Culture Wars Feature Article

A Catholic Talmud Talmud

by Ben Douglass

This article was published in the March 2007 issue of Culture Wars magazine.




In her autobiography, Life in a Jewish Family, St. Edith Stein, the most renowned Jewish convert to Catholicism in recent history, relates a story about an observant Orthodox friend. And at the end of it, she makes a quite candid statement of her opinion of the Talmud [Heb., study].

One day, when out walking with him, I had an errand in one of the houses we passed. In the doorway I suddenly handed him my briefcase to hold while I went in. Too late, it occurred to me that it was Saturday and one ought not to carry anything on the Sabbath. I found him dutifully awaiting me at the doorway. I apologized for thoughtlessly causing him to do something forbidden. ‘I haven’t done anything forbidden,’ he replied quietly. ‘Only on the street is one not to carry anything; it is allowed in the house.’ For that reason, he had remained in the entrance-hall, taking care not to put even one foot into the street. This was an example of the talmudic sophistry which I found so repugnant. But I made no comment.1

Of course, at the time of this event, St. Edith Stein was not judging the Talmud as a Catholic, but merely as a secular Jew with a decent head on her shoulders (to put it modestly), and uncommonly strong natural virtue.2 Yet, hers strikes me as the only proper Catholic attitude towards this collection of books. For that matter, Catholics have far weightier reasons to find the Talmud repugnant than that it is sophistical, namely because it overturns the Word of God in Sacred Scripture and takes credit for the killing of Christ. To find it repugnant, then, is I think the only possible position a Catholic may take, once he knows everything these books contain. So, it will be my endeavor in this article to simply show people what’s in the Talmud, and hopefully inculcate a proper attitude in Catholic readers, and correct the opposite error. To adapt a phrase from St. John Chrysostom (and yes, I know the original phrase was over the top), some, I know, respect the Talmud and think that its method of biblical exegesis is a venerable one. This is why I hasten to uproot and tear out this deadly opinion.3

Of course, I also write for Jews. The large majority of Jews rightly reject many Talmudic doctrines as abhorrent, but many either are not familiar with the relevant passages, or do not believe that they say what the Talmud’s detractors claim that they say.4 So, I intend to set the contradictions between the beliefs of Jews (e.g. Gentiles and Jews should receive equal treatment before the civil and criminal law; child rape deserves a harsher punishment than lashes; a Gentile servant who undergoes ritual purification in order to work in a Jewish household should not be permitted to marry his own mother or daughter; a Gentile who steals a penny from a Jew should not be put to death; if the witnesses who got a man sentenced to death retract their testimony, and explain why they lied, the man should not be executed anyway, etc.), and the doctrines of their sacred texts (e.g. the opposite of all the above), directly before them, and invite them to make a choice. Are you prepared to defend these doctrines, or will you give serious consideration to the propositions that this “Oral Torah” is not worthy of veneration, that it contains many and grievous moral errors, and that the religion which produced, embraced, and formed itself around these documents had gone off track at some point in history?5 And let me point out that, for all the sins of the Jews recorded in Sacred Scripture, every year on Yom Kippur, the red strip of cloth which was tied to the Temple door turned white to signify that the sins of the people had been forgiven, until circa 30 A.D.6 Perhaps you will consider this as a candidate for the time of the derailing?

Anyway, for the sake of non-Jewish readers, I will begin by answering the question, “what is the Talmud?”7 The Jews8 regard it as the codification of the oral Torah, a massive body of oral revelation which was allegedly given to Moses on Mount Sinai alongside the written Torah, and handed down through the centuries through tradition. This tradition furnishes what the Jews, except for a small minority of Karaites, today regard as the authoritative, controlling interpretation of the Bible. The oral Torah was first written down around 200 A.D. by a rabbi named Judah ha-Nasi in a document called the Mishnah, and over the next four centuries various rabbis discussed, debated, and commented upon it, and these debates and commentaries were compiled and edited to create what is now known as the Gemara. The Mishnah and the Gemara together comprise the Talmud. Thus, in essence, the Talmud is a commentary on the Torah, with a commentary on the commentary. Moreover, it is usually published with extensive commentary.

The Jews divide the contents of the Talmud into two main categories: Halakhah [law] and Aggadah [homiletic material, folklore, anecdotes, moral exhortations, and the like]. While regarded as interesting and worthy of study, the Aggadah is not central to the faith and practice of Jews in the same way as the Halakhah. It is the Halakhah which is the Jew’s daily bread. Conservative Rabbi Jacob Neusner9 explains:

The Halakhah sets forth the norms for a society worthy of God's presence, the laws of the sanctification of the social order that God himself has revealed to Israel at Sinai in the Torah ... Besides the instructions of the Torah, particularly the Pentateuch, what, exactly, do I mean by 'the Halakhah'? I refer to the formulation of the normative law of Judaism in its initial statement, set forth in the Mishnah (ca. 200 C.E.), in the Tosefta (ca. 300 C.E.), the Yerushalmi (ca. 400 C.E.) or the Bavli (ca. 600 C.E.). The four Halakhic documents of late antiquity, a law code, a supplement, and two commentaries to the law and its code and supplement, all together form the statement of the norms of behavior, realizing the norms of belief, set forth in the formative age of Judaism. These documents are held to record the originally-orally-formulated and orally-transmitted tradition given by God to Moses at Sinai along with the written-out part of the Torah... The normative law, or Halakhah, of the Oral Torah defines the principal medium by which the Rabbinic sages who in antiquity founded Judaism as we know it set forth their message... And from the closure of the Talmud of Babylonia to our own day, those who mastered the documents of the Oral Torah themselves insisted upon the priority of Halakhah, which is clearly signaled as normative, over the Aggadah, which commonly is not treated as normative in the same way as is the Halakhah.10

Incidentally, a little further on, Neusner makes another observation which I find quite apposite to the purposes of this study: “[T]he Halakhah formed Israel's paideia, its Bildung, its character - and conscience - building classroom and laboratory ... From antiquity to our own day the legal documents have defined the curriculum for the education of Israelites, meaning, pious Jews.”11 If, then, Talmudic law is the daily bread for pious Jews, and the curriculum for the education of Jewish children, and has a formative effect on the consciences of world Jewry, someone ought to make it publicly known if that bread contains corrupting leaven.

In any case, while we may grant that elements of Talmudic teaching derive from actual divine revelation, this immense corpus of doctrine clearly did not drop from the sky at mount Sinai. On the contrary, it contains many things that are clearly the spurious inventions of men, and many things that corrupt and overturn the word of God in Sacred Scripture.12 This concept of an oral Torah grew out of a particular rabbinic school of thought in the few centuries preceding Christ, and became the belief of the large majority of Judaism, except of course for the Karaites, in the centuries after.

This school of thought was Phariseeism. Indeed, those Pharisees, the rabbis with whom Our Lord did such frequent battle in the Gospels, not that their opponents the Sadducees were any better. The Pharisees believed in the oral Torah, whereas the priestly party, the Sadducees, believed only what was written in the Law of Moses, the first five books of the Bible.

Some background is in order. The beginnings of Pharisaic thought are actually entirely noble. After the Babylonians destroyed Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and took the Jews into captivity in Babylon, the Jews needed to figure out how they were going to keep their religion alive. Their religion had been centered on that Temple, its priesthood, and its liturgy of sacrifice; it was their highest form of worship, and they were so attached to it in fact that they very frequently tried to replicate it elsewhere. Sacred Scripture habitually groans about the stubbornness of the Jews in persisting in offering sacrifice and incense on “the high places.”13 Likewise, Jewish exiles in Egypt built an illicit replica of Solomon’s Temple in the second century B.C.14 Furthermore, the Jews’ ability to preserve their unique way of life had been facilitated by their having their own country. Now they were adrift in a foreign land, their Temple was gone, and they needed to find some cohesive force which would prevent their people from assimilating into Babylonian culture and playing the harlot with Babylon’s gods.

