What can we learn from the history of Christian-Jewish relations about
consequences of not engaging in dialogue with Jews?
If dialogue is to be genuine, the parties involved must have respect for
one another. It is a
sad fact that until recently Christians have had very little respect for Jews and little or no genuine
dialogue with them. Chiefly because of the charge that the Jews had rejected and killed Christ
and the assumption that the Church had replaced Israel in God's favor, the Christian attitude
toward Jews during most of the past two thousand years has been largely unfavorable and
sometimes extremely harsh. In fact, since the time that Christianity became the official religion of
the Roman Empire, Christians have imposed great degradation and suffering on the Jewish
people in supposed obedience to Matthew 27:25.
It has been estimated that, from the fourth century to the twentieth, fewer
percent of the Jews in Christian Europe managed to survive as Jews [The Vatican Council and
the Jews, Arthur Gilbert]. Jews were increasingly encumbered by Church and State with
political, legal, and economic disadvantages. They were under constant pressure to convert to
Christianity, and many suffered forced baptism. They were subjected to terrible
violence--beatings, rape, mob actions, massacres, and pogroms. Jews, dying of plague along
with Christians, were persecuted for allegedly causing the Black Death by poisoning the wells.
They were also persecuted for numerous cases of ritual murder, blood libel, and Host
desecration (all of these charges were denied by emperors and popes, and modern historical
inquiry has also failed to find any proof of the truth of these allegations). Beginning with England
in 1290, Jews were expelled from most of the countries of Western Europe, and they were
forced into social isolation in cramped and unhealthful ghettos. In short, life for Jews in
Christendom was one of tremendous hardship: they were made to pay dearly for their
faithfulness to God and Torah.
The failure of Christians to engage in genuine dialogue with Jews through
most of the past
two thousand years has had dire consequences for the Jewish people. It has also had a most
unfortunate, though less obvious, effect on Christians by engendering and perpetuating among
us an attitude of prideful contempt for Jews and Judaism that has stained the very soul of
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