The Anti-Jewish Past of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Favorite Bible Story

In a pre-election interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez cited as of particular importance to her the New Testament tale of Jesus entering the Second Temple and overturning the tables of the moneychangers. While mentioning this very well-known episode is hardly evidence of antipathy toward Jews, it’s worth noting how often it was historically wrapped up with anti-Semitism. Menachem Wecker explains:

To early Christians, [often themselves Jews, this story] cast other Jews as rejected by God, and medieval adherents leveraged it to associate Jews with money and power. Prevailing conspiracy theories of unduly influential Jews continue to mine the story. . . . The more accurate way to read the story is that Jesus criticizes some moneychangers but praises others.

Malka Simkovich, a Jewish-studies professor and the director of Catholic-Jewish studies at Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union, thinks Ocasio-Cortez allows herself to be heard in certain ways without spelling metaphors out. . . . “It’s enough for her to say, ‘I like this story’ and to allow those who read it in an anti-Jewish way to interpret it,” she said. “I don’t think it’s anti-Semitic, but she’s allowing a broad tent of people to ally with her who associate Jews with power and money.”

Money changing wasn’t stigmatized in the 1st century CE, as pilgrims had to exchange their cash for Judean currency to purchase animals for sacrifice and pay Temple taxes. . . . Later interpretations “distorted” the original Gospels’ meaning, [says the historian Jonathan Karp], and an initial anti-Jewish motif of “Jews and materiality, carnality, literalism” gave way to one of Jews and money. In other words, Karp said, Jews were “missing the inner spiritual message of biblical prophecy because of an exclusive focus on the external [and] ritualistic.”

By the Middle Ages, Jews were more concentrated in commerce, including occasionally money lending. They weren’t forced to change money, but being barred from other areas, some gravitated to it. Christians began to apply New Testament texts about Jewish money changers and Judas’ betrayal of Jesus for 30 silver pieces to Jews collectively, and medieval religious plays and art represented Judas as a Jewish moneylender and money changers in the Temple courtyard as particularly Jewish, Karp said.

Read more at National Catholic Reporter

More about: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Anti-Semitism, New Testament

How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus