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New York - From "Ger Tzedek" To Rabid Anti-Semite: The Story Of Johann Andreas Eisenmenger

Published on: August 12, 2019 08:00 AM
By: JTA
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Johann Andreas Eisenmenger published “Judaism Unmasked,” one of the most noxious and highly influential anti-Semitic works ever written.  (Wikimedia Commons/JTA Montage)Johann Andreas Eisenmenger published “Judaism Unmasked,” one of the most noxious and highly influential anti-Semitic works ever written.  (Wikimedia Commons/JTA Montage)

New York - “Eisenmenger belonged to the class of insects which sucks poison even out of flowers,” the 19th-century Jewish historian Heinrich Graetz wrote.

Graetz was referring to Johann Andreas Eisenmenger, a young 17th-century scholar from Mannheim, Germany, who dedicated some 19 years of his life to mastering the Talmud and presenting himself to the Jewish community as a prospective “ger tzedek,” or righteous convert. He learned Hebrew, Aramaic and even Arabic during his intellectual journey, and read the whole Talmud roughly three times.

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And then, in 1700, Eisenmenger published “Judaism Unmasked,” one of the most noxious and highly influential anti-Semitic works ever written.

During the Nine Days leading up to Tisha b’Av, during which Jews commemorate the saddest moments in Jewish history from the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem to the deportation of the Jews of Warsaw, we again have witnessed Eisenmenger’s contemporary descendants: gunmen who publish paranoid, hateful “manifestos” before embarking on horrific acts of random violence. Those specifically targeting Jews, such as the shooters in Poway and Pittsburgh, often rely, consciously or otherwise, on the work of Johann Andreas Eisenmenger.

Spanning 2,000 pages over two brick-like volumes, “Entdecktes Judenthums” is an exhaustive survey of every possible passage from the Talmud that could be distorted to reflect badly on Jews and Judaism.

His verbose subtitle thoroughly described his intent, which was to prove how “the stubborn Jews frightfully blaspheme and dishonor the Holy Trinity … and despise and curse to the uttermost extreme the whole of Christianity.” He also promised “ridiculous and amusing stories” to boot, “written for the honest information of all Christians.”

Eisenmenger’s purpose and even methodology were hardly new. Jew-haters have been mining the Talmud for talking points since the 13th century, when the apostate Nicholas Donin first denounced it before Pope Innocent III. Few, however, were able to penetrate the depths of this massive, ancient text written in a mixture of highly coded Aramaic and Hebrew.

But Eisenmenger was different. A man of considerable academic skills (he ultimately taught at the University of Heidelberg), Eisenmenger realized that the only way to seriously understand the Talmud was to become immersed in the world of the yeshiva, a world closed to non-Jews by custom and even Jewish law. To achieve his dark purpose, Eisenmenger had to present himself as a genuine spiritual seeker, perhaps modeling himself as a righteous convert like Onkelos, whose translation of the Torah into Aramaic enjoys primacy over even Rashi, or Bodo-Elazar, who ignored the anti-Semitic environment of medieval Europe to adopt the ancient faith.

Eisenmenger began his lifelong deception in 1680 at the age of 24. By the time he was ready to bring his malicious book to print, Eisenmenger could count many rabbis among his teachers, including the prolific David ben Aryeh Lieb of Lida, Lithuania — then chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Amsterdam.

News of Eisenmenger’s colossal betrayal leaked out before “Judaism Unmasked” was released. The Jewish community rapidly mobilized to prevent its distribution, persuading Emperor Leopold I that its publication might ignite the popular violence that had plagued the region in 1699. Eisenmenger protested and a lengthy court battle ensued. The Jewish community offered 12,000 florins (roughly $5,000) to cover his costs if he would withdraw publication. Surprisingly, Eisenmenger seemed agreeable, but demanded 30,000. Negotiations were cut short by Eisenmenger’s sudden death in 1704, at age 50, of a stroke.

King Friedrich Wilhelm I of nearby Prussia circumvented the emperor by printing a second edition of 3,000 copies in 1711 in Berlin (although the title page listed “Koenigsburg” as the place of publication to reinforce that it was published outside the jurisdiction of Leopold I). For the past three centuries, from Stehelin’s English translation to the ugliest parts of the web, anti-Semites have relied on Eisenmenger’s distorted research to promote hatred.

