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Apologetics in Judaism is that literature which endeavors to defend Jews, their religion, and their culture in reply to adverse criticism. The demarcation between apologetics and *disputation is often difficult to draw. The history of Jewish apologetic literature reflects the complicated pattern of relationships between Jews and Gentiles through the generations, and originated in response to the challenges of pagans and subsequently of Christianity. In the Middle Ages Jewish apologetics, termed by Jewish scholars hitna??elut, were intended to defend the spheres of both Jewish religion and Jewish social and national life, past and present, against direct attack and internal doubts arising from comparisons of respective cultures and ways of life. They were also written in the hope of proving to the Gentiles the virtues of the Jewish religion and thereby influencing their outlook on, and attitudes toward, Judaism. In the modern age a new type of Jewish secular apologetics aim at justification of Jewish social and economic conditions in the gentile world. The nonconformist stand adopted by Jewish monotheism against the surrounding polytheism in the ancient world gave rise to aggressive apologetics by the prophets when asserting the supremacy of their faith over "the vanities of the nations" (e.g., Isa. 40:17–21; 42:5–8; 44:6–20; 45:5–7, etc.; Jer. 10:2–5; 14:22; Zech. 8:20–23; 14:9, 16–21).

Against Hellenism

The authors of the Jewish-Hellenistic literature in Greek in the first half and the middle of the third century B.C.E. regarded as their major task the defense of the ideas of Judaism and its historical role. Jewish-Hellenistic historiographers set out to establish argumentation along these lines. *Demetrius , *Eupolemus , and *Artapanus place the Jewish people and Ere? Israel at the core of human history. Several Jewish poets expressed these ideas, as attested by extant fragments from compositions of the epic poets Philo the Elder and the Samaritan *Theodotus , while the drama Exodus by *Ezekiel the Poet (second century B.C.E.) hints that the dream of Moses beside Mount Sinai and Jethro's interpretation of it relate to the dominion of Israel over the world. The vision of the burning bush, according to this author, symbolizes the historical-universal value of the Revelation at Mount Sinai. Jewish-Hellenistic philosophers interpreted Judaism allegorically as containing all the best in the systems of the great Greek philosophers. The intellectual and material basis of universal civilization was also pioneered by Jews, according to Jewish-Hellenistic writers. Abraham discovered astronomy and astrology and taught these sciences to the Babylonians and the Egyptians. Joseph introduced a well-ordered society in Egypt. Moses invented writing. Jews were the founders of philosophy. According to the philosopher *Aristobulus of Paneas (2nd century B.C.E.), not only Plato but even Homer and Hesiod were influenced by Judaism because parts of the Torah had been translated into Greek before their time. Many of these postulates were later utilized by Christian apologists in their argumentation against the pagans. In the Middle Ages they became Christian axioms and were accepted by Christians as historical truth.

Concomitantly with the general apologetic trend in Jewish-Hellenistic literature, specific apologetic works were also written. Two works of this type are known: *Philo 's "Apology on behalf of the Jews" (?Απολογ?α ?π?ρ ?Ιουδα?ων, first century C.E.), of which fragments are preserved in the works of *Eusebius , and *Josephus ' Against Apion (first century C.E.), which summarizes the argumentation used by Jewish-Hellenistic apologetics. The major theme in Against Apion is a defense of the refusal of the Jews to participate in the local cults (λειτουργ?α) in the cities and provinces in which they were living and enjoying rights as citizens. This abstention was considered by their gentile neighbors to constitute either disrespect for religion in general or atheism (?θε?τ?ς), i.e., denial of the existence of gods. The accusation was repeated by anti-Jewish polemicists from the days of *Apollonius Molon (in the first century B.C.E.) to *Pliny and *Tacitus some two centuries later. Jewish apologists countered by explaining the Jewish belief in one God and the preferability of monotheism, citing Greek philosophers in support (Jos., Apion, 2:22). The apologists continued to denounce idolatry in the prophetic tradition, stressing the baseness of animal and image worship (cf. Arist., 134–9; Wisd., 13–16; Oracula Sibyllina, 3:29–34; Jos., Apion, 2:33–34). The refusal of the Jews to take part in the cult of the Roman emperor was viewed as lèse majesté by those antagonistic toward the Jews. In defense, Jewish apologists pointed out that sacrifices were regularly offered in the Temple in Jerusalem for the health of the emperor and that the emperors, satisfied with this arrangement, had granted the Jews special privileges (Philo, De Legatione ad Caium, 45; Jos., Apion, 2:6).

Jewish apologists emphasized the humane character of the precepts in the Torah regarding proselytes and Gentiles to counter the widespread accusations that these injunctions demonstrate pride, contempt, and hatred of mankind (Jos., Apion, 2:28–29). They explained reasons for the ceremonial mitzvot by way of allegory (see, e.g., Philo's statements on circumcision, Mig., 16); they also pointed out the cruel attitude to strangers and children common in pagan societies (e.g., Philo, Spec., 3:20). Jewish apologetics, although composed in the language of anti-Jewish publicists and adopting their style and mode of thought, contributed little to the understanding of Judaism among the groups who attacked Jews and Jewish law. However, this activity helped to undermine the religious principles of the pagan world, preparing the ground for conversion to Judaism and later on a large scale to Christianity.

