I write this letter for two reasons; first and foremost I want to genuinely say to my Jewish friends and acquaintances, those I work with, those who live in my community and those both near and afar that I don't know, simply, I'm sorry. As a follower of Jesus (Yeshua) my heart is grieved by the guilt of Christianity towards the Jewish people. I am truly sorry. Secondly, it is my sincere hope that Christians who are willing to open their hearts to the truth will “hear” this letter and be forever changed by it.
My personal journey began several years ago with a trip to Israel. It was there that I realized that Yeshua (Jesus) was a Jew and that my heritage as a believer deeply rooted in Israel and her people. I wondered, how had Jesus become blond, blue eyed and very non-Jewish? Later, while in Brownsville Florida, I purchased a book with an intriguing title, Our Hands are Stained with Blood: The Tragic Story of the “Church” and the Jewish People”, by Dr. Michael Brown. I read the book and my heart was torn from me, I wept. Many questions followed. However, the most troubling was, why have I (we) never been told? How could something so horrific be silenced for so long? My search for answers began. I wanted to know more. What I learned follows.
In the first century Ignatius of Antioch proposed the theory that the Church is the New Israel, suggesting that the Jews had lost it forever. Later Constantine declares that Israel no longer belonged to the Jewish people, instead the Christian Church. The early church saw Judaism as a threat, thus the beginning of the creation of a non-Jewish Jesus. Next the Jews were accused of killing “God” Himself. Justin proclaims the “tribulations (perhaps the destruction of the temple in 70 AD for one) were justly imposed upon you, for you have murdered the Just One.” Later Christian theologians Hippolytus and Origen supported this theory and subsequently it became predominate in Christian thinking.
Other noted Christians, such as Chrysostom, denounced the Jews calling them the “most miserable of all men…lustful, rapacious, greedy, perfidious bandits….inveterate murderers, destroyers, men possessed by the devil (a theme oft repeated by the church in the centuries to follow) debauchery and drunkenness have given them the manners of the pig and lusty goat.” The same Church Father later pronounced that for the Jew there is “no expiation (atonement) possible, no indulgence, no pardon….their “odious assassination of Christ” was the beginning of all their woes.
Christianity became officially recognized under Emperor Constantine in the fourth century. As a result theology was woven into government and the Synagogue came under its control. Justinian abolished Jewish religious and civil rights. In the seventh century Byzantine Emperor Heraclius began the first of the forced baptisms of the Jews, which was to be repeated in many places in the centuries to come.
The Crusades resulted in the murder of approximately a quarter to one-third of the entire Jewish population in Germany and Northern France. Crusaders, singing Christ, We Adore Thee, held their crosses aloft while burning 969 Jews to death, who had locked themselves in the main synagogue in Jerusalem. The Crusaders believed they were avenging the death of Christ. It has been reported that as they ran over the “mutilated bodies of those slaughtered their leader quoted Psalm 118:24: “This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Over the centuries the Jews have been made the scapegoat for numerous things. One Pope blamed them for a hurricane and an earthquake. When the Black Death broke out in Europe the Jews were held responsible allegedly having poisoned water wells. The result: over 200 Jewish communities throughout Europe were destroyed, more than 10,000 killed in three German towns alone. Thousands others were killed because of fabrications accusing them of killing Christian children before Easter for ritual purposes. Jews were claimed to have “desecrated the sacred elements in Holy Communion.” In Prague in 1389, Jewish children accidentally sprayed a Priest, who was carrying a wafer host, with sand resulting in the massacre of 3000 Jews.
Jews were made to wear distinctive dress, with a distinctive mark imposed on their clothing, as early as 1215 in many countries. These badges of shame, made infamous in Nazi Germany, marked them as social outcasts, subjecting them to physical and verbal abuse.
Forced baptism of the Jews was common throughout the centuries. Some 50,000 Jews died in a riot in 1391 instigated by an archdeacon's preaching. Many of the Jews who were baptized forcibly continued to practice their former faith secretly. They were called marranos, meaning swine. Jews have been expelled by almost every country they have resided in. Ferdinand and Isabella expelled all Jews from Spain in 1492 to “consolidate” their Christian realm. Nearly 300,000 fled to Portugal where they were permitted to stay, enslaved, later to be freed but “brutally and forcibly baptized.”
