Friday, May 13, 2011

Luther and the Jews, Part 3, Jews harming Christians?

One of the things Luther complains about to Josel of Rosheim  in his letter is the oppression of Christians by Jews-- the reverse of what we usually hear.  My guess is that largely we are talking about money matters, as illustrated in the image in the last post, but also possibly because of supposed interference with converts and the preaching of evangelical freedom.  

Since Jews were restricted from land ownership and participating in the guilds, they tended to be involved in money-lending, medicine and begging, we also heard already.  The right to charge high interest was obtained from the emperor who exacted fees from the Jews in return.  This obviously could and must have led to some very bad situations and enmity, putting the Jew into predatory lending practices. 

How this is viewed is illustrated by Ruth Gay quoting Hans Sachs “Eigentliche Beschreibung aller Staende auf Erden” (True Description of all the Classes on the Earth),  Frankfurt , 1568:

It is not for nothing that I am called a Jew.
I lend only half the money against a pledge.
And if the pawner cannot redeem it in time
Then I get that as well.
In this way I ruin the loose-living mob
That wants only to feast, to gorge, and to drink.
Yet my trade does not diminish
Since I have many brothers like me.
 Hans Sachs’s True Description of all the Classes on the Earth (1568) shows where the Jew stood in sixteenth-century society.  The ranking begins with the pope and descends through kings, emperors, princes, merchants, craftsmen, and agricultural laborers, ending with a representation of three fools.  Somewhere near the end of this catalog we find “the Jew”, who is depicted as a moneylender.  Although he may have been regarded with scorn, the poem attributed to him reveals that he had his own low opinion of his clients.
 (Ruth Gay, p. 166.) 

This "low opinion" of the clients is interesting.  It reveals disdain that needs to be present to have such a relationship of lending at high price.  You cannot be a compassionate pawner or loan shark.

Wikipedia simply has this on “loan-sharks”: 
A loan shark is a person or body that offers unsecured loans at high interest rates to individuals, often enforcing repayment by blackmail or threats of violence.
Throughout history, usury laws made loan sharks commonplace.[clarification needed] Many moneylenders skirted between legal and extra-legal activity. In the recent western world, loan sharks have been a feature of the criminal underworld, but are otherwise rare. Loan sharks are common in theUK[citation needed]and among the Sicilian Mafia[citation needed] and Triads in China.[citation needed]

We see that “clarification is needed” in connection with "usury", but I think we have provided some here.  One does wonder what were the means employed for actually collecting money.  We recall also the story of Lippold, (who was tortured and quartered in the end).  He had oppressed and ruined his own family and community members with his practices.

So, no doubt, whether more or less legitimate, and if even practiced in a reputable manner, the arrangement was obviously open to profound abuse.  And even if the reputation might have been good, the change of favour of a noble could destroy your life.  On both sides, the unfairness in the system could spill over into very bad blood. Neither side could easily carry much love for the other.  What a predicament.  Too bad Josel of Rosheim could not negotiate something else from the emperor rather than this permission to charge high interest rates.

One can even imagine that a kingdom such as Saxony would strive to keep such individuals out of its territory for simply such reasons or rumors. Every which way the kingdom was being gouged. I am thinking also of the church with its money grabbing theology of indulgences, masses and so on.  The country was virtually being plundered.  Saxony did not even have such fair rules and protection from the papal church as France had.  (I've read this several times, but don't know the details of this.)  

Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain had already before this time expelled the Jews from their lands.  Luther was not the first one to suggest expulsion.  Expulsion was something less severe than simply killing, but many were killed by these expulsions.  It seems like none wanted to see how serious expulsion is.  Reading about the Jews of Spain made me cry.

The Spanish Jews, gleaning from the second report, were land owners and artisans, thus one would expect that they were not money-lenders.  The reason given by Isabella and the Inquisition  for the expulsion was that the Jews were interfering with converts to Christianity and preventing them from becoming good Christians.  God had put the idea into the King's head and therefore the expulsion was right, said Isabella.

Luther cites a similar concern for Christians and worry over Judaising.  We read about this in Brecht.
“In the fall of 1532 Luther had already learned, probably from Joachimsthal, that a new sect had arisen in Moravia, which insisted on keeping the Sabbath instead of the Sunday.  Presumably, its adherents came from circles of the biblicistic Anabaptists.  Nothing is known about a direct connection between the Sabbatarians and the Jews.  Neither can any proselytizing by the Jews be established.  It is possible that Luther may have received exaggerated reports.  For him, the action of the Sabbatarians was a relapse into Jewish legalism.  His rejection of Josel of Rosheim’s request for support with the elector was connected with the spread of the Sabbatarians in Moravia, who reportedly were practicing circumcision as well.  This was significant proof for Luther of the aggressive obduracy of the Jews.  In February 1538 Luther was lecturing on Genesis 17, the institution of circumcision.  The significance of this eternal covenant of God with Israel was a problem for him.  In this context he had to take issue with the Sabbatarians in order to respond to their agitation.  Out of this exegetical work grew his letter Against the Sabbatarians, published in March.  It was intended for Count Wolf Schlick of Falkenau (near Karlsbad), who had asked Luther to supply arguments with which to refute the Sabbatarians.  Luther advised against a direct exegetical confrontation with the Jews, which could hardly win the Jews, for in Luther’s experience of years past, they would when necessary retreat from the text of the Bible to the rabbinic interpretations.  What was necessary, therefore, was to strengthen Christians. “ (p. 337, 338.)
Hence we see that Luther’s perception was that one could not reason with the Jews, since that had been tried, and that Christian teaching was under attack by them.  He had lost hope of discussing these matters with the Rabbis.

In the next post, we will look at Luther’s frustrations with the Rabbis and the disagreements over Biblical interpretation, especially Messianic prophecies.  This was, of course, the centre of the problem theologically. 


carmeljamaica said...

There is at least one Jew whom I know who is harming a Christian. Her name is Jenna. I'm not even sure she is a Jew, because from what I have heard, someone told me she is an unbeliever. And ever since she came, she has wrecked havoc, causing my beloved to lose his sense of good reason, and what it means to truly love, and what it means to be a follower of Christ. He is in deep shit, and unless he turns away from this dangerous road, he might forever be trapped there.

Brigitte said...

Dear Carmel: we can see that you are deeply worried for someone, but this is not the place for personal examples of this sort. We are trying to get some context for Luther's very harsh pamphlet. Your beloved has his own mind and you need to pray the Holy Spirit to help him sort things out. I am sorry for your distress and hope things will work out according to God's will.