September 8th, 2016

Christ in the stranger’s guise

Recently something reminded me of a book I had first read back in the 1980s, one I would recommend to everyone. It’s called Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust, and it’s quite different from most Holocaust literature:

An important work of scholarship and a sudden clear window onto the heretofore sealed world of the Hasidic reaction to the Holocaust. Its true stories and fanciful miracle tales are a profound and often poignant insight into the souls of those who suffered terribly at the hands of the Nazis and who managed somehow to use that very suffering as the raw material for their renewed lives.

In other words, although the circumstances of these stories are horrific, the people telling them are by definition survivors, and they interpret what happened to them through the prism of their religious faith. According to the author, who heard the tales from Holocaust survivors living in a Hasidic community in Brooklyn, these stories have been substantiated in various ways and are not fiction. But they have a mythic quality of fable that might lead some readers to believe they are embellished. I certainly don’t know for sure, but I think they are probably mostly true, and at any rate they make for remarkable and very moving reading.

The tale I was thinking of the other day is that of 16-year-old Zvi Michalowsky. The story can be found online in its entirety here, but I’ll give an excerpt from it (I suggest you read the whole thing, though; it’s short). It begins in the Lithuanian town of Eisysky, when the Nazi occupiers had summoned the 4,000 Jews of the town and marched them to pits where they would be shot (this was very early in the Holocaust in the killing campaign known as the Einsatzgruppen which I’ve written about here):

Among the Jews that September 25, 1941, in the old Jewish cemetery of Eisysky was one of the shtetl’s melamdim (teachers), Reb Michalowsky, and his youngest son, Zvi, age sixteen. Father and son were holding hands as they stood naked at the edge of the open pit, trying to comfort each other during their last moments. Young Zvi was counting the bullets and the intervals between one volley of fire and the next. As Ostrovakas and his people were aiming their guns, Zvi fell into the grave a split second before the volley of fire hit him.

He felt the bodies piling up on top of him and covering him. He felt the streams of blood around him and the trembling pile of dying bodies moving beneath him.

It became cold and dark. The shooting died down above him. Zvi made his way from under the bodies, out of the mass grave into the cold, dead night. In the distance, Zvi could hear Ostrovakas and his people singing and drinking, celebrating their great accomplishment. After 800 years, on September 26, 1941, Eisysky was Judenfrei.

At the far end of the cemetery, in the direction of the huge church, were a few Christian homes. Zvi knew them all. Naked, covered with blood, he knocked on the first door. The door opened. A peasant was holding a lamp which he had looted earlier in the day from a Jewish home. “Please let me in,” Zvi pleaded. The peasant lifted the lamp and examined the boy closely. “Jew, go back to the grave where you belong!” he shouted at Zvi and slammed the door in his face. Zvi knocked on other doors, but the response was the same.

Near the forest lived a widow whom Zvi knew too. He decided to knock on her door. The old widow opened the door. She was holding in her hand a small, burning piece of wood. ” Let me in!” begged Zvi. “Jew, go back to the grave at the old cemetery!” She chased Zvi away with the burning piece of wood as if exorcising an evil spirit, a dybbuk.

“I am your Lord, Jesus Christ. I came down from the cross. Look at me—the blood, the pain, the suffering of the innocent. Let me in,” said Zvi Michalowsky. The widow crossed herself and fell at his blood-stained feet. “Boze moj, Boze moj (my God, my God),” she kept crossing herself and praying. The door was opened.

Zvi walked in. He promised her that he would spare from damnation both her family and her, but only if she would keep his visit a secret for three days and three nights and not reveal it to a living soul, not even the priest. She gave Zvi food and clothing and warm water to wash himself. Before leaving the house, he once more reminded her that the Lord’s visit must remain a secret, because of His special mission on earth.

Dressed in a farmer’s clothing, with a supply of food for a few days, Zvi made his way to the nearby forest. Thus, the Jewish partisan movement was born in the vicinity of Eisysky.

This story illustrates many things, among them (if you go to the link and read the beginning) the fact that some Jews were for armed resistance, including Zvi who ended up as a partisan. It also illustrates the combination of extreme resourcefulness and luck displayed by some survivors. And although it is tempting to offer swift and self-righteous condemnation to the people who closed their doors to Zvi, how many among us would have risked our lives and especially our family members’ lives (including children’s) to save him?

When I first read that story so many years ago, it gave me the chills. The simple religious woman’s powerful faith moved me, too. And the story reminded me in turn of this ancient Gaelic rune. The first time I was introduced to it was also in the 80s; it was called to my attention by a friend who was taking a course in literature. When I read the poem I got the chills, just as with the other tale. It was something about the archaic language and the sentiment, which although Christian (and I’m not) seems to me to be a general statement about the soul dwelling in every human being:

Christ in the Stranger’s Guise

I met a stranger yest’re’een;
I put food in the eating place,
Drink in the drinking place,
Music in the listening place;
And, in the sacred name of the Triune,
He blessed myself and my house,
My cattle and my dear ones,
And the lark said in her song,
Often, often, often,
Goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise;
Often, often, often,
Goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise.

