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Exclusiveness and Tolerance: Studies in Jewish-Gentile Relations in Medieval and Modern Times (Scripta Judaica

Jan Paczkis|Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Jews and Christians each had stereotypical views of each other (p. xiv), and Jewish views of Christianity were just as unflattering as the reverse. Katz comments: "The biblical name of Edom was, in Talmudic times, applied to Rome. In medieval poetry, however, it is synonymous with Christianity." (p. 16).

A Fascinating Analysis of Past Jewish Attitudes Towards Christians, November 10, 2009 Jews and Christians each had stereotypical views of each other (p. xiv), and Jewish views of Christianity were just as unflattering as the reverse. Katz comments: "The biblical name of Edom was, in Talmudic times, applied to Rome. In medieval poetry, however, it is synonymous with Christianity." (p. 16).

Throughout history, Jews had tended to see Christians as idolaters. (e. g., p. 27, 53, 100). Following Talmudic law, this would've forbidden Jews from having business dealings with Christians. Consequently: "Practical considerations required the dissociation of Christianity from idolatry, and this was rationalized by means of halakhic casuistry. But this rationalization cannot be assumed to imply that, from a theological point of view, Christianity was no longer regarded as a `pagan' religion." (p. 162; see also p. 108). [Nowhere does Katz, or anyone he cites, correct the mistaken equation of the Trinity with polytheism or the mistaken equation of the veneration of relics and images with idolatry]. In recent centuries, according to Katz, some Jewish thinkers did genuinely reject the Christians-are-idolaters premise--in part because Christians believed in creatio ex nihilo. (pp. 163-166, 191).

Put in broader context, Jewish goodwill towards gentiles, according to Katz (p. 58, 101-102), was motivated in part by expediency (e. g., avoid giving all Jews a bad name), and in part by genuine adherence to moral principles. Commensurate with both tendencies, the Talmud teaches loving-kindness to all human beings, helping the poor and sick, etc. (pp. 59-60).

But what of the Talmudic verses that allow Jews to cheat gentiles, etc.? (p. 107). Katz replies: "The disputants claimed that all disparaging references to Gentiles in Talmudic sources applied only to those `seven nations' which are mentioned in the Bible as the aboriginal inhabitants of the Land of Israel, and remnants of which survived as late as Talmudic times. But this statement is no more than an ad hoc device used in the course of controversy. There is no indication in the Talmud or in the later halakhic sources that such a view was ever held, or even proposed, by any individual halakhist. In fact, evidence to the contrary exists." (p. 110). [Modern claims that the offending verses had been "mistranslated", etc., are equally ad hoc and unconvincing.]

The 16th-century seminal Jewish thinker Maharal (Rabbi Judah Loeb of Prague), according to Katz, thought that: "However, his criticism [of Jews] did not affect his basic conception that Jews were, essentially, of a superior religious and moral caliber to others. Their inadequacies were incidental only, and attributable to the trials of the Exile; at a different level, Jewish deficiencies had a direct relationship to the Jews' superior spiritual nature." (p. 141).

Until the 11th century, and sometimes later, Jews could own slaves. (p. 41). As for usury, both Christians and Jews employed a double standard. Christianity forbade usury among Christians, but regarded Jewish conduct as outside its jurisdiction. For its part, Judaism forbade Jew-on-Jew usury, but allowed Jew-on-gentile usury. (p. 57).

Since time immemorial, Jews had preferred to live among their own kind. Compulsory ghettoization came much later. Katz comments: "But contrary to what might be expected, the institution of the closed Jewish quarter was not in itself resented by Jews. It was accepted as a provision appropriate to a group of their status, and as corresponding to their social and religious needs; moreover, it provided a measure of security. Jews were content to be recognized as a socio-religious unit, distinct from the general population." (pp. 132-133).
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