The Jewish religion and its attitude to non-Jews: Part 2 - Israel Shahak

The Jewish religion and its attitude to non-Jews: Part 2 - Israel Shahak

The concluding half of Shahak's major critical study of the Jewish religion and how many of its themes have penetrated zionist ideology despite its outwardly secular appearance.

Part 3: Social Structure of Classical Judaism

A great deal of nonsense has been written in the attempt to provide a social or mystical interpretation of Jewry or Judaism ‘as a whole’. This cannot be done, for the social structure of the Jewish people and the ideological structure of Judaism have changed profoundly through the ages. Four major phases can be distinguished:

1. The phase of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah, until the destruction of the first Temple (587 BC) and the Babylonian exile. (Much of the Old Testament is concerned with this period, although most major books of the Old Testament, including the Pentateuch as we know it, were actually composed after that date.) Socially, these ancient Jewish kingdoms were quite similar to the neighbouring kingdoms of Palestine and Syria; and – as a careful reading of the Prophets reveals – the similarity extended to the religious cults practised by the great majority of the people.1 The ideas that were to become typical of later Judaism – including in particular ethnic segregationism and monotheistic exclusivism – were at this stage confined to small circles of priests and prophets, whose social influence depended on royal support.

2. The phase of the dual centres, Palestine and Mesopotamia, from the first ‘Return from Babylon’ (537 BC) until about AD 500. It is characterised by the existence of these two autonomous Jewish societies, both based primarily on agriculture, on which the ‘Jewish religion’, as previously elaborated in priestly and scribal circles, was imposed by the force and authority of the Persian empire. The Old Testament Book of Ezra contains an account of the activities of Ezra the priest, ‘a ready scribe in the law of Moses’, who was empowered by King Artaxerxes I of Persia to ‘set magistrates and judges’ over the Jews of Palestine, so that ‘whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the king, let judgement be executed speedily upon him, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment.’2 And in the Book of Nehemiah – cupbearer to King Artaxerxes who was appointed Persian governor of Judea, with even greater powers – we see to what extent foreign (nowadays one would say ‘imperialist’) coercion was instrumental in imposing the Jewish religion, with lasting results.

In both centres, Jewish autonomy persisted during most of this period and deviations from religious orthodoxy were repressed. Excep­tions to this rule occurred when the religious aristocracy itself got ‘infected’ with Hellenistic ideas (from 300 to 166 BC and again under Herod the Great and his successors, from 50 BC to AD 70), or when it was split in reaction to new developments (for example, the division between the two great parties, the Pharisees and the Sadduceans, which emerged in about 140 BC). However, the moment any one party triumphed, it used the coercive machinery of the Jewish autonomy (or, for a short period, independence) to impose its own religious views on all the Jews in both centres.

During most of this time, especially after the collapse of the Persian empire and until about AD 200, the Jews outside the two centres were free from Jewish religious coercion. Among the papyri preserved in Elephantine (in Upper Egypt) there is a letter dating from 419 BC containing the text of an edict by King Darius II of Persia which instructs the Jews of Egypt as to the details of the observance of Passover.3 But the Hellenistic kingdoms, the Roman Republic and early Roman Empire did not bother with such things. The freedom that Hellenstic Jews enjoyed outside Palestine allowed the creation of a Jewish literature written in Greek, which was subsequently rejected in toto by Judaism and whose remains were preserved by Christianity.4 The very rise of Christianity was possible because of this relative freedom of the Jewish communities outside the two centres. The experience of the Apostle Paul is significant: in Corinth, when the local Jewish community accused Paul of heresy, the Roman governor Gallio dismissed the case at once, refusing to be a ‘judge of such matters’;5 but in Judea the governor Festus felt obliged to take legal cognizance of a purely religious internal Jewish dispute.6

This tolerance came to an end in about AD 200, when the Jewish religion, as meanwhile elaborated and evolved in Palestine, was imposed by the Roman authorities upon all the Jews of the Empire.7

3. The phase which we have defined as classical Judaism and which will be discussed below.8

4. The modern phase, characterised by the breakdown of the totalitarian Jewish community and its power, and by attempts to reimpose it, of which zionism is the most important. This phase begins in Holland in the 17th century, in France and Austria (excluding Hungary) in the late 18th century, in most other European countries in the middle of the 19th century, and in some Islamic countries in the 20th century. (The Jews of Yemen were still living in the medieval ‘classical’ phase in 1948.) Something concerning these developments will be said later on.

Between the second phase and the third, that of classical Judaism, there is a gap of several centuries in which our present knowledge of Jews and Jewish society is very slight, and the scant information we do have is all derived from external (non-Jewish) sources. In the countries of Latin Christendom we have absolutely no Jewish literary records until the middle of the 10th century; internal Jewish information, mostly from religious literature, becomes more abundant only in the 11th and parti­cularly the 12th century. Before that, we are wholly dependent first on Roman and then on Christian evidence. In the Islamic countries the information gap is not quite so big; still, very little is known about Jewish society before AD 800 and about the changes it must have undergone during the three preceding centuries.

Major features of classical Judaism

Let us therefore ignore those ‘dark ages’, and for the sake of convenience begin with the two centuries 1000–1200, for which abundant infor­mation is available from both internal and external sources on all the important Jewish centres, east and west. Classical Judaism, which is clearly discernible in this period, has undergone very few changes since then, and (in the guise of Orthodox Judaism) is still a powerful force today.

How can that classical Judaism be characterised, and what are the social differences distinguishing it from earlier phases of Judaism? I believe that there are three such major features.

1. Classical Jewish society has no peasants, and in this it differs profoundly from earlier Jewish societies in the two centres, Palestine and Mesopotamia. It is difficult for us, in modern times, to understand what this means. We have to make an effort to imagine what serfdom was like; the enormous difference in literacy, let alone education, between village and town throughout this period; the incomparably greater freedom enjoyed by all the small minorities who were not peasants – in order to realise that during the whole of the classical period the Jews, in spite of all the persecutions to which they were subjected, formed an integral part of the privileged classes. Jewish historiography, especially in English, is misleading on this point inasmuch as it tends to focus on Jewish poverty and anti-Jewish discrimina­tion. Both were real enough at times; but the poorest Jewish craftsman, pedlar, landlord’s steward or petty cleric was immeasurably better off than a serf. This was particularly true in those European countries where serfdom persisted into the 19th century, whether in a partial or extreme form: Prussia, Austria (including Hungary), Poland and the Polish lands taken by Russia. And it is not without significance that, prior to the beginning of the great Jewish migration of modern times (around 1880), a large majority of all Jews were living in those areas and that their most important social function there was to mediate the oppression of the peasants on behalf of the nobility and the Crown.

Everywhere, classical Judaism developed hatred and contempt for agriculture as an occupation and for peasants as a class, even more than for other Gentiles – a hatred of which I know no parallel in other societ­ies. This is immediately apparent to anyone who is familiar with the Yiddish or Hebrew literature of the 19th and 20th centuries.9

Most east-European Jewish socialists (that is, members of exclusively or predominantly Jewish parties and factions) are guilty of never pointing out this fact; indeed, many were themselves tainted with a ferocious anti-peasant attitude inherited from classical Judaism. Of course, zionist ‘socialists’ were the worst in this respect, but others, such as the Bund, were not much better. A typical example is their opposition to the formation of peasant co-operatives promoted by the Catholic clergy, on the ground that this was ‘an act of anti-semitism’. This attitude is by no means dead even now; it can be seen very clearly in the racist views held by many Jewish ‘dissidents’ in the USSR regarding the Russian people, and also in the lack of discussion of this back­ground by so many Jewish socialists, such as Isaac Deutscher. The whole racist propaganda on the theme of the supposed superiority of Jewish morality and intellect (in which many Jewish socialists were prominent) is bound up with a lack of sensitivity for the suffering of that major part of humanity who were especially oppressed during the last thousand years – the peasants.

2. Classical Jewish society was particularly dependent on kings or on nobles with royal powers. In the Appendix we discuss various Jewish laws directed against Gentiles, and in particular laws which command Jews to revile Gentiles and refrain from praising them or their customs. These laws allow one and only one exception: a Gentile king, or a locally powerful magnate (in Hebrew paritz, in Yiddish pooretz). A king is praised and prayed for, and he is obeyed not only in most civil matters but also in some religious ones. As we shall see in the Appendix, Jewish doctors, who are in general forbidden to save the lives of ordinary Gentiles on the Sabbath, are commanded to do their utmost in healing magnates and rulers; this partly explains why kings and noble­men, popes and bishops often employed Jewish physicians. But not only physicians. Jewish tax and customs collectors, or (in eastern Europe) bailiffs of manors could be depended upon to do their utmost for the king or baron, in a way that a Christian could not always be.

The legal status of a Jewish community in the period of classical Judaism was normally based on a ‘privilege’ – a charter granted by a king or prince (or, in Poland after the 16th century, by a powerful nobleman) to the Jewish community and conferring on it the rights of autonomy – that is, investing the rabbis with the power to dictate to the other Jews. An important part of such privileges, going as far back as the late Roman Empire, is the creation of a Jewish clerical estate which, exactly like the Christian clergy in medieval times, is exempt from paying taxes to the sovereign and is allowed to impose taxes on the people under its control – the Jews – for its own benefit. It is interesting to note that this deal between the late Roman Empire and the rabbis antedates by at least one hundred years the very similar privileges granted by Constantine the Great and his successors to the Christian clergy.

From about AD 200 until the early fifth century, the legal position of Jewry in the Roman Empire was as follows. A hereditary Jewish Patriarch (residing in Tiberias in Palestine) was recognised both as a high dignitary in the official hierarchy of the Empire and as supreme chief of all the Jews in the Empire.10 As a Roman official, the Patriarch was vir illustris, of the same high official class which included the consuls, the top military commanders of the Empire and the chief ministers around the throne (the Sacred Consistory), and was out­ranked only by the imperial family. In fact, the Illustrious Patriarch (as he is invariably styled in imperial decrees) outranked the provincial governor of Palestine. Emperor Theodosius I, the Great, a pious and orthodox Christian, executed his governor of Palestine for insulting the Patriarch.

At the same time, all the rabbis – who had to be designated by the Patriarch – were freed from the most oppressive Roman taxes and received many official privileges, such as exemption from serving on town councils (which was also one of the first privileges later granted to the Christian clergy). In addition, the Patriarch was empowered to tax the Jews and to discipline them by imposing fines, flogging and other punishments. He used this power in order to suppress Jewish heresies and (as we know from the Talmud) to persecute Jewish preachers who accused him of taxing the Jewish poor for his personal benefit.

We know from Jewish sources that the tax-exempt rabbis used excommunication and other means within their power to enhance the religious hegemony of the Patriarch. We also hear, mostly indirectly, of the hate and scorn that many of the Jewish peasants and urban poor in Palestine had for the rabbis, as well as of the contempt of the rabbis for the Jewish poor (usually expressed as contempt for the ‘ignorant’). Nevertheless, this typical colonial arrangement continued, as it was backed by the might of the Roman Empire.

Similar arrangements existed, within each country, during the whole period of classical Judaism. Their social effects on the Jewish communities differed, however, according to the size of each community. Where there were few Jews, there was normally little social differentia­tion within the community, which tended to be composed of rich and middle-class Jews, most of whom had considerable rabbinical-talmudic education. But in countries where the number of Jews increased and a big class of Jewish poor appeared, the same cleavage as the one descri­bed above manifested itself, and we observe the rabbinical class, in alliance with the Jewish rich, oppressing the Jewish poor in its own interest as well as in the interest of the state – that is, of the Crown and the nobility.

This was, in particular, the situation in pre-1795 Poland. The specific circumstances of Polish Jewry will be outlined below. Here I only want to point out that because of the formation of a large Jewish community in that country, a deep cleavage between the Jewish upper class (the rabbis and the rich) and the Jewish masses developed there from the 18th century and continued throughout the 19th century. So long as the Jewish community had power over its members, the incipient revolts of the poor, who had to bear the main brunt of taxation, were suppressed by the combined force of the naked coercion of Jewish ‘self-rule’ and ‘religious sanction.

Because of all this, throughout the classical period (as well as in modern times) the rabbis were the most loyal, not to say zealous, supporters of the powers that be; and the more reactionary the regime, the more rabbinical support it had.

3. The society of classical Judaism is in total opposition to the surrounding non-Jewish society, except the king (or the nobles, when they take over the state). This is amply illustrated in the Appendix.

The consequences of these three social features, taken together, go a long way towards explaining the history of classical Jewish communities both in Christian and in Muslim countries.

The position of the Jews is particularly favourable under strong regimes which have retained a feudal character, and in which national consciousness, even at a rudimentary level, has not yet begun to develop. It is even more favourable in countries such as pre-1795 Poland or in the Iberian kingdoms before the latter half of the 15th century, where the formation of a nationally based powerful feudal monarchy was temporarily or permanently arrested. In fact, classical Judaism flour­ishes best under strong regimes which are dissociated from most classes in society, and in such regimes the Jews fulfill one of the functions of a middle class – but in a permanently dependent form. For this reason they are opposed not only by the peasantry (whose opposition is then unimportant, except for the occasional and rare popular revolt) but more importantly by the non-Jewish middle class (which was on the rise in Europe), and by the plebeian part of the clergy; and they are protected by the upper clergy and the nobility. But in those countries where, feudal anarchy having been curbed, the nobility enters into partnership with the king (and with at least part of the bourgeoisie) to rule the state, which assumes a national or proto-national form, the position of the Jews deteriorates.

This general scheme, valid for Muslim and Christian countries alike, will now be illustrated briefly by a few examples.

England, France and Italy

Since the first period of Jewish residence in England was so brief, and coincided with the development of the English national feudal monarchy, this country can serve as the best illustration of the above scheme. Jews were brought over to England by William the Conqueror, as part of the French-speaking Norman ruling class, with the primary duty of granting loans to those lords, spiritual and temporal, who were otherwise unable to pay their feudal dues (which were particularly heavy in England and more rigorously exacted in that period than in any other European monarchy). Their greatest royal patron was Henry II, and the Magna Carta marked the beginning of their decline, which continued during the conflict of the barons with Henry III. The tempor­ary resolution of this conflict by Edward I, with the formation of Parliament and of ‘ordinary’ and fixed taxation, was accompanied by the expulsion of the Jews.

Similarly, in France the Jews flourished during the formation of the strong feudal principalities in the 11th and 12th centuries, including the Royal Domain; and their best protector among the Capetian kings was Louis VII (1137–1180), notwithstanding his deep and sincere Christian piety. At that time the Jews of France counted themselves as knights (in Hebrew,parashim) and the leading Jewish authority in France, Rabbenu Tam, warns them never to accept an invitation by a feudal lord to settle on his domain, unless they are accorded privileges similar to those of other knights. The decline in their position begins with Philip II Augustus, originator of the political and military alliance of the Crown with the rising urban commune movement, and plummets under Philip IV the Handsome, who convoked the first Estates General for the whole of France in order to gain support against the pope. The final expulsion of Jews from the whole of France is closely bound up with the firm establishment of the Crown’s rights of taxation and the national character of the monarchy.

Similar examples can be given from other European countries where Jews were living during that period. Reserving Christian Spain and Poland for a more detailed discussion, we remark that in Italy, where many city-states had a republican form of power, the same regularity is discernible. Jews flourished especially in the Papal States, in the twin feudal kingdoms of Sicily and Naples (until their expulsion, on Spanish orders, circa 1500) and in the feudal enclaves of Piedmont. But in the great commercial and independent cities such as Florence their number was small and their social role unimportant.

The Muslim world

The same general scheme applies to Jewish communities during the classical period in Muslim countries as well, except for the important fact that explusion of Jews, being contrary to Islamic law, was virtually unknown there. (Medieval Catholic canon law, on the other hand, neither commands nor forbids such expulsion.)

