This book examines Christian ethnographic writing about the Jews in early modern Europe, offering a systematic historical analysis of this literary genre and arguing its importance for better understanding both the period in general and Jewish-Christian relations in particular. The book focuses on nearly 80 texts from Western Europe (mostly Germany) that describe the customs and ceremonies of the contemporary Jews, containing both descriptions and illustrations of their subjects. Deutsch is one of the first scholars to study these unique writings in extensive detail. He examines books in which Christian authors describe Jewish life and provides new interpretations of Christian perceptions of Jews, Christian Hebraism, and the attention paid by the Hebraist to contemporary Jews and Judaism. Since many of the authors were converts, studying their books offers new insights into conversion during the period. Their work presents new perspectives the study of religion, developments in the field of anthropology and ethnography, and internal Christian debates that arose from the portrayal of Jewish life.
Despite the lack of attention by modern scholars, some of these books were extremely popular in their time and represent one of the important ways by which Jews were perceived during the period. The key claim of the study is that, although almost all of the descriptions of Jewish customs are accurate, the authors chose to concentrate mainly on details that show the Jewish ceremonies as anti-Christian, superstitious, and ridiculous; these details also reveal the deviation of Judaism from the Biblical law. Deutsch suggests that these ethnographic descriptions are better defined as polemical ethnographies and argues that the texts, despite their polemical tendency, represent a shift from writing about Judaism as a religion to writing about Jews, and from a mode of writing based on stereotypes to one based on direct contact and observation.