A Talmud Apologetic With Considerable Speculation and Special Pleading

This review is from:

Why Do the Heathen Rage?: Exposing the Deliberate Falsifications and Distortions of the Bible, Talmud and other Sacred Jewish Literature (Pamphlet) – 1938 by Samuel S. Cohon (Author)

Reviewer: Mr. Jan Peczkis
This review is of WHY DO THE HEATHEN RAGE? EXPOSING THE DELIBERATE FALSIFICATION AND DISTORTIONS OF THE BIBLE, TALMUD AND OTHER SACRED JEWISH LITERATURE. The author was Samuel S. Cohon, a scholar at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. This work is largely a response to the then-current Nazi German attacks on the Jewish religion.

The author is internally inconsistent in his apologetic. He dismisses ENTDECKTES JUDENTUM–Eisenmenger’s critique of the Talmud (pp. 15-16), but also approvingly citing Eisenmenger’s repudiation of the claim that Jews use the Kol Nidre to lie to gentiles. (pp. 44-45). In other words, Cohon accepts Eisenmenger when it suites his purposes, and rejects Eisenmenger when it does not.

I focus on three issues:


Cohon rejects the argument that the Talmud is a secret for Jews only. He says that it is secret only to those who do not know Hebrew, just as Goethe and Heine are secret to those who do not know German. (p. 18).

He then examines a controversial Talmudic passage, “What about the passages in Sanhedrin 59a, which seem to suggest the contrary? We find there the words of Rabbi Johanan that ‘an idolater who studies Torah incurs the guilt of death, for it is added (Dt. XXXIII:4) “Moses commanded us a law, an inheritance of the congregation of Jacob”’ By a play upon the Hebrew word for “inheritance” morasha and meorasa, “betrothed”, Rabbi Johanan maintains that the Torah is betrothed to Israel and hence may not be “wedded” to idolaters. He evidently SUSPECTED that idolaters who study Torah are not in earnest or they would not remain idolaters. Experience MAY HAVE taught him that some enemies of the Jewish people peruses the Torah only for the sake of fault finding and trouble making. Hence he rules against their study of the Torah.” (p. 19; Emphasis added).

Cohon then brings up the contrary opinion, in the same passage, of Rabbi Meir—that is, Meir’s oft-quoted statement that a GOY who studies the Torah is like a high priest. Cohon then argues that Rabbi Meir’s opinion was the majority one and Rabbi Johanan’s opinion was the minority one. Cohon supports his argument as follows, “If Johanan’s view were the prevailing one a large host of gentile scholars and their Jewish teachers would have incurred the death penalty.” (p. 19).


There are several layers of flaws in Cohon’s reasoning. To begin with, Cohon acts as he can mind-read Rabbi Johanan and know his intentions. In addition, note that Cohon’s assertions are of a speculative, exculpatory nature, as evidenced by the very choice of words he uses (evidently SUSPECTED, MAY HAVE taught him).

His argument about gentile Torah-studiers not given the death penalty is disingenuous. It assumes that Jews were free to administer the death penalty while living amongst the gentiles. They generally were not. In fact, elsewhere (p. 34) Cohon plainly states that Jews were not allowed to administer the death penalty under the Romans, Christians, and Mohammedans. (p. 34). So how can credit accrue to the Jews for not doing something that they could not do? It is like a totally paralyzed person taking moral credit for never shooting anyone.

Second, Jews, even if—for the sake of argument—were allowed to administer the death penalty, there were other factors against its enactment. For example, the administration of the death penalty to gentile Torah-studiers would have been bad public relations for Jews.

Finally, all this must be placed in broader context. There are other Jewish laws that were apparently never literally followed, yet this does not mean that they had no impact on everyday Jewish thinking and conduct. So it is with the execute-gentiles-for-studying-Torah Talmudic teaching.


Cohon quotes Rabbi Simeon Hasida [BABBA KAMMA 115b], who stated that robbing a gentile is forbidden but retaining his lost articles is permitted. (p. 39). Cohon asserts that this, in his words, is “probably due” to the Canaanites not returning lost articles to Jews, as well as Roman law not requiring the return of lost articles.

However, even if the Talmudic passages did in fact originate as a Jewish counterpart to Canaanite or Roman laws or policies, the exculpatory value of this fact is vitiated by the fact that legitimate Jewish questions about the non-return of lost gentile belongings persisted for many, many centuries AFTER the times of the Canaanites and the Romans. For instance, the 13th century Rabbi Jacob ben Asher, in his HOSHEN MISHPAT 266:1, is quoted by Cohen as saying that “’Retaining an object lost by a heathen is permitted…’”, provided that it does not “dishonor God’s name”. (p. 39). [That is, cause bad PR for Jews.]

The 17th century Rabbi Moses Rivkes dissented from Rabbi Jacob ben Asher on this matter, effectively contradicting him, and making-up the after-the-fact explanation that the non-return of gentile belongings applied only to the heathen of Talmudic times. (p. 39). If that were so, one would not have needed to wait some 1,200 years, AFTER the last of the Talmud had been written down, for this teaching to be stated. In fact, had the passages applied merely to the pagan peoples of Talmudic times, this entire subject would have been a centuries-settled, long-defunct matter by the Middle Ages, and it would hardly have been a matter of debate for medieval and post-medieval rabbis!


Author Samuel Cohon argues, perhaps too hard, that there are many passages that forbid a Jew to steal from a gentile. However, indirect cheating—the taking advantage of a gentile’s mistake—is not so easily dismissed. In fact, Cohon (pp. 36-39) spends much time elaborating on different rabbinical interpretations as to how far a Jew can go in using a gentile’s mistake to the Jew’s advantage, thereby validating the fact that this is a legitimate consideration. Moreover, much of this reasoning is clearly driven by public-relations considerations (not giving Jews a bad name), and less out of respect for non-Jews.

Pointedly, Cohon cites the famous and progressive medieval Rabbi Moses Maimonides [ROBBERY AND LOSS (XI:4-5)], “‘The error of a gentile is like his loss (which need not be returned), but only if the error was made by himself. However, it is forbidden to mislead him. Thus when a gentile has erred in his reckoning the Jew must expressly tell him, “I rely upon your reckoning, and I accept what you tell me.” But if he did not speak thus to him, taking advantage of the error is forbidden.’” (p. 28). In other words, it is OK for a Jew to cheat a gentile as long as the gentile made a mistake, and so long as the Jew gave him a subtle warning about his mistake.

By contrast, the 12th century Rabbi Judah Hasid, in SEFER HASIDIM 358 wrote, “‘Be careful not to take advantage of the error of a gentile who observes the Noachian laws [Noahide laws], and return his losses to him, and do not disparage him, but honor him more than a Jew who does not conduct himself according to the Torah.’” (pp. 38-39). So we are now in the 12th century, seven centuries after the last of the Talmud had been written down, and all is well and fine, but what does it now mean? The Jew has been self-appointed to the position of judge over gentile conduct and, from this judgment, deciding whether or not the GOY is worthy of not being taken advantage.


To evaluate another Talmud apologetic work, click on my review (and links therein) of The Jews Amongst the Nations: In Defence of the Talmud.

Jan Peczkis

Source: Amazon – Customer Review, July 28, 2017.


Published with the author’s permission.


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