Anti Semitism Part 2

Where Was Love & Mercy?

The History of Christian Anti-Semitism – Part 2

Last month, we explored the first 1,000 years of Christian history in relation to the Jewish people and Israel. What we discovered wasn’t a pretty picture! And, it only became worse. While the first 1,000 years displayed judeophobia, it was primarily limited to the clergy who were always trying to keep their flocks away from the Jews. However, later, the rank and file, growing middle class would be the main source of anti-Semitic activity, spurred on by the Church and its edicts. The pattern had been set.

This month, let’s consider these questions:

  • Why did historical events such as the Crusades and the Inquisition ultimately focus on persecuting Jews?
  • Did you know that Martin Luther was sympathetic toward the Jewish people in his early years and then became the source of vile anti-Semitism in his later years?
  • Did you know that Adolph Hitler found precedent for his evil actions against the Jewish people right out of the annals of Church history?
  • What can we do to change the last 1,800 years of historical anti-Jewish attitudes and actions of the Church? So, let’s continue our pilgrimage on this trail of contempt.

The Crusades

The First Crusade began in the year 1096. This was a period of strife for the Western Church. There were two Popes, one considered an anti-Pope who was claiming the position. When one died, the other, Urban II, needed a unifying cause. So, he called for a Crusade, or Holy War, against the Moslems in the Holy Land, who were persecuting Christians and desecrating the holy places and Jerusalem. In the summer of 1096, an undisciplined rabble of 200,000 peasants and artisans assembled in France. However, there were no Moslems near at hand. So the “champions of the cross” turned their attention to the Jews, who, in their eyes, were just as much “infidels” and enemies of Christianity as the Moslems. They found they could begin the Crusade on the spot. Cruelty, instead of charity, began at home.

As the Crusaders marched through Europe on their way to the Holy Land, they literally raped, pillaged and plundered the Jewish communities along the way. Faced with the wild cries of the Crusaders, “The Jews crucified our Savior, and they must return to Him or die,” the Jews had the alternative of baptism or death. Thousands preferred the death of martyrs. While the Church did not officially sanction this activity, it nevertheless took place with very little to stop it. Many local clergymen and bishops did give some Jews protection and refuge from the rabble. Unfortunately, others actually participated in the executions.

For example, at Mainz, in Germany, the Archbishop invited 1,300 Jews into his palace for refuge. This proved to be an invitation to slaughter, for under his supervision, they were all killed. He even shared in the spoils confiscated from the corpses. Incidentally, Emperor Henry IV heard of this massacre, confiscated the property of the Archbishop, and permitted the Jews who had been forcibly baptized in his realm to return to Judaism. When the Crusaders finally arrived in Jerusalem three years later, they were 600,000 strong. They besieged the city and on July 15, 1099, broke through the walls. They killed the Moslems in the city, along with many Christians whom they mistook for Moslems because of their Middle Eastern appearance. The herded the Jews into their synagogues. Crusaders with shields decorated with large crosses placed wood around the synagogues and burned alive all inside as they sang, “Christ, We Adore Thee!”

Is it any wonder that, for the Jewish people, the cross is a symbol of hatred and death, not love, reconciliation and salvation? The cross has literally been taken and used as a sword against the Jewish people. In all, there were nine Crusades. The last was in 1291, when the Moslems once again took possession of the Holy Land.

The Fourth Lateran Council

In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council of the Church was held. During this council, the doctrine of Transubstantiation was crystallized. Transubstantiation is the doctrine that the flesh and blood of Christ becomes present in the consecrated host (bread) and wine. This doctrine is still believed in the Catholic Church today. This doctrine, together with other statements of the Fourth Lateran Council, became a new source of Christian anti-Semitism.

