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The Talmud:
The Pope Bans the Talmud


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As the days of the Bomberg press were beginning to wane, two rival presses began to compete for the Hebrew book market, those of Giustiniani and of Alvise Bragadini. The Hebrew book trade must have been lucrative to have brought two such wealthy and influential citizens of Venice into such fierce competition. What exacerbated the rivalry was the publication by each of an edition of Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah. Accusation and counteraccusation of unscrupulous practices finally led to accusations by three apostates in the employ of the battling publishers. Their presentation to a council of cardinals, headed by one who was soon to become Pope Paul IV, bore fiery fruit. The Council of Ten, with only two opposing, recommended to the Pope that the Talmud and related blasphemous works be extirpated, and the Pontiff so ordered. Homes were invaded, holy books confiscated, and on Rosh Ha-Shanah (New Year's Day) of the year 5314 (September 9, 15 5 3), in Rome's Campo de' Fiori, the offending books went up in flames.

The Christian Flemish diplomat and Hebraic scholar, Andreas Masius, wrote to one of the dissenting cardinals:

Acting upon the information of two Jewish Christians, if indeed they are worthy of the name, hired by these rival booksellers, you [the Council of Cardinals] have, to the eternal shame of the Apostolic See and to the detriment of Christianity, rendered a hasty judgment. You are absolutely blind in this matter, for not one of you has ever read a single word of the books you have condemned.

But the voice of truth and reason did not quench the fire of holy zeal. its consuming flames spread to Bologna, Ravenna, Ferrara, Mantua, Urbino, Florence, and Venice. Though Hebrew printing continued and flourished in Italy, the Talmud was never again printed there.


Sources: Abraham J. Karp, From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress, (DC: Library of Congress, 1991).

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