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Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 44 3, Summer 2009


PRECIS As early as the third century, Christians grew increasingly hostile toward Jews; however, the Reformation ushered in a new phase in the relations between Judaism and Christianity. Reformation leaders narrowed the gap between the two religions when they renewed the emphasis on the authority of Scriptures and on God the Fa­ ther, while downplaying the adoration of Mary and the saints. Nevertheless, the leaders of the Reformation and their followers held varied and complex attitudes toward the Jews and post-Temple Judaism, ranging from anti-Judaism to philosemitic attitudes. Martin Luther exemplifies these ambivalent, even contradic­ tory attitudes. Initially, he was friendly toward and sympathetic with the Jews of Germany because he expected them to convert to his reformed form of Christianity, but he angrily turned against them when it became clear that most Jews would no more accept Protestantism than they had Catholicism. At the same time, he and other Protestant thinkers and leaders stimulated pro-Jewish attitudes by emphasiz­ ing the ongoing validity of the Hebrew Bible and the importance of study of the He­ brew language.

Without any doubt Martin Luther was the most important leader of the Ref­ ormation in central Europe and especially in Germany. He was initially friendly to the Jews because he hoped they would convert to his reformed church. Be­ cause he sought to strip Christianity of its medieval accretions, Luther narrowed the gap between Judaism and Christianity. Just as the Pharisees had built a new form of Judaism apart from the Temple cult at Jerusalem, so Luther also built a new and dynamic form of Christianity apart from the Catholic hierarchical and David G Singer (Reformed Jewish) holds a Β A (social sciences) and an M S (Russian history) from the University of Illinois and a Ph D in U S history with a minor in Latin American history (1973) from Loyola University of Chicago He also has studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusa­ lem, Roosevelt University, Chicago State University, the University of Chicago, Columbia Univer­ sity ( N Y C ) , and Northeastern Illinois University He has taught social sciences in several Chicagoarea schools, including Loyola and DeVry universities and the Spertus Institute of Judaica He has also taught languages and English as a Second Language at several area institutions and programs He has been an E S L instructor since 2006 at Goal Training Institute (Chicago and Skokie, IL) He is involved with conversation groups in German, French, Spanish, and Yiddish, as well as groups involved with philosophy, literature, and political concerns His The Christian Search for a New Zion Christian Love and Hate of the Jews from the Time of St Paul to the Present was published in 1999 by Aegina Press, Huntington, WV His articles have been published in American Jewish His­ torical Quarterly, Contemporary Jewry, Humanistic Judaism, Jewish Social Studies, Journal of Church and State, Shofar, and JES (Fall, 1985) Two of his articles have also appeared as book chapters, in Naomi W Cohen, ed , Essential Papers on Jewish Christian Relations in the United States (New York University Press, 1990), and David A Graeber, ed , Anti-Semitism m American ///story (University of Illinois Press, 1987)


He pointed out that during Holy Week priests often inflamed the masses against the Jews for their alleged role in the Crucifixion. he wrote that the Catholic clergy. they welcomed the split that he brought about in the unity of Western Christianity. were the ones who truly profaned the eucharist. not the Jews. Luther thought. spread the rumor that Luther really was a converted Jew. Shortly before he nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg. Luther's enemies were wrong: He did not want to Judaize Christians but. Luther again defended the Jews and criticized the Catholic Church for its attitudes toward the Jews. His emphasis on the Bible as the sole religious authority for Christians provided more evidence to his enemies that this allegation was indeed true. in their place was a renewed emphasis on God the Father and the authority of Scriptures. Cardinal Girolamo Aleandro. which was written by an author who sought to prove that faith in Christ was the fulfillment of Judaism. Luther and the other Reformation leaders swept away many of the pagan and non-Jewish elements that had crept into Christianity over the ages. No doubt. Everywhere Jews greeted Luther's pro-Jewish writings. Luther probably knew that his call for a change in Christian attitudes toward the Jews would be used by his opponents to attack him.) Significantly. hence. rather. The life of a pig.402 Journal of Ecumenical Studies cultic center at Rome." in which he again blamed the Catholic Church for the refusal of most Jews to accept Christianity. was better than that of a Jew under the thumb of the Catholic hierarchy. Significantly. 