The Kingdom of Rome (article preview)
Today’s column presents topical thoughts on Daf Yomi, Chanukkah, and the parsha. The common thread between them is non-disclosure and concern for negative misimpression. In a story on Bava Kamma 38a, a brayta relates that the Kingdom of Rome (מַלְכוּת רוֹמִי) sent two military officials to the Sages of Israel, ordering them to teach them the Torah. They learned the material well. At the time of departure, they said “we’ve examined your entire Torah and it is true, except for this one matter”, that matter being the law discussed on our daf, of a disparity in liability for an ox goring another ox, when the damager and damagee are Jew or gentile. Nevertheless, we won’t inform the kingdom.”
The parallel Yerushalmi, Bava Kamma 4:3, has a few differences. It’s the Kingdom (המלכות) sending to Rabban Gamliel. The brayta enumerates other objectionable disparities, and Rabban Gamliel effectively eliminates one of them via decree, predicated on chillul Hashem concerns. The officials declare they won’t inform the kingdom, but nevertheless forget everything they’d learned by the time they reach the Ladder of Tyre.
Interestingly, we only see “Kingdom of Rome” in the Vilna (circa 1870’s) printing. The Soncino and Venice printings, and the Firenze 8-9, Hamburg 165, Munich 95, Escorial, and Vatican 116 manuscripts all have מלכות הרשעה, “the Wicked Kingdom”. I’d guess that it was clear that the government in question was Rome, and that הרשעה was edited out by the Christian censor, because of Rome / Christian associations. Rabban Gamliel II operated during the time of the Roman Emperor Domitian, who persecuted Christians. This was well before Rome adopted Christianity as its official religion. In a similar act of censorship, while manuscripts all have שור של נכרי, the Vilna printing turns this into a Canaanite’s ox.
Kingdom of Antiochus
To relate this to Chanukkah, in the back of the Torah Temimah Biblical commentary, there is a siddur.