- The Censor, the Editor, and the Text: The Catholic Church and the Shaping of the Jewish Canon in the Sixteenth Century
Raz-Krakotzkin's monograph on the censorship of Jewish books in the sixteenth century is an important contribution to the ongoing reassessment of Jewish status in premodern Christian Europe. Without denying the repressive nature and intent of censorship —here referring to both prepublication censorship and to expurgation of passages from previously published books —Raz-Krakotzkin focuses our attention on the role of censorship as a mediating factor between author and reader, assigning to the censor the role of cultural agent. In Raz-Krakotzkin's account, the censor takes his place alongside other new professionals such as editors and typesetters. Raz-Krakotzkin is influenced by Roger Chartier and others who have reconceptualized the history of the book in terms of the history of reading and who have translated the debates of literary theorists about reception into a more empirically minded historical idiom. In keeping with this approach, Raz-Krakotzkin [End Page 905] does not negate the agency of readers of censored texts, but his emphasis here is on the role of the censors in shaping the body of literature —both in content and in conceptualization —available to those readers.
Censorship of Hebrew texts is part of a long history of Church policy toward Jews and theological anti-Judaism. In the sixteenth century, however, in the new world made by print and the Reformation, Raz-Krakotzkin shows that censorship played not only a repressive, or exclusionary, role but also defined a permitted canon of Jewish literature that could take its place as an accepted body of knowledge for both Christians and Jews within Christendom. Moreover, Raz-Krakotzkin argues, such an exercise in canon formation and boundary definition marked an important stage in modernization, as both Jewish texts and Jewish readers were redefined in the direction of "modern discourse, based on the concept of ethnicity and culture that developed later" (25).
Raz-Krakotzkin argues that censorship not only redefined Christian attitudes toward Jews but also shaped "modern Jewish perceptions" (31). The early modern censors attempted primarily to remove anti-Christian references from Hebrew literature and hence, from Jewish discourse. In what is his most provocative argument, Raz-Krakotzkin proposes that the censors largely succeeded in this goal and that a hallmark characteristic of modern Jewish discourse is the formation of a "Judaism detached from the anti-Christian polemic" (31). Raz-Krakotzkin offers this suggestion in his introduction and returns to it in his conclusion, developing his argument in more detail and subtlety, albeit still mainly in a speculative and programmatic manner. Following the direction of Robert Bonfil who emphasized the ghetto in the formation of Jewish cultural autonomy in Counter-Reformation Italy, Raz-Krakotzkin argues that censorship should be viewed in the same light. In both cases, what may have been intended as a repressive and exclusionary measure (from the point of view of the Christian majority) becomes a factor in the formation of an autonomous and protomodern Jewish culture. Censorship did not encourage Jews to dissolve their differences with Christians and assimilate (by conversion); rather, it may have played a role in allowing Jews to develop a (protonational?) separatism not defined by polemical concerns but by internal cultural and religious developments (such as the popularization of Kabbalah, noted by both Bonfil and Raz-Krakotzkin as crucial factors in this process).
As Raz-Krakotzkin acknowledges, the issues here require further research. As he notes, censorship was not always successful in the long term, as later readers often restored the anti-Christian passages marked out by expurgation or omitted in the print shop. This does not negate the overall thrust of the argument as the initial act of censorship remains a mediating factor. Moreover, Raz-Krakotzkin is focused on the shaping of a new consciousness about Jewish texts and not about any particular...