Art Exhibit on Anti-Semitism

The New York Review of Books reviews an art exhibit about anti-Semitic art, “A Terribly Durable Myth,” by Sara Lipton, who has written a book on the subject.  The earliest artwork she describes of an unflattering depiction of Jews dates from 1233.  In her article she lays a lot of the blame for the creation of anti-Semitism on Saint Paul’s epistles in the New Testament Bible, although Paul was a Jew.  She cites Paul’s distinction between materialistic Jews and spiritually minded Christians.  She quotes the 1933 Oxford English Dictionary definition of Jew, “… a name of opprobrium: spec. applied to a grasping or extortionate person.”  The first question that arose for me was, “If this myth of Jewish financial rapaciousness is unfounded, how has it lasted 2,000 years?” 

To offset the unfavorable images of Jews, she says the show displays art that characterizes Jews as charitable givers helping the poor, and art that depicts the most common Jews in Britain as poor tradesmen, rather than bankers.  She says that many Jews went into banking in Britain because that was the only occupation open to them, but she says little else to discredit the stereotype.  She mainly emphasizes how it has endured through centuries.  So, I ask, “Why aren’t there contrasting caricatures?”  The Jewish hooked nose she describes as common in art, is also a Roman nose.  Why is it so unflattering for Jews and not for Italians?  Where are the counter-examples? 

She doesn’t mention what to me is the main lesson of today’s emphasis on “diversity,” that not all Jews are the same.  Some may be rapacious; others may be indistinguishable from their non-Jewish counterparts.  She doesn’t mention that 20% of Nobel prize laureates are Jewish.  Are there no portraits of them? 

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