Matt at the Roshpinaproject (RPP – a Messianic Jewish site) expressed a common Jewish view of Jews who convert to Christianity: “Most Jewish converts to Christianity who claim any orthodox background are very fishy (they claim they grew up “conservadox”, or that their parents were orthodox).” And Bubby also at the Roshpinaproject, who told me – a convert to Christianity – that she suspected that “you never had the opportunity to find out the truth about Judaism and Torah so you feel like an outcast and you are angry and hostile.” I was a bit hostile in some of my comments on RPP but not because I felt a Jewish outcast. The reason for my hostility was that Bubby and other Jewish comments at the Roshpinaproject stressed that it was tragic that a Jew would give up his Jewish soul (neshamos) for the worship of the “man” Jesus. I kept on and on stressing – and stressing out; yes, that’s what it was, and not hostility – that what ultimately matters to me was Christ in me. Contrary to Hans, I had a thorough Jewish upbringing in my early childhood – from the age of 3-4 to 9, which was spent in a Jewish orphanage. (I wrote about the Orphanage years here).
Earlier, I examined the life of Theodor Herzl for whom Zionism was purely a political movement. Whereas Theodor Herzl’s struggle, was political, his son’s struggle was social and ethical Contrary to the brilliant atheistic minds of modern times, Hans believed that ethics proved God. His interest transcended Zionism and Judaism. If God was universal, he reasoned, then He must be God for all mankind, a universal God. For this reason, Hans did not believe in a historical Messiah. What was important was not the historical but the ethical. The ethical teachings of Christ could, then become, Hans said, the basis for the creation of a World-Church, which would subsume Christianity and Judaism. For Hans, the ethical teachings of Jesus were in complete harmony with Judaism.
“Of course, Hans said, there is a precondition: by giving up the outdated dogma of the historical Messiah, the Synagogue would become a constituent member of the World-Church, and the unification of the human family would be completed by the inclusion of the Jews. Then the ethical content of Judaism could attain its fullest development, and renew national “Christianity” from within. This is how I see the Jewish mission, and Jewish nationalism: a Christian Theocracy of Jewish faith… I am a Christian – but in the spirit of the apostle Paul, in whom Judaism and Christianity were united in the worship of One God… Don’t you see that the New Testament is only a continuation of the Old, just as the teachings of Jesus are but a continuation of the Ten Commandments?” (Hans to Marcel Sternberger).
Between the ages of 26 (1917) and his suicide aged 39 (1930), Hans searched for an answer to the Jewish ethical and political problems. He studied Zionism but found it inadequate. He believed that the Jewish question would never be solved unless the Jews united with Christians in seeking a universal solution for humanity. If Judaism and Christianity were united in the worship of the One God, as Hans claimed, where would one look for an institution that embodied universal brotherhood (see Hans Herzl (1): The World-Church and Unification of the Human family). In the Roman Catholic Church, perhaps. But before, Hans flirted with the Roman Catholic Church, he became a Baptist for a while. After he left the Roman Catholic Church he tried various other denominations. I focus on Hans’ sojourn in the Roman Catholic Church not only because I belonged to that church for more than two decades but also because it is the church that is the most universal (“catholic”) of all the other Christian denominations – and that was what Hans was looking for: a “universal” movement.
“The (Roman Catholic) Church’s main tenet, writes Abraham Coralnik, is a spiritual authority that unites peoples and nations into a universal unity, with one sole center – Rome. This is Catholicism’s eternal dream. This is what has strongly attracted romantics and people with imagination, from Dante to Cardinal Newman…One can well imagine how a man like Hans Herzl came to embrace Catholicism. Just because he was a Herzl, just because he was an “orphan of Zionism,” as it were, an orphan of the Jewish people, he felt perhaps more sharply than the rest of us, the chasm that lies between Judaism as a religion and Judaism as a political, national institution. What meaning did Judaism have for him? What did he know about it? In his father’s house, he heard talk of a Juden Staat, a state to be build with old crumbling material” (Reflections on Jewish Civiliation (Across the Great Divide Series: The Selected Essays of Abraham Coralnik, Vol I, p. 130). Coralnik’s “old crumbling material” refers to Herzl’s political foundations contrasted with the solid foundations of Judaism.
