July/August 2006 Newsletter
Association of Contemporary Church Historians
(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)
John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia
This issue has been prepared by Matthew Hockenos of Skidmore Coillege, New York State, to whom I am most grateful for his assistance. It is concerned with the recent reconsideration of Christian-Jewish relations, and therefore starts with short extracts from Pope Benedict’s address in Auschwitz at the end of May. You may want to note his debatable interpretation of German history in paragraph 2 below.
For those of you who have been enjoying the summer heatwaves both in Europe and North America, I send you my warm regards from a record-breaking Vancouver where we have been enjoying temperatures above 90 Fahr, or 32 Celsius.
1. Extracts from the address given by Pope Benedict XVI at Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp, 28 May 2006
2. Book reviews:
a) Laqueur, The Changing Faces of Antisemitism
b) M.Boys ed., Seeing Judaism Anew
1. Address by Pope Benedict XVI at Auschwitz Camp.during his pastoral visit in Poland.
To speak in this place of horror, in this place where unprecedented mass crimes were committed against God and man, is almost impossible – and it is particularly difficult and troubling for a Christian, for a Pope from Germany. In a place like this, words fail; in the end there can only be a dread silence – a silence which is itself a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this? In silence, then, we bow our heads before the endless line of those who suffered and were put to death here; yet our silence becomes in turn a plea for forgiveness and reconciliation, a plea to the living God never to let this happen again.
Pope John Paul II came here as a son of the Polish people. I come here today as a son of the German people. For this very reason, I can and must echo his words: I could not fail to come here. I had to come. It is a duty before the truth and the just due of all who suffered here, a duty before God, for me to come here as a son of that people over whom a ring of criminals rose to power by false promises of future greatness and the recovery of the nation’s honour, prominence and prosperity, but also through terror and intimidation, with the result that our people was used and abused as an instrument of their thirst for destruction and power.
How many questions arise in this place! Constantly the question comes up: Where was God in those days? Why was he silent? How could he permit this endless slaughter, this triumph of evil? The words of Psalm 44 come to mind, Israel’s lament for its woes. This cry of anguish, which Israel raised to God in its suffering, at moments of deep distress, is also a cry for help raised by all those who in every age suffer for the love of God, for the love of truth and goodness. How many they are even in our own day!
The place where we are standing is a place of memory, it is the place of the Shoah. The past is never simply the past. It has always something to say to us: it tells us the path to take and the paths not to take. The rulers of the Third Reich wanted to crush the entire Jewish people, to cancel it from the register of the peoples of the earth. Thus the words of the Psalm: “We are being killed, accounted a sheep for the slaughter” were fulfilled in a terrifying way. Deep down these vicious criminals, by wiping out this people, wanted to kill the God who called Abraham, who spoke on Sinai and laid down principles to serve as a guide for mankind, principles that are eternally valid. These men thought that by force they had made themselves masters of the world. But the Jewish people, by its very existence, was a witness to the God who spoke to humanity. That God finally had to die. Power had to belong to man alone. By destroying Israel, by the Shoah, they ultimately wanted to tear up the tap root of the Christian faith and to replace it with a faith of their own invention: faith in the rule of man, the rule of the powerful.
Like John Paul II, I have walked alongside the inscriptions in Europe’s many languages which speak to us of the sufferings of men and women from the whole continent. They would stir our hearts profoundly if we remembered the victims not merely in general, but saw the faces of the individual persons who ended up here in this abyss of terror. I felt a deep urge to pause in a particular way before the inscription in German. It evokes the face of Edith Stein, Theresia Benedicta a Cruce: a woman, Jewish and German, who disappeared along with her sister into the black night of the Nazi concentration camp; as a Christian and a Jew, she accepted death with her people and for them. The Germans who had been brought to Auschwitz-Birkenau and met their death here were considered as Abschaum der Nation – the refuse of the nation. Today we grateful and hail them as witnesses to the truth and goodness which even among our people were not eclipsed.
By God’s grace, together with the purification of memory demanded by this place of horror, a number of initiatives have sprung up with the aim of imposing a limit upon evil and confirming goodness. So there is hope that this place of horror will gradually become a place for constructive thinking and that remembrance will foster resistance to evil and the triumph of love.
