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Cecil Roth, Arthur Day and the Mortara Affair (1928-1930)

In June 1929, Father Arthur Day, an English Jesuit, the Vice-President of the Catholic Guild of Israel, and author of several booklets and articles on converting the Jews, published an article on the Mortara Affair in the The Month (the periodical of the English Jesuits): Arthur F. Day, “The Mortara Case,” Month, CLIII (June 1929): 500-509.

The Mortara Affair was an incident in which a six year old Jewish child, Edgardo Mortara, was forcibly removed from his family in 1858 by the Carabinieri (the military police of the Papal States), placed in the care of the Church, and later adopted by Pius IX. This was because a Catholic maid (Anna Morisi), afraid that Edgardo was about to die, illicitly baptised him – or at least claimed to have done so. Years later she revealed this to Father Feletti, the inquisitor in Bologna. The matter was referred to the Holy Office, which declared that the baptism was valid, and that according to papal law the boy must thus be removed from his family and brought to the House of the Catechumens in Rome. He was raised as a Roman Catholic and later became a Catholic priest. For a detailed examination of the Mortara Affair as it unfolded in the 1850s, see the following excellent book by Professor David Kertzer: The Kidnapping of Edgardo MortaraFor responses to the abduction in the English Catholic Tablet newspaper at the time, please see my blog post entitled “The Tablet and the Mortara Affair (1858)”.

Incidentally, Kertzer’s book will soon be adapted into a movie by Steven Spielberg [link]. This has spurred the publication of an English translation of the until recently unpublished memoirs of Edgardo Mortara with an introduction by Vittorio Messori defending Pius IX’s abduction of the young Jewish child [link], as well a series of online review articles and responses by those who support (e.g. Romanus Cessario in First Things) or abhor this defence of Pius IX (e.g. Robert T. Miller in Public Discourse). [See also Armin Rosen in Tablet Magazine for a brief survey of the recent responses].

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Edgardo Mortara Painting

Representation of the abduction by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (1800-1882). See Maya Benton’s article (link)

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Returning to the subject in hand, Father Day wrote his article about the Mortara Affair after a heated altercation on the subject of forced baptisms with the prominent Anglo-Jewish scholar, Cecil Roth, in the pages of the Jewish Guardian. Cecil Roth had presented a lecture at the Jewish Historical Society of England in December 1928 on “the Last Phase in Spain.” According to the Jewish Chronicle, Roth discussed the persecution of Jews in Spain at the end of the fourteenth century, the institution of the Spanish Inquisition, and the expulsion from Spain in 1492. Roth explained that a series of massacres in 1391 sapped the will of the Jews in Spain, and that “the number of those killed in these massacres was as nothing compared with the number of those who submitted to mass conversion in order to save their lives.” “Jewish History in Spain,” Jewish Chronicle, 14 December 1928, 10.

Father Day attended Roth’s lecture and a heated debate apparently ensued between them on the subject of forced baptisms (according to the Jewish Guardian, Day raised objections to Roth’s “historiography”; Day denied this, stating that he was not “conscious of having objected to the lecturer’s ‘historiography,'” but rather simply asked Roth a “few questions” which “resulted in a friendly argument”). “Dr. Cecil Roth and Father Day,” Jewish Guardian, 28 December 1928, 12, and Letter from Arthur F. Day to the Editor, dated 31 December 1928, Jewish Guardian, 4 January 1929, 4.

JG - Dr Cecil Roth and Father Day - 28 Dec 1928, p.12-page-0JG - Dr Roth and Father Day - 4 Jan 1929-page-0

Jewish Guardian: 28 December 1928, p.12 and 4 January 1929, p.4.

After the lecture, Day wrote a letter to Cecil Roth, dated 13 December 1928. His letter explained that whilst under normal circumstances (“cases less urgent”), the permission of the parents must be obtained before baptising Jewish children, in the exceptional circumstance in which “an unbaptized person is in danger of death, baptism, which we regard as of primary importance for salvation, should, if possible, be conferred.” Day argued that the Mortara family had “broken the law in having a Catholic servant in their household, and so to some extent they brought the trouble on themselves.” He also invoked a traditional anti-Masonic narrative, claiming that the opposition to Mortara’s removal from his parents was “to a great extent of the anti-Popery and Continental freemason type.” Cecil Roth subsequently published Father Day’s letter (without first asking Day’s permission) in the Jewish Guardian. Letter from Arthur F. Day to Cecil Roth, dated 13 December 1928, Jewish Guardian, 28 December 1928, 12.

After Roth published Father Day’s letter, Day in turn published the rest of the correspondence between them (two letters from Day, dated 21 December and 26 December 1928, and two letters from Roth, dated 23 December and 28 December 1928) in the next issue of the Jewish Guardian. See “Dr. Roth and Father Day: Further Correspondence on the Mortara Case,” Jewish Guardian, 4 January 1929, 4. See also Letter from Arthur F. Day to the Editor, dated 14 January 1929, Jewish Guardian, 18 January 1929, 9.

Roth was not impressed by Day’s arguments. In a letter dated 19 December 1928, he noted that the young Mortara was only two or three years of age at the time he was baptized, and that the “ceremony of baptism was a merest travesty, having been performed with ordinary water and by an uneducated servant girl.” In a letter dated 23 December, he stated that he had “no desire nor intention to protract correspondence upon an episode the facts of which are quite clear. Those who, like myself, respect the noble traditions of the Catholic Church can only look forward to the day when this outrage upon humanity will be buried in oblivion.” Whilst Father Day was eager to keep the conversation alive, Roth correctly observed that Day distorted the facts, and that there was therefore little to be gained in continuing the correspondence. After writing his own short essay on the history of forced baptisms and the Mortara Affair, published on 11 January 1929, Roth concluded with the following statement: “I have no intention to protract the correspondence upon this question between myself and Father Day. But it may be noticed en passant that there are curious discrepancies between the singularly unconvincing facts which he cites in the name of the Jewish Encyclopedia and what is to be found in the ordinary editions of that work.” Letter from Cecil Roth to Arthur Day, dated 19 December 1928, Jewish Guardian, 28 December 1928, 12Letter from Cecil Roth to Arthur Day, dated 23 December 1928, Jewish Guardian, 4 January 1929, 4; Cecil Roth, “Forced Baptisms: A Chapter of Persecution,” Jewish Guardian, 11 January 1929, page 7 and page 8.

