Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Fast of the 9th of Tevet

No, not the 10th of Tevet, the 9th!

Most of the next section is taken from a lecture by Shnayer Leiman entitled Jewish Perspectives on Early Christianity - Nittel, the Ninth of Teves and Pope Simon Peter. He begins by discussing the a puzzling gemara from Tractate Avodah Zarah that states that Rome possesses "neither script nor language"; Rashi adds to this an even more puzzling statement that "others wrote their books for them." Only part of the story is recounted here; I highly recommend listening to the whole lecture, as Leiman weaves together a fascinating story using both well-known and obscure sources. It is available at YUTorah here.

Shulchan Aruch OC 580 describes a number of fast days that correspond to various yarhzeits (Nadav & Avihu, Shmnuel haNavi, etc). The list is taken from a much earlier b'raisah (circa 8th century). Yet the author, Yosef Karo, states in his earlier work - the Beis Yosef commentary on the Tur - that he doesn't know anyone that actually observes these fasts! Indeed, on some of these days one is halachically proscribed from fasting (e.g., Rosh Chodesh, Chanukah). So why does he included this section in the Shulchan Aruch? Furthermore, there is one fast day for which he states that we don't know what tragedy befell us: the 9th of Tevet.

A summary of opinions from Jewish literature follows:
  • Raavad (ibn Daud from the 12th century) - in his Sefer Ha-Qabbalah
    - states that this was the day that Yosef haLevi haNagid (son of Shmuel haNagid) was martyred in 1066 and that "he was mourned in every city and in every town. (Indeed, a fast had been decreed for the ninth of Tebet as far back as the days of our ancient rabbis, who compose Megillat Ta'anit; but the reason had not been known. From this [incident] we see that they had pointed prophetically to this very day)." (Translation by Gerson Cohen, p 76.). Leiman says that this suggestion cannot be taken seriously because of a much bigger problem than the assertion of prophecy: so many other gedolim that were martyred were not included on this list.
  • The next source to discuss this fast day is Rama (16th century) in his commentary on Megillat Esther. In 2:16, Esther was taken by Achashrevosh in the month of Tevet. Rama states that this very sad day occurred on the 9th day. The weakness with this is that the 9th is never stated. Another problem is that there is no reason why this explanation should have been omitted as the basis of the fast day.
  • Next we have Taz and Magen Avraham (17th century) who both state that the 9th of Tevet is the yarhzeit of Ezra, but they don't explain why the reason was hidden in the enumeration of fast days.
  • Finally, Yonaton Eybeschutz (18th century) in Ya'arot Devash states that it commemorates the yarhzeit of Ezra, but states that in actuality we don't know the day he died. Eybeschutz makes a connection between not knowing where Moshe Rabbeinu was buried and how Ezra is likened to Moshe. The problem with this explanation is that we do know the date that Moshe died, plus there is no reason why the proper date would be hidden.
Thus we are left with no traditional Jewish sources that give a reasonable explanation for the fast of the 9th of Tevet. Leiman then discusses Christological interpretations of Jewish texts in order to understand the original passage.

19th century Jewish Wissenschaft scholars (Zunz, Rapoport, et al) point to Spanish philosopher & astronomer Avraham bar Chiya (d. 1136) whose work - although written in 1122 - was first published in 1851. He states that the founder of Christianity was born on December 25, and calculated that this date in the year in which he was born fell on the 9th of Tevet! The scholars thus state that the fast commemorates the birthday of Yeshu, and the rabbis chose not to reveal the reason for the fast as a matter of prudence. (Leiman opines that this was to avoid problems in getting manuscripts with offensive passages published "once printing was invented", which is puzzling since the original b'raisah long-predated the earliest block printing in Europe.) This then became the accepted explanation for the fast of the 9th.

Leiman is unsatisfied. First, did the author of the original b'raisah know that December 25 in 3 BCE was on the 9th of Tevet? But even more important, bar Chiya bases the 25th of December birthday on the traditional Christian date, yet he also states that nowhere in the New Testament is this date mentioned. Nobody knows the date that Yeshu was born; many days have been proposed and three different days are currently observed by various Christian groups (see Wikipedia here.)

R. Baruch Frankel Teumim (rav in Leipnik, author of Baruch Taam, d 1828) writes that he found a manuscript in which it says Shimon haKalpos died on the 9th of Tevet; Shimon saved the Jews from a great tragedy in the days of the sinners. His yarhzeit became a permanent fast in Jerusalem.

R. Aharon Worms (rav in Metz, France and successor to Shaagat Aryeh, d. 1836) writes in his Me'orei Or that he found a memorial book that Shimon haKalponi wrote a pact with the Jews that was hidden from them, and in Megillat Taanit the rabbis did not state why.

