Praying for the conversion of the Jews

Iyov, who seems to have been known to me before as an anonymous commenter on various blogs, has exploded on to the blogging scene in his own right and with a new pseudonym: he has written 45 posts in less than a month since he started his blog. Some of his posts are long and technical, but he has some interesting insights on the Christian scene from a perspective very different from mine. He is clearly a knowledgeable academic, but his real name and identity remain secret.

In one of four long posts yesterday Iyov asks whether the reintroduction of the Tridentine Mass is good for the Jews. The issue here is with the prayer in the Good Friday liturgy “for the conversion of the Jews.” I must say I fail to see what the problem is with this. But perhaps this depends on exactly what is meant by “conversion”.

For a start, this must be much less objectionable than the kinds of curses on Christians which are found in some Jewish prayers.

Adherents of every religion believes that its teaching is correct, and that other religions offer at most part of the truth mixed with some error. I hope it is the desire of all that others will find more of the truth. Certainly many Jews desire Christians to understand better the truth of Judaism, and they probably also pray for it. So it is hypocritical of them to complain about Christians praying that Jews will come to understand the truth as they themselves understand it – specifically that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah and the Son of God.

But is that what prayer for the conversion of the Jews means? Is the problem rather that this prayer is in fact understood as a prayer that the Jews will also become Catholics in religious practice and culture? If so, I suspect that there is a misunderstanding here. The Roman Catholic Church has always accepted liturgical diversity among the oriental churches in communion with it, such as the Maronite church in Lebanon and the Holy Land. Similarly it should, and in principle will, accept that Jews who accept Christian doctrine can have their own church structures and their own practices – which might look rather like those of “Messianic Jews”, Jews who accept Christian teaching in a Jewish cultural setting. This should be, and indeed is, much less offensive to Jews than the idea of expecting them to become good western style Catholics.

The problem is, can this kind of diversity be reconciled with the catholicity of the church? Metacatholic Doug is quite reasonably concerned about this, and so has reservations about the whole concept of Messianic Jews. The solution that I see is that we must find the catholicity of the church not in terms of common culture or religious practices, but in a common faith and a common mission.

So we must hope and pray not that Jews, whether secular ethnic Jews or adherents of Judaism, will come to share our Christian culture and worship practices, but that, without being forced to abandon their Jewishness, they will accept our faith in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, and will join us Gentile Christians in our mission to proclaim this to the world. This is what most if not all Messianic Jews are keen to do. In so far as they do not cut themselves off from the faith and the mission of the church, we should welcome them as our fellow believers. And we should hope and pray that more and more Jews will join their number.

0 thoughts on “Praying for the conversion of the Jews

  1. You raise many provocative points here — more than I can address at the moment. Let me just clear up one misunderstanding right off the bat, though:

    For a start, this must be much less objectionable than the kinds of curses on Christians which are found in some Jewish prayers.

    I fear that this is an aspect of the Jewish liturgy that I am not familiar with. While there are various prayers asking for the benefit of Israel and the coming of the Messianic era I have not heard any curses on Christians (indeed, I haven’t seen any reference to Christians ever in Jewish liturgy) or on Gentiles in general. In contrast, the idea of the “righteous Gentile” is central to Jewish belief. There are prayers (taken from Biblical passages) that declare that in the day of the Messiah — all nations will realize the glory of God — because, after all, He is a light unto all nations.

    There is a halachic ruling that putting curses on anyone is forbidden. (Some disregard this ruling, unfortunately, but it cannot be a normative practice to disregard this ruling.)

    (Now, of course, there is a large exception to this — there is a commandment to remember and destroy Amalek. However, another rabbinic ruling teaches that Amalek has become intermixed with all nations, so there are no more Amalekites.)

    Of course, there are ignorant and bigoted individual Jews — but I believe that they are the exception rather than the rule.

    And in any case, one must admit that the one team here has a lot more players than the other team.

  2. Iyov, the prayer I have in mind is the Birkat ha-Minim (text here), part of the Amidah, which in its original form was a curse against “the sectarians”, generally understood to be early Jewish Christians. It seems that in the form in current general use “the sectarians” has been replaced by “the slanderers” (malshinim), whoever might be intended by this. But this prayer is unambiguously a curse.

  3. Well, the prayer as it has come down to us (since medieval times) refers to malshinim (“the informers”), so the claim that this is a currently used curse against Christians is certainly false. Was the passage once in another form? There is a reference to “Minim” in Tractate Berachos which some 19th century commentators read as “Jewish Christians” but this identification has been hotly disputed — the usual translation today is “heretics”. And finally, the form of this passage is not a curse but a “benediction.”

