Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Renaissance: Lethal anti-Judaism organizes

If anti-Judaism and physical assaults on the Jews during the Middle Ages was mostly local and disorganized, inspired by theology and fed by fear and superstition, with the Renaissance and the spread of the Inquisition (Catholic southern Europe) and Reformation (Protestant northern Europe) physical anti-Judasim grew increasingly organized and leadership driven. Luther, called "the Great Reformer," attacked the Jews on religious as well as secular grounds. Under his inspiration and guidance Jews came to be seen increasingly as "Other," as alien, threatening both Christians as individuals, and Christendom entire.

Within the plastic arts, particularly in the north, Jews took on a more sinister image, grotesque caricatures, of a people delighting in tormenting, in murdering the Christian messiah. While the insidious and hateful actions attributed to Jews was also starkly represented in southern painting (Paolo Uccello's Miracle of the Profaned Host, below ), in the works of Dürer and Grünewald (below), of Cranach, Bosch, and Breugel (see Painters of the Renaissance page) Jews were increasingly represented as caricatures, cartoon-like, filled with mirth and devoid of humanity; Jews were represented as the literal children of the devil described by Luther and his theological church predecessors.

Panels one and five from Paolo Uccello's Miracle of the Profaned Host. A Jew desribed as a "moneylender" is represented as cooking the host (holy bread representing the body of Jesus), which emanates blood (see cauldron and under the door). The Jew's wife with unborn child, and the couple's two children look on in fear. the second panel shows the family being burned at the stake for the "crime."

Matthias Grünewald, The Mocking of Christ, c.1503

Albrecht Dürer, Christ Among the Doctors (Pharisees), 1506

Monday, September 1, 2008

Martin Luther, the Evangelist

Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach1529

Martin Luther (1483 - 1546) revolutionized Christianity and as with Paul, the gospels and the Church Fathers before him, his writings had a profound impact on the conditions of Jewish existence and survival within the Christian Diaspora. Four hundred years after his death, according to the leaders of the German Third Reich, Luther was to provide precedent and justification for Shoah, the Final Solution to Europe's Jewish Problem, the systematic murder of six million Jews known today as the Holocaust.

Luther's public attitude towards the Jews changed over time. During his more "tolerant" phase, following his break with the church, he assumed that the Jews would, freed from Catholic prejudice and oppression, accept Jesus and convert to his reformed Christianity. Frustrated at this failure, conscious of the continuing threat Judaism posed to Christians ("[my] essay, I hope, will furnish a Christian (who in any case has no desire to become a Jew), with enough material not only to defend himself..,") Luther grew increasingly intolerant of Jews and Judaism and his last word on the subject, On the Jews and Their Lies, 1543, is abridged below. The final pararaph of that document provided the passage quoted above.

The original title page of On the Jews and their Lies, written by Martin Luther in 1543

Know Christians that next to the devil thou hast no enemy more cruel, more venomous and violent than a true Jew.

What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? I shall give you my sincere advice:

First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians...

Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed…

Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them…

Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb...

Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. For they have no business in the countryside, since they are not lords, officials, tradesmen, or the like. Let they stay at home...

Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping. The reason for such a measure is that, as said above, they have no other means of earning a livelihood than usury, and by it they have stolen and robbed from us all they possess. Such money should now be used in no other way than the following: Whenever a Jew is sincerely converted, he should be handed one hundred, two hundred, or three hundred florins, as personal circumstances may suggest. With this he could set himself up in some occupation for the support of his poor wife and children, and the maintenance of the old or feeble. For such evil gains are cursed if they are not put to use with God's blessing in a good and worthy cause.

Seventh, I commend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow, as was imposed on the children of Adam (Gen 3[:19]}. For it is not fitting that they should let us accursed Goyim toil in the sweat of our faces while they, the holy people, idle away their time behind the stove, feasting and farting, and on top of all, boasting blasphemously of their lordship over the Christians by means of our sweat. No, one should toss out these lazy rogues by the seat of their pants.


I wish and I ask that our rulers who have Jewish subjects exercise a sharp mercy toward these wretched people… (As) suggested above, to see whether this might not help (though it is doubtful). They must act like a good physician who, when gangrene has set in, proceeds without mercy to cut, saw, and burn flesh, veins, bone, and marrow. Such a procedure must also be followed in this instance. Burn down their synagogues, forbid all that I enumerated earlier, force them to work, and deal harshly with them, as Moses did in the wilderness, slaying three thousand lest the whole people perish. They surely do not know what they are doing; moreover, as people possessed, they do not wish to know it, hear it, or learn it. There it would be wrong to be merciful and confirm them in their conduct. If this does not help we must drive them out like mad dogs, so that we do not become partakers of their abominable blasphemy and all their other vices and thus merit God's wrath and be damned with them. I have done my duty. Now let everyone see to his. I am exonerated."


My essay, I hope, will furnish a Christian (who in any case has no desire to become a Jew) with enough material not only to defend himself against the blind, venomous Jews, but also to become the foe of the Jews' malice, lying, and cursing, and to understand not only that their belief is false but that they are surely possessed by all devils. May Christ, our dear Lord, convert them mercifully and preserve us steadfastly and immovably in the knowledge of him, which is eternal life. Amen.

Sculpture of The Wittenberg Judensau (Jews feeding at the udders, smelling the flatulence of a pig)

Judensau, 1546,
Depictions of Jews in contact with pigs, or as representative of the devil, was common in Christian art. The choice of pig is clearly intended to give maximum offense as Jewish dietary laws prohibit eating this animal's flesh.

Statue of Martin Luther outside the St. Mary's Church, Berlin

Cast of Luthers face and hands on his death