Tuesday, December 9, 2008

General Exam III: Jewish History (Part II)

Here are the questions that I did respond to.

Trace developments in the Church’s relationship with Jews during the twelfth to fifteenth centuries in Western Europe. Your answer should make reference to legislation, polemics, and divisions within Christian society. Please refer to the relevant contemporary scholarship.

Traditionally the Church has had a complicated relationship with Jews. On the one hand Christianity developed in polemical opposition to Judaism, thus making Judaism the big Other, on the other hand Christianity came out of Judaism and Jews play an important role in the process of salvation. An example of this struggle can be seen in the witness doctrine of St. Augustine. According to St. Augustine, Jews needed to continue to exist as they serve a dual purpose for Christians. Jews testify to the truth of the Old Testament, which prefigures the New Testament. If it were not for the Jews pagans might claim that Christians made up the Old Testament and the prophecies contained within it. The other purpose that Jews serve is that their suffering and exile testifies to their punishment for rejecting Jesus. The witness doctrine, particularly as codified by Gregory the Great, created a dichotomy in regards to Jews. On the one hand Jews were to be protected, unlike pagans and heretics, but on the other hand Jews were to be kept in a low status. For example, while Gregory allowed Jews to maintain synagogues, Jews were not supposed to be allowed to build new synagogues and their synagogues were not supposed to outshine churches.

It is useful to contrast Pope Gregory the Great’s view on Jews at the end of the sixth century with that of Pope Innocent III in the early thirteenth century. The context which Innocent III wrote was remarkably different from that of Pope Gregory. The Church was taking a far greater interest into internal Jewish affairs and was failing to protect Jews from a populace that was heavily influenced by the Church’s anti-Jewish rhetoric. I would like to analyze specific events, laws and polemics connected to Jewish Christian relations within the context of the witness doctrine and discuss some possible explanations offered by scholars as to why the Church protection of Jews, as exemplified by the witness doctrine, stopped being effective.

In dealing with medieval Jewish Christian relations it is very easy to fall into the trap of Joshua Trachtenberg’s Devil and the Jews and see Christian anti-Semitism as a static inevitable result of Christian doctrine. The Jews rejected the “obvious” truth of Christianity. The Jews must know the truth. Only the Devil could know the truth and still reject it. Therefore Jews must be in league with the Devil. Since the Jews are in league with the Devil they must be devoted to doing such things as reenacting the crucifixion by torturing the Host or murdering innocent Christian children. It would seem only logical that Jews would be plotting to bring down Christendom with the dark magical arts that the Devil taught them. The problem with this view is that it assumes that Christians held to a static view of Jews. It does not take into account differences say in the twelfth century or in the sixteenth century. Trachtenberg assumes that once Christians, by the twelfth century, fully developed this satanic image of the Jew it remained static essentially all the way up to Nazi Germany. Furthermore Trachtenberg does not take into account why this view developed when it did; why the twelfth and thirteenth centuries?

It is an accepted fact that the bottom dropped out from underneath the Jews in Western Europe during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In 1096 you had the Crusades and the massacre of Jews in the Rhineland, but this was mob violence. Jews were still protected, both by the Church and by the secular authorities. Things begin to change from here. In the twelfth century the Church began to take an interest in Jewish money lending. We see the letters of Peter the Venerable to Louis VII denouncing Jewish money lending and arguing that the Jews be made to pay for the Second Crusade. Even at this time, though, Church leaders such as Bernard of Clairvaux went out of their way to make sure that Jews were protected. In 1144 we see the first ritual murder charges in Norwich England. By the end of the century this charge had spread to France and to Germany. In the thirteenth century the ritual murder charge morphed into the far deadlier blood libel, that Jews needed blood. The first expulsion was carried out by Philip Augustus in 1182. This was rescinded and only covered a small area, greater Paris more or less, but would be a precedent for things to come.

