Quote of the day, again from Steven F. Kruger, The Spectral Jew. I'm enjoying my reading of this book so much that I have been slow in moving through its pages. In my own work, I've thought quite a bit about medieval noise. Today I'd like to share an excerpt from Kruger's book on the eloquence of silence.
Kruger is examining the records of medieval debates staged between Christians and Jews, disputations which generically unfold as Christian triumphs over innate Jewish blindness. What do you do when you are a rabbi forced to enter such a performance as the speaker for all Jews, your role as loser given to you in advance? What can you say against an authority that has already judged you as deficient and wrong? Is it any surprise that the textual record will record repeatedly that "The Rabbi publicly confessed that he knew nothing more with which to respond"?
Such repeated descriptions of Jewish nonresponse in the Christian record of the disputation add up to a declaration of Christian triumph, and in such moments of self-silencing, we might read the rabbis as participating in their own erasure, in the moves to contain and reduce the Jewish embodiment put at center stage in the disputation.
But Jewish self-censorship and silence might also be read as resistance -- a refusal, increasing as the debate proceeds, to participate in a process over which the rabbis have no control. That is, silence may be one strategy for staying Jewish -- for the rabbis' maintaining an integrity as Jews -- in a situation where doing so by presenting honestly the varying and sometimes discordant traditions of Jewish interpretation or by strongly proclaiming one's beliefs seems increasingly impossible. (p. 200)
Or as Cicero once said, cum tacent clamant: when they are silent, they scream.