By Paul E. Szarmach
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Additional resources for Aspects of Jewish Culture in the Middle Ages: Papers of the Eight Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, State
The reprobation of the Jews is based ultimately on the assertion that they rejected Jesus as the Christ. But, as in the New Testament, the Church Fathers project this act of apostasy backward so as to make it the culminating and final act of a history that is a trail of crimes and perfidies. This is not a recent forgivable misstep. The Jews have ever been apostate from God. The rejection and murder of Christ is the foreordained conclusion of the evil history of a perfidious people. " The basic form of this idea is to see Jewish history as a heritage of rejecting and killing the prophets, of which the rejection and killing of Christ, the final prophet, are the climax.
There were no neutral or sympathetic gentile observers in the Middle Ages to speak of. Medieval Jewry had no Tocqueville to describe it. But let us return to the archives. By and large the documents naturally reflect those aspects of the Jews which were of direct interest to the governing powercrown, papacy, duke, bishop, or municipality. When they looked at the Jews, what did they see? In the eyes of the government the Jewish community was essentially the tax-gathering agency of the Jews. It was primarily in order to strengthen this central function that all ruling powers, whether in the Christian West or the Muslim East, granted Jewish communities a latitude of corporate autonomy so broad as to be almost inconceivable today.
In a famous passage in Émile Jean Jacques Rousseau had written: "I shall believe I have really heard the reports of the Jews only < previous page page_12 next page > < previous page page_13 next page > Page 13 when they have a free state, schools, universities, where they can speak and dispute without risk. " That vision found its fulfillment with the establishment of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem at the outset of the British Mandate and, of late, with the universities of Tel Aviv, Bar Ilan, Haifa, and Beer Sheba.