“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” (Isaiah 52:7)
What does sharing the Gospel with the Jewish People and the festive holiday of Purim, also called the Feast of Lots (story about Queen Esther), have in common?
During the boisterous celebration of Purim, which starts this week, Jews all over the world will dress up in costumes, often as characters from the Bible, especially from the Book of Esther, to recount the deliverance of the Jewish People from a plot to exterminate them.
As followers of Yeshua (Jesus), these days before Purim are an opportune time to remind ourselves of the tragic flaw in the Book of Esther’s evil villain named Haman.
What was this dangerous defect in his character that ultimately led to his downfall?
It was bigotry. And in this case, it was specifically aimed at the Jewish people.
Although Haman is dead, the evil spirit that operated through him 2,500 years ago revived itself among systems of faith that developed after the first century AD.
What is Anti-Semitism?
In the book of Genesis (Bereisheet), God made an unconditional and everlasting covenant with Abraham, and his descendants saying, “I will bless those who bless you and curse [arar] those who curse you [m’kalelcha].” (Genesis 12:3)
That’s how it is translated in English Bibles.
In the original Hebrew, two different words are used for curse in Genesis 12:3.
In the first instance, the Hebrew word used for curse is arar as in when God placed a curse on the serpent in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:14).
In the second instance, the Hebrew word used is kalal, which is derived from the root kalal.
This word meaning curse can also mean to blaspheme, treat with contempt or disdain, to despise, or even to treat lightly or without proper regard.
Anti-Semitism, therefore, isn’t just an issue of hatred or violence against the Jewish People; it’s also an issue of treating them with disregard.
There are those who would never consider themselves anti-Semites, even though they engage in what they consider harmless mocking of the Jewish People in the form of racial jokes or slurs.
God has, by His own word, pronounced a curse upon those who participate in this type of disrespectful behavior or attitude toward the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Even though God made a covenant with the Jewish People, all souls (Jewish and non-Jewish) will grow apart from God when they harbor any type of bigotry.
Haman’s own advisers and his wife understood this spiritual principle and tried to warn him, but to no avail:
“His advisers and his wife Zeresh said to him, ‘Since Mordecai, before whom your downfall has started, is of Jewish origin, you cannot stand against him—you will surely come to ruin!’” (Esther 6:13)
Haman was ultimately hung to death on the very same gallows that he
had intended to hang Mordecai the Jew.
A History of Survival
Throughout history there have been repeated attempts to destroy the Jewish People, but all these attempts have failed.
Am Yisrael Chai! (The people of Israel live!) Israel is a miracle nation!
Those who conspire or plot against the Jewish people or Israel are standing in a dangerous position: they are allying themselves with the enemy and fighting against the God of Israel, Master of the Universe.
“With cunning they conspire against Your people; they plot against those You cherish. ‘Come,’ they say, ‘let us destroy them as a nation, so that Israel’s name is remembered no more.’ With one mind they plot together; they form an alliance against You.” (Psalm 83:3–5)
Martin Luther: Proponent of Kalal
One would think that those who call themselves the people of God, and who profess to believe His Holy word throughout history, would position themselves as allies of the Jewish people and not blaspheme, disregard, or otherwise curse them (kalal).
Sadly, the history of anti-Semitism in the Christian Church reveals that this is not always the case.
The following statement concerning the Jews was made by the man many consider to be the father of Christian Protestantism—Martin Luther:
“Whoever would like to cherish such adders and puny devils—who are the worst enemies of Christ and us all—to befriend them and to do them honor simply in order to be cheated, plundered, robbed, disgraced, and forced to howl and curse and suffer every kind of evil, to him I would commend the Jews.
“And if this is not enough, let him tell the Jews to use his mouth as a privy, or else crawl into the Jew’s hind parts, and there worship the holy thing, so as afterwards to be able to boast of having been merciful, and of having helped the Devil and his progeny to blaspheme our dear Lord.” (quoted in Martin Luther: Hitler’s Spiritual Ancestor)
In his book On the Jews and Their Lies, Martin Luther wrote:
“Therefore be on your guard against the Jews, knowing that wherever they have their synagogues, nothing is found but a den of devils in which sheer self-glory, conceit, lies, blasphemy, and defaming of God and men are practiced most maliciously and veheming his eyes on them.”
In this same book, he advised that Jewish homes be destroyed and that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jewish People.
He also wrote that Jewish prayer books and Talmudic writing (Rabbinic commentaries and oral laws) should be taken away from the Jews, that rabbis should be forbidden to teach, and that synagogues should be burned and buried.
However, Christian anti-Semitism didn’t begin with Martin Luther.
A History of Violence against the Jews
Hitler carried out his evil plan against the Jews based in part upon the words of Martin Luther as well as other anti-Semitic decrees and actions of the early Church Fathers and Councils.
Over 20 anti-Jewish measures instituted to persecute and eventually attempt to exterminate the Jews by the Nazis were derived from Roman Catholic canonical law.
The yellow Star of David that Hitler forced Jews to wear as a badge of shame to mark them for abuse and execution actually evolved out of the Fourth Lateran Council in AD 1214.
This Council met in Rome to reaffirm and to institute several canons of religious law. With regard to the Jews, they enacted the following:
Canon 67: Jews who charge “excessive” interest are to be censured from commercial lending with Christians, especially since such interest prohibits Christians from tithing to the Church.
Canon 68: Jews must wear dress that distinguishes them from Christians, and they cannot appear in public from Good Friday through Easter Sunday.
(In 1227, the Synod of Narbonne enacted its own Canon 3: “That Jews may be distinguished from others, we decree and emphatically command that in the center of the breast (of their garments) they shall wear an oval badge, the measure of one finger in width and one half a palm in height.” It also forbid Jews from appearing in public on Sundays, festivals, and throughout Holy Week.)
Canon 69: Jews cannot hold public office and Christian officials cannot interact with Jews.
Canon 70: Jews who have been baptized should be restrained from returning to their “former rite.”
As history progressed, so did the censures and restrictions.
During the Spanish Inquisition of AD 1491, throughout Spain, hundreds of thousands of Jews were tortured and burned at the stake for refusing to accept the official system of Christian religion as their own.
In Russian pogroms (mob attacks) from 1881–1921, the Jews were persecuted with the formal approval of the Church. Jewish men were beaten, Jewish women raped, and Jewish villages were razed.
The Nazis used canons of the Fourth Lateran Council and others to dismiss every Jew in Germany from civil service positions and, ultimately, all rights endowed to them by their Creator.
Such historical persecution could be why we find in Rabbinic literature, such as in the Talmud, increased opposition to and arguments against the idea that Messiah could be Yeshua, especially since the 11th century.
Is it any wonder then that the Jewish people, who have been persecuted, maligned, beaten, tortured and murdered over the centuries by the very people who professed to follow Yeshua (Jesus), are resistant to hearing anything about Him or believing in Him as their Messiah?
What is most tragic about the history of anti-Semitism is that while the Church was enacting canons of its own religious law, it was disobeying the canons of God’s law:
“For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility … His purpose was to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14–16)
Fortunately, in its 1965 landmark proclamation, Nostra Aetate (Latin for In Our Time), the Catholic Church officially reversed its stance on the Jews, declaring:
“In her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”
As we approach the holiday and celebration of Purim, may we remember to be on the alert against anti-Semitism in all its forms, whether in ourselves or in others, and especially within the Body of Messiah.