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Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Jewish Problem Defined

Auschwitz staff enjoy the Sabbath: Murder takes a day off.

Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, describes the situation facing European Jewry today as filled with daily danger, "Jews are afraid to walk the streets… with Jewish signs (i.e. yarmulke). Synagogues, Jewish schools and kindergartens require barbed-wire fences and security and Jewish men, women and children are beaten up in broad daylight." An ocean away a “report by the human rights watchdog of the Organization of American States warns of a possible ‘threat to the life and physical integrity of the Jewish community in Venezuela’” by that county’s government. Two months ago a Tel Aviv University report on the state of Jewish security in the world concluded that 2009 was the worst since the Holocaust for antisemitic incidents.

We use the term “Jewish problem” as if it’s meaning and implications were obvious. Why a backlash against Diaspora Jews the result of the actions of Israel? Citizens of Irish extraction living in other countries were not targeted due to the actions of the Irish Republican Army. Why the Jews? How explain the knee-jerk anti-Jewish reaction in the Christian west?

The west’s Jewish Problem is theological in origin. It may most simply be described as an affront the result of our continuing existence within the unfolding history of the Christian world.

From its very beginnings Christianity defined itself successor to Judaism: With the arrival of Jesus Judaism was, according to Christian theology, superseded, should have vanished. How reconcile that the Jews, the designated object of Jesus’ messianic mission, failed to even recognize him and his mission? What does that mean for Christianity as theological inheritor of Jewish history and tradition?

In the fourth century Augustine rationalized that Jewish survival “in misery and homeless” was their “punishment” for rejecting Jesus. He explained that their survival, according to God’s plan, was to serve as “witness” to the Truth of Christianity. “… the Jews who slew Him . . . are thus by their own Scriptures a testimony to us that we have not forged the prophecies about Christ.”

Augustine’s description of Jewish survival as punishment and witness provide a theological explanation for the survival of Judaism, and the continued, if limited, survival of Jews. But the explanation also points to doubt in those prophesies at the very heart of Christian belief. How else explain the need for Jewish validation, “that we have not forged the prophecies about Christ”?

According to the gospels “the Jews” are guilty of deicide in the death of Jesus. Matthew goes further in having those supposedly guilty accept responsibility not just for themselves, but for all future generations: “Then the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children,’” (Matthew 27.25).

The combination of Augustine’s existential doubt and Matthew’s incendiary description of the trial and death of Jesus are the ground upon which the Jewish people were victim to centuries of blame, persecution and death. The result of this volatile combination, doubt and deicide, is that the potential for violence towards Jews is always present, even if not openly expressed.

With the 17th century Enlightenment the theological Jewish Problem morphed into a secular Jewish question, and anti-Judaism gradually transformed into its secular variant, antisemitism. An important result of the secularization of the problem was that even the limited “protection” provided by Augustine’s justification for Jewish survival no longer applied. The Jews, particularly following their 19th century “emancipation,” were now a nation like others, but strangers, outsiders, “Other” to the west: a nation apart.

Emancipation increasingly gave rise to political and social resistance. As non-Christians, Jews were not really members of the western national community (nation, people, volk), so did not qualify for equal rights and citizenship. Opposition grew into political parties encompassing the broad social spectrum, religious and secular, conservative, liberal and socialist. As described by Dr. Kantor above, Jews were increasingly the victims of physical assault and social ostracization. Several antisemitic incidents were national in scope and caught the attention of the international media. The kidnapping by the Vatican of Edgardo Mortara in Italy, the trials of Dreyfus in France and Beilis in Russia; and the lynching in the United States of Leo Frank by a mob including a former governor, a superior court judge, the son of a US senator, and led by a future aspirant for president of the United States.

But even these high profile warnings failed to hint at what would result from the contribution of Science to the definition of What is a Jew.

American eugenics aspired to improve America’s population stock by selective human breeding. Long before National Socialism in Germany American eugenicists promoted eliminating the “unworthy” by imposing immigration restrictions, sterilization and euthanasia. Among those Congress barred by restrictive immigration law was the Jews. Twenty years later, and unmoved by their plight, America n policy condemned Europe’s Jews to Auschwitz; and sterilization was still in use as a means of population “betterment” in the United States well into the 1970’s. The application of euthanasia to achieve eugenic goals was left to the Germans to perfect.

German race science owed much to American eugenics, and particularly to the active support and assistance of major American eugenicists. They admired and supported Hitler, envied Germany’s ability to fully apply eugenic principles to entire human populations. After the war they even intervened to save the lives, reputations and jobs of German academics active in the Holocaust (for an excellent source on American eugenics, see Edwin Black’s War Against the Weak).

