Christians and Jews united
That the UK should have led the way in promoting Jewish-Christian relations was ironic, given the troubled history of Jewish existence in the country.
Christians praying in Jerusalem Photo: Travelujah
This month we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Council of Christians and
Jews, the oldest national interfaith organization in the UK. The organization
has had a profound effect on Jewish-Christian relations, both in the UK and
While CCJ may be a relatively small organization, its
anniversary was recognized by Her Majesty The Queen, its patron, who recently
attended a function in London to celebrate the occasion.
seeks to develop understanding and mutual respect between the Christian and
Key challenges addressed include anti-Semitism,
proselytizing, the politics of Israel and the Middle East and advocating a
shared ethical agenda. The phrase “Judeo-Christian heritage” is commonly used
and it was no surprise to me, at the launch of National Marriage Week at the
British Parliament last month, to find myself in the company of leading,
The foundation of CCJ in March 1942, at the height
of the Holocaust, was not able to alter the tragic fate of millions of Jews, but
it was an important show of solidarity from the Christian community in the
darkest of hours for our people. Archbishop William Temple and Chief Rabbi Dr.
J.H. Hertz were the driving force behind CCJ. At a meeting held on March 20,
1942, to form the Council, it was agreed that “the Nazi attack on Jewry has
revealed that anti-Semitism is part of a general and comprehensive attack on
Christianity and Judaism and on the ethical principles common to both religions,
which form the basis of the free national life of Great Britain.”
It is a
chilling thought that another meeting had taken place just two months earlier,
with polar opposite aims. On January 20, 1942, Nazi leaders met at Wannsee to
determine the “final solution to the Jewish question.”
meeting to establish CCJ in March 1942 offered a glimmer of hope to our
beleaguered people at this tragic phase in our history.
That the UK
should have led the way in promoting Jewish-Christian relations was ironic,
given the troubled history of Jewish existence in the country. The pernicious
blood libel, still perpetrated in some countries of the Middle East, has its
roots in Britain, with the first recorded incident taking place in Norwich in
1144. This was followed by persecution, riots and the massacre at York in 1190.
In 1275 a new law was passed requiring Jews to wear a yellow patch of cloth.
This mirrored the 1215 anti-Semitic decree of Pope Innocent III’s Fourth Lateran
Council requiring Jews living in Christian lands to wear a badge on their
The historians Max Wurmbrand and Cecil Roth have written that
“the result of the introduction of the badge was to mark the Jews apart from
other men as a different and inferior race, liable at all times to insult or
attack.” This has haunting echoes of a similar edict by the Nazis in the
The climate of medieval anti-Semitism in the UK led to the
expulsion of the Jews in 1290 and resettlement did not come until the mid-17th
England was the first country to expel its Jews, ahead of France
(1306) and Spain (1492).
The establishment of CCJ aimed to reverse the
prevailing tide of history. It also had a deep-seated influence through acting
as a catalyst for Christian- Jewish forums in the Commonwealth and other
countries. The International CCJ now has 38 constituent organizations, including
Ireland. During my tenure as chief rabbi, I remember receiving a visit from Jim
Tunney, the lord mayor of Dublin, on his first day in office. It was tradition
for the new lord mayor to pay courtesy calls to the Catholic and Protestant
archbishops and the chief rabbi.
We welcomed him at our home in Dublin,
and my wife offered him some delicious cheesecake. Later, when he hosted a
reception to welcome participants in the biennial Colloquium of the
International CCJ at Mansion House, he told the assembled guests, “To enhance
interfaith dialogue, you don’t need conferences, you need cheesecake!” Extending
a hand of friendship and offering hospitality can often pave the way to a
willingness to listen, learn and enrich relationships.
The formation of
CCJ in the UK in 1942 laid the terrain of the institutional framework for
improved relations worldwide, which have inspired some milestone events in the
These have included the Second Vatican Council in 1962,
which exonerated Jews for the charge of deicide, and papal visits to Israel in
2000 and 2009.
Moreover, as the first national interfaith organization,
CCJ was a trailblazer for interfaith activity, both bilateral, Abrahamic and
multilateral. There are now over 300 interfaith organizations in the
We need the support of Christian friends in combating widespread
anti- Semitism and anti-Zionism. When I interviewed Lord Carey, the former
archbishop of Canterbury, at our synagogue, he said that he had been ashamed by
the moves of some fringe Anglican groups to call for disinvestment from Israel.
When tensions broke out with the Methodist Church in the UK over their stance on
Israel, we arranged for local Methodist ministers to visit us in synagogue for a
Shabbat, together with many other communities.
This led to greater
friendship and unity.
As well as a “shield” rationale for
Christian-Jewish relations, there is also a proactive agenda of “arrow”
The shared ethical agenda concentrates on issues such as the
family and community, as well as thwarting the aggressive secularism promoted by
figures such as Richard Dawkins in the UK and some similar voices in
CCJ’s 70th birthday reminds us of the need for solidarity,
friendship and camaraderie between Jewish and Christian communities. The nature
and quality of our relationships with other faiths will be crucial to our
On CCJ’s anniversary, let us be inspired by the teaching in
Pirkei Avot: “Who is great? One who turns an enemy into a friend.”
Ephraim Mirvis is senior rabbi of Finchley Synagogue in London, and a former
chief rabbi of Ireland.