Anti-Semitism and Holocaust

Semitic Anti-Christianism

Editorial, Fidelity, October 1983

Those who read it regularly may have noticed what amounts to the formation of an editorial policy on the pages of Commentary magazine lately. Since it is a Jewish magazine, Commentary is understandably enough concerned with the phenomenon of anti-Semitism; however, in its attempts to get to what it considers the root of the problem Commentary has decided upon Christianity itself as the veritable radix malorum. According to two major articles written in the past year, anti-Semitism is not simply a phenomenon which appears in Christian or quondam Christian countries. On the contrary, Christianity is itself intrinsically anti-Semitic. As Norman Ravitch put it in his April 1982 article, "anti-Semitism was as native to Christianity as mother's milk to a new born babe." Writing eight months later, Hyam Macoby goes even farther, stating that "Christian anti-Semitism derives not from some accidental and inessential layer of Christianity but from its central doctrine and myth, the crucifixion itself."

As one has come to expect in such matters, both writers base their claims on the writings of a theologian, in this case a Catholic theologian, who persuades Messrs. Ravitch and Macoby to believe what they have always held anyway. The theologian in question turns out to be Rosemary Ruether, and in her book Faith and Fratricide she argues that Christians are afflicted with what she denominates "supercessionism." Christians, in other words, persecuted the Jews throughout history to prove to themselves that God no longer considered them the chosen people and that they (the Christians) had taken their place. "All the hatred and persecution of the Jewish people," writes Mr. Ravitch:

Mrs. Ruether finds explicated by this need to make the Jews finally admit that the Church is right and they wrong about the coming of the savior foretold in the Scriptures. A suffering Israel is needed by the Church for its own self-understanding and justification.

Mrs. Ruether spends a great deal of time in her book quoting Scripture to support her thesis, but her arguments are only persuasive, as is the case with most progressive exegesis, if one overlooks equally large passages which support the opposite point of view. Both Ruether and Gregory Baum consider Paul's Epistle to the Romans, especially chapter 11, as the prime example of radical anti-Semitism, yet their assertions are problematic from the beginning because of their disregard of context.

Suppose, for example, you heard someone say that God had given the Jews "a sluggish spirit." Would that statement make the person who said it anti-Semitic? Well, the answer would depend upon the context in which the statement was made. Suppose someone attributed the quote to Adolf Hitler. This would convince us of its anti-Semitic intent. Suppose the remark was attributed to a government official. Yes? Suppose the government official was Menachem Begin? Well, then, no, primarily because Begin himself is a Jew.

But suppose the statement was attributed to St. Paul. Surely what he says is absolutely central to Christianity. No one would deny that, and he does say that the Jews are possessed of a sluggish spirit in his Epistle to the Romans. Does that make Christianity anti-Semitic in the modern sense of the word, which is of course the sense Ravitch and Macoby intend, replete with its implications of barbed wire and gas chambers? And there should be no mistake in the matter, for Ravitch means nothing less than to implicate St. Paul in the Nazi death camps.

Before I answer that question, however, I would like to take my line of questioning one step further. Suppose Isaiah said that Jews were sluggish? Would that make him an anti-Semite? If we are to disregard context completely, as Ruether et al., do in this and other instances, the answer is unequivocally 'yes,' for Isaiah does say just what we have been attributing to the anti-Semites all along. St. Paul, in fact, got the passage from him. "For on you," we find written in the Book of Isaiah (29:10), "has Yahweh poured a spirit of lethargy, he has closed your eyes (the prophets), he has veiled your heads (the seers)." If St. Paul is ultimately responsible for the death camps, as the writers in Commentary seems to be arguing, then so are Isaiah and Elijah and anyone else who had anything derogatory to say about things Jewish.

If, on the other hand, we are to read the Epistle to the Romans in context, then those who make charges of anti-Semitism against Christianity will have to come up with an explanation of passages like the following:

Let me put another question then: is it possible that God has rejected His people? Of course not, I, an Israelite, descended from Abraham through the tribe of Benjamin, could never agree that God has rejected His people, the people He chose specifically long ago. (Romans 11:1-2)

The supercessionist argument, Messrs. Ravitch and Macoby should be aware, is a game that both sides can play. According to Ravitch,

The Christian appropriation of the Scriptures and biblical history meant that the traditional prophetic way of explicating historical events as the work of the Lord of history could be used for Christian edification only at the expense of excoriating the Jewish state.

