The Velvet Kippah
Are Christians the New Jews?
As hard as it is to believe, Christians are now beginning to face the same. Open Doors, a Christian ministry devoted to assisting persecuted believers, reported recently that despite the many centuries of Christian roots in Syria, some Islamist Syrians have been telling their Christian neighbors to "go back to their own country." In their view, Christians have become the "other," foreigners in the country in which they live.
Even where Jews were tolerated, they were treated as the refuse of mankind. Voltaire, a veritable icon of enlightenment, wrote that the Jews had never offered the world anything in the areas of art, invention, philosophy, mathematics, or astronomy. "In short, we find in them only an ignorant and barbarous people, who have long united the most sordid avarice with the most detestable superstition and the most invincible hatred for every people by whom they are tolerated and enriched. Still, we ought not to burn them." Today, Christians—especially those who take their faith most seriously—report that they feel like a scorned stepchild within general culture. They are mocked and derided, and treated as intellectual pygmies who have nothing to offer the better, more enlightened people around them.
Christians who listen to the Jewish saga begin to understand how Jews lived with themselves through the long centuries of persecution. Jews felt the power of conviction—of belief that if you are fortunate enough to possess the truth, you do not compromise or sacrifice it, even if it means that you continue on only as tiny fleck of mankind. Ironically, those who mocked Jews for their insignificance now consider voluntarily choosing to live with the same ethic. Pope Benedict XVI will be remembered, among other things, for his theological depth, for facing intellectual challenges head-on and refusing to water down what he considered essential truths. Writing as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in Das Salz von der Erde, he made a startling confession. "We might have to part with the notion of a popular Church. It is possible that we are on the verge of a new era in the history of the Church, under circumstances very different from those we have faced in the past, when Christianity will resemble the mustard seed [Matthew 13:31-32], that is, will continue only in the form of small and seemingly insignificant groups, which yet will oppose evil with all their strength and bring Good into this world."
Lastly, Christians are discovering their Jewish roots—how deeply dependent Christianity had been on its Jewish beginnings. As T.S. Eliot put it, "And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time."
That place, for many Christians today, is looking more Jewish all the time.
Yitzchok Adlerstein is an Orthodox rabbi who directs interfaith affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and chairs Jewish Law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. He is hopelessly addicted to the serious study of Torah texts.