Good Friday “Antisemitism” and the Conversion of the Jews

This year’s Good Friday will be celebrated amid growing tensions surrounding the issue of antisemitism, and this is for several reasons. The tension in Israel-Palestine has intensified pro- and anti-Israel rhetoric. This has, unsurprisingly, descended into the realm of identity politicking, with many anti-war advocates being labeled antisemitic for their stance against decisions made by the State of Israel. 

In addition, the much-adored Daily Wire has resolved the tensions between Ben Shapiro and Candace Owens by parting with Owens after she strongly stood against the actions of the Israeli government and engaged in rhetoric that pro-Israel partisans have also labeled antisemitic. 

Further, the USCCB announced recently that “it will require a pastoral note on antisemitism to be placed in worship aids and pew missals ahead of all Good Friday passion narratives, beginning this year.” It appears the American bishops do not want to stoke any “antisemitism” because of the Gospel on Good Friday.

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On top of all this, since parting way with Owens, Daily Wire host Andrew Klavan—a Jewish convert to Protestant Christianity—recently lamented that while he has been accepted as an ethnic Jew by Christians writ large, one group that he called the “antisemitic Christ is King crowd,” has been unaccepting. Furthermore, Daily Wire co-founder Jeremy Boreing released a lengthy tweet explaining how saying “Christ is King” can, in fact, be “antisemitic.” 

Before I continue, I do want to address likely sentiments that will arise in some as a result of my commentary. First, it is not “antisemitic” to speak plainly about Judaism as a religion and to critique or even lambast identity politicking when it is done on behalf of any group, be they Jews or otherwise. Also, if one truly loves Jewish people, then a call for their conversion would be true evidence of that. Simply put, there is no salvation outside the Church, and Christ is King and always will be. To hold fast to those truths is not antisemitic; it is, instead, orthodox Catholic belief.

However, as someone who has spoken openly about the issues related to modern Judaism on my podcast, I do also recognize that there are not a few malcontents online who are legitimately filled with anger and resentment for Jews in a way that is contrary to Catholicism. Jews, pagans, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. are all human beings made in the image and likeness of God, and therefore they must convert to the One True Faith in order to save their souls. But any vitriolic hatred of a group of people based on immutable characteristics such as race, place of birth, and so on, is not only wrong but stupid.

That being said, it is impossible to speak plainly and clearly about this topic without upsetting someone. But we can’t avoid hard topics just because someone might take offense.

One of the main criticisms that people of our day have with the historically Catholic perspective toward Judaism is the long-standing belief that the Jews as a race have inherited some sort of guilt for the Crucifixion of Christ. Now, even just mentioning that a race of people could be guilty for the sin or sins of an ancestor or a group of ancestors is anathema in our culture of individualism, but it is not foreign to sound Catholic thinking.

It is a common theme among the Church Fathers that Jews do bear some unique responsibility for the death of Christ—something seen acutely in St. Justin Martyr—and the thought of this will undoubtedly arouse immediate reactions as being something antisemitic. The Saint and Church Father wrote: 

And this the Jews who possessed the books of the prophets did not understand, and therefore did not recognize Christ even when He came, but even hate us who say that He has come, and who prove that, as was predicted, He was crucified by them.

Note that this statement I have chosen is one of the mildest statements you will find in the Church Fathers on the subject.

In St. Justin and others of considerable sanctity, it is not hard to find quotations that would be called “hate speech” today but were the consensus of Catholics for generations. Does this mean that the Church had been inflicted with the virus of racism or bigotry, even in her greatest saints, for eons? Of course not.

St. Justin and others were commenting on various passages from the Gospel wherein either the Hebrew hierarchy or the Jewish people stated that some sort of collective responsibility would result from the Crucifixion. After Pilate famously “washed his hands” of the condemnation of the death of Christ, he said, “I am innocent of the blood of this just man; look you to it” (Matthew 27:24); and the crowd replied, “His blood be upon us and our children” (Matthew 27:25).

Furthermore, Matthew—who was a Jew writing his Gospel for a Hebrew audience—wrote: 

Therefore behold I send to you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them you will put to death and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city: That upon you may come all the just blood that hath been shed upon the earth, from the blood of Abel the just, even unto the blood of Zacharias the son of Barachias, whom you killed between the temple and the altar. (Matthew 23:33-35)

The commentary from the Douay-Rheims translation on the notion of being responsible for the shedding of “just blood” reads: 

Not that they should suffer more than their own sins justly deserved; but that the justice of God should now fall upon them with such a final vengeance, once for all, as might comprise all the different kinds of judgments and punishments, that had at any time before been inflicted for the shedding of just blood.

While it is not necessary here to establish the level of responsibility for each subsequent Jewish person regarding the death of Christ, we must also admit that God Himself had no problem calling down the justice of Heaven on the Jews of His time for all the reasons mentioned in the passage above. 

This should not trouble us, however, if we believe in Original Sin. We know that it is possible for guilt to be inherited, as each human being, whether Jew or Gentile, has inherited the Sin of Adam for the first earthly offense against God. While it may make us squeamish to admit that a group of people can inherit guilt in some way, it is also illogical to think it is somehow racist or bigoted for that to happen given that the whole of humanity has inherited the guilt of the First Man.