  1. Host Desecration: For centuries to follow, accusations of host desecration by Jews were circulated. The “Host Desecration Libel” is that the Jewish people would try to steal a consecrated host and then stab, torment, and burn it in an effort to recrucify Christ. Many illustrated stories showing this fabricated phenomenon were circulated, particularly in Germany, during the 1400s and 1500s. This teaching is not dead. Let me share a personal example. In the mid-1970s, the children of a Catholic friend came home from a parochial school (in Boston, MA) with this story told them by a nun trying to teach them respect for the communion host (bread wafer): “A Catholic boy and a Jewish boy went into a Catholic church, and the Jewish boy talked the Christian boy into stealing a communion host. They took it home and went into a closet and stuck it with a pin. The host began to bleed, filled up the closet with blood, and drowned the boys!” This is a variation of the old blood libel charge, particularly since the culprit in the story is a Jew.
  2. Blood Libel: An offshoot of the host desecration libel is the “blood libel.” The blood libel contends that Jews murder non-Jews, particularly Christians, in order to obtain blood for the Passover or other rituals. It was also purported that Jews needed to drink Christian blood so that their appearance could remain human looking, and Christian blood would also help eliminate the distinctive foetor judaicus, “Jewish smell,” which was converse to the “odor of sanctity” possessed by Christians. Another version of this accusation is that Jews would kidnap Christian babies, kill them, and grind up their bodies to cook in their matza (unleavened bread) for Passover. These libels are easily refuted when one has only the slightest understanding of Jewish dietary laws. Jewish people are forbidden to eat the blood of any animal, much less human blood or flesh. The fact that such a doctrine could come into being shows complete contempt and ignorance of Jewish lifestyle, and the lack of any Christian-Jewish relations and dialogue. Again, these accusations can still be found today. Not too many years ago, a young boy was kidnapped in a town north of Minneapolis. JoAnn Magnuson, our BFP Education Director in the US, has a copy of a flyer that was put on windshields in the area claiming that Jews had kidnapped the child for their Passover rituals. It sounds absurd that such a thing could be claimed in the 1990s, but anti-Semitism does not die an easy death.
  3. Distinguishing Marks: Another canon promulgated by the Fourth Lateran Council required Jews to wear a distinguishing mark. The form of the mark varied in different countries, but usually took the form of a badge, or a three-cornered or pointed hat. In this way, Christians could be sure not to inadvertently come into contact with Jewish people. Even in Medieval art, Jews were depicted in paintings and woodcuts with a circle on their clothing or wearing pointed hats. It is important to realize that during this period, many lay and ecclesiastical authorities tried to protect the Jewish community from persecution. Much of the anti-Semitism was now promoted by a rising middle-class. However, the attitudes were based on Church teaching of the past.

The Inquisition

The next historical event to blemish world history is the infamous Inquisition promoted by the Church in Spain and Portugal. According to Canon Law, the Inquisition was not authorized to interfere in the internal affairs of the Jews, but to seek out Christian heretics who had backslidden. However, this law was rescinded on the grounds that the presence of Jews caused heresy to develop in the Christian communities.

In the mid-1400s, the Spanish Inquisition began to identify and prosecute backsliders in the Church. It then spread to the Jewish community. Its first focus was the tens of thousands of Jews who had been forced to be baptized. These baptized Jews were known as Conversos or New Christians. Because of this, they were considered Christians and expected to behave as Christians, even though conversion was not their choice. If a mouse is caught in a cookie jar, this does not make him a cookie. So too, force-baptizing anyone does not make him a Christian. Many of these New Christians took upon themselves a Christian facade in order to live and work in the Christian society of Spain and Portugal.

Others did not, and were persecuted for their faith. Many were still practicing Jewish customs, such as lighting candles on Friday evening, changing the linen on the Sabbath, abstaining from pork and scaleless fish, observing the Feast Days, etc. According to the Inquisition Laws, to be caught practicing any one of 37 Jewish customs was grounds to be brought before the Inquisition Court. Christians were to watch for these signs and report any such backsliders. Once before the court, there was no way out of punishment:

  • If you confessed and did not repent, you were burned alive.
  • If you confessed and repented, you were publicly humiliated. Any subsequent slip-ups resulted in certain death.
  • If you did not confess, even if you were innocent, you were tortured until you confessed and then were burned.

The Church was not allowed to execute the victim, so they passed them to a secular arm of the Inquisition Court. Blood was not allowed to be shed, thus burning was the execution of choice. This they justified by a text from John 15:6, “If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered, and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”

Incidentally, all their property was confiscated, enriching the Inquisition Court. Finally, practicing Jews (not Conversos) were eventually brought to the Inquisition Courts, as it was believed that they were Judaisers and a bad influence on the Conversos. They too were tried and burned. The Inquisition in Spain lasted from 1481-1820. Over 350,000 Jews suffered punishment.

The Reformation

Finally, we hope for a breath of fresh air. Reformers recognized many errors inherent in the Church and challenged the leadership, the Pope, the bishops, the priests — the whole ecclesiastical body. The Reformation brought about complex and even contradictory repercussions to the evolution of anti-Semitism. One branch of Protestantism, namely the Calvinists and their offshoots, proved less judeophobic than Catholicism until the 20th century.

