Into the Depths of Evil: How the Nazis “Recruited” the Talmud for Anti-Semitic Propaganda

It was the Talmud, more than any other book, which the Nazis used as conclusive proof of Jewish inferiority and the racial danger posed by the Jewish people.

The burning of books in Berlin, 1933. Source: Bundesarchiv, Germany

In the previous article, we discussed religiously motivated Christian attacks on the Talmud. As we saw, the Talmud was identified with the refutations and lies the Jews (allegedly) spread against Jesus, and Christianity in general.

The Nazis too did not remain neutral regarding the Talmudic period. They did so with racist motives. The Nazi party took power in 1933 at a time of an increasingly anti-Semitic atmosphere in Germany due, amongst other reasons, to their defeat in the First World War.

The anti-Semitic publications were not long in coming.

One of the harshest anti-Talmudic publications of this period is a booklet of caricatures published by the anti-Semitic newspaper Der Hammer named “The Jewish Appearance“. The artist Karl Relnik drew 35 clearly anti-Semitic illustrations and connected them all to words from the Talmud. On each picture is a quote from the Talmud, but the editor “forgot” to state the exact source of each quote, making it impossible to check its accuracy. Some of the pictures also have explanatory sentences from the writings of August Rohling (see the previous article) and others.



Der Judenspiegel, Leipzig 1926


One of the prominent figures in Nazi Germany was Julius Streicher, editor of the anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stürmer. Many Nazi intellectuals published venomous and detailed attacks on Judaism and its literature in that newspaper, primarily against the Talmud. During his trial in the Nuremburg Trials, Streicher admitted that he had read the Talmud at great depth and considers himself a leading expert in Jewish works, mainly the Talmud.

However, the highest-ranking Nazi to write about the Talmud was undoubtedly Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazi movement’s chief ideologist and later the one responsible for the occupied territory in Eastern Europe. Rosenberg claimed self-righteously that, “When we attack the Jews, we are not doing so out of disregard of freedom of thought, as they claim, but to attack a legal viewpoint which completely contradicts that of all countries.”

He claims that the more moral thinking is entrenched in a nation, there is less need for instructions and orders about behavior. The fact that Jews have so many commandments and that Jewish law delves into the most minute details of Jewish life, proves their lack of moral understanding. Therefore, the Jews only adhere to and emphasize control of technical instructions.

In a booklet which he published, Unmoral im Talmud (“Lack of Morality in the Talmud”) in 1920 and again in the 1930’s, Rosenberg quotes a selection of sayings from the Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch (the Code of Jewish Law), which ostensibly attest to the Jewish people’s moral inferiority. He begins with an introduction which describes the significance Jews attach to the Talmud, and says that approximately two thirds of the Jewish people still adhere to it 2000 years later.

Rosenberg contends that the opinions of Jews who are seemingly unaffiliated with the Talmud is also impacted by what is written in the Talmud, as its content is ingrained in the Jewish people. The Jews have double moral standards, and act among themselves with different moral standards than those they display toward gentiles. Rosenberg’s book is divided into six chapters: Jewish dialectics, love and marriage, law and justice, about service, Jesus and non-Jews and the Shulchan Aruch. Each chapter begins with a short explanatory foreword, followed by a list of relevant quotes.


Unmoral im Talmud, München 1933


One of Rosenberg’s senior staff members was Dr. Johann Pohl, who was responsible for the looting of many of the Jewish libraries in Eastern Europe. Pohl studied Catholic theology and wrote two doctorial works, one on the prophet Ezekiel and the other on the Jewish family during the period of the prophets. He visited the Land of Israel and studied Bible and Hebrew at the Hebrew University. He even published articles about the archeology of the Land of Israel. He later became a librarian in the field of Judaism and advanced to the important role of managing the library of the Institute for the Study of the Jewish Question in Frankfurt. He wrote articles on the topics of Judaism, Zionism and Talmud, and even an article about the libraries in the Land of Israel in the Germany librarianship journal Zentralblatt fur Bibliothekswesen. Interestingly, in that article he refers to the Jewish National and University Library (today’s National Library of Israel) and its collections. He mentions its founder, Dr. Joseph Chasanowich; the library’s director, Dr. Hugo Bergman; and other important figures such as Gershom Scholem and Avraham Schwadron.

Pohl also wrote two books about the Jewish Talmud – a booklet named Die Religion Des Talmud and a longer book named Talmud Geist. In this book, Pohl explains the structure of the Talmud and each Jew’s obligation to fulfill what is written in it, including Jews who do not define themselves as religious. The book is replete with quotations emphasizing the Jewish hatred of gentiles and the belief that Jews are the chosen people. It is interesting to note that the book’s cover picture was from a censored edition of Maimonides’s Hilchot Avodah Zara [Laws of Idolatry].


Talmudgeist, Berlin 1941


Karl Georg Kuhn, one of the foremost experts on Judaism in Nazi Germany, presented a different approach to the Talmud. He studied Protestant theology, Semitic languages and New Testament Studies in the Jewish Theological Seminar and in Tübingen University. He was appointed as a lecturer there years later and taught courses on Talmud, Zionism, the Jewish question and Judaism’s attitude toward Christianity in the Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch. In contrast with previous attackers of the Talmud, he avoided provocative words of hatred and even wrote critically about those who did. He focused on the Talmud as scientific research. He did not use the writings of Eisenmenger, Rohling and their ilk, but based his writing on more academic and neutral sources.

Kuhn’s attacks on the Talmud were much more complex and scholarly than those of his predecessors. Instead of attacking the books’ content, Kuhn attacked the entire structure of the Talmud. He saw the Talmud as a legal, spiritually empty text, which embodies the entire spirit of Judaism and the Torah as a collection of different narratives. He dated Judaism itself to the period of Ezra the scribe, who he claimed to be the one to link the Torah to the Jewish religion as a Godly work. He directed his in-depth attacks toward rabbinical Judaism and its form of thinking. He published his thoughts on this matter in three long articles in the journal of the Institute for the History of New Germany, Forschungen zur Judenfrage, and later in a booklet which he published in 1939.

The Quote That Never Was

The same quotes repeat themselves over and over again in the various publications. One of the most “condemning” quotes, which appears in articles and books over the past 120 years, is from a non-existent source.

This popular source is “Libbre David 37”. There, according to the common quote, is written that “If a Jew should wish to explain some of the Rabbinic literature, he must only provide a false explanation. One who transgresses this commandment will be put to death. Providing information about our attitude toward the gentile religion would be equivalent to killing all the Jews, for if the gentiles would know what we teach about them, they would kill us.”

There is no source named “Libbre David” in any Talmudic tractate or any other Jewish book.

It could be referring to the Book of Psalms, as “liber” is book in Latin and most of the psalms are attributed to King David, but there is still no text there matching this “quotation”. Psalm 37 tells of the fall of enemies of the Jews, but does not make any mention of keeping the secrets of Judaism and the danger in revealing them. There are those who claimed it to be a spelling mistake and as referring to the book “Divrei David”. It is indeed written in this way in the introduction to Alfred Rosenberg’s book, where he quotes it. There are several books named “Divrei David”. The first published (Lublin, 1671), was the book of Rabbi David Lida. Interestingly, one of Rabbi David Lida’s acquaintances was none other than Eisenmenger (a Christian philosopher we discussed in the previous article), who claimed at the time to be interested in Judaism in order to convert. I went through the entire book and did not find any connection to the quotation under discussion. The theologist and orientalist Hermann Strack wrote that he went through three different books named Divrei David and did not find any mention of the quoted words of hatred. Theodor Fritsch, in his book Beweis-Material gegen Jahwe, and Joseph Bloch, in his book Israel und die Völker , attribute the “Libbre David” to two vague sources.

A search for the words “Libbre David 37” in an online search engine will yield thousands of results from different forums, Neo-Nazi websites and radical religious websites. All provide the same quote, but none of them explain what the book Libbre David is.

Anti-Semitic publications do no have to be accurate.

Many books and articles were written against the Jewish Talmud over the past hundred years. In this article (and the previous article) we only discussed some of the most influential of them. All the books mentioned are found on the shelves of the National Library, not far from the thousands of different editions of the Talmud itself.


“At the Source”: Sharing knowledge to protect Jewish heritage in Europe

Archivists and librarians from the Balkans convened for a special training course at the NLI.

At The Source Participants. Photo: Refael Wachnish

At the Source is a training course for European librarians and archivists who work with Jewish collections.  In addition to learning important professional skills, At the Source participants form strategic connections with National Library colleagues and with each other that will support them through their careers as the custodians of significant, and sometimes endangered, Jewish archives and libraries throughout Europe.

This regional At the Source course was especially developed by NLI and the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People to address the needs of representatives from 16 Balkan institutions – Jewish museums and community and state archives – from Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia.  The course gave participants hands-on experience working with materials that reflect the context of their own collections.  The first stage of the training was held in Belgrade in October 2017, and was followed by a week at the NLI in Jerusalem in January 2018.

Laila Sprajc from the Jewish community of Zagreb with Dr. Stefan Litt of the NLI Archives Department. Photo: Caron Sethill

The course, delivered by staff across all NLI departments, was very well received and has helped position the NLI as a beacon of excellence and knowledge for archivists and librarians working with Jewish heritage in Europe. Below is a taste of some of the feedback from participants:

It was wonderful to meet people with a shared passion for Jewish culture – this is the beginning of many connections.

