Racialism in the Talmud 

Henry Ossawa Tanner, Mary

On the One Hand Fear-Mongering
Equal Justice Underground Railroad
Equal Protection Who is my Neighbor?
Salvation Plan The Virgin Mary
Jesus in the Talmud Contamination
The Crux of the Matter Eighteen
Daniel's Vision Philo Judaeus
Country of Origin Gnats and Camels
Et Tu

On the One Hand

More so than the holy scripture of most other religions, the Talmud lacks a unitary viewpoint. The Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud, in their literary expression, fall into roughly the same time slot as the Koran. These two sixth century compilations, while incorporating an earlier law code, mostly glean and gather together the opinions of a gaggle of Rabbis clustered in the prior several centuries. These Rabbis, unlike their predecessors, did not "sit in Moses’ seat," (Matthew 23:2), all that having been swept away by the conquering Romans. It was all gone, so they had to invent something new. The Rabbis deny that they invented anything, rather, they say, they are passing along oral tradition dating back to Moses. How likely is that? Joshua read, in their entirety, the commandments passed down by Moses, omitting nothing:

"And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them." (Joshua 8:34-35).

If by this is meant, he read aloud the legislative portion of the Pentateuch, then this is certainly feasible. If it means he read aloud the Pentateuch plus the Talmud, then he'd still be reading!

Like the Koran, the Talmud incorporates heterogeneous material with no efficient editing to group the contents by subject matter or chronology, dizzying the reader with repetitious ping-ponging from one thing to another. But unlike the Koran, the Talmud lacks any legal principle such as Mohammed ibn Abdallah's 'abrogation' to subordinate some of its divergent rulings to the rest. Rather, all is subject to 'peer review.' The Talmud is a dragnet which has garnered both good and bad, including on the plus side admirable expressions of universal justice and concern, such as,

  • “From the Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 61a states: 'Our rabbis taught, ‘Give sustenance to the poor of the non-Jews along with the poor of Israel. Visit the sick of the non-Jews along with the sick of Israel. Bury the dead of the non-Jews along with the dead of Israel. [Do all these things] because of the ways of peace.'”

  • (Levine, Amy-Jill (2009-10-13). The Misunderstood Jew (p. 146). Harper Collins, Inc. Kindle Edition.)

Thus indeed the Talmud does teach, and very generously,

“THE POOR OF THE HEATHEN ARE NOT PREVENTED FROM GATHERING GLEANINGS, FORGOTTEN SHEAVES AND THE CORNER OF THE FIELD, TO AVOID ILL FEELING. Our Rabbis have taught: 'We support the poor of the heathen along with the poor of Israel, and visit the sick of the heathen along with the sick of Israel, and bury the poor of the heathen along with the dead of Israel, in the interests of peace'. (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Gittin, 61a.)

This enlightened approach mimics God, who is no respecter of persons:

"For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment." (Deuteronomy 10:17-18).

The early church attracted the admiration of the nations by their generous care for the sick during outbreaks of epidemic illness. Their care for their own sick was not so unusual; there were other mutual assistance societies in the ancient world. Their care for the sick amongst heathen outsiders struck people as unusual, though. As the above quotation shows, they were adhering to their Hebrew heritage in caring for needy strangers along with their own. Would that all God's people heeded the Bible and refrained from respect of persons. Alas. . .


When Israel exited Egypt, not only genetic descendants of the patriarchs, but local folk also heard the call to go out and serve the LORD:

"And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle." (Exodus 12:38).

Biblically, Israel from its exodus from Egypt incorporates a "mixed multitude." From the start God's people were not limited to a racially homogeneous population. According to Philo Judaeus, this group included proselytes:

"And of those who now went forth out of Egypt and left their abodes in that country, the men of age to bear arms were more than six hundred thousand men, and the other multitude of elders, and children, and women were so great that it was not easy to calculate it. Moreover, there also went forth with them a mixed multitude of promiscuous persons collected from all quarters, and servants, like an illegitimate crowd with a body of genuine citizens. Among these were those who had been born to Hebrew fathers by Egyptian women, and who were enrolled as members of their father's race. And, also, all those who had admired the decent piety of the men, and therefore joined them; and some, also, who had come over to them, having learnt the right way, by reason of the magnitude and multitude of the incessant punishments which had been inflicted on their own countrymen." (Philo Judaeus, Life of Moses, Chapter XXVII).

And thus it has always been; Judaism was an actively proselytizing religion up until the first century A.D., and won many converts as well as 'God-fearers' amongst the populace of the Roman empire. So the pagan poet Horace perceived:

"Grant it your prompt indulgence, or a throng
Of poets shall come up, some hundred strong,
And by mere numbers, in your own despite,
Force you, like Jews, to be our proselyte."
(Horace, Satire IV).

After the twin disasters of the first two centuries of the Christian era: the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., and the reduction of the Jewish population to minority status within Palestine in the wake of Rome's brutal suppression of Simon bar Kochba's Messianic delusion, some Rabbis turned inward. When the decision is taken to go to war, the populace accepts what goes with the territory, namely demonization of the enemy. So it is even in victory, how much more so when the outcome is near-genocide. Thus, unfortunately, such accessories to racism as fear-mongering against disfavored groups can also be found in the Talmud. Be afraid, be very afraid, they want to kill your babies:

  • “AN ISRAELITE WOMAN SHOULD NOT SUCKLE etc. Our Rabbis taught: An Israelite woman should not suckle a child of a heathen, because she rears a child for idolatry; nor should a heathen woman [be allowed to] suckle a child of an Israelite woman, because she is liable to murder it. This is the opinion of R. Meir. But the Sages say: A heathen may suckle a child of an Israelite woman, so long as there are others standing by her, but not if she is on her own. R. Meir, however, says: Not even while others are standing by her, for she may take the opportunity of rubbing in poison on her breast beforehand and so kill the child.”
  • (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Abodah Zarah, 26a).

In time, the concept of the 'mixed multitude' would itself be racialized. The Rabbis adopted the conceit that people who do bad things are descended from the mixed multitude, whereas those who do good things are racially pure:

"R. Nat an bar Abba in the name of Rabh said again: The rich men of the Babylonians are among those who descend to Gehenna; as it once happened Sabathai bar Merenus came to Babylon and asked them to support him in some business, and they did not; and he asked that they should feed him at least, and they also refused. Then he said: They are descendants of the 'mixed multitude,' as it is written [Deut. xiii. 18]: 'And grant thee mercy, and have mercy upon thee.' From this we infer that whosoever has mercy for creatures, he is surely of the children of Abraham our father, but whosoever has not mercy for creatures, it is certain he is not." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume VII, Section Moed, Tract Betzah, Chapter IV, Kindle location 27875).

Pagan Rome made a serious effort to stamp out the Palestinian Jewish population in the wake of the Bar Kochba revolt. This historical context explains much of this material. While understanding where it came from does not make this material either godly or palatable, it is in the nature of things that hostility begets hostility.


Equal Justice

The phrase 'Equal Justice Under Law' is chiselled on the facade of the U. S. Supreme Court. This is not a new concept. Though the pagan Romans were brutal oppressors, even they understood the concept of equal justice under the laws better than some of the Rabbis:

  • (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Baba Kamma, 37b.)

  • “WHERE AN OX BELONGING TO AN ISRAELITE HAS GORED AN OX BELONGING TO A CANAANITE THERE IS NO LIABILITY etc. But I might here assert that you are on the horns of a dilemma. If the implication of 'his neighbor' has to be insisted upon, then in the case of an ox of a Canaanite goring an ox of an Israelite, should there also not be exemption? If [on the other hand] the implication of 'his neighbor' has not to be insisted upon, why then even in the case of an ox of an Israelite goring an ox of a Canaanite, should there not be liability? — R. Abbahu thereupon said: The Writ says, He stood and measured the earth; he beheld and drove asunder the nations, [which may be taken to imply that] God beheld the seven commandments which were accepted by all the descendants of Noah, but since they did not observe them, He rose up and declared them to be outside the protection of the civil law of Israel [with reference to damage done to cattle by cattle]. . .
  • “Our Rabbis taught: The Government of Rome had long ago sent two commissioners to the Sages of Israel with a request to teach them the Torah. It was accordingly read to them once, twice and thrice. Before taking leave they made the following remark: We have gone carefully through your Torah, and found it correct with the exception of this point, viz. your saying that if an ox of an Israelite gores an ox of a Canaanite there is no liability, whereas if the ox of a Canaanite gores the ox of an Israelite, whether Tam or Mu 'ad, compensation has to be paid in full. In no case can this he right. For if the implication of 'his neighbor' has to be insisted upon, why then in the case of an ox of a Canaanite goring an ox of an Israelite should there also not be exemption? If [on the other hand] the implication of 'his neighbor' has not to be insisted upon, why then even in the case of an ox of an Israelite goring an ox of a Canaanite, should there not be liability? We will, however, not report this matter to our Government.’”
  • (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Baba Kamma, 38a).

The God of the Bible proclaims throughout a plan to make the Gentiles HIs own. But the God of Jewish legend does not necessarily buy into this agenda:

"Moses then said to God: 'O Lord of the world! Thou hast so many nations in Thy world, but Thou carest nothing about recording their numbers, and only Israel dost Thou bid me count.' God replied: 'All these multitudes do not belong to Me, they are doomed to the destruction of Gehenna, but Israel is My possession, and as a man most prizes the possession he paid for most dearly, so is Israel most dear to me, because I have with great exertions made it My own." (Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, Volume 2, Kindle location 1661).

