Saturday, January 31, 2015

Time For A Rant

Sorry, guys, we got more
important things than you
As I only listen to the radio when I am driving, I probably should not listen to NPR as my particular brand of road-rage has nothing to do with other drivers (dim-witted as they can be) but in how dense, even stupid, the American public can be, something that NPR seems to spotlight in show after show.  So this past week I find out that the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not require paid parental leave.  It is too expensive!!!  Yes, I realize how expensive it would be to offer.  Like Health-Care—another staple of “First World Nations”—and like universal health care I keep hearing people say “we can’t afford it.”  Well, why can’t we afford it?  We have the money.  Or, we would have the money if we (or our elected representatives) didn't  think that an unbounded supply of military helicopters, tanks, submarines, destroyers (the very word is loaded), jets, carriers, missiles, bombs, and whatever were a greater priority than our children.  And of course included in that priority over the welfare of the American family are the destabilizing wars in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, the blank-check to our Israeli friends to defend themselves while despoiling Palestinians of their homes, orchards, and farms, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly know as the School of the Americas), and assorted other forays into international oppression.  Now you may say that I am departing from my concentration on the Church and entering the realm of politics, but let me put in this context: I don’t want to hear any of that “family values” crap from any “Christian”—pseudo evangelical or neo-traditionalist katholic—who opposes family leave while supporting a “defense” budget that is larger than that not only of all our allies combined, but of our combined allies together with Russia and China.  Let’s just be honest where our priorities are—and they aren’t with our families.  And the biggest danger to our the stability of our families is not from same-sex marriage but from a socio-economic-political structure that puts support for married couples and their children low on the list of fiscal priorities.   WWJD?  I bet he would just ****.  

Friday, January 30, 2015

Before There Were Muslims To Hate The Jews, French Catholics Did A Pretty Good Job Of It

