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Response to Review no. 798

Dr Hessayon’s criticism of my book as unoriginal would make more sense if the book he describes was the book I have written. However, this review fails entirely to grasp the central focus of Judaism Without Jews: namely, a sustained exploration of how a variety of Christian factions in the 16th and 17th centuries employed Jewish ideas pragmatically within the context of particular Christian debates. Judaism without Jews does not simply describe how important Jewish ideas were to early modern Christians, since this subject has indeed received extensive treatment by other Anglo-Jewish historians and scholars of Christian Hebraism. Instead, my book distinguishes between different kinds of interest in Judaism in order to demonstrate three things. First, that the ambivalent and fluctuating nature of Christian attitudes towards Judaism sheds light on the deeply oppositional and highly unstable nature of Christian factionalism in the post-Reformation period. Second, that Christian interest in Judaism in this period was both opportunistic and contingent, the product of historically specific polemical objectives rather than an emergent sympathy for ‘real’ Jews. And third, that this latter point serves to complicate a teleological narrative that continues to inflect Anglo-Jewish history. According to this narrative, Christian interest in Judaism in the 16th and early 17th centuries led causally to English toleration, readmission and finally emancipation of the Jewish people.

In his summaries of my chapters, Dr Hessayon simply ignores my original analysis of the nuanced and differentiated uses of Judaism by opposing Christian denominations, and the variety of ways in which I situate interest in Judaism within the context of broader Christian controversies which very often had little or nothing to do with the Jews as people.

A further small point: Dr Hessayon mistakenly criticises Judaism without Jews for being ‘brief’; it is, at 90,000 words, at the upper word limit for books in Palgrave Macmillan’s history list.

More significantly, while Dr Hessayon repeatedly labels my book unoriginal, he fails to offer any examples of existing scholarship apart from David Katz to substantiate his criticisms, compromising both the courtesy and the credibility of this review. As an author, one hopes for more careful and attentive readers.