Likewise, Macoby writes:

The role of the Jews was such that any sign of happiness or prosperity among them gave rise to intolerable anxiety among Christians, for if the Jews did not suffer, who would bear the guilt of the sacrifice of Jesus?

A number of points seem relevant here. First of all, Macoby completely misunderstands the doctrine of the atonement. When Eugene Fisher, Executive Secretary of the Secretariat for National Catholic-Jewish Relations of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, tries to set him straight in a letter to the editor in which he cites the following passage from the Catechism of the Council of Trent:

In this guilt are involved all those who fall frequently into sin; for, as our sins consigned Christ the Lord to the death of the cross, most certainly those who wallow in sin and iniquity crucify to themselves again the Son of God" This guilt seems more enormous in us than in the Jews, since according to the testimony of the apostle (Paul), if they had known it they would never have crucified the Lord of glory; while we, on the contrary, professing to know Him, yet denying Him by our actions, seem in some sort to lay violent hands on Him.

Macoby simply ignores the issue.

Secondly, in the light of history, the supercessionist argument makes more sense when turned in the opposite direction. While it is true that individual Jews may have prospered vis a vis individual Christians, on the large scale the exact opposite is true. The same Roman Empire which razed the Temple and dispersed the Jews to the four corners of the earth became the Holy Roman Empire less than four centuries later. Given the historical success of Christianity, it would seem just as plausible to argue that Jews have their own psychological need to prove that Christians have been on the wrong track from the beginning. Ravitch writes that "a suffering Israel is needed by the Church for its own self-understanding and justification," without giving any indication that a guilt-ridden Christianity is also helpful to Jews like Ravitch and Macoby.

If Christianity is anti-Semitic, then it is evil. And if it is evil, or at least radically flawed, then Ravitch and Macoby occupy the higher moral ground and can use their position of moral superiority as a way of blackmailing concessions out of what they consider a radically guilty Christendom. Lest guilty Christians be a loss as to how to make their amends, Macoby spells out a program for them in his response to the letters generated by his article. "On the general question of Jewish Christian reconciliation," he writes:

We can derive some guidance from the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph was able to forgive his violent brothers by giving them the opportunity to redeem themselves by their behavior to Benjamin, also a favorite son and a source of sibling rivalry. The Jews have set up a Benjamin, the state of Israel; and the friendly attitude shown by many Christians to Israel has done much to convince Jews of Christian repentance for evil done. (Commentary, March 1983, p. 21)

Because of their anti-Christian bias, both Ravitch and Macoby succumb to a fundamental misreading of the Nazi period and its ideology. Even their own statements on the relationship between Nazism and Christianity lack consistency. At one point Macoby sees the Holocaust as "the natural (though not the inevitable) outcome of previous religious history in Christendom," and yet at another point he argues that one factor triggering the Nazi program of genocide "was the release afforded by Nazism from all vestiges of the restraint imposed by traditional Christian morality which had hitherto acted as a counterweight to Christian mythology." According to Macoby then, Christian doctrine taught that it was good to persecute Jews, and yet Christian morality taught that it was evil to act on such doctrinal imperatives. Christians could, apparently, only act on their own doctrine when neopagan Nazism had superceded it.

At another point Macoby writes:

When a community has been taught over centuries that it is weakness to be kind to Jews, and that it is virtuous to persecute them, it is only a step (albeit a large one) to Himmler's notorious speech to SS officers in which he lectured them on the moral imperative of stifling their feelings of nausea about the mass killings.

Macoby, as is his wont, gives no source for these alleged "Christian" teachings, nor does he give any indication that abjuring the Christian faith was an explicit qualification for membership in the SS. He also makes no mention of the Christians who died in the concentration camps or of the specific reckoning Hitler planned for the Church once more pressing problems had been taken care of. Nor does he indicate that for many Christians in the East, that reckoning had begun as early as 1941. A note from the Holy See dated March 2, 1943 states:

At the beginning of October 1941, the number of priests from the diocese "Warthegau," who were under arrest at Dachau, amounted to several hundred, but this number swelled considerably every month as a result of the strong intensification of police measures which resulted in the arrest and deportation of further hundreds of clerics"

The fate reserved for those clerics who were members of orders was no less pitiable. Several members of the clergy were shot to death or killed in other manners. The overwhelming majority of the others were arrested, deported or driven out" The diocesan seminaries were closed in Gnesen and Posen, Leslau and Litzmannstadt"

Even the nuns who were members of orders were not able to continue their charitable work without disturbance. A corresponding concentration camp was established for them in Bojanowo (Schmukert) where approximately 400 sisters were interned at the middle of 1941"

In light of such evidence, the claim that Christianity is a type of proto- or crypto-Nazism becomes more and more difficult to maintain. It is also difficult to maintain such a thesis in light of more recent documents, most specifically the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council, which states:

Even though the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ, neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during the passion" Indeed, the Church reproves every form of persecution against whomsoever it may be directed. Remembering, then, her common heritage with the Jews and moved not by any political consideration, but solely by the religious motivation of Christian charity, she deplores all hatreds, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism leveled at any time or from any source against the Jews.

