DISPUTATIONS/BURNING JEWISH BOOKS BETWEEN CHRISTIANS and the JEWS
The “religious disputation” was the innovation of apostate Jews, many of whom had studied the Talmud. To show their learning to their new Christian brothers or, perhaps, to curry favour with the Church, they suggested that a public disputation, would show how wrong the Jews were and then the entire Jewish community might convert.
These religious disputations, called ‘tournaments of God and faith’ were a combination of intellectual chess and Russian roulette. If the Jewish scholars could not disprove the charges of the Christian scholars arrayed against them, then an entire Jewish community faced the threat of a forced march to the baptismal font. If, on the other hand, they mocked the Christian scholars with superior Jewish scholarship, they ran the danger of being put to death. It took gamesmanship of the finest order to walk the thin thread of a ploy which ceded victory to the other side without yielding on the main points. Only those with strong nerves survived, and the judges, which might include a pope or an emperor, were often left agape at the Jewish display of scholarship, audacity, and deftness. The Jews usually won by not checkmating their opponents but by stalemating them. The trick was to drive the opponent into a comer where, if he claimed victory, he would have to deny the authority of the Old Testament, which would have been heresy. Luther, who was familiar with such disputations, borrowed this technique in his disputation with the Catholic. Johann Maier von Eck. When Eck, after having cited a fourth-century saint as his authority, asked Luther whom he claimed as his, Luther triumphantly shouted, “Saint Paul.” Who dares to trump Saint Paul?
“Tournaments for God and Faith.”One of the chief harassments to which Jews had been subjected by the Church Militant since the fourth century was the unflagging effort by Christians to convert them. There were many sincere though fanatical churchmen and rulers who believed that in the conversion of the Jews, the Church would achieve one of its great spiritual triumphs and in that way would demonstrate to all of mankind the superiority of the Christian faith over the Jewish. Even the most implacable enemy of the Jews, Pope Innocent III (1198-1216), declared his conviction that “as wanderers [seewandering jew] ought they to remain upon the earth, until their countenance be filled with shame and they seek the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Yet the more the Church tried to convert them, the more passionately the great majority of Jews clung to the religion of their fathers. This state of affairs persisted for centuries after the Middle Ages. Almost twenty years after his benign attitude toward the Jews had made his opponents in the Church wince, Martin Luther, who had since then changed his tune, observed with exasperation: “It is as easy to convert the Jews as the Devil himself!”
There were three principal ways in which the Church and (Christian) State worked for the conversion of the Jews. One was by means of religious disputations ordered by Church or ruler to be held publicly between rabbis and theologians of the Church; another was by means of conversion- ist sermons delivered by Christian preachers in synagogues and in churches, with the attendance of all Jews above twelve years of age made compulsory; and the third method-prob- ably the most effective-was by the simple expedient of violence or the threat of violence, namely, death.
Characteristic of their age, the religious disputations between rabbis and priests were designated by the medieval Church as “Tournaments for God and Faith.” But the title had only ironic implications, for these so-called tournaments held but little of the element of chivalry, the position of the ideological combatants being so flagrantly unequal. Almost always “the verdict” of the judges (variously they were pope, king, prince, prelate, or theologians) went against the Jewish debaters, who were made sport of for the entertainment of those present. Sometimes the verdict carried the most adverse consequences for the practice of the Jewish religion, for the study of the Talmud, for the Jews personally on “trial”, and for the community of their fellow Jews living in Christendom.
Among all of these disptuations, several stand out as astonishing public performances which had consequences of harmful historic import for the Jews living in Christian countries. In the year 1240, the king of France ordered a public debate on the Talmud and its alleged anti-Christian teachings to be held between Nicolas Donin, a self-styled “learned” apostate from the Jewish faith, and four eminent rabbis of the country, among whom were the noted Talmudists Rabbi Yechiel of Paris and Rabbi Moses of Coucy (the Disputation of Paris). Present at the disputation were the queen, the leading prelates of the Church, and many theologians and members of the royal court. Vainly, Rabbi Yechiel strove to expose Donin’s accusations as inventions and slanders. In the end, the Talmud was condemned as an evil, lying work and ordered burned by the Dominican friars in a public ceremony which had all the pomp and drama of a great Church spectacle.
