Monday, March 19, 2007

Dangerous Rhetoric: Christian Fundamentalist Blames Jews

A friend of mine sent me this very disturbing link a few days ago -- John Hagee, a prominent Christian evangelist in Texas, apparently believes the Jews are to blame for the Holocaust, that it was their idolotrous ways that brought the Holocaust upon themselves. What I find fascinating about this is the almost militant pro-Israel stance taken up by Hagee and his followers. Hagee, and most right-wing Christian fundamentalists, actually claim to be on "their" (the Jews) side -- Hagee's ministry has actually raised thousands of dollars for Jewish and Israeli charities. In some ways, it's not an entirely bad thing for the Jews, the most persecuted group of people since the beginning of existence, to have the support of a group as large (and loud) as the evangelicals, but it's a very misguided, and creepy, kind of support, and the rhetoric that accompanies it is dangerous.

Why? Because Hagee and Christian fundamentalists like him seem to care about Israel and the Jews only insofar as they are a tool to usher in the apocolypse that will allow Christians to be raptured out of this world and into heaven. They believe the Jews are G-d's "chosen" people only in that they are chosen as tools to facilitate the "end times." It's creepy, on so many levels. But what concerns me most is the danger in suggesting that Jews are to blame for the Holocaust -- this kind of faulty logic silences the "never again" and opens up the possibility for something like the Holocaust to happen again, when in reality we know that the atrocities and tragedies of the Shoah are ineffable and without meaning or purpose. I suppose, though, that it would be spiritually catastrophic for someone like Hagee to believe that the Holocaust has no meaning, that it shouldn't have happened, wasn't supposed to happen; the god of Hagee's belief system had to either allow the events of the Holocaust to transpire, or to cause them to transpire as a punishment to so-called disobedient people. But some things are beyond the scope of reason or purpose -- some things can't be articulated or explained away. And this concept, I think, must be terrifying to people like Hagee, because it calls their god into question, summons him to a higher ethical power to which he simply cannot answer.


Michael Nehora said...

Sadly, Hagee is not alone in his pseudo-explanation of the Holocaust. And I'm not talking about other evangelicals. A significant number of haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbis over the past few decades have stated that the Holocaust was a divine punishment for one or more of the following: Reform Judaism, Zionism, secularism, or general neglect of the mitzvot. (I should note that mainstream Orthodox figures, such as Rabbis Norman Lamm and Eliezer Berkovits, have strongly opposed this line of thinking.)

DSW said...

Hagee is a frightening figure. Growing up at least partially Jewish in Texas I am all-to familiar with Hagee and his ilk. Israel must be careful in what allies she choses to adopt - Christian fundamentalists with a self-serving/fulfilling religious ideology would not be my first choice as an ally (nor second, nor third). This fundamentalist Christian religious motivation for war in the Middle East is just one more reason why Israel must commit to peaceful resolution with her neighbors and avoid any prospect of war - at least in my opinion.

Monica said...


You know, I vaguely remember hearing something about the haredi rabbis' take on the Holocaust a while back, but had forgotten about it. It's really interesting, if disturbing. I think I'm going to look into it . . . thanks.

Insignificant Wrangler said...

I like your conclusion Monica-- I think Hagee encounters a problem by willing G/god to Be something, especially something humans understand.

I always hope to ignore people like this--to dismiss them, but the very history that motivates my scholarship warns against this stance. As a rhetorician, the problem becomes how to open a conversation, a just conversation, without condemning Hagee to a position of ignorance (and knowing full well I will not get any such kind of hospitality in return...)

Michael Nehora said...


If you're interested in following up, I know of one haredi anthology that deals with the topic, at least in part: Nisson Wolpin (ed.), A Path through the Ashes (Brooklyn: Masorah, 1986). I haven't seen the book itself, but the Modern Orthodox theologian David Birnbaum cites it, disapprovingly, in his God and Evil (Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 1989). He singles out the essays by Eliyahu Dressler, Yitzchak Hutner and Mordecai Gifter.

Birnbaum offers this quote from Gifter (in Wolpin, p. 59): "The Churban should thus become a source of inspiration and encouragement for us. We are assured that we do have a Father in Heaven who cares for us and is concerned enough with our spiritual status to demonstrate his disfavor."

Birnbaum's response (in Birnbaum, p. 192 n. 94): "We are left numbed by the reasoning and can only comment that great minds sometimes make great mistakes."

Monica said...

Insignificant Wrangler,

Yes, you're right -- but I also think that here the problem is not just how to open up a just conversation without reducing someone like Hagee to a position of ignorance, but also how to have any kind of conversation. People of this type of mind tend not to be open to any dialogue that questions/threatens their viewpoints, and so often conversation becomes impossible . . .


THANK YOU for the sources!


You're right that Israel must be careful in what allies she chooses to adopt. As you suggest, those with "self-surving/fulfilling religious ideology" end up not beint the most beneficial in the end.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Michael Nehora's comments. Seeking alliances with Christian fundamentalists strikes me as a very dangerous and short-termist strategy. How disturbing for we Jews to once again serve more as an object than a certainly should give us no comfort at all to play a part in some eschatological fantasy play of people who would not recognise a rational, evidence-based argument if it hit them in the face.....

Frankly, I am equally troubled by the significant number of haredi who also say the Holocaust was divine punishment. This amounts to the same thing. But of course that is a more or less ineluctable consequence of any attempt to find a meaning in "God's" plan or actions....If there is an eternal, omniscient and omnipotent God who acts in human history, how else can we explain the Holocaust except as an example of divine punishment?

Andrew Halper