Monday, November 4, 2013

Mendel Beilis -- The Baba Bathra Question?

This is the summary of the 28th day of the Mendel Beilis trial, which occurred on 22 October, 1913 on the Julian calendar, 4 November, 1913 on the Gregorian calendar.

This day occupies pages 388 through 440 of Volume II of the transcript and is the end of the testimony.  It is followed by closing arguments.
See the translation of the transcript for day 28. 

This is the moment for me to come clean.  Some people, from my footnotes, may think I came into this project knowing a tremendous amount about Jewish classics.  That’s not so.  It took me at least a month, as far as I remember, to translate the 40 pages of Pranaitis’ testimony, because I had to look up pretty much every piece of information in the footnotes.  The rest of the translation took 10 months for similar reasons, especially days 27 and 28. 

I have to give credit and thanks to people who posted information free online: Mechon Mamre; Kollel Iyun ha-Daf; the Chabad website; Yerushalmi Online; and a host of others, even Wikipedia where the external links sometimes got me where I needed to go.  One of the reasons I did this translation was because I wanted to participate in the good work of providing free information that would establish accurate data and references, correct mistakes, and fight ill-intentioned lies.  I benefited from correcting my own hazy or mistaken notions. I also expanded my personal digital library by about 100x so that I can read all this information myself in my next three or four lifetimes.

See Crown Rabbi Mazeh’s impassioned declaration in statement 507 about question 16.

Go to statement 600 for the beginning of the “Katz questions,” the ones Benzion Katz talks about in his memoirs.  He gave the defense a list of 5 questions he knew Pranaitis would not be able to answer.  The other defense scriptural experts added 5 more.  A total of 4 were asked.  The Baba Bathra question is not in the transcript.  It was not in the indictment and remember, I said that the defense was prohibited by rules of procedure from bringing up anything that wasn’t in the indictment.  The name of that tractate was not mentioned by the prosecution, nor by Pranaitis in his day 26 and day 27 testimony.  That rules out the defense asking the question.  They have operated strictly by the rules of procedure for 28 days and they’re going to break the rules now?  

It’s a great story and it deserves to be true but I’ll give you another for-instance of missing information.  Mr. Eli Rubin has published on the Chabad website about a newly discovered document about the Kiev Jewish community, with Arnold Margolin, taking action on the Beilis case months earlier than anybody thought.  Margolin’s 1926 memoirs, are available on the Harvard website, and if he refers to it there, I didn’t see it in Part II which is about the Beilis trial; maybe it was such a passing reference that I didn’t pick up on it.

In looking for the Baba Bathra story, I have researched other contemporary sources: Beilis; Gruzenberg; Bonch-Bruevich; the American Jewish Yearbook for 1913 (published in 1914).  None of them refer to this exact incident.  Neither does Tager, who really hated Pranaitis, but Tager was not contemporary and concentrated on the archives, not the trial transcript.  I have not been able to find copies of the stenographic newspaper records Vipper complained about on day 3, which ought to settle the question.

Kokovtsov refuses to give an opinion on texts Vipper recites to him.  He knows they are probably mistranslated; in fact I identified 3 of them and that is true.  The prosecution doesn’t want to show him the actual material because they know he’ll tell them they had it wrong but their best excuse is that it will drag things out. 

But what bugs the prosecution the most is that their witness made a fool of himself and got laughed at.   Think about it.  Pranaitis is quoted in the indictment; he was Mashkevich’s assistant in formulating this part of the testimony.  If he didn’t actually know the wording of the questions, he knew the general subjects because he wrote about them in his thesis and some of the citations come from his thesis.  The problem is that he translated the thesis from work by Johann Eisenmenger; he never really knew what he was talking about.  For him to break down on the witness stand embarrasses not only him but the government who put him there.  The prosecution can’t afford to let the defense witnesses shine any more than they already have. 

Crown Rabbi Mazeh is mistreated on the stand.  The judge hypocritically says that Judaism is not on trial, interrupts the rabbi repeatedly, stops him from using Hebrew (something he didn’t do for any of the Christians), and so on.  The object is to keep R. Mazeh from telling the truth.  After Mazeh agreed substantially with the three Christians testifying before him, the judge doesn’t want proof that the trial is unjust in trying a whole nation in the person of one man, even though every last person in the court knows that this is exactly the purpose of the trial, and not finding out who murdered Andrey.  Everybody knows who murdered Andrey.  The government just wants to kill a Jew.

Prof. Tikhomirov unknowingly underlines one of the things non-Jews – and many Jews – don’t understand about Talmud.  He talks about it being contradictory.  But if you dumped all the British lawbooks from now back to William the Conqueror into one mass, a space alien reading it would think it was internally contradictory.  She/he/it/they would need an Earthling to separate it all out according to date and subject and show that some of it has only applied recently while some no longer applies. The other issue is that Talmud doesn’t bother to go back and recapitulate Torah law.  It recapitulates Mishnah, which also doesn’t recapitulate Torah law.  Without a thorough understanding of the law as stated in Torah, it’s impossible to understand Mishnah; I know that from experience. 

That doesn’t mean I’m going to apologize for calling out the errors in the opinions expressed.  It’s important for people to understand that without the comprehensive and careful study of primary sources, it is next to impossible to avoid developing a personal or organizational urban legend about what primary sources say.  It’s a consequence of the limitations of human memory, coupled with a reliance on authority which has always led to urban legends if not to deliberate lies.

One small detail.  If you search today’s testimony, you will not find any questions from Zamyslovsky.  You will find in statement 584 a remark by Boldyrev that one of the civil prosecutors has required medical aid, making a recess run longer than expected.  After Zamyslovsky’s somewhat hysterical behavior on day 27, I’m afraid he might have suffered an apoplectic fit due to stress.  He will give his closing argument on day 30, page 58 of the third volume of the transcript.

Judge:  Fyodor Boldyrev

            Criminal Prosecutor, Oscar Vipper
            Civil Prosecutor Georgy Zamyslovsky
            Private Civil Prosecutor Aleksey Shmakov

            Oscar Gruzenberg
Nikolay Karabchevsky
Dmitry Grigorevich-Barsky
Alexandr Zarudny
Vasily Maklakov

Pavel Konstantinovich Kokovtsov
Imperial Russian Orthodox Palestinian Society
Defense witness
Pavel Vasilevich Tikhomirov
chair of philosophy in the Historical-Philological Institute of Nezhin
Yaaqov Isaievich Mazeh
Crown Rabbi of Moscow
Where the Baba Bathra question ought to be
Back to translate material that was subject of the debate between Rohling and Delitsch


© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved


No comments:

Post a Comment