Tag Archives: anti-semitism

The Stain of Antisemitism in “Christian” Europe

Our three-week journey across Europe this fall was fantastic. However, there were sobering moments. The most disturbing part that I learned about was the pervasive stain of antisemitism in Europe’s Christian history.

While my wife and I were away from the United States, the celebrity rapper Kanye West made a number of bizarre antisemitic comments , apparently cobbled together from conversations the singer/artist has had with Louis Farrakhan, that led to various corporate sponsors abandoning commercial agreements with Kanye, in an effort to distance themselves from the popular-rapper-turned-born-again Christian (since I originally wrote the rough draft for this post, some apologists are now saying that Kanye has been flirting with the theology of the Black Hebrew Israelites movement. Hear more about it on the Dallas Seminary Table Podcast, or with apologists Mike Winger and Allen Parr).

Christians and traditional Jews do not have the same view of Jesus, and that difference is significant. But Christians owe a tremendous debt to the Jewish people, for Jesus himself was Jewish. Sadly, extreme examples in European church history demonstrate that some have forgotten this simple truth.

Such incidents may seem rare in the 21st century, but in medieval Europe right up through the period of Nazi Germany, antisemitism poked up its ugly head far too many times. On our trip down the Danube River, our first stop was in Regensburg, Germany. We heard from a guide that the persecution of Jews there goes back at least to stories during the Crusade era of the late 11th century, when wandering bands of Crusade enthusiasts ransacked Jewish homes and businesses. Some church bishops thankfully offered sanctuary for their Jewish neighbors, but within centuries, anti-Jewish sentiment was stirred up again.

In the late 15th century, the preaching of a Bavarian Dominican preacher, Peter Nigri, led to the confiscation of Jewish property in Regensburg. But Roman Catholic leaders have not been the only ones to stir up persecution against Jews.

A generation later in 1519, another preacher in Regensburg, Balthasar Hubmaier, called for the expulsion of Jews from the city, an event that led to the destruction of the local Jewish cemetery and the turning of a Jewish synagogue into a church as Jews fled the city. Within a few years, Hubmaier got married, even though he was a medieval priest, and joined up with the Anabaptist cause, having himself re-baptized, actions that not only put him in bad relations with the Roman church, but also with Ulrich Zwingli, the leader of the Swiss Reformation. He and his wife were shortly thereafter martyred for their Anabaptist faith. Whether or not Hubmaier eventually repented of his mistreatment of Jews is unknown to me, but the mark he left on Regensburg’s Jewish community remains to this day.

When the Jewish cemetery in Regensburg was destroyed as a result of Hubmaier’s preaching, various citizens of the city took the gravestones and reused them in various building projects. One gravestone was set underneath the floor of a room used as a toilet, as seen in the following photograph, an obvious insult to a Jewish person.

Jewish gravestone placed underneath a toilet in a Regensburg, Germany home, after Jews were expelled from the city in the early 16th century. Expand the photo to see the Hebrew lettering more clearly (photo credit: Clarke Morledge)

 

Now, why would someone claiming to be a Christian do such a thing?

The great cathedral of St. Peter’s Church, in Regensburg, an otherwise beautiful building, has a strong hint of antisemitism embedded in one of its outward walls. Someone had carved a sculpture of three Jews sucking from a pig, looking in the direction of the old Jewish synagogue.

What an insult. Hardly Christ-honoring. Where was the church’s bishop when this sculpture was placed on the side of this otherwise glorious church building? Why did he not put a stop to such nonsense?

Reminders of Europe’s antisemitic past like these are sprinkled across Europe. For example, in Prague, in the Czech Republic, a Jewish ghetto was formed in the 13th century, when Jews were told to vacate their homes and live in one particular area of the city. While Jews were allowed during the day to traverse the city, at night a curfew was placed on the Jews that kept them inside their Jewish Quarter. Even as Jews were expelled from other areas of Europe, like Spain in the late 15th century, such Jews made their way to more tolerant cities like Prague, but they still had to live in these prescribed areas.

