Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner
August 2013
From Prof. Steven M. Cohen   


Dear Friends,

Historically, Jews have held rather unflattering images of Christianity and Christians. In part, their views reflected centuries of vulnerability to antisemitism; Jews responded in kind to denigration from the Other(s) with attitudes of their own individual and collective superiority. In Two Worlds of Judaism, published in 1990, Charles Liebman and I observed:
Most [pre-modern] Jews regarded themselves as spiritually superior to non-Jews. As Jews they enjoyed a special relationship with God, combining special obligations with special privileges. Rabbinic attitudes ... varied. ... Some viewed Christianity with contempt, seeing it as no better than idolatry. Others saw it as a valid monotheistic religion containing values compatible with Judaism, albeit inferior to it. ... The contempt of traditional Jews for Christianity was paralleled by a disdain for Christians as individuals. (Pages 37-38.)

Undoubtedly, over the course of the last century, American Jews have come to hold views of Christians and Christianity radically different from those of their forebears in pre-Enlightenment Europe. Culturally, (some) Jews today see Christians and Christianity as admirable and instructive. Politically, (some) Jews see Christians and churches as like-minded allies around such issues as poverty, the environment and Israel, even as at the same time many Jews differ with many church leaders around "social issues" -- reproductive rights, gay rights, and the like.

Personally, relations between American Jews and American Christians have gone through what must be regarded as radical transformation. In my own family, I could hardly imagine the three predominantly Yiddish-speaking grandparents I knew as a child having any sort of personal relationships with non-Jews. My parents' non-Jewish friends consisted solely of business relationships, as well as the Irish Catholic superintendent who cared for our apartment building. In contrast, most of today's non-Orthodox Jews who marry go to the chuppah (or altar or justice of the peace) with non-Jews. The vast majority of Jewish young adults have had romantic relationships with non-Jews -- a phenomenon that was probably inconceivable to my Yiddish-speaking grandparents of the Lower East Side and Brownsville, Brooklyn.

Recognizing the breadth, depth, and variety of changing Jewish relationships with Christianity and Christians, we devote this month's BJPA Reader's Guide to Christian-Jewish relations, including material relating to Roman Catholics, Evangelical Protestants, and other Christian churches. You'll note the extent to which Jewish communal writing about Christians collectively revolves around issues of instrumentality and vulnerability, be it antisemitism, anti-Zionism, religious freedom, proselytizing, or assimilation.

As with all our Reader's Guides, the holdings in this Guide extend from the present to many decades in our past, in this case as early as 1909. I encourage you to browse (and read) both the Guide and selected contents, as well as to browse the Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner for Jewish-Christian Relations, Christianity, Interfaith Relations, and other topics.




Best wishes,Steven M. Cohen



Prof. Steven M. Cohen

Director, Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner 



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by Seth Chalmer

I think it's fair to generalize that most American Jews think of Henry Ford as an extreme, unrepentant antisemite who happened also to make cars. So I was quite surprised to learn that in 1927, Ford wrote a public letter of apology, not only regretting, but even disavowing all previous knowledge of, the series of viciously antisemitic articles that had appeared in his own newspaper and under his own name, and later became the pamphlet "The International Jew".

How sincere was Ford's apology? How seriously should we take his claim of ignorance, which seem to rely upon the premise that he didn't even read his own articles in his own newspaper, let alone write them? Read on...

Publication: Statement by Henry Ford (1927)

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BJPA is funded by the Mandell L. and Madeleine H. Berman Foundation and the Charles H. Revson Foundation.