In Hitler science and religion came together to address the Jewish Problem. Typically dismissed as a neo-pagan antisemite, he was both a product of the west’s history of prejudice and persecution, and also a self-affirmed and life-long tithe paying Catholic. In Mein Kamp, written a decade before he took power in Germany Hitler wrote, “[d]efending myself against the Jew is fighting for the work of the Lord!”

The Final Solution of the Jewish Problem was, therefore, both an act of racial hygiene, cleansing the human race of the Jewish virus, and a religious obligation to solve once and for ever Christendom’s centuries-long Problem.

As individuals and as a people we Jews strongly believe in the power of education to promote social harmony and religious tolerance. The European Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League represent this belief, are our post-Holocaust shlichim to the nations. Before and during the years of Shoah German-Jewish philosopher Martin Buber was Education’s most prominent advocate. But statistical studies are ambiguous regarding its success, even in ordinary times of relative social quiet and international peace. But the point of our discussion is not the “ordinary,” but the ever-present risk of the extraordinary.

Post WWI global depression, German resentment at that nation’s perception at having lost a war they were convinced they should have won, except for the Jews “stab in the back:” Who could have foreseen that those events would result in the cataclysm of the Holocaust?

We Jews live an uncertain existence in our Diaspora. We live in the hope that education will eventually eradicate antisemitism; that Christianity can and will reform, accept us, accept Judaism as a separate legitimate religion and not the fossil remains of that which Christianity believes it supplanted. Education has not succeeded to date, and it is only necessary to read prominent Catholic theologian Rosemary Radford Reuther’s warning to appreciate its unlikely future success: “Anti-Judaism is too deeply embedded in the foundations of Christianity to be rooted out entirely without destroying the whole structure (Faith and Fratricide, 1974, p. 94).”

At what point in societal frustration does the background hum of benign antisemitism resurface as lethal antisemitism, give rise to another charismatic leader intent on, once and for all solving the Jewish Problem, eradicating Jewish life entire from the Diaspora? There is no statistical model to provide warning. We can only use history as guide to the future. And nearly two thousand years of experience has, according to some estimates, resulted in one out of every two Jews born during that period being murdered by our hosts.

We can accept, reluctantly or willingly, that the extraordinary circumstances of severe economic collapse following the First World War pried open the floodgates to the west’s suppressed demons regarding the Jews. We are compelled to recognize that, with the technological advances in computers and instruments of mass murder developed since the Holocaust, that a future effort to solve the west’s Jewish Problem, to define Who is a Jew “back to a single grandparent,” will certainly be far more successful than that nearly “final solution” of the twentieth century.

Is another Holocaust assured, no. Is it likely? What does History suggest?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Vatican Stonewalling: a smoking gun?

According to Zenit, a Vatican news agency, the Holy See is prepared to post on the internet 5125 documents from the closed section of its Secret Archives. The release, according to Zenit, is in response to an appeal by New York-based Pave the Way Foundation. According to the Foundation’s director, the release will demonstrate, “ clear evidence of Pope Pius XII's efforts to mitigate suffering during the war.”

The controversy surrounding Pius XII has dogged the Vatican at least since the appearance of Rolf Hochhuth’s 1963 play, The Deputy, which portrayed the wartime pope as indifferent to the plight of the Jews. An important reason for the continuing controversy is the beatification process of the silent pope, and determination by the Holy See to elevate him to sainthood.

In 1999 the Church convened its International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission to look into the allegations in the hope of exonerating its wartime pope. Two years later the commission resigned protesting Vatican refusal to allow access to materials beyond those specially chosen by the Church itself. The documents in the collection now scheduled for release are not newly declassified, as might be inferred by their location in the “Secret Archives” but are, instead, a re-release of the same materials previously rejected as one-sided by the Vatican commission in 2001.

Which raises the question of how, ten years after these documents failed to convince its own commission, the Holy See hopes they will achieve a different outcome with the public today?

More than sixty years have passed since the end of the Second World War. With the exception of the Vatican, all major war-time archives, including those of the United States, Russia and Germany, have long been open for study. The Vatican continually puts off opening the archives for "technical" reasons, but a more immediate reason seems at hand, its experience with having opened the archives to John Cornwell.

