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Semitism as a Metaphor for Modernity
Semitism as a Metaphor for Modernity

Author(s): Răzvan Pârâianu
Subject(s): Jewish studies
Published by: The Goldstein Goren Center for Hebrew Studies

Summary/Abstract: There is a widespread belief that anti-Semitism is a nonsensical construction because it is based upon an obsession against something that does not exist, which is Semitism.1 Indeed, Semitism as a name for an ethnic or religious group is not relevant because its meaning, originated in the 19th century scholarly debates over the Semitic family of languages, does not describe anything particularly Jewish but rather a much more general linguistic feature relevant for the family of Semitic languages, including the Arabic ones.2 Thus, the identification of the Semites was as problematic as the recognition of the Aryans within the modern world.3 However, many 19th century intellectuals did refer to something that may come under the incidence of Semitism. Directly or indirectly, they described a specific way of life or mode of thinking in order to portray the image of the Semite. Semitism was not only Judaism or Jewishness, but l’esprit publique of a world they perceived as decadent. The Jews, of course, were often seen as the first example of Semitism, but they were not necessarily the only ones susceptible of being “contaminated” by Semitism. Wilhelm Marr accused Germany of being Judaicized,4 Édouard Drumont denounced France for being Jewish5 and the examples could continue almost endlessly. Yet, though in many of these texts the danger took the form of an effective conquest or invasion of the [...]

  • Issue Year: 2005
  • Issue No: 5
  • Page Range: 23-68
  • Page Count: 46
  • Language: English