To leave no loophole for the Jews, Donin persuaded Pope Gregory IX-who, as popes during the Middle Ages went, was moderate in his attitude toward Jews-to issue a bull for the burning of the Talmud everywhere,and to appoint ecclesiastical inquisitions and censors over other Jewish writings in order to ferret out their “heresies” and “anti- Christian” bias. This institutional practice by the Church was a constant source of grief to Jews for centuries.
Spain, too, initiated religious disputations, but without the excessive fanaticism that accompanied such public debates in the less enlightened countries of Western and Central Europe. In June, 1253, Pablo Christiani, a converted Jewish scholar, prevailed upon the king of Aragon to order Nachmanides (Moses ben Nachman), the famed Talmudist and philosopher, to dispute with him
Spain, too, initiated religious disputations, but without the excessive fanaticism that accompanied such public debates in the less enlightened countries of Western and Central Europe. In June, 1253, Pablo Christiani, a converted Jewish scholar, prevailed upon the king of Aragon to order Nachmanides (Moses ben Nachman), the famed Talmudist and philosopher, to dispute with him before the royal court and clergy in Barcelona (the Disputation of Barcelona). From the report left behind by Nachmanides, it is plain that he was granted full freedom of speech. So courteous and dignified was his bearing and so sincere his defense, that in presenting him with a gift at the conclusion of the disputation, the king declared that never before had he heard “an unjust cause so nobly defended.” Nevertheless, the Dominicans succeeded in having Nachmanides banished from Spain for blasphemy; he fled for asylum to Jerusalem, where he died.
But with the passage of time, the relatively gentle intellectual climate in Spain changed. The blood-lusting Dominican preacher of Valencia, Vincent Ferrer (who was later sainted), prevailed upon the king of Aragon at the turn of the fifteenth century to “invite” the most learned among the rabbis in the kingdom to a public disputation in Tortosa (1413); (the Disputation of Tortosa). the principal subject was to be whether the Messiah had already arrived. Presiding over the debate was (anti-) Pope Benedict XIII of Avignon, and present were also many cardinals, bishops, and a vast audience. Taking part in the disputation was the pope’s personal physician-a former rabbi and a convert to Christianity. Among the twenty-two Jewish defenders was the noted Talmudist and philosopher Joseph Albo. This was probably the most remarkable disputation of its kind ever held. It had sixty-nine sessions and lasted twenty-one months.
Naturally, the Jewish disputants were declared the ignominious losers by Benedict XIII. He bade them accept Christian baptism, but this they promptly declined to do. Angered by their refusal, he placed a ban on the study of the Talmud.
In 1375 public disputations were held at Burgos and Avila by Moses Cohen de Tordesillas with converts from Judaism John of Valladolid and Abner of Burgos. Another disputation was held at about the same time in Pampeluna by Shem-Tob ben Isaac Shaprut of Tudela with Cardinal Don Pedro de Luna, afterward Avignon Pope Benedict XIII, the disputations being made the subjects of the books "'Ezer ha-Emunah" (by Moses) and "Eben Boḥan".
EMERGENCE OF PROTESTANTISM (1518–1550) Wikipedia Martin Luther opened the Protestant Reformation by demanding a disputation upon his 95 theses, 31 October 1517. Although presented as a call to an ordinary scholastic dispute, the oral debate never occurred
BURNING BOOKS (3)
Despite the mass of restrictions imposed on the Jews by the Church in the political, social, and economic spheres, and the attacks on the Oral Law by Christian theologians, the campaign to proscribe Jewish literature was not launched until the 13th century.
