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Satan's synagogue

With the video for “Justify My Love” Madonna fell into disfavor of many social groups. But only few people know that the remix of the song caused a grotesque religious scandal.

Everyone knows that “Justify My Love” was the first Madonna video rejected by MTV. Canadian station MuchMusic soon followed that decision, and the clip is still not being broadcast there. Everyone also knows how the story ended – the music video was released on VHS to enormous success, becoming the best-selling video single ever, although in some territories, like Florida, it wasn’t commercially available at all. Naturally, every sensation provokes conspiracy theories, and there are some who believe the buzz had been plotted. But would you believe that the single resulted in accusations of antisemitism?

What happened 23 years ago, today seems to be unbelievably ridiculous. The most famous Kabbalist in the world landed in bad books of rabbi Abraham Cooper of Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, simply due to the “Beast Within” remix of “Justify My Love”. On January 3, 1991, Cooper accused Madonna of using antisemitic content of the New Testament, namely a passage from the Book of Revelation, saying: “And the slander of those who say they are Jews, but they are not, they are a synagogue of Satan”.

Cooper called the text “incredibly insensitive and potentially dangerous”, adding that antisemitism is a real problem in America today and entertainers as big of a blockbuster as Madonna should feel some responsibility towards delicate social issues. “We acknowledge from the outset that this passage comes right from the New Testament, but that in itself is no excuse. Quoting bigoted remarks from the Bible only serves to fuel the doctrine of antisemitism preached by a growing number of white supremacists, including the Christian identity movement” said the rabbi.

Madonna seemed to be even more shocked than the readers of Los Angeles Times, where the story was published.

People can say I am an exhibitionist, but no one can ever accuse me of being a racist. I am not even going to try to defend myself against such ridiculous accusations.

Simon Wiesenthal Center had already appeared in press 2 years before, criticizing Guns N’ Roses and former Public Enemy rap member Professor Griff. This time around though, Cooper feared of something even more dangerous: “It's much worse in the sense of imagery. It portrays the Jew as a devil, linking Judaism to devil worship and demonology in the synagogue” he said.

On January 4, 1991, Madonna released the following statement: “I certainly did not have any antisemitic intent when I included a passage from the Bible on my record. It was a commentary on evil in general. My message, if any, is pro-tolerance and anti-hate. The song is, after all, about love.”

Who would have known...

P.S. Only the following day, January 5, the single landed atop American singles chart.

MS / transl. Matt

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