Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi (1513-1585), rabbi in Egypt, Italy and Poland, was a rational thinker and major influence in his era. He wrote an important Biblical commentary and defended the traditional medieval rationalism against Maharal. The following passage played a role in subsequent early modern legal discussions and seems to have been forgotten in twentieth century discussions. Ashkenazi removes his, and our, current gentiles from the curse.
“Pour out thy wrath upon the nations”
Some of the Gentiles among whom we are exiled under their protection have thought that God forbid we are cursing them.
It only applies to the nations that do not know Him, that deny the Exodus from Egypt because they don’t accept the miracles and wonders. It is quite clear that the Gentiles among whom we are exiled all know about the Exodus and believe in it, and know its details…We only curse the idol worshipers who don’t believe in creation and who destroyed the Temple, not the nations who became Edom and Ishmael (Christianity and Islam) because they were still not created…But now our Gentiles and the Ishmaelites know God, and acknowledge the Exodus, forefend for us to curse them from our religion.
And when we do curse those who afflict us and unjustly persecute us, that curse is not from our religion, forefend, but as a person who curses one who afflicts another…
Our holy Torah announces this in the name of the head of the faithful [Abraham] that God does not desire this, as it is written, “Will you destroy the righteous with the wicked?” And the master of the prophets [Genesis 18:23] said, “One person will sin and the whole community should be cut off?” And from the writings it is clarified that we are not allowed from our religion to curse nations that acknowledge the Exodus from Egypt and know God even if they have not received the Torah…
That is why it was not permitted for Israel to conquer the land of Canaan until after the Exodus, that even after they know about God they did not believe or accept….
Rabbi Ashkenazi acknowledges that Gentiles accept God, creation and even the providential Exodus story. Ashkenazi draws a distinction between the negative attitude toward Gentiles in the Talmud and the attitude toward contemporary Christians by stating that Gentiles at the time of the Temple were idolaters without a belief in God. He further distances himself from prior teachings of contempt by stating that the curses that the Midrash heaps upon Rome have no connection to the later nations of Edom. Ashkenazi proclaims that Jews do not curse others. Even when Christians persecute Jews, the persecution stems not from their religion but from unfortunate occurrences between people. One cannot hold a people accountable for the injustice of some of them, and certainly one cannot hold their religion responsible for the injustice committed by certain members of it.
Ashkenazi also explains the four sons as the wise son is Isaac, the wicked son is Christianity, the simple son is Jacob, and the son that does not know how to ask is Islam. There is a recent dissertation written under the direction of Menachem Kellner on Ashkenazi, Neta Ecker, Universalism in the Thought of Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi” Unpublished Dissertation Haifa University 2010)
The importance of this passage of Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi is that it is quoted as a source text by R. Moshe Rivkes in the eighteenth-century as a general halakhah.
The rabbis of the Talmud meant by the term ‘idolaters’ the pagans who lived in their time, who worshipped the stars and the constellations and did not believe in the Exodus from Egypt and in the creation of the world out of nothing. But the nations under whose benevolent shadow we, the Jewish nation, are exiled and are dispersed among them, they do believe in the creation of the world out of nothing and the Exodus from Egypt and in the essentials of faith, and their whole intention is toward the Maker of heaven and earth, as other authorities have written…
So rather than a prohibition not to save them [if they were idolaters], on the contrary, we are required to pray for their welfare as Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi wrote at length on the passage from the Passover haggadah “Pour out thy Wrath.” King David prayed to God to pour out his wrath on the idolater who did not believe in creation from nothing or the signs and wonders that God performed for us in Egypt and at the giving of the Torah. The nations
In whose shadow we live and under whose wings we are protected do believe in all of this. Therefore, we are always required to pray for the welfare and success of the kingdom and the ministers, in all their provinces. Indeed, Maimonides ruled according to Rabbi Joshua, that the pious of the nations have a portion in the world to come. (Be’er haGolah to Hoshen Mishpat 425:5)
Translation and comments – Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved