Let's Drop the Anti-Semitic Messages this Good Friday

Photo via Sally Morrow / RNS

A statue depicting Mary holding Jesus after his crucifixion. Photo via Sally Morrow / RNS

This year, Good Friday and the start of Passover occur on the same date: Friday, April 3. The coincidence is no accident.

Jesus’ pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the eight-day Jewish festival marking the Hebrew slaves’ exodus from Egyptian slavery was a religious requirement for Jews of his day. After his death by Roman crucifixion, Passover became an integral part of the Easter story, and Jesus’ Last Supper was like an early version of what later became the Passover seder meal.

In past years, I anonymously attended Good Friday services in New York and sat alongside Christians as they commemorated the death of Jesus as recounted in the New Testament Gospel of John. I alternated each year between Roman Catholic and Protestant churches because I was interested in how preachers handled John’s 71 references to the Jewish people, a text that’s often called “radioactive” because of its negative teaching about Jews and their alleged culpability in killing Jesus.

I attend the most solemn Christian service of the year knowing it had often been a day of dread and even death for many European Jewish communities.

Quit Picking on the Pharisees!

PEJORATIVE COMMENTS about racial and ethnic minorities, GLBTQI people, and the poor appropriately receive public censure. But say something negative about Pharisees, and the response is likely to be a hearty “amen.”

When anti-Pharisaic comments appear, especially from church pulpits or Christian magazines, few complain. And when correctives are suggested, the responses are usually something like, “Of course not all Pharisees were money-loving, sanctimonious hypocrites.” The comparison to other bigoted comments—“Of course not all Latinos are illegal; of course not all African Americans are lazy”—should tell us how insufficient the excuses are.

Just as we are heirs of centuries of racism, we are heirs of two millennia of negative stereotypes of Pharisees and, by extension, of Jews—for it is substantially from Pharisaic teaching that rabbinic Judaism springs. Whenever sermons and Bible studies proclaim that Jesus’ views concerning social justice are contrary to Jewish views grounded in Pharisaic teaching, they promote bad history and bad theology.

The pastors and priests who make such comments are not anti-Semites. Even Pope Francis, who is certainly no bigot, speaks of Pharisees as “Closed-minded men, men who are so attached to the laws, to the letter of the law, that they were always closing the doorway to hope, love, and salvation.” Rather, these interpreters are unaware of the history of the Pharisees and unaware as well of how these claims about Pharisees often bleed over into anti-Jewish invective.

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Saint G.K. Chesterton? Some Delight, Others Worry About Effort to Canonize Writer

Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society. Photo via RNS/courtesy American Chesterston Society

Christians and Jews are mounting campaigns for and against a path to sainthood for British writer G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), one of the world’s best-known Catholic converts.

Roman Catholic Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton, where Chesterton lived and worked, has ordered an examination of Chesterton’s life — the first step in what is likely to be a long and unpredictable process toward canonization.

Report: Anti-Semitic Incidents Decline in the U.S.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. RNS photo

Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL, blasted Christian leaders for not speaking out against a recent spate of attacks.

Anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. dropped by 13 percent in 2011, according to a report released Nov. 1 by the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks assaults and other attacks on Jews.

There were 1,080 incidents against Jews last year, according to the ADL, the lowest tallied by the non-profit civil rights group in two decades.

“It is encouraging that over the past five or six years we have seen a consistent decline in the number of anti-Semitic incidents across the country and that the numbers are now at a historic low,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL's national director.

Jewish Groups Say Conspiracy Theory Over Anti-Islam Film Won’t Die

Respected news outlets unwittingly sent a lie around the world on Sept.12: a Jew backed by 100 Jewish donors made a film insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

Within a day, the lie unraveled. But the damage to the Jewish community had been done, and Jews will continue to suffer for it, say Jewish civil rights leaders. 

“This is another blood libel that’s in place,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, referring to a history of conspiracy theories that has fueled anti-Semitism for centuries.