X Close

Can Jewish Catholics escape their roots? Behold the 're-Judaisation' of Christianity

The Virgin Mary is 'my most beautiful crush' (BERTRAND GUAY/AFP via Getty Images)

The Virgin Mary is 'my most beautiful crush' (BERTRAND GUAY/AFP via Getty Images)


April 7, 2023   8 mins

Just before Christmas, the Pope met with a Jewish comedian. This may sound like the set-up of a Woody Allen joke, but it is not. On December 23, Pope Francis received Gad Elmaleh — nicknamed the “Seinfeld of France” — in his office at the Vatican.

The reason behind this surprising meeting: Elmaleh had just made a film about converting to Catholicism. Stay With Us, which came out in France last November, sees Elmaleh playing himself and preparing for baptism. But it’s a heavy cross to bear. Elmaleh’s parents, also playing themselves, feel betrayed when they learn their son is changing faiths. His mother tells him: “New God, new parents! Get yourself adopted.”

The movie is clearly autobiographical. Although Elmaleh won’t reveal whether he has converted in real life, he has described his relationship to Catholicism as one of “attraction, curiosity, love” and called the Virgin Mary “my most beautiful crush”. His meeting with the Pope left him profoundly moved. “He’s an extraordinary person,” he said afterwards, “charismatic, humble, inspiring, joyous.”

Yet Elmaleh isn’t the only famous Jew to hear the siren call of the Good News. Shia LaBeouf, the star of Transformers, converted after playing the 20th-century priest Padre Pio in a drama released last year. They join a vibrant community of Jewish converts to Catholicism known as Jewish Catholics, or Hebrew Catholics. It is unknown exactly how many there are around the world, but a rough estimate would put them in the hundreds, if not in the thousands. Among them are Fr. David Neuhaus, a Jesuit who served as the Patriarchal Vicar of the Hebrew Catholic Vicariate in Jerusalem, and Fr. Antoine LĂ©vy, a Dominican currently conducting doctoral research at the University of Tel Aviv.

Both clerics converted in their twenties, and neither repudiate their Jewish identity. On the contrary, Neuhaus tells me he’s “conscious of the fact I’m not just a Catholic like all other Catholics, but I’m from a Jewish family and part of Jewish history”. That last point is crucial: Jewish identity is bigger than just practising Judaism. Many secular Jews know little about the Torah, but still feel a strong connection to Jewish peoplehood and traditions.

LĂ©vy, who wrote a book entitled Jewish Church, says “nobody can define Jewish identity. It’s impossible.” He adds that being born Jewish is not something you can “get rid of” — likening it to the Christian concept of sacrament. “It’s in you for life,” he explains. “Whatever you do, whatever you become
 a Christian Jew is still a Jew.”

Many rabbis would, of course, disagree with that statement. To convert to another religion is often perceived in the Jewish community as a betrayal — even a denial — of one’s heritage. And yet, precisely because Judaism is more than just a religion, it isn’t that simple. As Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur tells Elmaleh in Stay With Us: “You can look for a way out of the Jewish House, but nobody has ever found it.”

But how does one put up a crucifix in the Jewish House? What does it entail to be a Jewish Catholic? Theologically, it is not such a huge switch. As LĂ©vy says: “The leap is short and simple. You simply need to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah of Israel.” The New Testament, under this framework, is the fulfilment of a prophecy set up in the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament as Christians call it: that a Jewish man, descended directly from King David, will reveal himself as the Messiah. Christians believe Jesus, who was Jewish, was the Messiah. (Christ means Messiah in Greek.) Jews normally don’t and are still awaiting him.

Yet it is important to remember that, as Neuhaus puts it, Jews and Christians “share a language” derived from the Hebrew Bible. “Because of that shared language and those shared scriptures,” explains Neuhaus, “we can agree on many, many things. Our ethical standards, our moral vocabulary are very, very, very much shared.”

That doesn’t mean it’s easy for Jews, even if they are non-religious like Neuhaus and LĂ©vy were in their youths, to convert to Catholicism. “There’s still a huge existential and cultural barrier,” says LĂ©vy. It results from what he calls the “historical memory of Christian antisemitism”. When I asked David Kertzer, a Pulitzer-winning anthropologist and the leading expert on the history of the Catholic Church’s relations with the Jews, to describe that history, he replied: “demonisation”. Jews “were regarded as collectively responsible for the death of Jesus and were seen as obstinate because they refused to recognise the veracity of the divinity of Jesus and of the Christian message”. This was the impetus for the Catholic persecution of Jews through millennia.

Catholics certainly weren’t the only Christians to persecute Jews, but their record stands out. It includes the forced conversions of Jews; the massacres of Jews by mobs; the mass expulsions of Jews from Catholic kingdoms and provinces during the Medieval Inquisition; the segregation of Jews in ghettos, outside of which they were forced to wear a pointy hat so as to be immediately recognisable; taking Jewish children, who had been secretly baptised by Catholics, away from their family and raising them in the Church.

Neuhaus and LĂ©vy both wrestled with this history when converting. Their conversions, it must be understood, were motivated by faith and their personal experience of God. As Neuhaus puts it: “I didn’t become a Christian or a Catholic because of Christianity or Catholicism. I became a Christian because of an encounter with Jesus.” That’s the case for most Jewish converts to Catholicism. The impetus is spiritual, the why ineffable by the cold standards of reason. In Stay With Us, Elmaleh recounts how he entered a cathedral as a kid and came face-to-face with a statue of the Virgin Mary. To his surprise, he felt a surge of emotion and began to cry. In that moment, he was seized by faith. Later, when trying to explain to his parents why he so badly wants to convert, Elmaleh says he didn’t look for Mary; she found him.

