Monday, January 16, 2012

Father Schmutz Vs. Sabestian Munster's Hebrew Bible

I have an affinity for playing games with children that they tend to appreciate. I take the basic chase children around and to keep things interesting for all involved, mainly me, I monologue about such deep topics as the virtues of medieval surgery and mine labor for children. For playing with the local rabbi's kids I have developed the character of Father Schmutz (lit. dirt). The name comes from a rebbe I had when I was a child, who told great stories, but which usually featured as their stock villain a Christian priest, who was always given the name Father Schmutz. Looking back I would say that this rebbe was brainwashing children into anti-Christian prejudice. If any teacher tried to do that to a child of mine, I would remove my child from the institution on the spot. In the meantime I think the best way to actively undermine such a worldview is through satire. Thus I have created my own comic super villain priest, who is everything one would expect from a Haredi super villain priest taken to absurdity. Since Father Schmutz is a Haredi super villain priest, he thinks and speaks just like a Haredi would. For example: "Yiddisha kinderlach (Jewish children). I have actually no need to chase you down. With my koychos ha-tumah (powers of impurity), once you hear the kifirah (heresy) spouting from my lashon hara (evil speech) drenched lips you will be unable to resist me and your nishamas (souls) shall be mine." Maybe what we need is a plush huggable talking Father Schmutz doll.

Someone actually objected to this style of play on the grounds that confronting kids with a priest who sounds Jewish is only going to confuse them. Christian priests should sound one way and rabbis should another. Part of the problem with this is that, as someone who works with Christian Hebraists, I deal with Christians who sounded like rabbis on a daily basis. For example, here is a little piece from the introduction to the Tanach of that "gadol," early "acharon" and contemporary of the Beis Yosef, "Rabbi" Sebastian Munster:              

The Jewish Sages also erred in this that they added other stringencies on their descendants. The nation ceased to go after the straight path in their studies and enquieries. Their students came after them and drank from their bad water and got up and also piled decrees upon decrees and were stringent upon the multitude with other stringencies to blind the eyes of Israel until the Messiah of the Lord came and opened the eyes of the blind and opened the ears of the deaf and wrote his Torah and new covenant not with tablets of stone like was done before. Rather they were placed in the heart of man like it says: "I will make Israel and Judah a new covenant not like the the covenant which I made with their ancestors for this covenant I will give inside them and upon the heart I will give it." He [the Messiah] came to redeem man not from Egypt like Moses did, but from sin and the judgment and imprisonment in Hell that we may have the peace of the World to Come as it says: "His well being was upon us and by his wounds we were healed." He removed from us the harsh commandments and laws that are not in nature and reason does not support. He was stringent with us with all the stringencies like it says in the Gospel that he warned the children of man as to the commandments and laws that are in nature like stealing, murder, adultery and the like.

Now I will speak to you the Jews. Why are you doing this great evil upon your souls to cut off from you man and woman, child and baby from Judah so that there will be no remanent for yourselves to anger Hashem with the work of your hands by not believing in the words of the prophets that their prophecies were fulfilled  in this that [the Messiah] was sent to you in [his] name to save you and how do you refuse to believe in his signs that no prophet or seer performed. And behold you see that your prayers are not heard and you call out in vain for you have passed through all thorns and you have no more expectation of the salvation that you were relying upon to come to you. And behold the time has already passed which God promised you through his prophets and all the comforts which the prophets prophesied were fulfilled during the Babylonian exile.

For those not familiar Munster, he was a leading early Protestant Hebraist. Early modern Protestantism was quite good at producing Hebrew scholars. This often led to philo-Semitic attitudes toward Jews. By this I mean the belief that Jews just might be savable if missionized instead of expelled. Imagine the danger posed to Jewish children just glancing at this page of Hebrew text that looks like a nice Jewish book, which, as this is the Bible, it technically speaking is. Who else can save them, but Father Schmutz? (Coming to a Jewish store near you.)  


S. said...

Great post. Only this is, this text does not look like a rabbinic text from the period. The only rabbinic texts, besides the Bible, which were pointed, were ones marketed mainly to Christians (e.g., Mikne Avram by de Balmes and the like).

S. said...

That said, you were talking about "Jewish children," not scholars.

And judging from personal experience, as someone who also is involved with Christian Hebraism, once upon a time I barely dreamed the existence of the field. I can well remember someone telling me about a priest who told him that he knew Hebrew, and proceeded to break his teeth on "Beresheet bara eloheem, etc." we had a nice laugh, neither of us dreaming that there were and are good and even profound Christian and non-Jewish scholars of Hebrew and Rabbinic literature.

Izgad said...

Well I have to break my teeth over basic Latin. So I guess things even out. :)

Izgad said...

Jews were making use of print by the 1530s.

S. said...

Sorry if I wasn't clear - I was referring to *pointed* texts (not printed), that is, texts with nikkud. As I said unlike biblical texts, rabbinic texts were practically never pointed, if ever, and when they were it is clear that those particular editions were being marketed to Christians (like the example I gave). That being the case, this text would not, in my opinion, have looked very rabbinic to Jews of the time - except insofar as it was in Hebrew, and I guess Jews who were unaware of the explosion of Hebraism might have thought it looked rabbinic at first glance.