For about a generation, after the horrors of the Holocaust, open slurs against the Jewish people were considered taboo and violent attacks nearly non-existent. However, with the recent rise of nationalist ideologies and divisive political rhetoric that permeates the 24-hour news cycle, the sleeping beast of antisemitism has crawled out of its basement filled with uncouth humor to near-daily incidents by vehement extremists. As Jewish believers in Jesus, it is impossible to ignore these hate crimes against our people. However, this is not just a Jewish problem. It is a spiritual issue. As Christians we must all stand up for the protection of the Jewish people, never forgetting their role in God’s perfect plan of salvation.
As Christians we must all stand up for the protection of the Jewish people, never forgetting their role in God’s perfect plan of salvation.
The problem today
The recent increase in antisemitic incidents is not just a public perception or an exaggeration by the media. According to the FBI, there were 609 anti-Jewish hate crimes in the US in 2014, which grew to 938 by 2017. Similarly, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports that in 2018 there were 1,879 antisemitic incidents ‘including the deadliest attack on Jews in US history.’ US statistics for 2019 are still coming out, though it is already safe to report that there was a 20 percent increase in antisemitic assaults from the previous year, including the stabbing of the five Jewish people at a rabbi’s house during Hanukkah.
Unfortunately, an increase in antisemitic incidents seems to be plaguing Europe as well. Ioannis Dimitrakopoulos, a scientific adviser to the Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), says, ‘We have observed an increase in acts of violence against Jews in certain countries,’ adding, ‘the kind of anti-Semitism that permeates these societies makes Jews feel they cannot live . . . as Jews in their home countries.’ An EU survey which came out in December 2018 reported that 80 percent of European Jews feel that antisemitism in their country has increased and 40 percent live in daily fear of being physically attacked. Over 30 percent confess that they do not attend a synagogue in dread of an incident. Only 75 years have passed since the Holocaust and already Jews in Europe are hiding their identity out of fear.
anti-Jewish hate crimes in the US in 2014
While incidents of antisemitism seem to be seen more in Europe and North America, that is for one simple reason—this is where most of the world’s Jewish population resides outside of Israel. However, according to the ADL, as many as one billion people worldwide hold antisemitic sentiments, even though 70 percent of them claim to have never met a Jewish person. How can this be? Perhaps it is because antisemitism is more than a racial issue, but a spiritual one with a longstanding history.
Antisemitism in the history of church tradition
After the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, the Jewish people were scattered among the nations, most finding themselves in pockets throughout modern-day Europe. Since Christianity spread and later became the religion of the Roman Empire, it is hard to divorce the history of antisemitism from that of the church. Many church fathers grew up in a society that barely tolerated the Jewish people. Augustine once proclaimed about the Jews, ‘Scatter them abroad and take away their strength. And bring them down O Lord.’ Even harsher is Luther’s declaration, ‘First, set fire to their synagogues. . . . Second, I advise that their houses all be razed and destroyed.’ It is hard to swallow how such powerful men of God could appear to have such loathing for the Jewish people because of their refusal to accept Jesus as the Messiah.
Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) by Menashe Kadishman (The Jewish Museum Berlin)
Unfortunately, partially because of the great influence of these theologians, antisemitic hatred and the search for the one right way to worship Jesus would eventually lead to the expulsion of the Jewish people during the Inquisition and even to the murder of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust—all done in the name of Christ. James Carroll, in his history of Christianity entitled Constantine’s Sword, states, ‘Christianity’s self-awareness depended upon the continuing existence of the Jewish people as the negative against which positive Christian claims were made.’ This seems a bold assertion until we dive deeper into European history where claims of blood libel, Jews sacrificing Gentile children during Passover, have existed since the 10th century. Even more so when the cries of ‘Christ Killer,’ have rung out as an accusation against the Jewish people from the 2nd century AD until today—as read in the manifesto of the synagogue shooter in Poway, California in 2019.
