When Jews Spit at Christians – opinion
By Rabbi Pesach Wolicki | October 6, 2023
In the midst of the joyous season of the festival of Sukkot, known to Christians as the Feast of Tabernacles, we were greeted by a disturbing news story. A group of Christian pilgrims, walking in the Old City of Jerusalem carrying a wooden cross were spat upon by a group of Orthodox Jewish men who were passing them on the narrow streets of the ancient city.
This despicable spitting attack comes after a series of incidents in recent months in which Jewish activists have attacked Christian worshippers and holy sites. To make matters worse, one prominent anti-Christian political activist in Israel even took to social media to praise the spitters, citing a long-standing tradition of Jews spitting on the cross.
Let’s first address this so-called “tradition.” During the First (1096-1099) and Second (1145-1149) Crusades, Jews suffered terribly at the hands of murderous Christian crusaders. Synagogues were burned. Jewish towns were attacked. Many Jews were gruesomely murdered. These atrocities were committed by Christians who wore the cross emblazoned on their chests.
In his 2021 article, “Jews and Abuse of the Cross in the Middle Ages,” Prof. Irving Resnick, cites many examples of spitting and other forms of disrespect by Jews towards the cross during this period.
For example, R. Ephraim of Bonn’s Sefer zekhirah or Book of Remembrance, a Hebrew chronicle of the Second Crusade, commemorates the action of Kalonymos, son of Mordecai, who, when Crusaders demanded his conversion, instead “spat on the image of the crucified one.”
As Prof. Resnick’s excellent article illustrates, medieval Jews showed disrespect to the cross as an expression of defiance in the face of the murderous Crusaders and their attempts to forcibly convert Jews.
To sum up this point. In a context in which the church was truly the enemy of the Jewish people, Jewish derision and disrespect for Christians and their symbols was certainly praiseworthy. From the perspective of the Jews of that time, the cross represented murderous brutality aimed at eradicating Jews and Judaism.
And this is what makes the spitting incident of this past week so disturbing and despicable. In the greatest turnabout in history, the Christian world, which took an adversarial position vis a vis the Jews for so long, has now become the greatest friend we have. From the official Catholic Church to the growing millions of Protestant Evangelicals, more and more Christians have rejected the anti-Jewish “replacement theology,” also known as “supersessionism,” which asserts that the church has replaced Israel. To wit, according to R. Kendall Soulen of Emory University, a leading protestant academic theologian, currently, the majority of the world’s Christians belong to denominations that reject supersessionist theology.
It is not coincidental, that with the spread of “post-supersessionist” theology, support for Israel has become more and more mainstream throughout the Christian world. Simply put, we have reached a point where Christians, by and large, support Israel and the Jewish people.
For the Jews who spat on Christian worshippers the other day, none of this matters. As far as they are concerned, we may as well be living in the Middle Ages. From their perspective, there is no difference between medieval crusaders who murdered Jews in the name of Jesus and the Israel-loving worshipers who made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles.
Moses Maimonides, (1135-1204) the greatest and most influential rabbi and theologian of the Middle Ages, was no fan of Christianity. He ruled that, due to the combination of the trinitarian compromise on the oneness of God and the use of icons, Christianity is a form of idolatry. In one passage near the end of his Code of Law, Maimonides addressed the purpose of Christianity. Maimonides writes that from a Jewish perspective, Jesus was anything but a Messiah. Christianity, wrote Maimonides, has been a disaster for Jews, leading to increased persecution and causing “their loss by the sword.” But then, Maimonides turns his attention to the future.
However, the thoughts of the creator of the world – man is not capable of conceiving them – for His ways are not our ways and our thoughts are not His thoughts. And all of these matters of Jesus the Nazarene were solely in order to pave the path for the king Messiah and to repair the entire world to serve Hashem together as it states, ““Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him shoulder to shoulder.” – Laws of Kings ch. 11
In other words, despite its dark history, Christianity plays a vital role in bringing about the eschatological kingdom of God for which all Jews pray. Writing during the time of the aforementioned crusades, Maimonides saw that despite the evils perpetrated against Jews by Christians, things would not always be this way in the future.
Maimonides goes on to explain that the universal spread of the Bible by Christianity would eventually bear positive fruit for the Jewish people, paving the way for significant changes in Christian thinking, including widespread recognition of the redemption of Israel by the nations of the world.
The Jews who spat at Christian pilgrims in the Old City of Jerusalem refuse to see that the redemptive process foretold by Maimonides – whom they revere – is underway. The nation of Israel has been reestablished. The Jewish people have been ingathered from the four corners of the earth. Concurrent with these developments, the Christian world has undergone a radical transformation of its attitude towards Israel. Ironically, these Jews are stuck in exile. For them, it is still 1096.
It goes without saying that great damage is done by those who attack and spit at Christians in the name of Judaism. Those remaining anti-Jewish voices in the Christian world are strengthened by such incidents. At a time when the only truly steadfast friends that Israel has are the Christians of the world, these Jews cause our people harm. What they see as a brave act of defiance is an arrogant desecration of our faith and values.
The prophet Zechariah, in the closing lines of his book, called on the nations of the world to join the Jewish people in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. Isaiah wrote that the future Temple “shall be a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7) Maimonides himself ruled that, when the Temple is rebuilt, Christians may offer sacrifices without changing one iota of their faith. (Laws of Sacrifices 3:2) What will these spitting Jews say when the Temple is rebuilt and there are busloads of devout Christian worshippers lining up to bring their offerings in Jerusalem? What will they say when they, as Jews, are outnumbered in Jerusalem on the Feast of Tabernacles?
The Christian world has undergone a monumental change in how they see the Jewish people. It’s time for the Jewish community to do the same.
Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is Executive Director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation