Chapter Two, Protestant anti-Judaism, Martin Luther and the Reformation
Martin Luther (1483 - 1546) challenged the church and revolutionized Christianity. The impact of his challenge on Europe’s Jews was further persecution by the Catholic south who saw the Jews as allies of the rebellious north while, in the north, some easing of physical persecution. Luther’s attitude underwent a dramatic change over time, from tolerance when he assumed that the Jews would, no longer threatened, voluntarily convert, to radical anti-Judaism when this failed to occur. It is his later writings, and particularly his final work, On the Jews and Their Lies, 1543 which, as had the writings of Paul, the gospels and the church fathers, to have a profound impact on the conditions of Jewish existence and survival within the Christian Diaspora. Four hundred years after his death, at their trial in Nuremburg, the leaders of the Third Reich referred to Luther as inspiration and justification for 20th century Christendom’s Final Solution to its Jewish Problem.
Luther's public attitude towards the Jews changed over time. During his more "tolerant" early phase, following his break with the church, he assumed that the Jews would, free from Catholic prejudice and oppression, accept Jesus as Christ and convert to his reformed Christianity. When this failed to materialize he accused them of being stubborn, grew increasingly violent in his attitude towards the Jews. What follows are excerpts from On the Jews and Their Lies, his last work written shortly before his death.
“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.”
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!