Curs­ing the Chris­tians?: A His­to­ry of the Birkat HaMinim

Ruth Langer
  • Review
By – June 21, 2012

In the Ami­dah, the bless­ing of the heretics” is well known as a curse, and often under­stood to have been specif­i­cal­ly devel­oped to exclude the ear­ly Christ-fol­low­ing Jews from the syn­a­gogues that did not approve of this affil­i­a­tion. It is obvi­ous­ly of impor­tance, then, not only on its own terms with­in Judaism, but also for trac­ing the his­to­ry of rela­tions with Chris­tians, and thus, for Chris­t­ian-Jew­ish rela­tions today, even if that under­stand­ing of its ori­gins and gen­er­al usage is not with­out chal­lenge, as ably demon­strat­ed in this unpar­al­leled resource.

Pro­fes­sor Langer is an expert on Jew­ish litur­gi­cal his­to­ry who can bring much to the study of this top­ic besides its polem­i­cal dimen­sions. In the first part of this work, she explores the his­to­ry of the for­mu­la­tions of this phrase, and in the sec­ond part she eval­u­ates the evi­dence. The crit­i­cal edi­tions of the var­i­ous ver­sions of the prayer fol­low in appen­dix­es, as well as a glos­sary, bib­li­og­ra­phy, and exten­sive index­es. The read­er is chal­lenged to think about var­i­ous Jew­ish con­texts for this and oth­er litur­gi­cal prac­tices as they were adopt­ed and adapt­ed over the cen­turies. Langer’s style is aca­d­e­m­ic yet acces­si­ble, the detail com­pre­hen­sive; this is the ref­er­ence work for top­ic. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, indexes.

Mark D. Nanos, Ph.D., Uni­ver­si­ty of Kansas, is the author of Mys­tery­of Romans, win­ner of the 1996 Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award, Charles H. Revson­Award in Jew­ish-Chris­t­ian Relations.

Discussion Questions