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Face Off

Notre Dame [2] –The Debate in the Palace


The debate was divided into subjects, with each subject comprised of a number of questions. The Jewish handbook of the debate contains the questions and answers of Rabbeinu Yechiel. However, the Latin version written by the non-Jews notes whether the answer was accepted or not.

Rabbeinu Yechiel was successful in giving full and compelling responses to all of the queries posed. Given this, there is no justifiable link between his performance in the debate and the burning of the Talmud that followed.The Christians, however, were not completely satisfied with Rabbeinu Yechiel’s responses and the decree of burning the Talmud was not annulled.

Since the Christians only believed in the written Torah, Rabbeinu Yechiel attempted, as often as possible, to prove his points with references from the written Torah. The following are excerpts from some of the more interesting exchanges during the debate.

The Debate Begins

Rabbeinu Yechiel: Why are you arguing and what do you want to ask of me?

Nicholas: Why do you ridicule our Messiah in the Talmud for the last few hundred years?

R’ Yechiel: The Talmud is more than 1500 years old!

R’ Yechiel (turning to the Queen): Please, Your Majesty, Don’t force me to reply to his words. The Talmud is ancient and until today no one had a problem with it. Your priest, Herunimos, knew our whole Torah and the Talmud and this fact is known to all of the Christians. If he would have had a problem with it he would have let it be known. Also, although priests and apostates existed they have not had an issue with the Talmud for the past 1500 years! What do you want now?

You brought me here to argue because of the sinner Nicholas who scoffs at the words of our sages which are 1500 years old, believing only in the written Torah of Moshe without any of the explanations., But you understand that it is difficult to understand things without proper clarification. It is for this reason that we have distanced ourselves from him and have placed him under a ban, and ever since, he has tried to do us harm. His efforts are all in vain, because we are prepared to die for the Torah, which is the apple of our eye. If evil is destined for us, we are scattered throughout all corners of the earth and the Torah connects us from Bavel, Modai, Yavan , and the seventy nations of the world. Our bodies are in your hands, but you cannot uproot the Torah from all Jews, possibly only in your kingdom.

Minister: No one will touch you!

R’ Yechiel (to the Minister): You cannot protect us from the citizens of this country.

Queen: Stop talking in this way. We will protect you and all that is yours. It would be a sin for anyone to harm you, as is stated in the Pope’s books. Answer the apostate and don’t refrain from speaking your mind.

The priests: We are all present here because of Nicholas, so please answer if you can. If you refuse, we will see what we can do to see who will come to your assistance and save you!

R’ Yechiel: I will reply to your queries. However, should I err, the error is mine alone. My nation is not at fault and should not be punished for my personal mistakes.

Talmud and Learning

Nicholas: Do you believe in the four sedarim of the Talmud?

R’ Yechiel: I believe in all the laws and statutes that are written there and all the things that our Sages sought to teach us. It is indeed called the Talmud from the pasuk, “V’limad’tem es bineichem,” meaning “and you shall teach your children…”

Swearing or Not

Nicholas: Are you prepared to swear that you will speak the truth and not confuse us with lies and convoluted explanations?

Priests: Yes, the Rabbi should take an oath!

Queen: Please, I beg you to take an oath on this.

R’ Yechiel: Woe is me that I have come to this court! How can you demand that I swear on the words of this sadist? In the Torah we find that we only take an oath when it comes to money matters, not on the illusory or abstract.

Queen: Even so, we ask that you take an oath.

R’ Yechiel: Your Majesty, I have never taken an oath in my life, and I am not going to begin by swearing now. If I do swear, I may be indicted for things I have said here that don’t please this evil man and that in this sinner’s eyes will be false. The pasuk says, “Lo sisa es shem Hashem lashav.” Do not swear in Hashem’s name in vain. I declare, though, that everything I say will be the truth.

Queen: If it is so difficult for him to take an oath, leave him be!

Some But Not All?

Nicholas: It states in your Torah, “One who passes all his children through a Molech (two pillars of fire for the avoda zarah of Molech) is guilty, but if he only passes some of his children through the Molech he is absolved, as it states, “mizaracha v’lo kol zaracha.” Can you understand such a weird thing? And there are many like this, which causes one to wonder how you can believe in such things. Someone who leads some of his children to Molech is deserving of the death sentence but one who is even a greater sinner and leads all his children to Molech is innocent?!

The priests break out in laughter.

R’ Yechiel (to the priests): There will come a time when you will no longer laugh and ridicule us. Indeed, you will even regret it. First listen to what I say before you scorn the Torah.

