Medieval W. Christendom
3. Coercion in the Service of Christian Truth

In 1240, as we have seen, the convert Nicholas Donin orchestrated a trial of the Talmud in Paris. Utilizing his knowledge of rabbinic literature, he leveled a series of charges against the Talmud, succeeded in winning papal and some secular support, and staged a trial in which the literature of the Jews was found guilty on a number of counts. The result of this verdict was a massive burning of the Talmud and related literature outside Paris in 1242. Quite by coincidence, it is from the same year that we have the first firm evidence of the new-style Christian missionizing among the Jews. This evidence comes from a papal letter of 1245, which encloses an earlier royal edict of King James I of Aragon. The edict addresses a series of issues related to conversion to Christianity and stipulates a number of forms of protection for the convert- (1) he is not to be impeded in the process of conversion; (2) he is to suffer no property loss as a result of conversion; and (3) he is to suffer no social rebuke as a result of conversion. The edict closes on a different note-

Likewise we wish and decree that, whenever the archbishop, bishops, or Dominican or Franciscan friars visit a town or a locale where Saracens or Jews dwell and wish to present the word of God to the said Jews or Saracens, these must gather at their call and must patiently hear their preaching. If they [the Jews or Saracens] do not wish to come of their own will, our officials shall compel them to do so, putting aside all excuses.1

This last stipulation establishes an important ongoing technique for bringing the message of Christianity to the potential convert. It is significant, of course, that the Dominicans and Franciscans are mentioned so prominently in the ordering of compulsory Muslim and Jewish attendance at conversionist sermons. As we have seen, these new orders were committed to stemming internal backsliding in Christendom and to reaching out for converts from non-Christian society.

Forcing Jews or Muslims to attend conversionist sermons was not unprecedented in Christendom. We have already noted sporadic efforts in this direction. What is new in 1242 is institutionalization of the practice. Jews and Muslims are henceforth to be forced in a regular manner into hearing the message of Christianity. In fact, there is good evidence that, during the middle decades of the thirteenth century, such regularized preaching did occur. How common the new practice was is not clear; it was certainly no longer a random and highly unusual phenomenon.

To be sure, there were theoretical problems associated with the new practice. Given the fundamental safeguards established by the Roman Catholic Church for Jewish life, in particular the prohibition of forcible conversion, it could be asked whether compelling Jews to attend conversionist sermons did not represent an abrogation of the traditional protections. The point is a fine one. From the Christian side, it could be claimed that conversions achieved through forced sermons would not constitute conversion under duress. While Jews might be compelled to hear the truth, they would ultimately assent to it only by an act of free and independent will. From the Jewish perspective, it could be argued that compulsion was being used at the outset of a process whose culmination might be conversion, thereby abrogating the traditional safeguards erected for Jewish religious liberty.

It is interesting that these considerations are not reflected in Christian sources of the period. There is, however, a revealing echo of these issues in an important mid-thirteenth-century Jewish source from southern France. This text, the Milhemet Mizvah (The Obligatory War), is an extremely valuable mélange of materials written over a number of decades, from the 1240s through the 1270s, and rich in the social history of this crucial epoch.2 The opening section of this diverse collection includes a reference to the new practice of forced sermons, which had obviously reached the area of Narbonne. The Jewish author is aware of the practice and vigorously opposes it. The issue of forced preaching is raised in the context of a literary discussion between a Christian and a Jew. While this particular dialogue seems fictitious, much of the material in it, including the discussion of forced sermons, depicts accurately new Christian initiatives and the Jewish responses evoked.3

Unfortunately, the extant manuscript of the Milhemet Mizvah begins well into this particular dialogue. The opening statement by the Christian protagonist has been lost; the first material available comes from the middle of the lengthy rebuttal of the Jewish spokesman. From this response, it is fairly easy to reconstruct the arguments attributed to the Christian. How far these Jewish statements reflect Christian thinking of the period is conjecture. In general, however, the Milhemet Mizvah is distinguished for its accurate reflection of the real issues agitating mid-thirteenth-century southern French Jewish life. The Jewish author presents three Christian arguments for compelling Jewish attendance at conversionist sermons. Not surprisingly, the first two were drawn from biblical sources, with the third simply an appeal to reason. The first argument was drawn from Deuteronomy 23-8- “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your kinsman.” It is difficult to know how seriously such an argument should be taken; it may reflect no more than semihumorous jousting or the Jewish author’s suggestion of the low level of Christian argumentation. Taken at face value, the Christian protagonist argues that there is nothing wrong with Jewish contact with Christians, popularly associated in the medieval Jewish mind with Edom and Edomites.4 Put differently, there is nothing that would prohibit such contact. The second biblically grounded argument is more positive. From the precedent of Jethro’s advice to Moses and the Israelites and their full acceptance of that advice, it can be inferred that much of value may be gleaned from the teaching of non-Jews. Thus, compulsory sermons might be a source of genuine enlightenment. The final argument is really the decisive one. This last argument, as reconstructed from the Jewish rebuttal, simply suggests that Christian preaching represents the truth and that Jews should be exposed to it, in the hope that they might accept this truth. This seems to represent the position I have earlier surmised- the means of delivering the truth is irrelevant; it is the truth itself that is decisive.

The Jewish responses to these three arguments—like the purported Christian arguments—range from semi-jocular jousting to intense seriousness. The first Christian argument required little refutation; the Jewish spokesman merely points to the end of the verse cited- “Children born to them may be admitted into the congregation of the Lord in the third generation.” What this means is that the injunction not to abhor the Edomite does not address itself to hearing his religious message; it simply put a temporal limit on his exclusion from the Israelite community. No sanction for hearing the Edomite’s religious message is embodied in this verse.5

While neither the first Christian thrust nor the first Jewish parry has an air of deep seriousness about it, the second Christian claim is treated much more carefully. The Jewish disputant contends that, at the time Jethro gave his advice, he had become a worshiper of the God of Israel.

For earlier it is written that Jethro said- “Now I know that the Lord is the greatest of all gods.” And it is said- “And Jethro said, ‘Blessed be the Lord who has saved you from the power of Egypt and of Pharoah.’” And he offered sacrifices, as is written- “Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a whole-offering and sacrifices for God.”6

A second rebuttal suggests that the counsel proferred was qualitatively different from that of Christian preachers. Jethro was advising in the area of administrative efficiency, while Christian preachers were advocating a fundamental change of faith.7 Finally, the Jew concludes by noting that Jethro’s proposals could be checked directly with the divine through the prophetic faculties of Moses. In thirteenth-century Jewry, where prophecy had long since disappeared, no such outside counsel could be countenanced.8

Although there is much seriousness about this exchange, the real issue lay in the third Christian claim, and the Jewish rebuttal strikes at the heart of the matter. Again, the Jew responds with a series of answers. These varying replies all rest on one common assumption, however, that Jewish status in medieval Christendom is rooted in the majority’s absolute guarantee of the minority’s right to live according to its own understanding of its religious heritage.

