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First Parish Universalist Church
790 Washington Street, P. O. Box 284, Stoughton, Massachusetts 02072 
(781) 344-6800
Worship: 10:30 AM
Children's Chapel:  10:30 AM
Church School: 10:45 AM
 

Blaming the Jews

Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, May 1, 2005

 

Did you know that, according to some people, The Diary of Anne Frank is a forgery and a fraud, and that Anne never really existed?

You see, according to these so-called “scholars”, this is because Anne (supposedly) wrote her diary with a fountain pen—and fountain pens weren’t invented until 1948—three years after Anne’s (supposed) death in the Bergen-Belsen prison camp. So, this reasoning goes, the book must be a forgery then—nothing more than a plot to curry sympathy for the Jews, and for the state of Israel.

Sounds plausible, doesn’t it? It seems logical; it makes you think. Until you ask a couple of questions, like “Who ever said that Anne wrote her diary with a fountain pen?” No one. “Who ever said that the fountain pen was invented in 1948?” No one. Someone just made it up…

Did you know that a (supposedly) “ancient text” has been uncovered that “proves” that the Jews are out to dominate the world—that years ago, a group of leading Jewish clergymen and political leaders and financial chiefs got together, and laid out a plan for world domination—a plan that is slowly, steadily being realized in our own time?

This “newly unearthed”, recently republished “ancient text” tells the whole story about the conspiracy. Well, the book looks old; its words sound old-- so it must be true then, right? Plus, it has the ominous title, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and tells all about the “Jewish plot” to take over the world.

The only problem is that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion has been published before; it gets resurrected and republished every couple of generations, actually. It was first “uncovered” (and probably first written) back in 1905, perhaps by a member of the Russian tsar’s secret police. It served as the ongoing excuse for the numerous pogroms, or campaigns against Jews, unleashed by the tsarist government every few years…

Did you ever hear of the biggest “Big Lie” of all: that the Holocaust never happened? That’s right: David Irving, supposedly a “world famous historian”, says so. He “proves” it in one of his books, called Hitler’s War. Actually, in that book, published back in the late 1970s, Irving simply said that Hitler “didn’t know” about the Holocaust, that it was all going on behind the Fuhrer’s back, as it were. But two more books, five years, and lots of publicity later, Irving was saying that, in fact, there was no Holocaust, or none of any major historical significance, certainly.

The only problem was that Irving lied; he made up much of the data in his “historical” treatises; he fabricated incidents and quotes; so much so, that when somebody called him on it, and called him a liar, Irving sued for slander—and lost. The judgment against Irving said that it was one thing to revise history on the basis of new information; that happens all the time; that’s what the writing of history is, really. But it is another thing to make up that new information, and that is what, the court found, David Irving did.

But many people who read Irving’s books still think that the Holocaust never happened. And those who pick up a copy of the “newly discovered” Protocols of the Elders of Zion think, “Wow! I knew it! There really is a Jewish plot to take over the world.” Someone listening to a “learned” and well-spoken fundamentalist minister talking about Anne Frank and the invention of the fountain pen, perhaps shrugs his or her shoulders and says, “I guess the Diary is a fraud after all.”

So the sad litany of anti-Semitic misinformation continues, down to even more recent times. Did you know, for instance, that some people still believe that not a single Jew was killed in the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001? That’s right: all of the Jews who worked at the World Trade Center supposedly received telephone calls early that morning, or the night before, telling them not to come to work on the 11th. Which also “proves”, we’re supposed to believe, that the attack was really the work of the Israeli secret service, who wanted it as a pretext to exterminate the Palestinians.

Now, rumors like these are absurd and easy to discredit, if you take the time to do so. The problem is, in many parts of the world, people believe them, and want to make no effort whatsoever to discredit them. That’s because, in some places, it is considered all right to hate Jews—to demonize them—to heap upon them the most awful calumnies. Certainly, present-day Jew haters have some formidable historical company.

But why is this? Why do so many people hate the Jews?

There are at least six theories for Jew-hating that have come lurching down through Christian history, “like a stumbling drunk who can’t quite find his way home,” as one observer has put it:

There’s the Economic Theory: Jews are hated because they possess too much wealth and power.

Then there’s the Chosen People Theory: Jews are hated because they arrogantly claim to be God’s favorites.

There’s the Scapegoat Theory: Jews are a convenient group to single out and blame for anything that goes wrong.

And we have, fourth, the Outsiders Theory, which says that Jews are hated because they are different.

The Racial Theory states that people hate Jews because they’re inferior. (But, we might ask, if they’re so inferior—then why do they possess so much wealth and power? But we’re not dealing with reason or making sense here; we’re dealing with prejudice, plain and simple.)

Finally, there is the Deicide Theory, which may go the deepest of all. The “Deicide Theory” tells us that so many “good Christian” people hate the Jews because the Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus; because the Jews are “Christ killers”, after all.

All of these theories have resonated within the addled mind of the West to one degree or another over the years, and they have produced, throughout history, a most unsavory brew.

Of course, anti-Semitism even predates Christianity; it goes back to the Roman Empire. When King Herod the Great died in the year 4 BCE, 2000 Jews were crucified. (You see, Roman practice in assimilating other peoples into their empire was to accept and allow as many of these people’s religious beliefs and rituals as possible, but also to insist that their subject peoples also pay due homage to the Roman gods, and carry out Roman cultic practices as well. The Jews—radical monotheists that they were—the Muslims of their day, as it were—wouldn’t do this. Their God, Yahweh, had said: “Have no other gods before me,” and, to the Jews, He meant it! So from time to time, like when Herod died, the Roman authorities decided to teach these subjects who wouldn’t assimilate and “go along to get along” a lesson.)

The early Christian movement, for its part, was full of dissension and disagreement, both on the place of the Jews, as well as other issues. Numerous different gospels—accounts of the life of Jesus—were put forward. The four that finally made it into the Christian Bible – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—differ among themselves on many things-- notably, on their depictions of the Jews:

In Mark, the earliest Gospel, written largely for a Jewish audience, Jesus is portrayed as a practicing, faithful Jew. In Matthew, written 20 years later for an increasingly Christianized audience, Jesus is portrayed as challenging the Jewish religious authority, calling them “sons of hell”. In John, the last-written of the narratives, Jesus is shown shouting at the Jews, his own people: “You are of your father, the devil, and you want to accomplish your father’s desires.”

In Mark, the earliest Gospel, the Romans very clearly are the ones who crucify Jesus. In the later Gospels, Jesus is handed over to the Romans by the Jews. Now it is the Jews who are the “real” crucifiers of the Lord. What havoc has come from this understanding!

By the time of the Roman emperor Constantine in the 4th century, Christianity was declared the state religion. But under Constantine and his successors, Jesus the man, the teacher, the moral example became less and less important. What mattered now was not his life, but his death—his crucifixion, his blood sacrifice, his execution (at the hands of the Jews, of course). The cross of Jesus became the predominant symbol of the Empire—and often, that cross was set on its side, to become a weapon, to become “Constantine’s sword” of conquest.

The emperors declared that only those who accepted Christ—only those who were baptized—would be saved. This is something that most Jews, of course, would never accept; so, in Christian eyes, they stood condemned before God-- not only in the afterlife, but in this life, as well.

The first mass slaying of Jews by Christians occurred in the year 414 in Alexandria. An entire ancient Jewish community was massacred by an “unruly mob”. The Church, for its part, didn’t condone the violence, but nor did it condemn it. It just looked the other way…

Around the same time, the Bishop of Milan, hardly a mere member of an “unruly mob” declared that he himself was ready to burn synagogues, if need be, so “that there might not be a place where Christ is denied.” A synagogue, this “man of God” said, was a “haunt of infidels, a home of the impious, a hiding place of madmen, under the damnation of God himself.” Ordering the rebuilding of a burnt-out synagogue, the Bishop concluded, would be “an act of treason to the Faith”.

