By Translated by Michael L. Rodkinson
RELIGIOUS DISPUTES OF ALL PERIODS.
From the earliest recorded times there have been disputes between men on faith and religion. When, in pagan countries, the idols had become great in number and each man considered his own the right one, he strove to convert his fellows to his own opinion, whether through benevolence or from wrath that the idol of his neighbor should be considered greater than his own. Traces of such disputes are found in the Prophets. To the Jewish people was probably due the increase in the violence and frequency of such disputes, since its mission was always the annihilation of idol-worship. Being monotheistic, it could not live at peace with any gods besides its own. No historical importance can be attached to such disputes among and with the heathen, because the number of idols was often as large as that of the worshippers. But when Christianity, whose great aim was to convert all humanity and to extinguish all theologies, began to spread over and to dominate the world, the matter of religious disputes assumed a new and baleful aspect, for persecutions and trials were mercilessly inflicted on all who opposed it, whether those who took an active part in the controversies or those who refused to enter into them.
In recording the history of the Talmud and of its persecutions we cannot pass over the disputes concerning it from the time of its birth, and continuing throughout its troubled history in succeeding ages. A minute history of all these controversies, however, their dates, the names of the disputants, the topics of the disputes, as well as the consequences to the Talmud, would require a volume twice the bulk of the Talmud itself. We will therefore content ourselves with devoting to it a separate chapter, mentioning only the greater historical controversies and giving a résumé of the subject matter of the disputes as we deem them of value to our readers.
Already in the first century we have seen that the disputes between the Jewish Christians and their brethren who did not believe in Jesus' Messiahship were many. In the Talmud are given the names of many sages and Amoraims who were compelled to enter upon disputations with their Christian brethern. 1 But in the second and third centuries, houses for disputations (see App. No. 10) had already been established, as well in Palestine as in Babylonia, and doubtless also in many other places where Jews dwelt. Those known to us by name are the house of Abidan, the house of Abiani, and that of Nitzraphi. The Talmud relates that the Jews were forced to come hither, or to furnish sufficient explanation for not so doing.
We have no record of the results of these disputes, but in the sixth century we see Priscus, a Jewish officer of King Eilprich, forced to a controversy. When ordered to embrace Christianity he naïvely replied "that he could not believe that, to save sinners, God was compelled to enter into marital relations with a woman, and finally, in order to redeem the world, underwent the death-agony, when at his command were hosts of angels not needed in heaven." For this he was imprisoned. Henceforward in almost every century of the Christian era there arose fanatics who forced the Jews into controversy. In the seventh century these disputes were used as weapons against the Jews of Spain in documents issued by Isidorie, Bishop of Seville. These and other writings against the Jews, added to the verbal disputes, finally resulted in the ninth century, during the reign of Charles the Bald, in invectives promulgated by the Bishop of Amulo, denouncing the Jewish creed as "superstition" and inciting all Christians to their duty in eradicating the error from the minds of the Jews, to force them to accept the Gospel in place of their belief in the two Messiahs, one a descendant of David and the other a descendant of Joseph. It is remarkable that in these documents the bishop complains that the Jews, by their eloquent sermons and lectures, made more impression on their hearers than did the preaching of the Christians, as he was convinced by personal experience. And, indeed, in this he was not mistaken; for where the Jews' lot was ameliorated, as in the reign of Louis the Saint--who, as well as his wife, Judith, honored the Jews, so much so as to change for their sake the fair-day from Saturday to Sunday--many Christians came to the synagogues to hear the Rabbis and the scholars among them read with pleasure the writings of Philo and Flavius instead of the Gospel, and likewise learned from Jewish scholars the interpretation of Scripture, as Rhabanus Maurus of Fulda avows in his commentary on the Bible.
