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


based , after all , on inequality . Social groups that had constituted a numerically small minority often possessed a great deal of power and influence . In a world in which a small aristocracy ruled , a term that denotes a numerical minority could not also connote social or political weakness . Nor was a minority status normally associated with discrimination . Only in the modern world , then , the never fully extinguished “ otherness ” of the Jews , in addition to their relatively small numbers and the story of their prolonged discrimination , made the use of the term “ minority ” appropriate . For centuries the Jews lived a “ diasporic ” existence , with their communities maintaining mutual ties and a degree of solidarity , based on a common religion , recognition of a common past , and the belief in a shared fate . With modernity the ties to their non-Jewish environment were strengthened , and within this new context they were now increasingly seen as a “ minority , ” a segment within their host societies . It is commonly assumed that hatred always characterized relations between Jews and non-Jews , in both the premodern and the modern world . The story of anti-Semitism , “ eternal enmity for the eternal people , ” often replaces the history of the Jews in the lands in which they resided . This hatred , a phenomenon known from antiquity , is surely a central chord throughout the history of the Jews . To the extent that the uniqueness of the Jews is based on the special message of the Jewish religion , with its ritual demands and daily commandments , this singularity was always a source of unease , and at times of actual loathing , among non-Jews . In both the Christian and Islamic worlds , Jews were regarded , not merely as aliens , but as heretics . At the same time , however , both religions clearly relied upon a tradition shared with the Jews . It was on the basis of this tradition that they could conduct a debate – over principles – with Judaism , and it was this tradition , too , that dictated a modicum of mutual tolerance . This minimum of tolerance enabled the Jewish communities to develop a life of their own within their host societies , but it was as separate as possible from the rest of the population . For the Christians , every unnecessary contact with the Jews was a contact with heresy , and separation received powerful confirmation from the age-old hostility towards them , the fear of their “ otherness ” and the repugnance presumably caused by their conduct . For the Jews too , the Halakhah mandated quite inflexible rules governing ties with non-Jews , while isolation also served the Jews as a way of preserving their separate identity and protecting the integrity of their religious-cultural tradition and ethnic uniqueness . It should still be recalled , however , that total Jewish separateness was never fully maintained , not even in traditional society . Contacts between Jews and non-Jews could not be avoided . In the final analysis , the Jewish household was totally dependent on the non-Jewish economic system . Time and again , rabbis were forced to permit contacts of all types and to compromise with practical needs of all kinds . In the legal realm , as well , Jews could not maintain total separation . They were compelled to make use of the general judicial system , even where they were allowed to maintain their own courts for some internal matters , and Christians always needed Jews , as peddlers and money lenders , merchants , physicians , and more . The claims of the spiritual and intellectual isolation of the Jews in their places of residence , or , alternately , Judaism’s unidirectional influence on Christianity , or on Islam , do not withstand the test of modern historiography . The Jewish minority , like any minority , always lived in relation to the majority culture , and recent research tends to emphasize the influence of the external world on both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews . It is argued at times that in a minority-majority situation , the majority culture cannot but leave a mark on the minority culture - if not openly and distinctly , then at least in the world of imagery and symbols . Consequently , while Jewish society preserved its inwardness , and mutual hostility between it and the majority society often prevailed , the two conducted

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