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The Talmud Condemned
Pope Innocent IV

Attacks on Jews accelerated in the western Christian world during the High Middle Ages. Public humiliation, mob violence, and mass expulsions made life increasingly uncertain and dangerous for Jewish people living in medieval cities and towns. Intellectual persecution of the Hebrew faith added to this intensification of anti-Semitism, especially in France during the reign of Louis IX (r. 1226-1270). The Talmud affair of the 1240s saw Christian theologians debating and deciding what they considered "proper" Jewish religious expression, casting the Talmud (commentaries on Jewish law) as a threat to scripture. Pope Innocent IV (r. 1243-1254), a renowned canon lawyer, condemns the Talmud in the following letter sent to King Louis in 1244. The French king (and future saint) would end the affair ten years later by making possession and study of the Talmud illegal.

Questions to Consider
  • How does the pope's letter illustrate some popular attitudes about Jews endemic to western Christian society?

  • What is Pope Innocent's opinion of the proper relationship between Jews and Christians?

Innocent, bishop, servant of the servants of God, to his cherished son Louis, illustrious king of France, greeting and apostolic benediction. The impious perfidy of the Jews--from whose hearts because of the enormity of their crimes our Redeemer did not lift the veil but still permits them to remain, as is fitting, in the blindness which is characteristic of Israel--not regarding the fact that Christian piety receives them only out of pity and patiently endures dwelling together with them, commits those enormities which stupefy hearers and horrify narrators. For these ingrates to the Lord Jesus Christ, who patiently awaits their conversion out of the richness of His long-suffering, showing no shame for their fault nor respecting the honor of the Christian faith, and omitting or scorning the Mosaic law and the prophets, follow certain traditions of their seniors concerning which the Lord rebukes them in the Gospel, saying: Why do you transgress the mandate of God and irritate Him by your traditions, teaching human doctrines and mandates?

Upon this sort of traditions, which in Hebrew are called the Talmud--and there is a great book among them exceeding the text of the Bible in length, in which are manifest blasphemies against God and Christ and the blessed Virgin, intricate fables, erroneous abuses, and unheard-of stupidities--they nourish and teach their sons and render them utterly alien from the doctrine of the law and the prophets, fearing lest, if they knew the truth, which is in the law and the prophets, and which testifies openly that the only begotten son of God will come in the flesh, they would be converted to the faith and humbly return to their Redeemer. And not content with these things, they make Christian women nurses of their sons in contumely of the Christian faith, with whom they commit many shameful things. On which account the faithful should be afraid lest they incur divine wrath while they unworthily allow them to perpetrate acts which bring confusion upon our faith.

And although our cherished son, the chancellor of Paris, and the doctors teaching at Paris in holy writ, by the mandate of pope Gregory, our predecessor of happy memory, after reading and examining the said abusive book and certain others with all their glosses, publicly burned them in the presence of clergy and people to the confusion of the perfidy of the Jews, as we have seen stated in their letters, to whom you as catholic king and most Christian prince rendered suitable aid and favor in this, for which we commend your royal excellency with praises in the Lord and pursue with acts of grace: because nevertheless the profane abuse of the Jews themselves has not yet quieted nor has persecution yet given them understanding, we earnestly ask, admonish, and beseech your highness in the Lord Jesus Christ that against detestable and enormous excesses of this sort committed in contumely of the Creator and in injury to the Christian name, as you piously began, you laudably continue to proceed with due severity. And that you order both the aforesaid abusive books condemned by the same doctors and generally all the books with their glosses which were examined and condemned by them to be burned by fire wherever they can be found throughout your entire kingdom, strictly forbidding that Jews henceforth have Christian nurses or servants, that the sons of a free woman may not serve the sons of a handmaid, but as servants condemned by the Lord, whose death they wickedly plotted, they at least outwardly recognize themselves as servants of those whom the death of Christ made free and themselves slaves. So we may commend the zeal of your sincerity in the Lord with due praises. Given at the Lateran, May 9, in the first year of our pontificate.


Source: Lynn Thorndike, ed., University Records and Life in the Middle Ages (New York: Columbia University Press, 1944), 49-50.