Some Words about the Anti-Judaism Resolution

At the General Convention of 2009, it was resolved that the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music be directed “to collect, develop and disseminate materials that assist members of the Church to address Christian anti-Judaism expressed in and stirred by portions of Christian scriptures and liturgical texts.”  It was further resolved that the Commission in union with the Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations should prepare “a statement defining anti-Judaism and why it demands our attention.”  [Resolution 2009-A089]  On several occasions during this triennium, the SCLM members have discussed how we might best fulfill this Resolution.  I had offered to chair this project because of my particular commitment to this subject.

From the occasion of our first meeting, I found myself with questions and doubts about how this work might be accomplished most effectively.  Although the 2009 Convention had suggested the preparation of a pamphlet as well as age-appropriate educational materials for children, I acknowledged my doubts about the long term effectiveness of such materials.  It is too easy for such materials, of a type often produced in the past by the national Church, simply to be pushed aside as new concerns and issues arise.

In our meeting late in 2011, the members of the SCLM supported my suggestion that the most appropriate place in which to focus our proposals on this important issue would be in the context of our public worship, and more specifically in the context of liturgical preaching on those occasions when the most problematic texts arise during the course of the liturgical year.  To accomplish this, we believe that commentary should be made available for our clergy as a resource for those times when the lectionary will call them to preach on what are seen as “the difficult texts.”  Many such resources already exist, but often written by Christian authors who are quite committed to this concern but for whom the normative context for preaching is not with reference to an authorized lectionary.

Given that we are now quite near the time of the next General Convention, we have asked that this Convention authorize the extension of this project into the coming triennium (2013—2015), and that during that period, as an aid to preaching on the texts generally viewed as central to this issue, the SCLM would make available in its BLOG, appropriate commentary which would, it is hoped, cast a stronger light upon these texts and aid our clergy in a common effort to address the problem of anti-Judaism in their preaching.

Many of the most difficult texts occur, not surprisingly, during Holy Week, especially on Good Friday, and also during Eastertide.  It is our plan that appropriate commentary would be made available well in advance so that it could be used as a substantial resource in our liturgical preaching.

* * * * * * * * * *

A CONCLUDING NOTE:

ANTI-JUDAISM OR ANTI-SEMITISM

At the request of the SCLM, Professor Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski prepared a study document which he presented at a meeting of the Commission at its meeting in October 2010, in Concord, NH.  In this paper, Professor Joslyn-Siemiatkoski noted that the focus on this issue in the Episcopal Church has been on liturgical language, and that the more fundamental issue which needs to be addressed is our theology of covenant.  He comments that the concern must lie with anti-Judaism rather than anti-Semitism because the prejudice “is not aimed at a race but at religious and theological categories that denigrate Judaism.”

He notes further that liturgical language is the symptom “of the underlying theological problem of supersessionism and its expression in Christian life and thought.  Only once the problem of supersessionism has been addressed and resolved can the specific issue of liturgical language be fully remedied.”

With his permission, I wish to quote part of Professor Joslyn-Siemiatkoski’s essay.  He has summed up the issue which faces the church, and offers an excellent point of departure for the plan of the SCLM to offer commentary on the problematic passages in Scripture as they come up in the lectionary in the course of the liturgical year.

He writes, “Central to Christian anti-Judaism is a theological position that marginalizes Judaism as a lived expression of belief and culture rooted in an eternal covenant between the people of Israel and God. (See also his essay, “ ‘Moses Received the Torah at Sinai and Handed It On’ [Mishnah Avot 1:10]:  The Relevance of the Written and Oral Torah for Christians,” Anglican Theological Review 91:3 [2009]:  pp. 444-5.) Supersessionism  is commonly defined as the belief that the church has replaced Israel as God’s chosen people.  Three core elements comprise supersessionist theology.  First is the understanding that Judaism is an obsolete, spiritually arid religion.  Second, the church has fulfilled the spiritual longings of Israel by entering into full relationship with God through the person of Jesus Christ.  As a corollary, the historical people of the Israel of the Old Testament are no longer necessary for the implementation of God’s plan of salvation.  Third, since the Jews rejected Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and were willing actors in the events leading to his crucifixion, God has ended the covenant with the historical people of Israel.  Evidence for the abrogation of the covenant by God is found in the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E. by the Romans and the subsequent expulsion of the Jews from the land of Israel.”

Obviously all of these supersessionist ideas require intense reflection on the part of all Christians since often they have inherited such views, even in a subliminal way, through what they have heard from childhood in the anti-Jewish attitudes which are often  assimilated quite uncritically.

Growing up, as I did, as a Jewish kid in New Orleans, I experienced from the time I entered school the anti-Judaism which was bred into the bone of many of my classmates.  This became so serious that my parents decided to put me into a private school which had been founded early in the 20thcentury to offer a safe place for Jewish children to get an education.  The children who had persecuted me (and that is not too strong a word) all came from Christian families and had learned there, as one classmate said to me, that “you killed our Christ.”  Such anti-Judaism remains in American society, but it is our hope that in this project the Episcopal Church will confront its presence among our own members and begin to reclaim the important theological and spiritual ties which link our hope in God to that of our Jewish brothers and sisters.

Louis Weil
Hodges-Haynes Professor Emeritus of Liturgics at The Church Divinity School of the Pacific
Member, Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music

About Ruth Meyers
Hodges-Haynes Professor of Liturgics, Church Divinity School of the Pacific; Chair, Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music

4 Responses to Some Words about the Anti-Judaism Resolution

  1. Kit Wang+ says:

    Thanks so much, Ruth, for posting this as we prepare to enter Holy Week. I’m grateful to hear you voice this critical issue. Looking forward to seeint how it works out for the next triennium!

  2. Allison Duvall, L1, Diocese of Lexington says:

    This is an issue that I have long prayed our church, my church, would address. This is a great blessing.

  3. KrisZ says:

    I’ve only just seen this topic & the reference to Holy Week. It gives me some hope to know that a reevaluation is underway. As a former prof of late medieval & early modern cultural history & religious studies, I’ve long been concerned about how easily churches of all denominations have ignored the anti-Jewish texts, pageants & music repeated in our churches. It was after all fights over defining the eucharist that triggered the blood libel against the Jews…

    One of my hopes is that some day we will not hear any more about the Jewish boys who (blessedly) were not massacred according to any 1st century CE source & (even if some scrap of papyrus turns up), assuredly not the “first Christian martyrs” … an adjective adding insult to injury.

    I pray that the Episcopal Church will drop the Christianized texts of Tora Ora (536; verses 3 & 4) & Thomas Olivers’ Christianization of Leoni (401) a hymn he heard in a synagogue http://www.christianhistorymagazine.org/index.php/past-pages/31hymn/ …. and — of course — hymns 561 – 563) smack not only of the Crusades, but also of the burning of holy books & warring soldiers on all sides to bring it into our sanctuaries.

    Hi Kris, Thanks for your comments. Next time please include your last name. –Ed.

  4. Grateful to discover this blog, and to learn that there is some attention in the national church to the issue of anti-Jewish sentiment in our liturgy and texts. As a layperson, is there any opportunity for me to become better informed and to participate in this work? It affects me personally, and has long been a source of frustration, hurt and distress. I would also be interested to know of any online resources or discussion groups to address the pastoral needs of church members wounded by anti-Jewish language.

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