|Source This is the illustration Wikipedia uses for its page on "contempt."|
We also subscribed to Time, Life, National Geographic, Smithsonian, Reader's Digest, Yankee, and other magazines. To this day, decades later, there are still so many sentences from so many magazine articles stuffed into drawers inside my head.
One such sentence, I think, came from an article in Life, an article published, probably, during the 1960s, when race was a media obsession. The article mentioned mixed marriages. A spouse said that there was always this feeling that if things went south in the relationship, if there was a disagreement or if someone felt disappointed in the other, the one spouse would call the other by the n-word, or the c-word, or some other derogatory word that black people use for white people, or that white people use for black people. In other words, no matter how much someone from the other group loved you, that equipment of othering could spring into action when conditions changed.
I have a Jewish friend, "Harry," who is important to me. I like and care about Harry. Harry makes derogatory comments about Polish people and Christians. His derogatory comments follow well-worn stereotypes. His ancestors lived in Poland but he despises being told he is Polish. Polish people are dirty, stupid, violent, anti-Semites. I tell Harry that given that his family lived in Poland for so long, surely he has some Polish genes. Only if my ancestors were raped, he replies. Lots of Jews have said this to me. They assume that people like me, Polish Catholics, are rapists. They say this to my face, and give no indication that they are aware that they are saying something ugly. I often think, what would happen if I replied, "So, you throw a stereotype of my people as rapists at me. How would you feel if I asked you if your ancestors were moneylenders who cheated and impoverished my peasant ancestors?" I have yet to say that. I don't think they'd have any idea what point I was trying to make.
The Pagan Assyrians wiped ten tribes of Jews off the face of the earth. But Christians are worse. Haman, a Zoroastrian, wanted to kill every Jew in Persia. Christians are somehow worse. The Pagan Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, crucified thousands of Jews, and even eliminated the very name of Judea, changing it to "Palestine," in an act of cultural genocide. But Christians are somehow worse.
Mohammed exiled Jews from the Arabian peninsula, committed a genocide of a Jewish tribe, said that the end of the world would not come till "the Muslims fight the Jews, and the Jews will hide behind the rocks and the trees, but the rocks and the trees will say: Oh Muslim, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him," and Muslim rulers were the first to order Jews to wear identifying badges on their clothing. "Muslim rulers in the 8th century were the first to introduce the badge to identify Jews and … Under Caliph Haroun al-Rashid (807), Jews in Baghdad had to wear yellow belts or fringes. Under Caliph al-Mutawakkil, (847-61) Jews wore a patch in the shape of a donkey, while Christians wore a figure in the shape of swine. In 1005, Jews in Egypt were ordered to wear bells on their clothes." But Christians are always worse.
Shinto-Buddhist-and-Confucian-influenced Japan supports significant anti-Semitism. "According to an ADL telephone survey of 500 people, 23% +/- 4.4% of the adult population in Japan harbor antisemitic attitudes. Furthermore, the study reveals that 46% of the population agree with the statement "Jews think they are better than other people," and that almost half of the respondents (49%) think that "Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Japan." But Christianity is always, always, worse.
Historical facts do not support the "2,000 years" accusation. Christians were in no position to persecute anyone the first few hundred years of Christianity, and Christians didn't become the majority in Europe till centuries after Constantine accepted Christianity in the fourth century AD. Pagans murdered Adalbert, a Christian missionary, in what is now the Catholic country of Poland, as late as 997. In 614, Jews participated with Persians in massacring Christians at the Mamilla Reservoir in Jerusalem. Too, Jews in Christian-majority Europe often prospered and accomplished great things. Jewish arendators exercised the power of life and death over Polish Catholic serfs. The "2,000 years" canard invokes a monolithic and omnipotent Christian edifice that practiced unchanging anti-Semitism for 2,000 years. Historical facts say otherwise.
Yes, at times and in places Christians have persecuted Jews. Christians acknowledge those persecutions and have done everything we can to address them. In fact, Christians alive at the time addressed them. During the Rhineland Massacres, a heinous, shameful series of massacres of Jews by Christian Crusaders, Catholic churchmen and nobility condemned the massacres and threatened to excommunicate and punish anyone harming Jews. Bishop Ruthard tried hiding Jews in his palace. These attempts by contemporary Christians to protect Jews did little or nothing to lower the monstrous death tolls. But these attempts should not be ignored.
The Crusades were prompted by jihad and Muslim persecution of Christians. Christians, too, were being massacred, impoverished, and enslaved, by Muslims. And Crusaders didn't just target Jews. They also targeted my ancestors. There was a Slavic Crusade, one that gets very little press. But yes, Christian Germans made war on Pagan Slavs in order to gain their territory and their resources. Attributing atrocities committed by Crusaders to Christian doctrine is an error. Crusaders, like humans of any identity, were very good at killing for economic reasons.