Mr. Cornwell, a noted Catholic scholar who once considered joining the priesthood, was permitted access to the archives for background material to a biography on Eugenio Pacelli, Pius XII he intended to write. From the Introduction to his book Cornwell relates that he began the task believing that "if his full story were told, Pius XII's pontificate would be exonerated.” But by “the middle of 1997,” he writes, “I was in a state of moral shock. The material I had gathered amounted not to an exoneration but to an indictment.” Among his conclusions was that Pius was not merely anti-Jewish, he was a supporter of Hitler who acted to silence what Catholic opposition existed to the Fuhrer in Germany.

The Vatican's International Commission was convened soon after Hitler’s Pope was published.

The Zenit article is intended to support the Vatican in its beatification of Pius XII. That is understandable since the news service describes its purpose as, “The world as seen from Rome.” But what purpose is served by the Vatican attributing the release of these materials to an outside, supposedly unaffiliated organization as the subheading to the Zenit article announces, Pave the Way Foundation Proposal Approved. What is this Foundation that the Church would go to the trouble of turning over the materials to them on request; why was it chosen to serve this purpose? And who is its leader, Gary Krupp? Conveniently both Zenit and the Foundation are based in New York City. But let Jesús Colina, the article’s author and editor of Zenit, take it from here.

For purposes of clarity and to avoid misunderstanding what follows is a verbatim transcript of Krupp’s comments as they appear in the Zenit article. “The organization's president, who is from New York but of [sic] Jewish decent, stated, ‘In the furtherance of our mission we have recognized the papacy of the war time Pope Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli) as a source of friction impacting over one billion people.’" The interview continues, “controversy abounds on whether he did enough to prevent the slaughter of Jews at the hands of the Nazis... Our research has revealed that five years after Pius XII's death, the KGB hatched a plot to discredit their enemy, the Roman Catholic Church, called 'Seat 12.' A dirty trick, which condemned Pope Pius XII for his 'silence' during the Holocaust in the form of Rolf Hochhuth's fictitious 1963 play The Deputy. The result was the worst character assassination of the twentieth century."

That certainly should put the matter to rest! According to Krupp Pius silence is an invention of the Russians. Certainly they attacked Pius. But their attack, political considerations notwithstanding, did not occur in a vacuum: Pius invited attack as an outspoken critic of Russia and Communism spanning his entire career, and particularly during and following the Second World War. This is one explanation for his well-known support of Nazi anti-Communism. By conveniently leaving out Pius provocations towards the Soviets the impression is created of an unprovoked assault by the superpower. By projecting Pius the victim of that recent bugaboo, Soviet Communism, his innocence of the allegations appears intact, and his beatification is restored to credibility.

As for the controversy surrounding the 2001 resignation of the International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission, Krupp has an equally imaginative rationalization. As Colina summarizes the Foundation leader, “Krupp explained that in 1999, Cardinal Edward Cassidy, at that time the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, called for a special commission of Jewish and Catholic scholars to come together to study these documents. ‘This positive advance unfortunately ended July 21, 2001 in failure partly because the scholars simply did not read the languages of the collection." Not “read the languages of the collection"? Is Krugg-Colina here suggesting that Cardinal Cassidy intended from the start to ensure an unsuccessful outcome by limiting his selection to those illiterate in the document's languages? That makes even less sense than what actually did occur, forcing their resignation by limiting access to relevant documents. My own memory of the incident is that these were all recognized experts in their fields. Some among them would have been proficient in all languages involved. What would Cassidy have achieved by inviting illiterates?

As with Krupp's earlier assertion regarding Pius innocence as victim of Soviet propaganda, this assertion also falls short of credibility.

But whatever the facts regarding the “Russians” or the “Commission,” using an obviously partisan that just happens to be headed by someone described as a Jew as driving the release of these materials achieves nothing. Because the main issue continuing to drive the controversy of Pius silence is still Vatican silence.

It has been thirty years since President Nixon learned the hard way that stonewalling results only in intensifying crisis and loss of credibility. Perhaps the Vatican is yet capable of learning that lesson from history.

If the Holy See would seek absolution both for the silence of its pope as well as its own indifference during the Holocaust; if indeed there truly is no smoking gun hidden in those Secret Archives, then time has long since past to open them and be rid of the appearance of cover-up. The only way to achieve credibility, to clear itself and its wartime pope, is to reconvene the Vatican International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission, and allow the scholars to finally complete their work.

Alternatively the Vatican can remain silent, continue to stonewall. And face the decades and longer repercussions certain to follow its controversial promotion of Eugenio Pacelli to sainthood.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

"Saint Pius XII" and Holocaust Denial

We Jews are not responsible for provoking the Holocaust. We are responsible for denying its significance, the lessons of our Diaspora history in Christendom. By that choice do we perpetuate our victimhood, gamble the lives of our children, the survival of our people.
It is this that defines Jewish Holocaust denial.

The beatification process of Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII, maintains open the question of world leaders, not just the Vatican, of passive complicity in the destruction of European Jewry. Under the Vatican leadership of Pius XII some Jews were protected, as were a few by Churchill's England and Roosevelt's United States. Indeed there were Jews who, following the war, hailed Pacelli a hero, as there were those who hailed Churchill and Roosevelt for their assumed efforts in behalf of our victims. But, as with the Vatican, neither of the "world's leading democracies" made any effort beyond symbolic to save Europe's Jews. Yes, towards the end of the war Roosevelt hesitantly permitted a few fleeing death to be housed in a refugee camp in upper New York State. England apparently had a somewhat better record of admitting Jews fleeing death. But British-controlled Palestine, the only real refuge for the victims remained closed to them. And the death camps and the rail lines daily feeding our victims remained untouched, free to pursue their obsession to rid Europe and the world of Jews. And allied bombers daily over-flew the death camps and their rail feeder lines daily.

The claim is made that the Vatican intelligence network was the most extensive regarding the unfolding Holocaust and this may have been so. But this does not change the fact that England’s monitoring of German military communications provided up-to-date reports of Einsatsgruppen success in a Germany’s pre-Auschwitz murder campaign. In less than a year those death squads managed to murder up-close and personal by rifle, machine gun and pistol one million Jews while the allies chose to look the other way.

Did Pacelli’s Vatican assist Nazi’s to evade justice, assist them to find new homes in South America? This is well documented. But so also is the complicity of the US in the effort called, at the time, the Rat Line. But America went a step further by inviting those Nazis considered more valuable to quietly settle in the United States. Among those who found refuge from prosecution for war crimes was, most famously, Hitler’s rocket scientist von Braun, whose efforts involved working his slave laborers to death.

Of guilt enough there is enough to go around. Not just Pacelli's Vatican, but Roosevelt's United States, Churchill's England. And while Germany may have been the inspiration behind the Holocaust that country could not have succeeded in cleansing Europe of its six million Jews without the open and enthusiastic support of the people and governments of Europe itself. France apparently had no problem of conscience rounding up its Jews for transport to death; and not even members of those einsatsgruppe expressed revulsion in those field reports ignored by the allies at the excesses of East European townspeople, inspired by their German occupiers, clubbing their Jewish neighbors to death. Even after the war, many among the tiny and emaciated Jewish remnant returning from the death camps faced a frenzy of antisemitic assault, were clubbed to death by the residents of the towns to which they sought to return. Who needed the “Nazis” to inspire and blame?

None of which is justification for the beatification of Eugenio Pacelli, of course. But then how should we respond to the same complicity-by-passivity of, say, Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Let us not, we Jews who by accident of birth location survived the Holocaust, be distracted by the celebrity of a single high profile instance of Holocaust denial. Conclusions must be drawn also from the obvious fact that our leaders also are guilty, also complicit in the murder of Europe’s Jews.

Holocaust denial comes in many shades and serves many purposes. When not intentionally antisemitic, its proponents may simply be attempting to distance Christendom’s murder of Jews in the 1940’s from Christianity’s gospel-inspired theology of Jew-hatred. Persecuting and murdering the Jews is, after all, as long as the Diaspora in Europe. And while no less reprehensible, this motive is at least understandable. But what's in for we Jews who ourselves deny the implications of the Holocaust? What do we gain from criticizing the Vatican move to promote to sainthood an individual clearly flawed as judged by his response to the unfolding policy of the Holocaust; at the same time choosing not to judge our own national leadership who were no less guilty?

Viewed through the same moral lens by which we criticize the beatification of the head of the Holocaust-era Vatican, Roosevelt comes out no less blemished. We Jews are justifiably outraged by this Vatican action; at the same time we choose to ignore that of our own national leaders. Towards what purpose?

As long as Shoah occurred "over there," perpetrated by leaders “over there” we, resident of our own "exceptional" Diaspora haven can rest easy. As did our relatives in Germany in the 1920's we can deny our continuing Diaspora history of victimhood and assure ourselves of a continuing and happy future, a safe haven for our children, and theirs.

