JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN LITURGICAL COLLABORATION?

BY REV. ROGER TOMES, CJS FELLOW

 

SECTIONS

Introduction
1. What Jews and Christians have in common
2. Where Jews and Christians diverge
3. Attempts to marry Jewish and Christian liturgy
4. Possibilities of collaboration

 

APPENDIX

1. Seek ye first
2. Benedictions before and after reciting Shema‘
3. ’Amidah or Eighteen Benedictions
4. The Lord’s Prayer
5. Psalm 72
Isaac Watts, The Psalms of David Imitated (1719)

6. Prayer said on certain Mondays and Thursdays
7. ’Avinu malkenu (‘Our Father, our King’) said during the Ten Days of Penitence
8. Half-kaddish
9. Gloria in excelsis
10. Magnificat
11. Blessing before reading from Prophets
12. Blessing after reading Psalms
13. Sanctus and Benedictus qui venit
14. Benedictus
15. From a draft eucharistic prayer (United Reformed Church)
16. Prayers for Pardon (Bishop of Salford)
17. Prayer for Inter-Faith Meetings
18. Jubilate
19. You shall go out with joy

 

 

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN LITURGICAL COLLABORATION? 

 

(Figures in bold type refer to the extracts at the end of the paper; references to theAuthorised Daily Prayer Book (ADPB) are to the second revised edition of 1962.)

‘Can Jews and Christians pray together?’ This is a question which has arisen more generally in relation to interfaith meetings: in 1983 the then British Council of Churches produced a small booklet entitled Can we pray together? Guidelines on Worship in a Multi-faith Society. At about the same time my own church, the United Reformed Church, was holding a series of bilateral residential meetings with Jews on the one hand and with Sikhs on the other. Each day at these meetings we had a joint act of worship. My impression was that it was much easier for Sikhs and Christians to worship together than it was for Jews and Christians. The Christians had no problem when Hugo Gryn used prayers from the Reform Synagogues prayer book, but we noticed that when Norman Solomon’s turn came he was happy to give an exposition of Torah but not to say a prayer, and when one of the Christians proposed that we should sing a chorus based on words of Jesus (1) there was intense embarrassment on both sides. My question therefore is: why is it so difficult? No one would want to challenge the conviction that Jews and Christians worship the same God; in the Hebrew Bible we share a common Scripture; our patterns of worship are more similar than those of any two other religions. So why the inhibitions?

I should like first to look more closely at what Jews and Christians have in common; then to look at some of the divergences which may stand in the way of collaboration; to review the attempts that have been made, chiefly by Hebrew Christians and Messianic Jews, to marry Jewish and Christian forms of worship, without any suggestion that this would be a generally acceptable solution; and finally to consider what might be done by Jews and Christians who are in the habit of meeting together without any intention of trying to convert each other.

 

1. What Jews and Christians have in common

I said just now that our patterns of worship are more similar than those of any two other religions. It is of course dangerous to generalise about either Jewish or Christian worship, but broadly speaking our services centre round Bible reading and prayer; we make considerable use of the Psalms; and we are used to hearing a sermon. Most synagogues and churches provide seating for worshippers (the Eastern Orthodox churches are an exception), and we expect to have a book in hand during the service (a prayer book or a hymn book or both). To some extent the similarities are to be explained by the fact that early Christian worship grew out of the worship of the synagogue; there has also been some influence of church worship on synagogue worship (particularly Reform worship) in the course of later history.

 

2. Where Jews and Christians diverge

But for the most part synagogue worship and church worship have proceeded and developed independently, so that, despite the similarities, there are great differences. A distinguished Christian liturgist, Paul Bradshaw, has said that Judaism and Christianity were not so much parent and child as ‘two children of the same family who grew up in increasing estrangement from each other and so exhibit a mixture of similarity and difference in their characters’ (Daily Prayer in the Early Church, 1981, pp.29-30). In the synagogue service the whole of the Torah is read, Sabbath by Sabbath, each year, very rapidly, in Hebrew; a reading from the prophets follows, which in Reform synagogues at least may be in the vernacular. In the Christian Eucharist provision is made for a reading from the Old Testament, a reading from the New Testament other than the Gospels, and a reading from the Gospels. These are generally quite short: no attempt is made to cover even the whole of the Gospels in the three year cycle now generally in use. Since the Second Vatican Council these readings are invariably in the vernacular, at least in the Western churches.

