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Theism Judaism Judaism

Judaism and Jewish Apologetics

Guido G.B. Deimel

“Those who wish to seek out the causes of miracles, and to understand the things of nature as philosophers, and not stare at them in astonishment like fools, are soon considered heretical and impious and proclaimed as such by those whom the mob adore as the interpreters of nature and the gods. For these men know that once ignorance is put aside, that wonderment would be taken away which is the only means by which their authority is preserved.” [1]

– Baruch Spinoza


Most Jews will readily accept that the idol of Christianity, Jesus Christ, was neither the Messiah, nor divine, nor a perfect model for moral actions. This is simply because – fortunately for themselves, as well as for other persons – Jews are not in the habit of reading the Christian New Testament Scriptures. They have not been told by their parents to cherish or worship Jesus Christ when they were children, and thus they are not used to believing in the virgin birth or other absurdities.

But what about their own religion?

To many Jews the basic tenet of Judaism and Jewish teaching is a “message of morality, tolerance, peace and human dignity”. [2]

Is this true?

It is evident that any critique of the Jewish religion is in danger of being labeled antisemitic. Judaism as a culture is much more than just a religion, and a person of Jewish background will be viewed – and likely view him/herself – as Jewish regardless of his/her personal religious convictions. For this reason the present article will refer to Judaism in the way Jewish theologians usually refer to Judaism: as a religious faith.


For several reasons Jewish believers are confronted with much less logical problems than Christian believers of most denominations. Jews never had to cope with logical inconsistencies of the New Testament. Accordingly, Jews in all of history also had the advantage of logic and consistency on their side, in so far as problems arose out of New Testament interpretations of verses taken from the Old Testament: this collection of sacred Scriptures is called the Tanakh by Jews and to them represents the entire Bible.

Similarly the Jewish interpretation of many Biblical passages differs significantly from Christian interpretations, often because the text of Christian Bibles was poorly translated from the Hebrew original. For example the most well known of the Ten Commandments, usually quoted as Thou shalt not kill, which apparently even condemns killing in self-defense, to Jews always had meant Thou shalt not murder. [3]

Since major parts of the Talmud, the second most important holy book of Judaism, consist of recorded discussions of ancient Rabbis – the Sages – on all sorts of things, which were written down including differing opinions of individual Sages, the idea that differing opinions have a place in the Jewish Faith – within certain limits, of course – has had a long tradition in most of the various streams of Judaism.

Still, for Jews believing in an all-powerful God, the “attempt to vindicate God’s goodness in the face of the existence of so much evil in the world” [4], the logical problem already addressed by Euripides millennia ago and commonly referred to as theodicy, applies to Judaism in a similar way as to Christianity, like many other problems deriving from specific verses of the Bible [5], and I need not delve into details already covered in arguments challenging the truth of Christianity.

Especially since the Holocaust, many Jewish theologians acknowledge that

“in all likelihood, there probably is no satisfactory answer.

One of the dangers of theodicy, in fact, is that in its attempts to justify God’s ways to man, it frequently blames man for his sufferings. For example, one sometimes hears ultra-Orthodox Jews speak of the Holocaust as God’s punishment for Jewish irreligiosity.” [6]

Apart from the fact that such a position has been the traditional Jewish answer long before the Holocaust, indeed even long before the pogroms of the medieval crusades [7], like other Bible oriented faithful our Jewish theologians refuse to address the obvious answer: that an almighty and loving God as described in the Bible simply cannot exist.

This is hardly surprising – after all, most theologians have to make a living of the beliefs of their religions’ followers.

For the mentioned reasons this article will instead deal with the moral aspects of the Jewish religion. This is an all the more obvious approach, since in Judaism the “central stress has always been on performing [God’s] commandments, unlike in Christianity where far greater emphasis is placed on faith.” [8]

In review of a work written by an influential modern American Rabbi I will give examples of apologist claims typical for Jewish theologians, and name various reasons why these should be viewed in a critical light.

In passing the reader will also be given an introductory reading to a few Talmudic passages.

Numbers in [brackets] refer to the notes at the bottom of this article.

A note for Jewish readers: many Jews consider it impious to write the word G-d other than with a hyphen instead of an o. Since many Jewish theologians write God, and since my intention is to question beliefs rather than to support them, I have not adopted this usage, intentionally, though not out of lacking respect. Furthermore I would like to note here, out of necessity a single article as this can not deal exhaustively with every aspect or basic teaching of Judaism, so that topics considered essential by some Jews may not be addressed here, and others may not apply to all Jews.

Basic Sources

The Jewish Bible, the Tanakh, is divided into

  • Torah: the Five Books of Moses

    the most basic of Jewish holy books (the words means Law or Teaching), in services traditionally used as a Torah Scroll,
  • Nebi’im: the Prophets

    and including Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings
  • Ketubim: the Writings,

    most of the rest of the Old Testament, excluding Maccabees but including Chronicles. [9]

From ancient times the Torah was regarded as a law code, though as incomplete, since the “Torah is silent on many subjects” [10], and therefore had to be supplemented with what tradition calls the Oral Torah, or Oral Law. This represented the possibility to reshape or reinterpret many of the archaic laws of the Torah, for example the well-known verse an eye for an eye was explained by the Oral Law as “requiring monetary compensation: the value of an eye is what must be paid.” [11]

According to Orthodox Jewish tradition, when “God gave Moses the Torah… He simultaneously provided him all the details found in the Oral Law” [12]. These were discussed by Jewish Sages in oral form in the so-called Tannaïtic period, named after the Tannaïm (Aramaic for teachers), the Rabbis of the time who laid the ground for today’s Judaism. At the time of the Jewish War with the Romans there existed primarily two streams of Judaism, the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the latter surviving the war and therefore the root of subsequent Judaism. The Pharisees were divided into two schools in the first century, named after their founders, Hillel – maybe the most important Rabbi ever to live: Jews attribute the Golden Rule to him – and his opponent Shammai. But already in ancient times these traditions were first written down around the year 200 C.E. by Rabbi Jehuda ha-Nasi, also known as Judah the Prince or simply as Rabbi.[13]

For this reason the Oral Torah consists of these writings, the “sixty-three tractates in which Rabbi Judah set down the Oral Law” [14], which are called the Mishnah and constitute the basis for most Jewish religious practices. Mishnah verses are cited giving the name of the tractate, chapter and section number, e.g. Mishnah Sanhedrin 9:6.

Unlike the Torah, Jewish Law in the Mishnah is thus structured into orders of several tractates each, arranged according to the topics dealt with. For example, the order “Nezikin (Damages), contains ten tractates summarizing Jewish civil and criminal Law.” [15]

After generations of Rabbis exhaustively studying the Mishnah (the word means copy or repetition), some of them began to write down their discussions in a series of books known as the Talmud, the Rabbis of Palestine finishing their work around 400 C.E., which today is known as Talmud Yerushalmi or Palestine Talmud. These additional commentaries are called the Gemara (i.e. completion).

More than a century later the Rabbis of Babylon compiled a similar series of books, which is far more extensive than the Palestine Talmud, became the more authoritative version and is now called the Babylonian Talmud or Bavli. In general the word Talmud thus refers to the Babylonian Talmud. Both are structured in the same order as the Mishnah, and most Talmud editions contain the Mishnah. Many Jewish schools carry the word Yeshiva in their name, although this traditionally refers to schools devoted to Talmud study. [16] Since the original Hebrew Talmud must be copied in the same layout as certain originals [17], a given page will always hold exactly the same verses. Passages of the Babylonian Talmud therefore can be quoted naming the Tractate and adding the number of the page (called folio) and the letter a or b, referring to front or back, e.g. Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Âbodah Zarah 37a. Occasionally a preceding letter b (for babylonian) or a letter j resp. y (for jerusalem resp. yerushalmi) designates the Talmud edition quoted, e.g. bBM 59b refers to the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Bava Mesia, fol. 59b.

Apart from these most important Jewish Scriptures there exist numerous other Rabbinical writings, some of them older than Mishnah and Talmud, for example the Tannaïtic Midrashim (Bible commentaries), the most well known of which is the Midrash Sifré Deuteronomy, often simply called the Sifré [18]. Finally, the most recent Scriptures of Judaism were written by various famous sages until the late Middle Ages. Among the first to be mentioned are Rabbi Moses Maimonides (1135-1204), whose name is often given as the acronym Rambam (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon) and Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzhak (1040?-1105) or Rashi.

In the Talmud the ancient Rabbis are engaged in two types of discussions: halakhic, meaning purely legal matters, and aggadic, i.e. folkloristic or ethical anecdotes [19]. Living in accordance with God’s commandments (mitzvot) is considered the prime goal of Jewish life by most of the different streams of Judaism, and already Talmudic tradition stated there is a total of 613 Commandments in the Torah, which are divided into 248 Positive Commandments and 365 Negative Commandments or prohibitions. [20]

No Jew follows all of these 613 Commandments today, although they are viewed as valid for all time. For example many are not applicable, among others those regulating the Temple services, ever since the only Jewish Temple of the Second Temple Period, the Jerusalem Temple, was destroyed in the war between Jews and Romans in 66-70 C.E.

Since these Commandments do not regulate every detail of Jewish life, additional laws and rulings were and still are issued by Rabbis, thus forming the whole canon of Jewish Law, the Halakha (the word means walking or path). A single decision is often referred to as a halakha, such as the prohibition to drive a car on Shabbat (Saturday), the holy day of Judaism. Observance of halakha and the Commandments are of different importance to each of the various forms of today’s Judaism, for example most Reform Jews do drive cars on Saturdays. The most well-known body of Jewish laws, Kashrut, defines the sort and preparation of food proper to eat for pious Jews, in other words what is kosher.

Thus for most religious Jews with the exception of Reform Judaism there is no separation between religious and secular law. In the state of Israel today several legal areas are under Rabbinical authority, especially family and marriage laws.[21]

One of the first comprehensive compilations of the 613 Commandments was written by Maimonides, the Book of Commandments (Sefer ha-Mitzvot) [22], though his most well known works are the Book of Laws (Mishneh Torah), and the Guide of the Perplexed (Moreh Nebukim).

He is also the author of the only Jewish equivalent to dogma, the Thirteen Principles of Maimonides [23] which were accepted by almost all streams of Judaism and which cannot be discussed here in detail.

Additional information about Jewish religious observance and practices can be found on many Jewish pages on the net, and is also provided by the Ontario Center for Religious Tolerance.

Basic teaching

Ethical Monotheism

“Judaism believes that the purpose of Jewish existence is nothing less than ‘to perfect the world under the rule of God’ (…)

The principle of ethical monotheism, the obligation to try to ‘perfect the world under the rule of God,’ is reiterated three times a day in the Aleinu prayer, which closes the morning, afternoon, and evening prayer services. The term ‘ethical monotheism’ itself is generally credited to nineteenth-century Reform Judaism, and remains nineteenth-century Reform’s most enduring contribution to Jewish thought.” [24]

Few people would object to a better world, if this is put in such a general way. However, it does seem worth while asking exactly what kind of ethics are promoted by the Jewish religion, so some of these will be discussed below.

The Chosen People

One of the most common associations with Jews is the idea that the Jews are the Chosen People. “Does Judaism believe that chosenness endows Jews with special rights in the way racist ideologies endow those born into the ‘right race’? Not at all. The most famous verse in the Bible on the subject of chosenness says the precise opposite: ‘You alone have I singled out of all the families of the earth. That is why I call you to account for all your iniquities’ (Amos 3:2). Chosenness is so unconnected to any notion of race…” [25]

Thus today’s Jewish theologians most often interpret the idea of Jewish chosenness as the special Jewish obligation to “make God known to the world,” [26] an attempt to demonstrate the Jewish chosenness does not imply that Jews are somehow superior to other people, instead have special obligations. While there is indeed no Jewish conception of race, is it true that the idea of Jewish chosenness meaning Jews being superior to other people is incompatible with Judaism, alien to the Jewish Faith?



As the subject of a critical review Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s Jewish Literacy. The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History (New York: Morrow 1991) was chosen here as an exemplary work of Jewish apologetics for three reasons:

  1. As a compendium of Jewish religious and cultural knowledge this book offers the critic the opportunity to address the major topics of Jewish apologetics in a consistent way and from the same source,
  2. intended to address the layman the work does not specialize too deeply or too exclusively in details of theological argument, though on the other hand, contrary even to other publications of the same author [27], the intellectual level and scholarly style of argumentation of this work seems to justify a reasonable discussion,
  3. as an influential American Rabbi Telushkin is comparably well-known and his text does not concentrate on a single one of the five main forms of today’s Judaism, so this work may be viewed as sufficiently representative for the beliefs of most religious Jews.

Although an evident approach of reviewing a book is to follow the order of the contents, I decided to address the topics dealt with here not always in the order they appear in Telushkin’s text, but arranged in order of their importance, familiarity, or relevance to basic concepts of Jewish religious identity. On occasion other theologians’ writings will be considered as well.

