The anti-Semitism that led to the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour Party seems to be regarded as an aberration, yet it is part of deeply rooted prejudice that has been present in England for centuries.
Anti-Semitism arose from a sectarian Christian attitude towards the Jews that originated in the divisions of the late First Century. The Jews became the object of Christian hatred; subjected to absurd accusations, they were repeatedly the victims of irrational bouts of violence.
The Church of England played its part in perpetuating an atmosphere of hostility to the Jews. The Good Friday prayers from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer still in use in the Church of England include the following prayer:
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 Muslims and other religious traditions) as receiving God’s mercy only by becoming good, presumably Protestant, Christians, those who regarded themselves as the “true Israelites.”
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?
Given all that has happened, it is wholly unacceptable that, on the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Church of England still has on its website a prayer for the conversion of the Jews.