Christoph Wallich und Ich (und Ich und Ich)
Prof. Dr. Daniel Stein-Kokin
Introduction: Destination Greifswald
SOMETIME AROUND 1706, Christoph Wallich (1672-1743) arrived at the University of Greifswald. Born and raised in the historic Jewish community of Worms,Wallich seems to have served as chazan (cantor) in Frankfurt-am-Main before undertaking his conversion to Protestant Christianity and making his way to the city on the Ryck. In Greifswald, Herr Wallich came under the tutelage of Johann Friedrich Mayer (1650-1712), rector of our dear university and one of the most prominent theologians of his day. At Mayer's bidding, Wallich set up a model synagogue in his mentor's private home library (no longer extant, the house stood at today's Domstraße 14) and wrote the related treatise Die Mayersche SYNAGOGA in Greifswalde,
a polemical introduction to Jewish rite and ritual. Then, as now, there was no Jewish community in Greifswald, and thus little opportunity for budding theologians to encounter Judaism first-hand. Thus the aim of "Germany's First Jewish Museum," as Christfried Böttrich has recently proposed we might call it1, and its accompanying guide-book was the presentation of Jewish belief and practice to Wallich's fellow theology students.
We know regrettably little as to the actual use of this unique institution. Perhaps it was not much used at all, since in 1712 it was removed in the context of the posthumous dissolution of Mayer's library, making its way first to Leipzig, then to Dresden, before disappearing altogether.
Some three hundred years later, in 2010, I (1975-) embarked on a perhaps even more peculiar journey to Greifswald, at just about the same age as Wallich. A committed Jew and not at all German, I moved from just inland from the Pacific Ocean to just off the Baltic Sea, from the far west coast of the USA to the eastern edge of Germany, in order to teach Protestant Theology Students about Jewish practice and belief. And while I have no plans to set up a model synagogue, I do regularly speak about Jewish practices in my lectures and have arranged for my students to attend ewish prayer services in Berlin.
Wallich and Stein Kokin: in some respects the stories could not be more different. I am privileged to live in an age in which it is possible for a Jew, as Jew, to play an active role in the life of a Protestant Theology Faculty. I can take for granted a genuine respect for and curiosity about Judaism on the part of students, professors, and many in the local community. Indeed, in the rare Hebrew books of the Dalman Sammlung I have in many respects closer and easier access to the treasures of Jewish learning than ever before in my professional life. And yet our two stories both raise the question of the place of Jewish Studies, and of Jews, in the context of Christian Theology Faculties, an issue which as yet to be fully resolved, as a recent position paper of the Wissenschaftsrat indicates. For in the very same year in which I arrived in Greifswald, the council advised against the presence of Jewish studies within Christian theology faculties.2
More generally, these two cases raise the question of the study of Judaism in Christian contexts altogether, an issue with a much longer and more complicated history. Those of you reading this are of course familiar with the Christian side of the equation: on one hand, the desire to master Hebrew and Jewish sources in order to better understand the roots of Christianity; on the other, the concern about the possible Judaizing to which such endeavors could lead. I explored these issues myself in my "Antrittsvorlesung" last May, albeit in one highly particular context, that of the Italian Renaissance.
The Gentile and the Torah
Jews have also struggled with their side of this dilemma, the question of how to balance the universal implications of God's revelation of the Torah with the fact of His particular covenant with Israel. In short: to what degree is Torah (understood here in the widest possible manner as embracing both its written and oral forms, that is to say, the entirety of the Jewish legal and homiletic tradition) the unique property of the Jewish people? And to what degree should it be shared with others?
To be sure, the prophet Isaiah anticipates that at the end of time all the nations of the world shall ascend "to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may instruct [them] in His ways, and that [they] may walk in His paths. For instruction shall come forth from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:3).