Jewish communities flourished in the famous, but socially misinterpreted,Jewish Golden Age in Muslim countries under regimes which were particularly dissociated from the great majority of the people they ruled, and whose power rested on nothing but naked force and a mercenary army. The best example is Muslim Spain, where the very real Jewish Gold Age (of Hebrew poetry, grammar, philosophy etc) begins precisely with the fall of the Spanish Umayyad caliphate after the death of the de facto ruler, al-Mansur, in 1002, and the establishment of the numerous ta’ifa (faction) kingdoms, all based on naked force. The rise of the famous Jewish commander-in-chief and prime minister of the kingdom of Granada, Samuel the Chief (Shmu’el Hannagid, died 1056), who was also one of the greatest Hebrew poets of all ages, was based primarily on the fact that the kingdom which he served was a tyranny of a rather small Berber military force over the Arabic­ speaking inhabitants. A similar situation obtained in the other ta’ifa Arab-Spanish kingdoms. The position of the Jews declined somewhat with the establishment of the Almoravid regime (in 1086–90) and became quite precarious under the strong and popular Almohad regime (after 1147) when, as a result of persecutions, the Jews migrated to the Christian Spanish kingdoms, where the power of the kings was still very slight.

Similar observations can be made regarding the states of the Muslim East. The first state in which the Jewish community reached a position of important political influence was the Fatimid empire, especially after the conquest of Egypt in 969, because it was based on the rule of an Isma’ili-shi’ite religious minority. The same phenomenon can be observed in the Seljuk states – based on feudal-type armies, mercenaries and, increasingly, on slave troops (mamluks) – and in their successor states. The favour of Saladin to the Jewish communities, first in Egypt, then in other parts of his expanding empire, was based not only on his real personal qualities of tolerance, charity and deep politi­cal wisdom, but equally on his rise to power as a rebellious commander of mercenaries freshly arrived in Egypt and then as usurper of the power of the dynasty which he and his father and uncle before him had served.

But perhaps the best Islamic example is the state where the Jews’ position was better than anywhere else in the East since the fall of the ancient Persian empire – the Ottoman empire, particularly during its heyday in the 16th century.11 As is well known, the Ottoman regime was based initially on the almost complete exclusion of the Turks them­selves (not to mention other Muslims by birth) from positions of political power and from the most important part of the army, the Janissary corps, both of which were manned by the sultan’s Christian­-born slaves, abducted in childhood and educated in special schools.

Until the end of the 16th century no free-born Turk could become a Janissary or hold any important government office. In such a regime, the role of the Jews in their sphere was quite analogous to that of the Janissaries in theirs. Thus the position of the Jews was best under a regime which was politically most dissociated from the peoples it ruled. With the admission of the Turks themselves (as well as some other Muslim peoples, such as the Albanians) to the ruling class of the Ottoman empire, the position of the Jews declines. However, this decline was not very sharp, because of the continuing arbitrariness and non-national character of the Ottoman regime.

This point is very important, in my opinion, because the relatively good situation of Jews under Islam in general, and under certain Islamic regimes in particular, is used by many Palestinian and other Arab propagandists in a very ignorant, albeit perhaps well-meaning, way. First, they generalise and reduce serious questions of politics and history to mere slogans. Granted that the position of Jews was, on the average, much better under Islam than under Christianity – the important question to ask is, underwhat regimes was it better or worse? We have seen where such an analysis leads.

But, secondly and more importantly: in a pre-modern state, a ‘better’ position of the Jewish community normally entailed a greater degree of tyranny exercised within this community by the rabbis against other Jews. To give one example: certainly, the figure of Saladin is one which, considering his period, inspires profound respect. But together with this respect, I for one cannot forget that the enhanced privileges he granted to the Jewish community in Egypt and his appointment of Mai­monides as their Chief (Nagid) immediately unleashed severe religious persecution of Jewish ‘sinners’ by the rabbis. For instance, Jewish ‘priests’ (supposed descendants of the ancient priests who had served in the Temple) are forbidden to marry not only prostitutes12 but also divorcees. This latter prohibition, which has always caused difficulties, was infringed during the anarchy under the last Fatimid rulers (circa 1130–80) by such ‘priests’ who, contrary to Jewish religious law, were married to Jewish divorcees in Islamic courts (which are nominally empowered to marry non-Muslims). The greater tolerance towards ‘the Jews’ instituted by Saladin upon his accession to power enabled Mai­monides to issue orders to the rabbinical courts in Egypt to seize all Jews who had gone through such forbidden marriages and have them flogged until they ‘agreed’ to divorce their wives.13 Similarly, in the Ottoman empire the powers of the rabbinical courts were very great and consequently most pernicious. Therefore the position of Jews in Muslim countries in the past should never be used as a political argu­ment in contemporary (or future) contexts.

Christian Spain

I have left to the last a discussion of the two countries where the position of the Jewish community and the internal development of classical Judaism were most important – Christian Spain14 (or rather the Iberian peninsula, including Portugal) and pre-1795 Poland.

Politically, the position of Jews in the Christian Spanish kingdoms was the highest ever attained by Jews in any country (except some of the ta’ifasand under the Fatimids) before the 19th century. Many Jews served officially as Treasurers-General to the kings of Castile, regional and general tax collectors, diplomats (representing their king in foreign courts, both Muslim and Christian, even outside Spain), courtiers and advisers to rulers and great noblemen. And in no other country except Poland did the Jewish community wield such great legal powers over the Jews or used them so widely and publicly, including the power to inflict capital punishment. From the 11th century the persecution of Karaites (a heretical Jewish sect) by flogging them to death if unrepentant was common in Castile. Jewish women who cohabited with Gentiles had their noses cut off by rabbis who explained that ‘in this way she will lose her beauty and her non-Jewish lover will come to hate her’. Jews who had the effrontery to attack a rabbinical judge had their hands cut off. Adulterers were imprisoned, after being made to run the gauntlet through the Jewish quarter. In religious disputes, those thought to be heretics had their tongues cut out.

Historically, all this was associated with feudal anarchy and with the attempt of a few ‘strong’ kings to rule through sheer force, disregarding the parliamentary institutions, the Cortes, which had already come into existence. In this struggle, not only the political and financial power of the Jews but also their military power (at least in the most important kingdom, Castile) was very significant. One example will suffice: Both feudal misgovernment and Jewish political influence in Castile reached their peak under Pedro I, justly surnamed the Cruel. The Jewish com­munities of Toledo, Burgos and many other cities served practically as his garrisons in the long civil war between him and his half-brother, Henry of Trastamara, who after his victory became Henry II (1369–79).15 The same Pedro I gave the Jews of Castile the right to estab­lish a country-wide inquisition against Jewish religious deviants – more than one hundred years before the establishment of the more famous Catholic Holy Inquisition.

As in other western European countries, the gradual emergence of national consciousness around the monarchy, which began under the house of Trastamara and after ups and downs reached a culmination under the Catholic Kings Ferdinand and Isabella, was accompanied first by a decline in the position of the Jews, then by popular movements and pressures against them and finally by their expulsion. On the whole the Jews were defended by the nobility and upper clergy. It was the more plebeian sections of the church, particularly the mendicant orders, involved in the life of the lower classes, which were hostile to them. The great enemies of the Jews, Torquemada and Cardinal Ximenes, were also great reformers of the Spanish church, making it much less corrupt and much more dependent on the monarchy instead of being the preserve of the feudal aristocracy.


The old pre-1795 Poland – a feudal republic with an elective king – is a converse example; it illustrates how before the advent of the modern state the position of the Jews was socially most important, and their internal autonomy greatest, under a regime which was completely retarded to the point of utter degeneracy.

Due to many causes, medieval Poland lagged in its development behind countries like England and France; a strong feudal-type monarchy – yet, without any parliamentary institutions – was formed there only in the 14th century, especially under Casimir the Great (1333–70). Immediately after his death, changes of dynasty and other factors led to a very rapid development of the power of the noble magnates, then also of the petty nobility, so that by 1572 the process of reduction of the king to a figure-head and exclusion of all other non-noble estates from pol­itical power was virtually complete. In the following two hundred years, the lack of government turned into an acknowledged anarchy, to the point where a court decision in a case affecting a nobleman was only a legal licence to wage a private war to enforce the verdict (for there was no other way to enforce it) and where feuds between great noble houses in the 18th century involved private armies numbering tens of thousands, much larger than the derisory forces of the official army of the Republic.

This process was accompanied by a debasement in the position of the Polish peasants (who had been free in the early Middle Ages) to the point of utter serfdom, hardly distinguishable from outright slavery and certainly the worst in Europe. The desire of noblemen in neighbouring countries to enjoy the power of the Polish pan over his peasants (including the power of life and death without any right of appeal) was instrumental in the territorial expansion of Poland. The situation in the ‘eastern’ lands of Poland (Byelorussia and the Ukraine) – colonised and settled by newly enserfed peasants – was worst of all.16

A small number of Jews (albeit in important positions) had appar­ently been living in Poland since the creation of the Polish state. A significant Jewish immigration into that country began in the 13th century and increased under Casimir the Great, with the decline in the Jewish position in western and then in central Europe. Not very much is known about Polish Jewry in that period. But with the decline of the monarchy in the 16th century – particularly under Sigismund I the Old (1506–48) and his son Sigismund II Augustus (1548–72) – Polish Jewry burst into social and political prominence accompanied, as usual, with a much greater degree of autonomy. It was at this time that Poland’s Jews were granted their greatest privileges, culminating in the establishment of the famous Committee of Four Lands, a very effective autonomous Jewish organ of rule and jurisdiction over all the Jews in Poland’s four div­isions. One of its many important functions was to collect all the taxes from Jews all over the country, deducting part of the yield for its own use and for the use of local Jewish communities, and passing the rest on to the state treasury.

What was the social role of Polish Jewry from the beginning of the 16th century until 1795? With the decline of royal power, the king’s usual role in relation to the Jews was rapidly taken over by the nobility – with lasting and tragic results both for the Jews themselves and for the common people of the Polish republic. All over Poland the nobles used Jews as their agents to undermine the commercial power of the Royal Towns, which were weak in any case. Alone among the countries of western Christendom, in Poland a nobleman’s property inside a Royal Town was exempt from the town’s laws and guild regulations. In most cases the nobles settled their Jewish clients in such properties, thus giving rise to a lasting conflict. The Jews were usually ‘victorious’, in the sense that the towns could neither subjugate nor drive them off; but in the frequent popular riots Jewish lives (and, even more, Jewish property) were lost. The nobles still got the profits. Similar or worse consequences followed from the frequent use of Jews as commercial agents of noblemen: they won exemption from most Polish tolls and tariffs, to the loss of the native bourgeoisie.

But the most lasting and tragic results occurred in the eastern provinces of Poland – roughly, the area east of the present Soviet border, including almost the whole of the present Ukraine and reaching up to the Great-Russian language frontier. (Until 1648 the Polish border was far east of the Dnieper, so that Poltava, for example, was inside Poland.) In those wide territories there were hardly any Royal Towns. The towns were established by nobles and belonged to them – and they were settled almost exclusively by Jews. Until 1939, the population of many Polish towns east of the river Bug was at least 90 per cent Jewish, and this demographic phenomenon was even more pronounced in that area of Tsarist Russia annexed from Poland and known as the Jewish Pale. Outside the towns very many Jews throughout Poland, but especially in the east, were employed as the direct supervisors and oppressors of the enserfed peasantry – as bailiffs of whole manors (invested with the landlord’s full coercive powers) or as lessees of par­ticular feudal monopolies such as the corn mill, the liquor still and public house (with the right of armed search of peasant houses for illicit stills) or the bakery, and as collectors of customary feudal dues of all kinds. In short, in eastern Poland, under the rule of the nobles (and of the feudalised church, formed exclusively from the nobility) the Jews were both the immediate exploiters of the peasantry and virtually the only town-dwellers.

No doubt, most of the profit they extracted from the peasants was passed on to the landlords, in one way or another. No doubt, the oppression and subjugation of the Jews by the nobles were severe, and the historical record tells many a harrowing tale of the hardship and humiliation inflicted by noblemen on ‘their’ Jews. But, as we have remarked, the peasants suffered worse oppression at the hands of both landlords and Jews; and one may assume that, except in times of peasant uprisings, the full weight of the Jewish religious laws against Gentiles fell upon the peasants. As will be seen in the Appendix, these laws are suspended or mitigated in cases where it is feared that they might arouse dangerous hostility towards Jews; but the hostility of the peasants could be disregarded as ineffectual so long as the Jewish bailiff could shelter under the ‘peace’ of a great lord.

The situation stagnated until the advent of the modern state, by which time Poland had been dismembered. Therefore Poland was the only big country in western Christendom from which the Jews were never expelled. A new middle class could not arise out of the utterly enslaved peasantry; and the old bourgeoisie was geographically limited and commercially weak, and therefore powerless. Overall, matters got steadily worse, but without any substantial change.

Internal conditions within the Jewish community moved in a similar course. In the period 1500–1795, one of the most superstitions-ridden in the history of Judaism, Polish Jewry was the most superstitious and fanatic of all Jewish communities. The considerable power of the Jewish autonomy was used increasingly to stifle all original or innovative thought, to promote the most shameless exploitation of the Jewish poor by the Jewish rich in alliance with the rabbis, and to justify the Jews’ role in the oppression of the peasants in the service of the nobles. Here, too, there was no way out except by liberation from the outside. Pre-1795 Poland, where the social role of the Jews was more important than in any other classical diaspora, illustrates better than any other country the bankruptcy of classical Judaism.

Anti-Jewish persecution

During the whole period of classical Judaism, Jews were often subjected to persecutions17 – and this fact now serves as the main ‘argument’ of the apologists of the Jewish religion with its anti-Gentile laws and especially of zionism. Of course, the Nazi extermination of five to six million European Jews is supposed to be the crowning argument in that line. We must therefore consider this phenomenon and its contemporary aspect. This is particularly important in view of the fact that the descendants of the Jews of pre-1795 Poland (often called ‘east-European Jews’ – as opposed to Jews from the German cul­tural domain of the early 19th century, including the present Austria, Bohemia and Moravia) now wield predominant political power in Israel as well as in the Jewish communities in the US and other English ­speaking countries; and, because of their particular past history, this mode of thinking is especially entrenched among them, much more than among other Jews.

We must, first, draw a sharp distinction between the persecutions of Jews during the classical period on the one hand, and the Nazi extermination on the other. The former were popular movements, coming from below; whereas the latter was inspired, organised and carried out from above: indeed, by state officials. Such acts as the Nazi state-­organised extermination are relatively rare in human history, although other cases do exist (the extermination of the Tasmanians and several other colonial peoples, for example). Moreover, the Nazis intended to wipe out other peoples besides the Jews: Gipsies were exterminated like Jews, and the extermination of Slavs was well under way, with the sys­tematic massacre of millions of civilians and prisoners of war. How­ever, it is the recurrent persecution of Jews in so many countries during the classical period which is the model (and the excuse) for the zionist politicians in their persecution of the Palestinians, as well as the argument used by apologists of Judaism in general; and it is this phenomenon which we consider now.