2a) Walter Laqueur, The Changing Faces of Antisemitism: From Ancient Times to the Present Day. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 228 Pp. ISBN 0-195-50429-2
When I mentioned to a friend that I was reviewing a book on antisemitism subtitled From Ancient Times to the Present Day, the response was that it must be either a very long book or a book with lengthy gaps. It should come as no surprise to those familiar with Walter Laqueur’s scholarship over the past few decades that neither is the case. Although this slim volume is by no means an exhaustive study of antisemitism over more than two millennia, Laqueur sums up succinctly the changing characteristics of antisemitism throughout different historical eras and brings a wealth of knowledge as well as fresh insights to an intensely scrutinized topic. His primary aim is neither to attack the validity of another scholar’s thesis nor to put forth a pioneering argument of his own. What he does do masterfully in barely 200 pages is to write an extended essay that takes stock of the leading interpretations, sums up the history, and weighs in on the current debates.
As the title, The Changing Face of Antisemitism, suggests, Laqueur stresses that while there are certain common features of antisemitism across time and space, the motivation, character, and manifestation of antisemitism differ when viewed in a historical context. A few general observations on the history of antisemitism will make this clear. Antisemitism in medieval and early modern Europe was motivated (for the most part) by Christian anti-Judaic theology and church dogma, in particular replacement theory or supersessionism. Whereas from the late nineteenth century to the end of the Second World War racial stereotyping of Jews accounted for the hostility toward Jews in Europe, especially in Germany and Austria (although not in Russia). In the post-Holocaust era yet another strand of antisemitism developed among neo-Nazi groups in Europe and America, coined the “new antisemitism” by scholars. In the twenty-first century, however, the term new antisemitism refers not only to antisemites on the far right but also to segments of the Euro-American Left, on the one hand, and radical Islamists, on the other. Both groups display various degrees of contempt for the state of Israel and often its Jewish supporters outside Israel. While leftist practitioners of this variety of antisemitism maintain that they are not antisemites but merely critics of Israel’s Middle East policy, Laqueur is skeptical. Their systematic vilification of Israel and their stereotyping of Jews as pro-Israeli imperialists and Wall Street types is, as far as Laqueur is concerned, antisemitism through and through.
Throughout the book, the emphasis is on depicting and explaining these various manifestations of antisemitism while not losing sight of what antisemites throughout the ages and across the globe have had in common. Two factors are fundamental to explaining antisemitism throughout the centuries: first, the largely negative interpretation of Jews in Christian and Islamic texts and, second, the Jews‚ minority status wherever they have lived. The simple fact that for most of the past 2000 years Jews have been stateless and living as a minority among Christians or Muslims has made them easy targets.
Laqueur speculates in his introductory and concluding chapters that in the twenty first century we may see a decline in antisemitism in Europe as new minorities, in particular Muslims, take over the regrettable status as the “most bothersome minorities.” There are, for example, ten times as many Arabs as Jews in France today. It is clear from the 2005 riots in Paris by disaffected North African Muslims, the heated controversy in Holland over its Muslim minority in the wake of the murder of Theo van Gogh, and Russia’s war against Chechnya’s Muslim separatists that the “Jewish problem” in Europe has receded from center stage. As the Muslim populations in Europe grow Islamophobia is replacing Judeophobia.
With half the Jews in the world now living in Israel, what are the prospects for a decline of antisemitism in the Middle East? It depends. If Israel pursues a policy of accommodation to Palestine then we might see a change for the better. “Once the Palestinians have a viable state,” Laqueur contends, “and once Israel has taken other steps to accommodate Muslim interests ˆ such as the internationalization of the holy places of Jerusalem – there is a reasonable chance that Arab antisemitism will decrease even though it will not disappear” (20). However, should the Palestinian-Israeli conflict continue in its present state or spiral out of control (as it appears to be doing in July 2006) then, Laqueur believes, radical Islam will continue to be the central force attacking Jews in this century.