Despite his incredibly profound impact on 300 years of anti-Semitic ideology, a shroud of scholarly silence descended over the man. With the exception of the great professor Jacob Katz’s exhaustive analysis of Eisenmenger’s methodology (Eisenmenger strove for accuracy in citation and translation, but criminally distorted the meaning of the passages in context with unacceptably tendentious commentary to promote awful lies like the infamous blood libel), the most extensive biography available is an impressive but brief study posted to Wikipedia by a 12th-grader in Braunschweig, Germany.

As a historian of the Jewish people, writing during the Nine Days, I find myself awed by Eisenmenger’s pathological achievement for two reasons. First, whatever we think about this sick individual, he devoted himself to an overwhelming tour de force of twisted scholarship: nearly 20 years of solitary toil, exhaustively infiltrating an alien community in order to produce such a massive publication.

Second, like Graetz, it is hard not to reflect on how Eisenmenger was “able to suck poison even out of flowers,” twisting and distorting the Talmud in such a hateful manner. Such, I suppose, is the power of Amalek, the ancient, eternal enemy of the Jewish people.



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Read Comments (15)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Aug 12, 2019 at 09:22 AM Anonymous Says:

Should of include that the jewish factor and financier Samuel Opperheimer had the emperor confiscate it for 30 years

2

 Aug 12, 2019 at 10:31 AM Anonymous Says:

This makes me sometimes doubt the attention we afford the ger tezediks of today. Sure we need top welcome them in our community. But we don't need to idolize them to the point where they all become world renowned speakers and milk the system. We need to be a bit more careful lest we get exploited.

This is not to knock gerim rather its about making so much noise about them. I fully respect all gerim as one of us.

3

 Aug 12, 2019 at 11:02 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #2  
Anonymous Says:

This makes me sometimes doubt the attention we afford the ger tezediks of today. Sure we need top welcome them in our community. But we don't need to idolize them to the point where they all become world renowned speakers and milk the system. We need to be a bit more careful lest we get exploited.

This is not to knock gerim rather its about making so much noise about them. I fully respect all gerim as one of us.

The fact is he wasn't even a ger he masqueraded as one.

4

 Aug 12, 2019 at 11:14 AM triumphinwhitehouse Says:

do we know if he was married to a Jewish woman? how is it the Rabinut converts en masse hundreds of thousands of PURE NON Jews from Ethiopia who are related to Ilhan Omar, when they see how 1 devious Ger caused so much damage?

5

 Aug 12, 2019 at 11:25 AM BuckyinWisconsin Says:

Pure Amalek. Who else could devote a lifetime of scholarship like this to pure hatred and not derive any benefit spiritually . German Amalekite like most

6

 Aug 12, 2019 at 12:55 PM AH Says:

Reply to #4  
triumphinwhitehouse Says:

do we know if he was married to a Jewish woman? how is it the Rabinut converts en masse hundreds of thousands of PURE NON Jews from Ethiopia who are related to Ilhan Omar, when they see how 1 devious Ger caused so much damage?

1. He never actually became a ger, just presented himself as a prospective one. So no.

2. Who's converting anyone "en masse"? Each individual is treated as just that, an individual. (Whether they're "pure non-Jews" is a whole other issue, anyway.)

3. Again, he never became an actual ger. Besides, by that logic, should rabbanim never perform marriages, because some of them (sadly) end up as abusive situations and/or rancorous divorces?

7

 Aug 12, 2019 at 01:01 PM Worzel Says:

It’s interesting that Graetz said that considering that he wasn’t that much better...

8

 Aug 12, 2019 at 02:36 PM Disgusting Says:

Reply to #2  
Anonymous Says:

This makes me sometimes doubt the attention we afford the ger tezediks of today. Sure we need top welcome them in our community. But we don't need to idolize them to the point where they all become world renowned speakers and milk the system. We need to be a bit more careful lest we get exploited.

This is not to knock gerim rather its about making so much noise about them. I fully respect all gerim as one of us.

Oh yeah, you respect gerim....after you just bashed the -#$& out of them!

