Friday, December 30, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- wrapping it up

Some of you are saying, but Talmud was censored and so of course Jews don’t know this stuff about Jesus is in there. Class, if I bring it up, what is it? Yes, an urban legend!
In 1554 after a supposed examination of Talmud, the Pope ordered that the Talmud be censored to remove text which he thought spoke blasphemously about Jesus.
About 1600, in Amsterdam, an edition of Talmud was published which restored all the censored text. This is the ancestor of modern versions of Talmud and the text in it matches a manuscript produced in 1342, now in the Bavarian State Library in Germany. Images of the entire 1342 manuscript are available online for free and you can also download them as PDF; they are legible at the right zoom factor, once you get used to the handwriting.
I have compared the digitized copy of Talmud I own to the manuscript; there are bolded words in my digitized copy showing where the censorship was applied. The text of Talmud in those places is identical to the 1342 manuscript. My digitized copy was produced 2 decades ago.
If the Talmud had existed only in its censored state in the 1700s, Eisenmenger would have had nothing to copy from. Somehow he copied from all the places that the Pope had censored. And since he couldn’t read them for himself he had to get somebody to tell him how to copy the text into his book. I encourage you to figure the chances that he got hold of a Christian who knew all about them – or talked to Jews who had copies of the Amsterdam Talmud.
There was rather a funny bit about the Amsterdam Talmud at the Mendel Beilis trial. Pranaitis and the prosecution had made a big deal about how Pranaitis had read the Amsterdam Talmud, but could not bring it to court because it had to be accessed in specialized libraries. Defense attorney Zarudny got up and said he would bring a copy in for the court’s inspection. Literally people in the court laughed.
One day later, Zarudny showed up with the copy and announced that it was available for inspection. More laughter at Pranaitis’ expense. He proved beyond a shadow of a doubt over a period of three days that he didn’t know anything about the contents of Talmud or about the Aramaic language in which so much of it is written.
Zarudny was not Jewish and he was not a member of the faculty of a religious academy. He did not have to access a specialized facility to get the copy of the Amsterdam Talmud that he produced in court.
If somebody claims that passage X was censored out of Talmud and referred to Jesus, the first thing to do is get the citation. If it’s one of the standard citations used by Eisenmenger and his heirs, you can stop there. “Somebody” has bought into the urban legend.
If it’s not one of the standard citations, where did “somebody” get it? He or she probably will not have an answer for that question but if I’m wrong about that, email me the citation. It’s probably untraceable. The modern way of citing to Talmud is based on the Vilno edition of the 1800s CE. Look at the dates: the Vilno edition is based on the text of the Amsterdam Talmud. In fact, some of the standard citations have this problem of being untraceable because the “pages” they refer to don’t exist in the Vilno edition. If they refer to Jerusalem Talmud, they also don’t conform to the modern way of citing to that.
The only way to trace that citation is to know what it said -- not in translation and not in interpretation. That’s the lesson of this whole section of the blog and of these last few posts in particular. And “somebody” probably can’t give that information, a sign of buying into an urban legend.
And the only way to explain what makes a good translation or commentary is...

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, December 28, 2016


See the Fact-Checking Resources  page.

I found my go-to version of the Mishnah, which I have in hardcopy but which is now out of print, online for free.

It  has an English translation and tons of notes and other references.

It helped my Hebrew because it also has all the vowels.

Study!  Enjoy!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Knitting -- box of tissues

Open a fresh one to wipe the drool off your chin.

Then see if you can find online videos from the British archaeology TV series "Time Team". 

What I'm drooling over is the sweaters the people were wearing -- Fair Isle, Aran, argyle, a few with Norwegian style yokes.  I'm ignoring all the modern stuff like Mick Aston's multi-colors, one with horizontal and the other with vertical stripes.  Although they could be hand-knit, come to think of it.

Archaeology is a very dirty pursuit.  Here are all these people who could afford to wear these lush classic sweaters while doing their job.  Maybe they took them off for the work and put them on for the filming.  Maybe they were made of synthetic yarns and could be machine washed.  I hope so because I could weep from jealousy thinking that these were real woolen hand-knits.  Another good reason to have a box of tissues around.

Anyway I have designed a Fair Isle sweater using 1920s motifs that Ann Keitelson published.  I'll try to get a photo of me in it to post but don't hold your breath because I have lots of other  projects to finish first. 