The Bible

“The Hebrew Bible has been the most influential book in human history; both Judaism and Christianity consider it to be one of their major religious texts. Several of its central ideas – that there is One God over all mankind, and one universal standard of morality; that people are obligated to care for the poor, the widow and the orphan, and the stranger; that people should refrain from work one day a week, and dedicate themselves to make that day holy; and that the Jews have been chosen by God to spread His message to the world – have transformed both how men and women have lived, and how they have understood their existence,” we read in the opening chapter of this compendium of Jewish knowledge. [28]

While probably no one will argue with the first two statements of the above paragraph, further reading and other sources show almost all of the other claims to be at least questionable concerning either the validity or the implicitly inferred positive impact of the Bible’s teachings on humanity in history and present. This is the subject of the following discussion.


Any discussion of a monotheistic religion should begin with its central idea, the existence of a supernatural being as the first cause and creator of the world. This is not the place to discuss general philosophical or logical problems with this theistic conception. Still, referring to difficulties with belief in a god as described in the Bible, Telushkin writes:

“When people tell me that they would find it easier to believe in God were they to see a miracle with their own eyes, I refer them to the thirty-second chapter of Exodus. No generation in history should have had an easier time believing and trusting in God than the Israelites in the desert. These liberated slaves had just witnessed the Ten Plagues, escaped through the miraculously parted Red Sea, and beheld God’s glory at Mount Sinai. Nonetheless, when Moses tarried on Mount Sinai for forty days, they panicked…

Very quickly, a large mound of jewelry is gathered and molded into a Golden Calf. (…)

God is furious. Like an angry parent wishing to shift responsibility to His spouse, He tells Moses that ‘the people that you brought up out of the land of Egypt have dealt corruptly’ (32:7). He wants to destroy Israel and give Moses a better people to lead.” [29]

While the Israelites may have had other reasons for their loss of faith, already ancient texts show, that to some people the biblical conception of God was unacceptable for reasons Telushkin does not even notice. A gnostic text of the first century comments on the Jewish god:

“But of what sort is this God? First [he] envied Adam that he should eat from the tree of knowledge. And secondly he said, ‘Adam, where are you?’ And God does not have foreknowledge… afterwards he said, ‘Let us cast him [out] of this place, lest he eat of the tree of life and live for ever.’ Surely he has shown himself to be a malicious envier. And what kind of God is this? …he said, ‘I am the jealous God; I will bring the sins of the fathers upon the children until three (and) four generations.’ … But these things he has said to those who believe in him [and] serve him!” [30]

Jewish theologian Hyam Maccoby, who presented this quote as evidence of antisemitism in ancient times, does not comment with a single word on these qualities of God, an approach not at all unusual for theologians. [31]

Yet often pagans were repelled not by Jewish persons but Jewish conceptions of God:

“But what sort of imitation of God is praised among the Hebrews? Anger and wrath and fierce jealousy. For God says (Num xxv:11) ‘Phinehas hath turned away my wrath among them’. (…) ‘For I am a jealous God’, (Exod xx:5), he [Moses] says, and in another place again (Deut iv:24), ‘Our God is a consuming fire’. Then if a man is jealous and envious you think him blameworthy, whereas if God is called jealous you think it a divine quality?” [32]

Adam, Eve, and the Creation of Man

One of the most well known tales of the Bible is the narration of God’s creation of man and Adam and Eve as ancestors of all humanity.

“Genesis’ assertion that all mankind descend from this one couple is the basis for the biblical view that human beings – of all races and religions – are brothers and sisters.” [33]

Telushkin here would have his readers believe the impact and goal of this basic biblical and Jewish teaching – “that all mankind descend from this one couple” – was to make clear all humans are brothers and sisters. Are we then to conclude we should treat other people, especially those not belonging to our own ethnic or religious denomination, as brothers and sisters?

This already appears dubious if one considers other excerpts from the same Torah text, especially God’s commandment to the Israelites to exterminate certain other peoples such as the Canaanites (e.g. Deuteronomy 7), which will be discussed in detail below.

But the basic problem of this implicit argument of Telushkin can be shown more explicitly in the texts of one of the greatest teachers of Jewish law and ethics ever to live, Rabbi Maimonides, which were written more than a millennium after this basic premise, that all men descend from Adam, was available to Jews. Moreover, the following passage has the advantage of directly addressing this common ancestry, referring to Esau, grandson of Abraham, the ancestor of all Jews (Genesis 25:19-25).

In Maimonides’ Book of Commandments we read:

(Positive commandment) 188 The extinction of Amalek.

By this injunction we are commanded that among the descendants of Esau we are to exterminate only the seed of Amalek, male and female, young and old. This injunction is contained in his words (exalted be He), Thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek.

We have already quoted from the Sifré: “Three Commandments were laid upon the Israelites at the time of their entry into the Land: to appoint a king over themselves, to build the Sanctuary, and to annihilate the offspring of Amalek.” This war against Amalek is also obligatory.

The provisions of this Commandment are explained in the eighth chapter of Sotah. [34]

Obviously his common ancestry with the Amalekites and “Judaism’s abhorrence of bloodshed” [35] to this Jewish teacher presented no contradiction to God’s commandment to annihilate these “brothers and sisters.”

Moreover, this commandment (among many others) demonstrates that the concept of Holy War (milhemet mitzva, obligatory war) is not unique to Christianity (Crusade) or Islam (Jihad) but common to all three monotheistic religions based on the tradition of Abraham. [35]

The Ten Commandments

Many Jews consider the Ten Commandments to be the major contribution of the Jewish people to humanity’s conception of ethics. Rabbi Telushkin writes:

“…the Ten Commandments is the cornerstone document of Jewish and Western morality…” [37]

Should we believe then, that without the Decalogue, there would be no morality? Already in ancient times this question has been answered well by the last pagan ruler of the Roman Empire:

“That is a surprising law of Moses, I mean the famous decalogue [Exod xx:14ff]: ‘Thou shalt not steal’, ‘Thou shalt not kill’, ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness,’


Now except for the command ‘Thou shalt not worship other gods,’ and ‘Remember the Sabbath day,’ what nation is there, I ask in the name of the gods, which does not think that it ought to keep the other commandments? So much so that penalties have been ordained against those who transgress them, sometimes more severe, sometimes similar to those enacted by Moses, though they are sometimes more humane.” [38]


One of the most well-known issues of Halakha (religious law) is Kashrut, Jewish dietary law. Modern Rabbis often claim that one major issue of these regulations was the ethical imperative to prevent cruelty to animals. Writes Telushkin:

“Some laws… that are predominantly ritualistic have strong ethical components. The laws of kashrut, for example, are generally regarded as the epitome of purely ritual legislation. Nonetheless, kashrut regulates that an animal that is to be eaten must be slaughtered with one stroke, so that it suffers the minimum pain possible… Clearly, then, the laws of kosher slaughter are concerned with the ethical treatment of animals as well as with ritual.”[39]

“Jewish law obligates the shoket [slaughterer] to kill the animal with one quickly drawn stroke against its throat. If he delays the stroke, thus needlessly prolonging death, the animal is rendered unkosher and Jews are forbidden to eat it.” [40]

Not surprisingly, Telushkin here fails to give any references for his claims of the ethical implications of Jewish dietary law. The reader who wants to know more and therefore looks up the relevant passages from the Jewish Scriptures is bound to be disappointed [41]. None of these even mention the animal’s pain, not once. [42]

Instead, one reads for example, concerning the question which slaughter is valid:

He who slaughters [cuts through] two heads [of cattle] simultaneously – his act of slaughter is valid.

Mishnah Hullin 2:2 [43]

When the slaughterer moved the knife forward but not backward, or backward but not forward. But if he moved it forward and backward, however short the knife, even with a scalpel, it is valid.

Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Hullin 31a [44]

‘If the slaughter of a terefah-animal [unclean] renders clean it and a limb that is dangling from it, that is, something that is part of the body of the animal, should it render clean the protruding limb of the foetus, something that is not part of the body?’ They said to him, ‘In some instances, through the act of slaughter, you can more effectively save what is not a primary part of the body than what is a primary part of the body.’ For we learned: ‘If one cuts off part of the offspring (of the animal to be slaughtered) which is in its womb – it what is cut off, is permitted to be eaten. If he cut off part of the spleen or kidneys of the beast itself, it is prohibited to be eaten.

Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Hullin 73a [45]

Of course it is impossible to present all the relevant details of Kashrut regulations here, but already these excerpts show that the Sages were concerned about ritual cleanliness and not in any way interested in the pain of the animal.


More than any other person acting in the Bible it is the character of Moses who is most often associated with Judaism. We read:

“Along with God, it is the figure of Moses (Moshe) who dominates the Torah. Acting at God’s behest, it is he who leads the Jews out of slavery, unleashes the Ten Plagues against Egypt, guides the freed slaves for forty years in the wilderness, carries down the law from Mount Sinai, and prepares the Jews to enter the land of Canaan. Without Moses, there would be little apart from laws to write about in the last four books of the Torah. (…)

Like a true parent, Moses rages at the Jews when they sin, but he never turns against them – even when God does.” [46]

It must be acknowledged that on another occasion Telushkin mentions in exactly what way Moses “rages at the Jews,”

“At Moses’ direction the Levites – the only tribe not to have participated in the sin of worshiping the Golden Calf – ungird their swords and kill three thousand sinners.” [47]

I leave it to the reader to compare these paragraphs to original biblical accounts of Moses’ actions.

Exodus 32

[T]hen Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Who is on the LORD’s side? Come to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him.
He said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, “Put your sword on your side, each of you! Go back and forth from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill your brother, your friend, and your neighbor.”
The sons of Levi did as Moses commanded, and about three thousand of the people fell on that day.
Moses said, “Today, you have ordained yourselves for the service of the LORD, each one at the cost of a son or a brother, and so have brought a blessing on yourselves this day.”

Numbers 31

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
“Avenge the Israelites on the Midianites; afterward you shall be gathered to your people.”
So Moses said to the people, “Arm some of your number for the war, so that they may go against Midian, to execute the LORD’s vengeance on Midian.

They did battle against Midian, as the LORD had commanded Moses, and killed every male.
They killed the kings of Midian, Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian, in addition to others who were slain by them; and they also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword.
The Israelites took the women of Midian and their little ones captive; and they took all their cattle, their flocks, and their goods as booty.
All their towns where they had settled, and all their encampments, they burned.

Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the congregation went to meet them outside the camp.
Moses became angry with the officers of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, who had come from service in the war.
Moses said to them, “Have you allowed all the women to live?
These women here, on Balaam’s advice, made the Israelites act treacherously against the LORD in the affair of Peor, so that the plague came among the congregation of the LORD.
Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that has known a man by sleeping with him.
But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves.

As is so often the case in the original sources of the Jewish religion (Torah, Talmud), idolatry is considered a crime the abolition of which apparently justifies the vilest atrocities, including the slaying of one’s brothers or the enemy’s women because they may have led the Israelites astray from the Lord.

Often Jewish theologians rationalize this by stating that the nations around the Israelites (e.g. the Canaanites, see below) practiced human sacrifices, the abolition of which is explained to be the rationale behind the Torah’s abhorrence of Idolatry:

“God’s disavowal of Isaac’s sacrifice is, in fact, the first attack on child sacrifice in any literature. Later, the Torah formalized this prohibition among its 613 commandments: ‘Do not allow any of your offspring to be offered up to Molech’ it commands in Leviticus 18:21…” [48]

“‘You shall utterly destroy them … as the Lord your God commanded you, lest they lead you into doing all the abhorrent things that they have done for their gods and you stand guilty before the Lord your God’ (Deuteronomy 20:17-18). The Torah explicitly warns the Hebrews against copying the Canaanites’ sexual perversities and rituals involving child sacrifice…” [49]

“People who reject God invariably find something else to worship, and any time people worship something other than God they are committing idolatry (avodah zara)… The Torah was more horrified and angered by the ritual of child sacrifice than by any other aspect of avodah zara. Among the Hebrews, child sacrifice had been outlawed from their very beginnings (see The Binding of Isaak/Akedat Yitzchak). British scholar Louis Jacobs has argued …: ‘Nowhere in the prophetic writings are the [non-Jewish] nations condemned for worshipping their gods, only for the ethical abominations such as child sacrifice associated with the worship.’ In addition to child sacrifice the Jews’ idolatrous neighbours practiced bestiality…” [50]

Apart from the fact that it is not very convincing to justify the slaying of one’s idolatrous brothers or neighbors, or even the annihilation of entire populations to abolish human sacrifices for the sake of the “sanctity of human life” – an argument also used by Christians as a justification for exterminating the native populations in the New World – in the case of the Golden Calf that was out of question, there is no mention of human sacrifice, although burnt offerings and the wrath of God are mentioned (Exodus 32:6-10).

