Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Jewish Persecutions and Stereotypes

As most of us know, Christianity was the foundational religion of Europe, and the Jewish people were treated as the Christians worst enemy. The Christians feared that the Jewish people would spread their beliefs and that the Christian faith would lose its followers. The Jewish people were blamed for nearly everything that went wrong in the community, and were often scapegoats of the community. From the beginning, they were blamed by the Christians for killing Christ, and then again for poisoning the village’s water when the black plague struck. The Jewish people were forced to live in the cities ghettos or jewrys.  They were often viewed with suspicion and many myths were created about them. The Jewish population becomes an easy target for any bad event to happen in the community.
I became curious as to what kinds of stereotypes the Jewish people had to endure and found that some common stereotypes of Jewish people are; Jewish people were depicted as greedy, nit-picky, misers; and they have often been depicted counting money or collecting gold and jewels. They are depicted this way because the church forbade Christians from lending money and many Jewish people went into money lending because they were forbade from other jobs.

Physical appearance in Jewish people would be depicted as having dark skin, curly hair, large hook noses, thick lips, and dark-colored eyes. Though these are the depictions that caricatures use, as one can see from our class readings, the Jews had to be labeled and wear a stigma to represent that they were in fact Jews. This marking proves that the Jews were no different than the Christians in their physical appearance and they could easily mix with Christian people had they not been labeled as “other.”
A Jewish mother would be seen as, overbearing, manipulative, and controlling in their children’s lives long after they have become adults.
A Self-hating Jew is a person who holds anti-Semitic actions. A self hating Jew, hates other Jews who do not follow what he does more then he hates himself. 
Jewish people also had their own self-definitions. They had an emphasis on education and the study of the Talmud. They also held a strong sense of community.
Some racial Slurs that I found interesting towards Jews were the following:

“10% off” refers to circumcision.
“539” corresponds to the letters J-E-W on a telephone
“Gargamel” refers to greedy, money centered nature of Jews. Reference from the Smurfs cartoon

For more racial slurs visit: http://www.rsdb.org/race/jews

If you're also interested this website breaks down a few reasons why the Jews have been persecuted for so long.

Anti-Semitism in Borat

            It is rare to see overt anti-Semitism in popular culture today. Due to infamy of the Hitler and the Holocaust, the ideals of the Nazi party have become synonymous with evil.  To say someone is a Nazi is to identify him or her as knowing and complicit accomplice, or at the very least a sympathizer, with one of the worst crimes against humanity in our recent history. What we tend to forget is that anti-Semitism was rampant prior to the Third Reich. Hitler did not create anti-Semitic sentiment; he used existing fear and hate, to unite people against a common enemy. In Europe’s Jewish population, the third Reich found a scapegoat to blame for all their problems.

            Why would anyone hate Jews?  Yoda tells us that it’s because of fear. The little green wise man in star wars famously argued, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Okay, so what is there to fear about Jewish people?

            The 2004 movie Borat, opens with the title character Borat, created and portrayed by Sasha Baron Cohen, explaining what life is like in his backward Kyrgyzstanian village. He explains that Kyrgyzstan has three major problems, “Social, Political and Jew.” A scene is played from the villages annual “running of the Jew,” in which someone dressed up as a big-headed monster with horns, a huge hooked nose, giant ears and green skin chases children through the street. Behind the male monster is a female version said to be his wife. The female monster pauses from chasing after children with a cleaver to lay an egg. The children are directed to crush the egg before it can hatch.  Later the movie shows Borat and his traveling companion absolutely terrified by the idea of staying in a bed and breakfast run by a lovely Jewish couple. Borat points out in sheer terror, after learning that his host is Jewish, that you can barely see her horns.

From Borat 2004

            According to the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism, the idea that Jewish people have horns likely came from a mistranslation of the word “keren” in the Old Testament. The word can either mean horned or radiant. The myth was exacerbated by Michelangelo’s statue of Moses in which he sculpted the prophet with horns. In 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council decreed that Jews should be forced to wear hats and other identifying garments because the Jewish population had become so integrated that it was not always possible for Christians to identify Jews and avoid having sex with them. The pointy nature of these hats led to speculation that Jews wore the hats to conceal their horns.

12th Century Jewish Hat

            The other stereotypes are similarly linked to middle age beliefs about Judaism. The Jews chasing the children is representative of the Blood-Libel Myth. The hooked knows continues to be a stereotypical identifier, although not a good one because if it were a universal trait the Lateran Council would not have felt the need to require identifying garments. The egg laying Jew was likely lifted from the Baba Yaga myth, another tale for frightening children. Even the importance of hospitality has real roots in Jewish mythology. The Jews of the Ottoman Empire put out chairs for ghosts and believed that even demons should be treated well, if only so that they would not harm their hosts.

If anyone could be a Jew, could anything?

            Fortunately Cohen’s depiction of modern eastern- Europe is more satire than reality. The Kyrgyzstani village portrayed in the film - actually a Romani village – was appalled by their portrayal as backward anti-Semitic hicks. Cohen himself is Semitic. His mother was born in Israel and he was raised Jewish. Still, behind all the humor is a real truth. It is incredibly dangerous to stereotype people based on rumored characteristics. If we don’t make the effort to understand other cultures, we run the risk of beginning to fear them and fear followed to its logical conclusion is suffering.

Gambling the Soul

In the story of Theophilus, we read one of the first recorded accounts of a story that involves a pact being made with the devil. Today, this is a popular and familiar motif from literature and folklore. Making a pact with the devil most usually consists of a pact made between a person and Satan or a lesser demon. The person exchanges their soul for some kind of favor from Satan.
The pact could be made either by oral means or written means. Written pacts were often written in blood. This blood was often the blood of the human who was making the pact, but sometimes it could be animal blood.

I was curious about the stories that used this motif and I wanted to know whether or not "pacts with the devil" were associated with specific groups of people in history.
Pacts with the devil could be made by both men and women. Most literature I found was centered around a male figure, but I also read that midwives were often accused of having made a pact with the devil if a child died after or during delivery.
There are versions of the Theophilus story in many other countries, from the German story of Faust to the Polish story of Pan. Each country has developed their own version of this story. But why?
In the story of Theophilus that we read in class, the pact with the devil reflected social anxieties about Jewish people at the time. In the story, a Jewish man initially suggests and assists Theophilus in making the pact with Satan. The myth of Theophilus is told and retold through time,evolving and being adopted by other countries. However, no other versions of the myth includes racial or religious groups helping the devil.
Stories that include pacts with the devil were most often religiously motivated rather than racially motivated. While race and religion are closely related, the majority of the literature I found focused on pacts made with the devil centered around religious figures related to Christianity or the Catholic church.
However, even though none of the literature I found was overtly making a statement about race, the motif of a pact with the devil was often used to represent anything that was in opposition to Christianity. This could have been any number of things, depending on the location and time period the literature was written. In the case of Theophilus, the Jewish people had been seen as a threat to the Christian community.

One source that I found stated that "focusing on the devil's pervasive presence in the world had practical advantages to would-be culture shapers." The devil was an easy target to blame for anything that seemed to pose a threat to societal norms. This could have come in the shape of opposing religious groups or the growing population of a race of people. The devil was used as a symbol of what should not be. These stories were created as a way to control the public's opinions about what/who is good and what/who is evil. In many ways, these stories are just as manipulative as the devil himself.

                "The Ecole Initiative: Pacts with the Devil: Faust and Precursors." The Ecole Initiative: Pacts with the Devil: Faust and Precursors. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.