Page 21 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 21

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THE LITERATURE OF JEWISH RELIGIOUS
DISPUTATIONS
By
J
u d a h
M.
R
o s e n t h a l
I
u l y
1963 marked the 700th anniversary of the public disputa-
J
tion between the famous rabbinic scholar, Biblical exegete
and communal leader Rabbi Moses Nahmanides (Moses ben
Nahman, RaMBaN, or Bonastruc da Porta as he was called in
Spanish sources) and Pablo Christiani, a convert to Christianity.
The disputation took place in Barcelona in the presence of the
royal family and an assemblage of Church nobles and princes.
The anniversary of this disputation offers an opportune occa-
sion for a brief survey of the literature of the disputations be-
tween the Synagogue and the Church, or between Judaism and
Christianity in the western world. Since its early advent on the
stage of history, Judaism as a religion found itself in conflict
with the surrounding world. It appeared to be a negation of
values and concepts cherished by other peoples and cultures. The
Bible abounds in polemics against the beliefs and ways of
worship of other nations. However, since the Bible does not
record arguments of the other side, the dispute is a monologue
rather than a dialogue. The dialogue form originated in the
Hellenistic period with the historical encounter between Judaism
and Hellenism and the subsequent emergence of antisemitic
literature and Jewish apologetics written in Greek. The Greco-
Jewish colloquia are not our concern in the present study. They
are dealt with in the classical works on the history of the Jewish
people during the Second Commonwealth, for which the writ-
ings of Emil Schurer, Joseph Klausner, Victor Tcherikower and
Jean Juster, to mention only the most important, should be
consulted. The articles on Apologetics, Disputations and Po-
lemics in the standard Jewish encyclopedias also include the
Hellenistic period.
T h e main challenge to Judaism came from its daughter reli-
gions, Christianity and Islam. The latter w ill not concern us
here; those interested are referred to the standard work by
Moritz Steinschneider,
Polemische und apologetische L i teratur
in arabischer Sprache
(Leipzig, 1877), and to recent studies by
Professor Moshe Perlman of the University of California in Los
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