JG - Forced Baptisms - 11 Jan 1929, p.7-page-0JG - Forced Baptisms - 11 Jan 1929, p.8-page-0

Jewish Guardian, 11 January 1929, pp.7-8.

Day subsequently published his article defending the Mortara abduction in The Month in June 1929, informing his readers that it should not be “impossible for Jews to realize the importance we attach to baptism seeing that they, if at all orthodox, regard circumcision as a religious ordinance of the very first rank.” He rejected Roth’s argument that the baptism was a “ridiculous travesty,” noting that “it should occur to anyone at all experienced in historical research that the Sacred Congregation of the Inquisition is a fairly competent body which may be trusted to decide whether a clinical baptism has been correctly performed.” The crux of Day’s argument was that “if an infant is in serious danger of death, theologians teach that it should be baptised even without the consent of the parents.” He clarified that this “apparent overriding of parental rights” was explained and justified by the Catholic belief that “under such circumstances this sacrament is of eternal importance to the child, and to withhold it, when there is the opportunity of bestowing it, would be a violation of the law of charity.” According to Day, it is laid down as a “general rule” that in the instances where this occurs with “Hebrew infants,” with the child having been “validly” even if “illicitly” baptised, then they must be “separated from their relations and educated in the Christian faith. The parents, even though they may make promises, cannot be trusted in such a matter to fulfil them. The injury done to them is not so great as that which would be done to the dying child if the sacrament which opens heaven were withheld.” Father Day observed that “Dr. Cecil Roth persisted in inveighing against the inhumanity of the papal procedure and refused to consider what we might call for the moment, in deference to his view, the extenuating circumstances.” He described his “duel” with Cecil Roth as a “useful object-lesson regarding Jewish mentality when confronted by the Catholic claim.” As he had in his letter dated 13 December 1928, he suggested that the Mortara outcry and agitation was “set on foot” by “Protestants”, “Freemasons” and the “riffraff of the revolutionary parties.” Arthur F. Day, “The Mortara Case,” Month, CLIII (June 1929): 500-509.

On 18 September 1929, Arthur day visited the nearly 80-year old Edgardo Mortara (by then Father Mortara, a member of the Canons Regular of the Lateran) at his “monastic home” just outside Liège. In 1930, he appended an account of this visit to the article he had written for The Month. This was published as a 28-page Catholic Guild of Israel booklet by the Catholic Truth Society.  In this, Arthur Day observed that Father Mortara’s “buoyant and enthusiastic temperament is so prone to exult at the memory of the great deliverance and the many graces and favours that followed it, that it is not easy to get from him the sort of information that is dear to reporters. He is so full of fervour and fire that it is difficult for him to adapt himself to a matter-of-fact enquirer. Nobody could be more obliging: his Prior said to me of him, using a French proverb: ‘If it could give pleasure to anyone he would gladly be cut into four.'” Arthur Day recorded that Father Mortara told him that he became a member of his religious order early in his life because he felt that “God has given me such great graces; I must belong entirely to him.” A. F. Day, The Mortara Mystery (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1930), 17-19. He also wrote to Cecil Roth to present him with a copy of the booklet, and he noted at the end of the booklet that “it is pleasant to record that Dr. Roth … acknowledged the receipt of a copy in a kindly and friendly tone.” Letter from A. F. Day to Dr Roth, “Cecil Roth Letters,” 19 June 1930, held in Special Collections, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, File 26220; A. F. Day, The Mortara Mystery, 28.

In 1936, Cecil Roth published a book presenting a short history of the Jewish people. In this book, he mentioned in passing the Mortara Affair. He stated that in 1858, a “wave of indignation swept through Europe by reason of the kidnapping at Bologna (still under Papal rule) of a six-year-old Jewish child, Edgardo Mortara, on the pretext that he had been submitted to some sort of baptismal ceremony by a servant-girl four years previous.” In May 1936, Father Day was reported (in the Catholic Herald) as saying that “there is undeniably much anti-Christian and still more anti-Catholic bigotry among the London Jews.” He probably had Cecil Roth’s comments about the Mortara Affair in mind when he added that “in spite of appalling ignorance, they pose as competent critics of Catholic theology. The puerility of it passes comprehension; and yet it is among the intelligentsia that one finds the worst offenders.” A few weeks later, on 2 June 1936, Father Day wrote to Cecil Roth about his short history of the Jewish people, stating that he “found much to admire, but also some portions distinctly less admirable.” Unsurprisingly, the portions that Day found “less admirable” were those relating to the Mortara Affair. Day argued that “‘kidnapping’ is not the right word” because “at that time and in that place it was a legal act.” He also stated that the baptism performed by the young Catholic maid was “a valid clinical baptism” and “not a pretext.” It was, he suggested, not merely a pretext for abduction but a genuine reason. Cecil Roth must have replied to Day (letter not found), because Father Day sent him another letter on 10 June 1936, thanking him for acknowledging his letter. In this second letter, Day suggested that it was not a kidnapping because “the Oxford Dictionary … defines ‘kidnapping’ as ‘carrying off a child by illegal force'” (the emphasis by underlining was Father Day’s). Day concluded that “if a modern incident can be so maltreated, what about the poor old Middle Ages!” See Cecil Roth, A Short History of the Jewish People (London: Macmillan and Company, 1936), 378; “Jews and Christians: A Priest’s Experience,” Catholic Herald, 15 May 1936, 2; Letters from A. F. Day to Dr Roth, “Cecil Roth Letters,” 2 June 1936 (with attached note) and 10 June 1936, held in Special Collections, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, File 26220.

