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He Also Spoke as a Jew: The Life of the Reverend James Parkes
By Haim Chertok
516pp., 19.95 pounds
Perhaps more than any other single non-Jew in the past two thousand years, the late Reverend James Parkes (1896-1981) sympathized and identified with the Jewish people in its struggle for survival and homeland.
He certainly was the 20th century's most prominent non-Jewish voice in uncovering the roots of Christian anti-Semitism and in arguing for a fundamental transformation in Christianity's attitude toward Judaism. His pioneering work in word and deed sought to reverse that "Teaching of Contemptâ€š" the Christian demonology that had its horrible culmination in the Holocaust. For close to 50 years, he devoted the heart of his professional work to bringing Christianity to recognition of Judaism as not simply an honorable predecessor, but as a legitimate faith-partner in doing the work and service of God.
Now, the American-Israeli writer Haim Chertok has written a detailed, definitive study of Parkes's life. In it, he traces Parkes's long path from isolated, weak Guernsey child to Christian paladin defending the long-suffering people he, in a deeply emotional and intellectual way, made his own. Chertok begins with the painful story of Parkes's early years: by the age of 14 he lost his mother, which was soon followed by the deaths of his brother and sister in WWI. Parkes, too, went to the trenches in WWI and emerged physically and emotionally wounded.
Later, while studying theology at Oxford, he connected up with the Student Christian Movement and International Student Service, Geneva. With these organizations as his base, in the late '20s he began to oppose the racist and anti-Semitic organizations in Europe. He was involved in the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion trial in Geneva in 1935, and in the years leading up to WWII he labored to win British support for victims of Nazi persecution. His work with the underground aided Jewish refugees, often at great personal risk and financial sacrifice.
From the '30s on, Parkes devoted himself almost entirely to the cause of the Jewish people. He was an assiduous researcher and prolific writer. Parkes's Oxford doctoral thesis, published as "The Conflict of the Church and Synagogue: A Study in the Origins of Anti-Semitism" (London: Soncino Press, 1934), was followed by a series of important books and hundreds of other publications in defense of Judaism. Among the most important of the books are Judaism and Christianity (1948), End of an Exile (1954) and A History of the Jewish People (1962).
After the founding of the State in 1948, Israel came under strong attacks from certain anti-Zionist intellectuals including Arnold Toynbee. Parkes was an exemplary defender of the Jewish people, again showing the historical justification and meaning of a State of Israel.
His friendship to the Jewish people was strongly reciprocated. According to Chertok, he was elated when in 1949 he was chosen to be the head of The Jewish Historical Society. With his wife Dorothy, he made several trips to the Holy Land, voyages of exploration and teaching alike. His lifelong friend, Israel Sieff, was a constant source of financial and moral support.
He also was a major collector of works on Judaism and Christianity, and one of the major tasks of the last years of his life was finding a proper home for the unique and invaluable collection. The Parkes Library was established in 1956, and in 1964 it was transferred to the University of Southhampton, where it now contains over 20,000 printed items and over 500 collections of manuscripts containing over one million items.
Chertok stresses that Parkes was sui generis, not only in the degree of commitment to the Jewish people, but in his friendships with individual Jews. In a sense there is the suggestion that while Parkes remained a committed Christian all his life, he somehow so strongly identified with the Jewish people that, in the words of the title of this book, he also spoke as a Jew.
Chertok is to be commended for showing extraordinary devotion to his subject in this monumental work of research. The book has a moving foreword by Rabbi Irving Greenberg, himself a pioneer in the whole subject of transforming the Jewish-Christian relationship to one of mutual respect and dignity.
This book could not be more highly recommended. It is a most worthy work of gratitude to a great and noble friend.
The writer is author of the recently published biography, Rabbi Shlomo Goren Torah Sage and General (Urim).