This work is a study of a few typical “Reform Movements” or heresies in the history of Catholicism during the Middle Ages and of Protestantism during the Reformation era. It has been undertaken with a view to describing and analyzing the contributions by Jews and Judaism to the rise and development of these movements. [The author has] selected for detailed investigation the Iconoclastic Controversy of the ninth century, the Catharist, Waldensian, Passagian and Judaizing heresies of the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries, because they typify “Reform” tendencies within Catholicism. To illustrate similar tendencies in Protestantism, [the author has] chosen the Hussite movement during the fifteenth century, the Pre-Reformation period; the Lutheran movement in Germany and the Swiss revolt led by Zwingli, both during the Reformation period; the Unitarian movement promoted by Michael Servetus during the sixteenth century, and the Puritan movement in England and America, both during the Post-Reformation era. Any century of Christian history would have yielded an equally rich harvest of information; those, however, which [the author has] designated, are among the most significant, and the movements which arose during them have been little investigated from the standpoint of their Jewish aspects. In the first division of [his] study [the author has] traced the sources, content and scope of Jewish influence, laying particular emphasis upon the instruction given to Christian Hebraists by Jewish teachers, and thereby furnishing an introduction to the individual Reform movements which are then described. [The author] feels certain that the general principles which can be deduced from a detailed consideration of these groups will prove valuable in an investigation of other movements in the history of Christian-Jewish relationships.
Obviously it has been impossible to include within these pages the entire story of Jewish influence on Christian religious development. The late Joseph Jacobs in Jewish Contributions to Civilization, published at Philadelphia in 1919 has given a survey of Jewish contributions to world thought. His work does not confine itself to religious movements, but includes all spheres of cultural, commercial and scientific activity, wherein Jews and Judaism have played a part. [The author’s] study must perforce be limited to a consideration of special and distinctive religious movements to which [he] shall give intensive rather than extensive treatment.
In a more comprehensive plan, however, the present volume, though the first to be published, is the second in a series concerning Jewish aspects of Christian religious history. In the relationship of Judaism and Christianity, three questions require answer, namely:
First: Of what nature and how important is the content of the contribution of Judaism to the rise and development of Christianity? [The author has] already begun a study in connection with the preparation of this volume.
Second: Have the Reform movements in Christendom arisen through the aid of Jewish literary and personal influence? This present work is an attempt in part to answer this question.
Third: Is Christianity “returning to Judaism”? or: Is there a modern rapprochement between the two religions?
[It is not the hope of the author], however, to present a complete reply even to the question to which this study is devoted. Just as the earlier and later periods of Christian history must be left to future consideration, so it has been necessary to omit the results of research into several other important Reform movements. Moreover, the background and setting for the movements discussed in this volume, together with several important factors in their rise and career, have been merely sketched, rather than comprehensively described. The three volumes by Moritz Guedemann: Geschichte des Erziehungswesens und der Cultur der abendlaendischen Juden waehrend des Mittelalters und der neueren Zeit, Vienna, 1880–1888, constitute an attempt to show both the history of Jewish culture in the Middle Ages, and the Jewish elements in medieval Christian civilization. Israel Abrahams’ Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, London and Philadelphia, 1896, is a similar effort in English. These works furnish a general background for this study.
the Author -- Jewish Influence on Christian Reform Movements
Newman, Louis I. ---
Rabbi Louis Israel Newman authored Studies in Biblical Parallelism, Richard Cumberland, Critic and Friend of the Jews, Jewish University in America, The Jewish People, Faith and Life, and several other books. He was a weekly columnist in San Francisco Call-Bulletin and in numerous Jewish newspapers. Founder and honorary chairman of American Friends of a Jewish Palestine, he worked with Vladimir Jabotinsky in Revisionist Zionist Movement and was an official observer at United Nations for Central Conference of American Rabbis.
For Luther himself knew relatively little Hebrew. The Chronicle of Johan Oldecop reports that Luther began his studies in Reuchlin’s grammar, based almost entirely upon David Kimchi’s Sepher Mikhlol; in 1519 he sent a grammar of Moses Kimchi to Johann Lang, and later studied Hebrew with his friend and counsellor, Melanchthon. Luther never mastered Hebrew, having a deep-seated distaste for Hebrew grammar, which, he asserted, was a concoction of the Rabbis, studiously to be avoided; not a knowledge of grammar, but of “holy things” is necessary, he says, to translate the Hebrew Scriptures.
