نسخه آزمایشی

تعذیب یهود در قرون وسطی: مطالعه تطبیقی مارک کوهن درباره وضعیت زندگی یهود در سرزمین‌های مسیحی و اسلامی

بیشتر از یک سال پیش کتاب مشهور مارک کوهن ـ استاد دانشگاه پرینستون ـ درخصوص شکنجه و تعذیب یهودیان در قرون وسطی را مطاله نمودم. وی در این کتاب به مقایسه زندگی یهودیان در اروپا و منطقه مغرب عربی به طور همزمان می‌پردازد و تلاش می‌کند که پاسخی برای این پرسش که وضعیت زندگی یهودیان در کدام سرزمین ـ مسیحی یا اسلامی ـ بهتر بوده است بیابد. وی در مجموع نتیجه می‌گیرد که وضعیت زندگی آنان در سرزمین‌های اسلامی به مراتب بهتر بوده است.

متأسفانه این کتاب بسیار مهم که به بخش مهمی از تاریخ اجتماعی ـ فکری قرون میانه درخصوص همزیستی پیروان ادیان می پردازد تا کنون به فارسی ترجمه نشده است. با این حال ترجمه عربی از آن با عنوان «بین الهلال و الصلیب: وضع الیهود فی القرون الوسطی» در دسترس است. متن پیش رو نوشته مروری است که بنده مدّت‌ها قبل بر این کتاب نوشتم ولی متأسفانه هنوز فرصت ترجمه آن به زبان فارسی برایم فراهم نشده است.

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Between Discourse and Counter-Discourse:

Mark R. Cohen’s Mythology of Persecution of Jews in the Middle Ages[1]

 

Did Muslims and Jews in the Middle Ages have peacefully lived in an utopia? Or were Jews persecuted under Muslim rulers as much as they were in Christian lands? “Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages” is Mark Cohen’s well-known contribution to the study of medieval Jewish communities. This book aims to investigate the history of Jewish-Christian and Jewish-Muslim relations, and show how the “Myth of Islamic Utopia in the Middle Ages” have been challenged by the “lachrymose history of Arab-Jew relations,” as a counter-myth, during subsequent periods. Cohen, in his work, addresses the relations between the Jews and the Muslims as well as examining the relations between Jews and Christians in the Middle Ages. When looking at these differences between the two relationships, Cohen, attempts to shed light on what caused the relationships to differ in the Middle Ages. To do this, Cohen examines the claimed persecution of the Jews from the beginning of the crusades until the thirteen century by both Muslims and Christians.

To him, some Jewish intellectuals in their writings address the period of Islamic rule in Spain during the Middle Ages, as it is seen to be the “prototype” for Islamic leniency toward the Jewish. They embody that period in their writings as it is imagined to be a time of freedom in a liberal state in which they reached a peak in political achievements and cultural integration. As a typical example, they refer to the history and life of a young Jewish poet, named Luteran, who described the period from 940 until 1040 as the golden age of literature, when Jews enjoyed the best social and political life under the rule of Islamic Spain. This golden memory of Islamic Spain has been compared to that of the dark phase produced under the rule of European Christians of Middle Ages. In Europe, the period of first crusades witnessed various conflicts in which the Jews were the main target. In Christian Spain, Jewish converts were suspect, with many being called to the infamous inquisition. In addition, some Jewish communities were expelled entirely from the Christian lands, while, at the same time, it seems that there was no counterpart for these excesses under Islamic rule.

He points out that after the Middle Ages, there was a well-known belief that the Muslims had peacefully dealt with the Jews, while the Christians had, at the same time, persecuted them, one which has increased under the shadow of Jewish welfare in the Islamic west. Jewish historians, after perpetuating the myth of the lachrymose history of Jews in Europe, invented the myth of an interfaith Utopia under the Islamic rule of the Middle Ages. There are some Jewish works produced in that period (end of the 15th century) that speak about the Islamic tolerance towards the Jews of those times. These works have now become the basis of a study for a history of Judaism in the 19th century, indicating that this tolerance is being taken as historical fact. Cohen refers his readers to Heinrich Graetz, as the main Jewish historian of 19th century, who had a romantic standpoint regarding the Islamic Utopia, in contrast to his lachrymose account of the Jews under the Christendom of the Middle Ages. The author thinks that the Jewish orientalists who had been influenced by comparisons of Islamic rule to Christian rule believed that the Islamic utopia was a historical fact. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that, nowadays, in some scholarly circles the premise of Islamic tolerance toward non-Muslims is being thought of as a certain scientific principle.

