Jan Peczkis: Analysis of the Talmud

From: “Peczkis, Jan”
Date: August 24, 2015 11:15:40 AM PDT (CA)
To: Piotr Bein
Subject: The Stars Created Only for the Jews

Piotr,

​In my studies of the Talmud, I follow a Judeo-realist approach, which avoids the extremes of anti-Semitism and philo-Semitism.

I do not rely on anti-Semitic books on the Talmud. Instead, I study Jewish scholarly works on the Talmud, and read for myself the Online Babylonian Talmud (Soncino edition).

In addition, I include Jewish apologetic works on the Talmud so that I know how Jews interpret the Talmudic verses, and also that I give a hearing to the Jewish side of the story so that I could evaluate it.

JP

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My review is based on the original 1921 edition. Talmudic scholar Abraham Cohen provides the reader with the entire Tractate Berakot in a handy single volume, and provides brief notes and commentary. This is in the form of small side-notes and brief footnotes. As told by the author, the Tractate commonly features feasts and benedictions. I focus on a few salient topics of lasting interest.

By way of introduction, Cohen comments (quote) The Rabbis were not only theologians; they were principally ecclesiastical lawyers. This was necessarily so, because Rabbinic Judaism aimed at controlling the whole life of its adherents. (unquote). (p. xxix).

BERACHOT 32b

The following series of passages is quoted in its entirety so that the reader can see the full context. (Quote) “But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and the Lord hath forgotten me” (Is. xlix. 14). But a woman forsaken is the same as a woman forgotten! R. Simeon b. Lakish said: The community spake before the Holy One, blessed be He, “Lord of the universe! Should a man marry a woman after his first wife, he remembers the deeds of the first; but Thou has forsaken me and forgotten me!” The Holy One, blessed is He, replied, “My daughter, twelve constellations have I created in the firmament, and for each constellation I have created thirty hosts, and for each host I have created thirty legions, and for each legion I have created thirty files, and for each file I have created thirty cohorts, and for each cohort I have created thirty camps, and in each camp I have suspended three hundred and sixty-five thousands myriads of stars, in accordance with the days of the solar year, and all of them have I only created for thy sake; and yet thou sayest, “Thou hast forsaken me, Thou hast forgotten me”! “Can a woman forget her sucking child (ULAH)?” (Is. xlix. 15). (unquote). (pp. 216-217). [The online Babylonian Talmud (Soncino Edition) is very similar in these verses, with Berakoth 32b including the following wording: ….and all of them I have created only for thy sake…]

ANALYSIS OF BERACHOT 32b

In dealing with controversial passages in the Talmud, I follow a Judeo-realist approach. In doing so, I try my best to avoid the extremes of anti-Semitism (making false or unsubstantiated accusations against Jews) and philo-Semitism (treating Jews as incapable of wrong thinking or action.). That is where I stand. Take it or leave it.

The biblical passages quoted above, Isaiah 49:14-15, present a beautiful picture of God being no more capable of forgetting the Jewish people than a mother would be capable of forgetting her nursing child. They are more than sufficient to capture the essence of God’s unending care for the Jewish people. The Talmudic statement, quoted above, and which is inserted between the quote of Isaiah 49:14 and Isaiah 49:15, is something quite different. It clearly elevates the Jews, to a supreme position, above all other peoples.

For a Jewish analysis of Berachoth 32b, see Judaism as a Civilization: Toward a Reconstruction of American-Jewish Life, and read my detailed review (of March 12, 2015). The conclusion of this analysis can be summarized as follows: In the Old Testament, God does not specify His reasons for creating the Earth and the stars. Consequently the notion, of God creating the Earth and the stars for the Jews, is recognizably a groundbreaking excursion of Jewish Chosenness.

There are other implications. To believe that “Jews are the Chosen people” means that Jews have the duty of obeying 613 Laws (p. xxxiv), while Gentiles only have to obey the 7 Noahide Laws, is one thing. To believe that “Jews are the Chosen people” means that God had created the stars exclusively for the Jews, is quite another. It partakes of Jewish elitism, and means that Jewish Chosenness now involves the bestowing of expansive privileges to the Jews.

