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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Apostasy and Apostates From Judaism
Terms derived from the Greek ἀποστασία ("defection, revolt") and ἀποστάτης ("rebel in a political sense") (I Macc. 11:14, 13:16; Josephus, "Contra Ap." 1:19, § 4), applied in a religious sense to signify rebellion and rebels against God and the Law, desertion and deserters of the faith of Israel. The words are used in the Septuagint for : Numbers 14:9; Joshua 22:19,22; for : 2 Chronicles 28:19, 33:19; for : Isaiah 30:1; and for : 1 Kings, 21:13; Aquilas to Judges 19:22; 1 Samuel 25:17. Accordingly it is stated in I Macc. 2:15 that "the officers of the king compelled the people to apostatize," that is, to revolt against the God of Israel; and Jason, the faithless high priest, is "pursued by all and hated as a deserter of the law" (τοῦ νόμου ἀποστάτης; II Macc. 5:8). As the incarnation of rebellion against God and the Law, the serpent is called apostate (LXX., Job 26:13; and Symmachus, Job 24:13; compare 2 Thessalonians 2:3; Revelation of John 14:6; Gen. R. , ).
The rabbinical language uses the following expressions for apostate: (a) , from : Jeremiah 2:11; and (Suk. 56b; 'Ab. Zarah 26b; 'Er. 69a). (b) , from ("to persecute or force abandonment of the faith") (Yer. Suk. 5:55d; Gen. R.; Yer. 'Er. 6:1 [23b]; Sifra, Wayiḳra,; Targ. Onkelos to Exodus 12:43). The Apostates during the Syrian persecution are called "Meshummedaya" in Megillat Ta'anit (ed. Mantua; in later editions the word "Resha'im" is substituted[Grätz, "Gesch. der Juden," 3d ed., 3:600]). This is equivalent to "Hellenists"; according to Cassel, ἄνομοι (see "Revue des Etudes Juives," 41:268). (c) ("a denier"), in Sanh. 39a, of the Law, ib. 106a, of the God of Israel (B. M. 71a); of the fundamentals (B. B. 16b). (d) ("a rebellious transgressor in Israel"). (e) ("one who has separated from the ways of the Jewish community") (Seder 'Olam R.; R. H. 17a; Tosef., Sanh. 13:5). "No sacrifice is accepted from the apostate" (Sifra, c.; Lev. R.; Ḥul. 5a; Yer. Sheḳ. 1:1[46b]; "nor have they any respite from eternal doom in Gehenna" (R. H. 17a; see especially Sifre, Bemidbar 112 to Numbers 15:31). These expressions all probably date from the Maccabean time, when to such men as Jason and Menelaus the words of Ezekiel 32:23,24, were applied: "they who caused terror in the land of the living, and they have borne their shame with them to go down to the pit."
The Apostasy of these two men (II Macc. 5:8,15) being a desertion of both their national and religious cause, filled the people with horror and hatred, and their fate served as a warning for others. The outspoken hostility to the law of the God of Israel on the part of the Syrians involved less danger for the kernel of the Jewish people than the allurements offered in Alexandria by Greek philosophy on the one hand and Roman pomp and power on the other. Here the tendency was manifested to break away from ancient Jewish custom and to seek a wider view of life (Philo, "De Migratione Abrahami," ), while the tyranny of a Roman prefect like Flaccus, who forced the people to transgress the Law, seems to have had no lasting effect (Philo, "De Somnis," , § 18). Comparing the proselytes with the Apostates, Philo says ("On Repentance," ): "Those who join Israel's faith become at once temperate and merciful, lovers of truth and superior to considerations of money and pleasure; but those who forsake the holy laws of God, the apostates, are intemperate, shameless, unjust, friends of falsehood and perjury, ready to sell their freedom for pleasures of the belly, bringing ruin upon body and soul." Philo's own nephew, Tiberius Julius Alexander, son of Alexander the Alabarch, became an apostate, and to this fact he owed his high rank as procurator, first of Judea, then of Alexandria; becoming afterward general and friend of Titus at the siege of Jerusalem (Schürer, "Gesch." 1:473-474).
Against the many Apostates in the time of Caligula the third book of the Maccabees loudly protests; for Grätz ("Gesch. der Juden," 2d ed., 3:358,631) has almost convincingly shown that it was written for that very purpose. While the faithful Jews who denied the royal command and refused to apostatize from their ancestral faith were rescued from peril and reinstated as citizens of Alexandria, the Apostates were punished and ignominiously put to death by their fellow-countrymen (III Macc. 2:32, 6:19-57, 7:10-15); and the declaration was made that "those of the Jewish race who voluntarily apostatized from the holy God and from the law of God, transgressing the divine commandments for the belly's sake, would also never be well disposed toward the affairs of the king."