I was very grateful to hear from people doing the same work as I do – I feel less alone. The individual sessions were very productive.

Exceptional lectures and mentoring – you have made my job so much easier. I now know who to talk to and go to for help.

My mentor has already sent me materials and step-by-step guidance.

And we wish to spotlight one particular participant: Dr. Janez Premk, Director of the Research and Documentation Center for the Jewish Archive of Slovenia.

Dr. Janez Premk with Dr. Ezra Chwat of the Archives Department. Photo: Caron Sethill

The Jewish population of modern-day Slovenia is tiny, with around 150 registered community members nationwide, in a country of just over 2 million citizens.  And Janez Premk has taken it upon himself to almost single-handedly document the long history of the Jews in his country.

Janez’s recent participation in the National Library of Israel’s At the Source training program for archivists and librarians working with Jewish heritage in Europe was “a real eye-opener.”  The program gave Janez an overview of Jewish collections and projects that exist in the Balkan region; a distinct opportunity to meet and have direct access to people who work in the field; and a connection to the National Library of Israel and various Library experts. Janez loved being in Israel in an academic setting and raves about the At the Source program and the exposure to the National Library.

 “For me there was not a single moment of wasted time in this program. I cannot imagine any other institution that would be as invested in sharing knowledge [as the National Library of Israel was]…I love the approach here.  Central Europe is more ‘old school,’ not a place to ask questions.  Here the focus is renewal, launching new initiatives. Everyone here is passionate and knowledgeable. My experience was fabulous,” Janez said after the training.

After earning a BA in Art History from the University of Ljubljana, in the capital city, Janez began working on his graduate degree, focusing on the medieval Jewish community and synagogue in Maribor, Slovenia’s second largest city. During this process, Janez was awarded an Israeli governmental scholarship to study for a semester at Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School. These studies were the springboard for Janez’s launch of the Research and Documentation Center – Jewish Archives of Slovenia (JAS).

Janez invested time in photocopying many documents from the Eventov Archives (the records of the Association of Immigrants from the former Yugoslavia in Israel), which only more recently began to formally catalogue their documents in an electronic database and digitize a portion of their archival materials.

At the Source is a flagship project within Gesher L’Europa, an initiative funded by the Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe, providing opportunities for exchange and enrichment between the National Library of Israel and European scholars, library and museum professionals, and Jewish educators.

What Can You Find in the World’s Oldest Yiddish Letter? Exactly What You Would Expect

Looking for proof that nothing ever changes? In this ancient letter a mother complains to her son that he doesn't write to her often enough… Sound familiar?

The letter in the photograph is stored in the Cambridge University Library, TSMISC36. Line 5: I was, lo aleinu {may it not happen to us}, very sick, lo aleinu, from the first day of the month of Tamuz until the first day of the month of Av…

Among the treasures discovered in the Cairo Genizah are also documents written in Yiddish.

In fact the Cairo Genizah is the source of the oldest Yiddish texts in the world – an anthology of midrashim and parables, and even a German folk legend about a valiant duke who performs acts of gallantry to win the heart of a Greek princess.

But daily life interests us more than legends of knights and princesses, so we decided to present excerpts from a series of letters from Rachel Zussman, an elderly widow who lived in Jerusalem, to her son Moshe, who settled with his family in Cairo for business reasons. The letters were written in Yiddish in the mid 1560’s, and eventually made their way to the Cairo Genizah. They teach us much about the composition of the community in Jerusalem, its economic state, and communication and travel between Jerusalem and Egypt, as well as a mother-son relationship dating back 500 years.

From what we can tell, Rachel Zussman seems to have been a comparatively educated woman who was relatively financially stable. Nonetheless, she appears not to have written the letters herself, but instead dictated them to a professional scribe, who may have incorporated verses and proverbs. Her husband died in Jerusalem, and it was there that her financial situation deteriorated, as we will see.

As typified by the stereotype of the “Jewish Mother”, Rachel complains about the lack of letters from her son (and a letter from her son explaining why he didn’t write back was even found in the Genizah). Less stereotypically, her son Moshe married a woman named Masuda, in other words a Jewish woman who originated from the Arab countries, and Rachel was very satisfied by the match, even suggesting that his daughter Beila (her granddaughter), who had reached marriageable age, be married to a young man from Masuda’s family.

