Albert S. Lindemann has touched raw nerves with Esau’s Tears. Playing on the rabbinic legend that the Messiah will come only when Jacob’s elder brother ceases to lament being cheated of his birthright—i.e., when the gentile nations no longer feel hatred for Jacob’s descendants — Lindemann offers a vue d’ensemble of modern anti-Semitism as a response to Jewish social and political emancipation in Europe and the United States which emphatically rejects the notion that Jews have been merely “passive objects of venomous prejudice.” The latter view, which Lindemann properly attributes to Ruth Wisse, Robert Wistrich, and other contributors to Commentary, has earned him the effusive hostility of those with whom he disagrees. In January and April, Wistrich—a highly polemical writer with few scholarly accomplishments—castigated Lindemann in Commentary as an apologist for anti-Semites and Cambridge University for putting “its imprint on so biased and ignominious a work.”

Yet the controversial passages of Esau’s Tears are restricted almost entirely to the opening and closing sections of the book. There Lindemann goes after special pleaders associated with Commentary and pokes fun at the equation made by Alan Dershowitz and Orthodox Jewish leaders between the Nazi “rape” of the Jews and the “poisonous seduction” practiced on them by friendly Christians. He argues that Jews in Central and Eastern Europe shaped to some extent the conditions of their existence by their relations with their host nations. Thus, while Hungarian Jews made efforts at Magyarization, those in Rumania and Poland were, on the whole, less open to assimilation and to social contact with the broader culture. Lindemann questions the truth of the argument that, for Jews in countries like Germany which were infected by “eliminationist” anti-Semitism, Jewish actions and attitudes were necessarily unavailing. Tortured arguments by Daniel Goldhagen to the contrary, he finds no evidence suggesting that murderous anti-Semitism was widespread among the German people before Hitler’s coming to power and notes that, in areas where Jews were largely assimilated, they were able to obtain gentile assistance and, in some cases, even to blend into the surrounding population during the Nazi occupation. In Poland, where Jews suffered most grievously, the majority of them had lived in social and cultural isolation.

Despite its provocative tone in places, Esau’s Tears for the most part simply reprises long-accepted views regarding Jewish populations resident in various countries. Lindemann’s discussion of the condition of the Jews in England is glowingly Anglophile, while what he has to say about Jews in the United States—America has been kinder to Jews than most European countries owing to its positive view of commerce and getting ahead, and because the American Protestant ascendancy consisted of Old Testament Christians who took a generous view of the nation of Moses and Jesus —is identical with what used to be taught in Reform Jewish Sunday Schools in the days before the upsurge of Jewish victimology.

I, for one, am dubious about Lindemann’s claim (which he later qualifies) that anti-Semitism was disappearing in Victorian England but raging in 19th century Germany. As a scholar of European social and intellectual history, I believe that the English shared with the Germans a social and cultural anti- Semitism, though neither people was as steeped in this prejudice as were the French, the Austrians, or the Russians. A tendency exists to exaggerate German hostility to Jews—and to minimize, in contrast, corresponding English attitudes—as a result of events that occurred in interwar Europe. Moreover, Lindemann makes a point that helps explain the less frenzied reaction in England to the socioeconomic rise of the Jews: unlike German Jews who tried to assimilate and even intermarry, English Jews were more parochial, strongly resisting (as Arthur Balfour noted) invitations to mingle with English society. And this was doubly true of Eastern European Jews who, coming to England in the late 19th century, were far more ghetto-bound than the Anglo-Sephardim who had crossed the Channel two centuries earlier. It may have been this stand-offishness and even genetic exclusivity, approved by English philo-Semites, that made Jews appear less threatening to the English social establishment than they seemed to its German counterpart.

Robert Wistrich accuses Lindemann of believing that “Jews are largely responsible for the hatreds they encounter” and that “Gentile tears will not stop flowing until the Jews reform themselves . . . or possibly disappear as a distinct entity.” Nowhere does Lindemann say anything so unequivocal, much of his text seeming to incorporate the work of George Mosse, Lucy Dawidowicz, and other historians identified with the “blameless victim” school of thought. Lindemann’s book, indeed, has two besetting problems. The first is the voluminous retelling of what others have already written; the second and more bothersome is the compulsion to cover all interpretive bases at the same time. Lindemann both believes and disbelieves that Jews contributed to their victimization; that late 19th-century German anti-Semitism “assumed obscure shapes and shadows” leading to Nazism; that it was typologically similar to what was found in England; and that the Final Solution depended on the “contingency” of Hitler’s “peculiar personality.” Between the arresting assertions maintained at the beginning and at the end of the book, the body of it offers a grab bag of secondary literature. But however innocuous the greater part of Esau’s Tears, Lindemann—predictably—has been vilified for speaking forbidden truths: that anti-gentile hostility has been basic to Jewish identity; that this hostility has acquired importance, with the decline of anti- Semitism, as an intra-ethnic glue; that continuous Jewish persecution under Christianity is a fiction; that Christians have not exhibited a single unified response to Jews; and that Jewish behavior has played a critical role in determining relations between the Jews and Christian societies.

What Lindemann does not explain is why Christians have come to think differently on these matters than they once did. It is not Jews alone who push Jewish victimology, any more than black history is an industry composed exclusively of black people: members of a disintegrating Christian society cheer on attacks against their own heritage and champion the victimological claims of “marginalized” minorities. In an obvious allusion to demands by the American and German left that the German people overcome their national past, Lindemamr asks, rhetorically, “Should we expect people who are part of a victimized group, or who define themselves as powerless, to do any ‘mastering’?” Black History Month, he observes, “is not much concerned with mastering uncomfortable relations — except those that others are uncomfortable about.”

Celebrants of victimhood are responding to the collapse of the broader culture. Absurd claims—such as that Jewish media moguls favor black candidates for employment from a shared experience of being “outsiders” in America —have become unchallenged substitutes for the truth. White gentiles, as well as black and Jewish victimologists, wish to believe grotesquely false or exaggerated accusations about the world they are abandoning. That is the real context of the controversy stirred by Esau’s Tears: Lindemann’s unwillingness to allow the victimology racket to proceed unchallenged.


[Esau’s Tears: Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews, by Albert S. Lindemann (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) 568 pp., $34.95]