Who are They? Boundary Line
Retrogression Apocrypha
The Gentiles and the Kingdom A Test Case
Psalm 96 In the Belly of the Fish
What Then?

This 'whose ox is being gored' principle is also applied to receipt of stolen property,

"Has it not been taught: 'With respect to robbery — if one stole or robbed or [seized] a beautiful woman, or [committed] similar offences, if [these were perpetrated] by one Cuthean against another, [the theft, etc.] must not be kept, and likewise [the theft] of an Israelite by a Cuthean, but that of a Cuthean by an Israelite may be retained'?" (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 57a.)

The same tractate suggests there is to be no equal protection under any law. Murder? Well, who's involved?: "'For murder, whether of a Cuthean by a Cuthean, or of an Israelite by a Cuthean, punishment is incurred; but of a Cuthean by an Israelite, there is no death penalty'? — How else could that clause have been taught? Could he state, 'forbidden' … 'permitted'? Surely it has been taught; A Cuthean and a [Jewish] shepherd of small cattle [sheep, goats, etc.] need neither be rescued [from a pit] nor may they be thrown [therein]!" (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 57a.) Paying a fair wage?: "But R. Aha, the son of R. Ika answered; It applies to the withholding of a laborer's wage. One Cuthean from another, or a Cuthean from an Israelite is forbidden, but an Israelite from a Cuthean is permitted." (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 57a.)

A 'Cuthean' is a Samaritan, one of several categories of 'other' found in the Talmud, of people who have no rights an Israelite is bound to respect. The standard of due process also differs. Unsurprisingly, the standard of proof for execution of a heathen is lower: "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." (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 57b.) Where are we going with this trend? What does the Bible say? Are the laws only for some, or for all? God is no respecter of persons, and the Messiah will ensure equal justice, as the Messiah's followers understood:

"Now, Not according to opinion shall he judge, and not according to speech shall he reprove: but he shall judge judgment for the humble, and shall show mercy to the humble on the earth [Isaiah 11:4] — (by this) he the more establishes and declares His godhead. For to judge without respect of persons and partiality, and not as favoring the illustrious, but affording to the humble worthy and like and and equal treatment, accords with the height and summit of the righteousness of God: for God is influenced and moved by none, save only the righteous." (Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, Chapter 60.)

And what's with the immunity to capital punishment of the man who mistakenly killed an Israelite, thinking he only killed an idolator?: "To the following, capital punishment does not apply: To one who intended to kill an animal and killed a man, an idolator and killed an Israelite, a miscarried child and killed a mature one." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume XV, Tract Sanhedrin, Chapter IX, Kindle location 63708). Certainly intent is a major factor in evaluating criminal culpability, but if he 'only' meant to kill an idolator, still wasn't he up to no good? The traveller sometimes sees a statue of a blind-folded lady in front of the court-house; she is pagan perhaps, but she badly needs to turn up in the Talmud. Where is the pagan lady with the blind-fold when you need her? She is not there. The underlying problem is failure to assign any value to Gentile lives: "All the families of the earth, even the other families who live on the earth are blessed only for Israel's sake. All the nations of the earth, even the ships that go from Gaul to Spain are blessed only for Israel's sake." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yebamoth, 63a).

The society of second temple Judaism supplanted by the Rabbis' polity was not egalitarian, and the Rabbis criticized the elites who battened down on the nation, cozying up to Rome. But then when their own system was implemented, it was not egalitarian either. "It happened that Ula b. Eilai had a case in the court of R. Na'hman, and R. Joseph sent word to R. Na'hman: Ula, our colleague, is equal to us in wisdom and deeds; and R. Na'hman wondered what the purpose of the message was; does he mean: I shall flatter him? After some deliberation he said: He must mean I shall give preference to Ula's case over some other cases, or if in his case the evidence will be equally balanced on the two sides, and the opinion of the judges will be decisive." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume 17, Tract Shebuoth, Chapter IV, Kindle location 69038). The Bolsheviks bitterly condemned the inequality of pre-Revolutionary Russian society, where power and wealth accumulated around the hereditary aristocracy, leaving the great mass of people to divide arid scarcity. They overturned that society, so that what had previously been a distinction and a meal-ticket, aristocratic descent, became a black mark. But a new aristocracy arose: the Bolsheviks themselves coalesced and precipitated out of solution into the 'Nomenklatura,' the bureaucratic ruling elite. The Jewish polity, under the regime of the Rabbis, lost the social stratification of the second temple in favor of a new one, where the learned rule, and their interests receive a nudge from the judges. Or to put it another way, "Rabba b. R. Huna said: If a scholar has a case with one of the common people, the court may invite both to sit down, and if the common man remain standing, it is not necessary to repeat the invitation." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume 17, Tract Shebuoth, Chapter IV, Kindle location 69047).


Equal Protection

The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the 'equal protection' of the laws: ". . .nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Moses' law also incorporates an 'equal protection' clause:

  • “One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you.”
  • (Exodus 12:49)

  • “Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the LORD your God.”
  • (Leviticus 24:22).

  • “And if a stranger shall sojourn among you, and will keep the passover unto the LORD; according to the ordinance of the passover, and according to the manner thereof, so shall he do: ye shall have one ordinance, both for the stranger, and for him that was born in the land.”
  • (Numbers 9:14).

  • “One ordinance shall be both for you of the congregation, and also for the stranger that sojourneth with you, an ordinance for ever in your generations: as ye are, so shall the stranger be before the LORD.
    One law and one manner shall be for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you.”
  • (Numbers 15:15-16)

Inasmuch as Moses' law contains explicit 'equal protection' language, one might think interpreting the law is a simple matter of respecting this very clear language, and allowing God's will to govern the matter. Except in those very few instances where the lawgiver himself has limited the scope of application of a given law, then the law applies without qualification to all who fall under its sway. Reader, if you think so, you lack imagination. It is possible to define several of the key words: 'stranger,' 'neighbor,' in such a way as to nullify the 'equal protection' clause, and restore to the law the exclusivity the Bible explicitly withholds. Thus the Rabbis did their 'apartheid'-style legislating on their own authority.

Who is my Neighbor?

The underlying issue is, who is the 'neighbor?' Rabbi Jesus answered thusly:

"But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?  And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,  And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise." (Luke 10:28-37).

It may be objected: why should moral opprobrium fall on the Rabbis, on grounds of adding an ethnic proviso to laws where no such distinction is imposed by Moses, when they are only acting by analogy with several other laws which already leave an exemption for foreigners in the Old Testament text? For instance, "Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thine hand to in the land whither thou goest to possess it." (Deuteronomy 23:20).

Charging interest on loans is one of those things which is 'on-the-bubble;' though all moralists would agree charging an exorbitant interest rate is exploitive, neither participant in a fair-rate money-lending contract, completed, need walk away feeling damaged. Such undertakings can be mutually beneficial, with both parties 'winning.' Though a pastoral, agrarian people might be able to get by without it, easily available credit is the life-blood of a mercantile economy. So Moses arrives at a split decision: Israelites are called to the higher standard of voluntary mutual benevolence, but allowed to transact ordinary business with others.

So is money-lending allowed, or disallowed? It depends. To whom are you lending? Thus we find:


One can argue around the edges; perhaps there is permission-creep from foreigners to residents, but the basic plan: foreigners OK, brethren not, is in this instance Biblical. But wait: the Messiah legislates for His people: "For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes." (Matthew 7:29). Those who do not concede the Messiah's authority might well reason, inasmuch as an ethnic proviso is attached to some of Moses' laws, where there occurs a term subject to interpretation, like 'neighbor,' an ethnic interpretation is not disallowed. Without the Lord's definition of 'neighbor' to enlighten the discussion, these racialist interpretations are not self-evidently wrong.

But isn't this precisely the point. Yes, Virginia, there is a non-racialist and non-xenophobic version of Judaism which is not an embarrassment to read: it's called 'Christianity.' There is a fad in the publishing industry right now, the 'Jewish Jesus.' (Probably they did not get the memo from the 'Jesus Seminar' about the' Cynic Sage Jesus.') Authors like Rabbi Shmuley Boteach offer a celebratory portrayal of the Talmud, with all the racialism air-brushed out. What comes next: because the Talmud, a sixth century compilation which may, in some cases, reflect the convictions of earlier Pharisees, is so wonderful, the New Testament, which does not depict Jesus as the Pharisee He surely must have been, is a tissue of lies and must be discarded.

It is only fair to point out, in response: the Talmud is not so very wonderful, certainly not to the point that Jesus' teaching is redundant. There already does seem to be some of Jesus' influence felt in the Talmud (though of course He is never quoted by name); would that there were more. Some of the Rabbis do seem to have been listening to the Sermon on the Mount; take, for instance, ". . .R. Eleazar of Modin (c. A.D. 120) said that there is no need to provide for to-morrow, to gather wealth; have faith, and God will not forsake you. . ." (W. D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism, p. 221). On non-retaliation: "Has it not been taught: Concerning those who are insulted but do not insult others [in revenge], who hear themselves reproached without replying, who [perform good] work out of love of the Lord and rejoice in their sufferings, Scripture says: But they that love Him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might?" (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yoma, 23a). Even Rabbi Akiba is not immune:

"Thus Rabbi Akiba pointed to the golden rule as the most comprehensive teaching of the Torah. "This is the most fundamental principle enunciated in the Torah," he taught, "'Love thy neighbor as thyself'" (Lev. 19:18)." (Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser, Ben. The Wisdom of the Talmud (Kindle Locations 1545-1546).)

