After 800 years, Church of England apologizes to Jews for laws that led to expulsion
Special service, attended by UK chief rabbi, marks anniversary of Synod of Oxford, aims to inspire Christians to reject contemporary antisemitism, archbishop of Canterbury says
The Church of England on Sunday apologized for anti-Jewish laws that were passed 800 years ago and eventually led to the expulsion of Jews from the kingdom for hundreds of years.
A special service held at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford was attended by Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and representatives of Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to mark the Synod of Oxford, passed in 1222.
The synod forbade social interactions between Jews and Christians, placed a specific tithe on Jews, and required them to wear an identifying badge. They were also banned from some professions and from building new synagogues. The decrees were followed by more anti-Jewish laws, and eventually the mass expulsion of England’s 3,000 Jews of the time in 1290.
It would be another 360 years before Jews were permitted to return.
“Today’s service is an opportunity to remember, repent and rebuild,” Welby tweeted. “Let us pray it inspires Christians today to reject contemporary forms of anti-Judaism and antisemitism and to appreciate and receive the gift of our Jewish neighbors.”
“Our intention is for this commemoration to be a strong signal of such rich potential, reflected in the depth of interfaith encounter and service that increasingly exists in Oxford and across our society,” the Diocese of Oxford said in a statement last month ahead of the event.
The service was live-streamed on the internet.
Though the Church of England was formed in the 1500s when Henry VIII broke away from the pope, the Roman Catholic church was “fully in accord” with the apology. Jonathan Chaffey, archdeacon of Oxford, told the UK’s Guardian newspaper in a Sunday report.
He said the time had come for Christians to repent for their “shameful actions” and “reframe positively” their relations with the Jewish community.
Jews were readmitted to England by Oliver Cromwell in 1656.
Tony Kushner, professor of Jewish/non-Jewish relations at Southampton University, explained to the Guardian that, though the Church of England was not around at the time of the Synod of Oxford, “it regards itself as the leading voice of Christianity in Britain today” and, therefore, “the apology has some merit in recognizing injustices that were done.”
The church has taken steps to cultivate goodwill with British Jews in recent years.
In 2019, it released a document titled “God’s Unfailing Word” that outlined the importance of the Christian-Jewish relationship and acknowledged that centuries of Christian antisemitism in Europe laid the foundation for the Holocaust. At the time, England’s chief rabbi, Mirvis, said the document represented a step forward, but fell short because it did not reject the church’s history of seeking to convert Jews.