Studies of the Jewish experience among peoples with whom they live share some similarities with the usual histories of anti-Semitism, but also some differences. When the focus is on anti-Semitism, Jewish history appears as a record of unmitigated hostility against the Jewish people and of passivity on their part. However, as Werner J. Cahnman demonstrates in this posthumous volume, Jewish-Gentile relations are far more complex. There is a long history of mutual contacts, positive as well as antagonistic, even if conflict continues to require particular attention.
Cahnman's approach, while following a historical sequence, is sociological in conception. From Roman antiquity through the Middle Ages, into the era of emancipation and the Holocaust, and finally to the present American and Israeli scene, there are basic similarities and various dissimilarities, all of which are described and analyzed. Cahnman tests the theses of classical sociology implicitly, yet unobtrusively. He traces the socio-economic basis of human relations, which Marx and others have emphasized, and considers Jews a "marginal trading people" in the Park-Becker sense. Simmel and Toennies, he shows, understood Jews as "strangers" and "intermediaries." While Cahnman shows that Jews were not "pariahs," as Max Weber thought, he finds a remarkable affinity to Weber's Protestantism-capitalism argument in the tension of Jewish-Christian relations emerging from the bitter theological argument over usury.
The primacy of Jewish-Gentile relations in all their complexity and variability is essential for the understanding of Jewish social and political history. This volume is a valuable contribution to that understanding.