N. A. BERDYAEV (BERDIAEV)
The Jewish Question,
as a Christian Question
(1924 – #301)
When I read the collection of articles, “Russia and the Jews”, I sensed acutely the deep tragedy of the self-consciousness of Russian Jews, who love Russia, who do not love the Russian Revolution and who desire to be Russian patriots. There is much in the thoughts of this collection with which I disagree, but I esteem the effort of the group united in it to affirm the innate worthiness of Russian Jews beyond the exploiting of the Revolution in the interests of Judaism. This leads to thoughts about the deep, hopeless perhaps, tragedy of the Jewish question. Anti-Semitic currents among Russians, and in Russia, and beyond its borders, grow with elemental a force and assume forms with characteristic a Russian frenzy. The hour may come, when this anti-Semitism developes into wild and bloody violence, when the hapless Russian people, divided and decimated by the Revolution, for their sufferings and decimation might fiercely take revenge upon the Jews, placing upon them the whole blame for their misfortune. Already, — both the enemies of the Jews, and the friends of the Jews, and even the Jews themself tend to say, that the downfall of Bolshevism would be accompanied by a terrible and unprecedented murdering of the Jews. That Russian Jews have fallen into a vise-jaws trap between Bolshevism and the pogrom, this ought first of all to alarm and disquiet the Jews themself. Such a sort of position evokes protest both from the humane, the liberal and democratic point of view, and from the point of view of the “progress:” of mankind and the fate of civilisation. But there is yet another point of view, but rarely stated, and which for me represents a very essential and basic position in determining this tragic question, — the Christian point of view. The Jewish question is likewise the Christian question, an inward question for the Christian consciousness. But there is heard no voice about this question, evoking passions and pregnant with catastrophes, — within the Christian world, the voice of a Christian conscience. Only the two perspectives on the Jewish question seem widespread — either the pogrom — anti-Semitic, or the humane-liberal-democratic. There are indeed those, from whom the Jewish with horror expect a pogrom in the hour of the liquidation of Bolshevism, in the finale of the Revolution, from indeed those who regard themself as Orthodox Christians. And quite many of the Jewish see a threat and danger for themself from Russian Christianity, from the growth of the Orthodox movement. Can we, as Russian Christians, quietly and calmly uphold such a position? Ought not also our voices to resound, as the voice of a Christian conscience? Some twelve years back I wrote in the periodical, “Russkaya Mysl’, an article under the title, “Nationalism and Anti-Semitism afront the Judgement of a Christian Consciousness”. [1912, Klepinina #168]. I made therein an attempt to speak about the Jewish question, essentially, as a Christian question. Back then already I had the impression, how difficult is was to judge about this question in depth, and not merely as tactics. In Russia never has there been a moral freedom of thought in considering the Jewish question. Earlier on there was not because, that among the Soviet commissars there seemed quite many Jews and their too great a presence evokes the danger of a stormy and fierce reaction. Back then already there were pogromists, and now they are still the same. But it behooves us to speak the essential truth for once. Around the Jewish question has formed a very sick atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion. There are those that see everywhere a “Zhido-Masonic Conspiracy”. Whereas others see anti-Semitism everywhere. Freedom of thought and freedom of conscience are completely stifled in this atmosphere of mutual hatred and hostility. The Jews and some of the defenders of the Jews are suspicious and mistrustful to the extent, that if one be a Christian and Orthodox so by conviction, if one does not regard democracy as the very pearl of creation and be not an adherent of revolution, then already therein they presuppose one to be secret an anti-Semite. This is just as much a distortion and just as much a terror, as to see in the Jews the source of every calamity and woe. Ultimately, there ought to be voiced a declaration of the same right of a free judging about the Jewish question, just as on any other question. There ought not to be regarded with any special opprobrium those, who freely express this or that thought on this question. This — is a condition necessary to any judging about the Jewish question, the basic condition underlying the very possibility of a defense of the Jews, from the Christian perspective.
It is possible to establish four types of anti-Semitism: the everyday, the political, the racial and the religious. We shall look at all those types from the point of view of the Christian consciousness. The most widespread type of anti-Semitism is the everyday type. It requires no conscious ideological basis, it is elemental a thing and operates on direct instinct. The negative word “Zhid” for Jew is begotten within its bosom. An instinctive and immediate antipathy and repulsion towards the Jews is an incontestable fact, just as is any other matter of taste, every sympathy or antipathy. This is not a matter of “orientation” or worldview. I have known very “leftist”, democratically and revolutionary oriented people, who were anti-Semites of the everyday type. There are everyday anti-Semites even amongst the Communists. Just as, conversely, among the “rightists” there are people who relate quite well towards the Jews. One can only say: it is not a Christian thing to cultivate within oneself antipathy or hatred towards an entire people. This is an unhealthy emotional mindset and tendency. To drink in distain for the Jews, just like to drink in disdain for the Germans, or the Poles, or the Armenians, is altogether an improper attitude towards people. For the Christian consciousness it is impossible to justify everyday anti-Semitism, just as it is impossible to justify any sort of hatred or any sort of disdain, except for hatred and disdain towards evil itself. Russians become everyday anti-Semites, not at all because they have a deep feeling within themself as Christians, and in any case, not because they sense themself to be fine Christians. The feeling of hatred is something that requires repentance in Confession.
Political anti-Semitism is based usually upon rivalry and competition, on the struggle for getting the upper hand and power in life. These principles have nothing in common with the Christian one. Political anti-Semitism clearly appertains to the kingdom of Caesar, and its passions appertain to this world, not to the Kingdom of Christ. In this sphere anti-Semitism stands upon the same grounding, that the Jews also stand, and it is affected by themes and motifs and vest-interests. On the basis of a political anti-Semitism it is impossible to oppose to a Jewish idea any sort of a Christian one. The limiting of Jews as regards political rights is a typically worldly struggle for dominance and power. Political anti-Semitism has usually an economic basis and manifests itself as a form of struggle against economic dominance by the Jews. Often it more wants to defend economic matters than defend the weak. And this form of anti-Semitism does not touch upon the depths of the Jewish question.
Deeper still is racial anti-Semitism. It possesses its own ideology. And this is an entire intellectual current. Ideologies of racial anti-Semitism are manifest foremost amongst the Germans. The German consciousness loves to set in contrast the Aryan and the Semite races, and sees in the Germans the bearers of purely Aryan a spirit. A very talented representative of racial anti-Semitism is Chamberlain [Houston Stewart Chamberlain, 1855-1927]. This Aryan anti-Semitic current is very deeply lodged with German spiritual culture. This anti-Semitism existed in Fichte, in Wagner, and in many of the great Germans. The ideology of racial anti-Semitism does not want to accept the Jewish spirit into the bosom of Aryan culture, and regards Judaism as a race absolutely foreign, contemnable and lower. Can the Christian be a racial anti-Semite? Racial anti-Semitism, taken to its logical conclusion, transforms itself into an hostility against Christianity, it is compelled to acknowledge Christianity as a Semitic grafting onto Aryan culture and then to reorient itself to the sources of purely Aryan a religiosity, as with India. The Christian cannot confess racial anti-Semitism, nor can forget, that the Son of God as man was a Jew, that the Mother of God was a Jewess, that the prophets and apostles were Jews, and many also of the first Christian martyrs were Jews. The race, which was the cradle of our religion, cannot be declared a lower and contemnable race. The attempts by Chamberlain to regard Christ as not Jewish by blood are altogether unacceptable for the Christian consciousness. And from a scientific point of view these are shallow-minded attempts. Christians are compelled to believe, that the Jewish nation is the chosen nation of God. And with this for us is connected the depth and tragedy of the Jewish question. And this leads us to the religious type of anti-Semitism.