In the Talmud and Midrash

The apologetic argumentation found in Hebrew and Aramaic sources is mainly intended to combat Hellenistic influences within the Jewish camp or that of Jewish "Hellenizers" or to oppose heretical sectarians. The Midrash reveals knowledge of the allegation made by ancient authors that the Jews were expelled from Egypt because they were lepers, and in reply demonstrates that leprosy was prevalent among all nations (Gen. R. 88:1). Similarly, the Talmud and Midrash are familiar with the charge that Jews had not contributed to the creation of human cultures, that they were misanthropes, and disregarded the authority of the state (Beit ha-Midrash, ed. by A. Jellinek, 1 (19382), 9). Consequently, the sages stress the concept that the world was created for Israel's sake and exists thanks to its merit (Shab. 88a; Gen. R. 66:2). On the other hand, they put the blame for Jewish separation on idol worship, to which the Gentiles were addicted, while Jews were enjoined to keep at a distance the customs and cult associated with it.

Apologetics in the Talmud and Midrash take the form of tales, discussions, or exchanges of questions and answers between Jewish sages and Gentiles – philosophers, heretics, matrons, and Roman officials. The opponents of the Jews draw attention to contradictions in Scripture and take issue with anthropomorphic expressions found in the Bible; they censure several principles in the Jewish concept of God and express hostility to the mitzvot and laws which appear strange to them. The sages considered it their duty to "know how to answer an *Apikoros " (a heretic; Avot 2:14). Prominent sages are reported to have participated in these apologetic endeavors, e.g., *Johanan b. Zakkai (TJ, Sanh. 1:4, 19d), *Joshua b. Hananiah (?ul. 59b; Nid. 70b), *Gamaliel II, c. 95 C.E. (Sanh. 39a; Av. Zar. 54b), and *Yose b. ?alafta (Gen. R. 17:7; Tan?. B., Gen. 2). They employ the homiletical method of reasoning (derush). Sometimes, however, they did not take the exchanges seriously, and disciples are found asking, "Rabbi, you put him [your opponent] off with a straw, but what will you answer us?" (e.g., TJ, Shab. 3:5, 6a; ?ul. 27b; Tan?. ?ukkat 8).

In Relation to Christianity

The appearance of a new adversary – the church, which developed and spread its influence through advocating progressive separation from the Jewish fold, inevitably introduced new problems in apologetic argumentation. The pagan polemicist Celsus quotes Jewish opinions in his critique of Christianity, according to *Origen in 231–33 (Contra Celsum, 1:28). His statements are repeated by Eusebius and Epiphanius. The Jews were certain of their ground in understanding Scripture, and asserted that "in all the passages which the minim [i.e., Christians] have taken [as grounds] for their [Christian] heresy, their refutation is to be found near at hand" (Sanh. 38b). Therefore, where a verse from Scripture was given a Christological interpretation by exponents of the nascent church, the Talmud supplies an opposing, distinctly anti-Christological exegesis of the continuation of the text. Thus, Simeon bar Yo?ai interprets "sons of God" (Gen. 6:2) as "sons of nobles," as in the old Aramaic versions, and execrated "all who called them the sons of God" (Gen. R. 26:5). Until the beginning of the fourth century the concept of the Trinity was not yet fully accepted in the church. Many statements in Jewish literature recorded from the preceding period, therefore, which appear to some scholars as being directed against the opinions of the Gnostics, or even of the Persian concept of dualism, were in reality formulated against the Christian belief in the Father and Son. Abbahu, unmistakably in reference to Christian beliefs about Jesus, said: "If someone will tell you, 'I am God,' he is a liar; 'I am the son of man,' his end is that he will regret it; that 'I am going to Heaven,' he says this but will not fulfill it" (TJ, Ta'an. 2:1, 65f; see also Ex. R. 29:5). The following homily may be directed against the Christian concept of the divinity of Jesus: "R. A?a said: 'God was angry with Solomon when he uttered the verse ["meddle not with them that are given to change" (Prov. 24:21)] which by a play on the Hebrew words was interpreted as meaning "with them that have two gods." God said to Solomon, "Why do you express a thing that concerns the sanctification of My Name by an obscure reference [notarikon], in the words 'And meddle not with them that are given to change?' " Thereupon immediately Solomon expressed it more clearly [in the words], "There is one that is alone, and he hath not a second; yea, he hath neither son nor brother" (Eccles. 4:8); "He hath neither son nor brother," but "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one" ' " (Deut. R. 2:33).