R’ Yechiel (to the Queen): Your Majesty, please listen to my words. Who is a bigger sinner, the person who kills one or the person who kills two?

Queen: The one who kills two! The one who kills four is even a bigger sinner. The more you kill, the bigger the sinner!

R’ Yechiel: Fantastic! The Torah prescribes four methods of death to be administered by a court of law; stoning, burning, death by the sword, and choking. The court of law carries out one of these in the case of an individual who deserves that particular punishment. The guilty person confesses his sin and with the punishment, his sin is forgiven.

Therefore, when someone leads only some of his children through Molech, the court metes out the death penalty to him and as a result, Hashem forgives his sin. We find by this Achan, before being punished, was told by Yehoshua, “Yechorcha Hashem bayom hazeh,” which our Sages explain in this way: “Hayom hazeh,” in This World, “atah achor,” you are destroyed, however, “ain atah achor l’Olam Habah,” in the Next World you are not destroyed. But when one leads all his children to the Molech, he has sinned so grievously that the court of law has no permission to kill him. Being put to death will not cleanse him of his sins, and thus only Hashem alone can punish him.

The answer pleased the audience.

Earlier or Later

Jews Learning

Source: Soncino-Blätter vol. III Author: Johann von Armssheim (1483) Published: Berlin 1929–1930

We find in Chazal various narratives that refer to individuals named Yeshu, Yeshu ben Satada, and Yeshu Hanotzri.1This fact (and other ones included in this debate) that there was more than one Yeshu Hanotzri may have been concocted by Rabbeinu Yechiel in order to serve his purpose of placating the non-Jews and saving the Talmud. These are not facts to be relied upon. The Yeshu number 1 and 3 were probably one and the same.

Yeshu Hanotzri was a talmid of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Prachia, a Tanna in the era of the second Bais Hamikdash. The Gemara says of this person that “hikdi’ach tavshilo,” an expression meaning that he rejected Jewish beliefs. It is further stated that he engaged in sorcery and incited Jews to idolatry. He was stoned and then hanged after his death on erev Pesach. He was a relative of the royal family.

Yeshu ben Satada was also known as ben Pandira. His mother was Miriam Magdala Nashia, the hairdresser, who was the wife of Pappus ben Yehudah. He learned magic in Egypt, and the Gemara calls him a shoteh, a fool. He was stoned and hanged in Lud on erev Pesach.

Rabbeinu Tam writes that ben Satada is not the above-mentioned Yeshu Hanotzri, since the latter lived in the times of the Tanna’im, while the former’s mother, Miriam, is known to have lived much later, during the era of the Amora’im. .

Yeshu Hanotzri who had disciples who the chazal called “minim” and created the nineteenth blessing in shemone esrei, “vilamalshinim’. This is probably the Christian Yeshu and the Gemara lists his five disciples; Masia, Naky, Netzer, Boni, and Toda. There was another disciple called Yaakov Ish Kfar Schania. This Yeshu, according to the Christians, the Romans hanged alive on a cross in Yerushalayim.

Nicholas: The Jewish nation shames and ridicules the Gentile god. How can the heads of the Christians allow the Jews to live amongst you when your Torah teaches that their god is punished by being forced to wallow in boiling excrement.

Nicholas (opens a volume of the Talmud and reads aloud): “Onkelos became a Jewish proselyte and was able to speak with the souls of the dead. He asked a number of them to describe their punishment in the Next World. The Gemara continues,  “askei l’Yeshu b’nigida, amar lei, dina d’hai gavra b’mai?” Who is the “hai gavra” talking about?

R’ Yechiel: Yeshu.

Nicholas: Let’s read further. What does the Gemara answer? “Nidon bitzo’ah rosachas.”He is punished with boiling excrement.

R’ Yechiel: Since you abandoned Judaism fifteen years ago, you have constantly tried to come up with evil plans against us. You will not succeed. Let me reply in your own language and assure you that the Yeshu mentioned in the passage you just read does not refer to the Yeshu of Christianity. It refers to a different Yeshu.

Priests (murmuring amongst themselves): He is a liar.

Title: Disputation between Jews and Christians
Source: Soncino-Blätter vol. III Author: Johann von Armssheim (1483)
Published: Berlin 1929–1930

R’ Yechiel: It was a Yeshu who only believed in the written Torah and thus maligned the sages, refusing to  believe in their holy words, much like yourself. The proof is in the fact that it does not refer to him as Yeshu Hanotzri, just “Yeshu.” He also lived in a different era than Yeshu Hanotzri.

