Jews, Judaism, and the Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Germany

By Shear, Adam | Shofar, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Jews, Judaism, and the Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Germany


Shear, Adam, Shofar


Jews, Judaism, and the Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Germany, edited by Dean Phillip Bell and Stephen G. Burnett. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2006. Studies in Central European Histories volume 37. 572 pp. $196.00.

This volume is a guide to a relatively neglected subfield. Historians of sixteenth-century Jewry have tended to emphasize the emergence of new centers in Poland, the Ottoman empire, and northern Italy. Historians of Reformationera Germany, on the other hand, have failed to fully consider Jewish cultural and social developments. German Jews have tended to make their appearance either as the victim of persecution and expulsion or as the targets of Luther's rhetorical excess. In their introduction and in their crafting of this volume, Bell and Burnett argue for the reintegration of the Jewish experience into the German narrative and the German experience into the Jewish narrative.

Following the introduction of the editors, the work is divided into four parts. The first part,"Road to Reformation," sets the stage with essays by Erika Rummel on the relation of German humanists to Jews and Judaism and by Christopher Ocker on pre-Reformation German theologians' views of Jews. The theme of "X and the Jews" continues in the second part, "Reformers and Jews," with essays by Thomas Kaufmann, Timothy Wengert, R. Gerald Hobbs, Hans-Martin Kirn, Achim Detmers, and Joy Kammerling on Luther, MeIancthon, Bucer, Zwingli, Calvin, and Osiander, respectively. Essays by Robert Birely on Catholic Reform and Michael Driedger on the connection between Jews and Radical groups complete this section. The third part, "Representations of Jews and Judaism," turns away from theologians to considerations of Christian discussion of Judaism in a broader range of settings. Here, the division of material is not so clear-cut as in the previous section, with essays by Maria Diemling on Anthonius Margaritha, Yaacov Deutsch on images of Jewish ceremonies, Petra Schöner on "visual representations," and Edith Wenzel on "representations ... in German literature" offering some overlapping themes. Finally, in part four, "Jews, Judaism, and Jewish Responses to the Reformation," the volume turns its attention away from Jews as subjects to Jews as agents. Here, Dean Phillip Bell surveys Jewish political history in the period, Elisheva Carlebach examines "Jewish responses to Christianity," Jay Berkovitz discusses German Jewish law and ritual, and Stephen Burnett's essay covers Jewish printing in Germany during the period 1530 to 1633.

The volume succeeds well in its aims, and the essays are generally of high quality. By including some German scholars' contributions in translation. Bell and Burnett also introduce some new perspectives to scholarship in Anglophone and Israeli academia. It is impossible to do justice to all the essays in the book in a short review, so I will focus here on some of the key thematic contributions of this volume.

The first question is whether the Reformation era breaks new ground in terms of anti-Jewish imagery. Here, Thomas Kaufmann attempts to account for the fact that anti-Jewish themes in Luther's writings often differed from those in the Middle Ages (e.g., ritual murder). But, as the collective contributions here make clear, the encounter of Reformers with Jews and Judaism was almost always with a constructed image of Jews and Judaism, largely inherited from the Middle Ages.

But while Luther seems to have considered only the"hermeneuticaljew" (Jeremy Cohen's term), the other essays on Reformers suggest that some had greater contact with the hermeneutics of Judaism. Wengert s essay on Melancthon is especially important in this regard (given how little has been written on Melancthon and the Jews this might have been more properly titled an "appraisal" than a "reappraisal"). Melancthon appears to have had a good deal of engagement with Jewish exegesis and texts (somewhat under the influence of Reuchlin). …

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