Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Spirit of Elizabeth Dilling

Imagine if an anti-Semitic woman wrote a commentary on the Talmud. Sound scary? Well it happened, and for those of you who have been privileged to never read, it consider yourselves lucky. Just who am I talking about here? I’m talking about a woman named Elizabeth Dilling. Dilling was a widely known critic of Judaism in the days preceding World War II. She wrote a book entitled “The Jewish Religion: Its influence today,” which, from what I have read, is pretty much a tirade against the Jewish people and Judaism.

Her beliefs, as brought forward in her book, are nothing unique unto her; they are reflections of her times. Her primary source for this book was the Talmud. Having a completely misunderstood view of the Talmud, she comes at it like a viper, seeking young helpless rat babies to devour. OK, maybe that’s a bit harsh, but you get the point. Dilling did not come to the Talmud with respect, but rather with brashness and an already severely anti-Jewish view point. This is why she is so eager to point out commonly misunderstood passages of the Talmud.

So, just what did Dilling have to say about the Talmud? Well, let's take a look at few of her choice words. Let’s take this text from our current tractate of study Avodah Zarah.

The Sages do not mind receiving the money of idolaters. (Avodah Zarah 12a)

Here is Dilling’s commentary on this above passage.

“The Talmud book of Abodah Zara, which concerns relations with the non-Jew, is a series of contortions aimed to keep the "human" Jew separate from the "non-human" Gentile, while still making money off of the Gentile. Christians, in particular, are designated as "idolaters," with Jesus as the "idol." A Mishnah of Abodah Zara 11b-12a attempts to circumvent the question of how to go to an "idolatrous festival" and do business without technically being there at all. A long-winded exposition about the road leading to it is ludicrous:


Of course, a road which went only one place would only be outside of one place. Every road goes past one place after another or it is not a road at all.

But the essence of it all is this: "The Sages should not mind the possibility of receiving money of an idolator."

OK, so Dilling brings forth a few points,

1. According to the sages Jews are humans; and thus

2. Gentiles are Animals

3. That the Jewish goal is to make money off of Gentiles

I’m afraid Mrs. Dilling is extremely misinformed.

Lets take a look at each issue.

1. Jews are Humans.

No need for much commentary here folks! Of course Jews are humans, however, that doesn’t make non-Jews animals which segues into our next point.

2. Gentiles are Animals.

Dilling is very much misunderstanding the Sages desire here to keep Jews away from Idolaters. There point is to keep Jews away from such people as to avoid any contact with Idol worship and the danger to the Jewish person's life. For Dilling to jump to such hard-line conclusions about what the Sages say regarding Gentiles actually misses some very key passages in the Talmud itself that speak of Gentiles in very lofty terms, even without converting.

Remember the stories of Onkelos, Bar Shullam that I blogged about a few days ago? Did the sages say in these stories that these men were Animals? No, they did not. There is also another passage in the Talmud about a Gentile that had a huge amount of respect for his Father and the sages considered him to be a tzaddik ( I can’t remember the source, if anyone knows let me know). There are also numerous other positive views of Gentiles held in the Talmud. One example being that R’ Yochannan Ben Zaki treated his Gentile slaves with huge amounts of respect (you can read about this in Tracate Sukkot).

Based on this I would have a hard time saying the sages believed that Gentiles are Animals. Now to be fair there are some very anti-Gentile statements in the Talmud. However, these are, for the most part, geared towards Idol worshipers, or those who seek the Jewish people harm. They are not statements of condemnation upon all Gentiles, especially those who are righteous.

Dilling lived in a very different world than the sages, and the Gentiles of that era where much different than in her day (one could argue, however, that they were not as, in Dilling's day, the Holocaust was about to take place).

3. The Jewish Goal is to make money off of Gentiles.

Yes, Jews know how to make money, but our goal is not to rip Gentiles off for a buck. This is false. Sure, there have been some very unethical Jews in this regard, but to say the goal of the Jews is to make money off Gentiles? It doesn’t work. Nor does it fit with the Jewish spirit of charity.

Unfortunately, Dilling is not alone in her view of the Talmud. Her spirit still infects, and plagues some, in the Church, and even in the Messianic Movement, that the Talmud is nothing but a seething pot of lies, and burdensome rabbinic laws. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard in the course of conversation, or overheard statements, about the Talmud encouraging men to have sex with three year old girls (God Forbid!), telling people to eat their own feces, or making fun of law that they frankly know nothing about. At first glance these seem like a burden, however, upon further review are really based on Torah law.

We must free ourselves from the Spirit of Elizabeth Dilling. We must not approach the Talmud assuming that we are going to find horrid things in it which the Jews desire to bury deep in their enormous writings. The only way to do this is to also accept the fact that our Master Yeshua was, and is, a Jewish Rabbi. Then the words of other Jewish Rabbis won’t seem so foreign.

I would encourage all of you to check out First Fruits of Zion’s new Torah Club Volume Four, which deals with putting our Master back into his proper context.


You can also go here for promo videos of the new Torah Club.

Promo Videos

May Hashem grant us all peace.


  1. btw - the spirit of Elizabeth Dilling is alive & well on the come-and-see Talmud site, which is a cleverly disguised anti-Semitic, anti-Judaism website.

  2. Dear Jeremiah:

    We want more Gemara Thoughts!


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