Entrance into the Jewish Quarter in Prague. Note the Jewish town hall clocks, where the top clock is displayed with Roman numerals and the bottom clock is displayed in Hebrew (photo credit: Clarke Morledge).

 

But nothing  compares to the utter brutality experienced by Europe’s Jewry during the Nazi years of World War II. At the beginning of the war, when Hitler’s German army occupied Prague, there were some 92,000 Jews living in this section of the city. But by the end of World War II, nearly 60,000 of those Jews had been killed, many of them in concentration camps, like Auschwitz, in neighboring Poland to the north. Today, less than 5,000 Jews live in Prague, though ironically the Jewish Quarter in Prague is considered to be the “hip” place to live in the city.

Just one more example of antisemitism on display in Prague’s history….. The following photo is one of many statues that populate the sides of the Charles Bridge, one of the most iconic places in all of the Europe, where many thousands of visitors walk across every year. At first glance, you see a picture of the crucified Jesus. As a Christian, I was quite impressed with this… until I looked a bit closer, and learned the whole story behind it. The sculpture itself has  gone through several revisions over the centuries.

Calvary Statue. Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic. Original metal versions, 1657. Sandstone figures off to the sides, 1861. Bronze plaques added in 2000. More information here. (photo credit: Clarke Morledge)

 

If you look closer, the head of Christ is surrounded with Hebrew letters. The rough translation into English is “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts,” from the Jewish prayer, the Kedushah.

In my ignorance as a Christian, this is a pretty interesting and encouraging thing to see…  until you hear the backstory about it.  In 1696, a Jewish community leader, Elias Backoffen, was forced to pay for the gold-plated lettering, as a punishment for an alleged act of blasphemy, committed by another Jewish businessman. In other words, this was not a voluntary act of devotion to Christ, but rather it was a forced act of humiliation, for which Prague’s Jews had to look at for the next 300 years whenever they crossed the Charles Bridge, over the Vltava River.

In 2000, bronze plaques were affixed below the crucifix (hard to read from the photo), with explanatory text in Czech, English and Hebrew. In English, they roughly say, “‘The addition to the statue of the Hebrew inscription and the explanatory texts from 1696 is the result of improper court proceedings against Elias Backoffen, who was accused of mocking the Holy Cross.’ The addition to the Hebrew inscription, ‘which represents a very important expression of faith in the Jewish tradition, was supposed to humiliate the Jewish Community.’ It is signed ‘The City of Prague.’

Wow.

Some might protest that leaving these reminders of antisemitism up for public display is a bad idea, that they “celebrate” beliefs and behaviors that most everyone in a post-Hitler world would find abhorrent. I disagree. Rather, they should remain available for people to see for the exact opposite reason: that they should remind us that sinful humanity has the awful tendency to forget the sins of previous generations, and thereby end up repeating those same sins later on.

It is difficult to understand how such blatant acts of antisemitism went unanswered for centuries in a land which was so dominated by Christian devotion, along with its impressive church architecture, drawing one’s attention to the Glory of God. Anglican theologian Gerald McDermott has a response to this that I find quite helpful. A lot of our Bible translations have given rise to the wrong ideas about the Jews of Jesus’ day. While we all know that Jesus was indeed a Jew, he received a lot of opposition from the “Jews.”

In one rather unsettling passage, Jesus says to the “Jews” who challenge him:

Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:43-44 ESV).

It is passages like these that were badly misinterpreted, often taken out of context and prompted various church goers in medieval Europe to call out “the Jews” as “Christ-killers,” as they exited their churches to go taunting their Jewish neighbors.

But professor McDermott makes the point that misleading Bible translations have been a big part of the problem. For example, the phrase “the Jews,” as found in many of these passages in various translations comes from the Greek term, “Iudaioi.” That word can also be translated as “Judeans,” that is, in this context, the leaders of the Jewish community in Jerusalem, the capital of Judea.

