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Pioneers in the United Kingdom - A Positive Beginning
In Britain relations between Christians and Jews have been influenced by many varied interests, events and phenomena. All of them probably contributed in some way to the dramatic change in the Roman Catholic Church's understanding of her relationship with Judaism which emerged during the Second Vatican Council. Some individuals have been 'leaders', 'pioneers' in this movement, though not all of them were active at the Second Vatican Council. This article cannot claim to cover this area exhaustively or even adequately. The subject would require and merit much more thorough research.
Probably the antisemitism in European and British society in the nineteen-thirties and forties and the efforts to counteract it, gave rise to the urge for Judaism to be understood as Jews themselves explain it. All the complex factors and the many manifestations of prejudice also needed to be explained and corrected. Even before this date some remarkable pioneering work by Jewish scholars on the Gospels and the New Testament appeared. Claude C. Montefiorc published The Synoptic Gospels (1909) and his colleague, Israel Abrahams, Reader in rabbinic and talmudic literature at Cambridge University from 1902 until his death, published Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels (1" and 2' series 1917, 1924). At this time many Christian scholars depicted Judaism at the time of Jesus as decayed. arid and as a barren legalism against which Jesus battled and suffered, and the Pharisees as those who added restrictions and burdens on the poor, which burdens they were unwilling to assume themselves, thus meriting the title "hypocrites" which the New Testament applies to them. The "Studies" of Israel Abrahams are notes on some Gospel passages and concepts, which were originally meant to be an "appendix" to Montefiore's Commentary on the Gospels. Abrahams was convinced that what was needed "to lessen the needless and too often perverse hostility between sons and daughters of a common father was exposition and not polemics, not controversy but balanced discussion of the New Testament." He wanted to help Christians understand certain phrases of the Gospels which only a real understanding of Jewish tradition could supply. He warned both Jews and Christians of two temptations; for Christians: to darken the colours in which they draw the picture of contemporaries and opponents of Jesus; for Jews: to minimize the originality of one certainly the foundation stone of Christianity (if not the founder).
Another name should be mentioned in this context - the Christian scholar R. Travers Herford. He published studies on Rabbinic Judaism and the Pharisees to present a sympathetic and objective view of the Judaism of the New Testament and the early Christian centuries to Christians.
Herbert Loewe was another colleague and contemporary of C.C. Montefiore. He was, like Israel Abrahams, Reader in Rabbinics at Cambridge and he co-operated with Montefiore to publish A Rabbinic Anthology, which made Jewish tradition available to those to whom direct access to these sources was not possible. He has been called "a Saint of the Torah". He was always ready to co-operate with Christians and often invited theological students to share the Sabbath meal at his home or celebrate a festival with his family. I personally remember my New Testament Professor recalling his visits and his gratitude for this first hand contact with the Jewish way of life when he was a student at Cambridge.
These early steps laid a sure foundation for real understanding and appreciation of the Jewish-Christian relationship. In 1924 Professor Emslie questioned the policy of the Church of England's Jewish Committee. A small sub-committee was set up to discuss the lack of understanding between Jews and Christians. In the same year the Social Service Committee of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue convened a meeting of Jews and Christians about their relationship. This led in 1927 to the establishment of the London Society of Jews and Christians.
James W. Parkes (1896-1981) gave the whole of his adult life to fighting antisemitism. He is known and esteemed internationally for his prodigious scholarly writings and the library he created at his home in Barley. This is known as The Parkes Library and since the mid 1960's has been part of the Hartley Institute at Southampton University. The Centre for the Study of Jewish/non-Jewish Relations at the Parkes Library, with it scholars, publications, research projects and programme, is a permanent testimony to this great pioneer. James Parkes, who was an ordained Anglican priest, became aware of and was appalled by the antisemitism in Continental Europe. He was at that time working as International Secretary of the Student Christian Service in Geneva (1928-1935) and spent much time and effort helping Jewish students fond places at safe universities. Against great odds he organized conferences where Jewish and non-Jewish (even fascist) students could discuss together in a secure environment. This activity made him aware that there was no non-Jewish scholar in Europe capable of speaking knowledgeably and objectively about Judaism. From this came his determination to become a scholar. At the same time the need to research the history of the Church's relationship with Judaism resulted in his doctoral thesis The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue: A Study in the Origins of Antisemitism (published 1934). His life-long study of Antisemitism produced numerous publications which included: The Jew and his Neighbour (1930), End of an Era: Israel, Jews and the Gentile World (1954), The Foundations of Judaism and Christianity (1960), A History of the Jewish People (1963), Antisemitism (1964), Prelude to Dialogue: Jewish-Christian Relationships (1969), Whose Land: A History of the Peoples of Palestine (1971) and 28 pamphlets and lectures. He also published works of a different genre under the pseudonym of John Hadam.
