There was a Time When Jews Admitted They had a Problem: The Judenübel

Diversity Macht Frei
February 11, 2018

It is customary now for Jews to deny that antisemitism has any connection to Jewish behaviour. But it wasn’t always so.

Not long after the anti-Semitic “Hep Hep”* riots spread across Germany in 1819, some of the more thoughtful Jews got together and set out a programme for Jewish reform. They realised that anti-Semitism was caused by Jewish behaviour and that this behaviour, in turn, was informed by a creed of contempt for non-Jews. To eliminate anti-Semitism, they concluded, Jews had to change.

The combination of problematical Jewish behaviour and belief they called the Judenübel. In German, the basic meaning of the word Übel is Evil. It has the same etymological root as the English word. But it also incorporates a range of lesser significations include illness, malady, problem.  Judenübel, then, might be variously translated as: the Jewish Evil, the Jewish Malady, the Jewish Affliction.

These enlightened Jews, led by Leopold Zunz, founded the Society for the Culture and Science of the Jews. Here was their outline of the Judenübel that, as they saw it, had to be addressed.

The rioters shouted “Hep! Hep! Jude verreck!” (Death to all Jews!). The cry “Hep” (not a German word) was supposedly derived from the Latin “Hierosolyma Est Perdita”  meaning “Jerusalem is lost”

Outline of Matters in Need of Improvement among Jews


Religious concepts, especially God’s love and exclusive favoring of the Jews



Intolerance of other viewpoints

Neglect of decent manual labor in favor of ascetic idleness or overly literal observance of ceremonies




Contempt for science; all this leading to

The persistent delusion, contrary to law, that it is permissible to cheat non-Jews


Synagogue services

Forms of prayer

Obsolete, harmful, senseless customs

Overemphasis of ceremonial law


Tyrannical rabbis— their power, fanaticism, and uselessness

Lack of authority, hence anarchy, misuse, such as

Alms wasted on idlers

Bad schools or none at all


Effeminate children, therefore Cowardice

Harmful examples in parents’ home

Ignorance, immorality, uncouth Talmud students

Disparity between the teachings of the Law and its observance at home

Faulty and useless instruction at school: Talmud but no instruction in languages and science

No appreciation of learning is evoked among pupils

Badly paid and substandard teachers

Neglect of mother tongue

Neglect of (discrimination against) females


Only trade, mostly petty commerce or peddling, no artisans

Shunning physical labor, no farming

Neglect of self

No physical activity

Little desire to improve situation

No class distinctions

Superficial cleverness, hence misinformation

Lack of thorough, concentrated study

Sham interest in enlightenment


Withdrawal from or forcing themselves on Christians

Uncouth language, comportment, social intercourse, manners

Source “The Pity of it All: A Portrait of Jews in Germany 1743-1933” by Amos Elon

If Jonathan Greenblatt and other Jewish leaders of today are serious about tackling the “problem” of anti-Semitism, they need to display the same kind of enlightened leadership as Leopold Zunz. They must recognise that anti-Semitism is merely a reaction to Semitism or, to put it another way, the Judenübel. Once the Judenübel is addressed, anti-Semitism will simply disappear.


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