Old Testament Judaism or Talmudic Judaism?

The Seven Noahide Commandments >> 

By the grace of G-d 
Copyright © 2014 Nathaniel Segal 

There are people who regard Rabbinic Judaism as a heresy against the authority of the Old Testament.  Rabbinic Judaism is also known as Talmudic Judaism since it has seemed to some Christians that the Talmud has come to rival and even overrule the authority of the Old Testament.

Old Testament Judaism  whatever that means  had been considered legitimate in the eyes of the Roman Church.  This was the Old Law that G-d had given to Moses in writing at Mount Sinai.  Within the hierarchy of the Church, though, came the accusation that Jews ignore this Old Law in favor of another Law.  Concerning this "other Law," Jews learn how G-d gave it, and they call a compilation of it  'Talmud', meaning 'Teaching' and 'Study'.  However, this law was, as Jews assert, given to Moses orally alongside the Written Law.  But, according to the Church, the Talmud had perverted the ways of Jewish Old Testament life.

In order to study the Oral Tradition one must have a teacher. The Talmud cannot be understood by reading it by oneself. There is a methodology for studying the Talmud. The principles of the studying the Talmud are several. A primary principle is that the Talmud is always looking for proof-texts for earlier rulings of Jewish law that were known to be normative Judaism.

Until recently, no account of how to study the Talmud had be written that was practical for anyone except for existing Talmud teachers and students who want to develop advanced skills and who want a "portable" teacher.

The volume of material in the Talmud by far exceeds the text of the Old Testament.  According to Church officials, Jews neglect the study of the Old Testament in favor of studying this Talmud.  Jews obstinately and criminally embrace this vast Law and have thereby become a sect of heretics. *

Perhaps you, the reader, believe that the Judaism of the Talmud is not authentic.  If so, you have already made up your mind about this, so you find no reason to listen to me.  After all, in your eyes there could not be any Noahide Commandments.  These Commands  so you believe  only appear in the Talmud which invented them.  In your eyes, my intentions are to deceive and mislead you.  Accordingly, you won't listen to me.  You have already made up your mind, and nothing I say or write will budge you.  So be it, and goodbye.

Accusations against Talmudic Judaism

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To the best of our knowledge, Church accusations against the Talmud began in the thirteenth century.


  There are people who regard Rabbinic Judaism as a heresy . . . and have thereby become a sect of heretics - Adapted from a letter by Pope Gregory IX (c.1170-1241; Pope from 1227-1241) that "was sent to all the kings of Christendom . . ." (Maccoby, pp. 21-2).


 Judaism on Trial: Jewish-Christian Disputations in the Middle Ages.

Edited and translated by Hyam Z. Maccoby (1924-2004)
A new introduction reviews the relevant literature that has been published since the original edition appeared.
Includes notes, a bibliography, and indexes
Series: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization
Oxford, U.K.; Portland, Oregon: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 1982, 1993.
Pages: 245
ISBN-13: 978-1-874774-16-7
ISBN: 1-874774-16-1
Subject Terms: Disputations, Religious
    Judaism--Controversial literature
    Judaism--Apologetic works
    Christianity--Apologetic works
    Christianity--Controversial literature
    Civilization, Medieval


Hyam Maccoby's now classic study focuses on the major Jewish-Christian disputations of medieval Europe:  those of Paris (1240), Barcelona (1263), and and Tortosa (1413-14).  It examines the content of these theological confrontations with a sense of present-day relevance, while also also discussing the use made of scriptural proof-texts.
Part I provides a general thematic consideration of the three disputations and their social and historical background.
Part II is a complete translation of the account of the Barcelona Disputation written by Nahmanides, one of the greatest figures in the history of Jewish learning, and Jewish spokesman at the disputation.
Part III contains Jewish and Christian accounts of the Paris and Tortosa disputations.
-- from the back cover

This important study provides a paraphrase of the Christian accounts of the meetings between rabbis and clerics, and a complete translation of the Hebrew accounts of the disputations at Barcelona and Tortosa (the latter from the Hebrew book Shevet Yehudah).  Maccoby fully describes the historical and social background, giving insight into the use by both sides of scriptural proof-texts.
-- from Barnes & Noble and Alibris

The late Hyam Maccoby was Emeritus Fellow of the Leo Baeck College, London, and Visiting Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Leeds from 1998 until his death.  He published many books and articles on rabbinic literature, Jewish-Christian relations, Christian origins, and the origins of antisemitism.
-- from Amazon

Maccoby was librarian of Leo Baeck College in London.  In retirement he moved to Leeds, where he held an academic position at the Centre for Jewish Studies, University of Leeds.
-- from Wikipedia, "Hyam Maccoby." Retrieved July 30, 2014.

