By Translated by Michael L. Rodkinson
ISLAM AND ITS INFLUENCE ON THE TALMUD.
In 622, the Hebrew religion gave birth to a second daughter, Mohammedanism--founded by Mahomet of Mecca among the tribes of Arabia, who had lived unprogressive for ages in the large peninsula between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, keeping by the usages received from their ancestors traditionally. Hundreds of years had passed without making any impression on the development of this people, until Mahommed arose, and in the space of twenty years subdued with the sword and by the tongue the whole great land of Arabia. And like a stream of mighty waters the Arabs burst from their bonds, animated by a spirit of war, and fired by religious zeal, tore away from the Byzantine empire the whole of Syria and Egypt, and conquered also Persia, extended their empire to India and Caucasus, on the one band, and to Western Africa, on the other, spreading, at last, over Spain and Southern Italy to the heart of Christendom, preaching Islam, and bearing the banner of their prophet wherever they stepped.
For the second time, after an interval of six hundred years, Judaism witnessed a new faith born, all whose choice portions, all whose good and beauty, were taken from the storehouse of the Talmudic Hagada. When Mahomet arose to say that through Gabriel, the angel, the Lord had destined him to confirm the truth of the Divine revelation previously to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and the rest of the saints who had been on earth, he borrowed only the foundation of his idea from the Hagada of the Talmud. Likewise he borrowed many sayings, traditions, and historic legends from the same source, and these materials served him as the foundation of the principles he prescribed for the guidance of his people. All the Hebrew plants succeeded speedily on the Arabian soil, as if they had been native.
Islam grew in power and soon made progress, political and ecclesiastical, for new forces joined it. It reared a new civilization on the ruins of the heathen culture of Syria. During the first century of its existence it likewise exercised an influence on the scholars of the Talmud. As the Greek spirit had formerly been wedded to the Jewish spirit, so now the Arabian was wedded to it. It might have supplanted Jewish thought altogether had not the many sages, adherents of the Talmud, written excellent books in Arabic, extolling the Talmud, its system and its spirit.
When the Jewish tribes of Arabia, some of these powerful and independent, had refused to believe in the inspiration of the new prophet, Islam arose on its parent Judaism, as Christianity had done before; persecutions, massacres, blood and fire and exile were visited on the adherents of the Talmud. As long as Mahomet had entertained the hope of gaining Jews for converts, his treatment of them was favorable and he enjoined in the Koran not to be inimical to adorers of one God. He even wanted to make the date of the fast of Rhamadan on the tenth of Tishri (the Day of Atonement), as well as to make Jerusalem the centre of the pilgrims instead of Mecca. Perceiving, however, that notwithstanding all this, Islam gained few Jewish converts, he turned the enemy of the Jews and became wroth against them ("The Vision of the Cow"; a chapter in the Koran) and persecuted them with fury and bloodthirstiness as infidels. But at his death his hatred and intolerance died with him, the Jews found peace and protection under the Caliphs, and the Gaonim could establish their colleges. When Spain was added in 711 by the General Torick Aben Zara, bright days ensued for the Jews; they were able to devote themselves to spiritual activity undisturbed, also to take a large part in the culture of science which flourished in Spain. Great offices and high posts were given to Talmudic Jews; councillors, authors of law articles, court physicians and ministers were taken from among them. Together with their civic prosperity their spiritual activity made progress, and they made great contributions to Judaism, and benefited their co-religionists. Rarely were they visited by storms, as in Granada, in 1603, and at Cordova, in 1157, and then they suffered only as citizens.
In Egypt, Syria, Fez and Morocco, wherever Islam dominated, Jewish communities flourished. In contrast to this, the study of the Torah decayed in the East, and from Babylonia it changed its place to Spain.
The prosperity and the power of the Jews called forth envy and opposition, resulting in the desertion of some Jews to Islam; and this spirit of opposition was kindled yet more by false Messiahs arising frequently, as Shiraini in 720 and Abu Eiei in 1464, in the reign of the Caliph Merian, who opposed themselves to the Talmud with all their might (the last abolished also divorce). In spite of all that, the Talmud was honored as before. For the Gaonim and the two colleges at Sura and Pumbeditha were as beacons to all the exiled Jews till the second half of the tenth century. Only a singular accident, which happened about 960, put an end to this unlimited and undivided dominion of Babylonia over the Jewish minds. Four scholars had left Sura with the purpose of collecting money among their European brethern, for the benefit of encouraging a more assiduous study of the Talmud at the college of Sura; the vessel being captured by an Arab pirate, the four sages were sold as slaves. One, R. Shemariah b. El'hanan was then brought to Alexandria; there the Jewish community ransomed him, and appointed him as supervisor of religion and teacher of the Talmud in Cairo. The second, R. Hushiel, was sold into slavery at the African coast, and brought to Kairuban. The third, R. Moses b. Enoch was ransomed from his owners after many hardships, at Cordova, where the community chose him as Rabbi. The name of the fourth has not transpired. It is possible that he reached France. The four men, not having attained their object of collecting money for Sura, and its college having been closed seven hundred years after its foundation, brought to an end the spiritual dominion of Babylonia over the Jewish mind and scattered the seeds of Talmudic study throughout all lands.
The college of Pumbeditha, though it continued to exist for some period after that of Sura, spreading the light of the Torah among all the exiled, sank from its preëminent rank, gradually, till its existence came to an end (about 1040). With it was extinguished the light of the Gaonim. From that time the centre of religious activity for the Jews was in Europe. The Talmud had its home in Spain, whence it spread to other countries, as will be seen in the coming chapters.