OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi – Features for Tishah B’Av.


Question.   Why is there a resurgence of antisemitism?

Answer.      In theory it is connected with Israel.

It is customary to say that antisemitism was once religious but has now become secular. Like all generalisations this view does not entirely accord with the facts. “Secular” Jew-hatred and teaching of contempt for Jews existed in the time of Tacitus and Seneca before Christianity arose with its resentment of Jewish rejection of Jesus, though religious antisemitism released a Jew from persecution by means of baptism.

Modern secular antisemitism emerged in Germany in the 1870s, though it did not displace religious antisemitism, which continues in a more polite guise than before. Modern antisemitism, which even attracted scientists and philosophers, alleged that Jews had negative traits which were evil and could only be eliminated by eliminating the Jews.

In parallel, supposed negative characteristics of Israel associated with alleged suppression of Palestinians and so-called settlements are claimed by the antisemites to imperil the Middle East and the world, and can only be removed by removing or at least weakening Israel. Quite irrational, since Israel was being criticised long before the Palestinian issue or the creation of “settlements” were on the agenda.

Why is Israel attacked? Because it is a Jewish State, and supposed “Jewish” traits govern its policies and actions…

Antisemitism will not easily disappear. At times it is quiescent, but then it rears its head again.

Jewish self-destruction or abasement solve nothing. The Jewish response must be creative – more Jewish identity and Jewish commitment.

The whole world must educate towards tolerance and eradicate hatred, suspicion, demonisation and prejudice, not as a favour to Jews but out of world self-interest. If Jews and Judaism are not safe, neither is any religion or ideology. If synagogues are not safe, neither are churches or mosques.


This Sunday we will mark the fast of Tishah B’Av. If it were like any other great day in the calendar we would be out shopping.

For Pesach we buy Haggadot and restock our whole kitchens. For Shavu’ot we purchase dairy foods. For Sukkot it is Arba’ah Minim and items for the sukkah. Add Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Purim and Chanukah to the list and we never seem to be free of preparations for the next calendrical occasion.

The streets of Jerusalem have been lined with 1,000 brightly coloured umbrellas hanging in the skies, giving the illusion that they are floating in mid-air.

But Tishah B’Av? You might think that we would all be ransacking the bookshops for beautifully bound copies of Megillat Echah… but you’d be wrong. You might also think that the synagogues would be making sure that they had a nicely written parchment scroll, but there too you’d be wrong.

Echah is read from a paper-bound printed text, sometimes hastily or shoddily produced as if it would be unlikely to be used again. There are printed editions with translation and commentary, but no-one suggests that Tishah B’Av is impossible without them. The whole idea of the day is that by next year, please God, the Mashi’ach will have come and the fast will be unnecessary.

To use a beautiful scroll of Echah or insist that everyone buy a library edition almost suggests that we don’t have faith. It is like the community that assembled in the town square to pray for rain but when the rabbi looked at the crowd he cancelled the prayers because no-one had brought an umbrella.


Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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  1. Rabbi Apple, by failing to mention that part played by radical Islam in fuelling modern anti-Semitism, is only giving part of the story. Whether he is doing so out of political correctness, it behoves anyone who is committed to truth to address this very important factor. He correctly mentions the Christian theological basis for anti-Semitism, but ignores the Islamic theological basis.

  2. It’s of great concern that Rabbi Apple pontificates about a subject he has little knowledge of: modern antiSemitism.. He should read “UK PM Cameron: Anti-Jewish Conspiracies Must be Challenged
    British PM says conspiracy theories of a powerful Jewish cabal must be challenged in efforts to counter Islamic radicalization.”

    “What is frightening at the moment, because of the rise of Islamist extremism, is that you see a new threat – a new anti-Semitism – and not the traditional anti-Semitism,” he continued. “Look, there’s always been some difficulties between religions in European history. But this is a new scale of threat against Jewish communities.”

  3. Larry Langman

    I have no idea, Pam, what prompts you to take a dig at Rabbi Apple….but to suggest that this Rabbi has no understanding of the contempary nature of anti-semitism is absurd and frankly to my senses insulting. This guy was the chief minister to a large jewish community in Sydney, chaplain to the police and defense services as such he would week after week have had reports, briefings about the potential of incidents to his community to his people that you and I could not even think to handle. He probably had access to and dialogue with sources that you and I could only dream about. The safety of his community would have been of daily concern. This is a guy who now lives in Israel so sees things as they are day to day.

    So what did his article really say. That antisemitism has history that goes back 2000 plus years. And in the main….not a Muslim in sight. That Pam is a fact. That secular antisemitsm got a real kick along in Europe after the 1870 and spread around the world. That Pam is also a fact. And again generally not a Muslim in sight. As the Kanter Institute noted “Indeed, the ADL global attitude survey, published in May 2014, perhaps the largest ever conducted included 53,000 participants in 102 countries and territories. The analysis showed that a quarter of those telephonically interviewed (representing approximately 1.1 billion adults worldwide), harbor deep seated antisemitic stereotypes.”

    Note please this was before Operation Protective Edge, that really kicked along anti-Israel sentiment.

    The rabbi then goes on to specifically reference the Israel/Palestine issue and then makes the general observation that those that hate Israel do so because Israel is a Jewish State. He doesn’t single out the far right. far left or disaffected youth or the fuel added by Islamic sentiment. To my mind he doesn’t need to…”those that hate Israel”…pretty well covers the group you and I rail against.

    The real audience for this article is not “the general public” its Jews. And the message is clear – acts of “Jewish self-destruction or abasement solve nothing. The Jewish response must be creative – more Jewish identity and Jewish commitment.” He is calling for solidarity with Israel. It’s one of the issues this site has advocated …….solidarity with Israel. He is saying stop being a wuss…get with the program.

    Throw seed on fertile soil and hatred grows…throw seed on rock nothing grows. Be the rock. Your complaint is that he failed to name the seed throwers. I think we should be more focused on being the rock.

    I think the rabbi deserved a better response.

  4. Well said Larry! Couldn’t agree more!

  5. Larry, I’m amazed that you would think I was taking a dig at Rabbi Apple. I was stating facts – that by ignoring the part played by Islam in stoking anti-Semitism, he had missed out a large part of the picture. If Prime Minister David Cameron understands this, surely it is something that is not beyond the grasp of any Jewish person.

    Not sure if you are Jewish or not, but in Judaism, unlike Catholicism, there is no such thing as infallibility. Rabbis are not, and must never be, beyond criticism, and in Jewish theology, are not considered divine or repositories of all wisdom. Some are wise, some are not. In fact, blind devotion to a rabbi is discouraged, as Jews are supposed to use their critical faculties and think for themselves.

    In this article, Rabbi Apple ignores islamic anti-Semitism, which is the main driver of much of the hatred of Jews and Israel today and has a very long history. You have only to read Andrew Bostom’s scholarly – and very long – book (over 700 pages), the Legacy of Islamic anti-Semitism – to realise that.

    Why he ignored it I don’t know, but ignore it he did. That’s a fact! As he says “Jewish self-destruction or abasement solve nothing.”

    Surely refusing to mention the main driver of anti-Semitism amounts to political correctness/abasement.