I'm also saving up to buy Mary MacGregor's reprint of Robert Williamson's collection which is where Keitelson got the motifs she  published.

I might go back over the  videos and try to capture some of the Fair Isle designs.  If you do, why not post them and send me a link!

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 23, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Sources

The fourth “horseman” is the granddaddy of them all.  He is Johann Eisenmenger, who wrote Entdecktes Judentum about 1700; an English translation I found online has the publication date of 1742.  Henrich Laible includes him as a source and thus he is also a source for Herford.
Eisenmenger was an anti-Semite and wrote his book as an attack on Judaism.  He didn’t read Talmud, but he includes all the standard quotations about Jesus in Talmud that you can find all over the Internet.  Nobody is quite sure where he got this nonsense.
He also didn’t know Jewish terminology.  He picked up the term begimatria somewhere, and believed it was a noun.  It is a prepositional phrase.  If you used my Hebrew lessons, you know that be is a Hebrew preposition meaning,“in”, among other things.  The phrase means “in gematria,” or Jewish numerology. 
I call out that example because Pranaitis repeated it in his thesis and on the witness stand at the Mendel Beilis trial.  What’s worse, he combined it with Russian prepositions to create even worse nonsense.
Why?  Because Pranaitis’ thesis was copied from Eisenmenger’s work.  Everything Pranaitis “knew” about Talmud, he got from Eisenmenger.  Who produced falsehoods where he didn’t produce nonsense.
How did Pranaitis get away with plagiarism?  Because Eisenmenger’s work had mostly been forgotten, except by Gustav Dalman, a Lutheran who wrote a biography of Eisenmenger in 1909 for a religious dictionary.  The dictionary is in the public domain and is posted on the CCEL website.  In the biography, Dalman said Eisenmenger’s work inaccurately portrayed Judaism.  Full stop.
Dalman comes into this another way.  Laible, who could not read Aramaic, turned to Dalman for copies of the citations in Eisenmenger that Laible wanted to use in his book.  They are printed in Laible’s appendix, credited to Dalman.  We don’t know how Dalman knew which material Laible wanted; Laible could have given him the citations in Eisenmenger. 
Dalman could have been completely oblivious to what Laible wanted with those citations – unless Dalman accepted Eisenmenger’s interpretation.  To rely on Eisenmenger for such an interpretation doesn’t coordinate with the biography Dalman wrote.  If he believed that interpretation, he got it from some source that he accepted as unquestionable authority.  Even the most well-meaning scholars can do it.  That’s the danger of not independently validating the claims in your sources.
Scholars sometimes copy from each other, with credit but without validating the information against the primary document. They sometimes become convinced of the inerrancy of a given authority and fail to research whether that authority produced inaccuracies.  This is the same sort of behavior that led Descartes to write his Discours, and how many times have I said that in the last couple of years?
I would like to say that this kind of thing died out after Dalman, but it’s not true.  A book published within the last 20 years by a well-known academic repeats the old canard, and it too fails to differentiate between interpretation and the actual wording of the primary document. If you have read it, or bought it, you know whose work I’m talking about.  And then you have to ask yourself why somebody would dredge up all these canards and publish them for money  when they’re available free off the internet.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 16, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- the, er, twins

