In the Pagan Environment
THE CHRISTIAN ENVIRONMENT AND MISSION
DIALOGUE WITH TRYPHON
In the Christian and Muslim Medieval Milieu
GREGORY OF TOURS AND PRISCUS
CHRISTIAN RELIGIOUS DRAMA
CHRONICLE OF AHIMAAZ
IN MUSLIM COUNTRIES
THE 13TH-CENTURY DISPUTATIONS
Renaissance and Reformation
MENDELSSOHN AND LAVATER
ROSENZWEIG AND ROSENSTOCK
BUBER AND SCHMIDT
Up to early modern times dialogue between members of different faiths attempted either to prove the superiority and absolute validity of one faith over the other, or to defend the totality of one faith and its Holy Scriptures, or elements in them, against questioning and criticism by believers in another faith. In some cases the representative of one side has been put on a quasi-legal trial to justify his convictions, as often happened to Jews in the Middle Ages. Disputations and polemics between believers of the three monotheistic faiths – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – inevitably start from and return to the common ground of the Hebrew Bible and certain religious concepts held by all three, but always in order to confute the opposing view and prove the validity of the proponent's argument.
In recording the most open public disputation to take place in the Middle Ages, that of Barcelona in 1263, the Christian account stresses that the object of the disputation was not to question the validity of Christianity, "which because of its certainty cannot be subjected to debate" (que propter sui certitudinem non est in disputatione ponenda).
This was to remain the ultimate standpoint of disputants throughout the centuries. As late as 1933, a representative of Protestant Christianity, Karl Ludwig Schmidt, declared to his Jewish partner, as representative of German Jewry, the Zionist and philosopher Martin Buber, in a Christian-Jewish dialogue before a gathering of Jews: "The evangelical theologian who has to talk to you, must talk to you as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ, must endeavor to talk in a manner that will convey the message of the Church to Jewry. He must do this even if you would not have invited him to do so. The assertion of a mission to you may have a somewhat bitter taste as if intending an attack; but such an attack precisely involves caring about you as Jews – so that you may live with us as our brethren in our German fatherland as throughout the world" (Theologische Blaetter, 12 (1933), 258; and see below). This liberal German theologian found it necessary to declare at the outset of the debate the missionary character of Jewish-Christian disputation.
Despite the self-assurance and aggressiveness implicit in this attitude, both sides were inevitably influenced to a certain degree by the dialectics of their opponents. At a very early stage of the Jewish-Christian debate this challenge was perceived in a Midrash which relates that "the minim [i.e., early Christians] were continuously disputing with Rabbi Judah, the son of Nakosa: they would ask him and he would answer them … When he was called [to Heaven] his pupils said to him: Rabbi, you were helped from on High and were victorious. He said to them: '… Go and pray for this … basket that was full of diamonds and pearls and now is full of burnt-out charcoal'" (Eccles. R. 1:8, no. 4).
Disputations sometimes started from a casual encounter, sparked off by an actual problem or object noticed. Sometimes, in particular from the 13th century in Europe, they were formally conducted in public. Authors of polemical literature like Judah Halevi employed the artificial framework of the disputation to set forth their arguments. Alternatively, the dialectic climate of an actual disputation led to systematic theological formulations such as the Sefer Ikkarim (Book of Principles) of Joseph Albo (see below) or Cur Deus homo … of Anselm of Canterbury. The reports and impressions of the actual disputations that have been preserved are conflicting. The same motifs tend to recur time after time, any variation reflecting the spirit of the times, personal interests, or particular circumstances.
The history of disputations and their content, while concomitantly a record of constant tension and deliberate animosity, is also a process of continuous mutual interpenetration of ideas and influence stimulated by this tension.
In biblical times, the pagan polytheism of the period precluded the holding of any discursive dialogue of this nature. Claims are made asserting the might of one deity or deities above those of others, usually uttered in the heat of war after victory. Jewish monotheistic prophecy makes frequent use of scathing and ironical polemics to denounce polytheism and idolatry.
However, in the cultural milieu of the Hellenistic Roman world, Jewish monotheism was challenged by missionary Hellenistic philosophy and beliefs. Thus the Mishnah records that pagans asked the elders (in Rome): "If God does not desire idolatry why does He not destroy it? They answered: If men had been worshipping objects unnecessary for the cosmos He would have destroyed them, but they worship the sun and moon and the stars and the planets. Should He destroy His world because of fools? They [the pagan questioners] said to them: Then let Him destroy those objects [of pagan worship] of which the cosmos has no need, and leave only those necessary for the cosmos. They answered: Then the arguments of the worshipers of those [necessary objects] would have been strengthened, for they would say: these are divinities, for they have not been destroyed" (Av. Zar. 4:7).
The exclusiveness and superiority claimed for Jewish monotheism against idolatry are developed in the following disputation: "A philosophus asked Rabban Gamaliel: Your Bible states 'for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God.' Is there any merit in idolatry to give rise to jealousy? A hero is jealous of a hero, a sage of a sage, a rich man of a rich man; hence there must be merit in idolatry since it provokes jealousy. He answered him: If a man called his dog by the name of his father, and wanting to take an oath takes it on the life of the dog, of whom would the father be jealous, of the son or of the dog?" (Mekh., Ba-Hodesh 9). Details of Jewish worship also enter the disputation, as when "a Gentile asked Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai: Those things that you perform resemble a kind of magic – you take a cow, slaughter it and burn it, and keep its ashes; and when one of you has become defiled by contact with the dead they sprinkle him two or three times [with water mixed with the ashes] and say, 'You have been purified.'" In replying to the Gentile R. Johanan drew a comparison with similar rituals employed in exorcism. To his own pupils, however, he explained it as an act of faith: "The dead does not defile nor does water purify; it is just a decree of the King of Kings. The Almighty, Blessed be His Name, said: This is my order, this is my rule, and no man may transgress it" (PdRK 40a–b).
Gradually the motif of Jewish weakness and dispersion was introduced into the argument against Judaism. When a certain "heretic" stressed that although the Jews were at the mercy of Rome, the Gentiles refrained from destroying them, he was answered by R. Hoshaiah: "This is because you do not know how to carry this out. If you [seek to] destroy us all, we are not all to be found within your borders. [If you seek to destroy] only those within your borders you would be reputed a maimed empire. [The heretic] answered: By the body of Rome, we are engaged constantly with this problem" (Pes. 87b). This last motif, in stressing the enmity of the Romans and the dispersion of the Jews in both the Roman and Persian empires, seems to sound the note of the emerging predominance of Christianity.
The Talmud sometimes ascribes legendary disputations to biblical figures, for instance between Abraham and Nimrod. There are also accounts of litigations, supposed to have taken place before courts of law and kings, between representatives of the Jewish people and other claimants to the Land of Israel. Josephus tells about litigation that took place between the Jews of Alexandria and the Samaritans "in the presence of Ptolemy himself, the Jews asserting that it was the Temple at Jerusalem which had been built in accordance with the laws of Moses, and the Samaritans that it was the Temple on Mount Gerizim. And they requested the king to sit in council with his friends and hear their arguments on these matters" (Jos., Ant., 13:74–75; and see the argumentation, 75–79).
Some sages appear in talmudic literature as having engaged in disputations that not only concern the Jewish faith and way of life but also show to advantage the breadth of knowledge and acuity of Jewish scholarship, for instance, Joshua b. Hananiah (see Ḥag. 5b; Ḥul. 59–60b; Bek. 8b–9a).
The developing cleavage between Christianity and Judaism, until the final parting of the ways in the second century, led to increasing disputation between Christians and Jews. The lists of testimonia from the Hebrew Bible prepared by early Christian teachers consist of biblical quotations to be used not only to convince pagans but also, in most cases, to persuade Jews to accept the Christianity clauses. With the growing distance between Christian and Jewish theological concepts and ways of life, the disputations became more formal and were noted down. The early disputations in the form of independent treatises are written down by the Christian side although fragments and impressions of such disputations are on record in talmudic literature (Mekh. Shira, 7; Ba-Ḥodesh, 5; Kaspa, 3; Mekh. Sb Y, to Shemot, p. 2; Sif. Deut. 87–91, 306; TJ, Ber. 9:1, 12d–13b; TJ, Ta'an. 2:1, 65b; TJ, Sanh. 1:1, 18a; TJ (Venice, 1523), Sanh. 13:9, 23 c–d; TJ, Sanh. 10:1, 27d–28a; Ber. 7a, 10a, 12a–b; Shab. 88a–b, 116a–b; Pes. 56a; Er. 22a; Suk. 48b; Ta'an. 27b; Ḥag. 5b; Yev. 102b; Sot. 47a; Git. 57a; Sanh. 38b–39a, 43b (in Ḥesronot ha-Shas in "El ha-Mekorot" ed. of the Talmud, 1963), 98b–99a, 106a–b; Av. Zar. 4a, 6a–b, 17a; Tosef., Hul. 2:2; Eccles. R. 1:8, no. 4; 2:1, nos. 1, 2; 4:8, no. 1; Song R. 7:3). The challenges and pressures of these disputations in the world of the amoraim (third to fourth centuries) are projected in the explanation given by Abbahu, the celebrated disputant with the Christians at Caesarea, to Christians who questioned the learning of a scholar from Babylonia: "We [i.e., the scholars of Erez Israel] who are living with you regard it as our task to study [Scripture] thoroughly. They [the scholars of Babylonia] are not so well versed" in it (Av. Zar. 4a). Representing the Christian view is a work well-known by around 500, the Altercatio Simonis Judaei et Theophili Christiani (ed. by A. v. Harnack, Leipzig, 1883). Although the text was subsequently lost for centuries the form of the Altercatio and the arguments put forward there influenced later Christian presentations of disputations with Jews.
