Bernard of Clairvaux defends Jewish people

candles burning

Bernard of Clairvaux was the great spiritual force behind the Templars – the Cistercian ascetic who promoted the Order in its early years and is believed to have largely authored the Rule. As I’m in Jerusalem and have just visited the museum commemorating the Holocaust – an emotionally draining experience – I thought it was worth recalling what Bernard thought about the Jews.

Jewish people find an unlikely defender in Bernard of Clairvaux

In the twelfth century, anti-semitism was on the rise as the Crusades often swept up the Jews in the role of infidels – also, often being money lenders it was a chance for gentiles in debt to hit out at their creditors. Bernard was a man of his time and could have been a vicious anti-semite but on purely theological grounds, he argued against any bloody violence against the Jews. Why?

Well, Bernard of Clairvaux believed that the Jews had to be present on Judgment Day to see that the Christians had been right about Jesus as Messiah and they had been wrong. That’s a crude summing up but I think I’m basically right.

Bernard wrote: “The Jews must not be persecuted, slaughtered, nor even driven out”.  How much happier history might have been if Christians had listened to Bernard and not the raging bigots.

Here is an unbelievably touching and poignant image in the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem which I had to photograph even though visitors are not supposed to take any snaps. It made me terribly sad and I wanted to share it with you. These are people who died in the concentration camps.

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