The second and third of the “four horsemen” are Henrich Laible and Robert Travers Herford.  They have to be grouped together because Herford mostly copied from and admits his debt to Laible.
Laible copies from the same source as Pranaitis did, and cites to that source.  He commits the fallacy of presentism on the first page of his book.  He also makes one spectacular error that combines an ignorance of Greek, shameful in somebody pretending to be a scholar, with an admission that he can’t read his primary source and with ignorance of the Jewish literary corpus.
Laible claims that a Rabbi Pappos quoted in Mishnah and dozens of times in Talmud, is wrongly called a contemporary of Rabbi Akiva, the famous martyr, but was actually Jesus’ father.  He claims that “Pappos” comes from Greek meaning “father.”
The Greek for “father” is patir, as any first-year student of Classical Greek knows.  But pappos is also Greek – for grandfather.
What Laible ignored because, as he admitted, he could not read Aramaic, is that there is also a Rabbi Pappa who is quoted in almost every tractate of Talmud. There are 1700 references in both Talmuds to men named “bar Pappa”, and a number in Midrash Rabbah on Genesis.  If they are all the sons of one man, then he contributed almost as much to Talmud as rabbis whose names are known more widely, such as R. Akiva, Rabbi Hillel, Rabbi Shammai, Rabbi Meir, and so on.
The reason Laible keys in on Rabbi Pappos, not Rabbi Pappa, is that Pappos was the husband of somebody named Miriam.  The “four horsemen” all associate this Miriam with Mary mother of Jesus.  That would be fine if they also proved that only one woman named Mary or Miriam lived during the entire period from 80 BCE to 132 CE.  But that is an extraordinary claim that would require mountains of evidence for proof, and the people making this claim don’t have that proof.
Why that period?  The upper limit applies because Rabbi Akiva was martyred by the Romans that year or the next.  As his contemporary, Rabbi Pappos had to be born in almost the same year, 50 CE.  Anybody who makes this claim has to prove that Mary mother of Jesus was still alive when Rabbi Pappos was old enough to marry.
The importance of this Miriam referred to in Talmud, is that she committed adultery after marriage and gave birth as a result.  So after proving that Mary mother of Jesus was alive, the claimants would have to prove she was capable of bearing children after 50 CE.  When she was over 50 and probably over 60.  Don’t cite stories about modern women giving birth at those ages.  That has the same problem of historical context as equating tahor with “germ free”, which I discussed to death long ago.
Besides, Christian scripture does not support the concept that Mary mother of Jesus committed adultery after marriage.  This is the situation I referred to a couple of weeks ago.  I’ll say it more distinctly. 
Anybody who accepts Christian scripture as true, cannot believe that a woman described in Talmud, who committed adultery after marriage, is Mary mother of Jesus.  That’s not a weak analogy, it’s a false equation.
Anybody who accepts Talmud as true, must believe that Miriam who was Rabbi Pappos’ wife was capable of childbirth after 50 CE, and therefore was less than 50 years old.  As a result, she cannot be Mary mother of Jesus, who was at least 50 years old in 50 CE.  Equating the two is not a weak analogy, it’s a false equation.
Anybody who thinks that both sets of literature are false should not be arguing that Talmud refers to Jesus. If both are false, then what they say is irrelevant.

And now...
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 11, 2016

DIY -- New Year's Part 2

Get ready, set, party!
A personality on a local radio station had the dream job of going to big parties and doing stories on the famous people there.
A situation made for putting on weight.
He also went through a family tragedy.
A situation that needs lots of comfort food.
He knew he was eating himself into health problems.
So he got with a doctor, whose name I forget.
She taught him a good lesson.

When you go to a party with great food, you don't need to eat until you have personally emptied every dish on the table.
You do a tour of the food and see what looks good.
Then you take just one piece to see how it tastes.

If they have something like lasagna or a pot pie or (fill in your favorite here), you don't fill a large dinner plate and eat through that.
You put one serving spoon full on a plate the size of a teacup saucer and eat that just to get a good taste.

You don't eat a slice of every kind of pizza on the table.
You cut one slice in half or thirds lengthwise and eat one strip.
Then you wait at least half an hour before you move on to the pizza with the different set of toppings.

And you don't get shit-faced.
You have 5 ounces of wine or 2 of hard liquor or cocktail.
Then you have a tumbler of WATER, sparkling or not.
Then you have a coffee or tea.
Then you can repeat.
The fluids and caffeine will keep you moving, so to speak.
And you have your cell with you to call a cab or Uber or Lyft to get home.
And when the morning comes you and lots of other people will still be alive since you didn't drive drunk.

And then you can go back to your healthy sleep and breakfast and exercise and all the behaviors that will get that next clothing size off your body.

Oh yeah, the radio personality?  By eating less and exercising more, he lost 50 pounds in a year.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 9, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Pranaitis

