What factors were responsible for the rise of anti-Semitism during the 19th century in Europe?

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djrharrison | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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The Jews had long been the scapegoat for those who faced economic and social upheaval. The Age of Enlightenment ushered in a period of greater equality even for Jews, though national governments continued to discriminate against and place restrictions on Jews. Nonetheless, two of the greatest Jew-hating countries of the pre-Enlightenment period, France and Germany, boldly granted economic, religious, and legal rights to Jews. The French even went so far as to officially recognize Judaism just as it had Catholicism and some Protestant religions. With their newfound right to purchase land, open businesses, and enter into legal contracts, Jews became wealthier, especially in German-speaking regions. Anti-Semitism did not really die, it simply simmered beneath the surface.

Dramatic social, political, and economic changes followed the Enlightenment, giving rise to old prejudices and hatreds. The Jews, once again, became the scapegoat for those who felt their lifestyles were in jeopardy.

Enlightenment philosophies such as the ideal of equality and the natural rights philosophy* drove political revolutions that diminished the power and status of the old nobility and clergy. At the same time, the Industrial Revolution ushered in capitalism which brought greater competition to businesses. The “the biggest losers” turned on those they felt were the biggest gainers: the Jews who were no longer among the poorest members of the population, but prospering since they had been given economic, religious, and legal rights.

In summary, three key concepts led to a rise in anti-Semitism. They are political division, social and economic instability, and scapegoatism.

*everyone is born with the same right to life, liberty and property, or the pursuit of happiness as Thomas Jefferson stated in the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

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readerofbooks's profile pic

readerofbooks | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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This is an important question. There were many factors that gave rise to anti-Semitism in the 19th century. 

First, there was a zionist movement. Many Jews wanted to go back to Palestine to create a nation for themselves. As more Jews desired this, non-Jews began to be suspicious. In the end, there were many conspiracy theories about the Jews, which saw the Jews as misanthropic. 

Second, during this time there was a push by many Germans for a unification of Germany. Before German unification, Germany was comprised of many different regions. As you can imagine, the path towards unification was not easy. When things became difficult, Jews were blamed as opponents of unification. 

Third, Jews in France experienced persecution because those who had socialist leanings did not like all the Jewish businesses. There was resentment of Jewish success. The same was true of Russia. For example, the Edict of Catherine I of Russia stated that "The Jews... who are found in Ukraine and in other Russian provinces are to be expelled."

shmindle's profile pic

shmindle | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 2) Honors

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Here are some other causes of the rise of antisemitism in the 19th century:

1) Rise of nationalism: People wanted to create a national community of people who shared the same culture and identity, and Jews became excluded.

2)Social Darwinism: Racial hierarchy and the belief that there could be a dominant group of people emerged, was used as justification of antisemitism. This was promoted through the Origin of Species, in 1859.

One of the most prominent examples of antisemitism was the Dreyfus Affair of 1894, in which a Jewish officer was accused of treason.

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