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The Eighteen Benedictions of Judaism ... and Christianity
A very religious Jew recites the Shemoneh Esrei, the Eighteen Benedictions, on a daily basis: a bit like the Catholic clergy are meant to read the Breviary.
Basically, the Eighteen Benedictions glorify God in all his manifold attributes: a truly wonderful prayer for both Jews and Christians.
The first three benedictions state the fundamental beliefs of Judaism in the one true creator God: the God of history, the God of nature, and the God who sanctifies.
The intermediate benedictions 4-15 are petitions. Four to nine are personal in nature, while 10-15 are national petitions.
Petitions four to nine ask for understanding, repentance, forgiveness, deliverance from affliction, healing, and deliverance from want.
Petitions 10 to 15 ask God for the reunion of Israel; the righteous reign of God; to curse slanderers, informers and traitors; to pray for the righteous; request the rebuilding of Jerusalem; and pray for the Messianic King.
Benedictions 16 to 19 are petitions to God to hear our prayers, to restore the Temple (destroyed in 70AD by the Romans), giving thanksgiving for God's mercies, and finally, God is asked to bless his people with peace.
Now ever since Vatican II and good Saint John XXIII, the Catholic Church went out of its way (and rightly so!) to eliminate any hurtful words, phrases or prayers which might offend the Jewish people.
For example, at Passover/Easter, in centuries past many attacks were made on Jews by so-called Christians – often instigated by clergy who should have known better. To justify such outrages, certain quotes from the Gospels were shamefully used (or should I say misused).
So instead of quoting Jesus saying, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34), another text was used: "His blood be upon us and on our children." (Matthew 27:25)
If these Christians had thought it through, they would have realised that the Jews who said such a thing were actually calling down on themselves a blessing, not a curse, because according to Christian theology, it is the blood of Jesus, and not the Paschal sacrifices, that take away the sins of all mankind, both Jewish and Gentile.
Now where is the connection with the Eighteen Benedictions, the Shemoneh Esrei?
It is this: the Eighteen Benedictions had in fact a 19th so-called Benediction added to them by Rabbinic Judaism in the late first century AD. This 19th Benediction is in fact a curse: "Cursed be the Minim ("heretics").
You may ask: who are these Minim? The answer is simple: those Jews who came to believe in Jesus, that he was the Messiah of Israel.
We know from the Acts of the Apostles that the earliest Christians, the Apostles, worshipped in the Temple or the synagogue on the Sabbath, and offered the Mass (then known as "The Breaking of Bread") on Sunday, in private houses.
We have a number of accounts of the Apostle Paul being driven out of synagogues for preaching that Jesus was the Messiah.
During the course of the latter part of the first century, when rabbis became conscious of the presence in their synagogues of Jews who believed in Jesus, they did not simply put a notice on the door saying, "Jews who believe in Jesus are not welcome here."
Shrewdly, and very simply, they added a 19th Benediction, so that a Jew who believed in Jesus could not in good conscience stay on, since he would be cursing himself. This then was a very neat way to separate the earliest Christian Jews from the synagogue.
Of course, modern Jews usually claim that "Cursed be the Minim" no longer applies to present-day Christians: certainly not to Gentile ones.
However, as a Hebrew Catholic – and we are a growing number, especially the Messianic Jews, largely but not exclusively in the US and Israel – I still feel targeted, and therefore not welcome in the synagogue.
For Jewish-Christian dialogue to be a genuinely two-way road, not just Christians eliminating what is hurtful to Jews, it would be a wonderful reciprocal gesture, by the Synagogue, both Ashkenazic and Sephardic, to remove the so-called 19th "Benediction" which as I have said is a curse.
It was just an addendum in the first century to an otherwise wonderful daily prayer for every Jew ... and, hopefully, Christian.
Andrew Sholl is co-founder of the Association of Hebrew Catholics, which aims to end the alienation of Catholics of Jewish origin and background from their historical heritage. It conducts regular monthly meetings in cities where its numbers make this possible.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 28 No 1 (February 2015), p. 13
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