The Secularization of Relations between Jews and Non-Jews: An Introduction


a constant dialogue with each other . The historian Israel Yuval argues , for instance , that in the intimate world of the small medieval town , it was impossible for Jews not to be familiar with Christian rituals and texts , and even assimilate to some degree , as he puts it , the Zeitgeist of the Christian world . Even in periods that lacked an ideology of cooperation and tolerance , there was continuous contact between Jews and their surroundings , albeit at times only in the “ subconscious realms of culture . ” Yuval brings proofs for this from the Christian liturgical motifs that entered the accounts of Jewish martyrdom during the time of Crusades , from the Passover narratives that developed alongside and in mutual reference to those of the Christian Easter , and from the joint use made by members of both religions of a variety of symbols . In regions of Muslim culture , mainly in pre-Reconquista Spain , an open dialogue was conducted between Jews and Muslims , mainly in the fields of science and philosophy ; however , its influences were evident in poetry and literature , too . The dialectic of openness and isolation had a dynamic of its own . The Reformation and the Counter-Reformation tended to intensify the need for isolation , but upon the conclusion of the religious wars , a measure of tolerance was clearly required everywhere . Jews benefited from this trend , although the disposition to compromise and reconciliation was not the result of an improvement in attitudes towards them . In fact , manifestations of Jew-hatred , whether based on theological or socioeconomic factors , were never absent during any phase of this era . But such manifestations were always accompanied by mutual contacts , the absorption of common values , and parallel responses to changing situations . It was only during the Enlightenment that a profound shift in this dynamic dialectic took place . Deism , prevalent at the end of the seventeenth century mainly in England , sought to erode the differences between all religions , which it would replace with a shared faith , one that was based not on revelation but on natural law and the power of reason . This movement , however , had only marginal influence on attitudes towards Jews or on their status in society . Nor did the new science that then received its paradigmatic form in Newtonian physics , and which served as a substitute of sorts for traditional religion , have any clear influence in this respect . The new rationalism did not seem to contradict anti-Semitism . Even some of the most enlightened philosophers in eighteenth-century France were not free of anti-Jewish views , despite their declared openness and tolerance . A case in point is the position of Voltaire , who presumably relied on a secular reading of the Scriptures in his asserting the fundamental barbarism ingrained in Jews and in the Jewish people . Others , too , using a scientific , secular reading of the Hebrew Bible , employing the tools of philology and the fledgling archaeology of the time , usually maintained a negative attitude towards Judaism and the Jews in their midst . The work of the noted Orientalist from the University of Gottingen , Johann David Michaelis , for instance , is a case in point . His six-volume work on “ The Law of Moses” ( Mosaisches Recht ) endeavored to explain how the tribal life in the sunlit Near Eastern deserts fashioned the character of the Jewish people , which he claimed could not be changed . Jews would continue to be foreign and different in every European context , he insisted , and their loyalty can never be trusted . To be sure , others viewed Biblical Judaism in a more positive light . For Johann Gottfried Herder , for instance , the early Hebrew poetry reflected a singular , marvelous national society , worthy of emulation . At the same time , Herder was careful to distinguish between the Jews of the past and those of the present . The latter , so he hoped , would eventually become Europeans in every respect , but only when they abandoned their anachronistic religion . Even among those known for their support of equality and liberalism , such as Wilhelm von Humboldt , hope for progress in regard to the Jews often depended on the old and well-known demand for their baptism .

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