What, then, remained to them? They had the Torah, the prophets, and the writings. Thus, the elders of the Jews developed synagogue worship. The Jews would assemble together, a scholar of the Scriptures would read and expound upon them, and the people would pray and worship together.15 By developing this system where Scripture study was at the heart of their worship services, the elders of the Jews were able to impress the Torah on people’s hearts firmly enough, and teach them what it contained well enough, that the people by and large preserved their cultural and religious identity and did not assimilate into Babylon. And according to the Talmud, Ezra, the biblical priest and scholar, instituted an assembly of Scripture scholars dedicated to preserving and propagating this heritage of biblical learning. Now the Talmud may or may not be right about this point of history, but in any case synagogue worship, and the tradition of Scripture scholarship of which Ezra was perhaps the greatest example, lived on even after the Jews were restored to their homeland and rebuilt their Temple in Jerusalem.

But in the few centuries preceding Christ things took a turn for the worse. The rabbis began to accumulate human accretions to the Torah,16 and to attempt to modify the existing Law for one reason or another,17 and they developed a formal method of exegesis known as Midrash by which they could read their inventions into the biblical text, and read contradictions to their inventions out of it.

Suffice to say, Midrash is not sound biblical exegesis. The distinguishing feature of Midrash is the way it uses any ambiguities, real or perceived, and especially anything that sounds the least bit repetitious, as an interpretive wedge which it can then drive into Sacred Scripture in order to open it up to a whole host of interpretations which have little to do with what the text actually says. And not infrequently, these so-called interpretations actually overturn what Scripture plainly, literally says. The way a Jewish friend described it to me, while the Talmud never explicitly rejects anything from Sacred Scripture, on the other hand if it doesn't like what Scripture says it interprets it out of existence. One Talmudic sage by the name of Rava even declares that Jews ought to venerate him like they venerate the Torah, because of his ability to do violence to the plain meaning of Scripture: “How dull witted are those other people who stand up [in deference] to the Scroll of the Torah but do not stand up [in deference] to a great personage, because, while in the Torah Scroll forty lashes are prescribed, the Rabbis come and [by interpretation] reduce them to one.”18 Thus, the Talmud has an interpretive hegemony over the text; it can make it say what it wants it to say. The Talmud can suffocate Sacred Scripture; it can debase and vulgarize it. Heinrich Graetz, the father of Jewish historiography, was actually being quite kind when he stated of the Talmud that:

[I]t encourages an unhealthy interpretation of the Scriptures -- and insipid constructions that are often opposed to the truth. No breath of poetry stirs its leaves, and on reading the Talmud one must forget the poetry of the Bible, its simple yet compelling beauty of form, the vivid eloquence of the prophets, the heaven soaring flight of the Psalms, the profundity of the Book of Job--one must forget all these if he is to bear no grudge against the Talmud and thereby do it no injustice.19

Dr. Arthur Green, the Philip W. Lown Professor of Jewish Thought at Brandeis University, lists some of the hermeneutical assumptions of Midrash as “the legitimacy of juxtaposing verses from anywhere in Scripture without concern for dating or context, the rearranging of words or even occasional substitution of letters, use of numerology and abbreviation as ways to derive meaning,” and, “the endless glorification of biblical heroes and the tarring of villains.”20 And we have to recognize that when these exegetical practices are applied in order to justify teachings which are foreign or even opposed to Sacred Scripture, we are dealing with clear dishonesty. St. Jerome was entirely right when he commented that Jews often “make a practice of fabricating long tales on the pretext of a single word.”21

Abraham Cohen, in his book Everyman's Talmud, illustrates this kind of exegesis with a story about the famous rabbi Hillel, who lived until a few years after the birth of Our Lord. The rabbi was grappling with the sabbatical year, which was commanded in Deuteronomy 15:1-3. At the end of every seven years, every creditor was supposed to release everything he had lent to his neighbor. As Jewish society became more centered on commerce, fulfilling this law was becoming more and more onerous. Creditors would be afraid to make loans for fear of not getting repaid in time and having to release their debtors. So, Hillel wanted to find a way out of it.22 He started from the premise that the Torah contains absolutely no superfluous or redundant words. He then concluded that since verse 3, which reads “whatsoever is thine with thy brother thine hand shall release,” is kind of a repetition of the preceding verse, it “must have been added to exclude a certain contingency, viz. the case where ‘whatsoever is thine’ is not with the debtor. By such reasoning Hillel deduced that if the creditor handed to a Court of Law a signed document which made over the indebtedness to its members, it was within his right to claim the debt through the Court even after the expiration of the Sabbatical year.”23

Now, do not think I am denying the possibility that Moses ascended into heaven bodily, like Elijah, Our Lord, and Our Lady, but I will not hesitate to say that Moses rolled over in his grave when Hillel wrote such an absurdity. Cohen admits that one might reject this argument as mere casuistry. Well yes, it very much is casuistry! The premise is specious: the Bible very frequently repeats itself, sometimes as a literary device and sometimes because the Jews needed to hear it again, such as Deuteronomy repeats much of the law in Exodus. And the argument refutes its own premise besides, since if we are to allow this kind of exegesis, or rather eisegesis, where we can inject a foreign meaning into the text so long as we can find a few words that sound somewhat redundant, we have rendered a whole lot of the Bible superfluous. We may as well stop reading it and just listen to the Talmud.

A little further on, Cohen makes another quite candid admission:

[Akiba b. Joseph] developed the science of Midrash to its extreme limits. Not a letter of Scriptural text was held to be without significance, and he gave proof of extraordinary acumen in his interpretations. By the application of his exegetical method, a traditional practice no longer remained detached from the written code. By some means or other it was provided with an authoritative basis in the text... He [also] collated the multitude of legal dicta which had accumulated down to his time and reduced them to order. He may be described as the architect of the plan of the Mishnah [i.e. Oral Torah] which was brought into existence a century later. Without his pioneer labours the Talmud may never have been ultimately produced.24

Thus, we see exactly where this Oral Torah came from. The hypothesis that is was revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai is much less plausible than to simply posit that it accumulated over the years until various Jewish scholars decided to codify it and read it into the Bible.

Now this all ought to sound familiar to a Catholic who is acquainted with the Gospels. Because Hillel’s kind of Pharisaic reasoning, in which he inserts some spurious legal distinction in order to subvert the plain sense of the divine commandments, is repeatedly denounced by Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. First, in Matthew 23, His extended invective against the Pharisees, He exclaims:

Woe to you, blind guides, that say, “Whoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever shall swear by the gold of the temple is a debtor.’ You fools and blind men: for which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? And ‘whoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever shall swear by the gift that is upon it is a debtor.’ You fools and blind men: for which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? He, then, who swears by the altar swears by it and by all things that are upon it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by him that dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.25

So, the Pharisees were claiming that a Jew could swear by the temple, or swear by the altar, and not be bound by that oath. And though it is not preserved for us, you had better believe that they had some cockamamie biblical argument, based on the techniques of Midrash, which they used to justify this proposition. In any case, Our Lord rejects it all as so much casuistry.

And He does exactly the same in Matthew 15 and Mark 7 with what is perhaps the most egregious example of Pharisaic Midrash and subversion: the Corban rule. What the Pharisees were teaching is that if a man’s parents were in financial need, and he didn’t want to help them, he could declare that all the money that he would have used to help them had been vowed to God as a sacred gift. It could not be retrieved. Sorry Mom, sorry Dad, you’re out of luck. Again, you had better believe that the Pharisees had some cockamamie biblical argument whereby they justified this practice. Our Lord’s response was quite succinct: He quoted the fourth commandment, thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother, and told the Pharisees that they were making void the commandment of God because of their tradition.

