Friday, February 29, 2008

Jewish Year Abroad

Jewish Year Abroad
February 29, 2008; Page W11
By the middle of my post-high-school year of yeshiva study in Israel, it was obvious which of my classmates would return home much as they had left and which would return transformed. In the latter group were the boys who had begun to trade evenings at the bars on Jerusalem's Ben Yehuda Street for the study hall, where they spent hours imbibing rabbinic wisdom. Their hair grew shorter and their sidelocks longer. Baseball caps declaring allegiance to the Yankees and Mets were replaced with velvet yarmulkes. Now they declared allegiance to a higher authority.
Religious transformations like these have become such a phenomenon in the Orthodox Jewish world that they have birthed their own derisive catchphrase. "Flipping Out," a term first popularized by an Orthodox rock band, is now the title of a book published by Yashar Books in cooperation with New York's Yeshiva University, the flagship institution of Modern Orthodoxy. Jews who identify themselves as Modern Orthodox keep kosher, observe the sabbath and practice other rituals but are otherwise well integrated into society, living and working among people of other faiths.
A year of yeshiva study in Israel is now a rite of passage, with some Modern Orthodox high schools sending 90% of their graduating seniors to programs designed to fortify them with religious values before they go off to a secular American college. But some of these teenagers, once in Israel, choose to remain in yeshivas for a second or third year to continue their study of Torah and Talmud (biblical commentary). Others turn down admission to the Ivy League in favor of Yeshiva University, which offers a dual curriculum of liberal arts and religious instruction. In one case described in the book, a student's parents were so horrified at their son's intention to forgo admission to Harvard that they forged his signature on a commitment letter to the university. In the most extreme cases, returnees no longer respect the authority of rabbis they have known their entire lives, or refuse to eat in the home of their parents, whose adherence to Jewish dietary laws is deemed insufficiently rigorous.
"I suspect on some level moves the community to a more separatist position," said Rabbi Yosef Blau, the director of religious guidance at Yeshiva University, who supports Israel study but considers it a double-edged sword. "In Israel, the line between the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox is quite sharp, and that gets reflected back."
Exact figures are hard to come by, but YU estimates that some 2,000 Modern Orthodox high-school graduates depart for single-sex Israeli yeshivas each year. Most attend programs for foreigners, where instruction is typically in English, room and board are included, and 12-hour days of study -- generally a mixture of Bible, Talmud and Jewish law and philosophy, though the diet is more Talmud-centered for men -- are supplemented by trips to sites of religious significance.
"They're basically given the message that they are doing what they were created to do, which is to study Torah, that they are princes and princesses of Judaism, that that is all that they have to do," says Samuel Heilman, a sociologist of American Jewry and the author of "Sliding to the Right." He fingers the Israel year as a chief reason for Modern Orthodoxy's supposed shift toward traditionalism. Critics of the shift point to everything from the style of yarmulke worn by Modern Orthodox men to the reluctance of some returning yeshiva graduates to kiss their female relatives. In 2006, 10 alumni of a right-wing yeshiva in Israel left YU after a year, citing ideological differences.
Survey data in "Flipping Out," the first effort to quantify the effects of the year in Israel, will provide ammunition to the critics. Rabbi Shalom Berger, one of the book's three authors, found that prior to landing in Israel, less than 20% of students rank high on a scale of ritual practice. After the year of study, the number surges to nearly 70%. Rabbi Berger also found that students are more committed to lifelong Torah study and show stronger ties to Israel after they return. But only a tiny minority, he says, eschew higher education entirely and dedicate their lives to studying Torah. Most will eventually attend college and go on to productive careers.
For many Orthodox educators, particularly at Yeshiva University, which recruits heavily from the programs in Israel, these findings are cause for celebration, not concern. With its motto of "Torah Umadda," literally "Torah and secular knowledge," YU has long been the standard-bearer of the ideal of marrying Orthodox practice to secular education. "I believe our tradition is such that we should be confident that we can contribute to the world based on our values," said YU President Richard Joel, five of whose children have studied in Israeli yeshivas. "We're not supposed to view the modern world as the enemy."
What remains unclear is the extent to which the educators in Israel, a country without a tradition of liberal-arts education, share Mr. Joel's commitment to the Modern Orthodox ethos. I have earned two academic degrees from top universities since I left the yeshiva in Israel, all while continuing to observe many of the rituals urged upon me a decade ago by my rabbis there, though I take certain liberties with the law that they would almost certainly frown upon.
Still, I consider that year to have been one of the most enriching of my life. The headmaster, I'm sure, wouldn't agree. Some weeks before my departure, he called me to his office to tell me that I had wasted my time. "Maybe," he said, "if you had learned a little more Torah."
Mr. Harris writes about religion for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Leica Freedom Train

The Leica is the pioneer 35mm camera. It is a German product -precise,
minimalist, and utterly efficient. Behind its worldwide acceptance as a
creative tool was a family-owned, socially oriented firm that, during the
Nazi era, acted with uncommon grace, generosity and modesty.

E. Leitz Inc., designer and manufacturer of Germany's most famous
photographic product, saved its Jews.

And Ernst Leitz II, the steely eyed Protestant patriarch who headed the
closely held firm as the Holocaust loomed across Europe, acted in such a way
as to earn the title, "the photography industry's Schindler."

The 'Leica Freedom Train'

As soon as Adolf Hitler was named chancellor of Germany in 1933, Ernst
Leitz II began receiving frantic calls from Jewish associates, asking for
his help in getting them and their families out of the country.

As Christians, Leitz and his family were immune to Nazi Germany's
Nuremberg laws, which restricted the movement of Jews and limited
their professional activities.

To help his Jewish workers and colleagues, Leitz quietly established
what has become known among historians of the Holocaust as "the Leica
Freedom Train," a covert means of allowing Jews to leave Germany in the
guise of Leitz employees being assigned overseas.

Employees, retailers, family members, even friends of family members
were "assigned" to Leitz sales offices in France, Britain, Hong Kong and the
United States.

Leitz's activities intensified after the Kristallnacht of November
1938, during which synagogues and Jewish shops were burned across Germany.

Before long, German "employees" were disembarking from the ocean liner
Bremen at a New York pier and making their way to the Manhattan office of
Leitz Inc., where executives quickly found them jobs in the photographic

Each new arrival had around his or her neck the symbol of freedom - a
new Leica.

The refugees were paid a stipend until they could find work. Out of
this migration came designers, repair technicians, salespeople, marketers and
writers for the photographic press.

Keeping the story quiet

The "Leica Freedom Train" was at its height in 1938 and early 1939,
delivering groups of refugees to New York every few weeks. Then, with the
invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, Germany closed its borders.

By that time, hundreds of endangered Jews had escaped to America,
thanks to the Leitzes' efforts.

How did Ernst Leitz II and his staff get away with it?

Leitz Inc. was an internationally recognized brand that reflected
credit on the newly resurgent Reich.. The company produced range-finders and other
optical systems for the German military. Also, the Nazi government desperately
needed hard currency from abroad, and Leitz's single biggest market for
optical goods was the United States.

Even so, members of the Leitz family and firm suffered for their good
works. A top executive, Alfred Turk, was jailed for working to help Jews and
freed only after the payment of a large bribe.

Leitz's daughter, Elsie Kuhn-Leitz, was imprisoned by the Gestapo after
she was caught at the border, helping Jewish women cross into Switzerland.
She eventually was freed but endured rough treatment in the course of

She also fell under suspicion when she attempted to improve the living
conditions of 700 to 800 Ukrainian slave laborers, all of them women, who
had been assigned to work in the plant during the 1940s.

(After the war, Kuhn-Leitz received numerous honors for her humanitarian
efforts, among them the Officier d'honneur des Palms Academic from France
in 1965 and the Aristide Briand Medal from the European Academy in the 1970s.)

Why has no one told this story until now?

According to the late Norman Lipton, a freelance writer and editor, the Leitz family
wanted no publicity for its heroic efforts. Only after the last member of the Leitz
family was dead did the "Leica Freedom Train" finally come to light.

It is now the subject of a book, "The Greatest Invention of the Leitz
Family: The Leica Freedom Train," by Frank Dabba Smith, a California-born
rabbi currently living in England.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"Wonderful Yiddish Proverbs"

"Wonderful Yiddish Proverbs"

If the rich could hire other people to die for
them, the poor could make a wonderful living.

The wise man, even when he holds his tongue,
says more than the fool when he speaks.

One old friend is better than two new ones.

One of life's greatest mysteries is how the boy who
wasn't good enough to marry your daughter can be
the father of the smartest grandchild in the world.

Old friends, like old wines, don't lose their flavor.

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and
more complex. It takes a touch of genius - and a
lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance
you must keep moving.

You can't control the wind, but you can adjust your

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not
everything that can be counted counts.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008



Many times I have been upset by people who seem to think that gefilte fish issome kind of mixture you make in the kitchen rather than one of Hashem's creatures. This has led me to explain exactly what a gefilte fish is. So once again, here goes.

Each year as soon as the frost on the Great Gefilte Lakes (located Upstate New York somewhere in the Catskill Mountains) is thin enough to break the surface, Frum fishermen set out to "catch" gefilte fish. Now unlike your normal fish, gefilte fish cannot be caught with a rod and a reel or your standard bait. The art of catching gefilte fish was handed down for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. For all I know Moses used to go gefilte fish catching. I'm sure that the Great Rambam (Maimonides) when he wasn't busy playing doctor, spent his leisure time G/F fishing. Enough already, you say, so how is it done? Well you go up to the edge of lake with some Matzoh. Now this is very important!! It has to be Shmurah Matzoh or the fish will not be attracted. You stand at the edge of the lake and whistle and say "here boy," "here boy." The fish just can't resist the smell of the Matzoh. They come en masse to the edge of the lake where they jump into the jars and are bottled on the spot.

Again you must remember that there are two kinds of gefilte fish. The strong and the weak. The weak are your standard fish which are in a loose "broth" (it is actually the lake water). Now the strong are special. They seem to be in a "jell". These fish are actually imported from the Middle East where they are caught in the Dead Sea. They have to be strong to be able to swim through that "jell".

Last year, a well meaning gentleman tried to correct me by stating, "Reb, shouldn't they be saying 'Here Boychic!'" I didn't have the heart to tell him, Boychic is a Yiddish word and Gefilte Fish don't understand Yiddish! Only Hebrew and surprisingly, English! There has been a big debate as to whether to use the Hebrew or English in the US. With a big break from tradition, shockingly the English is accepted by almost all G/F fishermen. Some still insist on using the Hebrew and consider the use of "Here Boy" as Reform and not Halachicly acceptable. However the Congress of OU Rabbis (who have to be present at the lakes when the fish are bottled) uniformly accept "here boy"!

The time of the catch is very important! The fish cannot be caught before Purim is over or the fish are considered Chametz! Besides, the fish know when Pesach is coming and will not respond to the Matzoh before the proper time. I am still a little bothered by which end of the fish is the head and which the tail (not to mention that I am not sure where their eyes are). This is a small price to pay for the luxury of eating this delicacy.

A new kind of aria from Dershowitz

A new kind of aria from Dershowitz
Distinguished lawyer and scholar turns his hand, and ear, to opera

By Colleen Walsh

Harvard News Office

“Yo-Yo Ma was over the house yesterday … he was begging me to go to the piano and play a few notes and I said I wasn’t ready yet.”

While the renowned composer John Williams could have uttered those words, last week they belonged to Harvard’s Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz, who was discussing his first — opera.

“[Yo-Yo] says he loves process, he loves to see how the process works so he wants to talk to me when I am a little further along about how I’m doing.”

In his contemporary ranch-style home in Cambridge, surrounded by a vast and varied collection of art, the legal scholar listened on a recent afternoon to his project’s muse, smiling at the sound of the singer’s resonant voice, despite the age of the recording. Half-conducting along to the music, eyes occasionally closed, Dershowitz was quick to point out the vocal depth and feeling coming from the speakers.

“He wasn’t singing; he was praying. You can hear in his voice, I think — a lot of the passion. You get a sense of the power of his voice.”

The inspiration for Dershowitz’s inaugural opus is the famous Jewish cantor Gershon Sirota. A contemporary of the legendary Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, to whom he was often compared, Sirota lived in Poland’s Warsaw ghetto during the Nazi occupation in the 1930s and ’40s. Although at one point he was offered a chance to leave to sing in the United States, the cantor chose to stay and ultimately died at the hands of the Germans.

While listening to a Sirota recording about 15 years ago, Dershowitz read the back of the album cover and discovered this tragic story. Since then he has been on a slow, steady mission to bring the singer’s life to the stage in operatic form, even traveling to Warsaw to see where Sirota performed.

“He had the most magnificent voice you could imagine,” said Dershowitz, adding that Sirota’s story fits well in the opera world. “[It] is a simple but poignant one, which are the best operas.”

To those who know the Harvard professor’s prolific drive, the project probably comes as no surprise. With what seems like an endless supply of energy, Dershowitz has turned out 27 works of nonfiction, two novels, and hundreds of articles over the years, not to mention his long and distinguished legal and teaching career. His most recent book is “Finding Jefferson: A Lost Letter, A Remarkable Discovery, and the First Amendment in an Age of Terrorism” (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2007). But this is his first musical endeavor.

Though he says he loves the law, Dershowitz admits music and art are his two real passions.

“My greatest passion is sitting amongst the art listening to music and writing or reading.”

The Brooklyn native’s musical roots run deep and directly back to his hometown. Both his grandfathers were cantors, and his mother loved to sing and inspired in him her own love of music and voice. But some of his most memorable early musical moments revolved around the local cantors.

“I lived in a neighborhood in Brooklyn in which the rock stars were cantors,” he said. “We had four or five eminent cantors in the neighborhood and we would go from synagogue to synagogue and compare.”

As a young boy, Dershowitz performed in temple choirs. At 14 he attended his first Metropolitan Opera performance for 50 cents. He was allowed in at a discount, he recalled, as were all students who arrived with a copy of the opera’s entire score in tow. He fell in love and has been a regular ever since. Today, he can happily afford to sit where he likes. His favorite spot is the front row, directly behind the conductor, where he can see all the action unfold.

“I love to watch the conductor and I love to watch the orchestra and I like to see the interplay,” he said.

Dershowitz said the model for his score is the Italian opera “Cavalleria Rusticana,” which uses traditional melodies from Sicily as a base for its musical themes. He aims to do something similar, employing traditional sacred Jewish music as his opera’s foundation. His story unfolds in three acts and revolves around three Jewish holidays: Yom Kippur, Hanukkah, and Passover.

“[I want to] sketch out what I think are the appropriate traditional melodies with a couple of my own melodies and then, when I’m ready, turn it over to a major [composer] … who would be willing to work with me using my suggestions. I would have a vote but not a veto. The only thing I would insist on is that the music reflect the traditional liturgy.”

For Dershowitz, the composition process is a rudimentary one. He sits at his black, electronic piano, tucked like a musical Cinderella in a tiny corner under the stairwell. He taps out one note at a time with a small pad of paper nearby and captures his melody on an old-style tape recorder, playing it back and singing it out loud. He knows he will need to enlist the help of an accomplished composer to get the complex orchestration down, and he has already had some early interest.

Though he is well-advanced with the libretto, he is thankful there’s no concrete deadline for the project.

“Every book had a deadline, every brief has a deadline, every class,” said Dershowitz. “I just want to do this slowly. … As Yo-Yo said to me yesterday, ‘Enjoy the process.’ And that’s what I really want to do. The process is what’s fun.”

A new kind of aria from Dershowitz

A new kind of aria from Dershowitz
Distinguished lawyer and scholar turns his hand, and ear, to opera

By Colleen Walsh

Harvard News Office

“Yo-Yo Ma was over the house yesterday … he was begging me to go to the piano and play a few notes and I said I wasn’t ready yet.”

While the renowned composer John Williams could have uttered those words, last week they belonged to Harvard’s Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz, who was discussing his first — opera.

“[Yo-Yo] says he loves process, he loves to see how the process works so he wants to talk to me when I am a little further along about how I’m doing.”

In his contemporary ranch-style home in Cambridge, surrounded by a vast and varied collection of art, the legal scholar listened on a recent afternoon to his project’s muse, smiling at the sound of the singer’s resonant voice, despite the age of the recording. Half-conducting along to the music, eyes occasionally closed, Dershowitz was quick to point out the vocal depth and feeling coming from the speakers.

“He wasn’t singing; he was praying. You can hear in his voice, I think — a lot of the passion. You get a sense of the power of his voice.”

The inspiration for Dershowitz’s inaugural opus is the famous Jewish cantor Gershon Sirota. A contemporary of the legendary Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, to whom he was often compared, Sirota lived in Poland’s Warsaw ghetto during the Nazi occupation in the 1930s and ’40s. Although at one point he was offered a chance to leave to sing in the United States, the cantor chose to stay and ultimately died at the hands of the Germans.

While listening to a Sirota recording about 15 years ago, Dershowitz read the back of the album cover and discovered this tragic story. Since then he has been on a slow, steady mission to bring the singer’s life to the stage in operatic form, even traveling to Warsaw to see where Sirota performed.

“He had the most magnificent voice you could imagine,” said Dershowitz, adding that Sirota’s story fits well in the opera world. “[It] is a simple but poignant one, which are the best operas.”

To those who know the Harvard professor’s prolific drive, the project probably comes as no surprise. With what seems like an endless supply of energy, Dershowitz has turned out 27 works of nonfiction, two novels, and hundreds of articles over the years, not to mention his long and distinguished legal and teaching career. His most recent book is “Finding Jefferson: A Lost Letter, A Remarkable Discovery, and the First Amendment in an Age of Terrorism” (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2007). But this is his first musical endeavor.

Though he says he loves the law, Dershowitz admits music and art are his two real passions.

“My greatest passion is sitting amongst the art listening to music and writing or reading.”

