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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Anti-Semitism at the Vortex?

Michael Voris normally has some pretty good videos.

This video one is not one of them.

The problem is multi-faceted.
First, the use of the word "Jew" repeatedly aloud is somewhat jarring.
Most people don't do it because the connotations are not good.

It's very difficult to listen to the first part of Voris' talk and hear what he is actually saying because so many alarm bells start ringing in your head as the word rings repeatedly in your ears.

Now, that having been said, there are additional difficulties with his argument, the first being that it's just wrong.

The argument he's making is composed of several elements.
Let's take them one at a time.

1) The distinction between the religion of Judaism and the "race" of Judaism
I hesitate to say this distinction can be made, because it is fraught with difficulties.

To begin with, it is certainly the case that Jews have historically considered anyone of Jewish ancestry to be a Jew, regardless of whether or not they actually practice the faith, but this turns out not to be as helpful as Michael Voris would like. In some ages, this Jewish heritage was said to have passed down through the child's father (the father had to be a Jew), in other ages (ours included), the mother had to be a Jew for the child to be considered Jewish.

In any case, the use of the word "race" in regards to the Jews is biologically absurd (as is the use of the word "race" in regards to ANY group of human beings).

You might call the Jews a "nation" and suffer no logical absurdities, but calling them a "race" hearkens back to the days of eugenics that immediately followed the publication of Darwin's The Descent of Man in 1871. Yes, people then considered each nation-state a separate race, to the extent that they spoke of the "German race" and the "French race" but doing that today is considered silly.

It is also considered rather dangerous. Viewing individual nation-states as individual races is the sense in which Hitler spoke of the Jews as a race - he considered them a nation within a nation, a group of illegal immigrants, as it were, and therefore a threat to Germany. Germany was kind of prickly about her nation-state status precisely because she had only become a single nation in 1871 as a result of the Franco-Prussian war.

And it was against the nation-race, not the religion, of the Jews that Hitler waged war. Few people realize that a Jew who had gotten himself or herself permanently sterilized was immune from deportation to the death camps. A sterilized Jew posed no threat to the genetic heritage of the nation-race of Germany, and so could practice the Jewish faith freely, without fear of persecution, even during the height of the German pogroms.

The problem comes in precisely because of the Jewish insistence that anyone born of a Jewish mother was themselves Jewish. Hitler took this as literal truth, insisting that Judaism was a race that needed to be exterminated, and of course he acted on it. So, today, if you call the Jews a "race," many Jews will hear "genetically distinct, genetically inferior nation-race" and accuse you of being a Nazi anti-Semite, even if you mean none of those extra words, but instead simply mean to agree with their own definition of what constitutes a Jew.

The word "race" in connection with Judaism is so heavily laced with the wrong connotations that it really should never be used.

Voris' point about there being such a thing as an atheist Jew is well-taken, however. Such a thing is perfectly reasonable from the Jewish point of view.

2) Does The Temple define what it means to be a Jew?
It is not possible to say that the destruction of the Temple destroyed the Jewish religion or destroyed Judaism. After all, the Temple that the Romans destroyed was the SECOND Temple - the first one had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. It was rebuilt in 538 BC, but didn't get rededicated, and capable of bearing sacrifice, until 515 BC.

So, if we say Judaism REQUIRES a Temple, then we must admit that Judaism was destroyed in 586 BC. This poses numerous obvious problems, not the least of which is that Jesus can no longer be considered a Jew from a religious perspective, only from a "race" perspective.

If we accept Voris' contention, then we must accept the idea that Judaism existed until the first Temple was destroyed, then it popped out of existence for 70 years, then it suddenly popped back into existence simply because a few stones were laid on top of each other again. Then it popped out of existence again. So the covenant of the eternally faithful God was dead for 70 years?

Yeah, that doesn't work.

Alternatively, we could say Judaism died with the destruction of the first Temple, and stayed dead from then on. But if we say THAT, the whole salvation theology thing falls apart. We can't be grafted onto a dead tree, and the tree is dead if the first Temple was the real definition of Judaism.

In fact, we could go back and point out that the Temple system of sacrifice was instituted by God due to the way the Chosen People rebelled against Moses. But Judaism started with Abraham, not Moses. Between Abraham and Moses, there was neither a Temple, nor a hint that the Temple system was necessary. The earliest patriarchs did perform sacrifice, but any male head of household could offer it, and the rules were not nearly as spelled out as the Temple system had them.

