Antisemitism is broadly defined as a hatred or mistrust of a Jewish person or community solely because of their Jewish identity.

The difference between antisemitism and anti-Judaism

Anti-Judaism and antisemitism are two different, but related world views. Anti-Judaism contends that Judaism as a culture and as a religion has a negative effect on society. Anti-Judaism was an integral part of the religious and social fabric in certain areas of Europe and the Middle East as evidenced by the innumerable attempts by religious and secular authorities to convert Jews to Islam or Christianity. This form of discrimination, while to some degree less violent − and only less violent in the sense that if one were to convert they would cease to be dealt with violently − than antisemitism, still created an environment of subjugation and hatred. Antisemitism on the other hand is the understanding that Jews as a people are undesirable. Antisemitism holds that it is the Jews blood rather than their religious tradition that is corrupt. Exactly how these two ideas are related is the subject of much scholarly debate, however many scholars see anti-Judaism as having given birth to antisemitism.


In Europe

It's no secret that the relationships between Christians and Jews in the first two thousand years after Christ were strained at best. In a society that longed to be “united in Christ” the fact that Jews refused to assimilate was cause for major concern[1]. Subjugation, discrimination and even spontaneous violence against Jews were part of everyday life in many parts of Europe. The roots of this disconnect are widely disputed, however what cannot be questioned is the fact that for most of Christianity's existence, Jews and Christians interacted as adversaries.

From the very earliest days of Christian dominance in Europe, Jews and Christians had a tenuous relationship. This is evidenced by the fact that many early Church leaders wrote about the Jews with differing ideas on how to deal with them, St. Augustine,[2] and even Paul[3][4] himself addressed this subject. Theo-political discussions about Judaism in the pre-middle ages were abundant and differed widely. People like Saint Chrysostom[5] and even Constantine[6] himself spoke at length about Jews and the nature of Judaism, mostly focusing on their rejection of Christ and the nature of their sin. Leading theologians also postulated about how best to deal with the Jews, whom they shared so much with yet differed from so greatly. Ideas about how best to go about this ranged from toleration and conversion to expulsion and persecution. This uneasy relationship culminated in the Middle Ages with accusations of “blood libel” against the Jewish people. Mistrust and skepticism about their religious practices were the primary focus of these fallacious and salacious (however, popularly believed) rumors.[7].

By the time of Martin Luther (perhaps the world's best known German) Anti-Judaism was a common trope among the learned theologians as well as the common man. After taking a more conciliatory position earlier in his life, Martin Luther, at the end of his life was characterized as profoundly anti Jewishness[8] Gradually Jews were forced into Ghettos, small strictly Jewish, enclosed areas, where they were required by law to live. In Germany and Spain especially, characterizations of Jews took on a more physiological, pseudoscientific tenor[9]. That is to say that popular distrust and dislike of Jews began to extend past simple religious differences and into “blood” and physiology[10]. All of these ideas were widely accepted[11] in portions of the continent.

Strangely enough, these ideas about blood and nation developed alongside ideas that led to the Liberal revolutions that took place in the 18th and 19th century. Without parsing out in particular exactly which ways of thinking affected which society where and how, it can be easily accepted that despite massive growth in the importance of personal liberties there existed some wide ranging disparities across Europe as to the nature of government and the idea of personal rights[12]. This clash of the old and new, this churning, bubbling, militarized Europe, which was draped in this anti-Jewish tradition was the backdrop for the Holocaust.

In the Middle East

Jews living in the Middle East faced a different set of problems. Depending on the controlling political and religious entities, Jews were often regarded as "People of The Book,[13]". This special designation largely[14] protected them from violent actions. This designation also required Jews to pay a sizable tax for being none Muslim.

Unlike in Europe, it was much easier for a Jew to enjoy their second class citizen status without fair of overt violence. This of course does not mean that Jews were not greatly subjugated in the Muslim territories. A Jew living in these areas had to abide by many rules and regulations regarding their conduct.


  1. There are of course many different reasons for as to why the fact that an enclave of people were so horribly persecuted. Politics, sociology and philosophy all have a part to play. Much like early minority Christians were persecuted by the society they lived in for not adhering to local customs, so too did the Jews find themselves outside the social norm, and as such, targets for persecution.
  2. City of God, Book XVI, Chapter 35. Book XVII, Chapter 46. On Christian Doctrine Book 3, Chapter 6.
  3. “Paul Was Not a Christian”, Pamela Eisenbaum.
  4. This is not to say of course, that Paul himself felt as though he were part of a new church that was wholly separate from Judaism. Historically speaking Paul certainly thought of himself as simply expanding Judaism. However, it's clear he had some anxiety about how to reconcile this new sect within Judaism with the community at large. Furthermore his work was often interpreted by later Church leaders, like Augustine and Luther, as speaking as though he thought of the Jews a separate people.
  5. “Against The Jews”, Saint John Chrysostom.
  6. “The Life of Constantine (Book 3), Eusebius of Caesarea
  7. “The Blood Accusation”, Zeitlin, Page 1
  8. “The Jews and Their Lies” “Warning against the Jews”
  9. Institutions like “Limpieza de Sangre” illustrate this
  10. “Jewish Conversion the Spanish Pure Blood Laws and Reformation”, Jerome Friedman
  11. In at least the areas where they were implemented
  12. “Betrayal” Ericksen 23-26
  13. As were many Christians
  14. Again, depending upon the region and the time frame