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Many Jews viscerally fear intense Christian religiosity. In medieval Europe and even as recently as the 19th century, Passion plays around Easter have too often sparked anti-Jewish activity, some of it on a large scale. Let’s look at some of the most prominent issues.
Some Jews say that the Gospels themselves are inherently anti-Semitic, that no matter how an individual Catholic may strive to treat Jews well, the Catholic faith in its very foundations portrays Jews as evil, thereby inciting Christians to murder Jews. Let’s take a closer look.
St. John’s Gospel repeatedly speaks of “the Jews.” In a few cases, St. John uses this phrase to refer to all Jews. Jn 2:13 “The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” Jn 3:1 “Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.”Jn 5:1 “After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” Jn 7:2 “Now the Jews’ feast of Tabernacles was at hand.”
But in most cases, St. John uses this phrase to mean the Jewish ruling class, members of the Sanhedrin and other Jewish elites. Jn 2:18 “The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign have you to show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’” Jn 2:20 “The Jews then said, “‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’” Jn 6:52 “The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Whenever St. John describes “the Jews” as saying something in particular, clearly he is speaking of a very small number who are present at a particular place.
St. John speaks of “the Jews” persecuting Jesus during His mortal life. Jn 5:16 “And this was why the Jews persecuted Jesus, because he did this on the sabbath.” Jn 7:13 “Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him.” Jn 9:22 “His parents said this because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if any one should confess him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.” Jn 10:31 “The Jews took up stones again to stone him.” Jn 11:8 “The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were but now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?’” Again it is clear that St. John is speaking about a very small number, the members of the Sanhedrin and other Jewish elites. The ordinary Jew in the street lived Tevye’s life. “Who, day and night, must scramble for a living, feed a wife and children, say his daily prayers?”
Jesus told the Jews who had at first followed Him but later fell away,
Jn 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But, because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? He who is of God hears the words of God; the reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.
Jesus was not attacking them for being Jewish. The Church teaches that He was the most Jewish Jew of all. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us,
CCC 578 Jesus, Israel’s Messiah and therefore the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, was to fulfill the Law by keeping it in its all-embracing detail – according to his own words, down to the least of these commandments. He is in fact the only one who could keep it perfectly.
But He did attack Jews who had become corrupt. In a clearer example the ruling Pharisees had fallen into the habit of declaring their own possessions korban, dedicated to the Temple. They continued to use these possessions at home, but if their father or mother asked if they could use these same things the Pharisee would say no, they are korban. Thus they used a purely legal technicality to avoid God’s great commandment, Ex 20:12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.”
Mt 15:1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die.’ But you say, ‘If any one tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is given to God, he need not honor his father.’ So, for the sake of your tradition, you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’”
So what was Jesus saying? The Jews who had fallen away justified what they had done because they were physical descendants of Abraham. But Jesus said that was not enough.
A Jew cannot say that because he bears in his blood the Abrahamic election Gen 17:7 he can sin against God.
Jn 8:39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do what Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God; this is not what Abraham did. You do what your father did.”
As part of the Mosaic covenant the Jewish nation had sworn an oath of obedience in blood.
Ex 24:7 Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it upon the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
Jews who express concern about St. John’s Gospel refer particularly to his narrative of the Passion.
Jn 19:12 “Upon this Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend; every one who makes himself a king sets himself against Caesar.’” Jn 19:38 “After this Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him leave.” Jn 20:19 “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” Here again it is obvious that St. John is speaking of a small body of Jewish elites. Motl the tailor would not have been a threat to Joseph of Arimathea or to the Apostles.
Some Jews say that their reading of St. John’s Gospel shows that the Romans, not the Jewish authorities, bore the primary responsibility for Jesus’ Crucifixion. Not so. The Jewish authorities who shouted, Jn 19:6 “Crucify him, crucify him!” bore the primary responsibility. Jesus confirmed it when He told Pilate, Jn 19:11 “… he who delivered me to you has the greater sin.” But most Catholics know that only that small group of men, Caiaphas, the high priest that year, and the other Jewish authorities of that day who worked with him, who bore the responsibility.
