I think I have a very good idea why it is that anti-Semitism is so tenacious and so protean and so enduring. Christianity and Islam, theistic though they may claim to be, are both based on the fetishizing of human primates: Jesus in one case and Mohammed in the other. Neither of these figures can be called exactly historical but both have one thing in common even in their quasi-mythical dimension. Both of them were first encountered by the Jews. And the Jews, ravenous as they were for any sign of the long-sought Messiah, were not taken in by either of these two pretenders, or not in large numbers or not for long. If you meet a devout Christian or a believing Muslim, you are meeting someone who would give everything he owned for a personal, face-to-face meeting with the blessed founder or prophet. But in the visage of the Jew, such ardent believers encounter the very figure who have such a precious moment, and who spurned the opportunity and turned shrugging aside. Do you imagine for a microsecond that such a vile, churlish transgression will ever be? I myself certainly hope that it will not. The Jews have seen through Jesus and Mohammed. In retrospect, many of them have also seen through the mythical, primitive, and cruel figures of Abraham and Moses. Nearer to our own time, in the bitter combats over the work of Marx and Freud and Einstein, Jewish participants and protagonists have not been the least noticeable. May this always be the case, whenever any human primate sets up, or is set up by others, as a Messiah.
All questions of right to one side, I have never been able to banish the queasy inner suspicion that Israel just did not look, or feel, either permanent or sustainable. I felt this when sitting in the old Ottoman courtyards of Jerusalem, and I felt it even more when I saw the hideous 'Fort Condo' settlements that had been thrown up around the city in order to give the opposite impression. If the statelet was only based on a narrow strip of the Mediterranean littoral (god having apparently ordered Moses to lead the Jews to one of the very few parts of the region with absolutely no oil at all), that would be bad enough. But in addition, it involved roosting on top of an ever-growing population that did not welcome the newcomers.
If these laws [in the Bible] belonged to any other ancient culture we would approach them very differently. We need not bother to reject the code of Hammurabi. Presumably it is because Moses is still felt to make some claim on us that this project of discrediting his law is persisted in with such energy. The unscholarly character of the project may derive from the supposed familiarity of the subject.
There is a moment in the tractate when the Rabbis imagine what takes place when Moses ascends Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. In this account (there are several) Moses ascends to heaven, where he finds God busily adding crownlike ornaments to the letters of the Torah. Moses asks God what He is doing and God explains that in the future there will be a man named Akiva, son of Joseph, who will base a huge mountain of Jewish law on these very orthographic ornaments. Intrigued, Moses asks God to show this man to him. Moses is told to 'go back eighteen rows,' and suddenly, as in a dream, Moses is in a classroom, class is in session and the teacher is none other than Rabbi Akiva. Moses has been told to go to the back of the study house because that is where the youngest and least educated students sit. Akiva, the great first-century sage, is explaining Torah to his disciples, but Moses is completely unable to follow the lesson. It is far too complicated for him. He is filled with sadness when, suddenly, one of the disciples asks Akiva how he knows something is true and Akiva answers: 'It is derived from a law given to Moses on Mount Sinai.' Upon hearing this answer, Moses is satisfied - though he can't resist asking why, if such brilliant men as Akiva exist, Moses needs to be the one to deliver the Torah. At this point God loses patience and tells Moses, 'Silence, it's my will.