The Brooklyn native’s musical roots run deep and directly back to his hometown. Both his grandfathers were cantors, and his mother loved to sing and inspired in him her own love of music and voice. But some of his most memorable early musical moments revolved around the local cantors.

“I lived in a neighborhood in Brooklyn in which the rock stars were cantors,” he said. “We had four or five eminent cantors in the neighborhood and we would go from synagogue to synagogue and compare.”

As a young boy, Dershowitz performed in temple choirs. At 14 he attended his first Metropolitan Opera performance for 50 cents. He was allowed in at a discount, he recalled, as were all students who arrived with a copy of the opera’s entire score in tow. He fell in love and has been a regular ever since. Today, he can happily afford to sit where he likes. His favorite spot is the front row, directly behind the conductor, where he can see all the action unfold.

“I love to watch the conductor and I love to watch the orchestra and I like to see the interplay,” he said.

Dershowitz said the model for his score is the Italian opera “Cavalleria Rusticana,” which uses traditional melodies from Sicily as a base for its musical themes. He aims to do something similar, employing traditional sacred Jewish music as his opera’s foundation. His story unfolds in three acts and revolves around three Jewish holidays: Yom Kippur, Hanukkah, and Passover.

“[I want to] sketch out what I think are the appropriate traditional melodies with a couple of my own melodies and then, when I’m ready, turn it over to a major [composer] … who would be willing to work with me using my suggestions. I would have a vote but not a veto. The only thing I would insist on is that the music reflect the traditional liturgy.”

For Dershowitz, the composition process is a rudimentary one. He sits at his black, electronic piano, tucked like a musical Cinderella in a tiny corner under the stairwell. He taps out one note at a time with a small pad of paper nearby and captures his melody on an old-style tape recorder, playing it back and singing it out loud. He knows he will need to enlist the help of an accomplished composer to get the complex orchestration down, and he has already had some early interest.

Though he is well-advanced with the libretto, he is thankful there’s no concrete deadline for the project.

“Every book had a deadline, every brief has a deadline, every class,” said Dershowitz. “I just want to do this slowly. … As Yo-Yo said to me yesterday, ‘Enjoy the process.’ And that’s what I really want to do. The process is what’s fun.”


Michael Marissen's analysis of the librettist's possible anti-Semitism may be right, but he is wrong to tar Handel as well with this brush. Pietists taught Handel sympathy for the Jews, a respect strengthened by his liberalism. And his oratorios on Jewish themes -- ''Esther,'' ''Judas Maccabaeus'' and others -- wove ancient Hebrew heroism and suffering in a way favorable to Jews and the cause of liberty. His ''Messiah'' librettist's anti-Semitic sentiments should not obscure Handel's very positive relationship with Judaism.
I am personally devastated to learn that the ''Hallelujah'' chorus was written to celebrate the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Yiddish Language and Song: A Collision with Zionism and the Birth of Israel

Interview with Yiddish culture archivist, Frank Krasnowsky.

The Fixer-Upper

The Fixer-Upper

Published: December 9, 2007

A curious passage occurs in “My Father Is a Book,” Janna Malamud Smith’s tender, touching 2006 memoir of her father, Bernard Malamud. In the spring of 1978, when the novelist was in his mid-60s, he and his wife, Ann, had dinner with Philip Roth and Claire Bloom in the latter couple’s London apartment. In a letter to his daughter describing the visit, Malamud affectionately characterizes Claire Bloom — “absolutely unpretentious” — and then, in parentheses, adds this detail about greeting Roth: “We kissed on the lips when I came in. He couldn’t have done that two years ago.” Now wait a minute.
Is this the Philip Roth who by then had put the id into Yid, the writer who had turned Freud’s three elements of the psyche into the Flying Karamazov Brothers? And is the letter writer the Bernard Malamud known for his themes of redemption through suffering, of the burden of conscience that weighs down even the artist-hero? Is it this Bernard Malamud, the creator of the Christlike Jewish store owner, Morris Bober, and also of Arthur Fidelman, a hapless painter forced to choose between the gross imperfection of his life and the complete bollixing of his work, between Fidelman’s mostly fruitless attempts to make a woman and his mostly futile efforts to make art?

By presenting himself as liberated and Roth as repressed, Malamud — who died in 1986 — may well have been taking imaginative revenge on a younger rival. Roth, after all, had at one time publicly scolded Malamud for being narrowly moral and uptight. As Philip Davis recalls in his wise, scrupulous, resolutely admiring biography, “Bernard Malamud: A Writer’s Life,” in 1974 Roth had contributed a long reflection called “Imagining Jews” to The New York Review of Books in which he disparaged what he regarded as the “stern morality” of Malamud’s second novel, “The Assistant.” In the letter to his daughter, Malamud goes on to surmise that Roth “sought” the kiss “to signify I had forgiven him for the foolish egoistic essay he had written about my work.”

In dismissing what he also refers to as the “moral pathos” and “gentle religious coloration” of “The Assistant,” Roth (complicatedly) preferred Norman Mailer’s notorious essay, “The White Negro.” That bombshell had appeared in 1957, the same year that saw the publication of “The Assistant.” With shocking negative capability, Mailer argued that the murder of a middle-aged storekeeper by two hoodlums was a “psychopathic” person’s way of “daring the unknown.” Davis doesn’t prove that Mailer had read “The Assistant,” but Mailer was certainly familiar with the figure of the long-suffering, virtuous storekeeper from Malamud’s short stories. So it’s perfectly right to suggest, as Davis does, that Mailer’s essay was a challenge to the novel’s depiction of the middle-aged Bober as the saintly victim of a holdup man.

In Malamud’s novel, Bober proceeds to convert the sensitive thug, Frank Alpine, into a Jew who eventually becomes Bober’s successor behind the cash register. The store owner leads his victimizer to Judaism so the hoodlum should know and learn from suffering — this despite the fact that the thug had robbed Bober and later raped his daughter, Helen. Roth wasn’t the only Jewish intellectual to recoil from what he considered Malamud’s Christianizing emasculation of Jewish vitality, from what some regarded as Malamud’s psychologically dubious fetishizing of victimhood and pain.

Davis, however, sees something different, almost fiendish, in the sudden twists and reversals that flicker through Malamud’s fiction. By the end of the novel, Bober has been liberated from the prison that is his store and has virtually incarcerated Frank in his place. After Frank forces himself on Helen, his will and self-respect collapse; Helen shatters his ego and escapes from both the conflicted thug and her decent yet limited father. Morris Bober and his daughter don’t passively succumb to harsh conditions. Modest, humble people, they use humble means to modestly triumph over Frank, and over the harsh conditions of their lives.

Davis is out to remove the slur of moral uptightness and narrow virtue from Malamud’s reputation. Gratifyingly, he wants to restore him to the pantheon of great American writers in which Malamud, in our flash-in-the-pan culture, once belonged.

In Malamud’s best stories (“The Magic Barrel,” “Angel Levine,” “Idiots First,” “Take Pity”) and his best novels (“The Natural,” “The Assistant,” “The Fixer,” “God’s Grace”), you have the uncanny experience of watching people watch themselves as fate couples with aspects of their character behind their backs and before their eyes. In life and in art, Malamud acknowledged the primacy of surprise. He considered the concept of a stable right and wrong a freak of cognition. Rosen, the ill-starred salesman in Malamud’s astringent tale “Take Pity,” says to a woman: “Whore, bastard, bitch. ... Go ’way from here. Go home to your children.” This after she has so self-destructively resisted Rosen’s pathologically kind attempts to save her that she drives him to suicide. Among other things, Malamud elevated the wry Jewish joke to world-class literature.
For Davis, one of Malamud’s aphorisms sums up the obsession driving his work: “There’s more than morality in a good man.” The sentiment is, in fact, almost identical to Norman Mailer’s belief that the best lies close to the worst in people. Malamud believed that the stuff of goodness lay in the education roughly administered by life’s warps and woofs: the fatality of character, the irony of good intentions, the realization that right versus wrong is often a matter of hurt versus hurt. Davis knows that there’s nothing narrowly virtuous about that.

Of course, some Jewish critics never forgave Malamud for his emphasis on rachmones (Yiddish for “compassion”) rather than ego-driven assertiveness and aggression. Alfred Kazin, one of Malamud’s first champions, once remarked that he always thought of Malamud as being “too good to be true,” and then inanely added, “even though he’s had the normal amount of extramarital sex.” Did Kazin need Malamud’s adultery to prove Malamud’s literary puissance? Oh these bygone Jewish intellectuals. Malamud didn’t need to copulate his way to freedom from Mommy. As a little boy, he had saved his own mother from a suicide attempt; she spent the next two years in an insane asylum, where she died in 1929. Later he watched his schizophrenic brother drift from one mental institution to another. Malamud’s fatal impulse, as Davis poignantly shows, was to try to recover his mother — and perhaps his brother too — through the love of women. According to this sympathetic biographer, Malamud’s Christian wife painfully tolerated his unfaithfulness, though she was not above responding with an occasional despairing infidelity of her own.

At Bennington College, where Malamud taught in the 1960s and ’70s, some of his colleagues referred to him as “the master.” They weren’t only alluding to Malamud’s painstaking craftsmanship, to the way he measured every economical word and stripped-down phrase. They were also acknowledging his status as a sage (as well as ironically referring to Malamud’s sometimes sanctimonious consciousness of himself as a sage). If writing was a tortuous process for Malamud — 500 words on a good day — it was because he was writing life, not words. Rather than creating a vision, his words had to fit a pre-existing condition, as if they were the visible pieces of an invisible puzzle inscribed on Malamud’s heart when he was a child.

Though he attended Brooklyn’s legendary Erasmus Hall High School, graduated from the equally legendary City College and went on to get a master’s degree in English from Columbia, Malamud’s real matriculation was in sorrow. Born in Brooklyn in 1914 to an impoverished immigrant shopkeeper and his unstable wife, Malamud came to adulthood during the Depression, burdened by his memories of a household racked with pain. It was a pain not so much brutalizing as heartbreakingly sad: Malamud’s father, Max, was a kind man, beaten and buffeted by hard circumstance.

There’s something greatly touching about Davis’s account of Malamud’s iron determination to become a writer as the young man journeys from brief stints in factories and department stores to a job in Washington as a lowly clerk in the Census Bureau, then back to Brooklyn to teach at Erasmus Hall. In Malamud’s eyes, becoming a person and becoming a writer were the same thing. “I beat myself into shape with a terrible will,” he once wrote, with his characteristic mix of sobriety and high feeling, recalling his early struggles.

Venturing into unfamiliar emotional and geographical places helped the work of self-creation. Marrying Ann de Chiara in 1945, after a mutually tentative and ambivalent courtship, perhaps lifted from Malamud the feeling of inexorable family and tribal doom. The outer, un-Jewish world embraced him in the form of de Chiara’s (initially reluctant) cosmopolitan clan. A teaching position at Oregon State College in Corvallis continued to complete him. Twelve years in Oregon, two novels, one collection of short stories and a National Book Award later, Malamud could settle into a more comfortable sense of self as a professor at Bennington College.

Paradoxically, the farther he traveled from his familiar environment, the more confidence he seemed to acquire in returning to it in his fiction. And the more deeply he returned to his past in his imagination, the more confident he felt in strange new places. Though narrowly identified with “Jewish” writing, Malamud seemed to consider his own Jewishness as less an inherited tradition than a portable ethos, a means of accommodating the larger world outside his inherited traditions.

Malamud was an exceedingly complex person: earnest and insufferably, self-consciously decent; genuinely generous and kind; imaginatively far more adventurous than people often give him credit for. The last novel published in his lifetime, “God’s Grace,” wryly has a fornicating man and chimp creating a new, not-so-super race.
Davis strives to present all this complexity in a comprehensive fashion, though he seems to have paid for the Malamud family’s full cooperation with an excess of discretion, as well as something like defensiveness about Malamud’s foibles. Awkwardly trying to justify Malamud’s affair with a much younger student when he taught at Bennington, Davis writes: “He still could not get writing and living into relation.” Unlike who, exactly? St. John of the Cross? Seinfeld?
Yet sometimes Davis isn’t defensive enough — particularly when it comes to Malamud’s faded status among the Jewish writers and critics who made the reputations of Bellow and Roth. Like an embarrasing old uncle, Malamud is barely referred to these days. On those few occasions when he is publicly admired, tribute usually comes in the form of sentimental commentary from younger, self-consciously Jewish writers, whose parochial picture of Malamud ironically confirms the denigrating comments Roth made a generation ago. Far more frequently, however, you find critics celebrating Bellow and Roth, above all, for their intelligence, and never mentioning Malamud. And indeed, instinct, not intelligence, is what is most salient in Malamud’s work. His writing struggles with the permanence of irrational forces and the necessity of arriving at some kind of reckoning with them. For Malamud, the obligation to be moral isn’t rational. It occurs all of a sudden, sprung from within. For Malamud, the rational justification of morality is, on the contrary, often the stuff of moral vanity and outrageous hypocrisy. From feeling, a Malamud character might say, you don’t escape.

There’s a sadness that accompanies Malamud’s recognition of the primacy of irrational forces. Not even a valiant and loyal biographer like Davis would attempt to argue that Malamud’s stories and novels aren’t often grim — even when he was writing about baseball in “The Natural” or picaresque capers in “Pictures of Fidelman” or nothing less than the ethical origins of consciousness in “God’s Grace.” As the saying goes, “Life is a tragedy filled with joy.”

Yet his works of fiction are joys filled with tragedy. “God’s Grace,” for example, is an exuberantly imaginative assimilation and transformation of the “new” fiction of a writer like Donald Barthelme. The novel is all the more remarkable because Malamud was a relatively traditional writer working in the vein of the great Russian realists. He believed in the credibility of the psychological novel. He never seems to have doubted the novelist’s ability to capture the thick particular impasto of a person’s — a person’s, not merely a character’s — inner life on the page. What some people designate as his “magic” realism was actually his invention of a style ultrasensitive to the suprarational forces working on us from within and without. Malamud’s realism was unique in the way it infinitely, and flexibly, encompassed the unreal.

Malamud was “traditional” in precisely this sense: He believed that art expressed a profound knowledge of life and that all of the novelist’s tricks of the trade were submerged in the service of making sense of life. His triumph was to submerge, clarify and fulfill his life in his work. As a result, Malamud’s own existence was not, by any public measurement, outwardly interesting. In her memoir, Malamud’s daughter describes him as “a smallish man, physically undramatic, sometimes funny, often subdued, measured, decent, generous, rarely casual.” Philip Roth he wasn’t. But, then, neither is Philip Roth.

Itzhak Perlman plays Klezmer

The maestro joins four klezmer groups: Brave Old World, The Klezmatics, Andy Statman and the Klezmer Conservatory Band for a joyous get-together with unforgettable Klezmer melodies. As he says of the experience, "I caught the bug!"


A very rare band from Japan playing Klezmer (Jewish) and Gypsy (Roma) music.
The band formed in 1999.

A rap about the Holocaust. - Never Again!

Israel Welcomes President George Bush in Jerusalem

Everyone's a Little Bit Jewish

Monday, February 25, 2008

New Digital Collection at Center for Jewish History Now Online

New Digital Collection at Center for Jewish History Now Online

Tony Gill, Director of the Gruss Lipper Digital Laboratory at the Center for Jewish History posted this announcement on the METRO Digital Collections Special Interest Group mailing list:

The Center for Jewish History recently completed a METRO-funded pilot project to digitize and make freely accessible online 40 Yiddish and Hebrew children’s books, many of which are richly illustrated, from the collections of two of the Center’s Partners: The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, and the Yeshiva University Museum.

The collection, which is still growing rapidly, can be found online.

The books were digitized and made available by the Gruss Lipper Digital Laboratory, the Center's state-of-the-art in-house digital collections-building facility. In addition to making the children’s books available through CJH Digital Collections, the books were also uploaded to the International Children’s Digital Library (, thereby making them even more widely accessible to current and future generations.

The Children’s Books Pilot Project at the Center for Jewish History was supported in part by funds from the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO) through the New York State Regional Bibliographic Databases Program. Thanks to the success of this METRO-funded pilot project, the Center has since received a generous gift from the Morris and Alma Schapiro Fund to digitize a further 50 children’s books.

Please let us know what you think of this new digital collection by completing our brief online survey.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Ballad of Purim

Chap. 1 & 2

The Ballad of Purim, Chap. 1 & 2

Chapt 3 & 4

Chap. 5 & 6

The Ballad of Purim, Chap. 7-10

A Girl with an Apple


A Girl with an Apple

August 1942. Piotrkow, Poland. The sky was gloomy that morning as we waited
anxiously. All the men, women and children of Piotrkow’s Jewish ghetto had
been herded into a square. Word had gotten around that we were being moved.
My father had only recently died from typhus, which had ran rampant through
the crowded ghetto. My greatest fear was that our family would be separated.

‘Whatever you do,’ Isidore, my eldest brother, whispered to me, ‘don’t tell
them your age. Say you’re sixteen’. I was tall for a boy of 11, so I could
pull it off. That way I might be deemed valuable as a worker. An SS man
approached me, boots clicking against the cobblestones. He looked me up and
down, then asked my age. ‘Sixteen,’ I said. He directed me to the left,
where my three brothers and other healthy young men already stood.

My mother was motioned to the right with the other women, children, sick and
elderly people. I whispered to Isidore, ‘Why?’ He didn’t answer. I ran to
Mama’s side and said I wanted to stay with her. ‘No,’ she said sternly. ‘Get
away. Don’t be a nuisance. Go with your brothers.’ She had never spoken so
harshly before. But I understood: She was protecting me. She loved me so
much that, just this once, she pretended not to. It was the last I ever saw
of her.

