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The Church and Jewish Ideology

(Reprinted from SOBRAN’S, May 1999, page 4)

The prevalent Jewish myth today is not the founding myth of Abraham or Moses on Sinai, but the story of Jewish persecution. In our time the Jews are defined less by ancestry than by “anti-Semitism,” which is cited for many purposes, including the legitimation of the state of Israel. Most Zionists no longer claim that God gave the Holy Land to the Jews; instead they contend that the Jewish state is necessary as a haven for world Jewry.

According to this modern myth, the Jews are in no way responsible for their own unpopularity from ancient times. What, then, is the source of such persistent hostility to this fundamentally innocent people? Why, the Catholic Church, of course!

Many Jewish scholars find the seed of anti-Semitism in the Gospels of Matthew and John, where the Jews are depicted as engineering the Crucifixion, with the assistance of Romans who “know not what they do.” Some Jews have even demanded that the offending passages be deleted from the Scriptures, not realizing (or caring) that Christians regard their holy books as off-limits to human editing. Others persist in blaming Pius XII for failing to condemn Nazism more strongly for its persecution of the Jews of Europe. The Catholic Church in particular has been targeted as the historic matrix of anti-Semitism; and unfortunately, many churchmen have accepted the role of defendant against accusers who will never acquit the Church or drop the case.

In recent years the Vatican has tried, as far as possible, to appease Jewish objections. The Second Vatican Council, mindful of Nazi crimes, proclaimed that today’s Jews don’t share the guilt of the Jews who conspired to murder Christ. Pope John Paul II has been especially eager to cultivate good relations with the Jews, even making an unprecedented visit to a Roman synagogue a few years ago. He has gone so far as to name Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List as one of his favorite films — though it contains scenes of nudity and simulated intercourse.

In this spirit, the Vatican last year promulgated We Remember, a statement of repentance for the failures of the Church and the mass of Christians during the Holocaust (or Shoah, the Hebrew word that has become current lately). Its theme was that “erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament” have contributed to anti-Semitism; and that the Church, though never a party to persecution, should have done more to oppose the “unspeakable tragedy” of the Shoah, which “can never be forgotten.” The statement also affirmed the Church’s “very close bonds of spiritual kinship with the Jewish people” and the “Hebrew roots of [Catholic] faith.”

Many Jews resented the statement’s exculpation of the Church for the Shoah itself. The document distinguished sharply between regrettable Christian attitudes toward the Jews throughout European history (it made no reference to Jewish attitudes toward Christians) and the virulent nationalist and racialist anti-Semitism that arose in the nineteenth century. Predictably, a Jewish historian has rejected this distinction.

In an article in the April issue of Commentary, “The Pope, the Church, and the Jews,” Robert S. Wistrich, professor of modern Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, attacks We Remember for defending Pius XII and for minimizing the Church’s guilty role in fostering anti-Semitism through the ages. Wistrich belittles Pius’s efforts to protect Jews as not only insufficient but lacking in “moral courage.” As for the nineteenth-century anti-Semitic ideologies, they “presupposed a cultural framework that had been fashioned by centuries of medieval Christian theology, ecclesiastical policy, and popular religious myth.”

This is nothing new for Commentary, which has previously carried articles blaming Christianity itself for the Holocaust. Wistrich doesn’t cite, though he might as well have, the charge of the Jewish scholar Jules Isaac that “the permanent and latent source of anti-Semitism is none other than Christian religious teaching of every description, and the traditional, tendentious interpretation of the Scriptures.” Isaac’s work and influence helped shape the Second Vatican Council’s statement about the Jews.

By such reasoning as Wistrich’s, it would be easy to blame the Jews for bringing persecution on themselves. After all, they have been unpopular not only in Christian countries, but in pagan and Muslim lands. Cicero, Tacitus, Juvenal, and other Roman authors inveighed against them. They have repeatedly migrated to Christian countries and have been repeatedly expelled, for reasons that have usually had little to do with theology — though the obscene blasphemies against Christ and his mother in the Talmud, unique in religious literature, besides reflecting oddly on Jewish demands for Christian tolerance and for the cleansing of offensive passages in the Gospels, have done nothing to endear the Jews to Christians.