54 Responses to “Christ in the stranger’s guise”

  1. Sgt. Mom Says:

    My mother had a very dear friend named Lainie when I was a teenager; a Viennese lady who had a Jewish grandparent and thus she and her parents, best friend and little brother were all rounded up and sent to Theresenstadt – the show camp – during the war. Lainie was only a teenager herself, and her family had been well-to-do. One way and another, she and her friend and little brother had been very sheltered from the war, and the vileness of the Nazis – and she and her friend wound up together at the initial intake. A Nazi officer demanded that she give up her warm fur coat – and Lainie, who was only a teenager, mind you – protested. No, it was her birthday present, it was cold … and it was her coat.
    And the Nazi officer was getting impatient, and hostile, and Lainie still didn’t want to give up her coat. And a very elderly, ragged, foreign Jew appeared out of nowhere, and whispered gently to her to give up the coat. And so she did, and only very much later realized how close she had been to being killed on the spot, or sent to a death camp as her parents and little brother had been. She always said that the old ragged Jew was really an angel, sent to save her life.
    (Lanie was actually a Christian, BTW – which is where we knew her from.)

  2. rafe Says:

    I always feel such great sorrow, for the great loss and pain, and such joy, for those who survive to tell the tale, when I read stories such as these.

    I was struck by the hostility of the neighbors toward Zvi when he appeared “from the grave” but as the story unfolded, I started wondering: Did the neighbors think that he was indeed a ghost? This was 1941 in rural Lithuania. How much of the responses from the unhelpful neighbors was anti-Jewish sentiment, how much was fear of the authorities, how much was fear of the supernatural?

    I just pray that if I am ever put to the test, as were the neighbors, I would perform better than they did; I know that would share their fear of the authorities and their fear of the supernatural. Would my desire to do what is right overwhelm my fears?

    I guess that is why God’s messengers (angels) always begin their salutations with “Do not be afraid”…

  3. Nick Says:

    Interesting idea, Rafe. How many traditional ghost/monster stories begin with a blood-soaked figure knocking on your door asking to be let in?

  4. Sharon W Says:

    Thank you for this recommendation, Neo. Since my teens I have read many books on that era and have always wondered how I would have responded, or would respond should my lifetime present a similar crisis. Especially now that I have a young granddaughter I’m devoted to, I try to imagine the costs of putting oneself “on the line”. I pray I’m never tested in this manner, but must trust my faith would see me through it.

  5. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    “When I first read that story so many years ago, it gave me the chills. The simple religious woman’s powerful faith moved me, too.” neo

    I agree that the old woman was deeply religious and perhaps she took Zvi’s factual declaration as an implied theological point. But I think that less probable than that she only helped Zvi because she believed that he actually was the Christ testing her.

    I base that upon her first reaction being no different from the others:
    “Let me in!” begged Zvi. “Jew, go back to the grave at the old cemetery!” She chased Zvi away with the burning piece of wood as if exorcising an evil spirit, a dybbuk.”

    And then her change of mind… which came about only after Zvi declared:
    “I am your Lord, Jesus Christ. I came down from the cross. Look at me—the blood, the pain, the suffering of the innocent. Let me in,” said Zvi Michalowsky. The widow crossed herself and fell at his blood-stained feet. “Boze moj, Boze moj (my God, my God),” she kept crossing herself and praying. The door was opened.”

  6. neo-neocon Says:

    Geoffrey Britain:

    I meant to suggest that she did think he was Christ, but only because she was already a believer.

  7. Artfldgr Says:

    The Hasidim believe there is a CHRIST for each generation… in the west, most say his name is jesus christ, but if you pay attention, or are a bit more religious, you note that its really Jesus THE Christ… Yeshua

    this is just an extention of whats in the talmud and the bible…

    Matthew 25:31 The Sheep and the Goats

    31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

    33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

    34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

    35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

    37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

    40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

    41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

    42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

    44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

    45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

    46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

    the King is who? 🙂 The Christ…

    The frame of the picture is the conventional Jewish Apocalyptic expectation; but many details of the picture would seem to be the creation of Jesus Himself. . . . Matthew’s account of the Judgement differs from the usual Jewish view in this important respect, that here the judge is not God but the Son of Man (T. W. Manson Sayings 54).\

    The separation to the “right” (dexiw`n) and “left” (eujwnuvmwn) hands reflects the widespread understanding in the ancient world associating evil and the left hand. In fact, our word “sinister” is derived from the Latin word for “evil.” Curiously enough, the word translated “left” here is actually a euphemism used to avoid even speaking the word (It comes from two words meaning “good name” — much as when we ironically use the word “bless” to mean “curse”).

