Chief Rabbi hails 'important step' for improved Jewish-Christian relations in Scotland

A new glossary to define key faith terms has been unveiled


Sir Ephraim Yitzchak Mirvis KBE, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. Byline John Nguyen/JNVisuals 02/01/2022

The Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis has hailed a new document on Jewish-Christian relations produced jointly with the Church of Scotland as an “important step forward”.

The 85-page Jewish-Christian Glosssary marks the progress made from a decade ago when a previous paper issued by the Church that challenged the Jewish claim to Israel caused an outcry among the Jewish community.

Writing in the foreword of the new Glossary, Sir Ephraim - who is due to address the Church of Scotland Assembly on Wednesday - referred to “a valuable advance between our respective communities”.

He wrote, “While we still have a long road to travel to understand each other more fully, and especially to better comprehend our theological approaches to Land and Covenant, an important step forward has now been taken.”

The Reverend Sally Foster-Fulton, Moderator of the Church of Scotland, acknowledged that “great hurt was caused to the Jewish community” by the previous paper - entitled The Inheritance of Abraham? - in 2013.

“We have chosen to find new ways to bring ourselves closer, we have chosen to sit side by side and discuss, not only what unites us, but to engage with what potentially divides,” she said. “That is a brave outworking of love in real life, and it is being a blessing to the nations.”

The new Glossary - compiled by a group of Orthodox rabbis and ministers of the Church -  looks at the understanding of key terms such as Chosen People, Covenant and Israel from both Jewish and Christian perspectives.

In particular, it addresses the thorny issue of supersesssionism - the belief that God’s promises to the Jewish people have been replaced by a new covenant with the Church.

According to the Christian commentary in the new Glossary,  “supersessionism must be overcome within Christianity to make clear that all of God’s promises are eternal. To make a different claim would be both a major obstacle for reconciliation between Jews and Christians, it would also be theologically wrong.

“Christians must do more to recognise and respect the unique and separate existence of Judaism’s relationship with God both past, present and future…”

Christians, the document also says, “need to empathise and listen more to Jewish connections with the land [of Israel] and the complex and deep ways that this subject connects to Jewish history, emotion, identity, autonomy, safety etc”.

The document also notes, “When it comes to Christians focusing their energies on advocacy for Palestinians, they can often forget that Jews live as a vulnerable minority outside Israel and within Israel still live with numerous security concerns. In our universal message of justice and peace we can sometimes ignore the humanity of Jews and Israelis in order to emphasise the humanity and needs of Palestinians.”

Describing The Inheritance of Abraham? as “a direct example of supersessionist thinking”, it adds that  “the central importance of the land in Judaism and Jewish thinking needs to be recognised and understood within the Church of Scotland”.

The Jewish commentary on the document warns,  “If there is no place in Christian theology, and more specifically here Church of Scotland theology to understand a Jewish connection to the Land of Israel, this approach will quickly be connected with other approaches against Zionism that are understood to be sometimes antisemitic.”

It says that “looking at Zionist aspirations as ‘colonialist’ would be considered a misreading of Jewish history and an affront to Judaism”.

The joint directors of the Council of Christians and Jews, the Reverend Nathan Eddy and Georgina Bye welcomed the “side by side” approach adopted in the new document, “highlighting the importance of dialogue, deep listening and acceptance of difference. We hope the glossary goes some way to rebuilding relationships and can serve as a starting point for future Jewish - Christian conversations.”

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