F is for Faith
Extract from an interview with Rabbi Julia Neuberger, which will be broadcast on Radio 3 during 'A Bach Christmas'.
'A lot of people think that if you listen to Bach - the quintessentially religious composer - you have to share his faith. Sometimes listening to, for example, the Magnificat or the St John Passion, you almost do need his faith, because when you have those soaring phrases and voices then you think 'what is Bach trying to do?'. Bach is trying to express musically almost the purity and the ascendancy of religious faith. I'm Jewish, I don't share that faith, can I appreciate that almost trying to touch the divine - can I appreciate it and not share his faith? The answer is yes, but with reservations, I'm happier listening to it when it's not in my first language and where I can listen to the sublime soaring of the human voice and not listen to what the words really mean.
Clearly when you're listening to the St Matthew Passion, the St John Passion or some of the Cantatas Bach is in a sense telling the Christian story - the story of Jesus, in Christian terms the son of God. This is something that as a Jew I cannot share. Some people would say that the whole Christian story is quite anti-Jewish. I personally don't believe that, I think Jesus himself was a Jew and that he taught Judaism. He taught a very un-orthodox sort of Judaism, but he taught Judaism. What was done with it later is a whole different question.
I don't have a problem with it, it just isn't mine - when I listen to Bach I'm not thinking that someone is telling a story that is directed against me, I don't think there is anti-Semitism there, remotely. All that Bach is doing is telling, in the most faithful and sublime of ways, the Christian story and he does it brilliantly - he is a great Christian composer. Bach was a good Christian soul who was expressly his Christianity in music that makes the heart sing - and it makes my Jewish heart sing'.
Rabbi Julia Neuberger