The Jews in Arabia also were forced to dispute with the Mussulmans, who assured them that the teaching of the Talmud had its day and Islam was even then usurping its place. When Basilius, the Macedonian ascended the throne of Byzantium he summoned learned Jews to argue with Christian priests, who strove to convince them that Jesus had become the center of the law and prophets. But these disputes are insignificant compared with those of the last four centuries of the Middle Ages; during this period the number of Jewish apostates increased, who challenged their brethern of the old faith to arguments. Massacre and pillage were the results of these disputes, the invitation to which was, briefly, as follows: "If ye be willing and obey, the good of the land shall ye eat; but if ye refuse and rebel, by the sword shall ye be devoured." And, as if no loophole should exist through which the Jews, might evade persecution, if a Christian were converted to the Jewish faith and mocked his former religion the Jews were held responsible and punished. Thus in the ninth century the priest Boda accepted Judaism and ridiculed the Christians, going even so far as to beg the Mohammedan rulers in Spain to permit residence in that country only to Jews and Mussulmans, and not to Christians. Coystan Becelelonus in 1005, in the reign of Henry II., wrote a pamphlet in which he addressed his former co-religionists thus: "Fools read the prophet Malachai, who says in God's name, 'I am God, without change.' How then can you believe that the Divinity underwent any change?" The culmination of all this was a renewed outburst of wrath and persecution directed against the Jews.
The Christians did not consider the fact that he who exchanges his religion for another, from any motive whatever, by so doing is held in enmity by his former co-religionists and his affirmations esteemed of no value. They declared that the spirit of Satan had seduced the Jewish proselytes, while at the same time they gave credit to all the calumnies uttered by the Christianized Jews and granted them power to compel the Jews to enter into dispute with them. For this alleged guilt of Satan they punished the Jews with restriction of rights, confiscation of property, or total exile. An instance is recorded of the conversion in London in 1275, during the reign of Henry II., of the great Dominican preacher Robert de Redinge to Judaism, who adopted the name of Haggai. The Christianized Jews of France and Spain were also the cause of great trouble to the Jews in those countries during the Middle Ages, though Christianity had been the dominant religion but for a short period.
Of the more prominent controversies of that time may be mentioned that of Rabbi Nathan Haupniel, one of the writers of the commentaries called "Tosphoth" (Taanith IX., the Tosphoth beginning at "Aser T'aser"), known among Gentiles as Nathan Official, the colleague of Rabenu Tam and perfect under the Archbishop of Cens, with this same archbishop, and, near the close of the twelfth century, with Pope Alexander and the king himself. At this epoch the status of the Jews of France was one of peace and prosperity, and R. Nathan and his colleague, Rabenu Tam, were honored at court. The bishop attempted to prove by the passage, "Let us make man in our image," that the Trinity is meant, since the plural is used. R. Nathan's answer was: "Before replying to this, I desire to ask of you a question in law concerning myself. You are aware that I loan no money at interest (this he mentioned because the Jews were then charged with usury). I gave to a friend a sum of money with which to purchase merchandise, and in the profits arising from which I was to share. He transported the goods to Paris, but finding that their market price had greatly diminished, he threw all into the Seine without consulting with me. I am therefore of opinion that I may demand of him to return to me the whole sum; for by what right did he inflict on me a financial loss without first asking my consent?" The bishop replied: "You may without doubt; and according to my opinion you are entitled to additional compensation besides, since how dared he destroy your property?" "If that is so," answered R. Nathan, "you will of course grant that God is at least as just as men, and if, according to you, he had created men with the assistance of the other two Persons of the Trinity, how comes it that he declares, 'I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth?' [Gen. vi. 7], without first consulting the other Persons of the Trinity? They also were entitled to a part in disposing of man." On another occasion, being asked why the Jews were obstinate in refusing to worship Mary, the mother of God, R. Nathan replied: "Tell me, you who are so learned, whether the question never occurred to you: how was it possible that the idea of worshipping the golden calf entered the Jews' minds after they had been witnesses, shortly before, of all the signs and wonders of the Eternal, and the thunders and lightnings on Mount Sinai?" The bishop replied: "True; whenever I read this passage it seems a great problem to me." "But I am not in the least surprised," answered R. Nathan, with hidden irony. "The Jews saw that the gold when thrown into the fire was made into a calf, and they doubted not that the Holy Ghost had clothed itself in this precious metal; but you who affirm that the Holy Ghost became incarnate in a woman must needs remember that when God wished to give to the Israelites the Decalogue he warned them: 'For three days you shall not approach a woman' [Ex. xix. 15]. How, then, can the Jews believe, after this, that when He desired to endow Israel with a new testament, He should himself approach a woman?" Replies of this kind were numerous from R. Nathan, as well as from his sons Joseph and Asher. Thus it is also told of R. Joseph Bchor Shor that to the question, "Why did God choose to appear to Moses in a thorn?" ("bush" in the incorrect version), he replied, "Because from it no image can be made, nor can it be used to form a cross."