Thus there are two disparate references discussing what is certainly the same person. These two names of Shimon occur nowhere else in Talmudic literature.

So who is this Shimon haKalpos/haKalponi? He is the hero of Toledot Yeshu. This is a manuscript containing what is ostensibly the Jewish account of Jesus. Although Leiman states that it contains a somewhat sympathetic view of Christianity, I don't see how it can be considered anything other than derogatory. Toledot Yeshu appears in various forms and was apparently written sometime prior to the 8th century. The following is the relevant excerpt (see the sources section at the end of this post.)

The Sages desired to separate from Israel those who continued to claim Yeshu as the Messiah, and they called upon a greatly learned man, Simeon Kepha, for help. Simeon went to Antioch, main city of the Nazarenes and proclaimed to them: "I am the disciple of Yeshu. He has sent me to show you the way. I will give you a sign as Yeshu has done."

Simeon, having gained the secret of the Ineffable Name, healed a leper and a lame man by means of it and thus found acceptance as a true disciple. He told them that Yeshu was in heaven, at the right hand of his Father, in fulfillment of Psalm 110:1. He added that Yeshu desired that they separate themselves from the Jews and no longer follow their practices, as Isaiah had said, "Your new moons and your feasts my soul abhorreth." They were now to observe the first day of the week instead of the seventh, the Resurrection instead of the Passover, the Ascension into Heaven instead of the Feast of Weeks, the finding of the Cross instead of the New Year, the Feast of the Circumcision instead of the Day of Atonement, the New Year instead of Chanukah; they were to be indifferent with regard to circumcision and the dietary laws. Also they were to follow the teaching of turning the right if smitten on the left and the meek acceptance of suffering. All these new ordinances which Simeon Kepha (or Paul, as he was known to the Nazarenes) taught them were really meant to separate these Nazarenes from the people of Israel and to bring the internal strife to an end.

The first Christians were observant Jews in all respects except for their belief in Jesus as the messiah (sound familiar?). There was thus a crisis in the first century whereby it was difficult to tell a Jew from a Christian Jew. The tannaim came up with a solution: one of their own would join the Christian Jewish faction, rise to a leadership position as a result of his knowledge & stature, and ultimately abrogate certain ceremonial laws while maintaining essential mitzvot (the 10 Commandments and the 7 Noachide laws). Thus, this fifth column would clandestinely institute new practices to ultimately result in a schism between the two groups, creating a distinctly separate religion from Judaism. Shimon (no family name is given) volunteers for the mission after being guaranteed that he won't lose his portion in the world to come.

Shimon joins the group, became bishop of Jerusalem and ultimately is elected first pope in Rome. He was Shimon Kepha, also known as Simon Peter! ("kepha" = "rock" = "petros" = "Peter", alluding to the rock on which the Church was built.)

There is one manuscript of Toledot Yeshu (the Huldreich edition printed in 1705 in Holland) that is no longer extant although we have the printed edition. It is in Hebrew and is different from every other manuscript in that it mentions the name of the bishop that became pope - Shimon haKalponi! It further states that he died on the 9th of Tevet and that the day was made a fast day to commemorate the death of a Jewish hero who was responsible for separating Judaism from Jewish Christianity.

But how do we bridge the gap between a document from 1705 and a passage from the 8th century? We don't have the original manuscript of the former that would help us determine its provenance. This is a critical question for Leiman. He continues.

The Huldreich edition explains how Simon was able to abrogate the laws: he codified the Christian laws and customs as commanded by the sages of Judea; he transformed the alphabet by creating the Latin alphabet for Christianity (original a secret alphabet known only by Christian priests); he composed for them many books, books that are part of the New Testament and which teach abrogation of Jewish law.

Leiman then returns to the Rashi which he began the lecture with. That Rashi is a censored version. He now quotes the original, uncensored text (available in Dikdukei Sofrim).
"...others wrote their books for them. Namely, John, Paul and Simon Peter, all of them Jews. Language refers to grammatika, the Latin spoken by priests. They, the Jews, transformed the language of the Romans into an obscure one, in order to separate them from Israel. They, the Jews, were not apostates; rather they acted from the best of intentions so as to benefit the Jews. They saw that the Jews were oppressed by the deceitful acts of the followers of Jesus, they impersonated priests, and ordained all the Christian laws and customs and books as is stated explicitly in the Toledot Yeshu narratives".
Thus, this 1705 version of Toledot Yeshu was available in the time of Rashi, in the 11th century. And it is reasonable to assume that the 8th century author of the lists of fasts also had a copy, but could not state the reason for the fast.

Have an easy fast.

