Church to offer ‘act of repentance’ over historic antisemitism

Jewish groups welcomed the move


Bible open at the book of John inside an Anglican Church of England church. The focus is on the foreground of the bible, while in the background, defocused, are the pews and arches of the historic eighteenth century building. Horizontal colour image with copy space.

Jewish groups have welcomed plans from Anglican leaders to offer an “act of repentance” next year over antisemitic church laws passed 800 years ago.

The Church of England has previously grappled with its historic role in fuelling anti-Jewish racism, publishing its God’s Unfailing Word report on the issue in 2019. 

It is now considering plans to hold a service next year with the Council of Christians and Jews to commemorate 800 years since the 1222 Synod of Oxford. 

The meeting held near Oxford in 1222 infamously saw church leaders passing a number of antisemitic edicts, including one requiring Jewish people in medieval England wear a badge.  

Jews were later expelled from England in 1290 until their readmission in 1656.

The Bishop of Lichfield, Rev Dr Michael Ipgrave, described the anniversary as an “opportunity for a local expression of repentance”.

Dave Rich, director of policy at the Community Security Trust, said the Church of England’s message of solidarity came amid rising antisemitism.

He said: “The phrase ‘better late than never’ is truly appropriate here. The historic trauma of medieval English antisemitism can never be erased and its legacy survives today – for example, through the persistence of the ‘blood libel’ allegation that was invented in this country.

“It is important that the Church has finally recognised their historic role in this; but perhaps more important is the message of solidarity and support for the Jewish community at a time of rising antisemitism today.”

Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl said: “We appreciate this suggestion, particularly if planned in conjunction with the Council of Christians and Jews.

"This would follow in the spirit of the Church of England’s recent publication 'God’s Unfailing Word', and we continue to be very encouraged at all the work which has been done together in recent years in order to promote Christian-Jewish solidarity and understanding - something that our co-religionists from many centuries ago could never have dreamt would ever be achieved."

The issue of the anniversary's legacy came to the fore after a question from a Church of England lay member in Chichester ahead of the denomination's General Synod that ended on Monday.

The member, Jacob Vince, noted that the antisemitic edicts had "heightened antisemitic feeling and led to the first nationwide expulsion of all Jews from England in 1290.

"In light of rapidly worsening antisemitism in the UK in recent months, might the 800th anniversary next year be an opportune moment for the Church of England to consider making a formal break with these historic prejudices as a gesture of solidarity with our Jewish neighbours, England’s oldest ethnic minority" he said.

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