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By Hyam Maccoby
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Extra resources for Antisemitism and Modernity: Innovation and Continuity (Routledgecurzon Jewish Studies Series)
At the time of the Black Death, massacres of Jews occurred. The relative immunity of Jews to the disease because of their cleaner habits brought them under suspicion of having caused it. 22 ANTISEMITISM The Middle Ages lasted for most European Jews until the eighteenth century, when, for the first time, Christians, in appreciable numbers, began to see them again as human beings who ought to be reclaimed from their degradation. The advent of the Reformation brought little relief to the Jews, who continued to be diabolized by Protestants, with the possible exception of Calvin.
Legends arose about the foetor judaicus, or distinctive Jewish smell, and about the menstruation of Jewish men which necessitated the imbibing of blood, and even that Jews had tails or cloven feet. Though conversion was still held to remove these traits miraculously, the way was open to the view that Jews were a different species. Accusations that Jews poisoned wells and desecrated the host also debased and dehumanized the image of the Jew. The ground was thus fully prepared for modern theories in which the Jews were declared to be subhuman or at least radically alien.
The basic concept of the Enlightenment was the unity of man, based on a common rationality, and the charge against the Jews was not that they were essentially different, but that they were backward. The Romantic reaction against the Enlightenment, however, questioned this basic unity and rationality, seeing mankind as divided into impermeable traditions, based on emotional and racial ties, and resistant to the incursions of aliens. Jews could never be ‘real’ Germans, or Frenchmen or Englishmen.