Commencing with Ash Wednesday, our Christian neighbors are now commemorating Lent. There are many and varied customs associated with Lent in the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Coptic traditions, but the common denominator is the undertaking of a period of reflection, repentance and abstinence. In Iceland, for decades, the entire "Hymns of the Passion" by Hallgrimur Petursson has been broadcast annually by the State Broadcasting Service. One hymn is read each day for the entire period of Lent, and it is considered a major honor to be asked to read one of these hymns over the air. Many of Iceland's most distinguished citizens, including the late President, Mrs. Vigdis Finnbogadottir, accepted their invitation with pride.
This year, we at the Simon Wiesenthal Center have contacted the State Broadcasting Service to respectfully urge them to eliminate these readings.
While we deeply respect the Christian faith and faithful, we were shocked by the many blatantly anti-Semitic references that pervade Petursson's Hymns. There are more than 50 references to Jews, all of them negative, most of which reinforce hateful notions about Jews that laid the theological groundwork for 20 centuries of anti-Semitic hatred, persecution and violence.
I am attaching a list of the anti-Semitic references included in Petursson's Hymns (PDF).
It is worth noting that the decision to first broadcast Petursson's Hymns was made in 1944 at a time when 5 million European Jews had already been murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. A year later, the War in Europe would be over and the full extent of the Nazi Holocaust shocked the conscience of the world. Indeed, the Shoah led many church leaders after World War II, led by Pope John XXIII, to re-examine and revise theological dogma and liturgy that had cast collective guilt upon the Jewish people for the death of Jesus.
But it those very ugly stereotypes of alleged Jewish cunning, treachery and deicide that were and are validated by these broadcasts. Listening to Petrusson's hymns, you'd be hard-pressed to know that the Romans had anything to do with the death of Jesus.
We hope that people of faith and goodwill will join us in urging the State Broadcasting Service to stop these broadcasts and find a new way to mark this Holy Season. The people of Iceland and the Jewish people deserve better.