Sunday, August 6, 2006

Barcelona, 1263

"When the lion invites the mouse to a disputation, your majesty, the mouse, however fond he may be of arguing, would do well to avoid the disputation if he can; for the poor mouse does not know which to fear most: losing the argument or winning it." -- Rabbi Moses ben Nachman

I can't go through the day without bringing attention to an historic event on this day that is key to the history of the Jews in Spain. The event? The Disputation of Barcelona in 1263. The disputation was called by order of King James I of Aragon and involved Nachmanides (Rabbi Moses ben Nachman) and a Jewish convert to Christianity, Pablo Christiani. The disputation sort of "set the stage" for future disputations, though perhaps the most well known disputation was that of Paris in 1240 that involved the Talmud and resulted in the burning of the Talmud.

The dispute included some absolutely astounding moments and is well recorded and even appears in a movie starting Christopher Lee (which I've seen). The rabbi ended up winning the argument (this is the widespread belief, though some Latin texts refute this) with Pablo Christiani, and because of this, was exiled to the country. The funny thing about it is that the King actually had the utmost respect for Nachmanides and didn't really want to exile him, but because of his religion and pressure from the church, he had to. Nachmanides settled and built a shul and died in 1270.

Christiani inspired the debate by going to the King to complain about having problems getting Jews to convert to Christianity. In the debate the Rabbi radically suggested that the difference between Judaism and Christianity was about more than the Messiah. The two detailed discussions were about the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 and whether it describes Jesus and whether in Talmud there's a difference between the messiah being born and the messiah arriving. Christiani was fond of saying the Rabbi was being blasphemous, and the fate of the Jewish people was at hand ... putting a lot of pressure on the rabbi.

I have a paper on this somewhere. I discussed the detailed discussion. Perhaps I'll dig it up later and see what kind of damage I can do. It really was an amazingly intense debate. I have to give a hand to the Rabbi because he did an astounding job and made some suprisingly forward points.