One phrase brings it all into brilliant clarity. Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well, Jn 4:22 “… salvation is from the Jews.” Here Jesus associates the Jewish nation with its eternal election as the living witness to God.
We may say definitively that representations of Christ’s passion do not cause Christians to attack Jews.
The Passion of the Christ, the most vivid representation of Christ’s passion during the past two thousand years, was seen by something like 60 million people in the United States alone. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and others vigorously opposed it as anti-Semitic because it would inevitably lead to anti-Semitic activity.
Weeks before it was released, Mort Zuckerman’s New York Daily News, in articles, opinion pieces, and editorials, predicted that the move “will” (not “might”) incite violence against Jews and maybe ruin Mel Gibson’s Hollywood career. When The Passion of the Christ was released, Daily News reviewer Jami Barnard called it “… the most virulently anti-Semitic” movie since the Third Reich.” Jonathan Foreman, in the New York Post, called it “sadistic,” “pornographic,” and “the product of a distinctly perverted sensibility.” The three most important principles of Judaism are tzedaka (charity), tefila (prayer), and teshuva (repentance); do these attacks reflect a Jewish perspective?
If anything could arouse Christian fury against Jews, would it not be these bitter attacks?
Although the movie was shown all over the United States and most of the civilized world, no anti-Semitic activity followed. The ADL was on high alert for any evidence of anti-Semitic response to the movie. What happened? The only story on the ADL’s web site was that one Pentecostal minister, in Colorado, put up a sign on his church building, “Jews Killed the Lord Jesus.” The National Association of Evangelicals, representing 22 million Christians, and the Colorado Council of Churches, came down on him like a ton of bricks, and he quickly removed the sign.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells Catholics, CCC 578 “Jesus, Israel’s Messiah and therefore the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, was to fulfill the Law by keeping it in its all-embracing detail – according to his own words, down to the least of these commandments. He is in fact the only one who could keep it perfectly.” Pope Pius XI confirmed it in 1938 when he declared, “We are all spiritual Semites.”
No Catholic who loves Jesus, the most Jewish Jew of all, can ever hate the Jewish people.
Evangelical Christians are the most energetic “Scripture alone” readers of the Gospels in all of Christendom. These same Evangelical Christians are also the biggest supporters of Israel in American politics.
The liberals know the charge is phony. Think about it. The left today urges us to adopt the values of, and place our security at the mercy of, countries like Germany and France, where anti-Semitism is approaching 1930s levels and rising fast. It does not speak out much about real anti-Semitism in Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, or among the Palestinian Muslims. But let a man make a serious movie about Christ, who taught, “Love one another as I have loved you,” who taught forgiveness “seventy times seven times,” who said from the Cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” and oh my goodness.
Some Jews say that whatever leads Jews to become Catholic is anti-Semitic. From this perspective, liberal Jews in particular accuse Sts. Vincent Ferrer and Maximilian Kolbe of anti-Semitism because they brought large numbers of Jews into the Church. We remind them that inviting someone into our home is a sign of love, that the greatest love is wanting to live with someone for all eternity, and that they have free will to come in or not. We Catholics hope that our eternal home will be in heaven. If we invite Jews to come into the Church, we are quite literally inviting them into our eternal home to live with us for all eternity.
This argument casts the Church as the prophet Nathan’s rich man and the Jewish nation as his poor man.
2 Sam 12:1 And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his morsel, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
We remind our Jewish friends that the competition for minds and hearts has been going on since the time of Abraham, and in the Internet age it goes on 24 hours a day. They argue for their point of view, we argue for ours.
A common rhetorical ploy is to take a term that already has a defamatory meaning and then use it to defame something completely different. The classical meaning of anti-Semitism is hatred of Jews or intent to do them harm. But Jewish liberals who consistently oppose Christianity often describe as anti-Semitic any Christian behavior they wish to suppress.
Applying a term of opprobrium such as anti-Semitic to the free exchange of ideas does not reflect the clarity of ordered thought. We respect many views, but we Catholics depend on Christ for our moral reference standard. Our own salvation depends on evangelization. Christ told us, Mt 10:32 “So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
Copyright © 1999-2010 Martin K Barrack. All rights reserved.