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Reply #5: From the Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance website: Luther and the Jews [View All]

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struggle4progress Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-12-08 12:06 PM
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5. From the Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance website: Luther and the Jews
Edited on Sat Jul-12-08 12:07 PM by struggle4progress
Luther and the Jews

... It is ironic that Luther, in his later life, should have become known as a foe of the Jews (his major treatise on the subject was published in 1543, just three years before his death), for in his early years it was just the opposite. Jewish leaders hailed the work of Luther and the Reformation as the dawn of a new day, in which they might experience a greater freedom and justice than they had known in medieval Christendom. They noted the new interest in the study of Scripture in the original languages, and the establishment of professorships of Hebrew in the Protestant universities.

The young Luther, for his part, fully reciprocated this new sense of cordiality. This may be seen most clearly in his treatise of 1523, significantly entitled, "That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew," in which Luther stressed the Jewish origins of Christianity and, especially, the Jewishness of Jesus. An appreciation of this indebtedness, he indicated, would induce an attitude of affection and respect towards contemporary Jews. "We are aliens and in-laws," he reminded his fellow Gentiles; "they are blood relatives, cousins, and brothers of our Lord."

A closer examination of the text of the treatise, however, reveals the deep ambiguity of Luther's attitude towards the Jews, even in this earlier period. On the one hand, he was sharply critical of traditional prejudices, and proposed, in effect, that Christendom make a fresh start, adopting policies based on an affirmation and appreciation, not a denigration and rejection, of the Jews and their faith. On the other hand, it is plain that his eventual hope was for their conversion. Note how these two motifs intertwine as Luther wrote, in his usual colorful style: ... If I had been a Jew and had seen such dolts and blockheads govern and teach the Christian faith, I would sooner have become a hog than a Christian ... If we really want to help them, we must be guided in our dealings with them not by papal law but by the law of Christian love . . . If some of them should prove stiff-necked, what of it? After all, we ourselves are not all good Christians, either ...

Luther's treatise of 1543 has caused embarrassment and dismay from the first day of its publication; it is known, for example, that his closest colleague, Phillip Melanchthon, was unhappy with its severity. Fortunately, his proposals met with very little response among the authorities. In two nearby provinces, the right of safe conduct of Jews was withdrawn, and in another, Jews were prohibited from money lending and were required to listen to Christian sermons. In no cases were his harsher suggestions followed. As to the treatise itself, it did not sell widely, in contrast to the more benign treatise of 1523. For the most part, it has remained buried in obscurity, although selected quotations from it-the worst parts, of course-have been circulated by antisemitic movements ...

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