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  • [This is my version of one of my favorite ethnic jokes, sort of an ecumenical shaggy dog story.]

    Jewish people were repeatedly expelled from Italian city-states, starting at least in 49 AD when emperor Claudius decreed the Jews must leave Rome as punishment for their internecine quarrels and proselytizing. This sort of official persecution has happened on and off ever since.

    However, there was at least one such occasion when the Jews beat the rap, and bested the Pope in the bargain. One of the lesser known Popes, Charad I, decided that all the Jews were making trouble (again), and decreed that all of them had to leave Rome (again). Naturally, the Jewish community did not find this acceptable. As one might expect, they made a counter-offer.

    The chief rabbi of Rome proposed that the Pope debate the matter with a lay member of the Jewish community. If their representative won, the Jews could stay. If the Pope won, the Jews would leave. The Pope agreed to the arrangement. The Rabbi thought that a common person would best represent the people, and asked for a volunteer to debate the Pope. However, not one of those attending offered to be the champion of the faith.

    Just then, the temple's janitor came in to sweep up. He was an older man named Moishe, who rarely spoke and was not well educated. The elders surrounded and beseeched him to represent them. They told him that being old, poor and not a scholar, he had no prestige to lose if the debate went badly. Moishe finally agreed, but on one condition: neither he nor the Pope was to speak during the debate. As Moishe didn't know Latin, and Pope Charad couldn't speak Hebrew, the Pope agreed they would debate in pantomime.

    At the debate, Moishe and the Pope sat opposite each other for several minutes without moving. Then the Pope raised his hand, displaying three fingers. His eyes fixed on the Pope, Moishe raised his index finger. Next the Pope waved his hand in a circle around his head. In response, Moishe pointed to the ground where he sat. Then the Pope raised a communion wafer and a glass of wine. Moishe reached into his apron, extracted an apple and held it up. With that, the Pope stood up and announced, "I give up. This man is too good. The Jews may stay.'

    Immediately the cardinals surrounded Pope Charad asking him what had gone on. The Pope said, "First, I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up one finger to remind me that there was still one God common to both our religions. Then, I drew a circle in the air to show him that God above was all around us. He responded by pointing to the ground, to say that God was also right here with us, in our midst. Then, when I offered the wine and the wafer to show that God absolves us from our sins, he pulled out an apple to remind me of original sin. He had an answer for everything. What could I do?"

    Meanwhile, the Jews crowded around Moishe, amazed that this old and somewhat feeble man had done what all their scholars had so far failed to do. "What did you do?" they asked. "Well," said Moishe, "First he said to me that the Jews had three days to get out of the city. I told him that not one of us was leaving. Then, he told me that this whole city must be cleared of Jews! I let him know that we were staying right here." "And then?" they asked. "I really don't know," said Moishe. "He brought out his lunch, so I took out mine."

    This is the obscure origin of the party game we call Charades.
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