Archbishop Lefebvre

Anti-Semitism is as French as crepes suzette—even more so—as we can see that its roots extend deep into the history of the Gallican peoples—long before there even was a France, but as we enter into the modern era the battle lines form and we will see the development of the connection between Anti-Semitism and the Catholic “Traditionalist” movement.  
The Jews had a particularly rough road in medieval France and the French Crown played a crucial role in the harassment of the Jews. There were several episodes in which this harassment peaked into persecution and even mob violence.  The Crusades triggered several waves of mass murder of Jews.  The French Crown expelled the Jews from their domains in 1182, 1306, 1322, and 1394.   Jews were forbidden to own or hold land, had to wear distinctive clothing, were restricted in where they could live, and often saw their synagogues destroyed (or converted into churches) and their sacred books burned.  But as France entered the Enlightenment, many of a philosophically liberal persuasion began to call for the emancipation of the Jews in the Kingdom of France. One of the Enlightenment figures who was notorious for his anti-Semitism, however, was Voltaire.  On the eve of the French Revolution a number of advocates of Reform including the Count de Mirabeau and the Abbé Grégoire advocated giving the Jews full citizenship.  While the government of Louis XVI did not accede to this suggestion, there were several municipalities that enfranchised Jews.  As the Revolution began to unfold, the plight of the Jews became one of the contentious issues with the advocates of Reform (from constitutional monarchy through radical revolutionaries) supporting civil rights for the Jews and the monarchists/reactionaries opposing them.  When the papal territory of Avignon was seized by the revolutionaries and incorporated into France, the Avignonese Jews were granted full citizenship in France for their support of the annexation of the formerly papal territory by France in 1791.  Their siding with the Revolutionary (though still a constitutional monarchy) government in seizing the papal territories only further alienated the Catholic party from the Jews.  As the Revolution progressed from Constitutional Monarchy to Republic, the Jews of France embraced the anti-monarchy positions and were happy to see the Church disestablished.  However, they did not support the Jacobins and the Reign of Terror and when the Cult of Reason proscribed Christian religious worship, the ban was most often applied to Jewish worship as well.  As the dust of Revolution settled and Napoleon emerged as Emperor of the French, Jews were guaranteed full and equal rights in the Empire.  They were freed from the Ghettos wherever the French Army conquered and Judaism was recognized as an official religion of the Empire along with Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism.  Napoleon further convoked an assembly of Jewish representatives from throughout his empire known as the Grand Sanhedrin to be a sort of Jewish High Council and represent the interests of the Jewish community to the Empire.  This helped draw the line with Jews in Napoleon’s favor while the Catholics tended to be Royalists who refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Empire in hopes of a restoration of the French Bourbons to the Crown.  Throughout the nineteenth century Catholics would continue to support the Bourbon/Monarchist causes while the Jews would support the various liberal governments that came intermittently along between restorations of the monarchy and the revival of the Empire under Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III). 
When the 2nd Empire collapsed towards the end of the Franco Prussian War the monarchists held a majority in the National Assembly but were divided between the Legitimists who favored the Comte de Chambord, grandson of Charles X and a semi-absolutist monarchy, and the Orleanists who favored the Comte de Paris, the grandson of Louis Philippe, and a constitutional monarchy.  Although a compromise was finally arranged, the monarchist party was unwilling to accept the terms on which the crown was being offered and what was meant to be a temporary Republic but ended up lasting almost seventy years was established under the monarchist Marshal of France with the improbable name of Patrice de MacMahon.  Although MacMahon was a Legitimist who favored the restoration of a strong monarchy, he took his duties as President of the Republic seriously and refused to sanction a coup by the conservatives to take over the Republic.  By the time of MacMahon’s resignation in 1879 the monarchist cause had lost popular support and the Republic was pretty firmly established. 
The Catholic Church in France strongly supported the restoration of the monarchy; therefore non-Catholics: Protestants, Jews, and Secularists supported the Republic.  Consequently the Church in France became a strong force for political and social reactionism.  French Catholics felt somewhat betrayed by Pope Leo XIII’s endorsement of the Republic.  The Catholic reactionaries mounted a strong anti-Semitic campaign and were particularly intent on purging the military of Jews.  This resulted in the infamous Dreyfus case where a French officer of Jewish blood, Alfred Dreyfus, was framed and convicted of treason and then imprisoned under appalling conditions before finally being cleared.  Catholicism and anti-Semitism became deeply linked by their common affiliation to conservative French politics in the early 20th century. 
Following the Dreyfus affair and the anti-Semitism that surrounded it, a reactionary movement arose called Action Français.   Action Français set about undoing any and all effects of the French Revolution—it was monarchist, anti-democratic, nationalistic and very, very Catholic.    In fact is was so Catholic that Pius XI condemned the movement in 1926—in other words, Pius saw the movement as using a veneer of Catholic faith for political and socio-economic objectives that were contrary to Catholic thought.  Pius XII lifted the excommunications in 1939 when he saw Action Français as a defense against Marxist-Leninism, but the Holy See never endorsed the political or sociological objectives of the movement which ran contrary to the encyclicals of Leo XIII and Pius XI (and subsequently to the social encyclicals of John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI.) 
Despite the relative strength of Action Français in the first half of the 20th century, monarchism never garnered enough political momentum for there to be serious consideration of restoring the French monarchy, especially in a somewhat absolutist form as advocated by the hard-line monarchists.  Action Français faded out after World War II, but its nationalistic, conservative, anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic fanaticism remained in the hearts of many French reactionaries.
Among the bearers of the Action Français heritage was the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.  Lefebvre came from a monarchist family in the North of France.  Like others in the Legitimist tradition they saw the French Revolution and the end of the ancien regime as the collapse of everything Catholic.  They wanted not only to restore the Bourbons to the Throne of France, but Catholicism as the State Religion.  Lefebvre himself was an ardent supporter of the Vichy Regime during the Nazi occupation as he saw the Petain dictatorship as the womb for a reborn Monarchist France.  The Archbishop shared in the anti-immigrant, anti-Jew, anti-Muslim, anti-democratic views of Action Français and later, with the collapse of the movement as a force in French politics, shifted his political allegiance to Jean-Marie LePen and his French National Party.  Le Pen is infamous for his anti-Semitism and his skepticism about the Holocaust. 
Lefebvre’s own anti-Semitism has colored the Catholic Traditionalist movement.  Many Traditionalists have insisted on maintaining the older Good Friday Collect for the Jews, describing them as perfidis (unbelieving, but often translated perfidious).   This word had been removed from the Liturgy by John XXIII who literally stopped the Good Friday Service in 1960 and ordered the prayer recited without that word.  Benedict XVI insisted that the traditional collect be altered to avoid the word but his insistence has been ignored by many in the “Traditionalist” community and certainly by those in Lefebvre’s Society of Saint Pius X.  Among the four bishops illicitly ordained by Lefebvre, the Englishman Richard Williamson, has been a notorious Holocaust denier.  Contemporary Traditionalist literature both in France and throughout Western Europe and North America, the parts of the world where neo-Traditionalism has taken root, is often laced with anti-Semitism, sometimes subtle, sometimes virulent.  The Traditionalist communities in France are hotbeds of agitation against both Jews and Muslims.  

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Before There Were Muslims To Hate the Jews, French Christians Did A Pretty Good Job Of It (cont)

French Knights killing Jews
during the First Crusade

We have been looking at the long history of anti-Semitism in France so as to better understand the current tensions that French Jews are experiencing after the murder of four Jewish victims in a Kosher supermarket on the outskirts of Paris three weeks ago.  The current outbreak of anti-Semitism is being blamed on Muslim immigrants to France while it is overlooked that the French have a long tradition of persecuting and harassing the Jews.  We have looked at the story up until the Crusades and the High Middle Age.  We will now pick up on that saga.    
The situation of the Jews in France only deteriorated as the Middle  Ages wore on.  All through the period of the Crusades various local bishops and feudal lords instituted programs of forced conversions or expulsion from their territories.  In Lent of 1181 King Philip Augustus had his soldiers round up the Jews in the royal domains while they were at synagogue and forced them to surrender their money and jewelry.  The following year he expelled all those who would not convert to Christianity, giving them three months notice during which they could sell their assets while he confiscated their homes, shops, mills, factories, and other properties.  Their synagogues were turned into churches.  It was not long, however, before the King realized the disastrous implications on the economy of the Kingdom that was caused by the expulsion of the Jews and in 1198 he recalled them, permitting them to settle in Paris and several larger cities in his domain where he licensed them to engage in moneylending and pawnbroking with the Crown receiving a hefty cut of the profits.  The Crown viewed the Jews as their property and it was illegal for a Jew to move from the royal domain to that of another feudal lord.  This restricted their freedom of movement and put them in a position somewhat akin to that of a serf though their work was economic rather than agricultural. 
Louis IX (Saint Louis, reigned 1226-1270) was a particularly pious man and while he seems to have no animosity towards the Jews he did want, in accord with Christian theology, to abolish usury (moneylending at interest).  This had disastrous implications for the Jewish community in as that moneylending at interest was their chief business.  In an effort to end the practice, the King reduced the all debts of Christians owed to Jewish moneylenders by one third but insisted that the remaining two thirds had to be paid to the Jews within a given time frame.  This would pretty much cut the profits from the money lending and return the original amount of the loan.  While requiring the debts to be paid promptly guaranteed a certain justice for the moneylenders, at the same time he handicapped them in their collection.  The moneylenders could not have their Christian debtors imprisoned for failure to pay.  He then ordered the confiscation of all property owed by those who still engaged in moneylending.  On a religious level—as differentiated from the economic questions—in 1243 Louis ordered the burning of 12,000 Talmudic manuscripts.  The King also enforced a decree of the Fourth Lateran Council that required all Jews to wear on their outer garments, both back and front, a circular badge that identified them as Jews.  
Philip the Fair (reigned 1285-1314) expelled the Jews from France in 1306, confiscating their properties, money, and the debts owed them by Christians.  The Jews were arrested on July 22nd, the day following Tisha B’Av, the annual fast marking the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple.  In prison they were told that they had to leave the kingdom before the end of August and they could take with them only the clothes they were wearing and 12 sous (about .6£, at the time not an inconsiderable amount, perhaps two months wages for a working man.)  Everything else was confiscated to the crown; debts owed them by borrowers were transferred to the crown.  Philip was a truly evil man whose concern was motivated by greed for the crown revenues.  The following year he would turn on the Knights Templar, executing their leaders and confiscating their vast wealth to the crown.
In 1315 Philip’s Successor, Louis X, recalled the Jews to France, guaranteeing them they could remain for a trial period of 12 years.  They were forbidden to engage in money lending and required to wear a distinctive armband identifying them as Jews. They could only resettle in those cities and towns where they had lived before and they were not permitted to discuss religion with Christians.  They had to work either at manufacturing or at trade; money lending was forbidden them.  The situation did not last the promised twelve years.  In 1322 many Jews were expelled again from France under Charles IV, being blamed for poisoning wells in the 1321 Leper scare—an alleged conspiracy of spreading leprosy through poisoning the drinking water.  Another expulsion of the Jews from France occurred in 1394 during the Reign of Charles VI.   
In the late 15th century, much of the region of Provence—until that time not part of France but held by a number of independent feudatories (including the Pope and the King of Naples), passed to the French Crown and was incorporated into the kingdom of France.  In 1501 the Jews of Provence, ancient communities going back to Roman days, were given an order to covert or leave the Kingdom.  Many did convert to Christianity but others crossed the Pyrenees into Catalonia and Aragon.      
Jews began migrating back into France in the early sixteenth century and remained relatively unmolested; in fact unnoticed amid the turmoil and tragedies facing the House of Valois.  In 1615, however, Marie de Medici, regent for her young son, Louis XIII, decreed that Christians should not shelter Jews nor converse with them.  Louis’ son, Louis XIV, considered another expulsion of the Jews in 1648 but by that time more enlightened understanding was beginning to affect political decisions.  Moreover, the economic impact of the Jewish community was considerable to a French Crown that was on a wild spending spree.  As the Church began losing its influence with the spread of Enlightenment thought, religious toleration began to replace  the more rigid patterns of the medieval and counter-reformation periods.  Of course not all saw this as good; nor do all see religious toleration as good today.  We will see that anti-Semitism survived the Enlightenment and the French Revolution to take root in the Catholic Restoration of the 19th century and still colors right-wing French Catholicism today.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Before There Were Muslims To Hate the Jews, French Christians Did A Pretty Good Job Of It

There is a wave of fear spreading through the Jewish communities of France after the Charlie Hebdo attack and the killing of hostages in a kosher supermarket on the outskirts of Paris.  Curiously enough this anti-Semitism is being blamed on the Muslim population which has emigrated to France from its former colonies in the decades since World War II.  In fact, anti-Semitism and violence towards Jews has a long and very French history that reaches back long before Islam. 
Jews lived in France from the days when Gallia and Vienna (centered in modern day Vienne) were provinces of the Roman Empire.  Jews lived everywhere in the Roman Empire—and beyond the Empire in places as far away and exotic as India.  The Sibylline Oracle said of the Jews: “Every Land is Full of Thee and Every Sea.”  From very early on Jews had been merchants even before the diaspora exiled them from Judea.  Their homeland on the Eastern Mediterranean made them naturals at this even as it had done for the Phoenicians before them.  Jewish merchants could stretch out eastwards to the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian Ocean, and the ancient Silk Road to transport goods such as spices, incense, citrus, and exotic fabrics from Asia and the Islands of the Indian Ocean. They could stretch south down through Egypt and along the Red Sea to the Horn of Africa for ivories and slaves and exotic animals.  They could reach up beyond Asia Minor along the Black Sea for amber and bronze and the market for fair-haired slaves. They could reach westwards across North Africa for the excellent wines and abundant wheat produced there in the ancient world as well as gold and slaves from sub-Sahara Africa.  And they could reach north and west into the markets of what is today Europe where so much of this treasure could be sold in return for iron, wool, tin, silver, and wood that was in demand in the East.  Jewish family conglomerates would send their sons and sons-in-law to the various corners of the world to facilitate the export and import of goods.  Unified by blood and marriage and kept unified by a religion that did not allow for religious or cultural assimilation, Jews were able to maintain a common identity wherever they went in the world. 
After the expulsion of Christians from the Synagogues and their becoming a religion distinct from Judaism at the time of the composition of the Birkat ha Minim, the prayer cursing the “sectaries” (an euphemism for Christians) c 80 AD,  there was most often tension between the Jewish communities in a given place and their Christian counterparts.  Judaism and Christianity have often, sadly, acted like the older and younger siblings who have mutual resentments going back further than either can remember.  As Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, Jews found themselves increasingly marginalized in many places.  Yet it was not always true.  Bishop Hilary of Arles (d. 449) was known for his good relationship with the local Jewish community who mourned his death with the singing of psalms. This was somewhat exceptional however.  The Third Council of Orleans was very worried about the number of Christians converting to Judaism or at least accepting Jewish dietary and cultural practices.  The Merovingian King, Dagobert I, (died 639) proposed to force Jews to accept Christianity or leave his kingdom.  He did not follow through on this proposal but its very threat is a sign of the anti-Semitism that was characteristic of French society in the early Middle Ages.
Just as a point of clarification here.  What mean by France today was not a reality until the late 19th century when the House of Savoy ceded western parts of its kingdom, including Marseilles, to France.  Through much of the Medieval period France should be considered only north of the Rhone River as much of what is today southern France was either subject to the Holy Roman Emperor (read German), Italian overlords, or the Visigoth monarchs of what is today Spain.  What may have been true in what is today the south of France may not have been the case in the Paris region.  For example, the Jewish communities of the south of France most often were left in relative peace and prosperity at times that there was strong action against them in more northern lands ruled by the French Crown.  Nevertheless, we can still speak in generalities as long as we note various exceptions.  When the Carolingian dynasty replaced the Merovingian in 751 the plight of the Jews improved considerably.  