Wistrich mentions none of this. Nor does he mention one of the principal incitements to anti-Semitism in this century: Jewish participation in Communism, with its terrifying persecution of Christians. Where is the corresponding statement of Jewish leaders repudiating and repenting the Jewish role in a cause whose crimes dwarf those of Hitler? Did major Jewish spokesmen or organizations condemn Communism as it devoured tens of millions of Christians? Did a few brave Jews in the Soviet Union and the other Communist-ruled countries act, at personal risk, to shield Christians from arbitrary arrest and murder? Even today, how many Jews condemn Franklin Roosevelt for his fondness for Stalin, as they would condemn him if he had shown the slightest partiality to Hitler?

Further, might the Talmudic imprecations against Christ and Christians have helped form the Bolshevik Jews’ anti-Christian animus? Did the Talmud help form the “cultural framework” for the persecution of Christians, and for the eradication of Christian culture in America today? If so, will Jews make an effort to expunge the offending passages from the Talmud? How many rabbis speak of their “spiritual kinship” with Christianity?

The answers to these questions are only too obvious. The Jews, with honorable but ineffectual exceptions, judge Christians by a standard that doesn’t seem to apply to themselves. Or rather, their single standard is “Is it good for the Jews?”

As shepherd of the Catholic Church, Pius XII was bound to be guided chiefly by the question “Is it good for the Church?” He was not a Jewish leader, after all, but a Catholic one — a somewhat neglected point in these controversies. His first duty was to protect the Church amid the madness of a world war, knowing that its deadliest enemy was not Nazism but Communism (which, with American assistance, conquered several Catholic nations in Eastern Europe by the war’s end). He did what he could to protect Jews and others too, and the most eloquent testimony to his efforts is the conversion of Israel Zolli, chief rabbi of Rome, to Catholicism. Zolli even took the baptismal name Eugenio in honor of Pius, who was born Eugenio Pacelli; he would hardly have done this if he had seen Pius as indifferent to the persecution of Jews.

Yet Wistrich complains that “in confronting the Shoah, Pius XII’s chief concern was less with the ongoing annihilation of the Jews than with the interests of the Church.” Think of that: a Pope putting the Church first! Nowadays even the papacy is to be judged in terms of Jewish interests. Self-absorption can go no further.

It’s some consolation that even the treacherous Roosevelt is now being criticized for doing too little to save Jewish lives. Jewish critics argue that he might have ordered the bombing of railroads leading to the concentration camps. But the chief effect of such a practice would surely have been to starve the camps’ inmates.

The smear of Pius XII — and of the Church — persists, and will no doubt continue indefinitely, in the endless campaign to make Christianity and anti-Semitism synonymous. Wistrich barely acknowledges that the diplomatic Pius may have feared that a more explicit condemnation of Nazism would have backfired not only against the Church, but against the Jews themselves. Besides, if papal condemnations of Communism had failed to deter the persecution of Christians, how could Pius expect papal animadversions against Nazism to be any more efficacious?

Even American Jewish groups refrained from denouncing the Shoah during the war, for fear that speaking publicly about it might do more harm than good. This policy of silence has resulted in bitter recriminations between American and European Jews, but it has discouraged few Jews on either continent from blaming Pius for saying too little.

The prevalent attitude of Christians toward the Jews has been (and remains) not so much hatred as fear. The Acts of the Apostles tells how the early Church was forced to take various precautions “for fear of the Jews.” Few deny, or doubt, that this is historically accurate; the tolerance recommended to Christians has never been a salient trait of the Jews themselves, when they have held power. On the contrary, the state of Israel is based on an ethnic supremacism that would be roundly condemned as anti-Semitic if it were enforced against Jews by gentiles. Yet most Jews hotly resent any suggestion that Zionism is “racist.” (A United Nations declaration to that effect was eventually repealed in response to American pressure.)

