Christianity and the Holocaust
To the Editor:
Hyam Maccoby’s article, “Theologian of the Holocaust” [December 1982], while dealing less with Emil Fackenheim than with Mr. Maccoby’s own theological theories, is nonetheless powerful and in some ways compelling. I would not wish to contest here Mr. Maccoby’s assumption of Christian complicity in the Holocaust, having written on that subject elsewhere (e.g., “The Holocaust and Christian Responsibility,” America, February 14, 1981), though I would argue for a more nuanced rendering of the historical sequence than Mr. Maccoby’s broad strokes would seem to allow. The complicity of Christians and of certain strata of popular Christian teaching over the centuries, is, for me, a given that needs to be analyzed by Jews and Christians in dialogue rather than debated, especially regarding the central issue of the pernicious “deicide” charge. Mr. Maccoby’s point concerning “the continuance into the post-Christian era of deeply-implanted fantasies about the Jews” is truly a crucial one for this effort.
But in some ways Mr. Maccoby’s generalizations may do more harm than good to that urgently needed joint analysis. In the first place his understanding of the meaning of the crucifixion for Christians and of “the Christian doctrine of atonement” is inadequate from the point of view of Christian theology. Granted the equal misinterpretation of the doctrine by countless Christian preachers over the ages, the answer to his question, “If the Jews did not suffer, who would bear the guilt of the sacrifice of Jesus?,” is a relatively easy one. The Catechism of the Council of Trent in the 16th century gave this quite traditional response:
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 (Hebrews 6:6; Corinthians 2:8).
The Second Vatican Council, in rejecting any sense of collective responsibility on the part of Jews for the death of Jesus (Nostra Aetate, no. 4), did so without any sense that it was thereby putting into jeopardy the Christian doctrine of atonement. Enough time has already passed, I would judge, to show to even the most skeptical that the Council fathers, not Mr. Maccoby, were right in their interpretation of Christian doctrine. Christ’s passion is a mystery where meaning is only obscured, not enhanced, by focusing on the role of those few Jews who may have been involved historically. Mr. Maccoby’s approach thus raises a nonexistent theological conundrum now long resolved.
Mr. Maccoby is also a bit loose with his historical examples. The blood-libel accusation, which he raises to show the “unbroken historical connection” between the Crusades and the Nazi death camps, was, in fact, vigorously and meticulously rejected for the nonsense it was by the Popes in every age in every period in which it gained popularity. The Chmielnicki massacres of the 17th century were not, as Mr. Maccoby states, “Polish massacres,” but atrocities committed against Polish Catholics and Jews alike by rampaging Cossacks in revolt against Polish domination of the Ukraine. Likewise, I am struck by Mr. Maccoby’s seemingly whimsical use of the term “Christendom.” As a meaningful historic-geographic category, “Christendom” ended centuries ago. Even for the most conservative of Catholics its viability ceased with the demise of the Papal States. How Mr. Maccoby can see “Christendom” as a living entity today, in what he himself calls “the post-Christian era,” is only one of a number of further questions I would put to him.
Since Mr. Maccoby chose to go so far beyond Emil Fackenheim and raise questions Fackenheim has not chosen to take up, I remain curious as to why he did not grapple with the many scholars who have already discussed Mr. Maccoby’s questions at some length, such as Yosef Yerushalmi, John Pawlikowski, Franklin Littell, A. Roy and Alice Eckardt, and the twelve Christian scholars who responded to Rosemary Ruether in Alan Davies’s Antisemitism and the Foundations of Christianity (Paulist, 1979).
All this being said, it should be acknowledged by all Christians that Mr. Maccoby’s accusations against Christianity retain a certain moral edge. Wrong as he is about what Christianity authentically teaches, he is devastatingly accurate about what Christians popularly have taught and about the awesomely tragic consequences of that teaching for Jews. While Nazism was not a Christian sect (as Mr. Maccoby implies) but fundamentally anti-Christian, and while the Holocaust may not be a crisis for “Christendom” alone (as Evian proved), the Holocaust does remain a fundamental Christian problem. For, given where it took place, it could have been stopped by concerted Christian action—and wasn’t.
