Wandering Jew

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 6, 2008

Wandering Jew is a phrase that trips easily off the tongue and can be heard to describe the most trivial situations such as having to change tables at a wedding to a busy travel schedule, as I once heard someone say, "With bookings in London, New York, LA, and Johannesburg, I'm going to be the Wandering Jew this year." But did this self-important lecturer know to what millennia-long antisemitic legend he was referring?

It all started in the Greek Testament, when Jesus is carrying his cross along the Via Dolorosa and supposedly a Jewish man assaults him or chides him for resting along the side of the road. Jesus responds with a curse that this man will wander earth and know no rest - not even death. In the early modern era, some priests report actually meeting the Wandering Jew - according to some he converted to Christianity and according to all, he was not ageing very well.

The predominance of Jews in the peddling trade that required them to travel from town to town and the unique status of Yiddish as a borderless language fuelled the antisemitic notion that all Jews were destined to be wanderers.

Today, the majority of Jews live in Israel - perhaps this empirical fact will finally put the legend of the Wandering Jew to rest.

Last updated: 11:20am, November 6 2008