Nevertheless, Psalm 147, recited each morning in the Jewish liturgy, inclines for the here and now in the direction of Israelite exclusivity. This text frames God's unencumbered intervention in nature, for example His "[sending] forth His word to the earth" (v. 15) and his "[laying] down snow like fleece" (v. 16), by His firm maintenance of the border between Jew and Gentile. For God has "made the bars of [Jerusalem's] gates strong," blessing the children residing within (v. 13). Most importantly, as we read in the Psalm's concluding declaration, "He issued His commands to Jacob, His statutes and rules to Israel. He did not do so for any other nation; of such rules they know nothing. Hallelujah!" (vv. 19-20). Thus emphasizing the distinction between God's engagement with nature as a whole and his specific relationship with Israel alone among mankind, the Psalmist nonetheless discerns no tension or contradiction. On the contrary, the revelation of Torah to Israel in fact represents the culmination of God's worldly role, for whereas there are three references in the singular to God's "word" and "command" vis-à-vis nature, Israel's "commands," "statutes," and "rules" are all referred to in the plural.
Throughout the history of Rabbinic Judaism, however, there has been substantial discussion concerning the permissibility of the non-Jewish study of Jewish sources and practice of Jewish rites. Already in the Babylonian Talmud (finally redacted in perhaps the seventh century of the Common Era) we encounter efforts to delineate the proper degree of Gentile access to Jewish learning and practice. What of the non-Jew who wishes to practice the Sabbath? What of the non-Jew who desires to learn Hebrew? What of the non-Jew eager to "engage" (osek), however we might define this, with Torah? What are non-Jews allowed to learn about Judaism? What should they learn? Without saying so explicitly, in adjudicating such questions
the Rabbis are in essence fleshing out the particular and universal significance and implications of God's covenant with Israel. "Two Jews, three opinions" goes the well-known adage, and this issue constitutes no exception.3 Indeed, the respective positions advanced in Tractate Sanhedrin 58b of the Babylonian Talmud stand about as far apart as possible.
According to Rabbi Johanan (3rd century CE), "the idol-worshipper (lit. the star-worshipper) who engages in Torah deserves death," for it is written: 'Moses commanded the Torah to us as an inheritance' (Deut.
33,4).4 To us and not to them." In seeking to understand this harsh penalty, the anonymous redactor concludes that the non-Jew who studies or practices Torah is guilty of robbery of Israelite property. Or, according to an alternative interpretation which reads the term for "inheritance" (morasha) as "betrothed" (meorasa),5 he commits adultery with Israel's spouse, the Torah. Since both theft and adultery are among the Noahide ommandments, the seven laws incumbent upon all mankind, the non-Jew can justifiably be held account for his behavior.
By contrast, Rabbi Meir (2nd century CE) asserts that "even the idolator who engages in Torah is like the High Priest. For it is said, referring to the keeping of God's laws and rules that 'man will keep them and live by them' (Leviticus 18:5). Priests, Levites, and Israelites are not mentioned here but [only] man." In other words, far from deserving punishment, the non-Jew who expresses interest in the Torah should be accorded the greatest imaginable respect. According to one prominent contemporary scholar, R. Meir's statement points to the xistence of an early rabbinic school of thought which regarded Torah observance as obligatory for all mankind.6 Be that as it may, the anonymous redactor of the Talmud resolves the contradiction between these two views by referring once more to the Noahide legislation, suggesting that R. Meir's praise refers specifically to the Gentile who follows this particular set of laws. In other words, Gentiles are only permitted to study and practice Torah so long as it is relevant to the fulfillment of their special requirement. This leads, albeit only implicitly, to a rather paradoxical situation, for the very same rabbinic concept which permits Gentile engagement with Torah obliges punishment when this engagement exceeds the appropriate limits.
Though not explicitly referred to in this discussion, it is quite likely that Christianity's appropriation of the title of "Israel" lies in the background of R. Yohanan's insistence upon Jewish ownership of Torah. A particularly fascinating indication to this effect comes from the Tanhuma, a midrashic collection probably composed after the eighth century:
R. Judah bar Shalom stated: When the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses ‘Write down!,’ (Ex. 34:27) Moses asked for the Mishna7 to be in writing. But because the Holy One, blessed be He, foresaw that the Gentiles would translate the Torah and read it in Greek, and thereupon they would declare ‘We are Israel,’ and the scales would then be even, so the Holy One, blessed be He, said to the nations:
‘You aver that you are My children? I only know that they who possess My arcana are My children.’ Which are these? The Mishna.”8
Here, in seeking to explain why a fundamental text like the Mishna was initially only disseminated orally (even though eventually written down, texts such as the Mishna are still considered as "the oral Torah"), the Tanhuma ascribes this to divine foresight, to anticipation of the fact that the Bible would eventually be translated by Christians, who would accordingly come to think of themselves of Israel (Interestingly, this text simply glosses over the fact that it was Jews who were the first to translate Scripture into Greek). But only those with access to God's secrets will presumably know how to make proper use of the Torah and thus to merit the title "Israel."