Here are excerpts from Rachel Zussman’s letters, translated into English from the Hebrew translation of Chava Turniansky, who translated and published the letters:

“My dear son, may you live and be well…I, lo aleinu, am very sick, lo aleinu, God Almighty knows what will be my end due to our sins…my dear son, do not be distressed. I also ask the faithful doctor (in other words, God) for you not to be sick – for me to suffer instead of you. And I also ask that He not let me die until I see you once again and you place your hand over my eyes and recite Kaddish after me. And so, my dear son, do not be distressed, live and be well…

I do not know where to obtain money from. Poor people have no money. My dear son, bring me a linen garment with you. I do not have, due to our many sins, a sheet on my bed, or a cover for my pillow. If I was, God forbid, to die I would not have a sheet to be covered in when they remove me from the bed. I am ashamed before other people. I do not have a turban for my shrouds to put on my head. If you are able to buy me one there cheaply, do so. And bring barley with you. I could not find any here at all. Bring two.”

A reply from Moshe to his mother was also discovered in the Genizah:

“Know, my dear mother, that we are all healthy and invigorated… therefore, my dear mother, I was unable to even send you a letter throughout the above period, and I was also unable to buy the things you wrote to me…”.

Further on in the letter he also reports about the boys’ studies with their teacher, and about the idiotic son, about whom he says that talking to him is like “talking to a plank”.

Moshe’s letter was sent to his mother Rachel in Jerusalem, so how did it end up back in the Cairo Genizah? Because his mother wrote her reply on the blank spaces on the page, and sent it back to Cairo. She had much room to write, as her son Moshe’s letter was relatively short… Here is a quotation:

“To my beloved son, my dear Moshe, and to your dear and modest wife my daughter-in-law Madam Masuda. I understand that you did not receive all my letters… My dear son, I am very very hurt and distressed that you distress me so much due to our sins with your deliveries… my dear son, God will forgive you for distressing me so much. Had you at least sent me the [the page is torn here] and the barley for an entire year…” However, the letter is also full of motherly good advice, from the way every loan should be meticulously recorded, to the following:

“Go and bathe in the river as little as possible. In this way it will not be able to harm you.”

Which is true.

(The seven letters discussed in this article were published and translated into Hebrew by Chava Turniansky in an article in volume 4 of the ‘Shalem’ journal. They are all in Cambridge, except for one which is in the National Library in Jerusalem. A decade ago, more excerpts from letters in Yiddish to and from Rachel Zussman were discovered in Cambridge.)

American Pride and Prejudice at the 1936 Olympics

​The story of Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics is well known. What is not well known is that Jesse Owens nearly didn't compete in one of his gold medal wins, just so his Jewish teammates could...

Photographer unknown – Reproduction of photograph in “Die Olympischen Spiele, 1936” p.27, 1936.

​The story of Jesse Owens, the African-American athlete whose mere presence was an affront to Hitler in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, is perhaps the most well-known story to come out of those games. The fact that he won four gold medals was a stark counter to the Nazi propaganda machine and a slap in the face to the Nazi organizers.

What is perhaps not well known is how Jesse Owens almost didn’t compete in one of his gold medal wins, the 400 meter relay race.

While it is obvious that Nazi Germany would be prejudiced and biased towards black and Jewish athletes, it must be said that within the United States there was also prejudice towards Jewish athletes at the time.

A short report from Berlin in The Sentinel shows the overt prejudice. Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman were the only athletes on the U.S. team not to participate in the games. They were also the only Jewish athletes on the team. To add insult to injury, they were only told on the day of the event that they would not be able to compete.

“Prejudice Hinted in Dropping of Jewish Athletes from U.S. Olympic Track Team”, published in The Sentinel, 13 August 1936. From the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

Jesse Owens’ sense of justice came to the forefront and he offered to give up his spot in the relay race in order to let his teammates run in the competition. The solidarity between Owens, Stoller and Glickman is an example of how the time period created an alliance between minorities within a society that was biased against them on the basis of their race.

At the time both Stoller and Glickman denied there was anti-Semitism involved, though later in life, Glickman would say that it had in fact been fueled by anti-Semitism. This fact becomes starker when you consider that Avrey Brundage, then-chairman of the American Olympic Committee, was unapologetically pro-Nazi and admired Hitler himself.

Avery Brundage Lauds Hitler at German Rally: ‘U.S. Can Learn Much,’ He Says“, published in The Sentinel, 8 October 1936. From the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

The 1936 Berlin Olympics, possibly the most contentious modern Olympic event in history, was a symptom of the conciliatory policies towards Nazi Germany.

At the time there had been demands to boycott the Olympic games by various amateur athletic groups, such as the Committee on Fair Play in Sports in America. The Committee even released a booklet detailing the ways in which Nazi Germany went against the ideals of the Olympic games. The boycotts were not successful, thanks to the work of Brundage and others to get the American team to the Olympics in Berlin.

It is no secret that Hitler’s intention was for the Berlin Olympics to prove the racial hierarchy he tried to implement.

Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman’s story during the 1936 Olympics remains a footnote to the history of those turbulent times, and to the inspirational story of Jesse Owens, who became a symbol of audacity and courage, embarrassing Hitler and the Reich at their very own games.