An attempt had been made to prevent teaching of the "second tradition" (δευτέρωσις) by Emperor Justinian in 553 (novella 146), and in 712 the Visigoths in Spain forbade converts to Christianity to read Hebrew books. The first condemnation of the Talmud to burning was preceded by a period in which new forces of rationalism had made their appearance in Western Europe as well as an upsurge of sectarian movements such as the Cathari or Albigenses. Such trends were countered with strong measures by the Church. In 1199 Pope Innocent III declared that since Scripture contained lessons too profound for the layman to grasp, Christians should rely wholly on the clergy for its interpretation. The Church also directed its attention to Jews as potential subversive elements. One outcome of the suppression of rationalistic tendencies was the burning of Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed at Montpellier, southern France, in 1233. The Guide was originally denounced to the Dominican inquisitors by Jewish leaders who opposed the study of Maimonides' works. Although the connection between the burning of the Guide and the subsequent burning of the Talmud is tenuous, it set a dangerous precedent.
In 1236 (see (the Disputation of Paris above)a Jewish apostate, Nicholas Donin, submitted a memorandum to Pope Gregory IX listing 35 charges against the Talmud. These included allegations that it contained blasphemies of Jesus and Mary, attacks on the Church, pronouncements hostile to non-Jews, and foolish and revolting tales. They asserted that the Jews had elevated the Oral Law to the level of divinely inspired Scripture, and that this impeded the possibility of their conversion to Christianity. Gregory thereupon ordered a preliminary investigation, and in 1239 sent a circular letter to ecclesiastics in France summarizing the accusations and ordering the confiscation of Jewish books on the first Saturday of Lent (i.e., March 3, 1240), while the Jews were gathered in synagogue. Any other persons having Hebrew books in their possession who refused to give them up were to be excommunicated. He further ordered the heads of the Dominican and Franciscan Orders in Paris to ensure that "those books in which you find errors of this sort you shall cause to be burned at the stake." Similar instructions were conveyed to the kings of France, England, Spain, and Portugal. It was in response to Gregory's circular that the first public religious disputation between Jews and Christians was staged in Paris on June 25–27, 1240. The chief Jewish spokesman was R. Jehiel of Paris, the most eminent French rabbi of the period. An inquisitorial committee condemned the Talmud two years later. In June 1242, 24 wagon loads of books totaling thousands of volumes were handed to the executioner for public burning. Copies may also have been seized and destroyed in Rome.
Subsequently the burning of the Talmud was repeatedly urged by the popes. In France, Louis IX ordered further confiscations in 1247 and 1248 and upheld the principle in an ordinance of December 1254. It was confirmed by Philip III in 1284 and Philip IV in 1290 and 1299. A further burning was ordered in Toulouse in 1319 by the inquisitor Bernard Gui and in Perpignan. In his manual for inquisitors Gui also singled out the works of Rashi , David Kimḥi , and Maimonides for condemnation. The conflagration in Paris was compared by the contemporary scholar Meir b. Baruch of Rothenberg to the destruction of the Temple in an elegy Sha'ali Serufah ("Ask is it well, O thou consumed in fire") included in the kinah of the Ninth of Av. Jonah Gerondi , who had led the anti-Maimonists, is said to have connected the burning of the Talmud with the burning of the Guide in Montpellier and to have bitterly repented his attacks on Maimonides.
Outside France little action was taken in response to the papal appeals. Confiscations may have taken place in England and were ordered in Sicily. There seems to have been widespread destruction in southern Italy in 1270. After the disputation of Barcelona in 1263, James I of Aragon ordered the Jews to delete all blasphemous references to Jesus and Mary from their copies of the Talmud under penalty of burning the work. Condemnations of the Talmud were issued by popes Innocent IV in his bull of 1244, Alexander IV , John XXII in 1320, and Alexander V in 1409. The restrictive legislation imposed on Aragonese Jewry after the disputation of Tortosa 1413–14, contained a condemnation of the Talmud. Pope Eugenius IV issued a bull prohibiting Jews from studying the Talmud following the Council of Basle (see Church Councils ), 1431–43.
