Monday, July 18, 2005

Johannes Reuchlin, Chassid.

Johannes Reuchlin (1455-1522) was a German humanist and Hebrew scholar. He was also one of the chassidei umos ha-olam according to R. Yisrael Lipschutz, the Tiferes Yisrael on Pirkei Avos. Aside from being a really smart guy and a talmid of the Seforno, he was also a passionate defender of the Talmud when it was under attack from non-Jews seeking to discredit it as a book of blasphemy.

In the words of Wikipedia
Many of his contemporaries thought that the first step to the conversion of the Jews was to take away their books. This view was advocated by the bigoted Johann Pfefferkorn (1469-1521), himself a baptized Jews. Pfefferkorn's plans were backed by the Dominicans of Cologne; and in 1509 he obtained the emperor's authority to confiscate all Jewish books directed against the Christian faith. Armed with this mandate, he visited Stuttgart and asked Reuchlin's help as a jurist and expert in putting it into execution. Reuchlin evaded the demand, mainly because the mandate lacked certain formalities, but he could not long remain neutral. The execution of Pfefferkorn's schemes led to difficulties and to a new appeal to Maximilian.
In 1510 Reuchlin was summoned in the name of the emperor to give his opinion on the suppression of the Jewish books. His answer is dated from Stuttgart, October 6, 1510; in it he divides the books into six classes-apart from the Bible which no one proposed to destroy--and, going through each class, he shows that the books openly insulting to Christianity are very few and viewed as worthless by most Jews themselves, while the others are either works necessary to the Jewish worship, which was licensed by papal as well as imperial law, or contain matter of value and scholarly interest which ought not to be sacrificed because they are connected with another faith than that of the Christians. He proposed that the emperor should decree that for ten years there be two Hebrew chairs at every German university for which the Jews should furnish books.
In others words, he was quite a guy.

These days, wonderful people like Jim Davila continue the work of Reuchlin, albeit in less dramatic fashion.

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