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Early Antisemitism

Sometimes called “the longest hatred,” antisemitism has persisted in many forms for over two thousand years. From the outset of the Common Era, Christian doctrine espoused the idea that Jews were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus and were perpetually being punished for their refusal to accept him as the messiah. Waves of antisemitic sentiment would crest and trough over two millenia, and the Jewish people were frequently made the scapegoat for natural disasters and times of hardship. A common manifestation of antisemitism was pogroms, violent and usually deadly riots launched against Jews by local residents, and frequently encouraged by the authorities, throughout Europe, especially in the Russian Pale of Settlement. 

As a religious minority in Christian Europe, Jews were often isolated from the rest of the population. They were permitted to engage in certain occupations only–moneylending, the arts, and commerce–and were permitted to live in certain areas, known as ghettos. They were also not considered true citizens of their countries, which resulted in frequent, large-scale expulsions of the entire Jewish population from certain cities. These restrictions were enforced for centuries and only began to change starting in the late 18th – early 19th century in a process known as “emancipation.”