The situation became really bad for Jews during the thirteenth centuries. Jews come face to face with full blown blood libels and desecration of the Host charges. They were subjected to an intense missionizing campaign and the assault on the Talmud that came its wake; the Talmud was burnt in Paris in 1242. Later in Spain we see the Dominican efforts that resulted in the Barcelona debate of 1263 and Raymond Martini’s Pugio Fidei. Jews were expelled from England in 1290. They are briefly expelled from France in 1306; they are allowed back in a few years latter only to be finally expelled in 1394 but for all intents and purposes medieval French culture ends with 1306. There were large scale massacres, possibly even worse than the Crusades, in Germany, effectively bringing an end to that community as well. The situation for Jewish communities in Iberia held out for longer but the situation collapsed in 1391. Then in 1492 they were expelled. (More on this in the next essay.)

R. I Moore’s theory is that this downturn in Jewish fortunes in Western Europe was connected, one, to the general persecution of other marginal groups such as heretics and lepers and, two, that the source for this persecution was the rising clerical and merchant classes, which saw Jews as unwanted competition. In essence Moore sees this new persecution as being intimately connected to the twelfth century humanist and economic revolutions. What Moore suggests has a number of radical implications. Moore removes the Church from its traditional role as the villain in this narrative and makes them irrelevant bystanders. By locating the Christian turn toward the persecution of others within the context of the twelfth century Renaissance, Moore attacks the social progress leads to greater levels of tolerance narrative. In a certain respect what he does to the twelfth century Renaissance is similar to what Arthur Hertzberg did to the French Enlightenment in The French Enlightenment and the Jews. The other thing that Moore does is that, by putting anti-Judaism within the context of Muslims, heretics and lepers, he effectively eliminates the concept of anti-Judaism. If Jews are being persecuted alongside other groups and for the same reasons than the fact that they were Jews ceases to be relevant.

There are a number of other works of scholarship that come to mind to compare Moore to. Dominique Iogna-Prat’s Order & Exclusion: Cluny and Christiandom Face Heresy, Judaism, and Islam (1000-1150) takes a very similar line to Moore. Focusing on the thought of Peter the Venerable, Iogna-Prat builds a case for a major shift amongst Christian thinkers toward viewing society as a whole as a Christian society; one that was actively in a struggle with opposing forces, particularly Islam. Because of this the Church all of a sudden began to take an interest in Jews and heretics within the borders of Christendom and began to see them as a problem. Like Moore, Iogna-Prat sees the persecution of Jews as an extension of the move against heretics and other dissidents. Unlike Moore, Iogna-Prat directly connects this shift to the Church. Like Moore, Iogna-Prat’s discussion of anti-Judaism eliminates the Jewish element. Peter the Venerable is not interested in Jews as Jews. There is an interesting irony here; this turn for the worse is precisely related to a willingness to stop thinking of Jews as being in their own category and to start treating Jews just like everyone else. The fact that Jews were now just like everyone else meant that now the fact that Jews were practicing usury and blaspheming Christianity was all of a sudden relevant and a matter of Church interest.

David Nirenberg, in Communities of Violence, parallels Moore, though differs from him in certain key respects. Like Moore, Nirenberg assumes that Christian persecution of Jews was not inevitable and that it originated somewhere. Like Moore, Nirenberg looks to social causes of anti-Judaism and places it within the context of the persecution of other groups, thus eliminating the Jewish context of it. [1] Nirenberg is more radical than Moore in that he places anti Jewish activities into a context of a “tolerant,” “inclusive” society. Nirenberg focuses on a number of specific issues relating toward northern Spain in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. This is different than Moore who is more interested in the larger narrative issues.

An example of Nirenberg’s dealing with anti Judaism is his discussion of legislation meant to ban Jews from using the services of Christian prostitutes and from sleeping with Christian women. Nirenberg sees this as coming out of a situation in which Jews did interact with Christians and were part of the Christian public space. The fact that Jews were in the Christian public space posed a theological problem for Christians so measures had to be taken in order to keep Jews in their place even as Jews were still in the public sphere and could not be removed from it. I do admit that certain elements in this line of argument strike me as a bit too post modernist, particularly when he starts talking about how the prostitute’s body represents the public space open to all and that the Jew, by penetrating the prostitute’s body, was seen as violating this space. Nevertheless, in general, I do find his discussion of Jewish “coexistence” with Christians and Muslims to be quite effective.

