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.
Israeli settlers spit in the path of Christian worshippers in occupied Jerusalem
Footage is circulating online of Israeli settlers being disrespectful to Christians in the holy city of Jerusalem. pic.twitter.com/1dFCdR5drf
— 🇺🇲Salty Texan (@texan_maga) October 2, 2023
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.
No one bothered any of the Christians I saw in the Old City today. Real Jerusalem streets are boring when nothing negative is happening. pic.twitter.com/P117Pykoi0
— RealJerusalemStreets (@RealJStreets) October 2, 2023
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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