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Luther's Relationship with the Jews

The jews pig The stone relief concerns the so-called "Judensau". This derogatory portrayal of the Jews in intimate contact with the "unpure" swine was common in the Middle Ages. The inscription "Schem Ha Mphoras" refers to the belief of Jewish mystics that revelations of the nature of God could be found in secret combinations of numbers and words. According to the Jewish Cabbals, the sequence of letters "Schem Ha Mphoras" possesed a universal power. For this reason these words were considered especially holy and proteced from the gentiles.

The Time

Luther lived during a very anti-semitic time. Jews were discriminated against; they lived in ghettos and their activities were restricted. The sovereign decreed, as needed, special treatment of Jews or expulsion of all Jews from his sphere of influence. In this case the Jews had to flee to another area, where they lived until they got kicked out again. The local business people, merchants/traders and bankers got rid of the unwanted competition with the help of their sovereigns.

The expression of this anti-semitism, other than through expulsion, also took the form of anti-semitic portrayals such as the so-called 'Jews' Pig (Judensau)' on the City Church in Wittenberg.

Luther's Enthusiasm for Mission Work

Luther did not always show himself to be a hopelessly anti-semitic man. In his 1523 work "Jesus Christ was born a Jew" he makes reference to the origins of Christianity.

He wanted to convert the Jews to the belief he found after years of searching. Luther wanted the Jews to recognize and confess the "true belief".

"...that one burns their synagogues"

Because the aging reformer did not see this 'return to the right path' during the following years, he turned bitter. Strong polemic works emerged at this point, like The Jews and their Lies.

A further reason for Luther's anti-semitic position, other than his disappointment with the Jews for not accepting his "true belief", could be that in many respects his education was still prisoned in the Middle Ages.

Luther's anti-semitic statements were often used as a basis for the theories of ideologists in the following centuries.

Copyright (c) KDG Wittenberg 1997, 2001
Copyright (c) KDG Wittenberg 1997, 2001

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