Constantine’s Sword by James Carroll
Antisemitism is a spiritual issue, and it is not because of the false allegation of deiciding against the Jews. We see in the Gospel of John that Jesus clearly laid down his life for all of our sins; Jew and Gentile. Antisemitism is a spiritual issue because it is a tactic that the Adversary has used time and again to try to destroy the Jewish people. We see this from Pharaoh in the book of Exodus and the King of Persia in the book of Esther, just to name a few examples. Today, we read that antisemitic attackers are quick to yell out ‘Dirty Zionist’ or ‘Go back to Tel Aviv’ while at the same time ignoring Israel’s right to exist. While one cannot condone policies of the Israeli government that perpetuate the conflict with the Palestinians, we must never forget why the nation of Israel was allowed to be created in the first place—as a safe haven for the Jewish people in the aftermath of World War II. If there is no place for Jews outside of Israel and no place for us inside Israel, there becomes simply no place for us in the world.
The Adversary has also used antisemitism to build a strategic barrier between the Jewish people and the revelation that Jesus is truly the promised Messiah. How will the Jewish people ever be able to see the loving grace of God, when they have experienced such hatred from Christians?
How must the church respond?
As members of the body of Messiah, we must not only recognize the faults of those who came before us but be willing to combat antisemitism. The first thing we must do is pray. ‘Pray for the peace of Jerusalem’ as it states in Psalm 122:6. Pray for the protection of the Jewish people, especially those who live in areas that are experiencing more intense persecution. And pray for the salvation of the Jewish people as promised in Zechariah 12:10, ‘And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced’ (ESV).
As members of the body of Messiah, we must not only recognize the faults of those who came before us but be willing to combat antisemitism.
The next thing we must do is be willing to help. We can help by sharing with others about the issue and its growing concerns. And, if we experience anything firsthand, we can assist where needed, including reporting anything we see. According to a 2018 FRA study, most incidents go unreported which makes the true statistics of antisemitic encounters impossible to know.
We can also help by reaching out and building relationships between our church communities and the local Jewish community. In the fall of 2018, the National Council of Evangelicals of France organized a colloquy on antisemitism in Paris. Many Jewish leaders were also present, including the Israeli Ambassador to France. It let the Jewish community know that evangelicals would not remain silent or ‘indifferent to the new rise in antisemitism.’ It also gave the Christians the opportunity to express their love for the Jews because of their faith in Jesus. Believe it or not, this not only has led to reconciliation among community leaders but some interesting gospel-centered conversations. We can all learn from this evangelical community in France who may be small in number but strong in the Lord.
A memorial to the victims of a mass shooting in front of the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA, on November 4, 2018.
Perhaps the most important thing we can do as believers is to hold fast to Romans 1:16 and not be ashamed to share the gospel with the Jewish people. Because of our church history, it has almost been considered antisemitic to share the Good News with our Jewish neighbors, when, in fact, the opposite is true—it may be antisemitic not to share with the Jewish people about their Messiah, giving them the opportunity to come to salvation. Building a relationship with the Jewish community should not mean ignoring the Great Commission. We should not try to force our faith on others, but we must not hide our faith either, even when it would not always be well received.
To love our Jewish people means to share the gospel with them and to speak up against antisemitism. We must do both! God calls us all, as believers, to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This calling is multi-faceted. It asks us to take a stand against all the many faces that hate can bring, including that of antisemitism. It also calls us to preach the gospel and make disciples, helping to build God’s Kingdom.
To love our Jewish people means to share the gospel with them and to speak up against antisemitism. We must do both!
You might ask, ‘How can someone who is totally opposed to the gospel, come to receive God’s grace through faith in Jesus?’ Simple—with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. There are numerous Holocaust survivors who have come to believe despite what they witnessed. Ruth Gottlieb, an Auschwitz survivor once said, ‘Since I have come to know Yeshua (Jesus) . . . I have peace in my heart knowing that my sins are forgiven and knowing that one day I will be with my Messiah in heaven.’ This is a testimony of the power of the gospel, which in us brings hope instead of despair, forgiveness instead of bitterness, and love instead of hatred.