The prayers in the synagogue service are fixed by tradition, particularly the Benedictions which precede and follow the recitation of the Shema‘ (3). The wording has changed over time, but there are not variant versions which may be used interchangeably. The Roman Catholic Mass and the Anglican Eucharist used to have set prayers which had to be used, but recent prayer books allow much more variation. The tradition to which I belong, the Reformed tradition, has never had an official service book: the prayers are expected to cover adoration, confession, thanksgiving and intercession, but the choice of words has almost invariably been left to the minister leading the service. There have been times when the minister has been expected to pray extempore, with any use of a book or a previously prepared prayer being frowned upon. I suppose that the only set prayer in anything like universal use among Christians is the Lord’s Prayer (5), and that led to an explosion of specifically Christian hymn writing, particularly by the Methodist Charles Wesley.

When a Christian attends a synagogue service, the things in particular he or she is likely to find strange are the language, the music and the references to Jewish history and destiny. While many of the sentiments expressed are familiar, the Christian is inevitably an outsider. Jews must feel even more uncomfortable in a church service, where the basic premise is one that they cannot accept, that the right way to approach God now is on the basis of what he has done for the world through Jesus Christ. The prospects for worshipping together do not look good.

One Jewish colleague who had noticed that I was going to speak on this topic said that he thought Jews and Christians had fundamentally different ideas about prayer. He didn’t elaborate, but I suspect that he may have had in mind that for Jews prayer is among other things a mitzvah, an obligation. There have been debates about whether the obligation to pray is a biblical ordinance or a rabbinical ordinance, and about its relative importance in relation to the study of Torah and good works, but an obligation it is, and things like dress and posture and timing matter, as they do in Islam, for example. Christians too feel that they ought to pray, in response to many exhortations in the New Testament, but have no rules about when and where and how. They would say that they celebrate the Eucharist in obedience to a dominical ordinance - Jesus at the Last Supper said ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ - but there is no agreement about how often this should be done, whether bread or wafers should be used, whether the laity should receive the wine as well as the bread, and if so whether there should be a common cup or individual glasses (for hygienic reasons). In some Christian churches the clergy and members of religious orders may be under an obligation to say certain prayers at certain times, but that is a matter of church discipline rather than Christian duty. For me the difference is encapsulated in what Jews and Christians do when they study Scripture. Both agree that this should be done reverently, but, whereas a Jew will express this by putting on his kippah, a Christian will feel uneasy if the session does not begin with ‘a word of prayer’. Prayer before the study of Torah is not a mitzvah. This may mean that Christian concern about finding ways of worshipping together is not shared by Jews. There is not the same feeling about the appropriateness of prayer at an ad hoc religious gathering.

 

3. Attempts to marry Jewish and Christian liturgy

Sometimes, however, Jew and Christian meet in the same person. The first Christians were Jews who came to believe in Jesus, and, while in quite a short time mainstream worship became dominated by the Gentile majority, there were groups of Jewish Christians who maintained Jewish customs and ways of worship. There were the Nazarenes in Syria, who observed the sabbath and practised circumcision and had a version of the gospel in Aramaic; and the Ebionites, east of the Jordan, who believed that Jesus was the human son of Joseph and Mary, rejected the Pauline epistles and used a version of Matthew’s Gospel. It is possible that at the time when the twelfth of the Eighteen Benedictions read, ‘And for the minim and the notserim let there be no hope’, the reference was to Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians respectively or to different groups of Jewish Christians. During the Middle Ages there were some voluntary and many more forced conversions, and the Spanish Marranos, while outwardly conforming to Christianity, maintained Jewish practices secretly. In the 19th century, as a result of Christian missions to the Jews, there were some thoughtful converts who began to think of themselves as ‘Israelites of the New Covenant’ or Hebrew Christians. Joseph Rabinowitz (1837-89) drew up thirteen articles of faith, on the pattern of Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of Faith. Then in the early years of the 20th century there were attempts to devise liturgies in which Hebrew Christians, brought up in the synagogue, would feel at home.

