On 25th July, the Synagogue hosted the CCJ’s annual Martin Buber lecture, which was well-attended.
The illustrated lecture was delivered by Rabbi Alexander Wright, senior rabbi of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in St John’s Wood, the largest Liberal synagogue in the country. Alexandra is a scholar of classical Hebrew and a busy teacher and writer. So we were enormously fortunate that she found the time to come to Norwich.
She is also a singer and chose as her theme for the lecture, “What have Bach’s Passions ever done for Jewish-Christian Relations?” She acknowledged that for some the answer is likely to be, “Not a lot, really.” But she has struggled with the libretti and sung them with a London choir whose membership is about forty per cent Jewish. It was a talk not always comfortable to listen to for Jews or Christians but Alex placed the works in the context of Eighteenth Century Leipzig when Bach was fulfilling his brief to set the words of the Gospels to music. She tended to agree with Canon Peter Doll who reminded us that Bach’s fellow Lutherans believed that,
“The right and proper goal of reflection on the Passion must be aimed at the awakening of true penitence…..violent invectives and exclamations against Jews can by no means be tolerated.” (Hamburg Senate, 1714)
In other words, this was work addressed to the Christian conscience and concept of man’s essential sinfulness, a concept not completely embraced by Judaism.
There is absolutely no evidence that Bach was anti-Judaic and, when his reputation temporarily waned, his music was kept alive by a small coterie of Berlin Jews, especially the Mendelssohn and Itzig families.
Bee Korn, CCJ Chairman Norfolk Branch