Among other articles, the most recent issue of Modern Judaism includes Yosef Salmon, “Christians and Christianity in Halachic Literature from the End of the Eighteenth Century to the Middle of the Nineteenth Century.” The article is only available to subscribers, but here’s the free extract:

In his book Exclusiveness and Tolerance: Studies in Jewish-Gentile Relations in Medieval and Modern Times, Jacob Katz outlined Ashkenazi rabbinic attitudes and conduct toward Christians from the time of Rabbeinu Gershom Me’or Ha-Golah until and including Moses Mendelssohn.1 In this article, we will try to fill in the gaps that we believe exist in Katz’s treatment of the subject.

As a rule, the Jews in the Middle Ages related to the Christians on the theoretical level as idolaters, while they were forced on the practical level to adopt a more moderate attitude toward the Christians for economic reasons.2 The generalization of viewing Christianity as an idolatrous religion went through a process of qualification within the context of the practical needs of the Jewish community during the Middle Ages, such as the permissibility of transacting business with Christians on their holy days. These qualifications were based on the position of Rav Yochanan that “Gentiles in the Diaspora are not actually idolaters, but merely maintain the practices of their ancestors”, or as alternatively formulated by Rashi and other halachic authorities in the Middle Ages: “Gentiles in our times are not well versed in the nature of idolatry.”3 Another qualification voiced by the Tosafists, and reiterated in the 17th and 18th centuries, indicated that “The sons of Noah are not prohibited regarding ‘shittuf’ (i.e., belief in the Trinity).” In other words, only the Jews are required to believe in absolute monotheism, in contrast to others, such as the Christians, whose belief in the Trinity does not constitute a violation of the prohibition of idolatry.4 These qualifications, which already appeared in rabbinic literature in the Middle Ages, did not flow from a principled approach but were designed to create leniencies in matters of business relationships with idolaters that were forbidden to Jews by Talmudic law, and that were untenable for the conditions within which the Jews lived in the Middle Ages as a minority group within a Christian majority.


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