Indeed you are commanded to protect us and to preserve us in your midst by guarding our religion according to our faith, so that you not cause us to transgress one of the commandments of the Torah according to our understanding of its meaning.9

Given this fundamental assumption, the Jew sets out to prove that listening to Christian preaching does in fact constitute a breach of Jewish law and hence is not to be forced on his brethren. The first assertion of such a breach is striking. The Jew contends that, according to Jewish tradition and even according to the Gospels, the Pharisaic contemporaries of Jesus viewed him as a sorcerer. Since the biblical injunction against heeding the sorcerer is strict and Christians acknowledge that they are the followers of Jesus, Jews are therefore forbidden by their own religious tradition from hearing the Christian message.10 The negative force of this statement is mitigated somewhat by the author’s emphasis on its relativity- according to the Pharisees, Jesus was a sorcerer and hence Jews must not heed his disciples. This is not an absolute indictment. Nonetheless, it is a jarring accusation, and one wonders whether it could be voiced in actual Jewish-Christian discussion. In any event, the conclusion the Jewish disputant reaches is that his coreligionists are prohibited from listening to Christian sermons and Christian law itself forecloses the option of forcing the Jews to trespass their own commandments.

A second contention in the same vein, albeit less derogatory, flows from an important verse in Ezekiel- “No foreigner, uncircumcised in mind and body, shall enter my sanctuary, in order to serve me.”11 The Jewish spokesman asserts (1) according to Jewish law, Christians surely fall into the category of “uncircumcised in mind and body”- (2) preaching is a form of “service”; and (3) the synagogue is a “sanctuary.” The inescapable conclusion is that Christian preaching in the synagogue contravenes the prohibition of Ezekiel, as Jewish tradition understood it, and, consequently, that Christendom had no right to enforce such violations on the Jews.12

The third counterclaim abandons biblical moorings and is in many ways the most interesting. The author sets forth an elaborate parable of a woman married to a man who has seemingly disappeared. She is subsequently besieged by the attentions of a suitor who is convinced of the husband’s demise. The question posed is what advice should be given to such a woman. Should she be counseled to hear the ardent plaints of her suitor, lest she offend him and lose the benefits conferred on her and her children, or should she be required to cease all contact, lest she be seduced into sin? The Jew’s decisive conclusion is that all men of good faith would urge such a woman to avoid exposure to temptation at all cost.

Now then understand the parable. For in the Bible you will find in many places that we, the people of Israel, are designated in relation to the Holy One as a woman to her husband, as is written- “For your husband is your maker, whose name is the Lord of Hosts.”13 It is further said- “Your God shall rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over the bride.”14 When they sin, they are likened to a woman who behaves improperly toward her husband, as is written- “Their mother is a wanton; she who conceived them is shameless….Plead my case with your mother, for she is no longer my wife nor I her husband. Plead with her to forswear those wanton looks, to banish the lovers from her bosom.”15 And when they return in repentance, it is said- “I will betroth you to myself for ever; I will betroth you in lawful wedlock with unfailing devotion and love- I will betroth you to myself firmly; and you shall know the Lord.”16 It is likewise said- “The Lord had acknowledged you as a wife again, once deserted and heart-broken; your God has called you a bride still young though once rejected. On the impulse of the moment I forsook you, but with tender affection I will bring you home again.”17 In sum, there are many verses that attest this. Therefore anyone who wishes to seduce us and to cause us to sin against the divine according to the dictates of our faith, we must not heed him; rather we must even flee if we can be saved in no other way. Indeed if you exert force in this matter, you yourselves will transgress the commandment of your Gospel, in which you are bidden not to cause us to transgress one of the commandments of our Torah according to our faith.18

This, then, represents a direct confrontation with the key issue. Forced sermons present the possibility of luring Jews from their ancestral fold. The use of coercion for such a purpose is, to the Jews, a flagrant violation of the basic safeguards historically assured by Christendom.

We have focused thus far on the theoretical issues associated with the new phenomenon of regularized compulsory sermons. This new technique did not remain a matter of theory alone, however. There is substantial evidence for extensive utilization of this new technique during the middle decades of the thirteenth century. Such preaching clearly took place in southern France. Early on in the report of Rabbi Moses ben Nahman on the proceedings in Barcelona, he quotes himself as saying the following to Friar Paul Christian-

Before we debate this, I wish that he would instruct me and indicate how such a thing is possible. Indeed since he journeyed in Provence and in many places, I have heard that he said such things to many Jews and I am astounded at him.19

A second attestation to the reality of compulsory sermons in mid-thirteenth-century southern France is found in the Milhemet Mizvah, which we have already cited. One of the most interesting segments of this useful mélange opens as follows-

This is the beginning of the sermon which I preached after the Dominican friar—not of our faith—spoke in the synagogue before the congregation. With him was a multitude large and distinguished. Within my sermon were replies to those statements which he made against us on that occasion.20

Similarly, there is evidence for exercise of the same compulsion in Spain, particularly in the kingdom of Aragon. The most famous incident of this kind was the historic confrontation in Barcelona in 1263, which I shall analyze fully later. Clearly, however, this was not an isolated incident. There is reference in Nahmanides’ report to an earlier colloquy between the rabbi of Gerona and Friar Paul Christian, and, slightly after the proceedings in Barcelona, the synagogue of that city was the site of a set of compulsory sermons, one delivered by Friar Raymond of Penyafort and the second by none other than the King of Aragon.21 Subsequent to the completion of the Pugio Fidei in 1278, Pope Nicholas III issued a bull ordering preaching to the Jews throughout western Christendom.22 This call was supported by King Peter III of Aragon, who, on April 19, 1279, ordered his royal officials to aid the preachers by forcing the Jews to receive them in their synagogues.23 A series of royal letters from June and October of the same year treat at length the untoward side effects of the new preaching campaign, indicating quite clearly that the edict of April 19 was extensively carried out.24

While the initial scene of this new-style preaching was southern Europe, the newer Jewish communities of the north were not spared completely. Particularly noteworthy was the support extended by the pious King Louis IX of France to such conversionist efforts in the last years of his life, prior to departure on a second crusading venture, during which he met his death. In 1269, Louis followed the lead of James of Aragon by enacting the following edict-

Since our beloved brother in Christ, Paul Christian of the Order of Preaching Brethren, the bearer of the present letter, wishes and intends, for the glory of the divine name, to preach to the Jews the word of light, in order, we understand, to evangelize for the exaltation of the Christian faith, we order you to force those Jews residing in your jurisdiction to present themselves to hear from him and without objection the word of the Lord and to present their books as the aforesaid brother shall require. You shall compel the Jews to respond fully, without calumny and subterfuge, on those matters which relate to their law, concerning which the aforesaid brother might interrogate them, whether in sermons in their synagogues or elsewhere.25

A valuable Parisian chronicle indicates that this edict was enforced almost immediately.