How does he know that Leviticus 19:18 is the most fundamental principle, when it is not specially demarcated as such? He could have heard it from Jesus' followers. Compare this story, "R. Johanan b. Zakkai said: This may be compared to a king who summoned his servants to a banquet without appointing a time. The wise ones adorned themselves and sat at the door of the palace. ['for,'] said they. 'is anything lacking in a royal palace?' The fools went about their work, saying, 'can there be a banquet without preparations'? Suddenly the king desired [the presence of] his servants: the wise entered adorned, while the fools entered soiled. The king rejoiced at the wise but was angry with the fools. 'Those who adorned themselves for the banquet,' ordered he, 'let them sit, eat and drink. But those who did not adorn themselves for the banquet, let them stand and watch.'" (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbath 153a). Compare with the parable of the wise virgins, or,

"And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless." (Matthew 22:11-12).

Inasmuch as Jesus is earlier and Johanan ben Zakkai later, there would ordinarily be no question as to who is influencing whom. This would be an interesting, but unfortunately grossly neglected study. There are numerous synergies or convergences, "The same [Rabha] said again: 'The man who lends his money is more deserving than the charitable man, and the most deserving of all is he who gives charity surreptitiously or invests money in partnership (with the poor.)" (The Babylonian Talmud, Volume I, Tract Sabbath, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Kindle location 3299). Jesus too instructed that the left hand not know what the right hand was doing. Likewise, "Thence thou canst learn, that everyone who maketh himself humble is raised up by the Holy One, blessed be He, and one who is arrogant is humbled by the Holy One, blessed be He." (The Babylonian Talmud, Volume III, Section Moed, Tract Erubin, Chapter 1, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Kindle location 9467). This is reminiscent of, "And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted." (Matthew 23:12), which in its turn, recalls the Magnificat, based on Hannah's song.

The possibilities are several: given that everything in the Talmud is, technically, later than the New Testament, these thoughts are influenced by Jesus of Nazareth, or, they derive from the common source, the Old Testament, or they are independently revealed or learned by reason. Which is it here?: "There is a Boraitha: R. Mair said: The measure with which one measures will be measured out to him — i.e., as man deals, he will be dealt with, as it reads [Isa. xxvii. 8]: 'In measure, by driving him forth, thou strivest with him.'" (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume XVI, Tract Sanhedrin, Chapter XI, Kindle location 65332). The commonly stated sequence, that Jesus is borrowing from the Rabbis of the Talmud and was in fact quite unoriginal, unfortunately makes the time line run backwards! Students of the Talmud differ in their estimation of the integrity of its process of compilation; some take the attributions of sayings to various Rabbis at face value, and since personal authority is taken as a significant factor in weighing, this is the charitable tack to take. What is mysterious is when a third century A.D. Rabbi who says, again, something that Jesus had said is produced, triumphantly, by the critics as proof positive that Jesus was unoriginal. Better to let the clock run clockwise, as it is prone to do.

We cannot see the whole narrative unfold before us, rather as the strobe light flashes, we catch sight of set-pieces widely separated in time. Jesus' teaching was controversial in His own time, the New Testament teaches. 'Impossible!' proclaims the anti-missionaries. Why? Because centuries later, these same points were not controversial but widely accepted. If this were not a common pattern in the acceptance of new social and political ideas, it might seem problematical.


Corporate Personality

Jacob Singular Pronoun
Abraham's Seed John the Baptist

Underground Railroad

The law commands liberty be granted a fugitive slave:

"Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee:
"He shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him." (Deuteronomy 23:15-16).

On its face this passage promises liberty to all escaped slaves, but perhaps Moses envisions particularly a foreign slave seeking liberty among God's people. However, the Rabbis wondered more about an Israelite master's escaped slave, and what do you know, the Samaritans had to return him:

  • “A slave of R. Hisda's escaped to the Cutheans. He sent word to them that they should return him. They quoted to him in return the verse, 'Thou shalt not deliver unto his master a servant'. (He quoted to them in return, So thou shalt do with his ass and so thou shalt do with his garment; and so shalt thou do with every lost thing of thy brother's. But, they retorted, it is written, 'Thou shalt not deliver unto his master a servant'?) He sent to them to say: That refers to a slave who escapes from abroad to Eretz Israel, as explained by R. Ahi son of R. Josiah.”
  • (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Gittin 45a.)

John Everett Millais, The Good Samaritan

Josephus remarks that the Pharisees are lenient in punishing: "And indeed the Pharisees, even upon other occasions, are not apt to be severe in punishments." (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 13, Chapter 10.6). Jesus condemns them for laying heavy burdens: "Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:. . .For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers." (Matthew 23:2-4). So which are they, lenient or severe? It depends upon whose ox is being gored. Where it is a matter of Moses' very generous social legislation, their main concern seems to be the preservation of capital; they are more eager to find ways around the debt cancellation of the sabbatical year than to build a hedge around it:

"One of the statues which Hillel had introduced was of general interest, and proved that he had true insight into affairs of life. In the Sabbatical year all debts were by law cancelled. At the time when the state was a republic based upon moral laws, this was a wise measure for equalizing property; but at a later period, when capital became a power in itself, the rich were not willing to relieve their less wealthy neighbors from their difficulties by giving them loans. On this account Hillel, without entirely abrogating the law which already existed, ruled that the creditor should give over the debt in writing to the Court, so that the Court might collect it, and the creditor be relieved from the necessity of violating the law. This timely statute, equally advantageous to debtor and creditor, was called by the Greek word Prosbul, because the debt was given over to the Council of the Elders." (History of the Jews, Heinrich Graetz, Volume II, Chapter IV, p. 100.)

This 'reform' amounts to nullification. By contrast with their generous concern for the well-being of creditors, they are, contrariwise, severe when it comes to making the Sabbath, never intended to be a burden, burdensome. They created a religion remarkable for its complacency; it is hard to follow their strictures, but only because they are time-consuming and tax the memory, not because they draw down upon the ethical resources of the heart:

"The Judaism of the Pauline period does not seem to have been characterized by a profound sense of sin. And the reason is not far to seek. The legalism of the Pharisees, with its regulation of the minute details of life, was not really making the Law too hard to keep; it was really making it too easy. Jesus said to His disciples, 'Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.' The truth is, it is easier to cleanse the outside of the cup than it is to cleanse the heart." (J. Gresham Machen, The Origin of Paul's Religion, p. 145).

It's difficult to perceive their creative end-run around the Year of Jubilee as anything other than evasion:

Some of the Rabbis display a decided mean streak when discussing slaves. Who would interpret Genesis 22:5 as intending to classify certain human beings with asses?: “And Abraham said to his young men, 'Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.” And yet in Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kethuboth, Folio 111a, Rabbi Abbahu understands it just so. And when a man dies, why rub into his face and the face of his children (whether the Rabbis admit it or not, he may have been a father) that he was not free:

"Have I not taught you that row of comforters is not made for male and female slaves, and that a blessing of mourners is not said for them, nor is condolence offered for them? What then do they say for them? The same as they say to a man for his ox and his ass: 'May the Almighty replenish your loss.' So for his male and female slave they say to him: 'May the Almighty replenish your loss.' It has been taught elsewhere: For male and female slaves no funeral oration is said." (Babylonian Talmud, Berakoth 16b.)

The Bible ordains no such funerary silence; a slave is a human being, why not mourn for him as you do for others? Yet the Rabbis thought otherwise:

"No consolation is needed (on the death of) male and female slaves.
"It happened when the female slave of R. Eliezer died, his disciples went to console him. When he saw them he went into the yard, and they followed him; he returned to the house, and they followed him. He then said to them: I thought that you might be scalded with lukewarm water, now I see that you cannot be scalded even with boiling. Have I not taught unto you: No consolation is needed (on the death of) slaves?" (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume VIII, Tract Ebel Rabbathi, Chapter I.1 H-I, Kindle location 35207).

The disciples were rebuked for acting like human beings.

When Israel entered the land of Canaan, they were ordered to extirpate the prior inhabitants, not to enslave them; but some were enslaved. Thus opened up a legal 'black hole;' the law does not define the status, rights, or obligations of these 'Canaanite slaves.' Depending on your perspective, this is either a problem or an opportunity.

