Star Crossed Symbols

A friend of mine posted a photo on facebook of a Star of David with a Cross inside of it. People commented on how beautiful and meaningful it was to them. I made the comment that to Jewish people, this symbol was offensive because of the long Christian history of Antisemitism. Someone responded that they were sorry for the holocaust but it wasn’t their fault.

I pointed out that the issue is not simply the Holocaust. Christian history is a history of antisemitism from the second century onward. The church fathers said horrible things against the Jews. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered by the Christian Crusaders. Hundreds of thousands more were murdered by the Catholic Spanish Inquisition, Orthodox church pogroms in eastern Europe killed hundreds of thousands more, and even the Holocaust followed exactly the words of Martin Luther – author of the protestant reformation. The church has a very long legacy of hatred against the Jews IN JESUS NAME. The symbol of persecution of Jews by Christians … was the cross. So forgive me if I don’t want to accept a symbol that has been polluted by Christian hatred of Jews throughout the ages. Am I oversensitive? I don’t think so. Do I forgive? Yes I do. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting. Every time I want to share about Yeshua with a Jewish friend or relative, they don’t even listen, because of the actions of Christians over the centuries. How would that make anyone feel about the cross?

People started commenting about how they were not ashamed of the Cross and that it is the Gospel, and if people were offended, that was their problem. I commented that I find the symbol offensive because to me, it doesn’t symbolize God’s love, but people’s hatred directed against Jews in the Name of Yeshua. People got defensive, accused me of being bitter, and said they were not responsible for the holocaust and they loved Jewish people and that I was wrong for not embracing the Cross.

About this time, I was sorry I even jumped into the discussion. I was dismayed that people really didn’t care if others were offended or not, and that they felt if someone wanted to embrace Yeshua, they needed to ignore what was offensive to them and just accept Yeshua on Christian terms rather than Christians, God forbid, modify their presentation in order to let the real message be understood and embraced. This was more offensive to me than any symbol. What bothered me most was that they just did not get it. If people really want their friends, Jewish or not, to embrace Yeshua and come into a genuine relationship with God, it seems to me that they would be happy to remove offensive symbols in order to make the substance of their message clear.

The truth and beauty of the Besorah is Yeshua’s sacrifice on our behalf. It is NOT the symbol of the Cross. I have no problem with that symbol for the Church. I understand that for them, it symbolizes God’s love for them. I do have a problem sticking a Cross in a Star of David, or worse, nailing a star of David on a cross and thinking Jewish people would be OK with it. It conveys a very different message to Jewish people than the one people are trying to communicate. Effective Communication only occurs when the message you seek to communicate is the message that is correctly understood by those you are trying to communicate with. What I have been trying to say is that the message that people are trying to communicate is not the message received or understood by Jewish people when they see a cross or especially a cross blended with a Star of David. If people don’t care enough to accurately communicate a message, they shouldn’t be sharing it in the first place.

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19 thoughts on “Star Crossed Symbols

  1. Dear Michael…

    Thank you for sharing this very important point. I’ve maintained this position as a Gentile believer for over twenty years, ever since I began my study of the Holocaust – and the history of Christian anti-Semitism – at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. I’ve had the exact same discussion with Christian pastors. On one occasion, it was suggested by a pastor that my faith was somehow deficient due to my “questioning” of the meaning of the cross, and that perhaps I should re-read the accounts of Jesus’ execution, as I may have missed something along the way… I understand an image of a cross being meaningful to most believers, and yet, it appears that still today, as it was with ancient Israel, man-made things made of wood and stone can be vested with more significance than they should. Thank you again for sharing this experience.

  2. My friend Michael;
    As a Jew raised as a Christian I never thought about the cross as a symbol that our people would be offended by untill it came to my mind that this cross held high and in the forefront of Christianity was an execution stake a symbol of death and not life. Later when i found out that I am Jewish I was even more offended. i have been a messianic believer since the mid 70’s and in the last 5 years as a JEWISH believer in Yeshua the messiah it really hit home hard .why would I come into a faith that uses as it’s primary symbol the execution stake stuck inside or adorned with , a star of david. ummm does this secretly mean death to the jews. (in my opinion)
    You are right that Christians do not differentiate between symbol and message , but i think also thaat todays youth are not even taught about the history of religions or what symbols mean and in a world more and more filled with deceived people who believe that the church is G-d’s chosen people, how can we blame them .. so i guess it is our job as jews and believers to teach both the jews about the real Messiah and that he is not the creator of horrors. and we need to teach the church that they are here by the grace of G-d grafted into judaism not the other way around . i still gree it is up to the individual as to with whom they sojourn , but christianity was not different from judaism till the time of constantine as far as who became believers .
    to the jew first . then the gentile
    just a mix of my thoughts

  3. Of all the warped ways to think. I’m sure that they came back with “I’m not ashamed of the cross”–without even bothering to thing that is bizarre to imaging that Paul would be talking about a shape rather than an event.

    It seems to me that the real problem here is pride. Christians being too proud of their gospel to even consider the point of view of the communicatee.

    We’ve seen this with other cultures. Some believer comes up with THE method to “win souls”, and off they go–to China, to India, to Japan, to wherever. They labor for a century with almost nothing to show for it, and are proud of their “faithfulness”.

  4. Yes, but…there is something about the offense of the cross that was around long before any Christian did anything against Jews. There is a built in offense of the cross that keeps almost the whole majority of Gentile Christians from embracing all that was done for them on the Cross.

    I am fully supportive of the Messianic Body, but I think the enemy has run a scam on us all to cloud the truth of what was done on the cross and how the spiritual application to our own lives.

    Galatians 5, the apostle Shaul is speaking about how he would not be under persecution if the offense of the cross was removed. So if there was an offense of the cross already that brought him persecution, then we need to look deeper at the offense as it stands today. What it may mean to us today may be a smokescreen to the issue Shaul was referencing.

    • Donna, part of the problem discussing this is that it is too easy to mix up Cross: the symbol, and Cross: the redeeming work of Yeshua. Your point actually takes this discussion in a different direction. I was mainly addressing Cross: the symbol as it has been polluted by Christian anti-semitism. The well meaning Christians were confusing Cross: the symbol, with Cross: the atoning work of Yeshua that is redemption. You have brought up a third position, Cross: the atoning work of Yeshua that is a stumbling block. The reason Paul refers to the cross as a stumbling block is because people stumbled over the idea that a dead, crucified Messiah is a failed Messiah. Jews could not see following a dead messiah, and to greek philosophy, it seemed ludicrous, hence the stumbling block.

  5. Dr. Schiffman-

    Great post. I’m amazed at how many in the Messianic Jewish Movement still confuse the symbol and the act of redemption itself. It amazes me how many people wear this star & cross jewelry and are oblivious to the concerns of Jews who they claim to “love” … Sometimes people try to over spiritualize issues. The fact is, the symbol of the cross is offensive to Jews (with good reason) and it makes perfect sense that in Jewish space (isn’t that what Messianic Judaism is supposed to be – Jewish space?) people need to be respectful. Period.

  6. Hello everyone… as I read this very good strand of thoughts, I’m remembering my childhood as a very pious Roman Catholic youth, and the deep mystery surrounding the blessing of objects. This was a very, very serious rite in which only ordained priests could [can] officiate. From the Catholic Encyclopedia: “…blessings, in the sense in which they are being considered, are entirely of ecclesiastical institution, the Church has the power to determine who shall have the right and duty to confer them. This she has done by entrusting their administration to those who are in sacerdotal orders.” We, the pious, wore all sorts of religious medals, woolen scapulars,not to mention surrounding ourselves with idolatrous statuary which, we were allowed to assume, once “blessed” by an ordained Roman Catholic priest, was invested with supernatural energy or power. This was a common practice. It’s interesting that today, even in evangelical circles, it is common to “bless” the food before eating it, an act foreign to Judaism as I understand it. One blesses and thanks G-d, not the food. Perhaps this ancient Roman behavior is retained in residual form throughout Christianity… the vesting of inanimate objects with “blessing.” Great discussion…

  7. Jews will recognize my name as that of a convert to Judaism. As a bible-believing Christian, far in my past, I saw the cross as the sign of Jesus’ resurrection and his atonement for my sins. It was a symbol of which I was not ashamed, and if anyone, Jew or otherwise, took offense, tough.

    At some point along the line, I began to be confused about a religion which tended less to worship the one crucified, than to worship the murder weapon. Hello? If a close relative were shot and killed, would a Christian wear the gun as a symbol of his love for the deceased? Sounds almost sick to me.

    I will spare you all the details of my journey from Christian to Messianic believer, to Jew. However, my view of the cross has gone right along with that journey. Today I see it as the symbol of the death of Jesus AND as the symbol of all the hate and murder done to my people by the Chruch over the years. It has become offensive to me. Can you believe that? Hence I am in complete agreement with Rabbi Dr. Schiffman has written here. His pen, however, tends to be more diplomatic than mine.

    I have used the name Jesus here advisedly. I am not at all sure that even devout believers in the church have a proper understanding of who Yeshua is, and they have constructed this Jesus by way of Greek thought patterns and with little or no regard for his Jewishness. Yeshua was a Jew, and there was no such thing as a Christian during his time on earth. A real understanding of who he was, and his integral relationship with Israel and the Jewish people, is simply not taught in the church. I doubt it is even understood, except perhaps by a very few who have truly studied the matter.

    Therefore since, as any Christian will tell you, the cross is the symbol for Jesus, why is it such a surprise that that cross might be uncomfortable or even downright offensive, to a Jew, Messianic or not. A messianic Jew is NOT a Christian. He is a Jew who has accepted Yeshua as the Messiah of ISRAEL, which is who he has always been. That fact, by the way, can be found in any Christian bible.

  8. Elvis Presley worw a neckless with a cross, and a star of David. When asked for what reason he replied: “So I will not miss heaven on a tecnicality.”