3. which were distributed among both confessing Jews and Marranos. p. Gone were the adoration of saints and of Mary and the use of incense. not the Catholic. The History of the Jewish People. were merely theologically misguided and would accept baptism once the truth of Christianity was revealed to them. he openly declared that both he and the Jews had suffered from Catholic bigotry. Luther's translation of the Hebrew Scriptures was based on the Jewish. the papal legate at the Diet of Worms. He then wrote his best-known defense of the Jews. indeed. and translations of his pro-Jewish essay as well as his other writings were distributed among French and Spanish intellectuals. The Late Middle Ages [Chicago: Regnery Gateway. Shulvass. "That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew. 'Marranos were Jews who "converted to Christianity in Spain between 1391 and 1442. when Luther had hoped for the conversion of the Jews. Luther exclaimed in his essay. Maccabees I and II were omitted in the Lutheran Bible. The Jews.1 Many Protestants also approved of his defense of the Jews. (During the Middle Ages Jews were burned at the stake on the charge that they profaned the eucharist. A year after he made these comments. these comments were included in Luther's lectures on the Epistle to the Hebrews. In the decade 1513-23. his Catholic enemies branded him a half-Jew. 1985]. He called on his followers to show only Christian love toward the Jews and to abolish the economic restrictions that had forced them into such occupations as money-lending. version. . Although many Jews did not like his emphasis on the Pauline doctrine of salvation by faith alone. vol. to Christianize Jews. 164)." as well as Portuguese Jews who were forcibly converted in 1496-97 (Moses A.

18791950 (New York Barnes and Noble Books. he declared. Luther's suspicions were unfounded. and. A Social and Religious History of the Jews. The Jews.5 Faced with the real or imagined popularity of Judaizing practices among some Protestants and the almost universal refusal of the Jews to accept baptism. ρ 222 . most Christians held this position as it was formulated by St Paul Ίη truth the Hussites often sang a translation of the Hebrew hymn. but also. the Jews would not convert to Protestantism any more than they had to Catholicism. he turned in bitter disap­ pointment and deep anger against them. much to his consternation. with few exceptions." which proclaimed the unity of the Godhead 6 Salo Wittmayer Baron. ρ 163 The famous nineteenth-century. Luther hoped for the success of his mission among the Jews of Germany. after this pronouncement. Meno Simons. In Luther's let­ ter of 1538 against the Sabbatarians. but. Anabaptist Balthasar Hubmaier led popular riots in Regensburg that culminated in the burning of the local synagogue. 1976). was given only to the Jews and had no relevance for Christians. vol 3. Like Luther. in the same year Luther refused to exert his influence to prevent the expulsion of the Jews from Saxony. he declared. therefore. but politically the Jews sided with the Holy Roman Emperor whose protection they sought. ρ 163. after the Advent Judaism was an invalid religion. 1953). he singled them out for criticism in his re­ marks about the taking of excessive interest. he admonished those Protestants who adopted Jewish religious practices. the Vir- 2 Ibid . Viennese rabbi Adolph Jellinek was the descendent of Czech peasants of Hussite background who converted to Judaism in the eighteenth century ^Some scholars do not regard Hubmaier as an Anabaptist 4 Until recently. The German Evangelical Church and the Jews. and Richard Guttendge. Not only would the Jews not convert to Luther's version of reformed Christianity. Luther grew ever more hostile toward them on both economic and religious grounds.3 Another radical Protes­ tant thinker. for the Jews looked to the various rulers of the German states for protection and feared the antisemitic demagogues.Baptism or Expulsion: Martin Luther and the Jews of Germany 403 During the years 1513-23. Hus was dubbed a Judaizer by his Catholic enemies who had only the flimsiest evidence for such an allegation.2 The Mosaic Law. No doubt. In his early writings of 1519-20 on usury. he found out that they were disseminating their own religious literature among the Christians of Bohemia and Moravia. regarded as valid only those passages in the Hebrew Scriptures that foreshadowed the coming of Jesus Christ. he was encouraged by the conversion of two Jews who reportedly visited him while he attended the Diet of Worms. some of whom became full converts to Judaism.6 Luther then launched a bitter at­ tack on Judaism. In an effort to defame the Anabaptists and other radical Protestants. beginning in the 1530's. defamed Jesus and his mother. 'The One and Only.4 In the Czech lands the Jews tried to stay neutral in the struggle between the Catholic Church and the followers of John Hus. But. Two years later. Luther stated that he had found indications of Jewish messi­ anic and legalistic tendencies among them. 15 vols (New York Co­ lumbia University Press. when Luther realized that. he advised Judaizing Christians that if they were so fascinated by the Mosaic Law. including circumcision and the observance of Saturday as the Lord's Day. liberal. then they ought to convert to Judaism. In actuality. Luther did not mention the Jews.

