Apr 29, 2010

Anti-Semitism vs. Antisemitism

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Christopher Browning talk at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on Antisemitism and the origins of the Final Solution. Something he spent a long time talking about was the difference of Anti-Semitism and Antisemitism (subtle difference: hyphenation). Since then, I've forgotten what the difference was, but I've employed his philosophy off and on for years. Today in class, then, we were finalizing comments on the class (redundant, right, but the course is basically Medieval Christian and Jewish relations), and I thought about this concept. I brought it up to the class and the professor couldn't tell me the difference, so I had to look it up. The difference, I think, is subtle, but very important. Here's an article I found by the CFCA and also here (circa 1989) that I think explains it in a pretty clear fashion.

Let me know what you think -- is it worthwhile to differentiate with or without the hyphen?

What's in a Hyphen? by Shmuel Almog
A seemingly minor point crops up from time to time but grows in importance the more you reflect upon it. Should one write 'anti-Semitism' with a hypen or 'antisemitism' as one word?
What is the importance of such a technical question and why should anyone, apart from type-setters and proof-readers, worry about it?....
Let me start at the beginning: When did the word 'antisemitism' make its first appearance? It is generally attributed to Wilhelm Marr, who was called by the Israeli historian Moshe Zimmermann "The Patriarch of Antisemitism." Marr coined the term in the 1870s to distinguish betwee old-time Jew-hatred and modern, political, ethnic, or racial opposition to the Jews. This term made great advances and soon became common usage in many languages. So much so, that it applied not just to the modern brand of Jew-hatred but--against all logic--was attached to all kinds of enmity toward Jews, past and present. Thus we now say 'antisemitism', even when we talk about remote periods in the past, when one had no inkling of this modern usage. Purists no longer cry out in dismay against such anachronistic practice; it is currently established procedure to use 'antisemitism' for all types of Jew-hatred.
Let's go back to the hyphen then. What's the difference? If you use the hyphenated form, you consider the words 'Semitism', 'Semite', 'Semitic' as meaningful. They supposedly convey an image of a real substance, of a real group of people--the Semites, who are said to be a race. This is a misnomer: firstly, because 'semitic' or 'aryan' were originally language groups, not people; but mainly because in antisemitic parlance, 'Semites' really stands for Jews, just that.
And mind you, Jews are not a race at all. They do not all have inherent characteristics in common that may distinguish them from other people. What unites them is a tradition, culture, history , destiny maybe, but not genetics. If you do assume for a moment that Semites are a special race, consider also the implication that this so-called race comprises both Jews and Arabs. One often talks of the kinship between these two, who are now at loggerheads with each other. Be that as it may, antisemites talking against 'Semites' do not generally refer to Arabs; they mean Jews. So did the Nazis who killed the Jews and invited cooperation from the Arabs.
It is obvious then that 'anti-Semitism' is a non-term, because it is not directed against so-called 'Semitism'. If there is any substance to the term, it is only to denote a specifically anti-Jewish movement. Antisemitism is a generic term which signifies a singular attitude to a particular group of people. As the late philosopher Zvi Diesendruck pointed out, "There has never been coined a standing term for the merely negative attitude" to any other people in history. Only antisemitism; only against Jews.
So the hyphen, or rather its omission, conveys a message; if you hyphenate your 'anti-Semitism', you attach some credence to the very foundation on which the whole thing rests Strike out the hyphen and you will treat antisemitism for what it really is--a generic name for modern Jew-hatred which now embraces this phenomenon as a whole, past, present and--I am afraid--future as well.

6 comments:

Daniel Saunders said...

There is another consideration: Arab antisemites often claim that they can't be "anti-Semitic", because they are themselves Semites. As Bernard Lewis, the (Jewish) historian of the Arab world points out, the idea that, because Hebrew and Arabic are related languages, Arabs can not be antisemitic is not very convincing. So personally I go for the hyphen-less 'antisemitism'.


Incidentally, I believe modern research indicates that while Marr popularized the term 'anti-Semitism', he did not in fact coin it.

Chaviva said...

@Daniel Where is the source that he didn't coin the term? Thanks!

Daniel Saunders said...

I got it from Walter Laqueur's The Changing Face of Antisemitism (which I reviewed here). Laqueur says the term was in use at least two decades before Marr popularized it.

Chaviva said...

I'm going to have to read that :)

Anonymous said...

Re: The funeral of Evan's boss (from your Twitter account)

You might also consider attending the wake which will be held in a funeral home. Unless the boss's family is exceptionally devout, there won't be spoken prayer until the very end of the wake. Usually, the funeral director waits until only family and close friends are left. Individual mourners might pray silently at there seats, and a kneeler is provided in front of the coffin for this purpose. The wake would give Evan an opportunity to express his sympathies to the family and connect with work colleagues in an environment focused on the loss.

No food is served, although there's usually food in a back room for the family or they go out to eat before or after. Bringing food to the funeral home would be odd, but if it was done in a spirit of generosity and you didn't expect to actually eat, I don't think anyone would be offended.

The body will be present and the casket is likely to be open, but isn't always. You don't have to approach the coffin, but the receiving line usually ends at the point where you either approach the casket or sit down. You don't need to stay very long.

In terms of attending the graveside service, not every one who goes to the funeral will go. Sometimes it's specifically restricted to family. Those who do attend the graveside service will come straight from the church. If Evan's just going this service, he'll need to hang out in the church parking lot during the mass so he can join the funeral procession. He should also let some one from the funeral home know he's joining the procession so he can get a marker for his car. The hearse driver might be helpful.

The graveside service usually very brief, and then every one goes to a restaurant, parish hall, or some one's home for a meal.

There will not be a receiving line at the grave or in the church, so if wants to make sure that the family knows he was there he'll need to approach them. The family expects to greet visitors at the funeral home and if the immediate family is unable to do so, a member of the extended family or a friend will step in to play this role. There may even be a guest book to sign at the funeral home.

Jehanne Dubrow said...

Chavi,
I studied briefly with Browning when I was a fellow at the Institute on the Holocaust & Jewish Civilization at Northwestern University. Essentially, the scholarly consensus is now that it's most appropriate to write antisemitism rather than anti-Semitism, because the capitol "S" and the hypenating of the word gives credence to what is, for all intents and purposes, bogus scientific language. The word "anti-Semitism" was coined by an antisemite who believed that there really was an ethnic group known as Semites. So, in order to undermine the initial intentions of the word and its fake Nazi science, many scholars now use the word "antisemitism" instead.

Hope this helps.

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