Examples such as this could be multiplied when we get into the actual text of the Talmud. This happens over and over, that the rabbis find a few more words than are absolutely necessary and use it as a wedge to pry open Sacred Scripture and attribute to it all sorts of cockamamie interpretations. As a rabbi boldly declares in Sanhedrin 55a concerning a passage in Leviticus, “This verse is written for the sake of new interpretations.” Every once in a while a more sensible rabbi such as Isaac the smith, when he comes across a passage with a few more words than are absolutely necessary, states simply that “the Torah employed normal human speech.” But that doesn’t seem to stop his compatriots.

Often the Talmudic Midrash adapts the biblical text in a fairly innocuous manner. An apposite example comes to us from Sanhedrin 7B, which takes a verse about idolatry and changes it into a condemnation of simony. I will quote from Adin Steinsaltz's expanded translation and commentary:26

The verse states (Exodus 20:23): ‘You shall not make with Me gods of silver, neither shall you make for yourselves gods of gold.’ It may be asked: The verse teaches that gods of silver and gold may not be made. But does this mean that gods of wood are permitted? Surely all idols are absolutely forbidden! Rather, Rav Ashi said: The verse means to condemn a judge -- as we saw above (2b), the word eloha can mean ‘judge’ -- who came to his position because of the silver or gold that he paid the authorities in order to receive his appointment.27

Of course, this is horrendous exegesis; God is not obliged to enumerate every potential material which could be used to make an idol every time He condemns idolatry, and this passage has nothing to do with simony. But at least the meaning which the Rabbis read into the text at this point is consistent with godly, biblical morality.

On the other hand, unfortunately, in other cases the Talmud can quite properly be described as twisting or perverting the text of Scripture. There are many places where the exegesis per se is just as bad, if not worse, and what is more, it is used to teach far less noble doctrines than that simony is wrong. I would go so far as to call some of the Talmud’s contents awful, hideous, and blasphemous. And in this article we see just how many depraved teachings are concentrated in merely one book of the Talmud, viz., tractate Sanhedrin. By the end of it, one should feel quite justified in applying the words of the Prophet Isaiah to the Talmudic sages, “These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain do they worship me, teaching doctrines and commandments of men.”

A Note on Method, and a Nota Bene

For the purposes of this study I have relied primarily on the translation and commentary of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. His interpretations are lucid, and he is wholly unashamed of what the Talmud actually says. Secondarily, I have consulted the Soncino edition. While it is also fairly reliable, at times its interpretations strike me as tenuous and apologetic; these are rabbis who would rather the Talmud had not said some of the things that it says. Finally, I have sent the article to two Jewish apologists, and considered the comments of the one who responded.

N.B. Not all of the Talmudic doctrines listed below directly reflect the beliefs of even Orthodox Jews; some may have been modified or eliminated by later Jewish Halakhah. One such example is the Talmudic permission to steal from Gentiles, which is clearly forbidden in many halakhic compendia. This should not be surprising. What's good for the goose is good for the gander: it stands to reason that, if the Torah can be the object of midrash, so can the Talmud. As such, some Talmudic teachings have been qualified out of existence in the centuries following its completion.28

Tractate Sanhedrin

As the name implies, Tractate Sanhedrin in large part treats of judges and courts. Indeed, the beginning several folios are dedicated almost exclusively to legal procedure. The rabbis are evidently concerned about wrongful executions,29 and as such they impose judicial safeguards which, surprisingly enough, strike the modern reader as being even too lenient, and tending towards the acquittal of guilty criminals. For example, in capital cases, if the testimony of just one, out of a hundred witnesses who come as a group, is disqualified due to close relation to the accused or some such matter, the testimony of the whole group is discarded (Sanhedrin 9A).

But unfortunately, when one reads some of the other things they say, one gets the distinct impression that they are straining out gnats and swallowing camels. And the camels are large and stinking. One of the biggest is the absurd Talmudic doctrine that witnesses are not allowed to retract their testimony, and that a condemned criminal should be executed even if the witnesses against him admit that they lied. From Steinsaltz’s expanded translation:

[T]he condemned person is executed even when the witnesses retracted their original testimony and offered an explanation for their initial lie. This is like what happened as a result of the incident involving Ba'ya the tax-collector. False witnesses testified against the son of Rabbi Shimon ben Shetah in revenge for his having sentenced their relatives to death for sorcery. Rabbi Shimon be Shetah’s son was convicted and sentenced to death on the basis of that testimony. Even though he protested that he was innocent, and even though the witnesses retracted their testimony and explained why they had lied, the execution was carried out. Neither the son's claim of innocence nor the witnesses' retraction of their testimony has legal validity.30

And as he often does, Steinsaltz has provided us with the relevant passage from a later authoritative compendium of Halakhah, to show us how the Talmudic passage has been integrated into normative Jewish legal praxis:

“Once a witness has testified in court, he cannot retract his testimony and say that he was lying, even if he offers a reasonable explanation as to why he had lied,” following the Gemara. (Rambam, Sefer Shofetim, Hilkhot Edut 3:5.)31

This being the case, it is hard to see how Steinsaltz can say with a straight face that, “The function of the court ... is to see to the imposition of divine order and absolute justice to the best of its ability (Deuteronomy 16:19-20). Therefore Jewish law contains special procedures and laws of evidence, all of which serve the end of achieving absolute certainty. In the event of even the slightest doubt, the accused is not found guilty.”32 A witness admitting that he lied in order to get revenge against the accused most certainly is cause for serious doubt about his guilt! For all the immense apparatus of legal safeguards against wrongful executions in Tractate Sanhedrin, this is a glaring lacuna. Incidentally, this hole in the wall will become an almost total absence of a wall when the Talmud treats of the procedures for trying and executing Gentiles.

Moving on, we come across this curious statement in folio 17A: “Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: We do not seat [a judge] in the Sanhedrin unless he is one who knows how to render a creeping creature ritually pure from the Torah.”33 Why would Yehuda treat, as an essential qualification for the judiciary, the ability to concoct convincing-sounding biblical arguments for a doctrine which is clearly opposed to the plain, literal sense of Scripture? Steinsaltz relates a few explanations of what the Rabbi meant by this. The most charitable interpretation is that since defendants before the Sanhedrin were not represented by an attorney, judges had to be capable of arguing a defense even for one who is clearly guilty. On the other hand, Steinsaltz informs us, “Meiri suggests that the need for a judge to show a Biblical basis for modifying the laws of ritual impurity stems from his having to prove his ability to provide adequate Scriptural support in future [sic] for Rabbinic decrees or enactments that he might deem necessary.”34 This seems to me the more probable, and the most conformable to the overall ethos of the Talmud.

Continuing through our Tractate, in folio 37A we meet the first hint that the Talmud regards Jewish lives as worth more than Gentile lives: “Whoever destroys a single soul in Israel, Scripture regards him as if he had destroyed the entire world. And whoever saves a single soul in Israel, Scripture regards him as if he preserved the entire world.”35 It is fairly clear that the Talmud applies this dictum only to Jews. Let us turn to folio 57A. There the Talmudic position towards saving Gentiles is stated in the euphemism: “A non-Jew and shepherds of small cattle -- one does not raise up, or cast down.” Once again, Steinsaltz informs us of how the Talmudic teaching has been integrated into normative Jewish praxis:

Regarding non-Jews with whom the Jews are not at war -- and likewise Jews who shepherd sheep and goats in Eretz Israel and allow their animals to graze in other people's fields ... the law is that one should not do anything to cause their death. However, if one sees that they have fallen into mortal danger of their own accord, one should not try to save them. Some authorities maintain that the correct interpretation is as follows: There is no mitzvah to kill them, but it is permissible to do so (Bet Yosef, Darkei Moshe, Shakh). Others maintain that killing them is definitely forbidden (Maharshal, Taz). But it is certainly forbidden to kill a non-Jew who observes the seven Noachide commandments (Meiri). (Shulkhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah 158; Hoshen Mishpat 425:5.)36

Or as Maimonides stated the position:

