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More from Insider/Outsider: “The Idea of Judaism in Feminism and Afrocentrism,” Amy Newman (No Relation)

The spe­cif­ic con­tent of…negative images of Judaism…is remark­ably mal­leable. Dur­ing the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry, when Euro­pean schol­ars were infat­u­at­ed with pure rea­son, Judaism was crit­i­cized as an irra­tional faith. Now that ratio­nal­ist ide­ol­o­gy has come to be viewed with sus­pi­cion, hwo­ev­er, Judaism is more often con­ceived as the source of ster­ile ratio­nal­i­ty. When the hall­mark of ratio­nal reli­gion was its uni­ver­sal­ism, Judaism was crit­i­cized for its par­tic­u­lar­ism; now that uni­ver­sal­ism has giv­en way to an empha­sis on dif­fer­ence, some assert that Judaism is the orig­i­nal source of uni­ver­sal­is­tic think­ing. In nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry Ger­man rev­o­lu­tion­ary thought, sci­en­tif­ic method was viewed as a good thing and the Jew­ish tra­di­tion was accord­ing­ly con­ceived as hos­tile to a mod­ern sci­en­tif­ic world­view. In con­tem­po­rary social crit­i­cism, sci­en­tif­ic method has come under sus­pi­cion, and now we learn that the desire to dom­i­nate the world often equat­ed with the sci­en­tif­ic world­view orig­i­nat­ed in the Hebrew tra­di­tion. In mod­ern Ger­man the­o­ries of race, Jews were often cat­e­go­rized as “black” because their ances­tors had inter­min­gled with Africans; in some recent Afro­cen­tric schol­ar­ship, Jews are por­trayed as the orig­i­nal “white” racists. (174)

Newman’s arti­cle is a long and com­plex cri­tique of the way some fem­i­nist and Afro­cen­tric schol­ars locate Jews and Judaism as the source of their par­tric­u­lar oppres­sions (patri­archy and/or racism), and is not some­thing I can do jus­tice to here. This para­graph made me think, how­ev­er, about how even a cur­so­ry glance at the intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry of anti­semitism demon­strates what a pro­found­ly flex­i­ble hatred it has been and con­tin­ues to be, being eas­i­ly mold­ed to fit the purposes—ideological and otherwise—of whichev­er par­ty need­ed it, on the left, on the right, or any­where in between.

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