But the past weighed heavily on their shoulders. “When I told my mother and my wider family that I would join the Catholic Church,” remembers LĂ©vy, “they immediately said: ‘Now you’re joining those people who have been persecuting us for 2,000 years. You’re joining the herd of wolves.’” Neuhaus’s mother asked her son: “How can you join them after what they did to us?”

So, how could they? The answer lies in the Second Vatican Council between 1962 and 1965. It was initiated by Pope John XXIII to respond to the extraordinary change of the 20th century. To thrive in the new century and beyond, the Church had to change too. It needed, the Pope felt, aggiornamento — or updating.

Among these updates, Neuhaus says, was “taking out the animosity towards the Jewish people”. John XXIII acted with determination to drive through this change. His successor, Paul VI, codified it in the 1965 Nostra Aetate declaration released shortly before the Council’s closure. It marked the moment when, Kertzer explains, the policy of “demonisation” of the Jews ended. No longer were they considered collectively guilty for Jesus’s death. In fact, as Nostra Aetate stated: “God holds the Jews most dear.”

This change was key in Neuhaus’ and LĂ©vy’s decisions to convert to Catholicism. It meant they were able to enter the Church with a clear conscience. “I would have never joined the Church in a time of persecution,” LĂ©vy says. Neuhaus agrees — he needed, and still needs, “to be part of a Church that’s trying to find a new way to live a relationship of respect with the Jewish people”.

Since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has made more overtures towards the Jewish community. In 1986, Pope John Paul II became the first pontiff to set foot in a synagogue. In 1994, he established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. And in 2000, he made an official visit to the country and prayed at the Western Wall. John Paul II’s successors, Benedict XVI and Francis, have continued to foster a spirit of reconciliation.

That’s not to say there aren’t antisemites left in the Church. “I’ve encountered them again and again,” says Neuhaus. “What I think I can say with some degree of certainty is that the Church hierarchy now is against them, trying to discipline them and bring them to affirm what was affirmed at the Second Vatican Council.”

Despite those advances, there remains a major unresolved issue between Jews and Catholics. It has to do with the Vatican’s reckoning over its policies in the lead up to the Holocaust as well as its silence during the Holocaust. Kertzer has researched the subject, including in Vatican archives, for the past 20 years. In The Popes Against the Jews, he writes: “The physical elimination of the Jews of Europe came at the end of a long road
 a road that the Catholic Church did a great deal to help build.” As detailed in the book, Vatican-supervised publications such as Civiltà Cattolica were purveyors of antisemitism in the 19th and early 20th centuries, vilifying Jews as hellbent on world domination. This rhetoric influenced European public opinion and fuelled antisemitic politicians. “When eventually both the Nazis and the Italian Fascists are trying to justify the persecution of Jews,” says Kertzer, “they justify them in no small part by reference to Christian sources.”

The Vatican has sought to address this, releasing a report entitled We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah in 1998. It asks whether the fact that “the Shoah took place in Europe… raises the question of the relation between the Nazi persecution and the attitudes down the centuries of Christians towards Jews”. But the report goes on to assert that “the Shoah was the work of a thoroughly modern neo-pagan regime. Its anti-Semitism had its roots outside of Christianity.” As an explanation, it draws a distinction between Nazi antisemitism and Christian “anti-Judaism”, which it defines as “long-standing sentiments of mistrust and hostility”. In its telling, the former was based on racial animus, but the latter was religious.

“We Remember is certainly not a frank document,” says Kertzer, for whom the distinction between antisemitism and anti-Judaism doesn’t hold up to historical scrutiny. “It just doesn’t recognise the reality that the demonisation of the Jews by the Church didn’t just involve so-called ‘religious criticisms’. It accused the Jews of seeking world domination.”

However, Neuhaus, who lost family during the Holocaust, adheres to the distinction outlined in We Remember. But he says that, in the late 19th century, “there was an unconsciousness about how anti-Judaism became antisemitism”. He continues: “When you read articles published in CiviltĂ  Cattolica in the 1890s, around the time of Dreyfus, you see there is this complete confusion between anti-Judaism and antisemitism moulding into one animosity against the Jewish people.”

As for LĂ©vy, he too acknowledges that Nazi antisemitism was “indebted” to Christian antisemitism, but cautions against making sweeping statements. He also says it’s important to “remember the number of Jews who were saved by Catholics during the Second World War”. As it happened, one of them was a Jewish teenager named Aron Lustiger. The son of Polish immigrants to France, he found refuge in Catholic boarding schools during the Nazi occupation.

At age 13, in 1940, Lustiger visited a church and felt a powerful desire to become Catholic. He converted and took as his baptismal name Jean-Marie. After the war, he joined the Church and climbed up the hierarchy, but he was outspoken about being Jewish his entire life. “To say that I am no longer a Jew,” he explained, “is like denying my father and mother
 I am as Jewish as all the other members of my family who were butchered in Auschwitz or in the other camps.”

For Lustiger, moreover, his Jewish identity and Catholic faith weren’t antithetical but complementary. He described himself as a “fulfilled Jew”, saying: “The vocation of Israel is to bring light to the goyim [gentiles]. That is my hope, and I believe Christianity is the means of achieving it.” Lustiger was the prototypical Jewish Catholic.

In 1981, John Paul II appointed him Archbishop of Paris. And in 1983, he was made a cardinal. “The Jewish Cardinal”, as some called him. Lustiger died in 2007, but his legacy can still be felt. Bishop Robert Barron, one of the Church’s most popular clerics, said in 2021 that “the recovery of the Jewishness of Christianity will be what [Lustiger] is most remembered for”. Barron, who is set to become a leading figure in the Church in the coming decades, has himself spoken of the necessity to “re-Judaise Catholicism” — that is, “to read Christ, the Bible, and the Christian faith through the lens of Israel”. In fact, the “re-Judaisation” of Catholicism has been an ongoing process since the Second Vatican Council. Perhaps, by following in Lustiger’s footsteps, Jewish converts to Catholicism are not abandoning Judaism, but spreading its message elsewhere.


Theo Zenou is a freelance journalist

TheoZenou

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

27 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Judy Englander
Judy Englander
1 year ago

This is a wonderful, most welcome article. I am one of those Jewish Catholics. I have never abandoned my Jewish identity. It’s not something one can abandon. I was born a Jew and will die a Jew, but one of Catholic Christian faith. I was ‘converted’ in the darkest hour of my life, when something pressed me to read St John’s gospel. The first few verses entered my soul like rays of light and I grasped the Christian faith whole and entire, in one moment. Before that moment I could never understand the worship of Jesus Christ. After that moment I got it. Deo gratias.
And why Catholicism? There was never any doubt in my mind that I would enter the Church that stood behind Western civilisation, that built the cathedrals I loved even during my Jewish life, and existed above and beyond nationalities and ethnic groups.

Last edited 1 year ago by Judy Englander
Josef O
Josef O
1 year ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

I appreciate your love for sacred buildings. By the way in the Jewish tradition it is not allowed to sell a sinagogue for any reasom except one. In case the funds recovered from the sale are used to build a school then it is allowed to sell ie study comes before praying. This means that Jews have the foremost duty to study deeply before taking any steps which sometimes are taken hastily.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
1 year ago
Reply to  Josef O

Indeed, the colloquial Ashkenazi term for synagogue is ‘shul’ (school).

Last edited 1 year ago by Judy Englander
Judy Englander
Judy Englander
1 year ago
Reply to  Josef O

Indeed, the colloquial Ashkenazi term for synagogue is ‘shul’ (school).

Last edited 1 year ago by Judy Englander
Josef O
Josef O
1 year ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

I appreciate your love for sacred buildings. By the way in the Jewish tradition it is not allowed to sell a sinagogue for any reasom except one. In case the funds recovered from the sale are used to build a school then it is allowed to sell ie study comes before praying. This means that Jews have the foremost duty to study deeply before taking any steps which sometimes are taken hastily.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
1 year ago

This is a wonderful, most welcome article. I am one of those Jewish Catholics. I have never abandoned my Jewish identity. It’s not something one can abandon. I was born a Jew and will die a Jew, but one of Catholic Christian faith. I was ‘converted’ in the darkest hour of my life, when something pressed me to read St John’s gospel. The first few verses entered my soul like rays of light and I grasped the Christian faith whole and entire, in one moment. Before that moment I could never understand the worship of Jesus Christ. After that moment I got it. Deo gratias.
And why Catholicism? There was never any doubt in my mind that I would enter the Church that stood behind Western civilisation, that built the cathedrals I loved even during my Jewish life, and existed above and beyond nationalities and ethnic groups.

Last edited 1 year ago by Judy Englander
lancelotlamar1
lancelotlamar1
1 year ago

I have attended Christian Seder (Passover) meals, led by Jews who have also become Christians.
Such services are astonishing, so rich in both Jewish and Christian meaning and symbolism.
You see the original Jewish rituals in their historical context, but also see so clearly how they prophetically point to and reveal Jesus as Messiah, His sacrificial death as the lamb of God, and His ultimate victory over sin and death.
Almost all of the first Christians, including Jesus and his disciples, were Jews. Jewish Christians are the literal founders of Christianity, thus Christian persecution of the Jews was the greatest betrayal of Christ in history, something to be continually repented of.
Of todays Jewish Christians shown in the article, may their tribe increase!

lancelotlamar1
lancelotlamar1
1 year ago

I have attended Christian Seder (Passover) meals, led by Jews who have also become Christians.
Such services are astonishing, so rich in both Jewish and Christian meaning and symbolism.
You see the original Jewish rituals in their historical context, but also see so clearly how they prophetically point to and reveal Jesus as Messiah, His sacrificial death as the lamb of God, and His ultimate victory over sin and death.
Almost all of the first Christians, including Jesus and his disciples, were Jews. Jewish Christians are the literal founders of Christianity, thus Christian persecution of the Jews was the greatest betrayal of Christ in history, something to be continually repented of.
Of todays Jewish Christians shown in the article, may their tribe increase!

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago

The last supper celebrated yesterday is the final celebration of Jewish Passover by Christ. The story of his betrayal not just by Judas, his friend, for a trivial reward of thirty pieces of silver but in less crucial ways by his disciples that he predicts at that religious meal is a prologue to Christian betrayal of his own religious background as a Jew. Christian persecution of those of his earthly relatives who failed to acknowledge him to be the Messiah is merely another facet of that continued betrayal that Christians are bound to admit. It is a foolish Christian that does not acknowledge his continued state of sin. It is equally foolish of non-Christians to expect that Christians will be without sin. A Jew who becomes a Christian is merely one who sees Christianity as a continuation of the story of their faith by accepting Jesus to be the Messiah foretold in their book – a rather easier transition one would have thought than for a Buddhist or an Atheist. There is no need for the Jew to escape his roots when he converts it is natural for him to carry them with him.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jeremy Bray
Theo Zenou
Theo Zenou
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Hi Jeremy, that’s fascinating perspective on the Last Supper and its symbolism in light of history. Had never thought of it that way. Thanks for sharing.