Of fundamental importance both for the authority it carries and the arguments met there is Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Tryphon held about the time of the Bar Kokhba revolt and written down between 156 and 161. While the argument of general issues and detailed points is sharp and bitter in this early discussion between Christians and Jews, the relationship between the disputants is represented as one of mutual courtesy. They part with an acknowledgment by the Jewish debater that he has "been extraordinarily charmed with our intercourse," with Justin stating that the Jews "departed, finally praying for my deliverance both from the dangers of the sea, and from all ill. And I prayed also for them, saying: I can make no greater prayer for you, Gentlemen, than this, that …you may do in all respects the same as we, acknowledging that the object of our worship is the Christ of God" (Justin Martyr, Dialogue, 142:1–3, Eng. trans. by A.L. Williams (1930), 289).
Even so, politeness does not hinder Justin from hurling at the Jews their harsh fate, at a time of life and death struggle with Rome, which he saw as the punishment designated by their Law: "The circumcision according to the flesh, that was from Abraham, was given for a sign, that ye should be separated from the other nations and us, and that ye alone should suffer the things that ye are rightly suffering now, and that your lands should be desolate and your cities burned with fire, and that foreigners should eat up the fruits before your face, and none of you go up unto Jerusalem. For by nothing else are ye to be known from other men, save by the circumcision that is in your flesh …. All this has happened to you rightly and well. For ye slew the Just One and His prophets before Him, and now ye reject, and, as far as in you lies, dishonor those that set their hope on Him …, cursing in your synagogues them that believe in Christ" (ibid., 16:2–4, pp. 32–33). He also frequently explains other precepts as having been given to the Jews to their detriment: "Now because of your sins and those of your fathers God charged you to keep the Sabbath as a sign … and has also given you His other ordinances" (ibid., 21:1, p. 42). The true meaning of the Torah and commandments enjoined in the Prophets is to be found in their Christological, spiritual-figurative sense. Physical rest could not really be enjoined on Saturday, for "you see that Nature does not idle nor keep Sabbath. Abide as ye have been born" (ibid., 23:3, pp. 47–48). The stubborn and sinful Jewish people continue in existence only because God "has not yet brought the Judgment, nor has begun to bring it, because He knows that every day some [of the Jews] are becoming disciples unto the name of His Christ, and are leaving the way of error" (ibid., 39:2, p. 77). Justin categorically rejects any form of Judeo-Christianity (ibid., 46:1–2, p. 90; 47:1–2, pp. 93–95; see Jewish *Christian sects). A large part of Justin's argumentation consists of testimonia from the Prophets adduced in evidence of the validity of Christianity. His methods of dialectic and manner of presentation became the prototype of later Christian argumentation against Jewry and Judaism.
Tryphon objects in principle to the method of adducing Christological testimonia from the Hebrew Bible: "Why do you select for citation only such parts as you choose out of the sayings of the Prophets, and make no mention of those [that do not fit the Christian view]," and brings examples to prove his point (ibid., 27:1, p. 53). Justin was fully aware that the main concern of responsible Jews at this critical period was not discussion of Greek beliefs or philosophical debate. Thus he describes how "Tryphon's companions sat down opposite, and after one of them had made a remark about the war in Judea, they conversed about it" (ibid., 9:3, p. 20). However, the Jew regards philosophical paganism as preferable to superstitious Christianity: "It were better for you to continue to hold the philosophy of Plato or of some other learned man … than to have been completely led away by false speeches, and to follow men of no account. For while you remained in that mode of philosophy and lived a blameless life, a hope was left you of a better fate, but when you forsook God, and placed your hope on a man, what kind of salvation yet remains for you?" (ibid., 8:3, p. 17). The Christians suffer persecution for their credulity: "You people, by receiving a worthless rumor, shape a kind of messiah for yourselves, and for His sake are now blindly perishing" (ibid., 8:4, p. 19). The true hope of salvation lies in strict fulfillment of the Law: "First be circumcised, then … keep the Sabbath and the Feasts and God's New Moons, and, in short, do all the things that are written in the Law, and then perchance you will find mercy from God" (ibid., 8:4, p. 17).
Not only is the Christian method of citation and evidence seen as falsifying the words of the Hebrew Bible by removing them from their context and failing to have regard for the spirit of the Hebrew language, but many of the events related by Christians and the interpretations they give are regarded as blasphemous and foolish. When Justin insulted the Jew by quoting the words of the Bible according to the version of Paul, which stigmatizes the Jews as prophet-killers, and added the remark referred to above that the Jews are still permitted to exist because of those among them who convert to Christianity, Tryphon interjected: "I would have you know that you are out of your mind when you say all this" (ibid., 39:1–3, p. 77). To the long list of testimonia cited by Justin on the prophecies relating to Jesus and his primordial divinity, the Jew reacts: "You say many blasphemous things, thinking to persuade us that this man who was crucified has been with Moses and Aaron, and has spoken to them in a pillar of cloud, that he then became man and was crucified, and has ascended into Heaven, and comes again on earth, and is to be worshipped" (ibid., 38:1, p. 75). Belief in incarnation and crucifixion in relation to the preexistent Divinity is rejected as irrational: "For your assertion that this Christ existed, and was God, before all ages, then that He was even born and became man and suffered, and that He is not man by origin, seems to me to be notonly strange but even foolish" (ibid., 48:1, p. 95). The Christian claims for Jesus amount to an attempt to "prove to us that the existence of another God besides the Maker of the universe is recognized by the spirit of the Prophets" (ibid., 55:1, p. 108; and see also 50:1, p. 100). The interpretation given by Justin to "ha-almah" in Isaiah 7:14 to mean "the Virgin" (Dialogue, 66, pp. 138–139) is corrected by Tryphon who states that its actual meaning is "the young woman" and places the prophecy in its historical context in the reign of King Hezekiah. He adds that the Christian concept of a virgin birth is pagan in origin and character: "Among the tales of those whom we call Greeks it is said that Perseus had been born of Danae, still a virgin, by him that they entitle Zeus flowing down upon her in the form of gold. And in fact you ought to be ashamed of saying the same sort of things as they, and should rather say that this Jesus was a man of human origin, and, if you prove from the Scriptures that He is the Christ, [say] that because of his perfect life under the Law he was deemed worthy to be chosen to be Christ. And do not dare to assert marvels, that you be not convicted of talking folly like the Greeks" (ibid., 67, pp. 139–140). Hence it would seem, according to Justin's rendering, that Tryphon would have found some satisfaction in a Christianity which recognized Jesus as the human redeemer of the Gentiles alone. Tryphon tries at some length to elicit Justin's attitude regarding whether Judeo-Christians should observe the Law (ibid., 46:1, p. 90; 47:1–2, p. 93; and see above Justin's rejection of the Judeo-Christians). According to Justin's account, Tryphon expressly proposed: "Let Him be recognized of you who are of the Gentiles as Lord and Christ and God, as the Scriptures signify, seeing also that you have all acquired the name of Christians from Him. But as for us, whoare worshipers of God who made even Him [Jesus], we do not need to confess Him or worship Him." Anger at this proposition provoked Justin into a rare outburst of personal invectiveagainst his Jewish opponent (ibid., 64:1–2, p. 133). Tryphon pointed out that the messiah awaited by the Jews was a king-savior, not a redeeming God: "For all of us Jews expect that the Christ will be a man of merely human origin, and that Elijah will come and anoint Him" (ibid., 49:1, p. 97). The King will come to his people, the descendants of Abraham. When Justin quotes to him from testimonia that the messiah will come to Israel, Tryphon asks what that implies: "Are you Israel, and does He say all this about you?" (ibid., 123:7, p. 256).