Eugene J. Fisher
Executive Secretary, Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations
National Conference of Catholic Bishops
To the Editor:
We regret very much having read Hyam Maccoby’s “Theologian of the Holocaust”; we were not aware that COMMENTARY was a medium for Jewish-Christian polemics.
Mr. Maccoby’s entire thesis betrays not only an abysmal misunderstanding of Christianity but an emotional bias akin to that of which he finds all of Christianity guilty. Jewish demonology arising from rabbinical sources is no more pleasant than that from apostate Christian concepts. And both are the offspring of Abaddon.
Harold W. Dart
Christians for Israel
To the Editor:
COMMENTARY seems to have put its editorial responsibility aside by publishing Hyam Maccoby’s “Theologian of the Holocaust.” . . . What defining creed or published moral teaching of any historical church has “. . . taught over the centuries that it is weakness to be kind to Jews, and that it is virtuous to persecute them. . .”? What chapter and verse of the New Testament—the common source of Christian doctrine—proclaim such things? Of course one can find an aberrant bishop, divine, or even some group who advocate unholy practices, but no right-minded man can claim such things are representative over the centuries of the whole body of Christianity. And even had the practice been in fact as Mr. Maccoby describes it, his only conclusion could be that Christians deviate from their espoused doctrines. . . .
Richard J. Connell
College of St. Thomas
St. Paul, Minnesota
To the Editor:
Hyam Maccoby has succinctly stated what I suspect many Jews believe but are either reluctant or afraid to express.
Paul A. Abrahamson
To the Editor:
. . . Hyam Maccoby’s solution to the problem of anti-Semitism, which he regards as a Christian phenomenon, is that Christians must abandon their religious positions based on the crucifixion and the theology of the cross. These he calls the “myth” of Christianity. However, this is precisely what Jews and Christians have differed about as a matter of religious truth from the beginning . . .
Moreover, . . . Mr. Maccoby overlooks classical anti-Semitism . . . as exemplified in the writings of Cicero, Seneca, Ovid, and Tacitus. These intellectuals were fearful of the threat they felt Judaism posed to religious and national unity. This anti-Semitism was of such a nature that Salo W. Baron in his A Social and Religious History of the Jews found in ancient anti-Semitism almost every note sounded in medieval and modern anti-Semitism. . . .
The Holocaust is a more complex matter than Mr. Maccoby’s black-and-white caricature allows. It is insufficient to say, as he does, that Nazism was post-Christian. Nazism was anti-Christian, utilizing 19th-and 20th-century intellectual departures from Christianity, including the latest concepts of social engineering and eugenics. Millions of Christians died along with Jews in the camps, many of whom were in the vanguard of opposition to the Nazis and all they stood for. While failures among Christians could be traced in many cases to anti-Semitic sentiments, this is not the whole picture. Much more powerful was the attitude of not wishing to get involved, apathy, avoiding moral issues, pleading ignorance, and refusing to think anything or anyone was worth sticking one’s neck out for.
It is indeed unfortunate that Mr. Maccoby cannot see beyond his religious prejudices in his assessment of Fackenheim’s work and of the Holocaust; his primary goal is to attack Christianity rather than to analyze history.
