The Jewish-Christian encounter requires more than just goodwill. The first duty of both parties is to strive to eliminate prejudice and hatred. This is needed not only for obvious human and psychological reasons. This is essentially a religious duty. For as Jules Isaac put it, “The anti- Semitism of Christians and the anti-Christianity of Jews are equally an insult to God.”1
The Duty of Christians
First of all, Christians are duty-bound to recognize the existence and the horror of anti-Semitism and to measure the weight of its dire consequences.
They should not be hasty to accuse the Jews; rather, let them look at themselves carefully to see if, perchance, the faults they think to see in the Jews are not also, or rather, in them! Psychologically speaking, one often is quick to make a personal scapegoat of a Jew. The psychiatrist Baruk pointed out that some want to “heap on the Jew their hatred—even the worst of hatreds, the one in which they mask self-hatred.”2
Christians should not deceive themselves about the nature of their feelings when they take up the noble cause of politics, especially in regard to the State of Israel. If it is no longer fashionable today after Auschwitz to be anti-Semitic, one can on the other hand vent one’s anti-Semitic hatred under the pretext of justice.
Basically, the Christian must begin with a goodwill effort. Admission of the evil is halfway to success.
Language and vocabulary need to be changed, for language exercises a strong influence on thought. To be more specific, the Christian should adopt a new language in which the word Jew is not automatically synonymous with legalism, usury, avarice, double-dealing, and business cunning. We should refrain from all generalizations, such as “the Jews are like that,” “that is typically Jewish,” “what else would you expect from a Jew,” or, paradoxically, “I love the Jews.” These and similar expressions reveal prejudice.
Christians must dedicate themselves to this personal revolution— to this linguistic purification. These apparently innocent words imply, consciously or unconsciously, the poison of anti- Semitism. Without exaggeration, these simple words are proof that Christians have not yet resolved within themselves the problem we are talking about.
But there is a greater reason for abandoning these expressions: they simply are not true! Such expressions are nothing less than slanderous. Their use blocks any possibility of communication between Jew and Christian.
It will not suffice, of course, merely to abstain from using such words in the presence of Jews. One must learn self-control in their absence! The goal is not just to please the Jews, but to insure one’s own well-being. Anti-Semitism is a disease of the mind. By curing oneself of it one achieves a certain mental purity. Even a certain control of the subconscious is essential to this detoxification.
This personal revolution goes beyond mere expressions; it concerns the thought process. Christians will want to shed all their prejudices. At the very first indication of a suspicious reaction, they will say to themselves: “That is false!” And they will chase the thought far from them—their reason, their understanding, their knowledge will help them to do this.
Christians will therefore not remain barricaded in an obscurantism worthy of the Dark Ages. They will read and study the Old Testament and the Jewish tradition. They will exercise care over educational systems and teaching. Here especially they will engage in a task fully worthy of their faith. By exorcising the demon of discrimination and intolerance that might be lodged within the heart of the child, they are fulfilling a divine trust. They no longer will linger with complicity in a misunderstanding misunderstanding of scriptural passages that seemed to justify their prejudices. So often, personal defects rest on a false reading of Scripture. Thus the Word of God is recreated in the reader’s own image. This is a fatal and dangerous practice. The shadows cast by such interpretations outline the fires of death at the persecutor’s stake.
Christians must recognize once and for all, as did Vatican II, that it is “a theological, historical, and juridical error to hold the Jewish people responsible for the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.”3
And after all, is it not nonsense and contradictory to call oneself a Christian while nurturing—consciously or unconsciously—anti- Semitic sentiments? Face-to-face with every Christian stand Yeshua, Mary his mother, his disciples, and the Bible—and all were Jewish. In fact, “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22).
The Duty of Jews
Two dangers lie in wait for the Jews. Tormented by anti-Semitism, Jews can be tempted to engage in self-destruction.4 But they must not renounce their essential identity and their original roots. Neither should they find it necessary to seek assimilation, even conversion, in order to merge with the majority to achieve success.
Nor must the Jews hide their origin, as one would an unsightly blemish. To do so would provide some justification for the anti-Semite.
Jews must be careful not to consider themselves to be what the legend has made them out to be: cunning, dishonest, and a lover of money. Let them understand that there is no such thing as a Jewish race, and that there is therefore no other reason for them to believe themselves inferior or superior “biologically” to others. It would be perverse for the Jews to transform into truth the prejudices of the civilization that surrounds them.
Above all, Jews should not remain ignorant regarding their own culture; they should fully appreciate their value and particular genius and be proud of being Jews.
The aggressions of which Jews daily are victims, the horrible history of which they are constantly mindful, can provoke disproportionate reaction. Jews tend to overreact,5 falling into the opposite extreme of rejecting nervously and systematically everything that approaches them from the other side.
Jews should never become aggressive toward the Christian who begins a discussion with them. They must cease to discover anti- Semitism on every hand. To be sure, the phenomenon is so frequent that Jews, who really are the only ones who can see it, are tempted to believe in its omnipresence. But such an attitude exasperates the Christian of goodwill and discourages dialogue.
Jews must find tolerance in their heart for the Christian—even for the converted Jew. We are thinking especially of the convert’s situation in a Jewish milieu, in Israel. Jews must not allow themselves to fall into the same misconceptions that have caused their own torture for centuries. Jews must admit that another Jew may think differently from them, even so far as to believe in Yeshua. Christian Jews must still be considered full brothers, worthy of esteem, even though they may be hard to understand.
Jews must not allow themselves to be carried off by blind reaction; rather, the wise do well to take advantage of values wherever found, despite any distaste that might be inspired by the truth-bearer.
Without question, the task is far from easy; indeed, it must be considered beyond human strength. It consists in responding to hatred with love, to scorn with attentiveness. So the great Rabbi Nathan taught, “Who is strong? He who converts an enemy into a friend.”6
In Search of a Dialogue
When one becomes aware of all the obstacles, one is tempted to settle for pessimism or for a superficial, noncommittal encounter. And this is why we must now stake out a path toward authentic dialogue.
Liberty. The Jew and the Christian who make a decision to start on this difficult path must refrain totally from passing judgment on the other, from enclosing one or the other within biological, psychological, or theological definitions and labels. Each must enjoy perfect liberty. To box up another in rigid formulations, expressed or not, is to compromise in advance any possibility of understanding. To a certain extent the Christian should forget that he/she is involved with a Jew, and conversely; otherwise each will feel compelled to play a role, to defend their group position, in which case the idea of dialogue and honest inquiry will be warped at the outset.
The Risk. However well-intentioned the partners to dialogue may be, the encounter can end in failure when both are content simply to present two different points of view—when each one brings one’s own program, one’s particular truth. If at the end of the discussions both have remained essentially on their original positions, if nothing has changed in them to turn them around, proof there is that the dialogue has not even started. Both must be ready to accept a risk—the risk of understanding that one was wrong. Both must believe that each has something important to learn from the other, something that might bring into question the thought systems and destinies involved. The dialogue table must be approached to learn rather than to teach.
He who pretends to be rich and in need of nothing is condemned in prophetic terms to be “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). Dialogue is not compromise, either. It does not mean mutual agreement in order to be cordial and agreeable or to compensate, so to speak, for bitter altercations in the past. Both must, while remaining open-minded, stand firm for the right without easily bending for reasons other than truth.
A Common Norm. Finally, there should be adopted a “common value” to which both can refer throughout the discussion. Albert Camus poses this principle as a sine qua non of all human reconciliation. Writes Camus: “If men cannot refer to a common value recognized by all in each one, then man is incomprehensible to man.”7 For our purposes, the norm would be spiritual in character, implying the element of divine revelation. Is not the purpose of the vertical relationship to make more effective this horizontal relationship?
On the basis of this path, which we scarcely have outlined, one can look forward with excitement and hope. Victory will be difficult and perhaps infrequent; but the effort will be worthwhile, for as Martin Buber writes: “All actual life is encounter.”8 In this area of Judeo-Christian reconciliation, the terrain is virtually virgin territory, awaiting exploration. This is nothing short of a challenge to history, a wager on man and on the power of God.
1 Jules Isaac, Jésus et Israël (Paris:Fasquelle, 1959), p. 558.
2 Amado Lévi-Valensi, La Racineet la Source, p. 21. (Cf. R. Loewenstein, Psychanalyse de l’Antisémitisme.)
3 Nostra Aetate 4, 2b.
4 E. Amado Lévi-Valensi, p. 24.
5 Cf. ibid., p. 24.
6 Aboth-de-Rabbi Nathan, p. 23.
7 L’homme révolté, p. 39.
8 Martin Buber, I and Thou, trans. with prologue and notes by Walter Kaufmann (New York: Scribner, 1970), p. 62.