‘Quaestie Oort’ of ‘Quaestie Tai’? | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online
Volume 41, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 2542-6583
  • E-ISSN: 2590-3268



Henricus Oort was an internationally respected Hebrew and Biblical scholar, as well as a liberal and enlightened Christian. In 1880 a popular publication on the Talmud led him into a fierce controversy with the Amsterdam rabbi Tobias Tal. The case got much publicity and Tal became famous by his resolute attack on a respected member of the intellectual establishment. Today, however, not the Jewish side of the argument, but rather the complicated position taken by Oort is the one that needs comment.

Oort was a critical and competent scholar. His knowledge of rabbinics was limited, but sufficient for the purposes of his research and certainly far above the average level in his circles. He was in no way liable to feelings of antisemitism or to unreasonable attitudes towards his Jewish fellow-men. Yet his research of rabbinic literature was mainly devoted to a scholarly revision of the old Christian anti-Jewish arguments against early Jewish spirituality, and bent upon belittling the moral value of the Talmud and related writings. Why? Oort’s deepest convictions as a Christian were based on the ethics of Jesus’ teachings and on the revolutionary morality of the Gospels. Critical study of the Bible – his own contributions included – had shown the intimate relationship between the NT and its Jewish environment. In order to maintain the superiority of NT teaching, he was forced to describe contemporary Judaism as standing in the shadows of the great light which had shone in Jesus of Nazareth. It is sad irony that this open-minded and sincere Christian failed to understand not only the motives and feelings of his Jewish colleagues, but the essence of early Judaism, to which he devoted so much energy, as well.


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