In 1953, Cecil Roth returned to the Mortara Affair. He noted that “Modern apologists endeavoured to justify what occurred by calling attention to the breach of the law committed by the Mortara family in having a Christian servant in their employment at all, and by pointing out that on the capture of Rome twelve years later, after having been sedulously kept away from all Jewish influence during the most impressionable years of his life, Edgardo Mortara neglected the opportunity to return to his ancestral faith.” Roth referred to the controversy with Father Day which began in 1928, observing that Day later wrote to him in response to his A Short History of the Jewish People (i.e. Day’s letter of 2 June 1936), “indignantly protesting against my statement that Edgardo Mortara was ‘kidnapped.'” Roth was understandably surprised and frustrated that Father Day believed it was in any sense a creditable defence of the kidnapping that the six-year-old Edgardo Mortara, as a result of being illicitly baptised as a baby by a servant girl, had been “removed from his parents’ custody by process of the law!” Cecil Roth, Personalities and Events in Jewish History (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1953), 273-274.

A Tale of Religious Angst and Self-Deprecation: The Short Life of Hans Herzl (1890-1930)

Born in 1890, Hans Herzl was the son of Theodor Herzl, a Jewish Austro-Hungarian journalist and one of the main founding fathers of political Zionism at the end of the nineteenth century. Dismayed by antisemitism in Vienna after the election of Karl Lueger as mayor, and by antisemitism in France during the Dreyfus Case, Theodor Herzl concluded that the Jewish people needed to found a nation of their own outside Europe. Theodor Herzl passed away in 1904. In the years that followed, Hans came to disagree with his father’s prognosis. Hans was far more concerned with a search for spiritual rather than political meaning, and believed that a Jewish nation based on politics rather than spirituality was an error for the Jewish people. He believed that for life to have any meaning, it had to be grounded in some sort of metaphysical or religious truth. He spent much of his short life searching for this foundation of truth. It proved to be a forlorn search, and though he had considered the ultimate escape on a number of occasions throughout his life, in 1930, at the age of thirty-nine, he finally decided to commit suicide.

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Hans Herzl Image 2

 Hans Herzl (circa 1925)

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According to Hans Herzl, his mother had a “leaning towards religion,” but his father was influenced more by the “habits of free thought.” He explained that he and his sisters “were only taught two or three simple and short prayers.” Living in England after the death of his father, he “outwardly observed the principal Jewish customs,” whilst losing whatever “inward religion” he possessed. He described his life during this period as “in the main a futile existence,” becoming largely “apathetic in the matter of religion.” In fact, Hans felt himself in desperate need of a faith to sustain him. Ilse Sternberger, in her book about Theodor Herzl’s children, Princes Without a Home (1994), observed that Theodor had regarded the need for God a “passing weakness,” but that Hans needed “the security of a supra-human power to give his life the motive and direction he could not find within himself.” There was, Sternberger convincingly observed, a sense of internal emptiness that Hans was desperate to fill with a “core of certainty, a centre of gravity,” and this led him on quest to find “a religious faith which would totally sustain him.” According to Sternberger, “it was a quest that would leave him disillusioned, drained and desperate.” In his letters and diaries, he frequently recorded his feelings of worthlessness, stated that he despised himself, and expressed thoughts about suicide. As early as 1910, he had written to an uncle explaining that he felt himself “unfit for life,” and that he often thought about putting “an end to so miserable an existence.” In 1919, he wrote a letter to his sister Pauline, informing her that he had come to the conclusion that he had lived too long, that his life had been unsuccessful and sinful, and that his energy had been exhausted. He was extremely self-critical in his diary, condemning his “hankering after distinction” and “greatness,” which he observed had led to his missing “all the realities of life.” According to Sternberger, he recorded that he needed to learn to respect people, that he was full of “all sorts of contempts, spites, hatreds,” and that there was something “warring” within him. “Oh God, I am so ugly!,” Hans declared. His friend and mentor, Father Arthur Day of the Catholic Guild of Israel, had also observed and reported this melancholic side to Hans Herzl’s nature, and his “habitual self-deprecation.” Day observed that Hans was “a continual self-tormentor,” and that he suffered from a “strain of melancholia in his temperament.”

After the First World War, Hans felt completely uncertain about the course of his life. He set out to find a definite religious creed to bolster his sense of identity and to give direction to his existence. During the war he attended the Anglican Church, theosophical meetings, and spiritualist séances, but none of these maintained a lasting hold over him. It was during the early 1920s that he developed his attraction for Catholicism, having been impressed by meetings of the Catholic Evidence Guild in Hyde Park. He did not however immediately convert to Catholicism, which he claimed was partly because he felt “unworthy of being a Catholic.” However, he did embrace Christianity, being baptized by a Baptist community in Vienna. The happiness he gained from joining the Baptist community was short-lived. Before long he doubted his decision, arriving at the conclusion that it was not enough to accept the Christian faith, he must also embrace the “universal” or Catholic Church in order to become a true member of the Christian community. According to Sternberger, after a momentary elation, he “relapsed into darkness,” felt doubt about his conversion into the Baptist community, and doubted “the world as he doubted himself.” Hans returned to England and discussed his feelings of doubt with a cousin, who put him in touch with Father Day, a Jesuit author and the Vice-President of the Catholic Guild of Israel. Father Day provided him with guidance and instruction for joining the Catholic Church. He was received into the Church at the Chapel of Our Lady of Sion, the home of the Catholic Guild of Israel, on 19 October 1924 (link for article in Melilah discussing the Catholic Guild of Israel).

