- Download PDF
For millennia, the Jewish people have suffered from two large prejudices (among others). First, Jews have been regarded as “Christ-killers” for their alleged role in the crucifixion of Jesus. Secondly, Jews have been hated for being “money lenders” who charge unfair interest rates (usurers). Even today, Jewish people are perceived as controlling the banking industry and Hollywood. Pope John Paul’s edict in 1985 did a lot to change Catholic perceptions of the Jewish people, reversing long standing church doctrine regarding Jews. Yet, beyond the Catholic church, prejudices such as those identified here and others persist. Is the reform of the Catholic church an anomaly or is it being emulated elsewhere in the world?
9 Answers | Add Yours
I think that there is less anti-Semitism in the United States, but I do not think there is less in the world. In some areas, I think there is more. This is because the groups can spread the word so much more easily though the internet, and they can fund themselves more easily.
Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1985 Revision
The message of the council's statement is clear. Recalling in moving terms the "spiritual bond that ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham's stock," the Fathers of the council remind us of the special place Jews hold in the Christian perspective, for "now as before God holds them as most dear for the sake of the patriarchs; he has not withdrawn his gifts or calling." Jews, therefore, the Fathers caution, are not "to be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from Holy Scripture." The Passion of Jesus, moreover, "cannot be attributed without distinction to all Jews then alive, nor can it be attributed to the Jews of today." The Church, the statement declares, "decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews at any time and by anyone."
If you ask about the example of the Catholic Church having an influence "in the world," it seems the answer has to be that, except in Catholic dominant countries, no, the example of the Catholic Church is not being emulated regarding anti-Semitism. All tolled, the dominant presence of the Catholic Church leaves many parts of the world uninfluenced. It is doubtful that beliefs of Hindus in India are significantly influenced by the changes in the Catholic Church and equally doubtful that beliefs of Muslims or Buddhists are significantly influenced by Catholic Church.
In the Western world, though, where common Christian beliefs are more prevalent than in other places "in the world," the influence of the Catholic Church might be very high, might be readily emulated or at least praised if influence follows behind previous action.
I think, though, that the effect Pope John Paul's changed theology had on the Jewish people was significant in and of itself. Rabbi David Rosen describes it this way:
However I would think that it was John Paul II's liturgy of repentance at St. Peter's in the year 2000 that posterity will recall above all in this regard. The sentences asking Divine forgiveness for the sins Christians committed against Jews down the ages were, as we all know, transcribed on to a sheet of paper that John Paul II placed in the crevices of the Western Wall on his pilgrimage to Jerusalem some weeks thereafter. The text declared...
God of our fathers,
You chose Abraham and his descendants
to bring Your name to the nations:
we are deeply saddened
by the behavior of those
who in the course of history
have caused these children of Yours to suffer
and asking Your forgiveness;
we wish to commit ourselves
to genuine brotherhood
with the people of the Covenant
My guess is that anti-Semitism, outside the Middle East, which is, I agree, a territorial problem, ebbs and flows with good times and bad. One reason it grabbed hold successfully in Nazi Germany was that there were so many economic problems and a handy scapegoat was available. As our economy and those of other countries deteriorate, I think anti-Semitism is on the rise.
However, I also think we are evolutionarily primed to fear or dislike "the other," which has allowed us, over the years, to make instinctual "decisions," fighting or fleeing. This instinct does make for some bad choices, obviously, being both under and over-inclusive, but if we cannot generalize in some ways, we have no way of getting through our lives effectively.
This "other" response is by no means limited to Judaism, as evidenced by the attack on the Sikh temple, the recent attempts to bar Islam mosques in various sections of the country, or the treatment of Christians in Islam-majority countries.
The fact is, though, that in order to have a sense of community, we have a need to separate ourselves from others in some way, and we need a way of recognizing who is a part of our "tribe." That means that one religion must distinguish itself from others. Judaism in its earliest days, took great care to be very different from the "religions" that surrounded it, as did Christianity, which carefully separated itself from Judaism.
Will we ever evolve to a point where none of this matters? Will our higher brains manage to always overcome the more primitive parts of our brains? Not in my lifetime.
Historically, people have always looked for scapegoats to blame their problems on. In Europe, the Jewish people repeatedly fell into that category, from the middle ages all the way up to the Holocaust in World war II. I definitely believe that Anti-Semitism is on the decline, but that does not mean that some other group on the periphery will not sadly fall into the role of outsiders and scapegoats.
Like post #3 mentioned about the recent attack on the Sikh temple, it is frightening to consider that some other minority group may fall into the convenient role of the scapegoat in society. It is the 'us versus them' mentality that is so easy for people to slip into when motivated by fear, and in this day and age when terrorism feels like a daily occurence, fear remains a powerful factor.
In the Middle East, the problem is not religious but territorial. Before more or less recent developments -I should say 'regressions- Palestinians and Jordans crossed over to Israel daily to earn a living. About the ease in their relationships, see Ephraim Kishom's short stories.
In the rest of the world, no-one seems to be thinking of carrying out a new Shoa (Holocaust, though this is a misnomer.) However, anti-semitism is still deeply rooted in the popular imaginary. Just look at ordinary people's reactions when a Jew and a non-Jew prove guilty of a crime or a reprehensible deed. In the first case, many people explain it away by attributing individual flaws to the origin ("What can you expect from a Jew?") In the second case, these same people seek another kind of explanation (deprived childhood, bad company, moral weakness.) They don't say, "What can you expect from an Irishman," for example.
In countries where there is integration, anti-semitism subsides. Yet this is also a problem, since it demands some kind of compromise in which all parts involved resign some aspect of their identity.
Tolerance is the key. If at home and at school we teach that difference should be respected, we could make some progress in human relationships.
Certainly, in the Middle East tensions among Muslim countries and Israel continue. Before he left office, an official for the ousted president of Egypt Hosni Mubarak told a U.S. journalist that conflicts between Israel and other countries are as old as recorded history, conflicts that remain continuous.
In Western Europe, however, restrictions that were long ago placed upon the businesses that Jews were permitted, where they could live, and other restrictions are no longer in place. It is interesting to note, however, that one can only reside in Israel if one is Jewish (the mother of this person must be a Jew).
In the United States, Hollywood was populated in the 1950s with many Jewish screenwriters, directors, and producers. With the McCarthy Scare many of these Jewish people were interrogated because some of them were sympathetic to the communist movement and were registered Communists. This circumstance may have affected the reception of Jewish people in many communities.
As a teacher, I have seen very little of any form of anti-semitism among my students or my peers. In fact, I've seen very little awareness of what Judaism is or the fact that anti-semitism has been a problem. It's just not on the radar in the places I've taught. Students are very surprised to learn about the Holocaust or the experiences of Elie Wiesel in Night.
I would like to think that antisemitism may be on the decline. I know that in our community, there is a "ministerium" in place that welcomes religious leaders of all faiths, not just Christian. Members of this and local groups have traveled abroad to establish dialogue, specifically with leaders in Israel, to encourage discussion, understanding and tolerance. One "peace-keeping" mission in particular was on a local level, made up of religious representatives and community members. And I don't believe that our community is alone in this effort.
When more and more people are trying to bridge cultural gaps, and perhaps with more and more inter-cultural marriages, antisemitism may not be as prevalent. However, whereas I would see this as a movement (esp. in terms of marriage) forward, I wonder if more traditional cultures may see this as a decline within their society.
A society confronted by many changes today that challenge the "norm" (e.g., same-sex marriage), Judaism may be perceived as a difference that is not worth one's notice—any more than being Christian or Buddhist, French or American. When concern over one's religion or culture is not central to forming friendships, business relationships, etc., things like antisemitism should begin to fade.
However, the recent killing of people in the sikh temple can only indicate that people still foster hate for cultures/religions that they disagree with, or that they target for irrational reasons. While tolerance and understanding seem to be more prevalent, people will always hate, and their attention may move onto other groups that unstable individuals feel threatened by. It would be nice to believe that we can avoid being small-minded, and adopt a view of global acceptance with those whose visions of peace, and concerns for the exploited and suffering, are the same. When we base our actions on the common good, things like antisemitism should have no place.
One would hope that the Church's progressive change of attitude will be emulated. Anti-Semitism has been a factor in Western countries for many years, for the reasons which you stated above and also because after the Diaspora, Jews insisted on preserving their culture and traditions, even though they lived in countries which did not share that culture. That, together with the reasons you stated, made them something of a pariah throughout Europe. Sadly, after many years, anti-semitism became endemic; few people could cite sound reasons for their dislike of Jews, but they still disliked them. One might draw similarities to the racism which was endemic in the United States for many years. It should be noted also that in many years past, the Church was a leader in the persecution of Jews. Hopefully, Pope John Paul's step will be the first in reversing nine hundred years of history. Still, it cannot be accomplished overnight.
We’ve answered 320,217 questions. We can answer yours, too.Ask a question