Sin­ners on Tri­al: Jews and Sac­ri­lege after the Reformation

Mag­da Teter
  • Review
By – October 31, 2011

Men­tion of Jews in the Mid­dle Ages often con­jures up words like rit­u­al mur­der accu­sa­tions and burn­ing at the stake. Though the medieval peri­od was undoubt­ed­ly a vio­lent one dur­ing which count­less Jews suf­fered and died, such atroc­i­ties are at least as, if not more, rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the mod­ern period. 

Mag­da Teter’s new book dis­cuss­es hun­dreds of cas­es from six­teenth and sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry Poland in which Jews were impli­cat­ed in one way or anoth­er in charges of sac­ri­lege against Catholic church­es and their con­tents. The pages of Sin­ners on Tri­al are replete with accounts of tor­ture and vio­lent exe­cu­tions, but also of the deeply inter­twined lives of Jews and Chris­tians in post-Ref­or­ma­tion Poland. Teter is one of the only his­to­ri­ans writ­ing in Eng­lish who is famil­iar with source mate­r­i­al in Pol­ish and in Hebrew, and her wide eru­di­tion allows her to place these tri­als in the many con­texts — reli­gious, polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic, emo­tion­al — in which they took place. 

An impor­tant aspect of her analy­sis is the insight that, in many cas­es, the real con­flict was between Catholics and Protes­tants, and that the Jews were mere­ly con­ve­nient pawns in the pow­er strug­gle between Chris­tians. Sin­ners on Tri­al is an impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion to ear­ly mod­ern Euro­pean his­to­ry that gives Jew­ish his­to­ry an inte­gral but not exclu­sive place.

Discussion Questions