The readings for Sunday, 12 May (Acts 13:14, 43-52):
Paul and Barnabas carried on from Perga till they reached Antioch in Pisidia. Here they went to synagogue on the Sabbath and too their seats. When the meeting broke up, many Jews and devout converts joined Paul and Barnabas, and in the talks with them Paul and Barnabas urged them to remain faithful to the grace God had given them.
The next Sabbath almost the whole town assembled to hear the word of God. When they saw the crowds, the Jews, prompted by jealously, used blasphemies and contradicted everything Paul said. The Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, “We had to proclaim the word of God to you first, but since you do not think yourselves worthy of external life, we must turn to the pagans. For this is what the Lord commanded us to do when he said: “I have made you a light for the nations, so that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.”
It made the pagans very happy to hear this and they thanked the Lord for his message; all who were destined for eternal life became believers. Thus the word of the Lord spread through the whole countryside. But the Jews worked upon some of the devout women of the upper classes and the leading men of the city and persuaded them to turn against Paul and Barnabas and expel them from their territory. So they shook the dust from their feet in defiance and went off to Iconium but the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.
We might as well toss in Ecclesiastes 1:9: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
The historical passage highlights that those Jews who believed were Jews no more, but Christians. While those Jews who did not believe, stayed Jews and tried to talk others out of believing. Not so much breaking news.
Yoram Hazony, a notable conservative Jew, wrote, “there is no such thing as ‘genetically Jewish.’ Jews are a nation, not a race. Anyone on earth can join the Jewish people, as Ruth the Moabite did—by accepting our people as her people, and our God as her God.”
I had an exchange with Hazony and asked what the terms were for joining. He clarified his original point: “The Orthodox rabbinical courts would not accept an atheist into the Jewish people. As I said, the basis for becoming a Jew is embracing both the people and it’s God.”
Yet he also (earlier) said “Atheist Jews remain Jews.” I agreed with him that Jews are not (now) a race. Yet I suggested that given the religious requirement the term “atheist Jew” made no sense, since in order to join, and seemingly to remain, one had to embrace God. He never replied to that.
Saying “atheist Jews remain Jews” is like saying Catholics who become atheists remain Catholics. Well, such things happen in the sense that those who have abandoned the faith do paradoxically claim to still be Catholics: some of these people are even priests!
That means we have at least a double-meaning to both Jew and Catholic. Both have a religious definition in which they label a distribution of certain theistic beliefs shared by followers, short of atheism, where everybody doesn’t necessarily believe all the same things.
The second meaning is ethnic, where again there is a distribution of non-theistic cultural beliefs shared by followers, beliefs orthogonal to religion, where again not everybody shares all beliefs, except for the ethnic identity.
There is certainly no single race of Jews nor Catholics, however the terms are interpreted, religious or cultural. Nobody I am aware of thinks Catholics, religious or cultural, are a race. Yet some ethnic or religious Jews, and some non-Jews, believe Jews are a race.
Now there are, in certain concentrated geographic areas, Jews and Catholics who are mostly or predominately of one race, such as in some regions of the USA for Jews (genetic Khazars1, or Ashkenazi, i.e. a Turkic race) and Poland for Catholics (Poles, a slavic race, like your host, in part). Within those concentrated areas, it can make sense as shorthand to speak of race where the context is blatant. The problem is that one man speaks in shorthand and the next hears generalities. It is dangerous.
Dangerous? For instance, we saw earlier “that the Israeli Rabbinate…is using DNA testing to verify a person’s Jewishness. Since a person who isn’t Jewish can’t marry a Jew in Israel, which has no civil marriage, the rabbinate is using the DNA test to deny people they consider non-Jews the civil right of marriage.”
Doubtless such tests can be made, but they would be entirely arbitrary in concluding this man is a Jew and this man not, since Jews are not a race. Kabbalist Dr. Michael Laitman, who had a conversation with Jones recently, also believe Jews have a unique and unshared-with-gentiles genetic component which allows them to bring a certain enlightenment into the world. Laitman agreed that his views are not shared by all who he is calling Jewish.
Jones is a Catholic in the religious sense, a point which he takes pains to emphasize, though he acknowledges the ethnic characteristics of Catholic neighborhoods of old. Jones insists he does not identify as white, for instance, but as Catholic solely. Brown is a Christian who calls himself a Jew. This can only take an ethnic meaning, since it makes no sense for a Christian to say “Christian Jew” in a religious sense. Catholic CC Pecknold recalled for us the words of St Augustine, “What is now called the Christian religion existed of old and was never absent from the beginning of the human race until Christ came in the flesh. Then true religion which already existed began to be called Christian.”
Brown and Jones met in mid April for a discussion, which can be watched here, on “antisemitism.”
That term, as in plain, is racial, and it is often employed in the same way as calling somebody a “racist.” But since not all Jews are Semites, and not all Semites are Jews, and Jews are not a race, the term makes no sense in its intended form (well, most charges of “racism” make no sense, either). It should be eliminated. It encourages and causes error.
