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Notre Dame on Fire!

Shot by a Bear

In the first part of the article, we gathered many discrepancies in the history of the burning of the Talmud. Did it occur in the year 1242 or year 1244? Who actually wrote Shaali Srufa Ba’eish, the Maharam of Rottenberg to mourn the tragedy or R’ Meir Shluach Tzibbur to grieve upon a previous episode? How many were destroyed, 1200 manuscripts or 24 wagons full? We also familiarized ourselves with the Chovlim and Yakupens, with Nicholas the once Donin,  the debate, and the decree of the Pope.

The question is what happened, when did it occur, and where did it take place? Niklaus sent 35 excerpts from the Talmud which do not agree with the Christian belief. This led the Pope to decree that the Talmud be destroyed on Shabbos Hagadol in the year 1000. The following Monday, Parshas Balak, Rabbi Yechiel and other gedolei yisroel were summoned to debate the accusations of Niklaus and R’ Yechiel successfully answers every charge. In spite of that, the priests were not convinced of the truth and went ahead with the decree.

What To Do Now?

In order to implement change, we have to start with the priests. Is there a possibility that a priest would be willing to help the Jews? It turns out that there is a priest, Walter, the Archbishop of Sens, who was one of the participants of the debate. It wasn’t documented that he was a supporter of the Talmud just that he was more lenient towards the Jews in general. So, the decree was not carried out at that time, due to Walter’s intervention, however, it was delayed until Friday, Parshas Chukas in the year 1244. At that time Walter died leaving no supporter of the Talmud.

Title: Dr. Heinrich Graetz – weil, Prof. an der Universität in Breslau.
Publication: Heinrich Graetz Eine Würdigung des Historikers und Juden
Author: Dr. Josef Meisl
Published: Berlin 1917

We have brought forth arguments that the burning of the Talmud was two years earlier in the year 1242. In Kan 7 in an article titled “Three Refugees On Tisha B’av”, a third theory was mentioned that it happened in the year 66, the year of the Expulsion of the Jews from France. However, we were able to clear up that discrepancy with a manuscript that was written many years before that in the year 20. What is the source of information claiming that this occurred in the year 1242? There was a maskil by the name of Heinrich Graetz who was a professor and author of the book “History of the Jews” in which he portrays the history of the Jews according to him. Why would he change the year of the burning of the Talmud from the year 1244 to the year 1242?

He cites that the Shebalei HaLeket lived in an era after the episode and did not actually experience it during his lifetime but heard about it from his rebbe. Yet, there is a manuscript from year 3 which has a personal story that the Shebalei HaLeket did indeed live during that time although he may not have been in Paris himself. However, it was news that impacted his life and he even had a specific date for the occurrence, 6 Chukas.

Graetz brought two means of proof with which he attempted to deny this:

  1. A civil chronicle that claimed it was the year 1242, meaning the year 2.
  2. The Pope himself declared it to be the year 2       

   So let us see if we can learn anything from the non-Jewish source. The civil chronicle was called “Analysis Erfordensis” in which it states that around Michaelmas holidays in the year 1242, 24 wagonloads were burned with great pomp. The ksav yad is newer that the Shebalei Haleket and gives another time because Michaelmas holiday is on the 29th of September which in the year 1242 came out directly after Succos on 3 Cheshvan, Monday Parshas Lech Lecha in the year 1242. That is months after 6 Chukas. Getz figured that this information is more accurate than the Shebalei HaLeket who Getz claimed to have lived years after the episode. Getz was mistaken because the Shebalei Ha Leket lived earlier and his account is sound.

The following is an excerpt of a letter from the Pope Innocence the 4th to the king of France. “true, our beloved son the Counselor from Paris, the doctors, and the administrators of Paris, after receiving the order from our predecessor Pope Gregory…as expressed in his decree which they read with its commentaries and examined it and sentenced it to the flames much to the astonishment and horror of  the Jews which is described in the letters, the 7th prior to the Ides of May, year 1.” The date of May 9th of the year 1244 came out on Erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan year 4, 40 days before the date recorded by the Shebalei HaLeket.

So this character scratches his head in confusion because he has the Pope who says one thing that Erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan was already after the fire and the Shebalei Haleket states otherwise. So, because he is a maskil he goes with the Pope and wrote what he thought was true.

We have to note that the letter from the Pope did not specify that the fire had already happened. It merely stated that it was a topic of discussion and was in the process of being taken care of and therefore, the assumption of the professor could have gone the other way. Now we have no reason to assume that the fire did not take place on 6 Chukas, 9 Tamuz, in the year 1244.

How Many Sfarim Were Burned?



The Shebalei Haleket says 24”Kronos”. In “Analysis Erfordenisis, even though his date was incorrect, he describes the fire and the 24 “carratas”. In Yiddish a “kron” is a wagon that we may imagine to be like a wagon of a train. However, this is not so. Carratas is in fact “karete” which represents a measurement of something which can fill a wagon. The type of wagon described here is one that carries merchandise and not people. Therefore, it is surprising that R’ Hillel from Varena cites that there were 1200 kisvei yados in a wagon and a carreta can accommodate much more than that. On the other hand, we have a report as to how the procedure transpired. R’ Hillel describes the burning of the writings of the Rambam which occurred around Rosh Chodesh Sivan, year 1244. We can assume that the procedure was the same for the burning of the Talmud which followed.

“It wasn’t enough for them to just burn the sfarim, they had to ignite the huge bonfire using the candles that were lit from the altar in the largest church in Paris, the Notre Dame. The priests kindled the flame that blazed and destroyed the sfarim so that the citizens of Paris could witness it. Not even 40 days have passed since the burning of the Rambam’s sfarim to the burning of the Talmud. In that place all the sedarim of the Talmud and the perushim(explanations) that were found in Paris. The ashes of the smoldering Talmud mixed with the ashes of the Mada and Moreh Nevuchim that were still there from 40 days previously.”

Burning of the Talmud

Title: Burning of the Talmud
Location: Beit Hatfutsot
Credit: The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, Old Core Exhibition

The amount of sfarim is not known but is estimated to be around 10,000 kisvei yados and is all dependent on the amount a cartload can accommodate.

The End Of The Meshumad

Nicholas was more a Karaite than a Christian because he had a problem with the Oral Torah and used the Christians and their religion for his own evil and demonic plans.

What happened to him? He was not satisfied with the mere burning of the Talmud and had another sinister plan. He reported to the king of France that the Jews kill young children for Pesach night. The king was a righteous one and could not handle such an accusation and ignored Nicholas. Eventually, Nicholas was confronted in the forest by a bear. The bear killed him by throwing an iron ball at him. One of Nicholas contemporaries, R’ Yaakov ben R’ Elya from Venice wrote a letter to a former student of his who was a apostate and changed his name to Paul. In this letter, he wrote an ode about what occurred to Nicholas. “ Did you hear about what happened to Doni the apostate who attached himself to the Christian religion even though he didn’t believe in it. The holy R’ Yechiel, in honor of the name of Hashem, pushed Nicholas away with both hands and separated him to the dark side with the blowing of the Shofar…The apostate went to the king and lied and made up stories about the Jews killing their young children on Pesach night, eating their flesh and drinking their blood, but Hashem paid Nicholas back what he deserved. The king of France did not believe his lies and totally ignored him. A bear was sent to rid the world of this rebel and the bear threw an iron ball at Nicholas and killed him. So are destroyed all the enemies of Hashem.”

Shaali Srufa B’eish

Title: Kinos for Tisha Be’av
Year: 14th Century
Location: The Hamburg State and University Library Carl von Ossietzky, Hamburg, Germany, Cod. hebr. 130

We have accepted that the kina Shaali Srufa Ba’eish was written by the Maharam of Rottenberg in memory of the burning of the sfarim in Paris. However, there is a contradiction given by R’ Wolf Hindenheim that states that the kinah was composed by R’ Meir Shluach Tzibbur. R’ Meir Shluach Tzibbur lived in the times of Rashi which was many years before our story. We have to take into consideration that the Maharam of Rottenberg at the time of our history was  a young man of maybe 30 years of age and the burning of Jewish sfarim was an oft occurrence, as was mentioned earlier that the sifrei Rambam were burned publicly many times. Why would a kinah be written specifically for this fire, although it is a possibility. R’ Benzion Goldman had told us a while back that the kinah, Shaali Srufa B’eish, was not composed by the Maharam of Rottenberg, and he records this information somewhere.

Therefore, it deserves a bit of investigation to determine that the kinah was composed by R’ Meir Shatz. R’ Wolf Hindenheim was not the first one to note that this is so, there is an earlier mention in the kinos  published in Sulzbach in the year 1829. In the explanation of the kinah it states “ Shaali etc..this kinah was composed by R’ Meir the shaliach tzibur Ztl” about the Torah and the destruction of Yerushalayim.”

Let us begin at the beginning. In the year 1585 in the city of Cracow a kinah was published with the explanation written by the gaon R’ Asher ben R’ Yosef, hyd” of Cracow. This became very popular and was reprinted many times over. We were able to obtain a later reprint from Lublin in the year 1617. The title cites: This is the kinah composed by R’ Meir about the burning of the Torah.” It does not state which burning of the Torah.

Title: Sefer Kinos im Peirush
Publisher: Tzevi bar Avraham Kalonimus Yafeh Mechokek
Published: Lublin 1617

Let us delve into a few lines of the poem and the explanation of it to understand what we are mourning here. In the explanation, it begins by saying” Shaali srufa b’eish ,the sefer Torah that the goyim burned in the gezeira that will be mentioned. Before we delve any further, take note that we are discussing the buring of a Sefer Torah and not the Talmud. Then it goes on to say that “ those that are hurting because your parchment is being scorched”. A Sefer Torah is written on parchment, not the Talmud which can be printed on anything, whereas a Sefer Torahs’s identifying feature is that it is written on parchment. The explanation also points out that the kinah refers to a rolled parchment like the Sefer Torah and unlike the Talmud which is written like a standard book.