From Cohen’s viewpoint, the myth of the Islamic interfaith utopia was applied in the 19th century context to serve a political purpose. This was used to encourage liberal European Christians to make good on their promises of equality and job opportunities without any limitations or discrimination. As a justification, the Jews reminded the Christians of their treatment under Islamic rule in the Middle Ages when Jews had had the possibility of rising to the position of wizārat (ministry), the high position of Maimonides among Muslim intellectuals of that period. It could also be claimed that the Christians should compensate the Jews for the worst persecution of Jews in history. Further, the Jews could also claim to have significantly contributed to the rise of European civilization along with the Christians, as they had proved during the Islamic rule in Spain when they were dealt with equally.

This myth of Jewish equality under the Islamic utopia continued to the 20th century, long after their freedom in Europe. To present some examples, Cohen refers to the work of Adolf L. Wismar entitled, Study on the tolerance as is practised by Mohammad and his successors (1927). Rodulph Kayser, also, in his monograph on Hebrew poet Judah Halevy, who lived under the Islamic state in mediaeval Spain, remembers the so-called golden age as a historical miracle not seen since the days of the Bible, for it happened at the same time European Jews were being persecuted under Christendom. Along with the writings of the European Jews, this focus on the Islamic utopia was seen even among Arab Jews. For instance, Andre Chouraqui, a North African Jewish historian and intellectual, remarked that, unlike Europe, there was no anti-Semitism tradition or philosophy in North Africa from the Middle Ages onwards. He believed that Jews in North Africa were, for the most part, happier than their counterparts of Europe as they were not the object of religious hatred.

Cohen shows that in the 20th century the acclaimed historical tolerance of Muslims for Jews became the foundation of Arab propaganda against Zionism, particularly after the Six-Day war. He indicates that in the aftermath of Arab-Israel conflict in the 20th century anti-Semitism increased in Arab populations, one which its propaganda dimensions, particularly after the Six-Day war, were shown by the Jewish journalists and scholars.[2] He discusses how this myth was perpetuated throughout the centuries to eventually become an Arab tool for propaganda against Zionism. Taking this new position, the Arabs claimed that the Muslims and the Jews had peacefully lived together for a long period under Islamic rule, particularly during the Middle Ages when the Christians were persecuting the Jews. They considered that this new antipathy against Jews appeared only when the Zionists destroyed historical integration by pressing their claims against Arab rights. Therefore, without making the Zionists abandon their unfair claims, it is impossible to put an end to the new Arab hatred and anti-Semitism.

Cohen then goes on to give an account of Arab and Arabist writing which addresses the myth of the Islamic Utopia. As an example of this new attitude, in his book, George Antinous, an Arab Christian, addressed Arab nationalism and the exploitation of the Islamic Utopian myth. Through an examination of the civilizing influence of Islam, he claims that there was no period when Jews were deliberately persecuted under Islamic rule in Spain, which allowed the Jews to accomplish some of their most important cultural achievements in history. Even today, despite the bad relationship between Israel and the Arabs, the Jews in the Arab lands are dealt with as kindly as those living in the UK or USA.

The increasing Arab exploitation of the myth of Islamic tolerance toward Jews attracted the attention of the Israelis, especially as this propaganda hinted at the possibility of Arab acceptance of the Jews in the near future. Therefore, they began to reconsider the history of the relationship between Arab and Jews, which led them to create a counter-myth, namely a new lachrymose reading of the history of Muslim persecution of Jews.

This new attitude to the history of the Jews was accepted by various publications, particularly in the aftermath of Six-Day War. For instance, Cohen refers to the attempts of the American-Israeli public affairs Committee to widely circulate reports focused on this new interpretation of history. Sometime later, Saul Friedman sought to provide historical examples of the Muslim persecution of the Jews, even going as back to the time of Prophet Muhammad. In 1974, journalist Rose Lewis contributed to this counter-myth. This report was heavily criticized by the Zionists, as they had dedicated their propaganda to the European Christian persecution of Jews in the Middle Ages and had ignored any issues related to the Arab-Israeli conflict in Palestine. Albert Memmi, a French Jewish author, following Lewis’s report, attacked those who were saying that the Arab Jews had lived happily until the establishment of the Israeli state, and the Ashkenazi were the only persecuted Jews in history.

Cohen then reviews the works of other Jewish intellectuals and journalists who have pointed out that the Arab persecution of the Jews was similar to that of the European-Christians. In the sphere of academic research, Cohen points out that the efforts of these journalists inspired detailed academic studies on the history of Jewish-Arab relations, resulting in Jewish scholars investigating the roots of religious hatred toward Jews in early Islamic periods. In 1978, at a symposium in Israel, there were six papers which dealt with Anti-Semitism throughout the middle and early periods, in which the authors examined the grounds for the contemporary Arab attitude toward Jews in the early writings of Islamic Hadith and Tafsir.

Cohen addresses the appearance of the counter-myth in the writings of Arab Jews and examines their contribution to the propaganda. The world Organization of Jews from Arab countries (WOJAC) proclaimed its establishment philosophy when it emphasized that they were victims of persecution in their Arab lands and had immigrated to Israel as refugees. These Arab Jews demanded support and all were granted a new life in Israel as they had been persecuted in their Arab homelands. Some may consider that the intensity of the eastern Jews hostility toward the Arab countries and their people as the greatest obstacle in the Arab-Israeli-negotiations. What needs further examination, however, is to what extent this Arab–Arab hatred was explainable by the historical memory of the eastern Jews. Namely, did they truly remember persecution by Arabs as they claim?

From Cohen’s point of view, although Jews and Christians have usually been considered protected dhimmīs, they have always been unbelievers from the Muslim viewpoint and have suffered from this humiliating attitude adopted by predominant Muslims. Cohen points out that according to sharīʻah (Islamic law), the dhimmīs were considered second-class citizens. However, the Islamic legal attitude toward the concerns of the Jews and Christians has given them the chance to belong to the society as a minority and allowed them to live according to their traditional rules. 

Cohen emphasizes that, in spite of the above-mentioned fact, the Jews accepted this Islamic hierarchical attitude toward the dhimmīs and succeeded in contributing to the social and political life of Muslims. Cohen says that in spite of the risk of being persecuted by Muslims, the Jews enjoyed relative security during the formative and classical periods of Islam. In the economic sphere, in Cohen's reading, the Jews in the Muslim communities enjoyed parity with those affiliated to the Islamic religion. Jews were rarely restricted from participating in economic activity at both international and local levels. The Jews and Christians who were successful in business were relatively stable even when crossing economic red lines. However, while a number of Muslim rulers ignored these business abuses by relying on the covenant of ʻUmar, such economic freedom upset the religious feeling of many Muslims, which led in later periods to an increase in persecution. Cohen thinks, in terms of governmental positions, that the gap between theory and practice was greater than just the economic issues. Jews and Christians, in some cases, achieved high-level government positions, which was in contrast to the hierarchical rules regarding dhimmīs. There are some reports reflecting the extent of the conflicts between the Muslims and dhimmīs after abuses of power by those dhimmīs who had ignored their restrictions. In the medical sphere, Cohen reports that it was easier for Muslims to attend dhimmī medics, as the advantage of being treated was more important than the shame of going to a dhimmī medic. On the other hand, because of the translation movement, many Muslims easily accepted Greek medical knowledge. In the Middle Ages, the Muslims did not consider it humiliating to receive Greek medicine because after the translation of the Greek works, including those of Galen, they independently transformed this knowledge to develop a local Islamic medical tradition in the Middle Ages.

In terms of the Jewish position in the western Christian world, Cohen offers a picture of Jews living as a minority of unbelievers. The Jews in Europe were significantly more endangered than their counterparts in the Muslim world in the Middle Ages. The increasing economic vitality of European Jews in the Middle Ages gave rise to underlying feelings of anti-Semitism, which led the Jews t0 face many social obstacles in their participation with the Christians. Cohen, when compares the attitudes to those in northern Europe with that to those in Islamic rule, found that the Christians often accused Jewish medics of disloyalty to their moral responsibilities. This typical picture of the Jewish medic being allied with Satan, did not change after the development of medicine. This underlying religious hatred also had a negative impact on the law and politics throughout the period. In the 12th century, a new attitude arose which placed more restrictions and controls on the Jews. As the Jews were thought to be abased people rejected by God, a process of exclusion began and the Jewish became the victims of unprecedented violence. Cohen considers the persecution of the Jews from the beginning of the crusades until the thirteen century to be the worst period for Jewish-Christian relations, a period in which the Christians could be seen a society of persecution.

Briefly, Cohen considers that the Jews in the Islamic world in the classical period were in a better situation than their European counterparts. Although under the control of the prevailing Islamic community, the Jews were able to integrate into the society and daily activities more than their Ashkenazi counterparts in Europe were. As Cohen points out, it seems that the Jews of the East accepted their abased position in society as Islam paid less attention than Christianity to the abased nature of the Jews. This meant that the Islamic states offered the Jews the position of a positively marginalized minority, which allowed them the freedom to become involved in the government and to excel in the in the fields of medicine and trade.

 


[1]. MARK COHEN, Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994)

[2]. Cohen examines at what point in history the Arab hostility against Zionism began. He feels that this Anti-Semitism probably began in the 19th century when the Arab Christians exploited some old and new patterns to propagate Anti-Semitism.