Leonard F. Villa
Yonkers, New York
To the Editor:
Hyam Maccoby’s article is an illtempered and graceless polemic riddled with error. If the Holocaust was indeed coextensive with Christendom, as Mr. Maccoby repeatedly reminds us, this is hardly sufficient proof that Christianity as such caused the Holocaust. The area that was once Christendom was also the most heavily populated by Jews, the most technologically advanced, and the most influenced by neo-pagan-ism and scientism: two essential elements of Nazi race theory, as Léon Poliakov has demonstrated. Christians in Europe and America certainly did not react to the Nazi persecution of Jews with the uniform support or indifference that Mr. Maccoby suggests was present. Particularly in America and England, Catholic and Protestant clergymen denounced Nazi persecutions—incidentally, with far more enthusiasm and consistency than their modern counterparts now show in dealing with Communist atrocities against Christians. While many Ukrainian Orthodox peasants turned Jews in to the SS, Bulgarian Orthodox Christians, led by the Patriarch of Sofia, openly protected Bulgarian Jews against deportation. Although most (if not all) German Lutherans were insensitive to Jewish suffering, Danish and Norwegian Lutherans hid Jews from their persecutors. The Lithuanian and Polish Catholic record of saving Jews from the Holocaust was generally deplorable, outside the clergy; nonetheless, Italian Catholics and even many German Catholics did behave more courageously. Are we to infer from this that Christians who helped Jews were ipso facto less Christian? Or, perhaps, that Ukrainian Pentecostalists who aided Jews during World War II believed less in the crucifixion (the pernicious source for Mr. Maccoby of all Christian anti-Semitism) than Ukrainian Catholics and Orthodox Christians, who were generally less sympathetic to Jews?
In his eagerness to inveigh against Christians and Christianity, Mr. Maccoby also ignores the enduring non-Christian sources of anti-Semitism. Ancient Roman statesmen, particularly Cicero, considered Jews culturally offensive and economically parasitic. Indeed, as the German Jewish scholar Guido Kisch has argued, pre-Christian attacks upon Jews were often passed on through the Christian era into the neo-pagan ideology of the Third Reich. The charge of deicide, to which Mr. Maccoby ascribes a perhaps exaggerated importance in Christian theology, was by the high Middle Ages only part of a vast network of negative associations surrounding European Jewry.
As for the tracing of Muslim and New Left anti-Semitism back to Christian sources, one must marvel at the ingenuity of Christianity-haters who often bear an ominous resemblance to Jew-baiters. Save for the Holocaust, which Mr. Maccoby does not prove was a Christian crime rather than an act in which nominal Christians participated, there is no humiliation that Christendom inflicted on the Jews that Muslim states have not duplicated or exceeded. The butchering of Baghdad Jewry (and of Assyrian Christians) by the Islamic government of post-World War I Iraq, and the oppression of ancient Jewish communities throughout the Arab world, indicate that Muslims can kill Jews quite brutally and efficiently even without the “crucifixion myth.” The founder of Islam, unlike the founder of Christianity, was a persecutor of Jews. Arab nationalists and high Muslim religious officials, most notably the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, applauded Hitler’s “final solution.”
Finally, why blame Christianity for a New Left hostility vented by its bearers more often against Christians than Jews? The New Left rejects Judeo-Christian capitalist society in favor of Marxist socialism and countercultural morality. To the extent that Jews and Judaism have been involved (contrary to Jewish liberal wish fantasies) in the building of a hated Western civilization now under siege, New Leftists are understandably anti-Jewish as well as anti-Christian.
Mr. Maccoby’s invective is not only factually dubious, as in its oversimplified account of the primitive Church’s connection to Gnosticism, but also contains reckless advice. Is it really in our interest as Jews to try to lay yet one more “guilt trip” upon a Christian world now wallowing in guilt and self-doubt? Hasn’t Mr. Maccoby noticed that the most philo-Semitic Christians today are also the most theologically confident and morally conservative? As Franz Rosenzweig properly recognized, Christians are the necessary allies of the Jewish people in sustaining the heritage of biblical spirituality. Of course neither Rosenzweig nor his followers (like Will Herberg and Jakob Petuchowski) have held to Mr. Maccoby’s demonic and quite thoroughly Gnostic understanding of Christianity; nor for that matter to his strange view of the insignificance of humanism in talmudic Judaism.
Contrary to Mr. Maccoby’s assertion, Emil Fackenheim does at least intermittently blame Christianity for the Holocaust. See especially his long comment published in the April 1975 issue of the Journal of the History of Ideas.
To the Editor:
Hyam Maccoby carries me a good distance with him, in part perhaps because of the powerful resonance which his argument stirs; but he does not carry me to his conclusions.
- He says too much. Having traced the antecedents of the Holocaust to Christianity’s “central doctrine and myth,” is it then possible to localize and reduce the problem to a “false turn,” one which can be “analyzed and corrected”? (Incidentally, what sort of Christianity could emerge from such a correction; and where is the Christianity which would expose itself to that purgation?)
- He says too little. He apparently denies the role in the Holocaust of Nazism’s non-Christian and un-Christian components. What of Nazism’s racist compulsion, its repudiation of all previous law, its desire to legislate for the earth, to lead mankind into the future, to determine the route, to shape the rules, to affect and control all future history? . . .
To see the Holocaust as a problem and crisis for Christendom alone is to see very little.
New York City
To the Editor:
It has been pointed out many times . . . that when Christians massacred Muslims in Lebanese refugee camps it was hardly logical to blame it all on the Jews.
Yet Hyam Maccoby insists that the Holocaust was a direct, obvious, indeed virtually inevitable, consequence of specifically Christian animosity toward Jews. Surely he knows that the Nazi regime was ostentatiously pagan, anti-Christian; that the Nazis alleged racial rather than religious justification for their foul deeds; that they slaughtered millions of non-Jews too; and that had they won their war they intended to exterminate the Christian clergy and much of the (largely Catholic or Orthodox) Slavic population of Eastern Europe. That Mr. Maccoby does realize this is indicated, finally, by an offhand remark that undermines his case: “And a further factor . . . 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.” One cannot have it both ways.
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Indiana
To the Editor:
Hyam Maccoby’s grotesque exegesis of what Christianity “really” is, is regrettably similar to the paranoid conviction of the anti-Semite that the “real” character of the Jew is one of total amorality. . . .
Mr. Maccoby’s explanation for the Holocaust is shockingly presumptuous because of his lack of understanding of Emil Fackenheim’s view of the Holocaust as an “ineffable event.” He argues that Fackenheim fails to place the Holocaust in its historical context. Having assumed a psychological explanation, he has reduced the origin of evil to an empirical level. Does he really believe that evil (or good) is explained by history or psychology? . . .
The central metaphor of Judeo-Christianity is in the biblical story of the fall, and any understanding of this is totally incompatible with Mr. Maccoby’s assertion that “Judaism never regarded the world as evil, and thus never required a sacrificial savior to save mankind from crisis.” The fall is the source of the knowledge of good and evil, and thus the source of suffering and mortality. Psychologically, it is the knowledge of good and evil which created man, for in the absence of such knowledge, we do not differ from animals. The “central metaphor” of Christianity is primarily concerned with salvation. To the extent that Jews are responsible for imposing morality on mankind, they are responsible for an ineradicable burden of guilt. It was this guilt which gave rise to the idea of salvation, and thereby created the very idea of a messiah! Salvation for the Jew turns on the exclusivity of being a Jew, together with the observance of religious ritual. When the followers of Christ, notably Paul, denied that salvation was the prerogative of Jews, they closed the door to the Jewish soteriology which turns on the concept of a chosen people.
It is surprising, then, that the Holocaust is not perceived as the consequence of the Jewish legacy of the moral imperative and internalized constraints. Having created the condition for everlasting suffering, the Jews denied the reality of the only salvation available to non-Jews, the affirmation of Christ as the Redeemer. Psychologically, the accusation leveled at Jews, that they are at heart devoid of scruples and unclean, reveals the nature of the burden imposed by Jewish religion: the necessity to be clean, and to have scruples.
The genocide of the Jews is seen, then, not as a “moral act” on the part of Christians, but as the denial of the need for morality and an attempt to destroy God, the source of moral constraints. This is quite explicit in the ravings of Rosenberg and Hitler, and perhaps it is implicit in the rise of Communism. Medieval Christian persecution of Jews is not in any way fundamentally different, although Christianity at that time felt a more compelling need for salvation than at present. . . .
These are the bare and oversimplified bones of those psychological and historical forces which determined the Holocaust. The limitation of such an explanation, apparently not perceived by Mr. Maccoby, is that if ethics is more than an empirical discovery of how things are in the world, then the possibility of evil no less than the possibility of good is a transcendent mystery, as ineffable as the persecution of Job.
Hal J. Breen
To the Editor:
Hyam Maccoby’s article on the origins of Christian anti-Semitism as related specifically to the Holocaust is the best essay I have ever read on the subject. His mythic analysis of the crucifixion, and the role of the Jews in Christian eyes as the representatives on earth of Satan, is undoubtedly correct, but he doesn’t go deep enough. He has not found the bottom line. Mr. Maccoby nowhere explains why Christians feel so consumed by guilt and sin that the sacrifice of the scapegoat Jesus is necessary. Other peoples are apparently not so consumed. However, Mr. Maccoby does allude to the answer when he mentions the “condemnation of all mankind to hell by an angry Father-god.” In order to understand this . . . it is necessary to interpret the myths in Freudian, specifically Oedipal, terms.
The origin of guilt is the conflict between the compulsive rage and hate we feel for the dominant father and our simultaneous desperate need for his love and approval. The Jewish method for dealing with this guilt over having “bad feelings” about the beloved father is to deny and suppress it. Indeed, the psychological driving force behind Judaism is loyalty to God, the almighty Father, Whom we create in the image of our bearded patriarch Abraham. The Christian method for dealing with this primordial guilt is to talk it to death, so that all are guilty, all are born in original sin, and thus no one is punished for “bad thoughts.” The psychological driving force behind Christianity is the dissipation of guilt through confessions, penances, self-denials, etc. The central myth of Christianity is really a fairy tale: God sends Jesus, His only son, to earth to suffer as we suffer, to take the sin and guilt of the world on his own shoulders, and even to die in pain and torment. But then Jesus is resurrected from the dead. Resurrected to do what? Why, to sit at the right hand of the Father forever. It’s the Hollywood ending that gives hope to a suffering humanity. In both Christianity and Judaism the bottom line is the attainment of the father’s love.
However, there is a dark side to the Christian myth: the personification of the compulsive rage and hate felt toward the dominant father who cannot minister to every whim of the egocentric child. This is Satan, the dark father, feared and hated, but also an object of great fascination. The Christian sees himself as Jesus, suffering now but to be resurrected later (born again?) and the extinct Old Testament Jews, e.g., good father Abraham, as God the Father in heaven, but he attributes the persistent wickedness of the world to the continuing presence of the bad father Satan, i.e., the post-Jesus Jews.
In another form of the myth, the Jews are brother Joseph, possessor of the coat of many colors and beloved favorite son of the father, and therefore the object of brotherly envy. This provides a second reason for two millennia of murderous Christian attacks on the Jews: the one brother who will not join the conspiracy to overthrow the father, but who remains loyal, “chosen,” and therefore hated. The Jew is the living symbol of stubborn loyalty to the father; living proof that mankind is not born in sin and guilt. Psychologically, the Jew is not in need of redemption, the Christian is.
It is because of the fundamental psychological nature of these myths that Mr. Maccoby’s prescription of reeducation is woefully inadequate. . . .
To the Editor:
I read with great interest Hyam Maccoby’s “Theologian of the Holocaust” and congratulate him for his courage and boldness of thought. Since he refers to an “irrational,” “unconscious,” and “psychological . . . need” for Christian demonology, I feel that a psychoanalytic perspective is germane.
The culmination of Freud’s explorations of group psychology, Moses and Monotheism, could be published only after his flight from Nazi tyranny. In this great work the relationship between Judaism and Christianity is illuminated. Briefly, a myth more fundamental than even the crucifixion myth—the myth of Oedipus—is applied to an understanding of Christian anti-Semitism. . . .
The unconscious roots of anti-Semitism run as deep as patricide and the Christian solution provides a welcome relief from the burden of unconscious guilt. Thus I fear that a “program of reeducation” for Christians, which Mr. Maccoby advocates, is about as feasible as Jonathan Schell’s recommendation for world government to prevent a nuclear holocaust.
To the Editor:
Having read and reread the many publications of Emil Fackenheim on the Holocaust, and having tried without success to resolve these thoughts with those of Rosemary Ruether, Yehuda Bauer, and others, it was like finding the light at the end of the tunnel to read Hyam Maccoby’s “Theologian of the Holocaust.”
