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The Talmud And The Popes

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If the Torah is the heart of the Jewish people, then the Talmud is the spine–without either one, the Jewish people could not survive. But while the Talmud is essential for Jewish life, it is a work that became the foremost fascination for one historic dynasty –the Popes of the Middle Ages.

Whereas the Books of the Torah were part of the Christian lexicon (and so had to be respected), the Talmud was the focus of numerous attacks by the Papal See. There were disputations (the most famous was the disputation between Nachmanides and Pablo Christiani*), burnings (first occurrence in Paris in 1244) and censorship (in 1264, the Dominicans ordered the removal of passages they deemed anti-Christian ).

The sentiments of the church toward the Talmud varied according to world politics and the changing personalities of the popes. In the 1400s, a Papal Bull was issued prohibiting the Jews from reading the Talmud (which they did anyway), but, in 1520, Daniel Bomberg (a non-Jew) was permitted to print the complete Babylonian Talmud. Thirty years later, copies of the Talmud were once again burned in Rome and other cities.

Perhaps the strangest proscription against the Talmud was issued on March 24, 1564, by Pope Pius IV, who eased the restrictions of his predecessor (Pope Paul IV) and even allowed the Jews to print and study the Talmud … with one small caveat. The Talmud itself was included in his Index Expurgatorius, a list of prohibited books, so the Talmud could only be printed without mentioning the word Talmud.

Alas, the leniencies of Pius IV were revoked by his successors. The Jewish community, as well as the Talmud, continued to thrive or struggle at the whims and predilections of the Popes.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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