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Historical & Theological Background

center for christian-jewish learning

In the past two millennia, the relationship between Judaism and Christianity has been predominantly hostile. Social and religious pressures induced early Church leaders to develop anti-Jewish teachings that shaped Christian thought until the twentieth century. Several religious claims contributed to a theology known today as supersessionism - because "the Jews" had crucified Jesus, their "Old Covenant" had ended; Jews were doomed to homeless wandering; and the Church had superseded Judaism as God's Chosen People.  Jews reacted to this with distaste, distrust and a polemic of their own. Over the centuries, the two traditions came to define themselves in opposition to each other and urged avoidance of members of the other community.

After the year 1000, in various times and places, Jews in Europe experienced more intense oppression at the hands of the Christian majority. This included periodic outbursts of local violence and murder against Jewish communities, the requirement to wear identifying badges or clothing, prohibitions from owning land, compulsory attendance at Christian sermons urging baptism, coerced participation in public disputation with Christian preachers, forced expulsion from various regions, confinement within walled ghettoes, and accusations of defiling consecrated communion wafers or of using the blood of murdered Christian children to make Passover matzah.

Thus marginalized in European society, Jews became easy targets of the racist regimes that arose in more recent times.

The 1939-1945 Nazi genocide of Jews in the heart of "Christian" Europe spurred the widespread examination of Christian teachings on Jews and Judaism.

Most Christian communities have rejected supersessionism and condemned antisemitism, but must now dismantle the effects of their prolonged influence and implement theologies and practices that affirm Jewish covenantal life with God. Jews have generally welcomed these initiatives, but are also challenged to interact with new and unfamiliar positive Christian statements in a pluralistic world that itself challenges Jewish identity and continuity. 

The twin tasks of rethinking the theological relationships between Jews and Christians and of transforming long-standing negative attitudes toward one another requires theologians, scholars in all disciplines, educators, and religious leaders of both traditions to engage in intense dialogue across a range of issues. Our Center is committed to these endeavors.