So, no, Christians were not a monolithic and universally and eternally anti-Semitic, totalitarian power as the "2,000 years" canard implies. But Harry has that notion firmly entrenched in his head, and he deploys it regularly, and I am left to stand around being the dirtbag Christian.
I met "Sarah" recently via Facebook. Sarah is wise, intelligent, honest, and creative, and I like all of those qualities. One of Sarah's Facebook friends made the "2,000 years of Christian hatred" comment. I disagreed with her, and cited Pagan Assyrian, Egyptian, and Roman massacres of Jews that preceded the arrival of Christianity, and Christians' inability to persecute anyone for a good part of Christian history. Sarah's friend called me an anti-Semite. Mind: Sarah's friend did not adduce any facts. She just cut right to the accusation. Sarah said nothing in my defense. She is Jewish, and I assume she values my friendship; she does say nice things to me about how our interaction has worked well for her. At this key moment, though, silence. I was disappointed in Sarah. It was a familiar disappointment. I did not unfriend Sarah. One gets used to events like this.
In addition to the idea that Christians are all participating equally actively in something called "2,000 years of hatred," but not, somehow, in 2,000 years of Western Civilization that has been challenging and uplifting for all of our ancestors and for us as well, I, as a Polish Catholic, am also occasionally reminded by Harry that I am stupid and dirty. He tells jokes whose punchlines rely on "goys" being stupider than Jews.
My first years of grad school at UC Berkeley, a fellow grad student, a Jew, told me that I could not possibly be Polish Catholic "because you read." My ancestors must have been Jews. Rabbi Laurie, whom I loved dearly and who was my friend for almost twenty years before he died in 2006, said the same thing. He believed my ancestors were probably secretly Jewish. Because I read. Both Jewish men's implication, of course, is that Polish Catholics are too stupid and primitive to read. If they didn't believe that in some part of their minds, they would never have said those things to me.
I adored Morton, a veterinarian and Facebook friend who made positive contributions to my life. We were a mutual admiration society. In April, 2019, news broke that in Pruchnik, a small and isolated village in Poland, villagers engaged in a custom of "beating the Jew," that is, a straw-filled effigy meant to represent Judas. Commentators in mainstream and on social media insisted that Pruchnik had proven that all Poles were "Nazi scum." This blog post contains quotes that appeared at that time. (I also blogged about the event here and here.)
Here are some of the comments.
"Roman Catholicism is the Satanic strategy against the Jewish people."
"The sages tell us that Poland is doomed. They will never amount to much due to their perpetual antisemitism."
"Hitler used Christianity to support his extermination of the Jews."
"I shed no tear over Notre Dame. [The cathedral of Notre Dame had recently been damaged by fire.] But Poland and the Catholic Church there are notorious for their anti-semitisn. The Crusades, Inquisition, and The Holocaust were Catholic led and inspired."
"The Poles are still filthy Nazi scum. Never forget. Never forgive."
I copied these quotes from social media and comments under mainstream media. I copied some of those comments from the Facebook page of my very good friend Morton. Morton did not say those things, but his friends did. I protested. Morton sided with his Jewish friends.
Morton and I began to talk via private messenger. I tried to make him see how his allowing his friends to vilify all Poles and all Christians on the basis of one event in an isolated village, an event that many prominent Poles denounced, was a roadblock for me. "Is this what you think of me?" Morton said I was being "hysterical." Our Facebook friendship ended. I kept hoping that he'd apologize and reconcile with me. I hoped that he'd stand up to his friends posting ugly things about Poles and Catholics. Morton was elderly and chronically ill. Before our estrangement, I used to send him Maryknoll mass cards. I had no idea how else to address the suffering he was going through, at such a great distance from me. He had said he liked the cards. Morton passed away six months later, without our ever reconciling in this life. I think even when we meet again in Heaven he might defend his actions. I guess we'll see.
I have tried to say to Jewish friends one-on-one and in small groups the following. Yes, non-Jews, including Christians, have done terrible things to Jews. But there are also stereotypical hatreds among Jewish people. Those hatreds, no less than Christian anti-Semitism, need to be examined and rejected. When I say that, I do not hear much agreement.
In Spring, 2020, AJS Perspective, The Magazine of the Association for Jewish Studies, published "The Hate Issue." It contains a couple dozen articles, over 88 pages. You can read the entire thing here.
The second article dispirited me. It is titled "When the KKK Exegetes: Circulating Hate with 2 Peter." 2 Peter, pronounced "Second Peter," is a New Testament book. It is a very short letter written to fellow Christians. Scholars agree that the author was not in fact Peter, Jesus' apostle, but an anonymous Jewish Christian, that is, an ethnic Jew who converted to belief that Jesus was the Messiah. The letter is one of the last New Testament books written. It dates from the early second century, perhaps a hundred years after Jesus was crucified. The purpose of the book is to encourage Christians not to despair that Jesus hadn't returned yet. There was some false teachers encouraging despair. 2 Peter's goal is to buck up Christians.
