Friday, 1 July 2016

The Tradition of Philosemitism

Taking Up an Honourable Cause

Gertrude Himmelfarb has written an engaging book on the history of philosemitism in England.  It "began" with Oliver Cromwell who encouraged Jews to return to England, which had been the first country to expel them during medieval times.  Gradually, over two and a half centuries not only were Jews migrating to England, but gradually they were winning or being granted an increasing list of civil and political rights--during centuries when such rights were not universal by any means.

The Christian Church, particularly through the influence of the Great Awakening, played a positive role.  At the end of the eighteenth century, for example, a Jewish financier and philanthropist, Abraham Goldsmid raised a fund to help and assist the Jewish poor throughout England.  Himmelfarb tells us that "of the eighty-seven initial subscribers, forty-one were Christians".   [Gertrude Himmelfarb, The People of the Book: Philosemitism in England, From Cromwell to Churchill (New York: Encounter Books, 2011), p. 56.]

In the mid-nineteenth century, Conservative leader,  Benjamin Disraeli was arguing that the Church was the key instrument for the "renovation of the national spirit".  But he went on to address the origin of the Church.

The modern Jews had long labored under the odium and stigma of  medieval malevolence. . . . The Jews were looked upon in the middle ages as an accursed race, the enemies of God and man, the especial foes of Christianity.  No one in those days paused to reflect that Christianity was founded by the Jews; that its Divine Author, in his human capacity, was a descendant of King David; that his doctrines avowedly were the completion, not the change, of Judaism. . . . The time had arrived when some attempt should be made to do justice to the race which had founded Christianity.  [Cited by Himmelfarb, op cit., p. 93.]
It strikes us that Christians and churches in the West need to start sounding similar trumpets again.  The Establishment, particularly those occupying its left benches, have become more and more anti-semitic in the past fifty years.  There are a variety of impulses and causes for this shift--all of them specious.

For our part, we distinguish carefully between Israel and Jewishness.  There are many Jews who have little tolerance for Israel, seeing it as an essentially secular enterprise.  As Christians, we believe that the nation of Israel needs to be assessed on its merits--as one more secularist Western nation--with an admixture of good and bad.  But the Jewish people are wider, more diverse, and more important than the nation state of Israel.

As Christians, following in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul, we yearn for them, and long for them to see Jesus Christ as their long awaited Messiah.  Messianic Jews--that is, those who have come to believe that Christ is in fact the Jewish Messiah--are a delightful bunch and a great encouragement to their Christian brethren.

Like Disraeli, we would attempt to do justice to the race through and to whom came the King of the world.

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