Humanity Behind the Symbols I first heard it from a rabbi who was trying to make a point about religious intolerance. The joke takes place in Rome, in the Middle Ages, at a time when the Catholic community and the Jewish community aren't getting along. The pope calls in the head rabbi and says, "I think it's best if the Jews would just leave Rome." The rabbi considers what the pope is saying and comes up with an idea. "Let me make a deal with you," he says. "Let's have a theological debate. If I should win, we get to stay. If I should lose, we'll leave without a fight." The pope agrees, but immediately there is a problem. Which theological language, Hebrew or Latin, should the debate be in? They argue for a while, and finally come upon a solution. They agree to have the debate nonverbally, using just hand gestures. Of course, once the news gets out about the debate, it becomes a very big deal. So many people want to see the debate that a wooden stage is built in St. Peter's Square. On the morning of the debate, the pope climbs to the stage from one side and the rabbi from the other. The pope begins. First the pope puts up three fingers. Without a moment's hesitation, the rabbi puts up one. The pope nods thoughtfully. He ponders a moment, and then raises his hand and makes a sweeping gesture over his head. Again, without a moment's hesitation, the rabbi points firmly to the ground. Once more, the pope nods thoughtfully. He clearly is impressed. After a few moments of consideration, he turns to a table behind him on which he has placed the communion wafer and wine. He picks them up and holds them in front of the rabbi. For the first time, the rabbi seems stumped. He ponders for a moment, then shrugs, reaches into his cloak, and pulls out an apple, at which point the pope raises his hands in defeat. "The debate's over," he declares. "The rabbi wins. The Jews can stay in Rome!" Down from the stage he goes. Immediately, he's mobbed by all the bishops and cardinals who are there. "What was this debate all about?" they ask. " Oh, it was a fascinating debate," he says. "First I put up three fingers to signify the Trinity. And the rabbi raised one to remind me that we all share one God in common. So I made a gesture over my head to say that God sits in his majesty in the heavens above. And the rabbi pointed to the ground to remind me that God is on earth watching and judging. So I took out the wine and the bread to signify Redemption. And he took out the apple to remind me of the sin of Adam, which we all share in common." Meanwhile, the same conversation was happening with the rabbi and his followers. "What a weird debate," the rabbi said to his followers. They all nodded in agreement. "First, the pope puts up three fingers, saying that the Jews have to leave Rome in three days. So I put up one to say that not one of us is going to go. That made him mad, so he sweeps his hand over his head saying that the Jews had to leave Rome. I point to the ground, saying we're staying right where we are. Then he signals that he wants to have a break by taking out his lunch!" The rabbi shrugged. "So, naturally, I take out mine."