Through a combination of study, logic, induction, and some intuition, I had some years ago reached the same conclusion as Mr. Maccoby; but to see it spelled out, in the erudite and convincing fashion of which he is so capable, leaves me anxious to pursue the further exposition of his thesis in his forthcoming book, The Sacred Executioner. . . .
Theodore R. Nelson
Bay Harbor Islands, Florida
To the Editor:
Hyam Maccoby makes a very convincing case for a specifically Christian religious hatred of Jews. Yet I believe two other factors to be of equal importance if the etiology of anti-Semitism is to be complete. They are: racial contempt (Aryan vs. Semitic), and the Jewish tendency not to fight even in self-defense, a tendency much in evidence since our Diaspora began.
It is well known that Conversos were denied ultimate acceptance into Aryan-Spanish families because the “blood purity” of those families had to be preserved. That Nazis would not accept converted Jews in any manner is too well known to require further elaboration.
Israel’s military successes have profoundly altered the Gentile perception of Jews. This change has accomplished more than the National Conference of Christians and Jews and kindred organizations have ever succeeded in doing. Had there been anything like a self-defense organization even as late as the last century, the Eastern European pogroms might not have occurred, or, if they had, their severity would probably have been greatly abated. . . .
I hope that in formulating policies to make any further Holocausts impossible, my fellow Jews will stop blaming the Gentiles only and accept their own—albeit unintended—collaboration in this matter.
New York Philharmonic
New York City
To the Editor:
From having belatedly discovered COMMENTARY two years ago, I have gained an increasing admiration for the magazine and its very insightful, thorough, and frequently brilliant stable of writers. . . . At the same time, as a conservative Christion, I wish it were possible for COMMENTARY to reflect the genuine accord that exists between, on the one side, ordinary American Christians who seem preternaturally immune to liberal illusions, and, on the other side, the state of Israel and the Jewish people.
Notwithstanding their mutual theological antagonism, these two groups have considerable emotional and historical ties. I am unable to match Hyam Maccoby’s knowledge of religious history, but the historical errors of Christendom seem to me bizarre and stupid accidents. . . . Perhaps one should distinguish between a nominal Christendom and genuine Christianity.
Closer to home, I believe . . . the media invective directed against Jerry Falwell is more than a reflection of his alleged simplicity; it surely stems from some of the same roots as the abuse hurled at Israel and its leader after the invasion of Lebanon, so well described by Norman Podhoretz in “J’Accuse” [September 1982]. Generally speaking, these roots are the secularization of society and its inevitable concomitant: the profound, quasi-religious belief in egalitarianism as the mark of justice itself. As G.K. Chesterton said, “When men cease to believe in God, they don’t believe in nothing—they believe in anything.” “Anything,” I submit, is a good description of egalitarianism and its results. . . .
It is time for Jews and Christians to recognize and articulate their common ground—while also admitting their differences—in the dangerous period ahead.
Hyam Maccoby writes:
A most significant letter is that of Eugene J. Fisher, whose attitude would be endorsed by many Christians who concern themselves with Jewish-Christian relations. Mr. Fisher regards demonization of the Jews as a widespread, “popular” interpretation of the Christian story, so powerful that it indeed produced the Holocaust. He denies, however, that it was ever asserted by people of authority, and he also claims that the “popular” interpretation is now dead; the issue has been “resolved” and I am doing Jewish-Christian relations no good by delving into the bad past.
I do not accept that I have described merely a “popular” interpretation. A large anthology could be compiled from the pronouncements of canonized saints of the Church alone, supporting the allegedly “popular” interpretation. Mr. Fisher too gives an idealized account of Papal attitudes to the blood-libel accusations. In the 19th century, for example, while the Pope was issuing denials of the truth of these accusations, the official Catholic journal La Civilta Cattolica was publishing a series of vile articles supporting their historicity. A word from the Pope could have stopped this. This is typical of Church behavior in such matters.
