‘What then shall we do with this damned, rejected race of Jews? First, their synagogues or churches should be set on fire… (Luther,1543, On the Jews and Their Lies)
This is the final submission discussing the theological background to modern Western anti-semitism. Martin Luther represents something of a milestone in Christian anti-Judaism as he himself originally sought to attract the Jews toward conversion by presenting a more humane and accepting alternative to the Church’s anti-Judaism.
In many ways a forerunner of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment, which he preceded by a century, the Great Reformer also had a profound impact on the conditions of existence and even the physical survivability of the Jews.
Luther believed that the Jewish condition, their debased survival, was the result of persecution by the Church. He believed that freed of the burden of the Church they would welcome conversion to his “reformist” Christianity. His failure to attract converts produced an emotional reaction similar to that of Paul, fifteen centuries earlier. Luther’s final writings, On the Jews and Their Lies and Of The Unknowable Name and The Generations of Christ, both from 1543, would have a profound impact on the future conditions of Jewish existence. Almost exactly four hundred years after his death Luther’s writings would be embraced by the Nazi Party as inspiration and justification in their pursuit of a “final solution” to the Christendom’s Jewish Problem.
“Young pigs and Jews lie suckling under her. Behind the sow a rabbi is bent over the sow, lifting up her right leg, holding her tail high and looking intensely under her tail and into her Talmud (Luther, 1543, Vom Schem Hamphoras [Of the Unknowable Name…]).”
Of The Unknowable Name and The Generations of Christ: "Even if they were punished in the most gruesome manner that the streets ran with their blood, that their dead would be counted, not in the hundred thousands, but in the millions… they are the devil''s children, damned to Hell...
“The Jews too got what they deserved. They had been called and elected to be God''s mouth… they however, kept tightly closed their muzzles, eyes, ears, nose, whole heart and all senses, so he polluted and squirted them so full that it oozes from them in all places and devil''s filth comes from them. Yes, that tastes good to them, into their hearts, they smack their lips like swine. That is how they want it. Call more: ''Crucify him, crucify him.'' Scream more: ''His blood come upon us and our children.'' (Matthew 27:25). Perhaps, one of the merciful Saints among us Christians may think I am behaving too crude and disdainfully against the poor, miserable Jews in that I deal with them so sarcastically and insulting. But, good God, I am much too mild in insulting such devils…”
His better known, On the Jews and Their Lies, calls for, among other things, burning synagogues, prayer books “and Talmuds”; “their rabbis must be forbidden under threat of death to teach any more… let us drive them out of the country for all time…,” etc. But the full flavor of Luther’s wrath towards the Jews appears in his lesser-known, Of the Unknowable Name. Between the two they represent what Bishop Nichols refers to as, “[the] concept of ‘severe mercy’ [which] follows from [Luther’s] disillusionment with the prospects of large-scale Jewish conversion.”
In most ways Luther merely restates the one thousand years of traditional anti-Jewish theology. But he also gives sources for his charges: Paul, for “Jews as blind” regarding Jesus; John, for identifying the Jews with Satan; and Matthew, for charging them, and justifying their punishment as deicides. But Luther was also the first “modern” theologian, challenging the primacy of the pope, translating Christian scripture into the German vernacular. “Modern” also were his suggestions presented above for dealing with Christendom’s Jewish Problem.
“At his trial in Nuremberg after the Second World War Julius Streicher, the notorious Nazi propagandist, editor of the scurrilous antisemitic weekly, Der Stumer, argued that if he should be standing there arraigned on such charges, so should Martin Luther.” (Nichols, 1993, pps.270-271)
Most recent in this series, Antisemitism and Jewish Survival:
1. Purity of Blood'' and The Spanish Inquisition (1492)
2. From Black Death to Blood Libels: The Jews did it!
3. The Crusades (1096-1272): ''Rehearsal'' for Holocaust