Always the Jews

Oct 13th, 2010 | By | Category: Cross Channel

A friend was rushing back to Dublin on Sunday evening; he was to meet a Jewish couple at a railway station and was anxious that they be not left standing on a deserted platform. The man had been his boss in times past, a good and kind mentor to him in his younger years. In their mid 70s, the family of one had come from Germany and the family of the other had come from Poland. The family memories they must have carried through the decades are unimaginable.

“Sometimes we are not even conscious of our anti-Semitism”, my friend observed. “Once I made an unwitting comment and my old boss turned to me, ‘Ah, blaming the Jews again? Always, it is the Jews’. Perhaps he was being over-sensitive, but, then, I haven’t had my family wiped out’.

The Jews seem the only group of people where actions by any small element is associated with the entire community. Did anyone blame the wars of President Bush on the Christians? Or the deceits of Tony Blair? How often do people speak of ‘Christian’ bankers?

Anti-Semitism in the Church is centuries old. The Good Friday prayers from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer in the Church of England included:

O MERCIFUL God, who hast made all men, and hatest nothing that thou hast made, nor wouldest the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live; Have mercy upon all Jews, Turks, Infidels, and Hereticks, and take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word; and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to thy flock, that they may be saved among the remnant of the true Israelites, and be made one fold under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

The good, tolerant, inclusive members of the Church of England spent centuries regarding Jews (as well as Moslems and other religious traditions) as receiving God’s mercy only by becoming good, presumably Protestant, Christians.

The Church of England, while abjuring the explicit anti-Semitism of its past, persists in customs that, were I a Jew, I would find deeply offensive. It has instructions for the observance of the Easter vigil, the service on the Saturday night before Easter Sunday morning.

It is specific in its recommendations, “It is desirable for the building to be as dark as possible during the Vigil”. During the darkness there are readings from the Bible, the Church of England liturgy says, “A wide variety of possible readings has been provided . . . It is desirable that the reading from Genesis 1 be used. The Exodus 14 reading should always be used.”

The argument from the Anglicans would be that the darkness is symbolic of the entombment of Jesus. Maybe so, but Exodus 14 is the Passover story; a sacred point in Jewish salvation history. The most important story in the Jewish tradition is read by members of the Church of England sitting in darkness. Were I Jewish, I think I should be offended.

Unwitting? Maybe. But how would you feel about something sacred to you be appropriated by someone else and recalled in darkness because it is lesser than their light?

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  1. I haven’t heard of this Anglican arrangement before. How sad. I heard that Christian Supersessionist-like talk was uttered at recent Methodist gatherings, also.

    I’ve never accepted this supposed ‘Judeo-Christian’ heritage that ‘progressive’ members of both our religions are always talking about. Rosenweig and Buber were incorrect. I agree with Yeshayahu Liebowitz that it would have been better for all of us had the Marcionite heresy gained the upper hand. Jewish-Christian relations would have been less frought, as the self-styled ‘heir’ would have no reason to resent a ‘testator’ that is still alive. Christianity exists in an entirely different mileu and paradigm – we just share the origin narratives. If the Pauline epistles mark the real founding of Christianity, then we are just two completely different religions and in no way is Christianity an offspring of Judaism. Supressionist problem solved.

  2. I would not accept that Paul is the founder of Christianity.

    I do, however, believe that a better world depends upon mutual respect for what others hold sacred.

  3. Try this stuff:

  4. Ian, the Exodus 14 reading is not the Passover – it is the crossing of the Red Sea and the destruction of Pharaoh’s army.
    The darkness is surely simply the darkness of a night vigil. We wait in anticipation to mark the resurrection, the most sacred point in Christian salvation history, and as we do so we retell an older story of God saving his faithful people, the Israelites. There is only one God – their God and our God are one and the same.
    I fail to see why a Jew should take any offence at this. Surely we are expressing solidarity with them and honouring their tradition?

  5. Passover is the anticipation and celebration of that liberation.

    The vigil has been observed in each parish in which I have served since 1998. We have always kept the church lit for the reading of salvation history and have included a reading on the death of Jesus at the end of the sequence – then we have darkened the church and had silence until the Paschal light is brought in.

  6. I’m no Christian expert, I’m always open to correction and distinction.

    I very much agree with your point on mutual respect, even if my dismissal of the Jewish-Christian interfaith approach so far might seem cold. I should not have used the word ‘progressive’ to describe all who take this approach.

    What was the lesson of Bavel, other than centralization (”one language and one speech”) should not be?

  7. That reminds me of the exchange in a Woody Allen film – was it Annie Hall, I’m not sure. Woody and friend are chatting by a bus stop. A passerby asks him, “When’s the next bus due?”
    Woody turns to his friend, “You hear what he called me?”

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