Were the Gemara speaking of Yeshu, the founder of Christianity, it would not have considered his biggest flaw to be that he didn’t believe in the Oral Law and scoffed at it. Your Yeshu had a bigger bundle of sins than that: He made a god of himself and scorned the fundamentals of the Torah. This particular Gemara is discussing a Yeshu who ignored the Oral Law and only believed in the written Torah.

Nicholas: You also call Yeshu a “ben sota,” son of a prostitute.

Nicholas (opens another volume of the Talmud and reads): “This was done to ben Satada in Lud: They hanged him on erev Pesach. But was his name ben Satada? Ben Pandira was his name. Rav Chisda said ben Satada is ben Pandira, and he was the son of Papus ben Yehudah. Why do we call him ben Satada? Because his mother was Satada. But wasn’t his mother Miriam Magdala Nashia? In Pumpedisa it was said, “Satas da miba’alah,” she strayed from her husband and was a prostitute.” Thus, the Gemara calls the mother of Yeshu a prostitute.

The cardinals grew angry upon hearing this accusation, and cried out: Why are you saying things like that about Miriam? What grief did she ever cause you?

R’ Yechiel: Why do you get angry so quickly? Who made you judge and jury over me? You forgot the pasuk that states, “Charashtem resha v’avlasa ketzartem,” You have plowed evil and reaped abomination. It also says “Shamoa bein acheichem u’shfatitem tzedek bein ish uvein achiv,” Hear out your fellow men and decide justly between any man and his brother, and “Tzadik harishon b’rivo uva hasheini v’chakro,” The first to plead his case seems right till the other party examines him.

You don’t have to listen to his declaration because the poison drips from his lips. Now listen to me. Of course we don’t have anything negative to say about Miriam Magdala, because she was not evil. Not only that, she was our flesh and blood, the Talmud in not even writing about her in their discourses.

The person discussed here was someone else, and the proof is that the story of Yeshu, the founder of Christianity happened in Jerusalem, while this story occurred in Lud. In addition, ben Satada’s death was stoning, not hanging. The Yeshu mentioned here is not called Yeshu Hanotzri.  The mother of this Yeshu was called Miriam Magdala Nashia who lived in the times of Rav Papa and Abaya as it states in tractate Chagiga, which was seven hundred years after the saga of Yeshu Hanotzri, which occurred before the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. His father is called Pondira or Pipus ben Yehudah, while the husband or lover of Miriam, the mother of Yeshu who founded Christianity, was called either Yochanan or Yosef, as stated in your own chronicles.

Nicholas (opens another volume of the Talmud and reads):  “L’olam t’hei smol doche v’ymin mikareves,” The left should always push away and the right should always draw near, unlike  Yehoshua ben Prachia who pushed away Yeshu with both hands.” The Talmud relates further: After King Yanai killed the rabbanim, Yehoshua ben Prachia was in Alexandria, Egypt. Shimon ben Shetach sent him a letter, which read,  “From me, Jerusalem, to you, Alexandria. My man is with you and I am alone.” Yehoshua ben Prachia understood the hint and made his way to Yerushalayim with his disciple Yeshu. On the way, they stopped at an inn where Rabbi Yehoshua was greeted with great honor. Yehoshua commented, “How welcoming is this inn!” and Yeshu replied, “Rebbe, her eyes are so soft!” Yehoshua berated Yeshu and said, ”You are busy with things like this?” Rabbi Yehoshua brought 300 shofaros and put Yeshu into cherem. Yeshu approached his rebbe and told him that he wanted to do teshuva, but R’ Yehoshua ignored him. Once, when Rabbi Yehoshua was saying Krias Shma, Yeshu approached him again, hoping he could talk to him. Rabbi Yehoshua signaled to Yeshu with his hand and Yeshu assumed that Rabbi Yehoshua was sending him away again, so he erected a brick and bowed down to it. Yehoshua ben Prachia told Yeshu to do teshuva but Yeshu said that someone who sins and causes others to sin cannot do teshuva.

R’ Yechiel: That is not speaking about your god. That Yeshu was in the time of Yehoshua ben Prachia who lived in the time of Yanai the King and his brother-in-law R’ Shimon ben Shetach. Shimon ben Shetach was the rebbe of Yehudah ben Tabai who was the rebbe of Shmaya and Avtalyon who were the rebbes of Hillel Hazaken, the elder of all the Nesi’im.

