McDurmon deals with their argument that Martin Luther was an antisemite who led to the Holocaust. McDurmon answers, saying,
(1) Luther was famous for having a very loose pen, and unwisely saying things he didn't seriously mean. More than once, Luther got in trouble for seeming to advocate violence, and his apparent antisemitism is no different.
(2) Luther was arguing not against Jews per se, in a racist fashion, but rather, he was arguing against the (supposedly) corrupt Pharisaic tradition that perverts the word of God. In other words, he was treating Jews the way he treated Catholics, and was not being antisemitic as much as anti-non-Protestant Christian. (Cf. Carl Trueman in Luther and the Jews II: The Context, where he says that Luther viewed Judaism as a religious category, not as a biological, racial category.)
(3) If Luther had any real doctrinal shortcomings, it was his radical two kingdoms doctrine, which allowed Christians to believe that Christianity and the Bible were applicable only to the church and private belief and salvation, and that the state was independent. This belief in the independent sovereignty of the state allowed Hitler to convince Germans to unquestioningly obey the state. Luther's contribution to the Holocaust would not be antisemitism, but rather statism. John Ross repeats this argument in A Legacy of Shame: Luther and the Jews, noting also that the Reformed Christians (Calvin, etc.) had a more positive attitude towards Jews than Luther did.
McDurmon then goes on to argue that Christians should not give any special support to Israel, for in the Christian view, the Christians are the new Jews, and there is no Messianic significance to Israel or the Jews, and the only thing of Messianic significance for a Christian is conversion to Christianity.
(For the sake of completeness, I will here link also to parts I and III of Trueman's article: here and here. Part III makes a very interesting argument. I have seen before elsewhere the suggestion that Christianity and Islam alike hate(d) Judaism so much because for the Christians and Muslims, Jews were the People of the Book and of all people, ought to have seen the truth first. If a pagan refuses to convert, then fine, he is just ignorant and blind. But if a Jew - a Jew to whom God has spoken at Sinai and bestowed His glory! - refuses to convert, then this damns and impugns the doctrines of the Christians and Muslims, and provides ammunition for the pagans to refuse to convert as well. In like wise, Trueman, discussing how the Reformation did not go as smoothly and quickly as Luther had hoped it would, says, "In such a context, he looks for those who are responsible; and, among them, he sees the Jews, those who have the Holy Scriptures but who adamantly refuse to see Christ therein. It is this that drives him to write such a bombastically bitter and hateful treatise against them.")
Presented in this summarized form, the article is quite nice, and makes many good points. (By "nice" and "makes many good points", I mean his article is logically sound and well-written, and argues well according to its Christian axioms. But of course, I am not a Christian. Nevertheless, just because I cannot eat a pork chop doesn't mean I cannot admire a well-cooked pork chop when I see one. I dispute McDurmon's axioms, but his use of those axioms meets with my approval.) But McDurmon also makes some errors:
(1) He mischaracterizes passages in the Talmud referring to Jesus
(2) He misunderstands the Jewish attitude towards the Talmud and rabbis, conflating it with the Catholic attitude towards the pope.
To correct these two errors, I wrote a letter to McDurmon, saying,
Hello. I read with interest your piece "Was Luther Wrong About Modern-Day Israel?" of 22 October 2010, http://americanvision.org/3640/was-luther-wrong-about-modern-day-israel.
There is one particular matter I wish to discuss with you, but first, I will discuss a few sundry other matters, for the sake of completeness, just to get them out of the way.
Let me also note, that I am *not* a scholar. Everything I say below, I say as a layman of relatively meager learning.
Regarding Luther himself, it would never occur to me to accuse him of being the source of the Holocaust. Besides the arguments you give (that his pen was notoriously careless with invectives, and that his piece was concerned not with Jews as an ethno-national people but rather with the doctrinal shortcomings of Pharisaic Judaism), it seems to me that whatever bona-fide antisemitism Luther may have had, would have been a result of the same antisemitism in Europe at large, the same that motivated all the pogroms of European history. That is, Luther's antisemitism - if he had any - would have been the result of the same antisemitism that led to the Holocaust, and Luther and the Holocaust alike would have been two parallel results of the same general European antisemitism. [I later saw that Carl Trueman makes a similar argument in Luther and the Jews II: The Context. Trueman argues that Luther's antisemitic writings were quite typical for the time, part of an established genre of Christian anti-Jewish literature.] If Luther is at all to blame for the Holocaust, then it is, as you say, due to his radical two kingdoms doctrine that permitted unreflecting and unquestioning obedience to the state, whatever it happened to order (whether antisemitic or otherwise).
