By Ron Nutter, Ph D
I wear a necklace made of silver created by a craftswoman in Carmel, IN. In my years of teaching philosophy and religion I would on occasion make a rhetorical point about Judaism and Christianity by holding up one side of the necklace, displaying the Christian Cross, and saying, “One cannot possibly understand the full meaning of this without a deep and abiding understanding of this,” whereupon I would flip my necklace and show the Star of David on the other side.
Over the years that little demonstration had greater and greater effect as I developed a course on the Shoah in which the first half of the semester was spent exploring Jewish traditions and beliefs with a guest rabbi, the anti-Jewish rhetoric of the early Church, and the anti-Jewish legislation of early Church councils and secular governments. Over time Jews were restricted in where they could live, how they might make a living, banned from owning land, ordered not to converse with Christians, prohibited from appearing in public during Christian holidays, denied education in the professions, forced to wear distinctive clothing so everyone would know them to be a Jew, and more.
All of this was long, long before Adolf Hitler came on the scene. In fact, with the exception of organized bureaucratic and technology-based extermination, there is hardly anything in the Nuremburg Laws against the Jews that was not passed in an earlier time by a Church council or a Church-influenced state government.
The course would come to the nineteenth century and discuss the progressive and scientific theories of race and eugenics, which were popular at the time. Up to then, the problem with Jews from a Christian perspective was “bad thinking” and “spiritual blindness and stubbornness” which leads to their ongoing rejection of Jesus Christ. Theories of race introduce the notion that it’s not bad thinking, but bad blood. Thus the anti-Jewish rhetoric of the past is transformed into anti-Semitism.
There is a logic – a tragic one – to hatred of Jews. The early Church essentially said, “You shall not live among us as Jews.” Thus the attempts to convert Jews to Christianity, sometimes forcibly. In the medieval period that was transformed to “You shall not live among us.” This was the period of either forced expulsions or the ghettoization of Jews. This was followed logically by the next step: “You shall not live.” Which brings us to Hitler’s attempt to exterminate Jews in the Shoah.
The second half of the course reviewed the rise of Hitler and the mechanics of the Shoah. Most students had some idea, having heard in general terms about the Holocaust, but nearly all were completely dumbfounded to learn of the anti-Jewish activity of the early Church and of the anti-Semitic views which came to influence many Western states and eventually dominate the politics of Nazi Germany.
I am now retired from teaching. I still wear that necklace, and have since the day I was married on August 21, 1982. Curiously, it is only now I am beginning to feel the weight of my necklace. Seeing the emotions unleashed recently during the conflict in Gaza I am fearful of what I once thought could never happen: Anti-Semitism again stalks the land looking for Jewish blood. What I have spent my life trying to expose so that it might never happen again seems to be back, often with a quite sinister and maniacal passion.
It is at this time of increasing anti-Semitic activity that I am compelled to write so that others might be aware of the long tradition of anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic rhetoric and activity. This is needed so that all will realize that the current rise in anti-Semitism is not exclusively caused by Gaza or the Palestinian question or by Israel. Rather, it is simply an extension of what has gone on for 2,000 years.
It was a happier time when I first had the necklace made. I was a student at a Christian seminary at the time. Among classes I had taken was one co-taught by Clark Williamson, a Christian theologian, and Jonathan Stein, a Jewish rabbi. Spending a semester in intensive study of the Jewish religion was eye-opening and led to a great respect for the roots of Jewish beliefs and traditions. That course was followed by another taught by Williamson in which the history of anti-Jewish thought within the Church was exposed. More than eye-opening, it was a shameful legacy that Christians must bear, though I dare say most have no idea of the injustice and violence heaped on Jews through the centuries. It is for good reason that this anti-Jewish sentiment is known as The Longest Hate.
What I have come to learn in subsequent years is that anti-Jewish rhetoric is repeated, and expanded, by nearly all of the Church Fathers. Melito of Sardis, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Augustine, Tertullian, Origen, Hippolytus, Gregory of Nyssa, Cyprian of Carthage, and Novatian of Rome all expressed contempt of Jews and Judaism. And this is only a partial listing of those engaged in the Adversus Judaeus preaching of the early Church.
