Tolerance in the Middle Ages

Tolerance in the Middle Ages

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The issue of toleration has and always will be a strong and influential topic among peoples of all ethnic and culture backgrounds. The same is true for the issue of religious toleration, in the case being between the Jews and the Christians in Medieval Europe. It is argued between R. Menahem ha-meir and Katz that the word toleration is not simply an explanation of the times, but rather a false impression of the truth. The truth in this case being, that the Jews and Christians wanted isolation and separatism from each other while at the same time being able to co-exist together in their respective societies.
     By looking at the Katz text, it is plain to see that his main argument on the topic of religious toleration is that these two groups of people in this time period did indeed desire separation and exclusiveness from each other. The problem that stemmed from this isolation was the difficulty in making everyday life work for both religious groups while at the same time keeping them apart from one another as much as possible. Furthermore, we see the struggle defined by Katz which describes the Jews and the difficulty they faced in translating their ancient texts to every day life scenarios. Much of what was written in the Aggadah and the Halakha was not always applicable to these past every day situations, so we begin to see a redefining and stretching of the sayings in the ancient text and the politics of the time in order to better suit the people and not disrupt the economy, society, etc. For example, we see the Jews now being able to represent themselves in court because of the new technicality which allows the oath to be taken. It is now allowed because the Christian taking the oath is swearing on a ?composite? God and more technically, a piece of paper which the Jews do not recognize as true authority (The Gospels). This shows how the social realities had changed and how the Jews had adapted to the situations by not getting rid of the text, but by instead articulating the text while maintaining exclusiveness.
     On the other hand, R. Menahem ha-meir says in his article that toleration needs to be understood contextually, as in Katz?s work, however he also stresses that the need for the isolation and separation should be looked at strictly in its historical environment along with the already specific religious assumptions that the Christians and Jews have towards one another.

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Namely, R. Menahem ha-meir cites the word ?Idolaters? which was derived from the Jews and the Jewish text in order to categorize them, because in the Jewish law Jews are chosen people and do not need outside influences. Christians were considered idolaters but as Katz pointed out, were allowed some contact with them so that every day life would run orderly and prosperously.
     It is evident that relations in regards to tolerance between the Jews and the Christians in the Middle Ages depended on already existing and predisposed assumptions about the respective religions, as well as the present day social realities and the need to adapt to the ever changing social climate. It is also important to point out that the Jews have an absolute and authoritative text which they did not get rid of in the face of adversity, but rather altered it as to keep the balance between the isolation of the Jews from the Christians and the running of every day life. The two religious groups maintained isolation while at the same time maintained social, political, and economic prosperity and prestige.
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