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		                                    Thinking Torah Blog		                                </span>

02/17/2022 08:00:00 PM


Rabbi Josh Whinston

When Sarah and I went on our honeymoon to Italy some years ago, there were many places I wanted to visit, but I knew I had to see Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses at the church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome. If you are unfamiliar with the statue, I encourage you to google Michelangelo’s Moses and see for yourself what makes the sculpture so famous. You’ll notice when seeing it that Moses has two horns atop his head. The horns come from a mistranslation in this week’s Torah portion. Moses comes down off Mt. Sinai after speaking God, and the Torah tells us he had Karan Or, which can be translated as horns of light but is better translated as rays of light. Michelangelo was likely reading from the Vulgate, the official bible of the Medieval Church, where it says regarding Moses, “quod cornuta esset facies sua,” “because his face was horned.”

There may be multiple connotations of horns in mythology throughout the ages, but for Jews, being associated with having horns has always been a painful and antisemitic experience. Michelangelo is not responsible for starting the antisemitic belief that Jews have horns and are thus associated with unhuman demons, but he certainly helped perpetuate this idea. As we live through a time with greater fear about antisemitism, we must not slink back from confronting the harmful roots of this disease. When a gentile friend makes a “harmless” Jewish joke, we must remind them it is inappropriate, that retelling those jokes perpetuates harmful ideas about Jews. A joke about our horns may not be the same as an AR-15 being used to attack us, but it is related.

Tue, December 5 2023 22 Kislev 5784