In addition to the minority status of Jews wherever they settled, the other fundamental factor undergirding antisemitism throughout the centuries has been Christian and Islamic doctrine on Jews and Judaism. The advent of Christianity and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ are of crucial importance in the history of antisemitism. What must be acknowledged is the central role Jews play in Christian theology as Christ killers and God’s disobedient children, whom he rejects and punishes. Christian hostility toward Jews was warranted, so the argument went, as punishment for Jewish sins and their perfidy. If God rejected and accursed the people he had originally selected as the chosen people, then didn‚t it follow that Christians–the new chosen people˜should act accordingly. Nevertheless, although Christian antisemitism led to violence and at times murder, Christian theology regarded the survival of Jews as necessary for proof of the righteousness of Christianity.
The Koran also provides material which Muslims could use to rationalize the mistreatment, and even the killing, of Jews. It is important to note however, that the treatment of Jews varied across the vast Muslim empires, which stretched across north Africa and south and central Asia. There were pogroms and forcible conversions but there were also periods of tolerance when Jewish culture flourished. Although Muslims treated Jews as second-class citizens, they fared better under Islam than under Christianity in medieval and early modern Europe. Unlike Christians who accused Jews of killing their Savior, Muslims berated Jews because they had rejected Muhammad; they viewed Jews as miserable and weak–but not a force to fear. This would change dramatically after the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 when Jews became aggressors and warmongers in the eyes of Arabs. Significantly, neither Christianity nor Islam justified their hostility toward Jews on a racial theory of Jewish inferiority.
There was an undeniable shift in late-nineteenth-century Europe from a religiously inspired antisemitism to one inspired and justified by pseudo-scientific racial theories. There has been a great deal of argument over whether Christian antisemitism, sometimes referred to as anti-Judaism, is entirely distinct from the racial antisemitism that emerged in the 1880s and peaked in Nazi Germany with the Holocaust. In his chapter titles Laqueur distinguishes between medieval anti-Judaism and modern racialism suggesting a distinction between the religious antisemitism of the medieval and early modern periods and the racial antisemitism in modern times. And yet he is rightfully wary of exaggerating the break between premodern and modern antisemitism since there are examples of racial antisemitism in premodern Spain but none in modern Poland and Russia, where antisemitism was rife in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Moreover, even the most rabid of racial antisemites gladly drew on Christian antisemitic tropes as the Deutsche Christen did in the 1930s.
The development of race doctrine along with social Darwinism and eugenics in the second half of the nineteenth century provided antisemites with a “scientific” explanation for the Jews‚ alleged degenerate character. Racial antisemites, including Wilhelm Marr, who coined the term antisemitism in the late 1870s, maintained that even conversion to Christianity could not solve the Jewish problem. It was, so Marr and his devotees believed, the Jews‚ innate racial heritage that caused their depravity, not their religion. The alleged immutability of the Jews‚ defective character propelled the Nazis to the most radical of solutions to the Jewish problem: the forced expulsions, deportations, and eventual near extermination of European Jews˜including converted Christians–from 1939 to 1945.
Antisemitism did not disappear after the war. However, the weakness of the neo-fascist movements, the tiny number of Jews left in Europe, and the arrival of new immigrants from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa all mitigated against a powerful resurgence of antisemitism in postwar Europe. Laqueur maintains that, “uncontrolled immigration rather than the Jewish presence provided the basis for neofascism beginning in the 1970s” (126). Although Laqueur makes no reference to it, the public repudiation of antisemitism by Catholic and Protestant churches from the 1960s onward is another factor in the relative decline of antisemitism in Western and Central Europe. At the same time it should be mentioned that where antisemitism does exist in postwar Europe some must be attributed to right-wing church circles and to Christians who continue to maintain that Jews killed their Savior. This is also true in postwar America.
Communists in Eastern Europe and Russia did not treat Jews much better than the far right in Western Europe. Polish pogroms in the immediate postwar years, Stalin’s 1953 doctors‚ plot, and the show trials in Eastern Europe all targeted Jews. Jews became the scapegoats for economic woes in communist countries. With the fall of communism, neo-fascists groups emerged but antisemitism was not their raison d’être.