My brothers and I were transported in a cattle car to Germany. We arrived at
the Buchenwald concentration camp one night weeks later and were led into a
crowded barrack. The next day, we were issued uniforms and identification
numbers. ‘Don’t call me Herman anymore.’ I said to my brothers. ‘Call me

I was put to work in the camp’s crematorium, loading the dead into a
hand-cranked elevator. I, too, felt dead. Hardened, I had become a number.
Soon, my brothers and I were sent to Schlieben, one of Buchenwald’s
sub-camps near Berlin. One morning I thought I heard my mother’s voice Son,
she said softly but clearly, I am sending you an angel. Then I woke up. Just
a dream. A beautiful dream. But in this place there could be no angels.
There was only work. And hunger. And fear.

A couple of days later, I was walking around the camp, around the barracks,
near the barbed-wire fence where the guards could not easily see. I was
alone. On the other side of the fence, I spotted someone: a young girl with
light, almost luminous curls. She was half-hidden behind a birch tree. I
glanced around to make sure no one saw me. I called to her softly in

‘Do you have something to eat?’ She didn’t understand. I inched closer to
the fence and repeated question in Polish. She stepped forward.. I was thin
and gaunt, with rags wrapped around my feet, but the girl looked unafraid.
In her eyes, I saw life. She pulled an apple from her woolen jacket and
threw it over the fence. I grabbed the fruit and, as I started to run away,
I heard her say faintly, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’

I returned to the same spot by the fence at the same time every day. She was
always there with something for me to eat - a hunk of bread or, better yet,
an apple. We didn’t dare speak or linger. To be caught would mean death for
us both. I didn’t know anything about her just a kind farm girl except that
she understood Polish. What was her name? Why was she risking her life for
me? Hope was in such short supply, and this girl on the other side of the
fence gave me some, as nourishing in its way as the bread and apples.

Nearly seven months later, my brothers and I were crammed into a coal car
and shipped to Theresienstadt camp in Czechoslovakia.. ‘Don’t return,’ I
told the girl that day. ‘We’re leaving.’ I turned toward the barracks and
didn’t look back, didn’t even say good-bye to the girl whose name I’d never
learned, the girl with the apples.

We were in Theresienstadt for three months. The war was winding down and
Allied forces were closing in, yet my fate seemed sealed. On May 10, 1945, I
was scheduled to die in the gas chamber at 10:00 AM. In the quiet of dawn, I
tried to prepare myself. So many times death seemed ready to claim me, but
somehow I’d survived. Now, it was over. I thought of my parents. At least, I
thought, we will be reunited.

At 8 A.M. there was a commotion. I heard shouts, and saw people running
every which way through camp. I caught up with my brothers. Russian troops
had liberated the camp! The gates swung open. Everyone was running, so I did

Amazingly, all of my brothers had survived; I’m not sure how. But I knew
that the girl with the apples had been the key to my survival. In a place
where evil seemed triumphant, one person’s goodness had saved my life, had
given me hope in a place where there was none. My mother had promised to
send me an angel, and the angel had come.

Eventually I made my way to England where I was sponsored by a Jewish
charity, put up in a hostel with other boys who had survived the Holocaust
and trained in electronics. Then I came to America, where my brother Sam had
already moved. I served in the U. S. Army during the Korean War, and
returned to New York City after two years. By August 1957 I’d opened my own
electronics repair shop. I was starting to settle in.

One day, my friend Sid who I knew from England called me. ‘I’ve got a date.
She’s got a Polish friend. Let’s double date.’ A blind date? Nah, that
wasn’t for me. But Sid kept pestering me, and a few days later we headed up
to the Bronx to pick up his date and her friend Roma. I had to admit, for a
blind date this wasn’t so bad. Roma was a nurse at a Bronx hospital. She was
kind and smart. Beautiful, too, with swirling brown curls and green,
almond-shaped eyes that sparkled with life.

The four of us drove out to Coney Island. Roma was easy to talk to, easy to
be with. Turned out she was wary of blind dates too! We were both just doing
our friends a favor. We took a stroll on the boardwalk, enjoying the salty
Atlantic breeze, and then had dinner by the shore. I couldn’t remember
having a better time.

We piled back into Sid’s car, Roma and I sharing the backseat. As European
Jews who had survived the war, we were aware that much had been left unsaid
between us. She broached the subject, ‘Where were you,’ she asked softly,
‘during the war?’ ‘The camps,’ I said, the terrible memories still vivid,
the irreparable loss. I had tried to forget.. But you can never forget.

She nodded. ‘My family was hiding on a farm in Germany, not far from
Berlin,’ she told me. ‘My father knew a priest, and he got us Aryan papers.’
I imagined how she must have suffered too, fear, a constant companion. And
yet here we were, both survivors, in a new world.

‘There was a camp next to the farm.’ Roma continued. ‘I saw a boy there and
I would throw him apples every day.’
What an amazing coincidence that she had helped some other boy. ‘What did he
look like? I asked. He was tall, Skinny, and Hungry. I must have seen him
every day for six months.’ My heart was racing. I couldn’t believe it. This
couldn’t be. ‘Did he tell you one day not to come back because he was
leaving Schlieben?’ Roma looked at me in amazement. ‘Yes,’ That was me! ‘ I
was ready to burst with joy and awe, flooded with emotions. I couldn’t
believe it ? My angel.

‘I’m not letting you go.’ I said to Roma. And in the back of the car on that
blind date, I proposed to her. I didn’t want to wait. ‘You’re crazy!’ she
said. But she invited me to meet her parents for Shabbat dinner the
following week. There was so much I looked forward to learning about Roma,
but the most important things I always knew: her steadfastness, her
goodness. For many months, in the worst of circumstances, she had come to
the fence and given me hope. Now that I’d found her again, I could never let
her go.

That day, she said yes. And I kept my word. After nearly 50 years of
marriage, two children and three grandchildren I have never let her go.

Herman Rosenblat , Miami Beach, Florida

This is a true story and you can find out more by Googling Herman Rosenblat
as he was bar mitzvahed at age 75. This story is being made into a movie
called The Fence.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Birkat HaHammah

Birkat ha-Hammah (ברכת החמה, also: ha-Chamah, Hahammah, Hachammah), is Hebrew for "The Blessing of the Sun."

It is a special Jewish prayer recited once every twenty-eight years, the period of the solar cycle. Jewish law stipulates that the prayer be said every 10,227 (28 times 365.25) days. The next date set is April 8 2009 (Hebrew year 5769).

According to the Babylonian Talmud (tractate Berachot 59b), at these times the Sun returns to the position that it had when the Universe was first created. The explanation is that if the year would be exactly 365.25 days, the Sun's equinox times would be at the same time in the week every 28 years (28 times 0.25 days equals 7 days). The tradition is that the Sun was created in its Spring equinox position, at the first hour of the night before the fourth day of Creation. Whenever the equinox is thought to occur at that same time of the week, the Sun is said to have returned to its original position.

It is clear that the background of the prayer - the return of the Sun to its original position - is not factual. The assumption that the astronomical year is exactly 365,25 days is incorrect. Nevertheless, the prayer is universally accepted as part of Jewish law on the authority of the Jewish sages.

* 1 Order of the service
* 2 Occurrences
* 3 Lerman's thesis
* 4 Books
* 5 References
* 6 External links

[edit] Order of the service

No set service existed until the Shulkhan Arukh; since then various similar religious services have been offered by Rabbi Moses Sofer, the Mishnah Berurah, and (for Conservative Jews) Lasker and Lasker. The service generally includes:

* Quotations about the sun from the Tanakh
* Four verses from the Tanakh which spell out the Tetragrammaton
* Some of Talmud Berachot 59b
* Parts of Psalms 148 and 90
* The Blessing of the Sun (Barukh Atah...maaseh vereishit)
* Psalms 121, 8 and 19
* The hymm El Adon al kol hama'asim (normally part of the Shabbat services).
* Aleinu
* The mourner's kaddish

[edit] Occurrences

Occurrences in the last 120 years:

* Wednesday, April 7, 1897
* Wednesday, April 8, 1925
* Wednesday, April 8, 1953
* Wednesday, April 8, 1981
* and will happen on
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
* Wednesday, April 8, 2037
* Wednesday, April 8, 2065
* Wednesday, April 8, 2093
* Wednesday, April 9, 2121

[edit] Lerman's thesis

Moshe Lerman suggested a background to Birkat HaHammah by pointing out a possible connection between the traditional Hebrew dating and the two Mahzorim (cycles) that are observed in Jewish tradition - the "small" 19-year cycle which is the basis of the Jewish calendar, and the "big" 28-year cycle which determines the year in which Birkat HaHammah is recited. Mathematically, if one knows the position of a certain year in both cycles, one can compute the number associated to the year modulo 532 (19 times 28), given that the starting point of both cycles is year 1.

Because the astronomical year is slightly shorter than 365.25 days, the date of Birkat HaHammah shifts away from the Spring equinox as history proceeds. A simple astronomical calculation shows that 84 cycles of 28 years before 5769, in the Jewish year 3417, the Spring equinox was in the beginning of the night before the fourth day of the week as stipulated by the Talmud. Lerman takes this as a hint that the astronomically astute Jewish sages of the time concluded that the Jewish year 3417 was a first year in the cycle of 28 years. Moreover, Lerman suggests that these same Jewish sages would have reasoned that year 3421 was a first year in the 19-year cycle, in accordance with an ancient tradition that the world was created in the first week of the month of Nissan. They would have concluded this from the Spring equinox occurring early in the night leading to the fourth day of the Jewish month of Nissan in the Jewish year 3421.

Lerman surmises that the Jewish sages at the time could argue for a determination of the position of their years in both cycles and could therefore compute the absolute year-count modulo 532 years. They were left with a number of options, 532 years apart from each other, and Lerman suggests that they chose the dating closest to what seemed to be the truth according to a literal interpretation of biblical accounts. The sages legally defined future equinox times by instituting the 28-year cycle, to protect the Hebrew dating against future change, and to leave a remembrance to what they had done.

[edit] Books

* Rabbi J. David Bleich. Bircas Hachammah, Blessing of the Sun: Renewal of the Creation: a Halachic Analysis and Anthology. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Mesorah Publications ltd, 1981. ISBN 0-89906-176-1.

[edit] References

* Lasker, AA and Lasker DJ. Birkat Hahammah: The Blessing of the Sun. Conservative Judaism 1981;34:17-28.
* Why Do We Live in the Year 5765? by Moshe Lerman

- theory about the origins of the Hebrew dating

[edit] External links

* [comprehensive discussion on Birkat Hachama]
[downloadable Prayer Service for Birkat Hachama]

The source for birkat ha-chamah is TB Berachot 59b, wherein Abaye said that this berachah is said on the occasion at which the sun returns to its "original position at time of creation." According to Talmudic tradition, the sun was created on Wed., the fourth day of the week, which was also the fourth day of the month Aviv/Nisan. Next year, Wed. Aviv/Nisan 4, 5769 corresponds to Wed. Mar. 29, 2009.

Harvey Cox Delves into Judaism

A Christian's Primer: A Harvard Professor Delves into the Beauty That Is Judaism
By Robert Leiter
Reprinted with permission of The Jewish Exponent. Visit
In the early 1980s, well-known Protestant theologian and longtime Harvard professor Harvey Cox, having recently suffered through the collapse of his first marriage, was introduced to Nina Tumarkin, a professor of Russian history at Wellesley College. She, too, was working through the aftereffects of a failed marriage. Cox had three grown children; Tumarkin had none. Mutual friends had thought them well-suited to one another, and it turned out they were.
The only sticking point was that Tumarkin is Jewish, and as committed to her religion as Cox is to his. What transpired, says Cox, were a number of spirited discussions, during which they decided that neither of them wanted to convert to the other's faith or to arrive at something in-between. They became determined instead to learn as much as they could about the other's religion, to honor it and participate in it as much as is permissible.
One of the outgrowths of this second marriage, along with a son, Nicholas, now 15 and who is being raised Jewish, is Cox's newest book, Common Prayers: Faith, Family and a Christian's Journey through the Jewish Year (Houghton Mifflin). The work is exactly what it advertises itself to be: a look at the Jewish year via its major holidays, as seen through the eyes of an outsider who, as he notes, happens to have some insider privileges.
The book begins with a discussion of the Sabbath--Judaism's most frequent holiday--and then moves from one Rosh Hashanah to the next, with stops along the way to discuss a trip to Israel, sitting shiva (seven-day period of mourning), a Jewish wedding, and Nicholas' Bar Mitzvah.
Cox states in his introduction that he has at least four reasons for writing Common Prayers. The first is that he wishes to help fellow Christians who might be curious about Judaism learn something more about the religion. He would hope, he says, that such readers would turn first to the work of Jewish scholars, but after that point, the reflections in Common Prayers might act as a "helpful supplement."
His second reason is more personal. He wants to demonstrate how he has come to a better understanding of his Christian faith through his marriage to a Jewish woman and his participation in Jewish communal life.
He writes: "Christians sometimes say that we need to understand Judaism because, after all, our religion is 'rooted in the faith of ancient Israel.' This is true as far as it goes. But what it overlooks is that there have been nearly 2,000 years of Jewish history since Christianity came to birth. Little by little, I have become quite uneasy with the 'roots' metaphor. Thinking of Judaism in this way consigns it to the past. It makes living Judaism invisible... The roots analogy may even inadvertently contribute to the mistaken idea that Christianity has somehow superseded Judaism, a notion I completely reject. I want to understand Judaism, not just because of what it was, but because of what it is. Judaism is the tradition that sustains 14 million human beings (many of them, it would seem, my relatives). And it is also a luxuriant repository of a spiritual wisdom available to anyone."
His third reason is the wish to question the notion that a Jewish-Christian marriage dilutes the substance of either or both spouses' faiths. Cox and Tumarkin feel it is the exact opposite. Though they cannot be certain where their separate faith journeys might have taken them, together they have been strengthened in their respective religions. Cox hopes his book will offer hints to other such couples on how to arrive at a similar destination.
His last hope is that Common Prayers will be of interest and of some worth to Jewish readers, who may benefit from seeing themselves as others see them.
Never a dull read
For at least one Jewish reader, the overall effect is mixed, but never without interest. At one point in the text, Cox quotes from the great Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, and says that he disagrees with him as often as he agrees with him. I found myself feeling the same way about Cox, which is another way of saying that Common Prayers is never dull.
What I mean is best summed up by considering the chapters on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot and Simchat Torah. In Cox's opinion, there's always been something wrong with the way the secular New Year is celebrated. Despite all the cheering and toasting, the carousing actually seemed to him rather tepid. There should, in fact, be another dimension to the coming of a new year, something that was being "overlooked or even avoided." What he would expect at such a time is a sense of apprehension, even trepidation, "that gnaws at each of us with the realization that our time is limited." And this is what he found in the celebration of the New Year in Judaism.
He writes: "An outsider participating in Jewish religious life soon learns that the way Jews affirm life is not by denying death but by facing it down. The Rosh Hashanah ritual takes the form of a dramatic confrontation with death and mortality. This happens in part through a carefully staged courtroom drama in which God is the judge, and everyone who comes before his presence is being tried for his or her life. In fact, to my astonishment, according to one Jewish prayer book, even the 'hosts of heaven' are called to account at this time. Nobody, human or angel, escapes this sweeping indictment. In the end, life and mercy win out over death and judgment, but the Rosh Hashanah liturgy is designed to elicit the same cold dread anyone would feel in a human courtroom under such formidable circumstances."
The drama continues, of course, on Yom Kippur. Cox's discussion of the Jonah story and the differences between Christian and Jewish concepts of sin rate as some of the best in the book, along with his discussion of the Abraham and Isaac story, and his realizations about Christianity and its effect on the Holocaust during a Passover that happened to coincide with Easter.
As for Cox's discussion of Sukkot, I found it less successful. His emphasis almost solely on the agricultural aspects of the holiday lead him to a discussion of our current environmental problems. It's a limited and rather politically correct reading of the festival.
It's also something of a downer. His discussion of the dangers posed to the environment are right on target, but his emphasis leaves out too much of the joy that is Sukkot--from building and decorating the sukkah (temporary wooden hut) to dwelling in it. Then there's the celebration during the synagogue service with the etrog and lulav, which Cox does not discuss and which is such a needed release after the fast on Yom Kippur. The discussion of the differing concepts Judaism and Christianity have about the messiah is fascinating, but somewhat beside the point when it comes to Sukkot.
Cox gets back to unmitigated joy, appropriately enough, when he turns to Simchat Torah.
"Simchat Torah is one of the Jewish holidays I relish the most," writes the author, "and not just because I enjoy street parties and klezmer music. It is a holiday in which I catch a glimpse of something utterly fundamental to Judaism and realize how many of my stereotypes about 'legalistic' Judaism have to be discarded... It takes a while to dawn on Christians that for Jews the Law is not a burden, a hindrance or an obstacle to living a fully human and vitally spiritual life. The Law (Torah) is a condition of being human. It is a generous gift which God bestows on his people simply out of love."
Robert Leiter is Literary editor of The Jewish Exponent.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Judeophobia - Anti-Semitism, Jew-Hate and anti-”Zionism” Chapter 1



These pages are adapted by the kind permission of Dr. Gustavo Perednik. They are based on a twelve-lecture Internet course prepared for “The Jewish University in Cyberspace.” During 2000 and 2001, the book by Gustavo Perednik “Judeophobia” was published in Spanish.

This course summarizes the core ideas of the book. It presents a comprehensive and unique analysis of the development of Jew hate (Judeophobia or anti-Semitism) throughout history. It tries to answer the question “why the Jews?” - why have Jews been particularly singled out for ethnic, racial and religious persecution, and it traces the relationship between anti-Zionism and racist Judeophobia or so-called ‘anti-Semitism.’

I’m very grateful to Dr. Perednik for his permission (2/28/06) to popularize his works.

