There is No "Judeo-Christianity"
There is no such thing as Judeo-Christianity. But there are groups of people who are deeply and violently dedicated to convincing you, and the world at large, that there is. And with this comes the death of Judaism and the death of Jewish people, so what must come first is the eradication of the terminology, “Judeo-Christian”.
“Judeo-Christian” isn’t a thing. It a) positions Jews & Christians against Muslims, is Islamophobic b) elides Christian oppression & murder of Jews over more than 1000 years & c) ignores Jewish civilization worldwide & facts of key Jewish developments in Middle East & N Africa.— Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg (@TheRaDR) January 27, 2019
Christian supersessionism, or replacement theology, is an inherently antisemitic Christian belief that posits that Christianity fulfilled and “replaced” the covenant of the Jews with G-d, thereby making Judaism, and Jews, obsolete. All Jews are wayward sheep following a dead creed who must be brought to the shepherd (Jesus) by whatever means necessary. Cultural genocide included.
To be clear: not all Christians adhere to this belief. However, those who do are a vocal, powerful group, many of whom hold seats of influence in government agencies and organizations across the globe. Those who do believe this are a powerful, vocal, and violent group. If the shoe does not fit, do not wear it--instead, aid in protecting those who will be hurt by that group. Again: if you or a loved one is a Christian, but does not adhere to the beliefs of supersessionism, then this is not about you or them.
History of the Term
The first documented use of the term is in a letter from October 17, 1821, by Irish missionary, Alexander McCaul, whose life's work was dedicated to converting Jews to Christianity. It was, however, used to specifically refer to Jewish converts to Christianity.
"From all I can see there is but one way to bring about the object of the Society, that is by erecting a Judæo Christian community, a city of refuge, where all who wish to be baptized could be supplied with the means of earning their bread." (2)
The term was used in this manner alone, to refer to apostate Jews who converted to Christianity, until much later in the 1900’s, with some speculation that it was George Orwell who began the wave of using it to refer to “shared” ethics, in 1939, with “the Judaeo-Christian scheme of morals” (3). However, speculation aside, regardless of who started it, there became a decided effort to change the meaning of the term from apostate Jews who became Christian to mean the sharing of ethics, tradition, and history between Christianity and Judaism--particularly popularized in political spaces.
"The “Judeo-Christian tradition” was one of 20th-century America’s greatest political inventions." (7)
There is much to be shared between Judaism and Christianity, just as there is much shared between Judaism and Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto, Indigenous spirituality, and other religious and spiritual traditions. The difference, however, is how Christian supersessionism seeks to eradicate Judaism through total erasure.
A Very Basic Primer in Supersessionism
Christian supersessionism is known by another name: replacement theology. "Supersessionism is the view that the NT church is the new and/or true Israel that has forever superseded the nation Israel [the Jewish people] as the people of God. It may take the form of “punitive supersessionism,” i.e., God is punishing Israel for her rejection of Christ" (6)
However, there are various forms of this theory, like “economic supersessionism,” i.e., it was God’s plan for Israel’s role as the people of God to expire with the coming of Christ and be replaced by the church. The final form of supersessionism is “structural supersessionism,” i.e., the OT Scriptures are largely indecisive in formulation of Christian conviction about God’s work as consummator and redeemer. Strong supersessionists hold that Israel has no future in the plan of God, but moderate supersessionists see a divine plan for the future salvation of the Jews as a group, but not their national restoration to the promised land. This last view holds that Israel is the object of God’s irrevocable gift of grace and calling, but that such a role guarantees them no national blessing as the OT promised. It assures them only of becoming part of the church as the people of God." (6).
Whatever ideological specifications someone holds, replacement theology posits one thing: Jews, and Judaism, are obsolete.
"Religious freedom meant freedom for Christians. Jews might be accommodated, though not necessarily with full equality, on a temporary basis until their eventual conversion" (7)
And Christianity has, historically, had no issue with conversion through either subterfuge or force. In the modern-day, deceitful conversions stand on the corner, appear as leaflets in your mailbox, or befriend you on the schoolyard. Speak to most Jews and you will hear a story of how someone pretended to be Jewish or invited them to a "Shabbat" or "Passover" only to find out that it was a thinly veiled invitation to a Christian event with the intention of converting them to Christianity. But that takes effort. To attempt to convince someone, personally, that their religion is incomplete but can be made complete by the addition of Jesus takes some form of effort. On a cultural scale, a very simple, effective means of erasing and absorbing Jews into the amoeba of Christianity is to simply tack "Judeo" onto Christianity and to pretend that Jews are already Christian and willing to fully embrace it [and Jesus].