Yet, in certain regions of the Middle East, antisemitism is central to the political and religious platforms of ruling governments, leading parties, and powerful religious movements. This is primarily, although not exclusively, expressed through attacks on Israel. However, anti-Israeli sentiments are often paired with denials of the Holocaust and passion for conspiracy theories involving “world Jewry,” such as in the hoax-text The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Jew as capitalist, imperialist, and pro-American has replaced early stereotypes of the Jew as weak and cowardly. “The miserable and despised Jew turned into a superhuman, demonic, almost omnipotent figure ˆ a danger to the whole world” (197). Laqueur points to the Islamization of antisemitism as a particularly dangerous phenomenon because it is not only more vicious in its accusations against the Jews but also broadens the appeal of antisemitism and conspiracy theories to Muslims outside the Arab world. Radical Muslim clerics are now fanning the flames of antisemitism as many Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churchmen had done earlier.
It took Christians nearly two millennia and ultimately the Holocaust to recognize that preaching contempt for Jews may have brought about short-term sporadic gains but in the long term weakened the church, obfuscated its central message of “love thy neighbor,” and contributed to the murder of six million Jews. The repudiation of antisemitism and anti-Judaism by Christian churches in the second half of the twentieth century has brought about a sea change in the relationship between church and synagogue. Although there is still much progress to be made in the post-Holocaust dialogue between Christians and Jews, the relationship between the two is the strongest it has ever been. One can only hope that something similar can take place between Muslims and Jews in the coming decades.
2b) Mary C. Boys (ed.), Seeing Judaism Anew: Christianity’s Sacred Obligation Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefiled, 2005 285 pages, ISBN: 0742548821
The Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations issued a brief but extremely significant statement in September 2002 titled “A Sacred Obligation: Rethinking Christian Faith in Relation to Judaism and the Jewish People.” – See below – This document marks an important step forward in the long-term process of coming to terms with the churches‚ centuries-old antisemitic teachings. Established in 1969 and consisting of approximately two dozen Catholic and Protestant scholars from various disciplines including biblical studies, history, ethics, and theology, the Christian Scholars Group (CSG) has worked passionately and effectively to build bridges between Christians and Jews in the wake of the Holocaust and to expose the nearly 2000 years of Christian misrepresentation and disparagement of Jews and Judaism. According to Alice Eckardt, who joined the group in the early 1970s and whose husband, A. Roy Eckardt, was one of the founders, members “seek to use their scholarship to reclaim or reconceive elements of Christian theology and practice that offer a more adequate representation of its relationship to Judaism and the Jewish people.” Over three decades these scholars produced dozens of pioneering books, essays, and discussion papers on a wide range of topics as well as occasional joint statements. The 2002 statement “A Sacred Obligation”˜a ten-point summary of the convictions held by the group – was issued with the intended purpose of encouraging everyday Christians to reflect on their faith in relation to Judaism and Jews.
Seeing Judaism Anew: Christianity’s Sacred Obligation (2005) is a collection of twenty-two essays by CSG members, who expand on and elucidate the convictions in “A Sacred Obligation.” These lucid and well-written essays serve as an excellent introduction to the exciting and innovative research (undertaken by the CSG as well as European and U.S. church groups), which has led to revolutionary changes in Christian thinking about Jews and Judaism. The most receptive readership for Seeing Judaism Anew will be a general audience of Christians who want to explore Christian-Jewish relations in a post-Holocaust world. College teachers will also see this book as an excellent text for undergraduate courses on antisemitism, Christian-Jewish relations, and post-Holocaust Christian theology.
The editor of this collection, Mary C. Boys, chair in practical theology at Union Theological Seminary, has done a superb job introducing and organizing the text. The book is divided into twelve parts, the first of which consists of a background chapter by Eva Fleischner, who traces the influence of nineteen centuries of Christian antisemitism on both the emergence of racial antisemitism and Christian complicity in the Shoah. “Without doubt,” she writes, “the teaching of contempt [for Jews and Judaism] fertilized the soil in which Hitler’s genocidal antisemitism flourished” (7). In the last section of the book Alice Eckardt describes how the Christian Scholars Group emerged in the late 1960s amidst a growing awareness among some U.S. Christians of the need for scholarly reassessment of the Christian understanding of Jewish history and theology in the wake of the Holocaust. “We understood our work,” she writes, “to involve the rediscovery and reaffirmation of the inheritance of biblical faith we shared with Jews, and making known the richness of postbiblical Judaism to fellow Christians” (268). The essays sandwiched between the first and last chapters expound on the contents of “A Sacred Obligation” and provide a glimpse into the scholars‚ original research.