The "Pastor of Hermas" ("Similitude," 8:6, § 4; 9:19, § 1), which is based on a Jewish work, says that "repentance is not open to apostates and blasphemers of the Lord and those who betray the servants of the Lord." The same idea is expressed in Tosef., Sanh. 13:5: "The doors of Gehenna are forever closed behind heretics, apostates, and informers"; with which compare Epistle to Hebrews 3:12, and Apocalypse of Peter 34.
Paul Called an Apostate.
It is a remarkable fact in the history of Christianity that, according to Acts 21:21, Paul was accused before the council of James and the elders of having taught the Jews Apostasy from the law of Moses; for which reason the early Christians, the Ebionites, "repudiated the Apostle Paul, maintaining he was an apostate from the law" (Irenæus, "Against Heresies," ). It was probably due to the influence of Pauline Christianity that "many of the Grecians," as Josephus ("Contra Ap." , § 11) tells, "had joined the Jews, and while some continued in their observance of the laws, others, not having the courage to persevere, departed from them again." The destruction of the Temple, which put an end to the entire sacrificial worship, was the critical period of Judaism, which, while greatly increasing the numbers of Pauline Christianity, gave other Gnostic sects an opportunity of winning adherents.
Christian Apostates from Judaism.
In the Maccabean period the blasphemer that stretched out his hands toward the Temple announcing its doom (II Macc. 14:33 et seq.; compare I Macc. 7:34 et seq.) was sure to meet the divine wrath. Now many sectaries or Gnostics (Minim) had arisen "who stretched out their hands against the Temple" (Tosef., Sanh. 13:5; R. H. 17a; compare II Macc. 14:33). Moreover, when the last efforts at rebuilding Temple and state ended in disastrous failure and in the persecution of the law-observing Jews, many of the new Christian converts became informers against their brethren in order to insinuate themselves into the favor of the Romans. This naturally increased their mutual hostility, and widened the gulf between the Synagogue and the Church. The prayer that the power of wickedness as embodied in heathenism might be destroyed (which destruction was believed to be one of the signs of the coming of the Messiah) was at this time transformed into an execration of the Apostates and slanderers "(Birkat haMinim," Ber. 28b; Yer. Ber. 4:3, p. 8a; Justin, "Dial. cum Tryphone," ).
AḦer the Apostate.
As a typical apostate, who, from being a great expounder of the Law, had become an open transgressor, a teacher of false doctrines, and a seducer or betrayer of his coreligionists, the Talmud singles out Elisha ben Abuyah, known as AḦer, "changed into another one." The many traditions about his life, which became an object of popular legend, agree in the one fact that his Gnosticism made him a determined antagonist of the Law at the very time when Roman persecution tested Jewish loyalty to the utmost; and consequently he is represented as having heard a divine voice ("bat ḳol") issue from heaven, saying: "'Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings'(Jeremiah 3:22)—all except AḦer!" Still the relations between the Apostates and the faithful observers of the Law remained tolerably good, as may be inferred from R. Meïr's continual intercourse with AḦer, who honored the apostate as a man of learning, even after his death. However, from the time when the Church rose to power and directed the zeal of her converts against their former brethren, these conditions changed. This may be learned from the decree of Constantine in 315, to the effect that "all that dare assail the apostates with stones, or in any other manner, shall be consigned to the flames." While the Synagogue was prohibited from admitting proselytes, all possible honors were conferred by the Roman empire upon Jews that joined the Church. The rabbis refer the verse, "My mother's children are angry with me" (Song of Songs, 1:6), to the Christians, complaining that "those that emanate from my own midst hurt me most" (Midr. R. and Zuṭṭa ad loc.; also Tobiah b. Eliezer quoted by Zunz, "S. P." p. 13, and "Tanna debe Eliyahu R." ).
Joseph of Tiberias.
An apostate, Joseph by name, a former member of the Sanhedrin of Tiberias, raised to the dignity of a comes by Constantine the emperor, in reward for his Apostasy, is described by Epiphanius in his "Panarium," 30:4-11 (ed. Dindorf, pp. 93-105). He claimed, while an envoy of the Sanhedrin, to have been cast into the river by the Jews of Cilicia for having been caught reading New Testament books, and to have escaped drowning only by a miracle. He must have done much harm to the Jews of Palestine, since the emperor had, in the year 336, to issue, on the one hand, a decree prohibiting Christian converts from insulting the patriarchs, destroying the synagogues, and disturbing the worship of the Jews; and, on the other hand, a decree protecting the Apostates against the wrath of the Jews (Cassel, in Ersch and Gruber, "Allg. Encyklopädie," 4:23 and 49, note 59; Grätz, "Gesch. der Juden," 4:335,485). The very fact that he built the first churches in Galilee at Tiberias, Sepphoris, Nazareth, and Capernaum—towns richly populated by Jews and soon afterward the centers of a Jewish revolt against Rome—justifies Grätz in assuming that the dignity of comes conferred upon Joseph covered a multitude of sins committed against his former coreligionists in those critical times. The rabbinical sources allude only to the fact that Christian Rome, in accordance with Deuteronomy 13:6—"the son of thy mother shall entice thee"—said to the Jews, "Come to us and we will make you dukes, governors, and generals" (Pesiḳ. R. 15a, 21 [ed. Friedmann], pp. 71b, 106b]). A decree of the emperor Theodosius shows that up to 380 the patriarchs exercised the right of excommunicating those that had espoused the Christian religion; which right, disputed by the Christian Church, was recognized by the emperor as a matter of internal synagogue discipline (Graetz, "History of the Jews," 2:612, 4:385).
That many joined the Church only to escape the penalty of the Jewish law is evidenced by a decree of the emperor Arcadius demanding an investigation of each applicant for admission into the Church, as to his moral and social standing, and by the story of a typical Jewish impostor told by the Church historian Socrates (Jost, "Gesch. der Israeliten," 4:225).
The great persecution by Cyril, in 415, of the Jews of Alexandria induced only one Jew to accept baptism as a means of safety: Adamantius, teacher of medicine; the rest left the city (Grätz, "Gesch. der Juden," 4:392).
In Christian Spain.
The stronger the power of the Church became, the more systematic were her efforts at winning the Jews over to her creed, whether by promises, threats, or actual force. As a rule but few yielded to persuasion or to worldly considerations, but more numerous were those that embraced Christianity through the threats and violence of enraged mobs. Such was the case with the Jews in southern France and in the Spanish peninsula. Here a new term was coined for the Jews that allowed themselves to be baptized through fear—Anûsim. It is interesting to observe that the Council of Agde was compelled to take measures against the Jews "whose faithlessness often returneth to its vomit" (compare Proverbs 26:11, and the rabbinical expression : Ḳid. 17b; Gen. R.; Jost, "Gesch. der Israeliten," 5:64 et seq.). The same measures were taken by the Council of Toledo in the year 633. Every single case of Apostasy under the influence of the powerful Church provoked the indignation of the Jewish community, where some inconsiderate act of a Jewish fanatic often led to riots, which always ended disastrously for the Jews, either in baptism or expulsion.
A number of such instances are recorded by Gregory of Tours (Jost, "Neuere Gesch. der Israeliten," 5:66 et seq., 87 et seq.; Cassel, c. pp. 57-62; Grätz, "Gesch. der Juden," 5:60 et seq.; compare also the edicts against the baptized Jews, in Grätz, "Die Westgothische Gesetzgebung, 1858"). In the Byzantine empire, also, forced conversion of the Jews took place under Leo the Isaurian in 723; many Jews becoming outwardly Christians while secretly observing the Jewish rites (Grätz, "Gesch. der Juden," 3:123, 5:188; Cassel, c. p. 52). To none of these is the term "apostate," in its strict sense, applicable. When, at the first persecution of the Jews in Germany under Henry II., in 1012, many had been baptized and afterward returned to the fold, R. Gershom of Mayence insisted on their being treated with brotherly kindliness and sympathy; and when his own son, who had become a convert to Christianity, died, he mourned him as his son, just as if he had not apostatized (Grätz, "Gesch. der Juden," 5:410). Again, after the first Crusade, when many Jews, yielding to the threats of the mob, had been baptized, but with the permission of the emperor, Henry IV., had returned to their ancestral faith despite the protests of Pope Clement III., Rashi in his responsa ("Pardes," p. 23) protested against their being shunned as Apostates by their brethren, and declared them to be full Jews (Grätz, "Gesch. der Juden," 6:111-114; Berliner, in "Kaufmann-Gedenkbuch," pp. 271 et seq.). Nor is it correct to enumerate in the list of Apostates those Jews of Spain, France, and other countries, who, under the influence of the teaching of the pseudo-Messiah Serene (or Soria?),had dropped the many Talmudic statutes and later on returned to the fold, having in the meanwhile remained followers of the law of Moses. Naṭronai Gaon expressly declared them to have been Jews (Grätz, "Gesch. der Juden," , note 14, p. 482).