The most famous of the “four horsemen” is Justinas Bonaventur Pranaitis. Or the most infamous. Take your pick. He has two main claims to fame. For one thing, his testimony was the last nail in the coffin for the prosecution of the Mendel Beilis blood libel trial. Pranaitis was laughed out of court quite literally. Everything he said was proven to be false.
The reason the prosecution used him as a witness in that case was his second claim to fame, his 1892 thesis submitted to the Catholic academy (he was Catholic, not Russian Orthodox) in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was rejected because it misused scripture.
It was called Christianus im Talmude and it was supposed to prove that all Jews hate all Christians and believe it is a religious duty to kill them. Also Jews are required by Jewish law to obtain the blood of Christians to use in making Passover matso.
If you agree with Pranaitis about that, bluntly, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Don’t try to convince me you’re right. Not until you convince me that you have read the primary sources, Torah and Talmud, not in translation and not in commentary.
Pranaitis also wrote that Talmud refers to Jesus. That, too, is false. More than one scholar has agreed with that claim, and all of them fail to comment on the primary source. They always cite to an interpretation of the primary source. That violates the ground rules I set last week. Don’t argue with me on this until you can convince me that you have read Talmud in Hebrew and Aramaic, not in translation and not in commentary.
You can’t get away with this by failing to cite your sources. There is a standard set of citations used in this claim; I know where every single one of them is, and I know what they really say in Hebrew or Aramaic, not in translation and not in commentary. So I will know from the phrasing you use that you are not reading the primary sources, you are reading somebody who copied from somebody else and so on, back to the original claimant, whom I will discuss later.
Anyway Pranaitis was wrong when he said that Talmud refers to Jesus and so is everybody else who says so.
And it comes down to all the same problems that Philo has: mistranslations; mistaken statements about Jewish law; mixing up different historical contexts; and false equations between Christian scripture and Talmud.
Reading between the lines of the Beilis transcript, I find that Pranaitis presented his arguments about Talmudic references to Jesus, in a closed-door meeting in the evening of the 28th day of the trial, and that he was refuted by two Christians who had also refuted, in open court, the material Pranaitis presented in open court. That happened over 100 years ago. For you to believe Pranaitis puts you so far behind the times you can’t even see the 21st century.
Be mad. Be very mad at the people who have lied to you about this. But if you get mad at me, it will be a case of Freudian transference of anger from the person who lied, to the person who told the truth.

But wait, there's more
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Bit at a Time Bible Hebrew -- digitizing your study

In the future, I recommend you set up your computer to write Hebrew; in Windows, this is in the Control Panel under “Clock, Language, and Region.” It will also work over the Internet. Then you will be able to go to and search for words in Tannakh online. That will let you find verses using the same word, and it will help you expand your understanding of all the ways that word is used in Jewish literature. That’s a free solution.
I’ve had a lot of success using DavkaWriter, which comes with Tannakh and Mishnah. It has a powerful function for searching across multiple files, as well as inside the open document, and you can search in files you create in DavkaWriter as well as the canned files it comes with. You can also copy from other sites, such as Mechon Mamre, paste into DavkaWriter files, and search on those. You have to pay for DavkaWriter but it’s not expensive.
You can also buy Judaica Classics from the Davka Corporation. Then you can search all of midrash, Mishneh Torah, Shulchan Arukh by Yosef Caro, and other Jewish literature as well as Tannakh and Mishnah. The library can be accessed for reading, copying and pasting (in limited lengths), and printing as well as for searching. That’s more expensive because it has more material. If you want to find Aramaic terms, you will have to know in advance how to spell them.
There are free books online for learning Aramaic. I say go to Internet Archive and download the book by Max Margolis. He was the terror of his students because, as Cyrus Gordon tells it, he used to throw Bible quotes at them and expect the student to come up with chapter and verse. But he was a brilliant teacher, and Gordon finally asked him how to survive his classes. Margolis said to read the Bible. When Gordon came back and said he was done, Margolis said, do it again. Seven times Margolis told Gordon to read the Bible through –in Hebrew – but Gordon survived the class without having a nervous breakdown.
The rabbis say “turn it over and over, you’ll never get to the end.” After 40 years of turning it over, I’m still learning new things about Biblical Hebrew. Like Dr. Cook’s material. You have it all in front of you – but nobody can tell what the future will bring.
I plan to reboot these lessons in Januay with a rewrite that takes advantage of everything I learned since I started writing them.  If you read them, you will get basically the grammar portion of Parshah Breshit in Narrating the Torah. You won’t get most of the Olrik stuff or archaeology.
If you would rather I rebooted in Yiddish, let me know.  I know where you can get Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye stories free in text and in audio for practice. I also know where you can get Yehoash’s Yiddish Tannakh free, but remember three things. What you know from reading my blog is a product of the 21st century; Yehoash did his translation early in the 20th century and didn’t know anything about modality.  Yiddish is an Indo-European language; Hebrew is a Semitic language so they won’t have all the same grammar. And it’s a translation which I’ve been trying to drag you away from. The Tevye stories will be much more suitable.
If you have strong preference, email me or comment.
Thank you for your attention. Don’t forget to pick your coats up in the lobby.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Turning the corner

Friday night we lit Shabbat candles at the earliest time in the year.