Jeremy Cohen, in his Friars and the Jews, argues that the key players in this shift against Jews were the newly formed mendicant orders, the Franciscans and the Dominicans. These groups, so Cohen argues, turned away from the Augustinian witness doctrine which had traditionally protected Jews. The reason for this was the apocalyptic tendency that underlay much of Dominican and Franciscan thought. The assumption was the witness doctrine was something that was only supposed to apply during the time between the two comings; now that the end of days was it hand the witness doctrine no longer applied. Without the witness doctrine Jews become sitting targets for persecution.

Cohen is particularly interested in the attacks on the Talmud the trial of the Talmud in 1240, the Barcelona debate in 1263 and Raymond Martini’s Pugio Fidei. The Dominicans in particular took a leading role in these actions. Pope Gregory IX’s attempt to ban the Talmud marks the first time that the Church itself had directly attempted to interfere in an internal Jewish matter. This, according to Cohen, meant that the Church no longer the right of Jews to practice their own religion unmolested under the protection of the Church as a sacred cow.

Cohen’s thesis has been challenged by Robert Chazan. Chazan denies that there was any fundamental shift in Christian theology. What he does see is a change in tactics, particularly with the introduction of the anti Talmud campaign. The Church’s decision to go after the Talmud, for Chazan, was a pragmatic decision. Since no Christian dogmas rested on the issue, any debate on the Talmud would be a matter of whether the Christian won or failed to win; there was no way to lose. Chazan makes a big deal over the fact that in Nachmonides’ account of the 1263 Barcelona debate, which he assumes is a literally construction with little to do with the actual historical event, Nachmonides wishes to dodge precisely this issue. Nachmonides keeps on taking the discussion away from the Talmud and toward more traditional lines of debate that focused on Christian dogma.

This move against the Talmud, for Chazan, has very little to do with the Dominicans. The interest that the Dominicans showed in the Talmud in the thirteenth century had its precedent in the work of Peter Alphonsi and Peter the Venerable in the twelfth century. So for Chazan there really is nothing revolutionary about happens to the Talmud in the thirteenth century; it is all a continuation from what was going on before.

Guido Kisch’s Jews in Medieval Germany, written during the 1940s, deals with Jews from the perspective of their status in various German law codes, particularly the thirteenth century Sachenspiegel. His essential argument is that the introduction of Roman law into Germany, during the twelfth century, marked a downturn for Jews, because it specifically singled them out. No longer were Jews simply residents of the cities that they lived in; now they were in a special legal category all of their own. Kisch in particular goes after the concept of servi camerae, that Jews were the slaves of the crown. While this notion justified the involvement of the crown in the protection of Jews, Kisch sees this, in the long run, setting the stage for crown being able to dispose of Jews as it saw fit.

As one can see Jewish Christian relations in the Middle Ages was a complicated matter. There is more here than bigoted fanatical Christians persecuting helpless Jews. The Church was often not the main culprit in all of this. Even when we talk about Church’s anti Judaism it is important to consider what elements of the Church was at work; whether we are dealing with popular Christianity, the Church hierarchy or any of the monastic orders. If we are to face the collapse of the Jewish relations we also have to consider the day to day coexistence which frames the context of that collapse.

[1] To be fair to both Moore and Nirenberg, neither of them are trying to completely remove the Judaic element from anti Jewish violence. Nor are they saying that there are no differences in dealing with different groups. What they are arguing is that we can point to certain common causes for violence against different groups and that therefore this violence must be understood within a larger context beyond that of any one group.

[I was asked a similar question on the medieval exam, but ended up not choosing it. So I guess it worked out for the best; I got to write it for this exam.]

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