How do Jews differ from Christians?

Jews and Christians

The reaction: withdrawal and demarcation

As a result, the Jews moved closer together. "The Pious", a new religious movement in European Judaism, understood the massacres as God's punishment for the removal from original Judaism. These "Hasidei Ashkenaz" lived more ascetically, without contact with people of other faiths.

This led to an even more far-reaching exclusion of Jews from public life. They lived in their own quarters and kept to themselves. In the centuries that followed, riots, murders and constant reproaches shaped the relationship between Christians and Jews. The latter had to live in poverty on the fringes of society, but were tolerated within limits.

Christian tactics: Jews as the occasional lightning rod

However, monks and itinerant preachers - far enough away from Rome and close enough to the laity - incited against Jews. In terms of power politics, too, it was sometimes beneficial to channel people's anger in order to divert attention from one's own inadequacies. Popes were also partly infected with fear and hatred.

Despite everything, the Jews generally still lived peacefully with their neighbors. Especially those who were in contact with Christians reported pleasant relationships.

In Spain, the Jews were in demand as translators and scholars until the 14th century. Jewish doctors were famous all over Europe, and culture and science flourished on both sides.

The relationship between Christians and Jews was approaching a low point

After pogroms in Bavaria in 1298/99, persecutions during the plague epidemic in 1348/49 and allegations of ritual murder across Europe, the peaceful phases became less frequent. Jews had to flee eastwards from the danger.

The tense situation continued to worsen in the 15th century. Not only that a regulation was passed in Toledo that Judaism regarded as hereditary ("purity of blood"), that is, it was racist. The Jews of Spain were also expelled from the country, Spain became "Jew-free".

This was not the first expulsion, but neither the ancient expulsions from Byzantium nor those from England (1290) or France (1394) were of similar consequence.

Luther's Statements and the Consequences

Between 1536 and 1546 the reformer Martin Luther incited against the Jews. His sermons and writings were of an unprecedented character. He called for the destruction of everything Jewish.

At first he was a friend of the Jews. His new Reformation teaching, he thought, would lead the Jews to join his church. When this success failed to materialize, the disappointed Luther let his anger run free. He published "On the Jews and Their Lies" and recommended not to have pity on them, but to destroy them.

Even so, Protestant Christianity was not anti-Jewish everywhere. Even if the French reformer Calvin and others shared Luther's opinion, they did not intend to put it into practice.

The Protestant Netherlands in particular proved to be particularly tolerant. They accepted the Jews against the background of a decree that no one was to be persecuted on the basis of religious convictions.

With the Enlightenment in Europe and the Haskala movement among the Jews, many relationships arose between important thinkers of both religions. The rigid boundaries became more flexible.

At the beginning of the 20th century there was a large group of Jewish scholars in Germany who sought dialogue with Christianity. Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig and Leo Baeck were the best-known members of this group.

The Nazis put an abrupt end to this. The outbreak of anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish resentment left a deep rift between religions.