Pope Sylvester did not create known Anti-Jewish legislation

“Distance yourself from a false word,” (Exodus 23:7) “A man shall not lie to his friend.” (Lev. 19:11)

For the last two years, I have been forwarded by many people a complete fabrication by a frum website that generally circulates BS and falsehood without any leg to stand on.

The deceitful website says:

“Sylvester,” was the name of the “Saint” and Roman Pope who reigned during the Council of Nicaea (325 C.E.). The year before the Council of Nicaea convened, Sylvester convinced Constantine to prohibit Jews from living in Jerusalem. At the Council of Nicaea, Sylvester arranged for the passage of a host of viciously anti-Semitic legislation. All Catholic “Saints” are awarded a day on which Christians celebrate and pay tribute to that Saint’s memory. December 31 is Saint Sylvester Day – hence celebrations on the night of December 31 are dedicated to Sylvester’s memory.

I dont know where to begin. Sylvester was too ill to attend the Council of Nicaea. No, he did not convince Constantine to ban Jews from Jerusalem. Nicaea was not about anti-Jewish statements- it was when the Church changes their calendar so that Easter did not have to be calculated by means of contact with Jews to find out when they were celebrating Passover. Here are the decrees of Nicaea.

There are no records to prove his created anti-Jewish legislation and no historian claims it. For the little we know see James Parkes, The Conflict of Church and Synagogue page 186
For the up to date bibliography,see Paula Fredriksen & Oded Irshai, Christianity and Anti-Judaism in Late Antiquity Polemics and Policies, from the Second to the Seventh Centuries. The anti-Jewish decrees were by Constantine. As far as we know, Sylvester did not convince him of anything and power was vested in Emperor.

There is a medieval “Forged Canons of Nicaea” where in some versions Sylvester is credited with decreeing that Jews and Christians should not share bread or eat together. For a version that does not attribute it to him.
That decree was also not by Sylvester and actually suggested by the very anti-Jewish John Chrysostom and not made legislation until the 7th century and widespread in the middle ages. On this topic, see David M. Freidenreich, Sharing Meals with Non-Christians in Canon Law Commentaries, Circa 1160-1260: A Case Study in Legal Development It is similar to the ways that Second Temple and Talmudic law does not allow Jews to eat food prepared by gentiles or to eat their wine, cheese, bread et al, or to eat with them.

We had enough real and deadly Anti-Jewish legislation and rabid hatred of Judaism without making things up.

For more Forgeries about Sylvester, see Silvestri constitutum which do include a story of his contact with a Jewish sorcerer.
In the medieval Christan The Golden Legend, a book of medieval tales- the source of many Ashkenaz Jewish tales- there are legend of how Sylvester slays a dragon and staged a public medieval style disputation with Jews.

The origins of the January 1st festivities go back to the Roman era. Sylvester and Constantine, still living in a pagan world, would have condemned the celebration as a pagan practice. It only became part of the West later when the original Roman practices were lost. Since the celebration of St Sylvester day was done in a morning mass it had little to do with the midnight celebration. A mass offered at midnight would already have been for the next day, the St. Basil day. Calling the evening festivities by the name of Sylvester was widespread in Eastern Europe. When and why Eastern European counties started calling the evening festivities by the name of the Saint and was it based on a medieval Italian locution is beyond the scope of this blog post.

The false frum blog also has false stories of Julius Ceaser, which I did not bother to refute.

The frum website is also responsible for circulating the completely incorrect statistics predicting Haredim to multiply with simple geometric growth like Drosophila and liberal Jews to cease to be. Those statistics are entirely false and not based on anything actuarial or use of any valid method. I wish a frum actuary or statistician would just post the refutation already. I am not the statistician to do it.

There needs to be a Jewish Snopes just for that website. Last year, when I first received the Sylvester story, I goggled to see if there was any immediate source to forward people. Instead, I found people trying to rewite wiki and online Roman histories using this false source as a valid source.

3 responses to “Pope Sylvester did not create known Anti-Jewish legislation

  1. The reason i look at this site rather than other most other sites is because i find it more intellecually honest in dealing with Jewish questions.

  2. I’m a frum statistician. While demographics are outside of my particular specialties, I’d be happy to take a look at those claims if you send them to me.

    Also, I sent an email to the simpletoremember site listing additional historical inaccuracies with the Sylvester article, among them:

    (1) There is no record of Julius Caesar having ordered a massacre of Jews; to the contrary, his policies towards Jews were quite favorable. For example, he exempted Jews from taxes during the shemitah yrear. There WAS a massacre of Jews by Romans at Mount Tabor some years befor 46 BCE, but (1) it was a disastrous military defeat, not a massacre of civilians, (2) like many of the conflicts of that time, it was one group of Je…ws calling in the Romans to act against another group of Jews, (3) Julius Caesar, whose policies toward Jews were generally favorable, was nowhere near the battle (he was probably committing genocide in Gaul).

    (2) Jews had been expelled from Jerusalem hundreds of years prior to Sylvester (by Hadrian after the Bar Kochba revolt).

    (3) The Roman capital had been moved to Milan by Diocletian prior to Sylvester’s becoming Bishop of Rome.

    (4) Sylvester did not attend the Council of Nicaea.

    They asked me for sources! They should have researched the sources themselves!!!

    • Thanks, I will send the demographic stuff later in the week.
      I did not comment on the the Julius Caesar material because it was just so ridiculous. They write without any sources. We are not talking academics vs Artscroll or new compared to old, rather the things they write have no basis anywhere.
      As a side point, an example of old vs new -you #2 is currently questioned by scholars- they think that Jews were not expelled from Jerusalem.