What is anti-Semitism?

The general idea of political demonstrations is to challenge governments. Recently, Parliament Square in Westminster was filled with people protesting against the opposition Labour Party – a unique event in modern politics. Labour Members of Parliament were joined by ordinary voters to protest against their own party’s support for anti-Semitism.

Normally we don’t discuss politics on this blog because, although Genuine Orthodox Christians are traditional we are not necessarily politically conservative; we vote according to our Orthodox conscience. However, the growing acceptance of anti-Semitism, particularly among young Labour Party voters, should concern us – the issue is far more important than politics. Today, in our universities, masked black-clad agitators invade meetings  and even confront Members of Parliament (right). The historical parallels with the fascists in 1930’s Germany are chilling.

The evil of anti-Semitism is foreign to Orthodoxy. As we are now preparing to commemorate the Passion of Christ, it is more important than ever to understand why we cannot harbour hatred of the Jews in our hearts.

Defining anti-Semitism is difficult because it is a politically charged word. We would define it as the act of despising all Jews – it is, in fact, a form of racism. Racism is a mockery of everything we stand for as Orthodox Christians.

We have already discussed in a previous article why the Orthodox Church rejects Christian Zionism. Unlike Christian Zionists, we do not need to support all the actions of the State of Israel especially when she acts contrary to international law. Although some Israelis would disagree, it is quite possible to criticise illegal acts committed by the State of Israel without being anti-Semitic, much in the same way as we could criticize France for the war-crimes committed in the Algerian War, Russia’s human rights violations in Chechnya and the USA and UK for their military interventions in Serbia and Iraq.

A large percentage of Israel’s opponents, however, are openly anti-Semitic and this is why getting involved in politics is problematic for Orthodox Christians. We might easily find ourselves working alongside people who are anti-Orthodox. For example, left-wing student opponents of Israel are generally sympathetic to Communism – a belief system that was dedicated to crushing Christianity by force and which caused millions of deaths.  In general, it’s better to support charities rather than political movements.

Fortunately, we don’t have an effective fascist party in the UK. The far left, on the other hand, have the numbers and are expert at pushing their views on social media and promoting conspiracy theories – many of which are anti-Semitic. The root of their anti-Semitism is based on the conspiracy theory that rich Jews secretly control governments, the media and financial markets. Apparently, by their control of the world, this rich Jewish cabal is exploiting workers and preventing the spread of Socialism.

Unfortunately, some Orthodox Christians (not necessarily anti-Semites) are fascinated by conspiracy theories and spend hours researching them. Most of these theories concern the Antichrist and many (particularly those concerning medicine and vaccination) are influenced by New Age mysticism. Actually, Orthodox conspiracy theorists have a simple solution available to them. Reject the world and obey the words of Christ: ‘If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me’ (Matt. 19:21). Orthodox conspiracy theorists who fail to do this are trying to have their cake and eat it!

Moving aside from political arguments, let us briefly consider the services of the Great Week and particularly those hymns we sing on Great Friday. Some modernist Orthodox have advocated changing these services to make them less ‘anti-Semitic’. Doing so would be completely un-Orthodox. Our Orthodox hymns are based on Scripture – changing our services would be a denial of the Gospel.

The Orthodox services of Great Week (often called Holy Week) are very different to those used in western Christian churches. For example, in Orthodoxy there is no tradition of holding Passion plays in which people dress up to re-enact the Crucifixion. There is a very good reason for this. We join together in prayer in our church services not only to commemorate, but to be present in prayer with the events of Great Week and Pascha. Dressing up to re-enact the Crucifixion turns a historical, spiritual event into a temporal, passionate one devoid of genuine spirituality.

The Orthodox services during Great Week produce compunction in our hearts that is incompatible with the hatred promoted by the anti-Semites. Let us, at this time, recall all our Orthodox forbears who gave their lives to save innocent Jewish people during the Holocaust. They listened to exactly the same Orthodox services during Great Week as we do. Because they listened attentively to the accounts of the Crucifixion they were filled with love for their Jewish neighbours and not hatred. We should strive to emulate the actions of these people by standing up to hatred whenever we see it. Orthodoxy and anti-Semitism are incompatible because, by hating an entire people, anti-Semites are denying Christ and placing themselves outside the Orthodox Church.

We should not kid ourselves, however, that Orthodoxy is immune from anti-Semitism. The anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia were condemned by Orthodox bishops but are a shameful reminder of what happens when conspiracy theories merge into reality. The more we engage with conspiracy theories, the more our spiritual lives will be polluted by them.  How can we love our Jewish neighbours as Christ calls us to do, if we believe somehow that they are secretly plotting against us?

We should completely reject anti-Semitism but without lapsing into Christian Zionism. We do not accept the teachings of Judaism; the Church clearly teaches us that we should not join in prayer with non-Orthodox or seek spiritual guidance in non-Orthodox writings.

The Talmud, the collection of writings on which modern Judaism is based, contains blasphemous writings concerning Christ and the Mother of God. The disdain for other races expressed in the Talmud explains why some Jews believe that the non-Jews are intrinsically inferior. Christian visitors to the Holy Land often experience this at first hand from a minority of Israelis. We should be clear though, that the views expressed in the Talmud cannot possibly justify anti-Semitism which is a hatred of all Jews.

Orthodox anti-Semites lack the Christian love that the heterodox show for their neighbours. Many Roman Catholic priests perished in concentration camps for trying to save the Jews from the Holocaust. The New Calendar Archbishop of Athens, Damaskinos (right) and Athens police chief Angelos Evert saved thousands of Greek Jews. The Archbishop and many Greek Orthodox priests openly spoke out against Nazi plans to deport Greek Jews; as a consequence over six hundred Orthodox priests were arrested and deported to concentration camps. 

In Athens alone, two hundred and fifty Jewish children were saved by being hidden in the homes of Orthodox clergy, and many thousands more were hidden by monasteries and laypeople. Archbishop Damaskinos, in a final attempt to prevent the deportation, signed a letter written by the Greek poet Angelos Sikelianos appealing to the German commander for clemency. In concluding the letter, Sikelianos wrote: “Our holy religion does not recognise superior or inferior qualities based on race or religion, as it is stated: ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek’ and thus condemns any attempt to discriminate or create racial or religious differences.” Outraged, the German commander threatened the Archbishop with being taken outside and shot. The Archbishop’s reply was simple and courageous: “Greek religious leaders are not shot, they are hanged. I request that you respect this custom.” For this act of courage, the Germans spared the Archbishop’s life.

We should emulate the courage of these Christians and speak out against anti-Semitism in the same way we would against racism. Let us not join ourselves with the anti-Semites who love to sow division and hatred, but let us demonstrate our Orthodoxy by our example of faith and love.

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