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Anti-Semitism in Literature

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mary redekopp

on 29 April 2010

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Transcript of Anti-Semitism in Literature

in British Literature Before the First Crusade (1096-1099) The Jewish people began to move to Europe during the eigth and twelfth centuries.

The Jewish were merely seen as aliens outside of their traditional homeland.

Prejudice hardly existant in Europe.
Some countries wanted to protect the special interests of the Jews. German mandates of 1084-1090 The pre-Crusade Catholic Church would often consult rabbis because these leaders were considered to be the authority on the Old Testament. Later in history, Jewish leaders would be accused of "consciously and deliberately pervert[ing] the meaning of the original text" (Trachtenberg 15). Jews and Christians led a peaceful co-existence side by side. Some European people were infuriated by the acceptance of the Jewish presence in Europe. The archetype of the Evil Jew began to spread.


Primary concern was the sins of the body, such as gluttony. Must like the Eve archetype that we have run into from the Middle Ages.

Spinner of half-truths - reference to the Devil and trickster archetype - or is seen as the child of the Devil

Were seen as traitors, and Christ-killers. Associated with the traitor archetype (Judas)

Depicted as bribers, murderers, sorcerers, magicians, cannibals, and oppressors of the poor John Chyrostom, an early Medieval church father, wrote:

"[Jews] are wild beasts...Living for their belly, mouth forever gaping, the Jews behave no better than hogs and goats in their lewd grossness and the excesses of their gluttony. They can do one thing only: gorge themselves with food and drink" (Carmichael 46). The Jews were dehumanized as beasts and judged as insufferable. Anti-Semitic Art of the Middle Ages Not only did the Evil Jew have the characteristics of evil but had a warped physical appearance.

Jews were depicted as horned creatures with distorted faces that were often ridden by the Devil himself (Wistrich 29).

The idea of the Evil Jew in Europe did not fully spread until the first Crusade. Myths about Jews spread through Europe during Medieval times. Some of these myths included:

The blood libel - Jewish people were accused of sacrificing Christian children to prepare for Passover.

They were accused of descecrating the host. This was seen in miracle plays.

They were accused of causing the Black Death. Jews were said to have poisoned wells. Medieval art depicting Jewish people being tortured and murdered for supposedly spreading the plague. German manuscript - Jews are shown burning in Hell. The cauldron reads "Juda" or Jews. Art depicting the murder of a three year-old boy. What does this have to do with Oliver Twist? Judensau (Jew Pig) In many German churches and public buildings, there is artwork depicting Jewish people "in obscene activities with a pig" (Isseroff). The devil is present in such art work and at times, the Jewish people are portrayed with pig-like features (Isseroff). "[T]here is almost no other character to compete with Fagin for the title of the most grotesque and villainous Jew in all of English literature" (Walsh). Oliver Twist in the Movies Dickens addresses Fagin as "the Jew" at least 257 times in the first 38 chapters of Oliver Twist. Dickens could not understand the uproad his depiction of Fagin caused.

He commented that he made Fagin a Jew because "it unfortunately was true of the time to which that story refers, that class of criminal almost invariably was a Jew" (qtd. in Walsh). Dickens did, however, stop the printing of Oliver Twist midway and take out many references to Fagin as "the Jew."

Dickens did go on to write Our Mutual Friend where his character, Riah, is a Jew that represents good as much as Fagin symbolized evil. Dickens did not know any Jewish people when he wrote Oliver Twist. He based his Jewish stereotype on "newspaper reports" (Walsh). Fagin falls under the archetypal Evil Jew steming out of medieval tradition:

"Fagin is no ordinary villain [...] He is the traditional medieval Jewish bogeyman [...] the grotesque Jew, the crafty Jew in whose heart Satan is actually lodged" (Kerker as qtd. in Walsh). Dickens' description of Fagin (Walsh):

Oliver first meets Fagin who is standing by a fire with a fork in his hand.

Fagin is described as red headed, evil, and ugly. Red hair was associated with the devil in medieval drama.

Dickens' refers to Fagin as the "merry old gentleman" which was a phrase that was often used to describe the devil. Fagin's character is often portrayed using Jewish stereotypes, especially sporting a large nose. Fagin and the Artful Dodger The first Hollywood Fagin Ben Kingsley as Fagin Works Cited Bevington, David. Medieval Drama. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975.
Carmichael, Joel. The Satanizing of the Jews. New York: Fromm International
Publishing Corporation, 1992.
Isseroff, Ami. "Judensau." Zionism and Israel - Encyclopedic Dictionary, 2005-2009.
Web. 27 Apr. 2010.
Trachtenberg, Joshua. The Devil and the Jews: The Medieval Conception of the Jew
and Its Relation to Modern Antisemitism. New Haven: Yale University Press,
Turner, David. "3. Antisemitism in Art: The Middle Ages." Http://aia-
themiddleages.blogspot.com/. 15 Mar. 2008. Web. 27 Apr. 2010. <http://aia-
Walsh, John. "Dickens' Greatest Villain: The Faces of Fagin." The Independent. 7
Oct. 2005. Web. 29 Apr. 2010. <http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-
Wistrich, Robert. Antisemitism: the Longest Hatred. New York: Pantheon Books,
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