Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Pope Who Saved the Talmud by Rabbi Yair Hoffman

Five Towns Jewish Times   There are hundreds of thousands of Jewish people throughout the world who study a specific daily folio of the Talmud in a program called “Daf Yomi.”  To those who study the Talmud, the name Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the founder of the Daf Yomi program, is well known.  What is perhaps less known is that it could be argued that were it not for the efforts of an early Pope, Innocent IV, Rabbi Shapiro may never have been able to launch the program in the first place.  

In other words: No Pope Innocent IV – No Daf Yomi.

A brief background is in order.  In June of 1239, Pope Gregory IX sent a series of letters to the archbishops and monarchs of kingdoms throughout Europe.  The Pope’s letters leveled a series of accusations against the Talmud, inspired by an apostate Jew named Nicholas Donin.  Gregory IX ordered the archbishops to have all copies of the Talmud seized.  In the letter to the Bishop of Paris and the Dominican and Franciscan leaders in Paris, Pope Gregory instructed them to burn the copies of the Talmud that they had confiscated. 

Of all the European monarchs, only one acted scrupulously in fulfilling Pope Gregory’s request.  Louis IX, King of France convened a trial of the Talmud in Paris in 1240.  The verdict?  The Talmud was “found guilty” of the charges and 24 cartloads of Talmudic books were burned. [...]


  1. Yair Hoffman is being rather ashkenazi-centric, and christo-euro centric. The talmud would have survived in the Muslim world (where to my knowledge it was never censored) in places like Iraq where the talmud bavli originated, in places like Syria (where until it 1948) the finest Tibbonite ms by Ben Asher of the chumash resided in Aleppo, etc.

    In fact, the talmud could then have returned to the Ashkenazi world in multiple copies with the advent of printing, though perhaps the standard tzuras hadaf would be the Baghdad Shas or Aleppo Shas or the Casablanca Shas instead of the Vilna Shas.

  2. I would add to my previous comment, that we owe a greater debt to St. Augustine. At the time he lived there was a raging debate about whether the tanach remained part of the church's official legacy, albeit augmented and fulfilled by a new testament or whether the tanach needed to be discarded as falsehood. Augustine prevailed and the church revered the tanach whether in its orginal Hebrew or in the Latin and Greek translations they used. As a result there have never been officially church sanctioned burnings or censoring of the tanach.

  3. The Hamsa, Kabbalah, and Idolatry

    1. Against the TrollsJune 16, 2013 at 1:12 PM

      While I appreciate a good trolling attempt please try to be more subtle about it.

      As far as Kabbalah, well I would urge you to read Rav Yaakov Hillel's book "Faith and Folly" to see what an actual recognized Kabbalist has to say about a Hamsa, before you just assume it's connection with Kabbalah.

  4. Yerachmiel - The article does not say that the Talmud would not have survived. It says that European Jewry would have been greatly affected and probably could not have produced a Rabbi Meir Shapiro to start the Daf Hayomi initiative.
    So I'm not sure I really understand your criticism.

  5. Yehuda Z. the advent of printing several hundred years earlier and the lifting of the church's power by the time of the French revolution ~1800 and the general decline of church powr for a few hundred years before that would have put the talmud back into wide circulation. Just perhaps the Soncino shas of 1516 might instead have been printed in Constantinople or in Sarajevo under Ottoman control.

    It was printing more than anything else that made Daf Hayomi possible. Before printing, very few people could afford a complete shas.

  6. I would add on, that the standard Vilna Shas is still recovering from the ravages and distortions of censorship. Might we have been better off with fewer surviving m.s. distorted by Christian censorship and have better off building on better manuscripts from the Muslim realms.
    For example consider this observation by Jacobs:

    "For instance, the words oved avodah zarah ("a worshipper of strange gods") in the Talmud was altered to read oved kokhavim u-mazalot ("a worshipper of stars and planets"), usually abbreviated to akum, an obviously safe reading since neither in the Roman Empire nor Babylon in Talmudic times nor in Christian Europe in the Middle Ages were Gentiles star worshippers. It is ironic that some Christian would-be censors read the word akum itself as an abbreviation of oved Christus u-Miriam ("worshipper of Christ and Mary"). The Talmudic saying (Yevamot 62b): "Any man without a wife lives without joy and without blessing" was changed to: "Any Jew without a wife," presumably to avoid giving offence to Christian celibates.


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