My Response to Alon Goshen-Gottstein’s Luther the Anti-Semite: A Contemporary Jewish Perspective

Abstract

Alon Goshen-Gottstein deserves kudos for reassessing Luther’s legacy for Jew and Christian. He has pried open new vistas of negotiating inter-religious differences. Most importantly, he has alerted us to the twin trap of religious triumphalism and delegitimation. For those of us on the precipice, it is precisely the awareness of the trap, both religiously and politically, that keeps us from falling into the chasm below. In this review, I have thus pushed the theopolitical dimensions in exploring alternative ways of conceptualizing primarily a Jewish–Christian partnership and secondarily the Jewish–Christian–Muslim one under the Abrahamic umbrella while pointing out some of the pitfalls. The first is the importance of the doctrine of Jewish election in accounting for Christian antisemitism as well as that of Islam, Nazism, and possibly Soviet Communism. The second is the suggestion of using the changing relationship between Britain and America as a model for that between Judaism and Christianity. For the relationship between Judaism and the sister faiths of Islam and Christianity, I have suggested also the models of the Aleinu prayer and that of Abraham. This is accompanied with an understanding of religious pluralism that allows for this development. We are all indebted to this unusual and courageous book for prodding and provoking more thinking on the complexities, possibilities, and pitfalls of the fluctuating relationship of Judaism, Christianity, and others.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For this phenomenon, see Kimelman (2007).

  2. 2.

    Although Luther’s Christian Judeophobia did not directly produce Nazi anti-Semitism, “the former was the precondition of the latter” (Katz 1994, 399; and see ibid., 386–400).

  3. 3.

    An exception is the excellent recent book on Paul, also dedicated to Krister Stendahl, by a Jewish scholar now of Jerusalem: see Fredriksen (2017).

  4. 4.

    See Eckardt (1967), n. 23.

  5. 5.

    See above n. 3, Fredriksen (2017: 166, 174).

  6. 6.

    This is stated explicitly (see below, n. 8) in a recently published contemporaneous Hebrew manuscript; see David (2002, 129).

  7. 7.

    The well-known proverb is adapted from Congreve’s 1697 play The Mourning Bride (Act III Scene 2).

  8. 8.

    In 1538, Luther wrote a whole book against them, Wieder die Sabbather (Luther 1914 [1538]).

  9. 9.

    Indeed, the citation of n. 6 states explicitly: “And He [Luther] brought proof and wrote a book that Jesus was a Jew [referring to his book of 1523, Das Jesus Christus eyn geborner jüd sey]. And they used to accuse him of being a little bit of a Jew and he regretted this. In order to overturn this suspicion—for they used to say that he was attracted to the Jewish faith—when he heard all this he had a volte-face and wrote to all the nations to do evil to the Jews saying that what he had done before was only to draw them to their [Protestant] faith.”

  10. 10.

    See Kimelman (1999b: 318) and Chrysostom (1999).

  11. 11.

    See Qur’an 2:47, 122; 7:140; 44:32; 45:16.

  12. 12.

    See Crossman (2001). This book is tellingly divided into two parts: Part I, The Initiates; Part II, Worshipers from Afar.

  13. 13.

    See Kimelman (2004), especially pp. 262 and 271, for what Catholics were taught about Jews through the 1960s and how much has changed.

  14. 14.

    For the complexities involved, see Jospe (2012).

  15. 15.

    For a fuller treatment, see Kimelman (1987, 2019).

  16. 16.

    Two centuries after Luther, Rabbi Jacob Emden, in his commentary to Mishnah Avot, as AGG reminded me, applied this to the controversies of Judaism and Christianity.

  17. 17.

    For this possibility in classical Rabbinic thought, see Heschel (1962, 1965, 1995, 2005); for medieval Jewish philosophy, see Jospe (2012).

  18. 18.

    This follows the practice of enlarging the same two final letters in the first and last word of the Shema verse; see Makhir (1978), 55, first published in 1599. This confirmed the midrashic reading (Finkelstein 1969, 54: ll. 5–7) of the Shema verse to say, “Adonai our God” reflects present reality; “Adonai is one” reflects future reality, as it says, “And Adonai will be king over the whole Earth; on that day, Adonai will be One and His name One” (Zechariah 14:9). Thus, “the Lord our God” corresponds to part I of the Aleinu; “the Lord is one” corresponds to part II.

  19. 19.

    See Finkelstein (1969) 346: 403–404, and parallels.

  20. 20.

    See Schechter (1997) 12: 53; and Theodor and Albeck (1965), Genesis Rabbah 39.14: 379.

  21. 21.

    See Finkelstein (1969, 313: 354, l. 14–355, l. 1).

  22. 22.

    This essay itself has been improved by AGG’s suggestions on previous drafts and that of my brother, Dr. Alan Kimelman.

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Kimelman, R. My Response to Alon Goshen-Gottstein’s Luther the Anti-Semite: A Contemporary Jewish Perspective. Cont Jewry (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12397-020-09333-3

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Keywords

  • Martin Luther
  • Anti-Semitism
  • Judeophobia
  • Chosenness
  • Election
  • Models for Jewish–Christian relations
  • The uniqueness of Jerusalem
  • Religious pluralism
  • The Aleinu prayer
  • The Abrahamic model for Jews, Christians, and Muslims
  • Trans-religion theologizing