When Jesus had his earthly ministry, many Jews lived all across the Roman Empire, and not just in “Judea,” proper. Furthermore, to speak of “Judeans” is lot like talking about those in Washington, D.C., who make decisions for Americans. It simply is not true that the American political statespersons in Washington D.C. represent the viewpoints of everyone living in Washington. In the same way, it makes better sense to translate “Iudaioi” as “Jewish leaders,” instead of the overly broad designation as “the Jews.” Besides, nearly all of the earliest followers of Jesus were Jews themselves, in contrast with the Jewish leaders in Judea, who opposed Jesus’ ministry.

Consider therefore, the immediately following passage from John 8, which in the ESV reads:

The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8:48 ESV).

Professor McDermott’s suggestion is that we modify “the Jews” translation of “Iudaioi” with better clarity as “the Jewish leaders” instead:

The Jewish leaders answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8:48).

Not only does a reading like this avoid the stain of antisemitism, it makes better sense when reading the passage. It avoids the temptation to want to lump all Jews in the same category, when the Gospels make it abundantly clear that many Jews were indeed, not only sympathetic, but also enthusiastic followers of Jesus as their Messiah.

For years, I tended to dismiss complaints from non-Christians that Christianity harbored antisemitic elements in certain elements of the faith. After all, anyone who is truly Christian would never be antisemitic. My reasoning had been that opponents of Christianity will say and do anything to discredit the Gospel, including making false charges of “antisemitism.” There is still some truth to this, as some critics of the Christian faith will tend to focus on antisemitism as a reason for rejecting the Christian faith outright, which is not a fair representation of what most Christians have believed over the centuries.

About four years ago, I read and reviewed several books that touched on this topic, Joel Richardson’s When a Jew Rules the World, and in tandem, Paula Fredriksens’ magisterial Augustine and the Jews, along with a shorter work, Barry Horner’s Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged. I admit that a lot of the points raised in those works about anti-Judaic teachings being promoted at various times in church history seemed fairly suspicious to me. But after this year’s visit to Europe, and seeing quite a bit of this antisemitic history for myself, I find myself more grieved by such occasional teachings by even some of my favorite theological heroes. Such writing and preaching enabled antisemitic thinking, at least among certain segments of the Christian community, more so than I had imagined before.

While it helps to always remind ourselves that Jesus was a Jew, and that his most prominent followers in those early years, like the Apostle Paul, were Jews as well, we should do more than that, and be more vigilant in rooting out anti-Judaic sentiments as Christians. It is quite evident that Jews and Christians have a number of differing beliefs, as genuine Christians believe that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah of the Jews, and that traditional Jews are still waiting for their Messiah to come, and therefore reject Christian claims about Jesus’ messianic status.

This is obviously a significant theological barrier that simply can not be ignored or waved off as unimportant. We should never trivialize such differences. I still want to engage my Jewish friends with the claims of the Gospel that Jesus is indeed that True Messiah that they have been waiting for these many, many generations. Many “Messianic Jews” and “Completed Jews,” as they are sometimes called, have come to discover that wonderful truth about Jesus.

But this is a far cry from the sad examples from church history, where Jews have been forced to live in segregated communities, expelled from cities, and having their cemeteries destroyed, all in the name of promoting certain extreme preachings popularized in certain segments of the Christian world. Being forced to pay for and sponsoring works of Christian art, that spring not from a voluntary act of worship, but rather as way of humiliating people, is something that we as believers should strongly condemn. Even if a popular rapper spreads lies about Jewish people, we as followers of the True Messiah, should take no part in such coarse and unguarded speech.

Instead, we should lovingly point others to the way of humility in following after Jesus, and giving God all of the honor and the glory and the praise, and not allow our petty agendas to distort how we view others, for whom our Savior and Lord died.