This text is also quite paradoxical, seemingly inverting the meaning of the written text. Precisely where God tells Moses to "write down" all that he has just said, as if to certify that there is no hidden transcript, the oral tradition reveals that Moses' request to do so was denied. Of course, the fact that the anecdote reported by Tanhuma is not to be found in the book of Exodus constitutes the best evidence that the Written Torah is by no means the whole story. In addition, it is quite ironic that the revelation of the Mishna's arcane status is, as it were, first revealed to the Gentiles, and only after the fact, via this source, to Israel. This passage is also a fine indication of the ahistorical character of the Oral Torah, or better, how all subsequent time is collapsed back onto the initial moment of revelation at Sinai. God's retort to the Gentiles only becomes necessary from the time at which they begin to translate Scripture and lay claim to the title of "Israel," and yet God's response seems to play out while Moses is atop Mt. Sinai.
One final paradox concerns the role of the Greek language in this source. Though clearly concerned about the cultural threat posed by Greek, it is noteworthy that the very term for the arcana which distinguish Israel
from the Greek claimants to this title is "mistorin," a Greek loan-word (and source of the English "mystery" and the German "Mysterium"). In other words, the Tanhuma places in God's mouth a Greek term, used to then reject the claimants who read Torah in that very language. As if to acknowledge that the rejection of Greek culture requires the very use of that culture's vocabulary and concepts!
On the basis of this passage from the Tanhuma, one can understand how in the context of Jewish-Christian competition and polemic there was a desire to restrict access to Jewish sources. Nonetheless, while successfully bridging the positions of R. Johanan and R. Meir, the Talmudic passage we considered hardly resolves matters, for it fails to clarify what exactly one might need to study in order to fulfill the Noahide laws. For one sixteenth-century Italian Jewish sage, each Noahide Law in fact stands for an entire category of legislation, such that "it will be necessary that a Gentile, a son of Noah [to study] 'Sifrei and Sifra and the entire Talmud,'"9 a stock phrase referring to general mastery of rabbinic literature. A near contemporary based in Poland argued, on the contrary, against teaching the non-Jew even a single letter of the Hebrew alphabet. As if often the case, far from resolving a legal debate, the Talmud merely set the stage for continued discussion and disagreement.
But to what degree is the traditional rabbinic discourse concerning the question of teaching Judaism to non-Jews at all relevant in a contemporary theology faculty? The ideal of objective academic research clearly renders the notion of restriction of access to sources untenable. In addition, the increasing willingness of Christianity to recognize the continuing validity of God's covenant with Israel implies that there is little to fear from Christian access to such texts. And yet--perhaps inevitably, given the majority/minority relations between Judaism and Christianity--echoes of the older sensitivities endure. As the sole Jew in a Christian faculty, I find myself constantly secondguessing the texts I choose to present and the manner in which I do so. Am I successfully conveying the variety of viewpoints within Judaism? Perhaps I am too much presenting my own positions or overcompensating to avoid doing so? Am I subconsciously presenting only Judaism's prettiest side, or am I unnecessarily hanging its dirty laundry out to dry in order not to feel disingenuous?
Maybe I should leave off my Messianism Seminar syllabus that passage from the Talmud about the Rabbis killing Bar Kokhba after discovering that he wasn't really the Messiah?10 Not such a great source for our ecumenical age; people might get the wrong idea. Or what about the part in Judah Halevi's Kuzari where he says that Jews have a different kind of soul from non-Jews?11 I don't believe that, so why should I teach it? On the other hand, if Thilo Sarrazin can make similar such statements and still stay in the SPD (why of all peoples did he make such a big deal about Jews and Basques, by the way?12), why should the Kuzari be removed from the curriculum? After all, it's one of the great literary monuments of Medieval Spanish-Jewish culture. Such questions come up epeatedly...
