Deceiving the Dumb Goyim
|Leon Poliakov uses the following
story to explain the nature of Talmudic reasoning:
A goy [non-Jew] insisted that a Talmudist explain to him what the Talmud was. The sage finally consented and asked the goy the following question:
It is hard to miss the intention of the Talmud, or misinterpret its noble meaning, or pilpul it into something other than what it is, when it says:
Rabbi Shemeul says advantage may be taken of the mistakes of a Gentile. He once bought a gold plate as a copper one of a Gentile for four zouzim, and then cheated him out of one zouzim in the bargain. Rav Cahana purchased a hundred and twenty vessels of wine from a Gentile for a hundred zouzim, and swindled him in the payment out of one of the hundred, and that while the Gentile assured him that he confidently trusted his honesty. Rava once went shares with a Gentile and bought a tree, which was cut up into logs. This done, he bade his servants to go pick out the largest logs, but to be sure to take no more than the proper number, because the Gentile knew how many there were. As Rav Ashi was walking abroad one day he saw some grapes growing in a roadside vineyard, and sent his servant to see whom they belonged to. "If they belong to a Gentile," he said, "bring some here to me, but if they belong to an Israelite, do not meddle with them." The owner, who happened to be in the vineyard, overheard the Rabbi's order and called out, "What? Is it lawful to rob a Gentile?" "Oh, no," said the Rabbi evasively, "a Gentile might sell, but an Israelite would not" (Bava Kama, Fol. 113, col. 2).
The Jewish Diaspora community in Europe has been formally called to task by Christian authorities a number of times in history to find out exactly what the Jews in their midst believed and where they morally, politically, socially, and religiously stood with regard to Gentiles.
One of the most important accounts of such an occasion was in France in the year 1240. A Jewish apostate named Donin, Christianized to Nicholas de Rupella, well versed in Hebrew as a Talmudic scholar, claimed to Church officials that there were many elements in Jewish teachings that were threatening to non-Jews. A public disputation was held between Donin and Rabbi Yehiel ben Joseph of Paris. As Jeremy Cohen notes about Hebrew records of the event: "Some modern writers have labeled the Hebrew protocol [of the disputation] a prime example of literary polemic, using well-known forensic motifs to reinforce popular Jewish belief rather than actually reporting what occurred."
The most infamous line in the Talmud -- "the best among Gentiles should be slain"-- came up for public examination. One can imagine that such a directive in Jewish religious texts, whatever its complex historical context as a part of intra-Jewish argument, exposed to Church leaders in medieval society by a Jewish apostate, was not an easy one for the rabbis to explain away. Even Jacob Katz passes on its essential content, simply alluding to "whatever its meaning may be ..." M. K. Harris, in his book on Talmudic literature, mentions an addenda: "Modern editions," he notes, "qualify this by adding 'in time of war.'"
The intention of the Church inquiry was, of course, to squeeze out of Jewish religious texts the most self-condemning material. Hence, some of what Katz calls the Talmud's apparent "picture of extreme hostility on the part of the Jews towards their Christian neighbors" seemed nothing less than indicting:
You have permitted [Jews] to shed the blood of Gentiles. It is permitted to steal and plunder the Gentile's possessions and (it is allowed) to cheat him. Concerning the lost property of a Gentile, you say that it is forbidden to return it to him. The Gentile is suspected by the Jew of practicing fornication, adultery, and sodomy. The Jew is not allowed to make the Gentile any gift, nor is he even permitted to say, "How handsome this Gentile is"; it is permitted to you to curse and to despise [Christian] idolatry; and we are as despised in your eyes as locusts and flies.The way the rabbis weaseled out of the grim possibility of extremely serious repercussions for the Jewish community was to argue that such lines -- although they truly exist in Jewish sacred texts -- applied to Gentiles of antiquity, yes, but that Christians were now an exception. This position, says Katz, was "no more than an ad hoc device to be used in the course of controversy. There is no indication in the Talmud or in the later halakhic sources that such a view was ever held, or even proposed, by an individual halakhist. In fact, evidence to the contrary exists."
Rabbis even tried to convince Christian
interrogators that insults and degradations in the Talmud directed toward
Jesus of Nazareth referred to a different Jesus because it was a common
name! As Rabbi Yehiel ben Joseph said in defense of the Talmudic texts
that defamed Christ, "Not every Louis born in France is the king of France.
Has it not happened that two men were born in the same city, had the same
name, and died in the same manner? There are many such cases." "The Jesus
of the Talmud," scholar Jeremy Cohen writes, "... is mentioned as condemned
to wallow eternally in boiling excrement ... When forced to admit that
one talmudic passage mentioning the crimes of Jesus and his execution did
indeed apply to the Christian Jesus, Yehiel still emphasized that the Talmud
was not responsible for maintaining this opinion among Jews."
The Jewish representatives also took great pains to distance themselves from traditional prayers that asked, as the apostate correctly charged, for the end of the "unrighteous kingdom." Did "unrighteous kingdom" mean the surrounding society in which the Jews currently lived? It did. This has always, as Katz acknowledges, meant to Jews "the whole secular world and its entire political edifice," but the Jewish defenders managed to convince their inquirers that the prayers alluded to the ancient powers of Biblical eras.
The preceding text is excerpted and edited from When Victims Rule, online at Jewish Tribal Review. The title is editorial; JTR's in-text citations have been removed. I have added the quotes from Shahak. His invaluable Jewish History, Jewish Religion can be purchased from National Vanguard Books.