ed and tr Theodore G Tappert (New York* Fortress Press. These abusive terms did not exhaust the list of insults that Luther flung at the Jews. he wrote. Luther s Last Battles. he reaffirmed the traditional Christian argument that the doctrine of the Trinity was foreshadowed in the Hebrew Scrip­ tures. Their safe conduct passes on the roads should be revoked. thieves. adopted many of the medieval Catholic verbal attacks on the Jews. Mark U Edwards. Luther. Table Talk." the mildest of the three essays. These suggestions." Luther launched a violent attack on the Jews that exceeded anything that he had written before. They were.8 Ironically. he alleged. He also drew upon the anti-Jewish writings of Antonius Margarita. "Concerning the Jews and Their Lies. and animal excrement. Turks. and. ρ 350. but his attacks on the Jews were particularly significant because he made concrete suggestions as to how the Jewish question should be resolved in the German lands. No invective against the Jews was spared in Luther's diatribe against them. and even kill them by poison­ ing wells and springs as well as by other sinister methods. Luther wrote three anti-Jewish essays in 1543. in his essay "On the Ineffable Name. ρ 9 Luther's assertion that a group of Jewish doctors were trying to poison him was similar to Stalin's assertion of the same . NY Cornell University Press. because the devil symbolized all evil in Lu­ ther's theology. Jr.7 Shortly after he made these remarks. They were." in which he suggested that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings should be taken from them and their synagogues and schools be burned.10 Certainly. Luther's Last Battles Politics and Polemics. stubborn and fanatical. Luther thought that they sought to harm all gentiles and that he was merely exposing the Jews' evil plot. adulterers. which were addressed to the German rulers who had Jews in their domains. ρ 222 Julius Carlebach. as well as the Jews—and described them in extreme terms. "On the Jews and Their Lies. including the murder of gentile patients who were under the care of Jewish doctors. In the last of these essays. and disgusting vermin. (Luther suggested that some of their confiscated wealth be given to Jewish converts to Christianity. 1983). Like many of the other enemies of the Jews. MA Routledge and Kegan Paul. drunk­ ards. and he likened them to the devil—a particularly injurious comparison. vol 13. so that they could do no further harm. A Social and Religious History. a Jew who converted first to Catholicism and then later embraced the Lutheran cause. 1531-46 (Ithaca. were listed in his famous essay. Luther was suspicious of all his opponents—including Catholics. 1978). asses. they perverted the meaning of Scriptures and slandered Christianity. Karl Marx and the Radical Critique of Judaism (London and Boston. He compared them to pigs. ρ 131 '"Edwards. In "David's Last Words. and their wealth should be taken from them. The Jewish religion. usurers.404 Journal of Ecumenical Studies gin Mary. among other things." he criticized the Kabbalah. they should be driven from rural areas. Lu­ ther was in bad health throughout much of his adult life and became convinced that the Jews were trying to poison him. 7 Martm Luther. ρ 426 8 Baron. plunder. Luther asserted they could slowly poison a person over a number of years. required Jews to break their oaths to non-Jews and to rob. who led the break with the Catholic Church in Germany. thereby shaming and insulting all Christians. 1967). and Anabaptists.9 Because Jewish doctors were familiar with all the medicines that were used in the German lands.

