When his proclaimed attempt to purify Christianity failed to precipitate a mass conversion of Jews, Martin Luther declared that “their synagogues . . . should be set on fire, . . . their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed,” and their sacred books confiscated. He also advocated the execution of rabbis. Josel of Rosheim, a capable and resourceful leader, sought to rebut Luther’s slanders and successfully interceded with the Holy Roman emperor to obtain an official confirmation of Jewish rights and privileges. Eli Kavon comments:
Josel had the title of “chief of the Jews in the German Lands.” Time after time, he had to place his life at risk to defend his fellow Jews. In his [Hebrew-language] memoirs he relates how he had to confront peasants in Alsace [during their 1525 revolt] and convince them not to attack the Jews. . . .
Josel’s genius was rooted in his ability to persuade both Protestants and Catholics, based on the underpinnings of their theology and politics, not to harm Jews and to allow Jews to live in peace and with privileges. Toward the end of his life, he found himself siding with Catholic rulers to provide Jews with protection against Luther and the Protestant Reformation. While he realized that the emperors posed a danger to the Jews as well, he feared Luther most of all.