Anti-Jewish sentiment in Christian history and Europe today

A shameful part of early and modern European history, Christianity was historically used to justify antisemitic sentiment and violence.

While there is nothing intrinsically anti-Semitic in Orthodox Christianity or any other Christian communion, I have encountered a surprising and disturbing number of professed Christians over the years who have expressed that they have a strong dislike for Jews. Growing up with many Jewish friends in a very religiously diverse area of Long Island, New York, I have also known many Jews who have developed a very negative opinion of Christianity in general because of their encounter with either 1) the historical reality that many Christian people and rulers throughout history have been responsible for hateful actions, even murder, against Jews, or 2) a Christian person living today who holds anti-Semitic views.

Growing up in the Roman Catholic Church, I never heard anything in church or read of any doctrines which could be construed as hateful toward Jews, and the same has held true since my conversion to Orthodoxy. I sometimes invite friends to Vigil or the Divine Liturgy if they are interested, and these have included non-religious/agnostic, atheist, Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, and Jewish people. Whenever any Jewish friends have attended Vespers or Liturgy with me, they are always struck by and comment on the remarkable similarities between Orthodox chanting and that of Hebrew cantors, especially in the chanting of the Psalter.

The few anti-Semitic individuals I have encountered among Orthodox people I have met are, without exception, Eastern European immigrants who happen to be less educated. As you will sadly find in almost every historically Christian European country, not just the Orthodox ones, such people tend to blame others – often, historically, Jews – for their personal economic woes or the mismanaging of their country’s finances.

This casting of blame where none is due is not because they are Orthodox Christians, but because of any combination of their own ignorance, popular antisemitism in their neighborhood, family upbringing, or local culture, etc. Today, antisemitic opinions (distinct from opinions critical of the policies of the Israeli Government or its Defense Forces) are normative, and rising, throughout Europe. I have found this through research, as well as just talking with many ordinary Europeans in my travels.

One example which comes to mind is from two years ago, when I met a young, educated Russian man here in DC named Vasily, a friend of my Russian godfather Misha. Vasily referred to the notorious forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (which purports to describe a Zionist attempt to control and undermine all the world’s governments) as if it were a credible book. I had never met someone who, in modern times, actually considered the forged account to be a legitimate plot.

However, among many other Russian immigrants I have met, there is a strong affinity for Jews because both Russian Christians and Jews suffered horrifically at the hands of the Nazis during the Second World War, with the Nazis considering both Christian and Jewish Slavs subhuman and targeting them for organized mass-murder.

It is important to realize that anyone who dislikes or hates Jewish people does not feel this way because of his or her Christian faith, though sometimes, and often historically, people have tried to cloak their anti-Semitism in zeal for Christ. This is a huge tragedy and misunderstanding of the core tenets of the Gospel. For centuries, Jews throughout medieval and early modern Europe were subject to random and arbitrary violence often at the hands of the local peasant populations who blamed the local Jews for failed crop harvests, disappearances of children, and even alleged well-poisonings during the Black Death, etc.

Since Christians were forbidden by the Church from lending money at interest (usury), and Jews were forbidden by Christian rulers from inheriting land and passing it on through lineal descent, often the only trades open to them were as money-lenders and traders, leading Christian peasants to label all Jews as cheats and local rulers to intermittently protect and expel them (using local Jews as sources of money, they often then betrayed them when they did not want to pay back their loans, as Edward I of England did in 1290). For more insight into the intermittent persecution Jews faced in early modern Europe, I highly encourage you to read the fascinating Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln (lived 1646-1724) and the Life of Judah, an autobiographical account written by Leon Modena, a leading seventeenth century Venetian rabbi (lived 1571-1648).

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Glückel of Hameln (1646-1724) was a wealthy Jewish businesswoman and diarist, whose account of her family life and financial endeavors to support her children after her first husband’s death provides scholars with an intimate picture of German Jewish communal life in the late-17th-early eighteenth century.

Notorious charges of alleged Jewish child-killing connected to the ‘blood libel’ myth persisted well into the twentieth century in some places, even in the United States with the 1928 Massena case in upstate New York. Blood libel refers to the myth that Jews in their synagogue rituals used the blood of Christian children for their Passover bread, and peasant superstition and antisemitic fervor has led to local hysteria against Jews throughout central and eastern Europe irrespective of the religious establishment of the area.