Two Anglican clergymen, not themselves Hebrew Christians, W.O.E.Oesterley and G.H.Box, edited a journal called Church and Synagogue for a number of years, and Box published what he called ‘A suggested form of Evensong for the use of Hebrew Christians on the eve of the Lord’s Day,’ i.e. at the conclusion of the Sabbath. It opens with a General Confession, introduced by the sentence which opens the Evening Service for the Termination of the Sabbath (ADPB, p.116), and phrased in terms taken from a prayer said in the synagogue Morning Service on Mondays and Thursdays (7); ADPB, pp.57-59). Then follow Psalm 145, as in the synagogue Afternoon Service (ADPB, p.99), and Psalm 67, as in the Service for the Conclusion of the Sabbath (ADPB, p.283). The Lord’s Prayer (8; ADPB, pp.37-38). The Benedictions themselves are replaced by collects from the Eastern Syrian Church and the Shema‘ by the Gloria in Excelsis (10). The prayers which follow include the Second Benediction after the evening recitation of the Shema‘ (3), and, like the ’Amidah, said standing. It includes a prayer for the Jewish people: ‘O merciful God, pity thine Ancient People, and make not thine inheritance a scorn and mockery to the nations’, but also makes provision for ‘special petitions for the conversion of Israel’. The Priestly Blessing and the Nicene Creed conclude the service, the latter corresponding to the Yigdal hymn, the metrical version of Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles.

The other major attempt to marry Jewish and Christian liturgy from this period was the order for ‘The Meal of the Holy King’ drawn up by Paul Levertoff, who was brought up in Russia in the Hasidic tradition, held the chair of rabbinics in Leipzig from 1914 to 1919, then came to England, converted to Christianity and became an Anglican priest. It became his aim to form Hebrew Christian congregations within the Church of England, and the liturgy for the celebration of the Eucharist was drawn up for such congregations. The title echoes the description Hasidic Jews gave to their communal meals: ‘This is the meal of King David, the Messiah (or, the anointed one).’ The service opens with Benedictions before the recitation of the Shema‘ (1a; ADPB, pp.38-39) word for word; in the second, Ahavah rabbah (1d;ADPB, pp.44-45) follow, plus a sentence from John’s Gospel: ‘This is eternal life, that people should know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.(Jn 17:3)’

Next comes an adaptation of the ’Amidah (12; ADPB, p.37), and a Preface containing phrases from various parts of the Jewish liturgy, leading up to the Sanctus (‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory’ (cf. Third Benediction ADPB, p.47,102) and Benedictus (‘Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord’ ADPB, p.300) (14); Lk 1:77-79). The celebrant dismisses the congregation with the words of Deut 4:4 (‘You who have held fast to the Lord your God are all alive today’) and they respond with ‘I am my Beloved’s, and he is mine’ (Song 6:3), which is how the Hasidim express their mystical relationship with God.

In these two examples you have people with a deep regard and love for the liturgy of the synagogue demonstrating that, even though Jewish liturgy and Christian liturgy have evolved separately, much of what they want to express in worship is similar. This is not a superficial syncretism: Christian worship generally could be enriched by drawing on the resources of the synagogue.

