Putting the Talmud on Trial in Medieval France

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.

Read more at Marginalia

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

The IDF’s First Investigation of Its Conduct on October 7 Is Out

For several months, the Israel Defense Forces has been investigating its own actions on and preparedness for October 7, with an eye to understanding its failures. The first of what are expected to be many reports stemming from this investigation was released yesterday, and it showed a series of colossal strategic and tactical errors surrounding the battle at Kibbutz Be’eri, writes Emanuel Fabian. The probe, he reports, was led by Maj. Gen. (res.) Mickey Edelstein.

Edelstein and his team—none of whom had any involvement in the events themselves, according to the IDF—spent hundreds of hours investigating the onslaught and battle at Be’eri, reviewing every possible source of information, from residents’ WhatsApp messages to both Israeli and Hamas radio communications, as well as surveillance videos, aerial footage, interviews of survivors and those who fought, plus visits to the scene.

There will be a series of further reports issued this summer.

IDF chief Halevi in a statement issued alongside the probe said that while this was just the first investigation into the onslaught, which does not reflect the entire picture of October 7, it “clearly illustrates the magnitude of the failure and the dimensions of the disaster that befell the residents of the south who protected their families with their bodies for many hours, and the IDF was not there to protect them.” . . .

The IDF hopes to present all battle investigations by the end of August.

The IDF’s probes are strictly limited to its own conduct. For a broader look at what went wrong, Israel will have to wait for a formal state commission of inquiry to be appointed—which happens to be the subject of this month’s featured essay in Mosaic.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza War 2023, IDF, Israel & Zionism, October 7