  4. And for slanderers [sectarians] let there be no hope, and may all the evil in an instant be destroyed and all Thy enemies be cut down swiftly; and the evil ones uproot and break and destroy and humble soon in out days.

    Is this a blessing or a curse?

    I realise that in this area we have to be careful what we read on the Internet, as there are unreliable anti-Semitic sites out there. But the Encyclopedia Judaica is hardly such a source, and there I read:

    Under Rabban Gamaliel II (first century C.E.) this prayer was invoked against the Judeo-Christian and Gnostic sects and other heretics who were called by the general term min (plural minim).

    So it is not an anti-Semitic invention that Jews cursed Jewish Christians in their prayers. And this article suggests that the Sephardi ritual still includes this prayer explicitly directed at minim who certainly seemed to include Jewish Christians.

    I say this not to stir up anti-Jewish feeling. It is for Jews to decide their own prayers, and it is better to pray against those who leave their religion than to murder them. I simply want to note the hypocrisy of Jews and Christians who object to the prayer for the conversion of the Jews.

  5. I’m sorry, Peter, I don’t believe you actually read my comment. Did I use the phrase “anti-Semitic”?

    I might add that your quotation of the Encyclopedia Judaica article (which is revised in the second edition) is selective. If you read the entire article you will see that (a) it was directed at Jews who collaborated with the Syrian-Hellenistic oppression [which, of course, predates it to the time before Jesus]; (b) later was changed to reference the Sadducees; (c) was used under Gamaliel 2 against all heretics; (d) comes down to us in the middle ages against the informers; (e) was read by Maimonides as being against heretics.

    In short; it is not a prayer said against Christians — (which none of the sources you have cited have claimed — even the most extreme have only claimed it concerned “Jewish Christian” — a species that no longer exists, thanks to Paul.)

    I should be most surprised if any Jew had in mind Christians at the recitation of this prayer.

    When you posted your original comment, I had assumed you had in mind the Aleinu — you can read the controversy about that in Wikipedia — this is the usual charge of anti-Christianity in Jewish prayer. However, the verse in question is from Isaiah 45:20 and is believed to have been included in Jewish liturgy before the Christian era.

    Here is my comment again, which I stand by:

    Well, the prayer as it has come down to us (since medieval times) refers to malshinim (”the informers”), so the claim that this is a currently used curse against Christians is certainly false. Was the passage once in another form? There is a reference to “Minim” in Tractate Berachos which some 19th century commentators read as “Jewish Christians” but this identification has been hotly disputed — the usual translation today is “heretics”. And finally, the form of this passage is not a curse but a “benediction.”

  6. No, Iyov, you did not mention “anti-Semitic”, but I wanted to head off the possible claim by you or others that I was relying on anti-Semitic sources.

    “Jewish Christian” — a species that no longer exists, thanks to Paul

    You may have objections to the Messianic Jewish movement, but you can hardly claim that it does not exist! Messianic Jews are ethnic Jews who are also Christians (even if they prefer not to use the word). There are also a significant number of ethnic Jews in regular churches. Just because these people are not observant religious Jews, it does not mean that they are no longer Jews at all, while also being Christians.

    And if the number of Jewish Christians is small, it is not at all thanks to Paul, who always preached first to Jews and tried to persuade them of Christian truth, even as late as his imprisonment in Rome. Do not fall into the ancient error of Marcion in presenting Paul as the anti-Jewish founder of a completely new religion.

    Thank you for the link to the Aleinu, which I accept is not intended to refer to Christians, although some Christians put themselves in danger of this biblical curse by venerating idolatrous images.

  7. Frankly, I am not an expert on the “Messianic Jewish” movement. From what little I have heard, I do not think it corresponds to the “Jewish Christians” described in the Pauline letters — for example, they do not observe the 613 commandments or engage in serious study of Judaism.

    As I understand it (again, my source is the Pauline letters) the “Jewish Christians”, like Jesus, kept the commandments. Perhaps, like the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels, they engaged in Pharisaic-style exegesis.

  8. OK, Iyov, I see what you mean, those who are called “Judaizers” or “the circumcision party”. Yes, they ceased to exist, at least as a coherent party, in Paul’s time or soon after. But I suspect that the ones cursed by Gamaliel II, grandson of Paul’s teacher Gamaliel I, were not this particular party of those who kept the Law, a party already in the past in his time, but those Jews who had abandoned the Law for the Christian faith and who were still in existence in his time. Maybe they were the proto-Ebionites. But the history of Jewish Christianity in those days is obscure, and it is unlikely that the prayer was directed only at one specific group.

  9. Pingback: Speaker of Truth » Fullness of redemption is found in Jesus Christ

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*
To prove you're a person (not a spam script), type the security word shown in the picture. Click on the picture to hear an audio file of the word.
Anti-spam image