But not all Christian worship is liturgical in the way Box and Levertoff took for granted. Our daughter belongs to a Baptist church in Birmingham where the structure is quite different. The majority of the congregation is now black, and the pastor is black, but that wasn’t always so, and that fact is not responsible for the character of the service.The worship is led by a music group, complete with electric guitars and microphones, and the first part of the service consists largely of singing rousing choruses with raised hands and clapping: if you don’t know the words by heart, then the OHP provides them on screen. There will be prayers at various points, phrased completely informally. There will probably be only one Bible reading, which will be expounded in ‘the ministry of the Word’ after about an hour. A communion service is held monthly, but it is not central, having rather the character of an addendum to the regular worship.

I mention this style of worship because in the last thirty years the phenomenon of Messianic Judaism has grown up, chiefly in America but also in Britain. Messianic Jews are very different from the older Hebrew Christians. Whereas the Hebrew Christian would have said that he was a Christian and Jewish by ethnic origin, the Messianic Jew says that he is a Jewish person and a disciple of Jesus (or, more probably, Yeshua). And he is much more likely to worship in the way my daughter does than in the tradition of either rabbinic Judaism or mainstream Christianity. The worship will be on the Sabbath or on one of the Jewish festivals, and worshippers will wear skull caps and prayer shawls. But the service will be led by a music group, and everyone will clap and some will dance. There will be a menorah on the table, but the worship will be in the name of Yeshua. Prayers and songs may be in Hebrew, but the style will be evangelical. The addresses will be punctuated with Baruch lashem; there will be talk of accepting God into your heart. Dan Cohn-Sherbok, in his bookMessianic Judaism, has given extensive extracts from prayer books in which traditional synagogue liturgy is adapted, but admits that many congregations make little use of them. But even here there is a significant difference between the orders of service in these books and the Hebrew Christian orders we have been looking at. Whereas those were Christian services enriched from Jewish sources, the Messianic Jewish orders are synagogue services into which references to Jesus have been introduced. Thus there is no communion service, but references to the Last Supper sre introduced into the Passover seder, e.g. ‘As he began his final Passover seder, Yeshua the Messiah shared a cup with his disciples and said to them, "Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes."’

While I would not wish to cast doubt on the sincerity of Messianic Jews, I am bound to say that they are more open to the charge of syncretism than the older Hebrew Christians. While Hebrew Christians had a deep feeling for both traditions, Messianic Jews seem to be much more loosely attached to both. They claim identity, not with the synagogue or church of today but with what they imagine to be the Christian Church of the 1st century C.E. They observe the seven festivals of Lev 23 because they are biblical, not because present day Jews observe them. Some may observe Dec 25 as Yom Yeshua, but not the traditional Christian Christmas. If they keep kashrut it will only be in what is biblically kosher. Rabbinic tradition means nothing to them. Their tradition is an invented tradition. Like what began as the ‘house church’ movement in Christianity, Messianic Judaism offers the attraction of a new religious identity, and appeals to as many Gentiles as Jews.

 

4. Possibilities of collaboration

It is difficult to see Messianic Judaism as any kind of bridge between mainstream Judaism and mainstream Christianity, those forms of both which know and value tradition. It does not offer any serious basis for Jewish and Christian liturgical collaboration or suggest how Jews and Christians might pray together when they meet. On the other hand its distance from the mainstream means that it shouldn’t be a reason for rejecting the idea of collaboration. What form might that collaboration take?

One possibility is that, when Christians are revising their own liturgies, they might invite Jews to help, to act as consultants. For example, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer of 1662 contained the notorious Third Collect for Good Friday, which asked God to

Have mercy upon all Jews, Turks, Infidels, and Hereticks, and take from all them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy word; and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to thy flock, that they may be saved among the remnant of the true Israelites, and be made one fold under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord.’

This was toned down a bit in the Alternative Service Book of 1980, but essentially was still there. I’m glad to say it has disappeared completely from the new Anglican service book, Common Worship. My own church at the moment is revising its service book and has put out a draft communion service which includes a prayer which makes me very uneasy (16), and I would hope that this or something similar might be often used.

