Jonathan Sacks and Pope 370.
Toward the end of his life, Moses instructed the Jewish people: “Do not hate the
Egyptian, because you were a stranger in his land” (Deut. 23:8). It was
40 years since the Jewish people had left Egyptian bondage and they were now on
the brink of entering their homeland to create a new and free
society. Moses’ command is counter-intuitive, since the Jews have every
reason to hate the Egyptians: They drowned our babies and enslaved our
ancestors, embittering their lives with inhumane labor. And if those Jews who
endured Egyptian slavery were now dead, their children now standing before Moses
had certainly seen their parents’ broken bodies and the scars that were seared
into their psyches. Why should we not hate the Egyptians?
One reason not to hate
the Egyptians was purely tactical: Pharaoh and his army were destroyed and the
Egyptian tyranny was already a thing of the past. New mortal enemies awaited the
Jewish people in the form of the Canaanite nations with whom the Jewish people
would soon go to war. Instead of obsessing over past suffering and investing
emotional capital in hating someone that was no longer a threat, it is wiser to
focus on the present and the enemies standing in the way of future Jewish
survival and independence.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks suggests a deeper reason:
To be free, you must let go of hate. While you are consumed by hating another,
you can never be truly free. Hatred corrupts our individual and
collective souls, inevitably overtaking our consciousness and behavior. It
prevents us from pursuing positive goals and devoting ourselves to building the
society so necessary to the ethos of the Jewish people first entering their
homeland more than 3,000 years ago. And those ideals are essential to Jews
today, who struggle to build our homeland and people anew. If we are to thrive,
we must deal with the real challenges ahead.
All this is obvious, but
some Jews are still consumed with hatred of past enemies. For nearly 2,000
years, Christians were bitter foes of our people and our faith while we “were
strangers in their lands.” Christian leaders humiliated, ghettoized and
demonized us as deicides – and sometimes killed our ancestors in crusades, blood
libels and inquisitions.
But Christianity and Christian religious leaders
today are no longer enemies of the Jewish people. It has been nearly 60
years since the Catholic Church changed its theology and policies toward the
Jewish people and Judaism. The 1965 Nostra Aetate document established official
new Church doctrine. In it, the Church condemned anti-Semitism for any reason,
rejected the charge of deicide as false and proclaimed that the Jewish people
are still in living covenant with the God of Abraham. Most Protestant churches
have also adopted these changes toward us.
Nor are these mere empty
words. In 1994, the Vatican established diplomatic relations with Israel and
today no Catholic institution or group has a mission to convert Jews. In 2000,
Pope John Paul II visited Israel and asked forgiveness for the long years of
Jewish suffering that Christians caused – particularly during the Holocaust. And
today, Evangelical Christians are the greatest political and financial
supporters of Israel in the non-Jewish world. This is a truly breathtaking
transformation of Christian teaching, belief and behavior.
Yet some Jews
are still mired in outdated polemics and irrational hatred of Christians.
Occasionally, yeshiva students spit at Christians in Jerusalem, and this week
Jews desecrated the Cistercian monastery in Latrun. This is an example of hate
enslaving us, since the Latrun monks have nothing to do with the grievances of
the perpetrators. In America too, some traditional rabbis still preach hatred of
Christians as if they are still crusaders aiming to kill or convert Jews. These
traditionalists are trapped in the past and fighting the most recent war – at
significant spiritual and physical cost to our people.
The Church is no
longer a spiritual or physical threat to Jews, and we have powerful new enemies
to fight today. Secularism and vicious anti-Zionism is ravaging our faith and
culture, while radical Islamist extremism is waging a lethal war against Israel
and the Jewish people. Wise and responsible Jews need to devote their energies
to defeating these existential threats to our people and faith, and we cannot
afford to be distracted by false demons. Nothing we do can bring back our
grandfathers and grandmothers humiliated by the old Christianity – but the
urgent challenge today is how we can make our world safer for our children and
Like Pharaoh and his army, the Christian enemy is
relegated to the past. We need to understand this and accept those Christians
who honestly seek to atone for violent Christian history and wish to befriend
us. If we do not, this anachronistic hatred will prevent us from achieving the
constructive spiritual, cultural and national ideals that Moses, the Torah and
the builders of our new State of Israel all urge us to devote our lives
Resentment, rage and the desire to lash out at others no longer
threatening us make us slaves to the past. To be strong nationally and healthy
spiritually, we should heed the commandment of Moses and let go of our misplaced
hatreds and demons. They bring only a profound darkness to our individual and
national souls.The writer is North American director of the Center for
Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation in Efrat.
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