A rabbi in Boston was stabbed on a synagogue’s steps a few weeks ago. A summer camp was going on inside. The camp immediately went into lockdown.
The day it happened I had dropped my own 2-year-old daughter off at camp at our synagogue. When I took her to camp for the first time, I felt a wave of relief as I struggled to find the building. It was poorly marked and tucked out of the way. I thought to myself: If it was hard for me, a synagogue member, to find where the children would be playing, how much harder would it be for an intruder with an AR-15.
In other words, I was shaken when Rabbi Noginski was stabbed, but I was far from surprised.
The other thing that did not surprise me was the absolute silence from Christians. And like the stabbing, it still shook me even though it didn’t shock me at all.
Christians don’t talk about Antisemitism. And if they talk about it at all, they usually do so either to prop up Christian Zionism or to underline the gravity of oppression other groups are facing. As a Jewish person, both habits make me cringe. As a woman of color who deeply wants to see liberation, the silence exasperates me even more. What Christians who seek a more Christ-like world miss is this: White Supremacy cannot exist without Antisemitism.
Antisemitism Is the Christian Heritage
Polemics against Jewish people are as old as Christianity itself. Founders of the various Christian traditions all took pains to smear the Jews as hateful and despised by God. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin,and many others made unabashed contributions to the genre of Jew-hatred. More subtly, others sought to strip Christianity of its Jewish roots in order to strengthen the claim that the Church had replaced the Jews as God’s chosen. This concept is called Replacement Theology or Supersessionism.
Constantine himself stepped in to make sure Easter aligned with the Julian solar calendar instead of the Jewish lunar calendar. The rationale he gave after the Council of Nicaea settled the matter was, “It appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin, and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul … Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd; for we have received from our Saviour a different way.”
Every year Christians celebrate Easter according to the Julian calendar, they are standing upon an anti-Jewish foundation.
Antisemitism Still Practiced in Church
I wouldn’t be telling you this history if I thought things had changed. But Christians today are still saying the same sorts of things Constantine said over a millennia ago. Christians are still accusing us of killing Jesus, albeit under the guise of saying the Pharisees manipulated Rome to do so. Christians are still saying that Christian practices should distance themselves from the inferior practices of the Jews. This is often supported by saying, “The law brings death.” People are still saying that Jewish people have been defiled to the point of God’s rejection, usually by saying Jewish people “broke the covenant with God,” which is why the Church has replaced them.
The issue goes beyond what people say in casual conversation. Antisemitism is structural and institutionalized. To this day, a number of denominations still frame “the Jews” as Jesus’ enemy and accuse Jews of killing Jesus during Holy Week liturgies, from the Episcopalian to the Eastern Orthodox traditions. More charitable traditions set aside time to pray for the Jews’ salvation during Holy Week, a form of fetishizing pity that reinforces the idea that we are condemned.
Christians must acknowledge that Antisemitism is pervasive and structural across Christian denominations, from liturgies to the church calendar to the selections laid out in the lectionary. On top of these structures, Antisemitic views are preached every Sunday from the pulpit and proclaimed in every corner of social media.
Beyond Rhetoric: Jews Are in Danger
I have witnessed this pervasive pattern my entire life in Christian spaces. I bear its scars. But I am an anomaly in Christian spaces. Most Christians have little time dedicated to studying Israel’s scriptures. Studies show that Christian churches are vastly more likely to preach out of the New Testament than the Old Testament. Exacerbating the problem, 74% of Americans have never met a Jew. Christians hear anti-Jewish rhetoric at church, and they have few tools to correct the bias. Christians have no idea how much harm they are causing. The fruit of these trends has still been violence against Jewish people.
Antisemitism has been rising since 2016. A month ago, in the city where I live, multiple drivers got in their cars and headed to the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. As they drove through the streets, they screamed “kill all Jews,” among other invectives.
That’s roughly what a shooter yelled in Pittsburgh before slaughtering 11 Jewish members in the Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018. Like those in the streets of my city, he did so in the name of justice and protecting a vulnerable group of people he thought was in danger of Jewish wiles. He did so in the name of Christ and the white race. In his Gab profile? The Bible verse John 8:44, “You are from your father, the Devil.” Jesus isn’t even talking to the Pharisees here, but “the Jews who believed in him.” Never mind that most Christians don’t know that the Pharisees are the forerunners of modern Judaism – knowing that explicitly may make perceptions of Judaism even worse.
These are not isolated incidents; they are mushrooms emerging from a vast mycelium. The Christian Empire was built upon the subjugation, denigration, and genocide of Jews, just as the United States was built on the enslavement of Africans and genocide of Indigenous peoples. Jew-hatred (the term used before a German eugenicist coined “Anti-Semitism” because it sounds more scientific), is rampant within the theology and structures of Christianity.
Antisemitism is the heritage of the Christian faith, and it is fueling the rise in White Christian Nationalism.
Antisemitism and White Supremacy
Antisemitism is old—older than Christianity, and older than White Supremacy. Yet Antisemitism was propelled, calcified, and institutionalized via the Roman Empire. White Supremacy was created and disseminated by Christian Empires, too. Its origins were uniquely Christian in sensibility. When Pope Alexander IV handed Inter Caetera to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, he told them to overthrow “barbarous nations” and to “spread the Christian rule.”
Of course, this bill would be one of the cornerstones of the devastating Doctrine of Discovery. Other popes in the 15th century proposed that slavery was “an instrument for Christian conversion.” The genocide and subjugation of Native peoples and the enslavement of stolen Africans morphed from uniquely Christian endeavors. Before racialization, there was segregation, genocide, and subjugation of non-Christians, often as practiced on Jews.
In this way, Christian Antisemitism served as the training ground for what would become White Supremacy. Christians had enslaved Jewish people, murdered them, ethnically cleansed them, squished them into ghettos, and more. They knew exactly what to do when they left for the shores of Africa and Turtle Island because they had already been doing it for more than 1,000 years.
Since White Supremacy grew out of the Christian Empire and its deeply antisemitic soil, Antisemitism has remained a bedrock of White Supremacy to this day. White Supremacy always needs a mortal enemy to justify its violence, and who better than the race that killed Christ the King of our Christian nations?
To this day, Christian Nationalism closely correlates with antisemitic beliefs. Studies show that Christian Nationalists are still likely to believe that the Jews killed Jesus. As Eric Ward put it in his seminal essay a few years ago, “Antisemitism forms the theoretical core of White nationalism.” The White Supremacist and White Nationalist claim is intertwined with Christianity. The White Supremacist wants to uphold not only the whiteness of the United States, but the Christian-ness of it. These attributes are tied in the White Supremacist ideology. America must be a white, Christian nation.
White Supremacy cannot exist with Antisemitism. And much to our chagrin, White Supremacy cannot exist without Christianity. It developed from a distinctly Christian ideology and worldview.
As a Latina woman, I beg white people and men to understand: just because you benefit from a system of oppression doesn’t mean I blame you for it or think you’re a bad person. As a Jewish person, I don’t blame you or condemn you either, Christian. At the same time, it’s critical to the movement for liberation that we understand the structures that bind us. For Christians, studying Antisemitism is peering into the very origins of White Supremacy. Tackling Antisemitism is vital and strategic to ending White Supremacy.
I think it’s difficult for Christians to grapple with Antisemitism because most Christians haven’t recognized that Christianity is a dominant, oppressive force in the U.S. that operates on its own axis. Christians of color, queer Christians, female-identifying Christians, etc., are not exempt from the harm of Christian hegemony. Luckily, Jesus understands this predicament and speaks to it.
When Jesus says, “if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away,” it’s critical to remember that the right hand is a symbol of power to his audience. He is saying that if the thing that gives you power causes sin, it is better to cut it off. Every day, I must cut off my own right hand, the sources of power that I have gained through injustice. It’s better for me to lose one part of my life than to see my whole being corrupted. Today, I invite you to do the same.
As Rabbi Tarfon says in the Talmud, “You are not obliged to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
Let us join together and continue this work of dismantling White Supremacy and instead create the society God imagines, where every creation can flourish.
Elizabeth Moraff is a Puerto Rican Jew living in Atlanta with her partner and daughter. When she isn’t rock climbing, reading novels, or discussing theology, you can find her serving non-profit clients as a member of Ruby Brick, a digital marketing and communications agency. Previously, Elizabeth spent nine years in the nonprofit field as a program manager and advocate with a focus on immigration, housing justice, and inviting college students to connect justice and faith.