The kinah goes on to say, ‘Then your rolled parchments were burned in the third month”. One minute, isn’t Tamuz the fourth month? Even more, the parsha of the burning of the Talmud was determined in a question in a dream and is connected to the week and not the month, like the Targum said “V’dah gezeiras oraysa”.

A few lines later we discover that the burning of the Sefer Torah was in addition to another gezeira. “ An additional episode occurred and it was also decreed that the Torah be burned too.” Then it continues to inform us of the rest of the gezeira ,” they gathered all the belongings that they had robbed from the Jews”. The goyim gathered the belongings of the Jews of the city and all the sfroim they took to the center of the city and burned it in accordance to the law of the land. This theme is repeated later, “ After they burned the Torah and all the other holy books, the way of the Torah became like mourning  because there was no clarity to the laws of the oral Torah without the sforim and it would be forgotten.”

What was the original gezeira? The poet says, “ I have been alone and abandoned by them “. Who are they? The poet continues,” Like sand the corpses of those murdered have multiplied”. There was a mass murder and the poet was the sole survivor of the massacre!

R’ Asher ben R’ Yosef knew all the details of the history. An entire kehilla was destroyed and one soul survived the mass murder. Aside from annihilating the people, all the Jew’s belongings were piled in the center of the city and burned together with their sifrei Torah. This was not the gezeira of the burning of the Talmud in Paris in the year 1244. In Paris they didn’t kill anyone, they didn’t collect anyone’s belongings, they only burned specific sfarim. They didn’t burn sifrei Torah only Gemara’s with Rashi and Tosfos.

Kehilla Kedosha Cologne – 6 Sivan 1096

R’ Benzion Goldamn tells us to examine the popular new edition of the Emden Siddur where it brings the ksav yad of R’Yaakov Emden which states the following: On this day the kehilla of Cologne was mekadesh shem Shamayim and on that day they burned the Shuls, everything in them, and the Sifrei Torah in the land of Germany like R’ Meir the shaliach tzibur described in the kinah he composed. R’ Yaakov Emden is referring to the kinah Shaali srufa b’eish and from his words we understand that R’ Meir Shatz is mourning the bitter gezeira that was carried out by the Crusades on Shevuos in the year 856 and the sifrei Torah were also burned.

In a report from R’ Shlomo ben R’ Shimon a not well-known eye witness of the gezeiros of 1096, he describes the gezeira of Cologne as follows; In the city of Cologne they murdered the Jews from Shavuos until the 5th day of Tamuz. When the Jews heard that their compatriots were being killed they hid in the homes of their goyishe neighbors. On the third day of the gezeira the homes of the Jews were destroyed, the shul decimated, the Sifrei Torah were vandalized, tramped upon and burned.

Shaali Srufa B’eish has nothing to do with our bit of history. Therefore, when many have related the fire in Notre Dame in the poets curse, “therefore, those will be paid back for their burning that in the end a fire will be lit in their midst” they are mistaken. If you want to find a curse of a sage responsible for the fire you may refer back to previously in the first part of this article to the ksav yad of the Shebulei Haleket.

“ The ash should be a kaparah for us like the karbonaos and it should be sweet for the yidden like a karbon mincha it should go up to heaven. It should come to being the pasuk that all the Jews return to Yerushalyim. The one who lit the fire will be punished.”

Let us summarize what 6 Chukas is:

  • 1225 – R’ Yechiel of Paris puts his disciple Dunin in cherem
  • 1239 -The meshumad, the former Dunin, goes to Pope Gregory The 4th yms” with complaints about the Talmud
  • 1240 – Shabbos Hagadol- The decree of the Pope gets carried out when all the Jews are in shul and all the Gemaras in France are confiscated.
  • 1240 –  Monday Parshas Balak-R’ Yechiel is called to the Royal Palace for the debate where Niklaus asks him questions about the Talmud in an effort to mock the Talmud.
  • 1244 – Much effort is done to repeal the decree; the priest Walter, the Archbishop of Shantz, one of the participants in the debate is called upon. In the interim a shalas chalom, a question In a dream, is asked and the answer is ‘ Vida gezeiras oreisa” , this is the gezeira of the Torah.
  • 1244, Erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan- the Christians burn all the sifrei Rambam
  • 1244,9 Tamuz,6 Chukas- A priest goes into the Notre Dame Cathedral, takes a candle from the altar and uses it to light a fire outside and burns 24 cartloads of kisvei yados of the oral Torah and therefore, this day is a fast day for many.
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