One Ukrainian Cossack who remains a national Ukrainian folk hero today, Bohdan Khmelnytsky, led his soldiers in massacres of tens of thousands of Jews in Galicia and what is today southern Poland and western Ukraine, devastating the area and causing the subsequent migration of many Ashkenazim Jews to live near mostly Sephardic communities in the Holy Roman Empire’s and Dutch cities.

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Equestrian statue of Bohdan Khmelnytsky in a main square in Kiev (Ukrainian: Богдан Зиновій Михайлович Хмельницький; Polish: Bohdan Chmielnicki; Russian: Богдан Хмельницкий, tr. Bogdan Khmelnitsky)

At the onset of the First Crusade in 1095, the “People’s Crusade” on their way to the Holy Land, following in the wake of the Christian kings and nobles who traveled by sea, massacred most of the Jews in the Rhineland of what is now eastern France in Alsace-Lorraine and western Germany. Upon their capture of Jerusalem in 1099, the Christians put most of the non-Roman Christians in the city — including Muslims, Jews, and Orthodox Christians — to the sword.

Hatred of Jews existed at the highest echelons of early modern European intellectual society, with the humanist and polymath Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus infamously quipping to his English correspondent Thomas More (later canonized as a martyr in the Roman Catholic Church after his martyrdom at the hands of Henry VIII) that “if to be a good Christian is to hate the Jews, then we are all good Christians here”.

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Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), also known as Erasmus of Rotterdam, was a Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, social critic, teacher, and theologian. Erasmus was a classical scholar who wrote in a pure Latin style.

Many Roman Catholic popes and all the Protestant Reformers – very highly educated men– espoused anti-Jewish views in their writings. Martin Luther’s vulgar 1543 diatribe On the Jews and their lies, a 65,000 word treatise, catalyzed popular Protestant German violence against Jews for centuries after his death. At their 1933 celebratory games in Nuremberg the Nazis prominently displayed an original copy of Luther’s treatise, which they marched past in formation.

Incensed when Jews did not convert to his “purified” and “reformed” Christianity, Luther’s treatise urged German Christian princes to treat Jews as a plague and vermin, and burn their scriptures, forbid their rabbis from teaching, seize their property and stores, and expel them from their domains. Does this sound familiar? Luther essentially urged everything short of full-scale Holocaust. The Holy Roman prince-elector who sheltered Luther from Emperor Charles V, for instance, eventually expelled the Jews who lived on his territories at Luther’s urging.

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Martin Luther (1483-1546), father of the classical Protestant Reformation, was formerly a Catholic Augustinian monk and priest, continuing even after his excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church as a professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg.

Along with many contemporary European intellectual figures, Luther held often deeply contradictory impressions and opinions about Jews. In his first treatise, Jesus Christ was a Jew (1523) he excoriated the Roman papacy for its harsh treatment of Jews, wondering why any Jew would ever convert to Christianity when he saw Christians failing at practicing the basic elements of their faith. He initially called for Christian rulers and Church leaders to treat the Jews better.

They have dealt with the Jews as if they were dogs rather than human beings; they have done little else than deride them and seize their property. When they baptize them they show them nothing of Christian doctrine or life. .  I hope that if one deals in a kindly way with the Jews and instructs them carefully from Holy Scripture, many of them will become genuine Christians and turn again to the faith of their fathers, the prophets and patriarchs.

They will only be frightened further away from it if their Judaism is so utterly rejected that nothing is allowed to remain, and they are treated only with arrogance and scorn. If the apostles, who also were Jews, had dealt with us Gentiles as we Gentiles deal with the Jews, there would never have been a Christian among the Gentiles. Since they dealt with us Gentiles in such brotherly fashion, we in our turn ought to treat the Jews in a brotherly manner in order that we might convert some of them. For even we ourselves are not yet all very far along, not to speak of having arrived.

When we are inclined to boast of our position we should remember that we are but Gentiles, while the Jews are of the lineage of Christ. We are aliens and in-laws; they are blood relatives, cousins, and brothers of our Lord. Therefore, if one is to boast of flesh and blood, the Jews are actually nearer to Christ than we are, as St. Paul says in Romans 9[:5]. God has also demonstrated this by his acts, for to no nation among the Gentiles has he granted so high an honor as he has to the Jews.

For from among the Gentiles there have been raised up no patriarchs, no apostles, no prophets, indeed, very few genuine Christians either. And although the gospel has been proclaimed to all the world, yet He committed the Holy Scriptures, that is, the law and the prophets, to no nation except the Jews, as Paul says in Romans 3[:2] and Psalm 147[:19-20], “He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation; nor revealed his ordinances to them.

It is almost impossible to believe that the same man wrote both treatises. Yet tragically, when German Jews did not embrace his reformed Christianity, the acid-tongued Luther turned against them.

In the Russian Empire, contrary to the Western European kingdoms of France, England, Castile, Aragon, and Portugal which had at various points expelled their Jewish populations (France and England in 1182 and 1290, respectively, and the late fifteenth century in the Iberian peninsula, with los reyes catolicos Fernando II of Aragon and Isabel I of Castile issuing their edict of expulsion in 1492), Jews were never expelled by official decree. Beginning during Empress Catherine II’s reign, Ashkenazi Jews were, however, required to live in a restricted agricultural zone in what is today Belarus, Moldavia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and western Russia known as the Pale of Settlement.

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Map depicting the area known as the Pale of Settlement in the western lands of the Russian Empire.

As Western European states gradually secularized and democratized in the nineteenth century in the wake of the tragic and complicated French Revolution, giving Jews initially partial and then full rights as citizens (though popular dislike of Jews remained strong in these societies), Jews in Western Europe suffered less direct violence than what they continued to suffer in the officially Orthodox Eastern European provinces and countries under Russian rule. Yet the horrific phenomenon of pogroms against Jews, often spurred on by priests’ preaching during Holy Week which was either emphatically hateful towards them, or misunderstood as such by the mobs who claimed they were killing those they considered “Christ-killers” in the name of Christ, were historically as much a part of Catholic and Protestant Western Europe as they were of the Orthodox East. Without exception, all the pogroms against Jews in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries took place in mainly Ukrainian Catholic (Uniate) parts of Ukraine.

Even in Eastern European countries with historically high rates of anti-Jewish pogroms and popular sentiment, countries which still show high rates of popular anti-Jewish feeling, there is no real connection between anyone who claims to hate Jews because of their Christian faith, and the actual tenets of Christianity. During the Holocaust, for instance, many European rulers such as Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, Queen Mother Helen (Elena) of Romania, and most famously King Christian of Denmark actively intervened to protect Jews from slaughter in whatever ways they could.

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Princess Helen of Greece and Denmark (1896-1982) was the wife of King Carol II of Romania and the mother of King Michael of Romania. She held the title Queen Mother of Romania. . For her efforts to rescue Romanian Jews from the Nazis, she was awarded the status of Righteous Among the Nations and a plaque commemorating her efforts stands at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

One Russian bishop who followed in Metropolitan Anthony’s footsteps, whom I never had the pleasure of meeting, was the late Bishop Basil (Rodzianko). He was my godmother’s spiritual father, and, according to her, he often told his parishioners and spiritual children that it is a grave sin to ever hold or act upon an anti-Jewish view or impulse, since Christ Himself, the Mother of God, all the apostles, etc, belonged by blood to the house of Israel. Bishop Basil reposed in 1999, so this shows that the phenomenon of Russian Orthodox hierarchs opposing anti-Jewish sentiment continues.

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His Grace, the late Bishop Basil Rodzianko (May 22, 1915-September 17, 1999).

Abbot Tryphon shares Metropolitan Anthony’s sermon reacting to Kishenev pogrom

SCAPEGOATING THE JEWS

His Eminence Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev and Galicia (1863-1936) was one of the most famous 20th century hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church. A renowned author and theologian, in 1918 he received the majority of votes for the restored office of Patriarch of Moscow, but the future confessor and martyr Patriarch Tikhon was to be enthroned instead. Fleeing in 1918 from the advancement of the Bolsheviks as large numbers of his fellow bishops were being executed, Metropolitan Anthony was charged by Patriarch Tikhon with leading the Russian Church in exile.

With all the horrific conspiracy theories regarding 911, the banking industry, and the takeover of our American government by Jews, it is time, I believe, to read the words of this holy hierarch, an address made to a mob following a murderous pogrom against the Jews in Kiev. We should take to heart these words of Metropolitan Anthony for this present age, for the economic crisis, together with the mass unemployment stats, as our world is in the same dangerous state that was found in Germany, just prior to the rise of Adolf Hitler. Never again can any of us sit by in silence, and allow any people to be scapegoated for the sins of all.
Love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon
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The Very Reverend Igumen Abbot Tryphon is the spiritual leader at All Merciful Saviour monastery located on Vashon Island in Puget Sound near Seattle, Washington State. The monastery is within the canonical jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The monastery’s widely acclaimed and popular Facebook page can be found here. Abbot Tryphon’s popular blog can be accessed here.
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My comments:
       Metropolitan Anthony delivered this sermon in the Cathedral of Zhytomyr (in west-central Ukraine today) following the 1903 Easter pogrom in Kishinev (today Chișinău, Moldavia) against local Jews and 1905 Kiev pogrom. These murderous pogroms, some of the most violent during this period, caused major debate within the Russian Empire, with prominent members of the intelligentsia such as Tolstoy giving the subject of pogroms significant attention for the first time.
       Additionally, the Kishinev and Kiev pogroms caused an international outcry, with U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt summoning the Russian ambassador Count Cassini to explain why Tsarist officials did not intervene to protect the local Jews. American Jews collected thousands of signatures from Jews and Gentiles alike in a petition to Tsar Nicholas II which he ultimately rejected. Few of the perpetrators were punished for their crimes, ranging from theft to violent assault to cold-blooded murder, and this was one of the reasons why so many Russian and Ukrainian Jews immigrated soon after to the United States and Britain. 
       Neither Emperor Nicholas II nor his father Alexander III ever ordered any pogroms. All pogroms in the Russian Empire took place at the instigation of local mobs in what is today Moldova, western Ukraine, southern Poland, and western Belarus — overwhelmingly Greek Catholic areas. There is no documentation for widespread pogroms within Russia proper. Further, it is an open secret that Metropolitan Anthony condemned the pogroms with the explicit permission of the Tsar; remember that prior to the abolition of the monarchy in 1917 following Nicholas II’s abdication, the Russian State closely controlled the life of the Russian Church, which was the official state religion. Metropolitan Anthony could not have acted so boldly without tacit support from the Emperor himself. This was no idle coincidence. Tsar Nicholas II personally donated hundreds of thousands of rubles to the victims of the pogroms, even though he was not directly responsible for them.
An additional source with the entire known transcript of the sermon can be found here.
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   Here is the Metropolitan’s sermon:
      “At the very time when in the holy temples there was being sung, “Let us embrace one another and say ‘brother’ even to those who hate us…” yes at that very time, outside the church walls, a drunken, beastly mob broke into Jewish homes, robbing the peaceful inhabitants and tearing human beings into pieces. They threw their bodies from windows into the streets and looted Jewish stores. A second crazed, greed-filled mob rushed in to steal the clothing and jewelry from the bloodied corpses, seizing everything they could lay hand on. Like Judas, these robbers enriched themselves with silver drenched in blood – the blood of these hapless human sacrifices!
       O God! How did Thy goodness endure such an insult and offense to the day of Thy saving passion and glorious resurrection! Thou didst endure Thy terrible struggle so that we would be dead to sin and live in Thee (Rm.6:11), but here they cruelly and in a most beastly manner slaughtered those who are Thy relatives according to the flesh, who, though they did not recognize Thee are still dear to Thy heart as Thou Thyself didst say not long before Thou didst suffer in the flesh, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou who killest the prophets and stone those who are sent to thee; how often have I longed to gather your children as a hen gathers its chicks under its wing, and you desired it not” (Matt. 23:37).
       O brethren, I wish to make you understand this so that you would comprehend that even today the Jewish tribe is dear to God’s heart, and realize that God is angered by anyone who would offend that people. Lest anyone suppose that we are selecting words from the sacred scripture with partiality, let me cite for you the words of that man whom the Jews hated above all men. This is the man whom a select company of the Jews vowed neither to eat nor drink until they had killed him (Acts 23:12) – Apostle Paul.
       Hearken to the words of God’s Spirit speaking through him: “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing my witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen” (Rm. 9:1-5).

