By Gilad Atzmon
We learned last Wednesday that Shlomo Aviner, a prominent Zionist rabbi and Yeshiva leader, suggested the fire that gutted Notre-Dame may have been divine retribution for the burning of Jewish manuscripts in 1242.
In the eyes of His followers, the Jewish almighty is an elastic substance. He morphs occasionally to fit with the needs of His favourite sons and daughters. Early Zionists, for instance, demoted God into an ‘estate agent’ as they reduced the Torah into a ‘title deed’. The early Zionists were secular Jews, they didn’t believe in God but were happy to expel the indigenous Palestinians in ‘His name’ and on ‘His behalf.’ But Rabbi Aviner takes us one step further. He made the Jewish God into a lazy but revengeful arsonist. The rabbi practically makes the Jewish God into a church burner who takes eight centuries to ‘hit back.’
Shlomo Aviner is the rabbi of the Beit El settlement and head of the Ateret Yerushalayim yeshiva. He provides the ‘rational’ behind the divine retribution. “Christianity,” he says, “is our number one enemy throughout history. [They] tried to convert us by arguments and by force, carried out an inquisition against us, burned the Talmud, expulsions, pogroms. Western anti-Semitism draws from Christianity’s hatred of the ‘murderers of God.’ It also had a role in the Holocaust.”
It is needless to mention that many Israelis and Jews were appalled by Rabbi Aviner’s statement. Some Israeli politicians condemned the Rabbi and yet his blatant hatred towards Christianity is unfortunately engraved in both Jewish and Judaic thought.
Back in 2009, the Jerusalem Post reported on the growing tendency of Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem to spit on their Christian neighbours. Father Samuel Aghoyan, a senior Armenian Orthodox cleric in Jerusalem's Old City, told the JPost “that he's been spat at by young Haredi and Orthodox Jews ‘about 15 to 20 times’ in the past decade”. Similarly, Father Athanasius, a Texas-born Franciscan monk who heads the Christian Information Centre in Jerusalem’s Old City, said he's been spat at by Orthodox Jews "about 15 times in the last six months".
The Israeli professor Israel Shahak commented on Jewish hatred towards Christianity and its symbolism, suggesting that “dishonouring Christian religious symbols is an old religious duty in Judaism.” According to Shahak, “spitting on the cross, and especially on the Crucifix, and spitting when a Jew passes a church, have been obligatory from around AD 200 for pious Jews.”
As I am currently in Prague, I am obliged to add that church spitting has had an impact on the landscape of the city. The following can be read in a ‘Travel Guide for Jewish Europe’:
“In Prague’s Charles Bridge, the visitor will observe a great crucifix surrounded by huge gilded Hebrew letters that spell the traditional Hebrew sanctification Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh Adonai Tzvaot, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts.” According to various commentators, this piece, degrading to Jews, came about because in 1609 a Jew was accused of desecrating the crucifix. The Jewish community was forced to pay for putting up the Hebrew words in gold letters…” (To read more: Travel Guide for Jewish Europe, pg 497)
Shahak maintains that “in the past, when the danger of anti-Semitic hostility was a real one, the pious Jews were commanded by their rabbis either to spit so that the reason for doing so would be unknown, or to spit onto their chests, not actually on a cross or openly before a church.”
But the anger towards the church extends well beyond the rabbinical realm. Some traces of it can be found in most secularised Jewish so-called ‘progressive’ circles. In a letter to his mother dated November 25 1937, Chaim Katz, a combatant within the Yiddish speaking Spanish International Brigade, writes “I took up arms against the persecutors of my people--the Jews--and my class--the Oppressed. I am fighting against those who establish an inquisition like that of their ideological ancestors several centuries ago, in Spain.” As we can see, Katz defines himself in the letter “as a Jew and a progressive” and sees the deadly civil war in Spain as a possible platform for Jewish retribution against the Catholic Church. It is hardly a secret that the battle in Spain escalated quickly into an orgy of burning churches.*
A week ago, we learned that the Jewish world was outraged by pro Israel Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s suggestion that the crimes of the Holocaust can be forgiven, though not forgotten. While Bolsonaro expressed the most basic Christian belief, both Yad Vashem and the Israeli president were quick to clarify that Jewish forgiveness is not an option. President Rivlin announced that “no one will enjoin the forgiveness of the Jewish people, and no interest will buy it.” Yad Vashem spokeswoman Dana Weiler-Polak said nobody can decide “if it is possible to forgive the crimes of the Holocaust.”
If Christianity is all about forgiveness, Jewishness can be seen as an accumulative project of ‘Amalek’ characters. If Christianity is all about compassion, the ability to defy gravity by means of harmony and reconciliation, Judaism and Jewishness can be described metaphorically as gravitational forces. They are there to unite the tribe around the constant fear of an emerging enemy. I guess that those who insist on pushing the phantasmic notion of ‘Judeo-Christian values’ should bear in mind the clear ideological, spiritual, metaphysical contrast between the two distinct religious precepts that in fact have very little in common.
*Rather than taking Franco’s side I am dealing here with Jewish means of identifications.