Wednesday, December 24, 2008

AJS Conference Day One Session Two (Interreligious Hostility in Medieval and Early Modern Times Part I)

(In the interests of space I have divided this post up.)

Yaacov Deutsch (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
“When ropes he pulls, with rubbish he’s full:’ Anti-Christian Curses in the Medieval and Early Modern Period”

The title refers to the church bell ringer. It actual rhymes nicely in Hebrew. Church bells represented Christianity in the public sphere. This is an example of a Jewish hidden discourse, where Jews amongst themselves would curse Christians. We should not think of medieval Jews as being resigned to their situation. Jews had a highly developed discourse to mock Christianity. Jesus is referred to as a bastard. This Toldot Yeshu tradition not only rejects the gospel account it also reverses it. We see churches referred to as tiflah, unimportant or worthless. This plays on the similarity to the Hebrew word for prayer, tifilah. The church is a house of worthless prayers. We have an example of an Ashkenazic prayer, said at circumcisions, about the hoped for destruction of Christendom. The ritual of circumcision itself, therefore, takes on its own polemic and becomes a means to distinguish those who are part of the covenant and those who are not, mainly Christians. We should take the claims of Jewish converts to Christianity seriously when they talk about Jews putting anti-Christian meanings to various rituals; these claims are often supported by Jewish sources. (See Elisheva Carlebach's Divided Souls) The rise of works on Judaism by converted Jews led to a major shift as Christians became increasingly aware of this anti-Christian discourse. An example of this is Martin Luther, who dramatically changed his opinion about Jews soon after reading Toldot Yeshu and Anton Margaritha's work.

(I challenged Deutsch over Toldot Yeshu. Christians all of a sudden discovered Toldot Yeshu in the sixteenth century? Agobard of Lyon already was complaining about it in the ninth century. Deutsch’s response was that after Agobard there was not much done about Toldot Yeshu until the sixteenth century when it finally reached print. So fine I am willing to accept a rise in interest in Toldot Yeshu. It also plausible that Luther was influenced by Toldot Yeshu. I still do not buy into the notion that there is a remarkable shift in Jewish-Christian relations or that it was brought about by exposes on Judaism written by converted Jews. What is really so different here from say Nicholas Donin in the thirteenth century complaining about anti-Christian passages in the Talmud?

There was someone in the audience who went absolutely ballistic at Deutsch, accusing him of blaming Jews for Christian anti-Semitism. What Deutsch is arguing is very similar to what Israel Yuval did with ritual murder charges. Christians are reacting to a very real anti-Christian sentiment among Jews and make the logical conclusion. If Jews are willing to kill their own children in their hatred of Christianity how much more so would they be willing to kill Christian children? Yuval was also attacked for seeming to blame Jews for anti-Semitism. In fairness to both Deutsch and Yuval, neither of them are blaming Jews. What they are doing is trying to get past the model of rabid Christians out to murder Jews who are completely passive; there is a give and take here. )

Miriam Bodian (Touro College)
“The New Polemical Arguments of an Inquisition Prisoner: The Case of Isaac de Castro Tartas”

Isaac de Castro Tartes lived in quite a number of places during his short life. He was born into a converse family in seventeenth-century Spain. His family fled to France when he was a child, where he attended a Jesuit school. They then joined the Jewish community in Amsterdam. Isaac went to Dutch Brazil, but then crossed over to the Portuguese side where he was caught, apparently with a pair of tiffilin in his possession, and sent back to Portugal as a Judaizer. He was eventually burned at the stake in Lisbon. Isaac argues with his Inquisitors. He has a triumphant view of Jewish exile, even claiming, strangely enough, that Jews outnumber Christians. Despite everything that has happened to them, Jews have flourished and have become rich; Jews even bring prosperity to whatever nation they reside in. Leaving aside straight anti-Christian polemics, Isaac does not directly attack the Church or paint Christians as being beyond salvation. Isaac points out that one does not have to be Jewish in order to be saved and that one can be saved through the seven Noachide laws. These laws are based in reason and are the basis for natural law. Using his Jesuit training, Isaac confronts the charge that he is a Judaizing Christian. There is no proof that he was ever baptized; he certainly has no memory of it. Even if he was baptized he never consented to it. If his parents had him baptized they, as converses, clearly did not mean it. Anyway, he did not confirm his baptism when he became of age so it should not count. The inquisitors counter this by pointing out that amongst Jews circumcision is done to children and it makes them Jews for life. Isaac also tries to paint himself as someone following his consciousness. He is following a law given by God and has not done any specific action that can be defined as a sin in Church law. He should be free to choose from any established religion. Isaac can be seen as an example of a shift in seventeenth-century thought. He emphasizes personal autonomy and the authority of reason and natural law.

(Here is an example of a legitimate Jew ending up in the hands of the Inquisition. Most converso cases were people with little real connection to Judaism and better classified as heretical Catholics. What is interesting about Isaac is that even his defense of Judaism is rooted in Christian thinking. This is a renegade Catholic who embraced Judaism.)

(To be continued …)


Baruch said...

I'm working on my notes from the conference as well...I'll send 'em to you when I'm done, maybe you can put 'em up as a guest post.

Izgad said...

With pleasure.

Baruch said...

hey Benzi,

After looking at my notes, I changed my mind. Too many "IIRCs" in there; I don't want to ascribe something to somebody that they didn't say in a public forum like your blog.


But happy Hannukah nevertheless and it was great to meet you!

Izgad said...

In response to some helpful criticism from someone at the event I have made a slight change to the post.