Jewish suffering was considered “entertainment” at pre-Lenten carnivals. In medieval Rome the “weakest member of the Jewish community would be thrust naked into a nail-spiked barrel and rolled down the hill to his death, his fellow Jews forced to watch his martyrdom.” On other occasions, Jews were made to run naked through the streets of the carnival, in the icy cold and rain, to be pelted by the crowds with mud.
Sadly, even the great reformer Martin Luther in the tract Concerning the Jews and Their Lies (1542) wrote:
“Firstly, their synagogues should be set on fire. Secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed. Thirdly, they should be deprived of their prayer-books and Talmuds. Fourthly, their Rabbis must be forbidden under threat of death to teach any more. Fifthly, passport and travelling privileges should be absolutely forbidden to the Jews. Sixthly, they ought to be stopped from usury. Seventhly, let the young and strong Jews and Jewesses be given the flail, the axe, the hoe, the spade, the distaff, and spindle, and let them earn their bread by the sweat of their noses. We ought to drive the rascally lazy bones out of our system. Therefore, away with them.” In a sermon later given Luther called for the immediate expulsion of all Jews from Germany. Luther's anti-Semitic teachings were applied literally in the Third Reich.
In 1648 Eastern Orthodox Cossacks from Ukraine destroyed Poland and singled out the Jews for special treatment. “Some were flayed alive and their skins were tossed to the dogs as meat. Others were severely wounded and then thrown onto the streets. Others were buried alive. Babes in their mother's arms were stabbed to death. Large numbers of Jewish children thrown into the water in order to make the fords more level.” In the following ten years some 100,000 to 500,000 Jews were murdered, and 700 communities destroyed.
In 1819 one German pamphleteer proposes “massacres, castrations, and consignment of Jewesses to prostitution.” In Russia, Nicholas I forced Jewish youths, beginning at age 12, to serve in the military for as much as 25 years. Russia's first major pogrom (from Webster: an organized massacre of helpless people; specifically such a massacre of Jews) started at Easter 1881. This effort to “solve” the Jewish “problem” resulted in mass emigrations, and death for countless Jews. Czar Nicholas II regarded the Jews as “Christ-killers”.
In Nazi Germany Hitler claimed that he was “only doing the work of the Catholic Church.” Following a model established hundreds of years previously the Nazis reprinted Martin Luther's anti-Semitic writings. Kristallnacht, the night of the burning of the synagogues in Germany was chosen in honor of Luther's birthday. Individual Christians attempted to stop the extermination of the Jews, the Church generally did not. A papal ambassador, when asked to intervene replied: “There is no innocent blood of Jewish children in the world. All Jewish blood is guilty. You have to die. This is the punishment that has been awaiting you, because of that sin.” Governments allowed few Jews to escape the horror of Holocaust. Canada and America would not change their strict immigration policies. A refugee turned away by the British was subsequently torpedoed and all but one of the 769 Jews on board perished. The world's apathy moved Nazi informers to report to Hitler “You can do what you like with the Jews, nobody wants them.”
In 1135 French scholar Pierre Abelard, perhaps unknowingly yet aptly, describes the plight of the Jew:
“No nation has ever suffered so much for God. Dispersed among all nations, without king or secular ruler, the Jews are oppressed with heavy taxes as if they had to repurchase their lives everyday. To mistreat the Jews is considered a deed pleasing to God. Such imprisonment as is endured by the Jews can be conceived by the Christians only as a sign of God's utter wrath. The life of the Jews is in the hands of their worst enemies. Even in their sleep they are plagued by nightmares. Heaven is their only place of refuge.”
Now that you have heard you must decide. Have we as Christians failed to be hope for the Jewish people? Have we failed to love without condition? Have we failed as Mother Basilea Schlink (a German nun who wrote Israel, My Chosen People) has observed to have our hearts “ache to see this chosen people of God wandering through the centuries, wretched, despised, shunned, ostracized, and afflicted with pain like the suffering Servant of God in Isaiah 53? Is one of our greatest failures as Christians that, as written by Edward Flannery priest and historian, “the Jewish people did not find in the Christian churches an ally and defender but one of their most zealous detractors and oppressors?”
I have decided. I am genuinely sorry and I repent before God. I can only ask for the forgiveness of the Jewish people. I choose to stand at the side of my Jewish Lord and Master Yeshua and see His people, the chosen of God, “with His eyes, full of love and mercy.” Yes, with God's help I will stand with the Jewish people. I will love them with all my heart, share in their suffering, weep as they weep, and rejoice as they rejoice and I will pray for them and the peace of Jerusalem.
Chris M. Poole