    This is a particularly difficult parable to interpret. Some accept the possibility that Jesus taught that people who do not know Christ will be judged on the basis of their love and compassion shown to the needy, who unbeknownst to them were his representatives (Jeremias 209; Hunter 90).

    Elsewhere in the New Testament it is clear that love is the expression of one’s status as a child of God (1 John).

    In the Judgment scene, “no question is asked that would be applicable only to professed Christians. Nothing is said about repentance or faith in Christ; but only about conduct” toward others (Plummer 350).

    Those declared just were as surprised by their recompense of joy as the unjust were by their condemnation (Buttrick 259; Plummer 351).

    Nowhere else in the New Testament is the formula reversed so as to suggest that one is justified by works of love (as Jeremias suggest it is here [209-210]).

    Here the vital question is not whether a man has lived a moral life or whether he has been decently kind to other people. It is how he stood toward the kingdom of God: Was he on the side of the kingdom or against it? (T. W. Manson Sayings 542; cf. Teaching 265)

  8. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Rafe, CS Lewis stressed that idea of the alarming, not sappy sentimental, appearance of angels. I share your hope and fear about being put to the test as well. I suspect the answer already exists, because of whatever character we have inherited and learned to date. When the test comes, we will not decide in that moment, but simply react on the basis of a thousand previous decisions of character.

    As to giving and rescuing, I have enormous conflict because part of my job is to teach some people not to rely on rescue, and especially not fraudulently. Thus, when I see someone in need who is not my patient, I wonder if they are someone else’s patient and I am undermining the work. I have eventually decided that I cannot know such things and must react like any other stranger – but it’s odd.

    I no longer recommend Elie Wiesel’s Night without qualification, because I believe it is too embellished. But I still give Souls On Fire, which sounds similar to Hasidic Tales.

  9. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    neo,

    Ah. Yes.

    Art,

    If there is a Christ in every generation, would not at least some of them have far more impact? Yet, if they do exist, none have had even remotely close to the impact of a Jesus. That leaves me doubtful of the possibility, as welcome as it would be.

  10. sdferr Says:

    I do love Alfred Burt’s carols. I’m minded by this Burt carol of another song however, on account of various parts, not least perhaps the mention of “food in the eating place”.

    So, I offer a link to that: Vaughn Williams’ Five Mystical Songs, 3. “Love Bade Me Welcome“.

    (And commend to your listening pleasure the other four Mystical Songs as well).

  11. Big Maq Says:

    ” And although it is tempting to offer swift and self-righteous condemnation to the people who closed their doors to Zvi, how many among us would have risked our lives and especially our family members’ lives (including children’s) to save him? “ – Neo

    I’d like to avoid being put in a position to have to make that choice.

    Too many are too comfortable with trump vs following their own principles and convictions.

    That is one (really, a huge number of) step(s) towards having to be in that position to make that choice.

  12. T Says:

    I have always found anti-Semitism to be a paradox. It is often explained away as a hatred for Jews by Christians because the Jews crucified Christ, but that rationalization fails to take into account two things:

    First, that Christ was a Jew (hatred of Jews for killing another Jew);

    Secondly, according to Christian theology itself, it was necessary for Christ to die so that all of mankind would be saved. To hate the Jews because of Christ’s crucifixion is to hate the catalyst of one’s own professed salvation.

    The mind explodes.

  13. neo-neocon Says:

    T:

    Not to mention the fact that the Romans crucified Christ.

  14. junior Says:

    Neo –

    But according to the accounts in the New Testament, it was done at the behest of the Jews. The arrest, early questioning, and basically everything except the death penalty (which only the Romans could inflict) was done at the instigation of the Jews, and even Pilate seems to have been aware that he was being manipulated.

  15. DNW Says:

    T Says:
    September 8th, 2016 at 1:17 pm

    I have always found anti-Semitism to be a paradox. It is often explained away as a hatred for Jews by Christians because the Jews crucified Christ, but that rationalization fails to take into account two things:

    First, that Christ was a Jew (hatred of Jews for killing another Jew);

    Secondly, according to Christian theology itself, it was necessary for Christ to die so that all of mankind would be saved. To hate the Jews because of Christ’s crucifixion is to hate the catalyst of one’s own professed salvation.”

    Christians did not originate anti-Semitism taken in its modern sense as a dislike of Jews as Jews, rather than a dislike of their monotheism – which is even older.

    I think we have even discussed this before, referring to Josephus’ Contra Apion.

    This might also be of interest. http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=1482

    “Schafer sees antisemitism as beginning with virulent Egyptian traditions recalling the Expulsion of Jews from Egypt. In contrast to the Exodus story, this was not a flight to freedom but a casting out of a diseased, impious, and dangerous foreign element. This story was already in full flower at the time Manetho and others composed their texts. The Egyptian tradition proved a strong basis for later Alexandrian Greek theoretical development, as well as for the political “hands-on” employment of pogroms during the reigns of Caligula and Claudius. During the later Maccabean period, when Jerusalem was besieged by Hellenist Syrians under Antiochus VII Sedetes, the climactic response to Jewish uniqueness was created when the king’s counselors urged him to go beyond defiling the Temple to humble the arrogant Jews (who refused to worship like civilized people did, many gods). He should rather finish the job by exterminating all of them, since they were a threat to Hellenistic world culture. Jews supposedly hated all non-Jews (misanthropy); they were “atheists” in that they refused to honor pagan gods, preferring the worship of one god exclusively.

    To the normal but not universal Hellenistic hostility to Jews and Judaism, the Romans–Cicero, Juvenal, and Tacitus–added both admiration or astonishment combined with “fear” of the Jews’ ability to survive in the Empire without a homeland. Also disturbing was the conversion of upper class Romans to Jewish identity which even then seemed peculiar because it obviously transcended membership in a nation. Thus Jews and Judaism were seen by some important Romans as threatening to the triune basis of ancient Roman culture: worship of gods, loyalty to family, and to nation.

    Schafer makes clear that Roman writers–by comparison to the Egyptians, Syrians, and Hellenists–were much more ambivalent about Jews and Judaism. They might be attracted to Judaism for its not worshipping idols, as apparently ancient Roman tradition had not either, at least before the Greeks brought in human statues. Admirable, too, was their maintaining ancient customs and rituals, however silly or superstitious they might seem to civilized men.”

    Peter Schafer. Judeophobia: Attitudes toward the Jews in the Ancient World. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997. viii + 306 pp. $35.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-674-48777-2.

    Reviewed by Richard E. Sherwin (Bar Ilan University, Israel)
    Published on H-Antisemitism (November, 1997)

  16. Nick Says:

    Anti-semitism only makes sense if there is a Satan who hates all of God’s creation but especially the Jews.

  17. Vanderleun Says:

    2 Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

    — Hebrews 13

  18. Daniel in Brookline Says:

    Nick: Interesting!

    Why, in your opinion, would Satan hate all of God’s creation, but Jews more than others?

  19. Wilhelmina Says:

    We were told by our pastor, if we ever thought we were being visited by a ghost, to say, “Go back where you belong,” and to pray for the poor soul. That’s what I thought of when reading this story.

  20. neo-neocon Says:

    Junior:

    That assertion is only found in Matthew, and its authenticity as a historic account has been called into question by many authorities. For example, there is some indication it was added during a period when the early Christians were hoping to gain Roman converts, and wished to deflect blame from Rome and onto the Jews instead.

  21. Richard Saunders Says:

    Jumior — ask yourself about the import of the sign over Jesus’ cross. Why was it in Latin, not in Aramaic or Greek, the languages spoken and written by the Jews and the Romans? Why did it say “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” and not “Jesus of Nazareth, Upsetter of the Social Order,” or “Jesus of Nazareth, Challenger of Religious Orthodoxy?”

  22. OlderandWheezier Says:

    When you commented on Tolstoy recently, I recalled this story of his. Maybe it’s appropriate to link to it now:

    http://www.online-literature.com/tolstoy/2892/

  23. T Says:

    Neo,

    An important distinction that I should have noted above. The ritual of crucifixion was a Roman technique (a Jewish death would have been stoning), but the Jews, themselves, demanded that Christ suffer this Roman fate. (Pilate asks what to do with this man who is guilty of no crime. The Jews respond: “Crucify him!” When given the choice of Christ or Barabbas, they choose the convicted criminal Barabbas over Christ.)

    n.B., there is an interesting article from the 1960s by William Loerke regarding the Rosanno Gospelsof an illustration of the trial before Pilate.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rossano_Gospels

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rossano_Gospels#/media/File:RossanoGospelsFolio8vChristBeforePilate.jpg

    Loerke’s thesis, as I remember it, is that the iconography goes to great lengths to show that the trial before Pilate followed the ritual of Roman judicial law–i.e., was a true trial. Reading between the lines it seems that the intent was to exonerate the Romans and place the blame directly on the Jews (Art Bulletin Vol 43, 1961, pp.171-195). I should be careful, though, I speaking here from memory of a long time ago.

    DNW,

    Being unschooled in early Judaism, I will not argue with that, although I surely believes that it is plausible. In the Middle Ages, Jews were tolerated because they were the only bankers. Not that others did not want to lend money, but the Christian prohibition of charging any interest (usury) meant that there was no incentive for any Christian to lend money, thus the Jewish moneylenders which were an important part of medieval society. This is a tradition which works all the way down through Shakespeare (Shylock) and which, I believe, is continued in the sometimes virulent anti-Semitism of Europe which was at least one basis for the Holocaust.

  24. roc scssrs Says:

    The image of the suffering Christ is often used by Christians to evoke feelings of pity and compassion for others (and sadly misused to evoke feelings of revenge against Jews). “Seeing Christ in others” takes a lot of practice though. I would like to think the old woman’s religious faith primed her to eventually see the humanity in Zvi, though it could also be seen as a reaction to primitive superstition.

