In this era of astonishing news, it is still plenty astonishing to hear former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani claim that George Soros is not Jewish because — wait for it — Soros doesn’t go to church. Here’s the full quote, from New York Magazine’s Intelligencer;
“Don’t tell me I’m anti-Semitic if I oppose him,” he said. “Soros is hardly a Jew. I’m more of a Jew than Soros is. I probably know more about — he doesn’t go to church, he doesn’t go to religion — synagogue. He doesn’t belong to a synagogue, he doesn’t support Israel, he’s an enemy of Israel. He’s elected eight anarchist DA’s in the United States. He’s a horrible human being.”
There is so much to unpack here. First, there is the growing phenomenon of non-Jews opining on “who is a Jew” as well as “what anti-Semitism is” – in other words, the 2019 version of mansplaining has non-Jews loudly defining both Judaism and hatred of Jews. Who needs Jewish text, or any tome on Jewish history, when there is Giuliani?
But let’s focus on Giuliani’s second point, namely “church.” What do you call where Jews go to pray? If you speak Hebrew, it’s beit knesset. If you’re used to Yiddish, or if some ancestor of yours spoke Yiddish, it’s shul. American Jews might refer to their synagogue as my “congregation” – but never as a “church.” Still, plenty of people don’t seem to know or understand that “church” and “Jews” don’t go together, as evidenced by online discussions like this one from Quora, titled “When do the Jews go to church?”
Basically, Giuliani is repeating the age-old complaint against Jews: that they refuse to be Christian. It’s astonishing — if you’re not sick of the word — to notice that as recently as this summer, the Anglican Church had to take official action telling its members not to try to convert Jews. In July, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada voted to remove the prayer from its liturgy that called for the conversion of Jews to Christianity. That longtime language will be replaced with a new invocation called: “For Reconciliation with the Jews.”
Officially, in terms of words, “conversion” is out, and “reconciliation” is in — but language doesn’t stop deeply-held belief. I am typing this mere hours after discovering both a Jesus brochure and CD tied to my front door; in this era of rising violence, let’s just say that door is somewhere in the American Midwest.
There are other important resonances to Giuliani’s remarks. The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer sees this latest comment as part of Trumpworld’s war against non-Orthodox Jews. “Giuliani arguing that he is “more of a Jew” than a literal Holocaust survivor is the logical conclusion of Trumpist Jews’ argument that liberal and left wing Jews (the majority of American Jews!) are not really Jewish,” Serwer tweeted.
I think this astonishing comment by Giuliani — who yes, as Serwer points out, is claiming to be more Jewish than a Holocaust survivor — can be viewed as part of the problem with the term Judeo-Christian and worse, “Judeo-Christian values.”
The bottom line is Jews are not Christians, and don’t want to be. Jews don’t go to church. And “belonging to a synagogue” or “supporting Israel” are not part of the definition of Judaism, though many Jews do indeed go to synagogue and support Israel.
But what’s a synagogue? What does “supporting Israel” mean? For answers to these very Jewish questions, Jews are not turning to Giuliani, or the church. And yes, questioning everything is, I would argue, a “Jewish” value — and not necessarily a “Judeo-Christian value.” In this awful environment, it must be said that Pope Francis has spoken out about anti-Semitism — without defining Jews, but rather, by commenting on how anti-Semitism relates to Christianity and humanity. It’s an admirable model, and a humane one.
In unscripted remarks reported by JTA, the Pope said: “In the last century we saw so many brutalities against the Jewish people, and we were all convinced that this was over,” the pope said. “But today the habit of persecuting the Jews, brothers and sisters, is here reborn. This is neither human nor Christian.”
He concluded: “The Jewish people are our brothers, and they should not be persecuted. Understand?”
Let’s hope Giuiliani re-reads the Pope’s comments the next time he wants to comment on the church-going habits of George Soros—and by extension, Jews around the world.
Aviya Kushner is The Forward’s language columnist and the author of The Grammar of God. Follow her on Twitter @AviyaKushner