Coralnik’s “orphan of Zionism” seems to allude to the fact that Hans and his sisters were left orphans after the death of their parents: “…the founder of Zionism spent his life fighting for a home for his people. His orphaned children spent their lives searching for a home of their own” (David Zax; see “The fall and the fall of the Herzl Dynasty (1): The clouds open.” If Coralnik means by “orphan” the fact that Hans lost his parents at a young age, I don’t see how that relates to Coralnik’s description that “he (Hans) felt perhaps (italics added) more sharply than the rest of us, the chasm that lies between Judaism as a religion and Judaism as a political, national institution.” Coralnik’s “perhaps” indicates that he is only surmising that Hans’ orphan status had any direct bearing on Hans’ – very real – conflict between religious and political Judaism. But even such a suggestion is not warranted because a (Jewish) orphan may choose to become an orthodox Jew or an assimilated Jew, without the conflicts that did actually occur in his life influencing such a decision.
The Roman Catholic Church was nothing like Hans envisioned it. He was perhaps deceived by the name catholic “universal.” If, however, if he was living after Vatican II, especially during John Paul II’s reign he would have felt much more at home. The papal encyclical Nostra Aetate (“In Our Time”) states:
(Nostra Aetate is the Declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions proclaimed by Pope Paul VI, October, 1965)
“The Church therefore has this exhortation for her sons: prudently and lovingly, through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, and in witness of Christian faith and life, acknowledge, preserve, and promote the spiritual and moral goods found among these men, as well as the values in their society and culture” (Nostra Aetate 2). (See Buddhism, Judaism and Catholic Nostra Aetate and Universalism and the Mystical Desertion of the Gospel.
And Pope Paul II wanted to do tshuva (prayer of repentance). Rabbi Blech relates that Pope John Paul II’s favourite teachers at Acting School were Jews. The Pope described how the Nazis shot his Jewish teachers in front of his eyes. “This (Rabbi Blech relates) changed his whole perception. He said we have to go to the Kotel [wailing wall] to do tshuva”, he used the Jewish word tshuva. (Blech addressing his audience) [You say it] can’t be because he is a goy. Goyim can change.” (See Rabbis, “evangelicals” and Messianic Jews of Maozisrael
, ostensibly, also thought so – that goyim can change. According to the majority modern Jewish view of Isaiah 53, the following words emanate not from the Messiah but from the repentant mouths of the goyim:
“For he (the Jewish people) was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people (the goyim) he (the Jewish people) was stricken.”
Here is the prevalent rabbinic opinion of Isaiah 53:
“Isaiah 53 contains a deeply moving narrative which world leaders will cry aloud in the messianic age. The humbled kings of nations (52:15) will confess that Jewish suffering occurred as a direct result of “our own iniquity,” (53:5) i.e., depraved Jew-hatred, rather than, as they previously thought, the stubborn blindness of the Jews.” (See Isaiah 53: The grammar of modern rabbinical interpretation).
Hans would probably have found in Mother Teresa the missing piece of the puzzle; not only because of her good works, but also because of her universalist theology – she tried to reconcile the dying to their gods. But, Hans died long before Vatican II, and so did not have the opportunity to savour a church that was becoming catholic (“universalist”) in ways that that would have shocked the Catholic Church of pre-Vatican !!; for example, the video “Catholicism: Crisis of Faith” has film footage of an ecumenical gathering of the Dalai Lama chanting, African shamans calling on their gods, and Muslims chanting from the Koran. The altar that was used for the service had a statue of Buddha on top of the Tabernacle (an ornate container for consecrated bread). Catholics believe that consecrated bread is literally the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. Putting a statue of Buddha on top of the Tabernacle is, in effect, elevating Buddha above Jesus Christ. A sedevecantist’s (a minority of traditional Catholics) worst nightmare, and, perhaps, Hans’ dream of universal brotherhood come true. (A sedevecantist is a Catholic who believes that the changes of Vatican II such as the one I have described are heretical; therefore, the popes from the beginning of Vatican II (1962) onwards are heretics. This means that the Chair of Peter is now vacant (empty – sede vacante – “empty seat”) because it is not longer “Peter” who sits on the papal throne but a impostor
After a brief sojourn, Hans left the Roman Catholic Church,which merited him instant excommunication. But then, all that “excommunication” meant to Hans, and to many others who leave the Roman Catholic Church, is that they no longer have any communion with that church. Hans tried various other Christian denominations and dropped those too. Protestant denominations don’t excommunicate you from the church for leaving, because they have a different definition of “church,” (to the definition of the Roman Catholic Church), which refers to “children of God,” that is, sinners who have been born again. I don’t know whether Hans was familiar with these distinctions or took any interest in them. His next “religious” move was to a liberal synagogue in London, which suggests that he was not searching for God – God as Creator of the universe, who is also personal – because liberal Judaism, of all the different kinds of Judaism, is the furthest removed from traditional Judaism (of whom Moses Maimonides is a prime example).
