Léon de Poncins: The Problem with the Jews at the Council, Part III

George F. Held

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Go to Part II


In fact, behind the appearance of an ecumenical search for a reconciliation between religions and other equally seductive words, it was a matter of demolishing the bulwark of Catholic Tradition, defined by Josué Jéhouda as “the ancient fortress of Christian obscurantism.” According to Jéhouda, there were three attempts at the “straightening out of Christianity,” which “sought to cleanse the Christian conscience of the miasmata of hatred”; three attempts at the straightening out of Christian theology which had become suffocating and paralyzing; “three open breaches in the old fortress of Christian obscurantism.” In fact, three important stages in the destruction of traditional Christianity:

The Renaissance
The Protestant Reformation
The French Revolution

In these three major movements, Jéhouda perceives the wonderful work of dechristianization to which each of them, in various forms, has powerfully contributed. He does not tell us this so brutally, since he is very skillful at handling the artifices of language, but that bursts forth clearly from his writings, as we will show with some quotes extracted from his works:

“The Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, and the French Revolution represent the three attempts at straightening out the Christian mentality to put it in tune with the progressive development of reason and science, and while dogmatic Christianity continued to make itself obscure, the Jews were gradually emancipating themselves.”

Speaking of the Renaissance, he maintains:

“We can affirm that if the Renaissance had not deviated from its original course in favor of the dualized Greek world, we would have had without a doubt a world unified by the creative thought and doctrine of the Kabbalah.”[1]

We shall now proceed to the Reformation:

“With the Reformation, which exploded in Germany fifty years after the end of the Renaissance, the universality of the Church was destroyed. Before Luther and Calvin, John Reuchlin,[2] a disciple of Pico della Miràndola, shook the Christian conscience by maintaining from 1494 on that nothing was greater than the Jewish wisdom […]. With the return to ancient sources, Reuchlin advocated also the return to Jewish sources. Finally, he had taken revenge on the convert Joan Pfeferkorn, who was calling loudly for the destruction of all ‘Talmuds’ existing in circulation. The new spirit that was to revolutionize the whole of Europe […] appeared with regard to Jews and the ‘Talmud’ […]. However, not without surprise, we found among the Protestants as many anti-Semites as among Catholics.”

In short, Jéhouda concludes, “the Reformation was the revolt against the Catholic Church, which itself is already a revolt against the religion of Israel.”[3]

Speaking of the French Revolution, Jéhouda affirmed:

“The third attempt at the straightening out of the Christian position is accomplished after the failure at unification of Christianity through reform, it was driven by the French Revolution […], which marked the beginning of atheism in the history of Christian peoples. This Revolution, having assumed a quite anti-religious attitude, extended into Russian Communism, and contributed powerfully to the dechristianization of Europe.”[4]

And to crown this straightening out of the Christian mentality, there came Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900).

“In the nineteenth century, two new attempts to make healthy the mentality of the Christian world were made, respectively, by Marx and Nietzsche.”[5]

In truth, “the deep sense of history is the same in every age, and it’s a struggle, secret or open, between the forces working for the progress of humanity and the forces that cling to crystallized values, obstinately trying to maintain what exists to the detriment of what must yet come [into being].”[6]

For Jewish thinkers, the councilar reform was supposed to constitute a new stage on the road to the abandonment, the yielding and the destruction of the Catholic Tradition, emptied little by little of its substance.


Actually, it was a matter of a new episode and a new battle within the context of the millennial Judeo-Christian clash. Here’s how Jéhouda, Rabi, Benamozegh and Memmi depict for us this clash:

“Christianity—Jéhouda tells us—stubbornly refuses to consider Israel as its father on the spiritual level […]. To believe that Christianity is the ‘fulfilment’ of Judaism, that it is its culminating point, or that Judaism has been completed by Christianity means to radically corrupt universal monotheism […]. Now is the time when it will be necessary to effect the indispensable purification of the Christian conscience by means of the doctrine of Jewish universal monotheism.”[7]