The election of Israel by God also became a topic for apologetics against insistent claims by the church to be the true heir to the election. The sufferings of the Jews, the destruction of the Temple (70 C.E.), and the suppression of the Bar Kokhba revolt (135 C.E.), in contrast to the growth and spread of Christianity, added the elements of visible rejection and punishment of the Jewish nation, while the church was prospering. The same message was repeated by the Church Fathers (second to third centuries) in different forms (Justin, Dialogus, 16; Origen, Contra Celsum, 4:22; Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiae, 2:26). In their attack on the Jews the Christians did not refrain from utilizing arguments used by pagans such as Apion (Jos., Apion, 2:11) and *Cicero (Pro Flacco, 28). The "abandonment" of the Jews by God was presented to the Jews with proofs from the Bible. "A certain min [Christian] once said to R. Gamaliel: 'You are a people with whom its God has performed ?ali?ah [severed his connections from his sister-in-law], for it is said in Scripture, "with their flocks and with their herds they shall go to seek the Lord, but they shall not find Him; He hath withdrawn from them" ' (Hos. 5:6). The other replied: 'Fool, is it written "He hath drawn off for them"? It is written "He hath drawn off from them"; now in the case of a sister-in-law from whom the brother drew off the shoe could there be any validity in the act?'" since the act of ?ali?ah was not valid unless the sister-in-law had removed the shoe of her brother-in-law. Here the image is of God drawing off the shoe, i.e., such a ?ali?ah would be invalid (Yev. 102b; see also Ber. 10a; Sanh. 39a; Av. Zar. 10b). In response to Christian claims that the Old Testament has passed to the church and that Jews have no right to it (Justin, Apologia, 1:53; Origen, Contra Celsum, 7:26), there is an allusion by the rabbis that the Oral Law alone affirms the truth of the claims of those who uphold the Written Law: "Judah bar Solomon stated that when God said to Moses, 'Write!' Moses also requested that the Mishnah (i.e., the Oral Law) should be given in writing. But God anticipated that the Gentiles would translate the Torah, read it in Greek, and say: We are Israel, and we are the children of God, and henceforth, the scales are balanced. God said to the Gentiles: 'You say that you are My children. I only know that who possess My secret writings are My children. And what are these writings? – the Mishnah'" (Tan?. Va-Yera 5; ibid. Ki-Tissa 34). In explaining the actions of Jonah who had been sent to gentile Nineveh, it is stressed that he refused to go there (unlike the Christian apostles); this refusal is seen by the aggadah as a sign of His love for Israel; Jonah saw that the Gentiles were more inclined to repent "and he did not want to lay his own people open to condemnation. Thus he behaved like the rest of the patriarchs and prophets who offered themselves on behalf of Israel" (Mekh. of Rabbi Ishmael, Pas?a, 1). The repentance of the Nineveh Gentiles was in reality "a feigned repentance" (TJ., Ta'an. 2:1, 65b). The interpretation served as an answer to the statements of the Church Fathers who stressed that the Gentiles in the time of Jonah obeyed the prophet sent to them, just as the Gentiles in their own time answered the call of the apostles. In contrast, the Jews had refused to obey then, and refuse to do so now, and as a result they are punished (Luke 11:29–30, 32; Justin, Dialogus, 107).

Medieval Apologetics

With the predominance of the church and humiliation of the Jews in the Middle Ages, Jewish apologetics had to assume a new character. The religious disputations held between Christians and Jews became acrimonious. The lack of any kind of recognized Jewish statehood or sovereignty had to be explained. The Jews claimed, inter alia, that there still existed a sovereign Jewish state in the East, a claim put forward as early as 633 (Isidore of Seville, De fide catholica contra Judaeos, 1:8, para. 2, in: PL, 83 (1862), 464). Medieval Hebrew apologists in the Mediterranean countries also took issue with Jewish sects, such as the *Karaites . Recognizing that Jewish sectarian movements in part drew their inspiration from Christianity and Islam (several Karaite scholars, for instance, accepted the view that Jesus and Mohammed were prophets), Jewish authors felt the necessity of protecting Judaism from within by pointing out the weaknesses of these religions. Apologetics of this type were often combined with presentation of a general philosophical system of Jewish thought. Fragments from the Cairo *Genizah attest to the polemics directed in this period against the Samaritans, Christianity, and Islam, as well as Jewish schismatic sects, apparently from the beginning of the tenth century (Mann, in HUCA, 12 (1938), 427 ff.).

David *Al-Mukammi? (ninth to tenth centuries), who became converted to Christianity and lived briefly at Nisibis as a Christian, wrote two tractates against Christianity after his return to Judaism, which served as sources for the Karaite scholar al-*Kirkisani and apparently for *Saadiah Gaon (fragments in JQR, 15 (1903), 684 ff.). The latter also directed polemics against Christian philosophers in his Emunot ve-De'ot. Concerning the Trinity, Saadiah states, "When I present this refutation I do not have in mind the uneducated among them [the Christians] who profess only a crass corporeal Trinity. For I would not have my book occupy itself with answering such people, since that answer must be quite clear and the task simple. It is rather my intention to reply to the learned who maintain that they adopted their belief in the Trinity as a result of rational speculation and subtle understanding" (Emunot ve-De'ot, trans. by S. Rosenblatt (1948), 103). Regarding proofs adduced by Christians in support of the concept of the Trinity from the Bible, Saadiah states: "The misinterpretation of these terms on the part of these individuals who cite them as proof of their theory, is, then, due to unfamiliarity with the Hebrew language" (ibid., 105). In the third section of the work, Saadiah rejects all the arguments adduced by Christians to show that the mitzvot and Torah had been abolished with the advent of the New Covenant.


