Q. “I came across a lecture where the speaker mentioned a ritual, apparently from the Talmud, where there is a certain time Jews curse Jesus and Muhammad. What is your position on this? Is it factual? And what is the context of it? May G-d reward and guide you for your efforts.”
A. Thank you for taking up the responsibility to verify the accuracy or inaccuracy of the claim made. The entirety of the Talmud was written before Muhammad. It is, therefore, impossible that it refers to Muhammad. This part of the claim is entirely unfactual. Regarding later Jewish followers of Jesus who apostized from Torah, on the other hand, there may be something to be said.
The Talmud contains a discussion about adding an additional blessing to our central prayer. The prayer originally consisted of 18 blessings. This is why one of the names for this prayer is ‘the Shemoneh Esreh;’ Shemoneh Esreah means 18 in Hebrew. Despite the continued use of the original name, the prayer now consists of 19 blessings. The new additional blessing is a request to G-d that He cause the apostates and the dominance of wickedness to cease from the world. A short praise to G-d for breaking the wicked and humbling high-handed sinners follows the request.
The Talmud records that the original inspiration, or instigation rather, for this new blessing was the troubles caused by the ‘minim.’ The word ‘minim‘ simply means sectarians, ie: heretics. The Talmud does not specify that they were Christians. In fact, it is unlikely our Sages had specificly Christians in mind. There were several small sectarian groups that split off from the Jewish faith at that time, not only Christians.* It is, then, likely that the blessing was instituted having in mind dissenters from the Jewish faith in general, not only ex-Jewish Christians. The blessing is simply a prayer that all heresy come to an end.
As for cursing Christians, the blessing does not include a curse, unless you consider a general prayer that G-d end heresy and wickedness to be equivalent to cursing.
Significantly, the Talmud records that ultimately the Sages chose that the blessing be penned by a certain scholar who was renown for his humility and compassion. They did not want the prayer to originate from a place of hate, but from a sincere longing for the triumph of goodness. Additionally, the Talmud offers the interpretation that the blessing’s request that heretics and wickedness cease be realized by means of their repenting rather than by death. This in mind, I don’t think ‘curse’ is an accurate description of what this prayer actually is.
“For the apostates, be there no hope; and may You uproot and break the dominion of highhanded sin quickly in our days. Worshipful are You O LORD, Who breaks the wicked and humbles high-handed sinners.”
— the referred blessing, from DorDeah’s version of the Jewish prayer book.
One should not think it strange that a person who identifies with any point of view or philosophy would desire that opposition to his lifestyle cease. Whether they be Christians who would desire that anti-Christian sentiment in the world cease, or Muslims who desire that Islamophobia cease from the world, or whether they be atheists or secular-humanists that would be more than happy to see religion cease from the world, so also the Jewish people would be more than happy to see that opposition to our faith cease from the world. The question is how we go about doing it.
Our organization, DorDeah.com, seeks to attain the fulfillment of our philosophy and our goals by presenting to the world a reasonable approach to the Hebrew Bible, an approach that is based upon the Torah. The Torah, God’s instruction to mankind through Moses, contains eternal truths for mankind which are applicable in every generation, for the betterment of our lives and the lives of others.
R’ Yosef Eliyah
* We’re aware that a version of this blessing was found in the Cairo Geniza that mentions nosrim (Christians). Nonetheless, the fact remains that Jews, the world over, do not say the version of the blessing found in the Cairo Geniza. Additionally, it is apparent that the version in the fragment was not widely enough used to have survived as a living tradition into modern times or to have been mentioned elsewhere. None of the oldest preserved Jewish prayer books mention Christians in this blessing. That this is not in reaction to persecution is obvious in that the isolated version mentioned Christians was not the version in wide use even by Jews of non-Christian countries where persecution by Christians was non-existent. Such Jewish communities were the majority of the Jewish world until only much later.
* DorDeah.com is an independent organization. DorDeah.com is not affiliated with www.mechon-mamre.org, the “Torath Moshe Society,” nor Chabad-Lubavitch. Though we are grateful for the contributions of these organizations in providing Mishne Torah resources, we do not endorse all the views espoused by these organizations.