Regarding Christian Zionists, I will say, as an Orthodox Jew of the Religious-Zionist persuasion, that I am grateful for their support but do not expect it. Those Christians who do not believe the Jews have any particular right to Eretz Yisrael, It would never occur to me to accuse them of antisemitism. After all, their political opinion follows soundly from basic Christian belief: if the Jewish people is constituted not by a hereditary or lineal peoplehood, but by a spiritual peoplehood of believers, then there is no reason to believe the Jewish people have any special claim to Israel. After all, from this Christian perspective, the Jews are not really Jews, any more than an atheistic child of a Christian is a Christian. I of course disagree with the Christian definition of Jewish peoplehood, but according to their premises (which I dispute), their position on Eretz Yisrael follows perfectly. Antisemitism would be bigotry on purely racial grounds, of the same sort that motivates, for example, white supremacists to view blacks as less than human. But when Christians criticize Jews on doctrinal grounds, I cannot call this antisemitism, any more than a Christian's disagreeing with a Jew on any intellectual topic is antisemitic. Similarly, I am disgusted when people accuse Tea Party members of being racist because they disagree with Obama. Their disagreement with Obama is based on creed, not race, and they would reject Obama's socialism no less if he were white. Likewise, a Christian's so-called antisemitism probably has nothing to do with race, and everything to do with what the Jew believes, and the Christian would disagree with the Jew just as much if the Jew were not a lineal descendant of the Biblical Jews but were instead a member of some other race.
As Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik argues at length in his essay "Confrontation" (http://www.bc.edu/dam/files/research_sites/cjl/texts/center/conferences/soloveitchik/), neither Jews nor Christians have any right to demand that the other renounce firmly-held theological beliefs for the sake of satisfying them. Just as a Jew would be supremely insulted if a Christian demanded that the Jew give up cherished Jewish beliefs for the sake of placating the Christians and resolving some grievance, how dare Jews do the same to the Christian, to demand the Christians change their beliefs as some sort of penance for the Christian sin of the Inquisition! Obviously, intellectually sound and authentic dialogue and debate is not criticized, but rather, Rabbi Soloveitchik blasts the arrogant position of asserting that the other side *must* give up some belief for the sake of placation and repayment. For example, Rabbi Soloveitchik would criticize a Jew who asserted that the Christian belief is antisemitic. For the Jew to say the Christian belief is wrong on intellectual grounds, is alright, but it is not alright for him to accuse that belief of antisemitism. What Rabbi Soloveitchik criticized was bartering beliefs as payment for perceived historical wrongs.
Therefore, if the Christians would reject the validity of the modern State of Israel on purely religious grounds, that the Jews today are not really Jews, due to their unbelief, etc., I would not object at all. I would respect your assertion as being based on sound, respectable logic. What I cannot stand is those hypocrites who believe that the Jews are committed apartheid against the Palestinians, or who believe that the Palestinians are the rightful natives of Israel. On a purely materialistic level, the Jews were in Israel before the Palestinians were, and so unless one has a metaphysical reason to dispute the Jews' claim - as the Christians do - then there is no disputing the Jewish claim. Of course, the Christians would not view the Palestinians as having a legitimate claim either. Because Christianity has removed all significance from Israel, in that it says that the people of God is a spiritual peoplehood inhabiting the whole earth, and that there is no expected Messianic kingdom in Israel, I imagine that Christians will be perfectly happy to resort to a materialistic calculus regarding ownership of Israel, and award that land to whoever was there first, the same way that the French own France and the Germans own Germany and the Chinese own China. So too, Jews would own Israel, not because they have any religious claim, but simply because they live there, and it is the Palestinians who came late to the party and are committing murder by bombing restaurants.
With that out of the way, I would like to proceed to the intended subject of this email: I believe you misunderstand the Talmudic/Pharisaic tradition, and the Jew's attitude towards it.