KSD: Like right now in fact.
DSK: Excuse me? Who are you?
KSD: I'm you.
KSD: Yes you; a bit switched around of course, but otherwise you.
DSK: But how can there be two of us?
KSD: Didn't you just write, "two Jews, three opinions?"
DSK: But I'm just one Jew.
KSD: In Greifswald you're on your own, so you get me to keep you company. Now as I, I mean we, we're saying,
such questions come up repeatedly. Namely, was it really necessary to write about that Tanhuma passage?
Sure it's interesting, but for all the fun you had drawing out its subtle paradoxes, you passed over the main point.
DSK: You mean that part about being God's children?
KSD: Of course. What do you with that? And don't try to tell me we're out of space, there's still plenty of time before we get to 22000 characters (Herr Rehm anyway said there's a bit extra space in this KVV).
DSK: Don't forget, that's just one source, clearly written at a time of deep anxiety for the integrity of Judaism in the face of the growth of Christianity. Otherwise the inconvenient fact that it was Jews who first translated the Bible into Greek wouldn't have been swept under the carpet.
KSD: Again, you are side-stepping the main issue. Judaism combines a revelation of universal implications with a particularistic identity. That's an explosive combination. Why have we and why do we continue to insist on it, despite all the separations and resentments it causes? Or, put another way, how can Judaism in all good conscience say to the world: "God chose us and not you. We have all these special things we need to do; you just have these seven that our rabbis have derived from the Bible (not that they have any say as to whether you listen or not; indeed you probably don't even hear them in the first place)."
DSK: Wait a minute, though: you're making it sound as if being chosen is necessarily a good thing, a sign of special status. It isn't: God didn't choose us because we were better, nor did his choosing us make us better--even a superficial reading of the Tanakh ought to make that clear. Anyway, we didn't have much choice in the matter. You know full-well the midrash about Sinai being suspended over the Israelites: our ancestors had about as much choice as the East Germans in the 1963 election.13
KSD: Let's not get too political here...
DSK: Okay, fine. The point is: being chosen is not about being better, it's about having special responsibilities.
KSD: That sounds like something a nice Reform rabbi would say.
DSK: So, Reform Judaism is Judaism for the modern era.
KSD: Oh yeah, then why is Reform stagnant whereas Orthodoxy enjoys a demographic resurgence?14
DSK: Numbers schmumbers, the point is that one doesn't need to consider chosenness as a sign of elitism.
KSD: But are you really being honest with yourself when you say that? Isn't it elitist to say that I have special duties and responsibilities that you don't? DSK: Elitist? Who are you kidding: having to wash all your meat dishes by hand because your dishwasher is milchig? Packing up your entire kitchen every year in preparation for Pessach (and then doing that again once the holiday is over). Never mind never getting to experience what currywurst tastes like.
KSD: Actually I'm more curious about Thuringer Bratwurst.DSK: You get my point!
KSD: But I'm not sure you get mine: leave aside the exact nature of the duties, however onerous or inconvenient they might be (agreed, there is a reason we speak about the "yoke of the mitzvot"15). The point is: is it not inherently elitist to say that God has imposed special duties on you that he has not imposed upon me? Isn't it a bit like the "separate but equal"16 fiction in American schools prior to desegregation.
DSK: Okay, fine, if you really push me on the matter, I have to agree. But isn't it problematic to insist upon having the essential truth for everyone?
KSD: You're talking about the competition right?
DSK: I don't know if "competition" is really the right word, they pretty much have us beat (circa 2 billion Christians and Muslims vs. twelve million or so Jews).
KSD: Stop always talking numbers, the truth is not a democratic election
DSK: I think you need to review the "Oven of Akhnai"17 story my friend! Anyway, yes, I am talking about them, both of them. Some of them are making a nice exception for us because they feel bad, but basically they say have the truth for all mankind.