These disputes, however, did not bring about the terrible calamities which usually followed those in the Middle Ages, Judith, the Queen of Louis the Saint, protected the Jews and their studies, preventing the priests from taking vengeance for such ironical expressions as those given above. When Bishop Bodo perceived that his aims were not furthered by the disputes, he prohibited altogether such controversies with the hated Jews. A few decades passed, and not only was this prohibition ignored, but the Jews were again constrained to dispute in the presence of Louis IX. and his wife, and the chief civil and ecclesiastical dignitaries, the latter representing Pope Gregory IX. It fell to the lot of the four rabbis, R. Jechiel of Paris, the disciple of Jehudah the Pious; R. Moses of Coucy, the famed travelling lecturer; R. Jehudah b. David of Melon, and R. Solomon b. Samuel, to dispute with the apostate Donin, who took the name of Nicolus. This man while yet a Jew had evinced a tendency, as it appeared to the rabbis, to rebel against Judaism, and therefore they had excommunicated him. In revenge, he went to Rome in 1239, and charged that the Talmud contained sacrilegious sayings as to Jesus Christ and his mother, and so distorted the Scriptures by its interpretations and comments that thereby the Deity was blasphemed. He further charged that it gave license to illegally deprive Gentiles of their property and granted permission to deceive them. The sum of his libel, which contained thirty-five points, was that the Talmud was the enemy of Christian truth and the sole cause of the refusal of the Jews to recognize the divinity of Jesus.
It will be in place here, before further consideration of the character and consequences of this and many other disputes in which Jewish apostates were the accusers and disputants, to speak of the Jews of the Middle Ages, what they were, and, having in view only the truth, to expose their faults. For by their great intolerance, and their conduct towards all who entertained opinions of the least liberality, differing ever so slightly from their own, they brought down upon themselves, as it were by their own hands, terrible calamities. There was at that period, as is well known, a division of opinion among the Rabbis themselves concerning the books of Maimonides. Many Rabbis excommunicated him after his death, and even defaced his epitaph; and the intolerant R. Solomon of Montpelliers, with his colleagues and disciples, resorted to the Flagellants and Dominicans for aid, saying: "Behold, there are among us heretics and infidels, for they were seduced by Moses ben Maimon of Egypt. You who clear your community of heretics, clear ours too" (Karpeles, P. 346). They assented -gladly, and the books of Maimonides were burned at the stake in Paris and Montpelliers. From the conduct of these fanatics towards that lion of Israel (they themselves avowed that he was infinitely superior to them in science and learning) we can conceive their terrible vengeance against an ordinary man or scholar when he ventured to express opinions in any degree at variance with their own, or to transgress the Sabbath by carrying a handkerchief or drinking of Gentile wine, which in their opinion is against the law. Who, then, could resist their terrible weapon of excommunication, which they used for the purpose of making a man a ravenous wolf whom every human being fled from and shunned as though plague-smitten? Many who drank of that bitter cup were driven to the grave, and many others went mad. But woe to the excommunicators if the excommunicated afterward received baptism from the Dominicans I Then the vengeance of those who had been banished was fearful; like serpents they stung their former brethern, and caused misfortunes to thousands of souls who became as sheep for the slaughter.
Thus on the 24th of July, 1240, the complete Talmud was brought by Donin to the royal palace, and R. Jechiel, who, because of the fact that he had disputed with many priests, had been elected head of the disputants, was asked by him, in the presence of the king and the whole assembly, whether he believed in all that was written in all these books, now more than four hundred years old. To this R. Jechiel replied, addressing the king: "Our Talmud is not four hundred years old, but more than fifteen hundred, and this alone suffices to prove that the controversy concerning what is said in it is superfluous; for up to this time there have been Jewish apostates and many learned Christian priests who were conversant with its contents and found no evil in them. "Hieronymus," continued the Rabbi, "known to all as a wise and devout Christian writer, who was familiar with Jewish literature, much better than this apostate sinner, would doubtless have sought the destruction of the Talmud, if he had found therein such terrible things as this apostate alleges. Therefore I feel sure that this liar, who seeks our lives, will never attain his object; he may indeed deprive us of our lives, but not of our Torah, dear to us as the pupil of our eye. If you vent on us here in France all your anger, still will the Talmud be found in Spain, Greece, Babylon, Media and Mesopotamia, in possession of the Jews of these countries, and there you cannot reach to destroy it." The king was not satisfied with this, but bade R. Jechiel give a direct answer to Donin. To this the rabbi answered that the moral and legal doctrines of the Talmud were held sacred, but that full credence need not be given to the Hagada, which should not be taken too literally, since it is for the most part allegorical. The Ramban gave expression to a like opinion, but it would be superfluous to quote him entire. To the other accusations of Donin, that the Talmud terms the followers of Jesus Christ "Minim" (infidels), that it condemns Jesus, that it allows ill-usage of people of other nationalities, etc., he replied: "In the Talmud there is no mention of Jesus (Jesu) Christ, but only of another Jesus (Jeshua) who was a disciple of R. Joshua b. Prachia, who lived two hundred years before Christ; that the term 'Minim' in the Talmud includes all who deny the Oral Law; that it grants equality before the civil law to all men, idolators included, and commands visitation of sick idolators, support of their poor, and interment of their dead even in Jewish cemeteries. He also proved that according to the Talmud, the Christians are not included among idolators, since the prohibition as to sharing in divine power is directed only to Israel and has not been enjoined on other people; and, moreover, since the Christians abhor idolators, they cannot themselves be counted among them. There is no distinction drawn between them and Jews by the criminal laws of all civilized lands," as well as in the Talmud. (See App. No. 15.)
Thus two days passed in disputing with R. Jechiel, whose replies were written down by a disciple and collected later in a book, "Joseph Ham'qane" (The Zealot). On the third day, R. Jehudah b. David, having been prohibited from holding intercourse with R. Jechiel the first two days, was called to the dispute, and when his assertions were found to agree with those of R. Jechiel, the controversy came to an end.
The second dispute which must be noted is that started by the apostate Pablo Christiani, in July, 1263, with the rabbis of Spain. This was the reverse of the previous dispute, in that the first charged the Talmud with despising Jesus and Christians, while this dispute endeavored to prove from the Talmud itself the Messiahship of Jesus; Pablo claiming that the book contained many such passages. Rabbi Moses ben Nachmani (Ramban) was selected as disputant. This controversy also took place in the royal palace in Barcelona, and lasted four days. The principal topics for discussion were: Whether the Messiah had already appeared or was still expected; whether he would appear as a warrior, to restore the kingdom of the Jews, or as God's son, as Jesus. The passage, "the sceptre shall not depart from Judah until Shiloh come" (which the Jews also understand as referring to a Messiah), Pablo adduced as proof that after the destruction of the Temple and the fall of the Jewish kingdom it must of necessity be considered that the Messiah had arrived. Again, the Talmud itself says, "The Messiah was born when the Temple was destroyed," and "Elijah said to R. Joshua the son of Levi, The Messiah sits at the gates of Rome, among the sick," etc.
Thereupon Nachmani addressed the king. "Know," said he, "we possess three different books; before every other, the Bible, in which we implicitly believe; then the Talmud, which we hold sacred as an indispensable commentary on the biblical laws; but the third book, which we call Midrash, comprises mere sermons or speeches, which are listened to by the Jews but which exercise no authority over them. "The Hagada," he continued, "is, as its name indicates, a mere collection of legends, fiction, a creation of fancy, communicated by one person to another, but not held by the Jews as dogma, and which I myself do not believe." Then turning to Pablo, "I will reply directly to you as to the question at issue. If the Talmud, as you assert, regards the founder of your church as the true Messiah, why have not the Talmudists believed in him? Why did they not avow him, as you, Pablo, have done? For five hundred years have men been at work on the Talmud, and none had been convinced or induced to enter the church. Where," he asked further, "is it to be found in the Bible or the Talmud that the Messiah will suffer at the hands of men? On the contrary, it is said of him, "He will reign from sea to sea," "Dwellers of the desert will kneel before him" and "nations will adore him," which certainly was not the case with your Messiah, who, by the way, was born long before the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, and therefore the Talmudic passage can have no reference to him. Rome had not your alleged Messiah to thank for its greatness; on the contrary, its power and dominion gradually declined after his advent, and since the birth of your religion a new creed, the world-dominating Islam, has arisen. Further, were the omens and prophecies of the Messianic time fulfilled? Of this the prophets predicted 'that homicidal war will cease, a universal peace reign in the world; the swords will be beaten ploughshares, the spears into pruning hooks, and the harmless animal will graze by the side of the wild one;' that 'no injustice will occur, a moral elevation will ennoble men, God's spirit will enlighten all peoples, and a universal purified knowledge will be introduced.' But since your Messiah appeared, numberless wars have disturbed mankind, justice, morality, and brotherly love have not yet become the ruling principles of the world, your religious truths have not satisfied the adherents of Islam, and one God does not as yet reign on earth. If you make of your Messiah a God, then we cannot believe at all in him. The Messiah must be, according to the prophets, a man 'out of the stem of Jesse'; he must be sprung a child born of ordinary parents, not a son of God need he be. Nay, the passage in the Talmud which you bring forward as favoring the Messiahship of Jesus, 'that Messiah sits on God's right, and Abraham on his left,' shows him not to be a God, else could not the Talmud say directly after this 'that Abraham's countenance darkened on account of the favor shown the Messiah.' Were he God's son, surely Abraham would have known him as Divinity and have yielded to him, with no feeling of jealousy, the first place. The language of the Talmud is peculiar, and by its assertion that the Messiah was born with the Temple's destruction must be understood the revival among the Jews, through this barbarity and injustice, of the hope of a Messiah. They assuredly do not accept him as Messiah who saw the light of day fully a hundred years before this event, and who, in spite of his sufferings, brought to the world neither salvation nor redemption. And how stands it with your assumption that your Messiah redeemed the world from original sin? The penalties decreed for that sin still exist. Women still suffer pain in childbirth; in the sweat of the brow must the ground be ploughed, and Death still thins the hosts of the living-evils which, according to your construction of the Bible, result only from original sin. As to the passage quoted by you from the Bible, this is its significance: 'The sceptre shall not depart from Judah eternally'--ad being equivalent to load (forever). The clear meaning of this is that Judah's dependence, if he be condemned to it, will not last forever, for the Messiah will come and restore to him his independence; simply, that he will appear, but is not yet come. For the rest," continued Nachmani, "I do not long for the Messiah. With us it is accounted as of greater merit if we, living in foreign lands, among strange people, and under the protection of the king, worship our God, than if we, as free masters, adhere to the law in our own land." Pablo was no match to Nachmani and his striking proofs. The next Sunday, King Jacob I. of Aragon appeared with Peñaforte in the synagogue. The general of the Dominicans resumed the dispute, and sought to prove the Trinity by the simile of wine, which also contains a trinity in it, color, flavor and odor, and yet is one thing. Nachmani, however, refuted him, and demonstrated that to accept this argument would be to assume also a fifth person in God. Peñaforte became perplexed and replied that the Trinity is so deep a mystery that the angels are unable to comprehend it. When Nachmani had asked the modest question, "Why, then, should men raise themselves above the angels to dispute about and to hold fast to so deep a mystery?" The king dismissed him with rich presents, adding these strange words: "I have never yet heard a wrong cause so masterfully defended." Nevertheless, Nachmani was banished, He, did not, as contemporary ecclesiastical chronicles affirm, flee in deep shame, but was expatriated through the intrigues of the clergy, and emigrated to Palestine, which, in his opinion, should be a Mecca for every Jew, and arrived there shortly after Jerusalem had been reduced to ashes by the Mongols. There he continued his labors in behalf of Judaism and compiled his commentary on the Bible. To his disciples whom he left behind it is related that he said, on their asking of him a sign of the day of his death, that his mother's grave stone would be rent in twain.