This relatively early encounter between a separated Christianity and Judaism establishes the main themes and groundwork of future Jewish-Christian testimonia, the polemical statements by Tertullian against the Jews in the same century, and the fragments of Jewish-Christian disputation found in tannaitic and amoraitic literature mentioned above. Constantly recurring subjects in disputation from the end of the second century, therefore, are the significance of "Bereshit" ("In the beginning") and of "ad ki yavo Shiloh" (Gen. 49:10). Are the Just Men and Patriarchs who lived before the giving of the Torah to be regarded as observers of the Law or not? Why was the Law given to the Jews? For their benefit, or as a punishment? Is the true meaning of the Law and the Prophets to be elicited by a "literal" or a "spiritual" interpretation? What is the significance of the use of the plural form in referring to the Divine in the Bible? Is it intended to convey the concept of Trinity? Who is "the suffering servant of God" in Isaiah 52 and following? What is the correct translation of "ha-almah"? Although variations of these questions occur, this was to remain the exegetical core of Jewish-Christian disputation. The fate of the Jewish people, the course of history and empires, and war and peace in the world enter and are developed in the debate at a later stage. Although as yet not clearly defined, certain attitudes are already embryonic: the Jewish objection to the concept of the Trinity as being inherently idolatrous, and to incarnation as insulting to the divine nature of God; the insistence on the Jewish side that understanding of Scripture should be based on a comprehensive knowledge of the original language without depriving the words of their literal meaning or isolating them from their context. There also emerge the mystic-fideistic standpoint of the Christian side, the criticorationalistic approach of the Jewish side; the universalist-individualistic claims of Church spokesmen against the Jewish concept of Israel as a national "natural-historical cell," the "kingdom of priests and holy nation" entrusted in this social pattern to carry the Divine call to the world.
Also dating from the early period of the disputations are the somewhat dissimilar strands of anti-Christian argumentation quoted by Celsus in his anti-Christian polemic written about 178. There the Jew is reported to have said: "I could say much about what happened to Jesus which is true, and nothing like the account which has been written by the disciples of Jesus" (in Origen; Contra Celsum, translated and edited by H. Chadwick (1953), 2:13, p. 78). Celsus' record, which contains numerous extra-New Testamentary details and innuendoes adverse to Jesus, in some way prefigures the later polemical version of Jesus' life and death, Toledot Yeshu (Origen; Contra Celsum), 1:28, pp. 27–28; 1:32, pp. 31–32; 1:38, p. 37; 1:67, p. 62; 2:8, pp. 71–72; 2:9, p. 73; 2:15, p. 81; 2:16, pp. 81–82; 2:26, p. 90; 2:27, p. 90; 2:32, p. 93; 2:34, p. 94; 2:44, p. 100; 2:46, p. 101; 2:55, p. 109; 2:70, p. 121). The Jew also repeats many of the anti-Christian arguments used by Tryphon and the amoraim. In addition, he is quoted as sharply condemning Jewish *apostasy to Christianity, saying: "Why do you take your origin from our religion? And then, as if you are progressing in knowledge, despise these things although you cannot name any other origin for your doctrine excepting our Law" (ibid., 2:4, p. 69; and see also 2:1, pp. 66–67). He attacks the concept of the resurrection of Jesus, in particular comparing it to similar pagan legends (2:55, p. 109), and adds: "While he was alive he did not help himself, but after death he rose again and showed the marks of his punishment and how his hands had been pierced. But who saw this? A hysterical female, as you say, and perhaps some other one of those who were deluded by the same sorcery, who either dreamt in a certain state of mind and through wishful thinking had a hallucination due to some mistaken notion (an experience which has happened to thousands), or, which is more likely, wanted to impress the others by telling this fantastic tale, and so by this cock-and-bull story to provide a chance for other beggars" (ibid.). His attack on resurrection is continued by the argument: "But if he really was so great he ought, in order to display his divinity, to have disappeared suddenly from the cross" (ibid., 2:68, p. 118). The Jew continues: "Where is he then, that we may see and believe?" (ibid., 2:77, p. 126). He uses Jesus' rejection by the Jews as an argument against his divinity: "What God that comes among men is disbelieved, and that when he appears to those who were waiting for him? Or why ever is he not recognized by people who have been long expecting him?" (ibid., 2:75, p. 123).
The problems raised here denote the type of argumentation used by Jews against Christians in the Christian-Judeo-Pagan triangle of the second half of the second century. When Judaism alone remained face to face with Christianity much argumentation of this category was omitted in the direct confrontation.
In the fourth century, the rise of Christianity to imperial dominion in the late Roman Empire, the shock of Julian "the Apostate's" revolt against this domination, and the fire and smoke of internal Christian doctrinal battles, were accompanied by bitter and brutal denunciation of Judaism and the Jews, their character, and way of life by John Chrysostom, Eusebius, and other fathers of the Church. Not only was the concept of divine election now claimed for the Church only, as the "spiritual Israel," but it was categorically denied to the historical Jewish people, leaving the title only to those of the nation who were considered "Christians before Christ," like the Patriarchs and the Prophets. Much of the argumentation in the talmudic literature cited above was in answer to this mode of attack.
At the beginning of the seventh century, the tensions in Erez Israel between Jews and Christians, the Persian invasion, and entanglement of a Jewish revolt in the Byzantine-Persian struggle (see also Benjamin of Tiberias, Heraclius; Jerusalem) are reflected in the controversial tract Doctrina Iacobi nuper baptizati, written about 640 (ed. by N. Bonwetsch, Berlin, 1910).
The changed atmosphere at the courts of the German Christian rulers in Europe, and the standpoint of an educated Jew there, emerge in the account of a disputation recorded by Bishop Gregory of Tours in his Historiarum Libri decem (6:5; ed. R. Buchner, pp. 8–13). The Jewish merchant Priscus in 581 was confronted with the bishop in the presence of King Chilperic, who initiated the disputation, in an attempt to win the Jew to Christianity. Gregory rests his argument on chapter and verse while the Jew puts questions and cites contrary biblical testimony. Priscus said to the king: "God did not enter into marriage and did not bring forth a son, neither can he have a partner to his sovereignty, as Moses says: 'See now that it is I, even I, and there is no God with Me. I put to death and I make alive; I strike and I heal'" (ibid.). And again: "Can God be man, can He be born of woman? Can he suffer beatings and be sentenced to death?" (ibid.). At this point the bishop intervened to cite lengthy Christological testimonia, and the Jew asks: "What necessity was there for God to suffer in such a manner?" To the bishop's explanation that He did so in order to save mankind from sin and reconcile man with God, the Jew rejoined: "Could not God send prophets or apostles who would bring man back to the way of salvation? and had He only the means of humiliating himself in the flesh?" (ibid.).
With the growth of Christian power, its clash with the conquering armies of Islam, and the consequent changes in the Jewish fate, theological argument was increasingly related to the actual historical situation. The letters of Archbishop Agobard of Lyons against the Jews include fragments of disputations he had with them. The conversion of the Christian priest Bodo-Eleazar to Judaism not only provoked his own vituperative anti-Christian polemics but is also evidence of the meetings and disputations which took place between Jews and Christians at the court of Emperor Louis the Pious.
A large portion of both Jewish and Christian biblical exegetical literature, and Jewish liturgical works – piyyutim, selihot, and kinnot – contain polemical argument with religious, historical, and social overtones.
Under Islam, in particular in Baghdad of the tenth century where both Jews and Christians were in the position of a minority, disputations between the two, as well as between Jews and Muslims, are found taking place in a relatively open atmosphere. Saadiah Gaon's Arabic work Book of Beliefs and Opinions incorporates and summarizes much of the argument in these disputations. His works also convey the main line adopted in Jewish Rabbanite controversy with the Karaites. The writings of the Karaites Daniel b. Moses al-Qūmisi, Abu-Yusuf Jacob al Kirkisānī, Sahl b. Maẓli'aḥ ha-Kohen, and Salmon b. Jeroham contain the Karaite attack on Rabbanite tradition. Many of the Karaite arguments against the Talmud, the anthropomorphic legends, contradictions, and immoral views found there, later became part of the Christian arsenal for attack on the Talmud.
