Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Adorable little snippet

This is from Geza Vermes autobiography;

While the novices [a candidate for acceptance to a Catholic religious Order] who started with me in 1946 withdrew one after another, new recruits replaced them. One of these was Kurt Hrugy...Son of a Christian father and a Jewish mother, Kurt was born in Austria in 1921, and migrated to Palestine with his mother...For a time Kurt worked in a religious kibbutz. His modern Hebrew was fluent and his knowledge of traditional Judaism was very extensive and profound. To him I owe my first initiation into spoken Hebrew and rabbinic literature. In Palestine he became a Christian...In due course he was ordained priest by the Belgian bishop of Liege; he opted for an academic career, but til his dying day he stayed inside the church...Although his genuine attachment to Christianity cannot be doubted, those who were as close to him as I was knew that in his heart of hearts he felt like, and probably considered himself as, a nineteenth century Orthodox Jew. I used to enjoy his newsy letters enormously, pages and pages of them written in the German of a a traditionalist last-century rabbi, letters replete with biblical and talmudic quotations...I will never forget one particular episode in the house of the Fathers of Sion in Paris in the late 1950s, by which time I was no longer an insider but a passing visitor. Though not a member of the order, Kurt Hhruby had been put in charge of the place...during a summer vacation. As a capable handyman, he undertook the renovation and redecoration of the interior of the Sion chapel, which in my time used to be filled with awful traditional paster statuary. Kurt decided to get rid of the lot. I can still see him in shirt-sleeves, standing in the garden on a sunny afternoon. Dozens of angels, apostles, a Jesus with a scared heart painted on the chest, and several Virgin Marys wearin a white robe and blue cape, were lined up on the ground against the wall of the chapel. No doubt incensed by the sight of those horrors, Kurt lifted a monumental sledge hammer and with a naughty twinkle in his eye smashed the statues, one after the other, into thousands of pieces. While doing so, he recited in Hebrew with old-fashioned Ashkenazi pronunciation a conflated text of Psalm 96.5 and 135.15:

Eloyhey ha-goyim elilim, maase yedey odom
The gods of the nations are idols [reads more likely "nothing"], the work of man's hand.

Geza Vermes, himself Jewish (his parents died in the Holocaust), was baptised Catholic as a child; he became a priest, as well as a scholar of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the author of much material around the significance of the Scrolls for early Christian history, also the author of tremendous controversy around the questions it raised. He's left the Catholic church and taken up with London's Liberal Jewish Synagogue (give him a break!; he's an old academic, an old jewish one at that).


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