Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Pope and the Rabbi

In medieval Italy, the Pope declared that all Jews would have to leave Italy. The Jewish community sent a letter of protest. The response from the Vatican was that the Pope would let the Jews stay only if one of their members could defeat the Pope in debate. So the debate took place between the Pope and a rabbi, but since neither of them spoke the other’s language, the debate was conducted in silence.


First the Pope opened the debate by holding up three fingers. The rabbi responded by holding up a single index finger.


Then the Pope spread his arms out. The rabbi pointed to the earth under his feet.


Next the Pope brought out the wine and host of the Eucharist. The rabbi produced a simple apple.


The Pope, seemingly distressed, went out and announced that he had lost the debate and the Jews would no longer have to leave Italy.


The cardinals asked the Pope what had happened, and the Pope explained:


“First I held up three fingers to represent the holy Trinity. He held up one finger to show that we are all under one God.


“Then I spread my arms to indicate that God is everywhere. He pointed to the earth beneath his feet to show that God is right here, right now.


“Finally I brought out the Eucharist to prove that Christ gave his body and blood to save us from our sins. He responded by bringing out an apple to show that we are all heirs to original sin. So, you see, he bested me at every turn. What else could I do but allow his people to stay?”


The rabbi went back to his synagogue and was also asked what had happened. While admitting to being baffled by the Pope’s change of heart, he recounted the debate this way:


“First he held up three fingers to indicate that we had three days to leave Italy. I held up one finger to indicate that not one of us will go.


“Then he spread his arms out so as to say, ‘Clear out of here, all of you’; so I pointed to the ground to indicate we’re staying put.


“Finally, he brought out his lunch, so I brought out mine.”

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