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Shalom already!

I don’t know about the rest of the United States (or the world) but down here in the deep south, which is a bastion of Southern Baptists (and others) intent upon the conversion of Jews to Christianity, the BC cartoon issue is felt and it is smarting. Just the planned printing of this potentially-offensive comic strip has already begun a certain amount of debate within both the Jewish and Christian communities. What, exactly, is happening such that some people within these two communities would be joining in with one another in being opposed to this comic while others would be joining in with one another to be in favor of allowing it to be printed? And why is this such a hot issue?

First came the announcement (posted April 8th) on the JDL (Jewish Defense League) website that they had received an advanced copy of a particular BC cartoon (by Johnny Hart, a believing Christian) which is scheduled to be printed on Easter Sunday. JDL Chairman Irv Rubin asked their members and supporters to call the newspapers asking them to not print it. His argument is that the JDL finds this particular cartoon to be “highly crude, insulting and an example of outright Jew-hatred.”

Next came an article in Jewish World Review, by editor-in-chief Binyamin L. Jolkovsky (dated April 13th). It basically asks Jews and Christians to unite in calling their local paper, that carries this syndicated cartoon strip, to “… make sure they do not give in to the pressure to further secularize our society” by choosing to not print the cartoon. His argument is that “the intolerant … are allowing people of faith to suffer merely because they are, well, people of faith.”

I have worked in the field of Jewish-Christian relations for almost a decade. I have produced and hosted a radio broadcast on Christian radio (for the past six years) called “Shalom Y’all”, because it presently airs in the south, specifically in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. At times like these, I wish I had called it “Shalom Already!”

Now, after reviewing the above mentioned articles which underscore the respective sides of this issue (and which I highly recommend reading), some people might ask “Where’s the beef?” Well, given that I spend time in both camps — of what sometimes feels like the Hatfields and the McCoys — I think I can offer a unique and balanced perspective. And while I agree with Mr. Jolkovsky that religious speech is under attack in some sectors of our society today, I also agree with Mr. Rubin that what we don’t need is any kind of “poking fun” by the adherent of one religion about the beliefs and views of those of another religion. Now I don’t necessarily think this was the intention of the author (Johnny Hart) to “poke-fun” or to cause offense. It seems to me that the hotly contested issue — which results from this cartoon — is the product of poor education on the part of many people (within both Christianity and Judaism) about the history. Perhaps, through some education, the sensitive feelings of this offense can be understood.

Yes, Christianity was born within the matrix of Second-Temple-Period Judaism: when the Jewish followers of Yehoshua HaNazaret (or Jesus of Nazareth) were called the “Nazarenes” (also the “Company of the Way”) and the Gentile followers of the Galilean were called “Christians,” first at Antioch. But that was only the 1st century version of a group which remains to this day (i.e. in its “pristine” original form) as a distinct minority within the mainstream version, which has come down through the centuries to us today known as Christianity. We almost need to be calling these two religions by very different names, because they have many more differences than they do similarities (like the differences between Judaism and mainstream Christianity). But there is also the fact of hybrid forms, which mix and match some aspects of both Judaism and Christianity. So I prefer to call those who follow the NT within it’s Judaic and historic context, Biblical Christians.

According to Paul in the Book of Romans (chapters 9 through 11), the Gentiles were to be “grafted in” to the Olive Tree (a metaphor for the House of Israel) but not to be changed and lose their character as “wild olive branches.” Many Christians (and Jewish) scholars today teaching on Jewish Roots of Christianity recognize that this earliest “church” was pro-Sinai Torah for the Jews amongst them (the 10 summary laws and 613 detailed commandments given by God at Mt. Sinai) and pro-Noahide Torah (seven summary laws and 66 to 89 detailed commandments, depending on the codifier from which one quotes) for the Gentiles. These seven laws represent a basic moral code (reflected in the stories of Genesis) and it was understood as the primary “requirement” from God incumbent upon all of mankind. These commands are specifically: prohibitions against idolatry, blasphemy, theft, murder, sexual immorality and cruelty to animals, and the performative commandment to have courts of justice. Hence the Gentiles, coming to believe in the God of Abraham in the 1st century, did not have to convert to become cultural Jews (see Acts Chapter 15 regarding the “Jerusalem Council” decision). It was understood that the Gentiles were already (culturally) accepted by God as they were, if they kept the basic moral code.