       Startling and frightening word! Did you truly write them, Paul, you who came to love Christ, who began to live in Christ as Christ lived in you? For whose sake did you consent to be separated from Christ? Was it not you, Paul, who wrote the lines preceding this verse “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm.8:38-39). Even the angels could not have done that which you would voluntarily have done for the sake of the salvation of the Jews – those who were your enemies, your betrayers, they who beat you with whip, chained you in prison, exiled you and condemned you to death.

Behold, brethren and marvel: these words of Apostle Paul are spoken concerning the Jews, even though they were opposed to Christ’s faith. Lest your perplexity continue, that same apostle and martyr explains in the following chapter, the reason for his love of the house of Israel! “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (10:1-2)

The words are confirmed in our own day by the life of the Jews. Observe for yourselves their dedication to their law, their preservation of the Sabbath, their faithfulness to their spouses, their love of work and their love toward their children, whom they encourage toward obedience. There was a time not so long ago when many Christians excelled them in all these things, but in our present corrupt and degenerate age, we must look with regret upon all these qualities of the way of life of pious Jews. In our cities, the majority of Christians no longer distinguish between the ordinary day, feast days and fasts, but have fallen into negligence and a loose life.

It is true that there are also some like this among the Jews, but from whom did they learn such a disorderly path? Alas, from those whose forefathers confess Christ, from Western European and Russian nihilists who, like toads, swarm over our land, whose books and newspapers poison the air around us like the plague and cholera.

The Karaim and Talmud Jews must be respected, but woe to both those nihilists from among the Jews and from among us, who are corrupting both family and society, who sow the seed of their contagion among Russian and Polish youth, and who are the main cause of the hatred toward the descendants of the holy forefathers and prophets beloved by the Lord. I am not speaking about respect for these nihilists among the Jews.

Listen as the blessed apostle further explains the reason for his warm, self-denying love toward this people; hear how he explains their unbelief and obduracy toward Christ “I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy” (11:11). If the Jews had all accepted Christ’s faith, then the heathens who despised the Jews would have rejected it. If the Jews had all believed, then we, brethren, would not have become Christians, but would still be worshiping Jupiter and Venus or Perun and Volass as our pagan ancestors did. Be cautious, therefore, about slandering the unbelief of the Jews; rather grieve over it and pray that the Lord may be revealed to them. Do not be at enmity with them, but respect the apostolic word about the Israelite root and the branches that broke from it “Because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not high minded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. ” (11:20-21)

O Christians, fear to offend the sacred, even though rejected, tribe. God’s recompense will fall upon those evil people who have shed blood which is of the same race as the Theanthropos, His most pure mother, apostles and prophets. Do not suppose that this blood was sacred only in the past, but understand that even in the future reconciliation to the divine nature awaits them (2 Pet.1:4), as Christ’s chosen vessel further testifies, “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written. There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins” (11:25-27).

Let the savage know that they have slain future Christians who were yet in the loins of the present day Jews; let them know that they have shown themselves to be bankrupt opponents of God’s providence, persecutors of a people beloved by God, even after its rejection (11:28).

How sinful is enmity against Jews, based on an ignorance of God’s law, and how shall it be forgiven when it arises from abominable and disgraceful impulses. The robbers of the Jews did not do so as revenge for opposition to Christianity, rather they lusted for the property and possessions of others. Under the thin guise of zeal for the faith, they served the demon of covetousness. They resembled Judas who betrayed Christ with a kiss while blinded with the sickness of greed, but these murderers, hiding themselves behind Christ’s name, killed His kinsmen according to the flesh in order to rob them.”

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The Blessed and ever-memorable Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev and Galicia lived from 1863-1937. One of the intellectual and pastoral luminaries of the Russian Orthodox Church, he held my different positions: professor at theological academies, bishop of various dioceses, then archbishop and Metropolitan in what is today west-central Ukraine. At the 1917-1918 Local Sobor (Council) of the Russian Church he received the most votes out of any of the candidates for the restored office of Patriarch. Following intermittent imprisonment by the hostile Bolsheviks and Soviets and the Red Army’s eventual victory over the disunited White forces, Metropolitan Anthony left Russia with many of the remaining clergy once the open persecution of Christians by the atheist State intensified. He eventually assumed the position as First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad (what became known as the ROCOR).