On the same year [1269], close to Pentecost, a certain brother of the Order of Preaching Brethren…came from Lombardy. He had been a Jew and was the highest authority in Mosaic law and in our law. Publicly, in the royal court in Paris and in the court of the Preaching Brethren, he preached to the Jew, who came there by royal order—showing them that their law was null and worthless, that they had in fact not observed it for a long time, that indeed they daily diverted from all its precepts.26

In England as well, a decade later, royal support was elicited in the form of an order by Edward I in 1280 requiring Jewish attendance at conversionist sermons.27 Across both the southern and northern tiers of western Christendom, the new practice of forced Jewish attendance at missionizing sermons was fully in evidence by the end of this period.

In all these instances, compulsion was exercised on the Jews at the behest of the Church by the reigning authorities, as reflected, for example, in overt notice of the papal bull of 1278 in Peter III’s order of 1279.28 Where the secular authorities failed to lend their support, the program of compulsory sermons could not be realized. These authorities were not always models of consistency in their support. Thus, for example, King James I of Aragon, in the wake of the Barcelona confrontation, issued two edicts supporting the new preaching campaign. The first, dated August 26, 1263, was addressed to royal officialdom and simply repeated the provision of the king’s earlier legislation of 1242, ordering his royal officials to enforce Jewish and Muslim attendance at sermons preached by Dominican friars.29 Three days later, the king addressed the Jews of his realm directly, mentioning Friar Paul Christian explicitly as the key figure in the missionizing effort and spelling out more fully some details of the new preaching campaign.

We firmly command and order you that, when our beloved Friar Paul Christian, of the Order of Preaching Brethren, whom we send to you in order to exhibit the path of salvation, comes to you in your synagogues or your homes or other locales, for the proper purpose of preaching the word of God or of disputing or of conferring with you concerning sacred scriptures, in public or in private or in personal conversation, together or separately, you must come to him and listen gently and favorably and humbly and reverently and without calumny and subterfuge answer his questions concerning faith and sacred scriptures, according to your knowledge. Your books—which he will need for showing you the truth—you must present to him.30

Interestingly, the Jews were to pay for the expenses incurred by Friar Paul and deduct the sum paid from their regular taxes, in effect, making the king responsible for them. On the next day, however, the king seems to have reversed himself in a decree addressed once more to royal officialdom.

We order you that you not compel nor permit to be compelled the Jews of our cities, towns, and locales of our rule nor their wives or their children to exit to any place outside the Jewish quarter for the purpose of hearing a sermon of any of the Preaching Friars. Rather, if any friar of the Preaching Friars wishes to enter their Jewish quarter or their synagogues and there to preach to them, they shall hear him if they wish. For this we have conceded to those Jews, that they not be required to go outside of their Jewish quarter for the purpose of hearing the sermon of anyone nor be required by force to hear a sermon anywhere. This we concede to them despite any document conceded by us to the contrary to the Preaching Friars.31

Precisely what transpired to alter royal support is not known. This complex case does indicate the potential for a shift in position on the part of the authorities and the critical impact of such shifts. In general, however, an increasing number of rulers in western Christendom began to back the ecclesiastical program of forced sermons during the middle decades of the thirteenth century.

A number of questions must be raised with regard to this evidence for compulsory sermons during the 1240s, 1250s, and 1260s. The first two concern the physical site and the Christian presence at the sermons. Since these issues were intimately linked, I shall treat them in tandem. Looking back over the incidents of conversionist preaching, we note the following locales- (1) major centers of secular authority, for example, the royal palaces in Barcelona and Paris; (2) major ecclesiastical institutions, for example, a large monastery in Barcelona and the Dominican priory in Paris; and (3) Jewish houses of worship, for example, the synagogues of Narbonne, Gerona, Barcelona, and a large number of Aragonese cities reflected in the royal edicts of 1279. In a number of instances, large retinues of Christians are mentioned (e.g. in Narbonne, Barcelona, Paris, and again the locales reflected in the Aragonese documentation of 1279). The specifics of these circumstances were of utmost importance to the Jews. Part of the impact of the compulsory sermon was psychological, stemming from the sense of powerlessness on the part of the Jewish auditors. An overwhelming setting certainly augmented this psychological impact. This is clearly reflected in a Hebrew report of a forced sermon delivered in Paris.

Know that each day we were over a thousand souls in the royal court or in the courtyard of the Dominicans, pelted with stones. Praise to the Lord, not one of us turned to the religion of vanity and lies.32

Here we see both the pressure of a Christian as opposed to a Jewish setting and the harassment of a large Christian audience. Given the alternative of hearing a Christian preacher outside their own community or within, the Jews surely preferred to host the preacher in their own setting. This is reflected in the pro-Jewish edict of James I of Aragon cited above. Moreover, it was of course in the Jewish interest to be confronted with as small a Christian contingent as possible. From the Jewish perspective, the less impressive the Christian presence, the better. The royal edicts of Peter III indicate some of the specifics of Christian harassment that went well beyond mere physical presence. There is reference to intimidating behavior, about which the Jews obviously lodged complaint. The result was a series of royal letters upholding the Jewish complaints and strictly limiting the number of Christian auditors allowed at the missionizing sermons.

The question of language utilized in this preaching is an intriguing one. While the records of these sermons have come down to us only in Latin or Hebrew, it is impossible to envision such proceedings in either language. Latin would certainly not have provided a vehicle for reaching large numbers of Jews effectively. While some of the preachers, perhaps Friar Paul Christian among them, might have known enough Hebrew to address an audience in that language, others, like Friar Raymond of Penyafort or King James I of Aragon, would not have been so equipped. Moreover, avid following of the proceedings by Christian observers would not have been possible had they taken place in Hebrew. It is thus fairly obvious that the missionizing sermons and most of the Jewish responses were in the local vernacular. While this is plausible, it does leave one problem, and that is the pan-European activity of a preacher like Friar Paul Christian. How was it possible for him to preach to Jewish audiences in so many different areas of Europe, using the local vernacular? No ready answer is available, other than to suggest that language proficiency was an integral part of the equipment of such professional preachers.

Thus, during the 1240s, the intense new atmosphere of Christian Europe—suffused with a deep-seated commitment to controlling patterns of thought among Christians, to limiting potentially harmful self-expression on the part of Christendom’s non-Christian guests, and to spreading Christian truth among the infidels—created a powerful new tool for propagating Christian teaching among nonbelievers within the orbit of Christian society. A militant Church sought, and often received, the support of the secular overlords of the Muslims and Jews in forcing them to hear Christianity’s message delivered by trained, learned, and eloquent preachers. Forcing physical presence at such conversionist sermons and debates constituted a first step in confronting these non-Christians with Christian truth. More crucial was the content of the message delivered, and it is to this key element in the new campaign that we must now turn our attention.

1. J. Sbaralea, Bullarium Franciscanum (4 vols.; Rome, 1759-1768), I, 376, #90; Grayzel, The Church and the Jews, 254-256, #105.

2. The Milhemet Mizvah is found in Bib. pal. Parma, ms. 2749. The fullest description is that of Siegfrid Stein, Jewish-Christian Disputations in Thirteenth-Century Narbonne (London, 1969). Subsequent to Stein’s work, note also Robert Chazan, “A Jewish Plaint to Saint Louis,” Hebrew Union College Annual XLV (1974)- 287-305; idem, “Anti-Usury Efforts in Thirteenth-Century Narbonne and the Jewish Response,” Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research XLI-XLII (1973-74)- 45-67; idem, “Confrontation in the Synagogue of Narbonne- A Christian Sermon and a Jewish Reply,” The Harvard Theological Review LXVII (1974)- 437-457; Ch. Merhavia, “Concerning the Date of R. Meir ben Simeon’s Milhemet Mizva” (Hebrew), Tarbiz XLV (1976)- 296-302; Robert Chazan, “Polemical Themes in the Milhemet Mizvah,” Les juifs au regard de I’histoire- Mélanges en I’honneur de Bernhard Blumenkranz, ed. Gilbert Dahan (Paris, 1985), 169-184. Significant segments of the text have been edited by William Herskowitz in his Yeshiva University dissertation Judaeo-Christian Dialogue in Provence as Reflected in Milhemet Mizva of R. Meir ha-Meili (1974) and by M. Y. Blau, Shitat ha-Kadmonim’al Masekhet Nazir (New York, 1974), 305-357.

3. The dialogue is found in the Parma ms., 1a-17a and 37b-64a, and in Herskowitz, Judaeo-Christian Dialogue, 2-25, 102-144.

4. See Gerson D. Cohen, “Esau as Symbol in Early Medieval Thought,” Jewish Medieval and Renaissance Studies, ed. Alexander Altmann (Cambridge, Mass., 1967), 19-48.

5. Herskowitz, Judaeo-Christian Dialogue, p. 2.

6. Ibid., 4.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid., 3.

10. Ibid., 2-3.

11. Ezek. 449.

12. Herskowitz, Judaeo-Christian Dialogue, p. 4.

13. Isa. 54-5.

14. Ibid., 62-5.

15. Hos. 2-7 and 2-4.

16. Ibid., 2-21-22. The translation has been modified slightly.

17. Isa. 54-6-7.

18. Herskowitz, 3-4.

19. The original scholarly edition of Nahmanides’s report on the Barcelona proceedings, by Moritz Steinschneider, was reprinted by Chaim Chavel as part of his comprehensive collection of the writings of Nahmanides and is more conveniently available there. See Chaim Chavel, Kitvei Rabbenu Moshe ben Nahman (rev. ed.; 2 vols.; Jerusalem, 1971), I, 303. Steinschneider miscopied the Constantinople edition, resulting in the strange reading-

כי מאז שהמלך בפרבינציה ובמקומות רבים

(since the king was in Provence and in many places). In fact, the Constantinople edition and a series of manuscripts all read-

(since he [i.e., Friar Paul] journeyed in Provence and in many places). Cf. Ms. Cambridge, Add. 1224, 12b; Ms. Parma 127, 1b; Ms. Florence 24, 2b; Ms. Paris 334, 234b; Ms. Oxford 2408, 58a; Ms. Jewish Theological Seminary, Coll. Adler 1793, 170a.

20. Herskowitz, Judaeo-Christian Dialogue, 25.

21. Chavel, Kitvei, I, 320, 319-320.

22. The text of this important bull can be found in Cesare Baronio and Odorico Rinaldi, Annales ecclesiastici (34 vols.; Bar-le Duc, 1864-1883), XXII, 444-445. There are a number of references to dissemination of this bull—see Jules Gay (ed.), Les registres de Nicolas III (1277-1280) (Paris, 1938), 408, #965 (Aug. 4, 1278); 408, #966 (Aug. 4, 1278); 411, #1004 (late Dec. 1278).

23. This document is referred to in Jean Régné’s valuable catalog of documents relative to the Jews of Aragon, first published in the Revue des études juives, LX-LXXVIII, and recently republished as The History of the Jews in Aragon- Regesta and Documents 1213-1327, ed. Yom Tov Assis (Jerusalem, 1978). I shall refer to these documents by Régné’s numbers. This document is #723. The edict was edited in Colección de documentos inéditos del archivo general de la Corona de Aragon (47 vols.; Barcelona, 1847-1877), VI, 194.

24. Régné, #731-736, 746-748.

25. Bib. nat., fonds Dupuy, vol. 532, 79r.

26. Léopold Delisle, “Notes sur quelques mss. du Musée britannique,” Mémoires de la société de l’histoire de Paris IV (1877)- 189.

27. Calendar of the Patent Rolls Preserved in the Public Record Office, Edward I, A.D. 1272-1307 (4 vols.; London, 1893-1901), I, 356.

28. Régné, #723; Colección de documentos inéditos VI, 194.

29. Heinrich Denifle, “Quellen zur Disputation Pablos Christiani mit Mose Nachmani zu Barcelona 1263,” Historisches Jahrbuch des Görres-Gesellschaft VIII (1887)- 234-235.

30. Ibid., 235-236.

31. Ibid., 237.

32. Adolf Neubauer, “Literary Gleanings IX,” Jewish Quarterly Review (o.s.) V (1892-1893)- 714.

4. Intensification of Prior Argumentation

The argumentation delivered through the new techniques of forced sermon and forced debate was firmly rooted in the pre-thirteenth-century legacy. In part, old lines of argumentation were pursued more intensely; in part, there were true innovations, yet even here there are discernible links to the past.

An unusually rich collection of polemical materials serve as our major source for the traditional argumentation directed at mid-thirteenth-century Jewry. This collection of Jewish materials, the Milhemet Mizvah of Rabbi Meir ben Simon of Narbonne, has the virtue of presenting to us both Christian thrusts, as perceived by the Jews, and Jewish responses. It affords direct insight into the new missionizing efforts as seen by the Jewish targets of these efforts and provides as well a sense of the lines of Jewish reaction.1

Because of the recurrent use to which this text will be put, a few brief remarks are in order. Rabbi Meir ben Simon is known for a series of works and was obviously a leading figure in mid-thirteenth-century southern French Jewry. His Milhemet Mizvah is a lengthy, rich, and sprawling work of more than two hundred fifty folio pages. The author divides the work into five major segments. Unfortunately, the opening pages of the first segment are lost, and we are therefore deprived of his introductory statement to the work in its entirety and to Part I specifically. We are forced to make our own assessment of the unifying concern in Part I of his opus. Despite the diversity of the component elements in this section of the work—a rambling literary debate between a Christian and a Jew, two sermons ostensibly delivered by the author, the record of a lengthy discussion between the author and the archbishop of Narbonne on the issue of Jewish moneylending, and the text of a letter drafted for submission to the French king—we are justified, I believe, in seeing this collection of materials as relating essentially to Christian-Jewish argumentation of the middle decades of the thirteenth century.2

Identification of the essential thrust of Part I in this fashion is supported by the author’s explicit introduction to Part II.

Part II, which I have composed so that one may find in it, in abbreviated fashion, the responses which were in Part I, in the sermons.3

Part II is in fact a more carefully constructed statement of Christian-Jewish disagreement, in which the issues addressed in the various sections of Part I are treated in more organized fashion.4 Part III consists of analysis of biblical verses that deal with the promise of redemption.5 Parts IV and V are essentially addressed to internal issues within the Jewish community, although certain segments of Part IV are still of great value for our inquiry.6

To return to our immediate concern, the materials collected in the Milhemet Mizvah show us continued Jewish sensitivity to old-style Christian exegesis of key biblical verses. The most recurrent of the Christian arguments, and the most timeworn as well, was the claim that Jesus as Messiah, Savior, and Deity was either directly predicted or at least clearly foreshadowed in the Scriptures that the Jews themselves hold sacred. Christian spokesmen adduce verses from the Book of Daniel and argue that they foretell the advent of Jesus. In addition, a series of items such as the statement “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” the strife between Cain and Abel, the copper serpent, and the splitting of the Red Sea and the Jordan River are seen as heralding the role Jesus and Christianity were to play in cosmic history. The most extended and forceful statement of this view is presented in the following thrust of the priest-

The priest asked and said that he is surprised at us. The prophets prophesied concerning the coming of the Messiah and ascribed to him important characteristics which were then realized in Jesus. He was poor and rode on a donkey; he was the son of a virgin; he was from the seed of Jesse; many of the wonders which the prophets depicted he did. Since he did all this and since all these characteristics were apparent in him, you must surely accept him, in accordance with the commandment of God given through the prophets. As a parallel to this, if the pope sends his letter and indicates that he will dispatch a certain man with specific characteristics and that this man must be accepted as though he were the pope himself, then, when that man with those characteristics does come, we must all accept him and do his bidding. If we refuse, we would be considered rebellious.7

There is nothing original in this claim; indeed, it is the oldest strand in Christian argumentation against the Jews.

Our sense of ongoing Christian biblical exegesis and its central role in Christian argumentation aimed at the Jews is reinforced by the fact that two major northern European collections of Jewish counterexegesis date from the middle and closing decades of the thirteenth century. The Sefer Yosef ha-Mekane (The Book of Joseph the Zealous)8 and the Sefer Nizahon Yashan (The Former Book of Polemics)9 both move through the books of the Bible, isolating verses that had been interpreted Christologically and attacking such interpretations. Composition and dissemination of such works in the mid-thirteenth century buttress our sense that biblically grounded Christian argumentation was still very much in evidence and that Jewish leaders felt it useful and important to provide their followers with counterexegesis.

Somewhat better known is the considerable effort to prove the truth of Christianity in purely rational terms. While such argumentation is not new to the thirteenth century, it is carried to its supreme level by Aquinas’s Summa contra gentiles. Embracing from the outset the goal of proving Christian truth to all and refuting the errors of all nonbelievers, Aquinas acknowledges that, in such an enterprise, certain traditional lines of Christian argumentation must be eschewed. Particularly striking is the necessity for abandoning, for the sake of this particular effort, reliance on revealed truth, “because some of them [the nonbelievers], like the Mohammedans and the pagans, do not agree with us as to the authority of any Scriptures whereby they may be convinced, in the same way that we are able to dispute with the Jews by means of the Old Testament and with heretics by means of the New.” The consequence of this abandonment of proof from the Scriptures is straightforward- “Wherefore it is necessary to have recourse to natural reason, to which all are compelled to assent.”10 Aquinas is quick to point out the limitations associated with this approach, but such limitations did not deter him from attempting and completing a massive work designed for use with those nonbelievers who can be approached only through the universally accessible avenue of rational argumentation. The grandeur of the construction he created is beyond doubt. It should be noted, nonetheless, that this approach, with all the advantages of its universality, suffered at least one major disadvantage, that is, the highly technical style of its presentation. It is impossible to conceive of a broad missionizing effort based on a rigorous presentation of philosophic issues. Too few listeners—Jewish or otherwise—were in a position to understand its subtleties. What happened more often was the use of a watered down, popularly oriented philosophic position, which could be rebutted or rejected without great difficulty. Given the availability of a scriptural base for missionizing among the Jews, it is not surprising that argumentation drawn from philosophic considerations was accorded distinctly secondary status.

Nonetheless, there is firm evidence for some use of this line of argumentation against the Jews during the middle decades of the thirteenth century. One clear-cut instance is reflected in Nahmanides’ report of the aftermath of the Barcelona disputation. According to Rabbi Moses, he remained in Barcelona for a number of days so that he could be present in the synagogue there for an anticipated additional missionizing effort. In fact, two major sermons were preached to the Jews, one by the king, arguing for Jesus’ fulfillment of messianic predictions (in all likelihood along traditional exegetical lines), and one by Friar Raymond of Penyafort, arguing for the doctrine of the Trinity. Nahmanides’ terse report indicates that Friar Raymond “preached with regard to the trinity, saying that it represents wisdom, will, and power. He further said in the synagogue- ‘Indeed the rabbi [Nahmanides] acknowledged this in Gerona, according to Friar Paul.’”11 While there is much in this brief account that requires further elaboration, it seems clear that this is evidence of two presentations—one in Gerona and one in Barcelona—in which Christian spokesmen attempted to argue the basic rationality of Christian doctrine.

The line of argumentation that suggested on empirical grounds the moral and ethical superiority of Christianity and the debased standards of Judaism was also very much in evidence during this period. Again, the primary focus of this attack seems to have been Jewish moneylending. To be sure, much of the thrust and parry in the Milhemet Mizvah regarding Jewish moneylending involved Christian rationalizations for new antiusury legislation and Jewish objections to these new statutes.12 One senses in addition, however, a broader thrust, with the Christian disputants often claiming that inferior Jewish moral standards are reflected in Jewish moneylending. Like the arguments from rational premises, this line of attack was present but not prevalent.

Along with traditional biblical exegesis, a second set of arguments utilized widely during the middle decades of the thirteenth century revolved about the empirically observed material superiority of Christendom and the abject and seemingly hopeless position of the Jews. This approach appears very prominently in the Milhemet Mizvah, reflecting the reality of its widespread use by the Christian side during this period. This thrust is central, for example, in the only substantive comment made by the fictional Christian sage in Part II and the note on which this section opens.

A Christian sage asked a Jewish sage- “Why do you not leave the Jewish faith? Indeed you see that the Jews have been in exile for a long time and day by day decline. You see, concerning the Christian faith, that the Christians become more exalted day by day and that their success had been notable for a long time. You would live among us in great honor and high status, instead of living, as you now do, in exile, degradation, shame, and calumny.”13

This is obviously intended as more than an argument from expediency- leave a wretched status for more appealing circumstances. Implied is the assertion that the successes of Christianity and the suffering of the Jews are in fact a reflection of theological truth, with God dispensing success to those who are correct in their faith and actions and misery to those in error.

The nexus between material success and theological truth is indicated explicitly in the dialogue in Part I.

The priest said that, from the fact that we live in exile and degradation under their [Christian] domination and have remained so for such a long time, we must conclude that their faith is more correct and better than our faith.14

A similar point is made later in the dialogue, with specific reference to biblical injunction.

The priest asked- “Why do you transgress the commandment of the Torah, in which it is said- ‘Follow the multitude in judgment’?15 Indeed you should follow us in the faith of Jesus, for we outnumber you.”16

While there is a tongue-in-cheek quality to this contention, the basic notion that the great material success of Christendom reflects the fundamental truth of the Christian faith was taken quite seriously. The clearest index of its seriousness is the fact that, as we shall see, Jewish authors went to great lengths to combat this argument.

This intensified utilization of old argumentation was met, from the Jewish side, with a set of responses that had been fully elaborated during the preceding centuries. In all cases, the Jewish response was twofold, arguing against the Christian claim, on the one hand, and attacking Christianity itself, on the other. Thus, for example, the Sefer Yosef ha-Mekane and the Sefer Nizahon Yashan both rebut Christian claims based on biblical exegesis and then launch an attack on the Christian Scriptures as well.

The same duality in treatment of standard Christian claims drawn from biblical exegesis is found in the Milhemet Mizvah. The rabbi, in the dialogue, combats forcefully every bit of Christian exegesis presented by his opponent. Prophecies alleged to point to Jesus are interpreted so as to avoid all such references; incidents seen as foreshadowing Jesus are understood in a different light. Occasionally, the give-and-take includes humor-

The priest said that the splitting of the Red Sea and the Jordan was a hint of baptism, since the waters stood in a single heap to their left and to their right. The rabbi said- “If they would have crossed in the water up to their thighs or their knees or even less, it would have been possible to argue thus. But since they crossed over on dry land, it is a proof in the opposite direction. God caused them to cross over on dry land so that they might not be saved by water and so that they would recognize that they achieved salvation through the negation of the waters. A further proof of the same lies in the fact that, after they crossed the Jordan, God commanded and said- ‘Proceed with a second circumcision of the Israelites.’17 Thus he subsequently commanded concerning circumcision, to teach that they were not absolved of circumcision by virtue of crossing the Jordan.”18

These specific exegetical thrusts are often banal and only occasionally interesting. The response of the Milhemet Mizvah to the argument that Jesus represented fulfillment of biblical prophecy runs far deeper, however. The author took the claim seriously and developed a number of lines of argumentation beyond the interpretation and reinterpretation of specific biblical verses and stories. The first of these lines—and perhaps the most interesting—is a quasi-historical attack. Rabbi Meir contends that the clearest refutation of Christian claims associated with Jesus is the reaction of first-century Palestinian Jewry. This argument is presented at a number of points, most fully in the latter segments of the second sermon preserved in Part I. After making yet another case for the eventual salvation of the Jews, Rabbi Meir indicates “why we should not accept belief in their faith in Jesus and in their teachings and laws.”19 The third through seventh of these anti-Christian statements are as follows-

Thirdly, because the Pharisees condemned him, according to that which is written in the Gospels. It is well known that, at that time, the Pharisees were wiser and more scrupulous in their concerns for the commandments than the rest of the Jewish populace, just as the priests, the tonsured, and the Dominicans and Franciscans are today considered among the Christians. In the case of anyone whom they now judge a heretic or disbeliever, the barons must execute their judgment.

Fourthly, because the greatest of the priests and high priests, called in their books Caiaphas, condemned him. It is written in the Torah- “If a case is too baffling for you to decide, be it a controversy over homicide, civil law, or assault—matters of dispute in your courts—you shall promptly repair to the place which the Lord your God has chosen and appear before the levitical priests or the magistrate in charge at the time and present your problem. When they have announced to you the verdict in the case, you shall carry out the verdict that is announced to you from that place which the Lord chose, observing scrupulously all their instructions to you.” It further says- “Should a man act presumptuously and disregard the priest charged with serving there the Lord your God or the magistrate, that man shall die….”20 Thus we must not swerve from the command of these high priests, and anyone who transgresses their injunctions is deserving of death.

Fifthly, because the entire people agreed in condemning him to crucifixion. If it were true that he was beneficial in healing their sick and restoring sight to their blind and hearing to their deaf and in reviving their dead, then all the people would not have agreed unanimously to have him killed. But indeed it says in their Gospels that, when the procurator Pilate said- “What shall I do with Jesus?”, then all the people said- “Let him be crucified.” Who can believe that someone who brought only great benefits and lightened the burden of the commandments would be condemned to death, unless the people recognized unfailingly that his deeds were performed through magic and that his words were not proper and true….

Sixthly, because he was their kinsman and, according to Christian testimony, of royal lineage. If the Jews had done this [condemnation of an accused] to a stranger, we should believe them; how much more so to a kinsman. For it is natural that a man attempts to prove the innocence of his kinsmen and declines to see their guilt, unless the matter is simple and obvious. Thus if Jesus’s guilt was not obvious, they would not have condemned him….

Seventh, because, if it had been as Jesus claimed, all the Jews would have felt pride and exultation and self-esteem more than any other people—if it had been true that God had taken on flesh in the womb of a Jewish woman and that she gave birth immaculately and that he performed many signs and wonders and was exceedingly wise….But behold, they did the opposite and transformed his glory into shame, for truly it is embarrassing and shameful for the members of a clan when one of them misbehaves and is exceedingly wicked. Therefore those Jews must be believed when they testify negatively against Jesus. It is well known that the confession of a litigant is superior to a hundred witnesses.21

This is an important line of anti-Christian argumentation in the Milhemet Mizvah. The author is willing to acknowledge the veracity of the Gospel accounts of the historical rejection and condemnation of Jesus by the Jews. Rather than a heinous sin, this is viewed by Rabbi Meir as decisive proof of the falsity of the faith based on the life and experience of Jesus. His argumentation is explicit and detailed. He isolates three responsible parties to this condemnation- (1) the priesthood, the source of whose religious authority can be traced to biblical injunction; (2) the Pharisees, whose authority lay in their acknowledged religious scrupulousness; and (3) the totality of the Jewish people, whose wisdom resided in its unanimous rejection of Jesus. All three of these crucial groups agreed in a negative assessment of Jesus, despite a number of psychological predispositions that might have led to an acceptance of his claims.

One of the messianic attributes singled out by the priest in the dialogue was the wonders and signs performed by Jesus, again seen as fulfilling prior prophecy. This, too, was an old line of Christian argumentation, one with which the author of the Milhemet Mizvah was concerned. It was his view that Jesus never performed truly miraculous deeds, such as had been accomplished by great figures in earlier Israelite history. This assertion is found next among the anti-Christian arguments cited.

Eighth, because he never performed a sublime wonder. It is as the sage said- “Heaven forbid that the Holy One, blessed be he, cause the sun to stand still for those who transgress his will.”22 Even according to them [the Christians), of all the wonders which he performed, there were no great wonders like that of the magicians of Egypt, who transformed their rods into serpents, which meant that a living soul entered the rods, which were not of the composition or structure to receive a living soul. But a corpse [into which Jesus was supposed to have infused life], its limbs and body have already held a soul. Thus, if a soul returns to this body, this is not such a great wonder….

Twelfth. It is known that his wonders, which were written in the Gospels and which included curing the ill and similar matters, were done so that people would believe in him. Since this is so, he should have done them in a way which would permit no doubt in any wise and pious man’s mind concerning his prophecy and divinity. If you say that he performed these deeds in a doubtful fashion so that some [of the Jews] would not believe in him and would kill him, then why should they be punished for this? They behaved properly, since his wonders were not of the sort which are beyond doubt….Moreover, if it is true that, after he had been killed and buried, he went up to heaven and saved the souls of the righteous from Satan, why did he not ascend before multitudes? He should have gathered together all who had denied his divinity and had condemned him to death, saying- “Now behold that you have erred greatly,” and should have ascended before them to heaven. Moreover, since you say that he was revealed to his twelve disciples in the Galilee, he should have done this publicly, so that the entire world would believe in him and not be damned.23

As always, Rabbi Meir is verbose. There are two basic points- (1) the miracles attributed to Jesus are, on an “objective” scale, not terribly impressive, for the Bible records numerous instances of far more impressive miraculous occurrences; and (2) Jesus’ miracles were conspicuously unsuccessful in achieving what they should have, that is, recognition of his claims by his contemporaries. His own ambivalent attitude toward wonders, recorded in the Gospels and known to Rabbi Meir, is seen as a sign of weakness. The more significant sign of weakness was simply the failure to produce miracles on a scale that would have necessitated widespread assent to his claims. Once again, the Jewish polemicist argues that Jesus failed to fulfill those criteria associated with the Messiah.

Rabbi Meir takes the negative reaction of Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries as one indicator of the nullity of Christian claims and the weakness of his miraculous deeds as another. Quite clearly, however, the most telling argument, for him, is the broader failure to usher in the type of era associated with the biblical imagery of the Messiah. Thus, when the priest in the dialogue makes the fundamental claim that the Messiah has already appeared, the rabbi makes the following rejoinder-

Concerning the Messiah there are three major developments which the prophets foretold. They are- that the Messiah will rule throughout the world, as is written- “His rule shall extend from sea to sea and from ocean to land’s end.”24 It is further written- “He shall rule from sea to sea.”25 And it is said in Isaiah- “For the nation or the kingdom that does not serve you will perish.”26 This has not yet happened to the Christians or to the Muslims or to any other people. Secondly, all the world will believe in God, may he be blessed, as is written- “For then I will make the peoples pure of speech, so that they all invoke the Lord by name and serve him with one accord.”27 This also has not yet transpired….Thirdly, there will be peace, as is written in Isaiah- “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not take up sword against nation; they shall never again know war.”28 It is further said- “He shall establish peace among the nations.”29 But behold each day war proliferates between the pope and the prince who is the son of the emperor, and likewise between the Muslims and the Christians.30

After the priest challenges aspects of this statement and is rebutted by the rabbi, the latter “adds further proof from the desolation of the land and of the enemy who dwells in it.”31 This is not fully adumbrated in the dialogue but is further explicated in the continuation to the second sermon. These observations must of course be seen against the backdrop of ongoing mid-thirteenth-century strife in the Holy Land. Once again, Rabbi Meir is fully attuned to contemporary realities.

Behold the prophets have indicated for us many future events that were intended to take place while we were in exile and that were intended to take place during the subsequent time of redemption.

The first testimony is that God promised that he would turn the hearts of all, “so that they all invoke the Lord by name and serve him with one accord”32 during the days of the Messiah, and this has not yet happened. Secondly and thirdly, it is written in the Torah, in the admonitions of punishment applicable to the Jews in exile- “I will make the land desolate, so that your enemies who settle in it will be appalled by it.”33 Behold two future events are written in this verse. The first is the desolation of the enemies living in it. Indeed every day we see that both these predictions are fulfilled….It is well known among us and obvious every day that, even were all the kings—the kingdom of Christendom and of Islam and of other faiths—to make peace and to rebuild the Temple and to inhabit Jerusalem, they would not be capable of so doing. God would sow confusion among them, so that nothing would materialize. There is no king who could rebuild Jerusalem and repopulate it even briefly in the manner in which it stood under our ancestors’ rule for many years. Since we see that God, who is truth, has fulfilled this prediction concerning our exile, we must certainly believe that, at the proper time, he will fulfill for us what he promised concerning the time of salvation, for his capacity for goodness exceeds his capacity for punishment.34

In sum, from many points of view, the author of the Milhemet Mizvah (and many other Jewish spokesmen as well) rejected contemporary—and age-old—Christian claims that Jesus appeared as the fulfillment of messianic predictions from within Israelite tradition itself. The rebuttals in the Milhemet Mizvah are drawn from four directions- (1) disagreement with specific instances of Christian exegesis; (2) the rejection of Jesus by his Jewish contemporaries, with the notion that they should have been in the best possible position to weigh such claims; (3) the inadequacy of the miracles reportedly produced by him; and (4) the failure of the prophetically predicted general changes in the world order to materialize in the wake of his appearance.

With regard to the issue of rationality, Jewish spokesmen insisted that their faith was highly rational and that it was Christianity that was beset with irrationality. Let us note the defense of Jewish rationality presented by the author of the Milhemet Mizvah.

Behold I see that the Torah of Moses, to which I adhere and my ancestors adhered, is true and perfect, and in its practices [one finds] great goodness and pleasure, as is written- “Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace.”35

It teaches a true faith and the unity of the Creator, may he be blessed- that he created all the superior and inferior beings, as is written- “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”; 36 that he observes all and knows the deeds, words, and thoughts of man; that he recompenses every man according to his behavior, whether good or bad, sometimes in natural ways and sometimes in supernatural ways….All of this is done fairly, justly, graciously, and mercifully….He accepts those who truly repent, as is written- “He forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin.”37 But he punishes the wicked who stand firm in their rebellion and those children who continue in the paths of their [errant] fathers. If it seems that there is a wicked man who flourishes or a righteous man who suffers, all this is through the decree of his wisdom, for the benefit of the man who obeys and for the punishment of the rebel….Indeed, in sum, each person will receive, either in this world or in the world to come, which is the world of recompense, the reward which is appropriate for him….For all these matters there are many stories and verses in the Torah and in the Prophets. True wisdom also teaches them, for it is unthinkable to attribute to the Creator of all, who is infinite in wisdom and power, that he makes the actions of this world meaningless and pointless, and even more unthinkable that he makes them wicked, cruel, and vicious.38

In contrast, the Jewish polemicist sees Christianity as highly irrational. Key doctrines singled out for scorn are Incarnation and Trinity, with heavy emphasis on the former. One instance of the recurrent criticism of the doctrine of Incarnation is found in the continuation of the second of the author’s recorded sermons, among his fifteen allegations against Christianity.

Eleventh, all physical characteristics were to be found in his body. He was small at birth, like all infants. There was no difference between him and other children. He was enclosed for nine months in a vessel of blood and there developed. When he was born, he passed through the birth canal and had to be washed. He had to nurse, cried, played, slept, awoke, ate, drank, and was hungry—he and his disciples—, defecated, urinated, and flatulated. But behold, we find with Moses, peace unto him, that he tarried forty days and forty nights, not eating bread or drinking water when he was on the mountain and the spirit of God was upon him. How much more should we believe that he was not in need of elimination and other objectionable bodily functions. Concerning Jesus, if it were true that divinity was within him, why was it necessary for him to eat and drink and perform other bodily functions. Moreover, he slept, but behold it is written- “The Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.”39 Moreover, they were forced to smuggle him to Egypt, out of fear of the king, and he remained there until he matured, because of fear of the king. He was likewise hidden many times, even after he matured and returned to the Land of Israel….Many times he was shocked and frightened out of fear of death. He also prayed to the Creator to remove the cup of death, but his prayers were not accepted. He would also conceal and deny out of fear….40

In penning such criticism of the doctrine of Incarnation, Rabbi Meir was, of course, in the mainstream of medieval Jewish polemics.

Jewish polemicists approached the issue of empirically observable moral and social standards with similar convictions of Jewish superiority and Christian inferiority. Rabbi Meir argues vigorously against Christian denigration of the Jews for their moneylending. He suggests consistently that there are no moral or religious prohibitions associated with such practices. Rather, Judaism, according to him, is a religion of elevated human values.

I likewise see that the commandments of the Torah are good and proper, useful for man and society and the perfection of the soul, so that it be bound up in the bond of life forever. For among the commandments of the Torah is [the commandment] to observe the sabbath and festivals, so that man be relieved of the burdens of the world and consider the wonders of the Creator and read the stories of the Torah and Prophets and recognize from them that the Rock, may he be blessed, created all and watches all and directs all, as we have explained. Thus man accepts upon himself love of God and fear of God with all his heart, with all his soul and with all his might. Also among the commandments of the Torah are [the commandments] to honor parents, teachers, and elders; to love one’s neighbors; to refrain from vengeance, spite, and hatred; to deal properly with an enemy; to load and unload with him; to return his lost article; to give to the poor that which they lack. Also among the commandments of the Torah are [the commandments] to refrain from illicit sexual relations, from forbidden foods, and from impure objects. In sum, when the wise man examines the commandments, he will find that they promote the welfare of the body, the welfare of society, and the perfection of the soul.41

In contrast, Christianity is, according to Rabbi Meir, deeply flawed by moral and ethical shortcomings. Note, for example, the following criticism of the central Christian sacrament of baptism.

You further said that even the sinners among you will not be saved for the world to come, unless they are baptized, even though they belong to the Christian faith. You intended to build a case against me, but you have instead been destructive [to your own cause]. You sought to buttress your claims, but I see through reason that you have smashed them like earthen vessels. Now you tell me how you can believe in such an injustice on the part of the Creator. Consider that two children were born today—one the child of a poor Christian man and a poor Christian woman, both righteous and faithful according to your religion. The father died prior to the birth of the child and his mother died dur