In 1924, the Catholic Guild of Israel was still a relatively new organisation. Whilst it had received the blessing of popes and archbishops, it was finding the actual work of converting English Jews to be difficult and slow. At the annual meeting of the Guild in 1923, Father Day informed the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster that Jews were extremely difficult to convert and that the work was progressing very slowly. He repeated these observations in a booklet entitled Jews and Catholics in 1926. Day even compared the task of bringing the Jews into the Church to that of moving an iceberg. “As with an iceberg the progress is slow. If we were working alone, the process might take 5,000 years; but we are counting on securing the kind and efficient services of the physician Archangel Raphael,” Father Day observed. The securing of Hans Herzl, a Jewish convert with a very distinguished name, was thus a much needed propaganda coup for the Guild. As Day later acknowledged, this “good news” was spread, albeit on a “modest scale,” and Hans was “induced” to “write a short account of his adoption of Catholicism.” This account appeared in two prominent English Catholic newspapers, the Tablet and the Universe, in November 1924. Four months later, in March 1925, Hans published another article in the Universe, discussing Zionism and the Mandate for Palestine, which he believed should be passed from Britain to the Holy See.

In a somewhat ironic twist, Hans Herzl, the son of Theodor Herzl, stood opposed to Zionism, whilst being mentored as a recent convert to Roman Catholicism by Father Arthur Day, an advocate of Zionism. It seems very unlikely that his March 1925 article on Zionism was induced by his mentor Father Day, as in the Catholic Guild of Israel, Day was the voice of support for Zionism. For example, at a Catholic Truth Society meeting in Liverpool in February 1927, Day referred to the “wonderful transformation” of the Jew in Palestine, and he recommended that Zionism should be kept under critical but sympathetic observation. During a debate on the subject of Zionism at a meeting of the Catholic Citizen’s Parliament at Vauxhall, London, in December 1927, Day argued that it is an abnormal state of affairs for a people with a historic past to be without a country to call their own. It is more likely that Father Bede Jarrett, the President of the Guild, encouraged Hans to write it.

Hans Herzl’s self-hating personal remarks sometimes extended to his discourse about Jews. In his March 1925 article in the Universe, Hans observed that from 1881 onwards, the Jews poured out of Russia into Western Europe in order to escape persecution, setting up Jewish colonies in various cities, creating “a minor Jewish problem wherever they appeared, setting up that local irritation which alien bodies produce in living organisms.” In this, Hans Herzl adopted a similar biological vocabulary to his contemporary, the Anglo-French Catholic author, Hilaire Belloc, who had argued in 1911 that the so-called “Jewish Question” was that of “any human organism … which discovers, present and irritant within its tissue, a foreign body.” In 1922, in his antisemitic book entitled The Jews, Belloc rejected both Zionism and Jewish assimilation into Europe as solutions to the so-called Jewish Problem. Instead he argued for a return to the days of the Jewish ghetto. He stated that the ideal solution was to “segregate the alien irritant by an action which takes full account of the thing segregated as well as of the organism segregating it.” Belloc referred to this so-called mutually beneficial segregation of the Jews as a special “privilege” or “recognition” (link for more information on Belloc discussing Jewish segregation). Following suit, Hans Herzl suggested that his father had recognised that these “local irritations” led to a so-called “legitimate anti-Semitism.” Hans believed that his father’s solution, political Zionism and the setting up of a “Jewish National Home in Palestine,” was no longer necessary on the grounds that “there no longer exists a Jewish problem in Eastern Europe.” He rejected the Balfour Declaration, and argued that Jewish money and energy should be channelled to Russia rather than Palestine. Seemingly forgetful of the tribulations of Jews living in “the Pale of Settlement” (the region of Russia to which most Jews were confined) during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, he argued that “if those large sums which wealthy American Jews are now pouring into the Zionist coffers were diverted towards the restoration of Russia,” then “that country which has so long been the national home of the Jewish people in the past could be made habitable for them in the future.” He stated that the only “sort of Mandate in the Middle East” that he could personally conceive of was for “the custody of the Holy places” to be “held by the Holy See.” Significantly, shortly after writing the article for the Universe in 1925, he left the Church.

According to Father Day, Hans Herzl’s “full membership” of the Church cannot have lasted more than six months. This would suggest that he started to abandon the Church around April 1925. Day explained that “H. H. got it into his head that his conversion had been too much boomed by the Catholic Guild of Israel.” He observed that Hans could be over-sensitive, at times morbid, and was hurt by the Guild’s rejoicing at the securing of a distinguished Jewish convert. After he left the Church, Hans accused the Guild of “fanaticism” in his diary on account of being pressured to write about his conversion to Catholicism. According to Day, Hans claimed that his Catholicism collapsed because he felt the Catholic Guild of Israel was more interested in making converts than actually steering souls to God, and because he “had never been convinced of the Divinity of Christ.” Sternberger observes that even though he was no longer admitted to holy communion after his departure from the Church, he still regularly attended mass throughout his life. Sternberger also refers to a number of near reconciliations with the Church. On one occasions, Hans claimed he was considering an offer to help form a special episcopate of Jewish converts to Catholicism in Jerusalem. Towards the end of his life, he talked to a Catholic priest about being reconciled to the Church, though it led to nothing. Father Day also observed that Hans Herzl remained loosely affiliated with the Church. According to Day, whilst his complete membership of the Church only lasted about six months, his falling away from Catholicism was a more gradual process. According to Day, he and Hans continued to be friends after Hans’s departure from the Church, and Hans continued to attend Catholic services. Day observed that Hans often expressed a desire to be reconciled with the Church, but that this was thwarted by his inability to overcome his “pet objections against Catholic theology.”

Hans Herzl’s rejection of Zionism continued after his departure from the Church, and he continued to maintain the belief that the Catholic Church should hold the mandate for the Holy Places in Palestine. After he left the Church, he became friends with a Jewish journalist, Marcel Sternberger. According to Marcel’s wife, Ilse Sternberger, Hans explained to her husband that he believed Zionism had become imperialistic, territorial, and covetous for land, having lost the national idealism which would unite the Jewish people. He argued that Jewish nationalism should be more about a love for the Jewish people, and not tied to territory. According to Sternberger, despite his departure from the Church, he still believed that “the Jewish nation” would be best served by affiliating with “the Papal State,” “the Synagogue” becoming a “constituent member of the World-Church,” with “the Pope, as sovereign of dispersed Jewry.” Hans concluded that the Pope “would be the surest guarantor of Jewish human rights.”

For Hans, the Church proved to be a brief sojourn in a life spent searching for a core belief to sustain him. During his life, he tried Theosophy, Anglicanism, a Baptist community in Vienna, Quakerism and Catholicism. He also spoke to Claude Montefiore about joining the Liberal Synagogue. He embraced Catholicism in 1924 but left the Church in 1925. However, even after he formerly left the Church in 1925, he never entirely turned his back on Catholicism. Ultimately, none of his religious and political commitments brought him lasting happiness, or purged his feelings of angst and uncertainty. In 1930, at the age of thirty-nine, he committed suicide. He shot himself the day before the funeral of his sister Pauline Herzl. He felt guilty for not being able to help Pauline to overcome her emotional problems and addiction to drugs. However, whilst the occasion was his sister’s funeral, the likely cause was his own prolonged depression, exacerbated by his inability to find a lasting faith to give his life a sense of meaning and direction. 

Sources

Hilaire Belloc, “The Jewish Question: The First Solution,” Eye Witness, 5 October 1911.

Hilaire Belloc, The Jews (London: Constable, 1922).

Arthur Day, “Hans Herzl,” Our Lady of Sion, January-March 1932.

Arthur Day, Jews and Catholics (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1926).

Arthur Day, Our Friends the Jews; or, The Confessions of a Proselytizer (London: Burns Oates and Washbourne, 1943).

Hans Herzl, “How I Became a Catholic,” The Universe, 7 November 1924.

Hans Herzl, “How I Became a Catholic,” The Tablet, 8 November 1924.

Hans Herzl, “National Home for the Jews” and “Jews and Palestine,” The Universe, 20 March 1925.

Simon Mayers, ‘Zionism and Anti-Zionism in the Catholic Guild of Israel: Bede Jarrett, Arthur Day and Hans Herzl’, Melilah 10 (2013). [link to volume of Melilah]

Ilse Sternberger, Princes Without a Home: Modern Zionism and the Strange Fate of Theodor Herzl’s Children 1900-1945 (San Francisco: International Scholars, 1994).

Minutes of Catholic Guild of Israel meeting, Our Lady of Sion, October-December 1932.

Report of Catholic Guild of Israel Meeting, 27 November 1923, Archives of the Catholic Guild of Israel, Sion Centre for Dialogue and Encounter, London.

Report of debate at the Catholic Citizen’s Parliament at Vauxhall, “Priest’s Defence of Zionism: Fr. Arthur Day, S.J., Advises Catholics to Support it,” Universe, 9 December 1927.

Report of lecture by Arthur Day to the Catholic Truth Society, Liverpool Branch, in “The Church and the Jew,” Catholic Times, 18 February 1927.

Zionism and Anti-Zionism in the Catholic Guild of Israel (1917-1939)

My latest article in Melilah: Manchester Journal of Jewish Studies, examines Zionism and Anti-Zionism in the discourse of members of the Catholic Guild of Israel. Whilst Protestant evangelists were actively trying to convert Jews in England throughout the nineteenth century, the Guild – formed in 1917 and suspended in 1939 – was the first English Catholic movement to actively proselytise to Jews. The central theme in the discourse of the Catholic Guild of Israel was so-called Jewish “power.” It was argued that the Jews had great vitality, zeal and energy, which made them dangerous outside of the Church, but an asset if they could be brought into it. This idea was disseminated by the two most senior and prolific members of the Guild: Bede Jarrett, provincial head of the English Dominicans and the president of the Guild, and Arthur Day, an English Jesuit and vice-president of the Guild. Their notions of Jewish “power” influenced their views about Jews and their policies on Zionism. Significantly, whilst they shared almost identical views about Jewish “power,” they reached opposing positions about Zionism. They both saw Jewish “power” as a threat and opportunity, but Jarrett placed the emphasis on threat. He believed that bringing the Jews into the Church was the best way to neutralize the threat, and that Zionism would only present the Jews with an opportunity to cause chaos. Conversely, Day placed the emphasis on asset, and he believed that supporting Zionism was the best way to overcome Jewish resistance to Christianity. Day and Jarrett were the central core of the Catholic Guild of Israel, with most other members of the Guild expressing similar opinions. One prominent member of the Guild who did not gravitate to their views was Hans Herzl, a convert to Catholicism and the son of Theodor Herzl. Whilst on the surface Hans adopted the anti-Zionism of Jarrett, he was in a sense a part of a different discourse: an Anglo-Jewish discourse about the merits and demerits of Zionism, which was influenced by his Catholicism. His concern was not Jewish “power,” but rather the form that nationalism should take. Hans believed in Jewish nationalism, but he interpreted it as a spiritual movement. He believed that Jewish nationalism should bring Jews together in a bond of love and unity, but he rejected the idea of a Jewish territory. He was opposed to the British Mandate, advocating instead the custody of the Holy Places being transferred to the Holy See. He believed that the ideal Jewish nation was a “Christian Theocracy of Jewish faith,” a diaspora nation, with the Pope as sovereign and protector. Whilst it is impossible to present a complete picture of the Catholic Guild of Israel, my article attempts to present as representative an image of its discourse as is possible, by examining the views of its two most prolific and central members, combined with the views of the one prominent individual in the Guild who refused to gravitate to the centre.

Cecil Roth, Arthur Day and the Mortara Affair (1928-1930)

In June 1929, Father Arthur Day, an English Jesuit, the Vice-President of the Catholic Guild of Israel, and author of several booklets and articles on converting the Jews, published an article on the Mortara Affair in the The Month (the periodical of the English Jesuits): Arthur F. Day, “The Mortara Case,” Month, CLIII (June 1929): 500-509.

The Mortara Affair was an incident in which a six year old Jewish child, Edgardo Mortara, was forcibly removed from his family in 1858 by the Carabinieri (the military police of the Papal States), placed in the care of the Church, and later adopted by Pius IX. This was because a Catholic maid (Anna Morisi), afraid that Edgardo was about to die, illicitly baptised him – or at least claimed to have done so. Years later she revealed this to Father Feletti, the inquisitor in Bologna. The matter was referred to the Holy Office, which declared that the baptism was valid, and that according to papal law the boy must thus be removed from his family and brought to the House of the Catechumens in Rome. He was raised as a Roman Catholic and later became a Catholic priest. For a detailed examination of the Mortara Affair as it unfolded in the 1850s, see the following excellent book by Professor David Kertzer: The Kidnapping of Edgardo MortaraFor responses to the abduction in the English Catholic Tablet newspaper at the time, please see my blog post entitled “The Tablet and the Mortara Affair (1858)”.

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Edgardo Mortara Painting

Representation of the abduction by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (1800-1882). See Maya Benton’s article (link)

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Father Day wrote his article about the Mortara Affair after a heated altercation on the subject of forced baptisms with the prominent Anglo-Jewish scholar, Cecil Roth, in the pages of the Jewish Guardian. Cecil Roth had presented a lecture at the Jewish Historical Society of England in December 1928 on “the Last Phase in Spain.” According to the Jewish Chronicle, Roth discussed the persecution of Jews in Spain at the end of the fourteenth century, the institution of the Spanish Inquisition, and the expulsion from Spain in 1492. Roth explained that a series of massacres in 1391 sapped the will of the Jews in Spain, and that “the number of those killed in these massacres was as nothing compared with the number of those who submitted to mass conversion in order to save their lives.” “Jewish History in Spain,” Jewish Chronicle, 14 December 1928, 10.

Father Day attended Roth’s lecture and a heated debate apparently ensued between them on the subject of forced baptisms (according to the Jewish Guardian, Day raised objections to Roth’s “historiography”; Day denied this, stating that he was not “conscious of having objected to the lecturer’s ‘historiography,'” but rather simply asked Roth a “few questions” which “resulted in a friendly argument”). “Dr. Cecil Roth and Father Day,” Jewish Guardian, 28 December 1928, 12, and Letter from Arthur F. Day to the Editor, dated 31 December 1928, Jewish Guardian, 4 January 1929, 4.

JG - Dr Cecil Roth and Father Day - 28 Dec 1928, p.12-page-0JG - Dr Roth and Father Day - 4 Jan 1929-page-0

Jewish Guardian: 28 December 1928, p.12 and 4 January 1929, p.4.

After the lecture, Day wrote a letter to Cecil Roth, dated 13 December 1928. His letter explained that whilst under normal circumstances (“cases less urgent”), the permission of the parents must be obtained before baptising Jewish children, in the exceptional circumstance in which “an unbaptized person is in danger of death, baptism, which we regard as of primary importance for salvation, should, if possible, be conferred.” Day argued that the Mortara family had “broken the law in having a Catholic servant in their household, and so to some extent they brought the trouble on themselves.” He also invoked a traditional anti-Masonic narrative, claiming that the opposition to Mortara’s removal from his parents was “to a great extent of the anti-Popery and Continental freemason type.” Cecil Roth subsequently published Father Day’s letter (without first asking Day’s permission) in the Jewish Guardian. Letter from Arthur F. Day to Cecil Roth, dated 13 December 1928, Jewish Guardian, 28 December 1928, 12.

After Roth published Father Day’s letter, Day in turn published the rest of the correspondence between them (two letters from Day, dated 21 December and 26 December 1928, and two letters from Roth, dated 23 December and 28 December 1928) in the next issue of the Jewish Guardian. See “Dr. Roth and Father Day: Further Correspondence on the Mortara Case,” Jewish Guardian, 4 January 1929, 4. See also Letter from Arthur F. Day to the Editor, dated 14 January 1929, Jewish Guardian, 18 January 1929, 9.

Roth was not impressed by Day’s arguments. In a letter dated 19 December 1928, he noted that the young Mortara was only two or three years of age at the time he was baptized, and that the “ceremony of baptism was a merest travesty, having been performed with ordinary water and by an uneducated servant girl.” In a letter dated 23 December, he stated that he had “no desire nor intention to protract correspondence upon an episode the facts of which are quite clear. Those who, like myself, respect the noble traditions of the Catholic Church can only look forward to the day when this outrage upon humanity will be buried in oblivion.” Whilst Father Day was eager to keep the conversation alive, Roth correctly observed that Day distorted the facts, and that there was therefore little to be gained in continuing the correspondence. After writing his own short essay on the history of forced baptisms and the Mortara Affair, published on 11 January 1929, Roth concluded with the following statement: “I have no intention to protract the correspondence upon this question between myself and Father Day. But it may be noticed en passant that there are curious discrepancies between the singularly unconvincing facts which he cites in the name of the Jewish Encyclopedia and what is to be found in the ordinary editions of that work.” Letter from Cecil Roth to Arthur Day, dated 19 December 1928, Jewish Guardian, 28 December 1928, 12Letter from Cecil Roth to Arthur Day, dated 23 December 1928, Jewish Guardian, 4 January 1929, 4; Cecil Roth, “Forced Baptisms: A Chapter of Persecution,” Jewish Guardian, 11 January 1929, page 7 and page 8.