First, it is highly doubtful that the Talmud was even speaking of THE Jesus in the first place. Of the many mentionings of "Jesus" in the Talmud, some seem to refer to a man who lived around 100 BCE, while the others seem to refer to a man who was the son of Pappos ben Yehuda, a contemporary of Rabbi Akiva's (c. 50 - 135 CE), who (viz. Pappos ben Yehuda) would then be younger his supposed son Jesus. http://www.angelfire.com/mt/talmud/jesusnarr.html
Second, even if many Jews did in fact interpret the Talmud as speaking of Jesus, it is unwise to overstate the importance of this. Given the history of the time, i.e. given all the pogroms, it is understandable that Jews would have seized on whatever they could against Jesus. I am not an expert on this, but as best I can recall, Maimonides and other pre-Reconquista Spanish Jews, for example, focus far more on Islam than on Christianity. Maimonides himself was of the belief that Jesus was executed by a Jewish beit din, but other than that, I am unaware of any significant attention Maimonides pays to Christianity. He pays far more to debunking Islam, in his Epistle to Yemen, than he paid attention to Christianity, for Christianity was simply not within his realm of concern. Moreover, in a famous passage, he says at length that Christianity and Islam may very well be God's vehicles to bringing monotheism to the world. So if European Jews were more concerned with Christianity than the Arabic Jews were, then I believe it would merely be due to history, due to the historical experiences of those European Jews.
And soon enough, that attitude would change, thanks to actual interpersonal contact with Christians. As Rabbi Professor David Berger argues (http://www.stevens.edu/golem/llevine/rsrh/Jews_Gentiles_and_Egalitarianism_2.pdf), "Hostile, intolerant Christians attacked Jews for being hostile and intolerant.", and the Christian disputation "assisted, or even compelled [the Jews] to take a further step toward the ideal of religious tolerance." In other words, the rigged disputations and the cruel inquisitions forced Jews to evaluate themselves, to make sure they were not guilty of exactly that which they knew the Christians were guilty. The Jews *knew* the Christians were intolerant, but they were careful to make sure they did not hypocritically accuse the Christians of anything which they themselves were guilty for, and they reevaluated their own Talmudic texts accordingly.
And whatever Jewish hatred of Christianity may have remained, was neither systematic nor universal. That is, it was neither held by all Jews, nor did it constitute an integral cardinal of belief for those Jews who did hold it. See http://web.archive.org/web/20080613162732/http://www.bc.edu/research/cjl/meta-elements/texts/cjrelations/resources/articles/Brill.htm for some views, some negative and some positive. One view there is interesting: " ... [Rabbi] Zevi Yehudah Kook’s exclusivist ideology ... is noteworthy for a staunch anti-Christianity that culls two millennia of sources without acknowledging any of the countervailing traditions. For Zevi Yehudah Kook, the attack on Christianity is motivated by the conflict with the wider Western culture which both threatens the Jewish purity of Israel from within and opposes his messianic settlement drive from without. ... Zevi Yehudah Kook resurrects many of the classic anti-Christian polemics with a vigor not seen for centuries. Among them: Christianity should be dismissed as an internal Jewish heresy; God the creator clearly cannot be a man; the Jewish God is alive whereas the Christian’s is dead. Christianity is the refuse of Israel, in line with the ancient Talmudic portrayals of Jesus as boiling in excrement." I myself spent three years learning in a rabbinical seminary based on Rabbi Zevi Yehuda Kook's philosophy, and I can attest, from personal experience, that many of the rabbis at my seminary seemed to relish any opportunity to bring Christianity down a peg, using whatever means they could, preferably those which cast Christianity in the worst light possible. Then again, these same rabbis did the same to President Obama, saying they preferred to call him "Hussein" in order call forth an association with Saddam Hussein. One suspects that these rabbis were motivated more by a crass, racist, anti-intellectualism than any entrenched historical Jewish opinion of Christianity specifically. (One can hardly blame the Talmud for their pathetic and disgusting treatment of Obama. I despise Obama, but only because of his beliefs and actions, and not because his name is "Hussein" or because his skin is of the wrong color, or whatever.) In any case, however, this opinion of Rabbi Kook's is far from the only Jewish one, and we need look no farther than his own father to find a far more favorable towards Christianity, engaging it not with ad hominems, but with sincere and thought-provoking philosphical analyses of Christian belief. Rabbi Kook the elder specifically argues at length that true love of one's nation must grow to include love of all humanity, and that any love of one's nation that is limited to his own nation, betrays a lack of love for humanity as such, created in the image of God. Rabbi Kook the elder was no fan of Christianity, and definitely criticized it for what he saw as false beliefs, but he criticized it with respect, the same as he might have criticized a rabbi with whom he disagreed, i.e. with intellectual integrity and the respect due a fellow human being.
Reverend McDurmon, your citation of the Talmudic statements about Jesus - and I am charitably assuming they even refer to *the* Jesus in the first place - reminds me of something I saw in the book Judaism: Fossil or Ferment?, by Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Berkovits, arguing against Toynebee. At one point, Toynebee brings up a Talmudic discussion of the memra, the logos, and criticizes Judaism for holding by a primitive and materialist and corporeal conception of God. Rabbi Berkovits responds (pp. 162f.) that the whole doctrine of the memra was a bit of mere esoteric speculation by a few peculiar rabbis, and that the vast majority of Jews have never heard of it and would yawn if they ever did. Similarly, you seem to have latched onto a few passages which very Jews every really cared about, and magnified them out of all proportion. As I argued earlier, any Jews who did in fact emphasize these passages about Jesus, probably did so only because of antecedent pogroms, giving these Jews a yearning to find *something* to latch onto to ease their pitiful and morose lives.
So much for that. You have another misunderstanding of the Pharisaic tradition, I believe. You quote the Talmud's saying, "Whoever mocks the words of the Sages is punished with boiling excrement." But you misunderstand just who "the Sages" are. Unlike in Catholicism, Judaism does not have an established hierarchy. Rabbis have never been viewed as having any especial hierarchical significance, except for their occupancy of judicial courts, in which their ordination is akin to a lawyer's certification to practice law. But outside of these judicial courts, rabbinical ordination has never had any significance, and in fact, Jewish learning was quite democratic. You speak of "a secret society, if you will, of the Rabbis and their colleague[s]," but such a thing never existed. The Talmud says that of every 1000 laymen who began the study of the Torah, 100 would complete it and begin to study Mishnah, 10 would complete Mishnah and begin to study Talmud, and 1 would complete the study of Talmud. Thus, 1 out of 1000 men were experts in Talmud and 10 out of 1000 completed the Mishnah and thus were at least basically conversant in rabbinical law. (Completing the Mishnah would probably be roughly equivalent to earning a bachelor's degree, and completing the Talmud would a doctorate.) If we compare this to the literacy of the average gentile until relatively recently, such learning is absolutely astounding, and it smashes to bits any claim that the rabbis constituted some closed sect. On the contrary, the Talmud itself paints a picture of the rabbis being nothing more than learned laymen, coming from all strata of society and not representing any particular sects of society. We have rabbis who owned vast landed estates, and we have rabbis who literally lived day-to-day on whatever pittance they could scrounge up. In the tractate Eduyot, several rabbis argue about something the rabbi Hillel said, and a man came from the Dung Gate(!) and offered his personal testimony, which was accepted. In other words, the rabbis accepted the testimony of a man from the bottom of society, because the rabbis represented all of society and not merely one section, and the rabbis were accepted by the people as the most eminent of laymen. (Indeed, the rabbis refused to accept any payment for their rabbinical services, viewing the rabbinate as a state of learning and responsibility, not as a hierarchical office to fill. A rabbi was quite literally a learned layman.) Jewish learning was truly democratic. And thus, the Talmud Yerushalmi, tractate Horayot, says that one should obey the rabbis only when you are as sure that they are correct as your are sure that left is left and right is right. In other words, the Talmud Yerushalmi assumed that Jewish laymen were learned enough to question the rabbis and disobey them when they were wrong.
Compare the following passage from the 19th-century German Orthodox rabbi, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch ("The Character of the Jewish Community", in Collected Writings, pp. 23f., 47): "It is not the rabbinate or the board of trustees but the community itself that is the focal point of all Jewish communal life. It is from the community that all religious authority must emanate. The office and functions of the board of trustees have meaning only to the extent that they represent the community and carry out its will. Only by virtue of the trust placed in him by the community does the חכם, that expert in the Law, become מומחה לרבים, the public authority, the rabbi in the true sense of the word. Judaism has no "hierarchical authority" that can impose regulations on the community, or appoint religious functionaries, against the community's will or even without consulting the community. Our Sages teach us that אין מעמידין פרנס על הצבור אלא אם כן נמלכין בצבור "one does not appoint a trustee for the community without having first obtained the free-willed consent of the community" (ברכות נה). They cite the example of the appointment of Bezalel, who was first introduced to Moses by the Almighty Himself with the words ראה קראתי בשם בצלאל וגו, and then by Moses to the Children of Israel with these words: ראו קרא ה בשם בצלאל וגו. "See for yourselves" that God has made him worthy of this calling by endowing him with outstanding talent (Cf. Exodus 31,2; 35,30). The Sages further teach us that כל גזירה שבית דין גוזרין על הצבור ולא קבלו רוב הצבור עליהן אינה גזירה "any ordinance enacted by the religious authorities but not accepted by the majority of the community has no binding authority under the Law" (ירושלמי שבת פ"א הל"ד). Even the supreme authorities of religious law, men like Daniel and his council, Shammai and Hillel and their assembly, made the binding, legal authority of their own religious ordinances dependent on their acceptance by the majority of the Jewish community (שבת יד, חולין ו). This is the intent of the unchangeable basic law of Jewish religious communal life as sanctioned in advance by the Supreme Lawgiver, God Himself, when He proclaimed His Law at the time of מתן תורה on Mount Sinai. God offered His holy Law to the entire community for their free-willed acceptance; the eternal binding authority of the Torah is based on a covenant made without coercion. Even with regard to the מצות העתידות להתחדש, religious obligations that were added subsequently, we are taught קימו וקבלו, קימו מה קבלו כבר, the Jewish people carried out only that which they had previously accepted as their obligation of their own free will (שבועות לט). ... We have already seen that the Jewish religious community should be autonomous, that it should be willing and able to direct on its own the functions of all its parts in every aspect of Jewish communal life. The center of power and authority in the Jewish community is not the board of trustees, nor even the rabbinate, but the community itself. The board of trustsees and the rabbi derive their functions only from the election or authorization by the community. The board of trustees can act only by order of the community, and the rabbi is a rabbi solely by virtue of the fact that the community has accepted him as such. Even after the community has delegated part of its authority to the trustees and the rabbi, the community itself must continue to make certain at all times that its authority is being implemented solely for the purpose of helping the community attain its sacred objectives. Indeed, as we have seen, the autonomy of the Jewish religious community has been safeguarded to such an extent that even the Jewish nations' highest religious authorities made the binding force of their own ordinances conditional on whether they were accepted by the nation as a whole."
Rabbi Hirsch goes on to say that a primary reason for every layman to study Torah, is so that he'll know when to reject the rulings of his rabbi as false. In other words, Rabbi Hirsch bases the obligation of learning Torah on the fallibility and sinfulness of man; all rabbis are human, and are liable to speak falsehood, whether accidentally or deliberately. Therefore, Rabbi Hirsch says, a man's trust in his rabbi must always be conditional and probational. In the same essay, Rabbi Hirsch rejects that the civil government has any right whatsoever to involve itself in religious affairs, and that both the Reform and the Orthodox in Germany must be censured for turning to the German civil authorities for assistance.
In our own days, Hakham Jose Faur is notable for insisting on the libertarian nature of Judaism, which he terms a "horizontal society." A student of his, Hakham Aaron Haleva, has put the matter well, discussing the question of whether a woman is permitted to perform the ritual task of reading the Megilat Ester on Purim. Many will argue that women technically may do so, but that that the danger of the "slippery slope" means that we should not let women do this, lest they come to do things forbidden to women. Hakham Haleva writes, "I fail to comprehend 'slippery slope.' The Law is what it is, and it is not always the same as what Jews (especially ones who do not first study the Law) imagine it is. If women may read the meghilla, then they may (as R. Ovadia Yosef has pointed out). If they may read the Sefer [Torah], then they may. If they cannot serve as hazzan, then they may not. All of these issues are well defined and precisely known by anyone who reads the Law (and not somebody’s report of the Law). The 'slippery slope' idea only has any significance if a 'rabbi' has authority to make new law. So then — the thinking goes – if the 'rabbi' 'allows' women to read the meghilla in public to a mixed minyan [congregation for prayer], next he may 'allow' a woman to pray Musaf (what a crying shame that would be, anyway, no?). What women cannot do is truly well defined, and there is nothing to be afraid of in letting them do what they are allowed to do, which is also very well defined and very well known or knowable. Once again, this 'slippery slope' mindset I find to be acutely non-Jewish. Unlike all other religions where the 'clergy' have authority, in Judaism the Law has the only authority. The Law is actually the sovereign. A hakham [ = rabbi] has relevance only insofar as he can guide you to what the Law is. If the very Sanhedrin is moreh [teaches] that X is the Law, and you happen to know that this is hora’ath ta’uth [an erroneous ruling], and really Y is the Law, then you may not listen to them, and you must not follow them. No other nation on Earth ever had such a rule, or such a culture where the People were the true repository of the Law. Imagine! The Tora expicitly tells you NOT to listen to the rabbis in certain cases. I.e., when they are wrong, as you see it (provided you have sufficient knowledge to make the call). Rebel against the authorities — why that sounds like insurrection and blasphemy! Wait — isn’t that just like the Maccabees rebelling against the corrupt kohanim in Jerusalem? Isn’t that something we **celebrate** ? Didn’t God himself even send a sign that He approved, with the oil and all? (or was that just the same corrupt rabbis some 200 years later simply ripping off a pagan Roman holiday? In a time when nobody in Israel or Babylon had anything good to say about Rome("malkhuth harish’a" ["kingdom of evil"]) or its culture.) We should try to preserve this very unique value. It is what makes Am Yisra’el truly a 'horizontal society.' The only one that ever existed. I do not see that it still exists very much, though. It is also what allows free thinking men to reject the 'Jewish Scholars' (our modern day 'authorities' — at least for the 'Modern Orthodox' types) when they are wrong. In a horizontal society it is not who you know, but only what you know. Good practice and training for olam shekullo emeth [a world that is wholly truth]."
