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    Luther & the Jews – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. What has been the Lutheran view of Jews and Judaism?

    Martin Luther, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1529

    A. I was with a busload of people from Brisbane, Queensland, one Sunday in the 1980s en route to the reconsecration of the Jewish cemetery in Toowoomba.

    We passed the building that once was the Toowoomba Synagogue. The edifice originally served a Jewish community but eventually the Jewish presence declined and the synagogue became a Lutheran church. We asked for permission to explore the grounds but were refused. We ended up saying Tehillim in the street.

    I don’t think the Lutherans were being deliberately antisemitic. Maybe we were just a nuisance. Maybe they weren’t certain how to handle us.

    In 1966 the National Council of Presidents of the Lutheran Church in Australia said that especially in World War II, Lutheran media “naively and uncritically published German propaganda against the Jews”.

    Though he wrote a book on the Jewish origin of Jesus, Luther said that synagogues should be burnt down, Jewish houses should be destroyed and Hebrew books confiscated. Jews should not have safe conduct on the roads and rabbis should not be allowed to preach.

    Strangely, he was a serious student of the Tenach and knew some Hebrew. What he had against us was our rejection of Jesus whom he saw prefigured in Hebrew scripture. His language was vituperative, his feelings fierce, his attitudes uncompromising. It is no comfort that he also used hateful language against the Pope.

    He refused to soften his words. He advocated hard labour for Jews as penance for their alleged blasphemy and their effrontery in converting Christians to Judaism. His antisemitic writings reached a peak in his “Jews and Their Lies”. He even blamed God for abetting the supposed theological crimes of the Jews.

    Some Jews read his name as Lo-Tahor, “the impure one”. Yet his was not modern racist antisemitism, which claimed that Jews were genetically evil and cannot be cleansed; the problem was inherently theological. Whichever way it was, Jews were bound to suffer.

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