A Plea for the Elimination of Anti-Semitism Made Before Council of Churches By Our Rochester Correspondent
A unique feature of the Sixth Quadrennial Meeting of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, which closed today, was an address by Rabbi Philip S. Bernstein, of Temple Berith Kodesh, Rochester, on Dec. 10. Rabbi Bernstein was the first Jew who ever addressed this Council during the twenty years of its existence, his subject being "Concrete Ways in which the Council can Further Understanding and Goodwill between Christians and Jews."
Formation of a league of the religions of humanity, embracing the representatives of every religion in the world, was a proposal placed before the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America by Everett R. Clinchy, executive secretary of the Commission on Good-will between Jews and Christians.
Rabbi Bernstein spoke in place of Rabbi Louis L. Mann of Chicago, who was prevented by illness from attending.
The address was received with unusual applause and favorable comment upon it was made from the floor by Bishop Mead of Denver and Mr. Silcox, of the Research Department of the Council.
Rabbi Bernstein pleaded with members of the Council to aid in the elimination of anti-Semitism. This could best be achieved by the decision of Christian ministers not to lay emphasis on the crucifixion story, he stated.
"Many of you have seen the picture called The King of Kings’," Rabbi Bernstein said. "Perhaps you saw in it beauty, poetry, imagination, and reverence. It was as a Jew that I saw the picture and while I too found it beautiful, I considered it blasphemous, biased, unjust, and harmful in its probable effects. I speak of it because it bears very directly on the problem that we are considering.
"If you want to eliminate anti-Semitism, then remove from modern Christian teaching and activity some of the things which were to be found in that picture. Do you remember how the Jew was blackened? Jesus, the beautiful Galilean Jew, was played, even though reverently, by a tall blond Nordic; but the two villains of the piece, Judas who sold the master for thirty pieces of silver, and betrayed him with a kiss, and the High Priest Caiaphas, who thirsted for the blood of Jesus and could not rest contented until his cruel, vicious, scheming plan had been consummated – Judas and Caiaphas were played by Jews whose features were decidedly Semitic. Assuming for the moment the historical truth of the entire story, why emphasize the Jewishness of the bad characters? Were not Jesus’ disciples Jews, were not the masses who welcomed him with hosannahs also Jews, above all was not Jesus himself a Jew?
"The picture is directed in such a way that the crucifixion is its grand climax. Therefore, incidents are chosen, regardless of whether scholars accept them as authentic, which picture in lurid detail that event and the Jews’ responsibility for it. I do not wish to discuss the question of the Jews’ responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus. It is my conviction based on my study of the Jewish as well as Christian sources that the Jews were not responsible for that crime. The gospel verses which deal with the Jews’ responsibility for the crucifixion were introduced, it seems to me, at a comparatively late date, at a time probably when the theological differences between the Jews and the Christians had become intense, when the Roman Empire was recognized as the most fertile field for the propagation of the new faith when it perhaps may have been desirable to exonerate the Roman from guilt and to lay the crime at the door of the Jew who had been conquered, persecuted ,and despised by the Roman. These verses in my judgment violate Jewish law and custom of the time. Jews did not put other Jews to death for differing in religious views; Jews did not put other Jews to death for believing themselves to be the Messiah. Jesus committed no crime for which the Jewish people would have demanded his execution. Even if the Jews were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus some nineteen hundred years ago, is it right, is it in the spirit of Jesus to keep on preaching and enacting it and thereby engendering prejudices and hatred and inciting hostility against the Jews in our own time?
"What if we Jews were in the majority and you Christians were in the minority, and if we were constantly to preach, teach and enact stories of Christians responsible for crime-the story of the Inquisition, the persecution of John Huss, Savonorolo, Galilieo, the massacre of innocent Christians and Jews by the Crusaders, the St. Bartholomew night massacre? What if we were to constantly preach and teach and enact these historic occurrences and thereby engender hatred and prejudice against helpless Christians, and incite riots and outrages against them? Would the persecuted Christian, suffering for crimes committed by his ancestors for which he is in no way responsible, be regarded as right? Would he believe that such action was acceptable to God? Would he consider it to be conducive of peace on earth and good will among men? My Christian friends, if you would eliminate anti-Semitism, you must begin by deliberately ignoring, or minimizing, or denying the story of the Jews’ responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus."
Rabbi Bernstein in his address dwelt on the principles in which Jews and Christians are in agreement and those on which they differ. "Jews and Christians," he said, "are in agreement on ‘Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God’ and ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ From these principles there comes an acknowledgement of the purpose to establish on earth a society whose dominant motive shall be love and whose foundations shall be justice, truth and peace. In what the Jews and Christians differ, is in the attitude toward the founder of Christianity. To the Christians, he is either divine in the miraculous sense or the most divine of men. The Liberal Jew, Rabbi Bernstein added, does not think of the founder of Christianity as unique or supreme, but considers him not greater than some of the prophets who preached before him and some of the rabbis who taught during his lifetime and after.
"The fact of the matter is," Rabbi Bernstein continued, "and we must face it squarely, there are differences which for the time at least are fundamental.
"What shall we do about our differences? One way is that of King Antiochus who found himself the master of a heterogeneous empire. He said there is only one thing to do with differences, and that is to get rid of them, to make all the people worship the same gods in the same way, speak the same language, adopt the same customs and manners. Of course he failed, but even if he had succeeded he would have failed, because eliminating differences is always a leveling down process; the final product inevitably is mediocrity.
"Perhaps the correct manner of meeting differences is suggested by Tennyson. He says somewhere, ‘God fulfills His will in many ways lest one good custom corrupt the world.’ Expressing it as Tennyson does, in theological terms, it means that God does not desire uniformity, else he would have created it. Or expressed in human terms, not uniformity but multiformity combined with unity is best for man.
"Christian and Jew are serving the same God and working for the same ultimate goal, but they follow different paths up the mountain side. It is probably better for the world that they do, else our life would be a monotone, would be dull and flat. It is better that into the fabric of our common lives there should be woven strands of many colors.
"Differences then must be welcomed, and are inevitable and are healthy. Little good is ever derived from submerging the personality of a gifted people. We must, therefore, properly evaluate and appreciate our differences. We must, therefore, respect each other’s integrity, we must not seek to convert each other. The best service you can render me and my people is by helping us to be the best kind of Jews, by honoring us in the degree that we are loyal to the highest ideals of our faith."
Rabbi Bernstein went on: "Though we cannot see eye to eye on all things we have so much in common that we can march shoulder to shoulder on the way to the sun-tipped mountain. We can break down the walls of bigotry and hatred and intolerance and misunderstanding, and use the stones thereof to build a road to God’s kingdom. If negro and white, Christian and Jew cannot work together, there is no such thing as religion. We can work together and live together, not in the spirit of distrust and suspicion. but in the spirit of mutual appreciation and helpfulness.
"There is an old man in New York today, a man of noble spirit, whose name is Felix Adler. He is the founder and leader of the Ethical Culture Society. As a young man he studied to become a rabbi. He came to his father, who was at that time the spiritual leader of one of the leading Jewish congregations in the world, and told him that he could not in conscience become a rabbi. Their friends thought that old Dr. Adler would disown his son, but this was his attitude. There is a faith deeper than the faith I hold, and deeper than the faith you see, and that is utmost fidelity in truth-seeking. ‘Follow thy vision,’ he said, ‘and God speed thee to the end.’"
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.