So when the Jews said to Luther "that they were obliged to believe their rabbis as we do the pope and the doctors," it is quite obvious to me that they were oversimplifying, trying to find a parallel for Luther, to help him understand something foreign to him. For in truth, Judaism has no parallel to the pope, except for the doctrine of "Da'at Torah", which was invented in either the late 19th or early 20th centuries (according to Professors Jacob Katz and Lawrence Kaplan, respectively), by the Ultra-Orthodox, and is a historically unprecedented view. Some relate Da'at Torah to the Hasidic movement, but that movement's founder lived 1698-1760. No matter how you cut it, Luther's Jews had never heard of Da'at Torah. So when the Jews told Luther what they did, I believe we must interpret their words very loosely, for they were trying to find some parallel to help explain matters to Luther.
But in truth, the Talmud does not carry the same political significance for a Jew that that priests do for a Catholic. For a Jew, the Talmud is significant insofar as it accurately records the Torah She'b'al Pe, the Oral Torah, which is believed by Jews to have been given at Sinai no less than the Five Books of Moses. Now, you, Reverend McDurmon, will surely disagree, and I do not begrudge you this. But if you wish to understand the Jew's opinion of the Talmud, you must look at it from a Jew's perspective, and appreciate the way he sees it. For a Jew, the Talmud is significant insofar as it accurately records what God told the Jews at Sinai. But insofar as it records human opinions, then it has no greater significance than any other human. That is why the Talmud Yerushalmi could itself order Jews to disobey the rabbis when the rabbis are wrong. The rabbis writing the Yerushalmi recognized, as James Otis did, that "The parliament cannot make 2 and 2, 5; Omnipotency cannot do it. The supreme power in a state, is jus dicere only;—jus dare, strictly speaking, belongs alone to God. Parliaments are in all cases to declare what is parliament that makes it so: There must be in every instance, a higher authority, viz. GOD. Should an act of parliament be against any of his natural laws, which are immutably true, their declaration would be contrary to eternal truth, equity and justice, and consequently void."
Indeed, there are two Talmuds, the Yerushalmi (Palestinian) and the Bavli (Babylonian). Which one is authoritative in any case? After all, both were written by the rabbis, and both sometimes disagree! In fact, one is to follow whichever one one believes is correct in the issue at hand. Now, due to convention, Jews usually follow the Babylonian, simply because it was the Babylonian Jewish community that had the most influence, and students tend to follow their teachers. The rabbis in Israel were persecuted by the Christians and never got to finally edit the Yerushalmi, and so the Bavli was destined to have more influence, due to the greater security of its own authors and their greater ability to propound its views. But in theory, both of the two Talmuds are equally authoritative, and any Jew today may follow whichever one he personally wishes to, based on his own fancy. If Jews follow the Talmud the same way Catholics do the pope, then this would make no sense. Can you imagine a Catholic priest saying to his congregant, "Meh, if you want to follow the Eastern Orthodox instead, then sure, be my guest, because it's all the same to me."? But for a Jew, the two Talmuds are equally authoritative, and one should follow whichever one he personally feels is more reliable and trustworthy. Usually, that is the Babylonian, but only by habit and convention, and because the Yerushalmi was never completed, making it difficult to rely wholly on it without recourse to the Bavli.
