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Letter to the Editor printed in  Inside the Vatican (February, 2004)


Dear  Editor,

Your thoughtful article covering the controversy over Gibson's The Passion
closes by asking whether the opposition to the film which claims to be
opposition to anti-Semitism may rather be "opposition to certain fundamental
truths of the New Testament itself".  Based on my own experience as a Jew
prior to my conversion to the Catholic Church, I can only answer in the
affirmative.  Although true anti-Semitism does still exist today, it cannot
be found in Catholic doctrine or among genuine Catholics.  Unfortunately
some fundamental Christian beliefs are sometimes unfairly accused of being
anti-Semitism.

One such is the belief that there is something intrinsically erroneous about
Judaism. Yet this belief flows naturally from Christian dogma.  If Jesus was
the Messiah longed for and expected by the Jews, of course contemporary
Judaism, in its assertion that the Jewish Messiah has not yet come, must be
in fundamental error.  It is no fairer for Jews on this basis to call
Christians anti-Semitic than it would be for Christians to call Jews
anti-Christian because Jews believe that Christians are in error about who
Jesus was.  Far from being "anti-Jewish", the Christian belief that the Jew
Jesus was God incarnate is an exaltation, not a diminution, of the intrinsic
dignity and importance of Judaism.

Another related Christian belief which is subject to the false accusation of
anti-Semitism is the Christian's desire to see Jews convert to Christianity.
If "no one comes to the Father except through me"(Jn 14:6), if "unless you
eat my body and drink my blood you have no life in you"(Jn 6:53), if "unless
one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God"(Jn
3:5) - all direct quotes from Jesus Himself -- then true charity towards
Jews implies seeking, or at least praying for, their baptism and entry into
the Church.

When Christians simply create a situation in which Jews are exposed to
Christian images they are at times accused of anti-Semitism.  The fact that
Jesus originally came preferentially for the Jews (Mt. 15:24), that their
rejection of Him caused Him particular pain (Lk 13:34), and that He never
ceases to "stand at the door and knock"(Rev. 3:20), results in the fact that
the drive within a Jew to preserve his Jewish identity reacts with horror to
being exposed to images or environments which might open the door a crack.
Thus the attempt to strip the Christmas season of all Christian imagery.  It
is apparent that the "spirit of the Christmas season" puts most people, even
non-Christians, in a joyful or ebullient mood.  But why should the
dreariest, darkest part of the year have such an effect?  The mood which
people feel is intrinsically, supernaturally related to the coming of
Christ, to the joy of all Heaven at the event two thousand years ago and the
echoing of that joy in its commemoration, in all of Heaven and among much of
mankind, today.  I remember myself, as a small child almost entirely
ignorant of Christianity, feeling that spirit, that joy, and how it resulted
in a longing for the Christ child - exactly as it was supposed to do. That
is what lies behind, I would argue, the desire among some Jews that any
genuinely religious Christmas images, such as crèches, be excised from
public life.  It is an attempt to isolate themselves, and their even more
vulnerable children, from the potential infection of belief; of sensing the
Lord knocking at the door of their hearts and opening the door a crack.  And
it also lies, I believe, behind the accusation of anti-Semitism against
Gibson's movie.  For it is not only the sweetness of our Lord's birth which
has the power to draw hearts, but also the beauty and sweetness of the love
which He showed us in being willing to undergo His Passion for our sakes.
The sight of His suffering, of His gentleness ("like a lamb He was led to
slaughter"), of His forgiveness ("Father, forgive them..") had the power to
convert hardened hearts at the time, and still does today.  Thus the root
motivation of some Jewish groups' opposition to the Passion is not the fear
that it will cause Christians to hate Jews, but that it will cause Jews to
love Christ.  That this motivation should be so twisted and misrepresented
as to garb itself in the almost unassailable mantle of "anti-Semitism" is
not surprising, given the cleverness of the one who most directly opposes
Christ.  But that Christians should be duped into going along with this
reversal  - that is, calling the greatest good which could befall any
non-Christian, that of falling in love with Christ, anti-Semitism -  is
shocking and shameful, and a dereliction of the Christian's duty to show
true love to all, especially to the Jews who brought us Christ, and an act
for which the Christian will be called to account when he comes to judgment
before that Jew Jesus.


Roy Schoeman
author, Salvation is from the Jews (Ignatius Press)