One can say “anti-Jew”, which is plainer, but which is still ambiguous because it’s not clear if the religion or the culture that is in play. Context matters.
The Encyclopedia Brittanica calls the 1879 term a “misnomer”, created for historical reasons Jones recounts. Jones argued “anybody who criticizes the Jews is [called an] anti-Semite.”
Brown was worried that if non-Jews used the term “the Jews” (he allows Jews its use) it can lead to “anti-Semitism”, because the term “the Jews” paints the false impression of a monolithic group up to no good. Brown is correct that people have used the term in that way, which Jones acknowledges.
Of course, if one is accused of “anti-Semitism”, it must mean there exists the group one is said to be against, which is to say, the Jews. (It can’t be Semites, because etc.) Both men danced around this theme, and much effort could haven been saved by simply jettisoning a word that is unhelpful to the nth degree. If you mean “anti-Jew”, say anti-Jew. If you mean to criticize an item or religion or culture, than make that plain. Say what you mean!
Jones does insist on use of the term “the Jews”, much as anybody else would agree on “the Catholics”, or else how can you say and find useful sentences like “Every year the Germans pay the Jews reparations”? Notice that that sentence carries with a context not applicable everywhere.
Jones’s favorite example: “Jews are responsible for gay marriage”, a sentence which some say is anti-Jew when a non-Jew says it as criticism. But when a Jew says it2, or a non-Jew says it is praise as then Vice President Biden did, it is taken as praise and not anti-Jewish (in either sense).
Brown does allow and uses the term “the Jews” when it is used neutrally or with praise, but he bridles when it is used with criticism. On the other hand, as Jones uses the term, it’s not always clear if he is speaking of it in religious or cultural terms (I’m guessing he’d say both). Also, as recent news coverage shows, nobody takes it amiss when criticizing Catholics as “the Catholics” (I’m thinking of the appalling behavior of priests “oriented” toward other men).
The debate was also theological. The Catholic Bible makes reference to peoples called the Jews, as above, which Jones interpreted in it plain sense, but which Brown countered meant “Judeans” or “Jewish leaders”. The reason for the contention is clear. Brown finds these passages vexing, and tending to impute ill motivation to all Jews. Jones agrees these passages do not mean all Jews, but says they do apply in a specific sense to the Jews as religion and in a general sense as a culture. (The Jews as a religion do not, after all, accept Jesus Christ.)
Brown says that most traditional Jews (and I assume he also meant in Israel, as he has traveled there extensively) “spend as much time thinking of Jesus as Catholics think of Buddha.” And that the revolutionary Jews are those that “cast off traditional Judaism”, which he appears to associate with study of the Torah and not Talmud. It is these Jews who are engaged in, for example, pornography, which was their “way of pushing against Torah and throwing off traditional Judaism”. These revolutionary Jews (Jones’s term) are not acting against Catholicism per se. Again, Brown is fearful of blowback to (he says) the Jews, which shows the term has use.
And so it went, back and forth, with the language being a sticking point. It is surely useful to speak of “the Jews” as it is to speak of “the Catholics”, in praise, neutrally, or in criticism. But doing so always brings a context which must be very specific, a context that can be swept behind or confused when using these terms jumping from context to context. As I have said before, equivocation makes the best jokes but worst fallacies.
After the debate, as you might have expected, both parties went on in other forums to “clarify” their points (ahem). These comments attracted interest, such as this article, so much so that Brown recently tweeted, “An appeal to @EMichaelJones1. I believe your views are antisemitic, a charge you strongly deny. I propose a formal, moderated, full-length debate with a neutral moderator where we air our differences. Shall we? (I recognize that you repudiate violence against the Jewish people.)”
This is a debate I’d like to see, run by someone who is a stickler for language.
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1From the paper “The Missing Link of Jewish European Ancestry: Contrasting the Rhineland and the Khazarian Hypotheses” in Genome Biology and Evolution, “Our findings support the Khazarian hypothesis and portray the European Jewish genome as a mosaic of Near Eastern-Caucasus, European, and Semitic ancestries, thereby consolidating previous contradictory reports of Jewish ancestry.”
2Tikkun: “How Jews Brought America to the Tipping Point on Marriage Equality: Lessons for the Next Social Justice Issues”. “In a few short years, same-sex marriage went from being an untouchable political hot potato to a broadly accepted civil right in eighteen states and the District of Columbia. Jews, and their social justice organizations, helped make that happen.” What did the authoress of this mean by “Jews”? What is her assumed context, I mean, which even she was not careful to explicate.
Incidentally, even the New York Times “that to write ‘a Jew,’ even in a positive article by a Jewish reporter, would strike some as offensive.” The author continues “We Jews, too, recoil from calling ourselves Jews…I frequently edit articles that mention ‘Jewish politicians’ or ‘Jewish artists’ but not ‘Jews.’ Like our non-Jewish friends, we Jews have been conditioned to think of a ‘Jew’ as something bad.” He’d like to change this.