Christianity, in a profound sense, is a religious anti-Semitism, or more accurately stated, anti-Judaism. Thus, whereas the everyday or political hatred towards the Jews is completely impermissible for the Christian consciousness and completely alien to the religion of love, a religious anti-Judaism enters into the Christian faith as its component part. Christian anti-Judaism also is a reverse side of faith in the God-chosenness of the Hebrew nation. Vulgar anti-Semitism, motivated by spirit of hatred and violence, is unable to make any useage of this religious anti-Judaism, it does not stand upon the level of understanding the Jewish question as being actually a religious question. If anti-Semites even for a single instant were capable of understanding the mystery of the religious fate of the Hebrew nation, then all their anti-Semitism would just dissipate, as a thing begotten of insignificant and selfish feelings. This is because the mystery of the religious fate of the Jewish people is a mystery within world history. It lies hidden within the action of the Messianic hopes of the Jewish people, in the twofold image of the Messiah, in the agitation of expectation of both a kingdom not of this world and a kingdom of this world. The kingdom of this world is a Jewish chiliastic idea, in the name of which is repudiated Christ with His religion of the Cross and Crucifixion. But are the anti-Semites of every land indeed faithful to the Crucifixion truth and kingdom, is it in the name of the Kingdom of Christ that they hate Judaism and are prepared to crucify it? This also is a Jewish question. Anti-Semites no less than Jews can betray the Hebrew Messianic idea, they desire power and might, success, bliss on earth without Crucifixion and Redemption, and they are more inclined to hold the power of rule, than are the Jews. The anti-Christian Judaic idea of a kingdom and bliss in this world, unredeemed from sin, is unique not only to the Jews, it is adhered to no less by those pure Aryans, and not all Jews by birth serve this idea, since also before them opens a path to the Kingdom of God. For the Christian consciousness there is neither Greek nor Jew, there is only the opposite struggle of ideas and beliefs, and not of races and nationalities. The Jewish spirit has played a tremendous role in the creation of both capitalism and of socialism, two forms of an exclusive binding of modern man to “this world”. The first of these forms is of the Rothschilds and the other is of K. Marx — both Jewish (though this did not prevent Marx from being an anti-Semite and therein asserting, that the Jews prove to be the bearers of the capitalistic spirit of exploitation). But even so, even the Aryans of all the nationalities such as belong to the Christian world, even they are tempted by this spirit no less than are the Jews and they rise up against the Jews out of a sense of rivalry. On the other hand, Judaism also continues to produce no little its detached idealists. For this, in order to have the religious right to speak out against the presumed predominance of the Jewish spirit, one must oneself possess a different spirit. This different spirit, a spirit of Christian detachment, is difficult to find amongst the larger part of anti-Semites. They instead want to be indisputable masters of life and they want to displace the Jews, as being too talented as competitors in this matter. People of such a spiritual tendency cannot be bearers of a Christian idea, in contrast to the Jewish idea. Their anti-Semitism defines itself by selfish political and everyday motifs, the struggle for their own self-interest and dominance in life. This is on the same level, as obtains in the struggle of classes. Christians as anti-Semites are themself usually worse than the Jews, since as Vl. Solov’ev has already argued, the Jews react to Christians in accord with their beliefs and convictions and as such are not bound to relate in a way that is Christian, whereas Christians relating thus to the Jews do so in a way that is not Christian and they therein betray the commands of their own faith. Anyone, who makes bold to assert that his anti-Semitism has Christian a source, is bound therein in a Christian way to relate to the Jews, is obligated to make real his own Christianity in this regard. The only one who possesses a spiritual right to a Christian anti-Semitism, is one, who would love and not hate the Jews, one who would contrast the Jewish spirit with the power of his own Christian spirit. Suchlike are the paradoxes of the Jewish question, as a Christian question.
