Edited by Eva Fleischner

Papers given at the International Symposium on the Holocaust held at the Cathedral of St.John the Divine, New York City, June 3 to 6,1974.

KTAV Publishing House, Inc. The Cathedral Church of St.John the Divine Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith

ISBN 0-87068-499-X

begin page 73



The question of anti-Semitism recurred frequently during the Symposium. It is, perhaps, one of the signs of a radical change in our post-Auschwitz world that the Christian participants in the Symposium appeared at least as preoccupied with this subject as the Jewish scholars. For the Holocaust has raised as never before a painful question for Christians: In what manner and degree have Christian teachings about Jews and Judaism contributed to anti-Semitism, thus preparing the soil for the Nazi extermination of the Jews?

The main paper of this section pushes the question beyond Christian teaching to Christian theology and its very center - the Christology of the church. The responses do not so much challenge this thesis as raise further questions including the one whether theology - of whatever sort - can be the foundation for better relations between Jew and Christian.

What are the roots of the anti-Judaic tradition in the West, which goes back to the first century of Christianity?

Rosemary Ruether [ Roman Catholic scholar .... JP ] believes that we must look for them elsewhere than in sociological conditions, or see them as mere byproducts of a more ancient pagan anti-Judaism. Rather, she locates them at the very heart of Christian theology - in the church's Christology.

This is the thesis which Ruether developes in her paper: anti-Semitism in the West is a direct outgrowth of Christian theological anti-Judaism. [Her full and detailed treatment of the subject can be found in her book Faith and Fratricide [Seabury, 1974] - not yet published at the time of the Symposium.]

Ruether sees anti-Judaism as the consequence of the claim that Jesus is the Christ. [ typical self-serving Roman Catholic analysis ........ JP ]

This claim inevitably pitted the church against the synagogue, since it saw itself as fulfilling and superseding Judaism. It led the church at a very early stage to develope an exegetical tradition that interpreted the Jewish Scriptures in Christological terms, and sought to prove that with the coming of Christ, and the failure of the Jewish people as a whole to recognize him, Judaism lost its status as people of God. Jews now came to be seen as obdurate, stiff necked, perverse, and the loss of their land and consequent homelessness as divine punishment.

There is growing awareness and acknowledgment of this Teaching of Contempt among Christian theologians today. Ruether goes beyond many others, however, in at least two ways.

First, she believes that the Teaching of Contempt was inevitable, given Christianity's claim that Christ is the sole way to salvation and its full manifestation. This is the meaning of her statement that anti-Judaism is "the left hand of Christology." In other words, anti-Judaism is endemic to Christianity, an inevitable consequence of the Christian kerygma.

Secondly, she traces in detail how this hostility and teaching, religious in origin, were transformed into civil legislation once the church emerged from the catacombs and became identified with the power of the Roman Empire.

Thus the theological Adversos Judaeos tradition resulted in the social and political degradation of the Jews, which lasted from the fourth century to the nineteenth, and under Hitler became transformed into genocide. Ruether maintains that to locate anti-Semitism in social conditions or ethnic factors is to by pass, or close one's eyes to, the heart of the matter: that its roots are religious, part and parcel not merely of Christian teaching and preaching, but of Christian dogma itself.

Is there, then, a way out of the impasse for the Christian? Can one hope to be a Christian without being an anti-Semite? Only a new Christology, Ruether believes, will offer such a way out: a Christology which attempts to rethink the ancient Christ-question in terms of a theology of hope.

Ruether speaks of a "proleptic Christology," which sees the coming of the Kingdom not as a past and completed event, but as lying still largely ahead of us, "as a horizon of redemption that still eludes us both, Christian and Jew," and hence joins us in a common hope.

