Dear Traditionalists: Jesus is Jewish

Dear Traditionalists: Jesus is Jewish February 6, 2024

a statue of Jesus the Good Shepherd
image via Pixabay

I hope it’s not a surprise to you that Jesus is Jewish.

Over the weekend, as I’ve already mentioned, I met a couple of nasty Traditionalist Catholic internet trolls. I didn’t mention before that one of them was a pretty severe antisemite, and in the course of insulting me for being middle-aged he also was spouting crass antisemitic conspiracy theories. He even claimed that in doing so, He was defending the honor of Jesus and His mom. It made me feel unclean just listening to his lies, especially since I knew he wasn’t some random crackpot but part of an increasingly noisy group. I thought that aspect of the conversation deserved a post of its own.

I’m going to go ahead and close the comments right now, because they will get ugly if I don’t.

I don’t think I have to explain that the Catholic Church has a long, appalling history of hating and persecuting Jewish people that we ought to be mortally ashamed of.  I’m sure it’s no secret to my readers that a lot of Catholic Traditionalists in particular are antisemites, because they like to bring back all kinds of scary Catholic things they imagine are “traditional.” They think they’re better Catholics than the rest of us for being antisemites. They have convoluted and silly conspiracy theories to explain why they’re allowed to hate Jewish people and blame them for everything and it’s not a sin but actually a virtue. It’s also not a secret that you don’t have to be a Traditionalist to be an antisemite; antisemitism is horrifyingly common. But I’m just talking about the Catholic Traditionalists right now. And yes, I also realize that a lot of people who like the Latin Mass aren’t antisemitic, but I’m addressing this trend right now.

I don’t think I have any hope of getting through to anyone who is actually a Catholic Traditionalist spouting these vile conspiracy theories. But I want to address any of my readers who weren’t sure: Jesus is Jewish. Jesus is not a Scandinavian Catholic with blond wavy hair. He is a brown Jew from Palestine, and if any of those descriptors offend you then you need to go to confession. The Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, and all twelve Apostles were Jews. When you hate Jews, you hate them. When you spread conspiracy theories about Jewish people, you’re spreading conspiracy theories about the Virgin Mary’s family.  Hating Jews is a sin.

I can’t tell you exactly how Jesus’s religious practice differs from the many different Jewish denominations in the world today. You’d be better off asking a Rabbi. But Jesus was an observant Jew who went to the synagogue. He was circumcised. He kept the Passover with His apostles. Every time you go to Mass, you are worshipping a Person who was not in any way ashamed to be Jewish. That person lived, died and rose from the dead a Jew.

If you as a white person of European descent want to hate Jewish people, you’re not defending Jesus and His mom, you’re playing the role of Pilate and his soldiers in the Gospels.

When we read about “the Jews” or “the Pharisees” in the Gospels, the worst thing we can do is to not realize that the Pharisees were Jesus’s own religious sect. They were the people He viewed as His own people. They were His culture.  He criticized them for being hypocrites so often because they were His co-religionists who believed and practiced what He believed and practiced. He was calling out His own friends and neighbors. He was not turning to the rest of the world and saying “Look at the bad Jews!” It was closer to you or I criticizing a systemic problem in our own parish or diocese.

When you read “The Pharisees,” you’re not supposed to look at them from the outside as “the Jews.”

You’re supposed to insert yourself into that role in the Gospel and ask yourself how you are failing to practice what you preach. We, all of us, humans, fail to practice what we preach. Humans strain out the gnat and swallow the camel. Humans get caught up in outward shows of piety and forget to actually care for our neighbor. Humans decide that one man should die for the sake of the people, and humans make a deal with Judas to buy and sell Christ. 
The Gospels are a sign of contradiction. If you read them looking for an excuse to hate this or that group of people, you will find one, and you will blaspheme Christ by appropriating His word as your excuse. But if you read them in the humble desire to be taught how to love, He will teach you to love.
Antisemitism is a sin.
Jesus is Jewish.
I hope I don’t ever have to remind people about that again.

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

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