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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.