“almost all periods of great violence, at least since the Middle Ages, have caught the Jews by surprise and found them unprepared… the persecutions began with particular severity and intensity especially when the Jews position was so secure and their relationship to their environment well ordered that there was no thought of attacks and major violence—at least not in their country, their house.” (Alex Bein, 1990, The Jewish Question, pps. 95-6)
“hand the people a scapegoat to hate. Let them kill a scapegoat occasionally for cathartic release. The mechanism is ages old.” (Robert A. Heinlein)
This is likely to be the final installment of what may be the final draft of the book developed in this blogstream which JPost has made available to me. I am indebted to JPost blog editors for their encouragement and assistance, Thank you! I had originally intended to end the volume with an "epilogue," companion to the "prologue" which I wrote and provided last week. Instead I completely rethought and rewrote it and it now appears as "Chapter 29: Summary and Guide to the Future. This chapter is still in an early draft form and not yet ready to make its appearance.
As the quote above by Alex Bein describes, Jews almost never anticipate the catastrophe on the horizon. It''s only in retrospect that its inevitability makes sense. Which is the issue I have addressed over the past few years on-line at the Jerusalem Post, and now in manuscript form almost ready to find a publisher. German Jewry never saw it coming until Hitler made it absolutiely clear three years after his party won the 1932 election in freely and democratically. German Jewry in the early years of his chancellorship dismissed American boycots responding to the unfolding persecution as unwanted and unhelpful. German Jewry were, after all, Germans, and germany their "exceptional" fatherland! And quickly dispensing with Germany''s Constitution assuring all citizens equal protection under the law Hitlere embarked on what was to be the "final" solution the that two-thousand year Jewish Problem that had haunted the West.
Is American Jewry better prepared now that that which was unthinkable before it happened, the effort to exterminate all Jews everywhere and back to a single Jewish grandparent? That the Final Solution failed was the result not of effort, but accident. World War II ended before the War Against the Jews was completed. And the Jewish Problem remains yet unsolved.
American Jews have long assured ourselves that unlike our forebear’s experience in the “old country,” traditional anti-Semitism somehow skipped the voyage across the ocean. And on the surface the Jewish experience in America seems to justify this perception. The United States may have gone through periods of heightened antisemitism but they were relatively infrequent and limited. At least that is the general impression. And while anti-Semitism in the United States during the Holocaust was also intense most American-Jews still considered Auschwitz a European phenomenon which could never happen over here.
American “exceptionality” is assumed the result of several factors including diversity of peoples (the “melting pot”), the “separation” of church and state and, most importantly, the protections guaranteed in the American Constitution and Bill of Rights. All provide safeguards, a firewall against the excesses of anti-Semitism, excesses seemingly reported daily in Europe today. American “exceptionality” will be scrutinized and evaluated during the chapters devoted to the Roosevelt Administration’s response to the unfolding Final Solution. As regards the “melting pot,” most populations that are “absorbed” are Christian, a fact immediately describing Jews as Other. Of course Jews can and do convert or disappear through assimilation, become “invisible” in Christian America. But conversion failed to protect the “converted” from burning at the stake during the Inquisition; and assimilation provided no defense once Germany changed the law to define as “Jew” even a third generation Christian with a single Jewish grandparent. As to the protections offered by America’s founding documents, they failed to dissuade Congress from passing a series of discriminatory laws severely limiting Jewish immigration before and during the 1920’s. It was those same laws that would eventually condemn European Jewry to Auschwitz.
And while the stress of the Great Recession has reintroduced anti-Semitism to political acceptability in Europe with Jews there daily facing assault and even murder on Europe’s streets American Jewry continue to view ourselves uniquely blessed, reassured again by that European example that America remains “exceptional.”
II. The Jewish Problem
“Stereotype” and “prejudice” are artifacts of the evolution of a society; its historical experience. They represent society’s cultural unconscious which color its members worldview. Afro-Americans, for example, tend to view and are viewed in return through their unique historical experience of slavery. And stereotypes based on that terrible experience continue to define their social status, limit their integration into and possibilities for advancement within American society. Similarly are Jews seen by and respond to Christian society by reference to their historical experience in the Diaspora, an experience shaped by Christianity’s Jewish Problem.
What is the Jewish Problem and how did it come to define the place of Jews in Christian society? What is the source of anti-Semitic stereotypes that define Jews in Christendom and, through today’s internet, around the world?
As described by several prominent Christian theologians and historians writing following the Holocaust Christianity is fundamentally anti-Jewish. I return to this issue in some detail further on but for now I’ll mention two gospels as example: Matthew 27:25 represents “the Jews” as Christ-killers; and John 8:44 describes “the Jews” as “children of Satan.” From these sources and others emerged most anti-Jewish stereotypes which even today demonize “the Jews” including, and most graphically, Nazi propaganda during the Holocaust.
