Jewish Responses to the New Argumentation
The new missionizing argumentation presented a serious challenge. Given the coercion exercised, there was no way for the Jews to avoid hearing the innovative argumentation. As suggested earlier, these new approaches had many advantages, intellectual, psychological, and tactical. Jewish leadership had to concern itself with the development of effective counterargumentation that would blunt any potentially harmful impact the new claims might have.
The new-style sally reflected in the Milhemet[*]Mizvah[*] was not a serious one, and the Jewish response need not detain us. The rabbinic text used in Rabbi Isaac ben Yedaiah's Commentary on the Aggadot of the Talmud was far more significant and, as we have seen, was used in the Barcelona confrontation by Friar Paul. Rabbi Isaac's response shows us Jewish attempts to grapple with the new Christian thrusts at an early stage; it is lengthy and addresses a number of issues. First, he clarifies the Jewish conception of the Messiah, which is, he insists, radically different from that of the Christians.
We anticipate and believe in a King Messiah who will arise, one man among his people, imbued with divine spirit. He will rouse himself to govern his people and to serve as king over them and, annointed with oil, to extricate them from the travails of their subjugation. That king will be a king of flesh and blood, a pious and upright man, and his God will assist him in extricating the people from the burden of rulers who oppress them. . . . That king will arise from the midst of his brothers, as did Saul and David and Solomon his son, the kings who ruled as divine emissaries and whom God had chosen for that purpose and who were annointed with oil by the prophet. Thus will be the King Messiah. . . .
That king whom the prophets promised has not yet come, but he will in the future come. If the sounds of his chariot have tarried to this point, nonetheless his time is near and he will surely come. He will not tarry.
Rabbi Isaac argues that the effort to see in the rabbinic statement proof of Jesus is hopelessly misguided, for the rabbis were talking about a completely different messianic figure. Nothing can be gleaned here to support Christian truth.
The claim that the rabbinic text could not reflect the Christian messiah still left the problem of the text itself, and Rabbi Isaac explains its meaning as well.
With regard to your question as to what [the rabbis] of blessed memory came to teach us by saying that he was created in their days, know you, who study and scrutinize these words of theirs simplemindedly, that they of blessed memory followed, in these words of theirs, in the paths of the prophets who speak of something which will happen in the future in the language of the past. Since they saw in prophetic vision that which was to occur in the future, they spoke about it in the past tense and testified firmly that it had happened, to teach the certainty of his [God's] words—may he be blessed—and his positive promise that can never change and his beneficent message that will not be altered. The sages of the Talmud looked back to Moses and the rest of the prophets—prophets of truth—and said here that the Messiah had been created, since the people was certain in the Lord that a new king would arise for them.
Thus Rabbi Isaac finds the Christian reading of the text impossible and proposes a simpler Jewish reading, a projection of future events in the language of the past, that he claims is a venerable and accepted style of literary presentation.
There is one more point in Rabbi Isaac's lengthy rebuttal which deserves attention. It is a point of view that we have already encountered in the Milbemet[*]Mizvah[*] and will encounter again in Nahmanides' responses in Barcelona.
If it is as you say—that our Messiah has come some time ago and went to Rome, where he established for himself a residence and a walled city—then how could the Jews of that generation not believe Elijah who came to inform them about him. Indeed he was their prophet when he was among the living and appeared to them now to inform them that he [the Messiah] had come to save their lost souls. If they would listen to him,
then on that very day he [the Messiah] would come; he would not tarry if they would listen to his voice and believe in the Trinity. He would gather up their exiled, and the children would return to their borders. How could the sages of that generation not believe the faith of the Christians through the prophet who came from the divine to teach them that this was the Messiah of the Lord who had been caught up in their degradation and who would redeem Israel and never know death?
Thus, in addition to the earlier claim of the impropriety of reading Christian conceptions into Jewish sources, Rabbi Isaac further argues the implausibility of the Christian reading of the text. If the Christian reading were accepted, then the Jewish failure to heed the message contained in such a text is beyond understanding. While a cogent response, this early counterargument was a dangerous one, allowing for Christian counter-counterclaims of Jewish blindness and malevolence in misunderstanding and rejecting divinely sent messages both prophetic and rabbinic.
In any case, Rabbi Isaac affords us a fine sense of early Jewish response to the new argumentation. Neither the thrusts nor the parries are yet as sharp as they will eventually be. Both sides still had to learn its full implications.
Rabbi Moses ben Nahman
As we have already seen, the Barcelona disputation of 1263 represented an effort on the part of the Christian initiators of that confrontation to test the new missionizing tactics developed by Friar Paul Christian. As a result, the Jewish leadership summoned by the king of Aragon to respond to the arguments of Friar Paul bore heavy responsibility for formulating and disseminating the requisite Jewish responses. The key figure, apparently singled out by the Jews themselves, was the venerable rabbi of Gerona, Moses ben Nahman. The technique of choosing one respected figure to respond was a calculated risk. The disadvantage was the inherent limitations in one man's capacity. Ranged against this consideration was the advantage that flowed from a unified, consistent, and coherent response to the new assault. Given the later experience at Tortosa, where a projected group response often degenerated into internal disagreements and backbiting, the choice at Barcelona was probably a good one. To be sure, Rabbi Moses' stature may have made the decision relatively easy.
By 1263, Rabbi Moses was already in his late sixties and had achieved unusual eminence among his coreligionists. Scholars of the past few decades have begun to investigate in depth his diversified oeuvre and to suggest that he was one of the most creative figures in medieval Jewish life. In introducing a volume of studies devoted to aspects of Nahmanides' wide-ranging achievement, Isadore Twersky asserts:
We may, with care and precision, with complete semantic accountability, affirm that Ramban was truly versatile, original, and profound. His creative contributions to the multiple disciplines which molded Judaism and through which the Jewish genius expressed itself were innovative and substantive, intense and penetrating. Furthermore, his massive and original literary oeuvre was historically influential and vibrant; his great song continued to reverberate through the ages. Nahmanides is not merely of arcane or antiquarian significance—an interesting figure whose works should be salvaged and studied in compliance with the rules of the scholarly game; he appears on the historical scene as a towering figure whose resplendent multidimensional achievement was formative and remained resonant—constantly relevant, exciting and stimulating, eliciting admiration and amplification and, of course, dissent and qualification. His works were always alive and influential.
Beyond his sheer intellectual power, Rabbi Moses offered additional virtues to his fellow Jews at this critical juncture. A number of decades earlier, during a period of concern over the writings of Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (a concern that laid bare a number of fundamental tensions in twelfth- and thirteenth-century Jewish life), Rabbi Moses ben Nahman had played an important conciliatory role. Thus, in 1263, he had already established his credentials as a man of intellectual ability and social sensitivity. Both qualities were essential for Jewish success at Barcelona. In addition, if we are to believe Nahmanides himself, he already enjoyed the favor of the King of Aragon.
Rabbi Moses bore the heavy responsibility of adequately formulating a public Jewish response to the new missionizing arguments of Friar Paul. He had to address simultaneously two different audiences—Friar Paul and the Dominicans and (more important) his Jewish confreres. Nahmanides was attempting to persuade Friar Paul and the Dominicans of the fundamental flaws in their new missionizing argumentation, hoping to convince them to abandon it. Such success would represent optimal Jewish achievement under the trying cir-
cumstances of 1263. His second goal was to prove to his fellow Jews that the new missionizing arguments were as unconvincing as the old. In pursuing this second objective, Rabbi Moses had to respond first to the substance of the new argumentation and find adequate counterthrusts. At the same time, he also indulged—at least in his written report—in an ad hominem assault on Friar Paul Christian, hoping to show his Jewish audience that their adversary was unlettered and unskilled and thus, by implication, his arguments were void of significance. It seems doubtful that Rabbi Moses could have denigrated Friar Paul in the public manner that he reports; nonetheless, this was an important element in his overall strategy.