Deaths of non-Jews with whom we are not at war and Jewish shepherds of sheep and goats and similar people should not be caused, although it is forbidden to save them if they are at the point of death. If, for example, one of them is seen falling into the sea, he should not be rescued. As it is written: “Neither shall you stand against the blood of your fello” (Leviticus 19:16) but he [the non-Jew] is not your fellow.37

At this point our tour of Tractate Sanhedrin will make a quick jump out of the frying pan and into the fire (folio 43A), where we will observe the worst of the Talmud’s blasphemies against Our Lord Jesus Christ:38

But surely it was taught: “On Passover Eve they hanged Jesus of Nazareth. And the herald went out before him for forty days: ‘Jesus of Nazareth is going out to be stoned because he practiced sorcery, incited [to idol worship] and led Israel astray. Whoever knows an argument in his favor should come and argue on his behalf.’ But they did not find an argument in his favor, and they hanged him on Passover Eve.” Ulla said: can you think of this? Was Jesus of Nazareth deserving of a search for an argument in his favor? He was an inciter, and the Torah (lit., “the Merciful”) says: “You shall not spare, nor shall you conceal him”! Rather, Jesus was different, because he was close to the government.39

What Ulla is saying is that because Our Lord allegedly committed crimes with a special odium attached to them, He did not deserve the judicial safeguard of a search for witnesses who could exonerate Him. This causes a rabbi to make the curious response that Jesus required special treatment because “he was close to the government.” Steinsaltz informs us that some understand this to mean that Jesus was related to the Hasmonean kings. However, his own exegesis seems preferable: “Rather, it must be that the case of Jesus was different, because he had close connections with the non-Jewish authorities, and those authorities were interested in his acquittal. Thus it was necessary to give him all the opportunity to clear himself, so that the justice of his conviction not be challenged.”40 This is rather a lot like the Gospel account, in which Pontius Pilate finds no guilt in Jesus, and wants to acquit him, but merely consents to have Him crucified in order to placate the importunate Jews.

The folio continues with an awful story about Jewish judges executing five of Christ's disciples: Mattai, Nakai, Netzer, Buni, and Todah. The 1904 Jewish Encyclopedia tentatively identifies them with Matthew, Luke, “Nazarene”, Nicodemus, and Thaddaeus.41 In this story both the Christians and the Jews are practicing Midrash, and their brief debates could best be described as a caricature of fundamentalist proof-texting. The Christians find a biblical verse which uses their name, or a word that sounds similar to their name, in a positive light (e.g., Psalm 100:1: “A psalm of thanksgiving [todah]”), and then the Jews pull out a verse in reply, which speaks of killing someone or something which is denoted by the same or a similar sounding word (e.g., Psalm 50:53: “Whoever offers [slaughters] a thanksgiving offering [todah] glorifies me”). In all, the passage tends to make one sick. Given the close proximity of a large number of puns, one wonders whether it was even intended as a humorous scene.

But all is not lost. Perhaps through the intercession of St. Matthew, apostle, evangelist, and martyr, this passage could be used as a teaching tool to demonstrate that if one admits as legitimate the exegetical practices of the Talmud, one can make the Bible prove just about anything. (Lest one reply that the Jewish arguments for why they ought to be able to execute the Christians was merely a reductio ad absurdum which they adduced to invalidate the equally spurious Christian appeals to Scripture, I need only point to the many other passages of the Talmud where exegetical practices which are just as bad are clearly accepted as legitimate.)

Moving on, in folio 45A we learn that the Jews added to the ordeal of the adultery test of Numbers 5:11-31, and that the priests subjected women accused of adultery to public humiliation by tearing their clothes off and revealing their breasts. There is some concern expressed in the Talmud over attractive women arousing lust in the witnesses, but none whatsoever about women who had been falsely accused. Imagine the amount of pain this perverse tradition must have caused to so many innocent women over the centuries. And again, this Talmudic teaching has been integrated into Halakhah:

“One of the priests approaches the woman suspected of adultery and seizes her by the clothing and tears the garment until he reveals her breast. So, too, he uncovers her hair and loosens her braids. No distinction was made between an attractive and an unattractive woman,” following the Sages. (Rambam, Sefer Nashim, Hilkhot Sotah 3:11.)42

In Sanhedrin 52B, the sages list various categories of persons who are exempt from the penalty of adultery stipulated in Leviticus 20:10. The first two are reasonable: a minor is not put to death for adultery, as youth always mitigates the culpability of the offender, and a man is not put to death for adultery with a minor's wife, since the marriage is invalid and hence this is not adultery per se. But the third category is disgusting: the same penalty does not apply to one who commits adultery with the wife of a non-Jew. Since Leviticus stipulates that one is only liable for adultery with his neighbor’s wife, and Gentiles are allegedly not neighbors, a Jew is not liable for adultery with a shiksa.43 Incidentally, so far, this is the only case where even Adin Steinsaltz seems to treat the text more like an apologist than an exegete. He claims that the meaning of this text is that one is not liable for adultery with the Jewish wife of a non-Jew, since like the previous case, the marriage is not considered valid and thus the sex is not adultery per se.44 However, the more natural interpretation seems to be that one is not liable for adultery with the Gentile wife of a Gentile. The text says nothing about what kind of wife the non-Jew has, whether Jewish or otherwise, but merely that Jewish men are not liable to the penalty of adultery for sleeping with her.45

Section temporarily down pending further study of Niddah 13b

More difficult to discern is the Talmud’s position on sex with boys between nine and thirteen, and girls between three and thirteen. These acts are regarded as legally valid intercourse. Thus, if it is homosexual, the Talmud will of course condemn it with the same force as it condemns any homosexuality. But what of a man raping a five year old girl, or a woman a ten year old boy? Given the Halakhic passage quoted above, which states that a woman who engaged in intercourse with a child over nine would be liable to the same punishment as one who fornicated with an adult, I am led to believe that the Talmud accords this act the same moral status as any fornication. On the other hand, in Yebamoth 33B a sage states that seduction of a minor is regarded as rape. In that case, I would be lead to believe that a man who had sex with a five year old girl would be liable to the death penalty. Talmudic law is a rather confusing mass, so I prescind from definitive judgments in this area.

For the sake of coherence, I have skipped a few passages also worthy of note, to which I shall now return. Folio 54B records a dispute between Rav Nahman bar Rav Hisda and Rav Pappa. Nahman maintains that a man is only liable for “natural” intercourse with a beast, but not for sodomizing one. Pappa opines on the contrary that a woman is not liable for letting herself be sodomized by a beast, but a man is liable for both sodomy and “natural” bestiality. Fortunately for the Jews and for history, thank God, a Baraita was taught to the effect that bestiality is forbidden by means of any orifice.

Next, in Sanhedrin 55A two rabbis discuss at what point a man becomes liable for sodomy and bestiality, that is, whether penetration is required or whether he incurs guilt already at “the first stage of sexual intercourse.” The rabbis conclude the latter. So far so good. Unfortunately, however, Steinsaltz informs us, “The precise definition of ‘the first stage of sexual intercourse’ is... the subject of Talmudic debate. According to one opinion, physical contact between the two parties’ sexual organs suffices. According to another opinion, a measure of penetration is required.”57 The reason I bring this up is because of a recent case of sexual abuse involving one Rabbi Yehuda Kolko of Brooklyn. According to the law suit against his yeshiva, when concerned Jewish parents approached his superior, Rabbi Marguiles, about the abuse, Marguiles enlisted a revered orthodox rabbi named Pinchus Scheinberg to tell them that as a matter of Jewish law, their rabbi's fondling their children and pressing them against his erection did not count as sexual abuse.58 Once again we see the rotten fruit of learned Talmudic legal debates.