For centuries Jews have turned to education to convince Christians away from anti-Semitism, and in America today the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is heavily committed to just this effort. But centuries of deeply-embedded persecution inspired by stereotype will not be wished or educated away. The very infrequency, the unpredictability of appearance of lethal anti-Semitism makes it difficult to understand and describe by Jew and Christian alike. Only occasionally does societal stress rise to levels seeking a scapegoat for relief.
And so the Jewish Problem demanding “solution” lays dormant. And so remains, just beyond consciousness, until conditions converge and once again call it forth.
Under religious governance, before the social revolution in which the secular nation-state replaced the theological feudal estate, the preferred “solution” to make Jews and Judaism “disappear” was through “conversion.” With secularism “conversion” has no relevance and so making Jews and Judaism “disappear” has taken on another and more “technological” path.
III. “Why the Jews?”
As may already be clear from this Introduction the discussion unfolding is not about whether but when the next effort to achieve the long “unsolved” solution to Christendom’s Jewish Problem will appear. That there was a mid-twentieth century effort should be sufficient to convince that the millennial search for that elusive solution yet remains. If anything, events taking place in Europe today reaffirm the rule that, as societal stress increases so too does anti-Semitism. And, as in Europe between the wars, today’s Great Recession finds political parties with an antisemitic agenda rising from the ashes of the Holocaust. While it may be consoling for American Jewry to point to Europe past and present as confirming our own good fortune, even the most confirmed optimist might at least be questioning America’s status as “exceptional.”
This volume, America the Exception? is the result of several years development on-line as a Jerusalem Post “blog.” And particular thanks are due the Post and its intenet edition, JPost for permitting me the opportunity. In particular is with to thank its former Managing Blog Editor, Lidar Gravé-Lazi. Of course neither Jerusalem Post nor its editor are responsible for my views as expressed on-line or in print. One area of confusion for several blog participants was my description of Western anti-Semitism as an unconscious cultural inheritance. Religion and national identity provide two examples of how this process works. And while other examples appear throughout the following pages a brief description of “cultural inheritance” transmitted trans-generationally may benefit.
“Why the Jews?” is a familiar question which few find easy to answer. Yes anti-Judaism is prominent in early Christian scripture. And yes two-thousand years of theological explanation of those hateful references keeps the image of the Christ-killer Jews current. But there is a wide gap between religion-inspired antisemitism and physical annihilation.
In everyday use stereotypes serve as a shorthand in communication. They speed conversation by eliminating lengthy description among those familiar with their target. Stereotypes serve the same purpose in prejudice, reducing the complex to more easily assimilable “truths” needing no further explanation. And so antisemitism passes from generation to generation as common knowledge. Many antis-Semitic stereotypes originated during the Middle Ages and have been current for more than a thousand years. The Black Plague killed fully a third of all living in Europe, Christian and Jew without distinction. Unaware of the democratic process by which the plague killed Jews also, Christians assumed Jews, described by the “John” gospel as doing the work of Satan as responsible, and available. And so “the Jews” died both the result of plague, and at the hands of local Christians.
Nazi Germany made free use of medieval anti-Jewish stereotypes. Such descriptions of “the Jew” as despoiler of chaste Christian maidens; of “the Jew” as usurer; the existence of a secret Jewish cabal patiently plotting world domination: all are examples of culturally unconscious inheritances, stereotypes of “the Jews,” remnants of the Middle Ages.
The image of “the Jew” as Christ-killer is not likely to inspire “sympathy” among Christians and particularly those accepting scripture literally as the “inerrant Word of God.” And the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus described in scripture is an annual part of the Christian calendar celebrated during Easter. How many Jewish children today are even aware that as recently as the twentieth century Eastertide inspired murderous pogroms, particularly in Eastern Europe and Russia? How many Jews and Christians today identify those pogroms, as inspired by the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus, particular as depicted in Matthew 27:25, a curse enduring through the centuries and ensuring eternal punishment for the Jewish Christ-killers? At least so long as Jew and Judaism are not reduced to memory and legend.
IV. Outline of the book
America the Exception? is divided into four sections. Part One: The Jewish Problem and Christian Insecurity discusses Christian scripture (Paul and the four canonical gospels) as inspiration for what later emerged as theology’s explanation for Jewish survival and the threat that represents to Christian understanding and representation of Jewish scripture. Part Two: The Jewish Problem and its secular solution discusses the period from the emergence of the secular nation-state to a secular and final solution to the history-inspired Jewish Problem. Part Three: An American Exception? considers the history of anti-Semitism from pre-colonial times to the present. Of particular interest is the popular spread of antisemitism in the United States before, during and following the Holocaust. Particular attention is devoted to the Roosevelt Administration’s response to Germany’s unfolding Final Solution. Part Four: Jewish Problem/Jewish Solution focuses on Israel, its strengths and weaknesses according to its designated role as Zionist refuge for the Diaspora.
The final chapter, Chapter 29: Summary and Guide to the Future describes how we, facing the next and final Final Solution change the script and raise ourselves from victim to survivor: the Jewish Solution to Christendom’s Jewish Problem.