So, in order to be theologically consistent, we have to admit that the Temple was really, really important, but that Judaism grew up without it, and even after it was instituted, Judaism can still limp along without it, if only because we have pre-Christ example of it having done so.

3) Is Judaism a man-made religion?
That's like asking if Christianity is defined by allegiance to the Pope. Well, yes, it is, but no, it isn't. That is, you can be validly baptized and therefore truly a Christian without accepting the Pope as the Vicar of Christ. There are a lot of flavors of Christianity, most of them man-made accretions onto a divinely created base.

The Jewish faith is no different. Orthodox Jews who try to follow the full 613 laws may well be considered the fullness of Judaism now that the Temple is gone, just as they were the fullness of Jewish faith the last time the Temple got knocked over.

You can easily argue that Reform Judaism is purely an invention of man, because it is - it was invented by a bunch of essentially atheistic Zionists in the mid-1800s. By the same token you can argue that Conservative Judaism, a reaction to Reform Judaism, is also man-made.

But Orthodox Judaism?
Nah, not so much.

And it gets still worse. There are a LOT of splinter groups within each of the above general divisions, and each one has its own flavor. There is no Jewish equivalent to the Pope (the only religion I can think of off-hand which has anything close to the Pope is Tibetan Buddhists and the Dalai Lama, but even there, most other flavors of Buddhists don't recognize his authority).

The point is, there is no longer a monolithic Judaism - there wasn't during Jesus' time (remember how the Pharisees and Sadducees fought?) and things haven't gotten better since. So blanket statements about "the Jews" just don't begin to grasp the kind of problem you're looking at when you want to talk about Judaism intelligently.

NB: If it's any consolation to Mike Voris, I've had Jews make the same mistake when they try to converse with me. Indeed, I once had a Jew accuse me of anti-Semitism because he didn't like my Catholic interpretation of the Old Testament. When I pointed out to my Jewish critic that a lot of Jews wouldn't like HIS interpretation any better, he suddenly left the conversation.

4) Did the Jews who rejected Christ start a man-made religion?
No, at least, not in the sense that Martin Luther did. God established covenant with Abraham. He made several modifications to the covenant with various patriarchs, most especially with Moses. But the rejection of the greatest modification, the perfection supplied by Christ, is not a rejection of the covenant that came before.

When Martin Luther, et. al, rejected portions of Catholic Faith, they truly did start a new faith. But the Hebrews simply didn't accept the perfection of the covenant that God had already given them. The Hebrew covenant is entirely from God, at least as the Orthodox Jews try to live it. You could argue that the synagogue system, which came into being between the two Temple periods, is not specifically ordained by God, but that system exists simply to help the Hebrews live the divinely proclaimed ordinances. In this sense, the synagogue system is much like Catholic canon law - neither is divinely ordained, but both are necessary to living out what is divinely ordained.

So Judaism isn't a new faith, it's simply a faith that hasn't thought through the last bits of divine revelation. The Protestant faith, on the other hand, was invented from whole cloth. It invents an entirely new theology, divesting itself of a major tenet of not only Judeo-Christian theology, but of nearly every faith the world has ever seen - the concept of Purgatory.

But even if we were to say that Judaism was similar to Reformation theology (which it isn't), we don't say Lutherans aren't Christians, aren't part of the covenant, or that their baptism doesn't save, so neither can we say that the Jews are not part of God's covenant.

God established the covenant, not us.
He doesn't break His word.
They are part of the covenant regardless of what they do or what they recognize.

Now, the Jews have rejected part of the single covenant between God and man, but that's not unusual for the Chosen People - they did that numerous times in the Old Testament and God never wrote them out of this single covenant.

True, this last rejection is quite a bit worse than previous ones, but we don't have any theological evidence to think they are completely out of the covenant, if only because that's not how God works. When He makes a covenant, it's eternal.

We just have to keep in mind that the "Old" covenant and the "New" covenant are the SAME covenant in the sense that God always intended salvation for everyone to come to us through the Jews.

The difference between the Old and the New Covenant is the difference between the skeleton of a half-built house and the house completed and nestled among 50-foot pines twenty years later. We can speak of the "old" house as we remember how it was built and how we walked through the skeleton so carefully, wearing our hard hats and steel-toed boots, and compare this to the "new" house that we live in now, in which we wear slippers, cozy housecoats and drink tea. The Jews refuse to live in the finished section, but they are still in the house.