The main lines of Nahmanides' argumentation took several directions. The most fundamental but least efficient tactic was to contest the interpretation of individual rabbinic passages advanced by Friar Paul. Let us note two examples of such argumentation.
Friar Paul's opening gambit was to cite the traditional Genesis 49:10 and to claim that the disappearance of Jewish political authority clearly meant that the Messiah foretold in Jacob's utterance had already come. Nahmanides' predictable response was to argue that Jacob's statement focused on the promise of eventual rule to be vested in the tribe of Judah. The verse in no way, according to Rabbi Moses, obviated the suspension of Judah's rule for periods of time, and indeed such suspensions of Judean rule had already taken place prior to early Christianity. Despite all suspensions, Jacob's prophecy indicated that rule would eventually be vested in the tribe of Judah. All of this was standard. The novelty of Friar Paul's approach lay in his next move, in which he argued, on the basis of rabbinic tradition, that no such suspension had ever taken place in early Jewish history and thus the current and obvious lack of Jewish political authority can only mean that the Messiah has come. To prove this contention, Friar Paul adduced the exegesis on Genesis 49:10 found in the Babylonian Talmud. According to this rabbinic statement, the scepter of the verse refers to the exilarchs of Babylonia and the legislator to the patriarchs of Palestine. Thus, concludes Friar Paul, rabbinic understanding of the verse shows unbroken political authority from early Israelite history on, with a break occuring only once and clearly associated with the advent of the Messiah. Rabbi Moses contends in response that Friar Paul has simply not understood the meaning of the talmudic passage.
I shall inform you that the intention of the rabbis of blessed memory was never to explain the verse except in terms of actual kingship. However,
you fail to understand law and halachah, [comprehending] only a bit of the aggadot with which you have become familiar. This matter which the sages mentioned relates to the fact that, in narrowly legal terms, no one should judge a case by himself and be free of liability, unless he received authorization from the patriarch who is like a king. They said that, during the time of exile, since there are those who are of the seed of the monarchy and who enjoy some authority from gentile kings, like the exilarchs in Babylonia and the patriarchs in Palestine, they have the right to confer authorization. This practice was in force for the sages of the Talmud for more than four hundred years subsequent to Jesus. But it was not the sense of the sages of the Talmud that [this was a reference to] the seed of the scepter and legislator which are from Judah. But the prophet promised Judah that kingship in Israel would be his, and the promise was made of complete kingship.
Rabbi Moses's charge is that Friar Paul has distorted the meaning of the rabbinic text, taking it far beyond the narrow legal framework intended by the rabbis.
At a later point in the disputation, Friar Paul introduced rabbinic exegesis on Isaiah 52:13.
Behold your sages said, concerning the Messiah, that he is more exalted than the angels. Now this can only be a reference to Jesus, who is both messiah and divinity. He brought [as proof] what is said in the aggadah: " '[He] shall prosper, be exalted, and be raised to great heights.' He shall prosper beyond Abraham, be exalted beyond Moses, and be raised to greater heights than the serving angels."
Nahmanides suggests in rebuttal that, because of his lack of knowledge of rabbinic literature, Friar Paul has simply misread the rabbinic statement.
Our sages say this regularly of all the saintly—the saintly are greater than the serving angels. Indeed Moses said to an angel: "Where I sit, you have no right to stand." With regard to all Israel they said: "Israel is more beloved than the serving angels." Rather, the intention of the author of this aggadah concerning the Messiah was as follows. Abraham converted the peoples and preached to them the faith of [the Holy One] blessed be he and disputed Nimrod and was unafraid of him. Moses did yet more, since he stood in his insignificance in opposition to Pharoah, the great and wicked king, and showed him no quarter with respect to the terrible plagues with which he afflicted him and removed Israel from his grasp. The serving angels are deeply involved in the matter of redemption. . . . But the Messiah will do more than all of them. "His mind will be elevated
in the ways of the Lord." He will come and command the pope and all the kings of the nations in the name of God: "Let my people go that they may worship me." He will perform great and many signs and will be utterly unafraid of them. He will stand in the city of Rome until he destroys it.
Again, Nahmanides suggests a misunderstanding of the true meaning and intent of the rabbinic statement adduced by Friar Paul. Here the failure is alleged to be a reflection of the friar's woeful lack of knowledge of rabbinic literature, leading him to misunderstand commonly used imagery.
This first tactic was both uneconomical—in that it required separate argumentation on each specific rabbinic citation—and somewhat problematic. Exegesis of rabbinic statements and counter-exegesis can quickly bog down, although this ultimately was advantageous to Rabbi Moses and not to Friar Paul. Rabbi Moses took a number of approaches that were broader and more efficient.
The first of these pressed a line already noted in Rabbi Isaac ben Yedaiah—the contention that rabbinically held Christological views are inherently implausible. This was, in fact, Nahmanides' opening ploy, even before Friar Paul cited his first text. Friar Paul claimed that numerous statements submerged in rabbinic literature, when properly combined, present a picture of the Messiah that Jesus of Nazareth could readily be seen to fulfill. The obvious problem with such a claim is that it presupposes a remarkable level of insensitivity on the part of generations of Jewish scholars; it means that none of them properly understood texts with which they were deeply absorbed. Nahmanides was quick to pounce on this issue.
Let him answer me on this matter. Does he wish to say that the sages of the Talmud believed that Jesus was the Messiah and believed that he was fully human and truly divine, as believed by the Christians? But it is well known that the incident of Jesus took place at the time of the Second Temple and that he was born and killed prior to the destruction of the Second Temple. However, the sages of the Talmud lived after this destruction, sages like Rabbi Akiva and his associates. Those who codified the Mishnah, Rabbi and Rabbi Nathan, lived long after the destruction of the Second Temple—all the more so Rav Ashi, who composed and wrote the Talmud and who lived approximately four hundred years after the destruction of the Second Temple. If these sages believed in the messianic role of Jesus, that he was truly the Messiah and that his faith and religion were true, and if they wrote these things from which Friar Paul
intends to prove this, then how did they remain in the Jewish faith and in their former tradition? For they were surely Jews, remained in the Jewish faith, and died Jews.
Here Rabbi Moses expresses the problem in extreme fashion, asking how the Jewish sages could have believed in Jesus and remained Jews. In fact, however, Friar Paul was not claiming that these sages believed in Jesus; he was arguing that their utterances reveal a view of the Messiah that Jesus, in fact, fulfilled. Rabbi Moses addresses this subtler view as well.
Why did they not apostasize and convert to the religion of Jesus as Friar Paul did? He understood from their words that the faith of the Christians is true—heaven forfend—and went and apostasized on account of their words. But these sages themselves and their students who learned Torah from them lived and died Jews, as we are today.
This formulation is more to the point. If there are such clear implications in the teaching of the rabbis, then why were none of them or their followers attuned to them? The possibility of such corporate insensitivity is very remote. Nonetheless, since it is possible, although unlikely, Friar Paul insisted on examining the issues on their merit. While this argument was not successful in obviating the debate and derailing Friar Paul's effort, this claim of Nahmanides remained an important point of defense addressed to his Jewish audience. It suggested that this entire new line of Dominican argumentation was fundamentally fallacious.
