Christian & Jewish
ICCJ president accompanies Pope
The Council of Christians and Jews in Australia and throughout the world
Council of Christians and Jews International President, Fr. John Pawlikowski (pictured below) was one of the invited participants on the visit to Poland last month by His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI. During his landmark speech at the the former Nazi German twin death camps Auschwitz-Birkenau, where up to 1.5 million people, mostly European Jews, were murdered during the Second World War, Pope Benedict made an urgent plea for global peace and global reconciliation.“
I have come here today to implore the grace of reconciliation first from God, who alone can purify our hearts and from the men and women who have suffered here,” the 79-year-old pontiff said.
“And I ask for the grace of reconciliation for all who in this moment suffer in new ways under the power of hatred and hate-induced violence,” he said.
“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," he added.
Earlier the German-born pontiff walked through the Auschwitz camp’s infamous black wrought-iron ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ (Work makes you free) gate. He then removed his white papal skull-cap and solemnly prayed and placed a single candle given to him given to him by a group of survivors at the camp’s stark Wall of Death where countless prisoners had been executed.
Benedict follows in the footsteps of Polish-born Pope John Paul II who in 1979 was the first Roman Catholic pontiff to visit Auschwitz, the site of the world’s most horrific and systematic genocide.
Fr. Pawlikowski said he hoped last month’s visit will show Benedict is as committed to reconciliation between people of the two faiths as his predecessor. “Some of us have encouraged his people to try to make a statement that would acknowledge greater Christian complicity than he has done so far,” he said.
Pawlikowski was with Joseph Cardinal Bernardin in Jerusalem 11 years ago, when the late Chicago archbishop made history by publicly apologising for the actions of the Church. Whether Pope Benedict will go as far as Cardinal Bernardin did then remains to be seen. Some, including Illinois Holocaust Museum’s Rick Hirschhaut, feel that he does not have to do so. “Pope Benedict does not need to apologise,” Hirschhaut said. “He needs to signal to the world that the search for truth and an open examination of the role of the church during the Nazi era is going to be a priority during his papacy.”
The Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) promotes understanding and cooperation between Christians and Jews based on respect for each other's identity and integrity.
It addresses issues of human rights and human dignity deeply enshrined in the traditions of Judaism and Christianity.
Moreover, It counters all forms of prejudice, intolerance, racism and discrimination and the misuse of religion for national and political domination.
It affirms that in honest dialogue each person remains loyal to his or her own essential faith commitment, recognising in the other person his or her integrity and otherness.
The Council coordinates programs of carefully structured discussion panels and conferences during which participants examine current issues across national and religious boundaries, enabling face-to-face exchanges of experience and expertise and it aims to promote interreligious understanding among students, teachers, religious leaders, and scholars, aiming for outreach in Jewish- Christian dialogue.
(an edited version of an essay based on a lecture delivered at Brandeis University in March 2004)
In the Western world, anti-Semitism has gone through three clearly distinct phases. Some people have written and spoken about anti-Semitism in antiquity, but the term in that context is misleading. We do indeed find texts in the ancient world attacking and denouncing Jews, sometimes quite viciously, but we also find nasty remarks about Syrians, Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, and the rest. There is no great difference between the anti-Jewish remarks and the ethnic and religious prejudices expressed against other peoples, and on the whole the ones against Jews are not the most vicious. The Syrian-born Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus, for example, speaking of the Saracens, remarks that they are not to be desired either as friends or as enemies. I don’t recall, in the ancient world, anything said about the Jews quite as nasty as that.
Polytheism was essentially tolerant, each group worshiping its own god or gods, offering no objection to the worship of others. Indeed, one might have been willing to offer at least a pinch of incense to some alien god, in courtesy as a visitor or, even at home, in deference to a suzerain.
Only the Jews in the ancient world insisted—absurdly, according to the prevailing view of the time—that theirs was the only god and that the others did not exist. This gave rise to problems with their neighbours and their various imperial masters, notably the Romans. It sometimes provoked hostile comments and even persecution, but not the kind of demonisation that has come to be known as anti-Semitism. The tendency was rather to ridicule the Jews for their faceless, formless god in the clouds and for such absurd and barbarous customs as circumcision, the rejection of pig-meat, and, most absurd of all, the Sabbath. Several Greek and Roman authors noted that because of this comic practice the Jews were wasting one-seventh of their lives.
Demonisation, as distinct from common or garden-variety prejudice or hostility, began with the advent of Christianity and the special role assigned to the Jews in the crucifixion of Christ as related in the Gospels.
Christianity started as a movement within Judaism, and the conflict between Christians and Jews had that special bitterness that often makes conflicts within religions more deadly than those between religions. The Christian message was presented as the fulfilment of God’s promises to the Jews, written in what Christians called the Old Testament. The rejection of that message by the Jewish custodians of the Old Testament was especially wounding.
The process began in Spain
An important concern of the early Christians was not so much to blame the Jews as, for understandable reasons, to exculpate the Romans. Jewish guilt and Roman innocence, the two interdependent, became important parts of the Christian message, first to Rome and then beyond, with devastating effect on popular attitudes toward Jews, especially at Easter time.
For many centuries, hatred and persecution of Jews, and the ideology and terminology used to express them, were grounded in religion. Then came the phase when religious prejudice was discredited, seen as not in accord with the ideas of the Enlightenment. It was seen as bigoted; worse, as old-fashioned, out-of-date. That meant new reasons were needed for hating Jews. They were found.
The process of change began in Spain when large numbers of Jews—and also Muslims—were forcibly converted to Christianity.
With a forcible conversion there was inevitably some doubt, especially among the enforcers, as to the sincerity of the converts. And this doubt was well grounded, as we know from the phenomenon of the Marranos and the Moriscos, the sometimes dubious converts from Judaism and Islam.