Voris is correct to allude to the fact that Catholicism is just the completion of Judaism. He is correct to say that ancient Judaism looks a lot like Catholicism sometimes, but it is different. But by failing to acknowledge the common core covenant, he creates a lot more problems than he solves.

Now, some of you may be asking "Kellmeyer, does that mean you think the Jews can be saved without water baptism? That they have their own path to salvation?"

No, the Jews do not have their "own" path to salvation.
There is no salvation except through Jesus Christ.
But it is a basic theological principle that God is not bound by the sacraments.
He instructs us to use the sacraments, but He is free to save people in ways known to Himself and without any sacraments at all, if He wishes. He can give the coin of salvation to any laborer He meets in the road, whether He sends them to the vineyard at 8 AM or at 8 PM, and He isn't bound to give us the coin to give to the laborer - He can give that sanctifying grace directly as and whenever He wishes.

Now, we don't know any other way to be saved except the sacraments, so it behooves us to help as many people as we possibly can to those waters. We are duty-bound to do so, and insofar as we don't, we are going to be judged for failing in our duty.

But God isn't going to send some poor man to hell because of MY failure to preach the Gospel. Apart from the problem of original sin, we don't go to hell for other people's failures, we go there for our own failures.

I may send myself to hell, but God will take into account that I failed in my duty towards this poor man when this poor man is judged, and "the natural law written on his heart may, perhaps, excuse him on that day of judgement which I preach," as Paul explains in Romans.

So, can an unbaptized Jew attain salvation?
Most assuredly.
And if that man is saved, he will be saved only through the merits of Christ's cross.

So, should I refrain from preaching the Gospel to him out of sensibility towards his feelings and in the faith that this will happen?

If I fail to preach the Gospel to someone, I may end up in hell, because I didn't show any real love towards my neighbor. I didn't preach God's love to Him. Instead, I worried about whether or not he would be offended by the Gospel. I put fleeting emotional concerns above God's desire that this man know and properly respond to His eternal love. It's akin to letting someone die of pneumonia because I am worried that they may hate swallowing antibiotic pills.

That's not love - that's just stupid.

If that's the way I treat my neighbor, my unbaptized neighbor may very well be saved, but I won't be.

In summary, this video has enough serious errors in it that it should really be pulled.
It is theologically WAY off base.


Patrick said...

As far as the whole Jewish race versus religion issue, from my understanding of recent historical research, a monolithic Jewish religion has never really existed past the first few generations, if at all. It has always been a dynamic religion which has allowed it to survive under extreme historical pressures. There are some unique genetic traits many Jewish groups have acquired, but it hardly makes them a race. Jewish culture, though, seems to have the most possibility of really existing considering even my friends who are atheist Jews continue to celebrate certain religion days because of family bonds and traditions.

cothrige said...

Very interesting points, especially regarding the place of the temple in history and its relation to Judaism. A nice corrective to Mr. Voris' errors. But I would say that your response to usage of the word Jew and race, and possible suggestions of comparisons to Hitler, are a tad hypersensitive. Whatever the failings of Mr. Voris I don't think that comparison rings true.

And I absolutely agree that God may save whom he pleases, but surely we should not be using that as a response to questions regarding salvation for entire religions. The Church teaches, as you say, that God is not bound by the sacraments and that some individuals, such as those who are entirely ignorant of the Gospel, might be saved through other means. However, this would not seem applicable or related to the question of salvation regarding entire religions.

Steve Kellmeyer said...


I agree I may be a tad hypersensitive on the use of the word Jew. I spent my MA studying WW II, so the language may have resonance with me that others wouldn't notice or intend.

I don't think Mike Voris is an anti-Semite, I'm just pointing out that people who have studied in a certain way (as most Jews have), are sensitive to particular turns of phrase as a result, even if the person using the language has no intention or knowledge that this particular turn of phrase is problematic.

You are right. Making blanket statements about salvation for whole groups of people is problematic, whether we are making those statements in a positive or negative way. People should definitely not take away from this essay the idea that the Jews as a people are necessarily saved, any more than Catholics as a group are necessarily saved.

Salvation is corporate in the sense that we are supposed to help each other towards Christ. But it is ultimately individual in the sense that each of us walks through the doorway of death to our individual judgements alone.

Anonymous said...

Great article, Steve, since this is a comlex subject and point of confusion for Christians of all denominations today, especially when the modern state of Israel is thrown into the equation.

But I have a doubt regarding this point:

Voris' point about being an atheist Jew is well-taken, however. Such a thing is perfectly reasonable from the Jewish point of view.