Given this admittedly disputable axiom, that an Oral Torah was given alongside the Written Torah, then the political significance of the Talmud becomes completely different. Unlike the Catholics, Jews would never attribute any hierarchical significance to any humans. In fact, the Talmud says ein shalih b'davar `averah, meaning you cannot say, "I was merely following orders." The Talmud explains that if your human master says one thing and your Heavenly Master says another, you obviously follow the latter. Their attribution of authority to the Talmudic rabbis would rest on the belief that the Talmudic rabbis were merely transmitting traditions received at Sinai, not inventing anything new. Now, again, you, Reverend McDurmon, will surely dispute this. But again, I am asking you to look at the Talmud from a Jewish perspective. The Yerushalmi itself, as I told you, itself tells Jews to disobey the rabbis when they are wrong. Can you imagine the pope standing up and saying, "When I am wrong, I please ask everyone to disobey me." Can you imagine the United States Congress or President saying, "Whenever one of our taxes is unconstitutional, we respectfully ask the American people to withhold from paying that tax." But that is exactly what the Yerushalmi did!
Similarly, only yesterday, I was speaking to a fellow Orthodox Jew about the Calvinist origins of American political culture. I quoted Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" to him, the paragraph about, "But some will ask, where is the king of America?". I used this passage to prove to this fellow that for the colonial Americans, the Bible was a binding source of law. My friend argued, "But the Christians don't understand the Torah!" I said to him, that's not the point. The point isn't whether the Christians understand the Bible or not. The point is that however they did understand the Bible - whether rightly or wrongly, exegetically, that nevertheless - they declared that the Bible as such was a binding authority in civil law. To understand the political significance of the Bible in colonial America, one need not have a correct understanding of the Bible. One need only understand that as far as the Christians were concerned, the Bible was binding. So too, I would say to you, Reverend McDurmon, it is beside the point whether the Talmud contains Sinaitic traditions. The point is that as far as the Jew is concerned - rightly or wrongly - the Talmud indeed contains such traditions, and thus, politically, the loyalty a Jew has for the Talmud is no different than the loyalty he has for the Torah.
Again, the key is the word "politically;" for our question is not whether the Jews' understanding of the Talmud is objectively correct, but our concern is only with his own personal understanding of its political nature and authority. Similarly, when Maimonides interprets the Torah in light of the Sabatean documents he wrongly believed were historically accurate, the point for us is not whether these documents were authentic (they were not). [Sic.: should read "Sabean;" the Sabateans were the 17th-century followers of Shabbatai Tzvi. h/t Alex Schindler] Rather, the significance for us is that Maimonides used what he thought were authentic ancient Near Eastern texts to help understand the Torah, and so we should use what we think are authentic ancient Near Eastern texts. We must put ourselves in the other man's shoes, understand matters from his perspective, and not focus on whether he was correct or not, and thereby learn to understand his methodology without concerning ourselves with his actual conclusions. For my part, I can - as an Orthodox Jew - draw inspiration from the fact that the Reformed Christians saw the Bible as a binding text for civil government, and try to apply the same principle in Israel today, substituting my interpretation of the Bible for theirs, but otherwise keeping the underlying political principle completely intact and unaltered. (I am thus a libertarian.) In other words, I can appropriate the form but substitute the matter. In form, the Talmudic rabbis held by the same view of sola scriptura that the Protestants did, only for the Talmudic rabbis, "scriptura" included both the Torah and the Talmud together. In the same way, a Muslim could hold by sola scriptura but substitute the Bible with the Quran. Politically-speaking, the Muslim would hold by the same form of sola scriptura as Protestants, and merely be substituting the matter.
So your assertion is simply wrong when it states the Talmud "is a humanistic tradition that places tens of thousands of pages of Rabbinical lawyering as a judge over and above God’s Word." By your logic, I could say that Reformed Christianity is a humanistic tradition that places the beliefs of Reformed Christian scholars above God's word, because for me, God's word is to be interpreted in a Jewish way, and so if the Reformed Christians interpret it otherwise, it must be because they are trusting man over God. But this would be absurd. From your perspective, you ARE following God, not the Reformed Christian scholars. Politically speaking, you DO put the Bible above man, only your interpretation of the Bible is different than mine. But this is a theological and hermeneutical dispute, not a political one. We each hold by the same political principle of sola scriptura, only for me, the Talmud is part of the word of God, and is binding insofar as it correctly relates to me the word of God.
