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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Martin Luther and the Disappointing Jews

Monday was Reformation Day in Germany, when Lutherans commemorate the founder of their church. This year, however, one church in Berlin has been focussing on the great man’s dark side. The Tagesspiegel reported:-

‘At the end of his life Martin Luther wrote some appalling things about the Jews, says Peter von der Osten-Sacken, a theologian at Humboldt University. He will be preaching about this in the Reformation Day service at the Auenkirche. It culminated in the 1543 text “On the Jews and their Lies”, in which Luther calls on the German nobility to drive out the Jews. First they should “burn their synagogues and raze them to the ground and destroy their houses”, “completely abolish their right to travel on the roads” and “force the strong young Jewish men and women to work with flail, axe, spade, distaff and spindle”.

‘“There you have the full programme which the Nazis put into practice” says von der Osten-Sacken. In his earlier writings Luther showed a lot of sympathy towards the Jews, because he was optimistic that he could convert them to Christianity. The reformer’s thinking was that if he showed them how to interpret the Bible correctly, they would realize that Jesus was the Messiah. When he discovered that the Jews were not impressed, his esteem for them turned into hostility and hatred, says von der Osten-Sacken.’

The church is also mounting an exhibition on the Jews in Wittenberg, the “Luther town”, under the Third Reich, showing how the town and its clergy colluded in the Nazis’ exploitation of the Lutheran heritage. Visitors have been commenting that they never knew about this side of Luther. It is not mentioned in the film “Luther”, which was shown on German TV on Monday (I thought Joseph Fiennes was ludicrously miscast, but Mrs Cyrus reckons he did well considering he doesn’t look remotely like Luther). The Auenkirche’s initiative has been welcomed by the head of the German Lutheran Chuch and the President of Berlin’s Jewish community.

I’m intrigued by that raging disappointment of Luther’s. Doesn’t it ring some bells when we turn to today’s ‘progressive’ anti-Zionism? ‘We wanted to give you a place of honour as the ultimate innocent victims – but look how you’ve abused your victimhood by stealing other people’s land and subjecting them to a brutal occupation. You’ve turned into Nazis yourselves! If your children get blown up in buses and cafés you’ve only yourselves to blame!’ So short, for a certain cast of mind, is the distance between absolute innocence and absolute guilt.

4 comments:

Huldah said...

Didn't Mohammed take a similar line to Luther? At first he thought that Jews and Christians would accept the veracity of his teachings and his sympathy with the "People of the Book" is clear in earlier Surahs of the Qur'an.

However, when it became clear that Jews and Christians were not inclined to regard him as "The Seal of the Prophets" or as a prophet at all, then he turned against them, as reflected in the later Surahs. Thus Muslim relations with Jews, Christians and others became dhimmitude at best, pogroms and massacres at worst, Thus it continues in Muslim dominated lands to this day.

Plus ca change, and all that ....

Pastorius said...

I was thinking the same thing as the commenter above. In addition, I was thinking about how, it seems that all those who seek absolute power (Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Mohammed, Bin Laden) inevitably seem to focus their hatred upon the Jews.

Could this mean that Luther was motivated by a search for absolute power? Perhaps. It seems that there was much good in Luther's ideas. And much good came from them.

Maybe he became a victim of his own good press.

Who knows?

Anita Steiner said...

While I knew all this, I am very relieved to know that this is being acknowledged. While Luther highlighted many needed reforms, the question also needs to be asked..'because we liked some of what he said, is it OK to not talk about what we didn't like?'
For me as a Jew, it has always been hurtful that Luther was spoken about in such high regard yet his dark side was hardly spoken about, even though it caused horrible mass murder of Jews

Tim said...

This is a great topic, as much good as Luther was used by the Lord for he was a man at the end of the day and he made some grave errors in his writings. But what grieves me is the continued hatred for Jews by the Church at Large, especially when the Presbyterian and Methodist Church organisations are encourging congregant and christian companies to boycott Israeli universities and dealings with Israeli companies.

The Lord said clearly to Abram those who bless you I will bless and those who curse you I will curse.

Lord have mercy on us.