It seems to contradict what you wrote on another post a few years ago. (and someone left a recent question for you there, too)

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I forgot the quote:

But, ironically, both the Nazis and today's rabbis insist an atheist can be a Jew, thus cementing the attitudes of neo-Nazi skinheads throughout the world.

Steve Kellmeyer said...


The two quotes fit together. Voris' distinction between cultural and religious Judaism is pretty accurate - even non-practicing, atheistic Jews will observe Pesach because it cements family ties and Jewish culture.

Most conservative and reform rabbis consider atheists true Jews, as long as they are born of a Jewish mother.

But, therein lies the problem. Insofar as atheist Jews exist, the idea that Judaism is primarily a "race" and only secondarily a religion is cemented in the minds of Nazi skinheads.

And that was Hitler's central point - from his point of view, the religion thing was mostly a scam. They were a foreign race that needed to be exterminated like bacteria. That's why he didn't much care if a Jew practiced Judaism - he only cared that a Jew didn't pass on his genes.

Now, the Nazi propaganda played both sides - it emphasized the nasty things the Torah said about Christ and Christians (of which there are several real examples, and the Nazis added a lot more fake ones) because the Nazi pagans knew they were playing to a German Christian audience that had to be inflamed to hate Jews.

So, the propaganda used both cultural and religious elements to get the job done. They burned synagogues, desecrated the Torah, etc. But in terms of actual policy implementation, these fine distinctions were constantly being made between biology and religious practice.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

I've altered the section on nation above, to try to make the distinctions more clear. Read it through and see if it helps.

The biggest key sentence change is: "So, today, if you call the Jews a "race," many Jews will hear "genetically distinct, genetically inferior nation-race" and accuse you of being a Nazi anti-Semite, even if you mean none of those extra words, but instead simply mean to agree with their own definition of what constitutes a Jew."

Brian Kopp said...

The subtitle for the video summarizes the primary point of the video: "Is the Old Covenant still in effect? here's a clue: there's a new covenant."

I think you're missing this primary point by getting lost in the distinctions in the first half of the video. Those disctinctions are worthy of debate but frankly they are not important. (And they certainly are not anti-semitic.)

Read the transcript for the video, specifically the second page:

".. the promise of the covenant is fulfilled in
the Catholic Church. We are the continuation of Israel .. there is an unbroken line from
Abraham to us.

This is why nothing was lost .. in the sense of the covenant .. when Jerusalem was destroyed.

...The covenant was never abandoned by God ... And it is continued today in the Catholic Church. We have a priesthood .. THE
sacrifice .. the temple .. and that is because Judaism is built on waiting for a Messiah who
will come to institute his reign.
That happened .. 2000 years ago. The Jews who accepted him became the Church."

This latter half of the transcript corresponds very well with the current Magisterial teaching regarding other religions found in Dominus Iesus.

Brian Kopp said...

Dominus Iesus is very clear in this regard:

22. With the coming of the Saviour Jesus Christ, God has willed that the Church founded by him be the instrument for the salvation of all humanity (cf. Acts 17:30-31).90 This truth of faith does not lessen the sincere respect which the Church has for the religions of the world, but at the same time, it rules out, in a radical way, that mentality of indifferentism “characterized by a religious relativism which leads to the belief that ‘one religion is as good as another'”.91 If it is true that the followers of other religions can receive divine grace, it is also certain that objectively speaking they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation.92 However, “all the children of the Church should nevertheless remember that their exalted condition results, not from their own merits, but from the grace of Christ. If they fail to respond in thought, word, and deed to that grace, not only shall they not be saved, but they shall be more severely judged”.93 One understands then that, following the Lord's command (cf. Mt 28:19-20) and as a requirement of her love for all people, the Church “proclaims and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6). In him, in whom God reconciled all things to himself (cf. 2 Cor 5:18-19), men find the fullness of their religious life”.94

In inter-religious dialogue as well, the mission ad gentes “today as always retains its full force and necessity”.95 “Indeed, God ‘desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth' (1 Tim 2:4); that is, God wills the salvation of everyone through the knowledge of the truth. Salvation is found in the truth. Those who obey the promptings of the Spirit of truth are already on the way of salvation. But the Church, to whom this truth has been entrusted, must go out to meet their desire, so as to bring them the truth. Because she believes in God's universal plan of salvation, the Church must be missionary”.96 Inter-religious dialogue, therefore, as part of her evangelizing mission, is just one of the actions of the Church in her mission ad gentes.97 Equality, which is a presupposition of inter-religious dialogue, refers to the equal personal dignity of the parties in dialogue, not to doctrinal content, nor even less to the position of Jesus Christ — who is God himself made man — in relation to the founders of the other religions. Indeed, the Church, guided by charity and respect for freedom,98 must be primarily committed to proclaiming to all people the truth definitively revealed by the Lord, and to announcing the necessity of conversion to Jesus Christ and of adherence to the Church through Baptism and the other sacraments, in order to participate fully in communion with God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus, the certainty of the universal salvific will of God does not diminish, but rather increases the duty and urgency of the proclamation of salvation and of conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ.