The next major theme we encounter will be the Talmudic animus and discrimination against Gentiles. In folio 57A we read: “And for robbery a non-Jew is put to death? But surely it was taught: ‘For robbery, [if] he stole or he robbed, and similarly a woman of beautiful appearance, and similarly that which is like them -- a non-Jew from a non-Jew, and a non-Jew from a Jew, he is forbidden; and a Jew from a non-Jew, he is permitted.’”59 A little later on, Rav Aha extends the permission to withholding wages from Gentile laborers, one of the four sins which cry to heaven for vengeance (though Mishnah Bava Metzia 111a asserts that a Jew is, in fact, forbidden to withhold wages from a righteous gentile).

The Soncino edition claims here that the act was forbidden, but the offense was simply non-actionable, that is, could not be punished. However, the rabbis are clear enough in their vocabulary; when they are merely speaking in the category of punishment, they will use the terms liable and exempt. Here, on the other hand, they very clearly state that a gentile is forbidden to steal from a Jew, but a Jew is permitted to steal from a gentile (the Soncino edition’s less than literal, apologetic translation notwithstanding). In fact, the forbidden/permitted, liable/exempt distinction is brought up in the immediate context, and in such a way as to reinforce that Tractate Sanhedrin really does teach that Jews are allowed to steal from Gentiles. One rabbi asks why, if a Gentile is indeed put to death for stealing from a Jew, the above Baraita did not explicitly say that he is liable for death? Another rabbi answers that the Baraita is formulated in the forbidden/permitted category precisely for the sake of the last verse, which teaches that a Jew is permitted to steal from a Gentile. As usual, Adin Steinsaltz is incredibly candid in his admissions:

But surely it was taught ... “And regarding a Jew stealing from a non-Jew, the act is permitted, for the verse states (Leviticus 19:13): ‘You shall not steal from your neighbor’ -- from your neighbor you shall not steal, but you may steal from a non-Jew.” And if it is so that a non-Jew is put to death for violating the prohibition against robbery, let the Baraita teach explicity that if a non-Jew steals from another non-Jew, or from a Jew, he is liable for execution! The Gemara answers: A non-Jew is in fact put to death for robbery. The Baraita does not speak of his liability, because the first part of the Baraita was formulated under the stylistic influence of the last part of the Baraita. Since the Baraita wanted to teach in the last clause: “Regarding a Jew stealing from a non-Jew, the act is permitted,” it taught in the first clause: “Regarding a non-Jew stealing from another non-Jew, or from a Jew, the act is forbidden.” Had the Baraita stated in the first clause that the non-Jew is liable for execution for robbery, it would have had to state in the next clause that if a Jew steals from a non-Jew, he is exempt from punishment. But this would have implied that the Jew is only exempt from punishment, but the act itself is forbidden, which is not the case.60

This distinction is further borne out in the immediately following passage: “For bloodshed, a non-Jew to a non-Jew, or a non-Jew to a Jew, he is liable [for execution]; a Jew to a non-Jew, he is exempt.” That is, if a gentile murders a Jew, he is to be executed, but not a Jew who murders a gentile. Of course, this is monstrous enough in and of itself. Once again, as in the case of pedophilia, how a Jew who murdered a Gentile would be dealt with will be left up to authority of the rabbis. And we’ve seen what they do with pedophiles: they have them whipped a few times.

These teachings are truly awful. And it's difficult to swallow the Soncino Talmud's claim that “In actual practice, these dicta were certainly never acted upon.”61 Once again, Adin Steinsaltz informs us of exactly how these passages have been integrated into Halakhah: a non-Jew who steals less than a Perutah's worth [i.e. a penny] from a Jew is liable to the death penalty; Gentile murderers are executed but Jewish murderers of Gentiles are not.62

Continuing to folio 57B, the Talmud throws its elaborate network of legal safeguards against wrongful execution completely out the window when the defendant is a Gentile. And it is worthy of note that, so far in this discussion, no one has supplied any biblical support for any of their claims. Now, finally, when they come to the idea that Gentiles may be executed on the ruling of one judge, on the testimony of one witness, and without a formal warning, an idea which blatantly violates the repeated and explicit biblical injunctions that the Jews are not to put anyone to death without at least two or three witnesses, Rabbi Jacob bar Aha asks for someone to show him where the Bible teaches such a thing. And the response? Rabbi Judah quotes Genesis 9:5, in which God tells Noah the punishment for murder. God says, “Surely I will require your lifeblood; at the hand of every living thing I will require it. And at the hand of man.” And this is Rabbi Judah’s interpretation: Surely I will require your lifeblood: Aha! I is in the singular! This means only one judge is required to execute a gentile! At the hand of every living thing I will require it: therefore, he can execute a gentile without a formal admonition. And at the hand of man. Aha! Man is in the singular. Therefore we only need one witness to execute a goy!63

This is just absolutely insane. The reason “I” is in the singular is because God is talking. Next, the phrase “at the hand of every living thing” has nothing to do with legal precautions before one can inflict capitol punishment; it means that even if it was an animal that killed a man, even the animal must be stoned. Finally, the phrase “at the hand of man” means that God will require the lifeblood of a man who kills another man. God is repetitious on this point because he really wants to instill in us a horror for the sin of murder. This verse has nothing to do with how many judges are required to inflict capitol punishment, and for that matter it has absolutely nothing to do with any alleged distinction between how Jews are to be treated versus how gentiles are to be treated. The distinction between Jews and Gentiles didn’t even exist yet!

I have a suggestion for Rabbi Judah. If he wants to find out how many witnesses are required before one can inflict the death penalty, why doesn’t he go to one of those passages where the Bible says how many witnesses are required before one can inflict the death penalty!? This man is not interested in discerning the will of God in order to submit to it. He is a rebel, rearing up his head against the divine commandments, stepping on what the Lord actually says and twisting and perverting Scripture to his own destruction. His tradition is master of the Law, and he has shown himself willing to ram a funnel into Scripture and pour his tradition down Scripture’s gullet to make it fit.

The hideousness continues in Sanhedrin 58A, where the rabbis treat of incest between proselytes and their “former” family. A proselyte is a Gentile who has converted to Judaism. The rabbis held to the maxim that “a proselyte is as a new born babe.” He has no relation to his family prior to his conversion. His mother is no longer his mother and his daughter is no longer his daughter. Therefore, according to the Talmudic sages, it was no longer against the law for him to marry his so-called ex-mother, or ex-daughter, if they too converted to Judaism.

Now the rabbis realized that even Gentile religions had commandments against incest, and they didn’t want any proselytes reasoning, “hey, in my new religion I’m allowed to have sex with women that I wasn’t allowed have to sex with in my old religion; I must have converted from a holy religion to a less holy one!” So, one might think that the sages ought to have gone back and questioned their premise, and admitted that perhaps previous familial relationships in fact remain valid even after a Gentile converts to Judaism. But alas, the Talmudic sages were not interested in questioning their tradition. They were interested in breaking down or getting around the obstacles to that tradition, whether passages of Scripture, or in this case, the religious instincts of their converts. So, on their own authority, they forbid Gentiles from marrying any women whom they had been forbidden to marry in their previous religion.64 Not that they ever thought there was anything wrong with it; they treated this purely as a matter of expediency. And for proof of this look no farther than when Rabbi Hisda points out the special case of Gentile slaves. He points out that in Talmudic law, a Gentile slave who underwent ritual purification in order to work in Jewish households entered into a half-way legal category, where he was neither Gentile nor Jew. Therefore, Rabbi Hisda concluded, he could indeed marry and copulate with his ex-mom, ex-daughter, etc. As the Soncino commentary explains it, “Heathen slaves owned by Jews occupied an intermediate position in respect to Judaism ... Their status was neither that of a heathen or of an Israelite proper. As they were no longer heathens, they stood in no relationship to their former relations. But as they were not Jews either, there was no need to forbid them their former maternal relations through fear that it would be said that they had left a higher sanctity for a lower one.”65 Behold, once again, the fruit of legalism.

