Jews in America are often spoken of as a “minority.” So they are, in more than a numerical sense, as I will explain. But despite their small numbers they are also a powerful faction, though the term faction is rarely applied to them.
In Federalist Number 10, James Madison gave a famous and useful definition of the word: “By a faction I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”
The organized Jewish faction is what I call the Tribe. It’s a bit more specific than “the Jews”; but it includes most Jews, who, as many opinion polls show, overwhelmingly support the state of Israel and, furthermore, overwhelmingly favor “progressive” causes like legal abortion, “sexual freedom,” and “gay rights.”
What is striking about the Tribe is not that its positions on such matters are necessarily wrong, but that they are anti-Christian. They are even anti-Judaic, in that they contravene the moral code of Moses. Jews today define themselves formally by descent (or, less politely, race, though the term is taboo) rather than by religion; and, less formally, by antagonism to Christianity. It would be inaccurate to say that the Tribe adopts certain social attitudes and political positions even though these are repugnant to most Christians. It adopts them chiefly because they are repugnant to Christians.
Within the Tribe, one of the worst sins a Jew can commit is to become a Christian, as witness Jewish hostility to Jews for Jesus. An irreligious or atheist Jew may claim Israeli citizenship at any time, but a Jew who has converted to Christianity may not. This antagonism is so predominant that the Tribe opposes not only government endorsements of Christianity, but even the public exaltation of the Old Testament (as in displays of the Ten Commandments on public property) because Christians have adopted it too. The “Judaeo-Christian tradition” is a sentimental myth, treasured by many Christians but by very few Jews.
The Tribe has no pope or authoritative body defining its creed, but its attitudes aren’t hard to discern. As Samuel Johnson says, a community must be judged non numero sed pondere — not by numbers, but by weight. And the preponderance of Jewish sentiment is clear: it loathes Christianity and Christian influence in public life. It resents Christian proselytizing, one of the first Christian duties (virtually banned in Israel). It considers the Gospels the very source of what it calls anti-Semitism. In fact, the very word anti-Semitism is basically a Tribal synonym for Christianity.
This was all spelled out for even the most naive observer by the fierce Tribal reaction to Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ. The barely concealed hatred of Christianity came roaring forth long before the movie was even finished. The columnist Charles Krauthammer spoke for many Jews when he wrote that the story of Christ’s Passion had “resulted in countless Christian massacres of Jews, and prepared Europe for the ultimate massacre — six million Jews systematically murdered within six years — in the heart, alas, of a Christian continent.” Alas indeed!
That Christianity caused the Holocaust, along with “countless” other Christian persecutions of Jews “for almost two millennia,” was a given for Jews commenting on the film. Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, along with other Jewish leaders, flatly predicted that Gibson’s film would cause hatred and violence against Jews — implying, of course, that Christians are fully capable of such rabid conduct even now, though it would be directly contrary to Christian doctrine. William Safire of the New York Times virtually blamed the Holocaust on Christ himself, citing the words “I come not to bring peace, but a sword” as evidence of Christianity’s inherent violence.
Since the allegations about the past are never more definite than Krauthammer’s unspecified “countless” (would that be more, or less, than six million?), we are dealing here not with genuine historical memory, but with a mythological caricature of Christian history that still obsesses the Tribal mind, both shaping and expressing its present feelings. So much for “interfaith dialogue.” As Rabbi Jacob Neusner has observed, for most Jews today Auschwitz has replaced Sinai as the definitive moment in the Jewish past. And Auschwitz is projected all the way back to Calvary.
It’s now a Tribal article of faith that until the Second Vatican Council in 1965, the Catholic Church taught that all Jews were “Christ-killers.” This is of course false, as older Catholics know first-hand and as anyone else can easily ascertain. The notion that the Church “reversed” this supposedly ancient teaching displays modern ignorance of the way the Church does business: It assumes that she can arbitrarily make and unmake doctrines, like a contemporary dictator changing the Party line overnight. She acts slowly and deliberately precisely because she can neverrepudiate a settled teaching while claiming infallibility. Even Catholic children used to grasp that.