Aryeh ben Abraham
Chapter 1 - First Part:

WHAT IS IN A WORD? - Judeophobia or Anti-Semitism

You may be wondering why we choose the word “Judeophobia” as the title of our course, as opposed to the well known word anti-Semitism. I think you will see that the quest for the most fitting word will teach us a lot about the phenomenon it describes.

The word anti-Semitism was coined by Wilhelm Marr in Hamburg in 1879. Before that, hatred of Jews was simply called Jew-hatred. Marr had written a pamphlet called The Victory of Judaism over Germandom, Considered from a Non-Religious Point of View. Marr’s aim was to disassociate his hatred from any religious stance, which had long been utilized by Christian Judeophobes.

Marr’s book rapidly numbered many editions. The religious component had been replaced by racism, and the words Jews and Judaism by “Semite” and “Semitism.” Marr introduced the word “anti-Semite” into the political lexicon by founding the League of Anti-Semites (Antisemiten-Liga) .

The problem is that the word is flawed, even misleading. Firstly, Semites do not exist -nor did they exist during Marr’s times. The word “ Semite” may be useful in either anthropological or paleographical studies. There are Semitic languages, but to imply that today there is a racial group called Semites that would comprise, let’s say, Jews and Arabs, is simply absurd. You cannot argue that a Jew from Holland, one from Ethiopia and one from Yemen, for instance, belong to the same “race.”

The second reason to reject the word “anti-Semitism” is even stronger. Semites do not exist today, but anti-Semites never existed! There was never a person, political party, publication or group that wanted to combat Semites. Of course, many were against Jews. This is the subject of our course. But it is misleading to call anyone who hates Jews an anti-Semite. There are even people who hide their hatred by semantic fuzziness. I remember the ambassador of an Arab country once answering an accusation by stating: “How could I be an anti-Semite if I am myself a Semite!”

For the two above reasons, many thinkers, such as Emil Fackenheim of the Hebrew University, proposed replacing “anti-Semitism” by… “antisemitism”! There is indeed some progress in the new spelling: By dropping the hyphen, we imply that “antisemitism” is a noun which describes a specific phenomenon rather than one ideology which stands opposed to another ideology. We’ve gained accuracy. But this change is still inadequate; there is another reason to prefer “Judeophobia” over “antisemitism,” with or without a hyphen -an historical reason.

Three years before Marr the Judeophobe coined his jargon, one of the first ideologues of modern Zionism, Leon Pinsker, used the word Judeophobia in his booklet “Auto-Emancipation” (1882), in which he pointed out the inadequacy of the Emancipation granted to the Jew by modern states, and advocated that Jews take their history into their own hands. How unfortunate that the word created by the Jew-hater became so popular, and yet the word coined by a Jewish scholar was dismissed, although it was absolutely fitting as we shall see.

If you are still not convinced, let me show you that “Judeophobia” has a further twofold advantage over “anti-Semitism.” Firstly, it makes manifest that the Jews are targeted for hatred and not anyone else. Secondly, while the prefix “anti” and the suffix “ism” suggest that their bearer opposes an ideology, the suffix “phobia” implies that we are talking about an irrational phenomenon, and not about an idea or opinion. As Jean Paul Sartre suggests in his book on Judeophobia, let us not allow the Judeophobes to dress their hatred up as ideology.

If before W.W.II you defined yourself as an anti-Semite , even those who repudiated or feared you would dare rebuke you only on these terms: “I disagree with you, but I respect your opinion.” Judeophobia was presented as a rational ideology which could be disagreed with, but was nevertheless regarded as an acceptable tenet. In contrast, after the Holocaust most Judeophobes would not define themselves openly as anti-Semites (semantic progress?) People increasingly realized that we are dealing with social hatred and not with ideas and therefore “anti” and “ism” are inappropriate in its definition.

I hear your objection- you claim that “phobia” is the Greek for fear, and not for hatred. In psychology, we name different fears by that suffix: ailurophobia (fear of cats), claustrophobia (fear of enclosed places), nyctophobia (fear of night ) , and many others. But in the Social Sciences, the suffix “phobia” means hatred rather than fear, as in “xenophobia,” hatred of foreigners.

Let us make it clear that Judeophobia is not of the genre of xenophobia. It is something very different and unique, and therefore it deserves separate study as in this course. I’m glad you joined us. I would like to explain this uniqueness next.


(so called “Anti-Semtism”)

There are at least seven characteristics that make Judeophobia (anti-Semitism) very different from racism, xenophobia, or any other hatred against groups.

1) It is the oldest hatred. Professor Robert Wistrich of the Hebrew University was right in calling his last book on the subject “The Longest Hatred.” There is no other hatred in the history of mankind that you can trace back to the last two or three millennia. We will deal with precisely when Judeophobia started, in the second part of this class. But we shall see that it is at least two thousand years old.

2) Judeophobia is strikingly universal. It has existed in almost every country on earth, regardless of whether it had Jewish inhabitants or how many they numbered. Jews were expelled from almost every European and African country in which they lived, and in most countries of the world in which there was a Jewish community, Jews were at some point harassed or attacked for being Jews. The only exception usually mentioned is China, while even in today’s Japan Judeophobia is rampant, despite its tiny Jewish community.

3) Judeophobia is permanent. Jews were despised and hated , years, decades, and even centuries after they left the country in which they lived. Take England for example. The Jews were expelled from there in 1290 by king Edward II , and after no less than three Jewless centuries had passed, Shakespeare created his stereotypical Shylock, the Jew in “The Merchant of Venice,” a character that was mocked and despised by theatre-going mobs who had never met a real Jew in their lives -nor had their grandparents or ancestors during three hundred years.

Take another example. In 1968 the Polish government launched a campaign against “Polish Zionists” on radio and TV. Twenty years after three million Polish Jews had been murdered by the Nazis, Poles could still feel hatred for a tiny group of old people who constituted no more than 0.1 % of their population.

In seventeenth century Spain, one of the most celebrated Spanish writers of all ages , Francisco de Quevedo attacked his literary rival with allusions to his “Jewish” nose and threatened to anoint his own poems with bacon in order to deter Jews from stealing them… although Jews had been expelled from his country more than one century before.

4) Judeophobia is deeper. As a result of the above points, negative mental stereotypes of the Jew are profoundly embedded. If you consider how, over many centuries, millions of people believed either that the Jews transmitted leprosy, or poisoned wells to kill Christians, or used human blood for their rituals, or killed God, or have a world conspiracy, or constitute a promiscuous race, or are demoniac creatures, or, or, or. No wonder Judeophobes do not have to invest much effort to rationalize, since each has his own mental associations detrimental to Jews. Remember the story told about Goebbels’s ministry of propaganda in Nazi Germany. A sign showed a man riding his bike above the following inscription: “The misery of Germany is due to Jews and cyclists.” The readers wondered… why cyclists? And the depth and breadth of Judeophobia was made apparent.

5) Judeophobia is obsessive. For the Judeophobe, Jews are not an enemy. They are the enemy. He does not speak of Jews; he speaks of the Jews. When Adolf Hitler gave his farewell speech to the German nation from his Berlin bunker where he committed suicide on April 30, 1945, what type of message did he convey? He did not remind his listeners of the glories of Germany, nor did he mention any regrets regarding the bloodiest of wars that he brought upon Europe -he stressed that the Jews had not been totally defeated and therefore implored that the Germans continue the struggle against their “eternal enemy.’’ Although Hitler is Judeophobia in its most extreme expression, Judeophobes share that obsession about the allegedly all-inclusive villainy of the Jews.

6) Judeophobia is more dangerous. With appalling ease this particular hatred transforms into physical violence. In most countries in which they lived, at some point in history, Jews were killed for being Jews. That is why any Judeophobic expression is potentially more dangerous than hostility towards other groups. It quickly slides into abuse and murder. Take the example of humor as an aggressive outlet against minorities. In almost every country there are jokes about another group which is depicted as dumb. In England these are Irish jokes, in America Polish jokes, in Sweden Norwegian jokes, in Brazil Portuguese jokes, and so on. Jewish jokes can be as inoffensive as the others, and no one should be particularly concerned about them. But on the other hand, had it been possible to suppress Jewish jokes in Europe during a century or two before the Holocaust, the virulence of Judeophobia may have been diminished and the Nazis may have found less support for their genocide. After all, Judeophobia is transmitted in gestures, jokes and generalizations rather than in lectures. Jokes and gestures can be fatal.

7) Judeophobia is chimerical (based on fantasy). This could very well be the main point. Hatred against any minority group usually develops out of a misinterpretation of reality. If a Frenchman hates an Algerian because he pollutes French culture, or if a German hates a Turk because he is taking away his job, in both cases there is a misinterpretation of reality. There may indeed be unemployment in Germany, but it is not true that the Turks are to blame. The case of Judeophobia is different, because there is no such misinterpretation, but sheer fantasy. Jews can be hated for having eaten non-Jews in the past, or for dominating the world in the present; for having killed God or for being the source of war, slavery or evil, or for fabricating the Holocaust. How can you contend with these kinds of arguments?

Even if you find types of hatred that share one or two of these characteristics, you will not find one that has these seven characteristics together. Judeophobia is unique and as such it should be studied and confronted.

We have explained why this is an object deserving of study, and how it should be named. Now let us discuss when it started.

We can postulate six theories about the beginnings of Judeophobia. Namely:

1) It started with the Jews, with the first Hebrews about four millennia ago.

2) It started with the Egyptian bondage, about three millennia ago.

3) It started with the Return to Zion, about two and a half millennia ago.

4) It started with Alexandrian Hellenism, about twenty-three centuries ago.

5) It started with Christianity, about two millennia ago.

6) It started with the reaction to Emancipation, about one century ago.

Our next step will be to refute 1), 2), 3) and 6) , and concentrate on 4) and 5) as the most plausible theories.

To say that Judeophobia started with Abraham is incorrect both historically and theoretically. Historically, because it is not true that Jews have suffered from persecutions for so long. There are several biblical verses that show a tinge of Judeophobia, but as with the Bible as a whole, it can provide us more with archetypes to facilitate understanding, than with historic data. For example Abimelech, the king of Gerar in the Negev, said unto Isaac “Go away from us; for thou art much mightier than we” (Genesis 26:16). This statement could be considered either as the first case of Judeophobia and thus traced to patriarchal times, or, more validly, as an archetype of Judeophobic arguments, especially since the Hebrew original could be rendered into English “Go away from us, for thou becameth powerful at our expense.”

To say that Judeophobia was the main motivation of the Egyptian Pharaoh, is also to take the Bible too literally. It is true that the Egyptian ruler states a second argument used frequently by Judeophobes, that Jews are a fifth-column in the countries where they reside. Thus says Pharaoh: “Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we; come on, let us deal wisely with them lest they multiply and that when there falleth out any war, they join unto our enemies and fight against us” (Exodus 1:9-10).

But on the other hand, it would be more acceptable historically not to attribute to the Egyptians any specific hatred against the Jews, rather a xenophobic attempt to enslave a whole people, a common practice in ancient times.

Having discarded hypotheses 1) and 2), let us explain number 3), namely that Judeophobia started during the Return to Zion. Here we have the most known Biblical archetype of Judeophobia, Haman. Indeed, many consider Judeophobia to have originated in the fifth century b.c.e. , during which king Xerxes I of Persia lived. Xerxes is thought to be the King Ahasuerus whose vizier Haman planned a genocide against the Jews, as reported in the book of Esther. Again, historical veracity of Haman’s story is not certain but his words became a chorus for Judeophobes of all times: “There is a certain people scattered through all the provinces… and their laws are diverse from all people, neither keep the king’s laws… Let it be written that they may be destroyed” (Esther 3:8).

Nonetheless, two events during this fifth century b.c.e. do seem to point the genesis of Judeophobia. One in the land of Israel (the attack against the rebuilders of Jerusalem) and one in the Diaspora (the destruction of the Temple of Elephantine in Egypt).

When Nehemiah led the Return to Zion from Babylon in the year 445 b.c.e., his attempt to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem met with the opposition of Sanballat I , called “an enemy” (Nehemiah 6:1,16).

At that time there was a Jewish community in Elephantine, a small island on the Egyptian Nile, where the Jews had erected a temple around 590 b.c.e. This temple was destroyed in 411 b.c.e. by the priests of Khnub with the help of the Persian commander Waidrang. But it was more a fanatic act done by Egyptians who resented Persian domination, than a Judeophobic outburst.

We can conclude that the Sanballat and Waidrang episodes were isolated and left no Judeophobic trace in history. Both attacks were the results of national tension between two groups, with no clear signs of particular Jew-hatred. Judeophobia had yet to be born.

This bring us to the three remaining theses, that is, 4), 5) and 6). The last one is put forward by Hannah Arendt in her book “The Origins of Totalitarianism” in which she claims that “anti-Semitism is a nineteenth century secular ideology,” “evidently” different from the religious hatred towards the Jews. This conclusion is simplistic. Of course Judeophobic political parties rose in Germany in the 1880’s, and that was the first time a regime used Judeophobia as a calculated means to gain power. However, the question is not when Judeophobia was first used as a political tool, but rather how did it first come into being so that it could be harnessed for political use. True, the nineteenth century brings a new form of Judeophobia, but the phenomenon is unique precisely in its adaptability to different historical contexts. This characteristic shows both its permanence and its singularity.

We thus remain with the two acceptable theses 4) and 5). Judeophobia’s roots are either in Hellenism or in Christianity. In the next two chapters we shall explain the rationale of each .

This concludes Chapter One.

Next Chapter, number Two: “Pagan Judeophobia - Jew Hate (anti-Semitism) in the Ancient World“.
Chapter 2 - First Part

Judeophobia (’anti-Semitism’,Jew Hate) in the Pagan Ancient World - Alexandria and Rome

In the previous chapter you read why Judeophobia is unique. It is important to bear this singularity in mind in order to avoid a feeling students frequently express, who suggest that by stressing Judeophobic danger we are overlooking discrimination and persecution against other groups.

I think they miss the point. We should naturally repudiate every kind of group hatred, racism and persecution, but Judeophobia is and remains the longest hatred, the most permanent, deep, obsessive, universal, dangerous, chimerical hatred on earth. If we dilute it into a sea of discriminations and hatreds we will understand less.

Our second point was the genesis of Judeophobia. After presenting (and refuting) five hypotheses, the two remaining ones demand explanation.

One, that Jew-hatred was born within Hellenism, is held among others by a contemporary historian of Judeophobia, the American priest Edward Flannery, whose book “The Anguish of the Jews -Twenty -Three Centuries of Anti-Semitism,” gives us his answer in its subtitle.

In his attempt to single out the first historically documented hostility against the Jews, Flannery traces Judeophobia back to Alexandria in the third century b.c.e. Let me acquaint you with that famous town.


Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great, a disciple of Aristotle who was to be the most renowned conqueror of all times. Apparently Alexander was well disposed towards the Jews. He allowed them to build a Jewish area in the town, where they were active in commerce and became very prosperous. Alexandria became the commercial and intellectual capital of the ancient world. At the beginning of the common era, Jews occupied two-fifths of the city and already numbered 100,000.

Egypt was both the heart of the Jewish Diaspora, and the most advanced centre of Hellenization outside Greece itself. And it was not an exception to the rule that, in general, the pagan world was very tolerant towards religious diversity. After all, if each family worshipped several gods, what harm could be attributed to further deities others choose to worship. That atmosphere allowed the Jews to freely practice monotheism. Indeed there were many prominent figures who thought highly of the Jews as a group. Three examples are Clearchus, Theophrastrus and Megasthenes, at the beginning of the third century b.c.e. The first two were disciples of Aristotle. Clearchus of Soli describes in his dialogue “On Sleep” the meeting between his teacher and a Jew. Theophrastrus of Eresos describes the Jews as “philosophers by race,” a characterization that was not uncommon among those writers, for whom the Jews were philosophers dwelling among the Syrians. When Megasthenes went to India as ambassador of Seleucus Nicator, he wrote a work in which he idealized the Indians and included the Jews in his idealized descriptions.

However the mainstream of Alexandrian historians (Egyptians who wrote in Greek) were notorious for their Judeophobia. One reason for this animosity was that many native Egyptians, unhappy with Greek and Roman domination, did not approve of the tolerance under which the Jews flourished. This social envy was the context of the very first Judeophobic writings, all of them by Hellenistic writers in Alexandria and its environs.

The first one mentioned by Flannery is Hecataeus of Abdera (fourth century b.c.e.). He was the first pagan who wrote extensively on the history of the Jews, albeit in a legendary fashion: “When a plague occurred, the Egyptians expelled them… The majority fled to uninhabited Judea… Their leader, Moses, founded Hierosolyma and its Temple, establishing a cult and a constitution which differed completely from any other… groups of men, to whom the Jews adopted a hostile attitude.” On the whole Hecataeus’ account is sympathetic to the Jews (four centuries after him Phylo of Byblos even wondered whether Hecataeus had become a Jewish convert).

Nevertheless he is to be blamed for the first myth related to Jewish history, in what was to become an extensive and murderous mythology. The Jews “had been expelled,” and “in remembrance of the exile of his people, Moses instituted for them a misanthropic and inhospitable way of life.” All the following Alexandrian writers picked up on this humiliating origin. The only exceptions were Timagenes and Appian, about the only Alexandrian Greek historians not to show animosity towards the Jews. And Alexandrian historians were many in number and prolific in their writings.

The first Egyptian to give an account of the history of his country in Greek was the priest Manetho during the third century b.c.e. He tells that “King Amenophis son of Paapis decided to purge the country of lepers and other polluted persons. He collected 80,000 people and sent them to work in the quarries east of the Nile… They appointed as their leader Osarsiph (who) decreed that his people neither worship the gods nor abstain from the flesh of animals reverenced by the Egyptians… he sent representatives to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who had been expelled from Egypt. The people of Osarsiph (who Manetho identifies with Moses) defeated the Egyptians in a concerted effort.” Although he never explicitly mentions the Jews, Manetho does speak of “a nation of alien conquerors who set fire to Egyptian towns, razed the temples of the gods, and treated the natives with cruelty. After their expulsion from Egypt… they crossed the desert on their way to Syria, and in the country called Judea built a town, which they named Jerusalem.”