 


Oberammergau – The Passion Play

My wife and I originally planned to spend our 20th wedding anniversary a year early by taking a trip to Europe to view the Passion Play in Oberammergau, in southern Germany. COVID delayed all of those plans, but we were able to go this year when the Passion Play was rescheduled for 2022.

I learned about Oberammergau from my mom’s cousin, Lee Southard, who went to see the Passion Play when it was presented in 2010.  He told me that we should definitely make an effort to go see it. Lee was right.

The Oberammergau production does not allow photography during the performance, so I got this from their website. The Passion Play, performed once every ten years in Oberammergau, southern Germany, is an incredibly moving experience.

As the legendary story goes, the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) devastated the whole of continental Europe. Originally, the Thirty Years War had its genesis in the conflict between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism (a topic which I will cover in a future blog post). During that period, armies criss-crossed Central Europe in an attempt to redefine national boundaries, at least originally along theological commitment lines, though it got more complicated as time wore on. But along with these armies came the plague.

In 1633, the plague finally struck the small village of Oberammergau, nestled in the foothills of the southern Germany’s Alps. Half of the village’s population, about 81, died within about a month. The fathers of the village vowed that if God would spare the town further deaths that they would put on a “Passion Play,” retelling the last week of Jesus’ life, once every 10 years, as long as the town would endure.

From that moment on, there was no more death from the plague in Oberammergau.

Passion plays have been part of European history for a long time, but what makes Oberammergau unique is how these townspeople kept this pledge. Despite some fudgy-ness with the above details, Obermmergau kept their pledge, by ultimately settling on performing the play once every decadal year. Only a few times, such as around World War I and II, did they miss or delay their performance. When COVID hit in early 2020, they postponed the play until 2022. Other than that, once a decade, you can visit Oberammergau and witness the performance. Thousands travel from all over the world to see the play.

 

Oberammergau is a small town in Bavaria, Southern Germany, with a big name. Thousands come every ten years for the Passion Play (My wife is standing off in the corner, to the right)


You have to be a resident of Oberammergau to perform in the play, which means that nearly everyone is an amateur… hundreds of them! Plus, there are live animals going across the stage (including camels!!), and everyone wears long hair, with terrific costuming. The play is 5-hours in length, with a dinner intermission in the late afternoon. But the familiar story is so gripping the way it is presented, it does not feel like you are there quite that long. It helped to have an English copy of the script in hand, as all of the dialogue is in German.

My wife and I caught the last weekend of the performance in early October, and as the theater is open air, it got pretty cold. I got a head cold that very night as a result. This was the first stop on a Viking tour that she and I took, that concluded with an 8-day cruise down the Danube from Regensburg to Budapest (more blogs articles on that to come!).

The most controversial part of the play is the history surrounding how anti-semitism made its way into the play script over the centuries. Adolf Hitler saw the play and loved it when it was performed in the off year of 1934, so that might tell you something. Hitler’s review went like this: “It is vital that the Passion Play be continued at Oberammergau; for never has the menace of Jewry been so convincingly portrayed as in this presentation of what happened in the times of the Romans.” 

Yikes.

Not too long after Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church called for changes to be made to the Passion Play. A new young director, Christian Stückl, in 1986 assumed the task of revising the script, that had remained largely unchanged since the early 19th century. Over the past thirty years or so, efforts have been made to rid the story of anti-semitic elements not found in the Gospels, and I think they did a very good job in doing so. The current version makes it clear that while the Jewish leadership, symbolized by the office of the Jewish High Priest, engineered the fate of Jesus, it was the Roman government, through the office of Pontius Pilate who possessed the actual power to crucify in first-century Judea.

The most challenging and frankly refreshing interpretation for me was in the portrayal of Judas Iscariot. In the Oberammergau interpretation, Judas is contrasted with Peter a lot. Peter comes off like you would think he would, someone who has great confidence in Jesus, but then who shamefully denies Jesus when things get tough, three times.

The Oberammergau stage prior to the beginning of the performance, around 2pm. It was a rainy, cold afternoon, so I am glad that the open-air theater had a roof!