Judeo-Christian Does Not Exist
The modern use of the term is another step in the grand evolution of Christian erasure of Jews; a faux inclusion while speaking over and erasing Jews, all the while muddling, obscuring, and hiding Jews and our very different beliefs from the narrative. Most people using this term have an agenda and that agenda serves the needs of the Christian majority--Jews and our beliefs be damned.
The "Judeo" may be at the front, but it is most certainly not at the forefront of whatever conversation is being held with 'Judeo-Christian' as the tagline.
"Judeo-Christian beliefs around abortion" mean nothing when 83% of American Jews believe abortion should be legal in ALL/MOST cases, as opposed to the 51% of American Christians who believe abortion should be illegal in ALL/MOST cases (4). Theologically, Judaism permits abortion and in the case of harm/danger to the pregnant person, requires it to save the life of the parent. Judaism does not believe that life begins at conception. But if you listened to those saying "Judeo-Christian", you might think it does.
The "Judeo-Christian" values around gun rights mean absolutely nothing when 33% of white evangelical Christians, 26% of mainline Christians, 25% of Mormons, 22% of white Catholics, etc, own a gun while only 11% Jews do.
The only mention of Judaism in this article entitled, "Where do religious groups in the US stand on gun control?" written by ABC, is of a Jewish organization working to end gun violence and how synagogues (as well as other places of worship) are often centers of gun violence. The article acknowledges the difference in values between white and Black Christians, whose beliefs differ radically. How can there be "Judeo-Christian" values when there is no cohesion in Christian values?
Two thirds of white evangelicals do not own a gun.— Ryan Burge 📊 (@ryanburge) May 27, 2022
Three quarters of Latter-day Saints do not own a gun.
17% of atheists and 16% of agnostics are gun owners.
Only one in ten Jews or Muslims own a gun. pic.twitter.com/QxE6TT9WWc
But it isn't just politics where the term falls woefully short.
Take, for example, a tweet from 2020, wherein someone demanded that we re-open Churches as it was the "holiest time in the Judeo-Christian calendar".
Let me be clear: there is no such thing as the "Judeo-Christian calendar". Jews, quite literally, have our own calendar, which is separate from the calendar used by the majority of Christians. You can read about it more extensively here, but for a short summary, the Gregorian calendar is a Christian calendar, and one not even used by all Christians. The Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar. Jews use a lunar-solar calendar that is often called the Hebrew or Jewish calendar. The fact of the matter is: there is no such thing as the "Judeo-Christian calendar". There simply isn't.
The holiest time in the Jewish calendar is, depending on who you ask, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) or perhaps Pesach (Passover), but it is certainly not around November-December. And while Christians may argue that the holiest time for Christians isn't even around Christmas, the reality is, that isn't the point. Tweeting about needing to re-open churches for the "holiest time in the Judeo-Christian calendar" is a clear example of what happens when people use the terminology of Judeo-Christian: Jews are lumped in, tacked onto something that has nothing to do with us, and while it may seem like a kindness, what is actually does is erases Judaism further.
Take for instance this basic premise: Jews do not have churches. While this may seem clear to many of you, that is a privilege of education. Most people have little to no knowledge of Judaism--including not knowing that we do not have churches, but instead call our houses of worship synagogues, shuls, or temples, depending on the movement. Most Jews who do not live in predominantly Jewish communities will have a story about being "the first Jew" that someone has met. Many Jews have experienced being told that someone didn't know that Jews still existed or that they thought we all "died out". Others will have stories of having their heads patted, their hair parted to check for horns because their Sunday school pastor taught them that Jews were of the Devil and as such were hiding pointy little horns beneath their curls. Others will have stories of being asked if Jews still eat babies.
I did an informal survey of my audiences on Twitter and Instagram, asking for the worst, funniest, or most memorable things they had seen labeled as "Judeo-Christian" to demonstrate how often the term is used to erase our differences in lieu of celebrating them. Here are a few of the answers.