Manetho’s contribution was the seriousness he added to what had previously been unsubstantiated tales, in his capacity as the official historian. From this point, the themes of leprous origins and misanthropy were rarely absent from the litanies of pagan Judeophobia. Lysimachus would say that “the Jews, sick of leprosy took refuge in the temples, until king Bocheris drowned many of the lepers and sent another one hundred thousand of them to die in the desert. Moses exhorted them to show kindliness to no one, to follow only the worst advice, and overthrow all the sanctuaries and altars of the gods they might come upon. They arrived in Judea and they built a town called Hierosyla (“town of temple …”).

Once the story of the Exodus was rewritten, myths were added in order to explain why they were expelled. Poseidonius tells that Jews were “impious people, hated by gods” and refers sardonically to the Jewish abhorrence of pork. During the second century b.c.e. Mnaseas of Pathros raises for the first time the charge that the Jews adore the golden head of an ass. And Philostratus summarizes these pagans’ belief: “For the Jews have long been in revolt against humanity… they have made their life apart and irreconcilable, and cannot share with the rest of mankind the pleasures of the table nor join in their libations or prayers or sacrifices… they are separated from ourselves by a greater gulf than divides us from the most distant Indies.”

To those two main accusations (that Jews were lepers and that their religion was misanthropic) a third one was added by Agatharchides of Cnidus, who mocked “the ridiculous practices of the Jews, the absurdity of their law, in particular what concerned the Sabbath.” The Sabbath was a focus of scorn because it revealed a people of laziness, who needed to rest one seventh of their lives.

During the first century b.c.e. Apollonius Molon (famous rhetorician, teacher of Cicero and Caesar) was the first to compose an entire work against the Jews in which he calls the Jews “the worst among the barbarians, lacking any creative talent, they did nothing for the good of mankind, they do not believe in any god… Moses was an impostor.”

But the worst pagan myth was still to appear in the first century b.c.e. through Damocritus’s pen. In “On the Jews” he claims that “every seven years they capture a stranger, lead him to their Temple, and immolate him cutting his flesh into small pieces.” His slander constitutes a remote source of the blood libel, about which we shall talk in the next two classes.

The peak of Alexandrian Judeophobia was achieved by Apion, whom Flannery calls “the first of the titans in the history of antisemitism.” Apion repeated in his “History of Egypt” every single myth held till then, and filled them with bitter consistency. The Sabbath originated because of a pelvic ailment incurred as Jews fled Egypt, which forced them to rest once a week. The Jews would kidnap a Greek, fatten him, convey him to a wood, slay him, sacrifice his body and swear an oath of hostility against the Greeks. And all this they did once a year (there was inflation in the legends of these “historians.”)

Two great Jews confronted this Judeophobe. The historian Flavius Josephus who called one of his books “Against Apion,” and the philosopher Philo of Alexandria who led a delegation to Rome to plead the Jewish cause before Caligula in the wake of Judeophobic riots in Alexandria under Flaccus in the year 38 c.e. (A.D) (Apion represented the attacking mobs).
Chapter 2 - Second Part


Greek Judeophobia was inherited by Rome. In the beginning of the common era, the Greek historian and geographer Strabo claimed that “the Jews had already gotten into all cities, and it is hard to find a place in the habitable earth that hath not admitted this tribe of men, and is not possessed by them.”

This overperception of the Jews often accompanies Judeophobia. In any case, whether it created hostility or not, overperception of Jews is the rule. It is well exemplified in a letter sent by Mark Twain (not at all a Judeophobe) to the editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica: “I read that the Jewish population of the U.S. was 250,000. I was personally acquainted with more Jews than that in my country. (The) figures were without a doubt a misprint for 25,000,000.”

In every country in which they live, Jews are at most 1% of the population (the only two exceptions are the US, where they are more than 2%, and Israel, where they constitute almost 90%). But in every single country they are usually perceived as five or ten times that proportion. The reasons for this overperception are that Jews are extremely urban (90% of them are concentrated in each country’s two major towns), they are very active in central activities (economy, arts, science) and Jewish history is the sacred history of most of the world (most people learn about the Jews at some stage during their education, so that the Jews are present in people’s minds long before they are personally acquainted).

But besides this overperception, the question remains why these Alexandrians initially attacked the Jews. We mentioned the prosperity of the Jews that created envy. Moreover, there was another reason for the first expressions of Judeophobia, namely that the centrality of the Exodus in the Jewish religion offended Egyptian national feelings. The biblical account challenged the Egyptians to provide a suitable answer, and that is why Judeophobic feelings existed in Egypt even before its conquest by Alexander the Great.

The Romans absorbed the Greek prejudices against the Jews (shameful origin, isolationism, ridiculous practices) and those prejudices were a mainstay of the intelligentsia. The Jewish community in Rome was second only to Alexandria. Already in 59 b.c.e. Cicero in his plea “Pro Flacco” mentions “how numerous they are, their clannishness, their influence in the assemblies.” As in Alexandria, privileges given by the Roman emperors to the Jews earned the hatred of envious neighbors. Those privileges were necessary for practicing their way of life since Romans were generally tolerant of other religions but uncompromising with whatever threatened to undermine their own cult. And their rituals were so woven into daily life that Jewish abhorrence of any type of image worship was a source of tension. However, the policy of the empire was never consistently Judeophobic. Some emperors were hostile to the Jews and some were not . Even the war against Judea did not modify that ambivalence.

But men of letters tended to incline the equilibrium. Horace, Tibullus and Ovid mocked Jewish practices and Seneca brought these jibes to their pitch by calling the Jews “most wicked nation (who) lose one seventh part of life contrary to a useful life.” Quintilian, Martial and Juvenal joined the attack on the “pernicious nation” but the apogee of pagan Judeophobia was reached in Tacitus. For him Jewish institutions are “sinister, shameful, and have survived only because of their perversity. Of all enslaved peoples the Jews are the most contemptible, loathsome… All that we hold sacred is profane to them; all that is licit to them is impure to us.”

Thus we close the chapter on ancient Judeophobia, which was mainly a literary phenomenon, and which justifies the standpoint of those who see in Alexandria the beginnings of Judeophobia.

The question is how could it be otherwise? How could anyone claim that Judeophobia was born with Christianity (as in our 5th thesis of last class) if there is so much evidence that both the Greeks and the Romans produced Jew-haters in abundance?

We will devote the next chapter to this question.

This concludes Chapter Two.

Next Chapter, number Three: Judeophobia (Anti-Semitism, Jew Hate) in the Early Christian Church.

Chapter 3

The beginnings of Christian Anti-Semitism -
Judeophobia (Jew Hate) in Early Christian thought.

The previous chapter concluded with the question of how can we consider the beginnings of Judeophobia to be in Christianity when we have already seen abundant Judeophobic evidence from pre-Christian times.

The answer is, basically: only with the inception of this new religion based upon Judaism, did hatred against the Jews become the norm, with widely and deeply penetrating roots, facilitating its monstrous growth, sprouting ideological and even theological fruit.

I must state from the outset that pointing out Judeophobia’s Christian roots does not imply the absurd generalization that Christians are necessarily Judeophobes. However, some basic facts remain that deserve attention and constitute the core of this third class.

The essence of the problem is as follows: the nascent church claimed to be the consummation of Judaism. Christianity emerged from Judaism and the first Christian church was Jewish in its leadership, membership, and worship. During the first period of Christianity, until the year 70, while the Jewish state was still in existence, there was no real antagonism between the two religions.

The first Christians conveyed their message to the House of Israel, but it soon became clear that the vast majority of the Jews would not become Christians. They were firm in their loyalty to biblical law and to an uncompromising view both of God’s transcendence and of the coming of the Messiah who will heal the world at the end of times.

Once doctrinal differences were obvious, the original harmony between the two faiths was doomed. The realization that the Jews would reject the new notion of the Messiah as “Son of God” was disconcerting to Christians, whose faith was built on the Jewish Scriptures and beliefs and therefore expected to win over the children of Israel. If they were to be the heirs of those beliefs and their true perpetuators, if Christianity was the fulfillment of Judaism, sooner or later some flaw had to be perceived in the independent continuity of the inherited religion. The ongoing vitality of Judaism questioned the legitimacy of the inheritance.

The break between the two religions was proclaimed by Paul, the Jewish-born true founder of Christianity, who resolved against the observance of law as stipulated in Judaism and established that true salvation comes only from faith in Jesus as the Messiah. The Jewish-Christians were the minority of Jews who accepted this dogma, but even they broke with Paul when they discovered that he was making no distinction between Jew and Gentile. These Jewish-Christians, who continued practicing Judaism, were seen by the new expanding faith as temporarily compromised (see Paul’s epistle to the Galatians 2:11-21 in the New Testament). But Paul had inherited Jesus’ love for his people. Neither he nor his immediate disciples wished to see Jews either degraded or destroyed.

The gradual composition of the New Testament was accompanied by a worsening of the Christian attitude towards Jews and therefore its earlier parts (Paul’s, around the year 50) are devoid of the Judeophobia present in the later parts (John’s gospel, 100). The earliest known canon of the New Testament was compiled in 140 by Marcion, who outrightly rejected the Hebrew Bible.

The discussion of how Judeophobic is the New Testament is beyond the scope of our course. Among Christian theologians, some claim it is as a whole (Rosemary Ruether) and some claim it is not at all (Gregory Baum).

The fact is that some verses in the New Testament describe the Jews in a positive way, attributing to them salvation (John 4:22) or divine love (Romans 11:28) while many others can be -and were- much used by Judeophobes. The two worst verses are those in which the Jews prompt Jesus’ crucifixion and say “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matthew 27:25) and when Jesus calls the Jews “children of the devil“ (John 8:44). These verses, and the whole gamut of accusations charged against the Jews during the growth and individuation of Christianity, were buttressed by constant repetition by people who had but scant acquaintance with Jews. Jerome, Anthanasius, Ambrose, Amulo, all echo that the Jews have devilish origins, or that they are tempted by the devil, partners with him, and ultimately his willing slaves and instruments.


The main source of later Judeophobia from the New Testament is the story of the crucifixion, full of historical mistakes (this fact does not demean the New Testament either as a sacred book or as the theological basis of Christianity. We speak in historical terms alone).

We are told: during Passover, the Sanhedrin (the supreme Jewish political, religious and judicial body in Judea during the Roman period) tried Jesus and condemned him to death. The Roman governor Pontius Pilate attempted to side-step the death penalty, but eventually gave in to an insistent Sanhedrin. Pilate “washed his hands” and let Jesus be crucified by Roman soldiers.

In Solomon Zeitlin’s Who Crucified Jesus? you can find a complete account of the story which shows, among others, the following inaccuracies: the Sanhedrin never met during festivals, and it seldom applied death penalties (the Talmud has it that “a Sanhedrin which puts a man to death once in seven years is called a murderous one” -Makkot 1:10- and rabbi Eleazar Ben Azaryah added: “…or even once in seventy years”).

And in the case of Jesus, we are surprised by a quick death penalty decreed upon a Jew -whose crime according to Jewish law is no crime at all. (There were crimes that according to biblical law deserved capital punishment, but to claim to be the son of God appears nowhere in the Bible as a crime!). Moreover, the Sanhedrin could carry out capital punishment without any Roman intervention. Why would they request the “help” of their worst enemy in order to carry out their law? (Four methods of judicial execution were stated by Talmudic law: stoning, burning, slaying and strangling, in contrast with crucifixion, which was typically Roman).

Besides that, the role of Pilate is highly unlikely. Why would a man who was in charge of suppressing the Jews, a man who had ordered the crucifixion of thousands of them, unexpectedly strive to defend one of them? The way Pilate chooses to express his lack of involvement is also suspect -it is called ‘Netilat Yadaim,’ the old Jewish custom to wash one’s hands as a sign of purity, which Orthodox Jews still practice. Why would a Roman warrior resort to a Jewish practice?

The answer to these questions is that it is probable that the New Testament tells us a true story -with changed over protagonists. The Roman announced his intention to execute a Jew who seemed to be unusually popular, and warned the Sanhedrin not to react. The Rabbis remained passive (a large group of which opposed rebellion against Rome; the more rebellious party prevailed only four decades later). As was the norm, the Romans wrote the reason for the crucifixion on the cross. In the case of Jesus, INRI (“Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews”) it is clear that they imply a political crime: sedition.

The reason for which the crucifixion was retold by the Gospel writers with these changes is logical. The new religion needed consolidation. Accusing the mighty empire of having murdered God would have been perilous. However, whitewashing Rome and at the same time accusing the weak Jews, who competitively claimed the same sources as their own, the Gospel stood to gain newfound strength and acceptance.

Moreover, the Christians could not evangelize by spreading the word that Jesus was the Messiah, because this argument was meaningless to the pagans. The only convincing claim was that Christianity was the original religion, the universal truth for mankind. For that to be the truth, Christianity had to exclusively possess the history of Israel.

At the end of the first century, the “Letter of Barnabas” attempts to show how Jews misunderstood what Christians call the Old Testament, which, the writer asserts, was never intended to be observed literally, since all therein is but a prefiguring of the Church.

As the start of the second century, Ignatius of Antioch summarizes their view: “Christianity did not believe in Judaism, but Judaism in Christianity.” Thus a fertile theme originated: the Church is, and always was, the true Israel. The problem was that the people the Church claimed to have supplanted, continued to co-exist and, more importantly, laid claim to the same sources of faith, asserting its anteriority and its ownership of the “Old Testament.”

A whole anti-Judaic literature developed, according to which the Church antedates the Old Israel, going back to the faith of Abraham and even to the promise made to Adam. The Church is “Eternal Israel” whose origins coincide with humanity itself. The Mosaic Law was only for the Jews, who were punished for their unworthiness and their cult of the golden calf by the burden of the Law. The Mosaic prescriptions hence were a yoke imposed upon the Old Israel because of its sins. The Jews are an apostate nation, deprived of its providential role of the chosen people. And so on.

The most complete Christian tract against the Jews during early centuries was the “Dialogue with Trypho” by Justin, which puts forward the ominous theme that Jewish misfortunes are the consequence of divine punishment.

But the worst myth arising during that time is “deicide,” the murder of God, which was raised for the first time by Melito, the bishop of Sardis, around the year 150. This sinister accusation, which was repeated for years, decades, centuries, was never the official ideology of the Church. But it became so rooted in Christian sermons that the Church had to officially reject it during the Second Vatican Council in 1965.


The anti-Judaic literature developed while Jewry was weak, humiliated, defeated, when it posed no challenge to Christianity. In the misfortunes of the Jewish people, in the dissolution of the state and in subsequent Jewish defeats, the Christians found definite confirmation of their belief that God was displeased with the Jews and no longer wanted their continuation. The Christians took it for granted that Judaism would ultimately absorbed into their new religion.

However, after the disasters of 70 and 135 (terrible defeats at the hands of the Romans) Jewry gradually recuperated vitality and influence, and the Christian reaction was new literary attacks. We should have in mind that between those two years Christianity became a definitely gentile movement.

According to Origen, the first Christian scholar to study Hebrew, Christians respected the Law more than the Jews did, who interpreted it in a fantastical manner, and whose practices were trivial; their rejection of Jesus had resulted in calamity and exile. “We say with confidence that they will never be restored to their former condition. For they committed a crime of the most unhallowed kind, in conspiring against the Saviour of the human race….”

By the end of the third century the image of the Jew was of an unbeliever and a competitor. At the end of the fourth century, the Jew had been transformed into the deicidal, satanic figure, cursed by God and discriminated against by the State. The very term “Jew” was an insult.

The full flowering of the theology which prescribed Jewish miseries as divine punishment for Jesus’ crucifixion was one of the reasons for the deterioration of the Jewish image and status. By the time Christianity became the dominant religion of the Empire (the year 323), the foundation of its Judeophobia was already laid; it was the natural outcome of theological necessity as well as defensiveness against the danger of a relapse into Judaism. It was an inevitable by-product of Christian propaganda, which had to assume that Judaism was dead, even while Judaism steadfastly refused to die. The Church did not recognized that Judaism was a distinct religion; it saw it as a distortion of the only true religion, a perfidia, a stubborn rebelliousness against God. Thus wrote the Church Fathers.

In the year 338 a Christian mob led by the local bishop burned down the synagogue of Callinicus in Mesopotamia. The emperor Theodosius ordered the synagogue to be rebuilt and the incendiary punished. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, intervened with a letter to the emperor: the synagogue was “home of unbelief, a house of unpiety, a receptacle of folly.” Only out of negligence had he himself not set fire to the synagogue of Milan. Imperial power must be used in the service of the faith. In the cathedral the emperor was threatened with refusal of the sacraments, and he eventually ceded to Ambrose. Other synagogues were destroyed in Italy, North Africa, Spain and even the land of Israel, where a group of monks under Barsauma massacred Jews.

John Chrysostom (d.407) brings Judeophobia to its highest point within all “Adversus Judaeos” literature. In his sermons in Antioch he says: “the Jews most miserable of all men… lustful, rapacious, greedy, perfidious bandits, inveterate murders, destroyers, men possessed by the devil. They know only one thing, to satisfy their gullets, get drunk, to kill and maim one another… They have surpassed the ferocity of wild beasts, for they murder their offspring and immolate them to the devil…”and much more. Chrysostom and all the Judeophobes among the Church Fathers and their successors were over many centuries revered as saints by the Catholic Church.

Augustine wrote at the same time and his original contribution to the Judeophobic arsenal is the theory of the witness-people. The reason for which Jews subsist is to probe the truth of Christianity. Like Cain, he explains, they carry a sign but are not to be killed. Jews were not only wrong but evil.

And the theological gulf grew wider and deeper. As the Anglican theologian James Parkes puts it, the Church did not claim the Hebrew Bible in its entirety, only its heroes and virtuous characters, God’s promises and praise. The rest, the villains and the idolaters, the stubborn and the unbelievers, were left for the Jews. Curses and accusations were for them. And that was the description of the Jews supposedly written by God. Variations of this theme were preached in writings and from pulpits, Sunday after Sunday, century after century, whenever Jews were mentioned.

So, by saying that Judeophobia was born with Christianity, we are not overlooking the hostility of the Greek Egyptians. We are adding proportion. Christian Judeophobia was incomparably stronger. Joseph Eötvösz, a Hungarian nobleman, would say in the 1920’s that “an anti-Semite is one who hates the Jews… more than necessary.” This was not true for the pagan world, generally tolerant to the Jews, even if did have many Judeophobes. But once Christianity took hold, Judeophobia became the norm, God’s will, a theological platform with laws, contempt, calumnies, animosity, segregation, forced baptisms, appropriation of children, unjust trials, pogroms, exiles, systematic persecution, rapine, and social degradation.

On the basis of all the above, Jules Isaac unabashedly calls his 1956 book “The Christian Roots of Antisemitism.” We will study the offshoots of these roots in the next chapter.

Next Chapter number 4 - Christian Persecution of the Jews in Europe: Proselytization, Conversions and Ghettos.
Chapter 4

Christian Medieval European Persecution of Jews: I-Proselytism and Ghettos

At the end of the last chapter we referred to Jules Isaac’s book, The Christian Roots of Antisemitism.” Isaac was a chief inspector of history teaching, at the French Ministry of Education. The deportation and death of his family by the Nazis in 1943, motivated him to devote the rest of his life to the research of Judeophobia. He focused on three principal falsehoods in the Church Fathers’ historiography, namely:

a) that the dispersion of Israel was a divine punishment for the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah;

b) that Jews had committed deicide; and

c) that Judaism was corrupt during Jesus’ time.

Isaac refuted each point through historical data. He also describes the Church’s teaching of degradation, which is manifest even in the writings of Thomas Aquinas, the most important Christian medieval philosopher. In 1270 he wrote that Jews “in consequence of their sin, are or were destined to perpetual slavery: so that sovereigns of states may treat their goods as their own property, with the sole provision that they do not deprive them of all that is necessary to sustain life.” These teachings were gradually accepted by secular governments which were influenced by the ecclesiastical establishment. This led to the Jews being subjected to restrictions and exclusions, such as taxes, the obligation of wearing a distinguishing badge, and religious limitations.

Had the Church’s “teaching of contempt” remained within the framework of theology, it might have only caused the Jews humiliation, anger and sorrow. However, Christian Judeophobia transcended mere theory. If a Christian wanted to strike a blow at the devil, he could do so by striking a Jew.

The theology of the Church Fathers was translated into law, which acted as a bridge between theory and practice. The Theodosian Code of 438 (the first official collection of imperial statutes on the subject) sanctioned the civil inferiority of the Jews, defined as “enemies of the Roman laws and of the supreme majesty.” The legislation of Theodosius II became the juridical basis upon which Jewish affairs were regulated.

Numerous medieval bulls (a bull is a Papal edict -”bullum” is Latin for seal) are openly Judeophobic. I’ll give you ten examples:

“Etsi non displiceat “(1205) solicited kings to put an end to “Jewish evils” like usury, arrogance and murder;”

“In generali concilio” (1218) compelled Jews to wear special clothing;

“Si vera sunt” (1239) ordered the seizure and examination of the Talmud and Jewish literature, which were eventually burned;

“Vineam Soreth” (1278) ordered the selection of trained men to preach Christianity to the Jews;

“Etsi doctoribus genium” (1415) was a collection of anti-Jewish laws;

“Numquam dubitavimus” (1482) empowered kings to appoint inquisitors to prevent Jewish practices;

“Cum nimis absurdum” (1555) established the ghetto in Rome and forbade contact between Jews and Christians;

“Hebraeorum gens” (1569) accused Jews of magic and expelled them from papal territories;

“Vices eius nos” (1577) ordered Roman Jews to send delegations to the church;

“Sancta mater ecclesia” (1584) decreed that each Saturday one hundred Jewish men and fifty women must come to listen to conversionist sermons in the church.

This legislation was not always influential on the kings and rulers it addressed. Around 830, the bishop of Lyons, Agobard, called “the most cultured man of his time,” sensed danger in the relations between his flock and the Jews of the city, because the latter were not considered to be of inferior status as deemed by the Church. Indeed, Jews were prosperous and their religion respected. Agobard brought charges against them before King Louis the Pious and called for a return to the Theodosian Code. However, Louis remained well disposed towards the Jews as had his father Charlemagne before him. Years later Louis’s son Charles the Bald also refused to ratify the Judeophobic canons passed by the Church Council on Meaux in 845, as suggested by Bishop Amulo, Agobard’s successor and disciple. These kings were the last representatives of the Carolingian age during which the Jews enjoyed equal rights.

Around 950 the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII promulgated a special oath called Juramentum Judaeorum, which Jews were compelled to take when involved in lawsuits against non-Jews. This remained the rule in Europe until at least the 18th century. Both the text and the ritual of taking the oath, expressed a self-imposed curse, as we can see in the German “Schwabenspiegel “ of 1275:

“About the goods for which this man sues against thee… help thee God, who created heaven and earth… And that so if thou eatest something, thou will become defiled all over… and that the earth swallow thee… thou art true in what thou has sworn… And so that the blood and the curse ever remain upon thee which thy kindred wrought upon themselves when they tortured Jesus Christ and spake thus: ‘His blood be upon us and our children’: it is true… So help thee God and the oath which thou hast sworn. Amen”.

Oaths, badges and restrictions were but a small part of the medieval Judeophobic repertoire. An all-inclusive summary of the martyrdom of the Jews is complex since different geographies and chronologies are involved. But we will discuss seven practices which were common all over Europe, namely: forced baptism, compulsory sermons, disputations, burning of Jewish books, ghettos, expulsions and genocides.

As Christianity became the dominant religion in the Roman Empire, large numbers of Jews were forcibly baptized. The earliest detailed account is on the island of Minorca in 418. Other major campaigns of forced conversions spread through Europe, one in 614 when Emperor Heraclius forbade Judaism in the Byzantine Empire, and another in 873, launched by Basil I.

However, Pope Gregory I (d.604) decided that baptism should be accepted willingly and not imposed by force. This became, on the whole, accepted practice, but “willingly” was subject to interpretation. Was conversion under threat of death now acceptable, or should the anticipated violence be more remote? If so, how subtle must the insinuation be? Take the advise given by the bishop of Clermont-Ferrand to the Jews on May 14, year 576, after a mob had destroyed the synagogue in his town: “If ye be ready to believe as I do, be one flock with us, and I shall be your pastor; but if ye be not ready, depart from this place.” About 500 Jews of Clermont converted, and the Christians celebrated -“candles were lit, the lamps shone…” The other Jews left for Marseilles. Was this “willingly”? Well, in 938 the pope told the archbishop of Mainz he should expel local Jews if they refused to convert… willingly (he claimed force should not be applied).

Children were another dilemma. At what age was a baptism “willing,” as opposed to a gesture cheaply bought in return for some trivial compensation? The aforementioned Agobard assembled the Lyons children who had not been sent out of harm’s way by their parents, and baptized all those who, according to his judgment, appeared to be agreeable. One of the clauses in the “Constitutio pro Judaeis” issued by successive popes between the 12th and 15th centuries, declared categorically that no Christian should use violence to force Jews to be baptized. What it did not say was what should happen if the forced conversion actually took place, whether it was valid regardless of the illegal process, or if the victim was free to return to his former faith.

The answer to these questions is that, on the whole, the church condemnation of forced baptism remained unchanged, but its attitude regarding post facto problems became tougher over the centuries.

In a letter of 1201, Pope Innocent III stated that a Jew who submitted to baptism under threat of force, expressed a conditional willingness to accept the sacrament, and so was not allowed to renounce it thereafter. For medieval Christianity the backsliding of faith was heretical, punishable by death according to the code later elaborated by the Inquisition. As late as 1747 Pope Benedict XIV decided that once baptized, albeit illegally, a child was to be considered a Christian and be thus raised.

Later waves of forced baptisms include one which swept through the kingdom of Naples in the last decades of the 13th century, and one in Spain from 1391, which started with the riots led by the archdeacon Ferrant Martinez. Hundreds of Jews were massacred and entire communities forcibly converted, and it left in its wake the phenomenon of the Marranos (a derogatory term for the ”New Christians” and their descendants). These people continued to live an underground Jewish existence until after the 18th century. The most dramatic case was in Portugal, where thousands of Jews settled, having been expelled from neighboring Spain in 1492.

King Manuel of Portugal found that it was unnecessary to expel his Jewish subjects, who were valuable economic assets, in order to purge his realm of heresy. Instead he embarked on a systematic campaign of forced conversion initially directed against the children, who were seized and dragged from their parents’ arms in the hope that the adults would follow suit, and later against the entire population. This explains both why by the end of 1497 not a single professing Jew remained in Portugal, as well as the greater tenacity of Marranism in this country, up to the present day.

A new chapter in the history of forced baptism began in 1543, with the establishment of the House of Catechumens in Rome, which rapidly took hold in other cities. Any person who, by whatever casuistry, could be considered to have shown an inclination towards Christianity, could be immure in the House of Cathecumens “to explore his intention,” all the while being submitted to unremitting pressure. A popular superstition which claimed that any person who secured the baptism of an unbeliever was assured of paradise, lead to a spate of such procedures throughout the Catholic world.

In the mid-18th century the Jesuits were the main enforcers of this practice. Several cases became infamous. In 1762 the son of the rabbi of Carpentras was pounced upon and baptized in ditch water, and thereafter lost to his family. The kidnapping for baptism of Terracina children in 1783 caused a revolt in the Roman ghetto. In 1858, Edgardo Mortara, aged six, was abducted by papal police from his family in Bologna, and taken to the House of Catechumens. The boy had been secretly baptized five years previously by a domestic servant who thought he was about to die. The parents tried in vain to get their child back. Napoleon III, Cavour and Franz Joseph were among those who protested and Moses Montefiore traveled to the Vatican in an unsuccessful attempt to release the child.

The founding of the Alliance Israélite Universelle in 1860 “to defend the civil rights of the Jews” was partly in reaction to this case. The pope rejected all petitions and by 1870, when his secular power came to an end, the boy had ceased to be Edgardo. He had taken the pope’s name (Pius), and had become a novice in the Augustinian order and an ardent conversionist in six languages. Mortara’s tragic end was his death in Belgium in 1940, weeks before the Nazi invasion, in this way narrowly avoiding an unwilling return to his Jewish roots.

In the Russian Empire during the second quarter of the 19th century, the institution of the Cantonists was introduced. This involved the virtual kidnapping for military service of Jewish male children from the age of 12, or even 8, with the explicit intention of compelling them to abandon Judaism.

On the other hand, the same Pius IX of the Mortara case, abolished Sermons to the Jews after more than a millennia of their practice. The first recorded instance of sermons directed at Jews is related to the aforementioned Agobard of Lyons. His “Epistola de baptizandis Hebraeis” (820) states that on his instruction the clergy of Lyons went to preach in synagogues every Saturday. With the foundation of the Dominican order (1216) this system was regularized. King James I of Aragon himself delivered one of these speeches (1263) and later issued an order enjoining the Jews to listen quietly to the addresses of friars who had come to convert them. In 1278 the compulsory conversionist (evangelist or proselytic) sermon received papal approval (in the above bull), and was enjoined in England the following year (ten years after which all English Jews were expelled from the country).

With the Judeophobic reaction that accompanied the Counter-Reformation, the sermon became a regular way of abusing Jewish community life; Rome was the worst case. Jews were compelled to send a regular quota of people to churches to listen to the friars, and hear sermons while beadles armed with rods saw to it that they paid attention, and examined their ears to see that they were not plugged. The philosopher Michele de Montaigne records that while in Rome in 1581 he heard such a violent sermon that Jews appealed for papal protection. In 1630 the emperor Ferdinand II instituted conversionist sermons in the auditorium of Vienna university, and the Jesuits initiated the practice in Prague.

The conversionist (evangelist) sermons continued up to the period of the French Revolution, and by the time they were finally abolished in the mid-19th century, the poet Robert Browning attempted to record the Jews’ state of mind during the sermons: “…when the hangman entered our bounds,/ yelled, pricked us out to this church like hounds./ It got to a pitch, when the hand indeed/ Which gutted my purse, would throttle my creed,/ And it overflows, when, even the odd/ Men I helped to their sins, help me to their God.”

The proscription of Jewish literature was another phenomenon of medieval life, established in the 13th century (it had several precedents, such as the attempt by Emperor Justinian to prevent the teaching of the “second tradition” in 553). In 1199 Pope Innocent III declared that since Scripture contained lessons too profound for the layman to grasp, Christians should rely wholly on the clergy for its interpretation. In 1236 a memorandum was submitted to the pope with 35 charges against the Talmud: it was an allegedly blasphemous book which attacked the Church, mocked Jesus, and was hostile to non-Jews. The pope ordered that the confiscation of Jewish books in France take place on a Saturday, while the Jews were gathered in their synagogues. It happened on March 3, 1240, and similar instructions were conveyed to the kings of England, Spain, and Portugal.

In response to the papal circular, the first public disputation between Jews and Christians was staged in Paris on June 25-27 1240. The Jewish spokesman was Rabbi Yehiel of Paris, then the most eminent French rabbi, whose task was to defend the Talmud against its slanderers. (The Talmud was not completely translated before the mid-19th century and therefore very few had any real knowledge of it. Andrea Masio, a Christian Hebraist who repudiated the papal law on the subject, considered that the condemnation of the Talmud was as valid as the opinion of a blind man about differing colors).

Two years after the Paris disputation, an inquisitorial committee again condemned the Talmud, and 24 wagon loads of books totaling thousands of volumes were handed to the executioner for public burning. Subsequently the burning of the Talmud was repeatedly urged by the popes.

Famous disputations and burnings took place in Barcelona in 1263 (after which the king warned the Jews that their holy books were doomed to the pyre unless they censored them), in Toulouse 1319, in Tortosa 1413. Following the Church Council of Basle in 1431, the pope forbade the Jews to study the Talmud.

Italy became a center of burnings during the Counter-Reformation, after the pope had designated the Talmud blasphemous. On Rosh Hashanah of 1553, thousands of Jewish books were burnt in Campo de Fiori, Rome, in a gigantic pyre, followed by others in about ten Italian towns.

Only in 1564 the prohibition of the Talmud was rescinded, but even after that the confiscation of Jewish literature continued for two centuries. The Talmud was possibly the most attacked booked on earth. In order to write his two-thousand page “Endecktes Judemthum” (Judaism Unmasked) in 1699, Johannes Eisenmenger spent twenty years studying in a yeshiva (a Talmudic academy), so deep was his hatred of the book that kept Judaism alive. “Experts” churned out a vast literature exposing the Talmud’s blasphemies in the past two centuries.

The last public burning of the Talmud before the Nazi era took place in 1757 in Poland, when Bishop Nicholas Dembowski ordered the burning of one thousand copies.

Another practice was to establish quarters for Jews, surrounded by a wall separating it from the rest of the city, the gates of which bolted at night. This compulsory place of residence is called “ghetto,” which in Italian means “foundry” (the quarter of Venice enclosed by walls and gates in 1516 and declared to be the only part of the city open to Jewish settlement, was near a foundry). The institution antedates the word, since the idea was raised as early as the 4th century and was legalized in 1179 when the Third Lateran Council of the Church forbade Christians to reside together with Jews. Famous ghettos were set up in London (1276), Bologna (1417) and Turin (1425), always serving to reinforce the stereotype of the Jew, a demoniac figure who, even when he had contact with Christians during the day, would go back to his night residence beyond the walls to practice his absurd rituals and habits.

The walls of the Italian ghettos were demolished by French troops in 1796. After Napoleon’s fall (1815) there was an attempt to rebuild them, but this did not happen until the Nazis assumed power.

The ghetto was another implementation of the objective to separate the Jews from the rest of society, degrade them and oppress them so that they would ultimately convert to Christianity. When he saw the Jew living miserably in his ghetto, the 18th century Catholic publicist G.Roberti called it “a better proof of the truth of the religion of Jesus Christ than a whole school of theologians.” But the worst is yet to come…

Next Chapter number 5 - Christian Persecution of the Jews in Europe: II- Pogroms, Crusades, Expulsions, Inquisitions and Massacres.

Chapter 5

Christian Persecution of Jews in Medieval Europe : II- Massacres, Crusades, Inquisitions, Expulsions

Expulsion of the Jews

The story of European Judeophobia so far: forced sermons and baptism, book burning, and ghettos. Now the tale takes a harsher turn: expulsions. Jews had been expelled on many occasions during ancient times, but only from the 4th century on was a systematic policy adopted. In the principal expulsions Jews were removed from a whole country for an extended period. By the end of the 13th century Jews had been expelled from England, France and Germany. This is how the story usually unfolded:

The Jew was caught in a no-win situation. On the one hand he was the “royal usurer” from whom kings squeezed their much needed funds. On the other, he was the local lender and pawn-broker who collected from peasants the money he needed to sustain his uncertain existence. The Royalty protected him as long as he was useful, and as long as the anger of the creditors and mobs simmered below the surface. When the resentment boiled over, the king abandoned “his Jews” and joined in the clamor.