Although the orders of the popes were not effectively upheld by the secular authorities, copying of the Talmud and its study could not be carried out openly and proceeded with difficulty. However, in the new spirit of liberty engendered by the Renaissance, the great German humanist Johann Reuchlin defended Jewish learning and the Talmud, which had again been condemned to destruction by the emperor in 1509 because of charges leveled against it by the apostate Johann Pfefferkorn . The polemical battle which ensued between supporters of the humanists and the obscurantists involved leading Christian scholars, and was a prelude to the Reformation.
It was during the Counter-Reformation in Italy in the middle of the 16th century that the attacks on the Talmud had the most far-reaching consequences. In the reactionary climate, a quarrel broke out between rival Christian printers of Hebrew books in Venice. One of them, with the connivance of certain apostates, denounced the works produced by his competitor as containing matter offensive to the Holy Catholic Church. It developed into a wholesale attack on Hebrew literature. After a council of cardinals had examined the matter, the pope issued a decree (August 1553) designating the Talmud and related works as blasphemous and condemning them to be burned. On Sept. 9, 1553, the Jewish New Year, a huge pyre was set up in the Campo de' Fiori in Rome of Hebrew books that had been seized from Jewish homes. Subsequently the Inquisition ordered all rulers, bishops, and inquisitors throughout Italy to take similar action. The orders were obeyed in the Papal States, particularly in Bologna and Ravenna, and in Ferrara, Mantua, Urbino, Florence, and Venice, the center of Hebrew printing, and also in 1559 in Cremona. Representations by the rabbis gained a reprieve of the indiscriminate destruction. A papal bull issued on May 29, 1554, specified that while the Talmud and works containing blasphemies of Christianity were to be burned, other Jewish works were to be submitted for censorship . The Talmud was included in the first Index Expurgatorius in 1559. The ban against publication of the Talmud, with certain excisions or without them, under a different name, was temporarily lifted (1564) by Pius IV. However, confiscation of Hebrew works continued in Italy, especially in the Papal States, down to the 18th century. The same was the case in Avignon and the papal possessions in France. Renewed interdictions were issued by popes Gregory XIII (1572–85) and Clement VIII (1593). The burning in Rome was commemorated by an annual public fast day observed on the eve of Sabbath of ḥukkat (Shibbolei ha-Leket 263).
The events in Italy were described by the contemporary chronicler Joseph ha-Kohen in Emek ha-Bakhah and by a number of other writers. Mattathias Delacrut , who managed to escape with his own books to Brest-Litovsk, relates that in Venice over 1,000 complete copies of the Talmud, 500 copies of the code of Isaac Alfasi , and innumerable other works were burned. Judah b. Samuel Lerma lost all the copies of his newly printed Leḥem Yehudah in Venice and had to rewrite it from memory. The burning also aroused protest in Christian circles. The Hebraist Andrea Masio openly voiced his resentment of the pope's ruling, saying that the cardinals' report condemning a literature of which they knew nothing was as valueless as a blind man's opinion of color. The proscription of the Talmud in the main center for Hebrew printing was felt throughout the Diaspora. The Jewish centers in Poland and Turkey were prompt to answer the challenge, and printing of the Talmud commenced in Lublin in 1559 and shortly afterward in Salonika. Scholars in Italy subsequently turned to other branches of Jewish learning, and the study of Kabbalah in particular spread rapidly in Italy after the Talmud had been condemned.
The last auto-da-fé of the Talmud took place in Poland, in Kamenets-Podolski in the fall of 1757, following the spread of the Frankist movement in Podolia. Bishop Nicholas Dembowski intervened in the controversy between the Frankists and Jewish leaders and ordered a disputation to be held between them. He subsequently condemned all copies of the Talmud found in his diocese to be seized and burned after they had been dragged through the streets in mockery. A search was made with the aid of the clergy, the police, and the Frankists for the Talmud and other rabbinical writings. Nearly 1,000 copies of the Talmud were thrown into a pit at Kamenets and burned by the hangman.
(1) from ‘Jews, God and History’, Max Dimont 1994 p242on
(2) The Book of Jewish Knowledge by Nathan Ausubel, 1964 pp64 et seq