Jesus: Jesus has no place in Jewish theology. None. The only reason Jews ever speak about Jesus is because we are constantly forced to. That is it. Jesus has no place in Jewish religion or theology. Jesus' second Temple Judaism would have looked radically different from modern Jewish traditions due to the destruction of the Temple and centuries of traditions that have come after his death.
Ham: Pork is not kosher and is not traditionally eaten by Jews who maintain the laws of Kashrut. Ham was also specifically used as a tool against Jews and Muslims during the Spanish Inquisition, which you can read further about here and here, when I received death threats for talking about Tapas.
The Ressurection of Jesus: The idea that Jesus came back from the dead before ascending to Heaven is not part of Jewish theology in any capacity. At all. It is solely Christian.
"Judeo-Christian Bible, complete with New Testament: Jews have no use for the New Testament as it is in no way Jewish. Jews also have our own translations and ordering of books, which differs from Christian versions. It is important to note that the commenter also mentioned that it was entirely in English, while most Jewish editions of the Bible contain the Hebrew version as well.
Madison Cawthorn: A white Christian man. Nothing Jewish about him.
Christmas: Christmas is a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus. For centuries, it was a time of extreme violence against Jews, to the point of the creation of a 'holiday' called Nittel Nacht on December 24th, which encouraged Jews to stay inside to prevent them from being violently attacked by Christians celebrating Christmas.
Evangelizing/Proselytizing: Judaism strictly forbids proselytization in any form. Conversion to Judaism is a long, arduous process, ranging anywhere from 1-18 years of study and practice, with a tradition held among many Jews to have a rabbi turn away a potential convert 3 times before even beginning the process. Judaism expressly forbids proselytizing.
Original Sin: In the Garden of Eden, Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge and encouraged Adam to eat. In Christianity, all humans are sinners because of this. Each person is born a sinner and becomes good through Christ (8). In Judaism, we believe that each person is born with a clean slate (9). This baseline difference greatly changes the interpretation and understanding of any shared texts.
These are just a few examples: there are massive, unbridgeable theological differences between Judaism and Christianity, ones that Christians have spent centuries persecuting Jews for. The shock of the sudden switch up to make us more similar is not lost on Jews, who spend more time than we want teaching the basic differences between Judaism and Christianity.
Good Intentions, Horrific Impact
Up until this point, I have pointed specifically to the larger Christian narrative of supersessionism. However, the reality is, many people grow up indoctrinated into the ideals of white Christian America, and even when they leave Christianity, they fail to leave behind certain beliefs. Many of these people strictly and strongly denounce their previous Christian affiliations but unknowingly continue to perpetuate them through the use of this language. Even people who were never officially affiliated with a Church or Christian movement can find themselves invested in Christian supersessionist ideology by means of engaging in the greater culture, particularly within the West. At times, people use the language to seem inclusive--as if they aren't only talking about Christians, so they toss in Jews to soften the blow, covering their Christian-centric narrative with a faux inclusive veneer. Or, their hatred and distaste for Christianity, but without unlearning what they were taught within Christianity, means that they continue to push the narrative that Jews are incomplete Christians", and therefore can be lumped in together. But their intentions don't matter--the impact does.
The reality is that there are no shared values between Judaism and Christianity that do not exist between Judaism and Islam, or Christianity and Islam. But the use of “Judeo-Christian” creates a sharp divide between the three most well-known of the “Abrahamic” religions, intentionally shoving Islam into the spotlight, promoting Islamophobia through exclusion when talking about the most profound of morality and ethics. To seemingly team up against Islam, as if there are no shared values there, pushes the defacto narrative that there is more in common between Judaism and Christianity than any other religion. It is not Judaism that sees Jesus as a Prophet, but Islam. And yet, Christians balk at the idea of Christo-Islamic. Jews often see more similarities between Judaism and Islam than they do between Judaism and Christianity as a whole, and yet, Christians insist upon a shared value system that simply does not exist exclusively between Jews and Christians. This othering is explicitly Islamophobic.