Luther never defined the Jews as a racial group but only as a religious one.)11 Finally. young Jews should be forced to work as farm laborers so that they could earn an honest living. the Elector Joachim had expelled the Jews from Brandenburg. In his time the rural gentry were particularly anti-Jewish. and the growing power of the princes. In the same year.13 Nevertheless. those few Jews who did convert to Christianity were still suspect in Luther's eyes. an attitude that he may have inherited from the medieval church. revoked some of the privileges that he had extended to the Jews four years earlier. Luther enlisted the aid of such converts as former Rabbi Jacob (later Bernard) Gipher of Göppingen and the Spaniard Matthew Adrian for missionary work among the Jews. several princes did enact measures against the Jews as a result of Luther's writings. They were squeezed on all sides by the rising urban middle class. Ironically. the angry peasant masses. Luther's mistrust of converted Jews as well as his hostility toward confessing Jews stemmed from his fear of Judaizers. Certainly. pp 135-136 . Nor did he ever deny the antiquity of the Jewish settlement in Germany but acknowledged that the Jews had settled there before the Christian era. 1543. were free to leave Germany at any time. He explained that Luther's essays of 1543 made him aware of the danger of Jewish proselytizing and the seriousness of their attacks on Christianity. In 1510. Margrave of Neumark. Luther 's Last Battles. Jewish converts to Christianity inadvertently disseminated information about Judaism not because they wanted to Judaize Christians but because they wanted to eliminate any lingering Christian hostility toward them by assuring gentile "in Catholic Spain the property of baptized Jews who had relapsed to their former religion was often given to those whose loyalty to the Church was above suspicion and whose families had been Christians for many generations (Old Christians) l2 ln Nazi-occupied Europe the Nazis boasted that they had forced many Jews to work on farms and m factories and thereby earn an honest living. revoked the right of safe-conduct for the Jews who were under his jurisdiction.Baptism or Expulsion: Martin Luther and the Jews of Germany 405 so that they could support themselves. He urged the ecclesiastical authorities also to take action against the Jews by warning the Christian laity about them and their alleged lies. Johann Friedrich. Rather." which had been issued in 1539. Though no other German ruler took similar action. Elector of Saxony. Luther retorted. he said.12 Luther angrily rejected the argument that the Jews were an indispensable source of revenue for the German civil authorities and the claim that they were a repressed group in German society. and Johann of Kustrin. n Edwards. There were no German counterparts to such men as Paul of Burgos and other Jewish converts who became bishops and abbots in the Spanish Catholic Church. short of that. Luther accelerated and legitimized the anti-Jewish trend in Germany. Although Luther never lost hope that the Jews would eventually accept Christianity. In May. more than three decades before Luther wrote his anti-Jewish tract. but Luther did not appoint baptized Jews to positions of authority in his church. he called upon the princes to implement his recommendations for the solution of the Jewish question. and whatever good the Jews did for Germany was far outweighed by the harm that they did. it was Christians who were held captive to Jewish usury. The Jews. Landgrave Phillip of Hesse added several new restrictions to his "Order concerning the Jews.