Sefer ha-Kuzari of *Judah Halevi is structured as a work of apologetics, with the subtitle A Composition in Argumentation and Proof in the Defense of the Despised Faith. In this work Judah Halevi sets his theory in an historical framework; the conversion of the king of Khazaria and many of his subjects to Judaism, the religion despised by the Gentiles. The Khazars adopted Judaism despite the strictness of its requirements regarding new converts. Judah Halevi elevates the values of human faith in the revealed religion and of Jewish law above those of philosophy, ultimately also opposing the latter. At the basis of his defense of Judaism, he places the history of the Jewish nation and its election by God. The present debased condition of the Jewish people constitutes no reflection on the value of its faith "because the light of God falls only upon humble souls"; humiliation and martyrdom are considered valid signs of proximity to God by all monotheistic religions, even Christianity and Islam, at present powerful in this world. Ultimately, all nations will accept the Torah adhered to by the suffering Jewish people. The religions in which the Gentiles believe at present are merely "a suggestion and an introduction to the anticipated Messiah" (4:22–23).


Comparatively little Jewish apologetic literature is directed specifically against Islam. As *Maimonides states, the claim of Muslim scholars that the Jews have corrupted the text of the Torah, abolishes the common ground on which any effort to explain the Jewish interpretation of the text to Muslims may be based. Muslims taunted Jews less than Christians about the situation implicit in exile. The Islamic conception that Judaism had simply been superseded by Mohammed's message and the law prescribed by him, lacking the element of internal contradiction, also diminished the requirement for apologetics in this sphere. Polemical allusions to Islam appear in the piyyutim, late Midrashim (e.g., Pirkei de-R. Eliezer), and exegetical and philosophical works, such as those of Saadiah Gaon, the Emunah Ramah of Abraham ibn Daud, and Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed (2:32, 39). Identification of the Arabs with various biblical peoples such as *Kedar , Hagarites, or Nebaioth (Gen. 25:13; 28:9; 36:3; Isa. 60:7; Jer. 49:28; I Chron. 1:29) helped Jewish commentators to relate tales disparaging to the Muslims. Derogatory allusions are made to the personality of Muhammad and his actions: he is frequently described as "the madman." A work directed specifically against Islam was the "Treatise on Ishmael" (Ma'amar al Ishma'el, 1863) by Solomon b. Abraham *Adret , which rejects the arguments of a Muslim who disparaged inclusion of the stories of Reuben and of Tamar and Judah in the Bible and attacked the Jews for observing mitzvot which merited abolition. A detailed critique of Islam is also included in the Keshet u-Magen of Simeon b. ?ema? *Duran . The writer discourses on the attitude in the Koran to Judaism and criticizes the legends related there and its principles of faith and commandments; he points out contradictions found in the Koran, its ignorance of the principles of natural science and philosophical doctrine of the soul, and complains about its obscure style.


One of the first works to show the influence of the philosophical method of apologetics employed in Spain and southern France is the Sefer Mil?amot Adonai ("Book of the Wars of the Lord," 1170) of *Jacob b. Reuben , where reference is made to Saadiah Gaon, *Abraham b. ?iyya , and Abraham *Ibn Ezra . It was written to counter the arguments of an erudite Catholic priest whom the author held in high esteem, and its 12 sections include an imaginary debate between a "monotheist" and a "dissenter." The Sefer ha-Berit ("Book of the Covenant") by Joseph *Kim?i , in similar dialogue form, not only defends the Jewish faith, but also demonstrates the morality and excellence of the Jewish way of life as regulated by the law. The case put by the Jew is as follows:

I shall now enumerate their good works and you [i.e., the Christian] cannot deny them. To begin with the Ten Commandments… The Jews do not make idols…, there is no people in the world to compare with them in refraining from perjury; none keeps the Sabbath apart from the Jews. "Thou shalt honor thy [father and mother]"; likewise, "Thou shalt not kill; Thou shalt not commit adultery"; likewise, neither murders nor adulterers are found among them [the Jews]. It is known that you will not find robbery and banditry among the Jews as it is among Christians who rob people on the highways, and hang them, and sometimes put out their eyes; these things cannot be said of the Jews. The pious Jews and Jewesses… educate their children… in the study of the Torah; when they hear them utter an indecent word they punish them… Their daughters grow up in chastity, you will not see them on the streets, like the daughters of the Christians… Moreover, I tell you that when a Jew stays with a fellow Jew, whether for a day or two or for a year, his host will take no money from him for his board… Thus in every way the Jews in every land behave compassionately toward their brethren. If a Jew sees that his brother is taken captive, he will ransom him; naked – he will clothe him (Mil?emet ?ovah, Constantinople, 1710).

*Meir b. Simeon of Narbonne in the 13th century defended Jewish faith, life, legal status, and economic activity. Thus he justified Jewish moneylending (trans. in JJS, 10 (1959), 51–57). In the draft of a memorandum to the king of France, Meir argues for better treatment of Jews, quoting the Bible on the brotherhood and equality of all men: "Hear me, my Lord King, and all his counselors, sages, and wise men, and all the heads of the Roman faith and its leaders, and follow in the footsteps of the patriarchs, who walked in the ways of the Almighty, for it is His way to hearken to the complaint and outcry of the poor… that all men shall understand that one Creator has created them, of one and same nature and one way of life" (Mil?emet Mitzvah, Ms. Parma, 155; Dinur, Golah, 2, pt. 1 (1965), 285–6).


