Does the Torah or Talmud Speak Ill of Non-Jews?  

By Michael Dallen


Of all the sages of the Talmud, only one, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, regularly speaks ill of non-Jews.  

Shimon bar Yochai had a terrible personal history. During the Hadrianic-era persecution of the Jews by Rome, he managed to surive only by hiding in a cave, where he was forced to stay, with his son, for a full 20-years. The Romans killed the rest of his family and most of his colleagues, great scholars of the Torah and gentle, kindly people - usually after severe torture.

He survived, and eventually became known as a leading Talmudic sage, and as an even greater mystic. He became especially famous, almost 1,000 years later, as the author, or anyway the "spiritual" author, the "channeled" source, of the Zohar - the Sefer haZohar, the Book of Splendor - the leading text of Jewish mysticism.  

One of the odd things about Rav Bar Yochai is that each and every time - with only one exception - of all the many times that he's quoted in the Talmud as stating an opinion on a point of law or Torah, his opinion is the minority opinion and the Torah, as his colleagues decide what is truly God's Way, goes against him.  

So when someone tells you that the Talmud, or Torah, is full of statements against non-Jews, try to determine who made them. They are probably Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's. The Talmud quotes them to provide the fullest possible range of rabbinic opinion on the subject. But that doesn't make them "Torah," or representative of mainstream Jewish thinking - any more than Rav Bar Yochai's other opinions on Torah topics are true or representative of the best Torah-thinking.


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