The name "apostate," however, assumed a new meaning and character—that of bitter reproach—when a large number of baptized Jews of prominence used their knowledge and power as means of maligning their former brethren and the faith in which they had themselves been raised. Many of the Inquisitors were descendants of converted Jews; for example, Don Francisco, archbishop of Çoria, Don Juan de Torquemada.
Maligners of Judaism.
The first apostate that is known to have written against the Jewish creed was Moses Sephardi, known by the name of Petrus see see Alfonsi (physician to Alfonso VI.), baptized in 1106, and author of the well-known collection of fables, "Disciplina Clericalis." He wrote a work against Jewish and Mohammedan doctrines, entitled "Dialogi in Quibus Impiæ Judæorum et Saracenorum Opiniones Confutantur." This book, however, seems to have had little influence. The harm which Petrus Alfonsi did to his former coreligionists can not be compared with that done by some other Apostates. Donin of Rochelle, France, in revenge for his having been excommunicated by the French rabbis because of doubts he had expressed concerning the validity of the Talmudic tradition, embraced Christianity, assuming the name of Nicholas. He then went to Pope Gregory IX.; bringing thirty-five charges against the Talmud, stating that it contained gross errors, blasphemous representations of God, and insulting expressions regarding Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Moreover, he was the first to allege—what afterward became a standing accusation—that the Talmud allows all kinds of dishonest dealings with the Christian—nay, declares the killing of one a meritorious act. This led to a general rigorous prosecution of the Talmud. A public dispute of the apostate with R. Jehiel of Paris, and other rabbis of France, was held in Latin in the presence of the queenmother Blanche and many Church prelates; but, notwithstanding the favorable opinion created by R. Jehiel and the intercession of the archbishop of Sens, twenty-four cartloads of the Talmud were consigned to the flames in 1442 (DISPUTATIONS). Pablo Christiani or Fra Paolo, of Montpellier, was another apostate, who, having in a public dispute with NaḦmanides in Barcelona, before James I. of Aragon, in 1263, failed to win laurels, denounced the Talmud before Pope Clement IV. In consequence of this a Christian censorship of the Talmud was introduced for the purpose of striking out all the passages that seemed offensive to the Church, Pablo being chosen one of the censors.
Still greater evil was wrought when Abner of Burgos, known also by the Christian name Alfonso Burgensis, a Talmudic scholar, philosopher, and practising physician, adopted Christianity to become sacristan of a wealthy church of Valladolid, and then wrote—partly in Spanish and partly in Hebrew —works full of venom against Jews and Judaism. Especially successful was he in charging Jews with reciting among their daily prayers one directed against the Christians, the "Birkat ha-Minim"; and King Alfonso XI., after having convoked the representatives of Judaism to a public dispute, issued an edict in 1336 forbidding the Jews of Castile to recite that prayer. This calumny of the Jews bore its poisonous fruit for generations to come (ABNER OF BURGOS).
There were, however, some Apostates who were inspired by the Church to follow in her footsteps and to attempt the conversion of their former coreligionists. To this class belonged see JOHN OF VALLADOLID, author of two works against the Jewish creed. In 1375, in a public debate with Moses COHEN (2) of Tordesillas, held at the church of Avila in the presence of the entire Jewish community and many Christians and Mohammedans, he endeavored to prove the truth of the Christian dogma from the Old Testament; but he was no match for his learned antagonist, nor did his successor in the debate, a pupil of Abner of Burgos, fare any better in his attacks on the Talmud. Still more harmless were the following rather frivolous satirists: Peter Ferrus, who ridiculed his former coreligionists, the worshipers at the synagogue of his native town, Alcala, but evoked a pointed reply which alone has caused his name to survive; and his compeers Diego de Valensia; Juan d'España, surnamed "el Viejo" (the Old); Juan Alfonso de Baena, the compiler of the "Cancionero," and Francisco de Baena, of the fifteenth century, a brother of the former (Kayserling, "Sephardim," pp. 74 et seq.). To the same category belongs Astruc Raimuch, physician of Traga, Spain, who from a pious Jew became a fervent Christian, assuming the name of Francesco Dios Carne (Godflesh). In a clever Hebrew epistle he tried to win a former friend over to his new faith, and not only met with a mild protest on the part of the latter, but also evoked a vigorous ironical reply from the sharp pen of Solomon b. Reuben Bonfed.
Solomon Levi of Burgos.
