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History forms an invisible backdrop to every life decision discussed in the pages of this book. You need to understand this history -- a history of virulent Christian persecution of Jews -- because it is bound to affect you in some way.
Jews see themselves through the lens of history as a people who have existed for nearly five thousand years. Most Jews are keenly aware, and most Christians are not, that for the last two thousand years Jews have suffered horribly and repeatedly at the hands of Christians. For many Jews, this history plays like a tape in the mind -- a tape that is triggered by symbols such as a crucifix or a Christmas tree, and that repeats: "Crusades, Inquisition, pogroms, Holocaust."
Although young Jews today may never have experienced anti-Semitism, they are the first generation in two thousand years to have escaped it. In the 1930s, American Nazis were able to muster large anti-Jewish marches in the streets of New York City. In the 1950s and 1960s, some residential neighborhoods, private schools, hotels, and resort communities still excluded Jews. Even today we have talked with children who have heard the accusation "Christ-killer" from their Christian playmates.
We often talked to Christian partners (and even some assimilated Jews) who thought Jews were vastly oversensitive or paranoid about this history. Until you understand the viciousness and persistence of the persecution -- its reappearance time after timeafter periods of apparent peace and amity -- you cannot understand the reactions of Jewish relatives or the Jewish community to your intermarriage. Therefore we must begin on this gloomy but central topic. Seeing the accumulation of horrors, we hope, will help you to understand the "paranoia." Later we will be presenting many examples of couples who have overcome the barriers created by history. But in later chapters, when we allude to Jewish sensitivities, try to hear the tape playing that says, "Crusades, Inquisition, pogroms, Holocaust." Realize that your parents or in-laws are probably hearing it, too. This will set the psychological context for you.
Christianity began as a sect of Judaism. The first Christians were the apostles; they were all Jews who belonged to Jewish synagogues and abided by Jewish law. But when they began to proselytize among gentiles, they reached a momentous decision: Pagan converts would not be required to observe Jewish law. The early Christians believed that they were the logical evolution of Judaism, and that all Jews should and would join them. When that didn't happen, a reaction set in that some historians have compared to the reaction of a child slamming the door on the parent's home. Christianity began to contrast itself to Judaism and to declare that God's favor had passed from the "old" religion to the new.1
Jews, for their part, saw the Christians as having betrayed and deserted the Jewish people -- particularly after the Christians fled Jerusalem, refusing to join in an uprising against Roman rule. Some of the apostles were persecuted or killed. The style of the time was inflated rhetoric, and bitter words were exchanged. Unfortunately, this bitter rhetoric became part of the founding theology of Christianity and laid the groundwork for centuries of wholesale persecution of Jews by Christians. Some passages in the New Testament (particularly in the Gospel of John) were used by Church authorities to justify anti-Semitism, whether or not that was the Gospel writers' intent. The story of Jesus and the Pharisees, reiterated annually in the Easter liturgy, was used to inflame hatred of Jews.
In part, there was a political problem: In the early centuries of the Christian or Common Era, both Christianity and, to a lesser extent, Judaism were missionary religions competing for the same pagan population. But there was also a theological problem. The early Christians had expected the imminent return of Jesus and the ushering in of the last days. When that didn't occur, they developed a new view: Jesus would return when all the world had come to believe in Him. According to Christian theology, the Jewish faith was destined to wither away and be replaced by Christianity.
But the Jews persisted as a separate people. They did not all flock to embrace Christianity. They were an embarrassment. And they came to be seen as an impediment to the uniting of the world under Christianity. Instead of being regarded as people who remained loyal, often against great odds, to their own precepts and way of life, they were seen by the Christian leadership as people who had defiantly rejected the Truth of Christianity.
Two ideas provided the theological justification for later Christian persecution of the Jews: The first, originated by Saint Justin (who lived from the year 100 to 165), said that Jews were ejected from Jerusalem and their land ravaged as divine punishment for the death of Jesus. Although crucifixion was a Roman punishment, abhorred by Jews, and Jesus it; fact was executed by the Romans, the idea that Jews were Christ-killers and were collectively responsible for the death of Jesus became rooted in the Christian Church. While never an official part of church doctrine, neither was it officially repudiated until the Second Vatican Council (Vatican 11) in the mid-1960s.2 The second doctrine, developed by Saint Augustine (354-430), said the Jews were kept alive by God much as Cain was kept alive after he murdered Abel -- with a brand on his forehead. God had decreed that the Jews would be perpetual wanderers, serving as living proof of what happened to people who reject Christ. This doctrine was later used to justify forced conversions and mass expulsions of Jews from many countries.