Op-Ed: Europe's Jewry: Post Holocaust Christian-Jewish Ties
Dr. Manfred GerstenfeldThe writer has been a long-term adviser on strategy issues to the boards of several major multinational corporations in Europe and North America.He is board member and former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and recipient of the LIfetime Achievement Award (2012) of the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism.
“May 1948 marked a new era for Christian-Jewish relations. The establishment of the State of Israel was a theological intrusion into Christian consciousness. It disrupted Christian complacency about being the ‘true Israel’ in God’s eyes and about Christendom replacing the ancient Israel. This was the classical Christian substitution theology.
“The indigestible fact of the State of Israel undermined 1,800 years of Christian theology. Apparently, God had not revoked his promises to the Jews. This catalyzed a rethinking about Jews in some Christian circles.”
Tzvi C. Marx lectures on Judaism at Windesheim College (Utrecht) in the Netherlands. He is an ordained rabbi from Yeshiva University. He also holds a PhD. from the Catholic Theological University of Utrecht.
Marx adds that Israel’s establishment released much energy into Christian circles. “Some Christians were devoted to denial, by claiming that the state did not present any new issue for theology, but only served as guilt compensation for the Holocaust. In this concept, Israel was merely a rehabilitation center for displaced and battered Jews and should eventually be subsumed within a more universal Arab state in which Jews would be welcome, but not dominant.
"Many of those not engaged in denial took instead, a new look at Judaism and became engaged in its study.”
Marx stresses that the early-1950’s debate on a non-missionary Christian approach to Judaism was not triggered by the Shoah. “On the contrary, Jewish suffering to whatever degree is compatible with standard Christian theology. St. Augustine underlined that the Jews are meant to suffer for refusing to embrace Christianity and for the crucifixion of Jesus. Their exile and dispersal is an eternal token of divine displeasure.
“That is also why Pope Pius X in 1904 refused Herzl’s overtures. Herzl urged him to acknowledge the Zionist movement and the Jewish people’s claim to return to the ancient homeland. The Pope responded that since the Jewish people had not recognized Jesus, he could not recognize them. He added that if the Jews agreed to convert to Christianity, he would provide priests to baptize and welcome them home to the Holy Land as Christians.
“Christian-Jewish relations have several components. One aspect is that a number of Christians study Judaism. A second is interfaith dialogue and a third concerns Christian attitudes toward Israel. These are to some extent intertwined. The multiple motives behind the Christian surge in the study of Judaism include:
1.Understanding “Jesus the Jew,” or the Jewish roots of Christianity.
2.Reconfiguring Christian identity, now that it can no longer be the “New” Israel.
3.Understanding Judaism in its own terms as a vital faith. This is accompanied by wanting to discover the world of Jewish exegesis, which differs from the Christian counterpart. Christians can learn about the Jewish way of interpreting the Bible, Jewish prayer, philosophy, and hassidic tales, and the Jewish heritage in Christianity, especially in the New Testament where Jewish teachers, scholars, and rabbis figure significantly. This includes seeing Jesus as a Jewish teacher.
4. Searching for personal spiritual meaning, having lost a toehold in Christian identity.
5.Confirming Christian messianic hopes in the Tanach.
6. Studying Judaism as part of worldwide religious phenomena, especially in universities.
7. Performing an act of repentance that is, keeping Jewish awareness alive through learning, as compensation for the Shoah.
“Since the 1960’s, these grassroots initiatives have shaped a deep awareness among many Christians of Judaism’s importance for Christian identity. Protestants, in returning to Christianity’s biblical roots, saw in an historical ‘Jewish’ Jesus, a possible solution to their theological difficulty with the ‘trinitarian faith,’ or the atoning quality of Jesus’ death.”
Marx observes: “The optimistic expectation that the third millennium would usher in a new period of universal reconciliation will not be realized. There are troubling trends that require a renewed effort to transfer the gains of the latter half of the twentieth century into the twenty-first century, a period generally marked by resurgent Islamic cultural militancy in Europe.
“The current Israeli-Palestinian struggle provides a good cover for rehabilitating old anti-Jewish feelings. These lie so deep that they have hardly been overcome, even with theologically transformative statements like that of the Nostra Aetate and the Rhineland Evangelical Church declarations. These two documents represent efforts by Christians to overcome their age-old theological anti-Judaism which is deeply embedded in their traditions, scriptures and liturgy.
“The Christian prejudices against Jews live in the memory, customs, language, ritual, canon, and liturgy of the churches. We must confront the renewed fury of these reawakened feelings, now under the flag of Islam in its rejection of the Jewish presence in the Middle East as an independent polity, Israel. The culture of paranoiac anti-Judaism is still alive. We must do our utmost to recruit our energies and our allies in the battle to prevail over that culture.”