The Rise of Islam and the vast conquests of the Mideast and North Africa in the 7th and early 8th centuries was accompanied by an Islamic domination of the Mediterranean that left Western Europe bereft of the luxuries that had come through the Byzantine Empire to the West.  The Arabs joked that “the Franks cannot so much as float a plank on the sea.”   There was an almost total collapse of the old trade routes.  The international networks of Jewish merchant families were practically the only ones who could function effectively in the mercantile void.  According to Ibn Khordadbeh, a government official under the Abbasid Caliphs, who wrote The Book of Roads and Kingdoms Jewish Merchants from what is today France organized a series of trade routes running from the Rhone Valley and connected all the way into China.  Jewish merchants carried spices, perfumes, incense, jewels, and silk from the Orient and the Indies to Europe and brought furs, wool, steel goods (mostly weapons from Flanders,) and Slavic slaves from Europe to the Arab world.  From the seventh until the beginning of the eleventh century Jewish merchants had a virtual monopoly on trade and this made them essential to the Kingdom. Charlemagne and his successors made sure they were protected and able to have justice in the royal courts.  At the same time, they were forbidden to own or hold land or trade in currency.  As they could not hold land, neither could they be ennobled or even knighted.  Not owning land, their wealth was fluid but this enabled them to use wealth to make wealth whereas the landed nobility whose wealth was in their lands often were cash strapped.  Jewish merchants were only too willing to help them through their financial crises but at a price.  This created a tension, even an anger, on the part of the landed classes who felt at times they were being taken advantage of.  The Jewish community was also, for a great part, very sophisticated and highly educated.  Given the travels of the merchant class, many Jews were polyglots.  Their sophistication and learning was another source of jealousy for some of the French nobility who, despite their political power, remained somewhat crude through most of the early and central Middle Ages. 
Things began to change and not for the better in the 11th century.  Venice, Genoa, Amalfi, and other Italian cites began to open trading posts in the Levant in what is today Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine, breaking the Jewish monopoly on trade and making the Jews somewhat extraneous to the economic welfare of the Kingdom.  A change of dynasty from the Carolingians to the Capets also meant a change in royal attitude towards the Jews. Robert II (Robert The Pious) Capet (reigned 996-1031) bore a particular hatred towards the Jews and instituted a policy of forced conversion and mob violence to intimidate the Jewish populace.  His ally, Richard II, Duke of Normandy abetted him in this and the Jews of Rouen sent the Talmudic scholar Jacob ben Jekuthiel to Rome to intercede with Pope John XVIII.  A very hefty of gold—and I mean very hefty—persuaded the Pope of the need to protect the Jews of France and the Pope sent a legate to France with a papal order for the King to stop the persecution of the Jews.  The King did and he didn’t.  While officially they were no longer harassed, anti-Semitic feeling was running strong.  Meanwhile, the “Mad Caliph” Al Hakim ibn Amr Allah, had destroyed the Sepulcher of Christ in Jerusalem, leveling the tomb to the ground.  Christians around the world were outraged.  As Muslims were not near at hand, the only “outsiders” that could bear the brunt of Christian rage were the Jewish communities.  In one of those classic cases were the ignorant tar the innocent with too broad a brush meant for the guilty, all sorts of conspiracy theories emerged how Jews and Muslims were in league to profane Christian rites.  The Bishop of Limoges gave the Jews of his city the choice of converting to Christianity or exile; those who refused to leave were put to death.  Other bishops across France followed suit.  Many Jews killed their wives and children and then themselves rather than convert.  As the century progressed towards the declaration of the First Crusade in 1095, the hatred of Christians towards Jews in France—and indeed throughout much of Europe—only continued to grow. The Crusades added fuel to the flame as both in France and the Rhineland Crusaders killed Jews indiscriminately.  The Jews of Rouen were locked in a church where they either had to accept baptism or death.  All but a few chose death.  To be continued.