The Velvet Kippah
Are Christians the New Jews?
"If you want to understand us, study our story, learn of our pain." That is what Jews told Christians who wanted to build new bridges of respect after the Holocaust. Ironically, when Christians begin listening to the story of the Jews, they are finding reflections of themselves.
Christians who listened learned of a Jewish history written in blood from ancient to modern times. When they thought of Christian martyrdom, on the other hand, they had to turn for the most part to antiquity, to early Christianity under the thumb of Roman emperors.
That has all changed. While Jews feel threatened by the massive explosion of global anti-Semitism in the last years, coupled with Iranian and Islamist calls for the genocidal destruction of all Jews, very few Jews in 2013 are dying because of their faith or their roots. Christians, on the other hand, have become the New Jews.
That term used to be a theological one, telling the faithful that G-d's covenants with the Jewish people had been rewritten in favor of new beneficiaries: Christians. Today, however, it means that Christians have succeeded Jews as the numerically most persecuted people on the face of the earth. In a huge swath of territory from Nigeria east and north to Iran and Pakistan, millions of Christians live in fear of losing their property or their lives simply because they are Christians. In the Assyrian Triangle of Iraq, the campaign of church-burning, clergy-killing, and terror has all but decimated the historically oldest Christian communities. Egypt's Copts, a full 10 percent of her population, treated for decades as second-class citizens, now face an even more uncertain future as Egypt's constitution moves the country closer to Sharia.
Christians who study Jewish history learn that for close to two thousand years, even when Jews were not being killed, they were terrorized from cradle to grave. They could not speak their mind or voice opinions about political matters. Anything they said might be used against them with deathly consequences as leadership changed, or rulers changed their minds about protecting "their" Jews from expulsion or death. Moreover, on the rare occasion when they enjoyed enough protection to speak or act, they knew that they might be endangering their coreligionists elsewhere, and so learned to remain mute even in the face of horrific tragedy.
Christians today have learned to keep silent while their hearts are exploding with rage. Clergy in Muslim countries have had to turn the other cheek not for religious and moral reasons, but because speaking up against their masters would endanger too many in their own community, or in those of nearby countries. The only country in the Middle East in which Christian population is increasing and Christians enjoy complete freedom of religion is Israel. Yet many Christian clergy in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon parrot the anti-Israel invective of those who control their neighborhoods.
Christians learn that for two thousand years, Jews had no place to call home. They were at-will residents, often having to buy the right from some local ruler simply to breathe. The emergence of the State of Israel changed that, but that change is imperiled by a growing chorus of voices calling for the dismantling of the Jewish State. Amoz Oz put it best. "In the 1930s our enemies said: Jews to Palestine. Now they say: Jews out of Palestine. They don't want us to be here. They don't want us to be there. They don't want us to be."
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.