One voice of anti-Jewish rhetoric needs to be highlighted. In 1543 a truly malevolent attack on Jews was written by Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation. The title of the pamphlet was On The Jews and Their Lies. In it, using the most risible insults imaginable, Luther lays out what he believes should be done with the Jews. It was a seven-fold plan, including
1) the destruction of synagogues and Jewish schools,
2) that Jewish homes should be razed and destroyed and the Jews forced to live in a communal barn-like structure or barracks,
3) that all prayer books and Talmudic writings should be taken from them,
4) that rabbis should henceforth be forbidden to teach on pain of death,
5) that safe conduct for Jews on the highways of the land should be ended and they should be forced to remain indoors,
6) that usury should be ended for Jews as it is for Christians and that Jewish wealth through money-lending be confiscated, and
7) a recommendation that tools be placed into the hands of Jews and that they be forced to work.
When you look at that list, it kind of looks like a Nazi concentration camp, doesn’t it? Not an extermination camp, but the typical work camp. In fact, one of the defendants at the Nuremburg war crimes trial, Julius Streicher, editor of the notoriously anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stürmer, defended himself at trial by claiming he merely advocated and did what Martin Luther recommended be done.
Luther ended on a flourish, pleading:
[T]hat our rulers. . . . must act like a good physician who, when gangrene has set in, proceeds without mercy to cut, saw, and burn flesh, veins, bone, and marrow. Such a procedure must also be followed in this instance. Burn down their synagogues, forbid all that I enumerated earlier, force them to work, and deal harshly with them, . . . I have done my duty. Now let everyone see to his. I am exonerated.
I have to say there is always fallout when one exposes for public view a man who is seen as a paragon of faith and virtue. Teaching my course there was a young woman who was a devout Lutheran. Learning what Luther had to say about Jews in class one day she was literally reduced to tears. There is no joy to be taken in seeing another’s ideals tarnished. I could only hope that in the wisdom of her years she is able to separate what theological wisdom Luther had to offer from his contemptuous disdain of Jews.
Simultaneous to the ravaging of Jews verbally and theologically there was anti-Jewish legislation passed by Church councils and synods as well as secular governments. To name just one, in 1215 at the Fourth Lateran Council it was proclaimed that all Jews in all provinces must wear distinctive clothing so that all who see them in public will know them to be Jews. This comes as a shock to those who think Hitler started that policy with his ordering Jews to wear the Star of David in public. Their rights being restricted or outright denied from state to state, region to region, Jews found themselves stateless, with few ways of making a living. The church and the state appeared to be working in concert to make the lives of Jews more and more impossible.
Some felt a justification was needed to attack the Jews, and indeed justifications were found in certain popular charges against Jews. One was the “ritual murder” charge, sometimes known as “blood libel.” The charge is that Jews would kidnap a young Christian boy and drain his blood for the making of matzos for holiday meals. The charge was first made in Norwich, England, in 1144. By the end of that century the charge was being made everywhere Jews lived among Christians. The charge has been made in the twentieth century in Germany, Russia, and even in New York State. Bernard Malamud’s novel The Fixer is based on the famous 1913 trial in Kiev,
Russia, of Mendel Beiliss. He was accused of killing a young boy, and a witness for the prosecution, a Catholic priest, explained the murder in terms of the “blood libel” ritual.
Unfortunately, as chronicled by The Middle East Media Research Institute, the ritual murder charge is still with us as Islamic Imams and Muslim media incessantly claim Arab children are kidnapped and their blood drained for the making of matzos. The Associated Press recently reported a variation of the ritual murder charge when it passed along the charge that Israel’s IDF soldiers were taking body parts from Palestinians killed in the recent Gaza fighting. The AP quickly removed the story, but no doubt it is still preserved in Muslim media archives.
Another popular charge against Jews was “desecration of the Host.” Interestingly, this charge never arises until after the Church establishes its teaching of Transubstantiation, which proffers that during the Eucharist the actual body and blood of Christ are present in the bread and wine. The desecration of the Host charge essentially says Jews would steal into Catholic churches and steal the consecrated Host and then stab it repeatedly, thus killing Christ again.
A third popular charge was that Jews were “poisoning the wells” of Christians. This is associated with the Black Plague of 1347-49. No one at the time understood the epidemiology of the disease, but they did see that Christians were being affected and Jews were not. Thus it was concluded that the Jews must be doing it. There is, however, a simple explanation for why Jews were not affected: they took baths. Personal hygiene among Christians was negligible to non-existent at the time. It is for good reason writers of this period would make much of a young woman with “sweet breath” because it was quite rare.