It must be pointed out that in all the worst anti-Jewish persecutions, that is, where Jews were killed, the ruling elite – the emperor and the pope, the kings, the higher aristocracy and the upper clergy, as well as the rich bourgeoisie in the autonomous cities – were always on the side of the Jews. The latter’s enemies belonged to the more oppressed and exploited classes and those close to them in daily life and interests, such as the friars of the mendicant orders.18 It is true that in most (but I think not in all) cases members of the elite defended the Jews neither out of considerations of humanity nor because of sympathy to the Jews as such, but for the type of reason used generally by rulers in justification of their interests – the fact that the Jews were useful and profitable (to them), defence of ‘law and order’, hate of the lower classes and fear that anti-Jewish riots might develop into general popular rebellion. Still, the fact remains that they did defend the Jews. For this reason all the massacres of Jews during the classical period were part of a peasant rebellion or other popular movements at times when the government was for some reason especially weak. This is true even in the partly exceptional case of Tsarist Russia. The Tsarist government, acting sur­reptitiously through its secret police, did promote pogroms; but it did so only when it was particularly weak (after the assassination of Alexander II in 1881, and in the period immediately before and after the 1905 revolution) and even then took care to contain the break of ‘law and order’. During the time of its greatest strength – for example, under Nicholas I or in the latter part of the reign of Alexander III, when the opposition had been smashed – pogroms were not tolerated by the Tsarist regime, although legal discrimination against Jews was intensified.

The general rule can be observed in all the major massacres of Jews in Christian Europe. During the first crusade, it was not the proper armies of the knights, commanded by famous dukes and counts, which molested the Jews, but the spontaneous popular hosts composed almost exclusively of peasants and paupers in the wake of Peter the Hermit. In each city the bishop or the emperor’s representative opposed them and tried, often in vain, to protect the Jews.19 The anti-Jewish riots in England which accompanied the third crusade were part of a popular movement directed also against royal officials, and some rioters were punished by Richard I. The massacres of Jews during the outbreaks of the Black Death occurred against the strict orders of the pope, the emperor, the bishops and the German princes. In the free towns, for example in Strasbourg, they were usually preceded by a local revolution in which the oligarchic town council, which protected the Jews, was overthrown and replaced by a more popular one. The great 1391 massacres of Jews in Spain took place under a feeble regency government and at a time when the papacy, weakened by the Great Schism between competing popes, was unable to control the mendicant friars.

Perhaps the most outstanding example is the great massacre of Jews during the Chmielnicki revolt in the Ukraine (1648), which started as a mutiny of Cossack officers but soon turned into a widespread popular movement of the oppressed serfs: ‘The unprivileged, the subjects, the Ukrainians, the Orthodox [persecuted by the Polish Catholic church – ­I.S.] were rising against their Catholic Polish masters, particularly against their masters’ bailiffs, clergy and Jews’.20 This typical peasant uprising against extreme oppression, an uprising accompanied not only by massacres committed by the rebels but also by even more horrible atrocities and ‘counter-terror’ of the Polish magnates’ private armies,21 has remained emblazoned in the consciousness of east-European Jews to this very day – not, however, as a peasant uprising, a revolt of the oppressed, of the real wretched of the earth, nor even as a vengeance visited upon all the servants of the Polish nobility, but as an act of gratuitous antisemitism directed against Jews as such. In fact, the voting of the Ukrainian delegation at the UN and, more generally, Soviet policies on the Middle East, are often ‘explained’ in the Israeli press as ‘a heritage of Chmielnicki’ or of his ‘descendants’.

Modern anti-Semitism

The character of anti-Jewish persecutions underwent a radical change in modern times. With the advent of the modern state, the abolition of serfdom and the achievement of minimal individual rights, the special socio-economic function of the Jews necessarily disappears. Along with it disappear also the powers of the Jewish community over its members; individual Jews in growing numbers win the freedom to enter the general society of their countries. Naturally, this transition aroused a violent reaction both on the part of Jews (especially their rabbis) and of those elements in European society who opposed the open society and for whom the whole process of liberation of the indivi­dual was anathema.

Modern antisemitism appears first in France and Germany, then in Russia, after about 1870. Contrary to the prevalent opinion among Jewish socialists, I do not believe that its beginnings or its subsequent development until the present day can be ascribed to ‘capitalism’. On the contrary, in my opinion the successful capitalists in all countries were on the whole remarkably free from antisemitism, and the countries in which capitalism was established first and in its most extensive form – such as England and Belgium – were also those where anti­semitism was far less widespread than elsewhere.22

Early modern antisemitism (1880–1900) was a reaction of bewildered men, who deeply hated modern society in all its aspects, both good and bad, and who were ardent believers in the conspiracy theory of history. The Jews were cast in the role of scapegoat for the breakup of the old society (which antisemitic nostalgia imagined as even more closed and ordered than it had ever been in reality) and for all that was disturbing in modern times. But right at the start the antisemites were faced with what was, for them, a difficult problem: How to define this scapegoat, particularly in popular terms? What is to be the supposed common denominator of the Jewish musician, banker, craftsman and beggar – especially after the common religious features had largely dissolved, at least externally? The ‘theory’ of the Jewish race was the modern antisemitic answer to this problem.

In contrast, the old Christian, and even more so Muslim, opposition to classical Judaism was remarkably free from racism. No doubt this was to some extent a consequence of the universal character of Christianity and Islam, as well as of their original connection with Judaism (St. Thomas More repeatedly rebuked a woman who objected when he told her that the Virgin Mary was Jewish). But in my opinion a far more important reason was the social role of the Jews as an integral part of the upper classes. In many countries Jews were treated as potential nobles and, upon conversion, were able immediately to intermarry with the highest nobility. The nobility of 15th century Castile and Aragon or the aristocracy of 18th century Poland – to take the two cases were intermarriage with Jews was widespread – would hardly be likely to marry Spanish peasants or Polish serfs, no matter how much praise the Gospel has for the poor.

It is the modern myth of the Jewish ‘race’ – of outwardly hidden but supposedly dominant characteristics of ‘the Jews’, independent of history, of social role, of anything – which is the formal and most impor­tant distinguishing mark of modern antisemitism. This was in fact per­ceived by some Church leaders when modern antisemitism first appeared as a movement of some strength. Some French Catholic leaders, for example, opposed the new racist doctrine expounded by E. Drumont, the first popular modern French antisemite and author of the notorious book La France Juive (1886), which achieved wide circulation.23 Early modern German antisemites encountered similar opposition.

It must be pointed out that some important groups of European conservatives were quite prepared to play along with modern antisemitism and use it for their own ends, and the antisemites were equally ready to use the conservatives when the occasion offered itself, although at bottom there was little similarity between the two parties. ‘The victims who were most harshly treated [by the pen of the above-mentioed Drumont] were not the Rothschilds but the great nobles who courted them. Drumont did not spare the Royal Family… or the bishops, or for that matter the Pope.’24 Nevertheless, many of the French great nobles, bishops and conservatives generally were quite happy to use Drumont and antisemitism during the crisis of the Dreyfus affair in an attempt to bring down the republican regime.

This type of opportunistic alliance reappeared many times in various European countries until the defeat of Nazism. The conservatives’ hatred of radicalism and especially of all forms of socialism blinded many of them to the nature of their political bedfellows. In many cases they were literally prepared to ally themselves with the devil, forgetting the old saying that one needs a very long spoon to sup with him.

The effectiveness of modern antisemitism, and of its alliance with conservatism, depended on several factors.

First, the older tradition of Christian religious opposition to Jews, which existed in many (though by no means all) European countries, could, if supported or at least unopposed by the clergy, be harnessed to the antisemitic bandwagon. The actual response of the clergy in each country was largely determined by specific local historical and social circumstances. In the Catholic Church, the tendency for an opportun­istic alliance with antisemitism was strong in France but not in Italy; in Poland and Slovakia but not in Bohemia. The Greek Orthodox Church had notorious antisemitic tendencies in Romania but took the opposite line in Bulgaria. Among the Protestant Churches, the German was deeply divided on this issue, others (such as the Latvian and Estonian) tended to be antisemitic, but many (for example the Dutch, Swiss and Scandinavian) were among the earliest to condemn antisemitism.

Secondly, antisemitism was largely a generic expression of xenophobia, a desire for a ‘pure’ homogeneous society. But in many Euro­pean countries around 1900 (and in fact until quite recently) the Jew was virtually the only ‘stranger’. This was particularly true of Germany. In principle, the German racists of the early 20th century hated and despised Blacks just as much as Jews; but there were no Blacks in Germany then. Hate is of course much more easily focused on the present than on the absent, especially under the conditions of the time, when mass travel and tourism did not exist and most Europeans never left their own country in peacetime.

Thirdly, the successes of the tentative alliance between conservatism and antisemitism were inversely proportional to the power and capabilities of its opponents. And the consistent and effective opponents of antisemitism in Europe are the political forces of liberalism and socialism – historically the same forces that continue in various ways the tradition symbolised by the War of Dutch Independence (1568–1648), the English Revolution and the Great French Revolution. On the European continent the main shibboleth is the attitude towards the Great French Revolution – roughly speaking, those who are for it are against antisemitism; those who accept it with regret would be at least prone to an alliance with the antisemites; those who hate it and would like to undo its achievements are the milieu from which anti­semitism develops.

Nevertheless, a sharp distinction must be made between conserva­tives and even reactionaries on the one hand and actual racists and antisemites on the other. Modern racism (of which antisemitism is part) although caused by specific social conditions, becomes, when it gains strength, a force that in my opinion can only be described as demonic. After coming to power, and for its duration, I believe it defies analysis by any presently understood social theory or set of merely social obser­vations – and in particular by any known theory invoking interests, be they class or state interests, or other than purely psychological ‘interests’ of any entity that can be defined in the present state of human knowledge. By this I do not mean that such forces are unknowable in principle; on the contrary, one must hope that with the growth of human knowledge they will come to be understood. But at present they are neither understood nor capable of being rationally predicted – and this applies to all racism in all societies.25 As a matter of fact, no political figure or group of any political colour in any country had pre­dicted even vaguely the horrors of Nazism. Only artists and poets such as Heine were able to glimpse some of what the future had in store. We do not know how they did it; and besides, many of their other hunches were wrong.

The Zionist response

Historically, zionism is both a reaction to antisemitism and a conserva­tive alliance with it – although the zionists, like other European conser­vatives, did not fully realise with whom they were allying themselves.

Until the rise of modern antisemitism, the mood of European Jewry was optimistic, indeed excessively so. This was manifested not only in the very large number of Jews, particularly in western countries, who simply opted out of classical Judaism, apparently without any great regret, in the first or second generation after this became possible, but also in the formation of a strong cultural movement, the Jewish Enlightenment (Haskalah), which began in Germany and Austria around 1780, was then carried into eastern Europe and by 1850–70 was making itself felt as a considerable social force. I cannot enter here into a discussion of the movement’s cultural achievements, such as the revival of Hebrew literature and the creation of a wonderful literature in Yiddish. However, it is important to note that despite many internal differences, the movement as a whole was characterised by two common beliefs: a belief in the need for a fundamental critique of Jewish society and particularly of the social role of the Jewish religion in its classical form, and the almost messianic hope for the victory of the ‘forces of good’ in European societies. The latter forces were naturally defined by the sole criterion of their support for Jewish emancipation.

The growth of antisemitism as a popular movement, and the many alliances of the conservative forces with it, dealt a severe blow to the Jewish Enlightenment. The blow was especially devastating because in actual fact the rise of antisemitism occurred just after the Jews were emancipated in some European countries, and even before they were freed in others. The Jews of the Austrian empire received fully equal rights only in 1867. In Germany, some independent states emancipated their Jews quite early, but others did not; notably, Prussia was grudging and tardy in this matter, and final emancipation of the Jews in the German empire as a whole was only granted by Bismarck in 1871. In the Ottoman empire the Jews were subject to official discrimination until 1909, and in Russia (as well as Romania) until 1917. Thus modern anti­semitism began within a decade of the emancipation of the Jews in central Europe and long before the emancipation of the biggest Jewish community at that time, that of the Tsarist empire.

It is therefore easy for the zionists to ignore half of the relevant facts, revert to the segregationist stance of classical Judaism, and claim that since all Gentiles always hate and persecute all Jews, the only solution would be to remove all the Jews bodily and concentrate them in Palestine or Uganda or wherever.26 Some early Jewish critics of zionism were quick to point out that if one assumes a permanent and ahistorical incompatibility between Jews and Gentiles – an assumption shared by both zionists and antisemites! – then to concentrate the Jews in one place would simply bring upon them the hate of the Gentiles in that part of the world (as indeed was to happen, though for very different reasons). But as far as I know this logical argument did not make any impression, just as all the logical and factual arguments against the myth of the ‘Jewish race’ made not the slightest difference to the anti­semites.

In fact, close relations have always existed between zionists and antisemites: exactly like some of the European conservatives, the zionists thought they could ignore the ‘demonic’ character of antisemitism and use the antisemites for their own purposes. Many examples of such alliances are well known. Herzl allied himself with the notorious Count von Plehve, the antisemitic minister of Tsar Nicholas II;27 Jabotinsky made a pact with Petlyura, the reactionary Ukrainian leader whose forces massacred some 100,000 Jews in 1918-21; Ben-Gurion’s allies among the French extreme right during the Algerian war included some notorious antisemites who were, however, careful to explain that they were only against the Jews in France, not in Israel.

Perhaps the most shocking example of this type is the delight with which some zionist leaders in Germany welcomed Hitler’s rise to power, because they shared his belief in the primacy of ‘race’ and his hostility to the assimilation of Jews among ‘Aryans’. They congratulated Hitler on his triumph over the common enemy – the forces of liberalism. Dr Joachim Prinz, a zionist rabbi who subsequently emi­grated to the USA, where he rose to be vice-chairman of the World Jewish Congress and a leading light in the World Zionist Organisation (as well as a great friend of Golda Meir), published in 1934 a special book, Wir Juden (We, Jews), to celebrate Hitler’s so-called German Revolution and the defeat of liberalism:

‘The meaning of the German Revolution for the German nation will eventually be clear to those who have created it and formed its image. Its meaning for us must be set forth here: the fortunes of liberalism are lost. This only form of political life which has helped Jewish assimilation is sunk.’28

The victory of Nazism rules out assimilation and mixed marriages as an option for Jews. ‘We are not unhappy about this,’ says Dr Prinz. In the fact that Jews are being forced to identify themselves as Jews, he sees ‘the fulfilment of our desires’. And further: ‘We want assimilation to be replaced by a new law: the declaration of belonging to the Jewish nation and Jewish race. A state built upon the principle of the purity of nation and race can only be honoured and respected by a Jew who declares his belonging to his own kind. Having so declared himself, he will never be capable of faulty loyalty towards a state. The state cannot want other Jews but such as declare themselves as belonging to their nation. It will not want Jewish flatterers and crawlers. It must demand of us faith and loyalty to our own interest. For only he who honours his own breed and his ownblood can have an attitude of honour towards the national will of other nations.’29

The whole book is full of similar crude flatteries of Nazi ideology, glee at the defeat of liberalism and particularly of the ideas of the French Revolution30 and great expectations that, in the congenial atmosphere of the myth of the Aryan race, zionism and the myth of the Jewish race will also thrive.

Of course, Dr Prinz, like many other early sympathisers and allies of Nazism, did not realise where that movement (and modern antisemitism generally) was leading. Equally, many people at present do not realise where zionism – the movement in which Dr Prinz is an honoured figure – is tending: to a combination of all the old hates of classical Judaism towards Gentiles and to the indiscriminate and ahistorical use of all the persecutions of Jews throughout history in order to justify the zionist persecution of the Palestinians.

For, insane as it sounds, it is nevertheless plain upon close examination of the real motives of the zionists, that one of the most deep-seated ideological sources of the zionist establishment’s persistent hostility towards the Palestinians is the fact that they are identified in the minds of many east-European Jews with the rebellious east-European peasants who participated in the Chmielnicki uprising and in similar revolts – and the latter are in turn identified ahistorically with modern antisemitism and Nazism.

