In ‘reconciliation,’ we face hatred together

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From left to right: Archbishop Linda Nicholls, Bishop Bruce Myers, Rabbi Adam Stein, and Archbishop Fred Hiltz. Photo: Matthew Townsend

General Synod’s decision to approve a ‘Prayer for reconciliation with the Jews’ on first reading demonstrates how Jewish-Anglican relations can bear lifegiving, lifesaving fruit, writes Rabbi Adam Stein

At the recent General Synod, I had the pleasure of speaking from what we in Judaism call the “bimah,” literally the “stage.” I sat next to extremely kind and welcoming incoming and outgoing primates, Archbishop Linda Nicholls and Archbishop Fred Hiltz, and the Rev. Gordon Maitland, national chairman of the Prayer Book Society of Canada. As Bishop Bruce Myers stood at the podium explaining the prayer he was proposing to change, I looked out at the rapt audience at the synod and smiled.

I had spent several weeks working with Bishop Myers to plan our presentation, and I was aware that it was a truly amazing moment. A bishop inviting a rabbi to share his thoughts on a prayer “For the conversion of the Jews”—offensive content for Jews throughout our historical relationship with Christianity—and the proposed replacement: a “Prayer for reconciliation with the Jews.” Wow. When I took the podium and shared some words, a few meaningful images and even a laugh or two, I felt truly welcomed by the dedicated Anglicans gathered in Vancouver.

Rabbi Adam Stein. Photo: Congregation Beth Israel

I was there on behalf of the Canadian Rabbinic Caucus, representing my fellow rabbis from around Canada. The Canadian Rabbinic Caucus (CRC) is the only national organization that unites rabbis from across the spectrum of Jewish practice in Canada. As an affiliate of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the CRC plays a key role on behalf of the organized Jewish community of Canada in fostering interfaith relations—including with our Anglican friends.

During the process of seeking to replace this prayer, the CRC was approached by the national leadership of the Anglican Church of Canada to provide guidance and constructive feedback on the details of the church’s revised prayer, which we were very pleased to offer. We are humbled to have played a role in this historic development, which is a natural and logical culmination of decades of growing Jewish-Anglican ties.

The Anglican church has made a significant effort, particularly since the 1980s, to acknowledge and tackle the issue of Christian antisemitism. Examples include the removal of a supercessionist Good Friday collect from the Book of Common Prayer in 1992 and the powerful document From Darkness to Dawn (Christian post-Holocaust reflections on antisemitism), published in 1989 and reprinted and disseminated again in 2015 through the active leadership of Bishop Myers. The decision to transform the prayer for the conversion of Jews into a prayer for reconciliation with the Jews, which repents for historical antisemitism among Christians, is a testament to this wonderful trend.

The church has spoken out strongly about the rise of antisemitism, including the neo-Nazi rally at Charlottesville (when the Anglican church partnered with the Jewish community on an interfaith statement of solidarity against hate) as well as the horrific attack at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, following which the church spoke out and stood with us to mourn the victims. That attack hit home for so many of us in the Jewish community; my synagogue’s senior rabbinic colleague is from Pittsburgh, and I have friends and colleagues who live shockingly close to where the attack took place. Interfaith support was thus all the more significant.

We were very grateful that the church’s leadership brought the upsetting prayer’s removal to a vote at the 2016 General Synod. Unfortunately, while it received majority support, it was one vote short of reaching the critical mass needed to pass that year. However, we understand the complexities involved in that vote, and, in a way, it was a blessing in disguise. While the original proposal was simply to remove the older prayer, the new proposal, after a deep and fruitful process, led us to the beautiful and powerful new prayer.

The church leadership’s steadfast work in advancing this issue just goes to show how important it is to them—past and current primates, Bishop Myers, Fr. Maitland—and for that we are exceptionally grateful. It is incredibly heartening to see that the 2019 General Synod offered near-unanimous support for the new prayer. While this work will not be complete until the 2022 General Synod votes on a second reading of the proposed change, we are confident the new prayer “For reconciliation with the Jews” will be ratified at that time.

The timing of this decision is poignant. A recent Tel Aviv University study found that last year saw the highest number of Jews murdered in antisemitic attacks in decades. The Jewish community is experiencing a sense of vulnerability that, at least here in North America, is perhaps unprecedented—due in no small part to the two fatal shooting attacks on synagogues in the United States in the past 10 months. By replacing the prayer for conversion with one of reconciliation and acknowledgement of the history of Christian antisemitism, the Anglican church has sent a compelling message to the Jewish community that you stand with us at this worrisome time. As both a rabbi and a Jewish parent who is concerned for the kind of society in which my children will live, this is deeply appreciated.

