Words Make a Difference

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Words Make a Difference


    Because we interact through symbols, either oral or written, we have language, which the great anthropologist Edward Sapir called “a guide to social reality.” Together with his student, Whorf, he developed what is now known among linguists as the “Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis”, which holds that language powerfully conditions all our thoughts about social processes.  We therefore live in two worlds at once. We live in the world of physical reality and in the world of social interpretation depending on language.  “No languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality,” said Sapir. To all of us, “reality” is whatever our language interprets it to be. Philosophers since Kant have recognized that we may never know what the world really is because we can only know what the world appears to be according to the competence of our senses and the language applied to what we sense.

    All propagandists and all translators know this. Anything translated from one language to another is only an approximation of the original.  Yet, even something said in a language we use every day and which we speak is interpreted in the light of our experience and our culture. The Nazi killers, then and now, know this. It is therefore possible for the current Hitler, Arafat Husseinei, to nuance his English pronouncements to at least hint at his “peaceful” intentions, even as he incites his followers in Arabic to commit mass murder. Likewise, the European killers of the 1930’s invented an entire vocabulary designed to fool their victims as well as their followers. For example, they called deportation “settlement in the East.” In German, of course. When all Jewish civil servants were fired without any compensation, the Germans called this “the restructuring of the professional civil service.” In German, of course. The theft of Jewish property was called “ a contribution”. In German, of course. Even gassing of innocent children was described by an obnoxious euphemism.

   Because language creates its own reality, we Jews ought not to play into the hands of those who seek our destruction by employing the malicious term “anti-semitism”. That phrase was invented by a German writer, Wilhelm Marr, when he founded “The League of Anti-Semites” in 1873.  Marr did so after he had written the best-seller Der Sieg des Judentums über das Germanentum, or, The Victory of Jewish Culture over German Culture. Notice that this was a best-seller in 1873, sixty years before the Nazi takeover. In fact, the book went through twelve editions in only six years and became the greatest publishing success in German in the 19th century. The principal message of that book is that Jews are a race, biologically different from Germans and all other humans. Marr informed his readers that the Jewish religion made no difference because Jewish “swine” characteristics were inherited. He also claimed that Jews were the first and only power in Europe and that Jews are vermin and must be exterminated in the same fashion as vermin are exterminated from homes – by gassing.

   Now we must admit that “anti-semitism” became the most successful social movement ever invented. The words of Marr became reality sixty years later. Yet, at the time this horrible book was written, German Jews and others still believed that “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” That nonsense is as ridiculous now as it was then.

   The Arabs like to say that they are not “anti-semitic” since they are themselves semites.  That is true because a semite is someone whose daily language is semitic.  Hence, those who speak Hebrew, Arabic or Aramaic are semites.  That word was first used by linguists who sought to classify related languages by using the names of the sons of Noah as mentioned in the Torah.  According to Beraysheet (Genesis) Chapter X the sons of Noah were Shem, Ham and Japheth. Verses 21-32 tells us that the sons of Shem, listed in detail, lived “from Mesha …..unto the mountains of the east.” That is the area we now call the Middle East because it is located half-way between Europe and India. From the European point-of-view, India is of course the far east. So linguists named languages spoken in the areas “semitic”. In no sense did the word ever mean to apply to any “race” except when it was perverted by Marr and his followers. Yet, we do it too. So let us be clear. People who seek our destruction are anti-Jewish because, as the Catholic French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre has shown, these people hate Jewish ethics and the Jewish message found in Vayikro (Leviticus) 19:18.  This reads: “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge ………. but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” That command is simply too much for many people and they therefore hate those who promote it.  Hillel reputedly said that in that one sentence we find the whole of Judaism and that everything else is commentary.

   The hatred of Jews, taught in all Moslem schools and Mosques, is based on the Koran, or the Readings, as revealed to the Prophet Mohammed (570-632). In Chapter 11, 61 we learn that “They (the Children of Israel) were consigned to humiliation and wretchedness; they brought the wrath of God upon themselves, because they used to deny God’s signs and kill his prophets (Mohammed) etc………

   Mohammed died of natural causes. No Jews murdered him. However, the Jews living in Medina at the time of his preaching refused to change their religion. We still do. That is the root of all the fighting that has caused so much bloodshed in Israel for more than one hundred years.

    We must of course defend our lives and our existence. Nevertheless, we pray that our Arab brethren may yet see that they too ought to love their Jewish neighbors at least a little bit and stop the killing.

    Meanwhile, we need to say it like it is.  We are not semites, nor are the haters anti-semitic.  They are anti-Jewish and anti all that is good and decent in this world. May they yet repent.

Shalom u’vracha.

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