Rock Star Madonna Criticized for Anti-semitic Lyrics in Song
Menu JTA Search

Rock Star Madonna Criticized for Anti-semitic Lyrics in Song

Download PDF for this date

Pop star Madonna’s rendition of “Justify My Love,” whose sexually explicit video version angered fundamental Christian groups, is now in hot water with Jewish organizations over the incorporation in the lyrics of the song part of a New Testament verse that vilifies Jews.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center charged here last week that some of the lyrics in a compact disc, or CD, single of “Justify My Love” are anti-Semitic and “demonize members of the Jewish community.”

The CD contains five different mixes, or versions of the song, of which the last, labeled “The Beast Within Mix,” ends with the words, “I know your tribulation and poverty, and the slander of those who say that they are Jews, but they are not, they are a synagogue of Satan.”

The lines are taken from an apocalyptic vision of Judgment Day as presented in the Book of Revelation (2.9) to the Apostle John.

The excerpt was characterized by Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, as “one of the most notorious anti-Semitic quotes in the New Testament.”

Madonna initially reacted heatedly to the criticism, saying, “People can say I am an exhibitionist, but no one can ever accuse me of being a racist. I am not even going to try to defend myself against such ridiculous accusations.”

However Warner Brothers Records, Madonna’s label, released a statement from the singer through spokeswoman Liz Rosenberg.

“I certainly didn’t have any anti-Semitic intent when I included a passage from the Bible on my record. My message, if any, is pro-tolerance and anti-hate. The song is, after all, about love,” the star said.


Cooper said he welcomed Madonna’s statement, although the lyrics continue to disturb him. “She was direct to the issue, she responded quickly, and we’re relieved that she did so,” he said.

However, the rabbi noted, “You don’t need to be a sociologist to know that racism is alive and well in America.

“We believe that First Amendment rights have to be balanced with responsibility. This is not the kind of thing that should warrant congressional hearings or reverends or rabbis starting boycotts. The music industry understands that this kind of offensive terminology is wrong and should be deleted.”

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, protested in a letter to Lenny Waronker, president of Warner Brothers Records.

“It may be more than a coincidence,” Foxman wrote, “that within days of the release of ‘Justify My Love,’ three synagogues and a high school in Ventura County, Calif., were vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti referring to Revelations 2.9.”

Foxman said that while “there is no evidence to conclude that the perpetrators were influenced by Madonna’s song, it has to be considered a possibility.”

Sholom Comay, president of the American Jewish Committee, pointed out in a letter to the star that “even though the language you sang was taken from biblical sources, it was taken out of context.

“The larger real-world context is that Jews for centuries have been victims of prejudice and murder ‘justified’ by misapplied biblical passages.

“Today, the only people who use the ‘Jew as Satan’ image are those whose message is not about love but about bone-chilling hate.”

In a letter sent to Freddy DeMann, Madonna’s manager, Cooper deplored the fact that the lyric “now marketed by the No. 1 icon of American pop culture to her fans” contains material that has been revived lately by neo-Nazi and socalled Christian Identity groups.

Cooper asked DeMann to have the “offensive” lyrics deleted from the song.

Warner Bros. said that 250,000 of the CDs had already been shipped to dealers.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund