Had antisemitism remained social and political very likely most Jews, conditioned by centuries of religion-inspired discrimination, would have patiently waited for the most recent storm to pass. But following 1500 years of persecution and the dawn of political-religious reform, having tasted the promise of emancipation and acceptance represented by the Enlightenment, for some at least hope turned quickly to despair. Awareness grew that Christendom’s religion-based Jewish Problem was too deeply embedded in the in the West’s history and culture to vanish because secularism replaced religion-based society.

Jewish responses to Emancipation and continuing discrimination predated Zionism by decades. Two very different such efforts, are represented by Moses Mendelssohn, descended from a line of orthodox rabbis, and Karl Marx, the son of a Lutheran convert himself the son of a rabbinical family. Mendelssohn would ensure Jewish survival by “modernizing” religious practice while Marx’s was far more radical: Jewish identity along with Judaism would fall away, as would distinctions for all based on class, religion and nationality in proletarian revolution (pardon the obvious oversimplification).

He wrote On the Jewish Question in 1843 in part in opposition to an opponent of Jewish emancipation. But the work was also a first attempt at his theory of dialectical materialism, and in it he identified the Jews symbolically with money, the West’s universally recognized stereotype. This symbolic representation of the Jews would provide a rationale for already existing antisemitism, provided a political ploy for both the left and the right, before and after the Holocaust and, when a state of the Jews appeared, included Israel and the movement whose creation it was, Zionism.

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