9

 Aug 12, 2019 at 08:35 PM Duvidle Says:

Reply to #4  
triumphinwhitehouse Says:

do we know if he was married to a Jewish woman? how is it the Rabinut converts en masse hundreds of thousands of PURE NON Jews from Ethiopia who are related to Ilhan Omar, when they see how 1 devious Ger caused so much damage?

If you seek help right away you might still be saved. Don't wait. If roshei yesiva and g'dolim don't have problems with Ethiopians by what audacity does triumphinwhitehouse express a problem?

10

 Aug 12, 2019 at 09:01 PM Gersey Says:

Reply to #4  
triumphinwhitehouse Says:

do we know if he was married to a Jewish woman? how is it the Rabinut converts en masse hundreds of thousands of PURE NON Jews from Ethiopia who are related to Ilhan Omar, when they see how 1 devious Ger caused so much damage?

You are one troubled individual. Our Torah says; V'Hager Haguur B'Sochom.
Not once or twice but 47 times. To be treated equally as all jews are. It never mentions that the rabinut is the determining factor. You have been drinking too much Kool Aid as your handle says it all. Shlomo Hamelech had Ethiopian spouse, are you accusing him too.J'accuse.

11

 Aug 12, 2019 at 09:45 PM Naftush Says:

Reply to #4  
triumphinwhitehouse Says:

do we know if he was married to a Jewish woman? how is it the Rabinut converts en masse hundreds of thousands of PURE NON Jews from Ethiopia who are related to Ilhan Omar, when they see how 1 devious Ger caused so much damage?

You chose your screen name well: distorting minor points of fact (Ilhan Omar isn't from Ethiopia) and major ones (no "rabinut" converted any group en masse) to besmirch today's gerim. Pathological.

12

 Aug 12, 2019 at 11:21 PM Shmerel Says:

Reply to #4  
triumphinwhitehouse Says:

do we know if he was married to a Jewish woman? how is it the Rabinut converts en masse hundreds of thousands of PURE NON Jews from Ethiopia who are related to Ilhan Omar, when they see how 1 devious Ger caused so much damage?

Once a SHOITAH always a SHOITAH !!!

13

 Aug 13, 2019 at 07:14 AM Shlomo-1 Says:

Reply to #2  
Anonymous Says:

This makes me sometimes doubt the attention we afford the ger tezediks of today. Sure we need top welcome them in our community. But we don't need to idolize them to the point where they all become world renowned speakers and milk the system. We need to be a bit more careful lest we get exploited.

This is not to knock gerim rather its about making so much noise about them. I fully respect all gerim as one of us.

"milk the system" "exploited" followed by "I fully respect...."
Not "all" gerim become world renowned speakers who "milk the system."
Many quietly go about their lives and bear witness on a regular basis to horrible attitudes like yours that assume that gerut is done to exploit the Jewish community.

14

 Aug 13, 2019 at 02:29 PM AVNER001 Says:

Reply to #10  
Gersey Says:

You are one troubled individual. Our Torah says; V'Hager Haguur B'Sochom.
Not once or twice but 47 times. To be treated equally as all jews are. It never mentions that the rabinut is the determining factor. You have been drinking too much Kool Aid as your handle says it all. Shlomo Hamelech had Ethiopian spouse, are you accusing him too.J'accuse.

Where do you get references for sentences/citations in the Tanakh? I am interested in finding such a database. Todah

15

 Aug 14, 2019 at 04:15 AM Gersey Says:

Reply to #14  
AVNER001 Says:

Where do you get references for sentences/citations in the Tanakh? I am interested in finding such a database. Todah

TanaKh ,NOT. Yes all I know and was taught were by open minded full fledged rabbis in Yeshiva and shul. Rabbi Silbermintz, Rabbi Chafkin, Rabbi Geldwerth, rabbi Dovid Singer, Rabbi Moshe Spitz, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum ( yes that one ),Rabbi Pincus Teitz,R' Eleimelech Cheshen, and MORE. The knowledge that they imparted and imprinted in my DNA, get me 250 MPG. Some hd beards , some were shaven, some ate glatt, some ate kosher, BUT ALL understood all too well, that all the jews are just ONE PINTALA, and sometimes that means only one strand of many in the (DNA ) chain of life.

16

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