Deceiving the Dumb Goyim


Leon Poliakov uses the following story to explain the nature of Talmudic reasoning:
A goy [non-Jew] insisted that a Talmudist explain to him what the Talmud was. The sage finally consented and asked the goy the following question:

"Two men climb down a chimney. When they come to the bottom, one has his face covered with soot, the other is spotless. Which of the two will wash himself?"

"The one who is dirty," answered the goy.

"No, for the one who's dirty sees the others' clean face and believes he is clean too. The one who's clean sees a dirty face and believes his is dirty too."

"I understand!" the goy exclaimed. "I'm beginning to understand what the Talmud is."

"No, you have understood nothing at all," the rabbi interrupted, "for how could two men have come down the same chimney, one dirty and the other clean?"

It is hard to miss the intention of the Talmud, or misinterpret its noble meaning, or pilpul it into something other than what it is, when it says:

Rabbi Shemeul says advantage may be taken of the mistakes of a Gentile. He once bought a gold plate as a copper one of a Gentile for four zouzim, and then cheated him out of one zouzim in the bargain. Rav Cahana purchased a hundred and twenty vessels of wine from a Gentile for a hundred zouzim, and swindled him in the payment out of one of the hundred, and that while the Gentile assured him that he confidently trusted his honesty. Rava once went shares with a Gentile and bought a tree, which was cut up into logs. This done, he bade his servants to go pick out the largest logs, but to be sure to take no more than the proper number, because the Gentile knew how many there were. As Rav Ashi was walking abroad one day he saw some grapes growing in a roadside vineyard, and sent his servant to see whom they belonged to. "If they belong to a Gentile," he said, "bring some here to me, but if they belong to an Israelite, do not meddle with them." The owner, who happened to be in the vineyard, overheard the Rabbi's order and called out, "What? Is it lawful to rob a Gentile?" "Oh, no," said the Rabbi evasively, "a Gentile might sell, but an Israelite would not" (Bava Kama, Fol. 113, col. 2).

This, we should keep in mind, appears in a Jewish religious text.

Deception in Business

It is a grave sin to practice any kind of deception whatsoever against a Jew. Against a Gentile it is only forbidden to practice direct deception. Indirect deception is allowed, unless it is likely to cause hostility towards Jews or insult to the Jewish religion. The paradigmatic example is mistaken calculation of the price during a purchase. If a Jew makes a mistake unfavorable to himself, it is one's religious duty to correct him. If a Gentile is spotted making such a mistake, one need not let him know about it, but say "I rely on your calculation," so as to forestall his hostility in case he subsequently discovers his own mistake.


It is forbidden to defraud a Jew by selling or buying at an unreasonable price. However, "Fraud does not apply to Gentiles, for it is written 'Do no defraud each man his brother' [the Halakhah interprets all such idioms as referring exclusively to one's fellow Jew.]

Theft and Robbery

Robbery of a Gentile by a Jew is not forbidden outright, but only under certain circumstances such as "when the Gentiles are not under our rule," but is permitted "when they are under our rule." Rabbinical authorities differ among themselves as to the precise details of the circumstances under which a Jew may rob a Gentile, but the whole debate is concerned only with the relative power of Jews and Gentiles rather than with universal considerations of justice and humanity.

Israel Shahak, Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Two Thousand Years (London: Pluto Press, 1994), 89-90, 117 n49.

The Jewish Diaspora community in Europe has been formally called to task by Christian authorities a number of times in history to find out exactly what the Jews in their midst believed and where they morally, politically, socially, and religiously stood with regard to Gentiles.

One of the most important accounts of such an occasion was in France in the year 1240. A Jewish apostate named Donin, Christianized to Nicholas de Rupella, well versed in Hebrew as a Talmudic scholar, claimed to Church officials that there were many elements in Jewish teachings that were threatening to non-Jews. A public disputation was held between Donin and Rabbi Yehiel ben Joseph of Paris. As Jeremy Cohen notes about Hebrew records of the event: "Some modern writers have labeled the Hebrew protocol [of the disputation] a prime example of literary polemic, using well-known forensic motifs to reinforce popular Jewish belief rather than actually reporting what occurred."