Of all the Apostates of the twelfth century none displayed such delight in hurting his former brethren as did SOLOMON Levi of Burgos, known as Paul de Santa Maria. A former rabbi and a pillar of orthodoxy, on intimate terms with the great Talmudists of the age, he joined the Church together with his aged mother, his brother, and his sons—only his wife refused to renounce her faith—studied Christian theology, and quickly rose to the high position of archbishop of Carthagena, and then to that of privy councilor of King Henry III. of Castile and tutor of the infant Juan II. He devoted his great literary talents and mighty intellect only to calumniate Jews and Judaism, and he used his influence only to exclude his former coreligionists from every political office and position. His open letters and satirical poems, addressed to the most prominent rabbis in Spain, evoked many a reply, even from his pupils (Crescas and see EFODI). Strange to relate, however, one of these, Joshua ben Joseph ibn Vives of Lorca (Allorqui), although he had composed an epistle filled with reproof for theapostate, seems to have come under his influence and to have deserted the faith he at one time had so warmly espoused. Under the name of Geronimo de Santa Fe, he was body-physician and councilor of Pope Benedict XIII., and became the terror of the Jews of Spain. He induced the pope to summon the most learned rabbis of Aragon singled out by him to a religious disputation at Tortosa, for which he had prepared a treatise proving Jesus' Messianic character from Scripture and Talmud. The debate lasted over twenty-one months, from February, 1413, to November, 1414. A little later Geronimo published a treatise accusing the Talmud of teaching blasphemy, of counseling the Jews to break their oath by the KOL NIDRE declaration, and of every kind of hostility toward the Christians, every reference to the heathen being by him interpreted as being directed against the Christians. From the initials of his name, Maestro Geronimo De Fe, he was called "MeGaDeF." (Heb. the Blasphemer). To the same class belong Levi ben Shem-Ṭob, called, as a Christian, Pedro de la Caballeria, who advised King Manuel of Portugal, in 1497, to take Jewish children by force and have them baptized; Astruc Sibili (of Seville), who testified to the slanderous charge of murder brought against the Jews of Majorca in 1435; and Henrique Nunes (de Firma Fe), who served as spy against the unfortunate Maranos, and was about to help Charles V. to introduce the Inquisition into Portugal when he was assassinated by some Maranos, and then canonized by the Church as a martyr. Sixtus of Sienna and Philip (Joseph) Moro incensed their Jewish kinsmen by traveling about in the Papal State preaching, at the bidding of Paul IV., sermons for their conversion; the former inciting the mob to burn every copy of the Talmud they could lay hands on after he himself had erected a pile for this purpose; the other forcing his way into the synagogue while the people were assembled for worship on the Day of Atonement, and placing the crucifix in the holy Ark, where the scrolls of the Law were kept, in order thus to provoke a riot.
The Burning of the Talmud.
This desire to calumniate the Jews and the Talmud seems to have become contagious among the Apostates of the time; for there are mentioned five others that instigated throughout Italy and in the city of Prague the burning of thousands of Talmudic and other rabbinic books. Two of these were grandsons of Elias Levita, Vittorio Eliano, and his brother Solomon Romano, afterward called John Baptista. The former, together with Joshua dei Cantori (ben Ḥazan), testified in Cremona against the Talmud, corroborating the testimony of Sixtus of Sienna; in consequence of which 10,000 to 12,000 Hebrew books were consigned to the flames in 1559. The latter, together with Joseph Moro, went before Pope Julius III. as a defamer of the Talmud, and these, with Ananel di Foligno, caused thousands upon thousands of copies of Hebrew books to be burned. A similar accusation, made by Asher of Udine in the same year, resulted in the confiscation of every Hebrew book in the city of Prague. Alexander, a baptized Jew, drew up for the tyrannical Pope Pius V. the points of accusation against the Jews, their faith, and their liturgy, upon which their expulsion was decreed in 1596.
In Germany the first that became an accuser of his former coreligionists was Pesach, who, as a Christian, assumed the name of Peter in 1399. He charged the Jews with uttering blasphemous words against Jesus in the prayer 'Alenu, the letters of ("and vanity"), he said, being identical in numerical value with the name ("Jesus"). The Jews of Prague were cast into prison, and many were killed because of the accusation.
In the calamity that befell the Jews of Trent and Ratisbon three Apostates took a leading part: Wolfkan, who brought against the Jews the charge of slaying children for the ritual use of their blood; Hans Vayol, who had the effrontery to accuse the aged rabbi of Ratisbon of this crime, and Peter Schwartz, who published slanderous accusations against his former coreligionists, and had the Jews of Ratisbon brought to the church to listen to his insulting harangues. As regards another apostate, Victor von Karben, a man of little Talmudic knowledge, he was merely a willing tool in the hand of the fanatical Dominicans of Cologne in their attacks upon the Talmud and the Jews, as is seen by the material he furnished for Ortuin de Graes's book, "De Vita et Moribus Judæorum," Cologne, 1504.
