Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The Talmud on gentile governments, rape, and testimony

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Belief, Truth, and Lies in Divorce, Marriage, Rape, and Female Chastity. Rightly or wrongly, Talmudic thinkers presumed that gentiles would persecute the Jews in their midst.
Can Jews rely on gentile courts to dispense justice? The question arose in this week’s Daf Yomi reading, in the course of an extended discussion of the major subject of Tractate Ketubot so far: female chastity. And the rabbis’ answer speaks volumes about their experience with the Roman and Persian governments they lived under. Many moments in the Talmud make clear that Jews in Talmudic times—as in much, perhaps most, of Jewish history—saw non-Jews as potential persecutors. (In Tractate Eruvin, for instance, we learned that a Jew should never live alone among gentiles, for fear that they will murder him.) And the Talmud periodically refers to times when the laws cannot be enforced due to government persecution—as happened after the Bar Kochba revolt in the 2nd century C.E., not long before the Mishna was written down.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.