In Judaism (and other religions), one of the main issues is the degree of importance of the Law. For ultra-Orthodox Jews, all 613 laws (mitzvot) are essential. In contrast, Conservative and Reform Jews are selective. Then there is a vast swathe of Jews who don’t believe in the Torah at all or in the God of the Torah. These are the Reconstructionist Jews and to the right of them (believing less) are the liberal Jews. (See The Torah: shared myths and other stories in Reconstructionist Judaism and The Eternal, History and Reform Judaism.
The Liberal Judaism website says:
“Liberal Judaism arose in early nineteenth century Germany as an attempt to reconcile the basic principles of Judaism with the Enlightenment values of rational thought and scientific evidence. As the Jew emerged into Western society, Liberal Judaism affirmed the possibility and desirability of making compatible the practice of Judaism and a Jew’s participation in modern society. Liberal Judaism’s main departure from traditional Judaism concerns revelation. Liberal Judaism believes that the Hebrew Scriptures including the Torah are a human attempt to understand the Divine Will, and therefore uses Scripture as the starting point for Jewish decision making, conscious of the fallibility of scripture and of the value of knowledge outside of Scripture. In the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, there are over thirty Liberal and Progressive Jewish congregations, large and small.”
I don’t see any significant difference between “Reconstructionist Judaism” and the above description of “Liberal Judaism.” There is hardly anything in these two modern products of the Enlightenment that represents the Judaism that has existed for more than 3000 years, and continues to exist among those who have been set apart (for God) from the myriads of Jews that make up the bulk of everyday Jews. The Torah is set apart from the world; it is in the world, but not of the world.
The irony is that modern Conservative and Reform Jews, and Jews who don’t believe in the God of Israel at all, are Zionists, whereas Ultra-Orthodox Jews are anti-Zionists. Ultra-Orthodox Jews reject “Zionism” because it is a human, not a divine, creation; it gainsays the Torah. Ultra-Orthodox Jews believe with Rambam that every word of the Tanakh is breathed out by God.
“I believe in the words of the prophets. They are the truth.
I believe that the Bible was given to Moses.
I believe that the Bible cannot be changed.”
(Rambam – Moses Maimonides)
For Hans, religion was probably nothing more than a ritual of the senses whose function was to make sense of the rigmarole of life. Church was to Hans what nature was to Baudelaire:
Nature (church) is a temple whose living pillars from time to time
Utter confused and confusing words;
Man enters, passing through a forest of symbols
Gazing on him with familiar eyes.1
(Charles Baudelaire, “Les Correspondences,” my translation).
There is a world of difference between “ritual” and “spiritual.” Here is Charles Spurgeon:
“… much of the religion which is abroad in the world is a vain thing. The religion of ceremonies is vain. If a man shall trust in the gorgeous pomp of uncommanded mysteries, if he shall consider that there resides some mystic efficacy in a priest, and that by uttering certain words a blessing is infallibly received, we tell him that his religion is a vain thing. You might as well go to the Witch of Endor for grace as to a priest; and if you rely upon words, the “Abracadabra” of a magician will as certainly raise you to heaven, or rather sink you to hell, as the performances of the best ordained minister under heaven. Ceremonies in themselves are vain, futile, empty. There are but two of God’s ordaining, they are most simple, and neither of them pretend to have any efficacy in themselves. They only set forth an inward and spiritual grace, not necessarily tied to them, but only given to those who by faith perceive their teachings. All ceremonial religion, no matter how sincere, if it consist in relying upon forms and observances, is a vain thing. So with creed-religion—by which I mean not to speak against creeds, for I love “the form of sound words,” but that religion which lies in believing with the intellect a set of dogmas, without partaking of the life of God; all this is a vain thing (Charles Spurgeon’s “Religion – A Reality“). (See My conversion to Roman Catholicism and why I left).