The climax, however, was reached by Joseph Pfefferkorn, of Bohemia. A butcher by trade, a man of little learning and of immoral conduct, convicted of burglary and condemned to imprisonment, but released upon payment of a fine, he was admitted to baptism about 1505, and, under the name of "John" Pfefferkorn, lent his name to a large number of anti-Jewish writings published by the Dominicans of Cologne. His first book, "Judenspiegel, oder Speculum Hortationis," written in 1507, contained charges, in somewhat milder form, against the Jews and the Talmud, though he rebuked them for their usury, and urged them to join Christianity, and at the same time admonished the people and princes to check the usury and burn the Talmudic books of the Jews. But this was soon followed by books each more violent than the other. These were: "Die Judenbeichte," 1508; "Das Osterbuch," 1509; "Der Judenfeind," 1509. He insisted that all Jews should be either expelled from Germany or employed as street-cleaners and chimneysweeps; that every copy of the Talmud and rabbinical books should be taken away from the Jews, and that every Jewish house be ransacked for this purpose. But though Reuchlin was called upon to participate in this warfare against the Talmud, he exposed the Dominicans and the character of Pfefferkorn, their tool. Entire Christendom was drawn into the great battle between the Talmud defamers and the Talmud defenders, the friends of enlightenment siding with the Jews.
Nor were Von Karben and Pfefferkorn the only ones of their kind. The monks were only too willing to use others as their tools. One of these was Pfaff Rapp—by some said also to have been called Pfefferkorn—in Halle, for whom even John Pfefferkorn felt disgust. He was burned at the stake, having committed sacrilegious theft.
Antonius Margaritha, son of the rabbi of Ratisbon, published a German work: "Der Ganz Jüdische Glaub," Augsburg, 1530, wherein he repeated the charge that blasphemy against Jesus existed in the liturgy of the Jews, especially in the "'Alenu." Luther acknowledges having derived from this source the arguments in his polemical work against the Jews.
In 1614 Samuel Frederic Brenz of Osterberg, Swabia, who had been baptized in 1610 at Feuchtwang, Bavaria, published a book full of venom against the Jews under the title "Jüdischer Abgestreifter Schlangenbalg," an "exposition of the blasphemies the Jewish serpents and vipers utter against the guileless Jesus Christ"—a work in seven chapters, wherein the prayer "'Alenu" was made an especial object of attack. This attack was refuted by Solomon Ẓebi Uffenhausen in a work entitled "Der Jüdische Theriak," Hanover, 1615, and translated into Latin, together with Brenz's book and comments defending the Jews, by Johann Wülfer, Nuremberg, 1681.
Other Eminent Apostates.
As a rule the Apostates delighted in tormenting their former brethren, and this seems to have been the chief recommendation for their employment as censors of the Talmudic works. Wolf in his "Bibliotheca Hebræa" (2:1003-1013) has a list of 80 names of converted Jews that wrote against Judaism before 1720. It would be unfair, however, to bring all these under the category of such Apostates as were imbued with a spirit hostile to their ancestral faith. A number of them perhaps felt called upon to denounce Judaism and the Talmud in view of the lucrative positions as teachers and missionaries offered them, and not because of their zeal for their new faith. From the Jewish writings they could deduce arguments in favor of the Christian faith. Among these was Christian Gerson, baptized in 1600, at Halberstadt. He was prominent as a defamer of the Talmud, and was criticized for his unfairness by the great French Bible critic Richard Simon. He wrote a German work, frequently published and translated into other languages, "Jüdischer Talmud," published in 1607; and "Der Talmudische Judenschatz," published in 1610—being a translation of chapter of Sanhedrin —as a specimen of Jewish superstition.
Paulo Riccio, who was professor of Hebrew in Pavia, and physician of the emperor Maximilian, prepared a translation of part of Joseph Gikatilla's cabalistic work "Sha'are Orah" in 1516, and thus awakened Reuchlin's interest in the Cabala. He commenced a translation of the Talmud in order to prove from it the Messianic character of Jesus. Moses Gershon Cohen of Mitau assumed the name of Carl Anton, professor of Hebrew in Helmstadt, and wrote on Shabbethai Ẓebi in 1753. He took a prominent part in the Jonathan Eibenschütz controversy, and published a number of books in the service of the Church. Aaron Margalita was another apostate who attacked the Talmud. By his charges against the Haggadah he caused Frederick of Prussia to put a ban upon an edition of the Midrash in 1705.