After seeing, however, that the dispute led to no satisfactory results, and that Nachmani and other Jews were not convinced by the argument of "no salvation outside the church," Peñaforte changed his tactics and impeached the Talmud before Pope Clement IV., claiming that it abused and blasphemed the founder of the church. The Pope appointed a committee to examine the matter, and on their adverse report the obnoxious passages were stricken out, the erasing stylus was drawn through the pages of the Talmud by ignorant Dominicans, and for the first time it was subjected to the judgement of a censor. What a sad concurrence of historic events! Twenty years later the writings of Maimonides were again consigned to the stake at Acco through the efforts of the Kabbalistic fanatic Solomon Petit; in Tiberia the tombstone of Moses b. Maimon, the greatest thinker to whom Judaism had given birth in a thousand years, was shamefully dishonored and its epitaph replaced by the words; "Here rests an excommunicated heretic."
Of far more importance were the attacks on Judaism and the Talmud in the dispute which took place at Tortosa, in, Aragon, in 1413, under the supervision of Pope Benedict XIII., and which required no less than sixty-eight sessions. Long before this time the Jews had held polemics with Christian scholars, and the Jewish literature in defense of the faith which had been current in the thirteenth century, and which included also attacks on Christian dogma, was now in full bloom. Raymond Martin, a Dominican Hebraist and one of the censors of the Talmud appointed by the Pope, who treated the Talmud with comparative leniency, wrote against Judaism two hostile books under the titles "Religious Dagger" (Dagger of Faith) and "Scourge for the Jews," wherein arguments in favor of Christianity were adduced both from Scripture and from rabbinical writings. These books were imposing not less from their powerful logic than from their exhibition of profound scholarship, and the renowned Talmudist, R. Solomon b. Adereth, was called to refute them. The apostate Abner Alfonso Burgensis, a polemic of more danger to Judaism, at the commencement of the fourteenth century, wrote a number of controversial works against his former religion, to whom Isaac Pulgar replied with a trenchant satirical poem as well as an argumentative work. In 1375, Moses Kohen de Tordesillas disputed in the church at Avilla with the renegade John of Valladolid, and soon after this proselytizing cardinal Pedro de Cuna challenged Shem Teb b. Isaac Shoprat to a public religious discussion. The latter published in 1380, a comprehensive defensive work, "Eben Bochan," and also translated the Gospels into Hebrew to enable his co-religionists to arm themselves from the Christian arsenal; they subsequently found themselves obliged to use these weapons only too often. In 1391 occurred the first great persecution of the Jews in Spain, during which many, to escape the sword, embraced Christianity. Whereas the greater part of those who were forced into conversion usually returned to the fold of Judaism, some of these new Christians were, conversely, possessed by a great zeal for proselytizing, as, for example, the physician Astruc Raimuch, and particularly the former rabbi, Paul Burgensis, the latter of whom was a source of much mischief to his people. The satirical poet, Solomon Bonfed, the ingenious thinker Chasdai Crescas, the physician and philosopher, Profiat Duran, indited convincing replies to the attacks of these apostates. But in the foremost rank of these polemic writings stands the circular letter of Joshua Lorqui, which he addressed in an apparently submissive tone to his former teacher, Paul Burgensis, wherein, along with keen attacks on Christian dogma, he tells Burgensis that as a thinking and learned man he could not have accepted Christianity through conviction. When one reads this letter he must hold it almost a psychological impossibility that the man who adopted such an attitude towards Christianity should in later years have gone over to the Christian church and become a scourge to his co-religionists of the Jewish faith; and yet this Joshua Corqui was, with scarcely a doubt, identical with him who later assumed the name of Geronimo, Santa Fe, and came forward to impeach Judaism and the Talmud at the dispute in Tortosa.