Judas, however, comes across differently than I had thought of him before, but I think Oberammergau got it right. Judas is portrayed as a Zealot, who was trying to force Jesus to reveal himself as the militant Messiah, ready to pick up the Davidic banner and exert his Kingship and kick the Romans out of Palestine. Judas goes to the Jewish leadership, looking for a way to force Jesus to act, by pointing out Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. But when Jesus fails to act and it looks like execution lies ahead for Jesus, Judas realizes that he had made a huge mistake. Judas confronts the High Priest, Caiaphas, for deceiving him, but the damage was already done. Judas cannot forgive himself, and rejects the offer of silver pieces from the Jewish leadership as irrelevant in his struggle with guilt. Instead of coming across like the Devil, Judas instead looks like a disillusioned revolutionary, who eventually commits suicide in his shame.

A lot of invented characters carry the plot along, along with additional plot elements to tie the story together. Advisors to Caiaphas, the High Priest, have dialogues that show the precarious situation that the Jewish leadership was in. Jesus had to be stopped for if Jesus did reveal himself as the full-blown military Messiah, then surely the Roman government would come in and crush the Jews, including their leadership. Faced between the alternatives of having Jerusalem destroyed by the Romans (which ultimately happened in 70 A.D., anyway), versus derailing Jesus’ public ministry, Caiaphas felt he had no other choice but the latter.

At the crucifixion, Mary cradles the dead Jesus, a tip towards Roman Catholic theology regarding Mary.

As a break between scenes, a choir came out, supplemented by a great orchestra, and different still scenes from the Old Testament were displayed and described in song, that really helped to frame the story of Christ’s Passion. The banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden, the story of Cain and Abel, and various scenes from the Exodus with Moses really stood out for me.

About 10:30pm at night, the drama of the Passion Play comes to a close. The stage is left with the empty cross.

In a surprise twist at the end, the Passion Play does not give us a Resurrected visit from Jesus. The play basically follows the brief outline given by the Gospel of Mark, which has no appearance of the Resurrected Jesus, only an Empty Tomb (unless you read from a King James Version Bible). Once Jesus is buried after the Crucifixion, we never see Jesus again, and yet the message of the angel at the tomb gives the women hope and confidence that Jesus is indeed alive. Just like modern interpretations of the passion, like the musicals Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell, the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus is never presented in visible form.

The evangelical theological convictions in me finds this to be immensely disappointing, since without a Resurrection appearance, the whole story misses the whole point. Though one could argue that it would be difficult to do justice in making some believable Resurrection appearance work in a live stage production, without it feeling a bit hokey. About a month before we were in Oberammergau, New Testament theologian Ben Witherington saw the play and walked away with a similar perspective.

Aside from that, the whole production was great. The dinner meal was a total bonus as well. Plus, my wife and I had great seats! Just a few rows from the front, and we could see everything. So glad we did this! Your next chance will be in 2030.

MORE BLOG POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

  • Prague’s Jan Hus: The Reformation Before Luther. Towards the end of our trip in Europe, we spent a few days in Prague, the home city for Jan Hus, the most prominent forerunner of the Protestant Reformation.
  • Defenestration of Prague & the Thirty Years War. The Thirty Years War of the first half of the 17th century devastated Europe. The amount of destruction to impact Europe would only be rivaled by the Napoleonic Wars of the 19th century, and the two World Wars of the 20th century. Sadly, what started it all was the conflict between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism…. and it all began in Prague, Czech Republic.

The Legacy of “Christian” Anti-Semitism: A Report from Rome

The Jewish Ghetto in Rome: Via Rua in Ghetto, (rione Sant’Angelo), by Ettore Roesler Franz (c. 1880)

As news unfolded last weekend of a man entering a Pittsburgh Jewish synagogue, and killing 11 worshippers, it was a sober reminder that anti-semitism is still a spiritual and moral disease to be reckoned with. My wife and I recently returned from a trip to Rome, Italy, and there we sadly learned that the story of anti-Jewish sentiment has much of its roots in the misuse of the Bible, throughout Christian history….

