“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite”. Nelson Mandela, 1994.
Prejudice is not inherited but is taught to each child. Teachers have the responsibility to break this transmission, and to foster tolerance, respect and understanding for all faiths.
Licoricia has been described as the most important Jewish woman of medieval England. She lived in the thirteenth century, before England became the first country to force its whole Jewish population out in 1290. Forced contributions from her helped build Westminster Abbey.
Many prejudices that Licoricia experienced as a thirteenth-century Jew still exist today. In view of this continued transmission of prejudice, we believe that the teaching of R.E. should be based on contemporary inter-faith understanding, which challenges traditional teaching about Jews and their religion.
The Church of England has stated that it bears a considerable measure of responsibility for the spread of antisemitism[i]:
It states that Christians should not:
- Use Christian doctrine to justify and perpetuate Jewish suffering, for instance teaching that Jews ….are guilty of the murder of Jesus.
- Teach that Jews should suffer because they refuse to acknowledge the Messiah.
- Make mendacious, dehumanising, demonizing or stereotypical allegations about Jews.
The Church of England also states that:
- Judaism is a living and developing religion. The diversity of contemporary Judaism, the community of lived traditions, is often very different to that presented by Christians.
- Judaism is not a living fossil, simply superceded by Christianity.
Messages from the Roman Catholic Church
- Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this follows from the Holy Scriptures[ii]
- Catholics should not try to convert Jews, and should work with them to fight antisemitism[iii].
- God never annulled His covenant with Jews[iv].
We believe that learning about Licoricia will help children understand how common prejudices about Jews came about and help to eliminate them.
History lessons have been developed with Hampshire County Council and can be found in the History Moodle, History Curriculum Centre, Hants.gov.uk.
‘Licoricia of Winchester: Power and Prejudice in Medieval England’ by Rebecca Abrams, was published in June 2022 by the Appeal as a paperback and ebook (ISBN 978-1-3999-1638-7).
We are keen to assist teachers in challenging prejudice. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our website is www.licoricia.org.
Do you think that R.E. teachers are doing enough to propagate the above messages from the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church?
Messages from history
- Jews were part of the English community from 1067 until 1290, having arrived after the Norman Conquest in 1066 nearly a thousand years ago. They contributed to the building of iconic places of worship such as Westminster Abbey and Lincoln Cathedral, and also other institutions, as well as to trade and culture.
- Licoricia (who died in 1277) was a leader in her community and one of a handful of Jews, including women, prominently involved in finance. The Jews were restricted in the jobs they could do. Other occupations included doctors, teachers, scribes, poets, vintners, metalworkers and tradesmen.
- Licoricia was highly educated, like many Jewish women of her time, enabling them to be successful in their own right.
- Jews were the property of the King, frequently persecuted by the Church, and taxed at will until they were too poor to be of any utility. As a result, those who would not convert to Christianity were forced out of the country by the Edict of Expulsion issued by King Edward I in 1290.
Lessons for today
- Jews of the Middle Ages are an early example of a religious minority in the UK, and their story highlights the danger of the majority limiting the freedom of the minority (“the tyranny of the majority”).
- As a minority, the Jews made an outsized contribution to England’s society and economy. Diversity of community creates cultural and commercial benefits.
- Many prejudices and practices against the Jews originated or were developed in the Middle Ages, and shaped anti-semitism, which still exists today. Such prejudices include deicide, the killing of Christian children (blood libel), and the association of Jews with money. Practices included identifying badges, forced conversion, legal restrictions, and attacks.
- Education is the key to the elimination of prejudice.
- Progress on religious and racial tolerance has been made in society – today the UK is a vibrant multi-faith, multi-ethnic and multi-racial society – but there is further work to be done.
- The education of women has provided them with opportunity. As a result, progress has been made by women in business and other areas of public life, but 800 years after Licoricia forged her path, women are still striving for equality.
[i] ‘God’s Unfailing Word, Church House Publishing 2019
[ii] Nostra Aetate, Vatican II, Declaration on the Relation of the Church to non-Christian religions, 1965, No.4.
[iii] ‘The Gifts and the Calling of God Are Irrevocable’ (Rom 11:29): A Reflection on Theological Questions Pertaining to Catholic-Jewish Relations on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Nostra Aetate (No. 4)”