JG - Forced Baptisms - 11 Jan 1929, p.7-page-0JG - Forced Baptisms - 11 Jan 1929, p.8-page-0

Jewish Guardian, 11 January 1929, pp.7-8.

Day subsequently published his article defending the Mortara abduction in The Month in June 1929, informing his readers that it should not be “impossible for Jews to realize the importance we attach to baptism seeing that they, if at all orthodox, regard circumcision as a religious ordinance of the very first rank.” He rejected Roth’s argument that the baptism was a “ridiculous travesty,” noting that “it should occur to anyone at all experienced in historical research that the Sacred Congregation of the Inquisition is a fairly competent body which may be trusted to decide whether a clinical baptism has been correctly performed.” The crux of Day’s argument was that “if an infant is in serious danger of death, theologians teach that it should be baptised even without the consent of the parents.” He clarified that this “apparent overriding of parental rights” was explained and justified by the Catholic belief that “under such circumstances this sacrament is of eternal importance to the child, and to withhold it, when there is the opportunity of bestowing it, would be a violation of the law of charity.” According to Day, it is laid down as a “general rule” that in the instances where this occurs with “Hebrew infants,” with the child having been “validly” even if “illicitly” baptised, then they must be “separated from their relations and educated in the Christian faith. The parents, even though they may make promises, cannot be trusted in such a matter to fulfil them. The injury done to them is not so great as that which would be done to the dying child if the sacrament which opens heaven were withheld.” Father Day observed that “Dr. Cecil Roth persisted in inveighing against the inhumanity of the papal procedure and refused to consider what we might call for the moment, in deference to his view, the extenuating circumstances.” He described his “duel” with Cecil Roth as a “useful object-lesson regarding Jewish mentality when confronted by the Catholic claim.” As he had in his letter dated 13 December 1928, he suggested that the Mortara outcry and agitation was “set on foot” by “Protestants”, “Freemasons” and the “riffraff of the revolutionary parties.” Arthur F. Day, “The Mortara Case,” Month, CLIII (June 1929): 500-509.

On 18 September 1929, Arthur day visited the nearly 80-year old Edgardo Mortara (by then Father Mortara, a member of the Canons Regular of the Lateran) at his “monastic home” just outside Liège. In 1930, he appended an account of this visit to the article he had written for The Month. This was published as a 28-page Catholic Guild of Israel booklet by the Catholic Truth Society.  In this, Arthur Day observed that Father Mortara’s “buoyant and enthusiastic temperament is so prone to exult at the memory of the great deliverance and the many graces and favours that followed it, that it is not easy to get from him the sort of information that is dear to reporters. He is so full of fervour and fire that it is difficult for him to adapt himself to a matter-of-fact enquirer. Nobody could be more obliging: his Prior said to me of him, using a French proverb: ‘If it could give pleasure to anyone he would gladly be cut into four.'” Arthur Day recorded that Father Mortara told him that he became a member of his religious order early in his life because he felt that “God has given me such great graces; I must belong entirely to him.” A. F. Day, The Mortara Mystery (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1930), 17-19. He also wrote to Cecil Roth to present him with a copy of the booklet, and he noted at the end of the booklet that “it is pleasant to record that Dr. Roth … acknowledged the receipt of a copy in a kindly and friendly tone.” Letter from A. F. Day to Dr Roth, “Cecil Roth Letters,” 19 June 1930, held in Special Collections, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, File 26220; A. F. Day, The Mortara Mystery, 28.

In 1936, Cecil Roth published a book presenting a short history of the Jewish people. In this book, he mentioned in passing the Mortara Affair. He stated that in 1858, a “wave of indignation swept through Europe by reason of the kidnapping at Bologna (still under Papal rule) of a six-year-old Jewish child, Edgardo Mortara, on the pretext that he had been submitted to some sort of baptismal ceremony by a servant-girl four years previous.” In May 1936, Father Day was reported (in the Catholic Herald) as saying that “there is undeniably much anti-Christian and still more anti-Catholic bigotry among the London Jews.” He probably had Cecil Roth’s comments about the Mortara Affair in mind when he added that “in spite of appalling ignorance, they pose as competent critics of Catholic theology. The puerility of it passes comprehension; and yet it is among the intelligentsia that one finds the worst offenders.” A few weeks later, on 2 June 1936, Father Day wrote to Cecil Roth about his short history of the Jewish people, stating that he “found much to admire, but also some portions distinctly less admirable.” Unsurprisingly, the portions that Day found “less admirable” were those relating to the Mortara Affair. Day argued that “‘kidnapping’ is not the right word” because “at that time and in that place it was a legal act.” He also stated that the baptism performed by the young Catholic maid was “a valid clinical baptism” and “not a pretext.” It was, he suggested, not merely a pretext for abduction but a genuine reason. Cecil Roth must have replied to Day (letter not found), because Father Day sent him another letter on 10 June 1936, thanking him for acknowledging his letter. In this second letter, Day suggested that it was not a kidnapping because “the Oxford Dictionary … defines ‘kidnapping’ as ‘carrying off a child by illegal force'” (the emphasis by underlining was Father Day’s). Day concluded that “if a modern incident can be so maltreated, what about the poor old Middle Ages!” See Cecil Roth, A Short History of the Jewish People (London: Macmillan and Company, 1936), 378; “Jews and Christians: A Priest’s Experience,” Catholic Herald, 15 May 1936, 2; Letters from A. F. Day to Dr Roth, “Cecil Roth Letters,” 2 June 1936 (with attached note) and 10 June 1936, held in Special Collections, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, File 26220.