This, of course, does not justify any violence or hatred toward Jews or any other human beings. But it is also clear from Christ Himself that Jews bore a special responsibility in the matter of the Crucifixion and that He believed the result of that crime would last until “…you say: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 23:39). 

Thus, within post-temple Judaism there is a necessary stream of the rejection of Christ, and the explicit rejection of Christ cannot come without consequences. Interestingly, there is a not insignificant stream of thought within Orthodox Judaism today that is strictly anti-Zionist for the same sort of reasons that garner the label of antisemitic today. These Orthodox Jews believe that they were expelled from Israel because of their sins as a nation and that the political Zionism of Israel is against God’s will. They cite the Old Testament and the Babylonian exile as proof of this, which is an admission that the Jewish people—like all people—could suffer from the sins of their ancestors and be, in a sense, “cursed” for hundreds of years. Are these Orthodox Jews also “antisemitic”?

Fr. Denis Fahey wrote in 1943 in The Kingship of Christ and Organized Naturalism

By leaving Our Lord Jesus Christ out of account and passing over in silence the rights of the head of the Mystical Body, they committed apostasy and ushered in a long period of disorder… When men reject our Lord Jesus Christ, they tend inevitably to put themselves in the place of God. (p. 107)

This quote was not about those who follow post-temple Judaism but about the nation of France after 1789. Before this passage, Fr. Fahey wrote, “The French people had grasped the truth of the Divine Plan for Order and had stood for the rights of God.” Not a single orthodox Catholic will have an issue with Fahey’s reference to the French as a “people” nor with the notion that an entire people could suffer as a result of a national rejection of Christ. But, if the passage had been written about “the Jewish people,” you can bet your mortgage that cries of “antisemitism” would abound.

Furthermore, no reasonable person has an issue making a distinction between a group of persons and the unique persons within that group. We can say that the French Nation has had a spirit of apostasy and revolution since 1789 and also say that the French Nation has produced great saints since that time, like John Vianney and Therese of Lisieux. The point is that there is a “national sin” in France that afflicts the French to this day, but we do not see it as deterministic of those who answer God’s call to conversion and holiness. We should be able to speak about the Jewish people in the same way without being called antisemitic.

Ironically, there is nothing politically incorrect in talking about Jewish people in a collective sense as long as it is positive. If I were to write an article called “The Jews Are Still God’s Chosen People,” it may be picked up by both the National Review and The New York Times. But the same people who would herald the notion that Jews are collectively blessed because of the claims of the Bible would decry me as Hitlerian for claiming there could be a collective responsibility because of claims from the same Bible. 

Of course, some will say whether what I have written is true or not, it is a matter of sensitivity due to the sufferings of many Jews historically. But even this mindset contains an astonishing admission: if Jews have inherited some sort of collective suffering from their ancestors, then we must admit that ancestral lines can transmit metaphysical and spiritual realities. So, if one is to say that the Jewish people are afflicted by the suffering of their ancestors, then one cannot say with the same logic that Jewish people would not be afflicted by the sins of their ancestors. And, if we recognize that they have suffered but then do not speak plainly and honestly about why they must convert, then that suffering will have been in vain.

While I do not deny anyone’s sufferings, it is also absurd to suggest that we cannot tell what amounts to a Gospel Truth just because of sad historical events. Jews are hardly the only group to have been subjugated and persecuted historically. The Irish, for example, essentially have an entire corpus of folk literature and music dedicated to their never-ending sufferings under the English, which lasted for hundreds of years. England as a nation was unspeakably horrible to the Irish; but England also gave us St. Thomas More and St. Edmund Campion. I do not hate the English for what they did—this is where the Hall side of my family comes from—and I do not hate Campion and More because they are English.

In fact, it is by recognizing the evils of England as a nation historically that I can herald with great devotion those saints who were from that nation and were persecuted by their nation which revolted and apostatized. Similarly, I can recognize—as I must because Our Lord said it—that the Jewish nation would inherit some sort of culpability from its apostasy and Deicide, but I need not—and should not—view each Jewish man or woman as deterministically damned or intrinsically evil, which would be an abhorrent and untenable belief.

Just like the Virgin Mary, the apostles, and innumerable saints from the early years of the Church, Jews can make the greatest Christians, and I believe that we should pray with a fervent and ardent desire for their conversion. And, any watering down of the truth of the Gospel and the nature of inherited guilt or historical guilt will only hamper our collective efforts in praying and sacrificing for their conversion. Not praying as hard as we can for their conversion, as a result of squishy politically-correct theology, is really the greatest crime we could ever commit against Jewish people, as it would amount to an indifference to their eternal salvation due to political correctness. 

As Fr. Fahey so eloquently said from a place of deep love for Jews and an acute understanding of the need for conversion: 

Our Lord, true man as well as true God, is a Jew of the House of David, born of the Virgin Mary, the Lily of Israel. Our Lord’s individuality, that by which as a man He is distinct from other members of the human race and belongs to a certain environment and a certain descent, is Jewish. The Blood that was poured out on the Cross at the hands of the official leaders of his own nation for the restoration of the divine life of the world was Jewish Blood. Our Lord’s Sacred Heart is a human heart, and He loves his own nation with a special love. We must never forget that or allow ourselves to fall victim to an attitude of hatred for the Jews as a nation. We must always bear in mind that He is seeking to draw them on to that supernatural union with Himself which they reject.

[Image: Crucifixion by Andrea Mantegna]

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