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.