We Jews are not responsible for provoking the Holocaust. We are responsible for denying its significance, the lessons of our Diaspora history in Christendom. By that choice do we perpetuate our victimhood, gamble the lives of our children, the survival of our people.

It is this that defines Jewish Denial.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Is Jewry responsible for the Holocaust?

“Jews have experienced anti-Judaism during most of our Diaspora existence, and at great cost in life. One prominent Holocaust research center suggests that, had Jewry not been subject to two millennia of European persecution our numbers today would equal that of the entire British Isles!”

According to one respondent to my recent article, Understanding the Holocaust: Shoah in Historical Perspective, Jewry should, “seek the causes (for antisemitism) in our own acts.” Self-blame is not an uncommon response to tragedy. Rape victims are one group that comes immediately to mind. But what motivates such a comment as we Jews, by our own actions, invite antisemitism, are somehow responsible for the Holocaust?

Several years ago a prominent Israeli rabbi attributed the massacre of a bus load of children by terrorists as G-d’s punishment for the “sins of Israelis.” As if G-d targets children, uses terrorists to carry out His will. In the wake of Shoah, seeking to somehow explain the inexplicable, some orthodox Diaspora leaders suggested that Shoah was G-d’s punishment for the sins of our people in Europe. But as in the Israeli bus massacre, most Jews victim to the European slaughter, during and for centuries before Shoah, were mostly the pious and the poor, those least likely to be Halachic “transgressors.” And was the hand of G-d also present in the elimination of Eastern Europe’s famed Hasidic centers, for the murder of orthodox communities dedicated to a life of learning and Halachic tradition? I, for one, prefer not to seek G-d’s intention in such events.

Jews have experienced anti-Judaism during most of our Diaspora existence, and at great cost in life. As I observed in my earlier submission, one prominent Holocaust research center suggests that, had Jewry not been subject to two millennia of European persecution our numbers today would equal that of the entire British Isles!

Since we had never experienced anything on the scale of Shoah, we could not have anticipated, taken evasive or direct action to the emerging danger. Yes there were those few, Jabotinsky and Abba Kovner, for example, who by intuition born of their Zionist background were more sensitive and alert to the unfolding events. But Martin Buber was more typical of general Jewish understanding and response: antisemitism was a pendulum that was now at its extreme. Germany would, he believed, sooner or later pass through that terrible period and life to return to normal for the Jews. As a result Buber urged German Jewry to remain in place, to wait out the storm.

Sixty years later Shoah is part of our Diaspora experience. We cannot now pretend that such a thing as a government organized effort to murder each and every Jew alive, including non-Jews defined “Jewish” due to a single grandparent convert to Christianity (1930’s German legal definition) is impossible, unthinkable. It is an established fact. We ignore at peril to self and our future generations that the Holocaust is the latest, but not last development in a process begun two thousand years ago. As that prehistory and cultural experience served as precedent for state-organized murder (Nazi leaders on trial at Nuremburg referred to Luther’s writings as inspiration and justification), so does the nearly successful Final Solution of the Jewish problem serve the future. The road to Shoah may have been twisted in detail, but the process was continuous and straight.

So Shoah is neither unique in history, nor a mystery beyond human comprehension. It did and, if history serves, will again befall us, for the solution was not yet final. The Holocaust was not an invention of the twentieth century as so many of our historians would have us believe, an event comparable to other such 20th century genocides. It was only the most recent in a long and continuing process. The only real contribution of the twentieth century was technological: those computers IBM provided Hitler, the software IBM developed to identify and locate each and every Jew for arrest and murder; Henry Ford’s assembly line adapted to the problem of mass production and disposal of human corpses.

While each of us, every Jewish adult alive today, may choose not to study the evolution of antisemitism and Shoah, still we cannot avoid awareness of Shoah as a real and recent event. Our responsibility for another such occurrence is not in somehow acting to encourage its recurrence since that is a permanent characteristic of the fabric of western culture, but in choosing to ignore its precedent. Our guilt lies in Denial, a denial expressed in insisting that our particular chosen homeland is “exceptional,” that such a thing cannot happen here. Denial was the response of our German community, with far more justification. Had not Jews settled the Danube one hundred years before the Common Era? Had not a Jew been prime minister in the Weimar Government in the years before the election of Adolph Hitler? Had not a Jew authored the Weimar constitution which was the very foundation of Weimar German democracy? Where else, or since, had our people resided longer, achieved such prominence, contributed to and been more accepted and assimilated?