Confronting the past

All Jews who really want to extricate themselves from the tyranny of the totalitarian Jewish past must face the question of their attitude towards thepopular anti-Jewish manifestations of the past, particularly those connected with the rebellions of enserfed peasants. On the other side, all the apologists of the Jewish religion and of Jewish segregationism and chauvinism also take their stand – both ultimately and in current debates – on the same question. The undoubted fact that the peasant revolutionaries committed shocking atrocities against Jews (as well as against their other oppressors) is used as an ‘argument’ by those apologists, in exactly the same way that the Palestinian terror is used to justify the denial of justice to the Palestinians.

Our own answer must be a universal one, applicable in principle to allcomparable cases. And, for a Jew who truly seeks liberation from Jewish particularism and racism and from the dead hand of the Jewish religion, such an answer is not very difficult.

After all, revolts of oppressed peasants against their masters and their masters’ bailiffs are common in human history. A generation after the Chmielnicki uprising of the Ukrainian peasants, the Russian peasants rose under the leadership of Stenka Ryazin, and again, one hundred years later, in the Pugachev rebellion. In Germany there was the Peasant War of 1525, in France the Jacquerie of 1357–8 and many other popular revolts, not to mention the many slave uprisings in all parts of the world. All of them – and I have intentionally chosen to mention examples in which Jews were not targets – were attended by horrifying massacres, just as the Great French Revolution was accompanied by appalling acts of terror. What is the position of true progres­sives – and, by now, of most ordinary decent educated people, be they Russian, German or French – on these rebellions? Do decent English historians, even when noting the massacres of Englishmen by rebellious Irish peasants rising against their enslavement, condemn the latter as ‘anti-English racists’? What is the attitude of progressive French histor­ians towards the great slave revolution in Santo Domingo, where many French women and children were butchered? To ask the question is to answer it. But to ask a similar question of many ‘progressive’ or even ‘socialist’ Jewish circles is to receive a very different answer; here an enslaved peasant is transformed into a racist monster, if Jews profited from his state of slavery and exploitation.

The maxim that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it applies to those Jews who refuse to come to terms with the Jewish past: they have become its slaves and are repeating it in zionist and Israeli policies. The State of Israel now fulfils towards the oppressed peasants of many countries – not only in the Middle East but also far beyond it – a role not unlike that of the Jews in pre-1795 Poland: that of a bailiff to the imperial oppressor. It is characteristic and instructive that Israel’s major role in arming the forces of the Somoza regime in Nicaragua, and now those of Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile and the rest has not given rise to any wide public debate in Israel or among organised Jewish communities in the diaspora. Even the narrower question of expediency – whether the selling of weapons to a dictatorial butcher of freedom fighters and peasants is in the long term interest of Jews – is seldom asked. Even more significant is the large part taken in this business by religious Jews, and the total silence of their rabbis (who are very vocal in inciting against Arabs). It seems that Israel and zionism are a throw-back to the role of classical Judaism – writ large, on a global scale, and under more dangerous circumstances.

The only possible answer to all this, first of all by Jews, must be that given by all true advocates of freedom and humanity in all countries, all peoples and all great philosophies – limited though they sometimes are, as the human condition itself is limited. We must confront the Jewish past and those aspects of the present which are based simultaneously on lying about that past and worshipping it. The prerequisites for this are, first, total honesty about the facts and, secondly, the belief (leading to action, whenever possible) in universalist human principles of ethics and politics.

The ancient Chinese sage Mencius (fourth century BC), much admired by Voltaire, had written:
‘This is why I say that all men have a sense of commiseration: Here is a man who suddenly notices a child about to fall into a well. Invariably he will feel a sense of alarm and compassion. And this is not for the purpose of gaining the favour of the child’s parents or of seeking the approbation of his neighbours and friends, or for fear of blame should he fail to rescue it. Thus we see that no man is without a sense of com­passion or a sense of shame or a sense of courtesy or a sense of right and wrong. The sense of compassion is the beginning of humanity, the sense of shame is the beginning of righteousness, the sense of courtesy is the beginning of decorum, the sense of right and wrong is the beginning of wisdom. Every man has within himself these four beginnings, just as he has four limbs. Since everyone has these four beginnings within him, the man who considers himself incapable of exercising them is destroy­ing himself.’

We have seen above, and will show in greater detail in the Appendix, how far removed from this are the precepts with which the Jewish religion in its classical and talmudic form is poisoning minds and hearts.

The road to a genuine revolution in Judaism – to making it humane, allowing Jews to understand their own past, thereby re-educating them­selves out of its tyranny – lies through an unrelenting critique of the Jewish religion. Without fear or favour, we must speak out against what belongs to our own past as Voltaire did against his:

Ecrasez l’infâme!

Jerusalem, September 1980

Appendix: Talmudic and rabbinical laws against gentiles

As explained in Part 2, the Halakhah, that is the legal system of classical Judaism – as practised by virtually all Jews from the 9th century to the end of the 18th and as maintained to this very day in the form of Orthodox Judaism – is based primarily on the Babylonian Talmud. However, because of the unwieldy complexity of the legal disputations recorded in the Talmud, more manageable codifications of talmudic law became necessary and were indeed compiled by successive generations of rabbinical scholars. Some of these have acquired great authority and are in general use. For this reason we shall refer for the most part to such compilations (and their most reputable commentaries) rather than directly to the Talmud. It is however correct to assume that the compilation referred to reproduce faithfully the meaning of the talmudic text and the addi­tions made by later scholars on the basis of that meaning.

The earliest code of talmudic law which is still of major importance is the Mishneh Torah written by Moses Maimonides in the late 12th century. The most authoritative code, widely used to date as a handbook, is the Shulhan ‘Arukh composed by R. Yosef Karo in the late 16th century as a popular condensation of his own much more voluminous Beyt Yosef which was intended for the advanced scholar. The Shulhan ‘Arukh is much commented upon; in addition to classical commentaries dating from the 17th century, there is an important 20th century one, Mishnah Berurah. Finally, the Talmudic Encyclopedia – a modern compilation published in Israel from the 1950′s and edited by the country’s greatest Orthodox rabbinical scholars – is a good compendium of the whole talmudic literature.

Murder and genocide

According to the Jewish religion, murder of a Jew is a capital offence and one of the three most heinous sins (the other two being idolatry and adultery). Jewish religious courts and secular authorities are commanded to punish, even beyond the limits of the ordinary administration of justice, anyone guilty of murdering a Jew. A Jew who indirectly causes the death of another Jew is, however, only guilty of what talmudic law calls a sin against the ‘laws of Heaven’, to be punished by God rather than by man.

When the victim is a Gentile, the position is quite different. A Jew who murders a Gentile is guilty only of a sin against the laws of Heaven, not punish­able by a court.31 To cause indirectly the death of a Gentile is no sin at all.32

Thus, one of the two most important commentators on the Shulhan ‘Arukh explains that when it comes to a Gentile, ‘one must not lift one’s hand to harm him, but one may harm him indirectly, for instance by removing a ladder after he had fallen into a crevice… there is no prohibition here, because it was not done directly.’33 He points out, however, that an act leading indirectly to a Gentile’s death is forbidden if it may cause the spread of hostility towards Jews.34

A Gentile murderer who happens to be under Jewish jurisdiction must be executed whether the victim was Jewish or not. However, if the victim was Gentile and the murderer converts to Judaism, he is not punished.35

All this has a direct and practical relevance to the realities of the State of Israel. Although the state’s criminal laws make no distinction between Jew and Gentile, such distinction is certainly made by Orthodox rabbis, who in guiding their flock follow the Halakhah. Of special importance is the advice they give to religious soldiers.

Since even the minimal interdiction against murdering a Gentile outright applies only to ‘Gentiles with whom we [the Jews] are not at war’, various rabbinical commentators in the past drew the logical conclusion that in wartime all Gentiles belonging to a hostile population may, or even should, be killed.36 Since 1973 this doctrine is being publicly propagated for the guidance of re­ligious Israeli soldiers. The first such official exhortation was included in a booklet published by the Central-Region Command of the Israeli Army, whose area includes the West Bank. In this booklet the Command’s Chief Chaplain writes: ‘When our forces come across civilians during a war or in hot pursuit or in a raid, so long as there is no certainty that those civilians are incapable of harming our forces, then according to the Halakhah they may and even should be killed… Under no circumstances should an Arab be trusted, even if he makes an impression of being civilised… In war, when our forces storm the enemy, they are allowed and even enjoined by the Halakhah to kill even good civilians, that is, civilians who are ostensibly good.’37 The same doctrine is ex­pounded in the following exchange of letters between a young Israeli soldier and his rabbi, published in the yearbook of one of the country’s most prestigious religious colleges, Midrashiyyat No’am, where many leaders and activists of the National Religious Party and Gush Emunim have been educated.38

Letter from the soldier Moshe to Rabbi Shim’on Weiser:

‘With God’s help, to His Honour, my dear Rabbi,

‘First I would like to ask how you and your family are. I hope all is well. I am, thank God, feeling well. A long time I have not written. Please forgive me. Sometimes I recall the verse “when shall I come and appear before God?”39 I hope, without being certain, that I shall come during one of the leaves. I must do so.

‘In one of the discussions in our group, there was a debate about the “purity of weapons” and we discussed whether it is permitted to kill unarmed men – or women and children? Or perhaps we should take revenge on the Arabs? And then everyone answered according to his own understanding. I could not arrive at a clear decision, whether Arabs should be treated like the Amalekites, meaning that one is permitted to murder [sic] them until their remembrance is blotted out from under heaven,40 or perhaps one should do as in a just war, in which one kills only the soldiers?

‘A second problem I have is whether I am permitted to put myself in danger by allowing a woman to stay alive? For there have been cases when women threw hand-grenades. Or am I permitted to give water to an Arab who puts his hands up? For there may be reason to fear that he only means to deceive me and will kill me, and such things have happened.

‘I conclude with a warm greeting to the rabbi and all his family. – Moshe.’

Reply of R Shim’on Weiser to Moshe:

‘With the help of Heaven. Dear Moshe, Greetings.

‘I am starting this letter this evening although I know I cannot finish it this evening, both because I am busy and because I would like to make it a long letter, to answer your questions in full, for which purpose I shall have to copy out some of the sayings of our sages, of blessed memory, an interpret them.41

‘The non-Jewish nations have a custom according to which war has its own rules, like those of a game, like the rules of football or basketball. But according to the sayings of our sages, of blessed memory, {–––} war for us is not a game but a vital necessity, and only by this standard must we decide how to wage it. On the one hand {–––} we seem to learn that if a Jew murders a Gentile, he is regarded as a murderer and, except for the fact that no court has the right to punish him, the gravity of the deed is like that of any other murder. But we find in the very same authorities in another place {–––} that Rabbi Shim’on used to say: “The best of Gentiles – kill him; the best of snakes – dash out its brains.”

‘It might perhaps be argued that the expression “kill” in the saying of R Shim’on is only figurative and should not be taken literally but as meaning “oppress” or some similar attitude, and in this way we also avoid a contradic­tion with the authorities quoted earlier. Or one might argue that this saying, though meant literally, is [merely] his own personal opinion, disputed by other sages [quoted earlier]. But we find the true explanation in the Tosafot.42 There {–––} we learn the following comment on the talmudic pronouncement that Gentiles who fall into a well should not be helped out, but neither should they be pushed into the well to be killed, which means that they should neither be saved from death nor killed directly. And the Tosafot write as follows: “And if it is queried [because] in another place it was said The best of Gentiles – kill him, then the answer is that this [saying] is meant for wartime.” {–––}

‘According to the commentators of the Tosafot, a distinction must be made between wartime and peace-time, so that although during peace-time it is forbidden to kill Gentiles, in a case that occurs in wartime it is a mitzvah [= imperative, religious duty] to kill them. {–––}

‘And this is the difference between a Jew and a Gentile: although the rule “Whoever comes to kill you, kill him first” applies also to a Jew, as was said in Tractate Sanhedrin [of the Talmud], page 72a, still it only applies to him if there is [actual] ground to fear that he is coming to kill you. But a Gentile during wartime is usually to be presumed so, except when it is quite clear that he has no evil intent. This is the rule of “purity of weapons” according to the Halakhah – and not the alien conception which is now accepted in the Israeli army and which has been the cause of many [Jewish] casualties. I enclose a news­paper cutting with the speech made last week in the Knesset by Rabbi Kalman Kahana, which shows in a very lifelike – and also painful– way how this “purity of weapons” has caused deaths.

‘I conclude here, hoping that you will not find the length of this letter irksome. This subject was being discussed even without your letter, but your letter caused me to write up the whole matter.

‘Be in peace, you and all Jews, and [I hope to] see you soon, as you say. Yours – Shim’on.’

Reply of Moshe to R Shim’on Weiser:

‘To His Honour, my dear Rabbi,

‘First I hope that you and your family are in health and are all right.

‘I have received your long letter and am grateful for your personal watch over me, for I assume that you write to many, and most of your time is taken up with your studies in your own programme.

‘Therefore my thanks to you are doubly deep.

‘As for the letter itself, I have understood it as follows:

‘In wartime I am not merely permitted, but enjoined to kill every Arab man and woman whom I chance upon, if there is reason to fear that they help in the war against us, directly or indirectly. And as far as I am concerned I have to kill them even if that might result in an involvement with the military law. I think that this matter of the purity of weapons should be transmitted to educational institutions, at least the religious ones, so that they should have a position about this subject and so that they will not wander in the broad fields of “logic”, especially on this subject; and the rule has to be explained as it should be followed in practice. For, I am sorry to say, I have seen different types of “logic” here even among the religious comrades. I do hope that you shall be active in this, so that our boys will know the line of their ancestors clearly and unambiguously.

‘I conclude here, hoping that when the [training] course ends, in about a month, I shall be able to come to the yeshivah [= talmudic college]. Greetings – Moshe.’

Of course, this doctrine of the Halakhah on murder clashes, in principle, not only with Israel’s criminal law but also – as hinted in the letters just quoted – with official military standing regulations. However, there can be little doubt that in practice this doctrine does exert an influence on the administration of justice, especially by military authorities. The fact is that in all cases where Jews have, in a military or para-military context, murdered Arab non-combatants –including cases of mass-murder such as that in Kafr Qasim in 1956 – the murderers, if not let off altogether, received extremely light sentences or won far-reaching remissions, reducing their punishment to next to nothing.43

Saving of life

This subject – the supreme value of human life and the obligation of every human being to do the utmost to save the life of a fellow-human – is of obvious importance in itself. It is also of particular interest in a Jewish context, in view of the fact that since the second world war Jewish opinion has – in some cases justly, in others unjustly – condemned ‘the whole world’ or at least all Europe for standing by when Jews were being massacred. Let us therefore examine what the Halakhah has to say on this subject.

According to the Halakhah, the duty to save the life of a fellow Jew is paramount.44 It supersedes all other religious obligations and interdictions, excepting only the prohibitions against the three most heinous sins of adultery (including incest), murder and idolatry.

As for Gentiles, the basic talmudic principle is that their lives must not be saved, although it is also forbidden to murder them outright. The Talmud it­self45 expresses this in the maxim ‘Gentiles are neither to be lifted [out of a well] nor hauled down [into it]‘. Maimonides46 explains: ‘As for Gentiles with whom we are not at war… their death must not be caused, but it is forbidden to save them if they are at the point of death; if, for example, one of them is seen falling into the sea, he should not be rescued, for it is written: “neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy fellow”47 – but [a Gentile] is not thy fellow.’ In particu­lar, a Jewish doctor must not treat a Gentile patient. Maimonides – himself an illustrious physician – is quite explicit on this; in another passage48 he repeats the distinction between ‘thy fellow’ and a Gentile, and concludes: ‘and from this learn ye, that it is forbidden to heal a Gentile even for payment…’.

However, the refusal of a Jew – particularly a Jewish doctor – to save the life of a Gentile may, if it becomes known, antagonise powerful Gentiles and so put Jews in danger. Where such a danger exists, the obligation to avert it supersedes the ban on helping the Gentile. Thus Maimonides continues: ‘…but if you fear him or his hostility, cure him for payment, though you are forbidden to do so without payment.’ In fact, Maimonides himself was Saladin’s personal phys­ician. His insistence on demanding payment – presumably in order to make sure that the act is not one of human charity but an unavoidable duty – is however not absolute. For in another passage he allows a Gentile whose hostility is feared to be treated ‘even gratis, if it is unavoidable’.

The whole doctrine – the ban on saving a Gentile’s life or healing him, and the suspension of this ban in cases where there is fear of hostility – is repeated (virtually verbatim) by other major authorities, including the 14th century Arba’ah Turim and Karo’s Beyt Yosef and Shulhan ‘Arukh.’49 Beyt Yosef adds, quoting Maimonides: ‘And it is permissible to try out a drug on a heathen, if this serves a purpose’; and this is repeated also by the famous R Moses Isserles.

The consensus of halakhic authorities is that the term ‘Gentiles’ in the above doctrine refers to all non-Jews. A lone voice of dissent is that of R Moses Rivkes, author of a minor commentary on the Shulhan ‘Arukh, who writes:

‘Our sages only said this about heathens, who in their day worshiped idols and did not believe in the Jewish Exodus from Egypt or in the creation of the world ex nihilo. But the Gentiles in whose [protective] shade we, the people of Israel, are exiled and among whom we are scattered do believe in the creation of the world ex nihilo and in the Exodus and in several principles of our own religion and they pray to the Creator of heaven and earth… Not only is there no interdiction against helping them, but we are even obliged to pray for their safety.’50

This passage, dating from the second half of the 17th century, is a favourite quote of apologetic scholars.51 Actually, it does not go nearly as far as the apologetics pretend, for it advocates removing the ban on saving a Gentile’s life, rather than making it mandatory as in the case of a Jew; and even this liberality extends only to Christians and Muslims but not to the majority of human beings. Rather, what it does show is that there was a way in which the harsh doctrine of the Halakhah could have been progressively liberalised. But as a matter of fact the majority of later halakhic authorities, far from extending Rivkes’ leniency to other human groups, have rejected it altogether.

Desecrating the Sabbath to save life

Desecrating the sabbath – that is, doing work that would otherwise be banned on Saturday – becomes a duty when the need to save a Jew’s life demands it.

The problem of saving a Gentile’s life on the sabbath is not raised in the Talmud as a main issue, since it is in any case forbidden even on a weekday; it does however enter as a complicating factor in two connections.

First, there is a problem where a group of people are in danger, and it is poss­ible (but not certain) that there is at least one Jew among them; should the sabbath be desecrated in order to save them? There is an extensive discussion of such cases. Following earlier authorities, including Maimonides and the Talmud itself, the Shulhan ‘Arukh52 decides these matters according to the weight of probabilities. For example, suppose nine Gentiles and one Jew live in the same building. One Saturday the building collapses; one of the ten – it is not known which one – is away, but the other nine are trapped under the rubble. Should the rubble be cleared, thus desecrating the sabbath, seeing that the Jew may not be under it (he may have been the one that got away)? The Shulhan ‘Arukh says that it should, presumably because the odds that the Jew is under the rubble are high (nine to one). But now suppose that nine have got away and only one – again, it is not known which one – is trapped. Then there is no duty to clear the rubble, presumably because this time there are long odds (nine to one) against the Jew being the person trapped. Similarly: ‘If a boat containing some Jews is seen to be in peril upon the sea, it is a duty incumbent upon all to desecrate the sabbath in order to save it.’ However, the great R ‘Aqiva Eiger (died 1837) comments that this applies only ‘when it is known that there are Jews on board. But… if nothing at all is known about the identity of those on board, [the sabbath] must not be desecrated, for one acts according to [the weight of probabilities, and] the majority of people in the world are Gentiles.’53 Thus, since there are very long odds against any of the passengers being Jewish, they must be allowed to drown.

Secondly, the provision that a Gentile may be saved or cared for in order to avert the danger of hostility is curtailed on the sabbath. A Jew called upon to help a Gentile on a weekday may have to comply because to admit that he is not allowed, in principle, to save the life of a non-Jew would be to invite hostility. But on Saturday the Jew can use sabbath observance as a plausible excuse. A paradigmatic case discussed at length in the Talmud54 is that of a Jewish midwife invited to help a Gentile woman in childbirth. The upshot is that the midwife is allowed to help on a weekday ‘for fear of hostility’, but on the sabbath she must not do so, because she can excuse herself by saying: ‘We are allowed to desecrate the sabbath only for our own, who observe the sabbath, but for your people, who do not keep the sabbath, we are not allowed to desecrate it.’ Is this explana­tion a genuine one or merely an excuse? Maimonides clearly thinks that it is just an excuse, which can be used even if the task that the midwife is invited to do does not actually involve any desecration of the sabbath. Presumably, the excuse will work just as well even in this case, because Gentiles are generally in the dark as to precisely which kinds of work are banned for Jews on the sabbath. At any rate, he decrees: ‘A Gentile woman must not be helped in childbirth on the sabbath, even for payment; nor must one fear hostility, even when [such help involves] no desecration of the sabbath.’ The Shulhan ‘Arukh decrees likewise.55

Nevertheless, this sort of excuse could not always be relied upon to do the trick and avert Gentile hostility. Therefore certain important rabbinical authorities had to relax the rules to some extent and allowed Jewish doctors to treat Gentiles on the sabbath even if this involved doing certain types of work normally banned on that day. This partial relaxation applied particularly to rich and powerful Gentile patients, who could not be fobbed off so easily and whose hostility could be dangerous.

Thus, R Yo’el Sirkis, author of Bayit Hadash and one of the greatest rabbis of his time (Poland, 17th century), decided that ‘mayors, petty nobles and aristo­crats’ should be treated on the sabbath, because of the fear of their hostility which involves some danger. But in other cases, especially when the Gentile can be fobbed off with an evasive excuse, a Jewish doctor would commit ‘an unbearable sin’ by treating him on the sabbath. Later in the same century, a similar verdict was given in the French city of Metz, whose two parts were con­nected by a pontoon bridge. Jews are not normally allowed to cross such a bridge on the sabbath, but the rabbi of Metz decided that a Jewish doctor may nevertheless do so ‘if he is called to the great governor’: since the doctor is known to cross the bridge for the sake of his Jewish patients, the governor’s hostility could be aroused if the doctor refused to do so for his sake. Under the authoritarian rule of Louis XIV, it was evidently important to have the goodwill of his intendant; the feelings of lesser Gentiles were of little importance.56

Hokhmat Shlomoh, a 19th-century commentary on the Shulhan ‘Arukh mentions a similarly strict interpretation of the concept ‘hostility’ in connection with the Karaites, a small heretical Jewish sect. According to this view, their lives must not be saved if that would involve desecration of the sabbath ‘for “hostility” applies only to the heathen, who are many against us, and we are delivered into their hands… But the Karaites are few and we are not delivered into their hands, [so] the fear of hostility does not apply to them at all.’57 In fact, the absolute ban on desecrating the sabbath in order to save the life of a Karaite is still in force today, as we shall see.

The whole subject is extensively discussed in the responsa of R Moshe Sofer – better known as ‘Hatam Sofer’ – the famous rabbi of Pressburg (Bratislava) who died in 1832. His conclusions are of more than historical interest, since in 1966 one of his responsa was publicly endorsed by the then Chief Rabbi of Israel as ‘a basic institution of the Halakhah’.58 The particular question asked of Hatam Sofer concerned the situation in Turkey, where it was decreed during one of the wars that in each township or village there should be midwives on call ready to hire themselves out to any woman in labour. Some of these midwives were Jewish; should they hire themselves out to help Gentile women on week­days and on the sabbath?

In his responsum,59 Hatam Sofer first concludes, after careful investigation, that the Gentiles concerned – that is, Ottoman Christians and Muslims – are not only idolators ‘who definitely worship other gods and thus should “neither be lifted [out of a well] nor hauled down”,’ but are likened by him to the Amalekites, .so that the talmudic ruling ‘it is forbidden to multiply the seed of Amalek’ applies to them. In principle, therefore, they should not be helped even on weekdays. However, in practice it is ‘permitted’ to heal Gentiles and help them in labour, if they have doctors and midwives of their own, who could be called instead of the Jewish ones. For if Jewish doctors and midwives refused to attend to Gentiles, the only result would be loss of income to the former – which is of course undesirable. This applies equally on weekdays and on the sabbath, provided no desecration of the sabbath is involved. However, in the latter case the sabbath can serve as an excuse to ‘mislead the heathen woman and say that it would involve desecration of the sabbath’.

In connection with cases that do actually involve desecration of the sabbath, Hatam Sofer – like other authorities – makes a distinction between two cate­gories of work banned on the sabbath. First, there is work banned by the Torah, the biblical text (as interpreted by the Talmud); such work may only be performed in very exceptional cases, if failing to do so would cause an extreme danger of hostility towards Jews. Then there are types of work which are only banned by the sages who extended the original law of the Torah; the attitude towards breaking such bans is generally more lenient.

Another responsum of Hatam Sofer60 deals with the question whether it is permissible for a Jewish doctor to travel by carriage on the sabbath in order to heal a Gentile. After pointing out that under certain conditions travelling by horse-drawn carriage on the sabbath only violates a ban imposed ‘by the sages’ rather than by the Torah, he goes on to recall Maimonides’ pronouncement that Gentile women in labour must not be helped on the sabbath, even if no desecration of the sabbath is involved, and states that the same principle applies to all medical practice, not just midwifery. But he then voices the fear that if this were put into practice, ‘it would arouse undesirable hostility, for the Gentiles would not accept the excuse of sabbath observance,’ and ‘would say that the blood of an idolator has little worth in our eyes.’ Also, perhaps more importantly, Gentile doctors might take revenge on their Jewish patients. Better excuses must be found. He advises a Jewish doctor who is called to treat a Gentile patient out of town on the sabbath to excuse himself by saying that he is required to stay in town in order to look after his other patients, ‘for he can use this in order to say, “I cannot move because of the danger to this or that patient, who needs a doctor first, and I may not desert my charge”… With such an excuse there is no fear of danger, for it is a reasonable pretext, commonly given by doctors who are late in arriving because another patient needed them first.’ Only ‘if it is impossible to give any excuse’ is the doctor permitted to travel by carriage on the sabbath in order to treat a Gentile.

In the whole discussion, the main issue is the excuses that should be made, not the actual healing or the welfare of the patient. And throughout it is taken for granted that it is all right to deceive Gentiles rather than treat them, so long as ‘hostility’ can be averted. And this responsum is cited by a British rabbi as binding on Jews to this day.61

Of course, in modern times most Jewish doctors are not religious and do not even know of these rules. Moreover, it appears that even many who are religious prefer – to their credit – to abide by the Hippocratic oath rather than by the pre­cepts of their fanatic rabbis.62 However, the rabbis’ guidance cannot fail to have some influence on some doctors; and there are certainly many who, while not actually following that guidance, choose not to protest against it publicly.

All this is far from being a dead issue. The most up-to-date halakhic position on these matters is contained in a recent concise and authoritative book pub­lished in English under the title Jewish Medical Law.63 This book, which bears the imprint of the prestigeous Israeli foundation Mossad Harav Kook, is based on the responsa of R Eli’ezer Yehuda Waldenberg, Chief Justice of the Rabbini­cal District Court of Jerusalem. A few passages of this work deserve special mention.

First, ‘it is forbidden to desecrate the sabbath… for a Karaite.’64 This is stated bluntly, absolutely and without any further qualification. Presumably the hostility of this small sect makes no difference, so they should be allowed to die rather than be treated on the sabbath.

As for Gentiles: ‘According to the ruling stated in the Talmud and Codes of Jewish Law, it is forbidden to desecrate the Sabbath – whether violating Biblical or rabbinic law – in order to save the life of a dangerously ill gentile patient. It is also forbidden to deliver the baby of a gentile woman on the Sabbath.’65

But this is qualified by a dispensation: ‘However, today it is permitted to desecrate the Sabbath on behalf of a gentile by performing actions prohibited by rabbinic law, for by so doing one prevents ill feelings from arising between Jew and gentile.’66

This does not go very far, because medical treatment very often involves acts banned on the sabbath by the Torah itself, which are not covered by this dispen­sation. There are, we are told, ‘some’ halakhic authorities who extend the dispensation to such acts as well – but this is just another way of saying that most halakhic authorities, and the ones that really count, take the opposite view. However, all is not lost. Jewish Medical Law has a truly breath-taking solution to this difficulty.

The solution hangs upon a nice point of talmudic law. A ban imposed by the Torah on performing a given act on the sabbath is presumed to apply only when the primary intention in performing it is the actual outcome of the act. (For example, grinding wheat is presumed to be banned by the Torah only if the purpose is actually to obtain flour.) On the other hand, if the performance of the same act is merely incidental to some other purpose (melakhah she’eynah tzrikhah legufah) then the act changes its status – it is still forbidden, to be sure, but only by the sages rather than by the Torah itself. Therefore:

‘In order to avoid any transgression of the law, there is a legally acceptable method of rendering treatment on behalf of a gentile patient even when dealing with violation of Biblical law. It is suggested that at the time that the physician is providing the necessary care, his intentions should not primarily be to cure the patient, but to protect himself and the Jewish people from accusations of religious discrimination and severe retaliation that may endanger him in particu­lar and the Jewish people in general. With this intention, any act on the physician’s part becomes “an act whose actual outcome is not its primary purpose”… which is forbidden on Sabbath only by rabbinic law.’67

This hypocritical substitute for the Hippocratic oath is also proposed by a recent authoritative Hebrew book.68

Although the facts were mentioned at least twice in the Israeli press,69 the Israeli Medical Association has remained silent.

Having treated in some detail the supremely important subject of the attitude of the Halakhah to a Gentile’s very life, we shall deal much more briefly with other halakhic rules which discriminate against Gentiles. Since the number of such rules is very large, we shall mention only the more important one.

Sexual offences

Sexual intercourse between a married Jewish woman and any man other than her husband is a capital offence for both parties, and one of the three most heinous sins. The status of Gentile women is very different. The Halakhah presumes all Gentiles to be utterly promiscuous and the verse ‘whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue [of semen] is like the issue of horses’70 is applied to them. Whether a Gentile woman is married or not makes no differ­ence, since as far as Jews are concerned the very concept of matrimony does not apply to Gentiles (‘There is no matrimony for a heathen’). Therefore, the con­cept of adultery also does not apply to intercourse between a Jewish man and a Gentile woman; rather, the Talmud71 equates such intercourse to the sin of bestiality. (For the same reason, Gentiles are generally presumed not to have certain paternity.)

According to the Talmudic Encyclopedia:72 ‘he who has carnal knowledge of the wife of a Gentile is not liable to the death penalty, for it is written: thy fellow’s wife”73 rather than the alien’s wife; and even the precept that a man “shall cleave unto his wife”74 which is addressed to the Gentiles does not apply to a Jew, just as there is no matrimony for a heathen; and although a married Gentile woman is forbidden to the Gentiles, in any case a Jew is exempted.’