Moses' enactments are mild, lenient and generous to the poor, and thus of necessity harsh and inconvenient for the well-to-do. The Pharisees prefer to be lenient and merciful toward the well-to-do. And of course race triumphs over all. Although Moses guaranteed equal protection to citizens and strangers, it's just different, that's all, as it is here: "R. Johanan said: A heathen who studies the Torah deserves death, for it is written, Moses commanded us a law for an inheritance; it is our inheritance, not theirs." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, 59a.). Even the very word 'men' is withheld from the Gentiles by certain of these authorities: "For it has been taught: R. Simeon b. Yohai said: The graves of Gentiles do not defile, for it is written, And ye my flock, the flock of my pastures, are men; only ye are designated 'men'." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Baba Mezia, 114b; see also Yebamoth 61a.). And it would appear the Sabbath is not made for man after all: "Resh Lakish also said: A heathen who keeps a day of rest, deserves death, for it is written, And a day and a night they shall not rest, and a master has said: Their prohibition is their death sentence." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, 58b.) Lost items, found, need not be returned to a heathen: "His lost article is permissible, for R. Hama b. Guria said that Rab stated: Whence can we learn that the lost article of a heathen is permissible? Because it says: And with all lost thing of thy brother's: it is to your brother that you make restoration, but you need not make restoration to a heathen." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Baba Kamma, 113b.) Deuteronomy 22:3 says to return "all lost thing of thy brother’s," and surely, no heathen is anyone's brother.

An example of out-of-control legalism is Rabbi Akiba's refusal to stop using his meager water ration to wash his hands, even at the risk of dying of dehydration: "The Rabbis taught: It happened that when R. Aqiba was in prison R. Jehoshua of Garsi served him every day. Water was given R. Aqiba in a measure. One day the warden of the prison said to R. Jehoshua: 'To-day thy measure of water is too large. Perhaps it is thy intention to undermine the prison.' So he poured out half the water and returned the remainder. When R. Jehoshua came to R. Aqiba the latter said to him: 'Dost thou not know, that I am an old man and that my life is dependent upon thee?' R. Jehoshua then related what had happened. Said R. Aqiba: 'Give me the water and I will wash my hands prior to eating,' and he answered: 'There is hardly enough water to drink, and thou wouldst use it to wash thy hands?' Rejoined R. Aqiba: 'What can I do? I must follow the rabbinical commandment, which if violated would involve capital punishment. It were better for me that I die of hunger, than to act contrary to the opinion of my colleagues.' And it was said that R. Aqiba would not taste anything until water was brought to him to wash his hands." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael. L. Rodkinson, Volume III, Section Moed, Tract Erubin, Chapter II, Kindle location 9930). Since hand-washing is nothing but a man-made ordinance to begin with, this seems foolish.

At least one authority thought it futile to pray in any language but Hebrew, given that the heavenly court understood only that one tongue: "But may the 'prayer' be recited in any language? Behold Rab Judah has said: A man should never pray for his needs in Aramaic. For R. Johanan declared: If anyone prays for his needs in Aramaic, the Ministering Angels do not pay attention to him, because they do not understand that language!" (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sotah, 33a.) So do not bother sending your barbarous yawps up to heaven; nobody is monitoring that frequency. We get a glimpse into the heavenly throne room in the book of Revelation, where the angels pour their bowls of prayers upon the altar: "And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand." (Revelation 8:4). Who knew, they dump the ones that aren't in Hebrew.

Bizarrely, the German rationalists of the enlightenment start from the same premise to arrive at the opposite conclusion. Though the Talmud archly notes that the names of the angels are Babylonian, some are formed from Hebrew. Therefore. . .wait for it. . .angels don't exist!: "With respect to the latter, the angel announces himself to be Gabriel that stands in the presence of God. Now it is inconceivable that the constitution of the celestial hierarchy should actually correspond with the notions entertained by the Jews subsequent to the exile and that the names given to the angels should be in the language of this people." (Strauss, David Friedrich; Eliot, George. The life of Jesus critically examined (Kindle Locations 2272-2274).). Fortunately for reason if not for rationalism, heaven has the facility for simultaneous translation: "And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?" (Acts 2:7-8).


Salvation Plan

Do the Rabbis believe in salvation by works, or salvation by grace? Neither; rather, salvation by race or nationality:

  • (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, 90a.)

The view is expressed, though not unanimously held, that only the dead in Israel will rise in the resurrection, because God has "no desire" for other folks. After all, why would God care about people in Kansas or South Korea or Siberia or any such manifestly undesirable locale:

"R. Eleazar stated: The dead outside the Land will not be resurrected; for it is said in Scripture, And I will set glory in the land of the living, [implying] the dead of the land in which I have my desire will be resurrected, but the dead [of the land] in which I have no desire will not be resurrected." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kethuboth, 111a).

There was naturally concern about righteous Israelites who died elsewhere, but, not to worry, they will be rolled along through underground pipelines to the only place where God finds objects for His desire:

"Now according to R. Eleazar, would not the righteous outside the Land be revived? — R. Elai replied: [They will be revived] by rolling [to the Land of Israel]. R. Abba Sala the Great demurred: Will not the rolling be painful to the righteous? — Abaye replied: Cavities will be made for them underground." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kethuboth, 111a).

Opinions differ greatly on this matter; the Talmud's undirected reveries on the life to come must be classed as wild speculation. This same Rabbi narrows it down further, explaining why illiterate folk cannot be saved: "R. Eleazar said; The illiterate will not be resurrected, for it is said in Scripture, The dead will not live etc. So it was also taught: The dead will not live." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kethuboth, 111b). Maybe they can't read the road signs in these underground tunnels and miss the turns.

Some interpreters seem to think 'a man' means 'an Israelite,' as if Gentiles were not even human: "Why not argue [as follows: The words 'children of Israel' imply that] Israelites can undertake life-naziriteships but not gentiles. I might go on to infer from this that [gentiles] cannot undertake [ordinary] nazirite-vows either, Scripture [therefore] says 'man'?" (Babylonian Talmud, Nazir 61b). "Why not?" It's a little presumptuous, don't you think?

Alongside this elevation of man, or rather of one human genetic cohort, comes a correlating diminution of God. There is a fair amount of weird theology already in the Talmud, including the notion that God prays:

"R. Johanan says in the name of R. Jose: How do we know that the Holy One, blessed be He, says prayers? Because it says: Even them will I bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer. It is not said, 'their prayer', but 'My prayer'; hence [you learn] that the Holy One, blessed be He, says prayers. What does He pray? — R. Zutra b. Tobi said in the name of Rab: 'May it be My will that My mercy may suppress My anger, and that My mercy may prevail over My [other] attributes, so that I may deal with My children in the attribute of mercy and, on their behalf, stop short of the limit of strict justice'." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berakoth, 7a).

The best Jewish theologians, like Philo Judaeus and Moses Maimonides, worship a God who is incorporeal and eternal:

"On this account, i.e., on account of the Divine intellect with which man has been endowed, he is  said to have been made in the form and likeness of the Almighty, but far from it be the notion that the Supreme Being is corporeal, having a material form." (Moses Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, Book I, Chapter I, p. 19).

The worst, however, take anthropomorphitism in alarming directions never before seen:

The arrogance of the Rabbis cannot be overstated, and in due course it would lead to theological aberrations:

"'Ye are My witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God' (Isa. xliii. 12). Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai expounds these words thus, 'If ye are My witnesses, then I am God; but if ye are not My witnesses, then I am not God.'" (Yalkut Jethro, n. 271, Kindle location 4315, Hebraic Literature: Translations from the Talmud, Midrashim and Kabbala).

This self-elevation leads to nowhere good; it leads straight to the grotesque Kabbalah.


The Virgin Mary

The Virgin Mary comes in for abusive treatment in the Talmud,

"Balaam also the son of Beor, the soothsayer, [did the children of Israel slay with the sword].  A soothsayer? But he was a prophet! — R. Johanan said: At first he was a prophet, but subsequently a soothsayer.  R. Papa observed: This is what men say, 'She who was the descendant of princes and governors, played the harlot with carpenters.'" (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin, 106a).

Even Mohammed ibn Abdallah chivalrously protests these slurs:

"So, for that they have broken their covenant, and have rejected the signs of God, and have put the prophets to death unjustly, saying the while, ‘Our hearts are uncircumcised,’— Nay, but God hath sealed them up for their unbelief, so that but few believe.

"And for their unbelief,— and for their having spoken against Mary a grievous calumny,—

"And for their saying, ‘Verily we have slain the Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, an Apostle of God.’ Yet they slew him not, and they crucified him not, but they had only his likeness. And they who differed about him were in doubt concerning him: No sure knowledge had they about him, but followed only an opinion, and they did not really slay him, but God took him up to Himself. And God is Mighty, Wise!" (Koran, Sura 4:154-156).

This disparaging treatment of Mary as a individual fits into a prevalent rabbinic theme. As noted, the concept of equal justice under the law is foreign to the Talmud. Even within the commonwealth of Israel, a woman enjoyed nothing like equal status with a man, rather,

"And if you prefer I might reply: Wherever one eligible witness came first, even a hundred women are regarded as one witness; here, however, we are dealing with a case where a woman witness came in the first instance; and the statement of R. Nehemiah is to be explained thus: R. Nehemiah stated, 'Wherever the Torah allows credence to one witness, the majority of opinions is to be followed, and [the evidence of] two women against that of one woman is given the same validity as that of two men against one man, but that of two women against that of one man is regarded only as that of a half and a half.'" (Babylonian Talmud, Yebamoth 88b).

This deprivation of women's civil liberties owes nothing to scripture, rather only to the authority of the rabbis.

Jesus in the Talmud

Jesus of Nazareth turns up in the Talmud, under a variety of aliases, such as Balaam and ben Stada. Because censors of nominally Christian governments looked with disfavor upon this material, the stories tend to get encrusted with an accumulation of anomalous detail as camouflage. He is supposed to have been a sorcerer:

"R. Eliezer said to the Sages: But did not Ben Stada bring forth witchcraft from Egypt by means of scratches [in the form of charms] upon his flesh? He was a fool, answered they, and proof cannot be adduced from fools." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbath, 104b.)

Further information on the crime of 'enticement' is provided in Tractate Sanhedrin,

"For it has been taught: And for all others for whom the Torah decrees death, witnesses are not hidden, excepting for this one. How is it done? — A light is lit in an inner chamber, the witnesses are hidden in an outer one [which is in darkness], so that they can see and hear him, but he cannot see them. Then the person he wished to seduce says to him, 'Tell me privately what thou hast proposed to me'; and he does so. Then he remonstrates; 'But how shall we forsake our God in Heaven, and serve idols'? If he retracts, it is well. But if he answers: 'It is our duty and seemly for us', the witnesses who were listening outside bring him to the Beth din, and have him stoned.
"[And this they did to Ben Stada in Lydda, and they hung him on the eve of Passover. Ben Stada was Ben Padira. R. Hisda said: 'The husband was Stada, the paramour Pandira. But was nor the husband Pappos b. Judah? — His mother's name was Stada. But his mother was Miriam, a dresser of woman's hair? (megaddela neshayia): — As they say in Pumbaditha, This woman has turned away from her husband, (i.e., committed adultery).']" (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, 67a.).

The bracketed material has dropped out of the text owing to censorship. Jesus' crime was enticement:

  • “AND A HERALD PRECEDES HIM etc. This implies, only immediately before [the execution], but not previous thereto. [In contradiction to this] it was taught: On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, 'He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.' But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover! — Ulla retorted: 'Do you suppose that he was one for whom a defense could be made? Was he not a Mesith [enticer], concerning whom Scripture says, Neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him? With Yeshu however it was different, for he was connected with the government [or royalty, i.e., influential].'

  • “Our Rabbis taught: Yeshu had five disciples, Matthai, Nakai, Nezer, Buni and Todah. When Matthai was brought [before the court] he said to them [the judges], Shall Matthai be executed? Is it not written, Matthai [when] shall I come and appear before God? Thereupon they retorted; Yes, Matthai shall be executed, since it is written, When Matthai [when] shall [he] die and his name perish.”
  • (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, 43a.)

Rabbi Boteach seeks to wean some of these texts away from their traditional associations, but not very successfully. He says Yeshu cannot be Jesus because of the former party's association with the government:

"And certainly, there is no indication in the New Testament that Jesus had any friends in the government. On the contrary, Jesus was a committed thorn in the side of the Roman authorities." (Boteach, Shmuley (2011-12-07). Kosher Jesus (p. 221). Gefen Publishing House. Kindle Edition.)

However, once we abandon Rabbi Boteach's recreation of Jesus as a Zionist freedom fighter, there is plentiful "indication." The text may simply offer an inference based on Pilate's apparent reluctance to execute Jesus, also noted in the New Testament. Besides the Talmud says Rabbi Gamaliel was close to the government:

"It was different with the household of Rabban Gamaliel because they had close associations with the Government; for it has been taught: To trim the hair in front is of the ways of the Amorites; but they permitted Abtilus b. Reuben to trim his hair in front because he had close associations with the Government. Similarly they permitted the household of Rabban Gamaliel to study Greek wisdom because they had close associations with the Government." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractata Sotah, 49b.).

Rabbi Boteach himself tells us that Gamaliel was the most advanced Pharisee of his time: "First, it’s unlikely Paul was a Pharisee or that he studied with Gamliel, the most advanced Pharisaic teacher of the time." (Boteach, Shmuley (2011-12-07). Kosher Jesus (p. 112). Gefen Publishing House. Kindle Edition.) But Gamaliel was close to the government. So it says nothing derogatory about 'Yeshu' that He enjoyed the same status as Rabbi Gamaliel.

For every point in the Talmud, there is a counter-point; not all the Rabbis were racists or defamers. While it's always a delight to stumble upon hidden treasures in the Talmud, the man who tells you it's nothing but treasure is pulling your leg. Consistency, sometimes called the hobgoblin of little minds, is not a virtue the Rabbis cultivated. The Talmud is a mixed bag, with silver and dross fused together. The celebratory tone taken by authors like Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is liable to confuse readers who have not personally encountered this material. Thus it is desirable to restore a bit of balance. There is plenty of racialism in the Talmud: Gentiles want to kill your baby, God hears only Hebrew prayers, etc. In each and every instance where these anti-Christian critics want to hack away at the New Testament text, there are Talmudic analogues. According to the Talmud, the Gentiles have no excuse, because the law was offered to them, but they rejected it:

"The nations will then contend: 'Lord of the Universe, hast Thou given us the Torah, and have we declined to accept it? (But how can they argue thus, seeing that it is written, The Lord came from Sinai and rose from Seir unto them, He shined forth from Mount Paran? And it is also written, God cometh from Teman. What did He seek in Seir, and what did He seek in Mount Paran? — R. Johanan says: This teaches us that the Holy One, blessed be He, offered the Torah to every nation and every tongue, but none accepted it, until He came to Israel who received it. [How, then, can they say that the Torah was not offered to them?]" (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Abodah Zarah, 2b.).

When did this happen? Before my time. It was a case, it would seem, where an earlier generation obligated their descendants, without polling those descendants one by one. But the suggestion of such a thing, not in fact, but in the minds of the speakers of Matthew 27:25, requires this latter passage to be excised! Or so they say. When may we expect Abodah Zarah 2b. to be excised? If every passage that offends someone must be clipped out, then the editors have their work laid out for them with the Talmud, and they had better get busy. Surely there must be reciprocity! Or are they taking their principles of justice from the Talmud, where everything depends upon whose ox is being gored?

There is a progression in Jewish thought, as reflected in the Talmud. The inference seems justified that the more open and tolerant verdicts are the older, the racialist ones the more recent. A similar process set in amongst those Christian churches entrapped in Muslim countries. In freedom, no one could perceive the Christian church as an ethnic group, rather, the gospel is to go out to every creature: "And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people..." (Revelation 14:6). However, as proselytizing became more and more dangerous and the group grew more isolated, these captive churches started to look like ethnic groups; the congregants even start looking distinctive, unlike their neighbors. Groups like the Copts in Egypt were at first simply the populace of the country, but being less likely to marry into the invading Arab ruling elite or speak their Arabic tongue, they became an ethnic group, intermarrying amongst themselves and not the larger population, speaking their own remnant tongue. People seem to think it's the other way around, but the Jews became an ethnic group after having been a religion. The Roman empire worked its will on them. The Romans broke Judaism, but those camped out amidst its ruins say, 'No, it was always like this. Isn't it lovely?'


There is a concern with contamination found in the Talmud that certainly goes beyond anything the Bible says, and seems even to go beyond reason. Peter says, in the Book of Acts,

"And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean." (Acts 10:28).

Readers protest, but there is nothing in the law of Moses that prohibits an Israelite from keeping company with a Gentile. That is certainly true, there is nothing in the written law that prohibits socializing of this sort. So where could Peter have got this idea from? The Rabbis deliberately built a hedge around the law, "Moses received the Torah from Sinai, and he delivered it to Jehoshua, and Jehoshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets, and the prophets delivered it to the men of the Great Synagogue. They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment; and raise up many disciples; and make a fence to the Torah." (Pirke Aboth, Book 1, Chapter 1). Another image might be ripples spreading in a pool: the written law is just the first splash, where things will end up is anyone's guess. Moses laid down dietary restrictions. But this?:

"If one sends a cask of wine by the hand of a Cuthean, or of brine or muries by the hand of an idolater if he can identify his seal and the [spot and manner of] his closing up, it is permitted, but if not it is forbidden!" (Babylonian Talmud, Abodah Zarah, 31b.).

A 'Cuthean,' in the Talmud, is properly a Samaritan, by implication expanding to non-Jew, on grounds that if even a Samaritan, who is partly Jewish by descent, is unclean, how much more a heathen Gentile. Even sending such a person as a delivery man, even if his hands never touch the product to be consumed, will contaminate the contents of the cask, unless it is carefully sealed and the seal is checked. So suppose Peter's Gentile neighbor invites him over and offers him a pickle. Don't touch!

"R. Abba b. Kahana also said: R. Hanina permitted Rabbis household to drink wine [carried] in gentile coaches [sealed] with one seal, and I do not know whether it is because he agrees with R. Eliezer or because of the [Gentile's] fear of the Nasi's household." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbath, Folio 122a.)

Again unclean Gentile hands are only involved in the transport of the product, they have not taken part in preparing it or processing it. However the view is expressed that it is still unfit for human consumption, although Rabbi Hanina took a more liberal tack. Thankfully some Rabbis take a more inclusive view, but at times the xenophobic view has represented the consensus. The eighteen enactments carried during the first century in the upper room, overshadowed by violence, were not charitable: "Said R. Nahman b. Isaac, That the daughters of Cutheans are niddoth from their cradles was also enacted on that same day; and on the other [question] he agrees with R. Meir." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbath 17a), referring to menstrual impurity. The xenophobic view prevailed in these eighteen enactments which the followers of Shammai pushed through over the followers of Hillel, remnants of which remain in the Talmud: "And another? — Bali said in the name of Abimi of Senawta: [The interdict against] their bread, oil, wine and daughters all these are of the eighteen measures." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbath 17b).

As to why Peter was under the impression he should not keep company with a Gentile, perhaps he had heard, "Have we not learned in a Mishna (Tract Ohaloth): The dwellings of the heathens must be considered unclean (because it was supposed, that they buried their miscarriages in their dwellings), and how long must the heathen have dwelt in such a dwelling in order to render it unclean?" (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume V, Section Moed, Tract Pesachim, Chapter 1, Kindle location 17075). This view certainly did exist, although thankfully it is not universally held. However, even the milder view that generally prevails in the Talmud will not allow table fellowship between Jews and Gentiles, because people are thought to contaminate the food just by touching it: "Thereupon R. Kahana and R. Assi interposed: Have you, master, not yourself taught that even a one-day-old child of a heathen renders the wine prohibited when touching it?" (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume 18, Tract Abuda Zara, Chapter IV, Kindle location 73255). Some of this the Rabbis get from Daniel, who would not touch the heathens' wine or oil, “Please test your servants for ten days, and let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink.” (Daniel 1:12). Some of it is certainly hedge-building, the advertised procedure of the Pharisees. But some of it looks suspiciously like the kind of every-day racial antipathy one encounters in the world.


Eating Lobster Moral Law
Ceremonial Law Universal Law
Sabbath Keeping The Talmud
Law of Love

The Crux of the Matter

The crux of the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees is His assertion that they are teaching "commandments of men:"

  • “Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,
  • “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.
  • “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”

  • (Matthew 15:7-9)

In other words, these elaborate extra-Biblical injunctions were never authored by God; they are a human creation altogether. The Pharisees do not by any means concede that they are teaching commandments of men; rather, they offer the conceit that God delivered two parallel streams to Moses at Mt. Sinai, a written law, and a complementary oral law:

"Moses received the Torah from Sinai, and he delivered it to Jehoshua, and Jehoshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets, and the prophets delivered it to the men of the Great Synagogue. They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment; and raise up many disciples; and make a fence to the Torah." (Pirke Aboth, Chapter 1, Section 1).

However even the Talmud itself does not take this conceit seriously; the authority who formulates any given extra-Biblical rule is never Moses as attested by any contemporary of his, but some second or third century Rabbi or another. As James points out, there is one lawgiver: "There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?" (James 4:12). He who formulated the "law of liberty",— "So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty." (James 2:12),— knows the difference between His own enactments and "commandments of men." Love Him or hate Him, at least Jesus did not decide the matter based on the criterion of 'Are anyone's feelings being hurt?',— a criterion which, as it happens, is never employed by the Rabbis either.

The Rabbis were not modest in their estimation of their own worth, and that of Israelite humanity in general: "The optimistic spirit of Judaism cannot tolerate the idea that mortal man is hopelessly lost under the burden of his sins, or that he need ever lose faith in himself." (Kaufmann Kohler, Jewish Theology, p. 251). The Talmud arrives at the reductio ad absurdum of the 'commandments of men' approach in Baba Mezia 86a:

 "Now, they were disputing in the Heavenly Academy thus: If the bright spot preceded the white hair, he is unclean; if the reverse, he is clean. If [the order is] in doubt — the Holy One, blessed be He, ruled, He is clean; whilst the entire Heavenly Academy maintained, He is unclean. Who shall decide it? said they. — Rabbah b. Nahmani; for he said, I am pre-eminent in the laws of leprosy and tents. A messenger was sent for him, but the Angel of Death could not approach him, because he did not interrupt his studies [even for a moment]. In the meantime, a wind blew and caused a rustling in the bushes, when he imagined it to be a troop of soldiers. 'Let me die,' he exclaimed, 'rather than be delivered into the hands of the State. As he was dying, he exclaimed, 'Clean, clean!' when a Heavenly Voice cried out, 'Happy art thou, O Rabbah b. Nahmani, whose body is pure and whose soul had departed in purity!' A missive fell from Heaven in Pumbeditha, [upon which was written,] 'Rabbah b. Nahmani has been summoned by the Heavenly Academy." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Baba Mezi'a, 86a).

Has God fallen silent? Has He lost interest? Is your religion naught but commandments of men? No problem, He'll just have to consult you, that's all. As the Rabbis have shown, it's possible for a religion to keep on going forever without input from above. Lest you think I exaggerate, there's a little set-piece in the Talmud which makes exactly this point:

"He said again: Let it be announced by the heavens that the Halakha prevails according to my statement, and a heavenly voice was heard, saying: Why do you quarrel with R. Eliezer, who is always right in his decisions! R. Joshua then arose and proclaimed [Deut. xxx. 12]: 'The Law is not in the heavens.' How is this to be understood? said R. Jeremiah: It means, the Torah was given already to us on the mountain of Sinai, and we do not care for a heavenly voice, as it reads [Exod. xxiii. 2]: 'To incline after the majority."' (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume 11, Tractate Baba Metzia, Chapter IV, p. 140).

This is not the majority absolutely, but the majority of those who are thought to deserve to hold an opinion, i.e., the learned: "And why is mention made of the opinion of a single person in connection with that of many, when the final decision is invariably with the majority? In order that when a court should happen to approve of some one's opinion it might base its decision thereon, for no court may annul the decision of another court, unless it be superior to latter both in erudition and number." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume 17, Tract Eduyoth, Chapter I, Mishna V, Kindle location 70267). The principle is similar to the 'peer review' of academia, than which a more perfect system to ensure the triumph of mediocrity cannot be conceived.

The Talmud proceeds along this trajectory until it gives us the apotheosis of the Rabbis, situating them in heaven before our wondering gaze: "R. Zera said: Yesterday night R. Jose b. Hanina appeared to me in a dream, and I questioned him: Where are you placed in the heavenly college? And he answered: By the side of R. Johanan. And where is R. Johanan placed? By the side of R. Janai. And where is R. Janai placed? By the side of R. Hanina" (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume XII, Tract Baba Metzia, Chapter VII, p. 221). It seems their concern for precedence has travelled with them to their new locale.



The Talmud is no more enlightened in its marital advice than in other areas:


Rabbi Jesus, by thankful contrast, taught that in marriage, the twain (two: 2, 1+1) became one:

"And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." (Matthew 19:4-6).

It was only subsequent to the era of the Talmud that polygamy fell out of favor, no doubt owing to pressure from Christian society. There is a theme here: in relations between master and slave, the master draws the Rabbis' sympathy. In relations between debtor and creditor, it's the creditor to whom they are 'lenient.' The plight of a woman whose husband brings a younger rival into her home does not interest them. They are 'moderate' and 'lenient' indeed, but only to the powerful, not the powerless.

Though they permitted polygamy, the Rabbis realized this life-style is tangled up with jealousy and intrigue:

"Rabh said to R. Assi: '. . .Do not take unto thee two wives, because they might conspire against thee to do thee wrong. If thou, however, already hast two wives, take a third (and should two conspire against thee the third will betray them to thee.)'" (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume V Section Moed, Tract Pesachim, Chapter X, Kindle location 21423).

Daniel's Vision

The prophet Daniel saw a vision which fills the Rabbis with consternation:

“I watched till thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, its wheels a burning fire; a fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, and the books were opened. . .I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. “Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:9-14).

The Rabbis are plainly troubled:

"One passage says: His throne was fiery flames; and another Passage says: Till thrones were places, and One that was ancient of days did sit! — There is no contradiction: one [throne] for Him, and one for David; this is the view of R. Akiba. Said R. Jose the Galilean to him: Akiba, how long wilt thou treat the Divine Presence as profane! Rather, [it must mean], one for justice and one for grace. Did he accept [this explanation from him, or did he not accept it? — Come and hear: One for justice and one for grace; this is the view of R. Akiba. Said R. Eleazar b. ‘Azariah to him: Akiba, what hast thou to do with Aggadah? Cease thy talk, and turn to [the laws concerning defilement through] leprosy-signs and tent-covering! Rather, [it must mean] one for a throne and one for a stool; the throne to sit upon, the stool for a footrest, for it is said: The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My foot-rest." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Haggigah, 14a.)

Why is this a 'problem' passage? Who is the Son of Man?

Philo Judaeus

One might be tempted to say that Christianity made of Judaism a universal faith, but that would not be quite true inasmuch as Philo's religion was already universal!

"But, however, let these men be set down as common rules and limits for all men, in order to prevent them from priding themselves on their noble birth, and so departing from and losing the rewards of excellence. But there are also other especial rules given to the Jews besides the common ones which are applicable to all mankind; for they are derived from the original founders of the nation, to whom the virtues of their ancestors were absolutely of no benefit at all, inasmuch as they were detected in blameable and guilty actions, and were convicted, if not by any other human being, at all events by their own consciences, which is the sole tribunal in the world which is never led away by any artifices of speech." (Philo Judaeus, On he Virtues, Chapter XXXVIII (206).)

Does all Israel have a part in the world to come? He seems to be going in a different direction: "These men therefore are both of that class which is open to reproach; men whom, as they showed themselves wicked men, though descended from virtuous fathers, the virtues of their fathers failed to profit in the least, while the vices which existed in their souls did them infinite mischief; and I can speak of others, who, on the contrary, ranged themselves in a better class, after having been born in a worse, since their forefathers were guilty, while their own life was to be admired and was full of praise and virtue." (Philo Judaeus, On the Virtues, Chapter XXXIX (211).) Philo goes on to underscore his point by mentioning that Abraham was the son of an idolater, who departed from his home and his people. One could almost say, "And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham." (Matthew 3:9).

History knows its cycles; there are dark ages as well as ages of enlightenment, and the Talmud's forays into racialist territory are not a continuation of what went before, but the direct opposite. There is a regression visible here, not a progression:

"Jewish Hellenism, which proclaimed the common brotherhood of man, disappeared, and Pharisaic Judaism, which sharply repudiated all communion with the Gentile world, won universal acceptance."

(Schürer, Emil. A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ (Kindle Locations 6025-6026). Capella Press.)

Country of Origin

The Babylonian Talmud carries more weight and prestige than its Palestinian counterpart. There was a vibrant Jewish community in Babylonia for centuries. No doubt they brought much to the region, and they took a few things too, including their calendar: the Jewish lunar/solar calendar, with its nineteen year cycle, is substantially what the Babylonians had been using when they first came into contact with the Jews. The Babylonians devoted years of effort to chronicling the journeys of the sun and other heavenly bodies, which they sought to align with events on earth through the 'science' of astrology. Unfortunately, not a few of the Rabbis seem to have accepted, not only the sturdy and useful Babylonian calendar, but also its astrological superstructure. The Jews came into conflict with the church on a minor point of scheduling, which even some Christians seem to think demonstrated the inherent superiority of the pagan Babylonian calendar:

Apparently under Babylonian influence, the Rabbis adopted an elaborate set of ideas about the divine activity on New Year's Day:

"The New Year's Day on the first of Tishri appears in the Mosaic Code simply as the memorial 'Day of the Blowing of the Trumpet,' because of the increased number of trumpet blasts to usher in the seventh or Sabbatical month with its  great pilgrim feast. Under Babylonian influence, however, it received a new name and meaning. The Babylonian New Year was looked upon as a heavenly day of destiny when the fates of all beings on earth and in heaven were foretold for the whole year from the tables of destiny. The leaders of Jewish thought also adopted the first day of the holy month of Tishri as a day of divine judgment, when God allots to each man his destiny for the year according to his record of good and evil deeds in the book of life." (Kaufmann Kohler, Jewish Theology, p. 465).

God stands outside of time, He inhabits eternity, He does not improvise: "For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones." (Isaiah 57:15). It is not clear that the pagan Babylonians from whom these conceptions were borrowed understood this.

Perhaps some of the superstition and magical thinking that defaces the Talmud, such as its concern for odd and even numbers, comes from this source:

"Why should not a man go out alone at night? For we have learned in a Boraitha: 'A man should not go out alone on the night following the fourth day or on the night following the Sabbath, because an evil spirit called Agrath, the daughter of Ma'hlath, together with one hundred and eighty thousand other evil spirits, go forth into the world and have the right to injure anyone they should chance to meet.'" (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume V, Section Moed, Tractate Pesachim, Chapter X, Kindle location 21414).

The reader of the Talmud learns more than he or she wishes to know about the 'evil eye' and such. Among the more notable 'Babylonish' things littering the Talmud is the fascination some voices express with astrology. This pagan practice was one of the bedrock certainties of the Babylonian culture; these people were sure that the stars were powerful rulers who controlled human destinies. Some of the Rabbis evidently thought so too:

"Said R. Hanina to the men who related what was written in the diary above: 'Go and tell the son of Levi, that the fortune of a man does not depend upon the day, but upon the hour he was born in. . .One who is born under Venus will be a rich man, but will be lascivious, because fire is generated under Venus. One who is born under Mercury will be bright and wise, because that star is the scribe of the Sun. . ." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume II, Tract Sabbath, Chapter XXIV, Kindle location 8517).

This is an accommodation to the host culture. It is not surprising to see acculturation to Babylon on the part of authorities residing in Babylon, even though Babylon is pagan and is not a sound influence; the contagion seems to have spread to Palestine as well. Some authorities offer the faintly preposterous 'correction' that, yes, casting horoscopes does work for Gentiles. . .but not for Jews!: "And Abraham said again: 'Creator of the Universe! I have consulted my horoscope, and have found that I am not capable of having a son;' so the Lord said to him: 'Away with thy horoscope! An Israelite hath no fate!'" (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume II, Tract Sabbath, Chapter XXIV, Kindle location 8535).

Some Jews adopted wholesale the dominant secular scientific system of astronomy in the ancient world, the Ptolemaic system. Medieval philosopher Moses Maimonides was an enthusiast for this vision of musical spheres. This is where the 'seven heavens' come from, familiar from the Koran, known also to the Rabbis. This influence does not by any means compel adoption of astrology, though it probably did open a door to this kind of thing:

"And if the year begins in Virgo: Everyone whose name contains Yudhs or Semkath, and Beth, and Nun will be diseased and robbed, and will flee from his home." (Treatise of Shem, Chapter 6, p. 483, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, edited by James H. Charlesworth)

I don't think that's how you do astrology anyway! Does the Ptolemaic system really drive people mad, or was that something else?:

Greece and Rome were pagan societies, but there is no paganism quite like Babylonian paganism. It is understandable that Babylonia should rise to occupy the place vacated by Palestine. After depopulation resulting from defeat in two devastating wars, the Jewish Revolt and the Bar Kochba Rebellion, the Jews could barely sustain their position in the holy land. There was pushback though: "The second delegate then arose to read and he recited the verse, 'Out of Zion shall go forth the Torah,' as 'Out of Babylonia shall go forth the Torah.' When corrected, he replied similarly: 'In Palestine we may read as written, but judging by your conduct the amended reading appears justified.'" (quoted in The Wisdom of the Talmud, Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser, Kindle location 1359). There is no provision in the Law, nor any prescription given by any recognized prophet, allowing for Babylonian leadership; it is one more improvisation during an era when the Judaic religion owed more to human creativity than to input from God.


Gnats and Camels

Jesus accused the scribes and Pharisees of straining at gnats and swallowing camels:

"Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel." (Matthew 23:24).

Has anyone ever actually done that? I can think of a few. The Ebola outbreak has reminded everyone that it really is a good idea to avoid coming into contact with a corpse. This is helpful from the standpoint of public health. Moses probably saved quite a few lives with this injunction. But some people did not really perceive the larger picture,

"It was taught: 'A corpse lying in the sun.'. . .R. Hinna b. Shalmi in the name of Rabh said: A loaf of bread or an infant should be put on the corpse and then the corpse may be moved. There is no difference of opinion as to the removal of a corpse (on the Sabbath), which is permitted when a loaf or an infant is put upon it; they differ only where there is none." (New Edition of the Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume I, Tract Sabbath, Mishna VII, Kindle location 2405).

If the intent is to preserve public health, you lost me at the baby. Evidently it is desired to move the corpse without 'work,' prohibited on the Sabbath; but a failure to grasp the big picture leads to a senseless result. Making the corpse serve as a kind of a table to transport the baby or the bread gets around the obstacle presented by the Sabbath, but if there is any human being who should avoid an Ebola-infected corpse, it's the baby. Human reason, which did not at that time understand the mechanics of disease transmission, has inserted itself before the divine insight which did.


Et Tu

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote a revisionist treatment of Jesus of Nazareth, 'The Kosher Jesus,' in which the reader discovers that Jesus must really have been an armed revolutionary, like Ahmed Ben Bella, or Yasser Arafat, or somebody like that. This is because, we discover, every good man at that time was an armed revolutionary, inasmuch as Judaea was under Roman suzerainty. Surely you wouldn't want to suggest that Jesus was a cowardly traitor! This novel discovery leaves the Talmud itself standing on rather spongy ground, because not all the sponsors and protagonists of this effort at redefining Judaism were armed revolutionaries. When it came time to pick up a sword, certain folks skedaddled:

"A rabbinic school was established at Jamnia, a city that Vespasian had earlier used as a settlement center for Jews who voluntarily surrendered to the Romans (War IV. 444). The founder of this academy was Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai (ca. 1-80 C.E.). According to rabbinic tradition, he faked his death and escaped from Jerusalem in a coffin being carried away from the city for burial. His escape probably occurred early in the war rather than late, that is, before rather than after the Roman siege began. Johanan requested and was granted permission from the Romans to establish his school, which, with him as its nasi (prince or patriarch), replaced the Sanhedrin as the most prominent Jewish authority." (The Jewish People in Classical Antiquity, by John H. Hayes and Sara R. Mandell, p. 210).

According to the Talmud, when Rabbi ben Zakkai reached the Roman lines and encountered Vespasian, he roared his triumphant war-shout: "When he reached the Romans he said, Peace to you, O king, peace to you, O king." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Gittin 56a.) One often hears historian Flavius Josephus referred to as a 'quisling,' because General Josephus, after waging unsuccessful armed resistance, reneged on a suicide pact, was captured by the Romans, and subsequently served them as a 'Tokyo Rose' type of propaganda mouth-piece. But Josephus was a lion compared to this man, who faked his own death to sneak past the Jewish sentinels of a city not yet even under siege. He gave the world the 'Mishnah,' the Jewish law code which is at the kernel of the Talmud. One wonders when Rabbi Boteach will revisit this man's biography, revealing that he was in reality a brave freedom fighter, as any good man must have been, until lying anti-semites of a later period obscured this great truth.