Luther interested himself for a time in the Kabbalah, perhaps under the stimulus of Reuchlin’s works, but found no great attraction therein. It served him for the most part with material for his later attacks upon Rabbinical literature, though on one occasion he says that if he be permitted to submit to the Kabbalistic method, he would say that the Tetragram was a symbol of the Holy Trinity, a statement which he deduced from the meanings and the sum of the numbers of the letters. But unlike Pico de Mirandola, instructed by Jochanan Aleman, or Reuchlin, instructed by Antonius Margaritha, Luther was repelled by the Kabbalah, and turned to sterner stuff.
He found this in the Rabbinical commentaries which, with the assistance of his Hebrew professors at Wittenberg, he employed for the explanation of the doubtful “Christological” passages of the Bible. Luther’s attitude towards Hebrew may be seen from the following remarks:
How I hate people who lug in so many languages as Zwingli does; he spoke Greek and Hebrew in the pulpit at Marburg.
Again he says:
The Hebrew tongue is altogether despised because of impiety or perhaps because people despair of learning it. Without this language there can be no understanding of the Scriptures, for the New Testament, although written in Greek, is full of Hebraisms; it is rightly said that the Hebrews drink from the fountains; the Greeks from the streams, and the Latins from the pools. I am no Hebrew grammarian, nor do I wish to be; for I cannot bear to be hampered by rules, but I am quite at ease in the language; for whoever has the gift of tongues, even though he cannot forthwith turn anything into another language or interpret it, has a wonderful gift of God. The translators of the Septuagint were unskilled in Hebrew; and their version is extremely poor, even though literal. We prefer to it the version of Jerome, though we confess that he who reviles Jerome as a good Jew, was mistaken and did him wrong; but he had this excuse that after the Babylonian Captivity, the language was so corrupted that it cannot be restored.
For the Hebrew text from which he made the translation of the Bible he used the Masoretic text published by the Jew, Gershon ben Mosheh at Brescia, in 1494.
Luther was able to command the commentaries of the great Rabbis of the Middle Ages, mainly through his use of the Postilla of Nicholas of Lyra (c. 1340). By some it is asserted, as we have remarked, that Lyra was a baptized Jew; it seems plausible, however, that he was a Christian who interested himself in Jewish learning, and thus won for himself the stigma of Judaizer or Jew. His explanations of the Scriptures are based almost entirely, as we have noted, upon the work of the great Rashi of Troyes. Thus through an intermediary Jewish interpretations entered Christian exegesis. Luther prized Lyra’s suggestions highly, though at first he said: “Lyra I despised, though afterwards I came to see that he was invaluable for history.” The significance of Rashi’s role not only in the Lutheran Bible translation, but in the Reformer’s Commentary on Genesis, can be seen from the fact that Catholic Christendom applied to Luther and Lyra the famous couplet (which it had used in many connections before):
“Si Lyra non lyrasset,
Luther non saltasset.”
Luther sought to steep himself in the Rabbinical commentaries, yet his opinion of them was a mixture of contradictions. For the most part, he professed to take the very opposite of Rabbinical suggestions; only rarely does “his Rabbi Solomon” (Rashi) please him; he heaps adjectives of villification upon the sayings of the Rabbis, calling them “dreams, fables, vagaries, absurdities, sophistries, vanities, gossip” and so forth. He accuses Jews of being responsible for the errors in Jerome; he mocks as Judaistic any insistence upon the rules of grammar in the interpretation of debatable texts. Luther borrowed much from the Rabbis for which he was unwilling to give them credit; yet it must be borne in mind that he, like Calvin, was an eclectic, choosing only those interpretations, especially of Messianic passages, which he believed substantiated his own views. Hence he accused the Jewish critics of his Bible translation of being under the spell of Rabbinic rationalism and literalism, and of desiring for a second time to obscure the text.
Coming back to Community and Polity in a revised edition two decades after first reading it is a bit like revisiting an old friend who has changed in a few identifiable ways, but remains basically the same person whom we felt so good about and comfortable with years ago.
- Jonathan Woocher, Jewish Book World
Analyzes the developments in the American Jewish community through the postwar generation to the present, surveying the structure and functions of the community and suggesting that it should be understood as a body politic. Addresses topics such as assimilation, adaptation to American life, and religious and educational community activity. This revised addition looks at the impact of demographic shifts on community organization and the institutionalization of new relationships between the American Jewish community and Israel.
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