The Torah may have been “more horrified and angered by the ritual of child sacrifice than by any other aspect” of idolatry, but obviously it was not horrified by slavery (Leviticus 25:44), genocide (Deuteronomy 7:2, Deuteronomy 20:16, see below), rape of women taken prisoner in war (Numbers 31:18, Deuteronomy 21:14 [51]), the slaying of children (Numbers 31:17), execution of unbelievers (Exodus 22:20), and denunciation and execution even of one’s own wife or brother for loss of faith (Deuteronomy 13:6-8), all of which is given as a commandment by God in the Torah.

The Promised Land and its Native Population

Contrary to most other theological apologists – especially Christian theologians – Rabbi Telushkin addresses one of the most problematical aspects of any belief system founded upon the biblical texts, the Bible’s advocacy of genocide.

How does a Jewish Rabbi deal with this subject?

“The Bible’s depiction of the early Hebrews is anything but flattering. Their most notable failing is recurrent lapses into idolatry, influenced, in large measure, by the Canaanite nations among whom they live. This is the backdrop for the most morally problematic command in the Torah – to wipe out the Canaanite nations who refuse to leave Israel: ‘Thou shalt utterly destroy them… as the Lord your God commanded you…’


As important, the main reason these injunctions so disturb us, is because the Bible itself has sensitized us to high standards of respect for human life. As the late Princeton philosopher Walter Kaufmann wrote, ‘The reproach of callousness and insufficient social conscience can hardly be raised. Our social conscience comes largely from the religion of Moses.’ In large measure it is only because of other verses in the Bible commanding us to love our neighbors and to love the stranger that the verses commanding total war trouble us. ‘[But] to find the spirit of the religion of the Old Testament in Joshua,’ Kaufmann noted, ‘is like finding the distinctive genius of America in the men who slaughtered the Indians.'” [52]

While Rabbi Telushkin certainly deserves respect for at least mentioning this problem, and while it would certainly be wrong to blame the ancient Israelites or even Jews for such horrid morals of warfare [53], the question arises – if it is indeed the Bible which “sensitized us” to more humane ethics – why it took more than two millennia before genocide was first officially addressed as a crime by a committee of societies consisting of a majority of Bible believers (incidentally this was the achievement of the tireless efforts of an infidel Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin [54]).

This question becomes all the more evident since we have indeed verifiable evidence of how biblical ethics affected the behavior of historical societies confronted with exactly this moral problem. Since Telushkin obviously does not refer exclusively to Jewish Bible believers in this paragraph – and in any case most Jewish societies of the past two millennia were a suppressed minority lacking political power, so that Jewish warfare was out of question – this evidence may be derived from Christian societies. The Crusades come to mind, but we can even look at what Telushkin himself has given as example.

Apparently Christian colonists – “the men who slaughtered the Indians” – rarely were impressed by the Biblical ethics of “respect for human life” enough not to view native peoples as the Canaanites whom the Bible commanded them to exterminate. This can be shown for Spaniards who sacked the civilizations of Southern and Meso-America in the sixteenth century:

“Martín Fernández de Enciso, a geographer who had been among the founders of the colony at Darien, expounded the thesis that the Indies had been given to Spain … just as Canaan had been given to the Jews. The Spaniards, he insisted, could, therefore, treat the Indians as Joshua treated the citizens of Jericho,” [55]

we read about the conquest of the native empire of Mexico.

Among the Puritan colonists of Massachusetts we find a professional interpreter of the Bible’s teachings express a similar opinion: Puritan divine Cotton Mather, who is well known in connection with the Salem Witch Hunt of 1692, wrote:

“It is possible that some of the [native] Americans may be the posterity of those Canaanites who, after the wars of Canaan, set up their pillars in Africa [sic].” [56]

Moreover, in this case we have explicit evidence of what “the men who slaughtered the Indians” had in mind. After one massacre in the summer of 1636 the Puritan commander-in-charge John Mason wrote:

“And indeed such a dreadful Terror did the Almighty let fall upon their Spirits, that they would fly from us and run into the very Flames, where many of them perished … God was above them, who laughed his Enemies and the Enemies of his People to Scorn, making them as a fiery Oven … Thus did the Lord judge among the Heathen, filling the Place with dead Bodies,” [57]

referring to the slain Pequot Indians including women, children, and old men. In connection with the idea of the Promised Land, on another occasion again

“the Lord was pleased to smite our Enemies in the hinder Parts, and to give us their land for an inheritance” [58].

Mason’s comrade Underhill recalled how “great and doleful was the bloody sight to the view of the young soldiers” yet reassured his readers that “sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents”. [59]

Witnessing such standards of total war was appalling even to these Indians’ native enemies:

“…Mason led his forces and some accompanying Narragansetts (who long had been at odds with the Pequots) in a clandestine assault on the main Pequot village just before dawn. Upon realizing that Mason was planning nothing less than a wholesale massacre, the Narragansetts dissented and withdrew to the rear.” [60]


“Mason himself counted the Pequot dead at six or seven hundred, with only seven taken captive and seven escaped. It was, he said joyfully, ‘the just Judgment of God.’

The Narragansetts who had accompanied the Puritans on their march did not share the Englishmen’s joy. This indiscriminate carnage was not the way warfare was to be carried out. ‘Mach it, mach it,’ Underhill reports their shouting; ‘that is,’ he translates, ‘It is naught, it is naught, because it is too furious, and slays too many men.’ Too many Indians, that was. Only two of the English died in the slaughter.” [61]

Indeed it is easy to show that the concepts of warfare prevalent in European societies was alien to the native populations of Northern America:

“Warfare among the native peoples had no ‘dissipline’ about it, complained Captain Henry Spelman, so that when Indians fought there was no great ‘slawter of nether side’; instead, once ‘having shott away most of their arrows,’ both sides commonly ‘weare glad to retier.’ Indeed, so comparatively harmless was inter-tribal fighting, noted John Underhill, that ‘they might fight seven yeares and not kill seven men.’ Added Roger Williams: ‘Their Warres are farre lesse bloudy, and devouring than the cruell Warres of Europe; and seldom twenty slain in a pitcht field…’


In addition, the Indians’ code of honor ‘ordinarily spared the women and children of their adversaries.'” [62]

In short, Telushkin’s claim that it was the Bible itself which “sensitized us to high standards of respect for human life” (a claim often paralleled by Christian theologians) can hardly be backed up with evidence, to say the least. This becomes even more obvious if we take into account what ancient European authors, who were not influenced by the teachings of the Bible, expressed about ethics of warfare, Roman lawyer and philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero (ca. 44 B.C.E.), to name but one example:

“Certain duties are also to be observed, even towards those who have wronged you; for there is a mean even in revenge and punishments. Nay, I am not certain whether it is not sufficient for the person who has injured you to repent of the wrong done, so that he may never be guilty of the like in the future, and that others may not be so forward to offend in the same manner. Now, in government the laws of war are to be most especially observed; for since there are two manners of disputing, one by debating, the other by fighting, though the former characterises men, the latter, brutes, if the former cannot be adopted, recourse must be had to the latter. Wars, therefore, are to be undertaken for this end, that we may live in peace without being injured; but when we obtain the victory, we must preserve those enemies who behaved without cruelty or inhumanity during the war…”

De Off., I,11,35 [63].

Comparing this quotation of a pagan’s morality with what the famous teacher of Jewish Law, Rabbi Maimonides, wrote more than a thousand years later:

(Positive commandment) 187 The Law of the Seven Nations

By this injunction we are commanded to exterminate the Seven Nations that inhabited the Land of Canaan, because they constituted the root and very foundation of idolatry. This injunction is contained in His words (exalted be He), Thou shalt utterly destroy them. It is explained in many texts that the object was to safeguard us from imitating their apostasy. There are many passages in Scripture which strongly urge and exhort us to exterminate them, and war against them is obligatory.

One might think that this Commandment is not binding for all time, seeing that the seven nations have long ceased to exist, but that opinion will be entertained only by one who has not grasped the distinction between Commandments which are binding for all time and those which are not…

If the Lord completely destroys and exterminates the Amalekites – and may this come to pass speedily in our days, in accordance with his promise (exalted be He) … shall we then say that the injunction thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek is not binding for all time? We cannot say so; the injunction is binding for all time, as long as descendants of Amalek exist, they must be exterminated. Similarly in the case of the Seven Nations, their destruction and extermination is binding upon us, and the war against them is obligatory: we are commanded to root them out and pursue them throughout all generations until they are destroyed completely. [64]

(Negative commandment) 49 Failing to observe the law concerning the Seven Nations

By this prohibition we are forbidden to spare the life of any man belonging to one of the Seven Nations, so that they may not corrupt people and lead them astray into idol-worship. This prohibition is contained in His words (exalted be He), Thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth. To slay them is a positive Commandment, as we have explained in dealing with Positive Commandment 187.

Whoever contravenes this prohibition, by failing to slay any of them whom he could have slain, thereby infringes a Negative Commandment. [65]

Rabbi Telushkin comments on the Torah’s commandment “to wipe out the Canaanite nations“:

“To place the Bible’s aggressive and cruel mode of warfare in context, one must remember that three thousand years ago, this is how wars were fought.


The Bible’s troubling ethics of warfare can perhaps best be explained in terms of monotheism’s struggle to survive. Monotheism started out as a minority movement with a different theology and ethical system than the rest of the world. It expanded and developed because it had one small corner in the world where it could grow unmolested.” [66]

In other words, in order for a religion to survive, entire populations – men, women, children, and infants – had to be mercilessly butchered and exterminated (“pursue them throughout all generations until they are destroyed completely”).

This then, if we are to believe Telushkin, is how a universal standard of morality and ethics was introduced to humanity.


Jewish theologians and cultural historians often claim that their religion was among the first to improve the status of women, and in this context especially the Jewish custom of making a marriage contract, the ketubbah, is mentioned:

“The status of the woman was greatly enhanced by the marriage contract (ketubbah), which provided a considerable payment in the event of her being divorced or widowed.” [67]

Referring to the reforms introduced by Pharisaic Rabbis to Judaism of the first century, Jewish theologian Hyam Maccoby writes:

“An important area of Pharisee reform was in matters relating to the status of women. We have seen already that one humiliating ordeal prescribed for some women by the Bible was suspended, so much so that the status of women in Pharisaic Judaism (contrary to what has often been said) was far higher than that found in Christian countries until very recent times. Thus a married woman, in Pharisaic law, did not lose property rights…

A marriage document, known as the Ketubah, was instituted, stating the rights of the wife in full, and this document, owned by every Jewish wife to this day, guarantees her property rights in all circumstances.” [68]

But as has been observed by a study specializing in research on the position of women in ancient Judaism:

“The ketubbah is cited by many scholars as evidence of an improvement in women’s status during the Second Temple period, as compared to the period of the Bible. A more cautious conclusion is to be preferred…”, [69]

“…the woman, according already to biblical law, cannot be her husband’s heir, nor can a daughter be her father’s heir, except when she has no brothers. (…) Yet the close contact between Jews of the Second Temple period and the neighboring cultures, particularly Roman, in which a daughter was considered an heir on equal footing with a son, gave rise to a sharp controversy between the Pharisees and Sadducees… The Palestinian Talmud also preserves this controversy, and adds: ‘the sages of the Gentiles say: A son and a daughter have equal footing as heirs’ (yBB 8.1, 16a), which precisely identifies the source of the Sadducean [sic!] idea.” [70]

It is therefore interesting to find that even in the cuneiform documents of the ancient Babylonian society of three thousand years ago marriage contracts such as the later Jewish ketubbah were anything else but uncommon. To give but one example:

“Laqipum has married Hatala, daughter of Enishru… Should Laqipum choose to divorce her … he must pay (her) five minas of silver; and should Hatala choose to divorce him [sic!], she must pay (him) five minas of silver. Witnesses: Masa, Ashurishtikal, Talia, Shupianika…” [71]

It may be of further interest to note that roughly two millennia after the conditions of this contract were put down to form this document, a German Jewish Rabbi, Rabbi Gershom, first decreed divorces without the woman’s consent illegal in Jewish societies, the same Rabbi who put a ban on polygamy in the tenth century. [72].

Referring to the ancient Rabbis’ opinions on women the above mentioned study also finds:

“A woman has no wisdom, except in handling her spindle” (Rabbi Eliezer, bYoma 66b).”