  25. T Says:

    Neo,

    A follow-up.. See your comment to Junior above: “. . . when the early Christians were hoping to gain Roman converts, and wished to deflect blame from Rome and onto the Jews instead.”

  26. Richard Saunders Says:

    My wife’s maternal grandmother’s family was from a village in Latvia. Two sisters, young women, were working in Riga as housemaids for Latvian families when the Germans invaded. They never told anyone they were Jewish, they just stayed at their jobs, so they survived the Holocaust. After the war, they returned to their home village.

    A few years ago, one of my wife’s cousins travelled to the village in Latvia to see if any members of the family were still alive. He found some descendants of the two sisters. Fifteen years after independence from Russia, their identity cards were still stamped “Yevrey” — Jew.

  27. Sharon W Says:

    Paul Johnson wrote an excellent book I read years ago, A History of the Jews. I read it after my all-time favorite book, A History of Christianity. The first chapter of that book would shed a lot of interesting light on many of the comments to this post.

  28. Daniel in Brookline Says:

    T:

    What you say about Jewish bankers is correct as far as it goes. But please keep in mind that Middle Ages Jews, doing the work Christians wouldn’t do, happened because often, such work was the only work Jews were permitted to do. (Jews were excluded from many professional guilds, for example.)

    And that was during the GOOD times. Virtually all the countries of Europe expelled their Jewish populations at one time or another. During the times when it was still legal to be Jewish, Jews were nonetheless subject to “Jewish taxes” — see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxation_of_the_Jews_in_Europe for a small sample — or other financial burdens.

    Jewish moneylending was very much a symptom of antisemitism, not its cause. (Of course, hatred of bankers may well have fueled the fire of antisemitism. Bigotry and circular reasoning are no strangers to one another.)

  29. T Says:

    Daniel in Brookline,

    I never meant to imply otherwise. Thanks for the elaboration.

    Furthermore, I’ve always thought, without any real evidence, that one reason that Jews are so prominent in fiscal ventures, jewel trade, and artistic pursuits is that as a persecuted class constantly driven from place to place, it was always good to have one’s wealth easily portable. Unlike land, the ancient standard of wealth, money, jewels and knowledge were all eminently portable.

  30. Nick Says:

    Neo, all four gospels have accounts of Jesus being taken from the garden of Gethsemane by a crowd that either included or was sent by the chief priests. They have Jesus questioned by the priests or Sanhedrin and turned over to the Romans. Afterwards, they have Pilate present Jesus to the crowd, who is encouraged by the priests to call for Jesus’s crucifixion. Additionally, Acts 2 has Peter talking to the Jewish about “Jesus, whom you crucified”. Every Christian recognizes that Jesus died willingly because of his or her own sins, but was crucified by the Romans at the encouragement of the Jewish leaders.

  31. Richard Saunders Says:

    Jews always understood the prohibition against usury in the Torah to apply to loans to the poor to help them out, but not to commercial transactions.

    Further, a Jew from Pumbadita, Babylon, could write a letter to his cousin in Alexandria, Roman Empire:

    “Blessed be the Name.

    17th Sivan, 4060

    Dear Moshe:

    Please give the bearer of this letter, my friend Shmuel ben Avraham, 300 solidi cash or credit, and charge it to my account.

    Mazel and Bracha,

    Your cousin, Yitzhak.”

    Shmuel would then take the note to Alexandria — much safer than carrying 300 solidi in cash from Babylon to Egypt — then Moshe would endorse the letter, certifying that the credit was good, and Shmuel would make his purchases in Alexandria, with each merchant noting the amount of the purchase on the letter, and knowing that Moshe would give them cash or credit for that amount.

    Thus were drafts, and hence banking, begun.

  32. Richard Saunders Says:

    Nick – Do I doubt that the Romans could round up a “spontaneous demonstration” to call for the execution of Jesus and hundreds (or thousands) of others? Do I doubt that the Jewish Quisling government, like the Judenrats of Nazi-occupied Europe would say “better that one man die than our whole nation be destroyed?” Not for a moment.

    But that doesn’t change that Jesus was certainly executed for claiming (or his followers claiming) that he was the Messiah, which meant, to the Jews, a descendent of David who would restore the Israelite kingdom, which to the Romans was treason and rebellion.

  33. Nick Says:

    Richard – Not sure your point.

  34. neo-neocon Says:

    Nick:

    I was speaking of a passage in Matthew that semis to say the Jews are guilty. I’m not at my computer now and can’t give you the link at the moment, but that was the intended reference.

  35. Ann Says:

    Natan Sharansky wrote that anti-Semitism was around in the ancient world, but “would intensify a thousandfold” with the arrival of Christianity — from his “On Hating the Jews”:

    Did the Jews actually reject the values that were dominant in the ancient world, or was this simply a fantasy of their enemies? While many of the allegations leveled at Jews were spurious–they did not ritually slaughter non-Jews, as the Greek writer Apion claimed–some were obviously based on true facts. The Jews did oppose intermarriage. They did refuse to sacrifice to foreign gods. And they did emphatically consider killing a newborn infant to be a crime.