But even if Mr. Fisher were right about the “popular” interpretation, I would ask him to consider seriously whether all is well with a religion in which hatred of the Jews can be avoided only by an effort of reinterpretation that may well be beyond the grasp of children and simple people, on whom the mere graphic telling of the Gospel story has far more effect than any sophisticated interpretation of it. If, as Mr. Fisher argues, the point of the story is that we are all guilty, then Christianity has chosen the very worst way possible to inculcate this lesson. For the inevitable subliminal effect of a story with melodramatic, demonic villains, told to children, is not the internalization of evil but precisely the projection and externalization of evil that we find in the Passion Plays and in the “popular” response to the Gospels. In contrast to this, the Hebrew Bible is remarkable in that it contains no palpable villains, only fallible, understandable human beings. But the Hebrew Bible contains no devil either, nor the dualism that underlies the marking out of a people as representatives of cosmic evil.
Mr. Fisher also gives an idealized account of the conclusions of the Second Vatican Council. In the final, watered-down version, the sentence clearing the Jews of “deicide” was omitted. Jews were required to dissociate themselves from the “wicked generation” of the time of Jesus: i.e., the generation of Hillel, Shammai, and their pupils, one of the greatest periods of spirituality in religious history. This was no great step forward in Jewish-Christian relations.
I must stress, however, that I do not wish to minimize the efforts being made by Mr. Fisher and others to reverse the pattern of the past. I would only say that this cannot be done with the ease and smoothness that Mr. Fisher seems to envisage. The view that “we are all guilty” still requires the Jews to be symbols of unregenerate humanity, i.e., the yardstick of evil. Jews can hardly be expected to acquiesce in this unsavory role. Moreover, the examples of the enlightened approach since the Council of Trent all depend on the concept of forgiveness of the Jews. But to forgive is also to accuse.
At the same time, Mr. Fisher’s attitude is on a different plane from that of Harold W. Dart and Richard J. Connell, who have not yet awakened to the facts of Christian responsibility for the Holocaust. I advise them to study the writings of Mr. Fisher himself, Rosemary Ruether, and other Christian writers of this courageous school; also Léon Poliakov’s History of Anti-Semitism. As for their accusation that my article was a crude anti-Christian polemic, I should like to point out, in the friendliest spirit, that merely to defend Judaism from horrific charges made in the New Testament and later Christian literature cannot be done except by casting doubt on the truth of that literature. A man charged in court with murder should not be prevented from defending himself on the ground that this would be derogatory to his accusers.
Moreover, I do not regard myself as anti-Christian. As I understand it, a good Christian wishes to follow Jesus, and this means to find out what Jesus actually stood for and what he preached—not what later people thought he ought to have preached. This is where a deep study of the Jewish background of Jesus is so important for Jewish-Christian relations, because it would reveal that a claim to messiahship was not blasphemy, that the Phariseees did not forbid healing on the Sabbath, etc., etc. Jesus was a Jewish teacher, who regarded the Jewish Bible as the word of God, and the Jewish people as the recipients, through their prophets, of that word. To make the Jewish people instead into the exemplars of evil was certainly not in accordance with his thought. Any aspects of Christian teaching which reduce the Jews to contempt and persecution are surely an attack on the teaching of Jesus, and on Jesus himself.
What I have said (as Paul A. Abrahamson points out) is simply what many Jews think but have not dared to say: that the pogroms, expulsions, ritual-murder accusations, etc., culminating in the Holocaust, were caused by Christian teaching that made the Jews into sinister figures of evil, an accursed nation of deicides. This is the first generation for 1700 years (the period of Christian power) in which a Jew has been able to speak his mind about Christianity without fear of violence to himself, his family, and his fellow Jews. Yet this simple fact is swept out of consciousness by the modern liberal unspoken compact to forget history, to pretend that the present Jewish-Christian accord is somehow timeless and not a thing of today. This very silence endangers the accord that it is meant to protect, because it prevents us from inquiring into how we can prevent the past from recurring. Christians like Harold W. Dart support Israel and promote friendly relations with Jews, and this is an inestimable good, which I welcome and applaud; but the pretense that this is not a new attitude endangers the future.