“women are gluttonous” (mToh. 7.9; tToh.8.16),

“they give off a strong odor of perspiration (‘she must use perfume’), they have a higher voice (‘her voice is penetrating’)

(all examples from Gen.R.17,8)

The rabbis explained all this differences on the basis of the story of creation, as R.Joshua explained to his disciples (ibid.): women have a bad odor because they were created from flesh and not, like men, from earth…” [73]

In general, according to the Rabbinical writings, women should stay at their homes:

“The rabbis very clear notion, then, was that the tasks to which women should devote themselves are all confined to the house.” [74]

This view is supported by the results of another author’s research:

“As evidenced by the chores prescribed in the Mishnah for wives, women were responsible for guaranteeing that the food eaten, the methods by which it was prepared, were all in accord with rabbinic interpretations of kashrut. They were not necessarily, however, responsible for the food’s purchase, which would have required them to venture out into the public markets,” [75]

which is exactly the reason why famous Jewish historian Josephus Flavius, referring to the Jewish War of 66-70 C.E.,

“…in his description of the siege of Jerusalem, reports that because of the famine men died in the streets but women on the roofs of their houses.” [76]

A similar situation held for the official positions granted to women in religious congregations in ancient Jewish societies, namely the question if there could be women Rabbis:

“Evidence for women’s charismatic leadership in Greco-Roman Jewish communities is virtually nil.” [77]

In contrast, women priests were quite common in non-Jewish ancient societies – Greek and Roman alike:

“Beginning with the Hellenistic period, evidence for women’s cultic offices abounds, not only for traditional Greek and Roman worship, but for new, imported, and transformed cults, including numerous so-called mysteries, and roman emperor worship.” [78]

This, however, is not to say that Jewish women never had the opportunity of fulfilling an important role in Jewish societies of ancient times:

“From Diaspora communities comes the most important evidence for the participation of Jewish women in the public life of Jewish communities, including the synagogue.


But we should be sensitive to the possibility that women’s leadership was particularly likely in Jewish synagogues with relatively high numbers of proselytes (male and female) for whom the participation of women in public life, including religious collegia, was familiar and acceptable,”


which may be the reason why Maccoby, in giving another example of the alleged comparatively high status of women in ancient Judaism names as positions Jewish women held in ancient synagogues not Hebrew titles but the Latin and Greek archisynagogissa (‘head of synagogue’) and presbytera (‘elder’ or ‘member of council’), which were taken from excavations of ancient synagogues. [80]

In any case women priests, or rather, female persons educated as Jewish religious authorities, had to wait another two thousand years, until the 20th century: the first female Rabbi in history was Regina Jonas, whose ordination – the semikha – took place 1935 in Germany (which probably was not a wise thing to do at the time) [81].

To conclude:

“…there is conceivably some relationship between monotheism and the exclusion of women from Jewish and Christian priesthood, an exclusion that carries over to monotheistic Islam as well. When divinity is perceived to be one, and the gender of that divinity effectively presented as masculine in language, imagery, and so forth, perhaps only the sex which shares that gender is perceived as able to perform priestly functions. Conversely among Greeks and Romans both the gods and their clergy came in two genders.” [82]

One Standard of Morality: Widows, Orphans, and Strangers

There is no room here to go into a lengthy discussion of the question how much the Bible actually was the basis for our ethics today. It is obvious that other societies also had developed their own standards of morality, so a few examples should suffice to demonstrate that Telushkin’s claim of the Bible being the very foundation or source of our “universal standard of morality” is at least questionable.

Three thousand years ago, the Babylonian Counsel of Wisdom recommended, apart from worship of various gods:

To the feeble show kindness,

Do not insult the downtrodden,

Do charitable deeds, render service all your days…

Do not utter libel, speak of what is of good report,

Do not say evil things, speak well of people…


Also in Asia of Biblical times such a “standard of morality” can be shown:

“Like Confucius, Mo-tzu (sixth century BCE) believed that everyone in society would flourish, live in peace with one another, and find the happiness they desire, to the degree that they lived in conformity to the t’ien-chih (‘will of heaven’)… Mo-tzu believed that human love should be modelled on the will of Heaven, which, he held, loves everyone equally. Hence, love should be extended to all persons everywhere without distinction. Mo-tzu condemned the ethic of family loyalty as the root cause of all social conflict and warfare [sic!]. In its place he posited the principle of universal love.” [84]

Similarly in the case of the ancient Greek and Roman societies one finds:

“In ancient Greek society charity was synonymous with love (agape), philantropia, eleos, and philoxenia, and it was manifested through benevolent deeds on behalf of those in need… The care of strangers and suppliants was an ethical imperative because such people had been placed under the direct aegis of the divinity. Zeus became known as Xenios, ‘protector of strangers.’ This imperative is expressed in Homer’s Odyssey: ‘Receive strangers regardless of who they may be’; ‘That man is sacred who welcomes a wayfaring stranger.’


Whether for the sake of honor or other motives, much charity was practised in the Roman empire, especially in the alimenta, measures introduced to assist orphans and poor children. Initiated by private philanthropists, the system was adopted by the imperial government after the reign of Nerva (96-98).” [85]

Especially the protection and rights of strangers is often presented as evidence of the impact of Jewish morality on the development of the ethics of today’s Western societies, though we have already seen that such ideas were not uncommon even in ancient pagan Rome and Greece. Writes Telushkin:

“The Biblical rationale ‘for you were strangers in the land of Egypt’ is repeated many times to remind Jews of their obligations to the non-Jews in their midst:

‘You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt’ (Exodus 22:20)” [86]

Here Rabbi Telushkin fails to tell his reader the Hebrew term ger (stranger viz. convert) was understood by the Sages and the Talmud to refer to a proselyte, and thus not referring to a non-Jew at all. Consequently, for a Gentile there are other Hebrew terms, such as nokhri and goy. [87]

Another modern Rabbi put it more bluntly:

[They say] “But the Bible tells us to love the stranger. The Bible declares that there shall be one law for you or the stranger.”

Again, even if it were true that the Hebrew word in the Bible – ger – which is wrongly translated “stranger,” meant the non-Jewish foreigner, of course it would mean that one should not oppress or persecute that non-Jew who is allowed to live in Israel as a ger-toshaw, resident stranger… It does not mean that he must be given the right to be equal politically, a citizen, one who has a say in the character and running of the state.

But more than that, the rabbis make it clear that the general use of the word ger in the Bible refers to what they term a ger tzedek, a gentile who has converted and become a Jew. The warning is not to offend him or treat him in any way differently from the one who was born Jewish. And this is what is expressly stated in the Chinuch (Commandment 63)…” [88]

This is also what Maimonides explicitly had laid down referring to this Commandment:

Positive Commandment 207 Loving the stranger

By this injunction we are commanded to love the stranger. It is contained in His words (exalted be He), Love ye therefore the stranger. Now although the stranger [referred to in this verse] is one who has become a proselyte to Judaism, and as such is included in [the congregation of] Israel – so that His words, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, apply to him – yet because he adopted the Faith, the Lord enjoined more love for him, and added a special Commandment in his behalf… [89]

In contrast, on how to deal with non-Jews, Maimonides had stated, for example:

Positive Commandment 198 Interest

By this injunction we are commanded to exact interest from a heathen to whom we lend money, so as not to help him, but rather to harm him, even in lending money, by demanding interest, which we are forbidden to do in the case of an Israelite… [90]

It is to be noted, however, that many other sources and Rabbis, in disagreement with Maimonides, declare this to be a permission rather than an obligation [91]. Still there is obviously not much love for the non-Jewish stranger in this commandment.

As has already been stated above, Jews often attribute the Golden Rule to the first-century Rabbi Hillel, similar to Christians who attribute it to Jesus:

“Most Christians, and many Jews, believe that the ‘golden rule’ was first formulated by Jesus, not realizing that when the founder of Christianity preached, ‘Love your neighbour,’ he was simply quoting the Hebrew Bible.

In the first century B.C.E., more than a thousand years after the Torah was given, a would-be convert asked Hillel, the greatest Rabbi of his age, to summarize Judaism briefly (literally, ‘while standing on one foot’). Hillel responded with a negative – and perhaps more pragmatic – version of the biblical verse: ‘What is hateful to you, don’t do unto your neighbour. The rest is commentary – now go and study’ (Shabbat 31a).” [92]

Another theologian indicates there is more to be said about the matter:

“Hillel, when asked by a prospective proselyte to sum up the whole of Judaism, answered, What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow-creature [sic!]’ (b.Sabbath 21a). This is a version of the Golden Rule, which is attributed to many Gentile sages of the ancient world…” [93]

Indeed, for instance, we find this same principle also expressed by Confucius (Analects 12,2), Buddha (Dhammapada 10.129-130, which version probably spread from India to Hellenism and was therefore familiar in the cultural environment of Hillel), and, again, Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero:

“Following Panaetius, but as always exercising his own judgement, Cicero actually laid down that the decorum required of a good man was to be found in conduct that met with the approbation of his fellows (de offic. i.99).” [94]


The Jewish conception of the utter evil is the biblical nation of Amalek. The 188th commandment of God, the commandment to exterminate the people of Amalek has already been quoted above. Referring to Amalek, Telushkin writes:

“In Jewish life, the nation of Amalek is the ancient equivalent of the Nazis: Total, merciless enemies of the Jews. The Bible describes the Amalekite attack on the Israelites while they are still wandering in the desert. Rather than confront the Israelites head on, they attack their camp from the rear, where the children and the aged are stationed (Deuteronomy 25:18).

The Amalekites’ cruelty and cowardice in going after the most defenseless Israelites provokes God’s boundless anger at them. He instructs the Hebrews to wipe out the Amalekites whenever the opportunity presents itself. Hundreds of years later, that is precisely the order the prophet Samuel issues to King Saul. Saul defeats the Amalekites in battle, but he does not execute their monarch, King Agag…

…the biblical belief in the Amalekites’ permanent hatred for the Jews is borne out hundreds of years later when Haman, a descendant of King Agag, organizes a genocidal plot to wipe out all the Jews in one stroke…

The eternal animosity that the Torah mandates against Amalek is highly unusual, even inexplicable. The Egyptians had caused the Hebrews more suffering than the Amalekites…” [95]

In accord with the “animosity that the Torah mandates against Amalek,” as we have seen, one of its 613 commandments prescribes the extermination of Amalek. It is even supplemented with an additional commandment to always remember this animosity towards Amalek. As Maimonides put it:

(Positive commandment) 189 Remembering the nefarious deeds of Amalek.

By this injunction we are commanded to remember what Amalek did to us in attacking us unprovoked. We are to speak of this all the times, and to arouse the people to make war upon him and bid them hate him, to that end that this matter be not forgotten, and that the hatred of him not be weakened or lessened with the passage of time. This injunction is contained in His words (exalted be He), Remember what Amalek did unto thee… You see how the prophet Samuel proceeded in fulfilling this Commandment: he first recalled [the wickedness of the Amalekites] in speech, and then gave orders for them to be slain, in pursuance of His words: I remember that which Amalek did to Israel. [96]

Both of these commandments are still applicable today [97]. The latter Commandment is the theological basis for the Torah reading on the Shabbat preceding the well known Feast of Purim. [98]

While Telushkin addresses the problem of the “inexplicable” animosity of God or the Torah against Amalek, he refuses to explain or even to mention several other logical and moral problems. It is true that according to the Bible the “Egyptians had caused the Hebrews more suffering than the Amalekites.”

However, the biblical account (Exodus 17:8-16) gives no evidence for the nefariousness of Amalek’s deed, there is nothing which suggests a comparison of the Amalekites with the Nazis. Were it not for God’s commandment, even Telushkin should agree to the Amalekites’ right to defend themselves from Hebrew invaders intending to conquer their territory (“do not fear the people of the land, for they are no more than bread for us; their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them,” Numbers 14:9).

But even if the Amalekites cowardly and nefariously had attacked the defenseless “children and the aged” as Telushkin writes, does this justify the commandment to “wipe out the Amalekites” generations later? To wipe out defenseless infants and sucklings? God’s commandment to Saul to destroy the Amalekites – and even their animals (“utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey”, 1 Samuel 15:3) – for “that which Amalek did to Israel,” means a punishment for deeds committed by the ancestors of these men and women, children and infants.

Telushkin comments on Saul’s disobedience to God, i.e. sparing the life of King Agag instead of annihilating all the Amalekites:

“Saul was the first king of Israel: Had he obeyed God’s word, the kingdom presumably would have remained in his family… But Saul has a flaw that is fatal in a leader – a desperate need to be liked. He is instructed by the prophet Samuel … to launch an all-out war against Israel’s historic enemy, Amalek, to destroy their property, and to wipe them out. Instead, when the battle ends, Saul rewards his soldiers with the booty… and spares Amalek’s murderous king Agag…

Samuel, outraged … then summons Agag. ‘As your sword has bereaved women,’ he tells the Amalekite king, ‘so shall your mother be bereaved among women.’ Samuel then kills Agag himself (15:33)” [99]

The reader probably agrees with Telushkin that the “eternal animosity that the Torah mandates against Amalek is highly unusual“: the massacre of Amalekite men, women, and children and the murder of the captive king Agag without mention of a trial, all in retaliation for deeds which had occurred generations before. After all, if these atrocities are no reason for Telushkin to express the slightest repugnance, one wonders what in all the world was so terribly wrong with what king Agag may or may not have done: the only difference between the (biblically not mentioned) deeds of the Amalekite king and the actions of Saul and the Israelites was that the latter believed they acted on command of their god.

