Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Was the attack on the Rambam connected to the Burning of the Talmud in Paris?


"In 1232 or 1233, anti-Maimunists in Montpellier handed the more philosophical books of Maimonides over to local friars present to eradicate heresy; the mendicants then burned these texts. The papal court‘s interest in rabbinic texts boded ill for the Jews, and this precedent made it all the easier for Gregory to take a jaundiced view of the Talmud a few years later. According to [Yitzhak] Baer, the 1240 Debate was, at least in part, an outgrowth of earlier inquisitorial activities.

"However, the connection between the Maimonidean controversy and the 1240 Debate is far from clear. In all the papal literature surrounding the 1240 Debate and the subsequent burning of the talmuds, the earlier burning of Maimonidian books goes unmentioned. Association between the two Jewish book-burnings is largely absent in contemporary Jewish literature as well. Three separate works, all written in response to the Debate and the subsequent burning of rabbinic texts, failed to mention the Maimonidean controversy or to connect it with the burning of the Talmuds…

"In fact, only one source supports the relationship between the Maimonedian controversy in southern France and the Paris debate and ultimate destruction of hundreds of Talmud manuscripts. Writing some fifty years after the burning of the Talmud (or thereabouts), the pro-Maimunist Rabbi Hillel of Verona writes that 'forty days did not pass from the burning of [Maimonides‘s] works until that of the Talmud…and the ashes of the Talmud were mixed with those of [Maimonides‘s overtly philosophical works which were handed over to the ecclesiastical authorities,] the Guide for the Perplexed and the Book of Knowledge, since there is still ash at the site.'

"Given the tendentious nature of this source, Baer‘s claim that the Maimonidian controversy set a precedent for subjecting rabbinic texts to inquisitorial authorities in 1240 is highly tenuous. Hillel‘s immediate pro-Maimonidian bias aside, there are historical issues of concern here as well, matters of time and place. It was not forty days, but approximately ten years, between the confiscation of Maimonides‘s writing and the burning of the Talmud. Furthermore, Hillel‘s vivid and evocative imagery of the mixing of the ashes of Maimonidean and Talmudic books notwithstanding, his words in no way comport with the facts; Maimonides‘ writing was burned in Montpellier, the Talmud in front of the Church of Notre Dame. Doubtless Hillel was aware of these discrepancies, and chose to connect the two burnings for rhetorical purposes. Hillel‘s letter cannot be taken at face value, as Baer would have it."

(Dr. Saadia Eisenberg, Reading Medieval Religious Disputation, pp. 98-102)

Have a good day,

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