Interview with Josh Turnil
How do you define anti-Semitism?
Sem comes from the Hebrew “name.” Historically and biblically, it was the name of one of the three sons of Noah—who rescued the world and through whom the vocation should continue. Shem in Hebrew has at least two connotations. One is the identity of a human soul. A person does not exist without a name. To be against the idea of the “name” is to be against being. Secondly, Shem is one of the many appellations used for G-d. If one is against The Name or HaShem, one is against God. Atheist and believer can agree that an anti-Semite (at least linguistically) is not only against Jews in particular, but against humanity. This is true in a spiritual sense, by being against the God that gives life to the world, as well as in the sociological philosophical sense—being against human beings. To be an anti-Semite is to be against life and the cure for a dying world.
The real evil behind anti-Semitism is that the Jewish people have been blamed for the earth’s woes throughout the centuries, but they are actually the solution to the earth’s problems. Jesus said, “Salvation comes from the Jews.” According to the Hebrew Scriptures, that salvation was God’s Word entrusted to the Jewish people so that the world might know the God of Israel.
Anti-Semitism is a crime against humanity in the most universal and in the most local sense. The great tragedy of anti-Semitism is that the anti-Semite is not only seeking the destruction, disempowerment and dislocation of the Jews—but his own.
Crimes against humanity have been often described as being a crime of a particularly atrocious nature, often systematic and with government approval and complicity. Anti-Semitism takes crimes against humanity to another level. Why are people particularly outraged when a priest abuses children? Or when a doctor knowingly uses his science to kill (e.g. Dr. Mengele) or when a chef poisons the food he makes? The reason is that those professions are life-giving, not death-giving, professions. A priest is supposed to protect and educate children, not harm them and destroy them. A doctor is supposed to heal and bring back to life, not injure and cause harm. A cook is supposed to give food that nourishes and not poison.
Imagine that you knew that a baby was to be born who would bring the world a cure for AIDS—and you decided to kill that child. Would you be guilty only of murder? Or much more? You would have killed a child that would have brought relief to millions. Now imagine that you yourself were contaminated with AIDS. By killing the baby you will have killed yourself. This is anti-Semitism: seeking the destruction of the people who were to bring forth salvation to the world.
As the old Jewish saying goes, if God lived on earth, people would break his windows. The Jewish people are the proverbial windows.
Can we educate people against anti-Semitism?
There are places in the world where there are no Jews and places where there are many Jews and yet anti-Semitism exists everywhere. It seems without reason and without respect of social, cultural or intellectual contexts. Despite educational programs, university studies, and all the Holocaust education, anti-Semitism continues to rear its ugly head.
A man said to his friend, “The problems in the world are all the fault of the Jews and the cyclists.” His friend asked, “Why the cyclists?” The man replied, “Why the Jews?”
In studies on anti-Semitism, the “why” question is most often overshadowed by the historical context or contributing sociological factors of anti-Semitic periods and events in history. As a result, the “why” question is not only drowned out, but at times thinkers skirt dangerously close to causality—that is, they suggest that our Jewish people brought this trouble on ourselves.
Let me state my thesis plainly. Anti-Semitism derives from evil spiritual forces. These forces transcend culture, religion and race. Anti-Semitism is the belief that Jews are the reason for the world’s woes rather than the source of its salvation.
How does anti-Semitism begin?
I would say it begins in the imagination that is stimulated by many forces—the first of them being spiritual. Let me try to answer a more general question: Where does prejudice begin? It is an image in your mind of the other person that takes only your personal impressions into consideration without basing it on knowledge of the other person. That Jews are funny, stingy, generous, wise, cunning or religious are images that feed off of societal caricatures and are therefore prejudiced. Whether that image is good or bad does not make it any less racially a caricature.
I guess the question is then, who is not guilty of anti-Semitism? Everyone at one time or another has anti-Semitic feelings. Just like everyone at some time or another has developed cancer cells that sometimes stay in check and at other times grow to malignancy, everyone and anyone can be anti-Semitic.
Can we speak of another form of anti-Semitism that lends itself to humorous stereotypes? Are all Jews funny, well-adjusted, cultivated, wealthy, cause-oriented and intelligent? I have quite often met individuals who have a very high regard (or even romantic notion) of Jews without really knowing Jewish people. Once they come into contact with the real thing, they experience disappointment, bitter feelings and even sometimes prejudice. According to the Bible, we are created in God’s image. Prejudice creates an image and forces it upon someone else, expecting that person to fulfill that caricature for our own gratification.
What is the cure for anti-Semitism?
The Bible teaches us that we are to love the Lord with all of our being and, as a result, we should love our neighbor as ourselves. In that, we all fall short. We are all sinners, a biblical term that has become unpopular because it offends our sensibilities. But to a greater or lesser extent, we are all affected by the prejudice and caricature that we carry within ourselves. The God of Israel sent his Word to the world through the people of Israel, and that Word was incarnated in the life and ministry of Jesus. He was killed, not in a senseless anti-Semitic pogrom, but as payment for our sins of anti-Semitism, racism and because we do not love God with all of our being. God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf to free us from the hatred that divides and to truly see him and to know his salvation. And though Jesus was killed, he was not destroyed. The New Testament records that he rose from the dead, so that all who put their trust in him can also live eternally.