As an aside, you also misunderstand certain Talmudic passages, when you say, "There is much else in the Talmudic tradition: Adam had sex with all of the beasts of the field before he had Eve; Pederasty with a child below nine is not considered as bad as with a child above that (another Rabbi makes the age of division at three)." Regarding Adam, that is an aggadah (homily), and it has been held since the time of the Gaonim (the immediately post-Talmudic authorities) that the aggadot are not binding, and that any Jew is free to disbelieve them as he wishes. (The technical term the Gaonim use to describe aggadah is "umdena," meaning something that was conceived of by reason and logic, but has not been proven. In other words, a hypothesis. The aggadot are speculations by the rabbis, and often, they are merely allegories that are not meant to be historically true, and they are never any more binding that mere speculation can possibly be.) As for that specific aggadah of Adam, I have not studied it deeply, but I would understand it in this manner, with the notice that again, I have not studied this passage deeply: God first presented Adam with the animals, and told him to name them, so that Adam would try to form a romantic bond with them all see firsthand that none of them was a proper mate for him. God then brought Eve to Adam who, thanks to his prior experience with the animals, immediately recognized her as what he had been seeking all along, his destined soulmate. Remember, Adam had never before witnessed marriage or a female human, and so it was novel for him to discover this amazing thing of two humans of opposite sex forming a union. God wanted Adam to *experience* that a human female offered something no animal could, rather than simply telling Adam this. In fact, this is a pedagogical principle that teachers readily recommend, learning by practice rather than by rote. This aggadah merely takes this to a perhaps absurd extreme, by saying that Adam didn't merely frolic with the animals and name them, but that he even had sex with them. Remember, Adam knew nothing about sex, and so he couldn't have known how disgusting bestiality was. Only when Eve was presented to him, did he realize, in retrospect, how utterly morally superior sex with her was, to sex with animals. By comparing his experience of bestiality with his experience of marriage with Eve, he was able to understand firsthand the grossness of bestiality, and impart that lesson to his children.
As for sex with a child, you completely misunderstand that passage. The Talmud explicitly says there that sex with an underage minor (whether three or nine, according to the opinion) is like poking a person's eye. Now, what does it mean to poke a person's eye? It means you have struck him, and can be brought to court for battery, in a tort case, and collect damages! (If you really want to get extreme, it means lex talionis! If a man rapes a child, maybe the man's punishment is that someone else gets to rape him. I am being flippant and joking, but my point is that it is no small crime to poke a person's eye.) What this means is that sex with a minor is not sex, but is instead an ordinary tort, as if the man had not raped the child but had instead struck and bruised the child (or poked the child's eye). The reason the Talmudic rabbis said this, is that back then, men were so (pathetically) concerned with virginity that no man would marry a non-virgin. (Again, this was pathetic, but the Jews were an ancient Middle Eastern tribe, after all, and old misconceptions die hard.) Given this, the rabbis did everything they could to preserve the raped child's virginity. It would do no good to charge her rapist with rape, if the result was that she would go her life without a husband. (Indeed, this is exactly why the Torah punishes a rapist with the punishment of being forced to marry his victim. Back then, this was to the woman's benefit, because only a husband earned a living, and only virgins got to marry a husband. Nowadays, we do not punish a raped woman in this manner, because her economic need for a husband has changed, and because men are not so reluctant anymore to marry a non-virgin, especially when she lost her virginity through no fault of her own. Nowadays, to treat rape as an ordinary tort is preferable for the woman, than to treat him according to the Torah's punishment. That said, I am not learned in modern rabbinical views of how to punish a rapist, and given that the modern nation-state does not permit rabbinical courts to punish rapists, I am not sure any rabbis have seriously investigated the question as a matter of practical law.) Now, if a grown woman was raped, it was very difficult to claim that she was still a virgin despite her rape, and nothing could be done for her, and the rabbis were forced to declare her a non-virgin, with all the negative consequences primitive society attached thereto. But at least with a minor, the rabbis could credibly argue that sex with a three year old was not really sex. That is, with someone who has not gone through puberty, sex as such is not possible, for both physiological and psychological reasons. And again, the rabbis did this to protect the child from the stigma of being a non-virgin. It was thus for her own good. And once you declare that sex with a female minor is not sex, you must be consistent and say the same of sex with a male minor.
But again, I am *not* a scholar. Everything I say above, I say from the meager learning that I have as a layman. Please do not take any of my words as being more authoritative than they are. (Of course, as I am sure you know, it is rare for a person with political authority to teach a false doctrine of civil disobedience and reserve for himself the true, secret doctrine of absolute fealty and obedience. Rather, things are ordinarily just the opposite, that you teach the masses the false doctrine of obedience and reserve for yourself the true, secret doctrine of disobedience. So no matter how ignorant I am, if my rabbis have taught me that Yerusalmi about my obligation to disobey the rabbis, you can be sure they probably aren't making it up. It is would very strange for my rabbis to invent a doctrine that undermines their own authority. It is far more likely that they are telling the truth.)
Thank you, and sincerely,
Jerusalem; formerly of Silver Spring, MD