There’s more dishonesty in folio 58B. Rabbi Hanina says, “He who smites an Israelite on the jaw, is as though he had assaulted the Divine Presence; for it is written, One who smiteth man,” the Soncino edition here inserts [i.e. an Israelite], “attacketh the Holy One.”66 He who smites a Jew, attacks the Holy One. And how did the Rabbi arrive at this ostensibly Scriptural citation? He changed two words from Proverbs 20:25, which reads: “It is a trap for a man to say rashly, ‘It is holy ’” Just change around a few letters here and there in Hebrew, and voila, you know have a biblical verse which supports your beliefs. Now, I wouldn’t mind so much if the rabbi applied his newly created Bible verse to mankind at large, since all mankind is created in the image of God, and in a sense every sinful, unjust attack on a man is an assault on God. At least then his reading would be conformable to the rest of Scripture. But Rabbi Hanina is making this out to be a special privilege of the Jews, that striking them is equivalent to striking God, and this is not biblical. That’s probably why he concocts the so-called Scriptural support for his position by changing a few words in a text which has nothing to do with how odious striking a Jew is in the sight of God.

Further in Sanhedrin 58B we learn that Jewish men are permitted to sodomize their wives, just like in Shi’a Islam. Rabbi Elazar posits that Gentiles are liable for sodomizing their wives, based on Genesis 2:24. Rava then objects that this cannot be the case, since there is clearly nothing for which Gentiles are liable, but not Jews. The clear implication is that Jews are not liable for inter-marital sodomy. Both the Steinsaltz and the Soncino Talmuds confirm this.67 Rava goes on to teach that, if he restricts himself to unnatural intercourse, a gentile is free from punishment for violating his neighbor's wife.

Sanhedrin 59A returns to the theme of animus against the goyim. One Rabbi Yohanan teaches that a non-Jew who studies the Torah deserves death, based on Deuteronomy 23:4. Allegedly, since the Torah was given to the Jews as an inheritance, a Gentile who studies it violates the prohibition against robbery, for which the penalty of course is death. Alternatively, according to the Talmud, we may read morasha [inheritance] as me'orasah [betrothed]. In that case, a Gentile who studies the Torah commits adultery with a Jewish bride, and hence his punishment is by stoning. An objection is raised, that Rabbi Meir used to say that even a non-Jew who studies the Torah is like a high priest. The Gemara answers that this refers only to a Gentile who studies the portions pertaining to the sever Noachide laws, which he is obligated to follow. Otherwise, as stated above, “his law ... is by stoning.” Fortunately, as this passage was integrated into Halakhah, later rabbis qualified that such a man is liable to death only at the hands of Heaven, and that the human court is not to mete out the execution which he truly deserves (this happens somewhat often). However, based on a straightforward reading of the text (considering especially the explicit reference to stoning), it appears that had it been within their power, the Talmudic sages would have willingly imposed this penalty themselves, unlike their disciples in following centuries.

The sages return once again in folio 76B: “Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: Someone who marries his daughter to an old man, and someone who takes a wife for his minor son, and someone who returns a lost object to a non-Jew -- about him the verses state: ‘To add drunkenness to thirst. The Lord will not wish to forgive him.’”68 A rabbi objects against the idea that one shouldn’t marry off one’s minor son, but none object to the idea that the Lord will not forgive a Jew who returns a lost item to a gentile.

Next, in Sanhedrin 97A-B we are treated to speculations about when the Messiah will arrive, which ironically serve to confirm the truth of Christianity. One Sage teaches that the world is to exist for 6,000 years, with the Messianic era constituting the last 2,000. He laments, however, that “because of our transgressions which were many, what came out came out.”69 Rav further laments that all the designated dates for the arrival of the Messiah have passed.70 As Roy Schoeman exclaims on this passage, “If only they drew the logical conclusion—as the Lemann brothers did—from this observation!” 71

Lastly, in Sanhedrin 107B, we are again treated to filthy blasphemies against Our Lord Jesus Christ: He supposedly leers at a married innkeeper; His master banishes Him and refuses to accept His repentance; the day the rabbi decides to take Him back, He misinterprets a hand gesture as meaning that he is rejecting Him again, so He worships a brick just to spite him; this time Jesus refuses to repent, and engages in sorcery and leads the people of Israel astray.

At this point we can offer some preliminary reflections and conclusions about the Talmud. First, the rabbis seem to have a divine command morality, similar to Islam. In the main, they don’t seem to have a concept of something being evil in and of itself, even if there no divine commandment forbidding it. They think perpetually in the categories of law and penalty. I think this comes out especially clearly when they state that a Jew is exempt from the penalty of adultery (8B-9A) or bestiality (55B) if he was ignorant of it. Of course, one ought to know that adultery and bestiality are evil in se by virtue of the natural law written on his heart, and thus the culpability ought to remain. One should not have to know that a legal penalty is written in the Torah, before he can know that such and such an act is evil, and be held responsible for it. Similarly, the Talmudic permissions for Gentiles to marry their daughters (or even their mothers or sisters after they’ve taken a special bath and been circumcised), and possibly for women to abuse five year old boys, indicate a lack of a concept of natural law.72

Second, while I am in no way prepared to claim that the Talmud regards non-Jews as sub-humans,73 the tremendous distinctions it makes between the legal rights of Jews and Gentiles, and the consistent anti-Gentile animus which it displays, certainly must have paved the way for the very explicitly racist doctrine of Lurianic Kabbalah: Jewish souls are ontologically superior to Gentile souls. The Zohar, the Kabbalistic text par excellence, states it thus:

[Jews] are scions of the blessed Holy One and their holy souls derive from Him. The soul of other nations--whence does it come? From those impure aspects of the left [i.e. the demonic realm], defiling them and anyone approaching them... Cattle, crawling things, and living creatures of the earth -- [these refer to] other nations, who are not souls of the living being, but rather foreskin.74

Or as a later Kabbalist R. Shneur Zalman of Liady put it:

R. Hayym Vital [1542-1620] wrote... that every Jew, whether righteous or wicked, possesses two souls, as it is written, The souls which I have made (Isa. 57:16), alluding to two souls. The first soul originates in the kelipah [impure shell] and the sitra ahara [demonic realm], clothed in the blood of man [and] giving life to the body, as it is written: For the life of the flesh is in the blood (Lev. 17:11). All the evil characteristics stem from it, such as anger and pride, the lust for pleasure, frivolity, scoffing, boasting, and idle talk, sloth, and melancholy. From this soul stem also the good characteristics that are to be found in the innate nature of all Jews, such as mercy and benevolence. For in the case of Israel, the soul of the kelipah is derived from the kepilat nogah, (the shell of Venus) which also contains good, because it originates in the mystical tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:9) ... The second Jewish soul is truly a part of God above.75

Or again, as an author from only the last century, Rabbi Abraham Yitzhak Kook, put it, “The difference between a Jewish soul and souls of non-Jews -- all of them in all different levels -- is greater and deeper than the difference between a human soul and the souls of cattle.”76

Finally, it’s not difficult to draw a connection between the Talmud’s enmity with man and its sages’ rejection of Christ, as expressed in the blasphemy. This is the source whence their moral errors proceed. Their ancestors had screamed for His blood; the veil of the Holy of Holies had been torn in two; the Holy Spirit had left their presence. As such, there was only one spirit left to guide them, and this same spirit was operative in the schools which they founded and in the disciples whom they trained. The Talmudic sages “must necessarily, because guided by the spirit of the devil, be sunk in the most pernicious errors, both doctrinal and moral.”77 Or once again from Isaiah: “These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain do they worship me, teaching doctrines and commandments of men.”CW

Ben Douglass

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[1] St. Edith Stein, Life in a Jewish Family (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1986) pp. 212-213

[2] Jewish author David Novak writes, “Jews have been able to dismiss most modern Jewish converts to Christianity as people motivated by social or professional ambition, self-hatred, ignorance, or mental imbalance. But anyone who knew Edith Stein or who knows anything about her life would have to admit that none of these categories applies to her. Indeed, Edith Stein comes across as sui generis [i.e. one of a kind]. She might be the most uniquely problematic Jew for us since Saul of Tarsus” (“Apostate Saint,” First Things 96 (October 1999) p. 15).

[3] Adapted from his first homily against the Judaizers.

[4] This is not meant to imply that everything the Talmud’s detractors have said against it is true; as many of them are reckless, some of their claims are in fact spurious, and Jewish apologists rightly take them to task. On the other hand, in many cases the apologists’ explanations are inadequate; the Talmud really is saying something pretty awful.

[5] Of course, most Jews are already aware that they disagree with their sacred texts to some extent, and as such take a more liberal view of their religion. But still, they may not be aware of the magnitude of this disagreement, that is, they may not know that there are things in the Talmud which would shock, disgust, and appall them. As such, this study should serve its stated purpose of moving Jews to reconsider their Judaism, even in those who already know that they don’t believe in everything in Halakhah.

[6] Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein, ed., The Talmud, Seder Mo’ed V, Yoma (London: The Soncino Press, 1938) p. 186 (39B).

[7] For general background information and the history of the Talmud, I follow Abraham Cohen, Everyman's Talmud (New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1975) pp. xv-xxxvii.

[8] By this I mean pious Jews who believe in the central claims of Judaism, viz., the Orthodox and the Conservatives.

[9] Neusner is the Research Professor of Religion and Theology at Bard College. I do not think it is an exaggeration to state that he requires a new adjective to express “beyond prolific” (indeed, one might apply much of St. Augustine’s lament over Marcus Varro to him, “who read so much that we wonder when he had time to write [and] wrote so much that we can scarcely believe any one could have read it all” (City of God, Book VI, ch. 2).

[10] Jacob Neusner, The Halakhah: An Encyclopaedia of the Law of Judaism, Vol. I (Boston, MA: Brill, 2000) pp. xvii, 1.

[11] Ibid., p. 3. According to Shahak and Mezvinsky, Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel (London: Pluto Press, 1999) pp. 24f, Talmudic studies constitute nearly the whole of Haredi yeshiva education.

[12] I of course do not mean to reject oral Tradition as a source of revelation in principle; I reject only the Talmud’s claim to this pedigree. It is in fact possible to discern oral revelation within the Old Testament. For example, 2 Chronicles 29:25 reads: “[King Hezekiah] then stationed the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with harps, and with lyres, according to the command of David and of Gad the king’s seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for the command was from the Lord through his prophets.” This command is preserved nowhere in Sacred Scripture, yet clearly, King Hezekiah was obedient to it, and it was from the Lord. It had been delivered either orally, or in books which were not Scripture, and it was preserved for hundreds of years after it was first delivered. 2 Chronicles 35:4 is similar. I am indebted to Patrick Madrid for this observation, in Not By Scripture Alone, edited by Robert Sungenis (Goleta, CA: Queenship Publishing, 1997) pp. 15-16. Next, God continually gave the Jews new oral revelation in order to guide them to the correct interpretation of written revelation. And sometimes this process is recorded in Scripture for the benefit of posterity. For example, Numbers 9 records a problem. Moses had it as a commandment from the Lord in Exodus 12 (and it says in Exodus 24 that Moses wrote down all the commandments of the Lord in a book) that the Jews should observe the Passover. But on this particular occasion there were some men who had incurred ritual impurity on account of a dead body. This would normally exclude them from sacred services. So, they asked Moses whether they could participate. And it turns out that not even Moses knew how to answer this question on the basis of Scripture alone, based on grammatical-historical exegesis of written revelation, and letting Scripture interpret Scripture. He had to ask the Lord, and the Lord gave him the oral revelation that yes, they could still observe the Passover. Thus, Catholics may confidently affirm that divine Tradition existed within Biblical Judaism; we simply do not identify this Tradition with the oral Torah of the Talmud.

[13] Usually, the term “the high places” refers to places of pagan worship. However, in passages such as 1 Kings 3:3; 2 Chron 33:17 it refers to places of illicit worship of the true God. One might say this worship on the high places had a Jewish formal object but a pagan mode of operation.

[14] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XIII, Ch. 3

[15] Incidentally, this is much the same as how modern low-church Protestants worship, and how Catholics worship in situations where the faithful are deprived of a priest. Of course, the difference between Catholics and Old Testament Jews as opposed to the Protestants is that we recognize that this is a situation where we are impoverished. It is a temporary solution which sustains us as we eagerly await the opportunity to once again have a priesthood and sacrificial liturgy. For low-church Protestants, on the other hand, this is the pinnacle of divine worship.

[16] Our Lord called these “traditions of men” (Mark 7:8), and St. Paul called them “my ancestral traditions” (Gal 1:14).

[17] Note the following admission from Talmudic scholar (and president of the newly reconstituted Sanhedrin) Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “None of the laws and regulations accepted by the Jewish people beyond the laws of the Torah have the true power of law. They are merely ordinances to regulate matters where Torah law expresses no specific opinion or where it is insufficiently detailed. Or else they are meant to add restrictions, limitations, and amendments to it” (The Talmud: The Steinsaltz Edition, Vol. XV: Tractate Sanhedrin, Part I (New York, NY: Random House, 1996) pp. 1-2, emphasis mine).

[18] Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein, ed., The Talmud, Seder Nezikin VIII, Makkoth (London: The Soncino Press, 1935) p. 156 (22B).

[19] Professor H. Graetz, Popular History of the Jews, Volume II, translated by Rabbi A. B. Rhine, D.D. (New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1919) p. 446.

[20] In The Zohar: Pritzker Edition, Vol. I (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004) p. xxxv

[21] Commentary on Daniel, on Ch. 6, vv. 1ff.

[22] Thus Cohen’s narrative, op. cit., p. xxii. There exists a much less charitable interpretation of Hillel’s motivations. In order to pay the exorbitant taxes levied upon them by the Herods and their Roman masters, Jewish peasants were forced to borrow money using their land as collateral. Eventually, their creditors would force them into foreclosure, thus taking ever more land out of the peasants’ hands and putting it into the hands of wealthy aristocrats. The biblical law constituted an obstacle to this land-grabbing effort. Hillel desired to break it down. So David Ray Griffin, Christian Faith and the Truth behind 9/11 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006) p. 112.

[23] Cohen, op. cit., pp. xxii-xxiii.

[24] Ibid., p. xxv

[25] Translation from The Catholic Apologetics Study Bible, Vol. I, The Gospel according to St. Matthew, by Robert Sungenis (Goleta, CA: Queenship Publishing, 2003).

[26] The Steinsaltz Talmud is formatted with a literal translation of the text in the right column, and an expanded translation and commentary in the left, in which the rabbi considerably fleshes out the extremely terse and abbreviated language of the original. Citations will be from the literal translation, unless otherwise noted, as in this case.

[27] Steinsaltz, op. cit., p. 69 (7B).

[28] Thus David Novak, in Natural Law and Judaism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) pp. 78-79, praises Menachem Meiri, the medieval French Talmudist and Halakhist, for qualifying an embarrassing Talmudic law (that a Gentile whose ox gores a Jew’s ox must pay the Jew full damages, but a Jew whose ox gores a Gentile’s ox need not pay anything) into de facto non-existence.

[29] Indeed, they make rather superlative proclamations about the grave evil of judging falsely: “Any judge who does not judge an absolute true judgment causes the Divine Presence to depart [from the midst of] Israel, as it is said: ‘For the violence done to the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, says the Lord, etc... A judge should always view himself as if a sword is lying between his thighs, and Gehinnom is open for him below him’” (Ibid., pp. 65, 66 (7A)).

[30] Steinsaltz, Vol XVII: Sanhedrin Part III, p. 176 (44B).

[31] Ibid., p. 175. “Rambam” is an affectionate acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, or Maimonides, a medieval Sephardic philosopher and jurist, whose work according to Wikipedia is considered “a cornerstone of Orthodox Jewish thought and study.”

[32] Steinsaltz, Vol XV: Sanhedrin Part I, p. 3.

[33] Ibid., p. 186.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Steinsaltz, Vol XVII: Sanhedrin Part III, p. 68.

[36] Steinsaltz, Vol XVIII: Sanhedrin Part IV, p. 107.

[37] Laws of Murder and Preservation of Life, chapter 4, rule 11, in Shahak and Mezvinsky, op. cit., p. 120.

[38] Some have maintained that this passage refers to a different Jesus of Nazareth. However, The Jewish Encyclopedia dismisses this as a subterfuge of medieval Jewish apologists (Isidore Singer, ed., The Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. VII (New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1904) p. 171). Dr. E. Michael Jones, following a Jewish commentator, calls it the beginning of Jewish humor. Peter Schaefer, the head of Princeton University’s Judaic studies program, has written a book entitles Jesus in the Talmud, which is due out in March and should finally put this apologetic to rest.

[39] Steinsaltz, Vol XVII: Sanhedrin Part III, p. 159.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Singer, loc. cit.

[42] Steinsaltz, Vol XVII: Sanhedrin Part III, p. 178.

[43] The Yiddish term for a Gentile woman. It literally means “female abomination” or more loosely “whore,” though modern Jews who use the term do not usually intend the derision which its etymology implies. This is evident in such terms as “shiksa goddess.”

[44] Steinsaltz, Vol XVIII: Sanhedrin Part IV, p. 49.

[45] This is not to say that the Talmud contains no penalty for a Jewish man who sleeps with a Gentile’s wife. His act is simply not condemned under the aspect of its being adultery. It is condemned, on the other hand, under the aspect of its being intercourse with a non-Jewish woman. According to Sanhedrin 82A, a zealous person may strike down a Jew who has intercourse with a Gentile, and if no zealous person strikes him down, he is to be excised from the community of Israel.

[46] Steinsaltz, Vol. XVIII: Sanhedrin Part IV, pp. 76-77 (54B-55A).

[47] Ibid. The ellipses eliminate discussion of Shmuel's opinion, that adult men should be liable for sodomizing boys down to the age of three. The Talmud rejects this opinion, and as such it is not codified as Halakhah.

[48] Ibid., p. 76.

[49] Ibid., pp. 48-49.

[50] G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1995) p. 96.

[51] We see more sola Scriptura in the following: “‘A non-Jew is permitted to marry his daughter. The only relationships forbidden to him are the six which are derived here from Scripture.’ (Rambam, Sefer Shofetim, Hilkhot Melakhim 9:15.)” (Steinsaltz, Vol XVIII: Sanhedrin Part IV, p. 123).

[52] Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein, ed., The Talmud, Seder Nezikin V, Sanhedrin I (London: The Soncino Press, 1935) p. 371.

[53] How do we reconcile this with the statement in folio 54A to the effect that a man is liable for sodomizing either an adult or a minor? The commentary of the Soncino edition elucidates the matter for us: “As stated supra 54a, guilt is incurred by the active participant even if the former be a minor, i.e., less than thirteen years old. Now, however, it is stated that within this age a distinction is drawn. I.e., Rab makes nine years the minimum; but if one committed sodomy with a child of lesser age, no guilt is incurred. Samuel makes three the minimum” (Ibid., emphasis mine).

[54] Ironically, he thinks that the Talmud uses opposite logic in this passage as opposed to 54B. On the contrary, the logic is the same.

[55] Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein, ed., The Talmud, Nashim VIII, Kiddushin (London: The Soncino Press, 1936) p. 49.

[56] Ibid., p. 205.

[57] Steinsaltz, Vol XVIII: Sanhedrin Part IV, p. 78.

[58] Robert Kolker, “On the Rabbi's Knee,” New York Magazine (May 22). This article is available online at .

[59] Steinsaltz, Vol XVIII: Sanhedrin Part IV, p. 106

[60] Ibid. (57A).

[61] Epstein, Sanhedrin I, p. 389.

[62] Steinsaltz, Vol. XVIII: Sanhedrin Part IV, pp. 106, 107, respectively.

[63] I have paraphrased above. The exact quote, in the Soncino edition, is as follows: “R. Jacob b. Aha found it written in the scholars' Book of Aggada: A heathen is executed on the ruling of one judge, on the testimony of one witness, without a formal warning, on the evidence of a man, but not of a woman, even if he [the witness] be a relation. On the authority of R. Ishmael it was said: [He is executed] even for the murder of an embryo. Whence do we know all this? — Rab Judah answered: The Bible saith, And surely your blood of your lives will I require: this shows that even one judge [may try a heathen]. At the hand of every living thing will I require it: even without an admonition having been given; And at the hand of man: even on the testimony of one witness; at the hand of man: but not at the hand [i.e., on the testimony] of a woman; his brother: teaching that even a relation may testify” (Epstein, Sanhedrin I, p. 391 (57B)). Note that also the gross suggestions that women are less trustworthy than men, and that unborn lives are worth less than born ones.

[64] “The guiding principle in all this is: ‘a proselyte is as a newborn babe’, who stands absolutely in no relationship to any pre-conversion relation. Consequently, his brothers and sisters, father, mother, etc. from before his conversion lose his relationship on his conversion. Should they too subsequently become converted, they are regarded as strangers to him, and he might marry, e.g., his mother or sister. This is the Biblical law. But since heathens themselves recognised the law of incest in respect of maternal relations, the Rabbis decreed that this should hold good for a proselyte too, i.e., that he is forbidden to marry his maternal relations who were forbidden to him before his conversion, so that it should not be said that he abandoned a faith with a higher degree of sanctity than the one he has embraced” (Ibid., p. 394).

[65] Ibid., p. 397.

[66] Ibid., p. 398.

[67] Steinsaltz, Vol XVIII: Sanhedrin Part IV, p. 124; Epstein, Sanhedrin I, p. 398. The Soncino commentary uses the even stronger words, “Unnatural connection is permitted to a Jew.”

[68] Steinsaltz, Vol XIX: Sanhedrin Part V, pp. 102-103.

[69] Steinsaltz, Vol XXI: Sanhedrin Part VII, p. 8.

[70] Ibid., p. 12.

[71] Roy Schoeman, Salvation is from the Jews (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2003) p. 114.

[72] David Novak, in Natural Law and Judaism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) makes a good case that the concept of natural law is present in the Old Testament and in various medieval Jewish philosophers. However, I find his evidence weaker when he attempts to demonstrate natural law reasoning in the Talmud. He does show that some of the sages thought in this category, but I think the evidence of sages thinking in purely legalistic terms is much more voluminous.

[73] It appears that multiple views are expressed within the Talmud in this regard. For a thorough analysis of the texts which imply the sub-humanity of Gentiles, see Sasson Lerner’s essay “Gentiles, Rabbis and Texts” available at For an opposing view, see Morton Smith’s essay “On the Shape of God and the Humanity of the Gentiles” in Studies in the Cult of Yahweh, Vol. I, ed. by Shaye J. D. Cohen (Lieden: E. J. Brill, 1996) pp. 150-160.

[74] The Zohar: Pritzker Edition, Vol. I, translation and commentary by Daniel C. Matt (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004) p. 252 (Be-Reshit I:47a).

[75] Likkutei Amarim, Tanya, chaps. 1-2, in Norman Lamm, The Religious Thought of Hasidism (New York, NY: Yeshiva University Press, 1999) p. 57. In a footnote Lamm informs us that Zalman “conceives of the soul of the non-Jew quite differently, but that part of the discussion has been omitted.” By inference from what he has said above, it appears he teaches that Gentiles have only one soul, viz., the impure and demonic soul, and furthermore that the Gentile soul proceeds from a region of the kepilah which lacks the redeeming qualities of the region which produces the lower souls of Jews.

[76] In Shahak and Mezvinsky, op. cit., p. ix.

[77] Roman Catechism, Article IX.



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