What was his reason for hating the Jews? Did Luther believe in religious toleration, or did he hate the Jews because they didn't share his beliefs?

4 Answers 4


I can go into further details if requested, but "TL;DR" answer is:

After Luther agitated that "Jews didn't convert to Christianity because Catholics treated them badly, and would convert if you treat them better", Jews still didn't show any great willingness to convert.

Here's one supporting quote (context was Luther's refusal to intercede on Jews's behalf to stop their expulsion from Saxony etc... by Elector of Saxony John Frederick, Luther's prince):

": "... I would willingly do my best for your people but I will not contribute to your [Jewish] obstinacy by my own kind actions. You must find another intermediary with my good lord." (source: Luther’s 1536 letter to Rabbi Josel as cited by Gordon Rupp, Martin Luther and the Jews (London: The Council of Christians and Jews, 1972), 14.)

Just to clarify, since your question leads me to believe you didn't quite understand his views: Luther didn't believe in freedom of conscience in the modern libertarian sense. His opposition to the idea of involuntary conversion of the Jews was based on impracticality, NOT on a notion that trying to convert Jews was something evil because Jews have the right to be Jews.

A further influence in his thinking about Jews is listed in Wiki, so I'll just quote verbatim:

It is believed that Luther was influenced by Anton Margaritha's book Der gantze Jüdisch Glaub (The Whole Jewish Belief). Margaritha, a convert to Christianity who had become a Lutheran, published his antisemitic book in 1530 which was read by Luther in 1539. Margaritha's book was decisively discredited by Josel of Rosheim in a public debate in 1530 before Charles V and his court, resulting in Margaritha's expulsion from the Empire.

  • 7
    @JimThio - in Judaism, there is an absolute rule: everything is secondary to preserving a life (e.g. you can break any religious law to avoid death). For example, very strict dietary laws are waved if the alternative is literal starvation. You can do work/drive on Shabbat - generally a big nono - if you are a paramedic, with full rabbinical OK. There are only TWO exceptions to the above rule. Excepton #1: You can not murder. E.g. you're not permitted to kill an innocent person even if you're threatened with death for refusing. Exception #2: You can not renounce your God. 'nuff said
    – DVK
    Dec 17, 2011 at 18:18
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    @DVK, Exception #3, A Jew must allow themselves to be killed rather than transgress the laws against sexual immorality Oct 3, 2012 at 7:27
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    @Anixx, that might not be a bad question to post here: “Have Jews resisted conversion more than other faiths?” Feb 8, 2013 at 20:43
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    @DVK actually there were different versions of Christianity who were often harchly persecuted.
    – Anixx
    Jun 8, 2014 at 13:28
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    @Anixx - I don't think you can call Protestantism or Catholicism separate faiths, even though there definitely was cross persecution, especially around first half of 17th century
    – DVK
    Jun 8, 2014 at 18:37

What happened was that the University of Wurttemberg admitted some Hebrew scholars. These scholars having attracted some students to them among the gentiles, Luther, being an argumentative person, went to dispute with them regarding the relative merits of Judaism and Christianity. The Hebrews bested Luther in these arguments and had no difficulty making a mockery of Christianity, for example, pointing out that the genealogy of Jesus is different in different gospels and other obvious contradictions.

This humiliation infuriated Luther and caused him to later write two different pamphlets criticizing the Jews and their practices.

One book discussing these matters, "The History of the Church of Christ Previous to the Reformation" by Joseph Milner:

"Several Jews had resorted to Wittemberg, in consequence of the encouragement given to the study of the Hebrew scriptures in that university, and the attention bestowed upon their language.... Three of their rabbins (sic) came to Luther to dispute with him concerning their faith, etc"

There are many other books that discuss the same events.

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    -1 For conspiracies that include things like Jews going to Catholic seminary (university to become a priest) in the 16th century...or ever... for instance. Everyone of this period was not a racist BTW...
    – Razie Mah
    Jun 7, 2014 at 1:55
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    ??? what are you talking about. As far as I know this is exactly what happened, and this is repeated in many different books, not only about Luther but about the University at Wurttemberg. Jun 7, 2014 at 3:37
  • Jews were separated into ghettos and forced to wear yellow stars at this time in Germany, just as we see copied during the Holocaust, because the Catholic Church was afraid they would convert gentiles or marry them and convert the children. It's impossible unless the priests at Wuerttemburg were disobeying the Pope and probably the civil authorities and also being negligent teachers. Jews were more strict then too, so I can't imagine them wanting to go to seminary. It doesn't make any sense re: Judaism, Catholicism, or history. My wild guess is this is a 19th century idea. Yep. See, Milner.
    – Razie Mah
    Jun 9, 2014 at 18:52
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    @RazieMah Why don't you actually read some old books, before jumping to conclusions about what happened 500 years ago. Jun 9, 2014 at 21:23

Antisemitism and racism were much more common and acceptable in the olden days than now. It was much more common and acceptable to hate Jews, Blacks, Muslims, French (if you weren't French), Spanish (if you weren't Spanish), English (if you weren't English), etc.

So maybe he hated Jews, just because everyone else hated Jews at the same time?

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    Stop quoting PC propaganda lines, will you? Racism wasn't even a phenomenon in Europe before full-on slave trade started. If you want to look for real racism, look at Arab states of the time (read through 1001 Nights carefully one day for a very interesting picture of how Africans were viewed/treated). Muslims weren't primarily hated for being Muslim - they were hated for being an expansionist empire that geopolitically threatened Christian states, and took over "Holy Land". And if you bothered reading about Luther, you'd see that it was a very non-trivial question.
    – DVK
    Dec 17, 2011 at 19:02
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    Yeah, and those barbarians were the same race as them. That's the point - Romans didn't have issues with Africans for their color - just for not being Romans. They didn't distinguish one barbarian from another for their color. There's a difference between racism (real racism, not PC caricature that you like) and nationalism/xenophobia (especially culture based one). The easiest litmus test is how they treat a member of the "other" - whatever that is - who was adopted and grew up among the culture. To romans, a roman was a roman.
    – DVK
    Dec 18, 2011 at 15:32
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    Shame this answer hit a nerve with some people. It happens to be mostly the right answer. If you don't think there was a lot of anti-semitisim in Europe before the Renaisance you really haven't looked real hard. Luther just happened to become famous coincidentally with the printing press, so we have more of his less savory opinions recorded verbatim.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 11, 2012 at 21:44
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    > those barbarians were the same race as them Whether 2 people are the same race is a complex question, the answer changes often. Now-a-days, in the USA, an Irish-American and a WASP are seen as the same race (white), but that wasn't always the case. You might think a Roman and a Celt in Scotland are the same race, but back then they didn't think that. Likewise, now-a-days and Irish person and English person might be seen, in the UK, as both 'white', there was a lot of racism against them in the past. Apr 13, 2012 at 10:40
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    I thought there are racism all the way through all ages. Even jews were killing amalekites and the rest of Canaanites. Racism is like family preference. Of course people care about their families more than the others. However, racism is a much bigger and hence "thinner" family.
    – user4951
    Apr 11, 2017 at 3:28

Luther, like most self styled prophets of their times, found their ideas so compelling that they were surprised, saddened and then angry that the peoples rejected their ideas. Earlier examples would be Mohammed , Jesus and Moses.

  • Sort of good but too banal. +1
    – user4951
    Dec 17, 2011 at 4:22

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