This does not imply that sexual intercourse between a Jewish man and a Gentile woman is permitted – quite the contrary. But the main punishment is inflicted on the Gentile woman; she must be executed, even if she was raped by the Jew: ‘If a Jew has coitus with a Gentile woman, whether she be a child of three or an adult, whether married or unmarried, and even if he is a minor aged only nine years and one day – because he had wilful coitus with her, she must be killed, as is the case with a beast, because through her a Jew got into trouble.’75

The Jew however must be flogged and if he is a Kohen (member of the priestly tribe) he must receive double the number of lashes, because he has committed a double offence: a Kohen must not have intercourse with a prostitute, and all Gentile women are presumed to be prostitutes.76


According to the Halakhah, Jews must not (if they can help it) allow a Gentile to be appointed to any position of authority, however small, over Jews. (The two stock examples are ‘commander over ten soldiers in the Jewish army’ and ‘superintendent of an irrigation ditch’.) Significantly, this particular rule applies also to converts to Judaism and to their descendants (through the female line) for ten generations or ‘so long as the descent is known’.

Gentiles are presumed to be congenital liars, and are disqualified from testifying in a rabbinical court. In this respect their position is, in theory, the same as that of Jewish women, slaves and minors; but in practice it is actually worse. A Jewish woman is nowadays admitted as a witness to certain matters of fact, when the rabbinical court ‘believes’ her; a Gentile – never.

A problem therefore arises when a rabbinical court needs to establish a fact for which there are only Gentile witnesses. An important example of this are cases concerning widows: by Jewish religious law, a woman can be declared a widow – and hence free to re-marry – only if the death of her husband is proven with certainty by means of a witness who saw him die or identified his corpse. However, the rabbinical court will accept the hearsay evidence of a Jew who testifies to having heard the fact in question mentioned by a Gentile eyewitness, provided the court is satisfied that the latter was speaking casually (‘goy mesiah lefi tummo‘) rather than in reply to a direct question; for a Gentile a direct answer to a Jew’s direct question is presumed to be a lie.77 If necessary, a Jew (preferably a rabbi) will actually undertake to chat up the Gentile eyewitness and, without asking a direct question, extract from him a casual statement of the fact at issue.

Money and property

1. Gifts. The Talmud bluntly forbids giving a gift to a Gentile. However, classi­cal rabbinical authorities bent this rule because it is customary among business­men to give gifts to business contacts. It was therefore laid down that a Jew may give a gift to a Gentile acquaintance, since this is regarded not as a true gift but as a sort of investment, for which some return is expected. Gifts to ‘unfamiliar Gentiles’ remain forbidden. A broadly similar rule applies to almsgiving. Giving alms to a Jewish beggar is an important religious duty. Alms to Gentile beggars are merely permitted for the sake of peace. However there are numerous rab­binical warnings against allowing the Gentile poor to become ‘accustomed’ to receiving alms from Jews, so that it should be possible to withhold such alms without arousing undue hostility.

2. Taking of interest. Anti-Gentile discrimination in this matter has become largely theoretical, in view of the dispensation (explained in Part-2) which in effect allows interest to be exacted even from a Jewish borrower. However, it is still the case that granting an interest-free loan to a Jew is recommended as an act of charity, but from a Gentile borrower it is mandatory to exact interest. In fact, many – though not all – rabbinical authorities, including Maimonides, consider it mandatory to exact as much usury as possible on a loan to a Gentile.

3. Lost property. If a Jew finds property whose probable owner is Jewish, the finder is strictly enjoined to make a positive effort to return his find by advertis­ing it publicly. In contrast, the Talmud and all the early rabbinical authorities not only allow a Jewish finder to appropriate an article lost by a Gentile, but actually forbid to return it.78 In more recent times, when laws were passed in most countries making it mandatory to return lost articles, the rabbinical auth­orities instructed Jews to do what these laws say, as an act of civil obedience to the state – but not as a religious duty, that is without making a positive effort to discover the owner if it is not probable that he is Jewish.

4. Deception in business. It is a grave sin to practice any kind of deception whatsoever against a Jew. Against a Gentile it is only forbidden to practice direct deception. Indirect deception is allowed, unless it is likely to cause hostility towards Jews or insult to the Jewish religion. The paradigmatic example is mistaken calculation of the price during purchase. If a Jew makes a mistake unfavourable to himself, it is one’s religious duty to correct him. If a Gentile is spotted making such a mistake, one need not let him know about it, but say ‘I rely on your calculation’, so as to forestall his hostility in case he subsequently discovers his own mistake.

5. Fraud. It is forbidden to defraud a Jew by selling or buying at an unreason­able price. However, ‘Fraud does not apply to Gentiles, for it is written: “Do not defraud each man his brother”;79 but a Gentile who defrauds a Jew should be compelled to make good the fraud, but should not be punished more severely than a Jew [in a similar case].’80

6. Theft and robbery. Stealing (without violence) is absolutely forbidden – as the Shulhan ‘Arukh so nicely puts it: ‘even from a Gentile’. Robbery (with violence) is strictly forbidden if the victim is Jewish. However, robbery of a Gentile by a Jew is not forbidden outright but only under certain circumstances such as ‘when the Gentiles are not under our rule’, but is permitted ‘when they are under our rule’. Rabbinical authorities differ among themselves as to the precise details of the circumstances under which a Jew may rob a Gentile, but the whole debate is concerned only with the relative power of Jews and Gentiles rather than with universal considerations of justice and humanity. This may explain why so very few rabbis have protested against the robbery of Palestinian property in Israel: it was backed by overwhelming Jewish power.

Gentiles in the Land of Israel

In addition to the general anti-Gentile laws, the Halakhah has special laws against Gentiles who live in the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisra’el) or, in some cases, merely pass through it. These laws are designed to promote Jewish supremacy in that country.

The exact geographical definition of the term ‘Land of Israel’ is much disputed in the Talmud and the talmudic literature, and the debate has con­tinued in modern times between the various shades of zionist opinion. Accord­ing to the maximalist view, the Land of Israel includes (in addition to Palestine itself) not only the whole of Sinai, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, but also con­siderable parts of Turkey.81 The more prevalent ‘minimalist’ interpretation puts the northern border ‘only’ about half way through Syria and Lebanon, at the latitude of Homs. This view was supported by Ben-Gurion. However, even those who thus exclude parts of Syria-Lebanon agree that certain special discriminatory laws (though less oppressive than in the Land of Israel proper) apply to the Gentiles of those parts, because that territory was included in David’s kingdom. In all talmudic interpretations the Land of Israel includes Cyprus.

I shall now list a few of the special laws concerning Gentiles in the Land of Israel. Their connection with actual zionist practice will be quite apparent.

The Halakhah forbids Jews to sell immovable property – fields and houses – ­in the Land of Israel to Gentiles. In Syria, the sale of houses (but not of fields) is permitted.

Leasing a house in the Land of Israel to a Gentile is permitted under two con­ditions. First, that the house shall not be used for habitation but for other purposes, such as storage. Second, that three or more adjoining houses shall not be so leased.

These and several other rules are explained as follows: ‘…so that you shall not allow them to camp on the ground, for if they do not possess land, their sojourn there will be temporary.’82 Even temporary Gentile presence may only be tolerated ‘when the Jews are in exile, or when the Gentiles are more powerful than the Jews,’ but ‘when the Jews are more powerful than the Gentiles we are forbidden to let an idolator among us; even a temporary resident or itinerant trader shall not be allowed to pass through our land unless he accepts the seven Noahide precepts,83 for it is written: “they shall not dwell in thy land,”84 that is, not even temporarily. If he accepts the seven Noahide precepts, he becomes a resident alien (ger toshav) but it is forbidden to grant the status of resident alien except at times when the Jubilee is held [that is, when the Temple stands and sacrifices are offered]. However, during times when Jubilees are not held it is forbidden to accept anyone who is not a full convert to Judaism (ger tzedeq).’85

It is therefore clear that – exactly as the leaders and sympathisers of Gush Emunim say – the whole question as to how the Palestinians ought to be treated is, according to the Halakhah, simply a question of Jewish power: if Jews have sufficient power, then it is their religious duty to expel the Palestinians.

All these laws are often quoted by Israeli rabbis and their zealous followers. For example, the law forbidding the lease of three adjoining houses to Gentiles was solemnly quoted by a rabbinical conference held in 1979 to discuss the Camp David treaties. The conference also declared that according to the Halakhah even the ‘autonomy’ that Begin was ready to offer to the Palestinians is too liberal. Such pronouncements – which do in fact state correctly the position of the Halakhah – are rarely contested by the zionist ‘left’.

In addition to laws such as those mentioned so far, which are directed at all Gentiles in the Land of Israel, an even greater evil influence arises from special laws against the ancient Canaanites and other nations who lived in Palestine before its conquest by Joshua, as well as against the Amalekites. All those nations must be utterly exterminated, and the Talmud and talmudic literature reiterate the genocidal biblical exhortations with even greater vehemence. Influentia1 rabbis, who have a considerable following among Israeli army officers, identify the Palestinians (or even all Arabs) with those ancient nations, so that commands like ‘though shalt save alive nothing that breatheth’86 acquire a topical meaning. In fact, it is not uncommon for reserve soldiers called up to do a tour of duty in the Gaza Strip to be given an ‘educational lecture’ in which they are told that the Palestinians of Gaza are ‘like the Amalekites’. Biblical verses exhorting to genocide of the Midianites87 were solemnly quoted by an important Israeli rabbi in justification of the Qibbiya massacre,88 and this pro­nouncement has gained wide circulation in the Israeli army. There are many similar examples of bloodthirsty rabbinical pronouncements against the Pales­nnians, based on these laws.


Under this heading I would like to discuss examples of halakhic laws whose most important effect is not so much to prescribe specific anti-Gentile discrimination as to inculcate an attitude of scorn and hatred towards Gentiles. Accordingly, in this section I shall not confine myself to quoting from the most authoritative halakhic sources (as I have done so far) but include also less fundamental works which are however widely used in religious instruction.

Let us begin with the text of some common prayers. In one of the first sections of the daily morning prayer, every devout Jew blesses God for not making him a Gentile.89 The concluding section of the daily prayer (which is also used in the most solemn part of the service on New Year’s day and on Yom Kippur) opens with the statement: ‘We must praise the Lord of all… for not making us like the nations of [all] lands… for they bow down to vanity and nothingness and pray to a god that does not help.’90 The last clause was censored out of the prayer books, but in eastern Europe it was supplied orally, and has now been restored into many Israeli-printed prayer books. In the most important section of the weekday prayer – the ‘eighteen blessings’ – there is a special curse, originally directed against Christians, Jewish converts to Christianity and other Jewish heretics: ‘And may the apostates91 have no hope, and all the Christians perish instantly’. This formula dates from the end of the first century, when Christian­ity was still a small persecuted sect. Some time before the 14th century it was softened into: ‘And may the apostates have no hope, and all the heretics92 perish instantly’, and after additional pressure into: ‘And may the informers have no hope, and all the heretics perish instantly’. After the establishment of Israel, the process was reversed, and many newly printed prayer books reverted to the second formula, which was also prescribed by many teachers in religious Israeli schools. After 1967, several congregations close to Gush Emunim have restored the first version (so far only verbally, not in print) and now pray daily that the Christians ‘may perish instantly’. This process of reversion happened in the period when the Catholic Church (under Pope John XXIII) removed from its Good Friday service a prayer which asked the Lord to have mercy on Jews, heretics etc. This prayer was thought by most Jewish leaders to be offensive and even antisemitic.

Apart from the fixed daily prayers, a devout Jew must utter special short blessings on various occasions, both good and bad (for example, while putting on a new piece of clothing, eating a seasonal fruit for the first time that year, seeing powerful lightening, hearing bad news, etc etc.) Some of these occasional prayers serve to inculcate hatred and scorn for all Gentiles. We have mentioned in Part 1 the rule according to which a pious Jew must utter a curse when passing near a Gentile cemetery, whereas he must bless God when passing near a Jewish cemetery. A similar rule applies to the living; thus, when seeing a large Jewish population a devout Jew must praise God, while upon seeing a large Gentile population he must utter a curse. Nor are buildings exempt: the Talmud lays down93 that a Jew who passes near an inhabited non-Jewish dwelling must ask God to destroy it, whereas if the building is in ruins he must thank the Lord of Vengeance. (Naturally, the rules are reversed for Jewish houses.) This rule was easy to keep for Jewish peasants who lived in their own villages or for small urban communities living in all-Jewish townships or quarters. Under the con­ditions of classical Judaism, however, it became impracticable and was there­fore confined to churches and places of worship of other religions (except Islam).94 In this connection, the rule was further embroidered by custom: it became customary to spit (usually three times) upon seeing a church or a cruci­fix, as an embellishment to the obligatory formula of regret.95 Sometimes insulting biblical verses were also added.96

There is also a series of rules forbidding any expression of praise for Gentiles or for their deeds, except where such praise implies an even greater praise of Jews and things Jewish. This rule is still observed by Orthodox Jews. For example, the writer Agnon, when interviewed on the Israeli radio upon his return from Stockholm, where he received the Nobel Prize for literature, praised the Swedish Academy, but hastened to add: ‘I am not forgetting that it is forbidden to praise Gentiles, but here there is a special reason for my praise’ – ­that is, that they awarded the prize to a Jew.

Similarly, it is forbidden to join any manifestation of popular Gentile rejoic­ing, except where failing to join in might cause ‘hostility’ towards Jews, in which case a ‘minimal’ show of joy is allowed.

In addition to the rules mentioned so far, there are many others whose effect is to inhibit human friendship between Jew and Gentile. I shall mention two examples: the rule on ‘libation wine’ and that on preparing food for a Gentile on Jewish holy days.

A religious Jew must not drink any wine (the term also includes other alcoholic drinks, except beer) in whose preparation a Gentile had any part what­soever. Wine in an open bottle, even if prepared wholly by Jews, becomes banned if a Gentile so much as touches the bottle or passes a hand over it. The reason given by the rabbis is that all Gentiles are not only idolators but must be presumed to be malicious to boot, so that they are likely to dedicate (by a whisper, gesture or thought) as ‘libation’ to their idol any wine which a Jew is about to drink. This law applies in full force to all Christians, and in a slightly attenuated form also to Muslims. (An open bottle of wine touched by a Christian must be poured away, but if touched by a Muslim it can be sold or given away, although it may not be drunk by a Jew.) The law applies equally to Gentile atheists (how can one be sure that they are not merely pretending to be atheists?) but not to Jewish atheists.

The laws against doing work on the sabbath apply to a lesser extent on other holy days. In particular, on a holy day which does not happen to fall on a Saturday it is permitted to do any work required for preparing food to be eaten during the holy day or days. Legally, this is defined as preparing a ‘soul’s food’ (okhel nefesh); but ‘soul’ is interpreted to mean ‘Jew’, and ‘Gentiles and dogs’ are explicitly excluded.97 There is, however, a dispensation in favour of power­ful Gentiles, whose hostility can be dangerous: it is permitted to cook food on a holy day for a visitor belonging to this category, provided he is not actively encouraged to come and eat.

An important effect of all these laws – quite apart from their application in practice – is in the attitude created by their constant study which, as part of the study of the Halakhah, is regarded by classical Judaism as a supreme religious duty. Thus an Orthodox Jew learns from his earliest youth, as part of his sacred studies, that Gentiles are compared to dogs, that it is a sin to praise them, and so on and so forth. As a matter of fact, in this respect textbooks for beginners have a worse effect than the Talmud and the great talmudic codes. One reason for this is that such elementary texts give more detailed explanations, phrased so as to influence young and uneducated minds. Out of a large number of such texts, I have chosen the one which is currently most popular in Israel and has been re­printed in many cheap editions, heavily subsidised by the Israeli government. It is The Book of Education, written by an anonymous rabbi in early 14th century Spain. It explains the 613 religious obligations (mitzvot) of Judaism in the order in which they are supposed to be found in the Pentateuch according to the talmudic interpretation (discussed in Part-2). It owes its lasting influence and popularity to the clear and easy Hebrew style in which it is written.

A central didactic aim of this book is to emphasise the ‘correct’ meaning of the Bible with respect to such terms as ‘fellow’, ‘friend’ or ‘man’ (which we have referred to in Part-2). Thus §219, devoted to the religious obligation arising from the verse ‘thou shalt love thy fellow as theyself’, is entitled: ‘A religious obligation to love Jews’, and explains: ‘To love every Jew strongly means that we should care for a Jew and his money just as one cares for oneself and one’s own money, for it is written: “though shalt love they fellow as thyself” and our sages of blessed memory said: “what is hateful to you do not do to your friend”… and many other religious obligations follow from this, because one who loves one’s friend as oneself will not steal his money, or commit adultery with his wife, or defraud him of his money, or deceive him verbally, or steal his land, or harm him in any way. Also many other religious obligations depend on this, as is known to any reasonable man.’

In §322, dealing with the duty to keep a Gentile slave enslaved for ever (where­as a Jewish slave must be set free after seven years), the following explanation is given: ‘And at the root of this religious obligation [is the fact that] the Jewish people are the best of the human species, created to know their Creator and worship Him, and worthy of having slaves to serve them. And if they will not have slaves of other peoples, they would have to enslave their brothers, who would thus be unable to serve the Lord, blessed be He. Therefore we are com­manded to possess those for our service, after they are prepared for this and after idolatory is removed from their speech so that there should not be danger in our houses,98 and this is the intention of the verse “but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigour”,99 so that you will not have to enslave your brothers, who are all ready to worship God.’

In §545, dealing with the religious obligation to exact interest on money lent to Gentiles, the law is stated as follows: ‘That we are commanded to demand interest from Gentiles when we lend money to them, and we must not lend to them without interest.’ The explanation is: ‘And at the root of this religious obligation is that we should not do any act of mercy except to the people who know God and worship Him; and when we refrain from doing merciful deed to the rest of mankind and do so only to the former, we are being tested that the main part of love and mercy to them is because they follow the religion of God, blessed be He. Behold, with this intention our reward [from God] when we with­hold mercy from the others is equal to that for doing [merciful deeds] to members of our own people.’

Similar distinctions are made in numerous other passages. In explaining the ban against delaying a worker’s wage (§238) the author is careful to point out that the sin is less serious if the worker is Gentile. The prohibition against cursing (§239) is entitled ‘Not to curse any Jew, whether man or woman’. Similarly, the prohibitions against giving misleading advice, hating other people, shaming them or taking revenge on them (§§240, 245, 246, 247) apply only to fellow-Jews.

The ban against following Gentile customs (§262) means that Jews must not only ‘remove themselves’ from Gentiles, but also ‘speak ill of all their behaviour, even of their dress’.

It must be emphasised that the explanations quoted above do represent correctly the teaching of the Halakhah. The rabbis and, even worse, the apologetic ‘scholars of Judaism’ know this very well and for this reason they do not try to argue against such views inside the Jewish community; and of course they never mention them outside it. Instead, they vilify any Jew who raises these matters within earshot of Gentiles, and they issue deceitful denials in which the art of equivocation reaches its summit. For example, they state, using general terms, the importance which Judaism attaches to mercy; but what they forget to point out is that according to the Halakhah ‘mercy’ means mercy towards Jews.

Anyone who lives in Israel knows how deep and widespread these attitudes of hatred and cruelty towards all Gentiles are among the majority of Israeli Jews. Normally these attitudes are disguised from the outside world, but since the establishment of the State of Israel, the 1967 war and the rise of Begin, a signifi­cant minority of Jews, both in Israel and abroad, have gradually become more open about such matters. In recent years the inhuman precepts according to which servitude is the ‘natural’ lot of Gentiles have been publicly quoted in Israel, even on TV, by Jewish farmers exploiting Arab labour, particularly child labour. Gush Emunim leaders have quoted religious precepts which enjoin Jews to oppress Gentiles, as a justification of the attempted assassination of Palestin­ian mayors and as divine authority for their own plan to expel all the Arabs from Palestine.

While many zionists reject these positions politically, their standard counter-­arguments are based on considerations of expediency and Jewish self-interest, rather than on universally valid principles of humanism and ethics. For example, they argue that the exploitation and oppression of Palestinians by Israelis tends to corrupt Israeli society, or that the expulsion of the Palestinians is impracticable under present political conditions, or that Israeli acts of terror against the Palestinians tend to isolate Israel internationally. In principle, however, virtually all zionists – and in particular ‘left’ zionists – share the deep anti-Gentile attitudes which Orthodox Judaism keenly promotes.

Note on the attitude of the Halakha to Christianity and Islam

In the foregoing, several examples of the rabbinical attitudes to these two religions were given in passing. But it will be useful to summarise these attitudes here.

Judaism is imbued with a very deep hatred towards Christianity, combined with ignorance about it. This attitude was clearly aggravated by the Christian persecutions of Jews, but is largely independent of them. In fact, it dates from the time when Christianity was still weak and persecuted (not least by Jews), and it was shared by Jews who had never been persecuted by Christians or who were even helped by them. Thus, Maimonides was subjected to Muslim persecutions by the regime of the Almohads and escaped from them first to the crusaders’ Kingdom of Jerusalem, but this did not change his views in the least. This deeply negative attitude is based on two main elements.

First, on hatred and malicious slanders against Jesus. The traditional view of Judaism on Jesus must of course be sharply distinguished from the nonsensical controversy between antisemites and Jewish apologists concerning the ‘respon­sibility’ for his execution. Most modern scholars of that period admit that due to the lack of original and contemporary accounts, the late composition of the Gospels and the contradictions between them, accurate historical knowledge of the circumstances of Jesus’ execution is not available. In any case, the notion of collective and inherited guilt is both wicked and absurd. However, what is at issue here is not the actual facts about Jesus, but the inaccurate and even slanderous reports in the Talmud and post-talmudic literature – which is what Jews believed until the 19th century and many, especially in Israel, still believe. For these reports certainly played an important role in forming the Jewish atti­tude to Christianity.

According to the Talmud, Jesus was executed by a proper rabbinical court for idolatry, inciting other Jews to idolatry, and contempt of rabbinical authority. All classical Jewish sources which mention his execution are quite happy to take responsibility for it; in the talmudic account the Romans are not even mentioned. The more popular accounts – which were nevertheless taken quite seriously – such as the notorious Toldot Yeshu are even worse, for in addition to the above crimes they accuse him of witchcraft. The very name ‘Jesus’ was for Jews a symbol of all that is abominable, and this popular tradition still persists.100 The Gospels are equally detested, and they are not allowed to be quoted (let alone taught) even in modern Israeli Jewish schools.

Secondly, for theological reasons, mostly rooted in ignorance, Christianity as a religion is classed by rabbinical teaching as idolatry. This is based on a crude interpretation of the Christian doctrines on the Trinity and Incarnation. All the Christian emblems and pictorial representations are regarded as ‘idols’ – even by those Jews who literally worship scrolls, stones or personal belongings of ‘Holy Men’.

The attitude of Judaism towards Islam is, in contrast, relatively mild. Although the stock epithet given to Muhammad is ‘madman’ (meshugga’), this was not nearly as offensive as it may sound now, and in any case it pales before the abu­sive terms applied to Jesus. Similarly, the Qur’an – unlike the New Testament­ – is not condemned to burning. It is not honoured in the same way as Islamic law honours the Jewish sacred scrolls, but is treated as an ordinary book. Most rabbinical authorities agree that Islam is not idolatry (although some leaders of Gush Emunim now choose to ignore this). Therefore the Halakhah decrees that Muslims should not be treated by Jews any worse than ‘ordinary’ Gentiles. But also no better. Again, Maimonides can serve as an illustration. He explicitly states that Islam is not idolatry, and in his philosophical works he quotes, with great respect, many Islamic philosophical authorities. He was, as I have mentioned before, personal physician to Saladin and his family, and by Saladin’s order he was appointed Chief over all Egypt’s Jews. Yet, the rules he lays down against saving a Gentile’s life (except in order to avert danger to Jews) apply equally to Muslims.


The following corrections should be made in Parts I and II of I Shahak's article on the Jewish religion published in Khamsin 8.
Page 38, line 18, for 'shegetz' read 'sheqetz'.
Page 48, lines 26-27, for 'six volumes, or tractates,' read 'six volumes, each sub-divided into several tractates,'.
Page 54, lines 12 and 15, for 'unleavened' read 'leavened'.

  • 1. See, for example, Jeremiah, 44, especially verses 15–19. For an excellent treatment of certain aspects of this subject see Raphael Patai, The Hebrew Goddess, Ktav, USA, 1967.
  • 2. Ezra, 7, 25–26. The last two chapters of this book are mainly concerned with Ezra’s efforts to segregate the ‘pure’ Jews (‘the holy seed’) away from ‘the people of the land’ (who were themselves at least partly of Jewish descent) and break up mixed marriages.
  • 3. W.F. Albright, Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands, Funk & Wagnall, New York, 1955, p103.
  • 4. It is significant that, together with this literary corpus, all the historical books written by Jews after about 400BC were also rejected. Until the 19th century, Jews were quite ignorant of the story of Massadah and of figures such as Judas Maccabaeus, now regarded by many (particularly by Christians) as belonging to the ‘very essence’ of Judaism.
  • 5. Acts, 18, 15.
  • 6. Ibid, 25.
  • 7. See note 6 to Part-1, Khamsin 8, p58.
  • 8. Concerning the term ‘classical Judaism’ see note 10 to Part-1 and note 1 to Part-2, Khamsin 8, pp58–9. (Ed.)
  • 9. Nobel Prize winners Agnon and Bashevis Singer are examples of this, but many others can be given, particularly Bialik, the national Hebrew poet. In his famous poem My Father he describes his saintly father selling vodka to the drunkard peasants who are depicted as animals. This very popular poem, taught in all Israeli schools, is one of the vehicles through which the anti-peasant attitude is reproduced.
  • 10. So far as the central power of the Jewish Patriarchate was concerned, the deal was terminated by Theodosius II in a series of laws, culminating in AD 429; but many of the local arrangements remained in force.
  • 11. Perhaps another characteristic example is the Parthian empire (until AD 225) but not enough is known about it. We know, however, that the establish­ment of the national Iranian Sasanid empire brought about an immediate decline of the Jews’ position.
  • 12. This ban extends also to marrying a woman converted to Judaism, because (as we shall see in the Appendix) all Gentile women are presumed by the Halakhah to be prostitutes.
  • 13. A prohibited marriage is not generally void, and requires a divorce. Divorce is nominally a voluntary act on the part of the husband, but under certain circumstances a rabbinical court can coerce him to ‘will’ it (kofin oto ‘ad sheyyomar rotzeh ani).
  • 14. Although Jewish achievements during the Golden Age in Muslim Spain (1002–1147) were more brilliant, they were not lasting. For example, most of the magnificent Hebrew poetry of that age was subsequently forgotten by Jews, and only recovered by them in the 19th or 20th century.
  • 15. During that war, Henry of Trastamara used anti-Jewish propaganda, although his own mother, Leonor de Guzman, a high Castilian noblewoman, was partly of Jewish descent. (Only in Spain did the highest nobility intermarry with Jews.) After his victory he too employed Jews in the highest financial positions.
  • 16. Until the 18th century the position of serfs in Poland was generally supposed to be even worse than in Russia. In that century, certain features of Russian serfdom, such as public sales of serfs, got worse than in Poland but the central Tsarist government always retained certain powers over the enslaved peasants, for example the right to recruit them to the national army.
  • 17. During the preceding period persecutions of Jews were rare. This is true of the Roman Empire even after serious Jewish rebellions. Gibbon is correct in praising the liberality of Antonius Pius (and Marcus Aurelius) to Jews, so soon after the major Bar-Kokhba rebellion of AD 132– 5.
  • 18. This fact, easily ascertainable by examination of the details of each persecu­tion, is not remarked upon by most general historians in recent times. An honourable exception is Hugh Trevor-Roper, The Rise of Christian Europe, Thames and Hudson, 1965, p173–4. Trevor-Roper is also one of the very few modern general historians who mention the predominant Jewish role in the early medieval slave trade between Christian (and pagan) Europe and the Muslim world (ibid, p92–3). In order to promote this abomination, which I have no space to discuss here, Maimonides allowed Jews, in the name of the Jewish religion, to abduct Gentile children into slavery; and his opinion was no doubt acted upon or reflected contemporary practice.
  • 19. Examples can be found in any history of the crusades. See especially S. Runciman, A History of the Crusades, vol I, book 3, chap 1, ‘The German Crusade’. The subsequent defeat of this host by the Hungarian army, ‘to most Christians appeared as a just punishment meted out of high to the murderers of the Jews.’ (Ibid, end of the chapter.)
  • 20. John Stoye, ‘Europe Unfolding 1648–1688′, The Fontana History of Europe, p46.
  • 21. This latter feature is of course not mentioned by received Jewish histori­ography. The usual punishment for a rebellious, or even ‘impudent’ peasant was impalement.
  • 22. The same can be observed in different regions of a given country. For example, in Germany, agrarian Bavaria was much more antisemitic than the industrialised areas.
  • 23. ‘The refusal of the Church to admit that once a Jew always a Jew, was another cause of pain for an ostentatious Catholic like Drumont. One of his chief lieutenants, Jules Guerin, has recounted the disgust he felt when the famous Jesuit, Pere du Lac, remonstrated with him for attacking some con­verted Jews Named Dreyfus.’ D.W. Brogan, The Development of Modern France vol 1, Paperback Harper Torchbooks, 1966, p227.
  • 24. Ibid.
  • 25. Let me illustrate the irrational, demonic, character which racism can some­times acquire with three examples chosen at random. A major part of the exter­mination of Europe’s Jews was carried out in 1942 and early 1943 during the Nazi offensive in Russia, which culminated in their defeat at Stalingrad. During the eight months June 1942 – February 1943 the Nazis probably used more railway wagons to haul Jews to the gas-chambers than to carry much needed supplies to the army. Before being taken to their death, most of these Jews, at least in Poland, had been very effectively employed in production of equipment for the German army. The second, rather remote, example comes from a description of the Sicilian Vespers in 1282: ‘Every Frenchman they met was struck down. They poured into the inns frequented by the French and the houses where they dwelt, sparing neither man nor woman nor child… The rioters broke into the Dominican and Franciscan convents, and all the foreign friars were dragged out and told to pronounce the word ciciri, whose sound the French tongue could never accurately reproduce. Anyone who failed in the test was slain.’ (S. Runciman, The Sicilian Vespers, Cambridge UP, 1958, p215.) The third example is very recent: In the summer of 1980 – following an assassination attempt by Jewish terrorists in which Mayor Bassam Shak’a of Nablus lost both his legs and Mayor Karim Khalaf of Ramallah lost a foot – a group of Jewish Nazis gathered in the campus of Tel Aviv University, roasted a few cats and offered their meat to passers-by as ‘shish-kebab from the legs of the Arab mayors’. Anyone who witnessed this macabre orgy – as I did – would have to admit that some horrors defy explanation at the present state of knowledge.
  • 26. One of the early quirks of Jabotinsky (founder of the party now led by Begin) was to propose, in about 1912, the creation of two Jewish states, one in Palestine and the other in Angola: the former, being poor in natural resources, would be subsidised by the riches of the latter.
  • 27. Herzl went to Russia to meet von Plehve in August 1903, less than four months after the hideous Kishinev pogrom, for which the latter was known to be responsible. Herzl proposed an alliance, based on their common wish to get most of the Jews out of Russia and, in the shorter term, to divert Jewish support away from the socialist movement. The Tsarist minister started the first interview (8th August) by observing that he regarded himself as ‘an ardent sup­porter of zionism’. When Herzl went on to describe the aims of zionism, von Plehve interrupted: ‘You are preaching to the converted’. ‘Amos Elon, Herzl, ‘Am ‘Oved, 1976 (Hebrew), pp415–9.
  • 28. Dr Joachim Prinz, Wir Juden, Berlin, 1934, pp150–1.
  • 29. Ibid, pp154–5.
  • 30. For example see ibid, p 136. Even worse expressions of sympathy with Nazism were voiced by the extremist Lohamey Herut Yisra’el (Stern Gang) as late as 1941. Dr Prinz was, in zionist terms, a ‘dove’. In the 1970s he even patronised the US Jewish movement Breira, until he was dissuaded by Golda Meir.
  • 31. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, ‘Laws on Murderer’ 2, 11; Talmudic Encyc­lopedia, ‘Goy’.
  • 32. R Yo’el Sirkis, Bayit Hadash, commentary on Beyt Yosef, ‘Yoreh De’ah’ 158. The two rules just mentioned apply even if the Gentile victim is ger toshav, that is a resident alien who has undertaken in front of three Jewish witnesses to keep the ‘seven Noahide precepts’ (seven biblical laws considered by the Talmud to be addressed to Gentiles).
  • 33. R David Hallewi (Poland, 17th century), Turey Zahav on Shulhan ‘Arukh, ‘Yoreh De’ah’ 158.
  • 34. This concept of ‘hostility’ will be discussed below.
  • 35. Talmudic Encyclopedia, ‘Ger’ (=convert to Judaism).
  • 36. For example, R Shabbtay Kohen (mid-17th century), Siftey Kohen on Shulhan ‘Arukh, ‘Yoreh De’ah’ 158: ‘But in times of war it was the custom to kill them with one’s own hands, for it is said, “The best of Gentiles – kill him!”.’ Siftey Kohen and Turey Zahav (see note 3) are the two major classical commentaries on the Shulhan ‘Arukh.
  • 37. Colonel Rabbi A. Avidan (Zemel), “Tohar hannesheq le’or hahalakhah’ (= ‘Purity of weapons in the light of the Halakhah’) in Be’iqvot milhemet yom hakkippurim – pirqey hagut, halakhah umehqar (= In the wake of the Yom Kippur war – chapters of meditation, Halakhah and research), Central-Region Command, 1973; quoted in Ha’olam Hazzeh, 5 January 1974; also quoted by David Shaham, ‘A chapter of meditation’, Hotam 28, March 1974; and by Amnon Rubinstein, ‘Who falsifies the Halakhah?’ Ma’ariv, 13 October 1975. Rubinstein reports that the booklet was subsequently withdrawn from circula­tion by order of the Chief of General Staff, presumably because it encouraged soldiers to disobey his own orders; but he complains that Rabbi Avidan has not been court-martialled, nor has any rabbi – military or civil – taken exception to what he had written.
  • 38. R Shim’on Weiser, ‘Purity of weapons – an exchange of letters’ in Niv Hammidrashiyyah, Yearbook of Midrashiyyat No’am, 1974, pp29–31. The yearbook is in Hebrew, English and French, but the material quoted here is printed in Hebrew only.
  • 39. Psalms, 42, 2.
  • 40. ‘Thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven’, Deuteronomy, 25, 19. Cf also I Samuel, 15, 3: ‘Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.’
  • 41. We spare the reader most of these rather convoluted references and quotes from talmudic and rabbinical sources. Such omissions are marked {–––}. The rabbi’s own conclusions are reproduced in full.
  • 42. The Tosafot (literally, Addenda) are a body of scholia to the Talmud, dating from the 11th–13th centuries.
  • 43. Persons guilty of such crimes are even allowed to rise to high public positions. An illustration of this is the case of Shmu’el Lahis, who was respons­ible for the massacre of between 50 and 75 Arab peasants imprisoned in a mosque after their village had been conquered by the Israeli army during the 1948–49 war. Following a pro forma trial, he was granted complete amnesty, thanks to Ben-Gurion’s intercession. The man went on to become a respected lawyer and in the late 1970s was appointed Director-General of the Jewish Agency (which is, in effect, the Israel branch of the zionist movement). In early 1978 the facts concerning his past were widely discussed in the Israeli press, but no rabbi or rabbinical scholar questioned either the amnesty or his fitness for his new office. His appointment was not revoked.
  • 44. Shulhan ‘Arukh, ‘Hoshen Mishpat’ 426.
  • 45. Tractate ‘Avodah Zarah, p26b.
  • 46. Maimonides, op cit, ‘Murderer’ 4, 11.
  • 47. Leviticus,19, 16. Concerning the rendering ‘thy fellow’, see note 14 to Part-2, Khamsin 8.
  • 48. Maimonides, op cit, ‘Idolatry’ 10, 1–2.
  • 49. In both cases in section ‘Yoreh De’ah’ 158. The Shulhan ‘Arukh repeats the same doctrine in ‘Hoshen Mishpat’ 425.
  • 50. Moses Rivkes, Be’er Haggolah on Shulhan ‘Arukh, ‘Hoshen Mishpat’ 425.
  • 51. Thus Professor Jacob Katz, in his Hebrew book Between Jews and Gentiles as well as in its more apologetic English version Exclusiveness and Tolerance, quotes only this passage verbatim and draws the amazing conclusion that ‘regarding the obligation to save life no discrimination should be made between Jew and Christian’ . He does not quote any of the authoritative views I have cited above or in the next section.
  • 52. Maimonides, op cit, ‘Sabbath’ 2, 20–21; Shulhan ‘Arukh, ‘Orah Hayyim’ 329.
  • 53. R’ Aqiva Eiger, commentary on Shulhan ‘Arukh, ibid. He also adds that if a baby is found abandoned in a town inhabited mainly by Gentiles, a rabbi should be consulted as to whether the baby should be saved.
  • 54. Tractate ‘Avodah Zarah, p26.
  • 55. Maimonides, op cit, ‘Sabbath’ 2, 12; Shulhan ‘Arukh, ‘Orah Hayyim’ 330. The latter text says ‘heathen’ rather than ‘Gentile’ but some of the commentators, such as Turey Zahav, stress that this ruling applies ‘even to Ishmaelites’, that is, to Muslims, ‘who are not idolators’. Christians are not mentioned explicitly in this connection, but the ruling must a fortiori apply to them, since – as we shall see below – Islam is regarded in a more favourable light than Christianity. See also the responsa of Hatam Sofer quoted below.
  • 56. These two examples, from Poland and France, are reported by Rabbi I. Z. Cahana (afterwards professor of Talmud in the religious Bar-Ilan University, Israel), ‘Medicine in the Halachic post-Talrnudic Literature’, Sinai vol 27, 1950, p221. He also reports the following case from 19th century Italy. Until 1848, a special law in the Papal States banned Jewish doctors from treating Gentiles. The Roman Republic established in 1848 abolished this law along with all other discriminatory law against Jews. But in 1849 an expeditionary force sent by France’s President Louis Napoleon (afterwards Emperor Napoleon 1II) defeated the Republic and restored Pope Pius IX, who in 1850 revived the anti-­Jewish laws. The commanders of the French garrison, disgusted with this extreme reaction, ignored the papal law and hired some Jewish doctors to treat their soldiers. The Chief Rabbi of Rome, Moshe Hazan, who was himself a doctor, was asked whether a pupil of his, also a doctor, could take a job in a French military hospital despite the risk of having to desecrate the sabbath. The rabbi replied that if the conditions of employment expressly mention work on the sabbath, he should refuse. But if they do not, he could take the job and employ ‘the great cleverness of God-fearing Jews.’ For example, he could repeat on Saturday the prescription given on Friday, by simply telling this to the dispenser. R Cahana’s rather frank article, which contains many other examples, is mentioned in the bibliography of a book by the present Chief Rabbi of Britain, R Immanuel Jakobovits, Jewish Medical Ethics, Bloch, New York, 1962; but in the book itself nothing is said on this matter.
  • 57. Hokhmat Shlomoh on Shulhan ‘Arukh, ‘Orah Hayyim’ 330, 2.
  • 58. R Unterman, Ha’aretz, 4 April 1966. The only qualification he makes after having been subjected to continual pressure – is that in our times any refusal to give medical assistance to a Gentile could cause such hostility as might endanger Jewish lives.
  • 59. Hatam Sofer, Responsa on Shulhan ‘Arukh, ‘Yoreh De’ah’ 131.
  • 60. Op cit on Shulhan ‘Arukh, ‘Hoshen Mishpat’ 194.
  • 61. R B Knobelovitz in The Jewish Review (Journal of the Mizrachi Party in Great Britain), 8 June 1966.
  • 62. R Yisra’el Me’ir Kagan – better known as the ‘Hafetz Hayyim’ –complains in his Mishnah Berurah, written in Poland in 1907: ‘And know ye that most doctors, even the most religious, do not take any heed whatsoever of this law; for they work on the sabbath and do travel several parasangs to treat a heathen, and they grind medicaments with their own hands. And there is no authority for them to do so. For although we may find it permissible, because of the fear of hostility, to violate bans imposed by the sages – and even this is not clear; yet in bans imposed by the Torah itself it must certainly be forbidden for any Jew to do so, and those who transgress this prohibition violate the sabbath utterly and may God have mercy on them for their sacrilege.’ (Commentary on Shulhan ‘Arukh, ‘Orah Hayyim’ 330.) The author is generally regarded as the greatest rabbinical authority of his time.
  • 63. Avraham Steinberg MD (ed.), Jewish Medical Law, compiled from Tzitz Eli’ezer (Responsa of R Eli’ezer Yehuda Waldenberg), translated by David B. Simons MD, Gefen & Mossad Harav Kook, Jerusalem and California, 1980.
  • 64. Op cit, p39.
  • 65. Ibid, p41.
  • 66. Ibid, p41. The phrase ‘between Jew and gentile’ is a euphemism. The dis­pensation is designed to prevent hostility of Gentiles towards Jews, not the other way around.
  • 67. Ibid, p41–42; my emphasis.
  • 68. Dr Falk Schlesinger Institute for Medical Halakhic Research at Sha’arey Tzedeq Hospital, Sefer Asya (= The Physician’s Book), Reuben Mass, Jerusalem, 1979.
  • 69. By myself in Ha’olam Hazzeh, 30 May 1979 and by Shullamit Aloni, Member of Knesset, in Ha’aret, 17 June 1980.
  • 70. Ezekiel, 23, 20.
  • 71. Tractate Berakhot, p78a.
  • 72. Talmudic Encyclopedia, ‘Eshet Ish’ (= ‘Married Woman’).
  • 73. Exodus, 20, 17.
  • 74. Genesis, 2, 24.
  • 75. Maimonides, op cit, ‘Prohibitions on Sexual Intercourse’ 12, 10; Talmudic Encyclopedia, ‘Goy’.
  • 76. Maimonides, op cit, ibid, 12, 1–3. As a matter of fact, every Gentile woman is regarded as N.Sh.G.Z. – acronym for the Hebrew words Niddah, Shifhah, Goyah, Zonah (= unpurified from menses, slave, Gentile, prostitute). Upon conversion to Judaism, she ceases indeed to be niddah, shifhah, goyah but is still considered zonah (prostitute) for the rest of her life, simply by virtue of having been born of a Gentile mother. In a special category is a woman ‘con­ceived not in holiness but born in holiness’, that is born to a mother who had converted to Judaism while pregnant. In order to make quite sure that there are no mix-ups, the rabbis insist that a married couple who convert to Judaism together must abstain from marital relations for three months.
  • 77. Characteristically, an exception to this generalisation is made with respect to Gentiles holding legal office relating to financial transactions: notaries, debt ­collectors, bailiffs and the like. No similar exception is made regarding ordinary decent Gentiles, not even if they are friendly towards Jews.
  • 78. Some very early (first century BC) rabbis called this law ‘barbaric’ and actually returned lost property belonging to Gentiles. But the law nevertheless remained.
  • 79. Leviticus, 25, 14. This is a literal translation of the Hebrew phrase. The King James Version renders this as ‘ye shall not oppress one another’; ‘oppress’ is imprecise but ‘one another’ is a correct rendering of the biblical idiom ‘each man his brother’. As pointed out in Part-2, the Halakhah interprets all such idioms as referring exclusively to one’s fellow-Jew.
  • 80. Shulhan ‘Arukh, ‘Hoshen Mishpat’ 227.
  • 81. This view is advocated by H Bar-Drorna, Wezeh Gvul Ha’aretz (=And This is the Border of the Land), Jerusalem, 1958. In recent years this book is much used by the Israeli army in indoctrinating its officers.
  • 82. Maimonides, op cit, ‘Idolatry’ 10, 3–4.
  • 83. See note 2.
  • 84. Exodus, 23, 33.
  • 85. Maimonides, op cit, ‘Idolatry’ 10, 6.
  • 86. Deuteronomy, 20, 16. See also the verses quoted in note 10.
  • 87. Numbers, 31, 13–20; note in particular verse 17: ‘Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.’
  • 88. R Sha’ul Yisra’eli, ‘Taqrit Qibbiya Le’or Hahalakhah’ (= ‘The Qibbiya incident in the light of the Halakhah’), in Hattorah Wehammedinah, vol 5, 1953/4.
  • 89. This is followed by a blessing ‘for not making me a slave’. Next, a male must add a blessing ‘for not making me a woman’, and a female ‘for making me as He pleased’.
  • 90. In eastern Europe it was until recent times a universal custom among Jews to spit on the floor at this point, as an expression of scorn. This was not however a strict obligation, and today the custom is kept only by the most pious.
  • 91. The Hebrew word is meshummadim, which in rabbinical usage refers to Jews who become ‘idolators’, that is either pagan or Christians, but not to Jewish converts to Islam.
  • 92. The Hebrew word is minim, whose precise meaning is ‘disbelievers in the uniqueness of God’.
  • 93. Tractate Berakhot , p58b.
  • 94. According to many rabbinical authorities the original rule still applies in full in the Land of Israel.
  • 95. This custom gave rise to many incidents in the history of European Jewry. One of the most famous, whose consequence is still visible today, occurred in 14th century Prague. King Charles IV of Bohemia (who was also Holy Roman Emperor) had a magnificent crucifix erected in the middle of a stone bridge which he had built and which still exists today. It was then reported to him that the Jews of Prague are in the habit of spitting whenever they pass next to the crucifix. Being a famous protector of the Jews, he did not institute persecution against them, but simply sentenced the Jewish community to pay for the Hebrew word Adonay (Lord) to be inscribed on the crucifix in golden letters. This word is one of the seven holiest names of God, and no mark of disrespect is allowed in front of it. The spitting ceased. Other incidents connected with the same custom were much less amusing.
  • 96. The verses most commonly used for this purpose contain words derived from the Hebrew root shaqetz which means ‘abominate, detest’, as in Deutronomy, 7, 26: ‘thou shalt utterly detest it, and thou shalt utterly abhor it; for it is a cursed thing’. It seems that the insulting term sheqetz; used to refer to all Gentiles (see Part-1), originated from this custom.
  • 97. Talmud, Tractate Beytzah, p2Ia, b; Mishnah Berurah on Shulhan ‘Arukh, ‘Orah Hayyim’ 512. Another commentary (Magen Avraham) also excludes Karaites.
  • 98. According to the Halakhaha, a Gentile slave bought by a Jew should be converted to Judaism, but does not thereby become a proper Jew.
  • 99. Leviticus, 25, 46.
  • 100. The Hebrew form of the name Jesus – Yeshu – was interpreted as an acronym for the curse ‘may his name and memory be wiped out’, which is used as an extreme form of abuse. In fact, anti-zionist Orthodox Jews (such as Neturey Qarta) sometimes refer to Herzl as ‘Herzl Jesus’ and I have found in religious zionist writings expressions such as ‘Nasser Jesus’ and more recently ‘Arafat Jesus’.