Page 23 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 21

Basic HTML Version

o sen tha l
— R
elig ious
isputat ions
The Christians compiled such lists for Christological purposes.
T h e Jews did so in order to prove that the Messiah had not yet
The vast literature of Christian Apologiae under the name
Contra or Adversus Judaeos was dealt with by a number of
scholars. A British scholar, A. Lukyn Williams, in his book
Adversus Judaeos,
gives a bird’s-eye view of Christian Apologiae
until the Renaissance. Th is book is highly recommendable (an
Adversus Christianos
of the same nature by a Jewish scholar
is long overdue). T h e French Jewish historian, Bernard Blumen-
kranz, an authority on the attitude of the Church to the Syna-
gogue in the Middle Ages, is the author of a series of studies
Les auteurs chretiens latins du moyen age sur les Juifs
et le Judaisme
which appeared in installments in the
Revue des
Etudes Juives.
The Ma jor Public Disputations
Public disputations were forced upon the Jews, who knew in
advance that the Church would emerge the victor. The moving
spirits behind the scenes were always converts, whom the Church
had to use because they claimed to know the Talmud and Rab-
binic Judaism. Only four major public disputations were staged
in five centuries, from the 13th to the 18th: in Paris, 1240; in
Barcelona, 1263; in Tortosa, 1413-14; in Kamenetz Podolski and
Lwow (Frankists), 1757-59. The main topics were Christology or
proofs that Jesus was the true Messiah. Beginning with the dispu-
tation at Barcelona, the converts adduced proofs from the Talmud
and the Midrash charging Jewish responsibility for the cruci-
fixion of Jesus, and launched violent attacks on Rabbinic Juda-
ism. The last public disputation, that with the Frankists, where
the blood libel was the central issue, reflects on the time and
place. It was the period of the demoralized and decadent Polish
society of the middle of the 18th century, which witnessed the
zenith of fanaticism and clerical rule. It was a black period in
Jewish history. The revenge seeking converts found ready helpers
among the Catholic clergy.
There were more public disputations, but none compared to
those mentioned above, whose historical significance derived
from several factors. First, there was the fame of the participat-
ing Jewish scholars: in 1240, Rabbi Yehiel of Paris; in 1263,
Nahmanides; in 1412-13, a galaxy of scholars and notables; in
1757-59, R. Hayim Rapoport, the chief rabbi of Lwow, and many
community leaders. Secondly, the disputations had disastrous
consequences: in 1240, the burning of the Talmud; in 1263,
Nahmanides’ forced departure from Spain; in 1413-14, mass
conversions of the elite and the deterioration of the Jewish