KSD: Because they care about all mankind, they want all mankind to know the way, to see the light, to be saved, to be one. What's wrong with that?
DSK: In principle, nothing, though I do think unity overrated...
KSD: I couldn't agree more!
DSK: Ha, ha!...but it tends to lead to oppression and persecution...
KSD: "suspended the mountain over them like a bowl," my friend?
DSK: That's a rabbinic story, a midrash. At the Barcelona disputation against Pablo Christiani back in 1263
Nachmanides made it clear that midrashic stories are just that: stories: "those who believe it well and good, but those who do not believe it do no harm."18 In any case, let's say it happened: it still was just a relatively small group, not the whole world. The paradox is that Judaism's elitism leads to a benign neglect of the rest of the world, which amounts to toleration. Christianity and Islam's commitment to universal enlightenment risks leading to oppression and coercion. Our vision is that if mankind could manage to hold by seven principles, much of the conflict and tragedy of the world could be avoided. Apart from that, people can believe whatever they want.
KSD: Fine, but do you really believe that God picked out a specific people from among mankind to be His?
DSK: Of course not. But it's our foundational myth, that which preserves us. Mark Twain wondered what the secret of our immortality is.19 I think this is the answer. Certainly it leads at time to excesses and has gotten us into plenty of trouble. But it has sustained us and has also served as a powerful model for others. And it's a helpful corrective for the rest of humanity: the world has a tendency to try to undo its particularities and to flatten out its differences. That causes its problems too.
KSD: You don't have to remind this current resident of the EU of that!
DSK: Every nation or people has understood itself as "Israel" at some point, has seen itself as chosen. And I suppose it was. This idea has inspired so many wanderings in so many deserts in search of so many promised lands. In this sense I am perfectly happy to share the designation "Israel"-- with whomever goes to battle with God20 in pursuit of his destiny.
1 Christfried Böttrich, "Die Mayersche Lehrsynagoge in Greifswald" in Markus Witte and Tanja Pilger, eds.,
Mazel Tov: Interdisziplinäre Beiträge zum Verhältnis von Christentum und Judentum (Leipzig: Evangelische
Verlagsanstalt, 2012), 265-289.
2 "Empfehlungen zur Weiterentwicklung von Theologien und religionsbezogenen Wissenschaften an
deutschen Hochschulen," Drs. 9678-10, Berlin, January 29, 2010, p. 70 (http://wissenschaftsrat.de/download/
3 This popular aphorism is sometimes ascribed to David Ben-Gurion.
4 This verse in fact proceeds to identify the inheritance as belonging to "the congregation of Jacob."
5 Rabbinic texts make ample use of puns in deriving different readings, and therefore different interpretations,
of biblical verses.
6 Marc Hirshman, Torah for the Entire World (Tel Aviv:Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1999) (Hebrew).
7 The earliest redacted compilation of rabbinic law, the Mishna dates to around 200 C.E.
8 Midrash Tanhuma, Ki Tissa, § 34. 9 Kaufmann, p. 505. Sifrei and Safra
10 bSanhedrin 93b.
11 Judah ha-Levi, Kuzari, I.95-6.
12 "Alle Juden teilen ein bestimmtes Gen, Basken haben bestimmte Gene, die sie von anderen unterscheiden"
13 bShabbat 88a: "'And they stood at the foot of the mountain' Exodus 19,17. R. Abdimi bar Ḥana said, 'From this expression we learn that God suspended the mountain over them like a bowl, and said to them: "If you accept the Torah, it is all right; if not, you will find here your tomb."'"
14 For example, "Jewish community study of New York: 2011."
15 A common phrase designating the commandments (mitzvot).
16 According to which blacks and whites could be compelled to attend separate schools, provided they were equal in quality (they of course never were).
17 bBaba Metzia 69b. In this well-known tale, the majority of rabbis "overrule" God's will as clearly manifested by miracles.
18 Robert Chazan et al., Church, State, and Jew in the Middle Ages (New York: Behrman House, 1979), p. 275.
19 Mark Twain, "Concerning the Jews," www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1898twain-jews.asp ("All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?").
20 Gen. 32,29; Hosea 12,4.