Likewise, Telushkin apparently does not see a moral problem with Moses’ order to the Israelites to slaughter the Midianite women and male children, the biblical account of which (Numbers 31) has been quoted above. And what is more, these were not even killed in battle, but slaughtered when they were already captives. Similarly the Bible gives many other accounts of atrocities committed by God or the Israelites, which apparently do not trouble Telushkin, for example the death of the firstborn of the Egyptians, including even babies (Exodus 12:29), and the slaughter of those Israelites who had worshipped the Golden Calf (“and each of you kill your brother, your friend, and your neighbor.,” Exodus 32:27), both of which Telushkin mentions without any sign of unease [100]. Yet the moral atrocity of these events should be obvious to anyone feeling the slightest respect for a fellow human being, even to Jewish Rabbi Telushkin.

One is inclined to conclude, therefore, that to Telushkin slaughtering men, women, infants, and babies for the sole reason of their nationality is morally wrong not in itself, but only if not commanded by God.

In other words, when “Haman, a descendant of King Agag,” and thus, according to Jewish tradition in Telushkin’s words the “ancient equivalent of the Nazis“, organized “a genocidal plot to wipe out all the Jews,” there would have been nothing wrong with this, had God issued the corresponding order for him to do so, and all the more so, since the Jews had been given the commandment to exterminate Amalek generations before.

Similarly, to Telushkin, there is nothing wrong with the divine commandment to enter and conquer the land of Canaan, “a land of milk and honey” [101] and to exterminate its population as commanded by God:

“People often wonder why the Israelites wandered through the desert for forty years instead of marching directly from Egypt to Canaan. God’s initial plan is, indeed, to get them into Canaan inside a few months. Toward that end, Moses appoints a delegation of twelve Israelites, the respective leaders of each of the twelve tribes, to go into Canaan and spy out the land… Some of their report is positive. They describe Canaan as beautiful and bountiful… But, they warn, it would be suicidal for the Israelites to try to take over the land; the Canaanites would massacre them.

Two spies, Joshua and Caleb, oppose their colleagues’ report. They assure the people that there is nothing fearsome about the Canaanites. In any case, God is on their side, and they should go up and possess the land immediately.

Unfortunately, Joshua and Caleb convince no one.” [102]

In contrast to Telushkin’s claim, the Torah text does not mention it would have been Canaanites who would have massacred Hebrews:

Numbers 13

And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.
Yet the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified and very large; and besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there.
The Amalekites live in the land of the Negeb; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live by the sea, and along the Jordan.”
But Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once, and occupy it; for we are well able to overcome it.”

To Telushkin apparently neither the Canaanites nor the Amalekites have a right to defend their territory from invaders approaching with the intent not only to conquer their land (“Let us go up at once, and occupy it; for we are well able to overcome it.“) but even to exterminate them.

These intentions later are carried out by the biblical hero Joshua. Telushkin’s comments on the book of Joshua, which tells the story of this gory conquest, give a hint to why the soil of the land of Canaan may be among the most bloodstained in the world even today:

“The book of Joshua does not make for pleasant reading. It is filled with bloody, ruthless battles, as the ancient Hebrews strive to win their land from the Canaanites. Yet the issues facing Joshua are remarkably similar to the issues facing Israel and the Jewish people today: how to secure and maintain a homeland in the face of violent hostility from one’s neighbours.” [103]

The obvious problem of recommending sacred Scriptures such as these and the comparison with the situation of Israel today apparently evades Rabbi Telushkin. Yet it is by no means a coincidence that especially among the religious Jews in Israel, first and foremost among the fundamentalist settler communities, in the occupied territories places are still referred to by their biblical names, such as Judea and Samaria. [104]

Holocaust Theology

Probably no event in Jewish history shook the foundations of Jewish theology more severely than the Holocaust, the murder of about six million Jews by German Nazis in the Second World War. While many Jews remained faithful to their religion,

“[o]ther Jews have concluded that a God who would allow a holocaust to happen either does not exist or is not worthy of being obeyed… Such beliefs have an ironic consequence, as Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim notes. Jews who stop being Jewish as a result of the Holocaust are simply carrying on Hitler’s mission. The Nazi dream was to rid the world of Jews and Judaism. If Jews, therefore, choose to assimilate, they will be posthumously fulfilling Hitler’s dream. In response to the Holocaust, therefore, Fackenheim has formulated what he calls the 614th commandment – in addition to the 613 commandments of the Torah – not to grant Hitler posthumous victories.

On purely logical grounds, Fackenheim’s 614th commandment makes little sense. Whether a Jew affirms or does not affirm Judaism should be based on his or her reaction to Judaism, and not on Hitler’s reaction to Judaism. Another Jewish philosopher, Michael Wyschograd, has criticized Fackenheim. If Hitler had murdered stamp collectors, Wyschograd challenged, would we all be obligated to take up stamp collecting?” [105]

Indeed, this reasoning makes little sense. After all, the question arises: what constituted the Nazis’ moral abomination? That they murdered Jews? Had they been less evil if they had chosen to murder stamp collectors instead? It is no surprise that Jewish sources from the Nazi era show that “the Germans” were viewed as Amalek:

“The German is Amalek (the traditional enemy of the Jewish people).” [106]

But as a consequence of the Holocaust, this experience of genocide, would it not have been a more logical conclusion to remove certain commandments – namely those obliging Jews to commit genocide, such as the commandment to exterminate Amalek – instead of adding a further commandment to the traditional canon?

The Sanctity of Life, and the Authenticity of Jewish Scriptures

The Talmud version of the Golden Rule (Shabbat 31a) has been quoted above. Under the heading Jewish Ethics and Basic Beliefs Rabbi Telushkin refers to another well-known Talmud (more precisely Mishnah) passage:

“One of the most eloquent statements about the value of human life comes from a very odd source: the admonition administered by ancient Jewish courts to witnesses testifying in capital cases. In addition to the expected warnings against perjury, the judges offered a commentary on why God originally populated the world with only one person, Adam. ‘To teach you,’ the witnesses were warned, ‘that whoever destroys one life is considered by the Torah as if he destroyed an entire world, and whoever saves one life is considered by the Torah as if he saved an entire world’ (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5).” [107]

The only problem with this statement of Rabbi Telushkin, which is likely to be affirmed by those who derive their knowledge about Judaism from works intended for the layman, is that this is not what the Mishnah says. We read instead:

“Therefore man was created alone, to teach you that whoever destroys a single Israelite soul is deemed by Scripture as if he had destroyed a whole world.

And whoever saves a single Israelite soul is deemed by Scripture as if he had saved a whole world.” [108]

This discrepancy is addressed by Telushkin:

“In many editions of the Mishnah, the rabbinic admonition has been altered to read: ‘Whoever destroys one Jewish life is considered by the Torah as if he had destroyed an entire world, and whoever saves one Jewish life is considered by the Torah as if he had saved an entire world.’ This change makes no sense since the proof of the infinite value of human life comes from Adam, and Adam was not a Jew.” [109]

Again there are several flaws in Rabbi Telushkin’s explanation.

First, he does not tell his reader why the passage has been altered at all: most Jews living in Europe in the Middle Ages and after had to live under Christian rule, and Christian authorities imposed censorship on the Jewish Scriptures, mostly concerned with blasphemies of Christian doctrine. In many cases, however, the Christian censors forced references to non-Jews to be altered or removed as well:

“Indeed, almost every passage dealing with non-Jews must be suspected of having undergone some change.” [110]

Secondly Telushkin does not say when the Mishnah has been altered, leaving the question open which reading was the original meaning. Obviously Telushkin wants to give the impression that in the original meaning the verse was not limited to an “Israelite soul.” Yet whoever bothers to look up the wording in the sources finds that practically no modern translation claims the universal version to be original [111].

Thirdly, taking into account the context of the passage, Telushkin’s argument that the alleged change of the verse to refer to Jewish lives exclusively, “makes no sense since the proof of the infinite value of human life comes from Adam,” seems to be convincing, as long as other passages of the Talmud in this context and the original Hebrew wording are ignored. Actually the apparent contradiction disappears if one contemplates passages which explicitly classify non-Jews (gentiles) as not human beings (Hebrew adam), e.g. Yebamot 61a, Bava Mesia 114b, Keritot 6b. Other verses, taken in their literal meaning, implicitly lead to the same conclusion, referring to a non-Jewish woman as a she-ass and to gentile authorities as asses (Berakhot 58a). Examples are quoted below.

However that may be, as usual, Rabbi Maimonides, one of the greatest exegetes of the Talmud, has made unmistakably clear the importance of saving a non-Jewish soul in his Mishneh Torah:

“We must not make a covenant with idolaters, to agree on keeping peace with them or accept them practising idolatry, because it says (Deut 7:2) Thou shalt not make a covenant with them. Either they give up idolatry or they are killed. And it is forbidden to pity them, since it says (ibid.): Nor shalt thou shew mercy unto them.

Therefore: If you see a non-Jewish idolater perishing or drowning, you are not to help him; if you see him in danger of life or doomed, you should not save him [sic!]. But to put him to death with your own hands or pushing him down into a pit or the like, is forbidden, in so far as we are not at war with him.

To what sorts of people apply these words? To non-Jews. But in the case of Jewish informers or mînîm (heretics) and `appîqôrôsîm (heretics) it is a Commandment to put such a one to death with your own hands and to push him into the pit of doom, since they bring trouble to Israel and seduce the people from the L[ORD], such like Yeshûa han-Nôçrî and his followers and such like Zadok and Beithos and their followers – May the name of blasphemers rot!” [112]

The Talmud

There probably exist very few introductory works about Judaism which do not cite the famous Talmudic passage (Shabbat 31a) relating the formulation of the Golden Rule – what is hateful to you, do not unto others – as famous sage Hillel said to a would-be convert. [113]

Other Talmud passages are less well known, though the Talmud is the foundation document of the religion Judaism, essential to understand the Torah. Renowned Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner writes:

“The Talmud sets forth, in a single coherent statement, the systematic presentation of the law and the theology of the Torah revealed by God through Moses at Sinai to holy Israel. To understand the religion, Judaism, the Talmud is the starting point and the definitive statement.


What is at stake in Talmud-study is knowledge of God in concrete terms: what does God want of me in the here and now? How does God want our sacred community to form its social order through justice and equity. What we know about God we know through the Torah. And the Torah portrays the life of holy Israel, the supernatural community that in the here and now embodies God’s image of humanity, through the concrete regulation of the just society, living a holy way of life.” [114]

It follows that if one wants to know how God’s image of humanity ensures a holy way of life, and how “the Talmud sets forth the way to the Godly life, in intellect and in practice” [115] to form a social order of “justice and equity,” one has to study the Talmud.

The following quotes are taken from the recent American Translation by Jacob Neusner and other scholars. [116]

Gentiles and non-Jews

The first of the six orders of the Mishnah and hence the Talmudic commentaries, Zera’im, begins with the “most famous tractate in the Talmud,” [117] Berakhot (Blessings), and is a good starting point. Because of the vast amount of the Talmudic writings – thousands of pages – it is impossible to present more than a few highlights.

And R. Hamnuna said, “He who sees a large crowd of Israelites says, ‘Blessed is the one who is wise in knowing secrets.’

“He who sees large crowds of pagans says, ‘your mother shall be ashamed’ (Jer. 50:12).”

Berakhot 9/58A [118]

Our Rabbis have taught on Tannaite authority:

He who sees Israelite graves says, “Blessed is he who has created you in justice, fed you in justice, gathered you in justice, and is going to raise you up in justice.'”


[If one sees] gentile graves, he says, “‘Your mother shall be sore ashamed’ (Jer. 50:12).”

Berakhot 9/58B [119]

Other passages indicate more clearly that the Jewish “sages of blessed memory” [120] did not necessarily regard non-Jews as the subject of equity as prescribed by the holy way of life.

R. Shila administered a flogging to a certain man who had sexual relations with an “Egyptian” [= gentile] woman. The man went and informed against him to the royal government. He said, “There is a man among the Jews who judges cases without royal authorization.” The government sent investigators. When they came, they said to him, “Why did you administer a flogging to that man?”

He said to them, “Because he had sexual relations with a she-ass.”

They said to him, “Do you have witnesses?”

He said to them, “Yes.”

Elijah came and appeared to him in the form of a man and gave testimony.

They said to him, “If that is the case, he surely would be subject to the death penalty!”

He said to them, “As to us, from the day on which we were exiled from our land, we have not had the right to impose the death penalty. But as for you, what you wish, do to him.”


They said, “Are you so solicitous of the honor owing to the government?”

They gave him a sash [of office], saying to him, “You may judge cases.”

When they had left, that man [who had been flogged] said to him, “Does the All-Merciful do miracles for liars?”

He said to him, “Wicked one! Are they not called asses? For it is written, ‘Whose flesh is as the flesh of asses’ (Ez. 23:20).”

