Critical Thinking and the Talmud

By Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz

In August 2000, Senator Joe Lieberman was selected as the nominee for Vice President of the United States of American by Al Gore. The entire nation buzzed about Senator Lieberman's selection because his was the first Jewish nominee for the second highest office of the United States.

Every Talk Radio show I tuned into that day was covering the Jewish angle of this story. I was listening to one show in particular when a caller named John unleashed a torrent of anti-Semitic accusations against the “Jewish Senator.” Unfortunately, John’s outburst was not an isolated incident.

Most of the accusations were straight out of the notorious, early 20th century, Protocols of Zion. Based on evidence repeatedly corroborated by British, German, Ukrainian, Polish and Russian sources, the Protocols are an anti-Semitic forgery and religious and political hoax.

John quoted obscure passages from the Talmud to demonize Jews and Judaism. The word Talmud literally means “study” and is a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, customs, and history, compiled over several centuries after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

I was so frustrated by Jim’s ignorance I called into the show and after a little convincing was moved up in the cue and had my time to speak. I asked John if he was basing his information on his personal research of the Talmud. When he said “yes,” and that he had carefully read the entire Talmud, I asked him how long this took him. “About 8 hours,” was his reply. I challenged his claim by pointing out that if you read one page of the Talmud a day it would take 14 years to complete this massive work. The Talk Show host couldn’t refrain from laughing and John didn’t know what to say.

I then proceed to demonstrate that the passages John had quoted were taken out of context or non-existent fabrications. For example, anti-Semites try to paint Judaism as cruel religion because of the biblical passage, “an eye for and eye.” The Talmud discusses this passage and rejects a literal interpretation and unanimously concludes that this statement is a metaphor for fair monetary compensation for damages. In fact, there is no historical evidence that Jews ever understood or enforced this passage literally.

The Protocols of Zion is a scam and John, along with his fellow anti-Semites, chose to believe the lies contained within it. They surrendered their critical thinking skills for the sake of perpetuating their hatred of Jews. They epitomized the slogan, “my mind is made up so don’t confuse me with the facts.”

The irony is, that the Talmud is one of the greatest examples of critical thinking. Its record of thousands of discussions among the Jewish sages demonstrates that they did not want to leave any stone unturned before they came to a conclusion.

There is a timely lesson to be learned from this ancient book. The best way to avoid being mislead or deceived is to use your critical thinking skills and check your facts before you make any decision.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz is the founder and director of Jews for Judaism International. Visit their websites at www.JewsForJudaism.org and www.Be-True.org

To find out about Jews for Judaism’s December16, 2009 Stand Up For Judaism Chanukah Benefit go to www.jewsforjudaism.org/gala