did "Judaize too much" (W Lee Humphreys. how­ ever. Luther certainly was exposed to these notions about the Hebrew language. Christians assumed that anyone who was knowledgeable in Hebrew must be a Jew or at least of Jewish origin. Hebrew was the language of ancient Israel and the language in which the Hebrew Scriptures were written.15 Much of the time that Luther lived at Wit­ tenberg was devoted to lectures and lessons that were inspired by the Hebrew Bible. Easter must follow Passover ) Despite these efforts to distinguish between Judaism and Christianity. ρ 16 . the anti-Hebraists continued. some of whom became full con­ verts to Judaism .406 Journal of Ecumenical Studies Christians that they were sincere converts to Christianity. 1983). even though he regarded the Hebrew Scriptures—as well as the Christian Scrip­ tures—to be of divine inspiration. not the Roman Catholic version. he remained concerned that the popular study of Hebrew would stimulate the rise of Judaizing tenden­ cies and movements in Christianity.16 Though Luther's translation of Scriptures made it possible for the German people to read the Bible in their own language. his opposition to the popular study of Hebrew was rooted in medieval Christian history.7 Jerome Friedman. thus. Judaizing sects and movements emerged from time to time among Christians. that Hebrew was God's medium for communicating with God's people in days of old. The Most Ancient Testimony Sixteenth-Century Christian-Hebraica in the Age of Renaissance Nostalgia (Athens. Because of his fear of Judaizers. the Roman emperors often could not distinguish between Jews and Christians No doubt the bishops at the Council of Nicaea had this concern in mind when they moved the Lord's Day from Saturday to Sunday and fixed the date of Easter as separate from the dating of Passover (In the Orthodox churches. Luther's translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into German was based on the Jewish canon. they emphasized that Judaism was the logical fulfillment of their new religion.4 This concern extends back to the first four centuries of the Christian era Despite Paul's doc­ trine that faith in Jesus as the Messiah was the fulfillment of Judaism. Luther undertook a serious study of the holy tongue. Crisis and Story Introduction to the Old Testa­ ment [Palo Alto. including the Hebrew Scriptures. CA Mayfield Publishing Co. who were often depicted as having rejected Je­ sus and then having conspired to have him crucified Nevertheless. a doctrine that was repeated and expanded by successive Christian thinkers and leaders. ρ 225) "'Luther never fully mastered Hebrew but had to rely on the help of Jewish scholars . Christian anti-Hebraists conceded. To complete this translation. first-century Christians often attended the synagogue. not its antithesis. Luther feared that his emphasis on the au­ thority of the Bible. which. Christians noted that Jews often referred to texts in Hebrew when they re­ futed Christian doctrines and beliefs.5 Luther's fear of Judaizers may explain his dislike of the biblical Book of Esther. 1979]. there was little to distinguish them from their fellow Jews except that they re­ garded Jesus as the Messiah At the same time the writers of the Gospels shifted the blame for the Crucifixion from the Roman authorities to the Jews. but. he said. would spur the rise of a Judaizing movement among Protestants.17 His concern that the widespread study of Hebrew might lead to a Judaizing movement in Christianity was heightened in 1540 when three . however. OH Ohio University Press. Thus.14 This fear was clearly revealed in Lu­ ther's concern about the popular study of Hebrew and the Bible in Germany. Hebrew and the Jews were closely linked in the minds of Christians. the Jews were the former Israel that still clung to a meaningless religion with moribund rituals and prayers that were written in a language that lacked true religious meaning. From the time of Nicholas de Lyra in the high Middle Ages until the period of the Reformation.

20 These Christian Hebraists included Wolfgang Caputo. But. 1984 [orig Wurzeln des Antisemitismus Christe­ nangst und Judenplage im Zeitalter von Humanismus und Reformation (Berlin Sevenn und Siedler. Osiander was tolerant of Judaism and even defended the Jews against their enemies. tr James I Porter (Philadelphia Fortress Press. When still a young man. had doubts about Luther's diatribes against the Jews. Osiander persisted in his effort to disseminate the knowledge of Hebrew throughout the German lands. ρ 30 20 The seventy of these diatribes may have been a factor in the subsequent decline in the sale ot his anti-Jewish tracts 2. he toned down some of the more biting remarks. Osiander knew enough Hebrew when he was only twenty-two to become the tutor in Hebrew at Nuremberg.8 R Po-chia Hsia. and particularly Andreas Oslander. 1981)]).9 Heiko A Oberman. the Jews of Germany remained second-class citizens until Napoleon's armies emancipated the Jews of the Rhineland. Although he was not a Judaizer. just fifty years later Hebrew was being taught at most universities in Germany and Western Europe. "The Ineffable Name" (Vom Sehern Hamaphoras) so severely and pointed out so many errors in it that Luther's associates were afraid to show him a copy of the letter. but the rabbi evoked an angry response when he suggested that such studies might provide the basis for Christian conversion to Judaism. (When Oslander learned that the contents of the letter had been made public at Wittenberg. fewer than 100 Christians in Europe could read Hebrew. CT Yale University Press. criticized Luther's essay. 