Many Jews, disappointed in the hopes raised by Asher Lämlein's Messianic predictions for the year 1502, took refuge in the haven of Christianity.
A number of Jews were, owing to their high social standing, so closely affiliated with the Christian world that, in critical times, they lacked sufficient self-abnegation to wear the badge of suffering along with their humbler brethren. Among these—and at the same time one of the victims of the great Spanish persecution of 1391—was, singularly enough, the ancestor of the Abravanel family, Samuel Abravanel, who, as a Christian, adopted the name of Juan de Sevilla. In the year of the expulsion, 1492, it was Abraham BENVENISTE Senior, chief rabbi and tax-collector of Seville, who with his son and son-in-law—also rabbis—went over to the Church, assuming the name of Coronel. King Ferdinand, Queen Isabella, and Cardinal Torquemada are said to have stood sponsors at their baptism.
The tide of the anti-Talmudical mysticism in Poland and the East, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which formed the undercurrent of the Shabbethai Ẓebi and Frankist movements, ended in a state of wild confusion and despair, and the consequence was the conversion of hundreds to Christianity. Chief among these Apostates were Wolf Levi of Lublin, a nephew of Judah Ḥasid, who assumed the name of Francis Lothair Philippi and became surgeon; and the son of Nehemiah Ḥayyun, the Shabbethaian, who became an opponent of his former brethren, and denounced, before the Inquisition at Rome, Talmudic and rabbinical works as inimical to the Church. Jacob ben Löb Frank of Galicia, the leader of the Podolian Shabbethaians, and the Frankists who took their name from him, became likewise public accusers of the Talmud in the very center of Talmudic study. After a disputation with the chief rabbis of Poland, they accepted baptism in Lemberg, 1759. A few weeks later Frank himself followed them, and assumed the name of Joseph. For those that apostatized in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, CONVERSION TO CHRISTIANITY.
Apostates to Islam.
Islam, from the very outset, has emphasized the absolute monotheistic character of the faith of Abraham, in sharp distinction from the Trinitarian dogma and the divinity of Jesus (sura 4:169; 5:76-77,116; 9:30; 19:36,91-95; 2:110; 6:101; 72:3; 112:2. "He is God alone; He begets not; is not begotten. Nor is there like unto Him any one!"). Quite naturally, therefore, the Jews took a somewhat different attitude toward Islam than toward Christianity. They rejected Mohammed's claim to prophecy, but agreed with him in the fundamentals of his faith. It is doubtful how far those Jews of Medina who were numbered among the "Anṣar" (Helpers) really apostatized to the new faith. The most important of those who went over to Mohammed's side was undoubtedly 'Abd Allah ibn Salam, the most learned of all the Jews. With him were associated Ka'b al-AḦbar and Wahb. When the Jews who still desired to remain true to their faith retired to Khaibar, Yamin ibn 'Umair and Abu Sa'd ibn Wahbremained at Medina and became Mohammedans. Later on Tha'labah ibn Saya, 'Usaid ibn Saya, and Asad ibn 'Ubaid yielded, fearing attack on the part of the prophet's men. A large number followed the example which had thus been set, and, when Khaibar was definitely taken, went over to the new faith. Among them was a woman, RaiḦanah, whom Mohammed at one time desired to marry. Most of these apostasies were due to force, very few to conviction (see Hirschfeld, "Revue des Etudes Juives," 10:10 et seq.). Arabic tradition knows also of an apostate Jew in Palmyra, Abu Ya'ḳub, who provided fictitious genealogies, and connected the Arabs with Biblical personages (Goldziher, "Muhammedanische Studien," 1:178). In the ninth century mention is made of Sind ibn 'Ali al-Yahudi, court astrologer of the calif Al-Ma'mun. In the same century lived Ali ibn Rabban al-Tabari, author of a work on medicine; as his name implies, the son of a rabbi, which fact, however, did not prevent him from joining the dominant church. Another Jew, however, Isma'il ibn Fadad (Spain?, eleventh century), was more steadfast. Ibn Ḥazm, author of the "Kitab al-Milal wal-NiḦal," had, indeed, persuaded him of the truth of Islam, but he refused to apostatize since "apostasy was a disgraceful thing" ("Z. D. M. G." 42:617).
Enlightened Apostates to Islam.
