A class about hate, bigotry, and prejudice in the West and in Muslim Lands
Instructor: Dr. Arie Zmora
Cost: $54; financial assistance is available from Larry Solomon or Rabbi Spilker.
As we watched with horror the march of Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and heard the hateful anti-Semitic slurs expressed by hateful crowds of marching Nazis and KKK fanatics, we were painfully reminded that anti-Semitism lurks just under a thin surface today even here in the US. Though these are fringe groups, why is anti-Semitism in this day and age still a persistent factor in our public discourse?
The aim of this class is to offer an historical perspective, to trace the origins, and to discuss major features of anti-Semitism that have influenced the public discourse today. Our discourse will start with the Medieval religious legacy portraying Jews as Christ killers and the blood libel canard that defined the Jews as a diabolical pariah throughout the ages. We will learn how the spirit of the Enlightenment Era, methods of self-criticism, and the rationalism of the 18th century helped rehabilitate and usher Jews into mainstream Western-European societies through emancipation decrees and the granting of civil rights. In the aftermath of the French Revolution, we will learn of the new form of anti-Semitism – Racism. As the new emerging nation states of Europe fostered the mantra of national unity and homogeneity the public increasingly viewed the Jew as ‘the Other’ and questioned his loyalty to the State. We will learn of the new forms of anti-Semitism expressed in the rise of racial social theories and the rise of populist racial parties in Europe. In the last session, we will learn of the anti-Semitic reactions to Zionism on the right and on the left, and in Muslim countries.
Class Format: We will have short lectures followed by discussions. Short readings, handed out in class, will include classical literary sources and historical documents that we will discuss in class.
Our first session will be dedicated to a short reading from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice – what has been defined as the Shylock Syndrome. Here we will read the monologue of Shylock in which he is looking to obtain the pound of flesh that he supposedly earned ‘in a devil’s bargain’. The class will discuss the gruesome legacy of the blood libel and the overall impact the Shylock character had on the conscience of theatre-going spectators, the public at large, and the Jewish public then and today. Just to entice your curiosity on controversial aspects of the play: The Merchant of Venice was put on stage continuously by the Nazi Regime all over the Third Reich. In 1953, the actor that played the Shylock character in Vienna during the Nazi Era was put on trial as a war criminal. Charges were dropped after George Bernard Shaw came to the actor’s defense in the name of freedom of expression.
Arie Zmora is a native of Israel, holding BA and MA degrees from The Hebrew University, Jerusalem in History and International Relations; MPhil in European History from The Johns Hopkins University; PhD in European History from University of Maryland, College Park. Dr. Zmora has taught over the past eighteen years in area colleges and universities wide variety of classes on European and Middle East (Hamline University, Macalester College, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Saint Cloud State University, University of Wisconsin, River Falls ). For over a decade (2001-13), Dr. Zmora was co-director of Middle East Exchange Programs funded by the US Department of State at Hamline University with participation of Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, and Lebanese partners.