It was his insight into the nature and practice of Judaism, his friendship with many Jews as well as his knowledge of Christian anti-Judaism that convinced him of the validity of Judaism as a revealed and salvifie religion. He therefore worked for a Christian theology that left room for Judaism and rejected any Christian mission to Jews. Thus long before the Second Vatican Council James Parkes was raising questions that are still controversial in some Christian circles.
Although his literary output was phenomenal James Parkes was not a dry academic. Hospitality at his charming home at Barley was generous and undiscriminating. He involved himself not only in village affairs but in the urgent social needs of the time especially with refugees and the overcoming of prejudice. He also exercised a pastoral ministry within the Church of England when he could. All this can be read in his autobiography.(1) He was called a contemporary of W.W. Simpson and their paths often crossed in their work to foster Jewish-Christian relations. He also met and admired Sr. Charlotte Klein. The same concerns were also fundamental in the life and work of these two pioneers and have remained so for subsequent Jewish-Christian relations: Antisemitism; Understanding Judaism; Cleansing Christian Teaching of Anti-Judaism; a new Christian theology that leaves room for Judaism and rejects missionary activity aimed at Jews. These three Christians from different traditions forged the way forward to transform Jewish-Christian understanding. Their work certainly influenced the Second Vatican Council and progress in this direction is continuing.
W. W. Simpson (1907-1987)
W. W. Simpson came into contact with Jews at school, at university and at theological college. As a Methodist minister he worked in North London where there was an Orthodox Hassidic Community. However, as a trainee minister he had already become uneasy about the approach of various Christian missions to Jews. With the encouragement of his Methodist authorities he spent two years studying Judaism and contemporary Jewish problems at Jews' College, the seminary for training Orthodox Jewish rabbis in London. He was therefore well endowed for his work with refugees from Nazi Germany.
The antisemitic measures of the Nazis aroused awareness of the terrible plight of the Jewish people and brought many refugees to Britain, but there were always obstacles in the way. Committees of Jews and Christians were formed: The Refugee Children's Movement and the Christian Council for Refugees were well known. Names associated with these movements are Mrs. Norman Bentwich, Viscount Samuel, Rev. Henry Carter (Methodist), Dr. George Bell (Bishop of Chichester) and Rev. W. W. Simpson.
As early as 1939 Bill (as he was known to his friends) wrote about Christian responsibility for Jewish suffering and the history of Christian antisemitism tie recognized the urgency of educating Christians about this history. Like James Parkes Bill Simpson realized from his earliest years that to improve their relationship with the Jewish people Christians needed to know and appreciate Judaism, the history of antisemitism with an acknowledgment of Christian responsibility for it, and to reject any Christian missionizing of Jews. His life bears witness to these convictions.
W. W. Simpson was involved in the first tentative steps towards the founding of the Council of Christians and Jews in 1941 and became joint secretary in 1942 on its formation with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Moderator of the Free Church Federal Council and the Chief Rabbi as joint Presidents and later the Archbishop of Westminster. Bill Simpson remained General Secretary of the Council until 1974. He was incredibly patient, diplomatic and hopeful in the midst of the many difficulties that arose in controversial events and from different outlooks. The work of the Council developed under his leadership in the fields of education, breaking down prejudice and fostering relationships between the two communities. The reader is referred to Children of One God for further details. (2) He also played a leading role in broadening the work of the Council on the international plane, becoming the first Secretary of the International Council of Christians and Jews.
During the regrettable period (1954-1962) when Cardinal Griffin, Archbishop of Westminster, on instructions from Rome, withdrew from the Council, W. W. Simpson took great pains to keep in touch with Roman Catholics sympathetic to CCJ, keeping them informed and trying to win back Catholic support. He co-operated with the efforts of some Catholics to develop Catholic-Jewish relations in their Church For example an annual conference for Jews and Christians was held for some years at the Dominican Conference Centre, Spode House, organized with the support of CCJ but not in its name by Rev. E. Hill, OP together with some lay people and the Sisters of Sion. When Cardinal Heenan announced the return of Catholic participation W. W. Simpson wholeheartedly welcomed and fostered this. He followed the deliberations of the Second Vatican Council closely, always willing to welcome the "experts" on their way to the Council, ready with advice and support to Catholics when it was needed and he helped to make the Declaration Nostra Aetate known and understood.
Bill was a gifted communicator. He was often heard on the radio and wrote numerous articles in periodicals and newspapers. His publications include: Youth and Antisemaism, Mini Commentary on the Pentateuch, Light and Rejoicing: A Christian's Understanding of Jewish Worship, Jesus in the Background of History (with A. I. Polack).
The contribution of W. W. Simpson to developing Jewish-Christian relations cannot be exaggerated. He dedicated his life to this work and seemed to be a born reconciler. With wisdom, learning, humanity and faith he steered the Council of Christians and Jews in its first decades so that it has become a recognized force in Britain and beyond for its work in promoting understanding and harmony. The Queen awarded him an OBE (3) in 1967.