For we who lived an ocean away from Europe’s death camps antisemitism was little different in popularity and intensity. Nativism, antisemitism and isolationism kept the United States neutral towards German persecution of their Jews, leaning as much to join Hitler in the crusade against the “godless” Soviet Union as to ally with America’s traditional ally England against the German threat. Even the Nazi program of racial hygiene which inspired the Holocaust was modeled after the American “science” of eugenics, America’s effort to create its own white, Nordic master race.

Had Henry Ford or Charles Lindberg, populist antisemites and isolationists decided to accept the Republican Party nomination and opposed Roosevelt for the presidency and won, a real possibility before Pearl Harbor, then it takes little imagination to appreciate the likely outcome for New World Jewry also. Even under the Roosevelt Administration the US built concentration camps to imprison its Japanese-American citizens.

As our German experience proves, antisemitism does not require a religious base. Western society is anti-Jewish by history and tradition. This is a fact we cannot, by our actions, change. The starting point for eliminating antisemitism would be for Christianity in all its forms to delete those anti-Jewish references from its gospels. But that is unlikely to happen since to do so would be to throw into question the divine inspiration of the texts as the true word of God. And where would that leave Christianity?

And where does this leave the Jewish people?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Christian antisemitism and Jewish Denial II: A response to Rabbi Boteach

In a recent article appearing in Jerusalem Post, Why Jews are always viewed as aggressors, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach offers a compelling explanation from Diaspora history and Christian theology for Judaism’s 2000 year history of discrimination, persecution and murder in the lands of Christendom. As Rabbi Boteach writes, Jew-hatred originated with the earliest documents of Christianity, the epistles of Paul and the four canonical gospels. The gospel of Matthew, quoted at more length by Rabbi Boteach, provides the clearest excuse: Pilate asks the Jewish mob, “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” And the Jews respond, “Crucify him! ... Let his blood be upon us and on our children" (Matt: 27: 22-25). One need look no further to find motive and justification. What more heinous crime than the murder of God? But there is another stream feeding the passions of Jew-hatred, either overlooked or intentionally avoided, which sheds light on both the intensity and persistence of Christianity’s Jewish Problem.

Considering the importance and public visibility of the man and his message, there is no mention anywhere in the historical record indicating that Jesus, itinerant preacher hailed by Rome as King of the Jews and crucified, ever existed. Nothing appears in contemporaneous Roman documents, and the Romans, like the Germans, were exacting record keepers. Nor does reference to a Christ Jesus appear in any other documents of the period of occupation, Jewish, Greek, or other. Saul, to become St. Paul, appears in the historical record, as do Pontius Pilate, Philo of Alexandria, Flavius Josephus and various insurrectionists described as “failed messiahs.” But the most prominent of all, the person supposedly condemned by the Jews and crucified by the Romans, the man who inspired and is the focus of the new religion, not a word.

Efforts to explain this absence have resurfaced over the centuries beginning, most notably, in Sts. Paul and Augustine and continuing to the present in the 200 year long Quest for the Historical Jesus. The Quest, involving some of the best minds in theology and history, using the most up-to-date scientific tools available to history and archeology, continues to unearth much valuable information about first century Judaism, life and culture, sects, the difficulty of Jewish life under Roman occupation. But of a historical Jesus, nothing.

I do not raise this as criticism but to point out that this doubt lies in the very heart of Christian belief, adds a dimension to our understanding of the intensity and persistence of Christian anti-Judaism, and of its deadly transformation into racial antisemitism. Rabbi Boteach correctly points out that the deicide charge is the excuse for 2000 years of persecution. But there is also the emotional energy resulting from doubt at the heart of the religion. How explain the absence of any record of Jesus having lived? And what if there never was such a person, that the Jesus described in the gospels as preaching, crucified and resurrected was only a myth, what would that mean for the central promise of Christianity, life-after-death through the salvational powers of the Christian messiah?

Rabbi Boteach correctly points out that Christian theology eventually inspired the Holocaust. I merely add another dimension, that existential doubt regarding the existence of the object of Christian worship should also be considered in our effort to understand that religion’s continuing Jewish Problem. By our very existence Jews are and will ever remain an affront and threat to Christian belief.

The 1965 document, Nostre Aetate, was the response by the church to the acceptance of responsibility to the contribution of Catholic anti-Judaism to the Holocaust. The document attempted to shift responsibility for the death of Jesus from the Jewish people, then and now, to the Jewish authorities of the time. The impact of the document on antisemitism was negligible, and antisemitism actually increased following its appearance. The problem is that Nostre Aetate refused to expunge anti-Judaism from the theological heart of Christianity, the gospels. Nor could they since the gospels are considered inspired by or the literal word of God. Any modification of the texts would indicate that either the gospels are false, or that God was in error. In either case the very foundations of Christianity would be challenged, the religion undermined.