So it was that in the name of the Christian God, great Crusades were launched to wrest control of the Holy Land from the Infidel. When we think of the “Infidel”, we usually picture the Muslims, of course, but that term also included the Jews as well. In 1099, the Pope declared that Crusaders who died in the act of killing an Infidel were guaranteed salvation, guaranteed eternal life in Paradise. (Sound familiar? So the reasoning of the September 11th terrorists went…) During the First Crusade in Jerusalem, all of the Jews that could be found were herded into a single synagogue and burned alive. In 1449, “Jewish blood” itself was declared dangerous, polluting, defiling; to be Jewish was a crime. (I suppose when Jews converted, their Jewish blood was turned into Christian blood, removed of all its [supposedly] “evil toxins”.) During the Inquisition, the precursor of the “Final Solution” was formulated. “The Jews killed Jesus” became “the Jews are out to kill us”—let’s kill them first: Jews were herded into ghettos in cities throughout Europe, lest they “infect” the rest of the population with their Jewishness. James Carroll calls the Jewish ghettos of Europe “the ante-chambers [the “waiting rooms”] of the concentration camps”.

“The Jews are condemned to eternal slavery,” the Pope declared in 1555. “They are to own no real estate. They are to attend no Christian university. They are to hire no servants. Their roles in society are to be strictly limited…. They are to wear distinctive clothing and badges. [Is this where Hitler got the idea?] Jews are not to be addressed as ‘sir’ by Christians…”

What were the “crimes” of which the Jews stood accused? Everything that the religious and political powers-that-be of the time didn’t like: “The Jews killed Jesus once, and now they are murdering him again ‘outside of time’. They deny Christian claims. They dissent. They defy our power. Their stubbornness is the reason Jesus hasn’t returned yet. They are a threat to the ultimate salvation of all. They still reject Jesus, [so Jesus rejects us]. They encourage skepticism [and lawlessness].”

Undergirding all of these “official” pronouncements was an infrastructure of popular lies. The Jewish community was accused of killing children; of devastating the Eucharist; of poisoning wells; of spreading the Plague. (Even though Jews died at the same rate as Christians during the plague years—just as they died at the same rate as people of other faiths on September 11th.)

Through the years, the litany of hatred against the Jews continued: During the Protestant Reformation, the “Great Reformer”, Martin Luther, in his book Of the Jews and Their Lies (the title gives you some idea of its content) wrote of the Jews as “a brood of vipers… this miserable, blind, and senseless people… Their… arrogance is as solid as an iron mountain…” Luther’s solution? Burn their synagogues, of course!

Then came the “Enlightenment”, which wasn’t really so “enlightened” as far as the Jews were concerned. Voltaire, especially, hated the Jews because they wouldn’t become “enlightened” and let go of their God and their cultic “superstitions”. Later, Karl Marx, himself a Jew (grandson of two rabbis, in fact), called all religion the “opiate of the people”, but he especially railed against “the insipid vapor of Judaism” and called for “the emancipation of humanity from Judaism.” Even Darwin’s theory of evolution—a basic scientific building block of modern society—was used by some to justify the extermination of older, more “savage” races—like the Jews.

Then we arrive at the 20th Century, in which hatred of the Jews culminated in the darkness and terror of the Holocaust. And perhaps, in reflecting on the Holocaust the best response is a considered and contrite silence…

The great tragedy of the West is, of course, is that if there were no Judaism, there well might not have been any Christianity, or Islam, either. Judaism is the mother faith of the West; it is the mother of radical monotheism; the mother of Unitarianism.

Deep down inside, on the most basic religious level, we are all Jews.

All too often in our history, our forbears in the West forgot that.

But sometimes, in the darkness, the light of our humanity shines all the brighter:

An old rabbi who once asked his pupils how they could tell when the night had ended and the day had begun. “Could it be,” asked one of the students, “when you can see an animal in the distance and tell whether it’s a sheep or a dog?” “No,” answered the Rabbi. Another asked, “Is it when you can look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it’s a fig tree or a peach tree?” “No,” answered the Rabbi. “Then what is it?” the pupils demanded. “It is when you can look on the face of any man or woman and see that it is your sister or brother. Because if you cannot see this, then it is still night.”


It will finally be daybreak when we all realize that we are all Jews. And we are all Arabs.

And we are all Protestants, and all Catholics.

We are all more human than anything else. We are all children of the same God. We are all one. In all of our magnificent diversity, we are one.

May that be a hard-won truth that this world of ours is, slowly, finally coming to understand.

It will finally be daybreak when we all realize, at last, that we are all one.

 


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