On the other side, is it possible that Jews and Christians together might look at the ways in which the synagogue service looks beyond the Jewish people and concerns itself with the welfare of all people? Although the twelfth Benediction in the ’Amidah - ‘And for slanderers let there be no hope’ - clearly does not refer to Christians in general, it still gives a somewhat negative impression and is not balanced by statutory prayers of a positive kind.

I notice with pleasure that the prayer book of the Reform synagogues contains a prayer for inter-faith meetings (17). I do not know of any Christian prayer book which contains anything comparable. It might be helpful if Jews and Christians could produce a collection of such prayers which could be used at inter-faith meetings. It would help to overcome the kind of embarrassment I spoke of at the beginning. This need not rule out a collection of material suitable for inter-faith meetings which involved others beside Jews and Christians.

Finally, can Jews and Christians sing together? Christians have one or two well-known choruses, based on words of Scripture, which are sung to tunes which could pass as Israeli tunes (18 and 19). I have seen Lionel Blue singing one of them on Songs of Praise with great gusto. Could we sing them together?

 

APPENDIX

 

1. Seek ye first

Seek ye first the kingdom of God,
And his righteousness,
And all these things shall be added unto you;
Allelu, alleluia.
Ask, and it shall be given unto you,
Seek, and you shall find;
Knock, and the door shall be opened unto you;
We shall not live by bread alone,
But by every word
That proceeds from the mouth of the Lord;

 

2. Benedictions before and after reciting the Shema'

(a) First morning benediction: Blessed are you, O Lord, King of the universe, who forms light and creates darkness …

(b) First evening benediction: Blessed are you, O Lord, King of the universe, who by his world brings on the evening twilight …

(c) Second morning benediction: With a deep love, you have loved us … Give us insight into your Torah, help us to cling wholeheartedly to your commandments

(d) Third morning benediction (Ge’ullah): True and firm, well founded and enduring, right and trustworthy, beloved and precious, desirable and pleasant, revered and majestic, well ordered and acceptable, good and beautiful is this word to us for ever and ever…. Who is like you, O Lord, among the mighty ones? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, revered in praises, working wonders?

(e) Second evening benediction: We will meditate on your statutes before we sleep

 

3. 'Amidah or Eighteen Benedictions

  1. You are praised …
  2. You are mighty forever …
  3. Holy are you …
  4. Favour us with knowledge …
  5. Bring us back in repentance …
  6. Forgive us, for we have sinned .
  7. Redeem us speedily …
  8. Heal us …
  9. Bless this year for us …
  10. Gather us together from the four corners of the earth …
  11. Restore our judges …
  12. Humble the arrogant …
  13. Reward all who trust in your Name …
  14. Rebuild Jerusalem …
  15. Exalt the horn of David …
  16. Hear our prayer …
  17. Restore the service of your temple …
  18. We thank you for our souls and your wonders and benefits …
  19. Bless your people with peace

 

4. The Lord's Prayer

Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name;
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory,
For ever and ever. Amen.

 

5. Psalm 72

Give the king your justice, O God,
And your righteousness to a king’s son…
May he live while the sun endures,
And as long as the moon, throughout all generations….
May he have dominion from sea to sea,
And from the River to the ends of the earth….

Isaac Watts, The Psalms of David Imitated (1719)

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Doth his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore
Till moons shall wax and wane no more….

 

6. Prayer said on certain Mondays and Thursdays

O God, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness and truth, rebuke us not in your anger. Have pity on your people, O Lord, and save us from all evil. We have sinned against you, O Lord; forgive, we beseech you, according to the abundance of your tender mercies, O God….

 

7. 'Avinu malkenu ('Our Father, our King') said during the Ten Days of Penitence

Our Father, our King! We have sinned before you.
Our Father, our King! We have no king but you.
Our Father, our King! Deal with us for the sake of your name.
Our Father, our King! Let a happy year begin for us….

 

8. Half-Kaddish

Exalted and hallowed be his great Name
In the world which he created
According to his will.
May he establish his kingdom
In your lifetime and in your days,
And in the lifetime of the whole household of Israel,
Speedily and at a near time.
And say: Amen.

