Emeritus Pope Benedict

The Jews do not need us, but we need them!

What pastors can do against Christian anti-Semitism. An interview with the Dialogue Commissioner TEJA BEGRICH


The following essay was published together with two others in the July 19, 2018 edition of Die Zeit (The Times) from Hamburg, Germany, p. 30. The page title reads: “The Former Pope and the Jews: Joseph Ratzinger once again hints that God only loves Christians. Is that antisemitic? A Jewish, a Catholic and an evangelical theologian on the latest faux pas of Benedict XVI.” Unofficial translation.


DIE ZEIT: Mr. Begrich, every German pastor completes a study of Hebrew in his education. When did you last read a text of the Torah in Hebrew?

Teja: Early yesterday, because I translated the Old Testament text for next Sunday.

ZEIT: Which sentence from the Jewish scripture is particularly important to you?

Begrich: A phrase from Exodus 17: "Is the Eternal in our midst or not?" Luther translates it: "Is the Lord among us or not?" That is the basic question of all life.

ZEIT: You are the Commissioner for Christian-Jewish Dialogue in the Evangelical Church of Central Germany. Catholics are now arguing whether a text of the former pope is antisemitic. Is that a concern for you?

Begrich: Yes, because theologically, the Catholic and the Protestant Church in Germany have the same official stance today: Israel is the people permanently chosen by God. But I doubt that ecclesiastical hostility to the Jews has been overcome. When my church condemned the mission to the Jews, pastors complained that they could no longer witness to Jesus. Nonsense! You can witness it at any time, but you have to live with the fact that there are people who do not need Jesus or who, as Jews, have access to God apart from Jesus.

ZEIT: Since Luther, Lutherans have had their own antisemitism. And today?

Begrich: It would be naive to think that since the Shoah anti-Judaism, which for 2000 years belonged to the essence of Christianity, has disappeared. Although the disciples of Jesus were sent to the "lost sheep of Israel," Matthew the Evangelist still argued rabbinically. But the evangelist John spoke already of division between "the" Jews and "their" synagogues. That was not hostility yet. But as soon as I make the other one small so that I as a Christian seem great, I have a problem. And Luther had a huge problem. He even called for synagogues to be set afire and rabbis to be chased away. That remains inexcusable.

ZEIT: And what do you do with antisemitic passages in the New Testament?

Begrich: I read it as a word handed down from man, so one does not have to follow them. Jesus says to the Pharisees, "You do not have Abraham for the Father, but the devil!" But Jesus also says to the Samaritan woman, “Salvation is of the Jews!” The first, bad sentence shows that Jesus is a true man: that is, fallible.

ZEIT: You wrote a paper against anti-Judaism in your church before the anniversary of the Reformation with other Central German pastors. Was that still necessary?

Begirch: Yes! Even some Protestants still see themselves as the only people loved by God. They start from the incredibly small-minded assumption that God can only love a certain group of people. Even the prior church claimed that when God chooses a new people, he rejects the old one. If I believed that, I would have to fear that God would one day throw me out. As far as Protestant antisemitism is concerned, Catholics probably would not have founded an institute to 'dejudaize' the Bible, as did eleven Protestant churches in Eisenach in 1939. In East Germany, parsonage books are still the books by Walter Grundmann, the director of this "Entjudungsinstitutes" that stylized Jesus as the Aryan savior. Grundmann trained the GDR catechists, so some works endure.

Zeit: And what helps combat it [antisemitism]?

Begrich: We pastors should clearly preach that the Jewish faith is true and that there are no exclusively Christian truth privileges. It must be a duty for theologians not only to know Hebrew, but to know Judaism. Christianity does not exist without Judaism. The Jews do not need us. But we need them!


Teja Begrich is pastor in Mühlhausen and Commissioner for Christian-Jewish Dialogue in the Evangelical Church of Central Germany.