On the coming Friday night, we will light them at the same time.

Then the next week we'll push it back.
Only a couple of minutes, but it will be later.

That's why I like this time of year.
The days will start getting longer, not shorter.

Yes, it's getting cold.
The forecast tonight is possibly freezing rain in the mountains.
The forecast in a week is possibly snow showers closer to the Potomac.
Knowing how people drive around here, I need to get to my kosher store today.
Next Sunday might be a horrible snarl.

But we've turned the corner and spring is coming!

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 2, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Commentary Rules

Now that you have been warned about the weaknesses of both translations and commentaries, I get to the part I warned you about. I’m going to set some ground rules, most of which should not surprise you if you have read this page of the blog from the first post in it.
A commentary is only as good as its resemblance to the primary document.  That means if a commentary says something about a primary document, at a bare minimum it has to quote the primary document correctly.  It also has to fit in with the culture related to the primary document: the history of that culture, and how it uses the words of its language, not how the commentator translates those words.
Authorities are not to be relied on without firsthand comparison to their purported sources. That goes back to Descartes. Any “authority” making a claim that doesn’t match the primary document the claim relates to, cannot be relied on.  He also fails the test of Occam’s Razor  by not covering the facts accurately.
Extraordinary claims require extra footwork and more data that is reliable for backup, than a less spectacular claim, but all claims have to be compared to the data they supposedly relate to.
The more data you have matching a given situation, the better your analogy. Conversely, a weak analogy matches only part of the data, or only one data point. A false equation matches none of the data.
The simplest explanation that covers all the facts correctly is more likely to be correct than something based on a weak analogy, and it must not rely on a false equation.
Given two sources, both assumed to be true or valid, that disagree with each other on some objective facts, a claim that the two are equal must be false.
And now here is the statement of the urban legend I’m going to bust. The commentaries by the “four horsemen”, claiming that Talmud refers to Jesus, are wrong. All four of them. They mistranslate, misrepresent, draw weak analogies or false equations, provide non-existent citations, and take material out of verbal, historical, and cultural context.
If that raises your blood pressure, skip the next four weeks because you’re not going to be happy with what I post.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Bit at a Time Bible Hebrew -- for more practice

And that’s my version of how Biblical Hebrew grammar works.
I know I probably didn’t discuss everything you will see in classical Hebrew literature.  Email me when you find something I didn’t cover.
If you want to check up on whether I can support what I say for more material, you want to read my book Narrating the Torah.  When I started it, I was simply trying to show all the ways in which Axel Olrik’s Principles for Oral Narrative Research showed up in Torah, hence the title.
When I discovered Dr. Cook’s dissertation over 10 years after studying Olrik, I immediately realized that they dovetailed, with respect to the certainty/evidentiary epistemic and Olrik’s localization.  So I started rewriting Narrating.  I just finished the second draft of this rewrite.
Narrating gives the entire Torah.  Then it has an English translation which reflects the issues I’ve discussed on this blog.  It’s not your grandfather’s translation.  So if you need to replace an old translation of Torah, buy a reprint of the same thing. 
If you want practice reading Torah in Hebrew, go to one of the sites listed in the Fact-Checking Resources page, where you will find the Torah with vowels and chant markings.  This is probably what you should do before you buy Narrating so that you don’t get overwhelmed by detail.
Narrating can be overwhelming because there is so much to comment on from a language point of view, as you have seen on this blog over the last eleven months.  Plus it analyzes the material based on Olrik’s principles, which can also run fairly long.  Finally, it repeats and sometimes expands on archaeological issues I raise on the Fact-Checking page of this blog. 
So use the free versions of Torah online and work up to reading one parshah a week, which you can do by reading one aliyah a day.  (The material is sectioned by aliyah, with square brackets that show which aliyah starts where.)  Try going to the Jewish calendar on, to find out on which day next autumn a new Torah reading cycle starts, and keep up with it. 
When you’re done, you can buy a copy of Narrating, which is only available from me, and start over again.  And when you’re done reading that for the first time, you will have learned so much that you will have new questions about what you read at the start.  So go back and start over.  The rabbis say, “Turn it over and over, you will never get to the end of it.”
Which is what I discovered, all over again, after reading Dr. Cook’s dissertation and then studying Arabic.

A little advice, and we're done.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved