3

Related with this question about some parts censored in the Talmud, I read in a website the following story:

... In 1631, a Jewish synod in Poland ordered the offending passages to be expunged, and that these teaching were to be passed on orally to young Jews by Rabbis... The text of this encyclical is given in Hebrew and also in translation, thus: "This is why we enjoin you, under the pain of excommunication major, to print nothing in future editions, whether of Mischna or of the Gemara, which relates whether for good or evil to the acts of Jesus the Nazarene, and to substitute instead a circle like this O, which will warn the Rabbis and schoolmasters to teach the young these passages only viva voce. By means of this precaution the savants amongst the Nazarenes will have no further pretext to attack us on this subject."

I've tried to look for some reliable reference, but all that I found were several other websites (anti-semitic, mostly) that (rather typically) copy-paste the data, with some small variations. Specifically, I'm interested in how much historical truth (or plausibility) those details might contain.

( I hope it's proper to ask here. I'm not Jewish, and I know little about Judaism - feel free to edit the question to improve it)

  • Welcome to the site, Leonbloy. I'm not sure if this question is on topic, as it is a question about history of Jews, not really about Judaism. See more here. Maybe History would be better? – Y     e     z Sep 9 '14 at 2:58
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    @YEZ it's about the history of the Talmud, though. – msh210 Sep 9 '14 at 5:21
  • @msh210 I didn't vote to close because I wasn't sure, but it's asking to verify a historical fact about the Talmud. Why is that better than history about Jews? – Y     e     z Sep 9 '14 at 12:30
  • @YEZ It asks not "who drew this doodle in the margin of his copy", which I'd agree with you on, but a question that relates to how the Talmud is studied. – msh210 Sep 9 '14 at 12:49
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    The Talmud is studied with a partner, and sometimes with a Rabbi/teacher who gives a class as well as with a partner. During this study, information is always given over orally, as "there is no Beis Medresh without Chidush", albeit usually not about lacuna in the text. I've never been in a shiur when the Rabbi said, or my study partner, "here, where there is this non-existent circle, it talks about the founder of Xtianity." Does that answer your question? :) – Ploni Almoni Sep 11 '14 at 10:20
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The 1631 Jarosław proclamation1 appears likely to be a fiction developed by the 18th century Christian polemicist Friedrich Christian Meyer, who purported to be a Jewish apostate from Hamburg. Meyer presents this ostensible proclamation from the Va'ad Arba' Aratzos in Hebrew and in Latin translation in his Toledoth Immanuel (1722, pp. 73-74), a cloying missionary screed against Judaism and rabbinic Jews.

I don't have access to manuscripts of any real proclamations made at the Va'ad's autumn assembly at Jarosław in 1631, but I doubt the authenticity of this proclamation on technical grounds:

  • The Va'ad would compose its proclamations in Yiddish, not Hebrew.
  • The Hebrew proclamation contains multiple linguistic oddities.
  • It would be particularly odd to compose this proclamation in Hebrew, as the content of the proclamation regards how to mitigate the effect of hostile Christians who understand Hebrew.
  • Meyer indicates that the assembly took place during Elul and Tishrei, but the autumn assemblies in the first half of the 17th century would actually end before Tishrei, presumably due to the holidays (as testified by R' Nathan Hannover in Yeven Metzula, ch. 16, "והיו יושבים בכל יריד לובלין בין בין פורים לפסח, ובכל יריד יערסלב בחודש אב או אלול").

It is possible, if unlikely, that Meyer simply translated the Yiddish proclamation to Hebrew, and failed to mention that he was producing a translation. If so, this would not be the only instance of Jewish self-censorship in the Talmud. In 1508, Gershom Soncino printed a Talmud in Pesaro with substantial lacunae, especially in tractate 'Avoda Zara.2

William Popper (The Censorship of Hebrew Books, 1899. pp. 105-106) notes that censorship of the Talmud in Poland by non-Jewish authorities would be consistent with events at that time, but he uncritically takes for granted the authenticity of the 1631 proclamation calling for self-censorship.3

In any case, I am unaware of any editions of the Talmud that replace text in those relevant parts with mysterious, unexplained symbols. If there was any self-censorship of the Talmud in Europe immediately after 1631, it was not very widespread or did not last very long. The 1644-1648 Benveniste printing of the Talmud in Amsterdam, for example, was uncensored.


1 Some later sources (e.g. here and here) inexplicably place the putative assembly at Petrikau, which is a very unlikely venue for an assembly of the Va'ad Arba' Aratzos in the 1630's.

2 It is noteworthy that the signore and vicariate of Pesaro, Giovanni Sforza, was a former son-in-law of a previous pope. He faced serious political and personal threat from the papacy and the Borgia family, and he was only able to eventually return to Pesaro by the imprimatur of Pope Julius II. Gershom Soncino may have been afraid to risk provoking the papacy, and by extension Sforza, by publishing an uncensored Talmud.

3 Strangely, Popper cites an even more rabidly antisemitic source for this proclamation: Théorie du Judaïsme (1830. pp. 161-165) by Luigi Chiarini.

2

There are no circles like that in a Gemara for censored passages, so I'd probably weigh the reliability of the rest of the information on that website with little credence.

There is censorship of the Gemara over the course of many centuries. Scholars have reconstructed the censored passages and the result is a very slim book that contains only a folio page or two's worth of content, most of which was censored not because it dealt with Christian religious figures, but because people construed it as dealing with them incorrectly. (In comparison to the Vilna edition's 20 folio volumes that have more writing in them than the Encyclopedia Britannica.)

The Gemara, even when uncensored, talks about the religion of Christianity and any of its major figures very little, and has little to say that is relevant to a Christian in this regard. By the time it enters the historical scene, it is after the Gemara is being written in far-away Babylonia which was at the time a Zoastrian country, it was a religion of the gentiles of the Roman empire, far away from the authors of the Gemara and far from their concerns of Jewish law and lore. The Mishnah, which was written when Christianity began in Israel, doesn't even mention it at all in any form, censored or not. Thus like most gentile religions it concerns our Rabbis as much as, l'havdil, a minister is concerned with Buddha.

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    "There are no circles like that in a Gemara for censored passages" Ya, maybe in your editions. Doesn't mean some didn't have it. – Double AA Sep 9 '14 at 3:54
  • I'd like to see documentation of that, other than from an antisemetic website. Keep in mind that the current pagination of Gemara dates from the very first printed edition, long before this alleged "synod" took place. – Ploni Almoni Sep 11 '14 at 10:17
  • I would too. Thankfully there's a question on Mi Yodeya seeking just that! – Double AA Sep 11 '14 at 15:02

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