Putting the Talmud on Trial in Medieval France

Oct. 31 2017

In 1239, Pope Gregory IX informed the church hierarchy in France of the alleged threat posed by the Talmud, the contents of which had recently begun to be discovered by clerical scholars. The next year a public trial was held for the holy book in Paris. A newly published volume, The Trial of the Talmud, contains translations of contemporary documents related to the event along with historical essays and commentary. Sarah Ifft Decker writes in her review:

Nicholas Donin, a convert to Christianity who had received an extensive Jewish education, claimed that the Talmud was a human creation that the Jews valued over the Torah, and that it moreover contained blasphemous and anti-Christian teachings. If proved true, such accusations would justify banning the Talmud—a major blow to Jewish religious practice. Despite the efforts of Rabbi Yeḥiel of Paris, a scholar who acted as the chief Jewish representative, Donin proved his charges to the satisfaction of a hostile Christian jury, and copies of the Talmud were burned [publicly] in 1241 or 1242. . . .

Undoubtedly, the event had a significant emotional impact on those Jews living in Paris in the 1240s who witnessed the trial and subsequent burning of copies of the Talmud. A lament by Meir of Rothenburg, [a leading rabbinic authority of the era], highlights the trauma experienced by these Jewish witnesses, whom he describes as “mourners” of a personified Talmud. He refers repeatedly to the fire that consumed the Talmud before their eyes, transforming into text the persistent memory of that fire in the minds of mourners. . . .

However, the condemnation and burning of the Talmud resulted in little real change in Jewish religious practice. . . . [R]abbinic Judaism centered on the Talmud continued, as did Jewish intellectual activity linked to talmudic exegesis. Given that Pope Innocent IV referred to the continued Jewish use of the Talmud as late as 1244, Jews outside of Paris, and certainly outside France, still had copies of the Talmud. Enterprising or lucky Parisian Jewish scholars may even have preserved a few copies despite repeated searches and burnings.

The most important practical change wrought directly by the trial, [as one of the volume’s editors, Robert] Chazan argues, was a new impetus toward Jewish self-censorship. Previously, Jews had felt confident that use of the Hebrew language would keep their texts safe from prying Christian eyes. The trial of the Talmud made it very clear that the use of Hebrew would no longer protect them.

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Read more at Marginalia

More about: Anti-Semitism, French Jewry, History & Ideas, Jewish-Catholic relations, Middle Ages, Talmud

European Aid to the Middle East Is Shaped by a Political Agenda

Feb. 18 2019

The EU’s European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Unit dispenses millions of dollars in economic and humanitarian assistance to dozens of countries every year. Although it claims to operate on principles of strict neutrality, independent of any political motivation and giving priority to the neediest cases, a look at its activities in the Middle East suggests an entirely different approach, as Hillel Frisch writes:

[T]he Middle East is the overwhelming beneficiary of EU humanitarian aid—nearly 1 billion of just over 1.4 billion euros. . . . The bulk of the funds goes toward meeting the costs of assistance to Syrian refugees, followed by smaller sums to Iraq, Yemen, “Palestine,” and North Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa, by contrast, receives less than one-third of that amount. The problem with such allocations is that the overwhelming majority of people living in dire poverty reside in sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Bangladesh. . . . The Palestinians, who are richer on average than those living in the poorest states of the world, . . . receive over six euros per capita, while the populations of the poorest states receive less than one-eighth of that amount. . . .

Even less defensible is the EU’s claim to political neutrality. Its favoritism toward the Palestinians on this score is visible as soon as one enters terms into the general search function on the European Commission’s website. Enter “Palestine” and you get 20,737 results. Enter “Ethiopia” and you get almost the same figure, despite massive differences in population size (Ethiopia’s 100 million versus fewer than 5 million Palestinians), geographic expanse (Ethiopia is 50 times the size of “Palestine”), and degree of sheer suffering. The Syrian crisis, which is said to have led to the loss of a half-million lives, merits not many more site results than “Palestine.”

One of the foci of the website’s reports [on the Palestinians] is the plight of 35,000 Bedouin whom the EU assists, often in clear violation of the law, in Area C—the part of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control. The hundreds of thousands of Bedouin in Sinai, however, the plight of whom is readily acknowledged even by Egyptian officials, gets no mention, even though Egypt is a recipient of EU aid. . . .

Clearly, the EU’s approach to aid allocation has nothing to do with impartiality, true social-welfare needs, or humanitarian considerations. [Instead], it favors allocations to Syrian refugees above Yemeni refugees because of the higher probability that Syrian refugees will find their way to Europe. . . . The recipients of European largesse who are next in line [to Syrians], in relative terms, are the Palestinians. [This particular policy] can be attributed primarily to the EU’s hostility toward Israel, its rightful historical claims, and its security needs.

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More about: Europe and Israel, European Union, Israel & Zionism, Palestinians