Refuting various claims about the Talmud

Written by Gil Student

The Accusation

Moed Kattan 17a . If a Jew is tempted to do evil he should go to a city where he is not known and do the evil there.


The Text

Talmud Moed Kattan 17a

Rabbi Ila'i said: If a person is tempted to do evil he should go to a city where he is not known, dress in black clothes, cover his head in black, and do what his heart desires so that G-d's name will not be desecrated.


Note the part of the passage that is not quoted in the accusation. The accusers do not mention that this person (not necessarily a Jew) must dress in black and cover his head. Why should this be if the Talmud is offering advice on how to commit a crime? Quite the opposite, this person should try to blend in with everyone else. Rather the Talmud is offering very sound psychological advice. This person is not directly told "You can't do it." That advice to a person steeped in desire is meaningless because the person has lost control of his actions. Rather, the person is bidden to first delay his intended actions by going to a city where he is not known. This lengthy trip will serve as a cooling off period. He is then told to dress humbly which should further serve as a reminder of what he should be doing compared to what he plans on doing. Rather than offering carte blanche permission to sin, the Talmud is suggesting a form of indirect rebuke to prevent the person from sinning [see Rashi in the name of Rav Hai Gaon and Chiddushei HaRan; Tosafot, Kiddushin 40a]. The desecration of G-d's name is a subterfuge to convince this sick individual to follow the path to health.

The Accusation

Yebhamot 11b: "Sexual intercourse with a little girl is permitted if she is three years of age."

Aboda Sarah 37a: "A gentile girl who is three years old can be violated."


The Text

Talmud Ketuvot 11b (The citation mentioned is evidently in error. Talmud Yevamot 11b has no relevant passage)

Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: A male child who has relations with a female adult causes her to be like one who was injured with a stick... Rava said: This is what was meant - an adult male who has relations with a female child has not done anything because less than this [three years old] is like sticking a finger into an eyeball.


While those unused to these Talmudic discussions might be taken aback by the use of euphemisms, the discussion here relates to the dowry for virgins and non-virgins. A virgin receives a higher dowry. While the tell-tale sign of virginity is the release of blood due to the breaking of the hyman on the wedding night, there are occasions when the hyman has already been broken such as when the woman suffered an injury. The Talmud here adds that a sexual act with a male minor is not considered to be a loss of virginity because one of the participants is not fully active. While the female's hyman may have been broken, she has not engaged in what can be classified as a sexual act (although it is certainly child abuse).

The Talmud continues that a sexual act between a male adult and a female under the age of three is also not considered a loss of virginity (although it is child abuse). Since the girl is too young for her hyman to be broken, she is still considered a virgin.

Nowhere is the Talmud permitting such behavior. Sex outside of a marriage is strictly forbidden (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Ishut 1:4, Hilchot Na'arah Betulah 2:17; Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 26:1, 177:5) as is this obvious case of child abuse. The Talmud is only discussing ex post facto what would happen if such a case arose.

The same usage occurs in the passage in Talmud Avodah Zarah 37a. The Talmud states that at the age of three a girl is capable of participating in a sexual act. However, that act is not permissible. See also Jerusalem Talmud Ketuvot 1:2 (4b).

The Accusation

Sanhedrin 59a: "A goy (Gentile) who pries into The Law (Talmud) is guilty of death."


The Text

Talmud Sanhedrin 59a

Rabbi Yochanan said: A gentile who studies Torah is liable for death as it says (Deuteronomy 33:4) "Moses commanded us Torah as a heritage." It is a heritage for us and not for them... Rabbi Meir would say: How do we know that even a gentile who engages in the study of Torah is like a Jewish high priest? As it says (Leviticus 18:5) "Which man shall do [i.e. study] and by which he shall live [in the afterlife]." It does not say "priests, Levites, and Israelites" but "man". We learn from here that even a gentile who engages in the study of Torah is like a Jewish high priest. [We answer the contradiction between Rabbi Yochanan's statement and Rabbi Meir's that] there [Rabbi Meir] is referring to their seven commandments.


The Talmud provides a contradiction between two statements regarding whether a gentile is allowed to study Torah. The accusation only quotes one side and does not provide the resolution. By seeing the whole text and the resolution we can better understand the Talmud's intent.

What the accusation also does not quote is the passage immediately preceding ours. The Talmud states that it is forbidden for a gentile to fully observe the Jewish Sabbath and holidays. While this does not seem as conspiratorial as the prohibition against studying Torah it is still curious. Why should it be? The explanation is tied to the Talmud's resolution to the contradiction between Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Meir. The Talmud concludes that both rabbis agree but one was stating that a gentile is forbidden to study the parts of Torah that discuss the commandments relating specifically to Jews and the other was stating that a gentile is highly praised for studying the parts of Torah that discuss the commandments that relate to him. In other words, a gentile should be concerned with his role in G-d's world. He should actively pursue his place in the divine plan and attempt to raise himself to the highest human levels. However, as a righteous gentile, he must confine himself to HIS role and not someone else's role. When he starts studying about Jewish commandments and observing Jewish holidays, he is stepping out of his role as a righteous gentile and entering the role of a Jew. This is as inappropriate as if a Jew would start acting in the role of a righteous gentile. We all have our roles in the world and it is wrong to try to side-step those roles. A gentile can become a Jew through conversion but a righteous gentile is righteous in his own right and is forbidden to try to over-step his role.




The Accusation
Talmud Erubin 21b. Whosoever disobeys the rabbis deserves death and will be punished by being boiled in hot excrement in Hell.


The Text

Talmud Eruvin 21b

(Ecclesiastes 12:12) "And extensive study (lahag) is physically exhausting." Rav Papa bar Rav Acha bar Ada said in the name of Rav Acha bar Ula: This teaches that everyone who mocks (mal'ig) the words of the sages will be punished in burning excrement. Rava attacked: It does not say la'ag but lahag. Rather, whoever studies (hogeh) them will taste delectable meat.


The accusation crucially mistranslates "mocks" as "disobeys" which changes the meaning of the passage. The accusation also neglects to point out that the statement is disproven. However, the point still remains that, as demanded in Deuteronomy 17:8-13, Jews must follow the rulings of their judges i.e. the rabbis.


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Copyright 2000 Gil Student