In his book, Moses and Monotheism, Sigmund Freud tried to understand Jewish history and the formation of the people of Israel and Judaism. While, due to many unproven assumptions, this work has come under heavy criticism by distinguished scholars, it is remarkable that a good number of theologians and sociologists are in agreement with Freud’s understanding of anti-Semitism:
One might say they [the anti-Semitic people] are “badly christened”; under the thin veneer of Christianity, they have remained what their ancestors were, barbarically polytheistic. They have not yet overcome their grudge against the new religion which was forced upon them, and they have projected it on to the source from which Christianity came to them….The hatred for Judaism is at bottom hatred for Christianity. (1)
This is a profound observation. When carefully looking at the history of Christianity and Western civilization, it becomes abundantly clear that both are deeply indebted to Judaism for many of their moral values. These values, however, were not easily accepted. In fact, they were often contested, ridiculed and fought against. Millions of newborn Christians raised in the pagan world of Rome were not able to detach themselves from morally questionable practices and beliefs rooted in that world. As a consequence, Christianity, throughout all of its history, became entangled in many polytheistic beliefs, giving birth to a religious society that was never at ease with the fundamental concepts of monotheism. This resulted in a complex psycho-religious condition that kept millions of Christians in a most uncomfortable situation in which they were unable to distinguish between authentic monotheism and its moral demands on one hand, and pagan practices on the other. With the exception of some of Christianity’s erudite thinkers, most of its spokesmen could not free themselves from this influence.
In 1948 the well-known Christian thinker A. Roy Eckhardt asked whether the Christian Church could ever supersede the Synagogue in the struggle against paganism. To this he answered, “No, because the church is itself subject to pagan distortions….Against all idolatries Judaism protests: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.’” (2) He and others, among them the famous Protestant thinker Paul Tillich, suggested that there would always be a need for Judaism, because it is “the corrective against the paganism that goes along with Christianity.” (3)
Sigmund Freud’s observation is therefore not surprising. Not only was it a near impossibility for Christians to accept the oneness of God, even more unsettling were the consequences. The ethical demand of this God on men required much self-discipline and therefore encountered strong opposition. The bottom line was the awareness that Jesus was a Jew who incorporated much of Jewish ethical values into his teachings, which turned many an early Christian against his own religion.
Anti-Semitism is Europe’s revenge on the prophets….It is because the Jew brought ethics, the conception of sin into the western world….The European Christian cannot forgive the Jew for giving him Christianity…. It is not because they are good Christians that the Europeans are instinctively anti-Semites; it is because they are bad Christians, in reality repressed…pagans. (4)
It is of Jesus that the anti-Semites are afraid. They make their assault on those who are responsible for the birth of Christianity. They spit on the Jews not because they were Jesus killers, but because they are Jesus givers. And although the teachings of Jesus, and even more so of his disciple Paul, are on many levels in opposition to authentic Judaism, hatred for Jews is the result of their hatred for Jesus.
Part of the Western world has always tried to effect a divorce between the two, since it could not accept that much of Christianity was deeply rooted in Judaism. It therefore called for the destruction of Judaism so that the uncertainty of its conscience and the reality of its guilt could be obliterated. Resisting its own destiny, it needed to destroy those who brought that destiny to mind. The Jew spoils the anti-Semite’s life by emphasizing the ethical demands of the Law, which is partially (and often incorrectly) incorporated in Jesus’s teachings. Therefore, the anti-Semite re-enacts the crucifixion of his savior by torturing and killing the Jew who represents for him the teachings that Jesus had adopted.
When looking at Europe, we see an increase in pagan attitudes and a decrease of the so-called Judeo-Christian tradition. It is therefore not surprising that Europe is headed downhill and is committed to an ongoing delegitimization of Israel. Although the recent objections against shechita were raised on humanitarian grounds, and while the court in Cologne that ruled against brith milah (for those under 18, and without their consent) based its decision on concerns about child protection, we still wonder whether anti-Semitism did not play a role. After all, Jesus only ate meat that was slaughtered according to the laws of shechita, and no doubt he was circumcised. Indeed, if not for Paul he would probably have suggested that all Christians be circumcised. (5) Are some Europeans getting nervous about Christianity and trying to delegitimize it? Is that perhaps the reason they are attacking some laws that are at the core of Judaism, albeit with the best of intentions but falling victim to their deeply rooted anti-Judeo-Christian sentiments without being aware of it and having the Jews pay the price for it?
It is important for us Jews to realize that we are hated because of Judaism’s stand on paganism and its unfaltering commitment to morality, and we should be proud of it. At least we should be hated for the right reasons.