About five years before the catastrophe brought on Jewry by the First Crusade a disputation took place in England between the abbot of Westminster, Gilbert Crispin, and a Jewish scholar. The latter, who had studied at Mainz, came there both for business and in order to meet Gilbert, who regarded the Jew as a personal acquaintance (mihi familiaris). He records, "Each time that we would meet, immediately [mox] we would have a talk [sermo] in a friendly spirit [amico animo] about the Holy Scriptures and our faith." Gilbert noted that the answers of the Jew seemed logical and worthy to those present at the discussions to be preserved. He therefore wrote down both sides of the disputation, and sent the text to Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury (Gisleberti Crispini Disputatio Judei et Christiani; ed. by B. Blumenkranz, Utrecht (1956), 27–8). It was the wish of both sides to hold the talk "in a tolerant spirit" [toleranti animo], as the Jew phrased it, while Gilbert calls for discussion "in a patient spirit" [animo patienti] guaranteeing to dispute "for the cause of faith and out of love to thee" (fidei causa et tui amore, 28–29). The atmosphere of tolerance in which the disputation was held makes it a valuable record. In addition to the discussion of former points raised in disputations between Jews and Christians, the Jew stresses the anomaly of the position accorded to Jews in Christian countries: "If the Law is to be kept [as the Jew had argued previously], why do you regard its keepers like dogs, pushing them with sticks and persecuting them everywhere?" (ibid., 28). The troubled state of the world is brought as evidence against accepting Jesus as the messiah, since it contradicts the words of the prophet: "and they shall beat their swords into plowshares …." He states: "The iron with difficulty suffices the smiths for the preparation of weapons. All over the world, nation fights with nation, neighbor oppresses his neighbor and kills him. One king wars with the other" (ibid., 34). Apparently describing paintings that he has seen in the Church the Jew points out: "God Himself you paint as the Man of Sorrows, hanging on the cross, pierced with nails – a terrible sight and yet you adore it… Again sometimes you paint God enthroned on high gesturing with outstretched hand, and around him – as if for greater glory – an eagle and a man, a calf and a lion; yet all this is forbidden in Exodus 20:4" (ibid., 65). There is evidence of a certain interpenetration of ideals. The Christian responds to the Jew's condemnation of the warlike society of his environment by holding up monastic ideals: "There are many men of war and wrath who have left fighting and temporal riches and have turned to serve God in poverty" (ibid., 38). When the Jew claimed that the Law was given to be observed the abbot pointed to Christian asceticism: "There are many of us who abstain not only from eating pork but from meat altogether" (ibid., 35). On the other hand, the Jew not only insists that all the precepts of the Law should be observed but also reconciles it with the figurative understanding of the Scriptures: "Shall we condemn the letter [of the Law] because we listen to its figurative sense? And because we obeyed the letter, is there any sense in condemning the figure? We follow the letter and perceive also the figurative sense of the letter" (ibid., 32). Even scholars who consider this dialogue a literary fiction would have to concede that in tone and content it expresses the spirit of arguments exchanged between Jews and Christians in a friendly atmosphere on the eve of the First Crusade.
The development of Christian religious drama in the 12th and 13th centuries permitted disputation with Jews to be presented in a popular dramatic form. In the Latin mystery play Ordo Prophetarum, a "reader" summons the Jews before him in the introduction to the Birth of Christ. The prophets appear one after the other, range themselves around the "reader," and quote passages considered to be Christological in content. In these debates the Jews are often led by an archisynagogus, while the prophets are led by the "reader" who in many plays is identified with Augustine. Later, from the middle of the 12th century, beginning with the German Ludus de Antichristo, the rival disputants receive personification as Ecclesia and Synagoga. Basically, all these dramas are disputations. The tone imputed to the Jews, particularly in later versions, is coarse and jeering.
Certain motifs in Jewish polemical literature which developed and changed over the centuries originated in reaction to the impressive display made by Christian religious life. The southern Italian 11th-century Chronicle of Ahimaaz b. Paltiel tells of a disputation supposed to have taken place between the Jew Shephatiah b. Amittai of Oria (ninth century) and the Byzantine emperor Basil I concerning the beauty and splendor of the Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The Jew quotes from Scripture to prove that Solomon's Temple was even greater and more magnificent: "Then did the king say: 'Rabbi Shephatiah has overcome me in his wisdom'; and Rabbi Shephatiah answered: 'My lord, Scripture has been victorious over you and not I'" (Megillat Aḥima'aẓ, ed. by B. Klar (1944), 21).
From the 12th century, apparently, chance encounters between Christians and Jews might often flare up into religious arguments. Both Jewish and Christian writers prepared manuals for the use of simple people of their faith when encountering arguments of the other side. In Christian literature this led to a long line of polemical writings against the Jews (Adversus Judaeos, a type that originated much earlier), intended for this purpose, some in the form of a dialogue. In Jewish literature, such manuals are generally entitled Sefer Niẓẓaḥon, being the outcome of former chance encounters and a preparation for future ones. The subject matter of these books and the methods employed by both sides largely follow traditional lines, although concrete situations and new themes may interpose themselves.
Joseph Kimḥi not only defends the Jewish way of life of the 12th century (see Apologetics) but also indicates how a Jewish patrician saw the mainly feudal Christian patterns of behavior: "You cannot claim that you are circumcised in heart, for he who … murders and whores and robs and molests people, ridicules them and behaves like a brigand, is uncircumcised in heart. Hence you are uncircumcised both in heart and body and Israel is circumcised both in heart and body. For ye will not find a Jew whom they [the Jews] will hang, neither will they gouge out his eyes, nor will they mutilate one of his members for any transgression that he may have committed" (Sefer ha-Berit, in: Milḥemet Ḥovah, Constantinople, 1710, 26b). "You see with your own eyes that the Christian goes on the road to meet strangers, not to honor them but to seize all their provisions" (ibid., 21a). "Even of your priests and bishops who do not take wives, it is well known that they whore" (ibid., 21b).
In the 12th–13th-century Sefer Niẓẓaḥon Yashan there is a discussion in relation to the Cathedral of Speyer between Kalonymus and Emperor Henry II. Here the Jew again quotes chapter and verse to prove that the Temple surpassed the cathedral in greatness but the argument ended with an embittered denial of the sacredness of the cathedral precincts: "After Solomon built the Temple and finished it, it is written, 'the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.' Yet if they were to load dung on a donkey and lead him through this cathedral nothing would happen to him" (J.C. Wagenseil (ed.), Tela ignea Satanae (1681), 41–42). Some arguments in this tract appear to be directed to Christian circles opposed to the Church establishment. The Jewish adversary is advised to cite certain verses in Isaiah to "those monks and priests that have taken into their hands the whole land … that rise early and stay late in their church for their payment that is called praebenda" (ibid., 82). The problem of saint adoration and miracles performed by saints is dealt with at length (ibid., 128–32). The Jewish disputant is advised to tell his Christian adversaries that one proselyte to Judaism who accepts the Jewish way of life and the Jewish fate of humiliation and suffering achieves greater glory for Judaism than many apostates to Christianity who gain materially and socially by their apostasy (ibid., 242–3). As treated by Jacob of Venice (Yeshurun, 6 (1875), 1–34) and Jacob b. Reuben (Milḥamot ha-Shem, ed. J. Rosenthal, 1963), this type of manual acquiresa personal imprint. The Sefer ha-Mekanneh (fragments of which have been published in various learned periodicals and articles) is ascribed to three members of the Official family: the father Nathan b. Joseph Official and his sons Joseph and Asher.
With the rise of the Dominican order and the development of Scholasticism, disputation became the principal method of learned disquisition and was frequently used to combat the Albigenses in the south of France.
The disputations held in the countries of Islam were, as mentioned above, much more diversified than those taking place in Christian countries. The dhimmī (protected minorities) numbered many sects and creeds. Philosophical schools also took part in such disputations. While the argument was predicated on almost complete agreement between Muslims and Jews concerning monotheism, and opposition to Christian concepts such as incarnation, the Trinity, and icon worship, a consistently held principle of Muslim argumentation was that the Jews had falsified the original text of the Bible, having added to or subtracted from it. Samuel b. Moses al-Maghribī, an apostate to Islam, fastened the major responsibility on Ezra the Scribe, arguing that the Torah given to Moses, which originally had been in the possession of the levites only, and known orally to the priests, had been destroyed: "When Ezra saw that the Temple of the people was destroyed by fire, that their state had disappeared, their masses dispersed and their Book vanished, he collected some of his own remembrances and some still retained by the priests, and from this he concocted the Torah that the Jews now possess. That is why they hold Ezra in such high esteem and claim thata light appears over his tomb … for he produced a book that preserves their religion. Now this Torah that they have is in truth a book by Ezra, and not a book of God. This shows that the person who collected the sections now in their possession was an empty man, ignorant of divine attributes. That is why he attributed anthropomorphism to God – regret over His pastactions and the promise of abstention from similar acts in the future" (Samuel al-Maghribī, Ifhām al-Yahūd ("Silencing the Jews"), ed. and tr. by M. Perlmann, in: PAAJR, 32 (1964), 55). This attitude caused Maimonides to forbid all religious disputation with Muslims "according to what is known to you about their belief that this Torah was not given from Heaven" (J. Blau (ed.), Teshuvot Rambam (1958), no. 149).Apart from this problem of the authenticity of the text, and the anthropomorphisms the Torah was said to contain in its present state, Muslim-Jewish disputation mainly centered around charges of *anthropomorphism in the Talmud and attacks on the Jewish way of life, as for example made by the Muslim theologian Ibn Ḥazm. On their side the Jews attacked Muhammad as "a madman" and described the Koran as a book full of follies fit only for simpletons. Muslim pride and their oppression of the Jews were also bitterly castigated, in particular after the shock of the Almohad atrocities in the 12th century.