- Nigel Chiwaya, ‘It’s not just New York: Anti-Jewish attacks are part of a wave of ‘more violent’ hate crimes’, CNN, 3 January 2020, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/anti-semitic-attacks-more-violent-hate-crimes-new-york-n1110036. ↑
- ‘Anti-Semitism in the US’, Anti-Defamation League, accessed 13 January 2020, https://www.adl.org/what-we-do/anti-semitism/anti-semitism-in-the-us. ↑
- Chiwaya, ‘Anti-Jewish attacks’. ↑
- Bernd Riegert, ‘Anti-Semitism on the Rise in the EU’, Deutsche Welle, 14 October 2019, https://www.dw.com/en/anti-semitism-on-the-rise-in-the-eu/a-50820057. ↑
- ‘Experiences and perceptions of antisemitism – Second survey on discrimination and hate crime against Jews in the EU’, FRA: European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, December 2018, https://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2018/2nd-survey-discrimination-hate-crime-against-jews. ↑
- Gabe Stutman, ‘S.F. Panel takes deep dive into anti-Semitism statistics’, The Jewish News of Northern California, 14 June 2019, https://www.jweekly.com/2019/06/14/s-f-panel-takes-deep-dive-into-anti-semitism-statistics/. ↑
- ‘Anti-Semitism Globally’, Anti-Defamation League, accessed 13 January 2020, https://www.adl.org/what-we-do/anti-semitism/anti-semitism-globally. ↑
- Robert Michael, A History of Catholic Antisemitism: The Dark Side of the Church (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008), 29. ↑
- Martin Luther, On the Jews & Their Lies (Freehold, NJ: Gottfried & Fritz, 1542), part IV, para. 2, https://books.google.com/books?id=WNVtCQAAQBAJ. ↑
- James Carroll, Constantine’s Sword (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001), 109. ↑
- David Patterson, Anti-Semitism and Its Metaphysical Origins (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 1. ↑
- Lynn Cohick, ‘Melito of Sardis’s ‘PERI PASCHA’ and Its ‘Israel’’, The Harvard Theological Review, vol. 91, no. 4 (October 1998), 351-72. ↑
- Michael Davis, ‘The Anti-Jewish Manifesto of John T. Earnest, The San Diego Synagogue Shooter’, MEMRI: The Middle East Media Research Institute, 15 May 2019, https://www.memri.org/reports/anti-jewish-manifesto-john-t-earnest-san-diego-synagogue-shooter. ↑
- ‘For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father’ John 10:17-18 (ESV). ↑
- Kim Willsher, ‘‘I felt the hatred’, says philosopher attacked by gilets jaunes’, The Guardian, 24 February 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/24/alain-finkielkraut-winds-of-antisemitism-in-europe-gilets-jaune. ↑
- La rédaction d’Evangeliques.info, ‘France : Le CNEF organise un colloque sur l’antisémitisme’, Evangeliques.info, 12 September 2018, http://www.evangeliques.info/articles/2018/09/12/france-le-cnef-organise-un-colloque-sur-l-antisemitisme-18707.html. ↑
- Ruth Gottlieb, ‘Auschwitz, Mengele, and the God who was with Me’, Issues: A Messianic Jewish Perspective, vol. 20:4 (September 2014), https://issuu.com/jewsforjesus/docs/issues_20-4. ↑
- Editor’s Note: See article by Andrew Barron, entitled, ‘A Profile of North American Messianic Jews’, in March 2016 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis https://lausanne.org/content/lga/2016-03/profile-of-messianic-jews ↑
Feature image ‘Belgian version of the Yellow Badge, compulsory from 1942‘ of Andrew_J.Kurbiko (CC BY-SA 4.0). Description: Belgian version of the Yellow Badge, compulsory from 1942. It depicts a black letter “J” (standing for “Juif” in French and “Jood” in Dutch) in the center of a yellow star of David. Because there was not enough space to write the word “Jew” in Belgium’s two languages, the yellow star was marked only with the letter “J” to stigmatize the Jew wearing it.
Fallen Leaves image by Rob van Ruiten from Pixabay
Feature image from ‘Tree of Life‘ by Yoninah (CC BY 2.00). Description: People pay their respects at a memorial to the victims of a mass shooting in front of the Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha Congregation in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on November 4, 2018.