Self-Hating Jews

How does one qualify?

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Labeling As a Weapon

The term "Self-Hating Jew" has been leveled at numerous Jewish figures over the last 100 years, most often condemning the actions or attitudes of those who hold offensive political agendas or whose critiques of Judaism pose a threat to the community. Among the most notable is Jewish pornographer and publisher Sam Roth, whose 1930 anti-Semitic screed Jews Must Live was so vitriolic that it was quoted at Nazi rallies. In it, Roth claimed that Jews were lazy, greedy parasites who preyed on the host cultures in which they lived. 
Philip Roth (Portnoy's Complaint, 1969)
Less extreme but just as controversial have been portrayals of American Jews by authors like Philip Roth (Portnoy's Complaint, 1969), Henry Roth (Call it Sleep, 1934), and I.J. Singer (The Family Carnovsky, 1943), all of whom have been criticized for perpetuating and reiterating anti-Semitic stereotypes in their novels. Philip Roth's Alexander Portnoy, critics suggested, reinforced claims that Jewish men were sexually deviant and inclined to prey on gentile women, while Henry Roth's David Schearl was portrayed as having an oedipal complex and living in a world of tremendous poverty and filth. Singer was labeled self-hating for creating a father character who was imagined by his son as both hypersexual and threatening, which led, in turn, to a Jewish son with an oedipal complex.

Accusations of Jewish self-hatred are also common in contemporary debates about Israel. Jews who have struggled with, challenged, or questioned Israeli military or government actions or policies have often been labeled self-hating. Academics and politicians as diverse as Noam Chomsky, Michael Lerner, and Tony Judt have been called self-haters for criticizing Israeli policies.

Dealing with Accusations

A pointed example of how many Jews have dealt with the self-hatred label may be found in playwright Tony Kushner's response to accusations that his play Caroline or Change was self-loathing. In the central conflict of the play, Noah Gellman, the son of the Jewish family that employs Caroline, an African-American housekeeper, is told that when and if he leaves change in the pockets of his clothing, it will be given to Caroline. Hedy Weiss, theater critic for the Chicago Sun Times, decried the play, and its implications, as anti-Semitic, perpetuating stereotypes about Jews, money, and racism. Kushner's response was swift, and typical of those who have been similarly condemned: 

"In every religious or ethnic group, one finds irascible people who arrogate unto themselves the job of policing who is and who isn't a good and loyal member of the community. Such people rarely contribute anything to the community other than pain, and always fail to understand that it is the heterogeneity of any community of people that gives it life. I am immensely proud of being Jewish...Nothing makes me prouder than hearing, as I often do, that my work is identified as Jewish-American literature. My anger at this critic and her editors for accusing me of hatred for the Jewish people--for my people--exceeds my abilities to express it."

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Jordie Gerson

Jordie Gerson is a newly ordained rabbi and a freelance writer living in Brooklyn.