A critical turn in attitudes toward Jews takes place with the coming of theories of race in the nineteenth century. Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau was an early nineteenth-century French aristocrat who became known for advocating white supremacy and developing a racialist theory of the “Aryan Master Race” in his book An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races. He developed the term “Semite” to refer to Arabs and Jews in the Middle East who represented to him the bottom of the racial ladder. He set the stage for what came to be known as the “Nordic Theory.”
The Nordic Theory, prevalent in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Western Europe and the United States, was a major influence on Nazi ideology. The theory claims that Nordic peoples constitute a “master race” because of their “innate racial capacity for leadership.” The chief representative of the Nordic Theory in America was Madison Grant, who lived from 1865-1937. He was a eugenicist who employed the Nordic Theory in an effort to restrict entry into the U.S. of Mediterranean peoples. He declared the mixing of the races to be “race suicide.” Unless eugenics was practiced, he claimed, the Nordic race in the U.S. will be supplanted by the “inferior” races.
Grant was very influential among government policy makers and even in popular culture. The character of Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby is a clear and outspoken advocate of the racialist positions of Grant. Tom is reading a book titled The Rise of the Colored Empires “by this man Goddard.” This is a combination of Grant’s very popular Passing of the Great Race, written in 1916 and reprinted many times thereafter, and another book written by a close colleague, Lothrup Stoddard, titled The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy. Grant wrote the introduction to that book.
“Everybody ought to read it,” the character of Tom Buchanan explains in The Great Gatsby, “The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be — will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.”
The Passing of the Great Race, Grant’s very popular book, detailed the “racial history” of the world and affirms the Nordic Theory. It was the first non-German book ordered to be reprinted by the Nazis when they took power in Germany. Adolf Hitler later wrote to Grant personally to say, “The book is my Bible.”
It would be worthwhile to print a little of Grant’s ideas in his own words:
[Eugenics] is a practical, merciful, and inevitable solution of the whole problem, and can be applied to an ever widening circle of social discards, beginning always with the criminal, the diseased, and the insane, and extending gradually to types which may be called weaklings rather than defectives, and perhaps ultimately to worthless race types.
This kind of thinking came to a head in the Supreme Court decision Buck v Bell in 1927. The issue before the court was whether a state had the right to compel sterilizations of those considered unfit “for the health and protection of the state.” The decision was seen as an endorsement of “negative eugenics” in that it allows the state to eliminate from the gene pool those deemed defective or otherwise unsuitable. Oliver Wendell Holmes delivered the majority decision, including the classic line of eugenics: “Three generations of imbeciles is enough.” He couched his decision as a health policy issue, declaring sterilizations were like immunizations against possible contagion.
The Nazis already had a contempt for the Jews. With eugenicist theory and putting it on the basis of health policy, the Nazis began their T4 program of killing the institutionalized feeble-minded and other “life unworthy of life” by gassing them inside compartments of trucks. Eventually, the problem of the Jews was presented by the Nazis as a massive health issue. This is why Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, would produce films comparing Jews to rats. One exterminates rats for health reasons, the argument would go, and so too should the Jews be exterminated.
One more figure in the development of race theory should be mentioned: Houston Stewart Chamberlain. In 1899 he wrote his most important work, The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century. The book grouped all European peoples — Celts, Germans, Slavs, Greeks, Latins, et al. — into the “Aryan” race, with the Nordic and Germanic people at the helm. According to Chamberlain, the Germanic people are the heirs of the empires of Greece and Rome. When Germanic tribes sacked and ended the Roman Empire it was already in decline because it was controlled by Jews and other non-Europeans. Thus, according to Chamberlain, the Germanic peoples “saved” western civilization from Semitic domination. The concept of an “Aryan” race was an ideal of a racial elite. Chamberlain’s works had a marked effect upon German nationalist movements, such as the NSDAP (i.e. the Nazis). Hitler was a student of his works, and praised him as “The Prophet of the Third Reich.”
During this modern period the Jew was being rhetorically ravaged on every level. If one was a defender of the capitalist economic system the enemy of all was the Jewish communist or socialist feeding the fire of revolution. If one was a member of the oppressed working class the enemy of all was the Jewish banker or capitalist oppressing the people. No matter where one stood on the political spectrum, the Jew was the universal enemy. There was no escape for Jews.
Even in popular culture Jews could not escape public contempt. Henry Adams, a Harvard historian and grandson and great-grandson of Presidents, was a leading intellectual in America. His Mont Saint Michel and Chartres as well as The Education of Henry Adams, while brilliant and insightful in many ways, also contain dyspeptic anti-Semitic references throughout. Adams felt marginalized in a world of growing industrialization, and preferred a medieval “universe” inspired by the Virgin to a “multiverse” symbolized by the Dynamo. He became particularly virulent toward Jews after the Panic of 1893, seeing the economic calamity as a result of the manipulations of Jewish bankers.
Adams wrote a very popular novel, Democracy, in which one of the main characters was named Hartbeest Schneidekoupon. He is described as familiar with “the mysteries of currency and protection, to both which subjects he was devoted.” He is described as rich, with “a reputation of turning rapid intellectual somersaults.” He is also said to be “descended from all the Kings of Israel, and … prouder than Solomon in his glory.”
Schneidekoupon’s goal is to befriend over dinner Senator Ratcliffe, expected to become the new Secretary of the Treasury, in order “to keep him straight on the currency and the tariff.” He complains when the Senator at first refuses to attend the dinner that Senators are “all like that. They never think of anyone but themselves.” The irony fairly drips from the page.
Adams then introduces what is described as “a much higher type of character” than Schneidekoupon in a Nathan Gore. Gore is then described by Adams as “abominably selfish, colossally egoistic, and not a little vain.” But, in Adams’s view, he is nonetheless “a much higher type of character” than Schneidekoupon.
Adams presents Schneidekoupon as capitalistic, materialistic, self-centered and carnal, whose “rapid intellectual somersaults” suggest a lack of steadfastness when it comes to inner spiritual or ethical principles. The not so subtle message is the anti-Semitic image that these are the intrinsic traits that indicate the nature and character of the Jew. The overall effect is to present the Jew as something less than human.
Here is an interesting little item: Can you figure out what the following list of words have in common – “usurer, extortioner, cunning, heretic, lickpenny, harpy, schemer, crafty, shifty.” They are synonyms for the word Jew listed in Roget’s Thesaurus at the turn of the twentieth century.
So why do I bring up this laundry-list of anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic activity? Because they each, in their own way, played a role in the greatest crime ever perpetrated on humanity, the Shoah. So why did I teach the course? Because I believed – still do – that exposing the truth will prevent it from ever happening again.
There are those, though, who claim the Shoah never happened. And they, unfortunately, are being heard more and more in our irrational age. I am reminded of Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming”:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer,
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
There are anti-Semitic voices currently in the land – not just in the Middle East but in Europe and the U.S. – demanding the blood of Jews. This may be as a result of a misguided support of “the oppressed” against their “oppressors” mixed with a belief in moral equivalency, or it may be the curdling voice of contempt spawned by generation after generation of hatred. Regardless, it is an anti-Semitic appeal to the bestial in the human heart.
Academia plays a role with its attempts to isolate Israel and its Jews though support of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement. George Orwell, in a 1944 letter to John Middleton Murry, wrote that the test for intellectual honesty is a willingness to criticize one’s own position. It is that lack of intellectual honesty that is bothersome with academics pushing the BDS movement. Of course, they will say they are not anti-Jewish, but anti-Zionist. Well, to quote Shirley Temple in the film Fort Apache, “Pishtosh!”
The hypocrisy can be seen in the recent move by the Presbyterian Church USA to divest from companies doing business with Israel. Leading up to the vote by its General Assembly a program was put together titled Zionism Unsettled by a group called the Israel Palestine Mission Network. This “study guide” was written in consultation with various academics and Palestinian groups. Edward Said and Rashid Khalidi, well known spokesmen for the Palestinian cause, are presented as authoritative voices in this document with no attempt to take a critical view of their positions. In fact, despite heavy criticism of Israel there is no criticism of the Palestinians. There isn’t even any condemnation of the terrorist acts against Jews. None. Thus for those Presbyterians who put this study together, as well as those who supported it, they have failed Orwell’s test for intellectual honesty.
Their unwillingness to criticize Palestinian views was replicated in the recent fighting between Israel and Hamas. No criticism of Hamas could be heard from those academics of the BDS movement despite the indiscriminate targeting of Israeli civilians with thousands of rockets and mortars. Indeed, all the criticism was directed only toward the Israelis.
This uncritical acceptance of the views and actions of Hamas while rejecting as genocidal the actions of Israel is documented in an August 31, 2014, American Thinker article by Cinnamon Stillwell. After noting various Hamas supporters among the professoriate, mostly in Middle East Studies departments, she writes that “such cheerleading for Palestinian terrorism and willful disregard of historical facts discredits the individuals who advance it and the academic culture of Middle East studies that rewards it. It is politicized rather than objective, propagandistic rather than principled. American interests at home and abroad are ill-served by these apologists for terrorists.” But what is truth, when anti-Semites are motivated and justified by centuries of hatred?
Speaking of Said, he is perhaps best known for his book Orientalism, in which he criticizes and condemns Westerners for unthinkingly adopting a “discourse” about the Middle East established by “experts” and reified in the scholarly tomes of Western libraries. According to Said, such discourse has marginalized the peoples of the Middle East, including the Palestinians, making them less than human in the eyes of Westerners. There may be something to that argument. All I would say is that there is a 2,000-year-old anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic “discourse” that has marginalized Jews through the centuries and made them something less than human. The current anti-Israel voices, whether knowingly or not, are drawing from that discourse of prejudice and hatred in their condemnation of Jews. They simply echo what has been with us from generation to generation.
I firmly believe the situation is better now than it was before World War II. Many have come to recognize how Jews have been victimized through the ages and have worked to make amends. But then I was brought up short one day by Yale professor and one-time diplomat Charles Hill. Reading about his experience in Asia during China’s Cultural Revolution it was demonstrated that whatever cultural strides are made can be undone in a generation.
That is my concern today. A new outbreak of anti-Semitism, having no knowledge of anti-Jewish thought and action through the centuries, and having no desire to know, is propagating a renewal of anti-Semitic discourse that will propel us to ever more tragic consequences if we are not mindful. One sees the evidence all around us, with reports world-wide of rising attacks on Jews and Synagogues in Europe and even in the U.S. The Guardian on August 7, 2014, published a lengthy article on the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe that is making Jews in Europe fearful of a re-play of their Nazi experience. On August 20 of this year the New York Times published a column by Deborah Lipstadt noting the acts against Jews in Europe.
The war in Gaza no doubt acts as a spark. But it also occasions a renewed use of long-time canards used against Jews, as when a Hamas spokesman again raised the specter of “ritual murder.” Even an established hoax like the pamphlet The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a forgery put out by Russian agents to support the Czar against what were perceived as Jewish revolutionaries, is a staple of booksellers in the Islamic world. In that work one “learns” how the economic and political systems of the world are manipulated by secret Jewish cabals.
So I am concerned, and I feel the weight of my necklace around my neck. I know there are places in the world where wearing my necklace could cost me my life. Is that overwrought? I recall an interview of the novelist Mary Doria Russell in which she spoke of her conversion to Judaism. In it she remarked that her conversion was such that it could get her killed. I thought that was overwrought at the time. Now I am not so sure. Because I feel the weight of my necklace.
Ben Stein in a recent American Spectator article sums it up about as well as anyone. He comments how much we’ve learned this past summer: “We learned this summer that when terrorists kill Jews, that’s legitimate anger and frustration. When Jews defend themselves, that’s genocide. We learned that Europe, which Henry Ford called ‘that slaughterhouse of nations’ or something similar, is still chock a block with anti-Semites who are wildly happy to join hands with the emerging Muslim majority in Europe to torture the Jews. We learned that the elite media, especially the New York Times, will turn on Israel and the Jews and seek to curry favor with the enemies of Jews and of America in any way they can.”
God only knows what will come. I comfort myself by saying I am old and will soon depart this world, but then I think about my son. What kind of world will he have to negotiate and still maintain his integrity and a willingness to speak out against those who would do violence against Jews? I have tried to speak out in the classes I have taught, and can only hope my students are able to take what they learned and with integrity speak out on their own against those who would do violence against Jews. And I write because I want to continue to educate and do whatever I can to prevent unjust violence against Jews. I still believe that knowledge can be a balm to hatred.
We appear to be in a kind of limbo now that a ceasefire in Gaza has taken. Reports are that the West Bank and the Golan Heights are restive, contemplating open hostilities against Israel after seeing the Gaza fighting as inconclusive. Should such fighting break out, no doubt Israel will again be subject to worldwide condemnation as it yet again fights for its very life.
Israel will be subject to the new tropes of anti-Semitism extending 2,000 years of lies and hatred of Jews. It will be claimed that Jews are the “new Nazis” and that Gaza or the West Bank is the “new Auschwitz” and that Palestinians are the “new victims.” When that happens I shall again stand with Jews and Israel against the 2,000-year-old forces of darkness and hate, all the while feeling the weight of my necklace. It is what I must do.