    Some, perhaps many, individual Jews in those days opted to join the (alluring) Hellenist stream; most did not. Even more important, the Jews were the only people seriously to challenge the moral system of the Greeks. They were not an “other” in the ancient world; they were the “other”–an other, moreover, steadfast in the conviction that Judaism represented not only a different way of life but, in a word, the truth. Jewish tradition claims that Abraham was chosen as the patriarch of what was to become the Jewish nation only after he had smashed the idols in his father’s home. His descendants would continue to defy the pagan world around them, championing the idea of the one God and, unlike other peoples of antiquity, refusing to subordinate their beliefs to those of their conquerors.

    The (by and large correct) perception of the Jews as rejecting the prevailing value system of the ancient world hardly justifies the anti-Semitism directed against them; but it does take anti-Semitism out of the realm of fantasy, turning it into a genuine clash of ideals and of values. With the arrival of Christianity on the world stage, that same clash, based once again on the charge of Jewish rejectionism, would intensify a thousandfold. The refusal of the people of the “old covenant” to accept the new came to be defined as a threat to the very legitimacy of Christianity, and one that required a mobilized response.

    Branding the Jews “Christ killers” and “sons of devils,” the church launched a systematic campaign to denigrate Christianity’s parent religion and its adherents. Accusations of desecrating the host, ritual murder and poisoning wells would be added over the centuries, creating an ever larger powder keg of hatred. With the growing power of the church and the global spread of Christianity, these potentially explosive sentiments were carried to the far corners of the world, bringing anti-Semitism to places where no Jewish foot had ever trod.

    According to some Christian thinkers, persecution of the powerless Jews was justified as a kind of divine payback for the Jewish rejection of Jesus. This heavenly stamp of approval would be invoked many times through the centuries, especially by those who had tried and failed to convince the Jews to acknowledge the superior truth of Christianity. The most famous case may be that of Martin Luther: At first extremely friendly toward Jews–as a young man he had complained about their mistreatment by the Church–Luther turned into one of their bitterest enemies as soon as he realized that his efforts to woo them to his new form of Christianity would never bear fruit.

  36. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Couple of puzzlements. I believe that the Romans sent to the Garden included a tribune. There were not many tribunes in a legion; they were senior officers.
    So, either it was a very large bunch of legionaries, more than a couple of centuries, or the whole op needed somebody plugged into the political/social situation to make decisions if the op went sideways. Either of those would indicate that the Romans took the thing very, very seriously.
    The crucifixion was designed to be as awful as possible. The scourging made shoving oneself up and down on the rough wood of the cross more painful. The stacked-foot nailing meant you couldn’t lock your knees to take weight off your hands and arms so you had to go up and down as one set of muscles gave out, meanwhile trying with all your diminishing mental capacities to not have to move. And it was designed to last. A lesson, I suppose.
    Why would the Jews pick a Roman method of execution? To blame the Romans since the population wouldn’t know how that had been arrived at? To be a lesson to other would-be heterodox?

  37. T Says:

    ” The stacked-foot nailing meant you couldn’t lock your knees . . . .” [Richard Aubrey @ 6:58]

    My understanding is that nailing was rarely used for crucifixion and that most of those crucified were tied to their respective crosses. The condemned actually asphyxiated as a result of not being able to hold themselves up, thus the breaking of legs of those crucified to hasten their deaths.

  38. Irene Says:

    @Richard Saunderss
    “Do I doubt that…the Judenrats of Nazi-occupied Europe would say “better that one man die than our whole nation be destroyed?”

    Well, you can doubt it or not, however, if you’re referring to Yitzak Wittenberg as “the one man”, you’re mistaken. The Nazis demanded Wittenberg because he was a Communist, not because he was Jewish. His fellow Jewish partisans – whom he’d never informed of his primary affiliation, i.e., Communism – were delusional in their belief that the Nazis would just forget about him if he didn’t turn himself in. After a week, the demand by the Nazis was final. Turn over the Communist or else the ghetto would pay. They had no idea that there even was a Jewish partisan movement in the Vilna ghetto.

  39. Richard Saunders Says:

    Nick — my point is that Jesus was executed by the Romans with the cover of some collaborating Jews, not “crucified by the Romans at the encouragement of the Jewish leaders.”

    In all of Jewish history since the Babylonian Exile, maybe since the Torah, no Jew has ever been executed by Jews for challenging religious orthodoxy (adopting idol-worship not included) or claiming to be or thought to be the Messiah.

    This particularly applies to Jesus as: 1) he was well within the mainstream of Jewish thought, having been educated at Beit (the school of) Hillel, and was teaching what Isaiah, Amos, Hillel and others had taught before him; 2) who were the “Jewish authorities” at the time? The Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Essenes, the Zealots, the Sicarii? Who else?; and 3) there were all sorts of preachers wandering around 1st Century Roman-occupied Judea, none of whom the “Jewish authorities” did anything about.

