" God of our Fathers": Rabbinic Liturgy and Jewish-Christian Engagement

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"In the traditional Jewish liturgy, prayers of supplication very commonly begin with "May it be your will, O Lord, our God and God of our fathers." Most familiar is the opening of the Jewish prayer par excellence, the Amidah. It is generally thought — no doubt from reading rabbinic literature as it appears in the printed editions — that this is an ancient form of address that was already widespread in the Tannaitic and Amoraic periods in both Eretz Israel and Babylonia. However, a closer look at the textual witnesses of this literature reveals that the use of the address to God as "God of our fathers" began to become widespread in the liturgy only in the third and fourth centuries CE in Eretz Israel. Indirect confirming evidence of the change in the Jewish prayer, comes from a particular Christian prayer which has been identified as especially close to its Jewish source Why was this so? Why did the formula, "God of our fathers" prevail over other formulae, and why then? I suggest that the struggle of the rabbinic community with the challenges posed by the Christian church is an important factor in the spread of this formula, and that it is also possible to detect various Christian responses to its use among Jews. The present study, then, holds up to view an episode in the history of Jewish liturgy, and sheds light on the intricate relationship of the two rival communities, rabbinic and Christian.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)303-322
JournalJewish Quarterly Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2009


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