The other branch, Lutheranism, developed a continuing strain of anti-Semitism due to Luther’s later anti-Jewish views. An immediate consequence of the Reformation was to aggravate the position of the Jews in regions that remained Roman Catholic. The popes were determined to restore order by the strict application of Canon Law. This naturally affected the Jewish people negatively. One result was that from the second half of the 16th century, ghettos were introduced, at first in Italy, and afterward in the Austrian Empire. The ghetto was actually the name of an island in Venice that was an abandoned foundry. The Jews of Venice were rounded up and moved there so they could be separated and watched. This practice spread to other parts of the Catholic world. Adolph Hitler reinstituted the ghetto in the Third Reich for the same purpose. G. E. Roberti, an 18th century Catholic publicist, stated: “A Jewish ghetto is a better proof of the truth of the religion of Jesus Christ than a whole school of theologians.”

Martin Luther: Martin Luther is the father of Lutheranism. During the first period of his ministry, 1513-1523, Luther often condemned the persecution of the Jews and recommended a more tolerant policy toward them, based on the spirit of true brotherhood. In 1523, he wrote a pamphlet, “That Christ Was Born A Jew,” in which he argued that the Jews, who were from the same stock as the founder of Christianity, had been right in refusing to accept the “papal paganism” presented to them as Christianity. He added, “If I had been a Jew and had seen such fools and blockheads teach the Christian faith, I should rather have turned into a pig than become a Christian.”

However, when they did not accept his version of Christianity and convert, Luther turned increasingly hostile to the Jewish people. By the 1530s in his Table Talk Series, he referred to them as “the stiffed-necked Jews, ironhearted and stubborn as the devil.”

Finally, it happened. He printed two pamphlets, in 1542, “On the Jews and Their Lies,” and in 1543, “On The Shem Hamephoras” (The Ineffable Name). These two pamphlets contain some of the most abhorrent and vile language ever written against the Jewish people. Five hundred years later, Hitler found many of his ideas and justifications for his treatment of the Jewish people and the Holocaust in these writings. After all, if the father of the Lutheran Church, who was a German, stated these things, who was to argue with him? For Luther, it was certainly a case of “sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind.”

The Enlightenment And Emancipation

As we move into the era of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries, we find the Jewish people still suffering from a legacy of prejudice. As long as Christianity held unchallenged sway in Europe, Jews could exist only on the margin of European social life, and were not even allowed to own property. The term, the Wandering Jew, found its definition in the fact that the Jewish people were forced from city to city, and country to country. For this reason, the Jewish people gravitated to occupations of the intellect, commerce and the arts, professions they could take with them if forced to leave.

Not being able to buy property, they often put their wealth into jewelry or other easily transportable commodities. This and their vocation in banking and money lending, forced upon them by Church authorities since the 12th Century, gave them an undeserved reputation of being obsessed with money.

They became the scapegoat for the ills of the world. When the people of Europe were dying from the Black Death (Bubonic Plague), the Jews were blamed for poisoning the wells. Lacking knowledge regarding germs and disease, and seeing most of the Jewish people free from infection (which was due to their dietary habits and cleanliness), the conclusion of the non-Jewish citizens was that the Jews were the source of the problem. After all, the Jews were still being pictured as evil and prompted by the devil to do evil deeds. Or, they were caricaturized as creatures with pointed tails, horns, and devilish features.

As we move into the era of Emancipation, the newer 19th century version of anti-Semitism arose on soil, which had been well watered for many centuries in Europe by Christian theology and popular myths about the Jewish people. For centuries, Christians had persecuted Jews for theological reasons, and this “teaching of contempt” had set the seal on the most ancient of all anti-Semitic themes: that the Jews were a uniquely alien element within human society and the enemy of the modern secular state. The end of the Medieval era of faith and politics did not mean the end of anti-Semitism.

The Pogroms Of Russia

From 1881 to 1902, there was a series of pogroms against the Jews of Russia. The Pogroms were a series of attacks, accompanied by destruction, the looting of property, murder, and rape, perpetrated by the Christian population of Russia against the Jews. Civil and military authorities stood by and watched, and at times participated. The Church was silent at best, and even endorsed some of the attacks. It was during this period that we find the infamous publication, The Protocols Of The Learned Elders Of Zion. The Protocols, first printed in Russia in 1905, is a supposed conversation between Jewish leaders on how they were to take over the world. The original publication was printed under the auspices of the secret police on the press of Czar Nicolas II of Russia, who made no secret of his personal membership in the anti-Semitic organization, the Black Hundreds. Even though this booklet has been proven over and over again to be false, it can still be found in print around the world and in many languages.

It is difficult to assess the full scope of the pogroms and the number of victims they claimed because of a civil war affecting Russia at the turn of the century. However, partial data is available for 530 communities in which 887 major pogroms and 349 minor pogroms occurred; there were 60,000 dead and several times that number of wounded. (Dubnow, History of Russia.)