    As I’ve posted before, the Romans didn’t give a hoot in hell about anyone offending the Jewish religion, because they thought Judaism was ridiculous.

    What the Romans did care about very much was rebellion (and they were totally justified to do so, given past and future events), and anyone claiming or thought to be the Messiah, who would restore the Davidic line and an independent Jewish kingdom (I.N.R.I), was a rebel against Rome, for which the Roman punishment was death by crucifixion.

  40. Richard Saunders Says:

    Irene – no, I wasn’t thinking of Wittenberg — I don’t even know who he was. I was referring to the Judenrats’ practice of turning over lists of Jews to the Nazis in the hopes that if they turned in some, the Nazis would be satisfied and the rest would live.

  41. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    It seems safe to say that anytime a group sets themselves apart from a general population, there will be resentment and resentment breeds animosity. It then becomes a self-generating dynamic. Look at Europe’s gypsies. My impression (which may well be wrong) is that none of Israel’s neighbors liked them very much.

    Jesus was born, lived and died a Jew. He challenged the power structure and that is typically viewed as a threat. He also directly challenged the Jewish culture’s attitude toward the gentiles. I.E. unclean, barbaric, godless heathens.

    That power structure IMO represents mankind’s refusal to look in the mirror and it’s blindness to the Christic spark that lies within all of God’s children.

  42. Kathy Says:

    Thought you might enjoy hearing this poem put to music. I think it’s hauntingly beautiful.

    https://youtu.be/ifoCMbNu3PM

  43. Kathy Says:

    I should have said, “Put into a different musical setting besides the one you shared ” 🙂

  44. neo-neocon Says:

    OlderandWheezier:

    Yes, very appropriate on this thread.

    It shows Tolstoy in his didactic parable phase, but he retains some of his art.

    The story also reminds me in style and content of some of Hans Christian Anderson’s stories for adults (he wrote some of those in addition to his fairy tales).

  45. Minta Marie Morze Says:

    Neo, back to the story in your original post, the Nazis would sometimes send around a person to pretend to need help, and when someone offered it, that someone and their family would be put to death in particularly slow and ugly ways. This was another reason for people to be afraid to help someone.

    It occurs to me that the history of the world shows us that it is much, much, much easier to convince people to not do good than to convince them to not do evil.

    I suppose it’s obvious to most of you, but I had never thought of it in that way before.

  46. Dennis Says:

    In discussing the relationship between Jews and Christians it is important to remember that Christianity has always opposed Judaism as a religion and an ideology and has never hated Jews as a people. Presumably Jews who oppose Christianity as a religion and an ideology make the same distinction between people’s beliefs and their race. What we are really talking about is the competition between the only two strains of Judaism which survived the destruction of Jerusalem. Jews who convert to Christianity have always been welcome into the Christian community. As a Christian my attitude towards Islam is not much different. I hate Islam as a religion and an ideology but I definitely don’t hate Arabs as a people.

    The Nazis introduced something new – hatred of Jews as a people. That is an important distinction. In previous conflicts between Jews and Christians, Jews who professed to be Christian were considered Christian and were protected. Jews would often accept baptism but would retain their Jewish identity at home. Many of these crypto-Jews still exist among the Hispanic population here in the USA and often join the Messianic Jewish congregations.

    Although there were incidents in Christian Europe in which Jews were killed because they were Jews, and they were at times expelled from various territories, for the most part Jews did OK in Europe and have done even better in the United States. Whereas Paganism was outlawed in the Christian Roman Empire, Judaism was a tolerated religion and Jews were free to worship as they pleased so long as they didn’t compete too hard for converts from among their Christian neighbors. The Roman Catholic church also tolerated Judaism and tried with varying degrees of success to protect European Jews. Martin Luther did a great deal of damage to Christian morality, and to the relation between Jews and Christians, when he launched into his vile anti-Semitic tirades which did border on modern anti-Semitism.

    Culturally, the Jews belong in Western Christian Civilization. That’s their natural home. When the Jews were expelled from Spain some of them settled in the Ottoman empire and many decided that Islamic dominated society is much better for Jews than Christian society. Time should have disproved that illusion although the illusion that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance has died hard.

  47. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    There are some arguments from knowledge here, but many others of the “I always thought…” variety.

    There’s a lot of mind-reading going on here.

  48. Mac Says:

    Early Christian hostility to “the Jews” has to be understood as a family quarrel among Jews. The first Christians *were* Jews. It took some time for a sense of complete separate identity to form. A few generations I think. We misread it when we look at it as if it were modern or even medieval anti-semitism.

    That music and is video are beautiful.

  49. Richard Saunders Says:

    Geoffrey Britain — “He also directly challenged the Jewish culture’s attitude toward the gentiles. I.E. unclean, barbaric, godless heathens.”

    “And a stranger you shall not wrong nor oppress, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 22:20; repeated at least four other times in the Torah and more in the rest of the Bible.

    BTW, the Jews never thought of the other peoples around them as godless, they were idolaters, which in Jewish eyes was much, much worse.

  50. Frog Says:

    Having read all 49 comments about Christianity and Judaism, I am left wondering what if the old woman had been Jewish and Zvi a Christian? What would Zvi have said to persuade her to grant succor?

  51. Big Maq Says:

    “When you commented on Tolstoy recently, I recalled this story of his. Maybe it’s appropriate to link to it now:

    http://www.online-literature.com/tolstoy/2892/ – OlderandWheezier

    Excellent story.

    There is very much an uncanny parallel between Martin Avdéiteh and the burn it all down crowd.

  52. neo-neocon Says:

    Frog:

    So, let me get this straight.

    You’re positing a situation where Jews and Christians have been living for 800 years in relative harmony in a town. The town is in a country that is predominantly Jewish, but many Christians also live there as a minority. Invaders conquer the country, and those invaders are at least nominally Jewish, too (or at least from a country that is majority Jewish). With the help of some of the Jewish townspeople, these invaders order all the Christians in the town to strip naked, stand at the edge of pits, and be shot and killed. One of the Christian victims escapes, goes to the home of Jews who have been spared the carnage because they are Jewish and not Christian, and asks for refuge.

    I doubt such a situation would ever exist. Have you ever noticed that the phrase “the canaries in the coal mine” is often used to refer to Jews? They are very often the first victims.

    The Jewish religion, however, has considered the general question of whether people are obligated to save lives, and at what cost. Here’s a discussion:

    In Jewish law, there is a biblical obligation to save lives. The Biblical verse “You may not stand idly by your neighbours blood” (Leviticus 19:15) is understood by the Talmud to be an obligation to save people from danger (Sanhedrin 73a). However, it is necessary to define the parameters of this obligation. Does the bystander have to endanger himself to save the victim? Does the bystander have to spend money to save the victim’s life?

    The Talmud (Bava Metzia 62a) discusses the case of two people who are travelling the desert and only one of them has sufficient water to survive. Ben Petura is of the opinion that it is better that they divide the water and both die, rather than have one watch the death of the other. Rabbi Akiva is of the opinion that “your life comes first”, that the owner of the water must save his life first, even if the other person will die. Rabbi Akiva’s opinion has become the Halachic consensus. While it is clear that one may not sacrifice his life to save the life of another, there is some debate if there is an obligation to save lives when it will endanger the bystander. The Hagahot Maimoni (Rotzeach 1:14) is of the opinion that it is obligatory for the bystander to place himself in uncertain danger in order to save the victim from certain danger. Others argue that it is forbidden to do so, and that the principle of “your life comes first” applies to uncertain danger as well (Radvaz in Pitchei Teshuva YD 157:15). Based on this opinion, some authorities forbid a donor from giving a kidney to dying patient if it will place the donor in some danger (Tzitz Eliezer 13:101; Minchat Yitzchak 6:103). Rabbi Moshe Feinstein takes a middle point of view. It is not obligatory to place yourself in a situation of questionable danger to save another person’s life; However, you may choose to take this risk in order to save a life. Therefore, he rules it is permitted to donate kidneys, even if there is some danger to the donor. (YD 2:174)

    What about spending money? The Talmud (Sanhedrin 73a) requires the bystander to spend money in order to save lives. If the victim has money, he must repay those who save him (Rosh Sanhedrin 8:1). However, the bystander has an obligation to spend money even when the victim cannot repay…

    There is also this:

    In Judaism, human life is essential and so pikuach nefesh, the obligation to save a life in jeopardy, is considered a major value to uphold. This obligation applies to both an immediate threat and a less grave danger that has the potential of becoming serious. Pikuach nefesh is derived from the biblical verse, “Neither shall you stand by the blood of your neighbor” (Lev. 19:16). According to pikuach nefesh a person must do everything in their power to save the life of another, even donate bodily organs. Ovaday Yosef, the former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, ruled that one may donate an organ to a person in critical need, so long as it does not put the donor’s life at risk.

    It is also permissible to travel on Shabbat to save a person’s life. Maimonides declared that a Jew should take the individual, even if a gentile is present, in order to encourage “compassion, loving-kindness and peace in the world” (Mishneh Torah, 2:3). The laws of the Sabbath may be suspended to provide any necessary medical care to a critically ill individual or to an individual in the likelihood of danger to life.

  53. OM Says:

    Neo:

    Exceptional response to Frog’s question!

  54. Maggie's Farm Says:

    Two songs about Jesus

    Our now-retired pastor was always attentive to angels in our midst. Angels, with the meaning of messengers with holy messages.  You can also always wonder about  Christ in the Stranger’s Guise. Same issue appears in Dylan’s whimsical Bob D

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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