In the 1930s, a Nazi confronted a Jew: “You Jews are the cause of all the world’s problems!”

“Yes,” says the Jew. “You’re right. And the bicycle riders.”

“The bicycle riders? Why the bicycle riders?” asked the Nazi.

“Why the Jews?!” responded the Jew.

Is Antisemitism logical? Of course not.

Over the centuries, numerous “reasons” have been advanced to explain the phenomenon of Antisemitism.

We “killed” their god, poisoned their wells, killed their children to use their blood for our Pesach wine or matzahs … the list of preposterous accusations goes on and on.

Are any of those fictitious so-called reasons really reasons? No. We know they were all just excuses.

A generation ago it was “Jews, get out of Europe. Go back to Palestine!”

Today, it’s “Jews, get out of Palestine. Go back to Europe!”

Less than 80 years since the Holocaust, Antisemitism has become almost acceptable around the world.

So is there actually a “reason” for Antisemitism?

Rabbi Menachem Ziemba was one of the leading rabbis in pre-war Poland. He died in the Warsaw Ghetto, where he refused to abandon his flock. But some of his writings survived.

Let me share with you one of his Torah teachings, because it goes to the very core of the question of Antisemitism and whether there is, in fact, any reason for it.

This week’s Torah reading tells the dramatic tale of two long-lost brothers, Jacob and Esau, who are about to meet after 20 years of separation. Esau is still gunning for his twin brother, who he claims stole his birthright and his father’s blessings. He has murder on his mind.

Jacob prepares with a three-pronged approach:

  1. Diplomacy. He sends Esau a huge gift to pacify him.
  2. Military strategy. He prepares to battle if diplomacy fails.
  3. He prays to G‑d for deliverance.

In the end, Esau sees his brother’s generous gift (entire herds of livestock), and he sees his family, and seems mollified and ready to make peace. Instead of killing Jacob, he embraces him, and they have an emotional reunion:

And Esau ran towards his brother, and he embraced him. He fell on Jacob’s neck, and he kissed him, and they wept.1

Now, in the Torah scroll, there are dots written above the Hebrew word vayishakeihu, “and he kissed him,” indicating that not all is as it appears to be. It is like an asterisk—a footnote is required to explain and qualify what is really meant.

Rashi offers two explanations:

  1. “He didn’t really kiss him with all his heart.” It was more like a photo op. Like politicians running for election and kissing babies in the streets.
  2. Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai says, “It is an established law (halacha) that Esau hates Jacob. But at that moment he was moved to mercy, and he did in fact embrace him with a full heart.”

Let’s take a closer look at the language Rabbi Shimon uses. “It is a halacha that Esau hates Jacob.” Why the word halacha? A rule or a principle, perhaps. But a law? Surely it seems out of place here!

This is what Rabbi Menachem Ziemba, powerful scholar and a holy martyr of the Warsaw Ghetto, had to say:

People don’t always agree with or understand a halacha, a law. Do you understand and agree with every legal judgment handed down by the court? Of course not. But a law is a law and a fact of life. There’s simply nothing we can do about it.

Likewise, says Rabbi Ziemba, is the halacha of Esau hating Jacob. Antisemitism is a halacha, a law, a fact of life! We don’t understand it. It makes no sense.

Jews are nice people. We do so much for society, beyond our own communities. We are constantly contributing to the world around us, and the world still doesn’t like us. It hurts. But it is what it is.

And to show just how illogical it is, he went on to say from his own personal experience: “In Poland they hate the Jews because they are poor. Scum of the earth. In Germany they hate the Jews because they are rich, taking their money. In Russia they hate the Jews because they are bourgeois Capitalists. And in America they hate the Jews because they are Communists!”

In other words, we can’t win.

In our times, the Antisemites say there was no Holocaust. And the very same people say Hitler didn’t finish the job, he didn’t kill enough Jews!

Is this rational? Logical? Does it make any sense at all? No! Because Antisemitism is an immutable fact of life, just like a halacha. We don’t get it, but it is what it is.

And because there is no logical reason, there is no logical solution either.

So, my friends, I’m sorry to tell you that despite the best efforts of the ADL, or the Simon Weisenthal Center, or the State Department’s Envoy on Antisemitism, Antisemitism is not going away.

But don’t become disillusioned, and don’t become depressed when you see Antisemitism is still here and growing at an alarming rate all over the world.

Because while there may not be any logical reason for Antisemitism, there certainly is a response. And what response should that be? To continue to live as proud, practicing Jews, here on a mission to bring positive change to the world. To be confident and knowledgeable Jews, who live as Jews and raise our children and grandchildren as Jews. As the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks kept reminding us: “Non-Jews respect Jews who respect Judaism!”

And certainly, we should all learn from the Rebbe, whose approach David Suissa describes as “Pro-Semitism.” Be pro-Jewish and proactively Jewish. Do a mitzvah today that you may not have done yesterday. And if you need further motivation to do it, let Antisemitism be your motivation. Do it davka! To spite the Antisemites.

Jewish pride, Jewish defiance, Jewish continuity, will lead to nothing less than Jewish eternity.

Click here to read an alternative take on antisemitism and its source.