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New Perspectives on Jewish-Christian Relations (Brill Reference Library of Judaism.)

jan peczkis|Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Louis H. Feldman examines the TESTIMONIUM FLAVIANUM.



Louis H. Feldman examines the TESTIMONIUM FLAVIANUM. He presents the usual arguments against its authenticity, such as the premise (or preconception) that no Jew would make some of the statements in it. There is also the admittedly ARGUMENTUM EX SILENTIO, but one that is considered to have weight, as no less than eight prominent Christian writers, who lived before Eusebius, fail to mention the TESTIMONIUM FLAVIANUM. (p. 15). [However, this non-mention must be kept in perspective. For instance, how many ancient Roman documents, written at the time of Pontius Pilate, mention him? Yet this hardly constitutes evidence for his nonexistence.]

Interestingly, Feldman discusses the work of David L. Mealand. This scholar compared the TESTIMONIUM with undisputed works of Josephus, and against Greek and Christian literature as “background”, focusing on the phraseology used and the complexity of the language, using considerable detail in doing so. He provisionally concluded that the passage about Jesus in Josephus is genuine. (p. 21).

WHY SOME MEDIEVAL JEWS WERE FORCED TO WEAR THE STAR

Some anti-Christian academics have tried to equate the Nazi practice of Jews wearing the Star with the earlier practices, of some Christian nations, in requiring Jews to wear the Star. The two are not remotely comparable.

Debra Kaplan points out that the 1215 Christian decree, institutionalizing the Jewish badge, was designed to distinguish Jew from Christian in order to prevent sexual improprieties. It was unremarkable. In fact, it was a mirror-image of Talmudic law (SHABBAT 17b), wherein the Jew is forbidden from sharing bread, wine, and oil with non-Jews, lest it lead to sexual relations or intermarriage. (p. 258).

RABBI HA-MEIRI’S “MAKEOVER” OF THE TALMUD: A MARGINAL AND CONFLICTED OPINION

Author Yaakov Elman evaluates Menachem Ha-Meiri’s teachings on the dual morality in the Talmud as applicable solely to the pagan peoples of Talmudic times, and not to Christians. He writes, (quote) On the other hand, explaining Meir’s view of Christianity as stemming from his philosophical orientation, a solution originally proposed by Katz and championed by Halbertal and Stern, has several major drawbacks. First of all, as noted, Maimonides himself—the philosopher PAR EXCELLENCE in Meiri’s world—considered Christianity to be ‘AVODAH ZARAH even as he considered Islam to be a legitimate Abrahamic religion; significantly, however, he did not remove the halakhic disabilities from Muslims, with the exception of that recorded in B. BAVA’ KAMMA” 38a regarding legal discrimination against non-Jews in the area of tort law. This should immediately give us pause. Moreover, Meiri’s view is not even typical of Provencal Jewish culture. (unquote). (p. 269).

He adds that, (quote) Still, the tentative personal nature of Meiri’s interpretive strategy is illustrated by his inconsistencies even in regard to economic and commercial matters. (unquote). (p. 287). Elman then elaborates on these in much detail.

RABBI HA-MEIRI’S “MAKEOVER” OF THE TALMUD: PUBLIC RELATIONS? UNIVERSALISM? BOTH?

Author Yaakov Elman further analyzes Menachem Ha-Meiri’s teachings on the antigoyism in the Talmud as applicable solely to the pagan peoples of Talmudic times, and not to Christians. He comments, (quote) Of course, a complicating factor is the strong incentive to apologetic presentation of the “Jewish” view of these matters. Indeed, we must always be cautious about taking statements regarding the “Jewish view” even by halakhists, who may have had at least one eye out for the Christian censors or just for non-Jewish anger at an unvarnished presentation of that view. Despite all this, it would seem that Meiri may indeed have been the first medieval rabbi who discerned the human being behind the rabbinic label—and dared to write about it. (unquote). (pp. 276-277).

ONLY JEWS ARE DESIGNATED ‘ADAM: A FORM OF JEWISH ELITISM

The use of the term ADAM, as a proprietary term for Jews, is commonly argued not to imply that only Jews are human beings. Even if so, Jews='ADAM remains a Jewish supremacist construct--notwithstanding some universalist elements brought into association with it. Interestingly, Ha-Meiri, for all his professed distinction between ancient pagans and medieval Christians, excluded both from ‘ADAM-hood. Yaakov Elman assesses this as follows, (quote) Let us be clear about the significance of Meiri’s interpretation here. A non-Jew may study Torah and be likened to a Jewish high priest, but he remains a non-Jew who is not called ‘ADAM. We may greet him, we may prepare food for him on a festival, we may give him gifts—we may even recognize and acknowledge his spiritual gifts, as Meiri did to that non-Jewish scholar—but he will not reach that exalted status of ‘ADAM-hood. (unquote). (p. 283).

INSIGHTS ON NON-JEWS PUNISHED WITH DEATH FOR OBSERVING THE SABBATH OR STUDYING TORAH

By way of introduction, author David Schatz writes on certain passages in SANHEDRIN 58b-59a, (quote) The parameters of these prohibitions are a matter of debate. According to Maimonides, a non-Jew may not even establish Sabbath on a weekday. (unquote). (p. 498).

Author Schatz evaluates all this in the context of the attempt to preserve Jewish distinctiveness. Ironically, a “live and let live” attitude may itself reinforce this distinctiveness. He quips, (quote) Laws stating that a Gentile who observes the Sabbath or engages in Torah study is deserving of death fit poorly with an irenic understanding of the separation between Jewish and Gentile religion. With regard to Judaism’s eschatological vision, the view that Gentiles will not convert to Judaism could likewise reflect a vision that Jewish particularity and separateness will be preserved throughout the eschaton, which is to say, forever. For that matter, although the notion that a righteous Gentile attains the World to Come can be plausibly traced to a universal sensibility, it could also be seen, following a point made earlier about proselytizing, as a way of rendering conversion pointless and thus preserving Jewish particularity. (unquote). (pp. 498-499).
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