At the heart of the original statement and at the core of the more recent essays is the conviction that Christians are obligated as Christians to expose the erroneous claims the churches have made about Jews, in particular that they are collectively responsible for the death of Jesus and accursed by God; to repudiate the teaching of contempt; and to accept and understand God’s covenantal relationship with the Jews not only as valid for all time but also as essential for Christianity. John Merkle emphasizes this last point when he says, “While purging our liturgies of anti-Judaism must be done to help reduce Jewish suffering caused by antisemitism, it must also be done for the spiritual health of Christians and for the integrity and credibility of Christianity” (184).
As a church historian who focuses on the German Protestant churches after 1945 and their halting progress toward the recognition and understanding of Christian complicity in the Holocaust, I applaud the clarity, the forthrightness about past errors, and the radical rethinking of Christianity’s relation to Judaism expressed by the CSG authors. The question arises, nevertheless: What impact is this rethinking of Christianity and Judaism having on non-scholarly gentiles in the twenty-first century? As David Berger, a specialist in Jewish history and Jewish-Christian relations, noted when the rethinking process was in its early stages, “all the ringing denunciations of antisemitism and progressive reassessments of Judaism have little importance if they are confined to an activist elite and have no resonance among ordinary Christians” (184). With the publication of Seeing Judaism Anew, ordinary Christians now have access to esoteric theological arguments presented in straightforward and easily comprehensible prose. Perhaps the time has come when the important work done by these scholars will resonate beyond the activist elite.
A Sacred Obligation: Rethinking Christian Faith in Relation to Judaism and the Jewish People
1. God’s covenant with the Jewish people endures forever.
For centuries Christians claimed that their covenant with God replaced or superseded the Jewish covenant. We renounce this claim. We believe that God does not revoke divine promises. We affirm that God is in covenant with both Jews and Christians. Tragically, the entrenched theology of supersessionism continues to influence Christian faith, worship, and practice, even though it has been repudiated by many Christian denominations and many Christians no longer accept it. Our recognition of the abiding validity of Judaism has implications for all aspects of Christian life.
2. Jesus of Nazareth lived and died as a faithful Jew.
Christians worship the God of Israel in and through Jesus Christ. Supersessionism, however, prompted Christians over the centuries to speak of Jesus as an opponent of Judaism. This is historically incorrect. Jewish worship, ethics, and practice shaped Jesus’s life and teachings. The scriptures of his people inspired and nurtured him. Christian preaching and teaching today must describe Jesus’s earthly life as engaged in the ongoing Jewish quest to live out God’s covenant in everyday life.
3. Ancient rivalries must not define Christian-Jewish relations today.
Although today we know Christianity and Judaism as separate religions, what became the church was a movement within the Jewish community for many decades after the ministry and resurrection of Jesus. The destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by Roman armies in the year 70 of the first century caused a crisis among the Jewish people. Various groups, including Christianity and early rabbinic Judaism, competed for leadership in the Jewish community by claiming that they were the true heirs of biblical Israel. The gospels reflect this rivalry in which the disputants exchanged various accusations. Christian charges of hypocrisy and legalism misrepresent Judaism and constitute an unworthy foundation for Christian self-understanding.
4. Judaism is a living faith, enriched by many centuries of development.
Many Christians mistakenly equate Judaism with biblical Israel. However, Judaism, like Christianity, developed new modes of belief and practice in the centuries after the destruction of the Temple. The rabbinic tradition gave new emphasis and understanding to existing practices, such as communal prayer, study of Torah, and deeds of loving-kindness. Thus Jews could live out the covenant in a world without the Temple. Over time they developed an extensive body of interpretive literature that continues to enrich Jewish life, faith, and self-understanding. Christians cannot fully understand Judaism apart from its post-biblical development, which can also enrich and enhance Christian faith.
