Recent changes in what was formerly considered socially okay may be seen in two incidents I couldn’t sidestep.
A long-time woman friend figures in the first incident. We’ve been in each other’s lives since the time in Paris when we were rosy-faced young women: whole and untested.
Something told me not to bring my friend in on what I might be going through from October 7th, the day of the Hamas incursion into southern Israel. On the other hand, I wasn’t sure that my caution was quite fair to her, so I did send her my column of two weeks ago. Immediately she wrote back, expressing appreciation for my willingness to include her in my life at this moment.
Ah, I thought, happy to learn that I’d judged our bond correctly. That is, until I got her follow-up email where she described to me her image (I’m not sure if it came from a dream or a daydream) of a World War II scene where imaginary “Germans” were chasing down imaginary Gazan women in (German-Occupied) France. This was putting the Jews in the role of the Nazis. So-ho! Victims and victimizers flipped moral status overnight with their inversion confided to me asap. Okay. That didn’t take long, did it? I haven’t replied.
What about the second incident? It does not concern a personal friend, but a very sensible and kind person to whom I’ve gone for a type of therapy supportive of my neuropathy treatments. This practitioner has an Asian mindset, thus quite outside the competition between the West’s “three major faiths.” So I was startled when he asked me, “Were the Jews, prior to the state of Israel, always wanderers?”
Of course, the “Wandering Jew” is a broken fragment from the anti-semite’s imagination. I’ve never heard that mythic character inquired about as if he were real. As my father once wrote, “Jews don’t wander. They are forced out!”
Like many of my co-religionists, I carry major markers of a three-thousand-year chronology in my head. Given that equipment, my first impulse was to correct his odd misunderstanding. It was only when I noticed that no historical datum was making a dent in his normally open and receptive facial expression – that I realized that his mention of wandering Jews had been a muffled suggestion that it’s legitimate to eliminate them from their land.
Now let the scene shift. In 388 CE, a “mob of monks” burned down a Jewish synagogue in Callinicum, a city in Mesopotamia. The military officer who had jurisdiction ordered the bishop to pay the cost of repair and reconstruction. However, Bishop Ambrose of Milan (later St. Ambrose) wrote to Emperor Theodosius contesting that order on the ground that Roman law was subordinate to Church law while the Jews, who failed to recognize this hierarchy, ought to be deemed outside the protection of any law. Ergo the synagogue “began to be burnt by the judgment of God.” (Cited in David Nirenberg’s Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition, p. 117.)
Now ain’t that sweet?
A slightly sweeter position was struck by Augustine (later St. Augustine), who’d been baptized by Ambrose himself in 387 and made Bishop of Hippo in 395 CE. For Augustine, Jews should not be killed but instead kept alive in a wretched condition so that “the continued preservation of the Jews will be a proof to believing Christians of the subjection merited by those who … put the Lord to death.” (Quoted in Nirenberg, op. cit., p. 130.)
Yeah, like all Greeks, past and present, killed Socrates?
Of course, the very existence of a Jewish state, whose citizens can defend themselves by the means available to a state, and even rise to positions of international eminence in science, technology and entrepreneurship, would be deeply offensive to any such theology.
The two recent incidents I’ve described involved people who, in each case, had traveled far from the religious acculturation of their childhood and were now adult adherents of the Secular Left. How to explain the denunciations from that quarter, with their strange, single-minded focus on the transgressions, real or fictional, of the Jewish state?
Could it be that secular people carry ancient, nonsecular underlayers? Could it be that the rage and sadistic frenzy all too visible in recent days has welled up from those buried layers?
Help me out here.