The Holocaust

This brings us to the Holocaust, the culmination of 1900 years of bad teaching in Christian society. The Holocaust was Hitler’s Final Solution of the Jewish people. Germany was one of the most enlightened, intellectual, and cultured societies in the world at that time. Yet, this so-called Christian society stood by and watched the extermination of the Jews of Europe, and some even participated.

Six million Jews including 2,000,000 children were violently murdered by Hitler and the Nazis. His Final Solution was to rid the world of the “Jewish vermin,” as he portrayed them in literature, speeches, and films. Hitler concluded that there was an evil in society and the common denominator was Jews who could be found in every city and in every country of Europe. To Hitler, they were an ever-present and evil burden to society. They were the killers of Christ. They needed to be controlled and segregated from the rest of society and wear distinguishing badges. They should only work in menial tasks and be barred from medicine, the arts, sciences, law, education, etc. Their synagogues and prayer books should be burned, their property confiscated, and ultimately, they should be killed. Doesn’t that sound vaguely familiar? Every one of these persecutions had a precedent in earlier centuries when the Church controlled politics. Hitler really did not do anything new, he only did it on a grander scale, and more “efficiently.” Sadly, he learned his lesson from Church history.

Hitler and his agents were certainly not true Christians. Nazi philosophy was influenced more by pagan mythology. But most Nazis were members in good standing in either Lutheran or Catholic churches. They perpetrated these acts in a historically Christian nation…and there was a deafening silence from the Christian world. Even during the decade before the Final Solution exterminations began, the “Christian West” rejected Jewish emigrants fleeing from the growing Nazi menace, and even prevented them from going to Eretz Israel,their ancestral homeland. These decisions resulted in the death of millions.

Father Neimoeller, writing of this sad chapter of history, said: “First they came for the Communists and I did not speak out – because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out -because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

The Holocaust in all of its severity is unique to the Jewish people. While non-Jews were killed in Hitler’s killing machine, they were killed for political or social reasons, such as being mentally ill, prostitutes or homosexuals. The Jewish people as a whole were targets: mothers, children, peasants, doctors, musicians, rabbis, professors, etc. None were exempt, and they were all exterminated JUST BECAUSE THEY WERE JEWS. Fortunately, there were some Christians who acted with compassion to hide or help Jews to escape, e.g. Corrie Ten Boom and the Christians of Le Chambon in France. However, their numbers were far too few to make a significant difference.

Hitler is gone. Nazi Germany has ceased to exist. However, the “apple of God’s eye” (Zech. 2:14), the Jewish people, are alive, and Israel is a fact.

Anti-Semitism In The Last 50 Years

From this historical account, it can be seen that the concept of Christian-Jewish relations is a very recent phenomenon. The effort to build genuine Christian-Jewish relationships has only begun in a serious fashion during the last 40 years. Forty years out of nearly 2,000 is not a long time. Much of this effort is in response to the Holocaust; nevertheless, it is happening. Will it last? Only if you are a part of making it last. There is still a battle to be fought. Anti-Semitism isn’t gone, and can be seen or heard in every community. While some would have you believe the world is becoming a better place and anti-Semitism is on the wane, this is not true. Since 1990, anti-Semitic acts around the world have increased, even showing up in places where hardly any Jews live, such as Japan.

We also see how Israel receives a great deal of media reporting that is tainted with a perpetually negative bias. Israel has become a bastion of self-determination for the Jewish people, and many in the world cannot accept it. A “weak underdog” Israel was more acceptable. But a strong Israel, on equal par in the world, is unacceptable. In my estimation, world opinion of Israel is trapped in the old pit of anti-Semitism. After World War II, as the facts of the Holocaust came to light, many enlightened individuals and groups began to speak out for the Jewish people, albeit too late to save the 6,000,000 who perished. While it was no longer “fashionable” to be anti-Semitic, that did not make the problem go away…it only drove it underground. Currently, it is showing itself in world opinion of Israel, as people and governments have transferred their anti-Semitic feelings to a national or political level in the disguise of righteous indignation against the “aggressive Zionist State.” The new anti-Israel, or anti-Zionist trend, is nothing more than the old anti-Semitism in new clothing.

How can we counteract this? We can take a stand, know our facts, and be a collective Christian voice of support and encouragement. This is something that hasn’t been done during all Church history. Yes, there have been Christian individuals who spoke out, but now I believe we have a chance to make a difference because we can show solidarity as a group.

What Should This Mean To Us?