We learn in the first perek of mesechtes Shabbos: “Hillel v’Shimon ben Gamliel nahagu nisiusan  lifnai habayis meiya shana,” Hillel and Shimon ben Gamliel were nesi’im in the last hundred years before the churban. Accordingly,  Shimon ben Shetach lived about 200 years before Hillel and Shimon ben Gamliel, which was. about 300 years before the churban, or 172 years after the first churban and 4000 years since the creation of the world.

Thus, Shimon ben Shetach lived 472 years before the beginning of the fifth millennium. Presently, we are 1472 years from the Yeshu you just read about in the Talmud, and since this is the non-Jewish year 1240, that would mean that the Yeshu who was the disciple of Yehoshua ben Prachia lived 200 years before the Yeshu who founded Christianity. Your Yeshu lived in the times of Queen Helen, while the other Yeshu lived during the reign of King Yanai.

It states in Perek Chelek, “V’nega lo yikrav b’oholecha, lomar lecha shelo yehiye lecha ben o’talmid shemakdiach tavshilu birabim k’gon yeshu hanotzri.” That refers also to the talmid of Yehoshua ben Prachia, from which we may conclude that there were two Yeshus.

Priests: How can we believe this person with the sharp tongue who insists there are two Yeshus? He says they both were sinners and caused others to sin and both were killed on erev Pesach.

Title: Paris wie solche Ao. 1620 im wessen gestanden
Author: Caspar Merian
Publisher Location: Amstelodam
Date: 1655
City: Paris
Credit: David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

R’ Yechiel: Not every Louis in France is equal, not all are the king of France. Is it not possible that two people with the same name are born in the same city and die in a similar manner? There are many cases like this!

Queen (to the priests): Why are you spoiling this for yourselves? Here he is trying to honor you and explain that it is not your god that is being mocked and being punished with boiling excrement, so what do you want? You want him to admit that it is Yeshu Hanotzri and with this, you will actually shame yourselves?

Queen to R’ Yechiel: Tell me the truth, was there another Yeshu?

R’ Yechiel: So shall I live and return home because it was not said about him that he should be punished with boiling excrement. No one would say things like that about your Yeshu.

Priests: So who was this Yeshu?

R’ Yechiel: I don’t know!

Priests (amongst themselves): He doesn’t know? He must be lying!

A Voice In the Wilderness

Nicholas: What is a bas kol?

R’ Yechiel: This is an echo and not a true voice. Since we were banished from our land, we have no prophecy so we rely on the bas kol.

Nicholas:: Listen to me, my wise friends, and see if what I say is foolish or if others are the odd ones.

Nicholas (opens a volume of the Talmud and reads): “Rabbah bar bar Chana was traveling when he heard a bas kol that said, “Woe to me that I have sworn, who can annul my promise?” When he arrived at his destination, he went to the rabbis and told them what he had heard. They, in turn, became angry at him and reprimanded him for not responding by doing what he was asked and annulling the promise. They said, ‘Kol aba chamra v’chol chana shatya,’ Every Abba is an ass and every Chana is a fool. You should have annulled the promise by saying ‘mufar lach.’” How can you tolerate such nonsense that G-d is asking for Rabba to break His promise and the rabbis get angry at him for not saying “mufar lach”? It is also stupid that anyone who makes an oath can ask his friend to absolve him of it. Each year on Yom Kippur they break their oaths and promises that they have made to the goyim a whole year and then they don’t keep those promises that they have made. The Talmud states, “Harotze shelo yiskaymu nedarav kol hashana ya’amod b’Yom Kippur v’yomar kol nidrei,” Three simple people can absolve an oath and therefore it is no wonder that the Jews never keep the promises they make to others.

R’ Yechiel: Woe is to you,  the spirit of jealousy, lies and bluff is scaring you. Let me answer the first question first and the latter one later. You wonder why the Creator regretted his oath? There is a well-known  pasuk: “Vayinachem Hashem al hara’a.” We also find this by the Mabul, the flood, “Asher nishbati mei’avor mei Noach od al ha’aretz” As I swore that the waters of Noach nevermore would flood the earth and it says further,  “Es kashti nasati be’anan v’haya l’os bris beini u’vein ha’artetz… v’lo yihiye od hamayim l’mabul l’shacheis kol basar.” I have set My bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth… so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

The fact that the rabbis reprimanded Rabba bar bar Chana was an expression. The issue of Kol Nidrei can be better understood by reading the end of the pasuk “v’nislach l’chol adas bnei Yisroel v’lager hagor b’socham ki l’chol ham bishgaga.”  We only can absolve the mistakes that occur and the promises that we make by accident. The three simple people can only erase a promise that a man makes affecting only himself, not one involving a second party. In order to take care of a promise involving two people, the second party must be involved in the process.

The Best of the Goyim Deserves to Die

Nicholas: You are a band of murderers because you have allowed shedding the blood of non-Jews as your sages have stated, “Tov shebagoyim harog.”

R’ Yechiel: Will you stop with your deceit?  Let me prove to you that there are good and bad goyim There are good ones as it says in the pasuk, “halilu es Hashem kol goyim, Praise Hashem, all you nations.” There are bad ones, too, as it states, “Kol goyim sh’chaychay Elokim, all the nations who ignore God.” The saying “tov shebagoyim harog” refers to Maseches Sofrim, where it states: “Bimilchomos shebagoyim harog.” Why? Because when you are at war, you are obligated to fulfill the klal of “Haba l’hargicha hashkem l’hargo.” it doesn’t matter if it is a Jew or a goy as it states, “Im bamachteres yimatzei haganav.”

Even more, when the Jews go to war with the nations,– including the seven nations we Jews are commanded to destroy, as the pasuk says “lo sechaya kol neshama” – we must try to make peace before resorting to war and killing. Of course, when it is peacetime, we have to attempt to resolve our differences peacefully. It is self- understood that the nations we live amongst in galus who interact with and protect us must be treated with respect. We are commanded so and the commandment of “lo sirtzach” you shall not kill, does not differentiate between a Jew and a non-Jew. The goyim mentioned in the Talmud are primarily the seven nations that the Jews were commanded to kill.

Seven, Ten, But He Has 613

Cardinal: In your honest opinion, can we also be helped according to your Torah?

R’ Yechiel: I can tell you something that can help you even in your religion, and that is the seven mitzvos of bnei Noach.

Cardinal: Seven mitzvos? We have ten mitzvos, the aseres hadibros.

R’ Yechiel: That’s wonderful for you, however, this meshumad has 613 mitzvos that he is supposed to uphold.

Cardinal: The “malchus zadon” that you mention in your prayers, is that referring to our kingdom?


Title: June
Source: Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry – Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry Authors: Limbourg brothers (c. 1402–1416), Barthélemy d’Eyck (c. 1444–1469) or Jean Colombe (1430–1493)
Date: circa 1440
Collection: Condé Museum, ms.65, f.6v
Notes: Cross edited. In the background, the royal palace, in the island, of Cité…
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

R’ Yechiel: No. This refers  to a kingdom that does not recognize G-d and revolts against Him, as it states, “V’hayu kol zeidim v’chol osei resha kash,” much like Pharaoah of Egypt who did not recognize G-d and asked, “Mi Hashem asher eshma bikolo?” Also, it states about Egypt, “Ki bidavar asher zadu aleihem”, for that which they schemed against them. Similarly, Nevuchadnetzar, the king of Bavel, said ,”e’eleh al bamsei av va’adameh l’elyon” I will mount the back of a cloud— I will match the Most High, and the Navi Yermiyahu says about him, “Hineni elecha zadon”, I am going to deal with you, O Insolence . The king of Ashur  also proclaimed, “Mi bichol elokei haratzos asher hitzilo es artzam miyadi ki yatzil Hashem es Yerushalayim miyadi.” They killed the Jews and chased them from their land. They burned their homes and issued various death penalties every day. It is upon these kingdoms that we pray, “Malchiyos zadon miheira yekoreisun.” However, this kingdom, which the Pope who rules and commands, and with his wisdom, protects us so that we may live in peace, how can we be anything but thankful? If one of you should anger us, would we be angry at a whole nation? About this, the  pasuk states, “ha’ish echad yechta vi’al kol ha’edah tiktzof? One man shall sin, but You will be angry with the whole assembly?” there is no such thing and no Jew would even think like that, to repay evil for goodness. Of a kingdom such as this one we say, “Hevei mispalell bishlomo shel malchus”, pray for the welfare of the government.


Rabbeinu Yechiel left the debate with the feeling that he had been successful in his rebuttal of all Nicholas’s questions and complaints, which he had answered to the best of his ability. After Rabbeinu Yechiel,  R’ Yehudah of Milan was summoned and asked a few short questions, and his responses matched all of Rabbeinu Yechiel’s answers. In the end, the priests weren’t impressed with the responses of the rabbis and, unfortunately, went ahead with the burning of the Talmud as the Pope had previously decreed.

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