The biblical exegetes in northern France introduced into their commentaries defenses of Jewish law and refutations of the claims of Christians in the homiletical spirit of midrashic apologetics. The commentaries of *Rashi are sometimes intended to refute Christological interpretations of biblical passages (e.g., Isa. 53; Jer. 31, 39; Ps. 2, etc.). In particular, the commentaries of *Samuel b. Meir , Joseph b. Isaac *Bekhor Shor , and *Eliezer of Beaugency contain apologetic explanations for almost all the verses to which Christians gave Christological or figurative interpretations. These explanations in part were prompted by the points raised at the religious disputations. The methods of hermeneutics employed range from literal exegesis of the text ( *peshat ) to casuistic interpretation, including the hermeneutical methods of numerology ( *gematria ) and abbreviation (notarikon), which all the schoolmen used in debate. While some of the disputants on behalf of Christianity were apostates from Judaism, those who replied to the Christian arguments included converts to Judaism or their descendants. Abraham the Proselyte from Hungary studied under Jacob b. Meir *Tam and was familiar with the New Testament and Christian liturgy. The French apologist Joseph ben Nathan Official, a descendant of a family of apologists composed c. 1260 the polemical book Yosif ha-Mekanneh (or Teshuvot ha-Minim) in the form of a commentary on the Bible. Its main purpose was to refute all Christological interpretations of the church. The book is a collection of such refutations of the French scholars until its own days. The book contains also a detailed criticism of the New Testament. This book, as well as other books patterned after it such as the Ni??a?on Vetus (published by *Wagenseil in his Tela ignea Satanae), reflect the increased missionary activity of the church as well as the courageous response of Jewish religious leadership.


Jewish apologists in 14th-century Spain attempted to protect Judaism from apostates with mystic leanings. Isaac Policar ( *Pollegar ) came out against *Abner of Burgos in his Iggeret ha-?arafot ("Epistle of Blasphemies"), which circulated throughout the Spanish communities. It contains a brief survey of the principles of the "true faith," which are also the principles of rationalism, and an explanation of the Jewish belief in the Messiah who would redeem Israel in the future. At greater length, he discusses these topics in the five dialogues in his Ezer ha-Dat. Another apologetic work to counter the influence of apostates was written by Moses (ha-Kohen) of Tordesillas, Ezer ha-Emunah (1375). Shem Tov b. Isaac ibn Shaprut's Even Bo?an (1385) may be considered a summation of Jewish apologetics in 14th-century Spain. In addition to 14 chapters which include answers to all the arguments raised by Christians, he adds a further chapter specifically directed against the doctrines propounded by Abner of Burgos. One result of the mass conversions of Jews to Catholicism in Spain, which began during the persecutions of 1391 and continued for a considerable time afterward, was the appearance of sharp literary polemics between converts to Christianity and the leaders of Spanish Jewry. Jewish apologetics then revealed outstanding literary talent and expressed new and daring ideas. The leader of Spanish Jewry during this period, the philosopher ?asdai *Crescas , wrote an apology in Spanish (translated into Hebrew in 1451 as Bittul Ikkarei ha-No?erim, "Negation of the Principles of the Christians," and published in Salonika in 1860), in which he turned to gentile intellectuals and demonstrated the grounds for negating the claims made by the Jewish converts to Christianity. A defense of Judaism is also included in his major work Or Adonai. Crescas tried to invalidate the view spread by converts, and held by rationalist Jewish apologists, that Judaism is almost identical with philosophical rationalism. He also fought against those who followed the doctrines of *Averroism denying individual providence and free will, the value of fulfilling the mitzvot, and the testimony of Jewish history. ?asdai set out to prove that Judaism in its original pure form had the power to redeem man through belief and observance of the mitzvot.

A colleague and disciple of ?asdai Crescas, Profiat *Duran , dedicated himself to the defense of Judaism (see *Disputations ). His celebrated satire Al Tehi ke-Avotekha ("Be Not Like Your Fathers") is composed in the form of a letter to a friend, Bonet Bonjorn, who became converted to Christianity under the influence of *Pablo de Santa Maria (Solomon ha-Levi of Burgos). Profiat Duran's refined sarcasm, his profound learning, and polished style, were so successful that some Christian apologists took the work seriously as a defense of Christianity. Duran formulates the tenets of Christianity in this epistle with biting irony, using a critical historical method. The disputation of *Tortosa (1413–14) and the difficult circumstances surrounding and following it brought further Jewish apologetics in its wake. Both Joseph *Albo , one of the participants in the disputation, and Simeon b. ?ema? Duran, wrote works which were to a large degree influenced by the Tortosa disputation. Albo's Sefer ha-Ikkarim (1485) includes in its dogmatic formulations much apologetic argumentation on a rationalist basis. Simeon b. ?ema? Duran's Keshet u-Magen (1423) is explicitly an anti-Christian polemical work.


The defense of Judaism by the Jewish scholars in Spain influenced the apologetic literature in other countries. In Italy, where there was constant social contact between Christians and Jews, debates on religious matters were held even in the early Middle Ages. The traditions of Jewish apologetic literature in Spain were continued by Jews in Italy in the 16th century after the expulsion from Spain, and included many of the exiles among its proponents. The Renaissance, humanism, and the religious ferment in the Christian world also gave a new impetus to Jewish apologetic literature. In the 16th century Jewish apologists tended to write in languages other than Hebrew to enable their arguments to reach Christian intellectuals. In his Apologia Hebraeorum (Strasbourg, 1559), David d'Ascoli challenged the restrictive legislation of Pope Paul IV and was imprisoned for his views. When in 1581 Pope *Gregory XIII renewed the order prohibiting Jewish physicians from treating Christian patients, David de Petals defended the integrity of Jewish doctors in his De medico Hebraeo enarratio apologetica (Venice, 1588), at the same time defending the Jewish laws regarding the taking of interest. Leone *Modena , who had frequent discussions with Christians, also engaged in apologetics. He wrote in 1644 the polemical book Magen va-?erev ("Shield and Sword"). Modena was probably the first Jew to attempt a historical approach to the personality of Jesus, who was according to him close to the Pharisees. Jesus did not consider himself to be the Son of God. The main tenets of Christianity were crystallized in later centuries as a result of contacts with the pagan world and its beliefs and customs. Sim?ah (Simone) *Luzzatto , in his Discorso circa il stato degli Ebrei (1638), discusses the character and conduct of the Jews, adverting not only to their positive virtues but also to their weaknesses. Luzzatto's main theme is the role filled by Jews in the economy of the Venetian Republic. He tries to demonstrate that the Jews formed a desirable element of efficient and loyal merchants without other loyalties to distract them from allegiance to a principality that treated them well. Luzzatto also attempts to invest Judaism with certain Catholic attributes.


A new aspect of Jewish apologetics was opened with the beginning of the settlement in Western Europe of Marranos who had left Spain and Portugal because of the pressure of the Inquisition, and their own unsettled religious views, but had not yet found their way to normative Judaism. Jewish scholars of Marrano origin now began propaganda among them to convince them of the truth of Judaism and the moral excellence of the Jews. Among these were, for example, the physician Elijah Montalto in a series of letters addressed to an acquaintance (published in REJ, 87 (1927), 137–65). Similarly, Immanuel *Aboab addressed an appeal couched along these lines to a kinsman in the south of France, replete with historical demonstrations which he used in his Nomologia (162. JQR, 23 (1932), 121–62), and were taken over subsequently by *Manasseh Ben Israel in his writings to be described below. Isaac *Cardozo in his Las excelencias y calunias de los Hebreos (Amsterdam, 1678) explains the election of the Jews and their mission as the bearers of a universal religion.

In the manner of the Jewish apologetic literature in Italy, there was also literature of this genre among the ex-Marrano Sephardi community in Holland. The most important Dutch-Jewish apologetic work was produced during his mission to England by Manasseh Ben Israel, whose Vindiciae Judaeorum was published in London in 1656. In this, Manasseh brings historical evidence in refutation of anti-Jewish libels, primarily of the *blood libel . Also emphasized are the material advantages likely to accrue by accepting the Jews into a state: "Hence it may be seen that God has not abandoned us; for if one persecutes us, another receives us civilly and courteously; and if this prince treats us ill, another treats us well; if one banishes us out of his country, another invites us by a thousand privileges, as various princes of Italy have done, and the mighty duke of Savoy in Nice. And do we not see that those republics which admit the Israelites flourish and much increase in trade?" (Vindiciae, sect. 33). His Esperança de Israel (1650) discusses the prerequisites for the advent of the Messiah and the return of the Jews to their land. Common to all apologetic compositions of this type are their efforts to achieve the amelioration of the present Jewish status by clarifying the essentials of the Jewish faith and explaining the way of life and character of the Jewish people. Many elements in the Weltanschauung of the later Enlightenment (see *Haskalah ) movement in the period of Emancipation derive from this apologetic literature.

In Poland and Germany Jewish apologetics developed along different lines. In 1394 a German Jewish convert to Christianity, Pesa?-Peter, charged that the content of the prayer *Aleinu (in its original form) – "They bow to vanity and emptiness and pray to a god that does not bring salvation" – was aimed at Christians. Among the Jews consequently imprisoned was Yom Tov Lipmann *Muelhausen . His Sefer ha-Ni??a?on, written on this occasion, is a defense of Jewish ethics, and of the Bible and Talmud. The work made a profound impact and brought forth responsa by the bishop of Brandenburg, Stephan Bodecker, in 1459. The anti-trinitarian movement which arose in Poland in the 16th century also affected the Jews. Some sectarian leaders were interested in proving to their Catholic opponents who taunted them as being semi-iudei the difference between them and the Jews. The Jews in general avoided contacts with the sectarians; but some accepted the challenge. There was a disputation between the Polish Unitarian leader, Marcin Czechowic and the Jew, Jacob of Belzyce. The arguments of Jacob are preserved in the book of answers by Marcin. Of greater importance is the book ?izzuk Emunah by the Karaite scholar Isaac of *Troki , which was translated into European languages (also into Latin by Wagenseil in his Tela ignea Satanae) and exerted an influence on the French encyclopedists in the 18th century. It is a well-organized and clearly written book. Isaac shows a profound knowledge of Christianity and its sources. He was also familiar with contemporary Catholic and sectarian literature. The book contains a thorough and systematic criticism of the New Testament. The main purpose of the book was to prove why Jews refuse to believe in the divinity of Jesus and accept Christianity. In 1759 Jewish representatives in Poland were compelled to defend the Talmud in a public disputation with the *Frankists . Dov Ber *Birkenthal of Bolechov wrote an apology entitled Divrei Binah (published by A. Brawer in Ha-Shilo'a?, 33 (1917), 146 ff.). Jacob *Emden countered the charges of the Frankists in Sefer Shimmush, which includes a positive evaluation of Jesus and his activity. Emden also acknowledges that Christianity drove out paganism and obliged its adherents to observe the seven *Noachide laws . He emphasizes that Christians are of good character. They are not bound to observe the mitzvot and will not be punished for their belief in the Trinity, but will be rewarded for spreading belief in God among Gentiles who had no knowledge of the God of Israel.

In the 18th Century

Evaluation of Judaism became a factor in the struggle between the old and new in the philosophy of Enlightenment. Despite the anti-Judaic stand taken by many rationalist and deist thinkers (e.g., *Voltaire ), there were others who defended Judaism and Jews, such as Roger Williams and John *Toland . The German Christian Wilhelm *Dohm , while insisting in 1781 that Jewish mores and culture must be improved, praised the basic traits in the Jewish character. Gradually Jewish apologetic literature furnished the arsenal and became the battlefield in the struggle to attain Jewish emancipation. Non-Jews increasingly joined Jews in their efforts. Gotthold Ephraim *Lessing and Moses *Mendelssohn frequently turned to apologetics to state the Jewish case. In 1782 Mendelssohn wrote an introduction to Manasseh Ben Israel's Vindiciae Judaeorum (in the German translation by Marcus Hertz) in which he advocated Jewish rights. In his Jerusalem, oder ueber die religioese Macht und Judentum (1783), he explains Jewish law according to his views, his exposition having an apologetic edge: Mendelssohn here denies the Church the right to use coercion by the arm of the state and argues that no state is justified in withholding civil rights from a group of people because of their religious views.

With the weakening of the influence of religion in the West, the religious grounds for antisemitism were replaced by national, social, and economic arguments. Pro-Jewish apologists therefore had to prove that the Jews constituted an advantageous element from an economic standpoint; that any faults with adverse social consequences, such as the practice of usury, were the result of the economic position into which they had been forced by medieval laws; and that they were loyal to the countries whose national culture they wished to adopt. Preeminent in power and feeling among the defenders of the Jews is the English historian Thomas Babington Macaulay. In his speech in parliament of April 17, 1833, on Jewish disabilities, he dealt with arguments against granting full rights to the Jews, summing up in what may be termed a crescendo of Liberal-Protestant Christian apologetics on behalf of the Jews and their past.

Such, Sir, has in every age been the reasoning of bigots. They never fail to plead in justification of persecution the vices which persecution has engendered. England has been to the Jews less than half a country and we revile them because they do not feel for England more than half patriotism. We treat them as slaves, and wonder why they do not regard us as brethren. We drive them to mean occupations, and then reproach them for not embracing honorable professions. We long forbade them to possess land and we complain that they chiefly occupy themselves in trade. We shut them out of all the paths of ambition, and then we despise them for taking refuge in avarice. But were they always a mere money-changing, money-getting, money-hoarding race?… In the infancy of civilizations, when our island was as savage as New Guinea, when letters and arts were still unknown to Athens, when scarcely a thatched hut stood on what was afterwards the site of Rome, this condemned people had their fenced cities, their splendid Temple.

In the 19th and 20th Centuries

Jewish apologists in emphasizing the contribution made by Jews to civilization, transformed the conception of am segullah ("election") to the concept of te'udah ("mission"). They progressively emphasized the universal character of Judaism. Abraham *Geiger defended Judaism in this spirit; he also made a scholarly investigation of apologetics, and published selections from the medieval Jewish apologists in Proben juedischer Verteidigung des Mittelalters. An apologist in a similar vein was the historian Isaac Marcus *Jost (1793–1860). Gabriel *Riesser (1806–1863), while advocating Jewish emancipation, compared the subjugation of Jews by Christians to that of the Third Estate by the nobility and of the blacks by whites. When the Protestant theologian E.G. Paulus argued that Jews would have to become converted to Christianity in order to become good citizens, Riesser defended the Jews and Judaism in his Verteidigung der buergerlichen Gleichstellung der Juden (1831). Riesser's periodical, Der Jude, was of great importance in the arena of apologetics. Leopold *Zunz stated in his introduction to his Die gottesdienstlichen Vortraege der Juden that "the Jews in Europe, and especially those in Germany, should be given freedom instead of being granted rights." The Jewish situation in the 19th century continued to stimulate apologetics preoccupied with questions relating to emancipation.

Although the concern of Western Jewry with apologetics considerably diminished with the attainment of emancipation, the recrudescence of antisemitism in Europe during the second half of the 19th century again evoked a renewal of apologetic literature, especially in response to the recurrent blood libels. Joseph Samuel *Bloch (1850–1923) contributed signally to the defense of Jews and Judaism before meetings of workingmen in Vienna and in his activities to combat the accusations made by the Catholic theologian and antisemite, August *Rohling , at the time of the *Tisza-Eszlár blood libel case . In 1884 Bloch founded a periodical Oesterreichische Wochenschrift, dedicated to the struggle against antisemitism. His apology Israel und die Voelker was published post-humously in 1923.

Adolf *Jellinek (1820–1892), the chief rabbi of Vienna, was active in Jewish defense. His successor Moritz *Guedemann not only combated the bias shown by many scholars on Jewish problems but also prompted a widespread information campaign to defend Judaism in the Viennese press and in public gatherings. Guedemann also wrote a basic study of Jewish apologetics, Juedische Apologetik (1906). Among scientists who felt compelled to defend the Jews in the face of contemporary antisemitism was the alienist and criminologist Cesare *Lombroso , an Italian Jew, whose L'anti-Semitismo e le scienze moderne (1894) was intended for this purpose.

In Eastern Europe also, Jewish apologetics entered the lists in the struggle for civil rights. Notable among the Jewish apologists active in Poland during the first half of the 19th century were Samuel Baum and Jacob *Tugendhold . The latter followed the model of German Jewish apologetic literature. His Obrona Izraelitów ("Defense of the Jews") is a refutation of the blood libel, while he also attacked the manner in which antisemites presented the political and social aspects of the Jewish problem. Among apologists in Russia, Isaac Ber *Levinsohn was prominent. In his A?iyyah ha-Shiloni (1864) he even renewed apologetics as a form of Christian-Jewish dialogue. Ta'ar ha-Sofer (1892), a defense of the Talmud, is directed against the Karaites, and Efes Damim, a confutation of the blood libel, was written during the Zaslavl case. In Russia, Jewish apologetics were directed, inter alia, to abolition of the restrictions on Jewish residence outside the Pale of Settlement. They thus emphasized the role of the Jewish merchant in the economy as well as cultural factors. In the 1880s, when individual Jews were accused of taking part in the revolutionary movements, Jewish apologists argued that the overwhelming majority of Jews were conservative in character.

An important turning point in Jewish apologetics was the rise of Jewish nationalism. A conflict developed between Zionists and apologists of the conventional type who still used the arguments employed by the advocates of emancipation, and in countering the humiliating propaganda of the antisemites stressed the merits of the Jews. In contrast, the general tendency of Zionists was to present the Jews as a people like any other nation. Zionism, however, developed its own arguments, including the historic right of the Jews to Ere? Israel, which had already been a controversial subject between Jews and Gentiles during the Second Temple period.

The 19th and 20th centuries saw the growth of a specific internal apologetics with the object of bringing Jews back to Judaism. Jewish apologists of this type included spokesmen of neo-Orthodoxy, Samson Raphael *Hirsch (e.g., in Iggeret ?afon) and Isaac *Breuer (Der Neue Kusari, and other works). Of this intention, although in another spirit, were non-Orthodox writers, such as Max *Brod (Heidentum, Christentum, Judentum, 1921), Franz *Rosenzweig (Apologetisches Denken), Hermann *Cohen , Edmond *Fleg , Leo *Baeck , and others, who advocated a return to Jewish values out of the conviction that these include an original and complete Weltanschauung by which a man can live a noble life. Jews in Germany stressed the honorable part they had taken in the German armed forces in World War I. Jewish bodies, such as the Anti-Defamation League (see *B'nai *B'rith ), the *Alliance Israélite Universelle , and the *Central-Verein Deutscher Staatsbuerger juedischen Glaubens , devoted themselves to issuing publicity of an apologetic nature. During the Nazi assault on Jewish existence, there developed an anti-racist scientific literature which furnished Jewish apologists with arguments against racism as well as works stressing the prominent role played by Jews in world culture. After the *Holocaust , Jews such as Jules *Isaac went over to the attack and stressed the Christian historic guilt in the annihilation. One of the central problems confronting Jewish apologists, mainly in the modern age, is of a psychological nature. The anti-Jewish calumniator is able to rouse his public by alleging that Jews and Jewish influence are a cause of social evils. Jewish defense, on the other hand, has stressed that Jews are not responsible. By the very negativeness of its argumentation, therefore, modern Jewish apologetics has often failed to demonstrate positive Jewish values to the public.


Baer, Spain, index, S.V. disputations; Urbach, in: Tarbiz, 17 (1946), 1–11; 20 (1949), 118–22; Ettinger, in: Scripta Hierosolymitana, 7 (1961), 193–219; idem, in: Zion, 29 (1964), 182–207; Klausner, Sifrut, 3 (1953), 89–105; G.B. De Rossi, Bibliotheca judaica anti-Christiana (1800), 66–67; M. Friedlaender, Geschichte der juedischen Apologetik (1903); J. Bergmann, Juedische Apologetik im neutestamentlichen Zeitalter (1908); R.T. Herford, Christianity in Talmud and Midrash (1903); A.B. Hulen, in: JBL, 51 (1932), 58–70; Urbach, in: REJ, 100 (1935), 49–77; Bergman, ibid., 40 (1900), 188–205; M. Steinschneider, Polemische und apologetische Literatur in arabischer Sprache (1877); M. Goldstein, Jesus in the Jewish Tradition (1950); O.S. Rankin, Jewish Religious Polemic (1956); P. Browe, Die Judenmission im Mittelalter und die Paepste (1942); G. Lindeskog, Die Jesusfrage im neuzeitlichen Judentum (1938); J. Rosenthal, in: Aresheth, 2 (1960), 130–79; 3 (1961), 433–9; idem, in: JBA, 21 (1963), 15–21; idem, in: PAAJR, 34 (1966), 77–93; J. Fleishman, Be'ayat ha-Na?rut ba-Ma?ashavah ha-Yehudit mi-Mendelssohn ad Rosenzweig (1964).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.