By the 13th century the arguments used in ancient Christian, Karaite, and Muslim debate, and current trends of dialectic, culminated in a series of public disputations between Jews and apostates arranged with ceremonial splendor before royalty and high dignitaries of the clergy. The first great debate of this type to be held was the disputation of Paris (1240) between the apostate Nicholas Donin and the tosafist Jehiel b. Joseph of Paris, which centered on the Talmud. The arguments of the apostate were to a large extent a continuation and development of the anti-talmudic arguments of the Karaites. The Christian side regarded and conducted the disputation as a trial in which the Jews were called upon to defend their errors. It resulted in the burning of the Talmud. In 1263 there took place in Aragon the disputation of Barcelona. The apostate Pablo Christiani led the Christian side. The Jewish side was represented by R. Moses b. Naḥman (Naḥmanides). This disputation centered on the problem of the nature and coming of the messiah. A version of the disputation was recorded by Naḥmanides (published in various editions), who obtained the right to express himself freely in the debates. The apostate "said that he will prove from our Talmud that the messiah prophesied by the Prophets has already come." The nature and authority of aggadah were also a prominent issue. Naḥmanides, like the Jewish opponent of Gilbert Crispin and other Jewish disputants, not only stressed the warlike aspect of the world after the advent of Jesus but also added that war had become integral to feudal society: "And how difficult would it be for you, my lord the king, and for these your knights, if war was no longer learned." The Jew fearlessly questioned the nature of Christian authority and teaching: "The core of the contention and quarrel between the Jews and the Christians lies in that what you state concerning the dogma of the Divinity is a very bitter thing. And you, my lord king, are a Christian, the son of a Christian father and mother. You have listened all your life to what priests, Franciscans, and Dominicans tell about the birth of Jesus, and they have filled your mind, yea, your very bones, with this matter; and it has thus become ingrained in you through habit. Yet that which you believe – and it is the heart of your faith – reason cannot agree to, nature opposes, and the Prophets never said such a thing. Miracle also cannot extend to this … that the Creator of Heaven and Earth and all that is in them shall become an embryo in the womb of a Jewess, shall grow there for seven months, shall be born a tiny creature, shall then grow up and later be given over to his enemies, and that they will sentence him to death and kill him. And you say that later he has risen from death and returned to his first place. Such beliefs cannot convince either a Jew or any other human being. Thus your speeches are made in vain and emptiness, for that belief lies at the heart of our quarrel. But let us also talk about the messiah, if you want it so" (Kitvei R. Moshe b. Naḥman, ed. by H.D. Chavel, 1 (1963), 310–1).
The last of these great spectacles was the long drawn-out disputation of Tortosa (1413–14). The many representatives of Judaism, who were compelled by official command to come to Tortosa and stay there during the disputation, defended themselves with acumen, and, in the difficult circumstances following the massacres in Spain of 1391, acquitted themselves with considerable courage against the attacks and calumnies of the apostate Maestro Hieronymus de Sancta Fide (Joshua Lorki), a former champion of Judaism in discussion and writing. The Sefer Ikkarim of Joseph Albo (see above), who participated in this disputation, is largely a summing up of the Jewish position taken there. In 15th-century Spain, when the Jews were subjected to the pressure of constant persecution and missionary persuasion, an impassioned polemical exchange developed. The sermons and writings of Vincent Ferrer represent the most influential and penetrating presentation of the Christian side. Jewish writings attest that the breakdown of Jewish existence in Christian Spain seemingly contributed historical testimony in support of Christian supremacy, in addition to the traditional Christological argumentation. The persuasiveness of this line of thinking had already been strikingly demonstrated in the 14th century with the conversion of Abner of Burgos (and see apostasy). In the 15th century a series of Jews crossed over to Christianity to wage a bitter war on Judaism. In addition to Joshua Lorki, one of the most prominent was the former Rabbi Solomon ha-Levi, who as Pablo de Santa Maria became archbishop of Burgos. His writings, and the sermons and argumentation of others like him, ultimately sealed the fate of Spanish Jewry. The exchange of views between estranged brethren introduced the genre of letter-exchange into the area of disputation from the 14th century.
On the Jewish behalf arose a witty and penetrating polemicist and satirist, Profiat Duran. In his Kelimat ha-Goyim ("Confusion of the Gentiles") he makes a systematic attempt to show that early Christianity was a conglomeration of mistaken conceptions held by naive persons, exploited by, and supplemented with, the tales and ideas of later-day Christian "deceivers" who had shaped the present form of Christianity. His satirical Al Tehi ka-Avotekha ("Be not Like Your Fathers"),addressed to an apostate, presents apostasy as a process of tiredness and reaction from Jewish rationalistic, intellectual inquiry, coupled with attraction to the mystic doctrines of Christianity. These views are voiced here by the apostate who attacks the Jews: "Your fathers have inherited falsehood and were following foolishness; through overmuch inquiry their intellect has become disturbed … it appears to me [the Jew] that the Holy Spirit hovers over you [the apostate] in nightly vision and talks with you while awake …. Human reason does not draw you to its dwelling, the abode of darkness …. You regard it as alien, cruel as the serpent, the eternal enemy who injures faith … It was a reprobate who said that reason and religion are two lights. Reason has no part with us … it does not know the way towards light … Faith alone soars upward" (Al Tehi-ka-Avotekha, in: Koveẓ Vikkuḥim, ed. by Isaac b. Abraham Akrish, Breslau, 1844, 6b–7a).The physician Hayyim Ibn Musa around 1460 wrote a systematic manual for Jewish disputation, directed formally against the writings of *Nicholas of Lyra and the works of the persecuting apostates and influenced by similar earlier works of Ḥasdai *Crescas and others. He was faced with the weight of Christian cultural achievement and theological literature in Spain in a disputation with a Christian scholar in the presence of the grandee whom he attended as physician: "It happened that we three were sitting together and suddenly the abovementioned scholar said as an opening: 'Sir, surely you know that the Jews have one theological work only, called Moreh Nevukhim, whereas we have so many books on theology that even a palace as great as this would not contain them, if they were stacked from earth to heaven.' To this I remained silent. The lord ordered that I should answer him. Then I said, 'Jews have no need of such books; they need only a single page.'" Hayyim then briefly enumerates what he considers are the self-evident doctrines of Judaism, and continues: "In these doctrines all believe [i.e., Christians also]. Only concerning two or three dogmas is there some doubt. There is total difference in unity that you have made three … As to incorporeity, you say that the son became incarnate, but after his death everything returned to one Divinity … As to the changing of the Law, you say that he came to add and not to diminish, and our Torah says 'Ye shall not add to it neither diminish from it.' There is no quarrel between us that the messiah means salvation. Our dispute concerns only whether 'he has come' or 'he will come.' But to believe that God could not eradicate the Original Sin of Adam except through his own death, that He became incarnate in the womb of a woman, that His wisdom could not find a way to atone for this sin except through His death, that He suffered so much abuse and pain until He died – and that after all this and despite all this men still die and go to Hell, both Christians and the sinners, all the books in the world will not convince intelligent people, and in particular those who have grown up in the way of the Torah … therefore the Jew requires only a single page for theology, for its plain meaning agrees entirely with reason" … "Then both of us fell silent and the lord was amazed at this speech and ordered that we should not talk before him lest we should lead him to doubt; and we remained silent" (his Magen va-Romaḥ, Ms. Heb. Univ. Lib. Heb. 8° 787, pp. 67–68).
The 15th century was also a period of controversialist debate in troubled and divided Germany. The apostate monk Petrus Nigri (Schwarz) preached to the Jews in Nuremberg and tried to dispute with them. Around 1410 Yomtov Lipmann Muelhausen wrote his Sefer Niẓzaḥon (Nuremberg and Altdorf, 1644), which sums up the traditional Jewish line of defense in disputation and also puts forward systematically the arguments for attacking Christian views. Written in a rationalistic vein, it evidences signs of the strains present in the Christian Church at this time. As often occurred, some of his argumentation shows the impress of Christian molds of thought. He writes: "The Christian mocked saying, females who are uncircumcised have no Jewish character. They [the Christian mockers] do not know that faith does not depend on circumcision but is in the heart; circumcision does not make a Jew of one who does not believe correctly, and one who believes correctly is a Jew even if he is not circumcised, although he is guilty of one transgression. And circumcision is not possible with women" (Sefer Niẓẓaḥon, p. 19).
Later in the 15th century, Johanan Luria represented the Jewish side in occasional disputations with courage and skill. Traces of Christian impressions of disputations with Jews are found in the writings of Hans Folz. John of Capistrano complains that "the Jews say [apparently in disputations] that everyone can be saved in his own faith."
