By Benedict Mayaki, SJ
The Church of England has issued an apology to the Jewish community over laws that were passed 800 years ago which paved the way for the expulsion of Jews from England for hundreds of years.
A special service held on Sunday at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford for the eighth centenary anniversary of the Synod of Oxford saw the presence of civic dignitaries and religious leaders, including Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis and representatives of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
The 1222 Synod of Oxford passed laws that forbade social interactions between Jews and Christians, placed a specific tithe on Jews and required them to wear an identifying badge. The Jews were also banned from some professions and from building new synagogues.
Other harsher restrictions against the Jews followed over the years that eventually led to the mass expulsion of approximately 3,000 Jews at the time, by an edict in 1290 by King Edward I.
More than 360 years passed before Jews were readmitted to England by Oliver Cromwell in 1656.
An opportunity to repent and rebuild
Though the Church of England was only formed in the 1530s when Henry VIII split from the Pope, the leaders of the Church of England have insisted on the importance of an apology.
“Today’s service is an opportunity to remember, repent and rebuild,” Archbishop Welby said in a tweet on Sunday. “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.”
In another statement last month ahead of the occasion, the Diocese of Oxford noted that its 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.”
Jonathan Chaffey, Archdeacon of Oxford, said that the time had come for Christians to repent of their “shameful actions” and “reframe positively” their relations with the Jewish community. He also noted that the Catholic Church was in accord with the apology.
The special service on Sunday follows other steps to cultivate goodwill with the Jewish community in recent years. In 2019, a document by the Church of England titled “God’s Unfailing Word” highlighted the importance of Christian-Jewish relationship and urged Christians to actively challenge antisemitism.