Both the texts and music of Bach's St Matthew and St John Passions portray the Jews in deeply negative ways, baying for the blood of Christ. While there are strong arguments against seeing these works as having any kind of positive influence on Jewish–Christian relations, there is also an argument for examining the different layers of texts – from the Gospels to contemporary Lutheran poetry – as well as diverse musical expression in both works in order to elicit and understand profound, universal themes of sin and repentance, confession and forgiveness, life and death. Public performances of the Passions need to be undertaken responsibly with detailed programme notes and talks that draw out the journey of the individual worshipper and tackle the difficult problems of the Gospel texts and the music.
Alexandra Wright is Senior Rabbi at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, London. She was ordained at Leo Baeck College, London in 1986.