In intellectual life, Jews have been brilliantly subversive of the cultures of the natives they have lived amongst. Their tendencies, especially in modern times, have been radical and nihilistic. One thinks of Marx, Freud, and many other shapers of modern thought and authors of reductionist ideologies. Even Einstein, the greatest of Jewish scientists, was, unlike Sir Isaac Newton, no mere contemplator of nature’s laws; he helped inspire the development of nuclear weapons and consistently defended the Soviet Union under Stalin.

Jews have generally supported Communism, socialism, liberalism, and secularism; the agenda of major Jewish groups is the de-Christianization of America, using a debased interpretation of the “living Constitution” as their instrument. When the Jewish side of an issue is too unpopular to prevail democratically, the legal arm of Jewry seeks to make the issue a “constitutional” one, appealing to judicial sovereignty to decide it in defiance of the voters. Overwhelming Jewish support for legal abortion illustrates that many Jews hate Christian morality more than they revere Jewish tradition itself. This fanatical antagonism causes anguish to a number of religious, conscientious, and far-sighted Jews, but they, alas, are outside the Jewish mainstream.

Today, in American politics, journalism, and ecclesiastical circles, fear of Jewish power is overwhelming. This is most obvious in the dread of incurring the label “anti-Semitic,” in the way Christians shrink from calling this country “a Christian nation” (a phrase that enrages Jews), and in the groveling before Israel that has become a virtual requirement for anyone who aspires to high office. Nobody dares to point out the obvious, that Israel is inimical to the principles Americans profess to share; nearly everyone in public life pretends that Israel is a model democracy and a “reliable ally” of the United States, despite repeated episodes of Israeli spying and betrayal against its chief benefactor. Israel has not only refused to return the documents stolen by Jonathan Pollard; it continues to press the U.S. Government for his release from prison. In fact Israel exemplifies most of the “anti-Semitic stereotypes” of yore: it is exclusivist, belligerent, parasitic, amoral, and underhanded. It feels no obligation to non-Jews, even those who have befriended it.

Most Jews regard conversion to Christianity as the ultimate treason to Jewry and resent Christian attempts to convert them; never mind that for Christians, concern for the salvation of souls is the highest charity next to the adoration of God. In Jewish eyes, such charity is next door to persecution. Jews for Jesus, a convert group, is especially execrated among Jews, and in Israel Christian proselytization can be punished by law under various pretexts. (Even giving a copy of the New Testament can be construed as a “bribe.”) Yet Christians, who may not claim a nation of their own, are taxed to support the Jewish state.

History is replete with the lesson that a country in which the Jews get the upper hand is in danger. Such was the experience of Europe during Jewish-led Communist revolutions in Russia, Hungary, Romania, and Germany after World War I. Christians knew that Communism — often called “Jewish Bolshevism” — would bring awful persecution with the ultimate goal of the annihilation of Christianity. While the atheistic Soviet regime made war on Christians, murdering tens of thousands of Orthodox priests, it also showed its true colors by making anti-Semitism a capital crime. Countless Jews around the world remained pro-Communist even after Stalin had purged most Jews from positions of power in the Soviet Union.

Clearly, it is futile for the Church to try to mollify a hatred so ancient and so deep as the Jewish animus against Christianity. Despite all the sentimental rhetoric to the contrary — such as pious nonsense about “the Judaeo-Christian tradition” — Judaism and Christianity are radically opposed over the most important thing of all: Jesus Christ, who commands us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, and to love our enemies, which does not mean mistaking them for friends.

This is not to suggest that true friendship can’t exist between Jews and Christians as individuals. And there is much about the Jews, an immensely talented people, that a Christian can honor and delight in. But any concord based on lies, evasions, and partisan propaganda is false and should be rejected. We Remember is an honorable attempt to vindicate the honor of the Church. If only it had dealt more frankly with the real history of Jewish-Christian relations!

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