[Shila] saw that the man was going to go and report this to them, saying that he had called them asses. [Shila] said, “This man is a persecutor, and the Torah has said that if one comes to kill you, forestall the matters by killing him first [cf. Ex.22:1].”

He hit him with his sash and killed him.

Berakhot 9/58A [121]

In the above – to inexperienced readers probably confusing – excerpt, Elijah appearing “in the form of a man” refers to the dead prophet Elijah descending from heaven (the miracle spoken of).

It has been taught on Tannaite authority:

R. Judah says, “A person must recite three blessings every day: ‘Praised are you, O Lord, who has not made me a gentile,’ ‘Praised are you, O Lord, who did not make me a boor,’ and ‘Praised are you, O Lord, who did not make me a woman’ [T.Ber.6:18A]”.

R. Aha bar Jacob heard his son reciting the blessing, “Praised are you, O Lord, who did not make me a boor.” He said to him, “Arrogance – to such an extent…!”

He said to him, “Then what blessing should one say?”

“…who has not made me a slave.”

“But that is in the same category as a woman anyhow!”

A slave is [44A] worse.

Menahot 4/43B-44A [122]

Such a view of equity of non-Jews is expressed not only by aggadic anecdotes in the Talmud, but can be found in halakhic (legal) passages as well:

It has been taught on Tannaite authority:

And so did R. Simeon b.Yohai say, [61A] “Dirt from the graves of gentiles do not impart corpse uncleanness in a tent: ‘You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are men’ (Ezek. 34:31) – [for the purpose of cultic uncleanness] you are classified as men, but gentiles are not classified as men.”

An objection was raised: “And the persons were sixteen thousand” (Num. 31:40) [Midianites, who are gentiles, are here classified as human beings]!

This is because of the cattle [to which the Midianites are contrasted].

Yebamot 6/60B-61A [123]

R. Joseph considered ruling in regard to that which has been taught on Tannaite authority, “In the case of gentiles and shepherds of small cattle, while one is not obligated to bring them up from a pit [where they have fallen], one must not throw them down into it,” it is permitted to help them up for a fee, because of not wanting to give cause for hatred.

Said to him Abayye, “He may say to him, ‘I have to run to my child, who is standing on a roof,’ or ‘I have to keep an appointment at court.'”

It was taught as a Tannaite version by R. Abbahu before R. Yohanan:
“In the case of gentiles and shepherds of small cattle, while one is not obligated to bring them up from a pit [where they have fallen], one must not throw them down into it. In the case of Minim, quislings and traitors, push them in and don’t help them up.”

Abodah Zarah 2/26A-B [124]

But in every passage in which there is liability to a penalty, it is made explicit, for the opening clause states: Concerning bloodshed, a gentile who kills a gentile, and a gentile who kills an Israelite are liable, but an Israelite who kills a gentile is exempt [T.A.Z.8:5A-B].

In that passage how else might the framer of the passage expressed matters? Could he have said, “It is forbidden..it is permitted…”? [Surely not.]

And has it not been stated on Tannaite authority: Gentiles and shepherds of small cattle and those who raise them make no difference one way or the other [in figuring out whose lost object to seek first] [T. B.M. 2:33A].


But R. Aha the son of R. Iqa says it covers the case of one who withholds the wages of a hired man. A gentile who does so to a gentile, or a gentile who does so to an Israelite, are liable. But an Israelite who does so to a gentile is exempt.

Sanhedrin 7/57A [125]

The rationale for the Talmudic sages’ strong bias against non-Jews has been explained by Jacob Neusner:

“What serves for idolatry is prohibited [to Jews] for use and for benefit. Certain further assumptions about gentiles, not pertinent specifically to idolatry, are expressed. Gentiles are assumed routinely to practice bestiality, bloodshed, and fornication, without limit or restriction.” [126]

Legal Issues

One of the reasons for the vast amount of Talmudic writings is the ancient Sages’ intent to cover every legal aspect of a situation in life:

“What makes the Talmud ‘Talmudic’ is the document’s power to see the complicated sides of a simple situation. Indeed, the more Talmud we learn, the more we realize that nothing is so simple as it seems… Nothing is what it appears to be at the outset. The glory of the Talmud is its power to educate us to the realities of life as it really is – an endless tale, with many turnings.” [127]

Indeed, there is practically no question left unconsidered by the Talmud, as it reflects on “the complicated sides of a situation.” For instance, consider the implications of levirate marriage – the obligation for a Jew to marry his deceased brother’s childless widow [128] – on the following situation (according to the Mishnah a woman can be given in marriage by sexual intercourse [129]):

And said Rabbah, “If someone fell from the roof and hit a woman, he is liable on four counts; if it was his deceased childless brother’s widow [and in falling, he had sexual relations with her], he has not acquired her as his levirate wife; he is liable for the compensation to injury done her, pain, medical expenses, and time lost from work, but not for humiliation, for we have learned in the Mishnah: One is liable on the count of indignity only if he intended [to inflict indignity] [M.B.Q 8:1Z].

Baba Qamma 2/27A [130]


Sometimes one has to read a passage twice to believe what has been written in the Sacred Books of Judaism: what has been decreed the way to a holy life by the “sages of blessed memory… whose words are the natural sounds of Judaism” [131]:

Said Rabbi Joseph, “Come and take note: A girl three years and one day old is betrothed by intercourse. And if a Levir has had intercourse with her, he has acquired her. And one can be liable on her account because of the law prohibiting intercourse with a married woman. And she imparts uncleanness to him who has intercourse with her when she is menstruating, to convey uncleanness to the lower as to the upper layer [of what lies beneath]. If she was married to a priest, she may eat food in the status of priestly rations. If one of those who are unfit for marriage with her had intercourse with her, he has rendered her unfit to marry into the priesthood. If any of those who are forbidden in the Torah to have intercourse with her had intercourse with her, he is put to death on her account, but she is free of responsibility [M.Nid. 5:4].

Sanhedrin 7/55B [132]

R. Nahman bar Isaac said. “They made the decree that a gentile child should be deemed unclean with the flux uncleanness [described at Lev.15], so that an Israelite child should not hang around with him and commit pederasty [as he does].”

For said R. Zira, “I had much anguish with R. Assi, and R. Assi with R. Yohanan, and R. Yohanan with R. Yannai, and R. Yannai with R. Nathan b. Amram, and R. Nathan b. Amram with Rabbi [on this matter]: ‘From what age is a gentile child deemed unclean with the flux uncleanness [described at Lev.15]’? And he said to me, ‘On the day on which he is born.’ But when I came to R. Hiyya, he said to me, ‘From the age of nine years and one day.’ And when I came and laid the matter before Rabbi, he said to me, ‘Discard my reply and adopt that of R. Hiyya, who declared, “From what age is a gentile child deemed unclean with the flux uncleanness [described at Lev.15]? From the age of nine years and one day.”‘

[37A] Since he is then suitable for having sexual relations, he also is deemed unclean with the flux uncleanness [of Lev.15].”

Said Rabina, “Therefore a gentile girl who is three years and one day old, since she is then suitable to have sexual relations, also imparts uncleanness of the flux variety.”

That is self-evident!

Abodah Zarah 36B-37A [133]

The basis for these rulings is the following Mishnaic passage of Tractate Niddah (filth):

A girl three years and one day old is betrothed by intercourse. “A girl three years old may be betrothed through an act of sexual intercourse,” the words of R. Meir. And sages say, “Three years and one day old.”

And if a Levir has had intercourse with her, he has acquired her. And they are liable on her account because of the law prohibiting intercourse with a married woman. And she imparts uncleanness to him who has intercourse with her when she is menstruating to convey uncleanness to the lower as to the upper layer. If she was married to a priest, she eats heave offering. If one of those who are unfit for marriage has intercourse with her, he has rendered her unfit to marry into the priesthood. If one of all those who are forbidden in the Torah to have intercourse with her did so, they are put to death on her account. But she is free of responsibility.

If she is younger than that age, intercourse with her is like putting a finger in the eye.

(Mishnah Niddah 5:4) [134]

Thus, one “of the many important issues worked out in the Mishnah concerns proper conduct with women,” [135] and the “entire society of Judaism – that is, the community formed by the Torah – found in the Talmud those modes of thought and inquiry, those media of order and value, that guided the formation of public affairs and private life as well.” [136]

While it is reassuring to see there was at least some limit as to what the sages would declare holy and moral, this ruling had severe implications on the interpretation of other topics as well. The Tannaïtic Midrash Sifre to Numbers in §157 comments on the above quoted commandment of Moses to kill the Midianite women as well as the male children:

Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that has known a man by sleeping with him.(Num 31:17).

[This] refers to her who has slept with a man as well as her who is suitable for intercourse, even when she has not slept with a man…

But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves. From here R. Shimon b. Yohai used to say: a Proselyte girl who became a proselyte in the age of less than three years and one day, is rendered fit to marry into the priesthood.” [137]

According to the Tannaïte Rabbis, Moses therefore had ordered the Israelites to kill all women older than three years and a day, because they were “suitable for having sexual relations.” [138]

Says the Rabbi…

After reading in the original Jewish sources proper (Tanakh, Talmud, Midrashim etc.), and comparing these texts with modern apologetics, one feels almost relief at another Rabbi’s blunt acknowledgment of the basic contradiction between Judaism and modern values such as democracy and human rights:

“Search if you will, as for leaven on the eve of Passover, and you will never find a Jewish humanist, liberal leader who does not shower us with praise of the Bible and its Judaism of ‘ethics, morality and brotherly love.’

And so, let me suggest a game. It is called: ‘What if?’

It is really a rather simple game. One simply opens the ethical and humanistic Bible and chooses a passage or event. Then, he selects a modern day Jewish leader or leaders, and asks the sublime question: What if? What if they had lived at the time? What would their reaction have been? Such a simple game. And with such momentous implications. Let us begin. What if ?

What if Shimon Peres, the Israeli Knesset, the World Jewish Congress, the Reform Rabbinate, the B’nai B’rith and the Jewish Federations had been in the desert when Moses, fresh from Sinai, declared: ‘Neither shalt thou make marriages with them (the Canaanites); thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son’ (Deuteronomy 7).

Can one even begin to imagine the vitriolic condemnation on the part of all the above-mentioned ‘progressives’ against this racist… decree?

And then, what if they had been in the desert when Pinchas (Phineas) rose out of the congregation: ‘And behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianite woman in the sight of Moses’ (Numbers 25).

The man is Zimri, prince of the tribe of Shimon, leader of Israel, respected, honored, famous. The woman is a gentile, well-born daughter of a King of Midian. He has relations with her – not only a victimless crime, but he may, in fact love her. What is the reaction of Pinchas?

‘And when Pinchas saw it, he rose up from among the congregation and took a javelin in his hand; And he went after the man of Israel into the tent and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly.’

The game becomes more exciting. What if? What if all the above and Alexander Schindler and Shulamit Aloni and Balfour Brickner and Edgar Branfman [politicians in Israel] had been there; what would they have said? What would the rabbi of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue and the head of the World Jewish Congress – humanists and liberals, par excellence – have done? What arises in the hearts and minds of the ethical Jews when Pinchas kills a Jew and a paramour merely because they wish to have adult enjoyment that does no hurt to anyone? What kind of declaration does Balfour deliver of at this gross violation of human rights and base violation of basic tolerance? And what does Edgar – married to the same kind of shiksa (well-born) whom Pinchas thrust through – think as he contemplates that the Bible that sits in every temple, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist or Gay? And which describes all this and G-d’s rewarding of Pinchas for his act. ‘Behold, I give unto him My covenant of peace.’ Reward? Where are the anti-racist, anti-Pinchas demonstrations? And how do the progressives continue to raise high that Torah scroll?

What if?

What if they transported them centuries later to Jerusalem, where, as the Second Temple is being built, Ezra, leader of the Jews, is suddenly told shocking news: Jews are intermarrying! What would Alexander Schindler and Knesset speaker Hillel have said to the following paragons of Jewish morality:

‘For they (the Jews) have taken to their daughters… So that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of the lands’ (Ezra 9).

Holy seed? What kind of racist philosophy is this? … And then, in response to this intermarriage, Nehemia acts: ‘In those days I saw Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, Amnon, and Moab… And I quarreled with them and cursed them and smote certain of them and plucked off their hair…’ (Nehemia 13). Why surely the entire Knesset and Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations would have risen up in fury and created some league Against Racism and Coercion and demanded an immediate anti-racist law had they been there.

The truth is that had they been there, these Jewish leaders of the school of neo-Hellenism and gentilization would have never accepted the Torah, would have never embraced the Judaism of Sinai and of their ancestors. For all that they find abhorrent today in the emphatic war on intermarriage and relations between Jews and gentiles that they call ‘Kahanism’ is really Judaism, pure and simple.


They know, all too well, that Judaism, the faith unto which they were born, is in fundamental conflict with the westernized values to which they have always cleaved and which have become flesh of their flesh.”


