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How could Zionists and anti-Zionists revere the same Talmud?

12/01/06

Dear Rabbi,

Hello, I am slightly confused. I see anti-zionist jews protesting against the state of Israel. This is great. I assume you hold the Babylonian Talmud in high estime. There are also, as you probably know, other groups of Hasidic jews who are very racist, the settlers in Palestine are an example. I assume they also revere the Talmud. My question is regarding the Talmud. Racism and anit-racism are fundamentaly opposed, how is it that two opposing philosophies can both be spawned by the same body of literature? How can you hold such radicaly opposed views? What do you make of discriminatory statements in the talmud? Am I in error about statements saying that goyim are beast made to be slaves, and that even the best of the goyim deserve to be killed? Do you or they(racist jews) put the Torah first or the Talmud first?

I would really appreciate a response, for I am quite perplexed. Thank you.
FB

Dear FB,

First let me explain the relationship of the Torah and the Talmud, so you understand that they are both equally revered by all Orthodox Jews without exception. When G-d gave us the Torah, He also gave us an explanation of its laws, to be transmitted orally from generation to generation. For example, the Torah prohibits work on the Sabbath, but does not say exactly what "work" means. G-d explained to Moses orally that it means carrying objects in the street, lighting fires, tying knots, slaughtering animals and so on. The Torah says to take the fruit of the goodly trees on Succoth, but does not say which fruit. Oral tradition explains that it is the ethrog or citron. If you think about it, most of the laws in the Torah are impossible to observe without more explanation.

These explanations were passed down from teacher to student for about 1500 years, until around the year 200 of the common era. At that time the Sages became afraid that the laws would be forgotten, and they decided to write them down. This written work was called the Mishnah, and is the backbone of the Talmud. Even this Mishnah was written in a concise style and left much room for oral explanation, which went on being passed down for another 300 years. At that time it was written down, again out of fear of being forgotten, as the Talmud. All of Jewish law today is based on the Talmud, and is kept by all observant Jews. There have been breakoff sects in history - once in about 300 BCE and another in about 700 CE - who rejected the orally transmitted laws. But they are almost non-existent today.

The Talmud does not say that goyim should be slaves. The Torah and Talmud do permit slavery, and it was practiced by Jews in that era. Both Jews and non-Jews can be slaves to either Jews or non-Jews. In that time, slavery was the norm in the non-Jewish world as well. The Talmud says that Jews must follow the laws of the land they live in, and so in our time when most governments have outlawed slavery, we are also forbidden to practice it.

There is no statement in the Talmud that the best of the goyim deserve to be killed. What it actually says is that the best of the Egyptians were drowned by G-d in the miracle of the Red Sea. Pharaoh's army pursued the Israelites with horses and chariots (Exodus 14:7). Where did he get those horses, ask the Talmudic rabbis? Weren't all the horses destroyed by the plague of hail? The answer is that some Egyptians listened to Moses' warning and kept their horses inside during the hail (ibid. 9:20). Those were the "best Egyptians," the ones who paid attention to the prophecy of Moses. Even those Egpytians were wicked and G-d punished them for afflicting their Jewish slaves.

So you see that the statement was taken totally out of context by whoever told you about it. It refers only to the wicked Egpytians, and it refers to G-d's punishment, not that we should kill them.

How is it that two opposing philosophies can both be spawned by the same body of literature? The answer is that the religious Zionists take pieces of that literature out of context. They use the pieces of the Bible and Talmud they want, and ignore the rest. There was a period in ancient history when Jews were permitted to fight wars, for example the period of Joshua, King David etc. The Torah has laws relating to war, and the Talmud, just as it explains all the laws of the Torah, explains these laws as well. The Zionists see these wars as their precedent. But they are ignoring the fact that these wars were fought by Divine command. From the year 69 and onward, when the Temple was destroyed and our exile began, Jews have been forbidden to fight any wars. The Talmud says that explicitly, but the Zionists ignore it. The Talmud says explicitly that Jews may not reconquer the land of Palestine. The Zionists ignore that too.

The Bible and Talmud have a lot of material on the final redemption, when G-d will bring peace to the world and restore the Jews to their ancestral land. The Zionists, through their ignorance of the sources, have misconstrued this as a political or military effort. However, the true Jewish belief, which Jews have held throughout the centuries, is that first G-d will send the messiah, a Jewish leader who will bring all the Jews to keep the laws of the Torah and will be recognized by the entire world as the messiah. Then the process of gathering the Jewish exiles will begin, peacefully, since the non-Jews will also agree that this messiah is a messenger of G-d. No one will be killed or forcibly expelled. We don't think these beliefs are considered offensive or racist to non-Jews today, because no one feels threatened by something they don't believe in. Christians make similar statements that in the end of days everyone will recognize their messiah as the true one, and we Jews are not threatened by them because we simply don't believe in what they say.

But the Zionists have severely distorted these age-old Jewish beliefs, and they cause the Jews to be seen by the non-Jewish world as a nation on a holy war of expulsion and racism. We are deeply hurt by this mistaken portrayal of our people and religion, and that is why we protest against it in any way possible.

I hope this information answers your questions.