In 1953, Cecil Roth returned to the Mortara Affair. He noted that “Modern apologists endeavoured to justify what occurred by calling attention to the breach of the law committed by the Mortara family in having a Christian servant in their employment at all, and by pointing out that on the capture of Rome twelve years later, after having been sedulously kept away from all Jewish influence during the most impressionable years of his life, Edgardo Mortara neglected the opportunity to return to his ancestral faith.” Roth referred to the controversy with Father Day which began in 1928, observing that Day later wrote to him in response to his A Short History of the Jewish People (i.e. Day’s letter of 2 June 1936), “indignantly protesting against my statement that Edgardo Mortara was ‘kidnapped.'” Roth was understandably surprised and frustrated that Father Day believed it was in any sense a creditable defence of the kidnapping that the six-year-old Edgardo Mortara, as a result of being illicitly baptised as a baby by a servant girl, had been “removed from his parents’ custody by process of the law!” Cecil Roth, Personalities and Events in Jewish History (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1953), 273-274.

As a postscript, according to reports on the internet, Kertzer’s book will soon be adapted into a movie by Steven Spielberg [link]..

Father Arthur Day and the “Spiritual Jewess” (1943)

Nadia Valman, an expert in Victorian literature and discourses about Jews, has argued that during the Victorian period, “Jews were imagined as much in terms of desire and pity as fear and loathing. Rather than a denigrated masculinised figure, the Jewess was often, in fact, an idealised representation of femininity. And it is the image of the beautiful or spiritual Jewess, whose Judaism is not permanently inscribed on her body, that reveals most dramatically the ambiguous and dynamic character of responses to Jews in England.” Valman suggests that this image of the beautiful or spiritual Jewess has been neglected in “accounts of antisemitic discourse.” See Nadia Valman, The Jewess in Nineteenth-Century British Literary Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), page 3.

Sadly, my PhD thesis, examining antisemitic myths and stereotypes of “the Jew” in English Catholic discourses in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, did little to rectify this particular lacuna. However, I did find one interesting example of the stereotype of the “spiritual Jewess.”

In 1943, Father Arthur Day, an English Jesuit and vice-president of the Catholic Guild of Israel (an organisation dedicated to the conversion of Jews), stated that: “The total number of Jews received by me into the Church barely amounts to twenty – a modest score! Two or three of these had received their instruction at the Convent of Our Lady of Sion. As a rule the women converts made considerable scarifies and prove a great success. Indeed, the female sex amongst the Jews seems to possess some striking features of superiority; and it has often been remarked that, in our drama and fiction, Jewesses are almost always represented as good and attractive. Our Lady must have something to do with this phenomenon. Likely enough She is at the root of it – the Root of Jesse, Rachel, Miriam, Debbora, Ruth, Judith and Esther are at least morally in the same line of descent. My men converts just form a ‘minyan’ (ten). Out of this quorum there are a couple of ‘doubtfuls,’ and four to whom full marks may be allotted. There are also, alas, three undeniable failures.” See Arthur F. Day, Our Friends the Jews; or, The Confessions of a Proselytizer (London: Burns Oates and Washbourne, 1943), page 14.

Paper on the Catholic Guild of Israel at the BAJS Annual Conference (7-9 July 2013)

The British Association for Jewish Studies (BAJS) Annual Conference went ahead on 7-9 July 2013 at the University of Kent, Canterbury. The theme for the BAJS conference this year was ‘Memory, Identity, and Boundaries of Jewishness’. I presented a paper at the conference which examined constructions of Judaism and Jewish identity in the discourse of members of the Catholic Guild of Israel (1917-1943).

The Catholic Guild of Israel was founded in England in December 1917 by Father Bede Jarrett with the support of the Sisters of Sion and the Arch-Confraternity of Prayer for the Conversion of Israel. This initiative received the blessings of Benedict XV and subsequently Pius XI. Whereas the Sisters of Sion and the Arch-Confraternity were content to pray for the conversion of Israel, the new Guild took a much more proactive approach to converting Jews.

One aspect of the Guild’s mission was to improve the way that English Catholics perceived Jews. However, despite the Guild’s allegedly benign intentions, the senior members were not able to master their own prejudices. Their articles and lectures frequently contained antisemitic stereotypes of the greedy stock-market and usurious Jew, and the revolutionary Bolshevik Jew. Whilst it was sometimes acknowledged that Jews had been persecuted by Christians, this was countered by caricatures of “the Jewish Mentality” and the Talmud as violently anti-Christian. It was suggested that Christian violence towards Jews was not always unprovoked. The stereotype of the smart powerful Jew was also a reoccurring theme in Guild publications, but it was part of an ambivalent narrative. The president and the vice-president of the Guild both explained that “the Jews” could be an asset if their “zeal” and “flame” could be brought into the Church. They suggested that whilst “the Jew” was “a hard nut to crack,” their “kernel was sweet,” and that they contained a reservoir of intellect and energy, which though dangerous to Christian civilisation, could be put to good use if assimilated to the Church.

Significantly, similar stereotypes of “the Jew” can also be found in the discourses of Jewish converts within the Catholic Guild of Israel. Hugh Angress, a convert from Orthodox Judaism, repeated these stereotypes, and he argued in lectures and a booklet that Catholicism is fulfilled Judaism. The most prominent convert in the Guild was Hans Herzl, the son of Theodor Herzl. Hans Herzl converted to Catholicism and joined the Guild in 1924. Though he did not remain in the Church for long, he expressed ambivalence about Zionism during this time in the pages of the Catholic press.

Universe - National Home for the Jews, Hans Herzl, 1925-page-0Universe - Jews and Palestine, Hans Herzl, 1925-page-0

Hans Herzl discussing Zionism in The Universe (an English Catholic Newspaper), 20 March 1925.

My paper examined the images of ‘the Jew’ constructed by prominent members of the Guild, such as Father Bede Jarret (the head of the English Dominicans and the founder and president of the Guild), Father Arthur Day (an English Jesuit and vice-president of the Guild), Dudley Wright (an author and ex-Freemason), Hugh Angress (a Jewish convert) and Hans Herzl (a Jewish convert and son of Theodor Herzl).