Still fighting the last war against antisemitism

From Reuters:

Jewish groups complained last year when the Pope issued a decree allowing wider use of the old-style Latin Mass and a missal, or prayer book, that was phased out after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, which met from 1962 to 1965.

They protested against the re-introduction of the old prayer for conversion of the Jews and asked the Pope to change it.

The Vatican last month revised the contested Latin prayer used by a traditionalist minority on Good Friday, the day marking Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, removing a reference to Jewish “blindness” over Christ and deleting a phrase asking God to “remove the veil from their hearts”.

Jews criticized the new version because it still says they should recognize Jesus Christ as the savior of all men. It asks that “all Israel may be saved” and Jews say it keeps an underlying call to conversion that they had wanted removed.

Vatican II changed the ancient Latin version of this prayer, removing the phrase ‘perfidious Jews’. But then it created a new collection of prayers in various local languages — the vernacular liturgy — which was supposed to replace the Latin one. The prayer which appears in the vernacular liturgy does not mention conversion, but the Latin version still did, although ‘perfidious’ was gone.

The Latin ritual did not totally disappear, however. Some conservative Catholics continued to use it, but were required to obtain permission from their bishop.

The present Pope, as mentioned in the article, is encouraging those Catholics who want to use the Latin ritual to do so, and has removed the requirement for approval. But some Jews and liberal Catholics wish that he had simply translated the vernacular prayer back into Latin. Instead, he chose to create a new prayer that took a middle course — but still mentioned conversion.

We can understand the concern, given the long history of Christian antisemitism based to a certain extent on the stiff-necked Jews’ refusal to see the light. And we can also understand the Pope — and many other Christians — for whom a primary part of their belief system is that it is universal.

I think, though, that the concern is misplaced in view of the nature of antisemitism today. Consider this:

Britain has become the epicenter for anti-Semitic trends in Europe as traditional, age-old anti-Semitism in a country whose literature and cultural tradition were “drenched” in anti-Semitism has developed into a contemporary mix of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, an Israeli historian said Monday.

The problem of anti-Semitism in Britain is exacerbated by a growing and increasingly radical Muslim population, the weak approach taken by a timid British Jewish leadership, and the detachment of the British from their Christian roots, said Hebrew University historian Prof. Robert S. Wistrich in a lecture on British anti-Semitism at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. — Jerusalem Post [my emphasis]

Wistrich goes on to argue that the roots of antisemitism in Britain are ancient, and of course they are entangled with Christianity. But it seems to me that today the major sources of antisemitism throughout the world are not Christian, but rather

  • Traditional right-wing Jew hatred (neo-Nazis, etc.)
  • Muslim antisemitism and extreme anti-Zionism

Indeed, the desire to see Jews converted to Christianity is dear to Evangelical Protestants here in the US, a group which is generally pro-Zionist and which does not express views common to contemporary antisemites, such as “the Jews are responsible for 9/11 (or the Iraq war, etc.)”, or “the Jewish lobby controls the US government”. Recent violent acts against Jews or Jewish property in the US have mostly been perpetrated by neo-Nazi or racist groups, and radical Muslims.

I am personally less bothered by Christian prayers for my conversion than, for example, Hamas’ interpretation of the Quran which calls for Muslims to kill Jews.

It should be noted that critics of the Pope are not required to go into hiding because of death threats from Catholic fundamentalists.

Possibly those of us who are particularly worried about Christian antisemitism today are like the generals who always prepare to fight the last war instead of the next one?

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One Response to “Still fighting the last war against antisemitism”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    A significant point is made here which the ADL and other organizations fighting Anti- Semitism have been so slow to seeing. i.e. The danger to Jews today comes from Islam and not from Christianity. If anything, Christianity is now our ally in the struggle against a Radical Atheism. Another important point. The post- Christian Britain Robert Wistrich described is precisely able to be so completely anti- Semitic because of its having lost its long- standing Biblical connection and faith. The great strain of British support for Zionism came in Lloyd George and Wingate from those who knew the Bible, and lived by it. Today there is a spiritual vacuum and a mililtant Islam – and in such a field Anti- Semitism thrives.