    True story. I call it the Elvis syndrom. Many people are suffering from it.

  9. The story of Elvis causes me to think of a joke attributed to Lenny Bruce. Elie Wiesel speaks of jokes that are not funny when describing at least one instance of treatment of the Jewish people by the Nazis. Is anyone familiar with Lenny Bruce’s “joke-that’s-not-funny” regarding Catholic school kids wearing symbols of execution around their necks? I’m reluctant to print it here, yet it makes an interesting point about the value placed upon the mechanism of Yeshua’s death. Michael, if you think it’s appropriate, I’ll share it… or you can if anyone’s interested. The “joke” is macabre and irreverent, yet it makes one think about the statement that wearing a cross makes, not only to Jewish people, but to all non-believers.

    • Dan,

      while I’m the first one to appreciate an irreverent joke, I think it is moving away from the topic I was addressing. Since the cross is not my symbol, I also hesitate because I don’t want to disrespect the religious symbols of others, because I don’t appreciate people disrespecting my symbols.

  10. Michael,

    I understand perfectly, which is why I made reference to it without expressing it outright. Dialogue like this is such an asset… we live in times when an insensitive word might be like a match in a gas-filled room…

  11. I understand fully why you would take offense to that hybrid symbol but at the same time your arguement is a bit weak. History holds every race, every religion, etc in a negative light at one point or another. From what you were saying, it sounds as if you are still sensitive to antisemitisim from centuries ago that Christians, and other religions, are guilty of. The loss of life and freedom is a horrible crime against humanity regardless of who commits the crime or why they do it.

    But based off that arguement, then Blacks should still be sensitive about slavery that Whites forced them into. Native Americans should still be sensitive that Whites stole their lands and forced them into reservations, forced them to convert, etc. The Spanish should still be sensitive that the Moors conquered and ruled over them for 500 years. The Old Testament states that Jews drove out the original dwellers of the “Promised Land”, of Jericho, of Ai, of Gilgal. etc, etc, etc.

    According to your arguement, then Christians should still be sensitive that Jews, Romans, and Pagans persecuted them for their faith. Pagans should still be sensitive that Constantine merged their faith with Christianity, and ultimately views of Judaism, and forced his entire empire to convert. Muslims should still be sensitive that for centuries they have been viewed negatively, more so today than ever before, simply due to extremists, that in truth, are found in EVERY religion, EVERY nation, EVERY organization, etc around the world.

    Should all of these sects, and those that I did not mention, still feel wronged for what history and ancient texts claim happened? Should we not try to just focus on today and strive to ensure that the past does not repeat itself?

    It is disheartening that you would feel offended, but this is America and you have the right to feel how you do just as they have the right to wear such pendants. I understand your feelings, honestly I do, but I do not believe that your arguement is strong enough to change the perceptions of others who wear the pendant.

    Now that I think of it, though, it makes sense for a Christian to wear it. I mean Christians believe that Jesus, who was a Jew, is their savior; so wearing a symbol that promots their own Christian beliefs and promots the beliefs of their Christ kind of makes sense. But I know that some people wear it without that particular perspective. That was just my own opinion.

  12. Another point that I forgot, was that the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) all state that the use of symbols is prohibited. So what is the point of anyone who finds their home in one of these religions feeling disrespected, when their own sacred texts tell them to avoid such a thing?

    (I do not intend to offend anyone or cause an arguement… Just stating my opinion)

    • Thanks for sharing your opinion Crystal. Sorry if our historical collective memory disheartens you, but thats the way it is. The reality is that things really haven’t changed that much. My personal experience in the Christian world has shown that as much as things have changed, many have stayed the same. Even in good churches where they claim to “love Israel,” there is still a lot of Christian anti-semitism, and the theological anti-semitism of supersessionism and replacement theology is stronger than ever. Forgetting the past is not a virtue, and pretending things are different now is naive. When people are willing to lay down their anti-semitism, culturally and theologically, things can change, but every generation does its own thing, and this has been a steady mindset throughout history.

  13. Symbols are what they are, SYMBOLS. It is not about which symbol someone chooses to wear around their neck, it is about what is in their heart. Whether we like or dislike whatever symbol they choose to wear, I think I am safe in saying that most of the time most people who wear these symbols do so with good intention. Christians do not wear crosses to symbolize a hatred of Jewish people, and Jewish people who wear the star of David do not wear it to symbolize a hatred of Christian people. Maybe it would make more sense to discuss the unfortunate CURRENT reality of Muslim extremists hating the Jewish people and calling for the destruction of Israel. Why not talk about ways in which Christians and Jews can express solidarity against the evil of the present day? What symbols might they both wear to show solidarity and the feeling in their hearts about this?
    Please know that it is not my intention to sound sarcastic or disrespectful of anyone and I do not wish to be dismissive of Dr. Schiffman’s genuine feelings of having been wounded by the historical cruelty and evil shown by others, whether by their past actions or current stupidity. Thank you to all of you for sharing your ideas and opinions.

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