Q. Recent discussion has focussed on whether there is a difference between anti-Judaism and antisemitism. Are they not one and the same?A. In a leaflet entitled “The Religious Factor in Antisemitism”, the Council of Christians and Jews in Britain set the scene: “Antisemitism has many roots, some of them social, some economic and political, and some religious. These last may be traced back through the centuries to the development in Christian thought and teaching of a tendency to hold ‘the Jews’ responsible in a particular sense for the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus and to interpret their sufferings, so often inflicted upon them by their Christian neighbours, as an indication of divine displeasure.
“So deep an impression has this made on the thoughts and feelings of non-Jews that the allegation that ‘the Jews killed Jesus’ is still a factor in twentieth century antisemitism. It was prominent in the Nazi persecution of Jews in Europe.”
The term antisemitism, probably coined by Wilhelm Marr, came into regular use in the last third of the 19th century. Whilst feeding on centuries of anti-Judaism, it put Jew-hatred on a new footing. Previously, Jew-hatred had a largely religious basis (“Jews rejected Jesus – therefore God rejected Jews”) and Jews could generally release themselves from the curse by means of baptism.
With the secularisation of European society, however, the Jew was seen not so much in terms of Christian dogma but in pseudo-scientific terms (“Jews are inherently inferior with evil and dangerous inherited characteristics, and not even by baptism can they escape their genetic traits”). It was deemed irrelevant for a Jew to convert to Christianity, assimilate or marry out, or all of them, and Jews had to be banished or exterminated.
In theory this was antisemitism and not anti-Judaism. But the tragic fact is that on countless occasions during the Holocaust, church-going Christians (not the brave and courageous moral and humane souls who risked everything to save and succour persecuted Jews) took part in and justified the annihilation of Jews on the basis that Jews deserved their punishment. When Rabbi Weissmandl of Slovakia asked a high church official to protect the innocent blood of Jewish children, he was told, “There is no innocent Jewish blood”.
These are issues which continue to challenge the Christian conscience in the midst of the genuine Christian endeavour at t’shuvah.