Some of the ideas that inspired me to create this blog, and write my book, come from the doctrines of Orthodox religious Jews who reject Zionism in the name of the Torah. The tradition in Orthodox Judaism that takes an anti-Zionist approach is not novel in our world, as is Zionism itself, but stretches back in time to the Oaths taken by the Rabbis, and recorded in the Talmud, around 130 AD according to Jewish tradition. The early advocates of Zionism found staunch resistance from the Orthodox community to say the least. Yosef Salmon tells us that;
It was the Zionist threat that offered the gravest danger, for it sought to rob the traditional community of its very birthright, both in the Diaspora and in Eretz Israel, the object of its messianic hopes. Zionism challenged all the aspects of traditional Judaism: in its proposal of a modern, national Jewish identity; in the subordination of traditional society to new life-styles; and in its attitude to religious concepts of Diaspora and redemption. The Zionist threat reached every Jewish community. It was unrelenting and uncompromising, and therefore it met with uncompromising opposition (cited in Rabkin, 2006, p. 2).
Israeli intellectual, Boaz Evron has stated:
“Zionism is indeed the negation of Judaism” (cited in Rabkin, 2006, p. 56).
Over the last six months, a number of Christian folk, both in support of this blog and against it, have made comments that challenge the more favourable view of Judaism that I hold to in this blog. According to them, Orthodox Judaism is ultimately guided by the Talmud, particularly the Babylonian Talmud, which they say, contains teachings that are reprehensible to all gentiles and Christians in particular. The Talmud’s teachings are held up as near satanic doctrines that all Christians should be made aware of. The Christians who have made these comments are sincere in their position and tell me that their conclusions have come from years of careful study. I have decided to post some comments made by one of the Rabbis of Neturei Karta, Rabbi Beck, concerning these claims about the Talmud. Jewish Rabbis are not naive to these criticisms in any way; having come across them on many occasions. If anyone would like to chase these comments up further, I would refer them to the Neturei Karta website, the link to them can be found under the Links heading down the left hand side of my blog.
I do not claim that criticism of the Talmud is always evidence of anti-Semitism (any more than I think criticism of the New Testament is necessarily evidence of Christaphobia) and I do not think it is so in the case of those fellow Christians who have commented on this blog. Nor do I claim to be an expert on this matter, but I do think the primary way to learn about Judaism is by first listening to its advocates directly.
An Orthodox Rabbi writes in defense of the Talmud.
When G-d gave us the Torah, He also gave us an explanation of its laws, to be transmitted orally from generation to generation. For example, the Torah prohibits work on the Sabbath, but does not say exactly what “work” means. G-d explained to Moses orally that it means carrying objects in the street, lighting fires, tying knots, slaughtering animals and so on. The Torah says to take the fruit of the goodly trees on Succoth, but does not say which fruit. Oral tradition explains that it is the ethrog or citron. If you think about it, most of the laws in the Torah are impossible to observe without more explanation.
These explanations were passed down from teacher to student for about 1500 years, until around the year 200 of the Common Era. At that time the Sages became afraid that the laws would be forgotten, and they decided to write them down. This written work was called the Mishnah, and is the backbone of the Talmud. Even this Mishnah was written in a concise style and left much room for oral explanation, which went on being passed down for another 300 years. At that time it was written down, again out of fear of being forgotten, as the Talmud. All of Jewish law today is based on the Talmud, and is kept by all observant Jews.
Countless passages in the Talmud, its commentaries and legal codes show the ideals of kindness and fairness to all of mankind aspired to and practiced by the Jewish people.
Unfortunately, some individuals in our time have accused the Talmud of advocating racism and unfair treatment of gentiles. They provide short quotations, invariably taken completely out of context, that seem to support their accusations.
In reply to these accusers, we can only remind people that the Talmud contains a vast amount of material; to cover it all takes the brightest scholars a lifetime of study. Although it does contain a small number of statements directed at gentiles, most of the Talmud consists of laws and sharply-stated ethical teachings directed at Jews. For every “anti-gentile” statement the critics can find, there are ten “anti-Jewish” statements. And just as the latter must be studied in context, so too the former.
One brief example: the Babylonian Talmud was written in Babylonia as its name indicates. Yet it contains the statement, “Whoever lives outside the Holy Land is as if he worshipped idols.”
The greatest proof that the Talmud does not advocate unfair treatment of gentiles is that ever since the Talmud was completed, the Jews who follow it have lived in exile among many gentile countries. In every place where they lived, they conducted their business affairs with the local gentiles with the utmost honesty and fairness.
Many of the quotations posted online by anti-Semites are half-true but are translated incorrectly or taken out of context. You can read a good refutation to most of these accusations at:
Below you will find quotations from the major codes of Talmudic law, exemplifying the Talmud’s positions on gentiles. The Code of Jewish Law, written about 500 years ago by a Palestinian rabbi named Rabbi Joseph Caro (1488-1575), is today the universally accepted codification of Talmudic law. Before that, the codes of Maimonides (1135-1204) were prevalent.
