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Rev. Peter J. Fast, Deputy National Director for Bridges for Peace Canada Spoke at Limmud 2018 on Jewish-Christian Relations

by Rhonda Spivak, February 8, 2018

Rev Peter Fast, Deputy National Director, Bridges for Peace Canada, spoke at Limmud Winnipeg March 11 on the topic of Bridging the Gap between Jews and Christians: The Reconciliation Work of Bridges for Peace:


Fast, who has an M.A. in Judeo-Christian Relations, says that "for much of history Christians and Jews have focused on more of what divides us then unites us," and that the divisions were "most often initiated by the Church."


Fast notes that "This approach for nearly 17 centuries resulted in a widening gap of mistrust, suspicion, and anger, and other things between the two communities. But he adds that "there is more that unites us then divides us and today the gap is closing between the Christian world and the Jewish world where Christians and Jews are coming together with respect, honest dialogue and love to build the relationship instead of tear it down or raise barriers."


Fast points out that the gap between Jews and Christians widened as a result of Christian anti-Semitism which left a trail of destruction and grief within the Jewish world."


Fast explains that to understand the roots of Christian antisemitism, one needs to understand what is known as "Replacement Theology."


"In essence, replacement theology taught that due to Israel’s rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, God transferred the covenantal blessings and promises He established with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and gave them to the church. Thus, the Church, becoming the “New Israel”, was seen to inherit the blessings and promises which were spiritualized through the Church, leaving any divine plan and relationship with the nation and people of Israel obsolete and void. The church looked upon the Jews as a cursed people who followed a fossil religion that the church had triumphed over and superseded," Fast says


Fast notes that " As the belief of Replacement Theology developed throughout the 2nd and 3rd centuries the Church became more anti-Jewish, focusing its attacks not simply on Jewish faith but on Jewish individuals, regardless if they were religious or not. Hostility towards Jews affected their communities and individual social standings which at times resulted in the Church passing harsh edicts against the Jews, expulsions, libels, violence, forced conversions, identifying marks or clothing, and other reprehensible actions."


However, as Fast emphasizes, "in the last five centuries, particularly since the 1860’s, the tables have begun to turn as Christians around the world began to reject age-old hatreds and Replacement theology. Christians passionately came to believe that God is faithful to His covenant to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and thereby would restore the Jewish people in their ancient Land, the culmination of this promise bearing literal fruit on May 14th 1948."


Fast says that "Despite this modern-day miracle, fragments of division and mistrust still permeate in Jewish and Christian communities…with Christian anti-Semitism far from being dead. Since 1976, Bridges for Peace has sought to repair this gap by reaching out to Christians and the Jewish community in Israel and around the world."


In his session at Limmud, Fast will also point out instances many of which Jews and Christians are not familiar with) where Christians, church congregations, or Christian rulers (sometimes seen as the “secular governments”) protected Jewish communities and fought against Christian anti-Semitism. 


For example, "In the wake of Martin Luther publishing his abominable work “On the Jews and their Lies”, the only region in Germany to expel Jews was Saxony. All the other regions rejected his work, some of them outlawing it from their cities. At the same time other Christian theologians condemned Luther for writing such vile words. Luther not only attacked the Jews in this writing and others, but also brought his attack against a number of Jewish theologians who had converted to Christianity. To Luther, they should always be suspected of betrayal, corruption, and usury because they had “once been Jews”. "


Fast notes that "One of Luther’s friends, Munder, complained that in numerous cities Christians were studying the Bible with rabbis and their Jewish neighbours in harmony. He was angry with these Christians because they were ignoring the Christian priests and had great relations with the Jewish community."


"Rabbi Josef von Rosheim (a great German rabbi of his day) reached out to Luther in friendship one time, hoping that Luther would help him with matters of persecution coming from the papacy towards the Jewish community. Sadly, Luther refused to help the Rabbi, even though Rabbi Josef expressed that other Christian leaders were working with him and were sympathetic," Fast says.


Fast continues that "Despite Luther’s anti-Semitism, he had the Bible published in the language of the common people so for the first time people could read the Scripture rather than depend on the often skewed interpretations from priests. This led to a growing number of people who returned to the text and believed God still had a covenant with Israel and loved the Jewish people. Thus, over centuries things began to change in the Christian world. Now with the State of Israel and millions of Christians who stand with Israel and actively oppose anti-Semitism, as well as directed education in the Christian world to expose the dangers of Replacement Theology we are seeing a turn around. This is where the ministry of Bridges for Peace comes into play."      

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.