Home to nearly one-half of the world's Jews, America also harbours its share of anti-Jewish sentiment. In a country founded on the principle of religious freedom, with no medieval past, no legal nobility and no national church, the questions arise of how anti-Semitism became a presence in America, and how did America's beginnings and history affect the course of this bigotry? Frederic Cople Jaher considers these questions in "A Scapegoat in the New Wilderness", a history of anti-Semitism from its origins in the ancient world to its first widespread outbreak in America during the Civil War. Comprehensive in approach, the book combines psychological, sociological, economic, cultural, anthropological and historical interpretation to reveal the nature of anti-Semitism in the United States. Jaher sets up a comparative framework, in which American anti-Semitism is seen in relation to other forms of ethnic and religious bigotry. He compares America's treatment of Jews to their treatment in other eras and countries, and notes variations by region, social group and historical period.
Jaher shows us that although anti-Semitism has been less pronounced in America than in Europe, it has had a significant place in its culture from the beginning, a circumstance traced to intertwining religious and secular forces reaching back to early Christianity, with its doctrinal animosity toward Jews. He documents the growth of this animosity in its American incarnation through the 1830s to its virulent and epidemic climax during the Civil War. Though Christianity's dispute with Judaism accounts for the persistence of anti-Semitism, Jaher reveals the deeper roots of this pathology of prejudice in the human psyche - in primal concerns about defeat, enfeeblement, and death, or in visceral responses of intergroup and interpersonal envy and rivalry. An in-depth study of all phases of anti-Jewish feeling as it is manifested in politics, economic behaviour, cultural myth and legend, religious and social interaction, and the performing arts, this comprehensive work offers insight into the New World's oldest ethnic and religious hatred.