Fashioning Jewish Identity in Medieval Western Christendom

Fashioning Jewish Identity in Medieval Western Christendom

Fashioning Jewish Identity in Medieval Western Christendom

Fashioning Jewish Identity in Medieval Western Christendom

Synopsis

During the course of the twelfth century, increasing numbers of Jews migrated into dynamically developing western Christendom from Islamic lands. The vitality that attracted them also presented a challenge: Christianity - from early in its history - had proclaimed itself heir to a failed Jewish community and thus the vitality of western Christendom was both appealing and threatening to the Jewish immigrants. Indeed, western Christendom was entering a phase of intense missionising activity, some of which was directed at the long-term Jewish residents of Europe and the Jewish newcomers. This 2003 study examines the techniques of persuasion adopted by the Jewish polemicists in order to reassure their Jewish readers of the truth of Judaism and the error of Christianity. At the very deepest level, these Jewish authors sketched out for their fellow Jews a comparative portrait of Christian and Jewish societies - the former powerful but irrational and morally debased, the latter the weak but reasonable and morally elevated - urging that the obvious and sensible choice was Judaism.

Excerpt

Pre-modern Christians and Jews—as we shall see—utilized every available intellectual tool to formulate and argue the truth of their faiths. Both majority Christians and minority Jews were utterly convinced of the truth claims of the tradition to which they belonged. Only in the rarest cases did individual thinkers, particularly those with a philosophic bent, allow themselves to view religious faiths in a more distanced manner, to compare and contrast faiths, and to attempt the analysis of religious belief and behavior in functional terms. Such thinkers constituted the smallest of sub-groups on the pre-modern scene.

Within the modern academy, the study of religion has been one of the slowest disciplines to emerge. the academic study of religion began with intense focus on the Western monotheisms, which were taken to reflect the "highest" level of religious thinking and practice. It was widely presumed that religious studies should focus on belief systems, with the implication of normative judgment, implicit evaluation, and subtle effort to win over others. On these grounds, many American universities, particularly public universities, have refused to include religious studies in their curricula. To be sure, with the passage of time further foci of study and new modalities of analysis have emerged. An increasingly broad range of religious systems, both historic and contemporary, has been subjected to scrutiny. the new modalities of study include the effort to identify the common roots of religions, an effort that often masked an unspoken commitment to one or another faith community. More genuinely dispassionate has been the growing influence of anthropology. Anthropological study has tended to focus on the functions that religious faiths play within societies. This has led away from the earlier judgmental posture and toward an appreciation of the diverse objectives of religious systems, with their relative successes and failures.

The present study is very much a part of this newer anthropological thrust in religious studies. This book deals with medieval Jewish perceptions of . . .

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