Two Fights To Pick

Jewish Jew: Jews have been persecuted and killed in the name of Christ for hundreds of years. Anti-semitic harangues have been preached from altars – Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant alike – all over Europe. The writings of St. John Chrysostom and other Church fathers, as well as canon law, are full of insults against Jews and injunctions for Christians not to associate with them. The New Testament says offensive things about Judaism and the rabbis (Pharisees), and describes the Jews killing Jesus. The idea of Jewish deicide is central to Christian theology and rhetoric. So how are you, Christian convert, hoping to convince me that your religion is not our enemy, and that your conversion is not an act of disrespect for your family, your people, and yourself?

Christian Jew: Umm… some Christian clergy saved Jews during the Holocaust… umm…

OK, so maybe we are not quite so pathetic when having a version of this conversation. Most of us make some heroic attempts to mumble about the difference between theology and practice, etc, etc. Those of us holier than me might point out that the humility and disregard for past offense required of the Jewish Christian brings him closer to Christ, Who was humble and disregarded much greater offense. Those of us who are really, really holy might simply keep their mouths shut.

But none of us, I think, are ever not in need of insights on this topic – for our own sake no less than for the sake of apologetics. To pick up where I had left off a few days ago, a key insight always worth elaborating upon is that much confusion stems from lumping together two very different antagonisms between Christians and Jews.

Wherever one stands on the question of whether Christianity is a fulfillment of Judaism, there are indeed core disagreements between the two, and they rightly cause a great deal of rancor. Jesus is very clear about the fact that he comes to bring “not peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34). Note, however, that this “sword” is not raised by Gentiles against the Jews:

For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household. (Matthew 10:35-36)

This is a family fight. It’s not us versus them; it’s us versus us – just as it was when our fathers killed the prophets, or were deceived by false Messiahs.

It is then deeply misguided to see the angry rhetoric deployed by Jesus against the Pharisees, or by later Christian writers against the rabbis, as an attack on Judaism by external enemies. Rather, it is evidence of a vigorous internal debate, with the Christian side represented by Jews (from among the apostles or the early Jewish church, which subsequently became assimilated and disappeared) or by Gentile Christians writing in an environment in which Judaism had a significant intellectual presence and was a real theological alternative for Christian converts. If this debate includes insults against Judaism or Jews, it is not because Christianity is an anti-Semitic religion and Jews are oppressed underdogs: it is because a new branch of Judaism, which has incorporated Gentile members, is trying to stand its ground against the status quo – and getting feisty about it.

Cardinal Lustiger helpfully distinguishes this effort to debunk Judaism from anti-semitism, which he attributes to the pagan temptation of the Gentile Church (see here). The New Testament descriptions of a Jewish mob demanding Jesus’ crucifixion and of His betrayal by Judas, taken out of their narrative context (in which the Romans are equally at fault, the majority of Jews are blameless, and Judas is no more Jewish than the other apostles) have allowed this temptation to fake a claim to a theological foothold – a claim that, incidentally, has been explicitly rejected by Pope John XXIII at Vatican II.

There are, then, two very different fights which neither Jews nor Christians should conflate. One is an internal theological debate, which does not constitute discrimination or ethnic hatred unless one buys into a relativist culture that blurs the distinction between disagreement and unjust insult. The other is a continuation of the ancient antagonism between Jews and pagans, in which the Jews are hated for the things that define their very essence – their membership in a people chosen by and faithful (however imperfectly) to the one and only God.

Where does that leave the convert Jew? In the first of these conflicts, a Jew can take part on either side, showing no disrespect to and deserving no shame from his people. As far as the second, the Cardinal’s thought suggests that the convert Jew’s role is to serve as a witness for God and against the paganism ever creeping its way back into Gentile Christianity.

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About The Groom's Family

I was born in Soviet Russia and grew up in Israel. I was baptized Orthodox Christian in 2006. Today my husband and I live in Northern Virginia. I would love to hear from you, so please leave a comment!
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2 Responses to Two Fights To Pick

  1. Cabbage says:

    This is all very interesting, and I’m enjoying the read.

  2. Pingback: Anti-circumcision.. - Page 49 - Christian Forums

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