Walter Burghardt [Jesuit], a fellow [Roman] Catholic theologian, has no basic disagreement with the history of anti-Semitism as sketched by Ruether, although he criticizes her presentation in some of its details. Because he agrees with Ruether that the source of Christian anti-Semitism is theological rather than social or political, Burghardt proposes a number of theological affirmations vis-a-vis Judaism which he hopes can serve to build a better future between Jews and Christians. While he considers these affirmations personal, they embody elements that are increasingly current among Catholic theologians since Vatican II: the enduring election and unique mission of the Jewish people, the rejection of any collective guilt of "the Jews" for Jesus' death, the incorporation of the Gentiles into God's covenant with Israel, which now becomes a universal covenant, the reaching of "a certain definitive term in Jesus" of God's promises, though a dimension of unfulfillment persists.

Burghardt does not go into the Christological question in any detail. It is here, however, that Ruether's central thesis raises for him a question: Does traditional Christology inevitably lead to anti-Semitism?

His own tentative and brief answer is that it need not do so, and that we must distinguish between the faith in Jesus as the Christ, and the conclusions which some theologians have drawn from this faith.

Like Burghardt, Yosef Yerushalmi does not disagree with Ruether's basic thesis that anti-Semitism springs from theological anti-Judaism. He finds himself, however, confronted with questions that arise from what she left unsaid. These can be summed up for him in one central question: If such was Christian teaching, why did the church not destroy the Jews?

Granted that we can explain their reprobation, how do we account for their preservation, for the fact that time and again throughout the Middle Ages, when Jew-hatred among the masses was at its height, popes and bishops intervened to protect Jews from popular outbursts of hatred?

This, for Yerushalmi, is the unanswered and puzzling question. For it could - and logically should - have been otherwise. The church could have decreed the destruction of the Jews, as Hitler was indeed to do in the twentieth century. This decree, however, was the work of a secular power, and no parallels to it can be found anywhere in history at the level of official Christendom. The answer to his question is not clear to Yerushalmi. None of the reasons sometimes given - the Jews' economic usefulness, the need for their preservation as a condition for the Second Coming - are really convincing to him.

Had there been the determination to make the Jews disappear from history, he believes, a way would have been found - whether through forced conversion [never countenanced officially] or through extermination. He concludes that this determination was lacking in Christianity; but again the reason is not clear to him. He only hazards a guess: that the church could not bring itself to obliterate what remained in its consciousness, even if only subliminally, as the matrix out of which it was born.

Was it the same intuition that led to the decision by the early church to retain the Jewish Scriptures in its own canon? Yerushalmi believes that all the damage done by traditional Christian exegesis does not compare to the harm that would have resulted if Marcion had been victorious.

Yerushalmi takes issue with Ruether with respect to her theory that modern anti-Semitism is a "transformation" of medieval anti-Semitism. His argument here is that when we come to the Holocaust we are confronted with the naked fact of genocide - a phenomenon which the church had consistently averted, for whatever reasons.

However great the influence on modern anti-Semitism of traditional Christian teaching, the Holocaust was the work of a modern, pagan state.

Yerushalmi sees Nazi Germany not as a transformation of earlier discrimination against the Jews, but as "a leap into a different dimension." Genocide became possible precisely when the medieval Christian world-order had ceased to exist. In this context he finds the silence of Pius XI and Pius XII as breaking with, rather than continuing, the tradition of the medieval papacy.

Another puzzling - and unanswered question. In his concluding remarks Yerushalmi voices further doubts. Will the massive repentance of Christians for the sins of the past really guarantee a better future? He fears that the opposite may happen, and that "a collective mea culpa" may lead to new waves of hatred. He also questions whether we should stake our hope for a better relationship between Jews and Christians on theology. Granted that traditional theology vis-a-vis Judaism leaves much to be desired, what guarantee is there that a new theology, or even a new Christology, will produce better results?

The time is urgent. Jews cannot afford to wait until Christians complete a new Summa Theologica .

Can we not meanwhile build a better future on our common humanity?


