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The Story of Judaism In The World

History can be ironic. During the birth pangs of Christianity, when the distinction between being a Jew who followed Jesus and a Jew who did not was ambiguous, early Christian leaders feared "backsliding." As a result, Church Fathers like John Chrysostom referred to synagogues as the literal home of demons, and helped create the conditions in which lay Christians could believe Jews were abducting their children. Jews were polemically labeled "Christ Killers." The resulting persecution by Christians is, then, no surprise.

Not until the 16th century did Christianity and Judaism begin to engage one another in significant ways, largely on the common ground of the emerging Enlightenment. But it was in the United States, founded not on race or ethnicity, but on an idea, that Jews have found equal footing. During the birth pangs of Islam, by contrast, there was no accusation of murderous intent, and so no initial persecution. In fact, "there seems to have been an early moment when Jews and Muslims might both have been part of the Umma, the common community of believers," according to noted Jewish historian Simon Schama, who prepared a five-part PBS series and a companion book exploring the 3,000-year history of Judaism. Later, however, a strong contention emerged between the two Abrahamic faiths, which continues to this day. A five-minute news video prepared for Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, a source for cutting-edge reporting at the intersection of faith and society, introduces the series. A second 13-minute video of interview outtakes further explores Schama's understanding of Jewish history and philosophy. You might also appreciate our feature article, "Best Resources for Teaching Religion."

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