Putting a book on trial? That’s exactly what happened in the 13th-century trial in which King Louis IX of France decided to hold a trial prosecuting the Talmud, a central book for rabbinic Judaism. Many documents from that trial have been translated and are available in a new book, The Trial of the Talmud: Paris, 1240.
The book lost that trial. However, the trial still holds relevant lessons for cultural contact and interfaith dialogue today. One of the main lessons is that interfaith dialogue puts too much emphasis on…dialogue. Peaceful religious coexistence is not always the result of dialogue or conversation. Instead of aiming at mutual understanding, where both parties have a proper knowledge of one another, it could be helpful to let different parties differ. Instead of hermeneutics , deconstruction (I’m siding with Derrida in the Gadamer-Derrida exchange).
Instead of religious coexistence facilitated with dialogue, I’m more interested in religious coexistence facilitated sans dialogue, indeed, sans voir, sans avoir, sans savoir. This resonates with some of Michael Schulson’s comments on the new translation of the documents from the 1240 trial.
[I]ntellectual examination can actually interfere with the daily realities of religious coexistence. Above all, religious groups need to be respected, and to see that someone is making an active effort to coexist with them. Listening is important, for sure. But some of the details of religious traditions don’t make for easy hearing. To repurpose an old saying about marriage: in interfaith relationships, it’s wise to be a little deaf.
Coexistence, not through dialogue and vision, but through a touch of deafness and blindness.