In many ways, Nahmanides' most effective weapon at Barcelona was to insist, from the outset, on direct discussion of the Christological implications of the rabbinic dicta advanced by Friar Paul. Rather than debate the messianic implications of these rabbinic statements in the abstract, Nahmanides introduced Jesus at every turn. Sensing a serious weakness in many of the claims of Friar Paul, Rabbi Moses pressed the issue repeatedly, urging that the rabbinic statements cited be juxtaposed to the historical Jesus.
The Latin report contains an interesting reference to this ploy.
There in the palace of the lord king, the said Jew was asked whether the Messiah, who is called Christ, had come. He responded with the assertion that he has not come. He added that the Messiah and Christ are the same and that, if it could be proved to him that the messiah had come, it could be believed to apply to none other than him, namely, Jesus Christ,
in whom the Christians believe, since no one else has come who has dared to assume for himself this title nor has there been anyone else who has been believed to be Christ.
Nahmanides did, in all likelihood, say this. The statement was not wrung out of him, however; it was exploited by him as a means of refuting Friar Paul's contentions.
To put this line of Jewish rebuttal in context, let us note one of the earliest exchanges. When Friar Paul adduced the well-known story that tells of the simultaneous destruction of the Second Temple and birth of the Messiah, Nahmanides agrees to accept the story provisionally, "for it affords proof for my case." He goes on to spell this out.
Behold it says that, on the day of destruction, after the Temple was destroyed, on that very day the Messiah was born. Thus, Jesus is not the Messiah as you say, for he was born and killed prior to the destruction of the Second Temple. Indeed his birth was in fact approximately two hundred years prior to the destruction of the Temple, and even according to your reckoning it was seventy-three years earlier.
According to Rabbi Moses, this silenced Friar Paul. However, an observer stepped in to press Friar Paul's strategy.
The debate does not now concern Jesus. The question is only if the Messiah has come or not. You say that he has not come and this book of yours says that he has come.
Here the two strategies are clearly contrasted: the Christian effort to abstract deliberately and create a broad portrait of the Messiah and the Jewish attempt to introduce Jesus immediately and concretely. There can be little doubt that this tactic of contrived abstraction was artificial and weak. Since the ultimate goal was to convince Jews of the truth of Christianity, the artificiality of this tactic made this line of Jewish response particularly telling. Again, for Rabbi Moses's Jewish audience, this was an effective rebuttal, and, in fact, it is clear that the Dominicans absorbed this criticism and made necessary alterations in their approach as a result.
Let us note one more instance of Rabbi Moses's insistence on introducing the historical figure of Jesus. Here, the Jewish spokesman goes beyond the rabbinic texts cited by Friar Paul and beyond the limits imposed on Jewish rebuttal. It is this exchange and Rabbi Moses's record of it that in all likelihood most aroused subsequent Dominican
ire. In his long opening remarks on the second day, Rabbi Moses returned to the issue of the historical Jesus. When badgered by Friar Paul about whether he believed that the Messiah had come, Nahmanides replied:
No. Rather I believe and know that he has not come. There has been no one who has claimed or concerning whom it has been claimed that he is the Messiah, except for Jesus. And I cannot believe that he is the Messiah. For the prophet had said concerning the Messiah: "He shall rule from sea to sea, from the river to the ends of the earth." Jesus, however, had no rule; rather, during his lifetime, he was pursued by his enemies and forced to hide from them. Ultimately he fell into their hands and could not save himself. How then could he redeem all of Israel? All the more so after his death he had no rule. For Roman rule does not come from him. Rather, even before they believed in him, the city of Rome ruled the world. After they took on his faith, they lost much power. Now the followers of Mohammed have greater rule than the Romans. Furthermore the prophet says that, in the times of the Messiah, "no longer will they need to teach one another to know the Lord; all of them shall know me." He says: "For as the waters fill the sea, so shall the land be filled with knowledge of the Lord." He also says: "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not take up sword against nation; they shall never again know war." However, from the days of Jesus to the present, all the world has been full of violence and robbery. Indeed the Christians spill blood more than the other peoples, while at the same time they are sexually promiscuous. My lord the king, how difficult it would be for you and your knights if they could "never again know war." The prophet further says concerning the Messiah: "His mouth shall be a rod to smite the land." The rabbis explain in the book of lore in Friar Paul's possession: "They report to King Messiah, 'A certain state has rebelled against you.' He then says, 'Let the locust come and destroy it.' They report to him, 'A certain district has rebelled against you.' He says, 'Let the locust come and decimate it.' This, however, did not happen with Jesus.
What Nahmanides has done again is refuse to allow Friar Paul to reconstruct piecemeal his portrait of the rabbis' Messiah. He insists on introjecting the historical Jesus and arguing that he did not fulfill the criteria established for the Messiah. While he closes this lengthy statement with a reference to rabbinic utterance and thus returns to the ground rules established for the confrontation, in fact, Rabbi Moses went beyond the established guidelines and argued, along lines we have already encountered, that Jesus did not fulfill biblical criteria
either—a statement that undoubtedly aroused the ire of his Dominican listeners.
Rabbi Moses used one last ploy. While the most dramatic and potentially effective of his tactics, it was also the most problematic. From early in the discussion, Nahmanides claimed that belief in rabbinic aggadot was in no sense binding and mandatory, in effect, emasculating the innovative argumentation of Friar Paul. If rabbinic aggadot are not authoritative, then biblical proofs buttressed by rabbinic exegesis and further proofs drawn from freestanding talmudic dicta lose all force. It must be remembered that ultimately both Friar Paul and Nahmanides were addressing a Jewish audience, an audience for which broad disavowal of rabbinic aggadot would be—as it was for Nahmanides himself—difficult to accept. This last argument, directed forcefully at Friar Paul and his associates in the hope that it might discourage them from pursuing this argumentation any further, also had significant but problematic implications for Jewish auditors.
It is interesting that Nahmanides describes his utilization of this tactic as tentative at the outset. When Friar Paul introduced, early on the first day, the aggadah concerning the destruction of the Second Temple and the birth of the Messiah, Rabbi Moses depicts the following exchange.
I responded and said: "I do not believe in this aggadah, however, it is proof for my views." Then he cried out and said: "Behold he denies their texts." I said: "Truly I do not believe that the Messiah was born on the day of the destruction of the Second Temple. Thus either this aggadah is not true or it has another meaning related to the mysteries of the sages. However, I shall accept it literally, as you have suggested, for it affords proof for my case."
On the next day of the discussion, perhaps realizing that the challenge was in fact a serious one and that the tactic of negating the authority of aggadah might have to be resorted to more extensively, Nahmanides elaborated on this sensitive issue. Moreover, the Christian criticism of Nahmanides' dismissal of authoritative texts necessitated a more nuanced presentation.
Know that we have three categories of texts. One is the Bible, in which all of us believe completely. The second is called Talmud and consists of a commentary on the commandments of the Torah. For in the Torah there are six hundred and thirteen commandments, and there is not one of them which is not explained in the Talmud. We believe in the Talmud
regarding explanation of the commandments. In addition, we have a third text which is called midrash, that is to say sermons, such as when the bishop stands and delivers a sermon and one of the listeners enjoys it and writes it down. He who believes in this text, well and good; he who does not believe in it does no harm. Thus we have sages who wrote that the Messiah will not be born until close to the time of redemption, when he will come to take us out of exile. Therefore I do not believe in this text, where it says that he was born on the day of the destruction of the Second Temple. We also call this text aggadah, i.e., tales, that is to say that they are only stories told by one person to another.
