The Palestinian Talmud on Murder

In one of his many outstanding scholarly books, Professor Rabbi Louis Ginzberg, a prominent 20th century scholar of Jewish law, compared similarities and differences between the two Talmuds written in different places at different   times.

In his collection of essays “ON JEWISH LAW AND LORE”, his first one is entitled “An Introduction to the Palestinian Talmud”. In it he explains the differences in style and language as well as theological opinions and decisions rendered by the rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud (the most prominent and official version) and by the rabbis of the Palestinian Talmud.

The Babylonian Talmud was influenced by life in Persian society in Babylonia whereas the Palestinian Talmud was written in Tiberias, Palestine, under Roman and Greek regimes. Palestinian Jews were mostly farmers while Babylonian Jews specialized in commerce and trade. The Jews in both countries were influenced by their association with gentile nations. Babylonian Jewry lived more peacefully and comfortable among the local non-Jewish population.

In an interesting discussion about the laws of murder, two Palestinian scholars, Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiba addressed the difference between the practical and the merely theoretical parts of the Mishnah.

Capital punishment had been permitted by the Jewish courts in Palestine but had ceased to be used after the Roman occupation of Palestine. Capital punishment of Babylonian Jews did not exist.

In the course of their discussion both rabbis Tarfon and Akiba made the following statement: “if we had been members of the Sanhedrin nobody would ever have been executed”.

One of their disciples chastised them in reply indicating that they would have caused bloodshed in Israel.

Why?  Because he said to them that murder is prevented by fear of punishment, and when fear disappears crime increases.

In our sad time, the disciple’s remarks have very significant meaning.

If the Jewish hilltop youth terrorists in the West Bank settlements are permitted to murder innocent Arab citizens simply because they are Arabs and they show no remorse for their heinous crimes, often inspired by the rabbis of their yeshivot, and are not severely punished for their crimes, the murders and terror attacks will only increase. The disciple of Rabbis Tarfon and Akiba was sensible enough to understand the truth.

One way of helping to reduce these murders of elderly, women and young children is to lock up the yeshivot of hate in which they listen to anti-Zionist haredi rabbis, among them followers of the late terrorist leader and advocate of elimination of Arabs, Rabbi Meier Kahane.

If the hilltop wild youth insist upon learning in yeshivot, they should be transferred to Jerusalem where there is no shortage of respectable Jewish halls of learning.

But before they begin Talmud study (Babylonian, not Palestinian) they need to be indoctrinated in the laws of human compassion,  what we used to refer to as “derech eretz”.

Not one of our great Chief Rabbis in Israeli history has ever preached death to Arabs, has never countenanced the burning of Christian churches, nor anti-Arab anti-Christian graffiti scribbled on church and mosque walls. Neither has any Jewish religious leader ever rejoiced when Arab fields are burned, when olive groves, the main source of income, are chopped down or uprooted, when cattle are slaughtered, nor the horrendous and inhuman act of breaking into Arab homes to slaughter the families inside.

Juden rein was a dastardly principle of Nazi hatred against all Jews. Arab rein is equally a dastardly principle of some Jewish hatred against all Arabs.  It must cease! The punishment must be severe!

The perpetrators of these  horrible crimes must be made to fear the penalties and punishments which await them.

The disciple of the Palestinian rabbis thousands of years ago is pertinent for today as well.

“Murder is prevented by fear of punishment; and that when fear disappears crime increases.”

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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