In England, during the civil war of 1262, Jews were attacked in many places; in London alone, 1,500 were killed. In 1279 all Jews in the city were arrested on the charge of debasing the coin of the realm. After a London trial 280 were executed. Edward I ordered those remaining out of the realm by All Saints Day, 1290. The Jews’ possessions fell to the crown. In October, a month before the deadline, 16,000 left for France and Belgium, some finding death on the way, even as close as the Thames where a sea captain allowed many to drown. Jews were readmitted to England in 1650.

France expelled the Jews from most of its territory in 1306 and in 1394; they were not readmitted until 1789. Germany expelled them mainly during the Black Death of 1348 (we will refer to it next chapter). Spain and Portugal (in 1492 and 1497) removed the strongest community of that time (about 300,000 Jews) for virtually half a millennium. In 1495 the Jews were expelled from Lithuania, but were allowed to return eight years later.

Expulsions of Jews from specific towns and regions took place regularly (famous among the modern ones were Prague in 1744 and Moscow in 1891). As a rule, the reason for expelling the Jews was usually the exploitation of Judeophobia by rulers, for fiscal considerations. Socio-economic factors contributed to the hostility of Christian merchants and craftsmen felt towards their Jewish rivals, and to the resentment of debtors towards Jewish moneylenders. When Jews were not indispensable moneylenders and they did not fulfill any vital socio-economic function, the outcome was expulsion.

While most countries have their own cruel history of expulsions, Spain is a special case. After the marriage of Isabella and Ferdinand, respective heirs to the thrones of Castile and Aragon, the two kingdoms were united (1479). Spanish national homogeneity became the goal, and the Conversos (converted to Christianity) were perceived to threaten that goal. Initially, the Catholic Monarchs, as they were called, continued to employ Jewish and Converso functionaries, but later they requested that the Pope extend the Inquisition’s activities to their kingdom. In 1480 two Dominicans were named inquisitors and in the following six years more than 700 Conversos were burnt at the stake. Tomas de Torquemada, confessor to the queen, was appointed inquisitor-general in 1483, and the institution brought terror to the Jews from town to town. In ten years the Inquisition condemned 13,000 Conversos, men and women alike.

The march towards complete religious unity was reinforced when the last bastion of Muslim power in Spain fell, with the triumphant entry of the Catholic monarchs into Granada, in January 2, 1492. The scandal of Conversos who had remained true to Judaism had shown that the segregation of the Jews and limitations of their rights were not sufficient to suppress their influence, and the “New Christians” had to be isolated from that influence. The expulsion edict was signed in Granada to advance political consolidation; in May the exodus began. Hundreds of thousands left the country where their families had lived for over one thousand years, flourishing as merchants, astronomers, physicians, philosophers and poets.

From then on, concern in the Iberian Peninsula with the New Christians, which had long existed, became an obsession directed against those who had remained. The Marranos and their descendants were excluded from public office, guilds, colleges, orders, and even residence in certain towns. All roles in society were to be performed only by Christians with pure Christian ancestry. As time passed, the establishment redoubled its efforts to unearth the traces of any long-forgotten “impure” forefathers.

In Portugal legal distinctions between Old and New Christians were not officially abolished before 1773. Spain went even further and until 1860 “blood purity” was a requirement for admission to the military academy. The college attended by Spain’s most important leaders, the Saint Bartholomew of Salamanca, took pride in refusing admittance to anyone even rumored to be of Jewish descent. But since no one could be absolutely certain of his “blood purity since time immemorial,” the blemish ultimately became negotiable through bribed witnesses, shuffled genealogies, and falsified documents.

The tragic paradox is that when Jewish suffering was so immense, discrimination, humiliation and expulsion were often considered the lesser evils in an epoch when the menace of death hovered continually over the Jews. Thus the Maharal of Prague, a well known rabbi and philosopher, thought that the era of exile in which he lived was more tolerable precisely because its principal sufferings consisted of expulsions. In many places the Jews got accustomed to expulsion and rapid readmission. A 1692 poem by Elhanan Helin of Frankfurt read: “we went in joy and in sorrow; because of the destruction and the disgrace, we grieved for our community and we rejoiced that we had escaped with so many survivors.” Also Tevye the Dairyman in Shalom Aleichem’s play (1894) takes the expulsions lightly-the reason for which we wear hats, he says, is that we have to be prepared to leave at any moment.

The expulsions resulted in loss of property and damage to body and spirit; they left their impression on the entire Jewish nation and its history; they maintained and intensified the Jews’ feeling of foreignness. Consider that after 1492 there were no Jews living openly on the European coast of the Atlantic Ocean, during a period when this had become the center of the world.

The worst part of Jewish martyrdom was undoubtedly the massacres of Jews, which took place sporadically from ancient times, and systematically since the Crusades. Judeophobia surpassed itself in each successive century; the superlatives were belittled by posterior events. Due to Hitler, for example, Bogdan Chmielnicky was eventually forgotten as the most murderous Jew-hater. This Ukrainian patriot fought Polish domination of his country by killing more than 100,000 Jews during 1648-1649. To this day, Chmielnicky is revered as the national hero of the Ukraine.

Under Christian domain, killing Jews was nothing new. It dates back to shortly after the split from Judaism. In Antioch (the town which assumed Alexandria’s importance in the East) rioting Christian factions, the “Blues” and the “Greens,” massacred Jews and burned down the Daphne synagogue together with the bones of the dead (c.480), about which Emperor Zeno commented that it would have been better to burn live Jews instead. This is an example of a sporadic massacre.

In contrast, the first half of this millennium witnessed genocides of Jews as the norm. And this is precisely when the Church reached the zenith of its power. To summarize, the main genocides were the first three crusades and the four Jew-murdering campaigns that followed them. Let me add the name of one ringleader in each case, as follows: the First Crusade (Godfrey of Bouillon, 1096), the Second Crusade (the monk Radulph, 1144), the Third Crusade (Richard the Lion-hearted, 1190), the “Judenschachters” (Rindfleisch, 1298), the Pastoureaux (friar Peter Olligen, 1320), the Armleder (John Zimberlin, 1337), and the Black Death (Friedrich of Meissen, 1348).


As Edward Flannery puts it, to find a more fateful year in the history of the Jews than 1096, the First Crusade, would necessitate going back a thousand years to the fall of Jerusalem, or forward to the Holocaust. It all started on November 27, 1095 in the town of Clermont-Ferrand (mentioned last class), when during the closing ceremony of a council, Pope Urban II called for a campaign “to free the Holy Land from the Muslim infidel.” Massive, ill-organized hordes of nobles, knights, monks and peasants set off - and turned on the Jews. The crusaders decided to start their cleansing on the “infidels at home,” and pounced upon the Jews all over Lorraine, massacring those who refused baptism. Soon it was rumored that their leader Godfrey had vowed not to set out for the crusade until he had avenged the crucifixion by spilling the blood of the Jews, and that he could not tolerate the continued existence of any man calling himself a Jew. Indeed, one common denominator of the genocides we are recounting was the attempt to wipe out the entire Jewish population, children included.

The French Jews warned their German brethren, but to no avail. All along the Rhine Valley the troops, urged by preachers like Peter the Hermit, offered the Jewish communities the option of baptism or death. In Speyer, as the crusaders surrounded the panic-stricken community, huddled up in the synagogue, a woman reinaugurated the tradition of freely accepting martyrdom for the glory of God, “Kiddush ha-Shem.” Hundreds of Jews committed suicide and some even sacrificed their children beforehand. In Ratisbon, the crusaders forced the whole Jewish community into the Danube and baptized them. Massacres occurred at Treves and Neuss, in the cities along the Rhine and the Danube, Worms, Mainz, in Bohemia and in Prague. The end of the journey was Jerusalem, where the crusaders found the Jews assembled in the synagogues and set them ablaze (1099). There, the few survivors were sold as slaves, some being later redeemed by Jewish communities in Italy. The Jewish community of Jerusalem came to an end and was not reconstituted for about one century.

In the first half-year of the First Crusade approximately 10,000 Jews were murdered, almost one third of the Jewish population of Germany and Northern France at that time.

In 1144, the crusaders lost Edessa, and the precariousness of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem was a matter of concern. A second crusade was called for by Pope Eugene III. He and his successors encouraged the Crusaders, often at the Jews’ expense. For example no interest could be charged by Jews on debts incurred by the crusaders (from the 13th century the term “crusade” applied to any campaign from which the Church stood to gain politically). In 1146 the monk Radulph violently attacked the Jewish communities of the Rhineland and exhorted the crusaders to avenge themselves on “those who had crucified Jesus.” Hundreds of Jews fell before the aroused mobs which rushed upon them crying “Hep, Hep” (this cry was probably shortened Latin for “Jerusalem is lost” and was very popular as a Judeophobic motto in Germany; long afterwards it was the name given to the riots against German Jews in 1819).

Brutalities occurred in Cologne and Wurzburg in Germany, and in Carenton and Sully in France. The famous Jewish scholar Rabbenu Jacob Tam was stabbed in five places in memory of the wounds suffered by Jesus. Peter of Cluny (called “the Venerable”) requested that the king of France punish the Jews because “they defile Christianity and fleece Christians. They should not be killed, but they should made to suffer fearful torments and prepared for greater ignominy, for an existence worse than death.”

After the two first crusades, Jews enjoyed a respite in Europe marred by the Almohade persecutions in North Africa and Spain. But when Saladin put an end to the crusader kingdom in Jerusalem, the Third Crusade was launched. King Philip Augustus of France (who had had a hundred Jews burned in Bray in retaliation for the hanging of one of his subjects who had murdered a Jew) joined enthusiastically as did the German emperor. But the most savage repercussions of this crusade were for the Jews of England, who had been spared during the first and second crusades.

Almost the entire Jewish communities of Lynn, Norwich and Stamford were massacred. In York, the Jews took refuge in the castle, where they were besieged, and killed themselves on the eve of Passover.

For the Jews, the crusades became the symbol of the inveterate hostility of Christianity. 300 rabbis from Western Europe emigrated to the Land of Israel in 1211, portentous that their chances, should they stay, would be slim indeed. And as Flannery says, “those who stayed lived to regret their decision.”

The memory of the martyrs was a source of inspiration for the Jews. The martyrs became an object of admiration for the following generations -God had put them to test and they had proved themselves worthy, a symbol of the whole people, and their martyrdom was perceived as victory. The majority of those converted by force were able to return to Judaism - to be the victims of the massacres that broke out later.

The crusades dramatically revealed the physical danger in which the Jews lived, and encouraged the Jews to move to the fortified cities, where they would be less vulnerable (this could partially explain the urban character of the Jews, which we mentioned in our second lecture).

For the Christians, the Jews were now perceived as the implacable enemy of their faith. A whole mythology developed, which exposed “the true character” of the Jews, and to this we will devote our next lecture.

A consequence of the crusades was the institution of the “serfs of the imperial chamber.” The Jews sought the protection of emperors and kings, and bought it at a heavy price. The new status was conceived as a privilege and protection against the fanaticism of the mobs and the rapacity of the barons, but before long it became a device for royal enrichment. Theology helped. The Pope Innocent III spoke of the “perpetual servitude of the Jews,” and the jurist Henry de Bracton (d.1268) wrote: “The Jew cannot have anything of his own. Whatever he acquires, he acquires not for himself but for the king.” By the 13th century many Jews were well worth owning, before they were eventually killed.

The massacres that followed the crusades proved to be even more gory and murderous than their precedents. In Rottingen in 1298 a nobleman called Rindfleisch stirred up the mob which burned the entire community at the stake. Then his “Judenschachters” (Jew-slaughterers) marched through Austria and Germany pillaging, burning, and murdering Jews as they proceeded . One hundred and forty communities were decimated; 100,000 Jews were murdered. In 1306 the king of France had all Jews arrested on a single day and ordered them to leave the country within a month. 100,000 left and settled in nearby lands; nine years later they were readmitted… to be massacred. A Benedictine monk led 40,000 shepherds (the “Pastoureaux”) in a kind of crusade which destroyed one hundred and twenty communities.

The viscount of Toulouse had been informed of the massacre perpetrated by the Pastoureaux in Castelsarrasin and neighboring localities between June 10 and 12, 1320. He set out at the head of an armed detachment in order to check their advance. He returned with twenty four carloads of Pastoureaux, intending to imprison them in the town castle, but the populace came to their assistance and released them. Indeed, another common characteristic of the genocides is the appalling degree of support from the peasants that the murderous mobs enjoyed.

And as always in the case of Judeophobia, the worst was still to come. In 1336-38 one visionary who “received a call to avenge the death of Christ by murdering the Jews,” John Zimberlin, led 5,000 followers armed with crude weapons, wearing leather arm-bands (the “Armleder”) and slaughtered Jews from Alsace through the Rhineland.

The last genocide on our list was occasioned by the Black Death. A plague killed about one third of the whole population of Europe between 1348 and 1350 (almost one hundred million people). The Jewish communities all over Europe were torn to pieces by a populace crazed by the plague. Who could be blamed for the plague if not the archconspirator and poisoner, the Jew? Emperor Charles IV granted immunity to the attackers and conceded Jewish property to his favorites… even before the massacre took place! For example, he offered the Archbishop of Trier the goods of the Jews “who have already been killed or may still be killed” and to a margrave he gave a choice of Jewish houses in Nuremberg “when the next massacre takes place.”

So much death calls for reflection. Maximo Kahn, a German Jewish intellectual who escaped the Holocaust, wrote in 1944: “The death of the Jews is the most enigmatic of all deaths, the most accusing one indeed. During twenty five hundred years Jews have been killed instead of being allowed to die. Long before racist aspirations existed, long before faith spread around… they started to kill the Jews with so much ecstasy that natural death did not scare them at all. Violent death was thrown at them so implacably, that natural death did not give them the impression of death any more. Unnatural death became so natural, that natural death came to be for the Jews what life was for the rest. In the same way that the rest took hold of life, the Jews took hold of death as if it were life, sunshine, song of birds, flower fragrance, or love. Nothing had for them the appeal present in dying without the footprints of murder in their bodies. As a matter of fact, life was transformed into a waiting for death. For more than twenty five hundred years the Jew is born like a convict awaits the moment of his execution. The Jew who does not die a violent death, lives as if his life was pardoned. It is very strange that the word “Jew” did not become yet a synonym for “moribund”…

Such boundless hatred was sustained by a huge body of myths regarding the Jews that cries out to be studied. This we will do in our next chapter.

Gustavo Perednik

Next Chapter number 6 - Christian European Persecution of Jews in Medieval Europe: III- Myths- Well Poisoning, Blood Libels and Desecration of the Host.

Christian Persecution of Jews in Medieval Europe: III- Myths- Well Poisoning, Blood Libels and Desecration of the Host

Our last two chapters were about suffering. A book by Joseph Ha-kohen published in 1558 gives it the biblical title of “The Valley of Tears” (Emek Ha-Bakha). The author refers to “the hardships which befell us since the day of Judah’s exile from its land.” When we look at these tears and hardships with hindsight, three questions usually come to mind.

The first question is why do the Jews always suffer. If by “why” we’re enquiring about the reasons for Judeophobia, well, this what our study about, and we’ll have some answers when we are done. But the implication may be that it is paranoid to review history and find the Jews consistently cast in the rôle of the victims. Our answer is the conceptualization of Judeophobia as a social disease which consists of hatred of the Jews. We must be aware of the enormity of this boundless hatred, a hatred which, always had the Jews as its main victims. This loathing endured for twenty-five centuries, continued through a genocide of 6,000,000 of its target population (a third of it) after which it remained powerful and game for more.

The second question is whether the unsurpassed magnitude of Judeophobia means that the whole world hates (or hated) the Jews. No, it does not. Not everybody is sick with Judeophobia. But the sick, not the healthy, are the objects of our study, even if the majority are healthy.

The third question is whether the clergy of the medieval Church were unanimous in their murderous stance. Again, the answer is no. Even during periods in which all the Church was Judeophobic in its theoretical outlook, individual churchmen did not always behave violently towards the Jews. There are many examples of bishops and priests trying to protect Jews. When the synagogue of Ravenna was burned down (c.550), Theodoric ordered the Catholic population to rebuild it and to flog the arsonists. During the first crusade Bishop Cosmas saved the Jews of Prague. During the second crusade, Bernard of Clairvaux came actively in the defense of Jews who were being murdered. And there are numerous cases through the centuries.

The problem remains, however, that the most virulent Judeophobes within the Church, were (and are) revered as saints. Judeophobia was a crime committed with virtual impunity. The friar John Capristano (d.1456) instigated the abolishment of Jewish rights in Naples and other towns, and in Bavaria he pushed the authorities to enforce that Jews wear a badge, to expel them from several villages, and to have the debts owed to them by Christians canceled. Due to his activities in Breslau, many Jews were tortured and burned alive; many committed suicide. The abolishment of Jewish rights in Poland by Casimir IV was a further result of Capistrano’s maneuvers, and it set off a train of anti-Jewish violence. Capistrano did not allow the Jews to escape their fate: he was responsible for a papal edict which prohibited the transportation of Jews to the Land of Israel.

During his lifetime he received both the title “scourge of the Jews” and the office of papal Inquisitor. More than two centuries after his death, he was canonized, and every March 28 since then, Catholics worship his memory.

The message of the Church was at best inconsistent. It spread the teaching of contempt, and occasionally tried to stop the contemptuous as they ran to commit unspeakable crimes - but it was usually too late.

This standpoint of the Church never changed radically. That is why one of the first historians of the Holocaust, Raul Hilberg, was able to draw a chart in which he shows that each of the principal Nuremberg Nazi Laws had their precedent in ecclesiastical legislation. The Conference of Dutch Bishops of 1995 stated it very bluntly, in what was a major breakthrough in Church’s history: there is a direct road that leads from the New Testament theology to Auschwitz.