Dong Hyeon Jeong, the scholar who wrote the article, writes that "2 Peter teems with animalizing hateful rhetoric." I was astounded by this allegation. I've read 2 Peter and I don't find it hateful at all. 2 Peter refers to a "proverb" that compares false teachers to dogs who return to their vomit. Jeong says that this verse proves how hateful this New Testament book is. In fact, this line is a direct quote from the Old Testament book of Proverbs. It's part of Jewish tradition. In attempting to smear Christian scripture as hateful, Jeong quotes an ethnically Jewish author quoting Jewish scripture.
The article that got my attention is entitled "Drunkards Lying on the Floor: Jewish Contempt for Non-Jewish Lower Classes" by Professor Gil Ribak, who teaches at the University of Arizona's Arizona Center for Judaic Studies. Ribak's homepage says that he is interested in "the varied ways Jews perceived their non-Jewish surroundings, and how those perceptions affected their interactions with non-Jews."
Ribak's article reads like one of my note-taking sessions for "Bieganski: The Brute Polak Stereotype." His article contains a series of quotes of Jews saying derogatory things about non-Jews, usually, Polish or other Eastern European peasants. Ribak mentions a Yiddish folksong that came up repeatedly from my Jewish informants when I collected data for "Bieganski." The song is "Shikar iz a goy," or "A Goy is a Drunk." You can listen to a jolly Jewish man singing the folksong to a respectful audience here. You can read the lyrics here. The lyrics are pretty straightforward: "A Goy is drunk; he needs to drink, because he is a Goy … A Jew is sober; he needs to pray, because he is a Jew."
I watched, several times, the above-linked video of a Jewish man singing "A Goy is a Drunk." The video was posted just a few years ago. The event is entirely contemporary. Modern sound equipment is put to use to disseminate contempt. The singer has a magnificent voice. The audience, which includes young children and adult men, reveals no discomfort with the lyrics. The tune is very catchy. After I watched this video, I kept singing the song to myself. I had to listen to another song with a catchy tune to wash "A Goy Is a Drunk" out of my mind.
The children carefully listening to, and no doubt learning "A Goy Is a Drunk," both the song and the lesson, will probably never be taught the following. Polish serfs were mistreated. Read Jan Slomka's "From Serfdom to Self-Government" and Booker T. Washington's "The Man Farthest Down." Polish peasants self-medicated with alcohol to escape their miserable lives.
Polish nobles calculated that alcohol was more profitable than grain. They deputized Jews to sell alcohol to peasants. Peasants lapped it up. No one in this complex economic system has clean hands. No one comes out well. That Polish peasants drank is of course emphasized in the song. That Jews were the ones selling the alcohol to the peasants is not covered in the song. Read more about Jews as marketers of alcohol to Polish peasants in the Yivo Encyclopedia here.
Watching the video of the Jewish man with the awesome voice singing "A Goy is a Drunk" to an audience that includes many children makes me sick. Yes, I have been confronted with this level of hate and contempt in real life, and, yes, it has had an impact on my life and my career. Hate is often not a victimless crime.
Yes, I know that anti-Semitism is very powerful and it results in mass death. My dad risked his life as a combat soldier to defeat the Axis powers, fueled by Hitler's insane anti-Semitism. Here's the difference. The bastards who openly express anti-Semitism are, largely, not able to spew their venom in polite society. Law enforcement keeps tabs on them. They are restricted from responsible employment. There are too many people, of a variety of ethnicities – no it is not just Jews who do this – who spread hatred of Poles, and of Christians, and of modern-day peasants, that is poor whites. Those who hate these targets occupy positions of power in government, journalism, religious life, and academia.
My friend Morton was a truly great guy. He was a trusted professional with a long career, a veterinarian. And this man among men was perfectly okay with people spewing the most extreme anti-Polish material on his Facebook page. I've met many Mortons. At polite dinner parties, on college campuses, in political gatherings. These aren't just people who teach that, for example, Nazism was a Christian phenomenon. (It wasn't.) These are also folks who habitually make nasty and derogatory comments about Christmas. Nasty comments about Christmas may seem trivial. It's the trivial banalities that reveal cultural patterns.
Worthy Christians confront anti-Semitism in their midst. Christians resisting anti-Semitism is not just a modern thing. After the horrific massacres of Jews during the First Crusade, Pope Calixtus II issued "Sicut Judaeis," in 1120 or thereabouts, forbidding Christians from forcing Jews to convert, from harming Jews, from robbing Jews, and from other mistreatment. "Sicut Judaeis" is a phrase from Pope Gregory I, who served as pope between 590 and 604, who also defended Jews. No, neither pope, nor any other pope, was successful in suppressing all anti-Jewish violence. The point is that popes and other Christians made it a point to try to suppress anti-Jewish violence and feeling, and they have done so for hundreds of years. Everyone who uses the phrase "2,000 year hate" is not only slurring Christians with an ahistorical canard; they are also desecrating the memory of those Christians who have worked against hate, sometimes at the cost of their own lives.
When we confront anti-Semitism, we recognize that we are confronting a deadly toxin, yet hatred of Christians and Christianity is too often dismissed as no big deal. In fact, "The persecution of Christians in parts of the world is at near 'genocide' levels … Christians were the most persecuted religious group," The BBC reported in 2019.
When I do see official Jewish organizations and prominent individuals speak out against expressions of bigotry against non-Jews, those Jewish voices are often speaking out against bigotry against blacks and Muslims. For examples of the former, see the Bieganski chapter on Jewish-African American relations. For examples of the latter, do a quick google search. You'll come across articles like this one, criticizing Jews who criticize Islam. Jews can criticize fellow Jews who make derogatory comments about "schwartzes" or Muslims. Why can't that same rectitude be applied to Jews who resort to negative stereotypes of Christians and Christianity?
My encounters with Jews who have had anything positive to say about Christianity have been few and far between. I am very grateful to, and impressed by, Rabbi David G. Dalin who published "The Myth of Hitler's Pope." I posted a positive review of Rabbi Dalin's book here. Yes, I am aware of Jews who work to correct historical falsehoods about Christians and about Poles. And I am immensely grateful to these folks.
But while I've encountered Jews who write off Christianity as just a superstitious, anti-Semitic mess, I can't remember encountering any Jews who had anything good to say even about such groundbreaking and exalted passages as The Good Samaritan or the Sermon on the Mount.
In addition to some Jews telling me that Christians are violent anti-Semitic rapists, some Jews have also told me that Christians are stupid, crafty liars. These accusations involve Isaiah 53 and the Hebrew word "almah." In both cases Jews, including Harry, my previously mentioned friend, insist that Christians are both stupid and lying in their interpretation of Isaiah 53 and Isaiah 7:14. David Klinghoffer, in his book "Why the Jews Rejected Jesus," addresses these translation questions in his book. In my review of his book, I say that the problem is not that there is more than one way to translate and interpret these passages. Rather, the problem is attributing to Christians a stupid and dishonest essence, and blaming that essence for an interpretation with which Klinghoffer, Harry, and other Jews disagree.
To make a long story short, yes, Jews have interpreted Isaiah 53 as a messianic prophecy, and, yes, "virgin" is one reasonable translation of "almah." When Christians state these simple facts, Harry and too many other Jews accuse Christians of being stupid liars. I can only shake my head.
So, yeah. My Jewish friends don't have to fear that I am hiding something from them, that, deep down, I assess them as crafty moneylenders or world dominating conspirators. I do not assess them that way. I assess them as human in the same way that I am human. But I have had the experience of discovering that my Jewish friends, in their heart of hearts, regard me, and will always regard me, as the traditional stereotype. I am stupid, irrational, and threatening.
I remember the very phone conversation I had with Rabbi Laurie, a man I adored and miss deeply, when he told me that he actively agitates against Jews marrying non-Jews. I was so taken aback, I gasped. I said something about there being bigger issues in the world, like global warming. He said that Jewish survival was more important than global warming. I can understand Rabbi Laurie's logic while at the same time feeling that pit-of-the-stomach shock that he didn't think that people like me should marry people like him. Don't get me wrong; Laurie was a platonic friend, and I did not want to marry him. It was when he said that for a Christian like me to marry a Jew would be worse than global warming that I felt rejected by him as a human being in a way that I'd never felt so rejected before. I must add that Rabbi Laurie was one of the most loving and supportive friends I've ever had, for almost twenty years, up to the heartbreaking moment of his premature death.
Back to Professor Ribak's article. I admire Ribak's courage and honesty. He quotes blatantly bigoted material without any attempt to lessen its impact through trivializing it or saying, "Well, you know, the real people at fault here are the Eastern European peasants who were, after all, drunks." Ribak writes that "Countless accounts and folktales by eastern European Jews illustrated peasants as dim-witted people, whose ignorance could only compete with their ruthlessness." Well, yeah. That's Bieganski in a nutshell.
He quotes Jews describing Polish and other Eastern European peasants as "drunkards laying around on the dirty floor," while an observing Jew "laughs with such deep contempt that his whole body shook."
When I started writing this blog post, I assume it would be short. Prof. Ribak's article triggered me, though, and this all came tumbling out. I'm not even going to attempt any neat conclusion.