Luther's effect on Christian Jewish Relations

Essay by kalton001University, Master'sB, May 2004

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In observing Jewish life before and during the middle ages, there appears to be a subtle and gradual shift in attitudes causing an improvement in Christian-Jewish relations. One might argue that Martin Luther and the Reformation had the most significant impact but there other factors to take into account. Before the onset of the Reformation, in the early medieval period, the Jews suffered immense religious intolerance, with accusations of ritual murder and host desecration as well as massive expulsions from almost every major city in Europe. When they were allowed to remain in these cities, Jews had to suffer the humiliation of wearing clothing and hats to signify they were Jews as well as experiencing segregation from Christians.

With the commencement of the Humanist movement in the sixteenth century, for the first time Christians begin to learn about Judaism as a study of early Christianity. This was a major breakthrough for Jews, who began to enjoy a small amount of religious tolerance with this rediscovery of the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin languages.

Johannes Reuchlin, who was tremendously well educated and believed Jewish writings were necessary for Christians to understand their own religion and defended the rights of Jewish books not to be confiscated and burned, was a key figure in the Humanist era. Humanists were by no means supporters of Jewish emancipation, but they did display some sympathy for the Jews although still tinged with anti-Semitic undertones. However, Humanism became the early foundation of the Reformation as well as becoming an intellectual revolution. Reformers, in there scholarly curiosity, questioned everything, from Jewish scholarly books, such as the Torah, the Talmud, and the Kabbalah, to even the New Testament. The Reuchlin affair was only the first major event that started leading to the Reformation.

With the Reformation came many changes.