Friday, June 20, 2008

Godol HaDor suspected by Romans of being a Christian

There has been a ongoing dispute amongst our commentators regarding the influence of Christianity on Judaism. One of the documented cases appears in the gemora regarding R'Eliezar HaGadol - the godol hador. A man who was the ultimate mesora man - who never said anything he hadn't heard from his rebbe. He was also certified by Heaven as knowing the correct halacha. Here are the relevent sources describing how great he was - plus the gemora in Avoda Zara regarding his arrest by the Romans because they suspected him of being a Christian. [I am aware that Rashi has a different explanation]

Sukkah(28a):Our Rabbis have taught: It happened that R. Eliezer passed the Sabbath in Upper Galilee, and they asked him for thirty decisions in the laws of Sukkah. Of twelve of these he said, ‘I heard them [from my teachers]’; of eighteen he said, ‘I have not heard’. R. Jose b. Judah said, Reverse the words: Of eighteen he said, ‘I have heard them’, of twelve he said, ‘I have not heard them’. They said to him,’Are all your words only reproductions of what you have heard?’ He answered them, ‘You wished to force me to say something which I have not heard from my teachers. During all my life [I may tell you] no man was earlier than myself in the college, I never slept or dozed in the college, nor did I ever leave a person in the college when I went out, nor did I ever utter profane speech, nor have I ever in my life said a thing which I did not hear from my teachers’.

Bava Metzia(59b): Concerning the Oven of Aknai… R’ Eliezer presented all possible explanations for his position but his colleagues did not accept them. He then said to them: If the halacha is in accord with my position then the carob tree will support me. Immediately the carob tree uprooted itself and moved either 100 amos or 400 amos. They said to him that the movement of the carob tree was not a relevant proof. He then said to them: If the halacha is in accord with my position than the river will support me. Immediately the river flowed backwards. They said to him that the river was not a relevant proof. Again he said: If the halacha is in accord with my position then the walls of the yeshiva will show support. Immediately the walls of the yeshiva started to fall down. R’ Yehoshua rebuked the walls: If Torah scholars are arguing with each other concerning halacha what is it your concern? Consequently the walls did not fall out of respect for R’ Yehoshua but they did not return to their original position out of respect for R’ Eliezer and they remain in this intermediary position. Again he said: If the halacha is in accord with my position then let Heaven offer support. A Heavenly Voice immediately called out: Why are you arguing with R’ Eliezer since the halacha is always in accord with his views? R’ Yehoshua stood up and said: Torah is not in Heaven! What did he mean by that? R’ Yermiyahu said: Since the Torah has already been given at Sinai we do not pay attention even to a Heavenly Voice concerning halacha—the Torah itself says that halacha is determined by the vote of the majority. R’ Nossan met Eliyahu later and asked him what was G‑d doing during this debate? Eliyahu replied: He smiled and said “My children have defeated Me, My children have defeated Me.” That day that R’ Eliezer was outvoted they brought all that R’ Eliezer had declared ritually and burned it. They also voted to ostracize him…

Avoda Zara(16b): Our Rabbis taught that when R’ Eliezer was arrested because he was suspected of being a Christian they took him to the court to be judged. The governor asked him, “How can a saged like yourself be involved in these worthless activities?” R’ Eliezer replied, “The Judge is right.” The governor thought that R’ Eliezer was referring to him when in fact R’ Eliezer was referring to his Father in Heaven. Because of the governor’s misunderstanding the governor said, “Because you have faith in my judgment I am pardoning you.” When he returned home his students came to console him but he refused to accept their consolation because he was upset that he had been accused of being a Christian. R’ Akiva said to him, “Will you give me permission to say one thing of that which you have taught me?” R’ Eliezer gave him permission. R’ Akiva then said, “Perhaps you were exposed to Chrisitian teachings and it gave you pleasure and that perhaps is the reason that you were arrested?” R’ Eliezer replied that R’ Akiva’s comment caused him to recall an incident. “Once I was walking in the upper market of Tzipori when I met one [of the students of Yeshu] by the name of Yaakov of Kfar Sekaniah. He said to me that it is written in your Torah (Devarim 23:19) that one should not bring money which had been paid to a prostitute into the Temple. Can it be used to build a bathroom for the High Priest? I did not answer him. He then told me that he had been taught by Yeshu that it says in Michah(1:7), For of the hire of a prostitute has she gathered them and unto the hire of a prostitute shall they return. That means that they came from a place of filth so let them go to a place o filth. Because I enjoyed these words I was arrested as a Christian. That is because I transgressed that which was said in the Torah. Mishlei(5:8) says to ‘Remove your way far from her’ – and that is a reference to heresy or Christianity while ‘come not close to the door of her house’ is referring to the ruling power.” Others interpret the end of this verse to be a warning to stay way from a prostitute rather than the ruling power.


  1. Hi Doc, your new format with small font at times makes posts like this almost impossible to read, and I have a fairly large screen in front of me.

    Can you do something about this? Believe it or not your old set-up was far easier on the eyes and when when se see articles posted in small print many people are not prepared to squint so they skip over it.

  2. Thanks for the feedback. I don't know why the font size changed. Just upped it to 120% of normal. It looks too big on my computer. Let me know if this is acceptable. If not I'll change the template.

  3. I also posted on this gemara last year. Hatzlacha raba!

    -Dixie Yid


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