At the Renaissance courts of Italy, in the atmosphere of excitement generated by Humanism on the eve of the Reformation, Jewish-Christian encounters often resulted in religious argumentation; sometimes such disputations were formally arranged. Abraham Farissol tells that "our Lord Ercole, the duke of Ferrara, and his wife and brother … ordered me many times to come before their majesties to speak and dispute with two celebrated scholars of that time and place, of the Dominican and Minorite orders. I was compelled, on their order and with their permission, to step out publicly and speak before them many times, politely and temperately … Against my will I obeyed the above-mentioned friars and the demand of certain other scholars, such as the sage bishop of Trani who compelled me to write down in detail, in a book in their language, the questions and answers during the disputation, exactly as they had asked and I had answered them. They said that they wished to see in writing whether there could be any substance in my answers so that they would be able to answer all of them, also in writing, and sum up in a book the evidence and strength of their point of view and prove their assumptions" (cf. HḤY, 12 (1928), 286). The Hebrew version of his disputations, Magen Avraham (largely in manuscript), touches on a variety of subjects. It can be seen that Farissol was in close touch with both heretical "Judeo-Christian" circles among Jews, in particular among the exiles from Spain and Portugal, and heretical Christian "Judaizing," or anticlerical and anti-traditional, circles of Christian society. He quotes the opinions of such circles and sometimes gives information about their leaders. Farissol indicates that leadership is necessary for man's salvation, secular or spiritual (cf. REJ, 105 (1940), 37). In this context, for the sake of argument, under the heading "That the True Messiah to Israel has not yet come," he expresses the view: "I regard it a plausible possibility that they [i.e., the Christians] may call him [Jesus] their messiah and savior. For they as well as he say that after his coming and his teachings they were saved and cleansed from the stain of idolatry. And through him, and his apostles and companions, they have come very near to believing after a fashion in the unity of the First Cause, combining other assumptions and additions and innovations to believe in the Divine Law … coming nearer to the truth than any others, for they have approached him from a very far distance, previously worshipping the dual forces that God hates" (ibid., 38). Farissol proceeds to show at length that Jesus does not fulfill the conditions of the messiah promised to Israel (ibid., 38–40). He also defends Jewish moneylending, arguing that in 16th-century society there could be no social or ethical reason for differentiation between income from money and income from other sources (HḤY, 12 (1928), 290–7). He devoted a detailed chapter to criticism of the Bible translation of Jerome (ibid., 287–90).
With the rise and development of the Reformation in Central Europe, Martin Luther and others among its originators made strenuous efforts to persuade the Jews to join their new brand of Christianity. Their failure turned Luther and Martin Bucer (Butzer) into rabid enemies and persecutors of the Jews. From both the benevolent and the hostile standpoint they frequently had occasion to take issue with Judaism. An anonymous Jew, who early perceived the reliance placed on primary biblical sources in Lutheran argumentation, advised Jewish disputants as a preliminary to state that Jewish monotheism does not need support from texts: "The way of nature, through heart and through mind, obligates man to believe in pure monotheism. One has to believe it necessary that there be a Unity ruling the whole cosmos … And so shall you speak to them in order to purify, cleanse them – if there were [no] book in the world, what could be done [to prove Christianity]? And how can you believe in it now? For their faith is founded on our Prophets and Holy Scriptures. If we have no Prophets, they have no testimony to adduce nor Scripture to expound. Whereas we have a root and foundation, even lacking every book or writing, in nature – for we believe in His unity and greatness as the Creator through His action in first place, and because whatever we do each day cannot be done, except by His will" (cf. Ḥ.H. Ben Sasson, in: HTR, 59 (1966), 388–9).
Not only do the writings of Jewish leaders and authors in the heart of Christian Europe, such as the communal leader Joseph (Joselmann) b. Gershon of Rosheim, the chronicler Joseph ha-Kohen, and the kabbalist Abraham b. Eliezer ha-Levi, contain many impressions of the Reformation movement and its ideas and actions, sometimes in a polemical vein, but there are also remoter echoes of the Christian-Jewish debate. In the first half of the 16th century, the physician Abraham Ibn Migash, living in the Muslim capital of Constantinople, tells, "there came to my house an uncircumcised Spaniard, who esteemed himself wise, and he questioned me." The ensuing dispute on the initiative of the Christian, written down by the Jew, mainly includes traditional elements of "the exegetical core" of Christian-Jewish disputation. The Jew argues in principle against basing exegesis on translations of the biblical text: "Tell me, please, where do you find in any science or teaching that a word is isolated from its meaning, as understood in the language in which it is current and fixed within the frame of that language, to give it a separate meaning taken from an alien language?… This cannot be done, for if you do so the meanings of words and concepts will change and intermingle and will not be understood immediately. Communication will cease." The Christian complains of the pride displayed by Jews in their divine election. He argues that the Law concerning the election is not eternal, and bases his argumentation on talmudic quotations. The disputation shows that the Spaniard had knowledge of Hebrew and rabbinical sources and that the Jew was well acquainted with the principles of Christianity. He ends his written report with a prayer for the conversion of the Christian (Kevod Elohim, Constantinople, 1585, 128b–31b; and see also his anti-Christian remarks and tales, ibid., 124b–8b).
The medieval and Reformation Jewish anti-Christian disputation is brought to perfection in the Ḥizzuk Emunah (ed. by D. Deutsch, 1872) of Isaac b. Abraham Troki. The criticism of the New Testament in this work profoundly influenced Voltaire, according to his own evidence. It was written to strengthen Jews in combating Christian argumentation, being the outcome of the questions that Isaac "disputed with bishops and lords …. My speech with them was mild, to influence and not to anger …. I said nothing for which I could not provide a true biblical quotation …. I am not afraid of the multitude in writing down words of truth and good taste, for the truth is loved by every wise man …. I intended to write down those arguments which are deemed by the uncircumcised to be strong as the work of a great artist, firm and true. With their refutation, the weaker arguments will fall of themselves …. My first proposition is to explain what caused the Christian scholars, with all their great learning in the sciences known to man, to hold beliefs which are foreign to the human intellect and without authentic evidence from the words of the Prophets" (ibid., 9–13). Isaac not only defends the Jewish interpretation of the Bible and points out in detail discrepancies in the Gospels but also finds much to his advantage in the controversy within the Christian camp. The anti-Trinitarian arguments of Simon *Budny and others are used by him against the Trinitarians. The innovations of Lutheranism and Calvinism, the reciprocal persecution of Catholics and Reformers, the low status of the Greek Orthodox community in Catholic Poland, and the prosperity and power achieved by Islam, all these elements perceived on Isaac's horizon are used to rebut Christian argumentation based on Jewish weakness and suffering in the Exile.
The first disputation under conditions which assume a certain equality between the opponents took place in the Netherlands in 1686 between the Jew saac (Balthazar) Orobio de Castro and the Christian Philipp van Limborch, written down and published as an exchange of letters by van Limborch under the title De veritate religionis christianae; amica collatio cum erudito Judaeo (Gouda, 1687). While the discussion largely follows traditional lines, there is a difference in tone; thus the Jewish argument based on the prevalence of war and strife in the world becomes internalized and psychologized. Orobio states that so far as he can see the Christian messiah has not changed men by enabling them to love their neighbors more than they could before his coming (ibid., Ch. 17). Van Limborch, on the other hand, claims that true Christians do not consider Jesus as God, but state only that he was the "Son of God," meaning that he was greater than Moses, being both prophet and messiah.
In 1757, at Kamienec (Kamenets),and in 1759, at Lvov, a disputation took place between Jacob Frank and his followers and the leaders of Polish Jewry. This essentially began as an internal quarrel within the Jewish camp, as the first phase of the debate, at Kamienec, proved conclusively. The theses of the Frankists in the second phase, at Lvov, were dictated to them by their Christian patrons and a result of their own frustration and bitterness. Hence they included, as their seventh point in the disputation, the charge that Jews require Christian blood for ritual purposes at Passover, thus giving currency to the old *blood libel. On this they were answered by the chief Jewish spokesman, Ḥayyim ha-Kohen Rapoport, who cited from Christian documents and authorities refuting the libel, supported by comparisons from outside Europe: "You adduce against us this seventh point and say that you are arguing not with evil intent or out of revenge but only through love of the truth. But this [the blood libel] is not a matter relating to the Catholic Church or its faith. Here we truly perceive your evil intent towards us and your passion for revenge … Can you supply thorough evidence in support of these false claims about a matter in opposition to man's habits and nature which supposes that we, the breed of Abraham, from whom we come and to whom we shall return (after death) require and use human blood? A charge that has not been heard of in Asia, in Africa, or in Europe, or in the whole world against any other nation (even the most heretical one). And this you intended to prove against us?" (M. Balaban, Toledot ha-Tenu'ah ha-Frankit (1935), 256).
