Anti-Semitism talk to precede performance

Religion Notes

April 02, 1992|By Jay Merwin | Jay Merwin,Staff Writer

Because the Gospel of John has been quoted in the past to incite Christian anti-Semitism, a Baltimore performance of J.S. Bach's choral work "St. John Passion" will be preceded by a lecture discussing that history and attempting to set the writing of the Gospel in its original context.

But a prominent Baltimore rabbi says a lecture isn't enough and any public presentation should be accompanied by statements from local Christian leaders repudiating past uses of the Gospel for anti-Semitic purposes.

The Rev. Chris Leighton, executive director of the Institute for Christian-Jewish Studies, a local group that promotes understanding between the two faiths, will lecture before the performance Sunday afternoon at Goucher College.

The purpose is "to spell out certain images in John's Gospel that historically have been incendiary," said Dr. Leighton, a Presbyterian minister. Most prominent among these images is the frequent reference to the enemies of Jesus as simply "the Jews," he said, whereas the other gospels tend to refer to factions within Jewish leadership instead.

"The texts themselves will continue to be dangerous unless placed within their historic and theological setting," he said, adding that even then, "we're left with haunting questions."

His interpretation is that the gospel author was writing for an audience of Jewish Christians and was reflecting frustration at being excluded from the Jewish tradition by Jewish leaders of the time. Dr. Leighton also believes the libretto to Bach's work attempts to cast responsibility for the crucifixion of Christ on all humanity, not on Jews specifically.

But Rabbi Murray Saltzman of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation said a lecture "doesn't mitigate the circumstances of this performance for me." He also objected last year, in commentary in his congregational bulletin, to a performance of Bach's "St. Matthew Passion."

Rabbi Saltzman said he doesn't want to censor the freedom of Christians to use the Gospels in their religion or the freedom of choirs to perform music based on those texts. But for public readings or performances of the story of Christ's passion, he said, Christian leaders ought to provide a "rigorous repudiation" of past misappropriations of the text.

Instead of a lecture, Rabbi Saltzman said, "I would rather see something more definitive about the passion story and a recognition that elements of the passion story have been infused with anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic overtones."

The performance of the "St. John Passion" begins at 3 p.m. in Kraushaar Auditorium. Dr. Leighton's lecture will start at 1:30 p.m. across the lobby, followed by a talk on the musical form of "St. John Passion" by Eileen Soskin, a professor at the Peabody Conservatory.

Synagogue lecture:

Sarah Brady, whose husband was seriously wounded in the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981, will be speaking about gun control at 8:15 p.m. April 10 at Temple Oheb Shalom, 7310 Park Heights Ave.

Her husband, James Brady, was Mr. Reagan's press secretary.

Since the shooting that left Mr. Brady disabled, Mrs. Brady has become a leader in the campaign for gun control and now heads Handgun Control Inc. The organization advocates a national waiting period for handgun purchases, a ban on the manufacture and sale to the public of Saturday Night Specials and military assault weapons, mandatory safety training for gun buyers and other measures. But the group does not call for a ban on other handguns, rifles or shotguns.

The public is invited.

Send religious news items -- about events, local personalities, etc. -- to Religion Notes, c/o Jay Merwin, The Evening Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

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