Jews are obligated to give charity to poor gentiles as well as poor Jews (Code of Jewish Law, Yoreh Deah 251:1)
Jews must bury the dead of the gentiles, comfort their mourners and visit their sick. (Maimonides, Laws of Mourning 14:12)
The commandment of “visiting the sick” applies to sick gentiles as well as sick Jews. (Code of Jewish Law, Yoreh Deah 335:9)
Anyone who steals even a minor amount violates the prohibition of [Leviticus 19:11] “You shall not steal” and is required to repay [the amount stolen] whether one steals from a Jew or a gentile. (Code of Jewish Law, Choshen Mishpat 348:2)
It is forbidden to rob or to cheat even a minor amount from either a Jew or a gentile. (Code of Jewish Law, Choshen Mishpat 359:1)
It is Biblically forbidden to steal even a minor amount; even a gentile – it is forbidden to steal from him or to cheat him. And if you stole from him or cheated him you must return the stolen money or object. (Maimonides, Laws of Stealing 1:2)
Maimonides of blessed memory wrote that if one lies in his measures and thereby overcharges even to an idolatrous gentile one violates a negative commandment and must return the money. Similarly, it is forbidden to mislead the gentiles in calculating prices as it says [Leviticus 25:50] “he shall make a reckoning with his purchaser” even if he is subjugated to your authority; even more so if the gentile is not subjugated to your authority, and it says [Deuteronomy 25:16] “For an abomination to the Lord, you G-d, are all who do this.” (Sefer HaChinuch, 259)
And similiarly, lies, tricks, subterfuges, cheatings, and circumventions of gentiles are forbidden. They said, “It is forbidden to deceive anyone, even an idolatrous gentile” and even more so when it can lead to the desecration of G-d’s name. For that is a great sin and imbues in a person bad traits. And regarding all these wicked actions, G-d explained that He will be disgusted with them and with those who perform them, as it says: (Deuteronomy 18:12) “For anyone who does these is an abomination of G-d.” (Maimonides, Commentary to the Mishnah, Keilim 12:7)
Returning Lost Objects
R. Chaninah told this story: Some rabbinic scholars bought one pile of wheat from some gentile soldiers. [The scholars] found in it a bundle of money and returned it to [the soldiers]. [The soldiers] said “Blessed is the G-d of the Jews.” (Jerusalem Talmud Bava Metzia 2:5 (7a))
Once, Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach bought a donkey from an Arab. His students went and found a precious stone hanging around [the donkey’s] neck. Rabbi said to him [Proverbs 10:22] “It is the blessing of G-d that enriches.” R. Shimon ben Shetach said to him “I bought a donkey. I did not buy a precious stone.” He went and returned it to the Arab and the Arab said “Blessed is the G-d of Shimon ben Shetach.” (Midrash Devarim Rabbah 3:3)
R. Shmuel ben Sustrai went to Rome when the empress had lost her bracelet and he found it. A decree was proclaimed in the region that anyone who returned it within 30 days would be paid such and such; anyone who returned it after 30 days would be beheaded. He didn’t return it within 30 days but after 30 days. She said to him “Weren’t you in the region?” He replied “Yes.” She said to him “Didn’t you hear the proclamation?” He replied “Yes.” She said to him “What was it?” He replied “Whoever returns it within 30 days will receive such and such; whoever returns it after 30 days will be beheaded.” She said to him “And why didn’t you return it within 30 days?” He replied “So that you wouldn’t say that I did it because of fear of you; rather I did it out of fear of G-d.” She said to him “Blessed is the G-d of the Jews.” (Jerusalem Talmud Bava Metzia 2:5 (7a))
Talmud, Tractate Chullin 94a. Shmuel said: One may not deceive another person, even a non-Jew. This was not said explicitly by Shmuel, but was derived from the following story: Shmuel once crossed the river using a ferryboat. He told his servant to pay the ferryman. The servant gave the ferryman a non-kosher chicken, allowing the ferryman to assume that it was kosher.
The Talmudic commentator Rashi explains: Shmuel’s law explains why the Mishnah says that one may not give a non-Jew a piece of meat from which the sciatic nerve (forbidden to Jews) was not removed. The non-Jew might not notice this and may assume that the Jew is giving him valuable kosher meat. He will then feel gratitude toward the Jew, a gratitude based on a false premise.
This law is codified by Maimonides (Laws of Sale 18:3) and by the Code of Jewish Law (Choshen Mishpat 228:6).
In summary, Judaism exhorts Jews to give non-Jews fair treatment, and thereby to sanctify the name of G-d in the world by showing mankind that those who follow His laws are just and compassionate.
Rabbi E. Beck