Moses Mendelssohn was shocked and dismayed when he was called upon by J.C. Lavater in 1769 either to refute the "evidence for the truth of Christianity" that he, Lavater, had translated into German from the French and published, or to do "what Socrates would have done if he had read this work and found it irrefutable." Mendelssohn, who rejected in principle the demand for public disputation, at first stated that his continued adherence to Judaism, in its present state of humiliation, and his well-known constant search for philosophical truth furnished self-evident proof that he had investigated Judaism and found it worthy to adhere to and suffer for, and that he had found no reason for turning to Christianity, even though he was well aware that this would give him full civil rights and a better social life. He thus uses its humiliation as an argument for Judaism and its ability to confer material advantages on apostates as an argument against Christianity. Mendelssohn claimed that to hold a public disputation would endanger the present status of his brethren in Christian society. He also stated that Judaism is not missionary; the proselyte is warned before he joins it: "he who is not born under our Laws need not live according to them." Mendelssohn regarded missionary work as ridiculous when addressed to intelligent people and pictured it as trying to convert Confucius to Judaism or Christianity.
As the storm raised by Lavater grew, Mendelssohn reluctantly abandoned his opposition to controversial debate. In the spirit of medieval Jewish argumentation he told his adversaries: "A single Christian who agrees to be circumcised proves more for Judaism than a hundred Jews who agree to be baptized prove for the truth of Christianity." In another context Mendelssohn is ironical about the Christian conception that Jesus had abolished the Law given by God, while not having done so expressly. When the Crown Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbuettel respectfully asked Mendelssohn to explain his position, Mendelssohn answered in a clear polemical vein, listing four principles that he would have to accept as a Christian and that reason rejects: "(1) a Trinity in the Divine essence; (2) the incarnation of a God; (3) the physical sufferings of a person of the Divinity which would contravene its Divine majesty; (4) the satisfaction of the first Person in the Divinity through the suffering and the death of the humiliated second Person." These, and similar principles of Christianity, Mendelssohn states, he would not believe even if they were vouched for in the Old Testament. He was also unable to accept the concept of Original Sin. In addition to contending that Jesus did not abolish the Law expressly, he also points out that he, Mendelssohn, was well acquainted with the Hebrew of the Bible and could not find Christological evidence there (M. Mendelssohn, Gesammelte Schriften, 7 (1930), in particular 7–13, 63, 91, 299–304, 321; see also 16, (1929), 142, 148, 150–1).
Relationships between Christians and Jews in the modern environment were faced with the paradox of emancipation of the Jews on the one hand and modern-type antisemitism on the other. Trends toward assimilation were confronted with Zionism. Jews entering the environing society encountered the romantic reaction of nationalist Volksgeist and "Christian state" conceptions. Christian-Jewish discussion enters a new phase in the 20th century. It is held in an arena where a plethora of diverse opinions, each claiming orthodoxy for itself and heresy for the others, are argued both informally and in the public eye.
In this dynamic climate of tension there took place the friendly but trenchant disputation between an apostate devoted to Christianity, the legal historian, philosopher, and sociologist Eugen Rosenstock-Heussy, and the great Jewish philosopher, Franz Rosenzweig, then a young man. During their exchange of letters both were serving in the German army, writing almost from foxhole to foxhole. Between May and December 1916 they exchanged 21 letters, originating from a spirited conversation they had had in 1913. Although intended as a private exchange of views, the correspondence contains in a nutshell the dilemmas confronting a Jewish intellectual at that time. Later, in 1917, Rosenzweig described Rosenstock as "a persistent but inexperienced missionary" and stated in retrospect that the letters "cannot be made into a 'Dialogue,' for they were not; they were simply a bombardment between two learned canons with a lyrical urge." Hence, at least in the view of the Jewish participant, this was a disputation in the subjective medieval sense.
In his letters, Rosenstock-Heussy stresses the traditional Christian arguments that the Law had been abolished and salvation lay in Christianity. Inherent in the character of Jewish Law are self-righteousness and impassivity in contrast to the true spirituality and dynamics of Christianity. Rosenstock regards as presumption the Jewish reliance on their descent and on their continued history as an argument in favor of Judaism. The Jews had crucified Him who came to fulfill the Divine promise that all the Gentiles would come to Jerusalem. Christianity had liberated the individual from the bonds of family ties and national limitations. Present-day Jews live non-Jewish lives, as present-day Christians live non-Christian lives, but to the Christian this discrepancy between the ideal and its realization is part of the cross he has undertaken to carry. What, however, is the sense to a Jew who lives a non-Jewish life, "plays the organ and thinks in a non-Jewish way"; to a Jew without the Temple and without the Law, who does not marry at the age of 18, does not evade army service; to a Jew who makes his girl a Jewess so that he can marry her; where then remain the metaphysics of "the children of Abraham"? Rosenzweig pointed out in his answer that many elements in this attack on modern Jewish life in Germany were derived from a picture taking the "true Jewish life," to mean that represented by the Jews from Eastern Europe, the despised "Ost-Jude." Rosenstock compares the akedah of Isaac by Abraham, the sacrifice of a son, with the sacrifice according to the New Testament whereby he who fulfills the covenant with God sacrifices himself. This is the dividing line. The synagogue has talked for two thousand years about what she has, because she has nothing; Israel in this world assumes the pride of Lucifer. Judaism is in the age of blind senility: "I know that Judea will outlive all 'the Nations,' but you have no capacity for theology, for inquiry after truth, or for beauty. Thou shalt not make any image. At this price the Eternal Jew may live because he hangs on tenaciously to the life granted to him. But he is cursed to live by the sweat of his brow, taking loans everywhere, and making loans everywhere. The Jew dies for no fatherland and for no mission. He lives because his life does not approach the margin of life. He lives in a chimerical reflection of a real life that cannot be envisaged without the sacrifice of death and the nearness of the abyss. That Judea shall live on is dependent on the success of the individual Jew,on the number of his children. He is a paragraph of the Law, c'est tout. You may well believe that you have your own ship, but you do not know the sea at all, otherwise you would not speak in this way, you who are never shipwrecked…. You do not know that the world is movement and change; the Christian says there is day and there is night, but you are so moonstruck that you think that the night view is the only view that exists and you consider as the ideal conception the minimum of light, the night. You consider that this encompasses day and night" (F. Rosenzweig, Briefe (1935), 682). Subconsciously or consciously, Rosenstock the apostate combines medieval Jew-hatred with the images and expressions of modern social and economic antisemitism. He considers that "the emancipation of the Jews is a process of self-destruction, for Europe," in its modern phase. He is violently opposed to Zionism. Even if Hebrew is made into a living language it cannot be saved in the metaphysical sense.
To this attack Rosenzweig answers that "the serious acceptance in reality in which the theological principle about Jewish stubbornness is being worked out is Jew-hatred. You know as well as I that all the realistic explanations of this hatred are only so many fashionable dressings to hide the only true metaphysical reason, which is, metaphysically formulated, that we refuse to take part in the fiction of the Christian dogma that has gained world acceptance because (although reality) it is fiction (and fiat veritas, pereat realitas, for 'Thou God art truth'), and, formulated in the manner of enlightenment (by Goethe in Wilhelm Meister): that we deny the basis of present culture (and 'fiat regnum Dei, pereat mundus,' for 'a kingdom of priests shall ye be unto me, and a holy people');to formulate it in an unenlightened way: that we have crucified Christ and, believe me, we shall do it again any time, we alone in all the world (and fiat nomen Dei Unius, pereat homo, for 'whom shall you make equal to me that I will be equal')" (ibid., 670–1). Thus Rosenzweig points out that the Church is obliged to formulate the concept of Jewish stubbornness; it is part of her dogma. "Do whatever you want, you cannot get rid of us. We live on, 'the Eternal Jew,' out of a feeling of duty to life and not because of hunger for it." He agrees that there is a contrast between the sacrifice of Isaac and the crucifixion, but in a different sense from the apostate's conception. Abraham sacrificed "not a child but the 'only' son and what is more: the son of the promise to the God of that promise … the content of which is being made impossible according to human concepts through this sacrifice. We do not read this pericope on our most solemn Holy Days without reason. It is the prototypal sacrifice, not of one's own individuality (Golgotha) but of the folk existence of 'the son' and of all future sons … Abraham sacrificed all that he could be; Christ all that he was" (ibid., 689). Jewish life is not the way of life of the Polish Jew as depicted by Rosenstock. "Alongside this life, which is amoral in the deepest sense and external, there exists a purely Jewish life, which is internal, one that serves all that has to be worked out internally, not bought from externally, for the sake of the preservation of the people, its 'life.' To this realm belong the internal-Jewish leadership activity, here Jewish theology, here the art of the Synagogue (so even 'beauty'). However much these phenomena may hold of the alien, Judaism cannot but help assimilate them to itself. It does so of itself even if not intending to…. The extent to which the Jew takes part in the life of other nations is not determined for him by himself, but they dictate it for him" (ibid., 691). Rosenzweig relates himself to the metaphor of the ship traveling eternally on high seas. He answers Rosenstock that the Jew may give up everything "except one: hope; before God's seat the Jew, so it is said, is asked only this: Have you hoped for salvation?" (ibid., 693).