The Anglican Church of Canada’s decision to revise this prayer in such a significant way is just one piece of evidence among many that this is a warm and growing relationship, one which will only enable our communities to further engage on other issues of common cause in a fruitful manner.

Rabbi Adam Stein is associate rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in Vancouver, B.C.

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8 COMMENTS

  1. Rabbi, your kind and gracious words in this article are deeply appreciated. Your presentation at General Synod was moving and engaging and went a long way to ensuring the near unanimous vote in favour of the new prayer. It was an honour to have met you on that occasion.

    Gordon+

  2. I see all of this as both an important step, and also a reminder of the need for General
    Synod to update its governance structure and process. It’s shameful how majority support was achieved but still missed in the mark in 2016. If we’re going to repent of our sin of antisemitism – and I believe we should – it should not take 6-9 years to do that. Or at least not to take the important first step. As another very faithful Jew once said, “Go and sin no more!” not “Go and sin no more… no, wait another three years to make sure your resolve is strong enough.”

    • I respectfully disagree, Paul. You’re quite right that this has taken a while and that there were difficult moments in the last three years, including some incendiary letters to the editor in the AJ. But the good thing about the slow process in this case is that it allowed time for the new prayer of reconciliation to be drafted. If the old prayer had been expunged immediately in 2016, this would never have happened. Furthermore, simply deleting the old prayer would be no cause for celebration because, as you say, its so overdue. But with the new prayer we witnessed a wonderful celebration at GS 2019 and an outpouring of heartfelt appreciation from the Jewish community, including this article from Rabbi Stein. So although the process was slow and difficult, it was surely worth it.

  3. As a practicing Anglican and member of Christ Church Cathedral Vancouver, I stopped in on that summer day during the 2019 General Synod. I was there to deliver the alter linens which I volunteer to launder and iron.
    It was awesome to see such a large group of Leaders at our church, discussing historical changes for the Anglican Church that would affect the world.
    I had no idea at that time, that there was discussion and voting happening, in respect to the prayer for conversion of the Jews. Theres is no word to describe the necessity to remove this anti semite prayer from our prayer book.
    The joy and relief I feel that the prayer would be changed to focus upon reconciliation with Jews, was overwhelming.
    It was my Jewish sister who was spending several months in Israel supporting her daughter, my niece, with the birth of her second baby son, who brought this historic good news to my attention.
    I am grateful and proud of the collaborative work that was done at the Synod, and in my home church.
    Having spent two thirds of my life with a blended family of Jews and Christians, both sides active and true to their faith, I am deeply grateful for the world, and my own family.
    I think it is poignant that my sister shared the news with me from Jerusalem, after she learned about it when reading the news from a Vancouver Jewish news article.
    God Bless us all.

  4. “…if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”
    That’s from 2 Corinthians.
    “…that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
    That’s from Philippians.
    “Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.”
    And that’s from 1 John.
    So is your argument coming from God or from men? We should not be ashamed to proclaim the Word. Enough of this mealy-mouthed Anglicanism.

  5. ‘The pride of your heart has deceived you’ (Obadiah 3)
    ‘Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you,’ (Obadiah 10)

    ‘God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.’ (Romans 11:2)
    ‘But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.’ (Romans 11:17-18)

  6. Obadiah is directed against the Edomites for assisting the Babylonians in the plundering of Judea. Romans is written to the Gentiles. To expand on your quotation, “…if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.” And “…how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!” And “…they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith.”
    What means this “if they do not persist in unbelief”? What means this “grafted into their own…tree”? What means this “faith”? Paul again: “…faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” There is a group called ‘Jews for Jesus’. It doesn’t seem anti-Semitic to me.
    I’d like to know how those of our Jewish friends who don’t accept Jesus as the Messiah explain our story of Jesus’ life and crucifixion. Are we considered idolators for daring to claim a “Son of God”. I know it’s a failing in Islam, called “shirk”. Is it the same thing called “shituf” in Hebrew? We’re not even supposed to be called ‘Rabbi’.
    My concern stems from Paul’s concern: “As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake” (Rom 11:28). What is our gospel? That Jesus is the Christ. Can the Jewish religion come to terms with that fact or are we wrong to claim it? That’s the crux (sorry) of the argument for me, whether we’re wrong to claim that Jesus is the Christ?
    That said, I encourage you to read Lawrence Kushner’s book about midrash on Jacob’s dream, or the story about Hillel and the would-be converts. Spinoza and Einstein are good too.

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