Last edited 1 year ago by Theo Zenou
Josef O
Josef O
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

It is highly debatable that The Last Supper was a Pesach dinner or Seder. Most historians think it was started after the destruction of the Second Temple which was in 70 AC, time by which Jesus was no longer alive quite a few decades. Da Vinci painted it as free interpretation apparently.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago
Reply to  Josef O

Josef, I am, of course, drawing on Biblical tradition. Clearly the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD removed the public ceremonial element but I quote the following commentary:
“A Talmudic tractate devoted to the festival, Pesachim, suggests that home observance of Pesach began prior to the destruction of the Temple.”
I don’t claim any Talmudic scholarship and merely add it for what it is worth. As you say debatable but not certain.

Josef O
Josef O
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Yes, but the Seder, or Pesach dinner was meant to compensate/replace the offerings after the distruction of the Main Temple.

Josef O
Josef O
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Yes, but the Seder, or Pesach dinner was meant to compensate/replace the offerings after the distruction of the Main Temple.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago
Reply to  Josef O

Josef, I am, of course, drawing on Biblical tradition. Clearly the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD removed the public ceremonial element but I quote the following commentary:
“A Talmudic tractate devoted to the festival, Pesachim, suggests that home observance of Pesach began prior to the destruction of the Temple.”
I don’t claim any Talmudic scholarship and merely add it for what it is worth. As you say debatable but not certain.

Theo Zenou
Theo Zenou
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Hi Jeremy, that’s fascinating perspective on the Last Supper and its symbolism in light of history. Had never thought of it that way. Thanks for sharing.

Last edited 1 year ago by Theo Zenou
Josef O
Josef O
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

It is highly debatable that The Last Supper was a Pesach dinner or Seder. Most historians think it was started after the destruction of the Second Temple which was in 70 AC, time by which Jesus was no longer alive quite a few decades. Da Vinci painted it as free interpretation apparently.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago

The last supper celebrated yesterday is the final celebration of Jewish Passover by Christ. The story of his betrayal not just by Judas, his friend, for a trivial reward of thirty pieces of silver but in less crucial ways by his disciples that he predicts at that religious meal is a prologue to Christian betrayal of his own religious background as a Jew. Christian persecution of those of his earthly relatives who failed to acknowledge him to be the Messiah is merely another facet of that continued betrayal that Christians are bound to admit. It is a foolish Christian that does not acknowledge his continued state of sin. It is equally foolish of non-Christians to expect that Christians will be without sin. A Jew who becomes a Christian is merely one who sees Christianity as a continuation of the story of their faith by accepting Jesus to be the Messiah foretold in their book – a rather easier transition one would have thought than for a Buddhist or an Atheist. There is no need for the Jew to escape his roots when he converts it is natural for him to carry them with him.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jeremy Bray
Peter Shaw
Peter Shaw
1 year ago

It is extremely sinful for a Catholic to be anti- semitic. It is a scar on the Catholic Church that it encouraged pogroms against Jewish people. As a Catholic I often think that Catholic persecution of Jews made the Holocaust possible, maybe inevitable. I pray for the safety and happiness of the Jewish people, still targeted in this very day.

Josef O
Josef O
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Shaw

First of all thank you. Unfortunately you are right. The environment was for many centuries hostile to the Jews. Since the pogroms were a form of extermination of the Jews not efficient enough, with the 20th century and the age of industriliazation, it moved to much more efficient methods: the gas chambers.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Shaw

It is extremely sinful for a Catholic to be anti-semitic… As a Catholic I often think that Catholic persecution of Jews made the Holocaust possible,
I agree with the first sentence, but not with the second.

Josef O
Josef O
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Shaw

First of all thank you. Unfortunately you are right. The environment was for many centuries hostile to the Jews. Since the pogroms were a form of extermination of the Jews not efficient enough, with the 20th century and the age of industriliazation, it moved to much more efficient methods: the gas chambers.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Shaw

It is extremely sinful for a Catholic to be anti-semitic… As a Catholic I often think that Catholic persecution of Jews made the Holocaust possible,
I agree with the first sentence, but not with the second.

Peter Shaw
Peter Shaw
1 year ago

It is extremely sinful for a Catholic to be anti- semitic. It is a scar on the Catholic Church that it encouraged pogroms against Jewish people. As a Catholic I often think that Catholic persecution of Jews made the Holocaust possible, maybe inevitable. I pray for the safety and happiness of the Jewish people, still targeted in this very day.

Josef O
Josef O
1 year ago

This movement called Christian Jews is, in my opinion, a huge misunderstanding. Before taking the decision to embrace another faith, no matter if it is related to some extent to Judaism, one has to deepen first of all the Jewish religion. In order to do this it is essential to have a very high knowledge of Ancient Hebrew, this helps understanding the Hebrew scriptures. This is a job for several lifetimes.
The Christian faith is based on the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible the so called the septuagint. But this translation was also meant for the Jewish community of Alexandria which was helenized and not able to read Hebrew anymore. And this brings us to the key issue: the exact translation of the Hebrew Bible into another language is an impossible task for the very simple reason that the WORDS have a different meaning and other languages cannot find the equivalents. Words derive from habits which are unique to every civilization.
Then before it is decided if the Messiah has arrived it is essential to study what are the conditions the Jews pose for his arrival. The concept of the Messiah is a Jewish invention so we better listen to them and understand what they mean by it.
It is true that some steps have been taken to improve the attitude towards Judaism but there is still a long way to go. Then as to the Issue of the Judas’ betrayal I will point out simply to the fact that the Romans were the real, ruthless, rulers of the land of Israel in those days. They did not understand the Jews and despized them.This should be enough to explain, if at all possible, what happened. What followed was a huge wave of destruction of the Jewish people.
Finally unless the phomenon of Marcionism is seriously marginalized a good portion of antisemitism will still remain. At the popular level Marcionism is alive and kicking and this is a source of a lot of prejudice.
The Jews are at the origin of an extraordianry construction of civilization but had to endure terrible consequences. The fact that they survived to these days is due to the unbelievable amount of wisdom which lies in their scriptures. Scriptures which Jews in the first place have to study before jumping to conclusions.

Last edited 1 year ago by Josef O
Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago
Reply to  Josef O

I appreciate your effort, Josef, to go against the grain by opposing Jewish conversion to Catholicism. Not many readers will thank you for doing that, but I do because you haven’t resorted to ranting. But I do think that you could improve your argument in several ways.
You say that “the exact translation of the Hebrew Bible into another language is an impossible task for the very simple reason that the WORDS have a different meaning and other languages cannot find the equivalents. Words derive from habits which are unique to every civilization.”
What you say is true of every translation (and supports the Muslim belief that no translation of the Qur’an is acceptable). But I’m not convinced that we should therefore abandon efforts to translate from one language to another or to look down on those who make those efforts. I say that for two reasons. First, some translators try real hard to do their job well and often provide readers with alternatives for some words (which I see in more than a few translations of the Bible into English). Second, and more important, translation is an inherently moral endeavor. It relies on the belief that people should try to understand each other, after all, and not remain isolated behind linguistic (or ideological) barriers.
On a closely related matter, it’s true that the messiah originated as a Jewish idea, but you add a non sequitur that does nothing to support your argument. The Jewish origin of this idea does not necessarily mean that later interpretations of it, including Christian ones, are not worth taking seriously. Many ideas originated in the remote past, after all, but have been elaborated ever since, even transformed to suit new needs, in ways that are useful and sometimes admirable. In other words, ideas are not like property. No one can own them. They have lives of their own.
What you say about Marcionism is true, but you could have explained that Marcion was a theologian of the early Church, which declared him a heretic, ca. 145, for (among other things) proposing to remove the Old Testament from Christian scripture along with several other texts that had already been canonized in the New Testament. Marcion was profoundly dualistic, believing that the material world was evil and therefore that salvation was an entirely spiritual (immaterial) goal. It made no sense to him that God would not only create a material world but also become incarnate in the material body of a man, let alone one who was crucified. The Old Testament contained passages, moreover, that the Church interpreted as prophecies of Christ.

Last edited 1 year ago by Paul Nathanson
Josef O
Josef O
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

Dear Paul, the subject requires many, many pages of explanation. The argument between Judaism and Christianity has been going on for two thousand years. Anyway I’ll try to be more specific but the more I write the more I have to explain. Let us see:
A person who translates from one language to another is a servant to two masters, not an easy task. To translate from a semitic language to a European language is a daunting job, since we are in Pesach or Easter let us come to the word Egypt. In Hebrew the term used is Mitzraim which is using the same letters as Meitzarim ie Straits meaning that the Jewish people in that land were in dire straits, once translated into Egypt it loses all this.
Second example :
As you may know in the days of the creation after each day the Almighty says that He saw that what was done was good. The sixth day Friday He created the man-Adam= alef, daled, mem.Then He says that he saw it was very good, in Hebrew Meod=mem,alef,daled. It is an anagram of the name of Adam, in other words the humanity is very good and it is expressed in letters. The translation inevitably misses it and the whole beauty of it. I can give you further examples, there are hundreds of cases.
Messiah=Mashiach=Annointed and Tikun Olam (reparation/improvemen of the world) are totally related. We are meant to correct our world all our life to facilitate the arrival of the Messiah. Once we say he arrived there is the temptation to relax and do nothing more. People inside Judaism also lose their patience (Shabtai Tzevi) and anticipate his arrival. But if he arrived why is the world today in such a dreaful state? Maimonides suggests not exaggerate with his arrival. He says that when he will arrive he will be a person of such a level and value that nobody will object. Does it make it any simpler ? I am afraid not, are we sure there will not be someone objecting ? Highly unlikely, hence back to square one.Having said this Judaism accepts every effort to make the world better. By the way one small detail, in the days of the Mashiach the meat of pork will be Kasher, why? The pig will start to ruminate but till then it is not, Anyway I do not want to digress.
Marcion, I know perfectly that he was excommunicated but for other reasons not for the fact that he stated that the G-d of the Jews was vindictive and a source of evil. Believe me Marcionism is deeply rooted in many people’s mind.
It is true there has been some effort to treat the Jews better but it is by no means irriversible. Hence I write extensively all this.

Josef O
Josef O
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

Dear Paul, the subject requires many, many pages of explanation. The argument between Judaism and Christianity has been going on for two thousand years. Anyway I’ll try to be more specific but the more I write the more I have to explain. Let us see:
A person who translates from one language to another is a servant to two masters, not an easy task. To translate from a semitic language to a European language is a daunting job, since we are in Pesach or Easter let us come to the word Egypt. In Hebrew the term used is Mitzraim which is using the same letters as Meitzarim ie Straits meaning that the Jewish people in that land were in dire straits, once translated into Egypt it loses all this.
Second example :
As you may know in the days of the creation after each day the Almighty says that He saw that what was done was good. The sixth day Friday He created the man-Adam= alef, daled, mem.Then He says that he saw it was very good, in Hebrew Meod=mem,alef,daled. It is an anagram of the name of Adam, in other words the humanity is very good and it is expressed in letters. The translation inevitably misses it and the whole beauty of it. I can give you further examples, there are hundreds of cases.
Messiah=Mashiach=Annointed and Tikun Olam (reparation/improvemen of the world) are totally related. We are meant to correct our world all our life to facilitate the arrival of the Messiah. Once we say he arrived there is the temptation to relax and do nothing more. People inside Judaism also lose their patience (Shabtai Tzevi) and anticipate his arrival. But if he arrived why is the world today in such a dreaful state? Maimonides suggests not exaggerate with his arrival. He says that when he will arrive he will be a person of such a level and value that nobody will object. Does it make it any simpler ? I am afraid not, are we sure there will not be someone objecting ? Highly unlikely, hence back to square one.Having said this Judaism accepts every effort to make the world better. By the way one small detail, in the days of the Mashiach the meat of pork will be Kasher, why? The pig will start to ruminate but till then it is not, Anyway I do not want to digress.
Marcion, I know perfectly that he was excommunicated but for other reasons not for the fact that he stated that the G-d of the Jews was vindictive and a source of evil. Believe me Marcionism is deeply rooted in many people’s mind.
It is true there has been some effort to treat the Jews better but it is by no means irriversible. Hence I write extensively all this.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago
Reply to  Josef O

I appreciate your effort, Josef, to go against the grain by opposing Jewish conversion to Catholicism. Not many readers will thank you for doing that, but I do because you haven’t resorted to ranting. But I do think that you could improve your argument in several ways.
You say that “the exact translation of the Hebrew Bible into another language is an impossible task for the very simple reason that the WORDS have a different meaning and other languages cannot find the equivalents. Words derive from habits which are unique to every civilization.”
What you say is true of every translation (and supports the Muslim belief that no translation of the Qur’an is acceptable). But I’m not convinced that we should therefore abandon efforts to translate from one language to another or to look down on those who make those efforts. I say that for two reasons. First, some translators try real hard to do their job well and often provide readers with alternatives for some words (which I see in more than a few translations of the Bible into English). Second, and more important, translation is an inherently moral endeavor. It relies on the belief that people should try to understand each other, after all, and not remain isolated behind linguistic (or ideological) barriers.
On a closely related matter, it’s true that the messiah originated as a Jewish idea, but you add a non sequitur that does nothing to support your argument. The Jewish origin of this idea does not necessarily mean that later interpretations of it, including Christian ones, are not worth taking seriously. Many ideas originated in the remote past, after all, but have been elaborated ever since, even transformed to suit new needs, in ways that are useful and sometimes admirable. In other words, ideas are not like property. No one can own them. They have lives of their own.
What you say about Marcionism is true, but you could have explained that Marcion was a theologian of the early Church, which declared him a heretic, ca. 145, for (among other things) proposing to remove the Old Testament from Christian scripture along with several other texts that had already been canonized in the New Testament. Marcion was profoundly dualistic, believing that the material world was evil and therefore that salvation was an entirely spiritual (immaterial) goal. It made no sense to him that God would not only create a material world but also become incarnate in the material body of a man, let alone one who was crucified. The Old Testament contained passages, moreover, that the Church interpreted as prophecies of Christ.

Last edited 1 year ago by Paul Nathanson
Josef O
Josef O
1 year ago

This movement called Christian Jews is, in my opinion, a huge misunderstanding. Before taking the decision to embrace another faith, no matter if it is related to some extent to Judaism, one has to deepen first of all the Jewish religion. In order to do this it is essential to have a very high knowledge of Ancient Hebrew, this helps understanding the Hebrew scriptures. This is a job for several lifetimes.
The Christian faith is based on the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible the so called the septuagint. But this translation was also meant for the Jewish community of Alexandria which was helenized and not able to read Hebrew anymore. And this brings us to the key issue: the exact translation of the Hebrew Bible into another language is an impossible task for the very simple reason that the WORDS have a different meaning and other languages cannot find the equivalents. Words derive from habits which are unique to every civilization.
Then before it is decided if the Messiah has arrived it is essential to study what are the conditions the Jews pose for his arrival. The concept of the Messiah is a Jewish invention so we better listen to them and understand what they mean by it.
It is true that some steps have been taken to improve the attitude towards Judaism but there is still a long way to go. Then as to the Issue of the Judas’ betrayal I will point out simply to the fact that the Romans were the real, ruthless, rulers of the land of Israel in those days. They did not understand the Jews and despized them.This should be enough to explain, if at all possible, what happened. What followed was a huge wave of destruction of the Jewish people.
Finally unless the phomenon of Marcionism is seriously marginalized a good portion of antisemitism will still remain. At the popular level Marcionism is alive and kicking and this is a source of a lot of prejudice.
The Jews are at the origin of an extraordianry construction of civilization but had to endure terrible consequences. The fact that they survived to these days is due to the unbelievable amount of wisdom which lies in their scriptures. Scriptures which Jews in the first place have to study before jumping to conclusions.

Last edited 1 year ago by Josef O
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

As a Roman Catholic, I feel a very close fraternity to and with my Jewish ” religious cousins” and Israel too: one only has to listen to the words spoken at every Mass and in most gospels and readings.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

As a Roman Catholic, I feel a very close fraternity to and with my Jewish ” religious cousins” and Israel too: one only has to listen to the words spoken at every Mass and in most gospels and readings.

Moshe Simon
Moshe Simon
1 year ago

There are also converts to Judaism, among them Catholic priests whose reading of the Hebrew scriptures lead them to see things from the Judaic point of view.

Moshe Simon
Moshe Simon
1 year ago

There are also converts to Judaism, among them Catholic priests whose reading of the Hebrew scriptures lead them to see things from the Judaic point of view.

Paul Boire
Paul Boire
1 year ago

Beautiful article. I am reminded of Pope Benedict reminding us that the Jews are ” our spiritual older brothers.” Beautiful. I worked most of my life with and among some wonderful Jewish men , women and children. Wonderful people. Indeed Catholics are in truth Messianic Jews. Warm greetings to my brothers and sisters.

Paul Boire
Paul Boire
1 year ago

Beautiful article. I am reminded of Pope Benedict reminding us that the Jews are ” our spiritual older brothers.” Beautiful. I worked most of my life with and among some wonderful Jewish men , women and children. Wonderful people. Indeed Catholics are in truth Messianic Jews. Warm greetings to my brothers and sisters.

Martin Terrell
Martin Terrell
1 year ago

Thank you for sharing this insight. I would like to think that over the last few decades we Christians (and even Catholics) have become more aware of and appreciative of our shared heritage. We have moved on from the AD/BC binary. We are making up for our past and becoming philo-semites. Time and necessity make great healers. Catholics and Protestants no longer kill each other, while respecting that divisions are caused by serious and important issues. Anyway, we end up in the same naughty corner of the secular world.
You have helped as well by seeing past conflicts as theological rather than racial. Many Catholics have seen this clearly, moving on from the paranoid Dreyfus world to Pius Xl’s ‘spiritually we are all semites’ amidst the suffering. The Nazis did draw on older tropes but were deeply anti-Christian as well as anti-Semitic. For all the horrors, there are also heartening accounts of Jews being rescued and sheltered at great cost, priests issuing fake baptismal certificates, enclosed convents providing refuge. Some good history to balance the bad.

Martin Terrell
Martin Terrell
1 year ago

Thank you for sharing this insight. I would like to think that over the last few decades we Christians (and even Catholics) have become more aware of and appreciative of our shared heritage. We have moved on from the AD/BC binary. We are making up for our past and becoming philo-semites. Time and necessity make great healers. Catholics and Protestants no longer kill each other, while respecting that divisions are caused by serious and important issues. Anyway, we end up in the same naughty corner of the secular world.
You have helped as well by seeing past conflicts as theological rather than racial. Many Catholics have seen this clearly, moving on from the paranoid Dreyfus world to Pius Xl’s ‘spiritually we are all semites’ amidst the suffering. The Nazis did draw on older tropes but were deeply anti-Christian as well as anti-Semitic. For all the horrors, there are also heartening accounts of Jews being rescued and sheltered at great cost, priests issuing fake baptismal certificates, enclosed convents providing refuge. Some good history to balance the bad.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago

Today’s article should have appeared during the six weeks of Lent, which ended yesterday, because that is when Catholics focus their attention on repentance. Instead, it appeared during the run-up to Easter, when Catholics focus their attention on the ultimate victory of Christ—and, by extension, of his church. But I see no need to elaborate on what the article and the comments on it have already said about Catholic repentance.
Although I think that Jews should be free to adopt or reject Christianity (or Judaism), I think also that adopting it can be naïve. That’s because people cannot be Christians (or Jews) except in the contexts of historical communities. The Catholic church has indeed changed the course of its own history by denouncing both antijudaism and antisemitism. And it has done so not only on moral grounds but also on theological grounds. Even so, history itself remains. I refer here not to something negative such as the history of Christian hostility toward Judaism or Jews. Rather, I refer to something positive: the history of blending and reconciling two very different civilizations, that of “Jerusalem,” as Tertullian famously put it, with that of “Athens.” Christianity is no longer a Jewish sect. Christians inherit not only the biblical scripture but also classical philosophy. That cultural marriage is not only the sine qua non of Christianity but also the foundation of Western civilization.
I can’t help wondering, therefore, about the extent to which Jews who join the church now actually become Catholics in any useful sense of that word. From reading Zenou’s article, from some of the comments on this blog and from sociological studies of Hebrew Christians, I get the impression that they are trying to restore the religious (and political) conditions of two thousand years ago, before the Christian community separated from the Jewish community (which probably occurred ca. 70, either just before or just after Rome destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem). In doing so, they soon became not only demographically Roman but also spiritually Roman.
For modern Jewish converts to Catholicism (or Protestantism), their choice depends heavily, even exclusively, on scriptural prophecies of a coming messiah—that is, Christian interpretations of those prophecies. At some point, the first Christians had to reinterpret the whole Jewish notion of a messiah. Many Jews had assumed that the messiah would be a royal but earthly hero, albeit with a divine mission to expel the Romans. Others had decided that the messiah would be a divine savior who would not only expel the Romans but also inaugurate a new kind of kingdom beyond time. Still others now argued that this divine figure was none other than Jesus.
These disputes were common among both Jews and Jewish Christians. It did not take long, for instance, for the latter to be afflicted by “cognitive dissonance.” Why did the expected return of Jesus not occur almost immediately and bring an end to history? Some proposed that Christ had already inaugurated the Kingdom of God, to be sure, but internally instead of externally. In that case, the community would have to settle down under Roman rule for the foreseeable future and establish its own institutions accordingly.
In short, it took many generations for the earliest Jewish followers of Jesus to become Christians, just as it had taken many generations for the ancient Israelites to become rabbinic Jews. There was no time when it all seemed simple. People had to keep making choices, and those choices entailed others.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago

Today’s article should have appeared during the six weeks of Lent, which ended yesterday, because that is when Catholics focus their attention on repentance. Instead, it appeared during the run-up to Easter, when Catholics focus their attention on the ultimate victory of Christ—and, by extension, of his church. But I see no need to elaborate on what the article and the comments on it have already said about Catholic repentance.
Although I think that Jews should be free to adopt or reject Christianity (or Judaism), I think also that adopting it can be naïve. That’s because people cannot be Christians (or Jews) except in the contexts of historical communities. The Catholic church has indeed changed the course of its own history by denouncing both antijudaism and antisemitism. And it has done so not only on moral grounds but also on theological grounds. Even so, history itself remains. I refer here not to something negative such as the history of Christian hostility toward Judaism or Jews. Rather, I refer to something positive: the history of blending and reconciling two very different civilizations, that of “Jerusalem,” as Tertullian famously put it, with that of “Athens.” Christianity is no longer a Jewish sect. Christians inherit not only the biblical scripture but also classical philosophy. That cultural marriage is not only the sine qua non of Christianity but also the foundation of Western civilization.
I can’t help wondering, therefore, about the extent to which Jews who join the church now actually become Catholics in any useful sense of that word. From reading Zenou’s article, from some of the comments on this blog and from sociological studies of Hebrew Christians, I get the impression that they are trying to restore the religious (and political) conditions of two thousand years ago, before the Christian community separated from the Jewish community (which probably occurred ca. 70, either just before or just after Rome destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem). In doing so, they soon became not only demographically Roman but also spiritually Roman.
For modern Jewish converts to Catholicism (or Protestantism), their choice depends heavily, even exclusively, on scriptural prophecies of a coming messiah—that is, Christian interpretations of those prophecies. At some point, the first Christians had to reinterpret the whole Jewish notion of a messiah. Many Jews had assumed that the messiah would be a royal but earthly hero, albeit with a divine mission to expel the Romans. Others had decided that the messiah would be a divine savior who would not only expel the Romans but also inaugurate a new kind of kingdom beyond time. Still others now argued that this divine figure was none other than Jesus.
These disputes were common among both Jews and Jewish Christians. It did not take long, for instance, for the latter to be afflicted by “cognitive dissonance.” Why did the expected return of Jesus not occur almost immediately and bring an end to history? Some proposed that Christ had already inaugurated the Kingdom of God, to be sure, but internally instead of externally. In that case, the community would have to settle down under Roman rule for the foreseeable future and establish its own institutions accordingly.
In short, it took many generations for the earliest Jewish followers of Jesus to become Christians, just as it had taken many generations for the ancient Israelites to become rabbinic Jews. There was no time when it all seemed simple. People had to keep making choices, and those choices entailed others.

Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot
1 year ago

I was raised in a mixed family. My dad’s stepfather was Jewish, but he married a Methodist Minister’s daughter, my grandmother. (Proudfoot is a pen name) When I was in grade school, my family used to say a Jewish prayer each night that ended in the Shema, said in Hebrew. On Sundays, we went to Protestant Church. We lived in Missoula, Montana. On Jewish holidays, including Seders, my dad’s Army buddy, who was Jewish, invited us to the Jewish gathering in the area. There was no Synagogue in Missoula then. So I grew up half and half, although I identified as Protestant, because I certainly wasn’t kosher enough to be Jewish. My upbringing did make me a closet Unitarian. “Here O Israel, the Lord our G_d, the Lord is One,” says the Shema.

When in later life I was teaching Sunday School in a Congregational Church in Suburban Chicago, I used to cover the differences between Jews and Protestants by putting my thumb in the page in the Bible between the end of the Old Testament and the start of the New Testament. I would tell my class, “We agree on this much,” showing the thickness of the Old Testament. “We disagree on this much,” showing the relative thinness of the New Testament. It was a good place to start the discussion.

Last edited 1 year ago by Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot
1 year ago

I was raised in a mixed family. My dad’s stepfather was Jewish, but he married a Methodist Minister’s daughter, my grandmother. (Proudfoot is a pen name) When I was in grade school, my family used to say a Jewish prayer each night that ended in the Shema, said in Hebrew. On Sundays, we went to Protestant Church. We lived in Missoula, Montana. On Jewish holidays, including Seders, my dad’s Army buddy, who was Jewish, invited us to the Jewish gathering in the area. There was no Synagogue in Missoula then. So I grew up half and half, although I identified as Protestant, because I certainly wasn’t kosher enough to be Jewish. My upbringing did make me a closet Unitarian. “Here O Israel, the Lord our G_d, the Lord is One,” says the Shema.

When in later life I was teaching Sunday School in a Congregational Church in Suburban Chicago, I used to cover the differences between Jews and Protestants by putting my thumb in the page in the Bible between the end of the Old Testament and the start of the New Testament. I would tell my class, “We agree on this much,” showing the thickness of the Old Testament. “We disagree on this much,” showing the relative thinness of the New Testament. It was a good place to start the discussion.

Last edited 1 year ago by Douglas Proudfoot
Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
1 year ago

.

Dr. G Marzanna
Dr. G Marzanna
4 months ago

Very interesting! Anybody can become Catholic actually, it’s not really surprising. But welcome!

Of course one should be careful not to overemphasise the Old Testament in Catholicism. Catholicism has absorbed a lot of pagan influences especially from Egypt, Greece and Mesopotamia. And the gnostics. It makes it all very fascinating.

Howard S.
Howard S.
4 months ago

One of the largest Catholic cathedrals in Madrid says a special mass ever year for the repose of the soul of Adolf Hitler. I wonder whether Mr Elmaleh would attend that mass and receive the Sacrament. If there were TV cameras there, probably.

Nicholas Taylor
Nicholas Taylor
1 year ago

From an atheistic viewpoint, all this heart searching over which ancient book, doctrine or mythical deity to ascribe to is bemusing, but not surprising. Differences inevitably divide, so why shouldn’t similarities have the opposite effect?

Alan B
Alan B
1 year ago

Well I think Freud was an atheist but I recall him saying something about “the narcissism of minor differences”…

Dominic S
Dominic S
1 year ago

To move from Judaism to Romanism is simply to replace on set of pointless rituals for another. It has been said, with good reason, that Romanism is an Old Testament religion.

Alan B
Alan B
1 year ago

Well I think Freud was an atheist but I recall him saying something about “the narcissism of minor differences”…

Dominic S
Dominic S
1 year ago

To move from Judaism to Romanism is simply to replace on set of pointless rituals for another. It has been said, with good reason, that Romanism is an Old Testament religion.

Nicholas Taylor
Nicholas Taylor
1 year ago

From an atheistic viewpoint, all this heart searching over which ancient book, doctrine or mythical deity to ascribe to is bemusing, but not surprising. Differences inevitably divide, so why shouldn’t similarities have the opposite effect?