1988). Osiander fled from Nuremberg in 1548. In that year books in Hebrew were published primarily by Jewishowned presses for Jewish religious needs. the Reformation sparked such a study of Hebrew as never before in the history of Europe. Even when the Jews were banned from Nuremberg. particularly those involved in the study of Hebrew. Despite the efforts of Osiander and other Hebraists.)21 Nevertheless. when the Emperor Charles V tried to reintroduce Catholicism in the Protestant areas of southern Germany. he argued against the notorious blood libel and continued to defend the Jews throughout his life. ρ 150 . the most prominent and outspoken of the German Christian Hebraists.Baptism or Expulsion: Martin Luther and the Jews of Germany 407 rabbis visited Luther to find out why he was so interested in Hebrew. and none of them could write it. ρ 30 . Lawrence. Justus Jonas. In 1500. However. In a letter to the confessing Jew Elijah Levitas. told Luther that the Jews were pleased that he and other Protestants were studying Hebrew and Jewish literature.18 Despite Luther's misgivings about the study of Hebrew. The Myth of Ritual Murder Jews and Magic in Reformation Germany (New Haven. Following Napoleon's downfall. Oslander. the Napoleonic reforms . Osiander continued his study of Hebrew under a Jewish teacher who had been given special permission to enter this Bavarian city.19 A few German Christians. In the following year he became the professor of Hebrew at the recently established University of Königsberg. Oberman. one of them. Rabbi Samara. When he replied that he wanted to recover the original and true text of the Bible. Roots of Anti-Semitism. The Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Age of Renaissance and Reformation. and books in Hebrew for use by Christians were printed by Christian-owned publishing firms. where he preached at the prestigious Church of St.

the Jews were declared subjects of the Reich and gradually lost their civil rights.C. declared the 1998 document.C. and Australia sought to establish a dialogue with the Jews. "Christians and Jews" (Rendsburg. Following the defeat of Nazi Germany in May. Lutherans were urged to be aware of Jewish sensitivities. 2001). and the Association ot Evangelical Lutheran Churches . the Lutheran churches in Germany. the Lutheran Church in America. Council of Presidents of the Lutheran Church of Australia. available at http //www jcreiations net/en/9item=997 "Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Jewish Relations.'s "Declaration to the Jewish Community. After Hitler became the chancellor of Germany in January. "The American Lutheran Church and the Jewish Community" (1974). Department for Ecumenical Affairs. available at http//www be edu/research/cjl/meta-elements/texts/ cjrelations/resources/documents/protestant/ALC 1974 htm. the authors of the document suggested that seders might be held in Lutheran churches and be led by a rabbi. At this and all other ecumenical events. "Guidelines for Lutheran-Jewish Relations" (1998). Above all. 1945.L." which was written by its Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Jewish Relations of the Department for Ecumenical Relations. the E. "Lutherans and the Jews" (1997. the United States. The 1998 document went beyond general statements to list various concrete measures that Lutherans might institute to promote better relations with the Jews. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.408 Journal of Ecumenical Studies were rescinded until the unification of Germany in the wake of the FrancoPrussian War. those Jews who survived the Holocaust regained their civil and property rights. when the Jews were granted equal rights with their gentile neighbors. with almost 5. Lutherans ought not use these ecumenical occasions as opportunities to convert Jews to Christianity.000. Lutherans were urged to respect Jewish beliefs and practices in order that a true dialogue might be established between the two faiths. is the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States and one of the most important churches in this country. Jews. Germany. available at http //www jcrelations net/enAtem^ 1468. The full implementation of these suggestions might lead to a true rapprochement between Jews and Lutherans.23 The document is of particular importance because. "General Convention of the American Lutheran Church. in turn. could be invited to Lutheran religious and social events.24 These guidelines were an outgrowth of the E." which repudiated the anti-Jewish writings of Luther and expressed a desire to respect and understand Judaism and even to love the Jews. Among the several suggestions was that Lutherans attend a seder. available at http //archive elea org/ecumenical/interreligious/|ewish/guidelmes html 24 The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was a 1987 merger of the American Lutheran Church.A.A.000 members.2007). the festive religious meal that commemorates the Exodus. Indeed.L. 1933. Declaration of the Synod of the North Elbian Evangelical Lutheran Church.22 In 1998. the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America endorsed a document titled "Guidelines for Lutheran-Jewish Relations. In the post-World War II era.

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