Our hotel in Rome was but a few blocks from the city’s famous Jewish Ghetto district, now a pricey part of town, lined with fantastic Jewish restaurants, to the culinary delight of tourists (such as this American! …. Try the artichoke! It is unbelievable!). But such upscale status was not always the case in Rome’s history.

Compared to much of the rest of Europe, Jews in Italy have had relatively better treatment throughout history. Unlike stories of exile from England (1290) and Spain (1492), Jews in Italy have never experienced periods of mass exile. Rome’s Jewish community over the years had always lived fairly close together, keeping their Jewish identity intact over the centuries. Christians from a Jewish background, such as the apostle Peter and Paul, were most probably part of this ancient community, back in the first century.

Though abused by pagan emperors, such as Cladius, as mentioned in the Book of Acts, Rome’s Jews lived mostly in peace, until the period of the Counter-Reformation, four centuries ago, right in the heart of the center of Western Christendom. In 1555, the plight of Rome’s Jews drastically changed, when the Jews were forced to live together, in one of the most undesirable parts of the city, next to the Tiber River. Established by a papal bull by Pope Paul IV, the Jews were huddled together in this walled-in ghetto, their homes susceptible to flooding from the nearby Tiber. Jews had their property rights taken away from them, and they were forced to listen to compulsory Christian sermons on the Jewish sabbath.

Veracity blogger, in front of the Church of San Gregorio a Ponte Quattro Capi (Note the presence of the police officer behind me, just to my right, and his police vehicle to the left of the church door).

Some of the successive Catholic popes relaxed various restrictions on Rome’s Jewish community, but the social upheavals of early 19th century Europe led to newer, and even tighter restrictions. One such sign of this can be seen today, at the small Church of San Gregorio a Ponte Quattro Capi, at the edge of the ghetto district.

Above the church door is an inscription from Isaiah 65:2-3, in both Hebrew and Latin:

I spread out my hands all the day
    to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
    following their own devices;
a people who provoke me
    to my face continually,
sacrificing in gardens
    and making offerings on bricks. (ESV)

Placed there in 1858, this is a good example of “right verse, wrong application.” The original context for this passage had to deal with God’s rebuke against Old Testament Jews, in Isaiah’s day, who had given themselves over to worship pagan deities. While it can be applied in our day, as God’s rebuke against all people (not just “the Jews”); that is, anyone who rebels against God, to suggest that this text is specifically targeting Rome’s Jews, with God’s displeasure, is a misuse of the text.

No wonder so many Jewish people today harbor feelings of mistrust around some Christians!

How would it make you feel to live in the Jewish ghetto? Compulsory housing code situated you and your family to live in a flood prone area, without any property rights of your own? Why on earth would anyone even want to listen to a sermon, using these Bible verses as a pretext, for legitimizing such coercion?

Inscription from Isaiah 65:2-3, in Hebrew on the left, and Latin on the right, from the Church of San Gregorio a Ponte Quattro Capi, overlooking the Jewish Ghetto (taken with my Android phone, October, 2018. Click on the image for a closer look).

Many evangelical Christians, of a more conservative bent today, tend to “pooh-pooh” so-called “seeker-sensitive” churches in our day and age. But it might have helped the cause of reaching Rome’s Jewish community, in the 19th century, to have a healthy dose of seeker-sensitivity. Here is the facade of the church, with the crucified Jesus looking down upon the inscription of Isaiah, which surely had Rome’s Jewish population in mind. This is not the most gentle way to win the hearts of people, to say the least:

Conditions for Rome’s Jewish community improved when the Papal States were superseded by the relatively more-secular Kingdom of Italy, in 1870. The formal requirement forcing all of Rome’s Jews to live in the ghetto came to an end, and the unsafe living conditions of the ghetto, for those who remained, were vastly improved by raising the ground level and building a flood retaining wall to keep the banks of the Tiber in check. A new, grand synagogue was built, and completed in 1904, and the Jewish community entered a new age of relative prosperity.