May his great Name be praised for ever
And unto all eternity.

Blessed and praised,
Glorified and exalted,
Extolled and honoured,
and thanksgivings from now even for ever.
Magnified and lauded
Be the Name of the Holy One, praised be he –
Although he is beyond all blessings and hymns,
Praises and consolations
Which may be uttered in the world.
And say: Amen.

 

9. Gloria in excelsis

Glory to God in the highest,
And peace to God’s people on earth.
Lord God, heavenly King,
Almighty God and Father,
We worship you, we give you thanks,
We praise you for your glory.
Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father.
Lord God, Lamb of God,
You take away the sin of the world:
Have mercy on us;
You are seated at the right hand of the Father:
Receive our prayer.
For you alone are the Holy One,
You alone are the Lord,
You alone are the Most High,
Jesus Christ,With the Holy Spirit,
In the glory of God the Father.

 

10. Magnificat

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
Who has looked with favour on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed.
The Almighty has done great things for me,
And holy is his name….

 

11. Blessing before reading from Prophets

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has chosen good prophets, and has found pleasure in their words which were spoken in truth.

Blessed are you, O Lord, who has chosen the Law, and Moses your servant, and Israel your people, and prophets of truth and righteousness.

 

12. Blessing after reading Psalms

To you, O Lord our God, and God of our fathers, song and praise are becoming, hymn and psalm, strength and dominion, victory, greatness and might, renown and glory, holiness and sovereignty, blessings and thanksgivings from now even for ever.

 

13. Sanctus and Benedictus qui venit

Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

 

14. Benedictus

Blessed be the God of Israel,
Who has come to his people and set them free.
The Lord has raised up for us a mighty Saviour,
Born of the house of his servant David….

 

15. From a draft eucharistic prayer (United Reformed Church)

… Your love did not desert us
When we tasted disobedience,
And were driven into a wilderness
Of violence and corruption.
For in the days of Noah
You brought creation safely through the
Flood.

You called to yourself a people, born in slavery,
And set your Law in human hearts, to witness to your light.
You gave to us a land of milk and honey,
But when you looked for righteousness, you heard a cry.
We would not listen to your prophets
When they called us to repentance
And when the sang of One to come.
Now we have beheld his glory, by whom the worlds were made….

 

16. Prayers for Pardon (Bishop of Salford)

… The sons and daughters of the Church have at times sinned against those first Chosen to hear the voice of God. We ask God’s forgiveness for the behaviour through the course of history who have caused his People to suffer. We wish wo commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the covenant….

 

17. Prayer for Inter-Faith Meetings

Lord of all creation, we stand in awe before You, impelled by visions of the harmony of man. We are children of many traditions – inheritors of shared wisdom and tragic misunderstandings, of proud hopes and humble successes. Now it is time for us to meet – in memory and truth, in courage and trust, in love and promise.

In that which we share, let us see the common prayer of humanity; in that in which we differ, let us wonder at the freedom of man; in our unity and our differences, let us know the uniqueness that is God.

May our courage match our convictions, and our integrity match our hope.
May our faith in You bring us closer to each other.
May our meeting with past and present bring blessing for the future. Amen.

(from Forms of Prayer, Reform Synagogues of Great Britain)

 

18. Jubilate

Jubilate, everybody,

Serve the Lord in all your ways, and
Come before his presence singing,
Enter now his courts with praise.
For the Lord our God is gracious,
And his mercy’s everlasting,
Jubilate, jubilate, Jubilate Deo.

 

19. You shall go out with joy

You shall go our with joy
And be led forth in peace,
And the mountains and the hills
Shall break forth in singing.
There’ll be shouts of joy,
And the trees of the field shall clap,
Shall clap their hands;
And the trees of the field shall clap their hands,
And the trees of the field shall clap their hands,
And the trees of the field shall clap their hands,
And you’ll go out with joy.