Thousands of New Yorkers of all backgrounds convened at the "No Hate, No Fear" march against antisemitism in January 2020. (Photo/JTA-Erik McGregor-LightRocket via Getty Images)
Thousands of New Yorkers of all backgrounds convened at the "No Hate, No Fear" march against antisemitism in January 2020. (Photo/JTA-Erik McGregor-LightRocket via Getty Images)

Here’s why I prefer to call ‘antisemitism’ what is: Jew hate

For the last five years, I’ve been challenging folks to give up “antisemitism,” the abstract word created by a Jew hater. A colleague asked me to share the reasons I am so disgusted by that word, so I wrote a Twitter thread about it years ago.

When I became the spiritual leader of Temple Israel of Alameda last year, I brought my semantic argument to a physical community.

It’s interesting to me that the term “Jew” has been so maligned by people who hate us that people find “antisemitism” more palatable. Until I was a rabbinical student and read about the origins of the term in Yehuda Bauer’s essay, “In Search of a Definition of Antisemitism,” from the book “Approaches to Antisemitism: Context and Curriculum,” I couldn’t have told you what the word really meant or why we use it.

Wilhelm Marr, the 19th-century German who coined the term “antisemitism,” was an avowed Jew hater. He hated religion almost as much as he hated Jews. So to avoid being associated with Christian supremacist thinking, he argued that Jews are biologically an inferior race.

Marr borrowed the philological term “Semitic,” which refers to a cluster of languages that includes Hebrew, to coin a new word. “Antisemitism” only refers to Jew hate, though, and has never referred to any other group that speaks a Semitic language.

I won’t carry water for a word crafted by a Jew hater to put a pseudoscientific sheen on his hate.

Historians claim that using the term distinguishes a uniquely modern form of Jew hatred from prior iterations. According to this theory, all prior Judeophobia was rooted in religious ideology. In modernity, Jew hatred is “based upon racism grounded partly in nationalism and partly in genetics,” as Bauer writes. This academic distinction is a bit weird to me.

After all, my beloved history professors at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California, Bob Levy, zt”l, and Joel Gereboff, explained that Judaism is an ethno-religion, an indigenous human identity that predates the concept of religion.

Furthermore, our diasporic settlements existed long before the kingdoms of Israel and Judea were destroyed. We’ve always been a small population at the crossroads of empires — the Other, an easy target for hatred and discrimination.

In separating their identity from Judaism, early Christians crafted a completely erroneous understanding of Judaism. In the Middle Ages, Christians blamed Jews for the deaths of children left unattended by their Christian parents. Yet as David Nirenberg catalogs in “Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition,” Christians weren’t the first to discriminate against Jews.

I’m always fascinated when people claim that Jew hate is so distinct that it must be described using a term so opaque to 21st-century ears that it makes Jews sound even more exotic than we are. I’ve heard the theory that anti-Jewish hate is uniquely interlaced with conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, irrational hate is not limited to Jew hate.

RELATED: Why this publication is changing its spelling of antisemitism

Social media has spread hateful ideology faster than it has peaceful, democratic values. Public displays of white nationalism have increased. When the Covid pandemic began, I looked on in horror as the then-president of the United States fanned the flames of anti-Asian racism, which was followed by an increase in anti-Asian violence across the country. As the wife and mother of Chinese Jews, I took solace in the fact that we lived in Alhambra, a minority-majority city, while I completed my rabbinical studies. Further, solidarity seemed to be spreading with the catchy slogan “Stop Asian Hate.”

When I started applying for pulpit positions, I knew that finding a community that was naturally welcoming to an Asian Jewish family was as important to me as finding a space of relative safety as a Jewish professional.

Yes, Jew hate is a unique combination of religious and ethnic bias. White-passing Jews will always live on the edge of whiteness, just as all Jews live in a liminal space. The anti-Jewish bias we swim in is exhausting. I pushed to restart the Jewish Roundtable in the Alameda Unified School District because my youngest congregants face more overt anti-Jewish acts and speech than any other congregants.

The strength of the Jewish Roundtable is not just about holding space for Jewish families. It is stronger because we are building solidarity with other minority groups.

I refuse to use the term “antisemitism.” I won’t carry water for a word crafted by a Jew hater to put a pseudoscientific sheen on his hate.

While I’d gladly accept grants to support Temple Israel of Alameda’s community organizing in support of Jewish pride, I can’t disparage foundations for funding marketing campaigns that challenge Jew hate. Awareness campaigns start conversations. We’re never going to agree on everything, but the least we can do is accept that people standing up to Jew hate are on the right side of history.

Rabbi Cynthia Minster
Rabbi Cynthia Minster

Rabbi Cynthia Minster is the spiritual leader of Temple Israel of Alameda. Her writing can be found at Previously, she was a tech writer at NationBuilder, a marketing executive, a labor union organizer and a peace activist.