“Christian anti-Semitism, while calling itself messianic, claims to replace the messianism of Israel with the faith in a crucified God who assures personal salvation to every believer. Abasing Jewish messianism by putting it at the level of paganism, Christianity aims to convert all Jews to a reduced messianism […]. But as long as the monotheistic messianism of Israel shall last, even only in a virtual mode, the Christian one will always appear as what it is: an imitation tottering in the light of authentic messianism […], and anti-Semitism will continue as long as Christianity refuses to face its true problem, which is due to the betrayal of monotheistic messianism.”[8]

Christian stubbornness claims to be the sole heir of Israel and advocates anti-Semitism. Sooner or later this scandal must end; first there will end and disappear the climate of lies which surrounds anti-Semitism.”[9]

Let us hear now Elijah Benamozegh, one of the masters of contemporary Jewish thought:

“If Christianity agrees to revise its thought about Judaism, it (sc. Judaism) will always be the true religion of the Gentiles.”[10]

“The religion of the future must be based on some positive or traditional religion, wrapped in the mysterious prestige of antiquity. Now, among all the ancient religions, Judaism is the only one that claims to possess the religious ideal for the whole of humanity, because the work of Christianity is nothing but a copy which must be put before the original […]. As it is the uncontested Mother, it is the more ancient religion which will become the newest […] in front of Christianity […] with its claimed divine origin and its infallibility […]. To replace an authority which declares itself infallible and which is born only in year one of the Christian era or of the Muslim Hegira […], we must find another much more serious infallibility which, beginning with the history of man on earth, will end with him.”[11]

“The dreamed-of reconciliation among the first Christians, as a precondition for the Parusìa or the final advent of Jesus Christ, the return of the Jews into the Church, without which—all the different Christian denominations are in agreement on this—the work of Redemption remains incomplete, this return, we say, will be effected, as has been expected, but in the only serious, logical, and sustainable way and above all in the only way profitable for mankind. The unification of Judaism and the religions that have emerged from it will be realized, and, according to the words of the last of the Prophets, seal of Veggenti—as the doctors call Malachi—there will take place the cordial return of the children to their Father.”[12]


Let us now pass on to Rabi:

“Among Jews and Christians—Rabi said—there is an insurmountable divergence. It concerns Jesus. Assuming that he historically existed, for the Jew he is neither God nor the son of God. At most, you might say, as a last concession, the theory of Joseph Klauzer: neither Messiah, nor prophet, nor legislator, nor founder of a religion, nor Tanna[13] nor Pharisean rabbi; for the Jewish nation, Jesus is a great moralist and an artist in parables […]. The day in which it will be freed from the tales of the miracles and from mysticism, Jesus Christ’s book of morals (the Gospel), will be one of the most precious gems of Jewish literature of all time.”[14]

“Sometimes, I happened to imagine, in the last century, the last living Jew on his feet in front of his Creator, as is written in the ‘Talmud’; the Jew, bound by oath, remains on his feet all the way from the Sinai. I imagine therefore this last Israelite who will have survived the outrages of history and the attractions of the world. What he will say to justify his resistance to the attritions of time and the pressure of men? I hear him; he says:I do not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ.’ It is logical that this profession of faith be scandalous for a Christian. But is not the profession of faith by Christians perhaps scandalous for us Jews? For us […] the conversion to Christianity entails the greatest blasphemy, namely, the belief in the divinity of a man.”[15]

These writings are relatively recent. We return now to two thousand years ago and re-read the story of the Passion:

“Then those, who had arrested Jesus, led him to the high priest Caiaphas, where were already assembled the scribes and the elders […]. The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin sought false testimony against Jesus, to put him to death; but they did not succeed in finding any, although they had made in advance many false witnesses. Finally, two of these presented themselves and said: ‘He declared: “I can destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.”’ And the high priest arose and said: ‘You answer nothing? What is this that they testify against you?’ But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him: ‘I beseech you, by the living God, that you tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ ‘You have said it,’ Jesus replied, ‘I indeed say to you: henceforth you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God and come on the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, ‘He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? Now you have heard the blasphemy; what think ye?’ ‘He is guilty to death!’”[16] (Matt. 26:57-66).