5. The Bible both connects and separates Jews and Christians.
Some Jews and Christians today, in the process of studying the Bible together, are discovering new ways of reading that provide a deeper appreciation of both traditions. While the two communities draw from the same biblical texts of ancient Israel, they have developed different traditions of interpretation. Christians view these texts through the lens of the New Testament, while Jews understand these scriptures through the traditions of rabbinic commentary.
Referring to the first part of the Christian Bible as the “Old Testament” can wrongly suggest that these texts are obsolete. Alternative expressions ˆ “Hebrew Bible,” “First Testament,” or “Shared Testament” – although also problematic, may better express the church’s renewed appreciation of the ongoing power of these scriptures for both Jews and Christians.
6. Affirming God’s enduring covenant with the Jewish people has consequences for Christian understandings of salvation.
Christians meet God’s saving power in the person of Jesus Christ and believe that this power is available to all people in him. Christians have therefore taught for centuries that salvation is available only through Jesus Christ. With their recent realization that God’s covenant with the Jewish people is eternal, Christians can now recognize in the Jewish tradition the redemptive power of God at work. If Jews, who do not share our faith in Christ, are in a saving covenant with God, then Christians need new ways of understanding the universal significance of Christ.
7. Christians should not target Jews for conversion.
In view of our conviction that Jews are in an eternal covenant with God, we renounce missionary efforts directed at converting Jews. At the same time, we welcome opportunities for Jews and Christians to bear witness to their respective experiences of God’s saving ways. Neither can properly claim to possess knowledge of God entirely or exclusively.
8. Christian worship that teaches contempt for Judaism dishonors God.
The New Testament contains passages that have frequently generated negative attitudes toward Jews and Judaism. The use of these texts in the context of worship increases the likelihood of hostility toward Jews. Christian anti-Jewish theology has also shaped worship in ways that denigrate Judaism and foster contempt for Jews. We urge church leaders to examine scripture readings, prayers, the structure of the lectionaries, preaching and hymns to remove distorted images of Judaism. A reformed Christian liturgical life would express a new relationship with Jews and thus honor God.
9. We affirm the importance of the land of Israel for the life of the Jewish people.
The land of Israel has always been of central significance to the Jewish people. However, Christian theology charged that the Jews had condemned themselves to homelessness by rejecting God’s Messiah. Such supersessionism precluded any possibility for Christian understanding of Jewish attachment to the land of Israel. Christian theologians can no longer avoid this crucial issue, especially in light of the complex and persistent conflict over the land. Recognizing that both Israelis and Palestinians have the right to live in peace and security in a homeland of their own, we call for efforts that contribute to a just peace among all the peoples in the region.
10. Christians should work with Jews for the healing of the world.
For almost a century, Jews and Christians in the United States have worked together on important social issues, such as the rights of workers and civil rights. As violence and terrorism intensify in our time, we must strengthen our common efforts in the work of justice and peace to which both the prophets of Israel and Jesus summon us. These common efforts by Jews and Christians offer a vision of human solidarity and provide models of collaboration with people of other faith traditions.
* A Sacred Obligation consists of an introduction followed by ten theses or convictions. For the entire statement and more information on the Christian Scholars Group see their website: http://www.bc.edu/research/cjl/ The statement was the joint effort of the group’s twenty-one members in 2002: Norman Beck (Texas Lutheran University), Mary Boys (Union Theological Seminary, CSG Chair), Rosann Catalano (Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies), Philip A. Cunningham (Boston College), Celia Deutsch (Barnard College), Alice L. Eckardt (Lehigh University, emerita), Eugene J. Fisher (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops), Eva Fleischner (Montclair State University, emerita), Deirdre Good (General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church), Walter Harrelson (Vanderbilt University Divinity School, emeritus), Michael McGarry (Tantur Ecumenical Institute), John C. Merkle (College of St. Benedict), John T. Pawlikowski (Catholic Theological Union), Peter Pettit (Muhlenberg College), Peter C. Phan (Georgetown University), Jean Pierre Ruiz (St. John’s University), Franklin Sherman (Muhlenberg College, emeritus), Joann Spillman (Rockhurst College), John Townsend (Episcopal Divinity School, emeritus, Harvard Divinity School), Joseph Tyson (Southern Methodist University, emeritus), and Clark Williamson (Christian Theological Seminary).
With best wishes