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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).