In an effort to correct the failings of its earlier effort, the church has scheduled another conclave to address its theology of hate for 2009. But in advance of the new effort church spokesmen made it clear that, as with Nostre Aetate, the gospels would remain untouched. And so Matthew’s eternal condemnation of the Jewish people, 'Let his blood be on us and on our children,' will remain, a continuing source of theological anti-Judaism and inspiration for future lethal antisemitism.

The Jewish Problem is the invention of Christianity. Its purpose is to deflect attention from existential religious self-doubt to a safer, external target. So why do we Jews cooperate in this fatal dialogue? Certainly we are aware of our terrible history in Diaspora, targeted for extermination barely sixty years ago in the nearly successful Final Solution to the Jewish Problem. Yet we convince ourselves that we, who by chance of geography survived the Holocaust, are somehow blessed, secure in our chosen Diaspora homeland. We assure ourselves that the Christian world, having perpetrated the unimaginable, surely learned from the horror they committed, could never allow its recurrence. Against the backdrop of 2000 years of Christian animus this must be recognized as, at the very least, wishful thinking. An objective backward glance should at least give us pause, instill doubt. Instead we blithely deny that the Problem even exists. Denial allows us to remain in Diaspora, rationalizing that our adopted homeland is, as our pre-Shoah German relatives described their fatherland in the years leading up to Shoah, “exceptional.” Denial convinces us that we have finally found acceptance as Jews by our neighbors, that intermarriage and conversion offer us and our children security. Conveniently forgotten is the law enacted by the Third Reich and prototype for a future “solution” that a single Jewish grandparent defines and condemns the grandchild.

History describes the past, indicates the future based on that past. Our history in Diaspora is of unrelenting persecution. In the end today’s refuge will prove no more secure than was Germany, home of Jews for more than two thousand years.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

AAA World presents, Oberammergau...With or Without the Passion

AAA's Obergammergau, a response:

I was astonished to find that AAA World is promoting tours to {Oberammergau: It's all about 'Passion'}. For hundreds of years Oberammergau’s blatantly antisemitic passion play has demonized the Jews, has described us as Christ-killers in league with the devil, as vermin. The play has served successive generations as justification for murderous antisemitic outbursts against innocent Jews. Oberammergau inspired Hitler, who promoted its value as an educative tool by which the Party could enlighten Germans as to the need and justification for a Final Solution to Europe's 2000 year long Jewish Problem. He makes this explicit in the following quote following its performance: "One of our most important tasks will be... to remain forever watchful in the knowledge of the menace of Jewry. For this reason alone it is vital that the Passion Play be continued at Oberammergau; for never has the menace of Jewry been so convincingly portrayed as in the presentation in the times of the Romans. There one sees in Pontius Pilate a Roman racially and intellectually so superior, that he stands out like a firm, clean rock in the middle of the whole muck and mire of Jewry."

I believe you owe your readership, and particularly those among your membership who, like myself, are Jews, an apology. That apology should also include publication of this letter as a small step in distancing your magazine and organization from the explicit antisemitism your article appears to support.

Oberammergau...With or Without the Passion
The famous Passion Play is a main draw—but not the only draw—to this small Bavarian village. By Melissa Burdick Harmon
AAA World, November/December, 2008, pps. 54-60

It is a story of war and plague and a promise, a story of a gloriously handsome young king trapped in a world of dreams, of majestic mountains and hidden green valleys, of glistening baroque churches as pastel and white and rich-looking as ice cream sundaes, and of farms so immaculate they look as though the fields are vacuumed and dusted every morning.

Most of all, however, it is a story of people who remember to be grateful.

It is the story of Oberammergau, a small southern Bavaria village of woodcarvers and craftspeople, its houses sporting brightly painted Bible stories on their exterior walls, its lifestyle little changed over the centuries.

That is until the year ends in zero, when hundreds of thousands of tourists arrive.

In 2010, the Oberammergau Passion Play—complete with a cast, orchestra, choir and behind-the-scenes participants totaling 2,000—will present for the 41st time the story of the last week of Jesus’ life, his death and his resurrection. Some 4,700 people will attend each performance of this megaspectacle, which will run from mid-May to early October, come rain or shine, on the open-air stage at Oberammergau’s state-of-the-art Passion Play Theatre. The play is one of Germany’s most important tourist events.

