Why persecution of Christians is a Jewish concern
Over the past few years, while the world has been understandably distracted by other headline-grabbing problems, there has been a dramatic rise in the persecution of Christians.
Rabbi Pesach Wolicki | April 13, 2022
As Passover approaches, I am reminded of the Passover seasons of my youth growing up in Canada. As we would prepare to celebrate the festival of Jewish freedom from bondage, we would be reminded of those Jews around the world who were not yet free. At the time, this most prominently meant the Jews of the Soviet Union who were denied the rights both of emigration to Israel and of freedom to practice Judaism freely.
The rallies that I attended with my parents on behalf of the Jews of the Soviet Union, as well as Syria, where Jews were similarly denied basic rights, were a powerful influence on my Jewish identity and forged my sense of responsibility for all Jews. The axiom of the time was and still remains that an attack on one Jew is an attack on all Jews.
The logic behind this sentiment is simple. When any Jew is attacked for being Jewish, every one of us knows full well that “If I was there it could have been – would have been – me.” It would have been me because the victim was attacked not as an individual but as a representative of all Jews. The Jewish people were attacked. While the assertion that the discriminatory targeting of any individual based on religious or ethnic group is an attack on the entire group may appear trite and simplistic. Yet, however obvious, there is scarcely a better indication of identification with a group than feeling the sting when another member is attacked.
Of course, this is not unique to Jews. Whenever someone else who shares my identity or beliefs is attacked, and I can honestly say that had I been there it would have been me, I am the victim as well. This is the litmus test of collective victimhood.
Which brings us to the subject at hand. Over the past few years, while the world has been understandably distracted by other headline-grabbing problems, there has been a dramatic rise in the persecution of Christians.
According to the World Watch List of 2021 published by Open Doors, a nonprofit that monitors persecution of Christians worldwide, a staggering 360 million Christians experienced high levels of persecution in 2021. This number is 20 million higher than in 2020, which set a new record. Mass murder in Nigeria and other North African nations, burning of churches in Afghanistan and elsewhere in Africa and the Middle East, state-sanctioned restrictions on practice of the Christian faith in regimes such as North Korea, internment in labor camps in China, and a host of other hardships have become commonplace for a growing percentage of Christians throughout the world.
And this is a Jewish problem.
If the measure of collective victimhood in the face of attack is, “Had I been there, it would have been me,” then the conclusion is inescapable. In today’s world, an attack on Christians is an attack on Jews. Is there any doubt that those who have murdered Christians for their faith in Afghanistan, Nigeria, or Pakistan would kill any Jew they could get their hands on? Do we really believe that countries that crack down on public expressions of Christian faith are fine with Judaism? In the 21st century, are there any enemies of Christianity who are not at least as passionately enemies of the Jews and for the same reasons?
While it may be difficult for Jews to digest, the reality is that rather than antisemitism emerging from the Christian world, as it has over the centuries, today the primary sources of antisemitism in the world are as anti-Christian as they are anti-Jewish. This may be difficult for many Jews to accept, considering the history of Christian treatment of our people.
To put it another way, while it is true that antisemitism is on the rise in many parts of the world, we are mistaken if we view this phenomenon as separate from the drastic rise in persecution of Christians. What was never true in the past is true today. The enemies of Christianity and the enemies of the Jewish people and Israel are one and the same. More importantly, the motives behind persecution of Christians and hatred of Jews are indistinguishable.
The Tanach – the Jewish Bible – is sacred Scripture for both Christians and Jews. The basic values contained therein – the biblical definitions of good and evil, of sacred and profane, of life and death – are the shared underlying principles on which our worlds are built.
It must be clearly stated: Neither these Scriptures nor the values contained in them are sacred to those who attack and persecute Christians. If those who murder Christians would kill Jews too, it is because they hate all that we share; all that Jews and Christians together represent. Therefore, according to the collective victimhood test, attacks on Christians are – quite literally – attacks on Jews.
We dare not allow the dark past of the Church’s treatment of Jews to cloud our vision of the present. Christians no longer persecute Jews anywhere in the world. Christian doctrines regarding the Jews and Judaism have been inching – and in some cases charging – forward toward greater acceptance and reconciliation in most denominations of Christianity. Closer to home, our greatest hope for peaceful coexistence with any non-Jewish population in Israel is to be found in the Christian community. Israel has rapidly become the only country in the Middle East in which Christians have no reason to fear for being Christian. History, it turns out, makes strange bedfellows.
We are currently in the Passover season, when Jews the world over will engage in the millennia-old rituals of remembrance and identification with the slavery and Exodus from Egypt. As they were about to enter the Promised Land over 3,000 years ago, the people of Israel were commanded to “love the foreigner, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10:19).
In our times as well, the people of Israel are once again a free and strong nation that has returned to its homeland. And once again the historical memory of Jewish suffering is meant to instill within us the empathetic concern for those who are not of our own nation—the others among us who are in need of support and rescue from oppression. This is the lesson of the suffering of Egypt in biblical times and it is the message of modern antisemitism in our times, as well.
So yes, in the 21st century, an attack on one Christian is an attack on all Jews.
The writer is executive director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC).