Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Friends, Or Allies At A Distance?

     Clearly, it is futile for the Church to try to mollify a hatred so ancient and so deep as the Jewish animus against Christianity. Despite all the sentimental rhetoric to the contrary — such as pious nonsense about “the Judaeo-Christian tradition” — Judaism and Christianity are radically opposed over the most important thing of all: Jesus Christ, who commands us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, and to love our enemies, which does not mean mistaking them for friends. – Joseph Sobran

     The above is one of Joseph Sobran’s most egregious statements. Coming from so intelligent and perceptive a writer, it causes any man of good will to wonder: Did he temporarily take leave of his reason? Or was there something else at work that spurred him to say something so intemperate, so distant from Christian sentiment?

     I’ve puzzled over it for a while. Sobran’s criticisms of Israel as a political entity and open expressions of support for a number of Holocaust deniers got him ostracized by National Review and the larger community of conservative commentators. After that schism opened, Sobran’s columns appeared only in a few low-circulation journals, most of which were aimed specifically at Catholic readers. Is it possible that Sobran allowed resentment over his exclusion from his previous outlets to warp his attitudes toward Judaism and Jews?

     Yes, it’s possible...but there’s more to the subject, and some of it is moderately distressing.

     First let us ask whether there is a true “Jewish animus against Christianity.” I’ve never encountered any reason to think so. I’ve known a great many Jews. Both of the women I’ve married have been Jewish. But it’s possible to interpret Jewish reserve toward Christians, which is real, in a negative way.

     Consider the following brief exchange:

Young Jewish woman: Mom, I’ve just met the most terrific guy.
Her mother: Is he Jewish?

     That derails quite a number of mother-daughter conversations. It happens more often than you’d think. It happened to me.

     Now, religion and tradition are important. Christians of all denominations are “encouraged,” if you will, to “marry within the faith.” Catholics are especially so exhorted, in part because of our doctrines on marital fidelity, divorce, and abortion. So we ought not to take it amiss that Jewish parents would like their progeny to wed other Jews. They have as much right to want to continue their faith and its traditions as anyone else.

     The matter is clouded by the many centuries over which Jews suffered at Christians’ hands. (Yes, they’ve also suffered at Muslims’ hands, but in the U.S. Christians are many and Muslims are far.) It’s understandable that some unease over that history of persecution should have seeped down the years, especially since there would be contention over in which faith (if either) the children should be raised.

     A further complication arises from Jews’ quasi-ethnic identity. Even purely secular Jews feel their Jewishness to be an important characteristic, a key element in their heritage. In combination with the influence above, that lends itself to a certain defensiveness about “our people.” In a remarkable albeit ludicrous illustration of this influence, Betty Friedan, an avowed atheist, held an “atheistic bar mitzvah” for her son. There’s Judaism – the Jewish religious faith – and there’s Jewishness, and the rejection of one doesn’t lead to the dissolution of the other.

     Today more than at any other time in Western history, persons of all ethnicities exhibit a heightened defensiveness about their heritages. There’s no reason the Jewish people should be an exception. Take it from an old mick-wop papist.

     In the decades since World War II, American Christians generally have exhibited a certain protectiveness about American Jews, Jews worldwide, and the state of Israel. It’s part of our national heritage to celebrate and protect ethnic identities and sincerely held religious beliefs. Sometimes that gets us into a pickle, as it has with Islam and Muslims. More, Christianity today comes in so many varieties that we tend to be ecumenical about the whole thing – including the Chosen People from whom Our Lord sprang two millennia ago.

     That cross-creedal ecumenism isn’t symmetrical. More Christians feel it than Jews. But then, there are many more of us, we’re in no danger of extinction, and we haven’t been hounded out of every country on Earth. Were the circumstances reversed, I have no doubt that we’d be a little wary of others not of our faith. Perhaps more than a little.

     A matter of special interest concerns the Messianic Jews. These are persons of Jewish descent, many of them originally sincere practitioners of Judaism, who have accepted Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. That separates Messianics from every other variety of Jews. However, Messianics continue to consider themselves Jews, which upsets many non-Messianics.

     To Messianics, their heritage plus their maintenance of the greater part of Judaic belief and practice qualifies them to be Jews. To non-Messianics, the acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah is disqualifying; Judaic doctrine holds that the promised Messiah has not yet come. (There are some exceptions, most notably the Lubavitcher Chassidim, but they’re true outliers in may respects. Among other things, they regard most other Jews as not sufficiently religious to be “real” Jews.) But the religious aspect of the thing is apparently not as important as the cultural / traditional one: completely non-religious Jews, utterly uninterested in Judaism as such, have reacted to my mention of Messianics with the immediate, even vehement insistence that “they’re not Jews.” It seems there’s more at work there than religious differences.

     Religion, tradition, ethnicity, and matters tangential to those things are all “hot buttons” in our time. Considering that Christians feel – and rightfully so – that there’s an ongoing campaign to delegitimize our faith and push us “out of the public square,” it’s even easier to understand how the Jewish people, badly mistreated throughout history and few in number wherever they might be found, should feel wary about us, despite our many expressions of solidarity with our Jewish neighbors and our effusive support for Israel. Memories of persecution are long-lasting. Too many a proffered hand has concealed a joy-buzzer...or a weapon.

     Of course, it doesn’t help that the growing “alt-right” community has been infested with open anti-Semites. As I wrote just yesterday, that’s a great black mark against it, and could ultimately prove fatal to its political aims. And Mormons should really cut it out with the posthumous “baptisms” of deceased Jews, which are blasphemous, impudent, and offensive to the families of the deceased. Neither are matters made more pleasant when an exchange such as this erupts into public view, but there too, a certain amount of forbearance is called for...perhaps more than I exhibited on the cited occasion.


Dystopic said...

I can attest to a certain amount of this behavior on the part of my Catholic in-laws. They are generally okay with my non-denominational status and don't *actively* try to convert me. I am generally considered "close enough" in their view. But it's always a small point of contention. It helped, I suppose, that I agreed to allow our children to be baptized Catholic.

They take their Catholicism rather seriously.

I can imagine that, given the distance between Christians and Jews is generally greater than between Christian sects, it is more contentious with them. Especially, as you say, given the history.

And in my personal life, I've found that most highly religious Jews I know are actually quite conservative politically. It is the atheist Jews who trend left, at least in my circle of folks. I don't know if that holds true everywhere, but for me it has provided a clear distinction between some of the idiot atheist Jews in mass media, and the good folks I've been friends with for decades: God. God is with them still.

That's my take on it, any way. Alt-rightists who go down the anti-Semite path irritate the hell out of me and I regard them as either embarrassing in lesser cases, or outright insane in worse cases. In any event, they never seemed particularly "right" to me, anyhow.


As a Jew, I agree; there is a certain separateness even for secular Jews (well, some separateness) but also for religious ones. But speaking as an ever-increasingly-religious Jew, I can attest that my heart swells with pride and love when I see Old Glory. I only have one flag up - the Stars and Stripes.

It irks me no end to see "alt right" sites talking about (((them))) and so on, and making fun of the practices of Orthodox Jews, when - as you noted - the more Orthodox one is the more likely they are to be Conservative politically. While I'm not Orthodox, I'm capital-C Conservative - I once shocked someone when, in the course of a discussion (and them noticing my kippa), they asked "Oh, are you a Republican?" to which I replied "G-d no, I'm not that liberal!"