Thus the practice arose of examining the racial origins of the so-called new Christians. We even find statutes in 16th-century Spain about purity of blood, la limpieza de sangre. Only people who could prove Christian descent for a specified number of generations could be accepted as genuine Christians. “Purity of blood” was required for certain positions and certain offices.
la limpieza de sangre
This is where the racial form of anti-Semitism began. It was systematized in Germany in the 19th century, when for the first time the term “anti-Semitism” was invented and adopted. Turning from the Christian to the Islamic world there are certain important differences between the treatment, the position, the perception of Jews in the pre-modern Islamic world and in the pre-modern and also modern Christian worlds.
The story of a golden age of complete equality is, of course, nonsense. No such thing was possible or even conceivable. Indeed, among Christians and Muslims alike, giving equal rights or, more precisely, equal opportunities to unbelievers would have been seen not as a merit but as a dereliction of duty. But until fairly modern times there was a much higher degree of tolerance in most of the Islamic lands than prevailed in the Christian world. For centuries, in most of Europe Christians were very busy persecuting each other; in their spare time, they were persecuting Jews and expelling Muslims—all at a time when, in the Ottoman Empire and some other Islamic states, Jews and several varieties of Christians were living side by side fairly freely and comfortably. >>>
Prejudices existed in the Islamic world, as did occasional hostility, but not what could be called anti-Semitism, for there was no attribution of cosmic evil. And on the whole, Jews fared better under Muslim rule than Christians did. This is the reverse of what one might expect. In the canonical history, in the Qur’an and the biography of the Prophet, Jews come out badly. The Prophet had more encounters with Jews than with Christians, so we find more negative statements about Jews than about Christians. The biography of the Prophet records armed clashes with Jews, and in those encounters it was the Jews who were killed. Muslims could therefore afford a more relaxed attitude toward Jews in the ensuing generations.
The Grand Mufti offered his services
The Western form of anti-Semitism—the cosmic, satanic version of Jew hatred—provided solace to wounded feelings. It came to the Middle East in several stages. The first stage was almost entirely Christian, brought by European missionaries and diplomats. Its impact was principally on the local Christian minorities, where we find occasional recurrences of the previously little known blood libel. In the 15th and 16th centuries this had indeed been explicitly rejected in orders issued by Ottoman sultans. It was now revived on a massive scale.
The first major case was the Damascus blood libel in 1840. This kind of anti-Semitism continued to grow, at first on a small scale, during the 19th and early 20th centuries, with a limited response. At the time of the Dreyfus Affair in France, Muslim opinion was divided, some against Dreyfus, some supporting him. A prominent Muslim thinker of the time, the Egyptian Rashid Rida, wrote defending Dreyfus and attacking his persecutors, accusing them not of fanaticism, since they had no real religious beliefs, but of prejudice and envy. Despite this response, one consequence of the affair was the first translation into Arabic of a batch of European anti-Semitic writings.
Then came the Third Reich, with connections to the Arab world and, later, to other Muslim countries. Now that the German archives are open, we know that within weeks of Hitler’s coming to power in 1933, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem got in touch with the German consul general in Jerusalem, Doctor Heinrich Wolff, and offered his services.
It is interesting that the common image of the Germans pursuing the Arabs is the reverse of what happened. The Arabs were pursuing the Germans, and the Germans were very reluctant to get involved. Dr. Wolff recommended, and his government agreed, that as long as there was any hope of making a deal with the British Empire and establishing a kind of Aryan-Nordic axis in the West, it would be pointless to antagonize the British by supporting the Arabs.
Munich: the turning point
But then things gradually changed, particularly after the Munich Conference in 1938. That was the turning point, when the German government finally decided that there was no deal to be made with Britain, no Aryan axis. Then the Germans turned their attention more seriously to the Arabs, responding at last to their approaches, and from then on the relationship developed very swiftly.
All this provided an up-to-date, intellectually and socially acceptable rationale for what ought to be called anti-Semitism but, since that word isn’t acceptable, might be called Jew-baiting, Jew-hating, or generally being unpleasant to Jews.
The rationale has thus served two purposes—one for Jews, the other for their enemies. In anti-Semitism’s first stage, when the hostility was based in religion and expressed in religious terms, the Jew always had the option of changing sides. During the medieval and early modern periods, Jews persecuted by Christians could convert. Not only could they escape the persecution; they could join the persecutors if they so wished, and some indeed rose to high rank in the church and in the Inquisition. Racial anti-Semitism removed that option. The present-day ideological anti-Semitism has restored it, and now as in the Middle Ages, there seem to be some who are willing to avail themselves of this option.
For non-Jews the rationale brought a different kind of relief. For more than half a century, any discussion of Jews and their problems has been overshadowed by the grim memories of the crimes of the Nazis and of the complicity, acquiescence, or indifference of so many others. But inevitably, the memory of those days is fading, and now Israel and its problems afford an opportunity to relinquish the unfamiliar and uncomfortable posture of guilt and contrition and to resume the more familiar and more comfortable position of stern reproof from an attitude of moral superiority. It is not surprising that this opportunity is widely welcomed and utilised.
The new anti-Semitism has little or no bearing on the rights and wrongs of the Palestine conflict, but it must surely have some effect on perceptions of the problem, and therefore on the behavior and perhaps even on the policies of both participants and outsiders. Nor is the offense all on one side. One might argue that when Arabs are judged by a lower standard than Jews, as for example the minimal attention given to the atrocious crimes committed at Darfur, this is more offensive to Arabs than to Jews. Contempt is indeed more demeaning than hatred. But it is less dangerous.
Bernard Lewis is the author, most recently, of From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East.
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