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VCU Menorah Review Winter/Spring 2008
Number 68
For the Enrichment of Jewish Thought

A Response to Stephen Windmueller’s Essay

By Robert Michael

I would like to thank the editor of Menorah Review for the opportunity to reply to Stephen F. Windmueller’s review of my book, “A Concise History of American Anti-Semitism,” which appeared in Issue 67.

Admittedly, if I were to write this book today, I would mention the amazing movement of conservative Protestantism toward Zionism. Even so, ask a convinced evangelical Protestant what will happen to a Jew, an authentic Jew, when he/she dies, and by virtue of their theology they will say, “you must go to hell.” I once sat for jury duty and while awaiting the slow grind of the judicial system, I sat next to an interpreter for the deaf. She and I discussed many subjects with great joy until I mentioned I was a Jew. But then she recovered and showed me how to sign, “I am a Jew.” I then asked her where I would go when I died. She replied, “I’d defend you in this life against any injustice.” I persisted, and she told me, “Well, you will go to hell.”            

“How about my parents and grandparents, where are they now?”

“Why in hell, of course.”

Granted the importance of economic, secular, leftist, Islamist anti-Semitism, Christianity nevertheless remains its fons et origo. Postwar studies have confirmed that anti-Jewish ideology embodied within the Christian religious perspective provided the fundamental basis for American anti-Semitism, even apparent secular anti-Jewishness. [See, e.g., Egal Feldman, “Dual Destinies: The Jewish Encounter with Protestant America” (Chicago 1990).] After a careful study of American opinion in the 1960s, for example, Charles Glock and Rodney Stark were surprised to discover that, at a time of growing ecumenical harmony, almost all Americans who were anti-Semitic (about half the population) got their stereotypes of Jews from their Christian religions. They believed that Jews were responsible for crucifying Christ; that Jews could not be forgiven for this act until they converted; that God punished Jews because they rejected Him; that the Jews were responsible for their own suffering; that religious anti-Semitism was not “demented” or “bizarre” but, on the contrary, eminently “respectable.” At least through the 1960s, “historically, it is clear that the heart and soul of anti-Semitism rested on Christianity.” [Charles Glock and Rodney Stark, Christian Beliefs and Anti-Semitism (New York 1966), xvi, 50-65, 73-4, 105, 185-7.]

American deference to Christianity has gone hand in hand with nativist movements that claim to be based in great part on Christian values. [Nativism consists of majority opposition to an internal minority group perceived to be an alien threat to the majority’s values. B. H. Hartogensis, “Denial of Equal Rights to Religious Minorities and Non-Believers in the United States,” The Yale Law Journal (March 1930),  660-1.]
Xenophobic and isolationist Americans centered their ideology on the traditional beliefs that the Jews were the archetypal aliens and that their nativist economic and political problems were rooted in a conspiracy led by “usurious” and “world-dominating” Jews.

Throughout the colonial period and after, despite many instances of good Jewish-Christian relations, most Americans seemed to hold the belief that Jews were cast out of the economy of salvation because Jews rejected and crucified Christ and continued to do so in every generation. This anti-Jewish ideology was carried to the New World from the Old. Just as each of the Emperor Napoleon I’s troops were believed to carry a Marshal’s baton in their knapsacks, so immigrants carried their anti-Semitism from Europe to America.     

Anti-Jewish prejudice spread to non-Christians like Blacks and Indians, who were indoctrinated into the Christian religion. Although the American brand of anti-Jewish bigotry was milder than its European progenitor, nevertheless, in colonial times and later, Jews were commonly denigrated in the press, “Jew” being considered a dirty word. Although no pogroms against Jews occurred in the American colonies, Jewish cemeteries were desecrated and Jews were insulted because of their Jewishness. Many of the teachings of the Sunday schools and other religious institutions were anti-Jewish. [Gordon Allport, The Nature of Prejudice, 446.]

In the 1960s, even at a time of growing ecumenical harmony led by the Catholic Vatican II Council, about half of the Americans interviewed – both Catholic and Protestant, both lay and clergy – believed that:

  • All Jews were responsible for crucifying Christ, and they could not be forgiven for this act until they converted.
  • God punishes Jews because they reject Christ.
  • The Jews are responsible for their own suffering.

Glock and Stark concluded that “the heart and soul of anti-Semitism rested on Christianity,” that 95 percent of Americans got their secular stereotypes of Jews from the Christian religion. [Charles Glock and Rodney Stark, Christian Beliefs and Anti-Semitism (New York 1966), xvi, 185-7, 50-65, 73-4, 105. See also Rodney Stark, et al., Wayward Shepherds (New York 1971), 5, 9-10, 50; Alphons Silbermann, Sind Wir Anti-Semiten? (Cologne 1982), 51-2.]

Gordon Allport concluded that religion stood as the focus of prejudice because “it is the pivot of the cultural tradition of a group.” [Gordon Allport, The Nature of Prejudice, 446.] Christianity, unlike any other group in Western history, has dominated the West for the last 1700 years.

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