Just Facts, No Nonsense

by Mottel Baleston

This article originally appeared in Ariel Magazine, an evangelical Christian quarterly.
 It has been republished here with permission by the copyright owner: Ariel Ministries USA, 11926 Radium St, San Antonio, TX 78216, USA. 2021 by Ariel Ministries USA. All rights reserved.

How did a set of obscure conversations of Jewish rabbis, the Talmud, become an excuse for
some Christians to justify bigotry, baseless conspiracy theories, and hatred toward the Jewish people?
Mottel Baleston is a Jewish believer in Messiah Jesus and explains:

By Mottel Baleston

Here is one of the oddest illustrations you will ever read. But take a moment to understand it and you will grasp the core issue of this article:

Imagine that one thousand years ago a group of your ancestors has assembled for a family reunion. It lasts for a full year, and someone writes down every word that is uttered. Ninety-nine percent of the conversations are ordinary and forgettable. But sometimes there is false gossip, slander against others, exaggerated arguments, and tall tales. The relatives debate. They propose impossible scenarios just for the sake of argument and then attack and dismiss each other’s points as being offensive and worthless. The set of bound transcripts fills shelf after shelf. You have heard about the set and laugh it off because it has nothing to do with you, even though you know of a few family members who take them seriously. However, some individuals who do not like your family come across these books and see every single argument by your long-forgotten family members and all the points that the others have dismissed and ridiculed. But because they hate you, they spend time searching only for any negative word—even those that all the others dismissed and mocked—and then compile them all and present them to the world as the character of your family today and why people should hate you.

That sounds far-fetched, doesn’t it? But it is exactly what is happening on an increasing number of websites and online videos by people who claim to be Christians. They accuse all Jews today of being members of a conspiracy to attack Christians and take over the world. They will assure you that the conspiracy was hatched by the rabbis in a large set of books called the Talmud.

Simply put (and nothing is simple about the Talmud), in its full printed form, the Talmud is a set of 63 bound volumes, each about 14 inches high, that can take up nearly eight feet along a bookshelf. It contains about two million words, most of them written in Aramaic, and it is primarily the written transcript of conversations among several dozen rabbis over hundreds of years. Those conversations concern one topic: Halacha, a Hebrew word meaning “the way to go” or “rules for everyday living out the Torah.” Strictly speaking, the Torah is the first five books of the Bible, the books written by Moses. The Talmud is not a commentary on the Bible in a strict sense but rather has an older section, the Mishnah, which is a short, terse list of rules on how to carry out the Mosaic Law. Then there is the huge Gemara commentary of conversations on how to carry out the Mishnah. The entire text was finally compiled by the rabbis in Persia around the year A.D. 500. Orthodox Jews can devote 50 years to studying it and still not have a mastery of it. For that reason, the set of books is called “The Ocean of Talmud.”

In 586 B.C., God allowed the pagan Babylonians to defeat the kingdom of Judah—the last vestige of Jewish government in the land—and destroy the Temple, taking the Jewish people captive. During the 70 years of captivity in Babylon, the Jewish community was given the opportunity to conduct religious schooling for its people, and they were taught the Holy Scriptures and the 613 commandments of the Torah. This occurred centuries before the birth of Messiah, and there were many genuine believers within the Jewish nation. As always, they were saved by faith, but the “rule of life” for Jewish people during that dispensation was the Mosaic Law.
With the destruction of the Temple, a new institution arose within the Jewish community to ensure biblical instruction, the “House of Study.” Spiritual men knowledgeable in Scripture were the teachers. This was a good thing—as long as the teachers were faithful to Scripture and did not make additions. However, over time the preferences of men, local traditions, and legalism were added to the teaching, and the institution of Rabbinical Judaism and the Pharisees were born, centered around enlarging the body of traditions. In time, those additions became the only way that the rabbis felt would allow the text of Scripture to be understood. By the time of the New Testament, these oral additions so captivated Rabbinical Judaism that in Matthew 15:6, Messiah Yeshua accused the rabbis of elevating the traditions over the Word of Scripture.

The 63 subject divisions of the Talmud concern themselves with practical ways to carry out the Mosaic Law. For instance, the law forbids work on the Sabbath, as the Sabbath is to be a day of rest. For over one hundred pages, the rabbis of the Talmud discuss and debate what that verse means. What exactly is work? What activities are allowed on the Sabbath? What recreation is appropriate? To all these questions, various rabbis give various answers. The old axiom “Whenever there are two Jews, there are three opinions” is clearly seen on the pages of the Talmud. A single page of discussion and debate finds various rabbis proposing answers and other rabbis responding to show the weakness of the other man’s opinion. That is why it is often said, “You can prove anything you want on a single page of Talmud.” For the average reader looking at an English translation, the legal analysis appears to be very tedious and difficult to follow, and often it is. On occasion, though, there are gems of wisdom that all would agree with. This should not surprise us, as the rabbis did originally start with a biblical base.
Here is an example of a statement in the Talmud that has a biblical basis and with which most Christians would agree: “To break a verbal agreement that is not legally binding is morally wrong.” (Tractate Bava Metzia 44).
A careful study reveals dozens of examples like this one that show a strong similarity between many of the moral dictates of the Talmud and Scripture, even many that seem to bear a striking resemblance to the words of Messiah Yeshua. Because the Gospels were written before even the earliest parts of Talmud, some scholars have argued that the source of these Talmudic maxims are the very words of Yeshua Himself, who had an influence on the Judaism of His day.

This is the current issue causing controversy on the Internet. For years the main sources for these sorts of accusations against the Talmud were from cheap, privately printed booklets distributed by white supremacist racist groups. Some of these were reprints from Nazi fascist literature in English that were distributed in America in the 1930s. By the 1970s, extremist black groups like the Nation of Islam picked up on these conspiracy theories and used them for their own purposes to denounce Jewish people. With the start of the Internet, these charges gained a wider audience among the young, impressionable, and often uneducated. Some of the websites claimed to be written by Christians and used the material to make various claims: that there was a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world and destroy Christianity or that the Talmud is full of insults against Jesus and Mary. Today, anyone with an agenda can make a video that is full of lies and easily upload it to the Internet.. I see it often.

So, how do the discussions in the Talmud make reference to Yeshua? Here is an example: “The head Rabbi said: ‘For example, Yeshu the Nazarene because he practiced magic.” (Tractate Sotah 47a). The context was a discussion of what to do when fellow Jews had sinned and what would be the evidence that their sin had led to full apostasy. Several examples were cited, among them the example of Yeshu (their name for Yeshua), whom they acknowledged had been able to perform miracles—magic in their eyes—and they saw that as proof that He had apostatized. Nothing further is said of Him. The passage simply reveals the negative view of Yeshua by mainstream rabbis in the Talmud. There is no call to act against Christians, no threat against them or their churches. Rather, this attempt to slander Yeshua confirms that His miracles were unquestioned. While the findings of various scholars differ slightly, the consensus is that there are approximately 15 clear or veiled negative references to “Yeshu” in the Talmud, the majority citing Him as one who practiced magic.
In a similar way, there are statements about Mary that reveal a negative view of her. Two rabbis expressed their opinion that her reputation was that of a prostitute and that her son was the product of such a union. These statements were made in the midst of a discussion giving various examples of Jewish people who had left the rabbinic interpretation of the faith.
No threat against Christians was made in the Talmud. Rather, the slanderous remarks were internal warnings to other Jews. In all, there are about one thousand words that are part of these discussions, and several Jewish and Christian scholars have said the actual total is half of that. In a two-million-word set of writings, one thousand words are 00.05 percent.

It is clear from the above that one has to strain to find words in the Talmud that might refer to Yeshua. Even then, there is no threat. However, when easily impressionable individuals have set their feet on a path of racism and bigotry toward one group or another, the principles of fairness, truth, and logic are not their goal, but rather they desire to present the group they oppose in a bad light. In essence, they do not begin with the facts, but instead they start with their irrational, sinful hatred. They work backwards from there and attempt to find any stray word or statement by some odd forgotten rabbis expressing their opinions against Yeshua. These racists then present these statements as the standard, overall view held by Jewish people. That is a full, unmitigated, filthy lie.
Primarily, the Talmud is studied by Orthodox Jewish men. The vast majority of Jewish people today are not Orthodox, do not live their lives according to Jewish law, and have never opened up a volume of Talmud or read a single line from it. They reject its strict rules and are living their lives according to modern liberty. The largest and fastest-growing segment of Judaism today is the liberal movement called Reform Judaism. In their formative documents of 1843, the founders of this movement wrote: “The Talmud possesses for us no authority, from either the dogmatic or the practical standpoint.” So, the Talmud is not a fixed set of rules and regulations that are accepted without question, but the main section of Talmud—the Gemara—is actually the record of debates between rabbis. Sometimes, the weird opinion of one rabbi is dismissed and ridiculed by the other rabbis, but the minority rabbi still has his opinion recorded in the Talmud. What the racist websites do is only quote the opinion of the one minority rabbi. These anti-Semitic websites are dishonest, as they do not tell their readers that the majority of rabbis rejected the minority view. This is very, very important for every Christian to understand because anti-Semitic websites are multiplying on the Internet as people with dishonest agendas spread misinformation and lies.
This has not been an easy article to write. I have spoken with other Jewish believers in Messiah Jesus, including two who are pastors of evangelical congregations, and all of us are exasperated with how easily some Christians believe lies and fables about the Jewish people. We are not here to defend the Talmud, and if that is your impression, you have not read the article carefully. As believers, we reject the idea that the Talmud has authority, and we mourn the hold it has on some of our own Jewish people in blinding them to the light of Messiah Jesus, the Savior. In reality, the Talmud is a jumbled collection of writings on the minutia of how an Orthodox Jew should keep Jewish tradition. Most of it is mundane, but occasionally there are gems of wisdom. On rare occasions an odd rabbi or two lashes out against the Roman Catholic Christendom of that day (A.D. 500), which was often unscriptural and had become violent toward the Jewish people and toward anyone who held a Biblical faith.

In contrast to rare negative statements about Yeshua in the Talmud, individuals with church membership have actually carried out 1,800 years of real violence and persecution toward the Jewish people. The Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Pogroms of Eastern Europe—where four of my grandmothers’ cousins were hacked to death, including the person I am named for,  by church members, are examples of this. Of course, the planned killing of six million Jewish men, women, and children in Europe during the Holocaust is the ultimate example of barbaric hatred. That is why it is so sickening for those of us who have committed our lives to the Messiah of the New Testament to see “Christians” stir up hatred and bigotry against our own Jewish people. This article can only touch on the main points of this argument. In reality, there is much more that can be said, but those additional details when read accurately will support the summary here.

May each of us have the same attitude as the Apostle Paul, who patiently and compassionately reached out to the Jewish people and said in Romans 10:1, My heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may come to faith.

Mottel Baleston is the Director of the
Messengers Messianic Jewish Outreach of New Jersey
Box 274,  Ledgewood, NJ 07852

website: www.MessiahNJ.org

e-mail:  MessiahNJ   @    aol.com 
(just remove the spaces in the address, an anti-spam measure)

This article copyright 2021 by Ariel Ministries and Mottel Baleston. All Rights Reserved

This is www.MessiahNJ.org, the website of the
Messengers Messianic Jewish Fellowship, New Jersey
Mottel Baleston - Director
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