During the Reformation, the Pope was urged to banish nonbelievers from Rome, which would have involved removing Rome’s venerable Jewish community. The Pope resisted. “They’ve lived here for centuries,” he argued. “We can’t just kick them out.” But his advisers insisted that the Holy City must be rendered theologically pure.
“Well, let’s at least give them an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of Christian theology,” the Pope replied.
So an emissary was dispatched to the Jewish quarter to invite the wisest Jewish elder to discuss Christian theology with the Pope, on the pain of expulsion. The news threw the Jewish leaders into panic, since none of them knew anything about Christian theology. So they assumed they had no choice but to pack up and leave.
Their meeting was about to break up when a voice spoke up from the back of the room. “What’s the big deal?” said Moishe the tailor. “I’ll talk to the Pope.” The elders were startled, because Moishe knew nothing about Christian orJewish theology. But assuming they had nothing to lose, they sent Moishe off to the Vatican.
Since Moishe spoke no Latin and the Pope spoke no Yiddish, their entire interview was conducted in sign language.
First, the Pope waved his arm back and forth over his head. Moishe responded by pointing to a spot on the floor at his feet.
Next, the Pope raised one finger of his right hand. Moishe replied by raising two fingers of his right hand.
Finally, the Pope reached beneath his priestly vestments and produced an orange. Moishe reached beneath his robe and produced a mazzah.
With that, the interview concluded. The Pope’s advisers rushed in to learn his verdict.
“These people must stay,” the Pope declared. “They’re totally conversant with Christian theology. First, I waved my arm to indicate that Christianity embraces the entire world; he pointed to the floor, in effect replying, ‘Yes, but its center is here in Rome.’
“Next, I held up one finger to indicate that we believe in one God; he raised two fingers, saying, ‘Yes, but you also believe in the Son and the Holy Ghost.’
“Finally, I produced an orange to indicate that the world is round; he produced a mazzah to suggest that it appears flat.”
Meanwhile, back in the Jewish quarter, everyone was preparing to leave when Moishe returned. “You can unpack your bags,” he announced. “I told the Pope a thing or two.”
Asked to explain, Moishe replied: “First, the Pope waved his arm to say, ‘The Jews will get out!’ I pointed to the floor, saying, ‘Oh no, you don’t — we’re staying right here!’
“Next, he pointed his finger at me, saying, ‘I’ll poke your eye out!’ I pointed two fingers at him, saying, ‘I’ll poke out both of your eyes!’
“And then we ate lunch.”