Some References

There are a number of sources that discuss Toledot Yeshu. I recommend searching Google Books using the following spelling variations: "toldoth jeshu", "toldoth yeshu", and "toledoth yeshu". In particular, check out these references:

The Wagenseiliana version can be seen here (Hebrew/Latin).

One translation in English can be found here.

Two accounts of Simeon Ben Kepha taking on his subversive task can be found here and here. Other references can be found by Googling the terms "simeon kepha".

There are a number of books that discuss the primary Jewish sources relating to Jesus, including Toledot Yeshu and various Talmudic passages:

The "most radical attack ever made on Christianity" (in the author's words) can be found in Revelations of AntiChrist, an 1879 work available in its entirety on Google books.

Bernhard Pick's 1910 work, The Personality of Jesus in the Talmud, can be found this issue of the Monist. It begins on page 4.

Finally, recently reprinted by Ktav as an "augmented edition" is R. Travers Herford's classic work Christianity in Talmud & Midrash. Unfortunately, Herford translated some of the Hebrew passages into Latin as he found them too offensive to translate into English.

As an aside, there is an early Jewish Christian leader, Shimon son of Clopas, who was the second Bishop of Jerusalem and who lived 100 years later than Simon Peter. See the Wikipedia article here. Could there be some historical confusion between these two names? I'd be interested in hearing from anyone knowledgeable in Greek regarding the etymological relationship between Kepha, Clopas, Kalpos, and Kalponi.


Mark said...


You're by far the most knowledgeable and reasonable blogger of our genre. Keep up the good work. I really always look forward to your posts, it's like a lecture.

Frum Heretic said...

Thanks for your kind comments. However keep in mind that this post is largely the work of a true scholar, Shnayer Leiman!

Menachem Butler said...

I posted some additional sources at the Michtavim blog in several posts.

As, within certain circles, the medieval Jewish version(s) of the history of Jesus -- entitled Toledot Yeshu (information is corrected and updated from my faux pas of last year [ve-hamavin yavin]) -- will be read by many tonight, see the brief discussion regarding "the historical Jesus" and about Torah Study on Christmas Eve, in David Berger, "On the Uses of History in Medieval Jewish Polemic Against Christianity: The Quest for Historical Jesus," in Elisheva Carlebach, John M. Efron, & David N. Myers, eds., Jewish History and Jewish Memory: Essays in Honor of Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi (Hanover and London: Brandeis University Press, 1998), 25-39; Hillel I. Newman, "The Death of Jesus in the Toledot Yeshu," Journal of Theological Studies 50:1 (April 1999): 59-79; and R. Moses Sofer (Hatam Sofer), "Comments on Kuntres Toledot Yeshu ha-Notzri," Yerushateinu 2 (2007): 72-77. For a dissertation that I would have greatly enjoyed (and made use of [!]) during Spring 2008, when I took Prof. Berger's graduate seminar on "Christian–Jewish Polemics in the Middle Ages" at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, Yeshiva University, is William Horbury, "A Critical Examination of the Toledoth Jeshu," (PhD dissertation, University of Cambridge, 1970), which has not fared too well within the extant academic literature. See especially Horbury's discussion of the 'History of Toledoth Yeshu Literature' (pp. 4-36), "Jewish Traditions of Jesus in Antiquity" (pp. 307-437), and "The Toledoth and Jewish Polemical Literature" (pp. 467-519). See also idem, "The Trial of Jesus in Jewish Tradition," in Ernst Bammel, ed., The Trial of Jesus: Cambridge Studies in Honour of C.F.D. Moule (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1949), 102-121. Additionally, for a little-cited undergraduate thesis, see Brad Sabin Hill, "The Appearance of a Medieval Book in the New World: A History of the Toledoth Yeshu in America," (unpublished, Brown University, 1975); special thanks to Prof. Shnayer Z. Leiman for pointing me towards this source, and for the earliest citation of this thesis, see Stephen Gero, "The Nestorius Legend in the Toledoth Yeshu," Oriens Christianus 59 (1975): 108-120. See, more recently, the description of 'Toledot Yeshu literature in America' in Yosef Goldman (research and editing by Ari Kinsberg), Hebrew Printing in America 1735-1926: A History and Annotated Bibliography (Brooklyn: YG Books, 2006), 1:179 (#191), and esp. 2:938 (#1062).

and then:

For some brief articles related to earlier this week, see Sid (Shnayer) Z. Leiman, "Scroll of Fasts: The Ninth of Tebeth," Jewish Quarterly Review 74:2 (October 1983): 174-195; and his hour-long lecture, "Jewish Perspectives on Early Christianity: Nittel, the Ninth of Teves and Pope Simon Peter," available at, see here, and related to one of the two "famous Tosafot" on Gittin 8a, see Hirsch Jakob Zimmels, "Rabbi Peter the Tosaphist," Jewish Quarterly Review 48:1 (July 1957): 51-52, discussed in London Jewish Chronicle (27 September 1957): 21; and for the latest scholarship on Rabbeinu Pater, see Avraham (Rami) Reiner, "Rabbenu Tam: His French teachers and his German Students," (MA thesis, Hebrew University, 1998), esp. 132-137 (Hebrew).