Of course, because of his support for Jewish terrorist activities in the modern state of Israel, the author of this excerpt, the late Rabbi Meïr Kahane, is regarded as a fanatical fundamentalist by many of his colleagues [140]. The basic problem, however, is not fanatism, but the fact that a fundamentalist is simply one who takes his Sacred Scriptures literally true, word for word. If such writings do not contain bigoted or evil teachings, no harm will follow.


In view of the fact that in most of history the Jewish people and Jews have been severely persecuted and harassed, first and foremost by Christians and persons raised as Christians – who often justified their actions with the same Bible revered by their victims -, it is almost surprising how much Jewish apologetics resemble those promoted by Christian theologians.

What is presented to the reader as the essential message of Jewish morality is largely a projection of modern, humane and humanistic values on the Scriptural texts, which are quoted very selectively. Like any human product the Sacred Scriptures – as a reflection of the thoughts and environment of their authors – contain both agreeable as well as problematic teachings and morals. Modern theologians consider largely only those verses which do not seem offensive in the light of today’s ethics and value systems, which mainly derive from the era of enlightenment, occasionally even from ancient pagan sources, or are simply values which can be shown to be the basis of many, in other respects vastly different cultures. These selected verses then are claimed to be the essential message of the Sacred text and the religion based upon it, although in many cases the very next verse directly contradicts this picture.

Obviously Jewish theologians can rely on the fact that few lay readers ever bother to look up the original context of the passages they happily quote in support of their claims.

It is true that the “Hebrew Bible has been the most influential book in human history.” [141]

No Jew should be proud of this: there is no historical evidence which suggests human history would have been worse than what it actually was, had there never been a Bible. On the contrary, as Thomas Paine wrote about the Bible:

“It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it as I detest everything that is cruel.” [142]

Sadly, this history of atrocities, humiliations and oppression includes the long and often tragic history of the Jewish people.


The following works are categorized as basic (B), intermediate (I), and advanced (A).

Those marked with (!) are highly recommended.

Dots … in quotes indicate omissions of less than a paragraph, dots in brackets (…) denote omission of at least one paragraph.

All insertions except [sic!] are original unless otherwise indicated.

Works cited

Peter Anthony Brunt, The Fall of the Roman Republic, Oxford: Clarendon Pr. 1988. (A)

Frank Chalk, Kurt Jonassohn, The History and Sociology of Genocide: Analyses and Case Studies, New Haven: Yale 1990. (A)

Francis B. Drohan, Jesus Who? The Greatest Mystery Never Told, New York: Philosophical Library 1985. (B)

Mircea Eliade, (Ed. in chief), The Encyclopedia of Religion, New York : Macmillan 1987f. (I)

Tal Ilan, Jewish Women in Greco-Roman Palestine, Tübingen: Mohr 1995. (A!)

Meïr Kahane, Uncomfortable Questions for Comfortable Jews, Secaucus N.J. 1987. (B!)

Ross S.Kraemer, Her Share of the Blessings. Women’s Religions among Pagans, Jews, and Christians in the Greco-Roman World, New York: Oxford Univ. Press 1992. (I!)

Arnold Krupat, The voice in the margin. Native American Literature and the Canon, Berkeley: Univ. of Calif. Pr. 1989. (A)

W.G.Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature, Oxford 1960. (A)

Pnina Navè Levinson, Einführung in die rabbinische Theologie (Introduction to Rabbinical Theology, German), Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft 1993. (B)

Jacob Neusner, The Way of Torah. An Introduction to Judaism, Fifth Edition, Belmont: Wadsworth 1993. (I)

Jacob Neusner (ed.), World Religions in America. An Introduction, Louisville: Westminster/John Knox 1994. (B)

Jacob Neusner (ed.), Judaism Transcends Catastrophe. God, Torah, and Israel Beyond the Holocaust, Macon: Mercer University 1994-1996. (I)

Jacob Neusner, The Talmud. Introduction and reader, Atlanta: Scholars Press 1995. (I)

Hyam Maccoby, Judaism in the First Century, London: Sheldon 1989. (B)

Hyam Maccoby, Paul and Hellenism, London: SCM Press 1991. (I)

Johann Maier, Friedensordnung und Kriegsrecht im mittelalterlichen Judentum. Dargestellt auf der Basis der Schriften des Maimonides (German), Barsbüttel: Inst. für Theologie und Frieden 1993. (I!)

Stuart Mews (ed.), Shirin Akiner, Religion in Politics. A World Guide, Essex, Harlow: Longman 1989. (B)

Jack Miles, GOD: A biography, New York: Simon & Schuster 1995. (I)

James B.Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, Princeton: Univ. Pr. 1969. (A)

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, Talmud Reference Guide, New York: Random House 1989. (A)

David E.Stannard, American Holocaust. Columbus and the Conquest of the New World, New York: Oxford University Press 1992. (I!)

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy, New York: Morrow 1991. (I)

Hugh Thomas, Conquest. Montezuma, Cortés and the Fall of Old Mexico, New York: Simon & Schuster 1993. (A)


Menachem Stern, Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism, Jerusalem: Israel Acad. of Sciences and Humanities 1974. (A)

K. Lawson Younger, Ancient conquest accounts. A Study in Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical History Writing, Sheffield: JSOT Pr. 1990. (A)

Marcus T.Cicero, Cicero’s Three Books of Offices, or Moral Duties, translated by Cyrus R.Edmonds, London: Bohn 1850. (I)

Primary Sources

The Complete Parallel Bible, New York: Oxford 1993. Quotes were taken from the New Revised Standard Version, as this is based on the Massoretic text “fixed by Jewish scholars (the ‘Masoretes’) of the sixth to the ninth centuries,” ibid., xvi.

Lazarus Goldschmidt, Der Babylonische Talmud (German), Berlin: Calvary 1897-1905; Berlin: Benjamin Harz 1925; Königstein: Jüdischer Verlag (1967) 1981. (A)

Karl Georg Kuhn, Der tannaitische Midrasch Sifre zu Numeri (German), Stuttgart: Kohlhammer 1959. (A)

Moses Maimonides, The Commandments (Sefer ha-Mitzvot) in two volumes, translated by Rabbi Charles Chavel, London: Soncino 1967. (A)

David Blumenthal (ed.) et al, The Talmud of Babylonia. An American Translation, Brown Judaic Studies, Atlanta et al.: Scholars Press 1984ff. (A)

General Overviews

James D.Newsome, Greeks, Romans, Jews, Philadelphia: Trinity Pr. International 1992. (I!)

Geoffrey Wigoder (ed.), The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia, New York: Oxford 1992. (I)


I would like to express my gratitude to several Jewish persons, none of which I will mention by name here, who offered their help in compiling the information in this document.

If there remain errors of any kind they are, of course, mine.


[1] Cited in: Drohan 1985, 245.

[2] Excerpt from a personal e-mail to the author. Rabbi Telushkin writes: “Judaism believes that the purpose of Jewish existence is nothing less than ‘to perfect the world under the rule of God’,” see Telushkin 1991, 549.

[3] Telushkin, 56.

[4] Telushkin, 553.

[5] Such problems for example derive from the Bible’s anthropomorphic conception of God, one of the reasons many ancient pagans rejected Jewish and later Christian conceptions of divinity: “[T]here was something alien to Judaism in the Hellenistic conception of God as an abstract Being, devoid of all categories and emotions, communicating with the world through intermediate agencies, the Logos and emanations. In rabbinic Judaism, God is a Loving Father, feeling emotions of love, anger, and sorrow; and the philosophical problems of reconciling such a God with the Absolute did not worry the rabbis, at least in their main intellectual labours,” (Maccoby 1989, 31). Yet educated pagans often named exactly these philosophical problems as the reason for their rejection of the Jewish-Christian god, e.g. Roman philosopher Celsus in his Alethes Logos, or Pagan Emperor Julian in his Contra Galilaeos, both cited in: M.Stern, Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism, Jerusalem 1974.

[6] Telushkin, 554.

[7] Beginning in the Bible (e.g. Amos 9:8, Micah 3:9-12), where the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. is interpreted as God’s punishment for Israel’s sins (see also Neusner 1993, 17), such a position is stated again in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 102a), the sin of the Jews being the worship of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32:34).

In the 12th century Maimonides wrote (see note [22]):

“…the Lord … rewards him that fulfills the Commandments of the Torah, and punishes him that transgresses them – the greatest reward being that of the World to Come, and the severest mode of punishment being that of [divinely inflicted] extinction [i.e. premature death, illness, war, famine etc.]…” see Chavel 1967, v1, 279, v.II, 346.

Rabbi Chavel on Maimonides’ Positive Commandment 4 (Fear of God):

“The doctrine of Reward and Punishment is thus an integral part of the faith of Israel,” Chavel 1967, 6.

[8] Telushkin, 56, my insertion. See also Chavel 1967, vol.I, p.vii.

[9] Miles 1995, 411f. Telushkin 1991, 24f. See also Maccoby 1989, 3. Tanakh is an acronym for Torah, Nebi’im and Ketubim, Neusner 1993, 19.

[10] Telushkin, 149.

[11] Telushkin 149. See also Maccoby 1989, 41.

[12] Telushkin 149.

[13] Telushkin 120-150. Neusner 1995, 37.

[14] Telushkin 151.

[15] Telushkin 151.

[16] Telushkin 427.

[17] Namely copies of the Vilna edition, see Maccoby 1989, 28.

[18] There is one Sifré to Deuteronomy, as well as one Sifré commenting on Numbers, Neusner 1993, 11.

[19] Telushkin 154.

[20] Telushkin 496. Chavel 1967, v.I, p.viii.

[21] “[E]xclusive authority over Jewish marriage and divorce in Israel was officially recognized by the passing of the Rabbinical Court Jurisdiction Law (1953). The frequent calls for civil marriage and divorce have been rejected on the basis of the SQA (=Status Quo Agreement) and this act, and thus marriage between Jews, religious and non-religious, and non-Jews is not possible in Israel.” Mews 1989, 126.

[22] Moses Maimonides, The Commandments (Sefer ha-Mitzvot) in two volumes, Chavel 1967.

[23] Telushkin, 177, 507. The Thirteen Principles are:

  1. God’s existence
  2. God’s unity
  3. God’s incorporeality
  4. God’s eternity
  5. Against intermediation in worship (prayers should be directed to God)
  6. Concerning prophecy (God communicates with man)
  7. Supremacy of the prophecy of Moses
  8. The Torah is received from Heaven
  9. Immutability of the Torah
  10. Omniscience of providence (God knows man’s thoughts and deeds)
  11. Reward and punishment
  12. The coming of the Messiah
  13. Resurrection (the dead will live again)

See also Chavel 1967, v.II, 367, 373.

[24] Telushkin 549.

[25] Telushkin 506.

[26] Telushkin 506.

[27] For example: Dennis Prager, Joseph Telushkin, The nine questions people ask about Judaism, New York: Simon and Schuster 1981. Style and argumentation of this book are comparable to publications of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

[28] Telushkin 24.

[29] Telushkin 57. Emphasis original.

[30] The Testimony of Truth (IX, 3), 47-8, cited in Maccoby 1991, 22.

[31] For example: Jacob Neusner, How through Halakha Judaism Sets Forth its Theology and Philosophy, Atlanta: Scholars Press 1996, 82f.

[32] Julian Apostata, Contra Galilaeos, 171E,155C-155D, cited in Stern 1974. My insertion in [  ].

[33] Telushkin 27.

[34] Chavel 1967, v.I, 202. The biblical reference to Amalek is Deuteronomy 25:19 and I Samuel 15:2-3. The Sifré reference (§296) has only the extermination of Amalek, however, this quote is found in the Talmud, e.g. Sanhedrin 20b.

[35] Maier 14f., 22, 25f., 48-59.

[36] Telushkin 635.

[37] Telushkin 55.

[38] Julian Apostata, Contra Galilaeos, 152B-152D, cited in Stern 1974.

[39] Telushkin 496. Emphasis original.

[40] Telushkin 634f. Emphasis original, my insertion.

[41] For example Pos. Commandments 146, 149, 150, Neg. Commandments 181, 184, 185. Sifré Deut., §75f., Talmud Tractate Hullin.

[42] The only possible exception I found was the prohibition to eat a limb from a living animal (Neg. Commandment 182), see Chavel 1967, vol.II, 179. Also not surprisingly, none of the sources I consulted has the term pain in the index.

[43] T.Zahavy, The Talmud of Babylonia, vol.XXX.A, Tractate Hullin, Atlanta: Scholars Press 1992, 168.

[44] Ibid., 170. My emphasis.

[45] Ibid., vol.XXX.B, 184. My insertion.

[46] Telushkin 44f. Emphasis original.

[47] Telushkin 58.

[48] Telushkin 37, referring to what Jews call the Binding of Isaak or the Akedah, Genesis 22.

[49] Telushkin 69.

