It struck me that in news reports about the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago on August 8th an important detail did not receive enough attention. Bruce Reinhart, the Palm Beach Gardens Magistrate Judge who signed the FBI’s search warrant is Jewish. Since then he and his children have been threatened. And the day after the search at Mar-a-Lago, the judge’s synagogue reported 78 obscene or harassing calls. The following Friday, that synagogue, where Judge Reinhart sits on the board, had to cancel Shabbat services after a deluge of antisemitic threats.
Antisemitism is fear or hatred of Jewish people. It has become one of the most enduring and malicious forms of racism in human history. Antisemitism includes, but is not limited to, racial stereotyping, anti-Jewish discrimination, and the acceptance or spread of conspiracy theories involving Jewish people.
It is quite true that right after World War II, many branches of Christianity reacted to antisemitism and the horrors of Holocaust in a very constructive and Jewish-supportive way. The Roman Catholic Second Vatican Council (1962 – 1965), for example, issued an historic document about Christianity and Judaism called Nostra Aetate, which sparked a serious and systematic effort by the Catholic Church to repair its past bitter and negative relationship with Jews and Judaism. For centuries the Roman Catholic Good Friday liturgy had contained this antisemitic prayer: “Let us pray also for the faithless Jews: that Almighty God may remove the veil from their hearts; so that they too may acknowledge Jesus Christ our Lord.” Fortunately, that prayer today has been changed to this: “Let us pray also for the Jewish people, to whom the Lord our God spoke first, that he may grant them to advance in love of his name and in faithfulness to his covenant.”
Nevertheless, antisemitism today is resurgent in the United States and around the world.
Jewish U.S. Americans make up less than 3% of the total U.S. population. But according to FBI reports nearly 55% of religious-biased crimes target U.S. Jews. The call for more Jewish security began as conspiracy theories swirled that Jews were responsible for bringing down the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and coincided with a wave of terrorist attacks in Israel. Before 2001, synagogues in the United States had remained open and allowed for non-Jews to join in services as far back as the 1700s. Historians observe that that continued even in the face of lynchings, firebombing, and exclusion of Jewish people from country clubs and gated communities. Not even when synagogues were being firebombed during the civil rights era in the 1960s did they close their doors.
Then came the Tree of Life Congregation shooting in 2018 – the deadliest antisemitic attack on U.S. soil – when a gunman opened fire with an AR-15-style rifle inside a synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed 11 people.
Antisemitic incidents reached an all-time high in the United States in 2021, the Anti-Defamation League said in its annual assessment. There were 2,717 incidents last year, representing an increase of 34% over 2020 and the highest on record since the New York-based Jewish civil rights group started tracking such cases in 1979. These antisemitic incidents include harassment, assaults, and vandalism.
As the noted U.S. American Rabbi, A. James Rudin, observed recently: “For many Jews in the United States, there is now a growing sense of anxiety that antisemitism, emerging from both the political left and right, has moved from the shadows of society and the fringes of social media into the American political, social, cultural and religious mainstream.” (Rabbi Rudin joined the staff of the American Jewish Committee in 1968 and retired in 2000 after serving for many years as National Interreligious Affairs Director.)
Today heightened security has extended beyond synagogues to Hebrew schools, assisted-living facilities, retirement communities, and nursing homes that serve predominantly Jewish communities.
Some of the incidents in recent years have included deadly attacks by gunmen at an orthodox synagogue north of San Diego and a kosher grocery store in New Jersey, and the stabbing at a rabbi’s home in New York. Many of the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 wore swastikas. One man wore a “Camp Auschwitz” T-shirt glorifying the Nazi concentration camp.
And in a two-week period in May 2022, during an outbreak of violence between Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas, there were a record 193 anti-Jewish attacks, in the United States.
What to do? It is important to clarify historic misunderstandings and to help people change their own misconceptions.
(1) First of all, we should remind people that Jesus (Yeshua) was a first century Hebrew. Today we would call him a Jew. But there were no “Jews” in the first century. There were Judeans or Judean authorities and leaders. Jesus and all of Jesus’ friends, associates, colleagues, and disciples were not Christians. They were Hebrews. Actually the word “Jew” did not enter the English language until the twelfth century. Our English language biblical translations, however, have not always been helpful.
(2) We need to stress that Jews did NOT kill Jesus of Nazareth. The old antisemitic rhetoric about “Jews as the Christ-killers” is totally without foundation. The Gentile Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, condemned Jesus to death and had Jesus tortured and executed by Gentile Roman soldiers. Jesus was indeed one of thousands of Hebrews crucified by the Romans.
(3) When reading the New Testament, one should be alert to problematic English translations of the Greek and Latin words Ioudaios and Iudaeus. They mean first of all Judean not Jew or Jewish. For example, Pontius Pilate’s inscription on Jesus’ cross, often abbreviated as INRI, was Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum. It is often translated as “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” A more correct translation would be “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Judeans.” (The letter “J” did not exist in ancient Greek or Latin.)
(4) Unfortunately, as early Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, blame for Jesus’ death was increasingly placed on Hebraic people, thus decreasing Roman culpability. In Matthew, the Roman governor washes his hands of Jesus’ blood while the people proclaim, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matt 27:25). John’s Gospel portrays Judeans as wanting to kill Jesus throughout his ministry (John 5:18, John 7:1, John 8:37). Here once again once we see mistranslations of Ioudaioi leading to later antisemitism. The original word meant Judeans not Jews. But once the word “Jew” became common in English New Testament translations, antisemitists latched on to a “biblical foundation” for anti-Jewish rhetoric and behavior. In the Gospel of John, for example, the word Ioudaioi, now translated as Jews,” is used 63 times and in a hostile antisemitic sense 31 times.
I have three more constructive suggestions:
- We really should promote serious dialogue and reflection about antisemitism. Why not invite Jewish friends and friends of different faiths for discussions about their experiences and thinking about antisemitism. Perhaps as part of an adult education program?
- We can speak out against antisemitic jokes and slurs, when we hear them. Silence can send the message that such humor and derogatory remarks are acceptable.
- And let us not forget some important history that should not be erased or ignored. Dates and events I find particularly important are the following:
September 15, 1935: “Nuremberg Laws”: Anti-Jewish racial laws are enacted. Jews were no longer considered German citizens. They could not marry Aryans. Nor could they fly the German flag.
October 28, 1938: 17,000 Polish Jews living in Germany are expelled.
November 9-10, 1938: Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) a major anti-Jewish pogrom in Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland. At least 200 synagogues were destroyed and 7,500 Jewish shops looted. And 30,000 male Jews were sent to the concentration camps Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen.
Two weeks after the German national pogrom known as Kristallnacht, Fr. Charles E. Coughlin (1891 – 1979), in Royal Oak, Michigan, known as the “radio priest” blamed Jews for their own persecution, making him a hero in the German press. In the late 1930s Coughlin was spewing pro-Nazi propaganda to 30 million listeners in his weekly CBS radio antisemitic broadcasts, proclaiming, for example, that an “international conspiracy of Jewish bankers” caused the Great Depression. On May 1, 1941, Detroit’s Archbishop Edward Mooney (1882 – 1958) ordered Coughlin to stop all of his political activities.
November 15, 1938: All Jewish pupils are expelled from German schools.
January 30, 1939: Adolf Hitler proclaims in a Reichstag speech that “If war erupts it will mean the Vernichtung(extermination) of European Jews.”
September 1, 1939: World War II begins when Germany invades Poland.
October 12,1939: Germany begins deportation of Austrian and Czech Jews to Poland.
May 20, 1940: Concentration camp is established at Auschwitz, a complex of over 40 concentration and extermination camps operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War II.
December 8, 1941: Chelmno, Poland extermination camp begins operations. By April 19, 1943, there will have been 340,000 Jews, 20,000 Poles and Czechs murdered there.
March 17, 1942: Extermination begins in Belzec, Poland. By the end of 1942, there will have been 600,000 Jews murdered in Belzec.
Summer 1942: Deportation of Jews from Belgium, Croatia, France, the Netherlands, and Poland to NAZI extermination camps.
Winter 1942: Deportation of Jews from Germany, Greece, and Norway to e termination camps.
May 15, 1944: NAZI authorities begin deporting Hungarian Jews. By June 27th there will be 380,000 sent to Auschwitz.
June 6, 1944: D-Day: Allied invasion at Normandy.
November 8, 1944: Beginning of the death march of approximately 40,000 Jews from Budapest to Austria. When the Third Reich stood on the verge of military defeat and Allied forces approached Nazi camps, the SS organized death marches of concentration camp inmates, in part to keep large numbers of concentration camp prisoners from falling into Allied hands.
January 17, 1945: Evacuation of Auschwitz and the beginning of a death march.
January 25, 1945: Beginning of a death march for inmates of Stutthof, Poland.
April 6-10, 1945: Death march of inmates of Buchenwald, Germany. In the last months of the Third Reich, about 250,000 inmates of concentration camps perished in death marches.
April 30, 1945: Hitler commits suicide
May 8, 1945: V-E Day: Germany surrenders. It is the end of Third Reich.
“Old antisemitic stereotypes and ideas have been given new packaging and justification in the modern era. Blaming Jews for social ills and crises remains a convenient conspiracy theory when people in a community are experiencing fear and anxiety. When people perpetuate antisemitic images, ideas, and references, whether it be in political campaigns, on social media platforms, or in pop culture, the resources below will help equip students to recognize these contemporary manifestations of antisemitism and their origins.” See: facinghistory.org