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July 17, 1992 - Image 40

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1992-07-17

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

PURELY COMMENTARY

Disputations Become
Lessons For Crises

YAD EZRA

PHILIP SLOMOVITZ

Editor Emeritus

feeaV the Iew/k /*fi n

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FRIDAY, JULY 17, 1992

h"--

T

his decade of many
problems as
challenges to
mankind, and especially to
our nation, beckons us to
learn from the tests of time.
We could give emphasis to
the racial dilemmas, the
economics, the accusations
among the ambitious polit-
ical aspirants. There is no
limit to the issues and
uncertainties that make up
the testing and challenging.
There is the rapidly
multiplying evidence of
growing anti-Semitism, the
oppressive tensions which
cause agonies unmatched by
any other decade since
World War II. There is
strong hope that the causes
of all troubles will not be ig-
nored.
It is normal to believe that
the lessons of the centuries
will be taken into considera-
tion. The many factors com-
pel asking questions as we
search for answers. That's
where the lessons of the past
become especially valuable.
In relation to anti-
Semitism, what we have
learned in the testing
becomes compellingly
significant. In the Jewish
records of refusing to submit
to inequalities, the threats
to our people's very exis-
tence, we have had long
periods of disputations
which had remarkable accla-
im. They were in adherence
to and in defense of religious
rights. Because of their
demands for justice, we must
treat them as applicable.
The tests that come in the
threats on Jews to abandon
faith and to yield to oppres-
sion are quite compelling. In
his remarkably definitive
Jewish Concepts, Dr. Philip
Birnbaum provided us the
necessary text for such
studies. His "Disputations"
must be given priority
among the revelations in our
historiography. We are in-
debted to him for the follow-
ing:
Disputations between
Jews and non-Jews were
frequent in ancient and
medieval times. The
talmudic-midrashic
literature contains ex-
amples of disputations bet-
ween Jews and adherents
of various religions. The
friendliness and good
humor of these religious
discussions, at a later

period, gave way to
remorseless fanaticism
that was directed not only
against Jews and Judaism
but also against Jewish
literature. In the middle of
the thirteenth century, 24
carloads of copies of the
Talmud were burned in the
public square of Paris. A
generation later, a con-
verted Jew by the name of
Pablo Christiani induced
the king of Aragon to com-
pel Rabbi Moses Nahman-
ides (Ramban) to join him
in a public disputation.
Nahmanides' disputation
with Pablo, which took
place at Barcelona in 1263
and lasted four days, con-
cerned chiefly the Jewish
concept of the Messiah. It
was debated, in the

The tests that
come in the threats
on Jews to
abandon faith and
to yield to
oppression are
quite compelling.

presence of the king and
many dignitaries, whether
the Hebrew prophets had
predicted a Messiah of
divine or human birth, and
whether the Messiah had
or had not already ap-
peared. Nahmanides de-
clared that he could not
believe that the Messiah
had come as long as the
promised cessation of all
warfare had not been
fulfilled.
Nahmanides had little
difficulty in demonstrating
Pablo's misinterpretations.
Although he had been
promised immunity and
the right of free expression
in the course of the debate,
Nahmanides was soon
summoned before the
king's court again and
tried for blasphemy. He
was condemned to two
years' exile, and his ac-
count of the contest, which
he had written for the
bishop of Gerona, was
ordered to be burned.
Pablo received permis-
sion to intensify his dispu-
tations with the Jews
throughout Aragon, while
the Jews were ordered to
listen to his tirades against
Judaism and defray his ex-
penses. Leaving his family
and friends in Spain, Nah-
manides undertook the
dangerous journey to the

Holy Land, where he arriv-
ed at the age of 73 and settl-
ed in Acre. He professed
great respect for Maimoni-
des and defended hirn,D
against the anti-Mai-
monists.
The Tortosa disputation
was the most violent of all
the medieval religious
debates and lasted more
than 18 months (1413-1415). c
Dramatically organized to
settle the question of the
relative merits of the two
religions, the disputation c17)-
was conducted before a
brilliant assembly in the ci-
ty of Tortosa in northern
Spain. Rabbi Joseph Albo,
author of the philosophic
work Sefer ha-Ikkarim
(Book of Principles), was
among the 22 Jewish re-
presentatives. After 69 ses-
sions, the verdict was what
had been expected. The
Talmud was condemned,
and a variety of hostile
laws against the Jews were
enacted. During the dispu-
tation, the pope exerted
constant physical and
moral pressure upon the
Jews to become apostates.
There is no mention of
racism or political confusion.
But the facts do apply to the
prejudices of the centuries
under discussion. They do
reveal the firmness and the
courage that are required to _
battle hatreds. The very title
"Disputations" calls for bor-
rowing from them and
emulating them.
Let us utilize and benefit
from the treasured lore pro-
vided for us. ❑

I NEWS

Arens Takes
Parting Shot

Tel Aviv (JTA) — Outgo-
ing Defense Minister Moshe
Arens, in his last Israel
Radio interview before leav-
ing his post, sharply
criticized lack of discipline
in the Israel Defense Force
and questioned the conduct
of the military's top officers.
"I think the army has to
get a grip on itself," he said,
"from the top to the bottom,
from the chief of staff down
to the private."
Arens addressed the in-
cidents of a fatal crash of a —
helicopter returning from a
successful operation in Leb-
anon, and the death from
friendly fire of an under-
cover soldier in the West
Bank.

rJ

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