Jackson’s answer is that the Jewish people stand for something beyond themselves, and the sinful human heart hates it. That something is the God of steadfast love manifest in the Torah—and, he adds, in the rabbi from Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth. In this way “anti-Semitism is fundamentally due to hatred of God and of those whom God loves—especially the frail and defenseless.” It follows that “the Nazi attack on the Jews was aimed at God and His Torah, not just a particular ethnicity.” Anti-Semitism is therefore a function of Jewish election, what Leonard Cohen calls “the glory of the Jew”:
that he is despised, that he moves in this mirrored exile, covered with mirrors, and as he passes through the communities where he sojourns, he reflects their condition and his condition. To me, his destiny is exile, and his vocation is to be despised.
Does this answer blame the victim? By no means: Jackson insists that seeking to grasp the evil of Nazism and the uniqueness of the Shoah is not to explain either away. On the contrary, he believes that it is a moral and theological dodge to make the Shoah either absurd (devoid of rational agents and recognizable human action) or akin to other genocidal crimes (so that the Jews’ identity as Jews is irrelevant to their being targeted by the Nazis). Even more, to avoid understanding the Nazis only ensures that history will repeat itself. For, as Jackson writes, “all of us have an inner Nazi”—that is, a part of ourselves “that resents a supernatural faith that challenges our natural desires and temporal loyalties.” We fail the victims and ourselves if we project that resentment onto others—so that “they,” unlike “us,” are evil incarnate and thus subhuman—instead of confessing our own susceptibility to it.
For Jackson, then, “anti-Semitism is a sin, rather than an illness or a delusion.” Mordecai Would Not Bow Down is a sustained meditation on this claim, tracing both the sources and the consequences of the seemingly universal and inextirpable sin of anti-Semitism, not least in its Christian guise. And it is a meditation. As a Gentile Christian, Jackson has taken a certain risk in writing about the Jews, the Shoah, and anti-Semitism. He does so, however, with nuance, sensitivity, courage, and moral clarity. The book is less a series of arguments building on one another than a contemplative spiral, reiterating and ruminating on a set of inseparable phenomena: the evil of Nazism; the horror of the Shoah; the election of the Jews; the anti-Semitism of Christendom; the temptations of schadenfreude; the suffering servanthood of Israel and Jesus. Over and again, the thesis resounds: “If the Jews are tantamount, collectively, to the founding religious conscience of the West, then the Third Reich aimed permanently to silence that conscience.” Jackson thereby turns the so-called Judenfrage on its head. The Jews are not a quandary, much less a problem for Gentiles to solve. Rather, the Jews are a living question posed by God to Gentile society: Will you—will we—answer the call to holiness by subordinating our instincts and desires, our laws and traditions, to the command of the one God to love our neighbors as ourselves, even to the point of laying down our lives for them? When Hitler answered in the negative, seeking instead “to live without God, beyond good and evil,” the Final Solution followed as a matter of course: “To kill the Jews as the people of God.”
Hence Jackson’s fundamental contention about the Nazis: they, in a demonic expansion of Haman’s scheme, combined the racial (“genes”) with the religio-cultural (“memes”) in a global anti-Semitic project of “expropriation/expulsion, segregation/concentration, and finally annihilation/genocide.” Hitler’s aim was an abomination, but it was neither random nor irrational nor a matter of race alone. The Jews stood for what the Nazis hated, which means the Jews stood in the Nazis’ way. In this respect the Nazis perceived rightly, though that perception should have been an occasion for repentance, not slaughter.
That is a hard word to hear, though a defensible one. Jackson wants to argue more, though. And it is here, in my view, that problems appear in his account. The first problem is an instability in Jackson’s presentation of the Jews and Judaism vis-à-vis their various historical enemies. Jackson vacillates between suggesting that Jews in general stand for certain ideas or values and the stronger case that Jews in fact hold certain beliefs or embody certain ideals. As Jackson well knows, however, the actual Jewish victims of Nazism represent a spectrum of religious and moral views: some were observant, others secular; some were Orthodox, others atheist; some were courageous, others naïve, and others still assisted the Nazis for fear of their lives and those of their loved ones. This range of perspectives and behaviors is no indictment. It only tells us they were human. What the Nazis did was wrong not because of the special innocence or virtue of their victims. It was wrong because prejudice and apartheid, dehumanization and torture, persecution and genocide are malum in se, no matter the identity or character of the victims.
That does not negate Jackson’s intended point, namely, that the Jews were targeted by the Nazis because they were Jews, and their Jewish identity is more (though not less) than an ethnic or biological fact. But this point needs a firmer foundation than the subjective intentions of Nazi leaders or the admirable beliefs or conduct of Jewish victims. Such rooting is best accomplished theologically—that is, by specifying that what sets apart the Jews from the nations is finally nothing subject to empirical or psychological investigation. For what sets apart the Jews is divine election. In Abraham God set his heart on the Jews and chose them alone as his beloved. This choice is irrevocable: no human deed can threaten it, and God will not reverse it. Toward the end of World War II, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that “the authentic Jew makes himself a Jew, in the face of all and against all.” Just a year or two earlier Anne Frank wrote that “it is God who has made us as we are, but it will be God, too, who will raise us up again.” Of the two, we should follow Frank.
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