The Last Marranos: Examining 20th Century Jewish Converts to Christianity in Light of the Holocaust
Yaël Hirsch, PhD (Sciences-po, Paris) (the Paris Institute of Political Studies)
Loyola University New Orleans, Thursday 2 February 2012
Conversion fragile subject. Especially delicate in Jewish 20th century. Taboo in Europe in 1950s in Jewish kids rescued by Christians who were kept in Christian families. But such converts can be great mediators. Lecture plan: 20th century rediscovery of Marranos
past. Then a few portraits of intellectual converts in 20th century.
Secretly practicing Judaism among Marranos. Suspicion among Christians of new believers and their new social role. Marranos is a curse word meaning swine, but she's using it academically and intentionally. At the end of 19th century Christian intellectuals discovered classic-Spanish speaking Jewish communities and created an academic interest in the Marranos. Some advocate for these to return to Spain. European Jews wondering in the 1920s about relating to or reabsorbing this population, after Portuguese community in Belmonte
rediscovered. A Spanish law of return passed before WWII granting Spanish citizenship. Law used to save 40-60,000 Jews during the war, including many not actually of Spanish background. By this time the word Marranos into a concept rather than a slur. Seen as the first modern Jews with religion privatized a la Locke. Marranos as cultural mediators, bringing forward Jewish scholarship with their knowledge of Hebrew and texts. Derrida "Abraham, The Other" 2003, seeing Jewish identity as best in private, and not the identification with dogma: very Schleiermacher.
Converts in the C20 as Marranos. Why did these converts not become fully Christian in her thinking? 3 reasons to convert: 1. Assimilation. To finally truly get the Enlightenment promise of equal protection of law. 2. Philosophical reasons. Still trying to take the Enlightenment seriously and the idea of historical movement from Judaism to Christianity. 3. Beyond reason: real embrace of Christian faith as such. Difficult to find Jewish spiritual and historical texts in European languages. Henri Bergson
. Philosopher in early C20 in France. Intuition atop reason. Reenchanting culture was Catholicism. (reason 2)
French Poet Max Jacob
. 1876-1944. Innovator of cubism in poetry, friend of Picasso. Has a revelation in a figure of Christ. Converts in 1915. Retired to Abby and died on way to death camp after taken. (reason 3 interested culturally mystically). Edith Stein
1891-1942. Philosopher convert. Simone Weil
French philosopher and activist. Resented by Jews for her hatred of Israel and emphasis on law. Focus on Christ but didn't formally convert (debated?) as Catholicism was too legalistic for her too. Raissa Maritain
, a Jewish student of Bergson, sees Christianity as natural outgrowth of Judaism. Jean-Marie Lustiger
1926-2007. Converted in 30s. Asked for kaddish at funeral Mass. His book (didn't catch name: L'Alliance
or perhaps The Promise
?) speaks of difficulties of Christian language in Jewish experience. Key figure of Jewish-Christian dialogue and counselor to John Paul II. Israel Zolli
. Great Rabbi of Rome having revelation of Christ on Yom Kipper 1944, converted to Roman Catholicism amid great scandal. John Maria Oesterreicher
. Also mediator between groups. After Holocaust gave up on active proselytism. Called to Vatican to contribute to Nostra Aetate
Also Elie Wiesel
. Author of Night
. Talk with Christian Francois Mauriac
provoking writing of Night
, and dialogue in non-Marranos, non-convert fashion.