Charlotte Klein (1915-1985)
Charlotte Klein was born in Berlin and brought up in a pious Orthodox Jewish home. She was a headstrong, passionate, impulsive personality with a great zest for life. As she grew to adolescence she threw off religious observance whenever she could. However, the catastrophic Nazi regime came to power and the Klein family left Germany for Palestine (as it was then known). Antisemitism was thus a personal experience for her.
After becoming a Christian and joining the Sisters of Sion in Jerusalem, Charlotte Klein rediscovered the beauty and truth of Judaism and became aware of the teaching of contempt for Judaism in Christian teaching and the history of antisemitism in the Church. Writing her doctorate thesis for London University on "The image of the Jew in German and English Fiction and Drama 1833-1933," she strove to overcome antisemitism wherever she encountered it and published articles on antisemitism in English society, on the Vatican and antisemitism and anti-Zionism, on ritual murder and the Dreyfus Affair. A gifted teacher and linguist she became known internationally as a lecturer in Germany, Italy, Belgium, North America and taught at universities in England, Germany and the United States.
However, her most important work was within the Church. It can be divided into four main areas: 1) Overcoming Christian Anti-Judaism; 2) Fostering a true image of Judaism among Christians; 3) Encouraging Jewish-Christian Dialogue; 4) Promoting a new theology of the Jewish-Christian relationship.
In 1962, with the encouragement of her Order, she founded the Study Centre for Christian-Jewish Relations, the aim of which was to foster a better understanding of Judaism and the Jewish-Christian relationship in the Church. As well as a specialized library an educational programme was launched. A series of pamphlets explaining the Jewish roots of Christianity and those texts of the Gospels that have been difficult for Jewish-Christian relations were published as well as a commentary on the Sunday lectionary. She followed closely the deliberations of the Vatican Council, briefing Cardinal Heenan who was a member of the Vatican Secretariat responsible for the Declaration on relations with Judaism. During and after the Council she wrote articles and gave lectures under both Jewish and Christian auspices explaining aspects of Nostra Aetate. She was instrumental in setting up the Bishops' Commission to Implement the Declaration and was a founder member of the London Rainbow Group. Her lecture tours in Germany led to the foundation of the first house of Sion there.
Her experience of teaching at St. Georgen in Frankfurt motivated her to publish her book Anti-Judaism in Christian Theology (first published in German and later in English).(4) As well as the pamphlets of the Study Centre she published in various journals 47 articles in English, 4 in German, 1 in Italian and I in Swedish. Although well known for her research into antiscmitism and for forging a new relationship between the Church and the Jewish people, it became more and more apparent to her that the latter raised questions for Christian self-understanding. It seemed imperative that theologians take seriously the questions posed to the Church's theology by Judaism. She wrote briefly on this question herself. After her death, as a fitting tribute to her, a conference of theologians on Christology and Religious Pluralism was organized. Some of the proceedings have been published.'
Charlotte Klein, James Parkes and W.W. Simpson knew each other and were friends. They worked within their different Christian traditions and in a wider context in what can be called their vocation. Each of them understood and loved Judaism and had many Jewish friends and colleagues. They exposed the "teaching of contempt for Judaism" in Christian teaching and did much to correct it. They worked within the Church to create a theology that recognized Judaism as a way to God for Jews without the need of Christianity and therefore rejected Christian mission to Jews. This work is not yet completed and others have taken up this challenge. Their endeavors have borne much fruit - relations between the Churches and the Jewish people have moved forward and new tasks and opportunities lie ahead.
Many other names should be recorded here: Rev. Peter Schneider, Canon of the Anglican Church who worked for mutual understanding and reconciliation between Jews and Christians both in Israel and Britain. He founded the Jerusalem and London Rainbow Groups as well as the Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity in Israel. He was secretary to the advisers of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York on interfaith matters.
Other names which can only be mentioned are Bishop George Appleton who as Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem promoted a new attitude among Christians there and also during his ministry in England. Christopher Hollis, Rev. T. Corbishley S.J., Rev. Graham Jenkins were all members of the first Commission on Catholic-Jewish Relations set up by Cardinal Heenan after the Vatican Council. Each one did much to foster this relationship through their writings, lectures and their professional work. Among Jewish names mention should be made of Albert I. Polack, Education Officer at the CCJ, who died recently. A survivor from the Holocaust his outstanding contribution to the interfaith movement in England remains an inspiration. Their memory is indeed a blessing!
Hedwig Wahle is a Sister of Sion and member of the SIDIC staff She was founder of the Information Centre for Christian Jewish Understanding (IDCIV) in Vienna and active in Christian-Jewish Dialogue in Austria for 30 years.
1. Voyage of Discoveries, London, Victor Gollancz, 1969.
2. Marcus Braybrooke, Children of One God: .4 History of the Council of Christians and Jews, Vallentine Mitchell, 1991.
3 The Order of the British Empire.
4. Charlotte Klein, Theologic rind Anti-Judaismus, Munchen, Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1975; Anti-Judaism in Christian Theolaiy, S.P.C.K. (London), Fortress Press (Philadelphia), 1978.