“I'm a rabbi of Jewish renewal, and I have a different outlook. First of all, we don't have an unforgiving God. We have a very trusting, loving God. And spirituality is a factor in all denominations today. Jews are flocking to other things, more Eastern. We are Eastern. I relate more to Judeo-Sufi than I do to Judeo-Christian, because there's nothing Christian about Jewish-ness - at all.” (1)
"But what about 'thou shalt not kill', etc?"
The idea that only Jews and Christians share the ideal of "do not murder" is frankly ridiculous and engages in a form of superiority that is steeped in racism, Islamophobia, and bigotry. The idea that only Christians, and the Jews that they will one day convert, share parts (remember, not all, as Christian supersessionism does not see Judaism as whole, complete, or entirely moral) of morality while the rest of the world is g-dless and evil is a white supremacist ideal. To state that only Jews & Christians believe in these basic tenets (don't murder, take care of the poor, etc) is to be ignorant to other religious and spiritual traditions and to fall prey to Christian propaganda that Christianity is the one true and moral religion. The use of "Judeo-Christian" in reference to text or scripture nearly always erases the contextual differences in understanding. of the texts. How one reads the text is fundamental--that is how Christians read the Torah and claim it predicts Jesus while Jews stare on in confusion.
"Stop making a big deal out of this, it's just words!"
There is no such thing as "just words" when it comes to language that is harmful. Language is a tool; those who use it often have an agenda that harms Jews in the long-term, ignoring and justifying ignoring it because "it's just words" is a poor, ignorant excuse for bigotry. The use of language as a tool to further an agenda has always existed and will continue to exist: ignoring it does nothing to stop that reality.
"But why didn't Jews say anything before?"
To speak against Christians, who make up the vast majority of the United States, and the Western World in general, is dangerous. Jews have spoken up against the erasure of Jews and Judaism for centuries, the consequences be damned. And the consequences of murder, persecution, pogroms, violence, rape, state-sanctioned violence, and more were, and are, dire. The reality is, Jews have not had the privilege of simply saying, "stop saying this" as a minority consistently suffering under the oppression of the people who chose the term to continue that very same oppression.
The term, as earlier discussed, also didn't gain as much traction as it has in the last two decades. Jews have been speaking up for as long about how harmful it is to conflate Judaism and Christianity, especially when the goal is the erasure of Judaism.
Even in the days of Eisenhowever, "After thousands of years of persecution and missionizing, some American Jews viewed their “Judeo” hyphen as little more than a fig leaf masking an unabashedly Christianist agenda" (7)
There’s no Judeo-Christian tradition. And that’s ok.— Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg (@TheRaDR) January 27, 2019
"But don't some Jews use it?"
Within every group, there will be outliers. Consider, for a moment, the intercommunity dynamics that you, as an outsider, may not be privy to. Conservative Jews who falsely believe in the myth of Judeo-Christianity often believe that Jews will be kept safe if we are model minorities--perfect Jews who do no harm, do not rock the boat, do nothing to cause any ire towards us. Assimilate into the political ideologies of the masses in order to protect us. They believe and promote the same violent Islamophobia that Christians who use the term do, with the added layer of the sick hope that if Jews are complicit enough, meek enough, "good enough", we will be spared the violence that has always been turned against us. Then, there are Jews who simply do believe in the same myth of Judeo-Christianity as others do.
"But what of interfaith work between Jews & Christians?"
There can be no progress made as long as one group seeks to erase and eradicate the other. There can be no growth, no collaboration, and no work towards a better world when one is actively harming the other. Interfaith work is massively important and in order to do that work, we need to be honest in our language.
"But should I say instead?"
Say what you mean. When you are talking about a story from the Bible, say "a story from the Bible". When you want to say "Judeo-Christian value", think long and hard about whether or not those values are 1) shared between Jews and Christians equally and 2) solely shared between Jews and Christians. Most of the time, the word you're looking for is "Christian".
* Messianic Christians, who call themselves Messianic Jews, are in no way Jewish and are not recognized by any Jewish movement, as they are a Christian one. For a full outline of the Christian movement, read this.
Orwell, George (2017-02-04). George Orwell: An age like this, 1920-1940. David R. Godine Publisher. p. 401. ISBN 9781567921335.
VARIOUS FORMS OF REPLACEMENT THEOLOGY Michael J. Vlach, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Theology