Benedict XIII., one of the three popes who were then striving for dominion, had a particular interest in this dispute. This pope had been deposed at the Council of Pisa as a heretic and perjurer, and had been excommunicated; in Spain, however, he was recognized as pope, and from that place he set in motion his plans to make himself universally recognized. If he could succeed in breaking the obstinacy of the Jews and effecting finally their conversion as a people, it would be a great triumph for the church, and for himself personally. From these motives he willingly permitted King Fernando of Aragon to invite Jewish rabbis and scholars to a theological discussion at Tortosa. Sixteen of the most prominent appeared at that memorable dispute, which lasted, with many interruptions, from February, 1413, till November, 1414. The apostate Geronimo, the physician-in-ordinary-of the pope, had arranged previously the following programme for the controversy. First he desired to prove from the Talmud that the Messiah must already have arrived. Should this argument be ineffectual, however, then a war to the death was to be declared against the Talmud, which sustains the Jews in their unbelief. When the Jewish notables appeared in the session hall on the first day, the thousand there assembled, presided over by the pope (who was pompously arrayed and seated on an elevated throne), made upon them an overwhelming impression. The pope himself opened the session with an address, wherein he laid emphasis on the fact that the question now was not as to the truth of Judaism or Christianity; Judaism once had been true, but was replaced by the later revelation. The discussion must turn only on the point whether, according to the Talmud, Jesus is the promised Messiah or not. Thereupon, Geronimo delivered a lengthy speech, which he concluded with the text, "If ye be willing and obey, ye shall eat the good of the land; but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured by the sword." In his reply, Don Vidal Benvenisti placed the apostate's wickedness in its true light, inasmuch as he had threatened with the sword before any proof for or against had been brought. In the subsequent sessions, Geronimo cited passages, more or less familiar, from the Talmud and Midrash, to prove to the unbelievers that the Talmud itself, when rightly understood, attested Jesus' Messiahship. But as the representatives of the Jews explained these passages according to their real meaning, and at the expiration of sixty-two sessions evinced not the slightest inclination to be converted, Geronimo, at the pope's bidding, came forth as impeacher of the Talmud, asserting that it contained blasphemies and abominations of all kinds and must therefore be unconditionally condemned. To prove this, he wickedly or ignorantly perverted many passages. The Halakha teaches, for example, in relation to the verse in Exodus xxi. 15, "He that smiteth his father or his mother shall be put to death," that he only is guilty of death who wounds his parent by beating; from this Geronimo inferred that the Talmud allows the beating of parents. The Halakha also teaches in reference to blasphemy that "only he who blasphemes God by his name of four letters (Jehovah) is guilty of death," and from this Geronimo concluded that the Talmud permits blasphemy. Geronimo was also the first to affirm that the Jews may break oaths, in conformity to the prayer "Kol-Nidre." Every one at all familiar with this prayer knows that it is for forgiveness for the non-fulfillment of vows and oaths, taken unconsciously or broken through forgetfulness, and is but an argument in favor of the Talmud's scrupulousness in this matter. The Jewish delegates defended themselves, it is true, with skill against these accusations, but were finally so hard pressed that they divided into two parties. Most declared that the passages of the Hagada brought forward by Geronimo had no authority; whereas Don Vidal Benvenisti and the religious philosopher Joseph Albo declared that the Hagada was held by them as of full authority, but must not be construed literally and then judged. At all events, the pope did not succeed in causing even one of the delegates to waver or in effecting the hoped-for general conversion of the Jews. Driven to anger at his failure, he dismissed them in a very unfriendly manner, and soon thereafter issued a bull in which he interdicted the reading or study of the Talmud by the Jews, and ordered that search be made for copies of the book and they be then destroyed. He also directed that in Spain the Jews should live separately from the Christians, fill no official station, practice no trade, nor devote themselves to medicine. Fortunately the hostility of the pope had no effect. The Council of Costnitz deposed him; his former protectors, King Fernando and Emperor Sigismund, renounced his cause, and the fanatic Flagellator and preacher, Vincent Ferrer, preached openly "that such a man as this pope deserved to be persecuted to the utmost and to be killed by any good Christian." Filled with rage at the issue of the dispute, Geronimo published later a voluminous book against the Talmud, and the apostate Paul Burgensis, who was elevated to the bishopric, composed in his eightieth year, a work hostile to Jews and Judaism. To these and similar attacks the Jews were free as yet to reply without restriction. Answers were published by Joseph Albo, Vidal ibn Lobi, and Joseph ibn Shemtob, defending their own creed and winging arrows at Christian dogmas also. Several decades later the Jews of Spain were attacked not with the pen, but with the fist, not with spiritual weapons, but with physical force, and met with bloody persecutions till finally, in the total exile of 1492, the proud Spanish Jews were compelled to empty the cup of misery to the dregs.
62:1 R. Aqiba with R. Gamaliel, Joshua b. Hanania, Ishmael, Abuhu, and many others.