Monday, January 12, 2015

On the burning of the Talmud in Paris in 1240


"[T]he 1240 Debate represented a turning point in the history of the relations between Ashkenazi Jewry and Latin Christendom. An impressive event attended by an imposing array of dignitaries, this debate offered an opportunity for broad public display of new argumentation. While Donin‘s specific argumentation does not seem to have served as a model for other formal debates – Pablo Christiani, the Christian protagonist in the disputations in Barcelona in July 1263 and in Paris 1270, did not follow Donin‘s line of argumentation – the very assertion that the Church had the right to confiscate, examine, and destroy Jewish literature – specifically the Talmud – set a new tone for Christian-Jewish relationships in centuries to come…

"The clerical court found the Talmud guilty as charged and condemned it to flames. The Jews managed to forestall implementation of the sentence, but after a number of delaying machinations, twenty or twenty-four wagonloads of talmudic manuscripts – probably ten to twelve thousand volumes – were burned in Paris in the Place de Grève (the execution site which symbolized medieval French justice) over the course of one and a half days in 1242. The loss of books and resulting disruption of study among Jews contributed to the decline of the Jewish schools in northern France. Equally demoralizing for northern French Jewry was the vision of the Talmud, a symbol of Jewish history, accomplishment, tradition, values, and religion, going up in flames. From a long-range point of view Jews in Christian lands were now put in the position of having to respond to challenges to Talmudic law, ideology and literature proffered by antagonistic Christians, challenges which continued into the modern era."

(Dr. Saadia Eisenberg, Reading Medieval Religious Disputation pp. 2, 13-14)

Have a good day,


  1. How much before 1242 did Talmud Bavli take center stage in Ashkenazi learning, becoming "The Gemara"? 150 years? (Contemporary with Rashi?)

  2. R' Micha-
    I don't know. Part of my uncertainty is that I don't know how to define "Ashkenazi learning" before Rabbeinu Gershom's day. The Italian communities were not Ashkenazi, and neither were the Babylonian communities that preceded them.