The most infamous line in the Talmud -- "the best among Gentiles should be slain"-- came up for public examination. One can imagine that such a directive in Jewish religious texts, whatever its complex historical context as a part of intra-Jewish argument, exposed to Church leaders in medieval society by a Jewish apostate, was not an easy one for the rabbis to explain away. Even Jacob Katz passes on its essential content, simply alluding to "whatever its meaning may be ..." M. K. Harris, in his book on Talmudic literature, mentions an addenda: "Modern editions," he notes, "qualify this by adding 'in time of war.'"

The intention of the Church inquiry was, of course, to squeeze out of Jewish religious texts the most self-condemning material. Hence, some of what Katz calls the Talmud's apparent "picture of extreme hostility on the part of the Jews towards their Christian neighbors" seemed nothing less than indicting:

You have permitted [Jews] to shed the blood of Gentiles. It is permitted to steal and plunder the Gentile's possessions and (it is allowed) to cheat him. Concerning the lost property of a Gentile, you say that it is forbidden to return it to him. The Gentile is suspected by the Jew of practicing fornication, adultery, and sodomy. The Jew is not allowed to make the Gentile any gift, nor is he even permitted to say, "How handsome this Gentile is"; it is permitted to you to curse and to despise [Christian] idolatry; and we are as despised in your eyes as locusts and flies.
The way the rabbis weaseled out of the grim possibility of extremely serious repercussions for the Jewish community was to argue that such lines -- although they truly exist in Jewish sacred texts -- applied to Gentiles of antiquity, yes, but that Christians were now an exception. This position, says Katz, was "no more than an ad hoc device to be used in the course of controversy. There is no indication in the Talmud or in the later halakhic sources that such a view was ever held, or even proposed, by an individual halakhist. In fact, evidence to the contrary exists."

Rabbis even tried to convince Christian interrogators that insults and degradations in the Talmud directed toward Jesus of Nazareth referred to a different Jesus because it was a common name! As Rabbi Yehiel ben Joseph said in defense of the Talmudic texts that defamed Christ, "Not every Louis born in France is the king of France. Has it not happened that two men were born in the same city, had the same name, and died in the same manner? There are many such cases." "The Jesus of the Talmud," scholar Jeremy Cohen writes, "... is mentioned as condemned to wallow eternally in boiling excrement ... When forced to admit that one talmudic passage mentioning the crimes of Jesus and his execution did indeed apply to the Christian Jesus, Yehiel still emphasized that the Talmud was not responsible for maintaining this opinion among Jews."

Who Killed Jesus?

According to the Talmud, Jesus was executed by a proper rabbinical court for idolatry, inciting other Jews to idolatry, and contempt of rabbinical authority. All classical Jewish sources which mention his execution are quite happy to take responsibility for it; in the talmudic account the Romans are not even mentioned.

The more popular accounts -- which were nevertheless taken quite seriously -- such as the notorious Toldot Yeshu are even worse, for in addition to the above crimes they accuse him of witchcraft. The very name "Jesus" was for Jews a symbol of all that is abominable, and this popular tradition still persists. The Gospels are equally detested, and they are not allowed to be quoted (let alone taught) even in modern Israeli Jewish schools.

Israel Shahak, Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Two Thousand Years (London: Pluto Press, 1994), 97-98.

The Jewish representatives also took great pains to distance themselves from traditional prayers that asked, as the apostate correctly charged, for the end of the "unrighteous kingdom." Did "unrighteous kingdom" mean the surrounding society in which the Jews currently lived? It did. This has always, as Katz acknowledges, meant to Jews "the whole secular world and its entire political edifice," but the Jewish defenders managed to convince their inquirers that the prayers alluded to the ancient powers of Biblical eras.

The preceding text is excerpted and edited from When Victims Rule, online at Jewish Tribal Review. The title is editorial; JTR's in-text citations have been removed. I have added the quotes from Shahak. His invaluable Jewish History, Jewish Religion can be purchased from National Vanguard Books


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