Islamophobia and Judea-phobia
Victims of Islamophobia and Judea-phobia need to understand that the hatred expressed against them is not caused by their own behavior or their beliefs; but by the haters need to blame some other group for the fears and frustrations that the haters feel but cannot directly express against the rulers of their own society. We can learn this from the Haman of the Bible and the Qur’an.
The Bible in the Book of Esther portrays Haman as a Jew hating assistant to the king of Persia. The same name Haman is also mentioned six times in the Quran as that of a Jew hating assistant to the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh said to his people: "I have not known a god for you other than myself; so Haman, light me a fire to bake clay so that I could build a tower high enough [to reach heaven], maybe I see Moses' god whom I think is a liar.” (Quran 28.38) Clearly Haman in the Qur’an is a name for an archetypical person who advocates Judeophobia.
When Mordecai refuses to bow down to Prime Minister Haman (Esther 3:2-6), he explains to his colleagues that he is a Jew, implying that his refusal was for Jewish reasons. His colleagues inform on him: “They told Haman, in order to see whether Mordecai’s resolve would prevail; for he had explained to them that he was a Jew.” (Esther 3:4)
Haman decides to take revenge not on Mordecai the individual, but on the entire Jewish people. (Esther 3:6) “But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone; having been told who Mordecai’s people were, Haman plotted to do away with all the Jews, Mordecai’s people, throughout the kingdom of Ahasuerus.” A slight from one Jew leads Haman to plot against all Jews.
To accomplish this, Haman tells the king: (Esther 3:8-9) “There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among the other peoples in all the provinces of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; and it is not in Your Majesty’s interest to tolerate them. If it please Your Majesty, let an edict be drawn for their destruction…”
On the political level, Haman may have been the first to articulate the “dual loyalty” argument, (which is now also used against Muslims) arguing that the Jews’ allegiance to their own religious laws causes them to be disloyal to the laws of the state.
In the book of Esther, the term יהודי (Yehudi) reflects a religious affiliation (Jew) and not a political one (Judean). Thus Mordecai, although from the tribe of Benjamin, is described as a Jew (2:5) and thinks of himself as a Jew (3:4). In fact, the epithet היהודי (“the Jew”) appears in the Bible only in Esther, and only in the phrase Mordecai the Jew, which is found six times (5:13, 6:10, 8:7, 9:29, 9:31, 10:3).
Similarly, when it becomes clear that the king backs the Jews, and many Persians convert to Judaism; the word used is “become Jewish” (מתיהדים; 8:17) which means joining the Jewish religious (or ethnic) group. Haman’s plan is to destroy Jews, not the province of Judea. This is clear from Haman’s description of Jews as being spread throughout the empire, even at a time when Judea existed as the province of Yehud. Moreover, those who join with Haman to kill Jews are described not merely as Haman’s followers or seekers of easy plunder, but as “enemies” (אויבים) or even “haters” (שונאים) of Jews (8:13, 9:1, 5, 16).
Over the centuries, Jewish Bible commentators filled in the gap, expanding on Haman’s accusations. Their various expansions reveal a great deal about what each of them saw as the root of antisemitism.
The Septuagint translation of Esther into Greek, written around 100 BCE, contains “additions” to the book of Esther, including the following restatement by the king of Haman’s allegations about the Jews:
"Among all the nations in the world there is scattered a certain hostile people, who have laws contrary to those of every nation and continually disregard the ordinances of the kings, so that the unifying of the kingdom which we honorably intend cannot be brought about. We understand that this people, and it alone, stands constantly in opposition to all men, perversely following a strange manner of life and laws, and is ill-disposed to our government, doing all the harm they can so that our kingdom may not attain stability."
This addition to the book of Esther is found in the Greek Septuagint between verses 13 and 14 of Esther chapter 3.) The central accusation here is that the Jews undermine the political stability of the country, and make it impossible for the king to make his “kingdom peaceable and open to travel throughout all its extent, to re-establish the peace which all men desire.”
A German scholar of early Judaism Peter Schäfer offers a different understanding of the text, seeing in the Greek a claim that the Jews are “the only people who are in the state of military alertness always and against everyone.”[Peter Schäfer, Judeophobia: Attitudes toward the Jews in the Ancient World p. 208.]
Schäfer thinks some Jewish authors understood that the essence of antisemitism in the Greco-Roman world was “the allegation of amixia, ‘unsociability,’ and of a [Jewish] way of life that is hostile to and, therefore, dangerous to all humankind.” According to Schäfer, Greek texts confirm that these Jewish authors correctly understood the thoughts of many of their gentile neighbors.
The rabbis view antisemitism as a direct and even understandable result of the Jews observing Jewish law. The same is true today for Islamophobes who attack Sha’aria.
This is especially evident in two passages, one from the Talmud and the other from Lamentations Rabbah. The Babylonian Talmud (Megillah 13b) reconstructs a conversation between Haman and Ahasuerus, based on ostensible hints from Esther 3:8. “Their laws are different from those of any other people” – They won’t eat from our food, won’t marry our women, and won’t allow their women to marry us. “They do not obey the king’s laws” – They spend all their time [shirking responsibilities and making excuses like] “today is the Sabbath” or “today is Passover.” “It is not in Your Majesty’s interest to tolerate them” – They eat and drink and revile the king. If a fly were to fall into the wine cup of any one of them, they would throw away the fly and drink the wine. But if Your Majesty were to touch the wine cup of one of them, they would throw it onto the ground and would not drink from it.”
Another rabbinic text (Lamentations Rabbah 1:21) expressively makes a similar point by having the Jews accuse God of making them act antisocially by legislating Jewish rules that others find offensive: Rabbi Levi said: So Israel said to the Holy One: Aren’t you responsible [for the dislike of Jews]? You told us “You shall not intermarry with them; do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons” (Deuteronomy 7:3). Had we given our daughters to their sons or taken their daughters for our sons, then some of them would have seen their daughters among us. Then would they not have taken us in [in a friendly way]? That is the meaning of the verse (Lamentations 1:21) “[All of my foes heard of my plight and exulted,] for it is Your doing.”
Thus, the rabbis blame pagan animosity to Judaism on the observance of Jewish dietary and marriage rules, just as Islamophobes do today when they attack Sha’aria laws. When Jews celebrate the defeat of Haman and his followers on March 10-11 of this week, we should also share the story of Haman’s down-fall with Muslims who are under attack to today’s Hamans.
Allen S. Maller is an ordained Reform Rabbi who retired in 2006 after 39 years as the Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, California. His web site is: www.rabbimaller.com. Rabbi Maller blogs in the Times of Israel. His book ‘Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms: A Reform Rabbi's Reflections on the Profound Connectedness of Islam and Judaism’ (31 articles previously published by Islamic web sites) is for sale ($15) on Amazon.
Topics: Interfaith, Islamophobia, Jews, Judaism, Xenophobia