Rosemary Radford Ruether [well known RC writer]

The anti-Semitic legacy of Christian civilization cannot be dealt with as an accidental or peripheral element or as a product of purely sociological conflicts between the church and the synagogue. Neither can it be dismissed as a mere continuation of pagan anti-Jewishness or a transfer of ethnocentric attitudes from Judaism itself. Although elements from these two traditions feed into Christian anti-Judaic traditions, neither of these sources provides the main data or formative motivation for Christian anti-Judaism. The frequent efforts of Christian apologists to blame either or both of these sources, therefore, constitute an illicit refusal to examine the strictly Christian theological roots of anti-Semitism in Christianity.1

At its root anti-Semitism in Christian civilization springs directly from Christian theological anti-Judaism. It was Christian theology which developed the thesis of the eternal reprobate status of the Jew in history, and laid the foundation for the demonic view of the Jews which fanned the flames of popular hatred.

This hatred was not only inculcated by Christian preaching and biblical exegesis, but it became incorporated into the structure of Christian canon law and the civil law formed under Christendom and expressed as early as the Code of Theodosius [438 A.D.] and Justinian [6th cent.].

The anti-Judaic laws of the church and the Christian state laid the basis for the inferiorization of the civic and personal status of the Jews in Christian society from the time of Constantine until the emancipation of the Jews in the nineteenth century.

In this essay I wish to summarize the central elements of this theological tradition and indicate briefly how it was translated into the social denigration of the Jews in Christendom.2 Anti-Judaism developed theologically in Christianity as the left hand of Christology. That is to say, anti-Judaism was the negative side of the Christian claim that Jesus was the Christ.

Christianity saw itself [80] as the heir of Jewish Messianic hope, and believed that in Jesus that hope for the coming of the Messiah was fulfilled. But since the Jewish tradition rejected this claim, the church developed a polemic against the Jews and the Jewish religious tradition, to explain how the church could be the fulfillment of a Jewish religious tradition against Jewish rejection of this claim. At the root of this dispute lies a fundamentally different interpretation of the meaning of the word "Messiah" [Christ] in Christianity, which gradually separated it so radically from the meaning of this word in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition that the two traditions became incapable of communicating with each other.

Judaism looked to the coming of the Messiah as a public world-historical event unequivocably linked to a process that historically overthrows the forces of evil in the world and establishes the Kingdom of God. The Messiah is either the agent of this change or is established as the Davidic king after God has accomplished this transformation.

Originally Christians also linked Jesus' Messianic role intimately to the final inauguration of the Kingdom of God. But as this event failed to materialize, Christianity pushed it off into an indefinite future. It became the "Second Coming," and Jesus' Messianic role was reinterpreted in an inward and personal way, or institutionalized in relation to the redemptive authority of the church. Such concepts bore little relation to what the Jewish tradition meant by the coming of the Messiah. Thus an impasse developed between Christianity and Judaism over the meaning of the Messianic advent.

The real differences between these two views have practically never been sorted out between Christianity and Judaism because, at the early stage of development, the increasing difference of meaning was accompanied by communal alienation and mutual polemic.

Christianity developed an exegetical tradition which attempted to prove that its view of the Messianic coming was, in fact, the one predicted by the "Old Testament." [The very term "Old Testament" is itself a Christian anti-Judaic interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures.] In this same exegesis Christianity sought to prove that the Jews, even in Old Testament times, had ever been apostate from God and their spiritual leaders blind and hard of heart, in order to explain the rejection of the Christological interpretation of the Old Testament by the Jewish community and its teachers.

Christian theology, in effect, set out to prove the rejected status of the Jewish community and the spiritual blindness of its traditions of exegesis and morality, in order to vindicate the correctness [81] of its own exegesis and its claim to be the rightful heir of Israel's election. This Christian polemic against Judaism did not stop merely with proving the special guilt of the religious leaders of the Jewish community for Jesus' death [today recognized as a dubious thesis].3

Rather it quickly ramified out into arguments intended to prove the inability of the teachers of this community to read Scripture rightly, the discredited status of Jewish religious law, worship, and even its past history to Moses. In the Christian exegesis of the Old Testament, Jewish history becomes split down the middle. The dialectic of judgment and promise is rendered schizophrenic, applied not to one elect people, but to two peoples: the reprobate people, the Jews, and the future elect people of the promise, the church.

