Common Christian Misconceptions
About Judaism-Ones that We Fall For
Even highly educated people
are wont to believe anything malicious about Jews- last week, New York Times,
published an interview with accomplished writer, Alice Walker. She proudly
pointed out to the interviewer that her favorite book, the one most important
was one written by David Ickes, And the Truth Shall Set You Free. It
turns out, that the book is a modern rewrite of The Protocols of the Elders
Yes, even highly praised and
influential people, who have experienced oppression and hatred themselves, can
have warped and twisted ideas about us Jews.
Now, we are approaching Dec
25, the day, which for Christians, as Christmas, is the birth of the Savior,
who quite importantly, lived and died as a Jew, it is valuable to reflect on
some common misconceptions Christians have of Jews, and thereby, learn
something about Judaism for ourselves.
Some thirty-five years ago,
the US suffered a major terror attack. At that time, the LA Times ran a
headline” US Bars ‘ Eye for an Eye’ on Terrorists.” A State Department Official
made mention that the US could never be as swift as Israel to retaliate, as it
does not believe in an eye for an eye,” It is not an Old Testament country”
The implication is that the US is a morally superior
nation because it is Christian nation, whereas Israel, which is Jewish, is
There is no other way to
interpret the statement, which distinguishes New Testament from Old Testament.
He certainly was ignorant of American moral
history, which, as a New
Testament country, based on love
and forgiveness, wiped out entire Indian tribes, enslaved the black, firebombed
Dresden and Tokyo, dropped the A-Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Let not the kettle call the pot black.
He was also ignorant of
religious history and the Bible, as are many people, including our own fellow
Jews, because he had no understanding of what the moral requirements of the
"Old” Testament are on warfare or what the meaning of “eye for eye” is.
This all serves as a reminder
to us of how much education and teaching still must be done, both in the left
and the right., across the board. We have excellent relations with Christian
clergy, and many Christian educators have attempted to straighten things out,
but from the clergy to the congregants there is often a chasm a mile wide.
Certainly, we, as Jews, should know what some of the common misconceptions are
that Christian held and may still hold about Judaism.
An “Old” versus a “New”
. As a Jew, we can never use
such a term. We don't have an "Old" Testament. Old means worn out, no
longer valid, as in an old car, or an old coat. It is replaced by the New, in
Christian thought, in other words, better, as in "New car" or
This is a distinction which has its roots in the earliest of church teachings, that saw
Judaism as an outmoded, no longer valid, system of belief. It was termed
” super session”, whereby the “Church”
has superseded the “Synagogue”. ( In Islamic thought, the Quran has superseded
both Jewish and Christian scriptures.) The Synagogue is depicted in medieval statuary as
a blind-folded woman.
The "Old Testament"
means the Old Dispensation, the one that didn't work, the one that was given to
Moses and was valid only till Jesus came, and instituted a New Dispensation.
In practical matters, most of historic
church teachings on Judaism referred to us as a vanquished and vanished religion
and people. Church texts assumed that we vanished with the year 70, with the
destruction of Jerusalem This was adopted by many modern non-religious
historians, such as Arnold Toynbee, who declared the Jewish people to be a “Syriac
fossil.”. Jews should have disappeared long ago. The idea that, as a religion
and a people, we continued to grow and mature, and develop was totally ignored,
because until the past century, Christianity refused to grant us any validity
whatsoever. Our only function was to serve as a proof of what happened to us
because we rejected Jesus.
Again, while the Vatican and
many Protestant Churches did much to change these positions, old assumptions
die out slowly.
Jews are strict,
exacting, wanting their eye for an eye.
. Shakespeare put it bluntly;Shylock,
the Jew, wants his pound
of flesh, whereas the Christian
preaches “The quality of mercy
What does an eye for an eye. mean? After all,
repudiated the morality of the
Bible, of our text; they repudiated
the religious details and
obligations, but never the moral principles,
so an eye for an eye becomes
an issue for Christians as well.
Every precept in the Bible
comes to correct an existing condition.
One thousand years before time
of Moses, in the oldest civilization, Sumer, there
was no such thing as an eye
for eye; one can buy off a crime. For example, if a citizen killed another
citizen, he could, instead of being killed, pay off the damage. A wealthy
citizen would be spared but a poor citizen would be executed.
Then, in the time of Abraham,
in Babylonia, Hammurabi tried to right wrongs in his famous code. It was the ancient
Babylonian who formulated the principal of "an eye for an eye".
Thus, if a house collapses,
and the son of the owner is killed, they shall take the son of the builder, and
kill him instead. Quid pro quo; tit for tat. A fair exchange, but what fault
was it of the son of the builder?
There was still the matter of
social class. “If a commoner strikes the eye of
Commoner, he shall have his
eye struck out„ but if a nobleman strike the eye of a commoner, he shall pay
compensation.” There was no equality of justice before the law in this understanding
of “eye foe eye”.
In the sense of the Bible, an “eye
for eye”, a quid pro quo, can’t be distorted by rank or nobility; it is a
radically new principal on which all justice , including American justice
stands. It is not a Jewish principal, alone. It is a universal legal principal
now. An eye for an eye, not a head for an eye; the punishment cannot exceed the
crime. Not an eye for commoner but a dollar for a noble; there is no difference
between a noble’s eye and a commoner’s eye, or between a man's eye and a
woman's eye; all are of equal worth before the Law. Therefore, the noted father
of international law, Hugo Grotius ,saw this as the basis of all fair and
This was clear in the year
1300 before the common era, yet, in so called “New Testament” societies, including
civilized England up to two centuries ago, or in this society, up .to the last
century, a man could be hung for the crime of petty theft or for
Victor Hugo in Les Miserable
told the story of the relentless hounding of a man for the theft of some bread
to feed his family. Had the French followed the “Old Testament” in France, the
central character would have returned the bread and paid a small fine to the
owner. The society, in turn, would have seen to it that he could feed the family.
That is “0ld” Testament legalism.
Was an eye for an eye ever
The section in which “eye for
eye” is first mentioned, in Exodus, is part of a discussion of a
practical case, of two citizens in a fight. If one of the two is injured, the other
is not injured in exchange. Rather “eye for eye” is invoked to clarify what the
law itself determines, “rak shivto yiten ve.rapo yerapeh”, He shall pay for the
loss incurred by disability and for medical expenses. Later, the Sages included
compensation for pain, embarrassment, and loss of future income from the
There were some, the Sadducees,
interpreted it literally. -The Rabbis, the Pharisees, refuted this position. If
an “eye for an eye” means “identical loss”, since when do we know that your eye
is equal to my eye, or that your arm is equal to my arm. There is no possible equation.
Therefore, it can only intend compensation, a fair and adequate repayment for
This contrast of “eye for eye”
versus mercy is an extension of an argument already heard in the New Testament,
put in the mouth of Jesus:” You have heard it said ‘An eye for an eye ‘, yet l
say unto you ,’Resist not evil, but whosoever smite you on the right cheek,
turn to him the other also’."
(Jesus is not being original
here; he is quoting Lamentations, Eicah,”’ I gave my cheek to the one who smote
me.” Here, the :” smiter” is God, and reference is to accepting the punishment
that the author has incurred. Similarly,
“ if someone wants to take your cloak, give him your tunic as well”, is a quote
The statement “Eye for
Eye" was used by the aforementioned State Department spokesman to denigrate Judaism, in contrast with the noble
stance of Christianity, yet this nation at no time recognized its moral
obligation to "Resist not evil". Not only has this nation rejected
the preaching of Jesus, “Resist not evil", but every Christian
institution, with the exception of a very few, such as Quakers, has outspokenly
declared " Resist evil”, and rightly so! The “New” Testament is surely pushed back, on
this issue, in deference to the “Old”.
Yet another statement of Jesus
is taken to refer to the superiority of Christianity: “You have heard it said: Love
your neighbor and hate your enemy.”
I challenge any one to find me
one sentence in our side of the Book in which we are commanded to hate an
It has been suggested that Jesus was speaking
as a Jew, to a Jewish audience, and was himself preaching Judaism on this point;
in other words, he was denouncing the militant groups, the "Kanaim", the Zealots,
on the fringes of the Jewish
community, who were preaching
militancy and revenge against the Roman rulers. He was speaking as a Jew
against Jewish extremists. (Indeed, one of his followers was known as “ the
Zealot”, a reference, perhaps to his having come from that party over to the Jesus
Well, what about the enemy? On
the contrary, the Torah states categorically,” If you see the donkey of your enemy lying
under his burden, you shall surely help him to raise his donkey again."
and “You may not hate your brother in your heart or bear a grudge.”
What of “ Love the stranger’?
The Torah states, "You shall love him, as yourself, for you were strangers
in the land of Israel; Jesus knows this very well and is restating it to his
Judaism is a religion of dry
law, whereas Christianity is a religion of love-
Over and again, the prophets
preached Chesed-love and though the Rabbis of old established Gemilut Hasadim,
unconditional deeds of love ,as one of the three foundations of the world,
alongside God's teaching, Torah, and the worship of God, Avodah.
Judaism is a religion of dry
legalism, whereas Christianity is the religion of uplifting faith This perspective
is in utter disregard for the magnificence of religious imagination of the Prophets,
the Psalms, the Midrash of the Rabbis, the poetry of the Siddur,
the songs of the medieval Rabbis, or the speculation and imagination of the
Judaism is a religion of the
law, whereas Christianity is a religion of faith. In the teachings of the early
church fathers, the laws of Moses and Israel were a burden to be done away with,
a punishment of the children of Israel, who were a nation of sinners. In alI of Jewish thought, the observance of
the teachings of the Torah, the Halakha, was the freest and highest expression
of faith, as a joy, not a burden, as a privilege, and not a punishment
The early Church teachings
have been corrected by modern church leaders. Yet much remains to be done,
when educated intellectually enlightened people spout the same failed
platitudes about us Jews. The greatest failure of all,
though, is the failure of our Jews to know what a rich treasure is ours, the treasure we have shared with the world.