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Oxford holds service of repentance for 800-year-old anti-Semitic rules

09 May 2022

‘So much anti-Semitism can be traced back to distorted Christian teaching’

Tom Pilston/Diocese of Oxford

At the anniversary service (from left to right): the Bishop of Lichfield, Dr Michael Ipgrave; Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain; the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft

At the anniversary service (from left to right): the Bishop of Lichfield, Dr Michael Ipgrave; Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain; the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steve...

CHRISTIANS needed to repent of their “painful and shameful history” of anti-Semitism, the Bishop of Lichfield, Dr Michael Ipgrave, said on Sunday at a special service to mark the 800th anniversary of the Synod of Oxford.

The Synod, first held at Osney Abbey in 1222, added a range of anti-Jewish measures to the already discriminatory decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. The Synod passed laws forbidding social interactions between Jews and Christians, forced Jewish people to wear identifying badges, imposed church tithes on them, and banned them from certain professions. They were also forbidden from building new synagogues.

The rulings created a hostile environment that would ultimately lead to the expulsion of Jews by the end of the 13th century, making England the first country to expel Jewish people en masse. They were not permitted to return for more than 360 years.

“So much anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism can be traced back to distorted Christian teaching,” Dr Ipgrave said. He now chairs the Council of Christians and Jews. “We need to recognise how our history has contributed to the teaching of contempt which generated hostility towards and suffering for our Jewish brothers and sisters.”

The service, at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, was organised in association with the Oxford Jewish Congregation, and included contributions from people from different Jewish and Christian traditions.

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain of Maidenhead Synagogue, who gave a reading in Hebrew, said that the English Jews who had faced persecution, massacres, and forced exile in the 12th and 13th centuries “would have been astonished and pleased to hear words in Hebrew ring out in this cathedral”.

The Rt Revd William Kenney, the Roman Catholic Auxiliary Emeritus Bishop of Birmingham, led an act of penitence during the service. “God of Israel, we acknowledge with shame and penitence the anti-Semitic decrees of the Synod of Oxford,” he said. “For times when we have witnessed the ill-treatment of Jews and people of other faiths and have not gone to their aid, Lord, we ask your forgiveness.”

The Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, did not attend the service for reasons of tradition, but said afterwards that it had been a “glorious, special, amazing and historic occasion”. The service was “deeply appreciated by our Jewish community”, he said, and he hoped it would lead to a “strengthening” of the friendship between Christians and Jews.

The Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, said that it had been “deeply moving” to hear Jewish music played and Jewish songs sung by a choir in the cathedral.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, who did not attend, said on Twitter that the service was “an opportunity to remember, repent and rebuild”. He wrote: “Let us pray it inspires Christians to reject contemporary forms of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism, and to appreciate and receive the gift of our Jewish neighbours.”

The Archdeacon of Oxford, the Ven. Jonathan Chaffey, was one of the organisers. He said that the service had offered a symbolic opportunity to apologise for the past.

“It also recognises the positive reframing of Jewish-Christian relations since the publication of Nostra Aetate (‘In Our Time’), a report of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. . . This understanding was reinforced by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s call, in the 2019 Church of England report, God’s Unfailing Word, that ‘only by looking back and recognising our failures as Christians can we begin to move forward with authenticity’.”

He continued: “Our intention is for this commemoration to be a strong signal of such rich potential, reflected in the depth of interfaith encounter and service that increasingly exists in Oxford and across our society.”

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