In the twelfth century many enlightened Jews joined Islam, partly owing, as Grätz thinks ("Gesch. der Juden," 6:303; English ed., 3:441), to the degeneracy that had taken hold of Eastern Judaism, manifesting itself in the most superstitious practises, and partly moved by the wonderful success of the Arabs in becoming a world-power. Among these Apostates that occupied a prominent position was Nathaniel Abu al-Barakat Hibat Allah ibn 'Ali of Bagdad, physician, philosopher, and philologist. Among his many admirers was Isaac, the son of Abraham ibn Ezra, who dedicated to him, in 1143, a poem expressing the wish that he might live to see the Messianic redemption in the risen Jerusalem. Both Isaac ibn Ezra and Hibat Allah, his wealthy benefactor, became Moslems twenty years later.
Another apostate of this time was Abu Naṣr Samuel ibn Judah ibn ABBAS (Samuel of Morocco), the rabbi and liturgical poet of Fez, author of the "IfḦam al-Yahud." Samuel makes the curious statement ("Monatsschrift," 42:260) that most of the Karaites had gone over to Islam, because their system is free from all the absurdities of the Rabbinites, and their theology not so different from that of the Mohammedans. The statement is, however, ungrounded. Some of the Jewish sects, however, that arose in the Mohammedan East went perilously near to the point where all distinction between them and Islam would be wiped out. Shahrastani, at least, speaks of one such sect, the 'Isawiyyah, that acknowledged the prophecy of Mohammed, but held that it referred only to the Arabs; and this is corroborated by other authorities (Shahrastani, translated by Haarbrücker, 1:254, 2:421; "Monatsschrift," 1885, p. 139; "Z. D. M. G." 42:619).
Outward Conversions to Islam.
The year 1142 brought a great crisis to the Jews in southwestern Europe. The rise of the ALMOHADES (AlmuwaḦḦidin = Unitarians) in northern Africa and the great wave of religious reform, mixed with religious fanaticism, which swept over Fez and into southern Spain, left them in most cases no choice but the adoption of Islam or death. Many submitted to outward conversion; and in a touching communication to his unfortunate brethren, sent in 1160 by Maimun ben Joseph, the father of Maimonides, he exhorts his brethren to remain firm in their faith, and advises those that have yielded to encourage one another as far as possible in the observance of the Jewish rites. The letter is directed especially to the Jews in Fez (Simmons, "Jew. Quart. Rev." 2:62 et seq.). Then the controversy arose whether such as had publicly professed belief in Mohammed were any longer Jews or not. One rabbi denied it, insisting that since death was preferable to Apostasy, the prayer and religious observance of the forced convert had no merit whatsoever. This view is sharply criticized in a treatise ascribed to Moses Maimonides, the genuineness of which, though maintained by Geiger, Munk, and Grätz, has been convincingly refuted by M. Friedländer ("Guide of the Perplexed," , , , et seq.), in which Islam is declared to be simply a belief in Mohammed, and that Islam is not idolatry, to avoid which only the Law demands the sacrifice of life.
Abraham ibn Sahl, a Spanish poet of the thirteenth century, was, however, distrusted by his new coreligionists, who did not believe that his conversion was sincere.
Among the Apostates that followed in the footsteps of Samuel ibn Abbas, denouncing their ancestral religion while pleading for the Islamic faith, are mentioned: 'Abdal-Ḥaḳḳ al-Islami, in Mauritania, in the fourteenth century, who published a work proving the validity of Mohammed's prophecy from passages of the Bible which he quotes in the Hebrew language (Steinschneider, "Polem. Lit." p. 125); Abu Zakkariyah YaḦya ibn Ibrahim b. Omar al-Rakili, who wrote, about 1405, "Tayit al-Millah," a work against the Jews, wherein passages from the Pentateuch, the Prophets, the Psalms, and the Koran are quoted (ib. pp. 34, 83).
The frenzy of the Shabbethaian movement ended in many Jews assuming the turban, the symbol of Islamism. To these belonged as leaders: Shabbethai Ẓebi; Nehemiah Cohen; Guidon, the sultan's physician; Daniel Israel Bonafoux, and finally Berakyah, son of Jacob Ẓebi Querido, regarded as successor of Shabbethai Ẓebi, who with his hundreds of followers founded a Jewish-Turkish sect still existing under the name of Donmeh.
The bloody persecution of the Jews during the Damascus affair in 1840 caused Moses Abulafia to yield and assume the turban in order to escape further torture.
In general it may be said that the Apostates to Islam exhibited no great animosity toward their former brethren. Those that went over to the side of Ishmael never forgot that he and Isaac were both sons of Abraham; and the reason for this is probably to be found in the tolerance which Mohammedans almost universally showed to the Jews.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Apostasy and Apostates From Judaism'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/a/apostasy-and-apostates-from-judaism.html. 1901.
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