An Act of Gratitude

Oberammergau has presented its Passion Play since 1634, when the Thirty Years War was raging, famine was rampant, and countless people were dying of the plague.

In fact, death had become so common that the villagers began to fear that no one would survive. They made a promise to God that they would perform the “play of the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ” every 10 years if they were spared extinction.

They put on the play, the plague disappeared, and the villagers have kept their promise for almost four centuries, viewing the production as an act of gratitude for the lives (in many cases of their ancestors) that were saved centuries ago. Today, local residents still form more than half of the play’s vast cast.

Over time word spread, tourists arrived, and they kept on coming, except for interruptions caused by war. Tickets are already on sale for the 2010 Oberammergau Passion Play (see below).

Attending the Passion Play is a moving and dramatic way to see Oberammergau and its environs. Another option, however, is to visit during the years when the play is not being performed. Then, you can enjoy the rich pleasures of southern Bavaria when life is normal, when an evening involves nothing more dramatic than sipping some Augustiner with the locals in an outdoor beer garden.

And so on…..

Sunday, May 11, 2008

David Irving, Holocaust Denial and Christian Dogma

25 December, 2006
Holocaust Denial is as much a defense of Christianity as an attack on the Jews. In his recently published interview (Jerusalem Post, 12/23/06) David Irving issued the following challenge: "They (the Jews) should ask themselves the question, 'Why have they been so hated for 3,000 years that there has been pogrom after pogrom in country after country?' and it's the one question they seem to be very shy of." Irving’s challenge defines both his failure as “historian,” and his underlying purpose as Holocaust Denier.

Prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome monotheistic Judaism may have seemed strange to surrounding pagan states, but Judaism was also admired and respected, even attracting converts from among the emperor’s own household. It was, in fact, this attractiveness and respect that made it possible for Judaism’s rejecting daughter, the messianic movement which took the name, Christianity, to grow and eventually fuse with the Roman Empire. But “hated,” Mr. Irving? The historical fact is that state-sponsored and systematic persecution of Jewry only began with the fusion of Christianity with the Roman state in the 4th Century, with the advent of Political Christianity.

'Why have they been so hated for 3,000 years that there has been pogrom after pogrom in country after country?’ Even his framing of the question gives away Irving’s purpose. The answer, of course is, because they have not been “hated” for 3,000 years. Jews have been demonized and persecuted qua Jews only since the appearance of Political Christianity. The “country after country,” and “pogrom after pogrom” referred to took place and continues almost exclusively in the Christian West. That Irving prefers a persecution time span of 3,000 years rather than the 2,000 years of Christian history defines both his identity and project: For Irving, in addition to his defensiveness and fear of The Jews, Holocaust Denial is at least as much an effort to defend Christianity from blame as persecutor as it is to transfer that blame to the persecuted for bringing about their own persecution. The answer to whether or not the Church under Pius XII actively or passively participated in the murder of the six million is still locked away in the closed files of the Vatican. What is not in doubt is that Christian dogma, tradition and history are the bedrock, the necessary pre-requisite and motive for Shoah. And this is the source of the post-Holocaust Christian guilt feeding Irving’s Holocaust Denial: Christendom continues unwilling to come to terms with its hate-filled dogma regarding Judaism; cannot, even in Nostre Aetate, find the will to reform itself.

Christianity faces a very basic problem because as it purports to promote, peace acceptance, and forgiveness, regards itself the religion of “brotherly love,” it also persecutes its “heretics,” promotes hatred against the Jews on such a scale as to inspire murder at the hands of Crusade, Inquisition and Holocaust. For the believing Christian, for the religion itself, this poses an irreconcilable emotional and logical problem. And if Christians cannot allow that their religion is both ideological cause and active promoter of that hatred, then denial is the only way available to square the circle.

According to this reading Irving and his ilk need not, strictly speaking, be “antisemites” just because they are Holocaust Deniers. Consciously or not they may just be defending their faith, heroically attempting to insulate Christianity and its basal teachings from its own dark and contradictory history. After all, proto-holocaust denial has been around as long as Christianity itself. The evolving justification for the triumphal charge of Jewish inferiority goes back to before Augustine of Hippo justified their persecution as punishment inspired by God, back to the gospels which themselves blame the Jews not only for deicide, the murder of their god, but for having those so accused as accepting blame not only for themselves, but for all generations to follow. One need look no further than the murder of God to justify any act of brutality by the believer. Even genocide.