In this speech, Nahmanides attempts to portray aggadah as unrelated to both the Bible and the Talmud. He depicts it as a literature of sermons and tales, copied down rather haphazardly. This is obviously not an accurate portrait of aggadah; Rabbi Moses is attempting, after all, to contrast sharply the authority of the Bible and Talmud (really halachah) with the lack of authority of the aggadah, all in an effort to undercut the basic approach of Friar Paul. If Nahmanides had been willing to espouse this view wholeheartedly and consistently, Friar Paul's challenge would have been totally repudiated. To the extent that Rabbi Moses was ready to fall back on this tactic, it was the most effective weapon at his disposal. Clearly, however, it was a ploy that was utilized sparingly and hesitantly.
The reaction of the Latin report to this important strategem is revealing.
Although he did not wish to confess the truth unless forced by authoritative texts, when he was unable to explain these authoritative texts, he said publicly that he did not believe those authoritative texts which were adduced against him—although found in ancient and authentic books of the Jews—because they were, he claimed, sermons, in which their teachers often lied for the purpose of exhorting the people. As a result, he denied both the teachers and the sacred writings of the Jews.
This description is not far from that of the Hebrew account. It differs only in two major respects. First, it turns Nahmanides' tactic into a ploy of desperation, which it was not in the Hebrew narrative. Second, it differs in its evaluation of the repudiation of aggadah. While the denial of aggadic texts was surely a difficult step for Rabbi Moses, it was far from an impossible one. For the Christian reporter, however, steeped in his own tradition's attitudes toward auctoritates, it was an unthinkable blasphemy. Nahmanides himself attributes such
impassioned recoiling to Friar Paul Christian. After describing his first statement of disbelief in an aggadic text, he depicts Friar Paul's violent reaction: "Then he cried out and said, 'Behold he denies their texts.' " It is quite likely that this is an accurate report; the same shock is reflected in the later Latin account of the proceedings. To the medieval Christian mind, particularly to a Dominican mind, such treatment of auctoritates was unthinkable.
The issue of Nahmanides' own view of the repudiation of aggadic statements requires a bit more analysis. The general tendency of those who have dealt with the position espoused by Rabbi Moses at Barcelona has been to see his denial of aggadah as a stance taken out of dire necessity and inconsistent with the personal attitudes of a thinker who is, after all, viewed as one of the giants of early kabbalistic speculation. Recently, Bernard Septimus has argued for a far more nuanced view of the Nahmanidean intellectual position in general and his stance toward aggadah in particular.
Another integrating perspective on Nahmanides is to view him as a genius at intellectual crossroads. At Nahmanides' birth, the Tosafists had just completed their revolution of talmudic studies; Kabbalah had recently emerged into the light of history in Provence; and Maimonides, the greatest representative of the Andalusian tradition, was completing his career in exile. All of these traditions converged at the turn of the twelfth century in Catalonia during a period of relative security and prosperity, releasing a remarkable burst of creative energy and versatile achievement. Nahmanides was the leading figure in this little Catalan renaissance.
Septimus proceeds from this general assessment to important specific observations with regard to Nahmanides' position on the authority of aggadah.
Although Nahmanides' attitude toward the nonhalachic material in classical rabbinic literature in highly complex and undoubtedly more reverent than Ibn Ezra's, he almost invariably attaches the term "aggadah" to those interpretations about which he seems uneasy, which make sense only when interpreted non-literally, or whose seriousness and authority he is calling into question. "Aggadah" can even be rejected in favor of kabbalistic interpretation. There is also support in Nahmanides' usage for the linkage of the term "aggadah" and popular homiletics—including one striking instance of an original interpretation proposed by Nahmanides "in the manner of aggadah." By contrast, a position referred to by Nahmanides as "the words of our masters" (divrei rabbo-
tenu ) is treated with respect and seriousness of a different order. The term "rabbotenu" tends to suggest a somewhat more weighty consensus. Nahmanides' tendency may therefore be akin to those geonic and Andalusian authors who deny absolute authority to individual aggadot while recognizing the more binding character of rabbinic teachings that represent a classical consensus. I wish to stress, however, that, though the term "rabbotenu" generally accompanies respectful treatment, it does not imply acceptance as a binding last word.
The implication of this careful analysis is that Rabbi Moses ben Nahman was not being unfaithful to his general position in taking the stance that he did at Barcelona. Indeed, a closer look at his own statements there corroborates the conclusions of Septimus. Rabbi Moses does introduce into his discussion two identifiable bases on which specific aggadot might be repudiated. In his longer statement, delivered at the opening of the second day of discussion, he notes a significant issue with regard to the authority of aggadah, namely, the reality of dissonant aggadot. Thus, after citing again the rabbinic statement that identifies temporally the destruction of the Temple and the birth of the Messiah, he indicates that "we have sages who wrote that the Messiah will not be born until close to the time of redemption." Given the reality of unresolved differences of opinion in the realm of aggadah, there is nothing unthinkable in a decision by Nahmanides to reject one aggadic tradition in favor of another diametrically opposed to the first. In his earlier statement on the first day, he opens yet another avenue for repudiating certain aggadot, at least, understood simplistically. Again, with regard to the aggadah mentioned a moment ago, he says: "Thus either this aggadah is not true or it has another meaning related to the mysteries of the sages." Thus, Nahmanides does not take a position inimical to his own views as expressed elsewhere or unthinkable in a traditionalist context. To be sure, put as bluntly as formulated in Barcelona, his view had to encounter some resistance in sectors of the Jewish world (as indeed it did); it was in no sense, however, as unthinkable a position as Friar Paul and some moderns have made it out to be.
Again, in considering this issue, the reality of two disparate audiences noted at the outset must be firmly borne in mind. For his Jewish listeners and readers, Nahmanides was advancing a position with regard to the specific aggadah that juxtaposes the destruction of the Temple with the birth of the Messiah which was perfectly acceptable and respectable. Rejecting such a statement on the grounds that it
conflicted with other aggadic pronouncements or on the grounds that it must have a hidden meaning is fully consonant with Nahmanides' general stance on aggadah and with a broad traditionalist perspective. The formulation presented in Rabbi Moses's long speech opening the proceedings of the second day is clearly not designed for a Jewish audience. It represents an extreme and somewhat skewed statement—still not blatantly inaccurate—designed to address the Christian listeners and to convince them that the entire new approach proposed by Friar Paul would be utterly unavailing.
In sum, the defense of Rabbi Moses—intended to discourage the Dominicans in their future efforts and to reassure his fellow Jews—was intelligent and diversified. It followed four major directions: (1) intense and specific battling over each and every rabbinic source adduced by Friar Paul; (2) dismissal of the implausible notion that the rabbis held Christological views without understanding their implications; (3) refusal to allow Friar Paul to build his case in the abstract and insistence on testing individual rabbinic texts against the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth; and (4) repudiation of certain aggadic statements. To these lines of defense explicitly pursued at Barcelona we must add one more, implicit in all likelihood in some of Rabbi Moses's statements during the confrontation and explicit in his Hebrew report on the proceedings. This last tactic was the consistent discrediting of Friar Paul for his general lack of intelligence as well as for his more specific lack of knowledge of the rabbinic literature on the basis of which he was claiming to build his new case.
It is not easy to assess these defensive efforts. If Rabbi Moses had hoped to argue so effectively that the new missionizing argumentation would be thoroughly discredited, then he had to be disappointed. As we have already seen, the new missionizing went on vigorously. However, some of his arguments did result in a rethinking of issues in the Dominican camp and in a refinement of the new approach, as seen strikingly in the Pugio Fidei. While certainly not the goal of Rabbi Moses, this refinement is a tribute to his acuity. More important from his own point of view, Nahmanides did crystallize a number of cogent Jewish responses, which could be utilized by Jews everywhere in meeting the new Christian claims. He performed the extremely important task of meeting the new challenge directly, blunting its immediate impact, and setting guidelines for his fellow Jews as they prepared to meet similar assaults.