In addition, the “Stars were created for the Jews, and only for the Jews” notion is racist on its face. Imagine a white supremacist suggesting that God created the stars for white people, and only for white people. The creation of the stars exclusively for the Jews does not shed its racist character merely by being presented as an expression of God’s care for the Jews, any more than its Caucasian counterpart would shed its racist character by being presented as an expression of God’s care for white people.

Moreover, Berachoth 32b is no isolated instance of Jewish supremacist thinking, even solely in terms of God’s creative acts. It follows a theme, in rabbinical literature, wherein Jews are portrayed as effectively the Master Race in that everything that God had created (not only the stars), He had explicitly created for the Jews. For more on this, please click on, and read my detailed review, of Abraham Cohen’s Everyman’s Talmud: The Major Teachings of the Rabbinic Sages (My review was posted July 29, 2015).

BERAKOTH 58a

The following series of passages is quoted in its entirety so that the reader can see the full context. (Quote) R. Shela flogged a certain man who had had intercourse with a gentile woman; so he went and laid a charge against him before the king, saying, “There is a certain Jew who judges without the king’s consent.” The king sent an official for him [to appear]. When R. Shela came he was asked, “For what reason didst thou flog this person?” He replied, “Because had had intercourse with a she-ass.” They said to him, “Hast thou witnesses?” He answered, “Yes.” Elijah came in human guise and gave evidence. (unquote). (p. 382).

Author Abraham Cohen points out that some versions substitute “Egyptian” for “gentile” out of fear of the Censor. (p. 382). Otherwise, the online Babylonian Talmud (Soncino Version) is very similar as per these verses.

A comparable juxtaposition of gentiles and donkeys can be found in Berachot 25b, and elsewhere in the Talmud. Clearly, this is part of a consistent pattern, and it therefore cannot be said that some rabbinical author had merely misspoken, had uttered words in anger, had merely been giving his personal opinion, or had been misread.

ANALYSIS OF BERAKOTH 58a

To learn how Jews actually understand these verses, I have examined the online Talmud apologetic, “The Real Truth About the Talmud”, specifically the “Gentiles Are Human” article therein.

The author of the apologetic tells us of Talmudic passages that indicate that gentiles are fully human. His argument assumes NV [see first comment] which, if valid, only dispenses with the literal aspects of the donkey-GOYIM equation.

The author of the apologetic states that the cross-reference to Ezekiel 23:20, on the “flesh of donkeys”, had been broadened to refer to all gentiles. However, he not explain why this had been done by the rabbis.

The apologist’s analysis relies, in part, to the ideas of Talmudic scholar R. Chaim Soloveitchik. It would essentially have us believe that the passages were only intended to teach us that Jews and gentiles are maritally and sexually incompatible, and that a Jewish-gentile union has no legal standing in Jewish law.

This apologetic confuses the issue, which is not the inappropriateness of Jew-gentile marital unions, but is something quite different–the conflation of gentiles and donkeys. Besides, the rabbinic author was perfectly capable of expressing his objection to Jewish-gentile marriages without dragging the donkey-GOY equation into the picture.

Surely the rabbis who repeatedly equated GOYIM and the animals, throughout the Talmud, were fully cognizant of the fact that the juxtaposition of humans with animals is derogatory in nature. Even a child would know that!

The racist antigoyism is palpable, and is inescapable. Imagine the white racialist objecting to interracial marriage by saying that a white marrying a black is comparable to a white marrying a donkey. In addition, the racist character of the equation is unchanged by the fact that it is framed in terms of its non-literalness, and in terms of the opined unique value of white-on-white marriages, or the lack of standing of white-black marriages.

The issue is clear: The preservation of Jewish distinctiveness is one thing. A condescending attitude towards non-Jews is quite another.

MENTIONS OF CHRISTIANITY IN TRACTATE BERAKOTH

Although he does not go into any detail on this subject, Talmudic scholar Abraham Cohen parts ways with those who say that the Talmud has nothing to say about Christianity. He also validates the work of R. T. Herford, CHRISTIANITY IN TALMUD AND MIDRASH, by referring to its identifications of often-Censored allusions to Christianity in Tractate Berakot. (p. 113 [referring to 17a] and 189 [referring to 28b]). He also mentions Berakoth 7a, without relying on Herford, as alluding to Christianity. (p. 37).

Cohen also rejects those who say that MIN/MINIM never refers to Christians. Based again on Herford, he defines the term as follows, (quote) A heretic, especially the early Jewish-Christian. (unquote). (p. 429).

Let us examine some common exculpatory statements regarding the Talmud. In doing so, I directly apply same standards, to the Talmud, that Jewish critics regularly apply to the New Testament. Also note the “blank check” arguments. These are facile arguments that are meaningless because they can apply to almost anyone. Or they are facile because they can be freely invoked to explain away any unwelcome verse.

(BV)-Binding Verses-The argument that certain verses are non-binding. Even so, they are still part of rabbinical literature, and they are still available to animate the thinking of the Jew who reads them. The argument can also be turned around: The charge of Deicide is non-binding to the Christian. It is not part of Catholic dogma, and it is not even a significant portion of Christian theology.

(CV)-Contextualized Verses-The argument that the Talmud was written over 1,500 years ago, and in a very different cultural context from today. Exactly the same holds for the NT (New Testament). What matters is the impact of the verses long after they were written, and even into fairly recent times.

(DV)-Diluted Verses-The argument that the GOY-unfriendly verses in the Talmud are diluted into insignificance because of their infrequent occurrence relative to the bulk of the Talmud (e. g., a “few controversial verses” out of 2,700 pages of Talmudic texts.) The Jew-unfriendly verses in the NT are hardly diluted into insignificance by the fact that only a fraction of 1% of the NT text is critical of Jews.

(IV)-Injustices Verses-The argument that certain verses in the Talmud were written as a reaction to Jews facing injustices or persecution. It is a “blank check”. Virtually all peoples, at one time or another, had been wronged!

(LV)-Literal and Nonliteral Verses-The argument that GOY-unfriendly verses in the Talmud are nonliteral. How can non-literalness be proved? Another “blank check” argument. In addition, racist fiction is still racist, and it just as much communicates a racist message as does racist nonfiction. Finally, the argument that Talmudic usage is often non-literal is a double-edged sword. If GOY-unfriendly verses are, or can be, nonliteral, then so also the GOY-friendly verses are, of can be, nonliteral.

(MV)-Minority Viewpoint Verses–The argument that certain viewpoints in the Talmud are minority viewpoints. Yet the Talmud is full of majority and minority viewpoints, and the minority viewpoint is freely and authoritatively juxtaposed with the majority viewpoint. The minority viewpoint is not invalidated just because it is the minority viewpoint. Moreover, the inclusion of the minority viewpoint in the Talmud shows that it was a legitimate viewpoint for discussion and debate: It was not something that was to be dismissed out of hand. Finally, the minority viewpoint still enjoys authority and prestige by the very fact that it is enshrined in the Talmud.

(NV)-Nullifying Verses-The argument that the GOY-unfriendly verses in the Talmud are nullified by the GOY-friendly verses therein, and that the Jewish racist verses in the Talmud are nullified by the Jewish universalist verses therein. However, verses are not electrical charges, wherein one positive charge nullifies one negative charge, and vice-versa. The Jew-unfriendly verses in the NT are not nullified by the Jew-friendly verses in the NT.

(OV)-Opinion Verses-The argument that certain verses in the Talmud are simply the private opinions of the author, and have no further significance. Who determines this? In addition, the (OV) is a facile argument, as it implies mind-reading knowledge of the author’s intentions, and it, too, is a “blank check”. Moreover, many Jewish supremacist and anti-GOY statements in the Talmud follow a THEME, ruling out personal opinions.

(PV)-Polarization Verses-The argument that certain verses in the Talmud were put there simply there to protect Judaism from paganism and from Christianity. Exactly the same can be said about the NT Jew-hostile verses-as a protection from conventional Judaism. The (PV) is another “black check”.

(SV)-Situational Verses-The argument that certain verses in the Talmud are only applicable to the narrow circumstance under which they were written, and mean nothing more. Who determines this? We are asked to believe that a narrowly-tailored singularity has arbitrarily been recorded for posterity in the Talmud. The (SV), too, is a “blank check” argument.

(TX)-Toxic Verses-The argument that the Jew-hostile verses in the NT are so egregious that they only do harm, no matter how they are qualified or interpreted. If so, then the same can be said about Talmudic antigoy verses.

By piotrbein

https://piotrbein.net/about-me-o-mnie/