The day after Yom Hashoah seems the appropriate time to reflect on the true meaning of that effort seventy years ago to achieve, once and for all, the final solution to Christendom''s millennial Jewish Problem: the Holocaust.
JPost ran an editorial today, Persistent Anti-Semitism, that illustrates only too clearly our failure as a people to understand the meaning of the Holocaust, even on Yom HaShoah. Half a century before Hitler won the chancellorship in Germany, Leon Pinsker described modern antisemitism as persistent over the past two thousand years, and ineradicable. Antisemitism, Pinsker wrote, is beyond reason, so unalterable by education. And here we are today, seventy years after the start of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, Yom HaShoah, and we have not learned the fundamental understanding of the Diaspora movement that created the State of Israel!
The lead paragraph of the JPost editorial reads,
“The first ghetto in recorded history was set up in Alexandria in 38 CE at a time when Caligula was emperor of Rome, according to Robert Wistrich, an eminent historian of anti-Semitism. Ever since, and perhaps even before Caligula [my emphasis], anti-Semitism has been the most persistent hatred known to Western society. And this “lethal obsession” is not showing any signs of disappearing any time soon.”
The editorial continues factually to describe its appearance as, “Alexandria in 38 CE at a time when Caligula was emperor of Rome.” The phenomenon itself has no reference point, which creates a mystery whose, “ebb and flow seems to have its own internal rules.” How defend against the Holocaust as inexplicable?
In my JPost blog, Antisemitism and Jewish Survival, the source of antisemitism, a term that that I reserve for “secular” Jew-hatred, is its historical and theological foundation, Christian anti-Judaism. The documents inspiring anti-Judaism are public domain, to be found openly in the epistles of Paul and the four canonical gospels, most blatantly in Matthew 27:25,
“Which of the two will ye that I release unto you? And they said, Barabbas. Pilate saith unto them, What then shall I do unto Jesus who is called Christ? They all say, Let him be crucified. And he said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out exceedingly, saying, Let him be crucified. So when Pilate saw that he prevailed nothing, but rather that a tumult was arising, he took water, and washed his hands [a Jewish, not Roman tradition] before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this righteous man; see ye to it. And all the people answered and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.”
Theology latched on to this portion of Matthew, and “His blood be on us, and on our children” became the source of eternal punishment of Jews as deicides. And while some argue against a scriptural source for the Holocaust, what else might final solution to the Jewish Problem mean?
In order for there to be an implied “final solution” there must have been previous failed solutions. In my blog I trace the history is some detail and recommend that as a source. But a prior question is, what is Christendom’s "Jewish Problem" so demanding of any, let alone the Final Solution?
St. Augustine, credited with any Jews having survived long enough to be exposed to the Holocaust, referred to Matthew as justifying punishment for the Jews in perpetuity. But he also sought to understand how it was that God allowed for the survival of Jews and Judaism in a post-messianic world? A problem. After all, if Christians were inheritors of the Covenant, what purpose those who rejected God’s own son sent as their savior? Augustine’s solution was that God must want the Jews to survive, destitute and stateless as example to Christians, and to attest to the “truth” of Christianity. But, it seems, not even Augustine was entirely convinced because, as he wrote in City of God (early 5th century),
“By their own Scriptures [Jewish survival is] a testimony to us that we have not forged the prophecies about Christ.”
“Forged”? Certainly that word does not convey confidence. But that’s for theologians to argue over. For present purposes, in a nutshell once Augustine proclaimed Triumphalism, that Christianity replaced Judaism, he also clarified Christianity’s sense of Insecurity: that Jewish survival throws doubt on Christian legitimacy. Of course this also is debated by theologians, but it certainly defines the PROBLEM.
Again, deeper discussion is available on my blog for anyone wishing to pursue the issue.
Does Matthew’s description of “the Jews” fit as motive for two thousand years of persecution most recently expressed in the Shoah? Perhaps were it an isolated piece of one of four gospels (all agree, by the way, in describing the trial; but no other quite so dramatically) then perhaps its impact would not have been so profound. But 27:25 did not remain quietly lost in the pages. I already described Augustine’s use of the passage. I could name a dozen more luminaries since who also interpreted and expanded upon the punishment worthy of the “deicide” people. But I’ll be content with but one other, Martin Luther and his next to final work, The Jews and their Lies (1543) referenced by Nazi war criminal Julius Streicher in his own defense. In the volume Luther advises his princes,
“First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them.
“Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed.
“Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them.
“Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb.”
Of course I have taken but one quote from one gospel, followed its development over the centuries to describe first, the Jewish Problem, and then at least one influential theologian’s solution for “the Problem.” Historically two centuries of crusaders gave it their best shot, as did the Spanish Inquisition. The Holocaust has a long history of precedents. At least so long as we recognize that the attempted Final Solution, inexplicable if Caligula is its “father” is, instead the child of a far closer neighbor.
Once we accept that the Holocaust is neither “mysterious” nor “unique,” once we understand that the Shoah is part of a far longer historical process defined by a self-created problem of Christian scripture and theology: once we accept the very words to describe that event of seventy years ago, The Final Solution to the Jewish Problem: once, that is, we abandon denial that our Diaspora homeland is “exceptional” (their “fatherland” so described by German Jewry before the transports) then, and only then, will Zionism make sense as the national liberation movement of the Jewish People. Only then will we transcend our too comfortable assigned role in the Diaspora as Victim.