‘Turning the other cheek is not our way’

Religious activist defends Orthodox Jews who reacted to the presence of Christian pilgrims by spitting on the ground.

By Ryan Jones | | Topics: Judaism, CHRISTIANS
Orthodox Jews see the presence of Christians in Jerusalem as a threat. We mustn't forget the horrific Church history that made them feel this way. Photo by Wisam Hashlamoun/FLASH90
Orthodox Jews see the presence of Christians in Jerusalem as a threat. We mustn't forget the horrific Church history that made them feel this way. Photo by Wisam Hashlamoun/FLASH90

Christian pilgrims this week again complained that Orthodox Jews were spitting in their direction as they marched through the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City while carrying a massive wooden cross.

A clip of the incident was enthusiastically circulated by those who insist the Jews have no right to even be in Jerusalem.

During Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, Jerusalem’s Old City is full of Orthodox Jews from around the country. Sukkot is one of the three biblical pilgrimage feasts during which the children of Israel were commanded by God to come up to Jerusalem.

A large number of Christians also come up to Jerusalem during Sukkot in preemptive fulfillment of Zechariah 14:16, which reads:

“Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles.”

This means a lot of direct contact between Orthodox Jews and Christians.

What’s first and foremost important to remember is that the vast majority of the time, nothing happens. The Jews and Christians ignore one another and go their own merry respective ways.

It’s the few isolated incidents of negative interaction that get all the attention, thus painting a rather exaggerated picture of the situation.

These portrayals also fail entirely to ask why the Jews might react this way, instead preferring to simply depict the Jews as anti-Christian bigots. Full stop.

As misguided as these modern Orthodox Jewish reactions might be, there’s nearly 2,000 years of troubling history behind them.

The Jewish people have a long memory. And for the more pious and unforgiving among them, 100 years of Christian Zionist support isn’t enough to erase 20 centuries of persecution at the hands of the Church.

As one religious Israeli activist noted in response to the uproar over the above spitting incident, turning the other cheek is a “Christian” notion.

“Turning the other cheek to a religion that slaughtered your people in mass murder campaigns is not part of our religion. It’s more related to their murderous religion,” wrote Elisha Yered, a former spokesman for right-wing member of Knesset Limor Son Har-Melech. “Perhaps under the influence of Western culture we have forgotten what Christianity is, but I think that the millions of Jews who went through the Crusades, the Inquisition, the blood libel plots and the mass pogroms – will never forget.”

He went on to explain, too, that the act of spitting on the ground near the Christians is being taken somewhat out of context.

To the Western mind, spitting in the direction of another person is purely an act of insult.

It’s an insult in the Middle East, too. But to the religious Jew, there’s more to it.

Publicly spitting is an old Jewish custom related to warding off external evil or impurity. Ironically, many believe that this Jewish use of public spitting actually originates with Jesus and many of the miracles he performed.

When Christians are involved, we are reminded of how the Jews of Europe would in centuries past quietly spit in the presence of their oppressive Christian overlords as an act of defiance.

There’s also an aspect of ejecting all that corrupts or brings us low from within, of spitting out the “unholy” in our midst. Large sects of religious Jews thus spit following the first line of the Aleinu prayer that concludes every Jewish religious service by thanking God that He separated the Jewish people from the Gentiles.

To many religious Jews, Christians are nothing more than hateful missionaries who would just as soon kill them. As Christians, our response should be to first recognize the pain our own history has caused to the Jewish people (and how we have thus stuck our finger in God’s eye), and to then demonstrate genuine love. You know, like Yeshua taught.

Yered might not be ready to turn the other cheek, but that’s precisely what we’ve been commanded to do.


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2 responses to “‘Turning the other cheek is not our way’”

  1. Susan says:

    It’s not the carrying of a wooden cross that will heal the divide. It is the cross of knowing, as David said, “My sins are constantly before me.” What has been done in Yeshua’s name over the centuries is an absolute horror. And a sensitivity to those horrors should be taken by “Christians”, especially in the Jewish homeland.

  2. Lois Heal Bright says:

    Amongst sibling rivalry, growing up, my father would often quote Prov. 15:1, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” He turned our attention to God’s love and kindness toward us.
    When speaking to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, rather than addressing her past wrong actions, Jesus spoke to her of living water that held forgiveness and everlasting life. And leaving her water pot, she ran back to the village proclaiming, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (Jn. 4:29) And crowding around Him, the Samaritans said, “Now we believe.. for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.” (Jn. 4:42)
    Our enemy’s goal is to keep us circling around each other, much like sibling rivalry, each trying to protect their cause, but when we look up and recognize our God who created us, loves us, and gave Himself for us, our doubts will melt in the presence of God’s love and provision for us.

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