But the mainstream version of Christianity, which has come down to us today, was actually born almost three hundred years later (325AD) by the Byzantian Church during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Under this Emperor’s direction (at the Council of Nicea) was born a “theology of hate” which is today referred to as Replacement Theology. And this “theology of hate” was used by Constantine to make a uniform religion that would draw pagans into the Church and thereby stabalize his empire. Only problem is that it was forced at the point of a sword for centuries (for more information about this history, see a new book by James Carroll called “Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews”). Minority opinions within this forced “uniformity” of doctrines and dogmas were squashed by slaughtering literally “millions” of people over that time period (i.e. of Jews, Ebionites, Albigensians, Waldensians, Sabbatarians, and others) especially if they had anything culturally “Jewish” in their customs or traditions.

This new thinking (based on some of the writings of the ante-Nicean Church Fathers) claimed that rather than having the Gentiles (i.e. Paul’s wild-olive branches) being “grafted into” Israel (the natural branches) they had actually replaced Israel. And this is the doctrinal ideology (repented of by many Christians today) which has caused the majority of pain and anguish for the Jewish people over the past 1700 years (e.g., in the form of pogroms, exiles/expulsions, inquisitions, blood-libel charges, host-desecration charges, charges of poisoning of wells, forced conversions and disputations and the Nazi holocaust).

The Apostolic Fathers of the Church were not anti-Semitic so much as some of the NT writings were depicting intra-sect rivalry within the Judaism of that period (which was highly diverse). But later, some of the so-called Church Fathers wrote bitter invectives against the Jews and their laws (but they were really talking about Jewish culture and customs that kept the Jews separated and distinct from non-Jews by virtue of God’s commands at Sinai). The refusal of most of the Jews to assimilate into that Gentile culture by abandoning the Torah (i.e. the Five Books of Moses) caused the Jews to be hated and persecuted by a later (predominately Gentile) Church hierarchy.

So let’s get back to the cartoon.

Read as an example of Replacement Theology, the frame which reads “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” juxtaposed against a minorah (symbolic of Judaism) can be read/understood as a subtle pointer to the Jews, who were not knowing what they were doing in killing Christ! Remember that for many years the Jews were called “Christ Killers” by certain Christians. The frame which reads “It is finished” juxtaposed against the minorah with the last candle going of it being extinguished, can be read/understood as a subtle reference to the going out of this “religion” of Judaism which is now (according to the Constantinian doctrine of the early 4th century) to be replaced by Christianity.

As an adult educator in the field of Jewish-Christian relations, I must “assume” (giving the author the benefit of the doubt) that the problem here has been caused simply by a lack of education, which then caused the cartoon’s author to be “insensitive” to the Jews (and to Biblical Christians) who revere the Torah as God’s word and who don’t accept that Christianity has replaced Judaism. Since those Jews and Biblical Christians are a distinct numerical minority, one might ask why anyone needs to be sensitive to them at all! But that’s just the kind of thought that the secularists (and the purposeful polarizers) would enjoy. Of course, we need to be sensitive to one another. Religious speech is protected, but “religiously-sensitive speech” should be encouraged.

I would make an appeal to Christians and Jews who want religiously-“insensitive” speech to be encouraged (or allowed) to rethink that position. Constitutionally, of course, it is protected! But we need to encourage, in this religiously diverse society, the kind of civility and sensitivity that goes with the realities of our population. I would argue against any speech that was “insensitive” to the feelings of our Moslem, Hindu and Buddhist friends just as strongly.

As for the mainstream Christians out there who do believe in this doctrine of “Replacement Theology,” I would only like to add three more points to conclude this article. Even if one believes that the Jews are the enemies of Christians, Christianity or of the Gospel, still Jesus of Nazareth (consistent with the Torah to His core) taught His disciples to love their enemies. Secondly, in Galatians 6:9-10, Paul exhorts the Gentiles not to be weary in well doing and “…as we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” In the first century, this statement would have been understood as including the Jewish people in that “household of faith.” And lastly, I’d like to end with a quote that I use every week on the radio from Hebrews chapter 12:14 which says to “… follow/pursue peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” Shabbat Shalom and Shalom Y’all.

Yaffa Batya daCosta is a lay-religious educator in the Jewish Roots movement of Christianty. She is descended from the Portuguese Jews who were forcibly converted to Roman Catholicism about 500 years ago. She writes a monthly d’var Torah column for non-Jews in the DFW Christian Heritage Newspaper, has a weekly radio broadcast on KSKY Christian radio, she is an associate educator at a weekly Torah study for VJRI in Grand Prairie, she is the Jewish-Christian Affairs Co-ordinator for Kulanu ( a Jewish group in Silver Springs, Maryland) and she has a cameo appearance in a new PBS documentary about interfaith dialogue called “Jews and Christians: A Journey of Faith.” She can be reached at her e-mail address: [email protected].