Please note that all materials found under my general blog, The Book of Denial,

are tentative, sometimes representing merely background materials for what I hope will eventually emerge as a book of that title (or some other), or at most a first draft towards that goal. In no event should these writings be understood as my final word on any topic covered.

That said, I welcome any comments or corrections.

David Turner

Friday, March 20, 2009

Introduction: From Jewish Problem to Jewish Question: Anti-Judaism to antisemitism

"In the past thousand years one out of every two Jews born into the world has been murdered."

Irvin J. Borowsky*

The last three years of the first decade of the second millennium have not been very good for the Jews.

Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, describes the situation facing European Jewry today as filled with daily danger, "Jews are afraid to walk the streets… with Jewish signs (i.e. yarmulke). Synagogues, Jewish schools and kindergartens require barbed-wire fences and security and Jewish men, women and children are beaten up in broad daylight." An ocean away a report by the human rights watchdog of the Organization of American States warns of a possible ‘threat to the life and physical integrity of the Jewish community in Venezuela’” by that county’s government. Two months ago a Tel Aviv University report on the state of Jewish security in the world concluded that 2009 was the worst since the Holocaust for antisemitic incidents.

We use the term “Jewish problem” as if it’s meaning and implications were obvious. Why a backlash against Diaspora Jews the result of the actions of Israel? Citizens of Irish extraction living in other countries were not targeted due to the actions of the Irish Republican Army. Why the Jews? How explain the knee-jerk anti-Jewish reaction in the Christian west?

The west’s Jewish Problem is theological in origin. It may most simply be described as an affront the result of our continuing existence within the unfolding history of the Christian world.

From its very beginnings Christianity defined itself successor to Judaism: With the arrival of Jesus Judaism was, according to Christian theology, superseded, should have vanished. How reconcile that the Jews, the designated object of Jesus’ messianic mission, failed to even recognize him and his mission? What does that mean for Christianity as theological inheritor of Jewish history and tradition?

In the fourth century Augustine rationalized that Jewish survival “in misery and homeless” was their “punishment” for rejecting Jesus. He explained that their survival, according to God’s plan, was to serve as “witness” to the Truth of Christianity. “… the Jews who slew Him . . . are thus by their own Scriptures a testimony to us that we have not forged the prophecies about Christ.”

Augustine’s description of Jewish survival as punishment and witness provide a theological explanation for the survival of Judaism, and the continued, if limited, survival of Jews. But the explanation also points to doubt in those prophesies at the very heart of Christian belief. How else explain the need for Jewish validation, “that we have not forged the prophecies about Christ”?

According to the gospels “the Jews” are guilty of deicide in the death of Jesus. Matthew goes further in having those supposedly guilty accept responsibility not just for themselves, but for all future generations: “Then the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children,’” (Matthew 27.25).

The combination of Augustine’s existential doubt and Matthew’s incendiary description of the trial and death of Jesus are the ground upon which the Jewish people were victim to centuries of blame, persecution and death. The result of this volatile combination, doubt and deicide, is that the potential for violence towards Jews is always present, even if not openly expressed.

With the 17th century Enlightenment the theological Jewish Problem morphed into a secular Jewish question, and anti-Judaism gradually transformed into its secular variant, antisemitism. An important result of the secularization of the problem was that even the limited “protection” provided by Augustine’s justification for Jewish survival no longer applied. The Jews, particularly following their 19th century “emancipation,” were now a nation like others, but strangers, outsiders, “Other” to the west: a nation apart.

Emancipation increasingly gave rise to political and social resistance. As non-Christians, Jews were not really members of the western national community (nation, people, volk), so did not qualify for equal rights and citizenship. Opposition grew into political parties encompassing the broad social spectrum, religious and secular, conservative, liberal and socialist. As described by Dr. Kantor above, Jews were increasingly the victims of physical assault and social ostracization. Several antisemitic incidents were national in scope and caught the attention of the international media. The kidnapping by the Vatican of Edgardo Mortara in Italy, the trials of Dreyfus in France and Beilis in Russia; and the lynching in the United States of Leo Frank by a mob including a former governor, a superior court judge, the son of a US senator, and led by a future aspirant for president of the United States.

But even these high profile warnings failed to hint at what would result from the contribution of Science to the definition of What is a Jew.

American eugenics aspired to improve America’s population stock by selective human breeding. Long before National Socialism in Germany American eugenicists promoted eliminating the “unworthy” by imposing immigration restrictions, sterilization and euthanasia. Among those Congress barred by restrictive immigration law was the Jews. Twenty years later, and unmoved by their plight, America n policy condemned Europe’s Jews to Auschwitz; and sterilization was still in use as a means of population “betterment” in the United States well into the 1970’s. The application of euthanasia to achieve eugenic goals was left to the Germans to perfect.

German race science owed much to American eugenics, and particularly to the active support and assistance of major American eugenicists. They admired and supported Hitler, envied Germany’s ability to fully apply eugenic principles to entire human populations. After the war they even intervened to save the lives, reputations and jobs of German academics active in the Holocaust (for an excellent source on American eugenics, see Edwin Black’s War Against the Weak).

In Hitler science and religion came together to address the Jewish Problem. Typically dismissed as a neo-pagan antisemite, he was both a product of the west’s history of prejudice and persecution, and also a self-affirmed and life-long tithe paying Catholic. In Mein Kamp, written a decade before he took power in Germany Hitler wrote, “[d]efending myself against the Jew is fighting for the work of the Lord!

The Final Solution of the Jewish Problem was, therefore, both an act of racial hygiene, cleansing the human race of the Jewish virus, and a religious obligation to solve once and for ever Christendom’s centuries-long Problem.

As individuals and as a people we Jews strongly believe in the power of education to promote social harmony and religious tolerance. The European Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League represent this belief, are our post-Holocaust shlichim to the nations. Before and during the years of Shoah German-Jewish philosopher Martin Buber was Education’s most prominent advocate. But statistical studies are ambiguous regarding its success, even in ordinary times of relative social quiet and international peace. But the point of our discussion is not the “ordinary,” but the ever-present risk of the extraordinary.

Post WWI global depression, German resentment at that nation’s perception at having lost a war they were convinced they should have won, except for the Jews “stab in the back:” Who could have foreseen that those events would result in the cataclysm of the Holocaust?

We Jews live an uncertain existence in our Diaspora. We live in the hope that education will eventually eradicate antisemitism; that Christianity can and will reform, accept us, accept Judaism as a separate legitimate religion and not the fossil remains of that which Christianity believes it supplanted. Education has not succeeded to date, and it is only necessary to read prominent Catholic theologian Rosemary Radford Reuther’s warning to appreciate its unlikely future success: “Anti-Judaism is too deeply embedded in the foundations of Christianity to be rooted out entirely without destroying the whole structure (Faith and Fratricide, 1974, p. 94).

At what point in societal frustration does the background hum of benign antisemitism resurface as lethal antisemitism, give rise to another charismatic leader intent on, once and for all solving the Jewish Problem, eradicating Jewish life entire from the Diaspora? There is no statistical model to provide warning. We can only use history as guide to the future. And nearly two thousand years of experience has, according to some estimates, resulted in one out of every two Jews born during that period being murdered by our hosts.

We can accept, reluctantly or willingly, that the extraordinary circumstances of severe economic collapse following the First World War pried open the floodgates to the west’s suppressed demons regarding the Jews. We are compelled to recognize that, with the technological advances in computers and instruments of mass murder developed since the Holocaust, that a future effort to solve the west’s Jewish Problem, to define Who is a Jew “back to a single grandparent,” will certainly be far more successful than that nearly “final solution” of the twentieth century.

Is another Holocaust assured, no. Is it likely? What does History suggest?

