Recent research has sought to explain the difference between the numbers of apostates in the two major areas of Jewish population in the Middle Ages. In Sefarad, there was a process of mass conversion to Christianity at the end of the fourteenth century and the beginning of the fifteenth century, while in Ashkenaz, the numbers of conversions were notably fewer, in both number and proportion. This paper seeks to show that the existence of a group of ideological apostates – well-known rabbis who became Christian – in Spain is one of the major reasons for this difference. These rabbis, who knew of each other, believed they had found the true religion in Christianity and wanted to share their truth with their former co-religionists. In my opinion, more than any actions that the apostate rabbis themselves took to convince other Jews to change their religion, the very fact that the Jewish population was aware of these rabbis' committed conversions was the rabbis' major influence on the community. This knowledge partly suppressed the natural repulsion of Spanish Jews from Christianity and put them in a more vulnerable situation which exacerbated existing exterior pressures – both physical and economic – to convert. No such ideology of apostasy existed in Ashkenaz, and this is one of the major reasons for the difference in rates of conversion between the two communities.
|Journal||Hebrew Union College Annual|
|State||Published - 2012|