One tries to show from the Old Testament itself that there always existed, in divine intentionality, two peoples; the true people of faith, who are the rightful heirs of the promise to Abraham, over against a fallen, disobedient people, who never obeyed God or heard the prophets. They, from the beginning, rejected and even killed the prophets and so could be expected to reject and kill the Messiah, the promised redeemer of the prophetic tradition, when He appeared. The rejection and murder of the Messiah is the logical climax of the evil history of the Jewish people. It is the church which is the true heir of the promise to Abraham. The church is the spiritual community of faith, foretold by the prophets, while "the Jews" [i.e., the religious community that still gathers around the temple and the synagogue, accepts the rabbinic leadership, and rejects the Christological exegesis of the church] are the heirs of this evil history of perfidy, apostasy, and murder.

As a result, the Jewish people have been cut off from their divine election. Divine wrath has been poured down on them in the destruction of the Temple and the national capital in Jerusalem. They have been driven into exile and reprobation until the end of time, when Jesus will return and the Jews will finally have to acknowledge their error. As Eusebius puts it:

These are the main outlines of the polemic against the Jews, as it developed in the exegetical tradition which underlies the New Testament and hardened into a fixed form in the Adversos Judaeos tradition of the church fathers.4 Many of the basic themes of this tradition could be found already in the New Testament: for example, the idea that the Jewish people always killed the prophets and so will kill the Messiah when He comes [Acts 7:51-52; 1 Thess. 2:14-16; Matt. 23:30-36]. This is seen as having been predicted by the prophets. The New Testament also declares the worship and religious leaders of the Jewish community to be discredited. Their teachers are "blind guides"; their spirituality is hypocrisy and lacks the capacity to save. St. Paul in particular develops the analogy between the Law and the Powers and Principalities in such a way as to make the Law almost a demonic instrument.

It can only reveal sin, but has no positive relation to redemption [Rom. 7:7-24; Col. 2:8, 20; Gal. 4:3; 2 Cor. 3:7-18]. Despite Paul's concept of the "mystery" of Jewish reprobation, whereby the Jews' hearts are hardened only until all the Gentiles are gathered in, and they will be converted before the final coming of Christ, the view of both Paul and the New Testament as a whole is that the Jews have lost their election. The covenant with Moses has no power to save. The promise now resides solely in the church, and only by repenting and joining the church can the Jews he saved [Acts 28:28; Rom. 9-11].

The destruction of Jerusalem is the sign of their present reprobate status [Matt. 23:36-24:2]. These themes, however, are greatly elaborated in the writings of the church fathers in the period between the second and fifth centuries in a way that hardened the lines between the two communities.

The themes of the patristic Adversus Judaeos tradition center around two major theses: (1) the rejection of the Jews and the election of the Gentile church, and (2) the abrogation of the Law.5

As in the New Testament, the Jewish rejection of the Messiah is read back into the Old Testament as a heritage of evildoing that culminated in this final act of apostasy. The Jews are said to have always rejected the prophets, refused to hear their message of repentance, and even to have killed them. Moreover, [83] the Jews are condemned as inveterate idol worshippers. Beginning with the golden calf, the Jews ever turned away from God and worshipped idols. God sent the prophets to turn them from this idol worship, but to no avail. This view is derived from reading the prophets out of context, negating the fact that the very existence of the prophetic books in the Scriptures signified the acceptance of the prophetic message by the Jewish religious tradition.

Even worse crimes are alleged, again using prophetic and psalmic texts out of context. The Jews are said to have been cannibals and to have sacrificed their children to idols. All manner of debauchery, lewdness, and immorality are also added to the list of crimes said to characterize the "Jews" [a favorite source for this is Ps. 106:34-40]. By the time we reach late-fourth-century Christian preachers, such as John Chrysostom, this picture of the Jews in Christian writing has taken on demonic proportions.

The Jews are painted as preternatural demonic figures with a superhuman appetite for every depravity of flesh and spirit. The Mosaic Law is said to have been given the Jews, not as a mark of election and divine favor, but rather to curb their incorrigible appetite for idolatry and vice. As the fourth-century church historian Eusebius puts it: "Everything which the Law forbids, they had previously done without restraint" [Dem. Ev. 1]

Some of the church fathers postulate a pre-Mosaic period before the Law, when patriarchal humanity obeyed God from the heart, guided only by the natural law implanted inwardly in the conscience. Christianity restores this patriarchal era of spiritual obedience. Mosaic religion is, therefore, painted as a fall. The giving of the Law comes to represent, not a special grace to the Jews, but a punitive restraint on the special viciousness of the Jews. This viciousness is attributed to bad habits learned in Egypt, when they sojourned among people noted for their proclivity for idolatry and unnatural vice.

The hermeneutical method for demonstrating this tale of evil Jewish history consists of splitting the right from the left hand of the prophetic message. All the negative descriptions, judgments, and threats are taken out of context and read monolithically as descriptive of "the Jews." The positive side of the prophetic message - the traits of repentance, faith, and promise - are applied to the future church. The heroes of the Old Testament become the forerunners of the church, while "the Jews" are regarded as a people "on probation," who have failed the test and are finally cast off by God. By splitting the left hand of prophetic judgment from the right hand of prophetic promise, applying one side to the Jews and the other to the church, one gains an unrelieved tale of [84] apostasy supposedly characteristic of the Old Testament community, while depriving the church of the tradition of prophetic self criticism.

Anti-Judaism and ecclesial triumphalism arise as two sides of the same antithesis . The climactic crime of this evil history is the killing of the Messiah. It was to give this "crime" a legacy and tradition that Christian apologetics read Jewish history in this manner. As Christology is heightened to the full doctrine of Christian faith, this comes to be seen not only as the killing of a prophet. It becomes the killing of God, the crime of "deicide"; a crime of treason and 'lese majeste' against the Sovereign of the Universe Himself. For criminals of such a stamp, no vituperation can he too extreme.

In the sermons of John Chrysostom the Jews are continuously spoken of as devils, their synagogues as brothels of the devil, and their very souls are declared to be dwelling places of demons.

For this final crime the election of the Jews has been revoked, and they have been exiled until the end of time. Their city has been destroyed; their Temple ravished, never to be rebuilt. All their former favor with God has been taken from them. They have been driven into captivity among their enemies, never to know any cessation of misery until the end of time. The fathers are fond of using the phrase "their back bend thou down always" [Ps. 69:24, mistranslated in the Septuagint], to represent this historical status of the Jews since the time of Jesus. The former captivities of the Jews are said to have had fixed limits. The restoration of the Jews from exile promised in the Scripture has already been fulfilled in these former restorations. But this final exile is to have no fixed limits and is intended by God to last until the end of time.

Christian theology took a dogmatic stance which denied the possibility that the Jewish people would ever be restored to their national homeland [a tradition not without significance for present Jewish-Christian misunderstanding over the State of Israel]. According to the patristic tradition, the Jews are to remain in this status of exile and reprobation until Jesus returns in glory, when the Jews will get a final chance to acknowledge their mistake. Consequently, pressure on the Jewish community to convert to Christianity also took on an eschatological significance, since the mass conversion of the Jews was supposed to signal the imminent advent of Christ. Even circumcision is said to have been given to the Jews, not as a sign of election, but as a witness to their reprobation. By it they can be recognized as Jews and prevented from reentering Jerusalem, from which they were barred fol [----------]