רפאל said...

It is clear from Machzor Vitri (Siman 66, Siman 325) that Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam knew Toldot Yeshu.

I did not listen to the shiur yet, perhaps Leiman addresses this. As you mention, Shimon Kipa seems to be the guy the Christians name Paul. It is indeed a perfect fit. But the Christians also have a Shimon Peter, who in their scriptures is Paul's antagonist. My tentative answer is that Toldot Yeshu uses a Shem Badui to confuse Christian readers.

רפאל said...

I listened to the shiur. The alphabet issue puzzles me. On the one hand, there are many Latin inscriptions from before Shimon Kipa. Secondly, the most important of "כל ספריהם" are written in Greek. Any insightד?

רפאל said...

From Tosefot I gather that Ktav refers to vocabulary, (theological) concepts.

Nachum said...

Prof. Leiman recently gave another lecture on this topic where he suggested that Shimon Kepha (the Jewish version) was based on an early Christian mystic who lived in Syria.

Frum Heretic said...

I think that we must consider the possibility that Chazal did not have an accurate mesorah relating to nascent Christianity. The followers of Jesus couldn't even create a consistent account of their own history (as reflected in the NT) - why should Chazal be expected to do better in maintaining an accurate history regarding a heretical Christian Jewish group?

The success with which their numbers increased (primarily due to proselytization among gentiles) would have taken Chazal quite by surprise and with great trepidation. I suspect that much of what (little) they wrote was based on the need to denigrate Jesus as much as possible (e.g., in gehinnom boiling in steaming semen) while incorporating tidbits of gossip and flawed recollections. Thus we have the problems alluded to in the Jesus the Sorcerer post, plus here a possible confusion with Simon Peter vs Paul (vs Simon ben Clopas??)

Certainly it is possible that Chazal used code words to disguise their true subject. We see that they often used midrash to conceal their discussion of - e.g., - Roman politics, so why not here when discussing a group that was increasing in numbers and political influence. (Of course, one can go overboard with such a claim, as Travers does at times; for example, claiming that Talmudic references to Balaam are really referring to Jesus).

(BTW, I tried finding the Toledot Yeshu references in Mahzor Vitri but was unsuccessful with the on-line versions that I looked at.)

Yaacov Haber said...

It is difficult to imagine that Chazal could come up with a scheme that would push Jews further away From Mitzvot in order avoid confusion.

Anonymous said...

On this topic see John Gaiger's article in Schaefer - Meerson, Toledot Yeshu Revisited (Tubingen, 2011)

Mevashir said...

This is a fascinating post. Alfred Edersheim, Jewish convert to Christianity and later Oxford professor, discusses here the connection of 9 Tevet to Christmas:

Footnote 955:

955 There is no adequate reason for questioning the historical accuracy of this date. The objections generally made rest on grounds, which seem to me historically untenable. The subject has been fully discussed in an article by Cassel in Herzog’s Real. Ency. xvii. pp. 588-594. But a curious piece of evidence comes to us from a Jewish source. In the addition to the Megillath Taanith (ed. Warsh. p. 20 a), the 9th Tebheth is marked as a fast day, and it is added, that the reason for this is not stated. Now, Jewish chronologists have fixed on that day as that of Christ’s birth, and it is remarkable that, between the years 500 and 816 a.d. the 25th of December fell no less than twelve times on the 9th Tebheth. If the 9th Tebheth, or 25th December, was regarded as the birthday of Christ, we can understand the concealment about it. Comp. Zunz, Ritus d. Synag. Gottesd. p. 126.

Personally I believe Jesus was born on Tisha BeAv, when his mother Miryam was in her seventh month of pregnancy (as with Moshe Rabbeinu), when travel was not arduous due to rain and cold and daylight hours were longer making for a safer journey. This would put Jesus' presentation in the Temple near Rosh Hashanah, festival of the coronation of God ruler over the earth.

Jahleel Shelling said...

This interpretation would seem plausible if it didn't contradict with history. If you have read the New Testament one quickly realises this could not be true. For no where does it replace the Jewish feasts with those the Christians celebrate, the earliest manuscripts are not written in Latin but rather Greek and Aramaic. Shimon kefir boasted about the thousands of Jewish followers in Jerusalem in the book of Acts how "zealous the were for Torah". To say that shimon Kefar invented the Latin language is hilarious considering Latin was around in the last century BC. Great discussion but historically the whole these folklores do not match up.