When I joined the Church in 1961, the only Jews I knew personally were some quite amiable neighbors. If anyone had told me that the Halman family down the street bore special responsibility for the Crucifixion, I would have been utterly mystified. So bizarre an idea would have been an impediment to my conversion: it simply wouldn’t have made sense. And it never occurred to my Catholic mentors; they didn’t need a new Church council to tell them that it was nonsense. They didn’t speak nonsense. It had nothing to do with loving or hating Jews as such. I was far more inclined to hate Protestant heretics at that point, but I never even thought of blaming them for, say, Communist persecution of Catholics. It would have been about as rational as blaming Julius Caesar for Pearl Harbor.
The Tribe, however, embraces the mythical charge of “Christ-killing” in order to reverse it: Christians are Jew-killers. And it all began, by implication, with Christ himself, whose followers, immediately after his death, naturally began implementing his principles of charity by persecuting Jews, a course they have persisted in “for almost two millennia.”
Astute readers will sense a discrepancy here. Christians were in no position to persecute anyone for nearly three centuries, until the conversion of Constantine in A.D. 313. Meanwhile, they suffered some pretty severe persecution themselves. According to the Acts of the Apostles, it began with the Jews who rejected Christ and tried furiously to exterminate the infant Church. We also know this from the testimony of one of the persecutors themselves, the turncoat Saul of Tarsus, whom we know as St. Paul. Paul himself died as a result of charges brought by the Tribe before Roman officials, just as Christ had.
The Tribe’s cohesion and survival over the two succeeding millennia has often seemed miraculous, even to Christians. By a fine irony, the Talmud claims “credit” for Christ’s death beyond what the Church has actually taught: It says that “our sages” justly condemned him to death as a sorcerer, not even mentioning a Roman role in the event. The Gospel of John merely says that “his own received him not” and the creeds say that he “suffered under Pontius Pilate,” passing up golden opportunities to affix Tribal guilt at the outset.
At any rate, Christians knew from the start how the Tribe felt about them, and nothing has changed since then except that today’s Christians have become remarkably naive about it. Christ tells us to forgive our enemies, but he doesn’t ask us to pretend that they are our friends. He predicted persecution as the natural price of discipleship; hence we are to be “wise as serpents, but harmless as doves.” Christians have often failed on both counts, but the guidelines are clear enough. In fact, Church officials have often condemned popular Christian outrages against Jews, the worst of which occurred during the Black Death of the fourteenth century. Not only Christian charity but worldly common sense could see that the Jews were being victimized by a superstitious fury, a madness brought on by an inexplicable calamity.
Anyone who concentrates on the Tribe risks losing his sense of proportion. This includes, preeminently, the Tribe itself. If the history of Christian Europe is the history of persecution of Jews, the first question that naturally arises is why the Jews have chosen to live in Europe for so many centuries. If you were wanted for murder in Detroit, why would you choose to move to Detroit, of all places on earth? Why have “Diaspora” Jews persistently settled in Christian lands, instead of rushing en masse to their “homeland” in the Middle East, the Holy Land itself? “Next year in Jerusalem”? Why, as Dodger fans used to say, “wait till next year”?
May I utter here, in the privacy of my own newsletter, the dark and reactionary suspicion that the perpetually plaintive Tribe was actually content to live in Christian lands? Even today, more Jews choose to live in Christian America than in the state of Israel, typically attacking Christians for supposed bigotries they harbor instead of thanking Christians for their long record of tolerance and benevolence.
Again, the Tribe seems, by its own account, to have a long and puzzling tradition of migrating to anti-Semitic countries. Or rather, “anti-Semitism” is the explanation it gives for its own perpetual unpopularity, and at the root of anti-Semitism, it insists, is Christianity (though a new explanation has to be found for its unpopularity in the Muslim world).
Enough already. It’s time to face the possibility that Jewish problems are sometimes due to Jewish attitudes and Jewish behavior. My father once remarked to me that the Jews are disliked everywhere they go because of “their crooked ways.” Though, as I later learned, Dad had been an altar boy, he said nothing about Christ-killing; he’d long since left the Church and he didn’t particularly care who had killed Christ. As a matter of fact, he didn’t particularly dislike Jews; but he did think it was their ethics, not their biblical record, that had earned them their low reputation.
The popular verb jew would seem to bear him out. So do countless ethnic jokes about Jewish sharp dealing and devious conduct. So, in fact, do Talmudic passages authorizing Jews to relieve gentiles of their property, if they can do it without incurring anger against Jews in general. These are the sorts of things that actually irritate (and sometimes amuse) non-Jews. Has anyone ever heard a joke about Jews killing Christ?
The Tribe’s obloquy long predates the Third Reich’s propaganda. Government libel campaigns, a feature of the modern world of mass communication, rarely succeed for long; even popular myths die out over time. But a durable reputation, lasting over many centuries, is hard to account for unless it contains some truth confirmed by experience. Few Christians have said that the Jews killed Christ; they have always said that the Jews rejected Christ, as indeed Jews still do. The Tribe itself makes rejecting Christ a defining feature of Jewishness, even more than adhering to Judaism.
Where does the charge of Christ-killing show up in Christian culture? I have done a bit of spot-checking in English literature during the Christian era, in three famous stories about Jews.
“The Prioress’s Tale,” in The Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer, is a pious fable about a small boy whose throat is cut by malicious Jews, who then throw the little corpse into a pit. The story is designed to put the Jews in a bad light, by contrasting Christian piety with inhuman Jewish cruelty; yet it says nothing about the Jews’ having killed Christ.
The most famous and fascinating Jewish character in secular literature is Shakespeare’s Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. He is a villain, but he also speaks his piece so eloquently that readers are still divided over his creator’s attitude toward him. Is he more victim than villain? At any rate, one thing is clear: Though Shylock’s Christian enemies call him a bloodthirsty usurer, a “wolf,” “misbeliever,” “cutthroat dog,” and so forth, none of them, even in their most violent vituperation, suggest that he is guilty of killing Christ. The idea of Jewish guilt for the Crucifixion, which Krauthammer insists obsessed Christians “for almost two millennia,” never even crosses their minds!
More important for our purposes, Shakespeare doesn’t connect Shylock with the Crucifixion either. Shylock speaks of Christ and Christians with brusque contempt, he is tortured by his daughter’s elopement with a Christian, but, for all his cruelty, he never adverts to the Crucifixion. The play assumes enmity between Christians and Jews, but not the sort the Tribe’s rhetoric would lead us to expect.
An even more telling example is another play of the period, The Jew of Malta, usually ascribed to Christopher Marlowe. Its chief character, Barabas, is an uninhibited exaggeration of the villainous Jew: He walks abroad at night poisoning wells for the sheer, gleeful pleasure of it; he poisons his own daughter for becoming a Christian nun. His cunning malice, comic in its sheer extremity, knows no bounds; in contrast to Shylock, Barabas is robustly implausible. Yet nowhere in the play is there any hint of the theme of Christ-killing. That would be beyond even this absurd Christian fantasy of the hate-crazed Jew.
And of course Charles Dickens created an unforgettable Jewish villain: Fagin in Oliver Twist. Though far from inhuman, he is certainly disreputable, teaching urchins to pick pockets and receiving stolen goods. Dickens usually refers to him simply as “the Jew.” But again, there is no hint that this Jewish rascal bears any guilt for the Crucifixion.
Hilaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton, two of the greatest Catholic writers of the last century, were often critical of the Jews — each wrote a book about them — and today are routinely referred to as anti-Semites. Neither of them accused the Jews of killing Christ. In fact, both sought solutions to the “Jewish problem” which would be fair to Christians and Jews alike; Chesterton was pro-Zionist, Belloc anti-Zionist, and both spent many pages defending the Jews against common charges. But neither of these alleged bigots thought the accusation of deicide was worth mentioning, either to assert or to refute.
In truth, the charge of “Christ-killing” is hard to find anywhere, outside of schoolyard taunts. Yet the Tribe “remembers” it, just as innumerable baseball fans used to “remember” seeing Babe Ruth’s legendary (and apocryphal) “called shot” in the 1932 World Series, the most famous home run never hit. Such non-happenings are a regular feature of Tribal memory, as witness the many testimonies of “Holocaust survivors” that have turned out to be delusions or outright forgeries. A large proportion of the Tribe is still absolutely convinced that Pius XII was “Hitler’s Pope,” despite mountainous, and mounting, evidence to the contrary. (Hitler’s media called Pius “the Jews’ mouthpiece.”)
Similar bogus memories of victimization surround the state of Israel. Far from facing extinction in 1948, Zionist Jews enjoyed great military superiority to the Arabs and ruthlessly drove the native Palestinians from their homes with liberal applications of terrorism. Since then the Jewish state has behaved according to the harshest Jewish stereotypes, deceitfully, parasitically, and cruelly. It was supposed to provide Jews with a safe haven from persecution, where they could at last be self-sufficient; instead, it has depended for its survival on foreign aid, chiefly American. Proclaiming democracy and equality, it has imposed racial tyranny of the sort the Tribe roundly condemns everywhere else.
And it has failed in its whole original purpose of ensuring Jewish safety. Despite its military power and nuclear arsenal, it has engendered such hatred among Arabs that Jews are afraid to go there and fret for its survival — even as they fret about nonexistent Christian anti-Semitism in pro-Israel America. As the Good Book says, “The guilty flee when no man pursueth.” Zionism has vividly shown that the Tribe is perfectly capable of making enemies without the help of the Christians it still, after almost two millennia, loathes.
What is the source of this deep enduring hatred of Christianity? No doubt there are several; an obvious one is the Church’s claim to be the New Israel, a spiritual one, supplanting the old ethnic one. Even many secular Jews resent “supersessionist” Christian theology; it’s apparently an affront to be replaced as God’s Chosen People even if you no longer believe in God. This offense is avenged by blaming Christians, especially popes, for the Holocaust, any doubt of which the Tribe treats as heresy. In many Western countries the Tribe has succeeded in criminalizing the expression of such doubts.
Moreover, Christianity’s universality has given it a worldwide appeal that Judaism by its nature can never enjoy. This consigns the Tribe to a permanent minority status, confounding its proud expectation that with the coming of the Messiah it would rule all nations. Worse, Christians take it for granted that their ethic is immeasurably superior to that of the Jews; this isn’t even debatable, for the Tribe can find no ground for persuading Christians that the Jewish ethos is better. Just as the dwarf is obsessed with height in a way people of normal size can hardly imagine, the Tribe is obsessed with its marginal minority status, which it experiences as victimization, imagining slights and insults — “anti-Semitism” — even when none are intended. Its inverted pride expresses itself in claims of persecution. The Jews are still “chosen,” if only for a singular Christian hatred. The emergence and military power of the Zionist state have partly assuaged this ressentiment, while Arab hatred and Western disapproval have also reinforced the feeling of persecution.
A subtle twist on this theme is offered by John Murray Cuddihy in his book The Ordeal of Civility. For the Jews, argues Cuddihy, adapting to the modern West has indeed been an “ordeal,” as they have found themselves regarded as backward and “crude” against the “refined” standards of Western Christian man. Such Jewish ideologies as Marxism and Freudianism are disguised apologias for the Jews, denying the superiority of Western standards. For Marx, capitalism boils down to mere greed; while for Freud, romantic love boils down to mere lust. Both view Western manners as mere hypocrisy, self-deluding airs put on by the goyim. Marxist and Freudian reductionism have had tremendous attraction for Jewish intellectuals, and not a few gentiles who feel alienated from the Christian world.
The exaltation of alienation has been the distinctive achievement of the Tribal intellectual. To be alienated is to be superior, “chosen.” There is something richly symbolic in the creation of the state of Israel, where an alien population has claimed the right to dispossess the native one. Here is the psychic Tribal drama played out in the real world, with the usurpers of Palestine brazenly calling their regime a “democracy,” while feeling victimized by the angry population they’ve robbed and murdered.
President Bush sometimes says that minority children suffer from “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” They get the message that nobody expects them to achieve anything, so they don’t even try. The very term minority now signifies a group not only recognized as having what Cuddihy nicely calls “accredited victim status,” but felt to be incapable of meeting normal standards of conduct. Polish-Americans, for example, are a numerical minority, but not a “minority” in this subtly condescending sense.
One might also speak of a “soft” anti-Semitism of low moral expectations. Most gentiles respect Jews for their intelligence and ability, but they have also come to take certain kinds of Jewish misbehavior for granted. Israeli racial supremacism is assumed as inseparable from “Israel’s right to exist”; loose Jewish charges of anti-Semitism, especially against Christians, are likewise so predictable as to cause little surprise or outrage. In public life, at least, the Tribe has embraced this baneful form of “minority” status and the implicit contempt that goes with giving up hope of normal civility.
As with other “minorities,” the Christian habit with the Tribe is simply to pretend not to notice obvious and distressing things. This, we assume, is just their nature; they aren’t going to change; maybe they can’t help being this way.
This is what “interfaith dialogue” has come to: Christian despair and surrender.