After two thousand years, mutual positions remain unchanged, and the Judeo-Christian clash remains irreducible.

[1] Cf. J. JÉHOUDA, op. cit., p. 168. [*I interpret this statement to mean that originally the Renaissance was inclined to reject the Greek and Catholic duality of (mortal) body and (eternal) soul, but later “deviated” from this line of thought and adopted this same duality. Cf. Section X below where Elie Faure expresses the Jews’ desire to destroy “the Classical Greco-Latin and Catholic edifice.” My translation of this sentence is ambiguous about the nature of the original course in the same way as are the French and Italian texts. They moreover say opposite things: whereas the French text says “in favor of” (au profit de) the dualized Greek world, the Italian says “to the disfavor/disadvantage of” (a svantaggio del) the dualized Greek world. The Italian translator may have changed the sentence’s meaning in order to resolve its ambiguity, but, if so, he acted in vain.]

[2] “With John Reuchlin, the humanist of Pforzheim (nephew of Melancthon, and a partner of Luther in the Protestant Reformation), the struggle for the introduction of the ‘Cabala’ into Christianity gains strength. (He) made use of his knowledge of Hebrew, as a key that helped him to enter the wonderful world of cabalistic science. […] Reuchlin published two books: ‘De verbo mirifico’ (‘On the Miraculous Word’) and ‘De arte cabalistica’ (‘On the Cabalistic Art’). […] Rightly fearing a new prevalence of Judaism, the Dominican Santiago Hochstratten, professor of theology and researcher (inquisitore) in Cologne, took on the job of refuting John Reuchlin in his destruction of the ‘Càbala.’ In it, he proved that the cabalistic doctrine was not in fact supportive of Christian dogmas, but rather denied them, and that Reuchlin’s books were teeming with erroneous propositions” (cf. J. MEINVIELLE, op. cit., pp. 164-165).

[3] Cf. J. JÉHOUDA, op. cit., pp. 169-172.

[4] Cf. J. JÉHOUDA, op. cit., pp. 170-172.

[5] Cf. J. JÉHOUDA, op. cit., p. 187. The real name of the Jew Marx was Mordekkai Levi.

[6] Cf. J. JÉHOUDA, op. cit., p. 186.

[7] Cf. J. JÉHOUDA, op. cit., pp. 10-11.

[8] Cf. J. JÉHOUDA, op. cit., pp. 154-160.

[9] Cf. J. JÉHOUDA, op. cit., p. 136.

[10] Cf.. E. BENAMOZEGH, op. cit., p. 18.

[11] Cf.. E. BENAMOZEGH, op. cit., pp. 34-35.

[12] Cf.. E. BENAMOZEGH, op. cit., p. 48.

[13] *The tannaim (Hebrew: תנאים, singular תנא, tanna) were the Rabbinic sages whose views are recorded in the Mishnah, from approx. 70-200 CE. The period of the Tannaim, also referred to as the Mishnaic period, lasted about 130 years. It came after the period of the Zugot (“pairs”), and was immediately followed by the period of the Amoraim.

The root tanna (תנא) is the Talmudic Aramaic equivalent for the Hebrew root shanah (שנה), which also is the root-word of Mishnah. The verb shanah (שנה) literally means “to repeat [what one was taught]” and is used to mean “to learn.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tannaim)

[14] Cf. RABI, op. cit., p. 204.

[15] Cf. RABI, op. cit., p. 188.

[16] This is how St. Luke describes the same incident: “Hardly had the day begun when the council of the elders of the people met with the chief priests and scribes; they led him before the Sanhedrin and said to him: ‘Are you the Christ, tell us.’ Jesus replied: ‘Even if I tell you, you will not believe me; if I ask you questions, you will not answer me. But from this moment on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.’ They all said, ‘You are then the Son of God.’ And he said to them: ‘You say it yourselves: I am he.’ They answered: ‘What need do we still have of testimony? We have heard it ourselves from his mouth’” (Luke 22:67-71). St. Mark’s account is much more similar to that of St. Matthew.

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