The Jewish people know this history well, while most Christians often ignore it. We prefer to forget about it, because it is an indictment against us. Rev. Dr. Edward Flannery, in his book, The Anguish of the Jews, says that “the only chapters of Christian history known by the Jews were recorded on pages the Church has torn out of the history books and burned.” What does Paul mean in Romans 11 when he points out that the Jewish people are “beloved for the sake of the Fathers,” and that “by our mercy, they will receive mercy?”

It is grievous to think that Satan’s greatest tool against God’s covenant people, the apple of His eye, has been the Church. To say that these historical churchmen who did these terrible things were not real Christians is not accurate, for many of them were. Let us learn a lesson from Martin Luther. No one can doubt his devotion to the Lord, yet he wrote and spoke some of the most terrible anti-Semitic material in history. Like Luther, some of the greatest anti-Semites started out as great supporters of the Jewish people, and then became disappointed when Jews did not fulfill Christian expectations. Apparently, their love was not genuine, but had an ulterior motive. Anti-Semitism is sin and we must constantly guard against it in our hearts and lives. I fully believe that anti-Semitism is the epitome of evil, and the fight against it is a spiritual, as well as a physical, battle. Since the Jews are a God-called, covenantal people, to fight against them is to fight against God. This may be understandable for those of the world, but a tragic error for Christians who believe in the God of Israel. As Ogden Nash wrote, “How odd of God to chose the Jews, but not so odd as those who chose the Jewish God and spurn the Jews.”

Now that we have heard the truth on this subject, it is time for the Church to grow up and learn to respect God’s covenant people, our elder brothers, and Judaism, the parent faith of our faith. Isaiah the prophet said, “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord; Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him, he was but one, and I blessed him and made him many. The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins…” (Isa. 51:1-3). Paul says, “…if the root is holy, so are the branches. If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: you do not support the root, but the root supports you” (Rom. 11:16-18).

Paul is clear about God’s natural branches, the Jewish people, when he says of them in Romans 11:28, “They are beloved for the sakes of the Patriarchs, for God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable.” Christians need to remember, it was by the Jewish people, God’s Chosen people, that Jesus was born, and we received our salvation. They were chosen to live in God’s land, Israel, to worship God and be blessed by Him, thus showing the world the blessedness of serving the one true God. They were also chosen to receive and record God’s Word so we could have the Bible. Yes, they should be loved for what they have given to us, not hated.

As Gentile Christians, we have a Jewish connection. In Ephesians 2:11-13, Paul tells us that we Gentiles have been “brought near” by the blood of Jesus to the covenants of the promises, hopes and faith of Israel, and even made citizens of Israel. Further, we must remember that Jesus was Jewish. His actual name was Yeshua, and He was a rabbi who taught in the synagogues. His disciples and the writers of the New Testament, except Luke, were Jewish, and the apostles and early disciples were Jewish. They worshipped on Shabbat, celebrated the feasts, and attended Synagogue.

Paul tells Christians, “that by our mercy they shall receive God’s mercy.” This love and mercy towards the Jewish people is more than a warm feeling of appreciation. As Christians, we have a debt to Israel. In Romans 15:27, Paul says we need to demonstrate our love and mercy with action, when he says, “For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessing.” In Matthew 25, Jesus Himself takes a stand on this issue when He equates how we treat His brethren, the Jewish people, with how we treat Him. In verses 34-40, Jesus says He was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, in need of clothes, sick and in prison. He then declared that His disciples attended to all of these needs. They answered, “Lord, when did we see You in these situations?” And, He replied, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these My brothers, you did for Me.”

Zechariah 2:8 says of God’s love towards the Jewish people, “He that touches you, touches the apple of His eye.” Today, we can read the Bible for ourselves, and see God’s love for His people, Israel. Therefore:

  • It is time for Christians to break with historical anti-Jewish teachings, and make a change for the future. We must act, not out of guilt, but in a humble spirit of love.
  • It is time to reinforce God’s covenant WITH His people, and show tangible love and respect to the Jewish people around the world.
  • It is also time to join God in His plan for the nation of Israel today, as He is literally moving heaven and earth to fulfill His prophetic promises of Messianic blessing, as we await the soon coming of the Lord.

As Christians, let us take up the challenge and put aside the anti-Jewish hatred of generations, wherever it may be found around us — be it in our communities, in our churches, in our families, and yes, even if it rises up in our own hearts.

The destiny of the Church is intertwined with the future of Israel and the Jewish people. For too long, Christians have been silent. For too long, the Jewish community has had to fight its battles alone. It is time for each one of us to speak up for the people who gave us the Bible and our salvation.

Each one of us can make a difference.

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