The attitude towards Judaism is a testing of the powers of the Christian spirit. This testing to the utmost has fallen to the lot of the Russian nation. And with bitterness it mustneeds be acknowledged, that the Russian nation does very poorly with it. In vain do our anti-Semites think, that this testing consists merely but in this, not to succumb to an un-Christian hatred towards the Jews and not to enter upon the path of struggle with malice and violence. It is not by chance that the Russian nation historically has wound up connected with the Jewish people and was compelled to provide asylum to the God-chosen nation, undergoing chastisement for not recognising the Saviour born within its loins. The Jewish question is the question of the Christian vocation of the Russian nation. Between these two peoples is some sort of affinity of a Messianic consciousness. And it is not by chance that the expansive Communism should have proven predominantly a Russian-Jewish idea, a Russian-Jewish anti-Christian faith. In the Russian spiritual element and within Russian Christianity have been strong Judaeo-chiliastic elements, elements national-messianic. The experiment of an “earthly paradise”, the kingdom of absolute justice upon earth has to be surmounted by both the Russians together with the Jews. And if the Russian nation in the hour of the surmounting of the nightmare and hell of Communism should commit a bloody Jewish pogrom, then this would signify, that the Russian nation has not healed itself spiritually, has not freed itself from the grip of its demons. For us, as Russian Christians, this is a very demanding and terrible question. And those among us, in whom there has not been extinguished the Christian conscience and the Christian consciousness, ought to defend the Jews from the violence and vengefulness threatening them. The Jewish question, as an inwardly Christian question for us, is a question about this, whether one desires the Russian nation to be a Christian nation and whether to relate in a Christian manner towards life. We ought to be distressed not only by the physical fate of the Jews, but first of all by the spiritual fate of the Russian people, as a Christian nation. A pogromic anti-Semitism would be to the ruination of Russian souls, a second treason to Christianity after the pogromic Bolshevism. Christianity is incompatible with the cult of malice and hatred. Our epoch is smothering itself in malice, because it has betrayed Christianity. We, as Russians, if we are still Christians, ought first of all to be aware of our own guilt and repent of our own sins, and not exclusively to place blame upon everyone else, and most of all upon the Jews. It is not a Christian thing with malice and mistrust to everywhere seek out culprits. Pogromic anti-Semitism is a display of weakness within the Russian character, of an incapacity to manfully stand up for its own ideas and spirit. There is nothing more humiliating, than these exasperating whinings, that the Jews have begun to play too great a role in modern culture. The role of the Jews is disproportionately great. But to what effect? Is it not laughable to assert this, that it was as a Jew that Einstein discovered the Law of Relativity? If we, as Russians, or Germans, or French, or English, want to play a greater role, then we shall have to demonstrate a greater spiritual power, a greater giftedness, a greater fidelity to our own idea and faith, a greater activity. There is no other worthy path. We still pretend, that with the Jews there is a greater pulling-together, a solidarity, a preparedness to help one another. Since we ourself are little inclined to cooperation and solidarity and are always prepared to gnash on one another, the only result is to be malicious and impotently to envy. And all this leads up to thought over our Russian sins. We ourself are to blame in our hapless fate, and it is not the Jews, not the Bolsheviks even, but first of all we ourself, each of us. From such an awareness ought to begin a renewal. We live now historically as it were during the days of Great Lent. During such a time it is not recommended to be malicious and hateful. From a Christian religious point of view the Jewish question is objectively unresolvable, it remains tragic til the end of time. The remarkable Catholic writer, Leon Bloy, very acutely expressed the tragedy of Christianity and Judaism. Christ descending the Cross is when the Jews would believe on Him, the Jews would believe on Him only if He were to descend the Cross. But subjectively the Jewish question is resolved at whatever the time as an obligation for Christianity to relate to the Jews. Vl. Solov’ev has reminded Christians about this obligation. His pre-death prayer for the Jewish people is a deeply moving fact, which we ought to remember. We can hate a false idea, but we are absolutely forbidden having hatred towards peoples and nations. Even if it be proven, that the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” be authentic in exposing the role of Judaism in the world (I personally and absolutely am convinced of the spuriousness of these “protocols” — the falsification has to be sensed by any unprejudiced man), then even in this instance our obligation to relate to the Jews in a Christian manner is nowise lessened.
The Christian resolution of the Jewish question does not depend upon this or that Jewish resolution of a Christian or all-human question. It may be that the hapless and painful lot of the Jewish people in history is a redemption of the religious guilt of the God-chosen nation, its exertion of will towards a kingdom of God upon earth without a conscious acceptance of Golgotha. But it is not for us, as Christians, to increase for the Jewish nation the weight of its historical cross. Our obligation is to bear our own cross and to lighten its load for others.
© 2006 by translator Fr. S. Janos
(1924 – 301 – en)
EVREISKII VOPROS KAK VOPROS KHRISTIANSKII. Originally published in the daily “Rul'” [“The Rudder”], 18-19 March 1924, No. 999-1000, Berlin. Appears Online at Krotov Berdyaev Russian website, but does not indicate what text since republished in.