During WW2 the position of the Vatican reflected its habitual ambivalence. Its reservations about Nazism were limited to whatever affected Catholic non-Aryans. The encyclicals and statements of the Church rejected the racial dogma and questioned some Nazi theses as erroneous, but neither mentioned nor criticized the specific attack against Jews. In 1938, Pius XI is said to have condemned Judeophobic Christians, but this was omitted by all Italian papers from their account of the pope’s address. His successor Pius XII, a Germanophile, had received information about the murder of Jews in the camps as early as 1942. He nevertheless restricted all his public utterances to carefully phrased expressions of sympathy for the victims of injustice.

The pope’s neutrality and silence continued even when the Nazis rounded up 8,000 Roman Jews in 1943. On October 18, over 1,000 Jews, mostly women and children, were transported to Auschwitz. At the same time, more than 4,000 other Jews, with the knowledge and approval of the pope, found refuge in the numerous monasteries in Rome, and a few dozen in the Vatican itself.

The pope could have not halted the Holocaust, but he could have saved thousands of lives had he taken a public stand against the Nazis. Hitler, Goebbels and other Nazi leaders, died as members of the Catholic Church and were never excommunicated (President Perón of Argentina was excommunicated when he attacked the Church’s influence in 1955, and a few months later he was overthrown). A Catholic priest headed the pro-Nazi regime in Slovakia. A quarter of SS members were Catholic (as was almost half of the population of the Greater German Reich).

The resolute reaction of the German episcopate to the Nazi euthanasia program almost stopped it. Jews did not receive the solidarity that the Church gave to the insane and the retarded. Regarding the Jews, the Church was more interested in saving souls than lives. The diocesan chancelleries even helped the Nazi state to detect people of Jewish descent by supplying data from Church records on the religious background of their parishioners. When mass deportations of German Jews began in October 1941, the episcopate limited its intervention to pleading for Christians. When the bishops received reports about the mass murder of Jews in the death camps, their public reaction remained limited to vague pronouncements that did not mention the word Jews.

There were individual and national exceptions. One of the former was the Berlin prelate Bernhard Lichtenberg, who prayed publicly for Jews (and died on his way to Dachau). An exceptional country was Holland, where as early as 1934 the Church prohibited the participation of Catholics in the Nazi movement. Eight years later the bishops publicly protested the first deportations of Dutch Jews, and in May 1943 they forbade the collaboration of Catholic policemen in hunting down Jews, even at the cost of their jobs. Large numbers of Jews owe their lives to the courageous rescue activities of lesser clerics, monks, and Catholic laymen.

Now let’s move on to the three main Christian myths invented in the Middle Ages, through which Judeophobia has been transmitted since the 14th century.

The Blood Libel

The main myth was the Blood Libel, namely the belief that Jews murder non-Jews (especially Christians) in order to use their blood for Passover and other rituals. This libel was one of the utmost expressions of cruelty and mass hysteria in human history. The pattern was generally as follows: a corpse was found (usually of a child, often close to Easter), Jews were accused of having committed the murder to get the blood, the main rabbis or community leaders were detained and tortured till they confessed they had done it, and the outcome was the expulsion of the whole community, the torture of most of its members, or its outright extermination. Generation after generation, Jews were tortured in Europe, and Jewish communities were massacred or dispersed because of this libel.

Although the first cases happened in England, here blood libels were a strictly medieval phenomenon. In 1144, a boy called William was found dead in Norwich, and the local Jews were accused of “having bought the ‘boy-martyr’ before Easter and tortured him with all the tortures wherewith our Lord was tortured, and on Long Friday hanged him on a rood in hatred of our Lord.” The motif of torture and murder of Christian children in imitation of Jesus’ suffering persisted with slight variations throughout the 12th century. In the case of Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln (1255) the chronicler Matthew Paris relates “that the Child was first fattened for ten days with white bread and milk and then… almost all the Jews of England were invited to the crucifixion.” This echoed the pagan myth (see Damocritus and Apion in our second lesson).

In Spain the myth was included in the law: “We have heard it said that in certain places on Good Friday the Jews do steal children and set them on the cross in a mocking manner” (“Siete Partidas” Code, 1263).

There were altogether around 130 cases of Blood Libel. They spread from England to Italy and Spain, and then Eastwards. In modern times it occurred mainly in Russia and Poland. Overall, Germany was the leader, as in many other aspects of Judeophobia. One third of all the blood libels took place there, most recently under Nazi rule (Memel, 1936, and Bamberg, 1937). A special issue of ‘Der Stürmer’ of May 1, 1934, was entirely devoted to the myth. Outside Germany, there were four other cases during the 20th century.

The first of these four was the Hilsner case. Thomas Masaryk, the founder and first president of modern Czechoslovakia, took a stand “not to defend Hilsner (a 22-year old vagabond of low intelligence) but to defend the Christians against superstition.” He was attacked by the mob and his university lectures were suspended because of student demonstrations against him. This affair stirred a Judeophobic campaign throughout Europe, conducted by Vienna blood libel “specialist” Ernst Schneider.

The libels created a satanic Jewish stereotype. The Jew detests purity, he disdains innocence and good in the Christian child. According to the German monk Caesarius of Heisterbach “the child sings, the Jews cannot endure this pure laudatory song, they cut off his tongue and hack him to pieces.”

The libel was repeated in literature and the arts. About a century after the expulsion of the Jews from England the cultural motif was the plot of Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Prioress’ Tale,” where Jews obey their Satanic master and kill the child. In Spain, books supporting the libel were published by top writers in virtually every century, for instance: Rodrigo de Yepes (16th c.), Lope de Vega (17th c.), José de Canizares (18th c.), Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (19th c.), and Romero de Castilla (20th c.).

According to the account of the citizens of Trnava in 1494, the Jews believed that “the blood of a Christian was a good remedy for the wound of circumcision… that this blood put into food awakes mutual love… it is a medicine for menstruation which, among them, both men and women suffer… they have an ancient and secret ordinance to daily shed Christian blood in some spot or other…”

Again, the problem was not that the Church spread the libel. On the contrary, it usually opposed it, as did most heads of state. After the Fulda libel in 1235, in which Jews were accused of having taken the blood of five young Christian boys for medical purposes, Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen decided to clear up the matter definitively. If the accusation proved to be true, all the Jews in the empire were to be killed. If not, they were to be publicly exonerated. His inquiry turned into an all-Christian problem. Since the Church authorities with whom he consulted were not able to decide the matter due to their ignorance of Judaism, a synod of converts was convened and its conclusion was published by the emperor: “There is not to be found, wither in the Old or the New Testament, that the Jews are desirous of human blood. On the contrary, they avoid contamination with any type of blood… Those to whom even the blood of permitted animals is forbidden, cannot have a hankering after human blood. Against this accusation stands its cruelty, its unnaturalness.” A few years later Pope Innocent IV wrote that “Christians charge falsely that the Jews hold a communion rite with the heart of a murdered child; and should the cadaver of a dead man happen to be found anywhere they maliciously lay it to their charge.”

Neither the word of the emperor nor that of the pope were heeded. Accusations spread and massacres continued. The Church tried to stop them but with its characteristic ambivalence. The dead boys were considered martyrs and revered as such. Examples are Saint Hugh of Lincoln, the Holy Child of La Guardia, and Simon of Trento. Every year during centuries Christians worshipped the memory of those “martyrs” who had allegedly been murdered by blood-thirsty Jews.

The libel of La Guardia occurred on the eve of the expulsion from Spain. Conversos were tortured till they confessed that with the knowledge of the chief rabbi the Jews had assembled in a cave, crucified a child, abused him and cursed him as was done to Jesus. The crucifixion motif explained why blood libels occurred at the time of Passover.

Out of many cases in Italy, Trento was particularly infamous. In 1475 the friar Bernardino da Feltre announced that “the sins of the Jews were to be soon manifested to all.” A few days later, on Maundy Thursday, a boy named Simon disappeared and his corpse was soon found near the house of the head of the Jewish community. The whole community was arrested, including women and children. Seventeen of them were tortured for a fortnight till they “confessed.” Some Jews died of torture, the few who converted to Christianity were strangled, and the others burnt at the stake. Their property was confiscated. A papal court of inquiry in 1476 justified the libel, Sixtus IV endorsed the “legality” of the trial and the martyr Simon was beatified.

After his success, Friar Bernardino concocted similar scenarios at Reggio, Bassano and Mantua. He instigated the expulsion of the Jews from Peruggia, Gubbio, Ravenna, Campo San Pietro. His last victims were the Jews of Brescia in 1494, the year of Bernardino’s death, shortly after which he was beatified. It was five long centuries before the Church debeatified Simon in 1965.

Desecration of the Host

Another main myth was the Host Desecration. According to the Christian doctrine of Transubstantiation, the wafer consecrated in the ceremony of Eucharist becomes thereby the actual body of Jesus (Protestants dropped the doctrine and consider the wafer only a symbol of the body, not Jesus himself; Catholics still hold it). The myth was the belief that Jews secretly stabbed, tormented and burned the consecrated wafer (this belief brought Judeophobia to a new peak of irrationality, since Jews obviously did not believe in Transubstantiation). This charge brought more persecution and massacre. Most of the forty infamous cases took place in Germany and Austria.

The first recorded case was in Belitz, near Berlin, in 1243 where Jewish men and women were burnt at the stake on this charge on the spot later known as the Judenberg (“Jews hill”). In Brussels it led to the extermination of Belgian Jewry (1370); in Knoblauch to 38 executions and the expulsion of the Jews from Brandenburg (1520); in Lisbon all New Christians were banished from the country (1671). The genocide by Rindfleisch that we discussed earlier started with a desecration of the Host charge. The last accusation of desecration was in Rumania, 1836.

At least two of the post-desecration expulsions are still celebrated every year. One at Deggendorf in Bavaria (since 1337) and one at Segovia in Spain (since 1415), where the alleged desecration is said to have caused an earthquake which resulted in the confiscation of the synagogue and the execution of leading Jews. (As to the reason why blood was supposedly found on the host: stale food kept in a dry place often produces a scarlet fungoid organism blood-colored, called for this reason the Micrococcus Prodigiosus).

The Black Death and Poisoning the Wells

The third myth was referred to at the end of our last class, namely the Black Death. In this case the relation between the myth and its consequential massacres was direct and obvious. Between 1348 and 1350, one hundred million people, a third of Europe’s population, died of an epidemic caused by the bacillus “pasteurella pestis.” In centers with denser populations, such as monasteries, the proportion of dead people was higher. People had extreme reactions, either seeking recourse to religion through repentance and supplication to God, or reverting to licentiousness, lawbreaking and savagery. These two types of reaction often combined to accuse the Jews of having poisoned the wells and therefore being the cause of the death (after so much persecution, Christians could imagine that the Jews might seek revenge).

Pope Clement VI came out to defend the Jews, as did the emperors, but massacres broke out throughout Europe. All appeals to reason were ineffective, and in many places Jews were killed even before the plague had visited the locality.

The first case was in September 1348 in the Castle of Chillon on Lake Geneva. The Jews’ “confessed” that the disease was spread by a Jew of Savoy on the instructions of a rabbi who had prepared the poison.

The defamation, killings and expulsions spread from Spain to Poland, affecting about 300 Jewish communities. Emperor Charles IV, who initially defended the victims, finally granted “forgiveness for every transgression involving the slaying and destruction of the Jews.” A group of “Flagellants” roamed through Germany expiating their sins by stirring up attacks on Jews.

In Mainz the Jews in desperation set fire to their own homes and to the Jewish street; 6,000 Jews perished in the flames. In Strasbourg 2,000 Jews were burnt on a wooden scaffold. But the Black Death not only resulted in the immediate destruction of Jewish lives, but also fed popular imagination with even more horrible characteristics added to the already odious image of the Jew. After the Black Death the legal status of the Jews deteriorated almost everywhere in Europe.

There were other myths in medieval Judeophobia, but none as murderous as the three just explained. For example, the Wandering Jew is based upon a legend heard for the first time in Bologna in 1233. It influenced art and literature, but caused no Jews to be massacred.

In contrast, the aforementioned trilogy were the essence of sheer sadism, and made the term “Jewish” synonymous with “diabolical.” In medieval art, the Jew was portrayed with horns, a tail, an evil visage; his company was that of devils, sows, scorpions: his poses grotesque. The image was further elaborated by men of letters, preachers and apologists, and was seized upon as a motif in mob aggressions.

In the 16th century there was a split within the Church, and Protestantism was born. This could have been the dawning of the breakdown of Judeophobia, but these expectations were dashed as we will see.

Gustavo Perednik

Next: Chapter 7: Persecution of the Jews Under Islam
Chapter 7

Persecution of the Jews Under Islam

You may be wondering whether this Medieval “valley of tears” discussed in previous chapters had a parallel in the Islamic world, and whether Christian Judeophobia was equally rampant within the two main branches of Christianity, Catholic and Protestant.

Islam and Protestantism are similar in that both sought the validation of the Jews, and became Judeophobic out of frustration when they were rejected.

But unlike Christianity, Islam did not emerge out of Judaism. Its founder was not Jewish, and it did not claim to be the realization of the promises of the prophets. Therefore its encounter with Jewry was far less tense. Jews in the Islamic world seldom suffered the tortures, expulsions and burning at the stake that typified Jewish life under medieval Christian rule. However, their life under Islam was usually tainted with degradation and insecurity.

In 7th century Medina, at the time of the beginnings of Islam, there lived a Jewish population from whom Mohammed learned many practices of his new religion (to pray in the direction of Jerusalem, which was eventually changed to Mecca; dietary laws; the Day of Atonement which was later replaced by the fast of Ramadan). But when Mohammed failed to convince the Jews to accept him as a new Moses, he turned against them. His angry reaction was recorded in the Koran, giving millions of Muslims throughout history divinely based antipathy to the Jews.

The Pact of Umar of 720 was the Muslim legal code which prescribed the treatment of Dhimmis, or non-Muslim monotheists. The Dhimmis were required to acknowledge their subservient position to Muslims - they must not manifest their religion publicly, they must rise from their seats if Muslims wish to sit, avoid riding horses, wear different clothes. During the 11th century, the Caliph Hakim of Egypt ordered Jews to wear balls weighing five pounds around their necks, to commemorate the calf’s head which their ancestors had worshipped. Yemen was the only Muslim country with a Jewish minority, that was never ruled by a European power. In 1679 nearly all Yemenite Jews were expelled from their cities and villages. The synagogue of San’a, the capital, was converted into a mosque which still exists and is called “the Mosque of the Expulsion”). Until their departure from Yemen in 1948, all Jews were compelled to dress like beggars, and Jewish children were forced to convert to Islam when their fathers died.

When the Turks occupied Yemen (1872) they asked an assembly of Muslim leaders to stop Muslim children throwing stones at Jews. The answer was that the practice was an old religious custom called “Ada,” and could not be forbidden.

In 1840 a blood libel in Damascus introduced the myth into the Arab world. Only after international protest were the Jews who survived their tortures released. But the libel became popular among Muslims, who often attacked the Jews (mostly in Egypt and Syria) for drinking Muslim blood. The present Minister of Defense of Syria, Mustafa Tlas, is the author of “The Matza of Zion,” a book in which he documents the blood libel. The pamphlet was published in 1983 (!) and distributed to all delegates at the United Nations.

Gustavo Perednik

Next: Chapter 8: Judeophobia (’anti-Semitism’) in the Reformation
Chapter 8

Judeophobia (’anti-Semitism’) in the Reformation

The Protestant reformation was started by Martin Luther in 1517. One of the principles of the Protestant Church was to bring Christianity back to its Jewish sources rather than the Hellenistic interpretation. Initially many Protestants approached Judaism, expecting Jews to finally accept the new faith when it was lovingly presented and stressing its Jewish components. But again, when this expectation proved false, the reaction was Judeophobic. Luther’s last book was “On the Jews and Their Lies” (1543) in which he called the Jews the anti-Christ. “It is harder to convert them than Satan himself.”

Luther called for the violent expulsion of Jews from all Germany. He addressed European noblemen: “Let me give you my honest advice. First, their synagogues should be set on fire, and whatever does not burn up should be covered or spread over with dirt… And this ought to be done for the honor of God and of Christianity in order that God may see that we are Christians, and that we have not willingly tolerated or approved of such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of His Son and His Christians… Secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed. For they perpetrate the same things that they do in their synagogues. For this reason they ought to be put under one roof or in a stable… Thirdly, they should be deprived of their prayerbooks and Talmuds in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught. Fourthly, their rabbis must be forbidden under threat of death to teach any more… God’s rage is so great against them that they only become worse and worse… To sum up, dear princes and nobles who have Jews in your domains, if this advice of mine does not suit you, then find a better one so that you and we may all be free of this insufferable devilish burden - the Jews.” This was the theologian and founder of the new trend (one of the most brutal Nazi Judeophobes, Julius Streicher, argued in his defense at the Nuremberg trials that he had merely repeated what Luther had said about the Jews).

So far we have seen the development of Judeophobic mythology pass through three stages: Antiquity (Jews are lepers and ass-worshipers, misogynists and lazy), Early Middle Ages (the Jewish people is deicidal and, through its suffering, a witness of Christian truth) and Late Middle Ages (Jews drink Christian blood, poison wells, and are partners with Satan). The main difference between pagan and Christian myths is that the former were mainly cultural, whereas and the latter were mostly theological: “God hates them” became a common belief.

But what do I see on the horizon? It looks like the salvation of the Jews from the accumulated myths, discrimination and disdain, the lies and legends. It is 18th century Europe: rationalism and Encyclopedism are in the air, free-thinkers scorn superstitions and plan the religion of reason in a world of brotherhood. Surely the Enlightenment will put an end to the discrimination and violence caused by gratuitous hatred!

Gustavo Perednik

Next: Chapter 9: Judeophobia in the Enlightenment and 19th Century France