[50] Telushkin 552. Emphasis original.

[51] Neg. Commandment 263 Selling a captive woman

“By this prohibition it is forbidden to sell a woman of goodly form [taken captive in war] after [her captor] has had intercourse with her at the time of the capture of the city [sic!], as is explained in its proper place…”

(Chavel 1967, vol.II, 249).

[52] Telushkin 70. Emphasis original.

[53] The ancient Hebrews were only one of many cultures in the ancient Near East among which genocide was a common and divinely approved goal in warfare. An excellent overview of such cultures is given by Younger, 1990.

[54] Chalk/Jonassohn 1990, 8-9. See also: Raphael Lemkin, Genocide as Crime Under International Law, in: American Journal of International Law, Vol.41, 1947, no.1, 145ff.

[55] Thomas 1993, 71f. Cf. Joshua 6:20.

[56] Krupat 1989, 146. My insertion.

[57] Stannard 1992, 113f.

[58] Ibid., 111.

[59] Ibid., 114.

[60] Ibid., 113.

[61] Ibid., 114.

[62] Ibid., 111.

[63] Cicero, De Off., I,11,34-35 (34) Sunt autem quaedam officia etiam adversus eos servanda, a quibus iniuriam acceperis. Est enim ulciscendi et puniendi modus. Atque haud scio an satis sit eum, qui lacessierit iniuria suae paenitere, ut et ipse ne quid tale posthac et ceteri sint ad iniuriam tardiores. Atque in re publica maxime conservanda sunt iura belli. Nam cum sint duo genera decertandi, unum per disceptatione, alterum per vim, cumque illud proprium sit hominis, hoc beluarum, confugiendum est at posterius, si uti non licet superiore.

(35) Quare suscipienda quidem bella sunt ob eam causam, ut sine iniuria in pace vivatur, parta autem victoria conservandi ii, qui non crudeles in bello, non inmanes fuerunt.

English translation quoted in: Cicero’s Three Books of Offices, or Moral Duties, translated by Cyrus R.Edmonds, London: Bohn, 1850, 20f.

[64] Chavel 1967, v.I, 200f. The Bible references are Deuteronomy 20:17 and 25:19.

This obligation is commented by Rabbi Chavel:

This Commandment … will be better understood in the light of the following passage from the ‘Mishneh Torah’: ‘We are not to engage in war with anyone whatever unless we [first] proclaim peace to him; [this is applicable to both] an optional and an obligatory war; for it is said, When thou drawest nigh a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it (Deut XX, 10). If [the inhabitants] accept the offer of peace… we are not to slay a soul among them, and they merely become tributary, for it is said, [All the people … therein] shall become tributary unto thee, and shall serve thee‘.” (Ibid.)

In other words, if the city’s inhabitants object to being enslaved, they have to be slain nevertheless. Also sparing their life directly contradicts Negative Commandment 49 (see note [65]).

[65] Chavel 1967, v.II, 47f.

[66] Telushkin 69.

[67] Epstein 1927, cited in Eliade 1987f., v.6, 169.

[68] Maccoby 1989, 56. See also note [128].

[69] Ilan 1995, 91.

[70] Ibid., 167.

[71] Pritchard 1969, 543.

[72] Telushkin 178f.

[73] Ilan 1995, 186.

[74] Ibid., 186.

[75] Kraemer 1992, 97.

[76] Ilan 1995, 133. It is to be favorably mentioned, that Rabbi Telushkin does not hide the fact that this famine was not the (direct) consequence of the Roman siege:

“In expectation of a Roman siege, Jerusalem’s Jews had stockpiled a supply of dry food that could have fed the city for many years. But one of the warring Zealot factions burned the entire supply, apparently hoping that destroying this ‘security blanket’ would compel everyone to participate in the revolt,” see Telushkin 1991, 135.

[77] Kraemer 1992, 123.

[78] Ibid., 84.

[79] Ibid., 117-123.

[80] Maccoby 1989, 61.

[81] Levinson 1993, 127.

[82] Kraemer 1992, 197.

[83] Lambert 1960, 101.

[84] Eliade 1987, v.9, 32.

[85] Eliade 1987, v.3, 223-224.

[86] Telushkin 502.

[87] Telushkin, 624f. Incidentally, evidence of this can be found in Telushkin’s own text:

“The word for convert in Hebrew is ger (plural gerim),” see Telushkin, 625. See also articles GER and GENTILE in: Wigoder 1992.

[88] Kahane, 172f. My Insertion.

[89] Maimonides, Sefer ha-Mitzvot, ed. Chavel 1967, v.I, 222.

[90] Ibid., v.I, 213.

[91] Chavel 1967, v.I, 213.

[92] Telushkin 62f.

[93] Maccoby 1989, 120.

[94] Brunt 1988, 307.

[95] Telushkin 51f.

[96] Chavel v.I, 203. The Bible references are Deuteronomy 25:17 and 1 Samuel 15:2.

[97] Chavel 1967, v.II, 349f.

[98] Chavel 1967, v.I, 203.

[99] Telushkin 74f.

[100] On Exodus 12:29: Telushkin 49f. The death of Egypt’s firstborns is not commented upon unfavorably by Telushkin. Yet that God later “punishes Moses and forbids him to enter Israel” for a minor offense “seems disproportionate,” (ibid., 46).

On Exodus 32:27, Telushkin 58.

[101] Telushkin 64.

[102] Ibid. Emphasis original.

[103] Telushkin 68f.

[104] For an overview of these fundamentalist groups see: R.Mergui, P.Simonnot: Israel’s Ayatollahs. Meir Kahane and the Far Right in Israel, London 1987.

[105] Telushkin 387.

[106] Eliezer Berkovits, Confrontation -the Ultimate Issue, cited in Neusner 1994-1996, vol.I, 130.

[107] Telushkin 529.

[108] J.Neusner, The Talmud of Babylonia, vol.XXIII.B, Tractate Sanhedrin, Chico: Scholars Press 1984, 35. This edition has a misprint “…whoever saves a single Israelite sould” (sic).

[109] Telushkin 529f. Emphasis original.

[110] Steinsaltz 1989, 50.

[111] For example the following versions, apart from the one quoted:

  • The Babylonian Talmud, transl. by Jacob Shachter, Soncino edition, London: Oxford University Press 1935, 234.

    Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5: “…whosoever destroys a single soul of Israel, Scripture imputes [guilt] to him as though he had destroyed a complete world; and whosoever preserves a single soul of Israel, Scripture ascribes [merit] to him as though he had preserved a complete world.”
  • Der Babylonische Talmud, German translation by L.Goldschmidt, Berlin 1925, vol.VII, 149f.

    Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5: “…dass wenn jemand eine jisraélitische Seele vernichtet, es ihm die Schrift anrechnet, als hätte er eine ganze Welt vernichtet, und wenn jemand eine jisraélitische Seele erhält, es ihm die Schrift anrechnet, als hätte er eine ganze Welt erhalten.”
  • Talmud Bavli, The Schottenstein Edition, New York: Mesorah Publications 1993, 37a.

    Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5: “…that whoever destroys a single life from Israel is considered by Scripture as if he had destroyed an entire world; and that whoever preserves a single life from Israel is considered by Scripture as if he had preserved an entire world.”
  • J.Neusner, The Talmud of Babylonia. An Academic Commentary, vol.XXIIIA, Atlanta: Scholars Press 1996, 183.

    Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5: “Therefore man was created alone, to teach you that whoever destroys a single Israelite soul is deemed by Scripture as if he had destroyed a whole world. And whoever saves a single Israelite soul is deemed by Scripture as if he had saved a whole world.”
  • J.Neusner, The Talmud of Babylonia. A Complete Outline, Part IIIB, Atlanta: Scholars Press 1995, 482.

    Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5: “Therefore man was created alone, to teach you that whoever destroys a single Israelite soul is deemed by Scripture as if he had destroyed a whole world. And whoever saves a single soul [sic!] is deemed by Scripture as if he had saved a whole world.”
  • The Mishnah, trans. by Herbert Da nby, London: Oxford University Press 1933, 388.

    Sanhedrin 4:5: “…if any man has caused a single soul to perish from Israel Scripture imputes it to him as though he had caused a whole world to perish; and if any man saves alive a single soul from Israel Scripture imputes it to him as though he had saved alive a whole world.”

[112] Moses Maimonides, Mishneh Torah (The Book of Knowledge), Abodah zara X,1. Quoted in Maier 1993, 85. My translation.

See also Moses Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, Brooklyn/New York: Moznaim 1990, 184:

“Accordingly, if we see an idolater being swept away or drowning in the river, we should not help him. If we see that his life is in danger, we should not save him. It is, however, forbidden to cause one of them to sink or push him into a pit or the like, since he is not waging war against us. To whom does the above apply? To gentiles. It is a mitzvah, however, to eradicate Jewish traitors, minnim, and apikorsim, and to cause them to descend to the pit of destruction, since they cause difficulty to the Jews and sway the people away from God, as did Jesus of Nazareth and his students, and Tzadok, Baithos, and their students. May the name of the wicked rot.”

[113] Two examples have already been quoted above, see Notes [92], [93]. Further examples: Neusner 1993, 50. Neusner 1994, 162.

[114] Neusner 1995, 1ff.

[115] Ibid., 2.

[116] David Blumenthal et al., The Talmud of Babylonia. An American Translation, Brown Judaic Studies, Atlanta & Chico: Scholars Press 1984ff.

[117] Telushkin, 151.

[118] J.Neusner, The Talmud of Babylonia, vol.I, Tractate Berakhot, Chico: Scholars Press 1984, 389. The theological rationale for these and similar passages is the ancient Rabbis’ opinion that pagans and heathens were not born holy, i.e. offspring of a valid Jewish marriage.

[119] Ibid., 393f.

[120] Ibid., vol.XXI.A-D, Tractate Bava Mesia, Atlanta: Scholars Press 1990, p.ix. See also vol.XIII.B, Tractate Yebamot, 155.

[121] Ibid., vol.I, Tractate Berakhot, Chico: Scholars Press 1984, 391f.

[122] Ibid., vol.XXI.D, Tractate Menahot, Atlanta: Scholars Press 1991, 29f. Emphasis original.

[123] Ibid., vol.XIII.B, Tractate Yebamot, Atlanta: Scholars Press 1992, 132f. Emphasis original.

[124] Ibid., vol.XXV.A, Tractate Abodah Zarah, Atlanta: Scholars Press 1991, 118. Emphasis original.

[125] Ibid., vol.XXIII.B, Tractate Sanhedrin, Chico: Scholars Press 1984, 159.

[126] Ibid., vol.XXV.A, Introduction to Tractate Abodah Zarah, 3. My insertion.

[127] Neusner 1995, 45.

[128] This refers to what Maimonides counted as

Pos. Commandment 216 The Law of Levirate Marriage

“By this injunction we are commanded that a brother-in-law must take to himself the widow of his brother who has died without leaving any offspring…”

But even since ancient times this was no longer obligatory:

Pos. Commandment 217 Chalitzah

“By this injunction we are commanded that a deceased brother’s wife is to perform Chalitzah (i.e. taking off the shoe) on her brother-in-law, if he will not marry her…”

(Chavel 1967, vol.I, 231f.)

[129] J.Neusner, The Talmud of Babylonia, vol.XIX.A Tractate Qiddushin, Atlanta: Scholars Press 1992, 5.

Mishnah Qiddushin 1:1

A woman is acquired [as a wife] in three ways, and acquires [freedom for] herself [to be a free agent] in two ways.

She is acquired through money, a writ, or sexual intercourse.

[130] J.Neusner, The Talmud of Babylonia, vol.XX.A, Tractate Baba Qamma, Atlanta: Scholars Press 1992, 111.

[131] Ibid., vol.XXI.A-D, Tractate Bava Mesia, Atlanta: Scholars Press 1990, p.ix-x.

[132] Ibid., vol.XXIII.B, Tractate Sanhedrin 1984, 150. See also vol.XIX.A, Tractate Qiddushin 10a-b, 1992, 33. “Menstruating” here of course refers to the ritual “flux uncleanness” described in Lev.15.

[133] Ibid., vol.XXV.A, Tractate Abodah Zarah, 1991, 168. Emphasis original.

[134] J.Neusner, The Talmud of Babylonia. A complete outline, Part IV. The Division of Holy Things. B. Number 37. 1995, 704.

[135] Neusner 1993, 41.

[136] Neusner 1995, 7.

[137] Kuhn 1959, §157, 652f. My translation. In general, proselytes are not allowed to marry into the priesthood.

[138] Ibid., §157, footnote 86, 653.

[139] Kahane 1987, 172f. Emphasis original, my insertion in [ ] Shiksa is a Hebrew term for a non-Jewish (generally Christian) woman.

[140] See note [104].

[141] See note [28].

[142] Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason. Part I, Chapter VII.

Copyright © 1997 Guido G.B. Deimel. All rights reserved.

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