Table of Contents --
List of Abbreviations
Part I - The Three Disputations: General Considerations
  1. The Paris Disputation, 1240
  2. The Barcelona Disputation, 1263
  3. The Vikuah: * Textual Considerations
  4. Biographical Notes on the Chief Persons Present at Barcelona
  5. The Tortosa Disputation, 1413-14
Part II - The Barcelona Disputation: Texts
  1. Introductory Note on the Vikuah
  2. The Vikuah of Nahmanides: Translation and Commentary
  3. The Christian Account of the Barcelona Disputation
Part III - The Paris and Tortosa Disputations: Texts
  1. The Vikuah of R. Yehiel of Paris: A Paraphrase
  2. The Christian Account of the Paris Disputation
  3. A Hebrew Account of the Tortosa Disputation
  4. The Christian Account of the Tortosa Disputation
General Index
Index of Quotations

* Vikuah (vih KOO ahkh)  is Hebrew for debate, disputation.

Reviews on the Back Cover:
'A superb work of committed scholarship . . . Judaism on Trial is a work full of interest to those already familiar with the material it contains, and compelling reading for those who are not.  Maccoby has done a fine job in recapturing the intellectual and social drama of the confrontations . . .  Altogether an impressive addition to the already outstanding Littman Library of Jewish Civilization.'
-- Jonathan Sacks, Jewish Journal of Sociology

'Prefaced by a most competent introduction . . . should be obligatory reading for both the student of Jewish history and the intelligent layman not only because of its literary and expositional merits, which are considerable, but because it highlights an important stratagem of the medieval Church in its attempts to convert contemporary Jewry to the dominant faith.'
-- Sydney Leperer, Le'ela

'Maccoby has rendered an important service in making their salient features available in English . . . certainly not only for scholars in that Maccoby has blended this learning with an exposition of the issues involved that is accessible to the layman.  Both Jew and Christian will learn much from the records of these confrontations, which are important in Jewish history.'
-- Lionel Kochan, Jewish Chronicle

Reviews on Amazon's Web Site:
'A classic text of three famous disputations. . . .  When the book first appeared in 1982, it received much praise, and it certainly deserves the new paperback edition which has now been brought out.'
-- European Judaism

'For those coming to this book for the first time, Judaism on Trial is a fascinating and gripping account;  for students, it has enough material to bear re-reading and studying in depth.  Its strength is not only that it is a most scholastic and erudite work, but that it makes compulsive reading.  We await his further works with anticipation and excitement.'
-- Alan Orchover, Jewish Book News & Reviews

Posted on a Blog:
By Michael Lewyn "vine voice"

During the Middle Ages, kings and popes would sometimes force Jews to engage in "disputations" with Christian scholars, in the hope that the Jews would thereby be converted (or at least embarrassed).  In some of these disputations, the Jews were treated somewhat fairly, in others less so.

Maccoby describes three separate disputations:  one in Paris in 1240, a second in Barcelona in 1263 (perhaps the fairest, and the most notable from the Jewish point of view because of the involvement of Nachmanides, one of the more well-known Jewish scholars of the medieval period), a third in Tortosa in 1413-14.  In addition, he provides more-or-less contemporary summaries of the latter two disputations.

After reading Jaccoby's book, I was surprised how sophisticated both sides were by modern standards.  The Christian "debaters" (often converts from Judaism) were much more sophisticated about Judaism than today's missionary-on-the-street;  while the latter focuses solely on a few Biblical passages that he or she alleges shows Jesus to be Messiah, the former focused on Talmud and Midrash as well.

Christians took two very different lines:  first, that the Talmud was a corruption of Biblical Judaism, and later that the Talmud actually supported Christianity.  As to the latter, Christians relied heavily on Midrashic stories -- for example, one which suggested that at the time of the Temple's destruction, the Messiah had already been born.

In response to the latter claim, Nachmanides not only attacked the Christian interpretations of the Midrash, but bluntly pointed out that this story "is either not true, or has some other interpretation derived from the secrets of the Sages" (p. 110).  In other words, such Midrashic stories are fables designed to make a theological point, rather than literal truth.

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