This dispute is marked by a deep interpenetration of problematics and symbolism. Rosenstock demands from a Jew that he live a full Jewish life both personally and in family life. He attacks Zionism as an evil manifestation of Judaism. Rosenzweig even as a young man was deeply influenced by Christian symbolism, which permeated his thought. He wrote in 1913, "I thought that I had Christianized my Judaism, in reality I have Judaized Christianity.… I was envious of the Church scepter because I thought that the Synagogue clings to a broken scepter" (ibid., 72). The image of the Synagogue created by Church art haunts Rosenzweig. He explains it as a kind of Jewish symbol: "The Synagogue, immortal, but with a broken staff and a scarf over her eyes, must renounce all worldly work and concentrate all her strength on keeping herself alive and pure from life…. The Synagogue had a scarf over her eyes; she didn't see the world – how could she have seen the idols in it? She looked and saw only with the prophetic eye of the internal, and therefore only the last things and the farthest ones" (ibid., 74–5).
In this exchange of views, rich in symbols and intellectual allusions, the turbulent, disintegrating world of the German-Jewish intellectual of the early 20th century – still craving some sort of integration – is mirrored through its divided souls.
The agonized, semiformal disputation between Karl Ludwig Schmidt and Martin Buber took place as the fate of German Jewry hung in the balance, at the beginning of the road to the Nuremberg laws and the Holocaust. The Christian, who was fully aware of the predicament which Jewry was already facing at the time the disputation was held (Jan. 14, 1933), dismissed the crucial issue by saying: "It would be ostrich policy to attempt to deny the racial biological [rassenbiologische] and racial hygienic [rassenhygienische] problems which arise with the existence of the Jews among other people" (Theologische Blaetter, 12 (1933), 264). He rightly considered it a courageous act to invite Jews to brotherhood with Christians, which he repeatedly urged in this disputation, although only as sons of a Germany united through the Christian conception of the Church as the spiritual Israel (ibid., 258, 259, 264, 272, 273). He was sure that "the Christian message says in this context: God has willed all this; Jesus, the Messiah rejected by his people, prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem. Jerusalem has been destroyed, so that it will never again come under Jewish rule. Until the present day the Jewish diaspora has no center" (ibid., 262). Not only is the ancient Christian argument from Jewish suffering and loss of political existence invoked here in the year 1933 of the Christian era, but it was made with an eye on Zionism, which Schmidt looked upon as even worse than the old simple Judaism: "The modern world reacts to Zionism, which is national or even racist [oder gar voelkischen], on its own side in a racist way; of course it must not be forgotten that racist antisemitismin the modern world is pre-Zionist" (ibid.). Schmidt asks why the Jews participate so actively in revolutions when so much is said about their conservatism (ibid., 263). He declares to the Jews, or perhaps warns them, "that the Church of Jesus Christ has again and again shown her want of this Jewry, demonstrating her patience by waiting in hope that finally the Jews also … will be able to perceive that only the Church of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, is the people of God, chosen by God, and that the Jews should become incorporated in it, if they indeed feel themselves as Israel" (ibid., 264). He assures the Jews that "if and when the Church becomes more Christian than it is today, its conflict with Judaism will also become sharper, as it can and may do now. This sharp conflict has been present from the beginning of the history of Christianity." The conflict expresses the hurt and pain of the first Christians, Jews themselves, at the rejection of the Messiah by their brethren in the flesh (ibid., 272). Schmidt strongly and courageously repudiates the racist attitude against the Jews and glorification of the State. To Buber's assertion that in the present condition of the world the signs of salvation are lacking, Schmidt answers with the hope of the second coming of Jesus (ibid.).
Toward the end of the disputation Buber answered the Christian from the plane of spiritual strength and pride derived from existential and material weakness and humiliation, in the ancient tradition of Jewish disputation: "I live not far from the city of Worms, to which I am bound by tradition of my forefathers; and, from time to time, I go there. When I go, I first go to the cathedral. It is a visible harmony of members, a totality in which no part deviates from perfection. I walk about the cathedral with consummate joy, gazing at it. Then I go over to the Jewish cemetery consisting of crooked, cracked, shapeless, random stones. I station myself there, gaze upward from the jumble of a cemetery to that glorious harmony, and seem to be looking up from Israel to the Church. Below, there is no jot of form; there are only the stones and the dust lying beneath the stones. The dust is there, no matter how thinly scattered. There lies the corporeality of man, which has turned to this. There it is. There it is for me. There it is for me, not as corporeality within the space of this planet, but as corporeality in my own memory, far into the depths of history, as far back as Sinai.
"I have stood there, have been united with the dust, and through it with the Patriarchs. That is a memory of the transaction with God which is given to all Jews. From this the perfection of the Christian house of God cannot separate me, nothing can separate me from the sacred history of Israel.
"I have stood there and have experienced everything myself; with all this death has confronted me, all the dust, all the ruin, all the wordless misery is mine; but the covenant has not been withdrawn from me. I lie on the ground, fallen like these stones. But it has not been withdrawn from me.
"The cathedral is as it is. The cemetery is as it is. But nothing has been withdrawn from us" (ibid., 273).
Israel, strong and united in its national-religious continuity, cannot accept the Christian view that the world has been redeemed with the coming of Jesus. Buber in Nazi Germany declares: "We also know, as we know that there exists air that we take into our lungs, that there exists the plane on which we move; nay, deeper, more truly we know that world history has not yet been probed to its roots, that the world is not yet redeemed. We feel the unredeemability of the world" (ibid., 267). Israel is both a nation and a religion, hence it is different from all other nations and religions. Man's confrontation with God demands nationality "as the precondition of the whole human answer to God. There must be a nation in which the human answer can be fulfilled in life in its entirety, to which public life also belongs. Not the individual as an individual, but only the community as a plurality and unity, working together … can give God the full life-answer of man; therefore … there is Israel" (ibid., 268). The European community of nations has agreed, by accepting emancipation, to accept Jews as individuals. It rejects Jewish participation in creative life as a nation. Hence the stress placed by Zionism on the national aspect as a counter-balance to the prolonged denial of this aspect in modern times (ibid., 270). To Schmidt's question, or insinuation, concerning Jewish conservatism and revolutionary activity, Buber answers that Jewish messianism calls forth both these aspects. Viewed from the standpoint of messianism, every state, however structured, is a problematical model of the divine state in the eschaton. But this same messianism always demands the Jew to see the other, questionable side of the state, its failure in realizations of the ideal: "Israel can never turn away its face from the state; it can never deny it; it must accept it; at the same time it must long for the perfection of the state, which is only so unsatisfactorily hinted at by every realization it achieves. Both the conservative and the revolutionary Jewish attitudes stem from the same [messianic feeling]" (ibid., 271).
To the harsh and uncompromising postulate that the Jews can live in Europe only on acceptance of Christian conditions and conceptions Buber presents his thesis of open dialogue between Israel as a nation and religion, and Christianity as a religion for other nations. He proposes personally "to accept what others believe against our existence, against our consciousness of existence, as their religious reality, as a mystery. We cannot judge its meaning because we do not know it from the inside as we know ourselves from the inside" (ibid., 266). "God's gates are open to all. The Christian need not come to them through Judaism. The Jew is not obliged to go to them through Christianity in order to arrive at God" (ibid., 274). "No man that is not of Israel understands the mystery of Israel, and no man that is not of Christianity understands the mystery of Christianity; but unknowing they may acknowledge each other in mystery. How it can be possible that mysteries exist alongside each other is God's mystery" (ibid., 267).
With these words Buber opened a way to divesting religious disputation of the polemical form it had assumed throughout most of its history and presenting it as an open and friendly meeting, ecumenical in the fullest sense. He had ancient Jewish ideological precedents for looking upon plurality of creeds and customs as "God's mystery" (notably the statements by various Jewish disputants in the 15th to 16th centuries and Maimonides' views on Christianity referred to above). Buber, however, reformulated this conception in modern terms, where it assumes a validity through anguish that disregarded fear, facing danger and humiliation.
Jewish-Christian disputation thus began in the meeting of Justin and Tryphon under the shadow of the Bar Kokhba revolt. The darkness and flames of the Holocaust and the light from Zion may illumine the pilgrimage to ecumenical conversation on equal terms, toward understanding and harmonious living, waiting for God to solve His own mystery in history.
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[Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson]
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.