Apology, 800 years later, for laws that expelled Jews from England | Anglicanism

The Church of England must apologize for its “shameful actions” in passing anti-Jewish laws 800 years ago that paved the way for the expulsion of Jews from England.

A special service at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford on Sunday, marking the 800th anniversary of the Oxford Synod, will be attended by Ephraim Mirvis, the chief rabbi, with representatives from the Archbishop of Canterbury and a Roman Catholic bishop.

The synod passed laws prohibiting social interaction between Jews and Christians, requiring Jews to wear identification badges, imposing church tithes on them, and prohibiting them from certain professions. They were also forbidden to build new synagogues.

By the end of the 13th century, further measures prohibited Jews from owning land and passing inheritance on to their children. Hundreds were arrested, hanged or imprisoned.

Eventually, all of England’s Jews – around 3,000 – were expelled under an edict in 1290 by King Edward I. They were not allowed to return for over 360 years.

The Church of England was not created until the 1530s, when Henry VIII separated from the Pope. Nonetheless, it was now right for Christians to repent of their “shameful acts” and “positively reframe” relations with the Jewish community, said Jonathan Chaffey, Archdeacon of Oxford. The Roman Catholic Church was “fully in agreement” with the apology, he added.

The move follows a 2019 document produced by the Church of England which said Christian attitudes towards Judaism over the centuries had provided “fertile breeding ground for murderous anti-Semitism”. Anglicans and other Christians must not only repent of “past sins” but also actively challenge anti-Jewish attitudes and stereotypes, the document says.

Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. Photograph: Michael Foley/Alamy

He acknowledged that Norwich and Lincoln cathedrals were associated with the spread of “blood libel” in the late Middle Ages, when Jewish communities were falsely accused of abducting and killing Christian children.

But the church’s efforts to take responsibility for the persecution of Jews have been blunted by the chief rabbi’s scathing criticism of the continued “specific targeting” of Jews for conversion to Christianity. Some Christians saw Jews as “a career to pursue and convert,” he said.

The document went no further than urging Christians to “think carefully” about evangelizing their Jewish neighbors, and saying that Christians should be “sensitive to Jewish fears.”

Tony Kushner, professor of Jewish/non-Jewish relations at the University of Southampton, said: “This is the hardest step for the church. Accepting that the blood libels, massacres and expulsions were wrong is simple…accepting that the Jews have a valid religion is more difficult.

The apology for the Oxford Synod reflected “concerns about contemporary anti-Semitism” and was part of a wider reassessment of ideas and heritage, including slavery, he said.

“The C of E did not exist [at the time of the Synod of Oxford] so he apologizes for things he wasn’t responsible for. But if he sees himself as the leading voice of Christianity in Britain today, then the apology has the merit of acknowledging the injustices that have been committed.

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