How well does the video comport with Dominus Iesus? How well does your essay here critiquing the video comport with Dominus Iesus?

That is the primary point in need of debate/clarification.

Anonymous said...

Now it makes sense, if one reads the earlier post in light of the new one, in which you point to the fact that the distinction between the Jewish race and religion is possible and indeed made by Jews themselves, but at the same time you alert for the inherent and historical problems such a distinction brings up.

Anonymous said...

Now, after seeing the video, I noticed the sentence:

Voris' point about being an atheist Jew is well-taken, however.

Steve, didn't you mean "Voris' point about there being an atheist Jew is well-taken, however."?

As it was written it gave the impression, at least to me, that this Voris himself is an atheist Jew.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Ah, good point.
I fixed it, I hope.

cothrige said...


Thanks for the clarification. I agree that we must be careful when speaking of salvation regarding entire groups, though I wonder if perhaps you overstate your response here. We can, as Catholics, speak of salvation in the Church with certainty as it is revealed by God. We can also speculate about salvation of individuals outside of the Church, though nothing about that beyond the possibility is revealed by God. In that regard we certainly cannot say that all Catholics are saved, or that no Jews are saved.

I get the impression that you are basically equating these two possible ideas. However, given the nature of Catholic teaching and the sacraments themselves, it seems very unlikely that any reasonably aware Catholic could get the impression that Catholicism means that all Catholics are automatically saved. The mere existence of the sacraments of Penance and Last Rites would seem to negate this idea. One would actually be hard pressed to find a dogma in the Church which doesn't in some way reveal the possibility of damnation for people in the Church. Catholics who choose to think that there is no hell, or that Catholics cannot end up there are just kidding themselves and are wilfully ignoring the obvious truth and facts. Nothing you or I might say are likely to impact them either way.

The other possible misunderstanding is that people may think that Jews can be saved just by being Jews. Unlike the above error this one is much less obvious in the teachings of the Church today. There are actually catechisms out there from the American bishops which teach this. The Catechism of the Catholic Church itself uses language vague enough to be open to interpretation. I have met many well-meaning Catholics who attend Mass regularly who adamantly insist that it is wrong to evangelise Jews as they are already saved by virtue of their covenant with God.

Unlike the belief that all Catholics are saved this one is much more insidious and widespread. I think that is why Mr. Voris chose to speak about it. We can very clearly state that Jews are called to faith in Christ just as all others are, and that neither denies the freedom of God or the dangers to Catholics.

Brian Sullivan said...

I didn't find the beginning of this Vortex to be jarring. I do think it gets lost in the second half. I don't think you can vote yourself out of a covenant; you can walk away or ignore it perhaps. Voris makes not mention of Romans 9-11 or Hebrews, pretty key texts in dealing with the issue of Israel and the covenant. Seems to me that Paul is saying that God's covenant is still in effect in the Church and with the Jews.

dcs said...

Orthodox Jews who try to follow the full 613 laws may well be considered the fullness of Judaism now that the Temple is gone, just as they were the fullness of Jewish faith the last time the Temple got knocked over.

Well, leaving aside the fact that Orthodox Jews - indeed, nearly all modern observant Jews - are the theological descendants of the Pharisees, whose "traditions of men" were condemned by Our Lord.

Anonymous said...

Why is it that people like Michael Voris and SSPX draw the ire of mainstream Catholics and CINOs, but the Jesuits and Priests blaspheming the Lord and subverting his mission with their 'liberation theology' and crypto-Universalism are given a free pass?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Why give Voris trouble when we ignore nasty priests?

Good question.
Scripture answers it.

"Those whom God loves, He chastises."

We correct people we love.
We ignore idiots we no longer love.

lauermar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lauermar said...

You are supposed to pray for the obstinate in sin, not ignore them. That is the sin of omission. And btw, whatever happened to not judging them? Why chastise Voris?