Rome’s Great Synagogue, finished in 1904.

It may seem like I am piling on the Roman Catholic Church here, but Protestants do not get off so easy. When the Nazi’s rose to power in the 1930s, in Germany, some of their anti-semitic rhetoric came from the pages of Martin Luther’s On the Jews and Their Lies. When the Nazis eventually occupied Rome, during War World 2, Rome’s Jewish community fell under their uncharitable eye.

The worst day for Jews in Rome, during the Nazi era, came on October 16, 1943. The Nazis drove trucks into the old Jewish Ghetto, rounded up as many Jews as they could, shipping many of them off to Auschwitz.

The situation for Rome’s Jewish community has greatly improved since the days of the Nazis. In 1986, Pope John Paul II visited the Great Synagogue, followed by Pope Benedict in 2010, and recently in 2016, with Pope Francis.

If you are ever in Rome, I would encourage you take a tour of the Great Synagogue of Rome. They have an incredibly informative museum, underneath the worship space, that interprets the history of the Jews in Rome, extending back to the pre-Christian, pagan era. However, if you do visit, you will notice that security is very tight getting into the synagogue and museum. Outside the synagogue, you will see Italian police officers, practically one on every corner. Rome has a high police presence, all across the city, but here in the Jewish ghetto area, it seems particularly high.

Just a few hundred feet down the street from the Great Synagogue of Rome, marks the spot (with a plaque, behind me on the building wall), where Nazi trucks came in, October 16, 1943, and abducted Jews to be taken off to Auschwitz, for extermination.

When I spoke to one of the museum guides about the high security issues, she told me why access to the synagogue  is so strict. In 1982, armed Palestinian militants stormed the undefended synagogue, killing one child. Ever since then, they have made every effort to restrict access to the synagogue, for safety reasons.

Inside the Great Synagogue of Rome.

The security situation in Rome came to mind when I heard of the recent tragedy in Pittsburgh. Whatever the motives of the synagogue killer, what happened in Pittsburgh has been labeled the most horrific single tragedy experienced by the American Jewish community, in U.S. history. Yet as Baptist leader, Russell Moore put it, “If you hate Jews, you hate Jesus.” Or consider the commentary of theologian Gerald McDermott, who challenges us to reach to our Jewish friends.

Where does this ugly legacy of anti-semitism come from? Well, sadly, part of the problem can unfortunately be traced back to misguided thinking among of those who wrongly misread their Bibles, as was evidently done by those who forced the Jews to live in ghettos, like that in Rome.

Earlier this year, I finished blogging my way through the controversial topic of “Christian Zionism,” examining the history  and practice of how Christians have read their Bibles about the promise of the land, to the Jews and their descendants, in the Middle East. No matter where someone lands on that particular issue, we should all be wary of tendencies among those who read their Bibles, to justify all sorts of ill-treatment against our Jewish friends. Instead, may we all, as followers of Jesus, take our example from our Lord, who after all, was Jewish, and learn to better know how to love our Jewish neighbors with the truth of the Gospel.

 

 


Purim in 5 Minutes

We are currently in the middle of the traditional Jewish feast of Purim, celebrating the classic story from the Book of Esther in the Bible, describing how the Jewish people during the Babylonian/Persian exile were saved by the faithful actions of one woman, Queen Esther. Jews from all over the world gather together to retell the story, many of them making loud noises whenever the name of Haman, the wicked villain of the story who desired to wipe out the Jews, is mentioned.

A Jewish friend of mine gave me some hamantash, a traditional three-cornered cookie filled with different yummy fillings, which represents the antagonist Haman. If you are not familiar with this Jewish festival, or the Book of Esther, you might enjoy this 5-minute explanation produced by a traditional Jewish website, aish.com:


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