To be sure, the politics of the Talmud are not pro-Roman; the mighty empire is tried in the balance and found wanting. The Romans plead their case: "'O Lord of the Universe, we have established many market-places, we have erected many baths, we have accumulated much gold and silver, and all this we did only for the sake of Israel, that they might [have leisure] for occupying themselves with the study of the Torah.'" (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Abodah Zara, 2b). The Lord is not buying it: "The Holy One, blessed be He, will say in reply: 'You foolish ones among peoples, all that which you have done, you have only done to satisfy your own desires.'" (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Abodah Zara, 2b). But what is to be done?

The politics of the Talmud (the Talmud would not be compiled for some centuries to come, but the intellectual revolution that inaugurated a new religion begins at this time) are somewhat obscure, but are certainly no continuation of Zealotry. Much of their teaching is distinctly conservative: "Because the earthly royalty is like the heavenly. . .He replied: What I am saying is this: Blessed is the All-Merciful Who has made the earthly royalty on the model of the heavenly, and has invested you with dominion, and made you lovers of justice. They said to him: Are you so solicitous for the honor of the Government?" (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berakoth, 58a.) "The law of the State is a s the law of God." (Kaufmann Kohler, Jewish Theology, p. 320, quoting Baba Kamma 113a). Of the Palestinian Jewish sects in existence before the Jewish Revolt: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, the Zealots, and the Christians, only two, the Pharisees and the Christians, have any representation in the world today. The Zealots, who specialized in internecine strife, left no spiritual offspring, unless Rabbi Akiba, who championed the false Messiah Simon bar Kochba, is counted as such. Johanan ben Zakkai and his peers started over, writing upon a blank slate. Where did these people come from? Whose interests did they serve? Who were their forbears? How and why did they rise to prominence? King Herod the Great plucked Hillel from obscurity:

"On the eve of Herod's departure, he found himself compelled to make some change in the Synhedrion, and to appoint the Babylonian Hillel, a man unknown until then, as one of the presidents. This gave a new direction to the spirit of Judaism, which has affected that faith down to the present. . .He probably accompanied Hyrcanus on his return from Babylon to Jerusalem, and became one of the most devoted disciples of the Synhedrists, Shemaya and Abtalion, whose traditional lore he endeavored to transmit literally and faithfully." (History of the Jews, by Heinrich Graetz, Volume II, Chapter IV, p. 96)

What, from the perspective of Herod the Great, was so attractive in an obscure Babylonian migrant? Perhaps that, unlike the native Judaeans, he was accustomed to the practice of the Judaic religion as a private concern in a state ruled by foreigners. The Jewish community of Babylon was large, devout, and had no expectation of political autonomy. It may be this was just what Herod had in mind for Judaea, now under Roman dominion. If Rabbi Boteach is serious about re-inventing history to vindicate Zealotry, he is going to have to overthrow the non-Zealot foundations of, not only Christianity, but also of his own religion. Otherwise his faith is built upon the self-contradiction that the 'sages,' who disagreed with the Zealots, were right; they were holy and wise men, though the Zealots were not wrong, in fact they were the ones in the right. But if the Zealots were right, then the 'sages,' who hated them, were perforce wrong.



There are people in the Christian fold called 'theonomists.' It might in theory be thought these people want to keep Moses' law, however in practice they have contracted a bad case of 'picking and choosing.' They do not pick and choose like the Rabbis do, nor even as the Christians, but in their own way:

Fair Play

In fairness, there is plenty of good stuff in the Talmud as well. As seen above, the best of its ethical teaching approaches Christianity, "Did not Rabha say: He who leaves his injuries unavenged, will have his sins forgiven in Heaven?" (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume VI, Section Moed, Tractate Yoma, Chapter II [23a], Kindle location 23053). Or, "As Rabha said: Who yields from his obstinacy has his sins cancelled. As it is written [Micah, vii. 18]: "Pardoning iniquity and forgiving transgression;' and that is interpreted in Tract Rosh Hashana: To whom does God pardon iniquity? Him who pardons the wrongs of his neighbor toward him." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume VIII, Tract Megilla, Chapter IV, Kindle location 34845).

"Our Rabbis taught: Those who are insulted but do not insult, hear themselves reviled without answering, act through love and rejoice in suffering, of them the Writ saith, But they who love Him are as the sun when he goeth forth in his might." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbath, 88b).

Indeed, at times we seem to hear the voice of the Lord, preserved incognito. Another example of sound teaching is its exhortations to literacy:

Greek Learning Eyes Front
Eunice and Timothy The Talmud
Bethar Moses
Youth of Succoth Hezekiah
Scroll of the Law Philo Judaeus
Military Man Lamentation
Signed and Sealed Court Clerks
Masada Reader's Digest
Rabha Outliers
James Son of Zebedee

The quality of this material, however, ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous. Like the little girl with a curl in the middle of her forehead, the Talmud is good when it's good, not so good otherwise. The tremendous respect the Talmud offers to learning has been a spur to achievement in this arena, but can easily shade over into contempt for the unlearned, which is not good. At times the Talmud seems to be offering a 'salvation by scholarship' package, which is not Biblical. Indeed they offer even to God Himself the opportunity of participating in their system of legal casuistry, no doubt receiving immense profit from studying the law of which He alone knows the original intent:

"Twelve hours there are in the day: The first three, the Holy One — blessed be He! — employs in studying the law; the next three He sits and judges the whole world; the third three He spends in feeding all the world; during the last three hours He sports with the leviathan; as it is said (Ps. civ. 26), 'This leviathan Thou hast created to play with it.'" (Babylonian Talmud, Abodah Zarah, 3b).

Right to Life

One area in which the Talmud still plays an unwelcome role in society relates to the question of abortion. Some quote as authoritative,

"R. Hisda replied: She performs the immersion but may eat terumah only until the fortieth day. For if she is not found pregnant she never was pregnant, and if she is found pregnant, the semen, until the fortieth day, is only a mere fluid." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yebamoth, 69b).

"[M]ere fluid"? So it might appear to the naked eye. The ovum was not discovered until the nineteenth century and consequently ancient accounts of conception tend to assign too great a role to the sperm. Anyone with a microscope would know the embryo is not "mere fluid" at any time, much less up until the 40th day; this is just unscientific, human ignorance, a trap door to snare the unwary. As seen above, the Rabbis expect God to ask their legal advice, but will the God who formed the child in the womb be unaware He is not working with "mere fluid"?: "My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth." (Psalm 139:15).

Another passage is often quoted in this connection:

"R. Jeremiah inquired: If the thief sold a stolen animal with the exception of the first thirty days, or with the exception of its work or with the exception of its embryo, what would be the law? If we accept the view that an embryo is [an integral part like] the thigh of its mother, there could be no question that this would be a sure reservation. The question would arise only if we accept the view that an embryo is not like the thigh of its mother. What indeed should be the law?. . .Let this stand undecided." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Baba Kamma 78b).

The discussion pertains to a stolen animal not a human being, and is left undecided in any case.

The Talmud, a compilation of the views of all-too-human commentators, cannot be accused of presenting a unitary viewpoint. For every Rabbi, there is an equal and opposite Rabbi. The view is also expressed, in a discussion of the laws applying to Noah and his descendants, that embryos are human lives:

"In the name of R. Ishmael it was said: He is put to death even for killing an embryo. Whence is this deduced? Said R. Jehudah: From [Gen. ix. 5]: 'Your blood, however, on which your lives depend, will I require,' meaning even by one judge." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume XV, Tractate Sanhedrin, Chapter VII, Kindle location 62478).

The Talmud enjoys as its founding myth that the oral law goes back to Moses, just as does the written law:

"During the forty days he spent in heaven, Moses received beside the two tables all the Torah — the Bible, Mishnah, Talmud, and  Haggadah, yea, even all that ever clever scholars would ask their teacher was revealed to him. When he now received the command from God to teach all this to Israel, he requested God to write down all the Torah and to give it to Israel in that way. But God said: 'Gladly would I give them the whole in writing, but it is revealed before Me that the nations of the world will hereafter read the Torah translated into Greek, and will say: 'We are the true Israel, we are the children of God.' Then I shall say to the nations: 'Ye claim to be MY children, do ye not know that those only are My children to whom I have confided My secret, the oral teaching?'" (Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, Volume 2, Kindle location 1633).

There are historical difficulties with this claim, because the Bible records that the written law came near to being lost: "And Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the LORD. And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it." (2 Kings 22:8); and if the written law was nearly lost, how much more fragile was any supposed oral law? While a book can be found and deciphered, how could a vanished oral tradition have been reconstituted? According to tradition, the law was almost lost again, in the days of Ezra: "For in ancient times when the Torah was forgotten from Israel, Ezra came up from Babylon and established it. [Some of] it was again forgotten and Hillel the Babylonian came up and established it." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Succah, 20a). Moreover, a bit more consistency might make the claim more credible, because in its present jumbled form the material appears all-too-human: