Reconciling my faith with anti-semitic Easter vibes

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As I’ve weaved in and out of church groups over the years, sharing my story with the people I met there, someone with an interest in apologetics always wants to know: when was the moment you read the Bible and realized that the Old Testament points to Jesus?

There was no such moment like that for me – my reasons for conversion, I’m now able to say, had nothing to do with apologetics and everything to do with a desire to fulfill spiritual needs that simply weren’t being met in the religionof my birth.

The fact of the matter is, I avoided certain parts of the Gospels on purpose because I couldn’t reconcile their anti-semitic history with faith in the God I was beginning to know.

I’m still not sure what to make of the passages that are commonly recited at Easter time (Matthew 27:25 in particular, “His blood be on us and on our children!”), in which the Jews are depicted as bloodthirsty hounds who seem to crave violence. In this anti-semitic -sounding reading, Jesus isn’t a long-predicted sacrifice necessary for human redemption. Instead, he’s a helpless murder victim. A target of his own people.

And such passages made it easy to justify violence against the Jews for hundreds and hundreds of years.

So what do I do with these passages now? For a while, I skipped over them, figuring I already understood the nuts and bolts of the gospel story. I struggled mainly with the application part: walking the walk, not simply talking the talk.

But when Easter rolls around each year, I’m forced to address these passages again. All the memories of being called a “Christ-killer” from childhood come flooding back.

To be honest, I don’t understand how those ugly accusations fit with the tradition that I have found (and really, according to basic Christian theology, I thought we all killed Jesus with our sin?). In Christianity – now in the Episcopalian denomination – I found a path to a one-on-one connection with God that didn’t exist in my family’s tradition of Reform Judaism (or at least, I was never told about it). I found redemption and hope for a new beginning, a new self, after living with the stain of sexual assault for too long. I found peace within the narrative that one day all would be made new; all things evil would be reconciled, and every wrong I suffered would be made right.

Most of all, the idea of a God in human skin who felt all the gritty things every human body feels intrigued me. I wanted to know that God.

It may sound strange, but focusing on the Jewishness of Jesus helps me get over the hurdle of anti-semitism in both the New Testament and in Christian history. Just because certain passages of Scripture can be used to justify Jewish discrimination doesn’t mean they should.

I don’t know how exactly I’m supposed to understand the parts of the gospel that make me cringe, but to quote Ani DiFranco, “Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right.”

I know those less-than-savory (dare I call them “ugly”?) passages are there. I can’t ignore them. But if Judaism has taught me anything, it’s the art of nuance, of holding good things in tension with the not-so-good, as well as understanding that the Bible is a product of its time. The parts that feel anti-semitic are no less disturbing than the passages in which God commands the genocide of the Canaanites, or when he drowns the whole world, save for eight people, in a massive flood.

Because I no longer hold to the view of inerrancy, I’m okay with the knowledge that the Bible is more than just a history of God and his relationship with us – it’s also a deeply political work. It contains the very best and worst of human nature, and that is one compelling reason why it is worth reading.

In summary, I hold fast to what is good, and pledge to wrestle with the rest. That is the Jewish way of reading the Bible; the only way I know how.

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9 thoughts on “Reconciling my faith with anti-semitic Easter vibes

  1. Having only experienced Easter services in a dozen churches or so, I can’t claim to know the intention of the Easter services you’ve attended. However, I’m curious to know if you’ve considered the possibility that the use of these verses was not out of an anti-Semitic bent, but more of a “mea culpa”? That the church is not identifying with the Romans, but with the Jews? Especially considering that many of us affirm our spiritual heritage in Judaism, and honor it? That it is not a finger being pointed outward, but a lament? “It is our ignorance, our pride, and ultimately our sin that put him on that cross”. I would venture a guess that that was the intention. If that wasn’t communicated adequately though, I could see anyone of Jewish decent feeling uncomfortable at that moment.

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    • That’s a very likely possibility. It’s more knowing how those verses have been abused to justify anti-semitism that disturbs me. They have negative connotations from childhood that persist to this day.

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      • You make a valid point that it an be a “trigger” for many people—something that church leaders should be considerate of. Do you feel like it is possible to distinguish between those past experiences, though, and not project an anti-Semitic tone on to current experiences? Especially if there is nothing else in the service that collaborates with hate-speech? Is there something that could have been more explicit in the service that would have helped you disassociate the two? (Asking sincerely, as it didn’t occur to me this past Easter that there may have been people at my own church experiencing this as well)

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  2. Pingback: The controversial history of Isaiah 53 | Sarahbeth Caplin

  3. Actually I think Pope Benedict had a very good take on the “blood be upon us” passage or it might have have been John Paul, not sure. In any event he turned it on its head and said that Jesus blood being upon you is a positive thing so if anything the Jewish people are blessed with a special dispensation of G-d’s grace. That interpretation is worth if the Talmud. In other words very good.

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  4. I have never bought into this idiocy about Jews being responsible for the Death of Christ.
    In the first case this was ordained by God, it was; it had to happen.
    Secondly if you step back from the religious side, any one with an ounce of common sense should be able to read the sub-text that the events leading up to the Crucifixion; the power-play between Rome, The Religious Authorities & Herrod, all mutually hating each other, and basically the fickleness of The Mob. All the tragedies of Humanity in full play. And Christ dies to ‘let us off the hook’.
    I’d have more respect for an Atheistic view that it was all a put-up job to get rid of a very inconvenient radical fellow who was upsetting the status-quo.
    If there is one thing I am intolerant against it is Intolerance!

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  5. That’s terrible that you have to go through this. There’s no biblical justification for anti-semitism or bigotry of any sort. No matter what your believes, Jesus tells us to “love our neighbors as ourselves.”

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  6. I grew up in a fairly Jewish community outside Wash. DC. I don’t ever recall any playground taunts of “Jews killed Jesus”. In fact the first time I heard this connection was when Mel Gibson went on his anti-semitic rant. At the time, I felt it was ridiculous. How can all Jews be responsible for a group 2000 years ago. I’m sorry you need to deal with this sort of idiotic bigotry.

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