of the LORD. 23 And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger. 24 And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau. 26 And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau's heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was threescore years old when she bare them. 27 And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents. 28 And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Esau's Tears: Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews

Albert S. Lindemann

1 - Anti-Semitism before the Modern Period: Overview and Definition

Dictionary-style definitions of anti-Semitism ("hostility to Jews") are usually not much help, in part because their brevity and abstractness are inadequate to this particular protean phenomenon. Similarly, any effort to provide a brief overview of Jew-hatred throughout history must be highly selective and abandon any notion of a connected narrative. Yet a theoretical stance must obviously be made; these pages are based on the axiom that history informs theory.

Esau's Tears: The Deepest Roots of Anti-Semitism

The peculiar forms of hatred for Jews that emerged in the 1870s, although in some regards novel, also had substantial connections with a history of Jew-hatred that dates back thousands of years. Indeed, the division between Jew and Gentile goes to the very origins and structures of western civilization. It predates the advent of Christianity and may be found in the earliest texts of the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible. Modern anti-Semitism cannot be productively studied without an appreciation of that much longer history. Some awareness is also necessary of a number of now little-known aspects of Jewish identity as it evolved, and in fundamental ways changed, over the centuries of millennia.

In those texts of the Hebrew Bible the mythical origins of the division between Jews and others are described, and a thought-provoking explanation for the antagonism of the two groups is offered. The account in Genesis of Esau and Jacob, twin brothers born to Rebecca and Isaac, has evoked a seemingly endless cycle of interpretations. Already in the earliest Jewish commentaries on the text in Genesis one encounters not only the rich layers of meaning but also the elusiveness, the profound ambiguity in the relationship between Jew (in archetype, Jacob) and Gentile (in archetype, Esau).

Commentaries of the most diverse sort have continued well into the twentieth century. Adolf Hitler spoke of how "the Jew is the exact opposite of the German in every single respect, yet is as closely akin to him as a blood brother." An African-American woman described the relationship of black and whites as "like the biblical Esau and Jacob. It's a love-hate relationship..." In the biblical account, Jacob conspired with his mother, Rebecca, to trick Esau out of receiving the blessing of their aged and blind father, Isaac. Esau, the first born, had already foolishly given over his birthright to Jacob in exchange for a bowl of lentils. But Esau remained Isaac's favorite, and Esau confidently expected his father's blessing after returning with the wild game that Isaac had instructed him to catch. Esau was outraged when he discovered that he and his father had been duped, that Jacob had posed as his older brother and had gained Isaac's blessing. Esau's rage prompted Jacob to flee into Mesopotamia.

Contrary to the apparent logic of the story (that the brothers would live in ever-lasting enmity), after the passage of twenty-two years, Esau, in meeting a now penitent Jacob, put aside his resentment, and the two were reconciled. Thereafter, however, Esau's descendants, the Edomites, recurringly came into conflict with Jacob's descendants; each butchered the other in various clashes. Rome was later identified in Jewish commentary with the Edomites, and after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Gentile rulers of Jews in Europe generally became classified as "Esau."

The Esau-Jacob imagery continued to appear frequently in both popular and learned speech until at least the early twentieth century. Even in the 1990s the notion of a somehow unbridgeable gap between Esau and Jacob, Gentile and Jew, remains central to traditional Jewish perspectives ("Esau always hates Jacob," "The Messiah will not come until the tears of Esau have been exhausted."). A comparable sense of the insurmountable obstacles to harmony finds expression among Jews who are less strongly tied to tradition (Raphael Patai: "The hands [are] still Esau's, and even while trying to help they inflict pain."). Jews, whether religious or secular, have long retained negative, apprehensive feelings about Esau, the non-Jew — if not actual aversion or contempt then the kind of pity that one feels for an uncomprehending, potentially dangerous animal. Esau is hirsute, coarse, and brutal; he is the hunter, warrior, the untamed "natural man," while Jacob is smooth-skinned, delicate, and contemplative, if also wily and capable of ruthless deception in advancing his interests. He is also the "incorrigible overachiever" and forever getting into trouble because of that trait. The title "Till Esau's Tears are Dried" alludes to these traditional perspectives, with the implication that anti-Semitism will not disappear easily; the two identities are too different, and Esau will always feel aggrieved about Jacob's ingrained traits.

In his autobiography the Yiddish-language author Sholem Aleichem reported how as a child in Russia he once watched a rough and dirty ferryman laboriously pulling a boat across the Dnieper River. He wrote, "Esau! Only a Goy could do work like that, not a Jew. The Bible says of Esau, 'And thou shalt serve thy brother.' It is good that I am a descendant of Jacob, and not of Esau." In old age the eminent Jewish-American intellectual Sidney Hook remembered how, as a boy, he had asked his religious teacher about the injustice of what Jacob did to Esau. The teacher responded, "What kind of question is that? Esau was an animal."

Anti-Semites of various stripes have drawn upon the Jacob-Esau tale as proof of the incorrigible cunning and moral corruption of the Jews throughout history: The tale reveals the reasons, reversing the traditional Jewish formula, that Jacob will always hurt Esau. As one such anti-Semite writing in the early nineteenth century put it, "where [else] is there such a people ... that has such vile sacred tales, lacking any poetical sense, interwoven with glorified acts of thievery?" Jacob deceives his aged and blind father, tricks and steals from his brother. His mother, Rebecca — "Mother of Israel" — not only encourages such deeds but also had stolen from her own father.

By the closing decades of the nineteenth century, enemies of the Jews had begun to use new terms, "Semite" and "Aryan," that reworked the biblical imagery surrounding Jacob and Esau to make the Semite detestable and the Aryan chosen and admirable. This reversal itself is related to the transposition that Christians originally had made in claiming that they had become "Jacob," God's chosen, while He now turned His face from His formerly chosen people, since they had rejected His Son, the Messiah or the Christ. The earliest and most influential Christians, such as Paul, Augustine, and Gregory, thus proclaimed a reversal in which "the elder" (the Jews) would serve "the younger" (the Christians). These Christian writers took up, in short, a central theme of the Hebrew Bible and refashioned it to Christian purposes to make Christians superior to Jews, rather than Jews superior to non-Jews.

The power of such biblical imagery over the centuries is impossible to deny but difficult to assess with any precision because of its profound ambiguity and the endlessly divergent interpretations to which it has been subjected. But it seems obvious that the negative representations of Esau, the non-Jew, in Jewish thought have no more rigidly determined that all Jews will hate all Gentiles than has the negative representations of the Jew in Christian texts rigidly determined that all Christians (or Gentiles descended from Christians) will hate all Jews. "Religion," again, is an endlessly elastic concept, not permitting firm conclusions about such causality.

The Esau-Jacob story and Jewish commentary on it do, however, suggest a number of provocative points in conceptualizing the nature of anti-Semitism. In a central passage of the Hebrew Bible, Esau's angry tears were presented as perfectly understandable; they were not the result of some mysterious fantasy about a wholly innocent Jacob. Aside from the suggestion that Jacob-Israel's sometimes improper actions had something quite tangible to do with Esau's enmity, and thus with the enmity of the Gentile world, the story touches on a tangled theme that is central to interpreting the interplay of Jew and Gentile throughout history.

Tags: esau, jacob, lindemann, route 66

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