Leonard F. Villa and Paul Gottfried point to the existence of pre-Christian anti-Semitism as disproof of Christian responsibility. Insofar as the Jews were regarded as representatives on earth of cosmic evil in certain varieties of pre-Christian Gnosticism (as shown by the Nag Hammadi library), this was indeed a precursor of Christian anti-Semitism. However, mere anti-Jewish feeling, which did not give the Jews a cosmic role of evil, as expressed by Apion, Cicero, Seneca, and Juvenal is no more than normal, if perhaps heightened, xenophobia.
Marc Salzberger and Bernard Norling point to the racialism and paganism of the Nazis as evidence that they were not influenced by Christianity. Nazi racialism has merely a pseudo-scientific veneer; the Nazis did not hate Semites but Jews (evidence of this is Hitler’s effusive welcome to the Mufti of Jerusalem, a pure Semite). Nazi paganism and anti-Christianism were also a surface phenomenon. If they had really become pagan Nordics they would not have been anti-Jewish, since genuine Nordics had no such ideas. The Nazis were all brought up as Christians; the Nazis’ anti-Semitism is continuous with the anti-Semitism of their Christian upbringing and uses the same vocabulary and images.
Bernard Norling thinks I have contradicted myself by saying that Christian morality acted as a restraint on Christian demonology. But the safeguard of the Jews was always the idea that a Christian should be kind even to the Jews. This was a precarious protection, for supererogatory virtue tends to break down in times of stress. To forgive the Jews, as Christ was represented as doing, was always liable to turn into “We have been forbearing to the Jews, but this is too much.” The Nazis, however, did not even have this precarious restraint. It should also be mentioned that there have been, at all times, Christians who were far better than their theory; simple human decency kept breaking through the dictates of dogma. This was what infuriated St. John Chrysostom. His vicious diatribes against the Jews were provoked by the fact that in his time (4th century C.E.) many ordinary Christians still preserved friendly relations with Jews.
Paul Gottfried shows an inability to see things in proportion. He believes that because some Christians helped Jews during the Holocaust the overall picture of apathy or active cooperation can be ignored. Muslims persecuted Jews at times; therefore, he thinks, the incomparably higher level of Christian persecution has no significance. If he will reread my article, he will find that I have dealt with his other points. His idea that I have a view of “the insignificance of humanism in talmudic Judaism” is astonishing, in light of my published writings.
Hal J. Breen has the hoary and unhelpful idea (advocated recently by George Steiner) that anti-Semitism arises from resentment against the demands of Jewish morality, but he combines this with a view about Jewish “exclusivity.” Judaism is a universal religion, though not a universal church; it envisages a plurality of monotheistic communions. Mr. Breen should investigate the concept of the Noahide Laws, and attend to the universalism of the books of Ruth, Job, and Jonah.
Alexander Firestone and Sandford Horodezky make a valid point about the depth-psychological aspect of anti-Semitism. However, we must start somewhere; and Freud himself stressed the importance of work on the ego-level as an integral component of analysis, especially at the beginning.
Finally, we come to the great question (raised by Leonard F. Villa and Marc Salzberger) of what path Christianity is to follow if its central myth is shown to be productive of evil. This is a question to which I have given much thought, but it is too large to be treated here. I can only say that this is the question to which Jewish-Christian dialogue should be chiefly directed. In my view, the recovery of the historical Jewish Jesus is essential to this inquiry, as is the all-important distinction between the Synoptic Gospels, which present, on the whole, an authentic picture of Jesus, and the Gospel of John, which has distorted that picture. Judaism has always had a pluralistic religious outlook, so there is no question of wishing to convert Christians to Judaism; yet the evil turn by which a gulf opened between Jews and Christians must be reversed if the true distinctiveness of Christianity is to emerge.
On the general question of Jewish-Christian reconciliation, 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. Jews, I must stress, are as desirous as Joseph for such reconciliation; they long to be able to say to Christians, “I am Joseph your brother.” But they do not want to be exemplars of evil, however symbolic, nor to be “forgiven” for things they did not do.