THE MOST MALIGNED JEW IN HISTORY
By: Ray Kestenbaum
The seeds of intraJewish animus were planted by a group of radical rabbis some 3800 years ago. Parshat Toldot describes how pregnant matriarch Rebecca consulted with them.
She was feeling the pain of struggle in her womb and the rabbis of the yeshiva of Shem and Eber advised her not to love each or educate each according to her own character.
They told her rather there were two separate nations in her lions who would forever struggle and eventually the younger one would prevail over the first-born. Rebecca heeded their advice and developed a strong favoritism for Jacob and an antipathy for her hairy firstborn Esau.
She schemed against Esau and the wishes of her husband Isaac. The rabbis' advice and Rebecca's response presaged a legitimacy to a pattern of "sinat achim", fraternal hatred. Isaac also shares in the blame in the manner in which he blessed his twin children, pitting one as the overlord against the other as the servant.
Esau, not getting mother's love at home, moved outdoors. In the field he learned how to survive and become aggressive. In the aggadah, written much later, a number of scholars accuse Esau of mindless killings and debauchery. Other scholars have come to his defense.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochei in the 2nd century said: "It is a well known halacha that Esau is the hater of Jacob." This dictum has been misinterpreted. Our rabbis target Esau as the progenitor of the cruel Romans and later the Christians. Yet there is no evidence at all for this in either Jewish literature up to the first century or in anthropology or history studies.
The assertion first appears in the 2nd century aggadah, following the disastrous Bar Kochba rebellion, in which Rabbi Judah ben Hai said: "My teacher Baruch said 'the voice of Jacob cries out at what the hands of Esau did to him at Bethar'." From this period Esau became the family villain in rabbinic literature.
Nothing in the Torah, in fact, documents Esau's alleged cruelty. The Bible relates Esau's great respect to his father and he is thought to have supported the family from his hunting and aggressive bread winning.
Esau was more than decent to Jacob upon their reunion and when Isaac died, rather than killing Jacob, Esau let the B'nei Yisrael develop in the land of milk and honey by going into self exile. He moved with family to the rocky mountains in Seir, south of Canaan.
Esau was perhaps the most maligned Jew in history. He became our eternal whipping boy. Yet the Torah commands us: "You should not hate Esau; for he is your brother." Based on what children are taught in many of our Jewish schools, it appears that many rabbis prefer to ignore this.
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