All One In Church: Jews
The sacred books of the Bible illuminate the history, culture and future of the Jewish people. Because of our love of the Scriptures, Christadelphians embrace this heritage and are motivated to think favorably of the Jewish people.
We know they are God’s chosen people; consequently, we follow their affairs with great interest, especially through the lens of the Bible. But are we always respectful of Jews, and do we know as much about them as we think we do? How can our ecclesias think about these people in an open and inclusive manner?
The Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group who defy exact definition. Their origins are known: Jews come from the Hebrews of the past, but nowadays, some people are born Jewish while others convert to Judaism. Orthodox conversion is very different from more liberal Jewish conversions. It is generally accepted that anyone with a Jewish mother is Jewish, but this doesn’t have a strong Biblical basis and may not be how God defines Jews. There is no single definition.
Although some Jews, particularly Orthodox, have a very distinctive dress code, they do not have a characteristic look. This makes it impossible to tell if we have Jews in our midst. Because we may have Jewish members or visitors at any service, nothing said should be insensitive. Anyone speaking about Jews needs to define which group of Jews they mean.
For example, the term Jews should not be used when discussing religious Jews because many Jews are secular. Nor should Jews be used when Ashkenazi Jews (those of the European Diaspora) are being talked about. Without a precise definition, there is the risk of misinformation and offense.
About 20% of Israelis are not Jewish, so the terms are not interchangeable. The secular government of Israel should not be confused with a religious organization. The Knesset upholds causes that are not supported by many of their citizens and are far from what we believe in.
About 20% of Israelis are not Jewish, so the terms are not interchangeable
News reports of racial abuse, national disasters and wars are always distressing, especially for those with loved ones involved. However, when we hear news from the Middle East or of antiSemitism, we may feel some excitement that prophecy is being fulfilled before our eyes.
It is dehumanizing for people at the epicenter of a disaster to know that others are elated because of their situation. Their needs will be for practical help and compassion. When you hear of distressing events, you can express your belief that what happened is wrong and that their community is not to blame. Do not ask questions, just offer support. This advice applies to any targeted group, not just Jews.
Compassion is an act of Christian love and needs to be expressed before excitement becomes appropriate. If you wish to avoid disrespect toward the Jewish community, everything said about Jews should be both accurate and sensitive.
These are some misconceptions and misused phrases to consider:
- Holocaust comes from a word meaning “burnt offering” and so implies a sacrifice to God. This idea is problematic because of the implication that it was what God wanted. While most people currently use the word “Holocaust” in reference to the mass murder of more than 6 million Jews in Nazioccupied Europe between 1939 and 1945, Jews tend to prefer Shoah (“destruction”). It is respectful to say the “Holocaust or Shoah,” at least upon first discussion. Many Jews also prefer to use the word “Churban” to describe “catastrophe or destruction.”
- Mentioning Hitler is likely to be traumatic or upsetting for Jews and shouldn’t be necessary during a Bible talk. I have heard him portrayed as an angelic host sent by God to punish Jews and arrange their return to the Holy Lands. This treatment is extremely offensive. We can only look at the deeds of Hitler in a negative light. Surely God would have been able to arrange this mass-emigration himself if it had not happened as it did!?
- Images of piles of naked, dead Jews have been used as evidence of Bible prophecy—showing disrespect for both the victims and Jews alive today. Great sensitivity needs to be exercised when displaying such pictures. The extreme wrongdoing of the perpetrators and the innocence of the victims should always be mentioned. Otherwise, we can create an emotional disconnect from the Jewish community where their suffering becomes perceived as a positive event. Many survivors still experience mental illness as a consequence, and their families may also be deeply affected.
- It is no longer true that all Jewish boys are circumcised. Some families skip the ritual as part of a modern movement.
- It is untrue that Jews always eat lamb at Passover; every Jewish community has its own traditions. Beef brisket is more common, although a lamb bone is often placed on the table.
- Jews and Arabs do not all hate each other. There can be mistrust between them, but many are working for peace and would be offended to have their views misrepresented.
- People say God gave Jews high intelligence. On testing, Ashkenazi Jews average slightly higher IQ in certain areas but slightly lower in others. As this only affects Ashkenazim, it seems unlikely to date back to Old Testament times. Emphasizing what we all have in common is more important than highlighting minor differences which may cause alienation or misunderstanding.
- “Jewess” is an offensive and hurtful term. We wouldn’t describe a sister as a “Christadelphianess.” Our women have full status as Christadelphians, and we do not label them as a subgroup. While Jewess is a Biblical word, modern translations tend to use “Jewish woman.” (Acts 16:1).
- Jews refer to their head-coverings for prayer as a yarmulke or kippah, not a “skullcap.”
- “Gentile” is a Biblical word not in common usage today. A general rule for defining groups is to use the language which they use themselves. I know of no one who self-defines as “gentile.” For this reason, the name should not refer to people alive now. “Non-Jews” is a more appropriate term.
- Jews normally call their place of worship “Shul” or “Temple.” This is similar to us saying “hall” or “meeting room,” not “church.” “Synagogue” is the correct word, but its sole use shows a lack of understanding of Jewish Culture.
You may wonder how I know these things, so it feels appropriate to explain that I am Jewish (by the definition of having a Jewish mother). I don’t feel this makes me any different from any other Christadelphian; we are all sinners unworthy of God’s grace. We all know, “