Soon after his move to a liberal Judaism, Hans began to lose total control of his miserable life. Judith Rice writes:
“In time he found himself attending the liberal synagogue in London. His life had spiralled into spiritual, emotional and personal hopelessness. Word came to him of his beloved sister Pauline’s death in Bordeaux. His depression and self-absorption, his failure in protecting his sister and saving himself (hence his people the Jews) became manic.”
“So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. For what can the man do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done. Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness. The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them. Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind (Ecclesiastes 2:12-17).
In Bordeaux, the day after his sister Pauline’s death, he wrote the following letter:
“If a ritual can really calm our spirits and give us the illusion of being in the company of our beloved dead once more I can’t think of anything better than a visit to the Temple: there I can pray for my parents, ask their forgiveness [Hans’ father hated religion] and repent my apostasy before God. I am destitute and sick, unhappy and bitter. I have no home. Nobody pays any attention to the words of a convert. I cannot suddenly turn my back on a community which offered me its friendship.”
“Without prejudice, even if all my physical and moral impulses urge me to: I have burned all my bridges… What good is the penance which the Church has ordained for my “spiritual healing”! I torture my body in vain: my conscience is torturing me far worse. My life is ruined… Nobody would regret it if I were to put a bullet through my head. Could I undo my errors that way? I realize how right my father had been when he once said: “Only the withered branches fall off a tree – the healthy ones flourish.” 2
“Withered branches” refers to Theodor Herzl’s “The Jewish State,” in which he wrote, “Branches of the Jewish people may perish. Its tree will live.” Herzl’s “branches” reminds me of Chaim Weizmann, one of the key founders of Zionism, who when asked before WWII:
“Can you bring six million Jews to Palestine?” I replied, “No.” … From the depths of the tragedy I want to save … young people [for Palestine] “The old ones will pass. They will bear their fate or they will not. They are dust, economic and moral dust in a cruel world … Only the branch of the young shall survive. They have to accept it.” (Chaim Weizmann reporting to the Zionist Congress in 1937 on his testimony before the Peel Commission in London). (See Moral Dust).
Hans was 39 years old (1891- 1930) – not too old for Weizmann – but didn’t wish to survive. The day after the death of his sister Pauline in Bordeaux and thirty-five years after Theodor, his father’s dream about crowning him King of Israel, Hans wrote a short note to the hotel manager, in which he apologised for the mayhem he was about to unleash. Then“with a single gunshot, pierced the head his father had dreamed would wear the crown of Israel.”
His wished to be buried with his sister Pauline, but the Jewish Orthodox community refused. They reluctantly agreed after pressure from the caretakers of Herzl legacy, and Hans was buried – secretly – next to his sister in the Jewish cemetery of Bordeaux. If only I knew in 1962 what I know and interests me greatly now, for I visited Bordeaux on several occasions. It took many more years for Israel to agree to having Hans remains buried in Israel. In 2006 the remains of the once future King of Israel and Pauline were removed to Israel, where they were buried on Mount Herzl next to their father.
“The procession which starts at the doge’s palace will be opened by Herzl-Cuirassiers. Then come the artillery and infantry… while all are marching in gold-studded gala uniforms, the high priests under canopies, the doge himself will wear the garb of shame of a medieval ghetto Jew: the pointed hat, the yellow badge… When I thought that someday I might crown Hans as doge… I had tears in my eyes” (Herzl’s diary, 1895, when Hans was four years old).
1Here is the original French:
La Nature est un temple où de vivants piliers
Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles;
L’homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l’observent avec des regards familiers.
2Here is some of the original German – “Ich bin eine einsame, verzweifelte, traurige und bittere Gestalt”.Niemand hört auf einen Konvertiten. Ich habe alle meine Brücken verbrannt. Mein Leben ist ruiniert. Niemand würde es bedauern, wenn ich eine Kugel durch meinen Kopf jagte. Ich kann so nicht weiterleben.”