Given their radical view of the evil in Christianity, it is not hard to predict the outcome of Ravitch and Macoby's proposed cure. "The Christian doctrine of atonement," Ravitch writes, "in which the Jews play the role of cosmic villains, needs to be explained on its own mythological terms, not tarted up as respectable sounding theology. No program of Jewish-Christian ecumenism should compromise with this doctrine by allowing its theological validity." If, among other things, Christians are to give up the atonement in the interest of ecumenism, then the cure proposed by Ravitch and Macoby would mean nothing less than the destruction of Christianity, and since they rely so heavily on the arguments of the notoriously heterodox Mrs. Ruether, it seems that this is what they must have had in mind from the beginning.

Mr. Ravitch, however, should be more aware of the views of his supposed ally. In his article, he says of Ruether, "It would not be too much to say that Rosemary Ruether's sympathy with the Jewish plight has brought her around to a Jewish view of the Messianic question." Mr. Ravitch apparently has never read Mrs. Ruether's account of her own spiritual and intellectual development, something which appeared in Journeys edited by Gregory Baum. In it she wrote:

Having dwelt in the households of the suppressed faiths for a time, I felt I was on more sympathetic terms with the Ba'al worshipers. I knew that Ba'al was a real god, the revelation of the mystery of life, the expression of the depths of Being which has broken through into the lives of people and gave them a key to the mystery of death and rebirth" On the other hand, Yahweh had deplorably violent ways, and a lot of evil had been done in the name of Christ" As for the defects of Ba'al, were they more spectacular then the defects of the biblical God or Messiah, or perhaps less so? (p. 43)

It seems, then, that the real link that unites Ruether, Ravitch, and Macoby is their disdain for orthodoxy. "The overcoming of orthodox fundamentalism," Ravitch writes, "can indeed liberate Christians and Jews from their confrontational faiths." Unfortunately, the exact opposite is true. Were he not so blinded by his uncritical acceptance of the anti-dogmatic principle, with Cardinal Newman called liberalism, Mr. Ravitch would see that the only real basis for cooperation between Jews and Christians lies in their mutual adherence to their own respective orthodoxies, which have in common a code of behavior based on absolute moral laws. Ravitch's own anti-Christian bias blinds him to the fact that theological liberals like Mrs. Ruether are not so much interested in combating anti-Semitism as in finding another stick with which they can beat the Church. In attacking Christianity, Ravitch and Macoby simply give expression to the conventional wisdom of New Class Intellectuals, for whom anti-Catholicism and (with the rise of the Moral Majority) anti-Fundamentalism are acceptable forms of bigotry.

The great tragedy here is that Ravitch and Macoby, by attacking orthodoxy, may very well bring about the very anti-Semitism they deplore. First of all, because bigotry begets resentment. But secondly because if orthodoxy with its absolute prohibitions of certain immoral actions is destroyed, the only other source for moral authority will be the law which specifies that "might makes right." This shift to a "new morality" happened once with the advent of the racial pseudo-religion of the Nazis, and it is happening again in our own campaign of exterminating the unborn. It is a sad fact of contemporary history that liberal Jews are blind to the connections between the two phenomena and to the fact that the orthodox were consistent in their opposition to both. It is a known fact that Hitler admired the theories of Margaret Sanger, the foundress of Planned Parenthood. How is it then that liberal Jews fail to see that the connection between the Nazis then and the proabortionsts now is that both are decidedly heterodox in their denial of the sovereignty of God and the absolute nature of moral laws? Who but the orthodox, both Christian and Jew, are more militant in their opposition to abortion and infanticide, which are the clearest manifestations that Nazism is alive and well in our day?

To see Jews like Ravitch and Macoby side with proabortionists like Rosemary Ruether is a painfully ironic sight. It leads one to believe that St. Paul was right all along:

Brothers, I have the very warmest love for the Jews, and I pray to God for them to be saved. I can swear to their fervor for God, but their zeal is misguided. (Romans 10:1-2)

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