Judaism posed a problem to what was to become Christianity from its earliest documents. Paul’s frustration at convincing Jews to accept the non-traditional messiah, his anger at the “Jerusalem leadership” at demanding that pagans be admitted to the sect only upon full conversion to Judaism is obvious throughout his writings. The gospels that eventually became part of Christian scripture can almost be dated by the frequency and stridency of their anti-Jewish references. Over the centuries, with the formal scriptures as reference point, anti-Judaism grew more hostile, represented increasing threat to the lives of the Jewish communities living in the developing Christian west.

By the Middle Ages, with the Protestant revolution, anti-Judaism grew increasingly organized and more deadly. Martin Luther, who originally believed that contemporary Jewish rejection of Christianity was due to Church oppression grew frustrated at their failure to join him in Christ against the hated Church. In his final work, The Jews and their Lies he even called for the burning of Jewish texts and synagogues, the murder of practicing religious leaders. Five hundred years later Nazis accused of the Holocaust would refer back to Luther as inspiration and justification for their crimes.

The one saving grace of anti-Judaism was that Jewish existence was tolerated, their homelessness and poverty understood as just punishment for their accused role as murderers of Jesus. Anti-Judaism also proved survival of individuals at pain of death, should they choose to convert. After a fashion Christian religion served the survival of Judaism and the Jewish people.

The 17th century and Age of Reason was a revolutionary turning away from religious theocracy, a turning point also for the place of the Jew in society.

Holocaust denial, the assertion that Shoah never occurred, or that the number of Jews murdered by Europe was greatly exaggerated, is more than traditional antisemitism. It is also a defense of Christianity as historical precedent, inspiration and participation in that crime. Not just that Pius XII stood silently by, fully informed by clergy and other church representatives throughout Europe of the unfolding slaughter; not only that the murders were in all other matters “good Christians.” The Holocaust was, as referred to then and now, the Final Solution to Christendom’s Jewish Problem. What that “problem” is will occupy much of what follows. Nor is the effort to solve the “problem” a modern invention. While the Jews in European Diaspora were not under constant collective and lethal threat, the Middle Ages marked a dramatic turning point for Jewish life and survival in Christendom.

The year 1999, the threshold of Christianity’s third millennium, was greeted by anticipation and fear. And while the west is mostly secular and rational, headlines abounded reflecting fear and anticipation of cataclysmic change. Although our fears mostly reflected our times, social and economic collapse due to the failure of our computers to safely transition the millennia, there were also reports of individual and group suicides, expectations of the Second Coming. The transition from the year 999 to 1000 was also period of anxiety and anticipation. But unlike our mostly secular-rational transition, the year 999 was a world steeped in religion and superstition, magic and witchcraft. Satan was widely recognized as a as real, a powerful influence on individual and society. And the Jews were his children, deicides and antichrists, enemies of Jesus in Christendom’s midst.

The first major assertion of post-millennial Christian fervor was the Crusades. Spanning a period of nearly four hundred years beginning in 1096, each successive crusade witnessed the massacre of entire Jewish communities en route to liberate Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Widely believed to express their hatred for Christians by poisoning their wells, Jews were blamed for the Black Plague resulting not only their deaths by plague, but at the hands of their Christian neighbors. As the deicidal people responsible for murdering the messiah, Jews were believed to continue the murderous assault by hiring Christians to steal the host, bread considered the body of Jesus, for purpose of again crucifying the rejected messiah. Jews were also thought to kidnap and murder Christian children for the same purpose. All of which led to untold Jewish deaths. With the Spanish Inquisition in the 1490’s, Jews were offered the choice between conversion or expulsion. The expelled were the fortunate as those converted were viewed by the Inquisition with suspicion, forced by torture to confess their insincere conversions, and burned at the stake. The Inquisition also introduced a new concept in defining Jews: “limpieza de sangre,” or purity of blood, meant that Jews were no longer just members of a religious heritage, but by blood lineage.

