Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Convenient Hatred: The History of Antisemitism

A book has just been released that you should consider buying or checking out from the library. (Since it literally has just been published, you may have to request that your library get a copy of the book. It's a simple procedure.)

Disclosures: I did not receive this book to review it. However, I did get it free from the Jewish Book Council's annual book giveaway. And I do get a pathetic percentage of sales from the Amazon link above. It's laughable, really.

With a title like that, I didn't go into this book expecting it to be a "fun read." And it wasn't. But it was still a really good book. It was even so well-written that I didn't feel the need to curl up into the fetal position.

Combining factual research with psychology and the occasional sarcastic remark, this may be the most engaging Jewish history book I've ever read. It's written in a fairly academic style, but I think that lends credibility to the work from the non-Jewish perspective. Very rarely does the author break the fourth wall to share her interpretation with the reader. Even then, her comments are clever and insightful. One comment that particularly stood out to me was a psychological analysis:
Soldiers who "catch" toddlers on their swords and police officers who force "old men, invalids, and paralytics" from their homes are not protecting their country from treason. Rather, they are seeing Jews not as human beings but as stereotypes. A stereotype is more than a label or judgment about an individual based on the real or imagined characteristics of a group. Stereotypes dehumanize people by reducing them to categories...
[As this is an advance reading copy, the above passage may be edited, removed, or otherwise very different from what is above. However, I think this passage shows the gist of the book.]

In short, I think every conversion candidate should read it. The Talmud prescribes that every potential convert must be discouraged with the phrase:
"What prompted you to convert? Don't you know that Israel today is thrust down, despised, and persecuted?"
This book makes sure that you can answer that question in full honesty and with open eyes. And it's a great book to boot. A conversion candidate is not required to actually suffer antisemitism, but the idea of antisemitism must be confronted. This book allows you to do that, even if only at an intellectual level. To be quite honest, I think that is the only level we can face antisemitism without losing our minds, since it is so senseless.

Of course, it's good for everyone else to read too ;)

Title: A Convenient Hatred: The History of Antisemitism
Author: Phyllis Goldstein
Publisher: Facing History and Ourselves
432 Pages
ISBN-13: 978-0981954387


  1. For a bit more on the subject, I recommend Six Million Crucifixions, by Gabriel Wilensky.