by Rabbi M. Kripke
Our Sidrah gives us the news of the birth of twin sons to Isaac and Rebecca. For a number of chapters the narrative takes us through the tangled relationships between Esau and Jacob.
The Esau-Jacob story affords us an entry into understanding at least something about a major problem that perseveres in contemporary Jewish-Christian relations.
We are often unhappy about the slanderous image of the Jew in Medieval Christian mythology–an image that I am certain had a major influence on the latent, boiling hostility that exploded into the Holocaust. Worse, that slanderous image begins in what Christians consider holy documents, the “New Testament.”
Jacob and Esau will help us understand this problem a little better.
We read the Bible through the eyes of rabbinic interpretation, through Talmud and Midrash. We then sometimes overlook the fact that the Bible itself (not the rabbinic interpretation) sees Jacob as wily and deceptive, until in later, more mature years, he becomes Israel, the Champion of God.
And the Bible itself (again, not the rabbinic interpretation) sees Esau as a simple, rugged, impulsive man, not given to deep thought and contemplation, but essentially a decent and trusting person.
Rabbinic interpretation goes out of its way to heap sinfulness of many kinds on Esau, and to whitewash Jacob all down the line. And that is how we think of them. The rabbis used “Edom,” the name of the nation who sprang from Esau, as code for everything evil.
What did Edomites say about Israelites? That is lost to history and its literature. But what did Israelites say about Edomites? See the evil image in Obadiah and many other references.
Our Christian-Jewish problem is not reduced, but this will help us understand how the image of the evil Jew, unrefuted and unchallenged, entered Christian scriptures.