Unfortunately, we are not well informed as to subsequent Jewish activities and attitudes. Two major items in this ongoing response to the new missionizing have survived. The first is Nahmanides' own report of the proceedings. This detailed narrative must certainly be seen as an element in the postdebate activity on the part of the Jews. It was composed by Rabbi Moses of Gerona for a number of purposes: first and foremost, to serve as a guide to the proselytizing thrusts of Friar Paul and to provide answers that might be given in the face of these thrusts. Nahmanides was thus compelled to write a highly detailed description. While no such comprehensive manual was required—for the moment—from the Christian side, there was no certainty as to the subsequent targets of Friar Paul's efforts. The Jews of Spain, and indeed of all Europe, had to be informed of the nature of the new challenge and of the lines of defense adumbrated by a distinguished Jewish thinker. That is why the account penned by Rabbi Moses is lengthy and explicit; it is also why the Jewish replies occupy so much more space than the Christian questions. We may surely assume that Friar Paul did not limit himself to the brief statements depicted by Rabbi Moses. As we shall see, Nahmanides' account was utilized by the Jews of this period as precisely the kind of manual its author intended it to be.
There is, at the same time, an interesting note of historical narrative in the account of Nahmanides. Rabbi Moses provides more than simply a manual of Jewish responses. He transforms his report of the confrontation into an absorbing tale replete with villains, heroes, and drama. This transformation had a serious purpose. As we have already noted, part of Nahmanides' technique was to discredit the Christian protagonist as a means of rebutting his arguments. The dramatic quality of the narrative, particularly its vituperative depiction of the Dominican and the contrasting self-portrait of the Jewish spokesman, serves to convey to the Jewish reader the sense that the new Christian argumentation could hardly be taken seriously.
There seems to be, finally, a note of personal apologetics as well. Both the Latin and Hebrew reports mention the rabbi's efforts to halt the proceedings, undertaken on the advice of Christians and Jews alike. According to the Latin account, this involved some sharp criticism of Rabbi Moses by his coreligionists; Nahmanides himself omits any reference to such criticism. In any case, the confrontation was a trying experience, and it is not surprising that the protagonist of the
minority would have wished to present the events in such a way as to refute any actual or potential criticism. The personal apologetics of Rabbi Moses are reflected in a number of ways. First, he attempts to portray himself as self-confident and in command throughout. His answers are long and thorough, while the questions posed by his rival are brief and sketchy. Second, while emphasizing throughout that the debate was forced on him, at the same time, he tries to show himself as less than totally passive. We have noted earlier an outstanding example of this in his depiction of the establishment of the agenda. We have suggested that the role imputed by Nahmanides to himself is a purely fanciful one and that even his description of the items on the agenda is distorted in such a way as to mute the evidence of Christian initiative and control. Thus, Rabbi Moses seems, on the one hand, to be presenting himself as disputing against his will and, on the other, to be portraying himself as retaining a measure of active power. Related to this is the ambiguous description of the relationship between King James I and the Jewish spokesman. Nahmanides goes to great lengths to emphasize the positive relationship between himself and the monarch. As has often been noted, he has the king calling a halt to the proceedings after the fourth day and observing, "I have never seen a man whose case is wrong argue it as well as you have done." More striking yet is the Jewish sage's claim that he was unwilling to expound publicly the full anti-Roman (i.e., anti-Christian) content of a particular aggadah but that he did explain it to the king privately. This description of a warm and friendly relationship is belied somewhat by Nahmanides' own depiction of the formal behavior of the king, who time after time refuses peremptorily the requests of the rabbi. Again, this ambiguity seems to flow from Rabbi Moses's desire to paint himself as both reluctant and aggressive, forced to debate against his will but enjoying the good graces of his sovereign.
There are thus both public and private purposes to the composition of Nahmanides' report. One further source reveals that this Hebrew record did, in fact, serve as the kind of manual its author had intended. Subsequent to his preaching efforts in Spain, Friar Paul Christian, in the late 1260s, turned his attention to the realm of King Louis IX of France. Arriving during the monarch's preparations for his second and final crusading venture, Friar Paul took full advantage of the heightened fervor of the royal court to press a number of his programs, in particular, his missionizing campaign. Chance survival of an interesting Hebrew document shows the Jews of northern France
benefitting from the experience and narrative of Rabbi Moses ben Nahman. The Hebrew document introduces itself as follows:
Be painstaking in the study of Torah, and this is what you should respond to the unbeliever. Behold now, in the year 1269, an apostate from Montpellier has arrived, revealing the secrets of the Torah and reviling the aggadot of our Talmud. He had already undertaken a debate with Rabbi Moses ben Nahman before the King of Aragon in Barcelona.
Following this introduction, there is a résumé of Rabbi Moses' report, giving Friar Paul's arguments and Nahmanides' responses. The northern French Jew who fashioned this résumé in effect urged his fellow Jews to acquaint themselves with these claims and counterclaims so as to prepare themselves for the anticipated sermons of Friar Paul. Having said this, we must further observe that this Jewish leader was superficial in his reading of Nahmanides' text. All he did was copy a series of arguments and counterarguments. There is, for example, no clear understanding of Friar Paul's strategem of deliberate abstraction and thus no full appreciation of Rabbi Moses's insistence on introducing Jesus of Nazareth at every turn. Yet more interesting is the refusal of this northern French Jew to follow Nahmanides' lead in disclaiming the authority of aggadic texts. At no point in the résumé is this tactic mentioned or recommended. Divergences notwithstanding, it is clear that Nahmanides' account was in fact widely known and that it did serve as a manual for rebutting the contentions of Friar Paul. The Jews who read his report came to share his view that the challenge posed by the formerly Jewish Dominican preacher was a formidable one; they also shared his sense that the lines of defense adumbrated at Barcelona had proven to be effective and could be usefully imitated by other Jews subjected to the new missionizing argumentation.
Rabbi Mordechai ben Joseph
While the response of Rabbi Moses ben Nahman constitutes our fullest reflection of the Jewish reactions to the new missionizing argumentation mounted by Friar Paul Christian, we do possess one more major source that is addressed directly to this new proselytizing thrust. Under very trying circumstances, Rabbi Mordechai ben Joseph of Avignon set himself the goal of rebutting the new missionizing argumentation in a lengthy composition that he entitled Mahazik[*] Emunah (The Reinforcer of Faith).
In the opening pages of the extant manuscript, which are unfortunately badly damaged and most difficult to decipher, Rabbi Mordechai describes the conditions under which he set about his task, conditions of strict house arrest.
They indicated to us the fate of all those sequestered. This was to be the punishment: Anyone who exited through the door of his house would bear responsibility for his fate. He [antecedent unclear] commanded to close up some of the entrances with plaster and stone and that some of them be equipped with iron rods. But God intervened and their counsel was foiled. "Their eyes are besmeared, and they see not; their minds, and they cannot think." ' The entrances were opened wide. When we saw our loved ones, we found solace and rest. While I remained in my house in sadness, where I accepted suffering gladly, God in his loving-kindness invigorated my spirits. "The spirit of God drove me on." I completed a book and corrected it, bringing it to fruition. I called it Mahazik[*]Emunah, available to those who know wisdom, for [in it] I explained secret things and I divided it into thirteen chapters.
The precise circumstances that gave rise to this punishment are not clear. What is important is the result—a book intended to buttress the beliefs of Rabbi Mordechai's contemporaries.
Friar Paul is mentioned in the Mahazik[*]Emunah, but, again unfortunately, those pages that explain the intellectual origins of the work are now illegible. A look at the lengthy table of contents supplied by the author will indicate clearly the mid-thirteenth-century backdrop of the book and the immediate influence of the new missionizing argumentation developed by Friar Paul.
The first chapter is intended to prove that three exiles were announced to Israel between the dissected pieces [a reference to the divine promise delivered in Genesis 15:13–16 and 18–21, between the dissected pieces of four animals], and one is the exile in which we find ourselves today. I intend to prove that, because an edict was decreed against us, this is the longest exile and we still remain in it, dispersed among the nations. Therefore the Messiah has not come to gather his dispersed.
The second chapter is intended to prove that it was decreed that this exile be longer than the other exiles. Thus it is no surprise that the Messiah tarries, for his time has not yet come. At the appointed end he will come to gather his dispersed at the end of days, according to the words of the prophets.
The third chapter is intended to prove and to explain the length of [this] exile, that it is properly the longest of all. When their Messiah ap-
peared, Israel had not yet gone into exile; thus it is clear that the Messiah has not come. Thus it has been decreed, and there is a fixed end to our exile.
The fourth chapter is intended to prove that, because of repentance, the Creator will advance the time of redemption. The intention was to strengthen the hearts of people so that they not despair as a result of the length of exile and so that they not say that their hope has been lost and so that they repent. All this proves that the Messiah has not come. We further proved in this chapter that, at the end, Israel will be saved even without repentance. We are in exile; therefore obviously the end has not yet arrived and the Messiah has not yet come.
The fifth chapter is intended to prove that we are in exile only for annulment of the commandments written in the Torah. I have done so in order to obviate the belief of those who say that we are in exile for the sin related to their Messiah. . .
The sixth chapter indicates that the Messiah whom all the prophets predicted is human and not divine. It is intended to obviate that belief which says that the Messiah has come and is divine and human, taking on flesh and blood. If the matter is not so, as I prove in this chapter, then matters are not as they say and the Messiah has not come. For they also acknowledge that all the prophets predicted the Messiah.
The seventh chapter is intended to prove that the Messiah has not come. This chapter is intended to prove the essential issue, that the predictions for the future and the signs and the wonders required for that time, like the matter of Gog and Magog and the matter of . . . and many wonders, have not been realized. Thus the Messiah has not yet come.
The eighth chapter is intended to prove if the Messiah has been born or is yet to be born. This chapter as well is intended to prove that he has not come. For, if he has been born, then our sages said that he was born on the day of the destruction [of the Second Temple], but according to their view he was born long before the destruction [of the Second Temple]. But if he is yet to be born, then how could he come prior to being born?
The ninth chapter is intended to prove that two Messiahs will come at the end of days, the Messiah son of Joseph and the Messiah son of David. The prophets foretold both of them. They [the Christians] say that their Messiah came by himself before the destruction [of the Second Temple]. Therefore the prediction of the prophets was not realized and their vision not fulfilled. With regard to the coming of the Messiahs it [the vision of the prophets] was not fulfilled; it shall, however, be fulfilled at the time of the end, for the prophets neither lie nor deceive.
The tenth chapter is intended to prove that the Messiah whom the prophets predicted will come to gather Israel. . . . Thus the Messiah
should have come to gather them from the four corners of the earth. But if you say that [it—i.e., the prophecies] refers to those remaining in Babylonia and to the ten tribes, indeed he [Jesus] did not gather them and they remain in exile. Thus the Messiah has not come. He will come at the end of days to gather them.
The eleventh chapter [is intended] to prove the honor of Israel, the lengthening of days, and the strengthening of faith during the days of the Messiah. These things did not happen during the days of their Messiah. There was no honor for Israel or lengthening of days—indeed even today they die after brief days as do we. Thus the Messiah about whom the prophets predicted that there would develop in his days honor for Israel and strengthening of faith and lengthening of days has not yet come. When he does come, all these predictions and consolations will be realized.
The twelfth chapter is intended to prove the downfall and undoing during the days of the Messiah of the nations that exiled us and subjugated us in exile. Thus surely the Messiah has not yet come. . . .
The thirteenth chapter is intended to prove that the world will continue to proceed in its accustomed pattern during the days of the Messiah. The worship service and the commandments will not be annulled during the days of the Messiah. It is known that their Messiah innovated a new religion for himself and claimed that the commandments—which are eternal statutes—were annulled with the coming of their Messiah and that they were no longer required to offer sacrifices and that there would no longer be prophets, for prophecy has been sealed with his coming. We prove in this chapter with clear proofs that it is not as they claim. The Torah and the commandments will remain in force and be everlasting. Thus it was not the Messiah that came; rather he is yet to come, with the aid of God. May our eyes see this and may our hearts be gladdened; in his salvation our souls will rejoice. Our King will crown us speedily and shortly. Amen.
Reflections of the innovative mid-thirteenth-century missionizing argumentation abound. There is, in particular, ample evidence of Rabbi Mordechai's awareness of the thrusts of Friar Paul Christian. The case made by Friar Paul at Barcelona revolved around four key assertions: (1) the Messiah has already come; (2) the Messiah was intended to be both divine and human; (3) the Messiah was intended to suffer and be killed for the salvation of mankind; and (4) the laws and ceremonials were intended to cease after the advent of the Messiah. Rabbi Mordechai reacts to three of these four items. The first—that the Messiah has already come—is clearly the heart of the matter for him. He addresses this issue in almost every chapter (all except chap-
ter 5); when he discusses the coming of the Messiah directly in chapter seven, he calls this "the essential issue." The formulation of chapter eight—whether the Messiah has yet been born or is eventually to be born—clearly recalls the discussion of this issue at Barcelona, based on the rabbinic materials that speak of the birth of the Messiah as already having taken place, for example, at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. In chapter eight, Rabbi Mordechai makes reference to precisely those same rabbinic sources. Chapter six, which argues that the Messiah was intended to be human and not divine, clearly addresses the second item on the Barcelona agenda. The third agenda item is not directly confronted. However, the fourth item, which was not broached at Barcelona, is the subject of the thirteenth and last chapter. Thus, the essential content of the argumentation, the use of rabbinic materials, and discussion of many of the sources used at Barcelona all indicate awareness of the new missionizing argumentation of Friar Paul.
In addition to these general considerations, there is direct reference to Friar Paul and his arguments in the closing chapter of the Mahazik[*]Emunah. There, Rabbi Mordechai takes up the notion of the annulment of the commandments during the days of the Messiah. In the course of this discussion, he adduces two rabbinic texts that speak of the disappearance of most prayers and sacrifices during the days of the Messiah and attempts to show that these texts reflect the special circumstances of messianic times—the lack of this-worldly cares and sinning—and do not bespeak such an annulment. To illustrate the closeness that will exist between God and humanity at that time, he adduces an aggadah concerning God and the righteous.
It is written: "I shall walk in your midst." This is analogous to a king who went out to walk with his beloved associates in an orchard. The associate was frightened of him. The superior said to him: "Why are you frightened of me? I am akin to you." Likewise the Holy One will in the future stroll with the righteous in paradise. When the righteous see him, they will recoil from him. Then the Holy One will say to them: "Why do you recoil from me? Behold I am akin to you."
Rabbi Mordechai goes to great lengths to explain this aggadah as referring to the relationship between God and the righteous at the end of days and concludes this digressive explanation with the following:
I dealt at length with this aggadah because that certain fellow [ha-ish ha-yadu'a] distorted the meaning of this aggadah. He said that "you are akin
to him" is to be taken to mean that the Messiah was to be divine and human.
On the last day of the Barcelona proceedings, Friar Paul had utilized precisely this aggadah in exactly the manner suggested by Rabbi Mordechai. "That certain fellow" surely is a discreet reference to Friar Paul and establishes even more specifically the relation of the Mahazik[*] Emunah to his innovative argumentation.
Rabbi Mordechai's treatment of this new missionizing argumentation is both less and more useful than that afforded by the lengthy narrative report of Rabbi Moses ben Nahman. It is less useful in that Rabbi Mordechai is not constrained, as was Nahmanides, to reply directly to the claims of Friar Paul. There is, as a result, a looseness about the arguments of Rabbi Mordechai that we did not encounter in Nahmanides' narrative. Yet, precisely because of this, the Mahazik Emunah is ultimately even more interesting. If our essential concern is to fathom the Jewish response to the new argumentation, then the lack of constraint and the truly internal Jewish focus of Rabbi Mordechai's opus make it valuable. In this work, we have a Jewish leader addressing his fellow Jews in the terms that he believes will be most meaningful to them. Thus, Rabbi Mordechai affords us an opportunity to understand more fully from within the directions of Jewish reaction to the new thrusts.
In analyzing the claims of Rabbi Mordechai, let us begin with the bases of argumentation. Herein, of course, lay the essential innovation of Friar Paul's approach, his utilization of rabbinic exegesis of the Bible and of freestanding rabbinic dicta. Rabbi Mordechai is obviously aware of this important innovation, yet he clearly is not overwhelmed by it. While he makes repeated reference to rabbinic sources, these references take second place both quantitatively and qualitatively to his use of biblical text. Throughout his book, he places the heaviest emphasis on what he sees as the ultimate source of religious truth, God's revelation as crystallized in the Bible. Thus, the essence of his argument is the reassuring of his fellow-Jews that the entire weight of divinely revealed truth supports their tradition. Rabbinic material is important and interesting, but random rabbinic texts cannot overturn the essential truths reflected, according to Rabbi Mordechai, at every turn in the biblical record of revelation. In this sense, then, a look at the internal Jewish responses to Friar Paul's new tactic shows it to be less meaningful than he would have wished. When all was said
and done, much of Jewish thinking returned to traditionally biblically based rebuttals of Christian claims.
When we turn our attention away from the bases of argumentation to the substance of that argumentation, we are immediately struck by the concentration on the issue of whether the Messiah has already come. While only one chapter addresses itself centrally to this issue, eleven others make reference to it. In discussing the Barcelona agenda, we already hypothesized that the first item was actually the key to all the rest, and indeed the Mahazik[*]Emunah substantiates that hypothesis. It is obviously Rabbi Mordechai's intention to prove and re-prove and prove again that the Messiah has not yet come. That issue is the linchpin. If the Christians could prove that assertion, then truth would lay with them; if Jews could prove their view that the Messiah has not yet come, then their faith would be substantiated. This is not to negate the significance of other issues. We have already suggested that there was value for the Christian camp in massing numerous arguments simultaneously; for the Jews, likewise, the more rebuttals that could be marshaled, the better. The Mahazik Emunah, however, does help us identify the heart of the debate. Let us gain some sense of the style of Rabbi Mordechai's argumentation by quoting some of chapter 7, in which he argues directly that the Messiah has not yet come.
The seventh chapter is intended to prove that the Messiah whom all the prophets predicted that he would come to gather the dispersed of Israel has not yet come. . . .
First I shall bring proof from the Torah that the Messiah has not come, for the Creator promised us full redemption in the future. For in the covenant struck between the dissected pieces it is written: "To your offspring I assign this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates." He then counted ten nations, citing first the Kenites, the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites. Now these three were not given to Israel during the days of Moses, may he rest in peace, or during the days of Joshua or during the days of David. Now it is impossible to say that there was not sufficient merit to warrant disinheriting them and fulfilling the promise, for with this covenant and oath there were no conditions, as we explained in the first chapter.
But in truth there are destined to be realized inevitably during the days of the Messiah many [biblical] statements regarding the future, such as the [statement regarding] the cities of refuge. . . . It is said: "And when the Lord your God enlarges your territory, [as he swore to your fathers,
and gives you all the land that he promised to give your fathers—if you faithfully observe all this instruction that I enjoin upon you this day, to love the Lord your God and to walk in his ways at all times—] then you shall add three more towns to those three [the three already set aside as cities of refuge]." This never took place. It is further said in the prophecy of Isaiah: "In the days to come, the mount of the Lord's house shall stand firm above the mountains and tower above the hills; And all the nations shall gaze upon it with joy." This is not now the case. All the nations do not . . . upon it, and it does not tower above the hills, for subsequent to their Messiah Jerusalem was conquered by the Muslims. Further: "For instruction shall come forth from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." We do not see now that people go to Jerusalem to seek wisdom, for it is destroyed and desolate.
It is further said: "In that day, the Lord will apply his hand again to redeeming the other part of his people from Assyria, as also from Babylonia and from Assyria and from Egypt." Who is it that redeemed [them] from Babylonia and the other lands and will apply this hand again to gather them from the ends of the earth and collect Judah and Israel from the four corners of the world? Who redeemed them the first time and will redeem them a second time? Only the Lord, may he be blessed, for their Messiah did not yet exist [at the time of the first ingathering]. Indeed those scattered about to the four winds are Israel and Judah. Isaiah further says: "Strengthen the hands that are slack; make firm the tottering knees." Whose hands are slack in exile and whose knees tottering? Only Israel. Now at the end of this chapter he says: "And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come with shouting to Zion. "
He [Isaiah] says: "Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and declare to her that her term of service is over, that her iniquity is expiated; for she has received at the hand of the Lord double for all her sins." Who is it that received at the hand of the Lord double for all her sins but Israel. He further says: "He gives strength to the weary, fresh vigor to the spent." Who is weary and spent in exile but us. Concerning whom is it said: "Those who trust in the Lord shall renew their strength." Surely the weak. However, those who today enjoy power shall be reversed and become weak. Likewise all these sections are straightforward, speaking only about those who live today under the oppression of exile.
It says in the Torah that during the days of the Messiah there will be "peace in the land and you shall lie down untroubled by anyone." Likewise Isaiah says: "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard lie down with the kid; [the calf, the beast of prey, and the fatling together, with a little boy to herd them.] The cow and the bear shall graze, [their young shall lie down together; and the lion, like the ox, shall eat straw.] A babe shall play over a viper's hole, [and an infant pass his hand over an adder's den.]" Where have we found such peace during the days of their
Messiah? Indeed it was the opposite, for dissension multiplied on the earth, along with dissidence and heresy.
I have quoted this material at length to give the flavor of Rabbi Mordechai's argumentation. The heavy reliance on direct biblical text is manifest. Indeed, as we read this section, there is an obvious echo of Nahmanides' independent speech on the second day of the Barcelona proceedings. Here, as there, the basic stance is that the entire picture of messianic days as presented throughout the Scriptures has not been yet realized and thus the suggestion that the Messiah has already come is patently untrue. There is little sophistication about this argument, but it is clearly a highly meaningful one to such Jewish leaders as Rabbi Moses ben Nahman and Rabbi Mordechai ben Joseph. In this sense, the increasingly adroit argumentation mounted by Friar Paul proved of limited effectiveness. The central Jewish response elaborated for internal Jewish usage is that the overwhelming weight of biblical truth clearly and simply repudiates the new (as well as old) Christian claims.
While his case against the prior coming of the Messiah constitutes the essence of Rabbi Mordechai's rebuttal of the new missionizing thrusts, his book also affords some sense of the fourth agenda item at Barcelona, the issue of the annulment of Jewish law. Because that issue was never debated by Friar Paul and Rabbi Moses, we were previously unable to identify the force of this fourth issue. Since Rabbi Mordechai devotes the final chapter of the Mahazik[*] Emunah to it, he provides us with a sense of both the Christian argument and the Jewish counterargument.
The thirteenth chapter [is intended] to prove that the commandments and sacrifices are not annulled during the days of the Messiah.
The Lord wished to provide Israel with merit, therefore he granted them extensively Torah and commandments. Indeed the commandments were given for the well-being of the universe, to distance [humanity] from murder and adultery and robbery. Likewise the commandments rooted in obedience [as opposed to those rooted in rational considerations] are like steps intended for the ascent to the house of God. All the days of the [existence of the] world mankind must occupy itself with maintenance of the universe and must distance itself from ugliness and. . . .
The sages of the Talmud said that the only difference between the present world and the days of the Messiah is [Israel's] subjugation by the nations. During the days of Hezekiah, who was a righteous king, called "the eternal father, a peaceable ruler," they [the Jews] held fast to the
commandments more than in prior generations, as is said: "They searched from Dan to Beersheba and could not find an infant not expert in [the laws of] impurity and purity." Likewise during the days of the Messiah, when he comes, we believe that they [Jews] will still be expert in [the laws of] impurity and purity, in the Torah and the commandments. Indeed when the Torah was given at Sinai, it was not given for a limited time period. Just as the commandments are dependent upon fear of the Lord, so too will they never be annulled—such as "I am the Lord your God"; "You shall have no other gods beside me"; "You must fear the Lord your God" —and such as "You shall not swear falsely by my name"; "You shall not revile God"; "You shall love the Lord your God." All these commandments written in the Torah brook no distinctions and will never be annulled. Regarding that which is said in the aggadah: "Rabbi Yohanan [said] in the name of Rabbi Menahem of Galya: 'In the future all the prayers will be annulled, but prayers of thanksgiving will never be annulled.' Likewise regarding that which he said in a different aggadah: "In the future all the sacrifices [will be annulled] except for the thanksgiving offering." He [Rabbi Menahem] intended by [the term] "in the future" the world to come. For there are two time periods: first the days of the Messiah, when they [the Jews] will remain for many years in the land of Israel and offer sacrifices, and subsequently there will be the world to come, when the righteous shall luxuriate in Eden and receive their reward. Then there will take place a different revival of the dead, some to receive reward and some to be punished. Regarding that time period, the prophet said: "Many of those that sleep in the dust [of the earth] will awake, some to eternal life, others to [reproaches, to] everlasting abhorrence." At that time, there will no longer be an evil inclination in the world, as Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said in Tractate Avodah Zarah: "In the future he [God] will bring the evil inclination and slaughter it before the righteous." Therefore they will not need to be aware of foulness and murder and robbery. Inevitably then all the sacrifices will be annulled, except for the sacrifice of thanksgiving. That is to say that they will give thanks to the Holy One, blessed be he, and will luxuriate with him in Eden. Alternatively we can explain this [the statements of Rabbi Menahem] even during the days of the Messiah. That is to say that the prayers will be annulled because they will no longer need to request this-worldly necessities, for the world will be bounteous all the days, without effort and work. They will only require [prayers of] praise and thanksgiving to God. Likewise there will be no sinners who will require sacrifices for sin and transgression, as is written: "Sinners will disappear from the earth."
I shall return to my proofs that all the commandments will be in force during the days of the Messiah. The sages of the Talmud are divided in
Tractate Berachot with regard to recollection of the exodus from Egypt during the days of the Messiah, specifically Ben Zoma and the sages. They say there: " 'So that you may remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt as long as you live.' But are we to remember the exodus from Egypt during the days of the Messiah? But it has already been said: 'Assuredly, a time is coming—declares the Lord—when it shall no longer be said, "As the Lord lives who brought the Israelites out of the land of Egypt," but rather, "As the Lord lives who brought the Israelites out of the northland." ' " It seems that it was Ben Zoma's view that we will not remember the exodus from Egypt during the days of the Messiah, and this is a positive commandment. What they were saying to us is not that [remembrance of] the exodus from Egypt would be abrogated, meaning that it would not be annulled during the days of the Messiah, but rather that [remembrance of release from] the domination of the nations would be primary and [remembrance of] the exodus from Egypt would be secondary. Similarly one finds: "You shall be called Jacob no more, but Israel shall be your name." [This does] not [mean] that the name Jacob is abrogated, but rather that Israel is primary and Jacob secondary.
This passage shows us the essential techniques used by Rabbi Mordechai. He mounts three independent positive arguments for the continued relevance of the commandments in messianic times: one from reasonable consideration of the functions of the commandments, one based on rabbinic sources, and one (the most important) rooted in biblical revelation. Having established these, he proceeds to cite some of the recent arguments mounted on the basis of rabbinic literature and to rebut them. In this case, since we lacked evidence of the nature of Friar Paul's rabbinically derived case against the observance of the commandments, Rabbi Mordechai's material serves to fill in the lacunae. He shows us a number of rabbinic sources utilized by Friar Paul and then submits these sources to his own analysis.
This passage alerts us to one last, and very important, tendency of Rabbi Mordechai's, a tendency that pervades the entire work. While there is surely much that is defensive in his approach, there is also a positive line of argumentation throughout. Put another way, it was not enough for Rabbi Mordechai to simply rebut Friar Paul's contentions; he was anxious to construct an independently positive statement of Jewish views as well. We have just seen him do this with respect to the issue of Jewish law. This same dual thrust typifies his work in its entirety. Let us look again at the table of contents. We see
throughout a consistent thread of rebuttal of Friar Paul. (1) The Messiah has not yet come. (2) The Messiah was not intended to be divine and human. (3) Even when the Messiah does appear, the commandments will not be annulled. All of this is skillfully interwoven, however, in a rich positive tapestry that seeks to reassure the Jewish reader that God's broad plan is still in effect and still includes ultimate redemption of the Jewish people. (1) God intended three exiles for his people. (2) The third exile was intended to be the longest. (3) Redemption is inevitable. (4) The Messiah has not yet come. (5) When he does come, the Messiah will redeem all of Israel and will properly punish those who mistreated them during their subjugation. (6) Even at that point, the commandments will retain their eternal validity. Rabbi Mordechai clearly felt that his responsibility extended beyond rebuttal; he also felt required to reassure through the construction of a positive portrayal of the present and the future. Friar Paul's case of the prior advent of the Messiah implied an obvious negative corollary for Jewish fate. If the Messiah had already come and had not redeemed them, then the Jews were surely consigned to unremitting exile and degradation. Rabbi Mordechai was as sensitive to this negative corollary as he was to the original Christian claim of the prior advent of the Messiah. Addressing his fellow Jews directly, he was in a position to proceed beyond the circumscribed parameters of Rabbi Moses ben Nahman, and it is in this sense, therefore, that his work gives us even better insight into the defensive efforts on the part of the Jewish leadership of the mid-thirteenth century, efforts that included continual reassurance in the face of the new onslaught. Not only were the Christians wrong in their new thrusts but the old promises by which the Jews had long lived and in which they had long had confidence remained in force and augured better days to come.