As will be seen as this history unfolds, the Holocaust is not a unique event in the history of the Jewish people in their dispersion in Christendom. It may be that the only real innovation in that tragic history is that the 20th century provided the technological means by which that which is today called the Shoah very nearly provided Germany’s Final Solution nearly the actualized final solution to Christendom’s millennia-long Jewish Problem. Primitive as they were at the time, IBM computers made defining and locating Jews easier; and Henry Ford’s assembly-line made the manufacture and disposal of mass death highly efficient. And finally, 20th century bureaucracy made the entire operation impersonal, with no individual, from clerks identifying victims to train crews transporting them to the killing centers personally guilty or responsible.

This volume is not anti-Christian. I do not personally accuse individual Christians of direct responsibility for the events described in these pages. But the obvious conclusion of this volume is that Christianity is directly responsible, that without the core of anti-Judaism, the black heart of Christian dogma, the Holocaust would have been unlikely. Christianity, Catholic, Protestant in all its diverse forms has much to change, to atone for 2,000 years of anti-Jewish persecution. Nor will simple apologies, such as Nostre Aetate, suffice. Apology serves mostly to absolve the guilty, not change behavior. And unless Christianity finds the courage to reform itself, to remove its theology of hate towards Judaism, to resolve its internal conflict of “religion of love and forgiveness” with the reality of Holocaust then the next Shoah will likely find Christianity without a single Jew to whom to apologize.

Zionism was born of a 19th century realization that the promise of secular and national emancipation from religious discrimination and persecution would not, could never be realized. Although religious anti-Judaism might lose its energy with the increasing secularization of society, a new and potentially even more dangerous form of discrimination and persecution had arrived with secular Christendom. Although the early Zionists clearly recognized that Jews were inassimilable in Christendom, there was nothing in the history of Diaspora to suggest anything on the magnitude mere decades away. It took the murder of 6,000,000 Jews for Zionism to achieve its most obvious first goal, a piece of territory to serve as refuge for the Diaspora. Today both the Diaspora and Jews living in Israel commonly consider the state of the Jews as the fulfillment of Zionism. As if Shoah marked the end of anti-Judaism/antisemitism rather than the beginning of a new and more dangerous Diaspora. And Christianity and Christendom, taking refuge in defining the Third Reich as “pagan,” its acts attributable to aberration rather than result of a historical process, easily passed through a moment of guilt and introspection, only to fall back into complacency regarding its anti-Jewish heart of darkness. Both Jewry and Christendom cooperatively concluded that the Holocaust was a unique, even “mysterious” event, an event without precedent or future.

German Jewry, resident in that land for more than 2,000 years, thought of, and defended Germany as “exceptional.” Whatever befell Jews in other lands of the Diaspora could not occur in their fatherland. The warning is clear; the present is a moment in time determined by a complex of ever-changing social and economic factors. Today’s quiet is no guarantee for tomorrow. And if history, and particular the Holocaust has proven anything it is that Jews, as past and continuing outsiders, are at risk in the Christian Diaspora.

Religious anti-Judaism and its secular offspring antisemitism refers to behaviors and actions ranging from discrimination to persecution, from forced conversion to mass murder by. Its evolution describes two-thousand years of history. But that only traces the outline of an explanation for 2,000 years of persecution. The Sassoon Institute of Hebrew University estimated that, minus that 2,000 years of persecution the Jewish population of the world today would have equaled the entire population of the British Isles.

Chapter one The Book of Denial discusses the historical and theological development of Christian animus towards the Jewish religion and the Jewish people. Chapter two will suggest that underlying Christianity’s theology of anti-Judaism is a sense of profound existential self-doubt. The remaining chapters will develop this understanding from Enlightenment’s secularization of Christendom to the nearly successful final solution today called the Shoah. The discussion will conclude with a survey of the history of antisemitism in the United States, and the question, Is the American Diaspora Exceptional?

* Edward H. Flannery, The Anguish of the Jews, rev. and updated ( New York: Paulist Press, 1985), 349 n. 1; Borowsky, Irving J., Foreword, Overcoming Fear between Jews and Christians, American Interfaith Institute, xii.

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