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Italian rabbis accuse biblical conference of fueling anti-Judaism

Two people ride bicycles past a synagogue in Milan, Italy, on March 15, 2012. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Paolo Bona

ROME (RNS) Two leading Italian rabbis have accused a Bible organization of promoting anti-Semitism by inviting scholars to debate the roots of Judaism at a Venice conference.

The theological conference, organized by the Italian Biblical Association, is titled “People of a ‘Jealous God’: Coherence and Ambivalence of the Ancient Religion of Israel” and will be held in September.

Rabbi Giuseppe Laras

Rabbi Giuseppe Laras, emeritus president of Italy’s Rabbinical Assembly and former chief rabbi of Milan, has released a letter sent to conference organizers in which he accused them of promoting intolerance and resentment of Judaism.

The conference will examine the role of the Hebrew God, Yahweh, in the evolution of faith and examine elements of the Torah and Jewish and Muslim philosophy, before looking at elements of the Bible’s New Testament.

In his letter, Laras described the program as a “defeat” for Jewish-Christian dialogue.

He said the scheduled topics revealed an undercurrent of “resentment, intolerance, and annoyance” toward Judaism and “a minimization of the Jewish biblical roots of Christianity.”

“It saddens me that those who raise objections, doubts, concerns and outrage about these kinds of programs are always Jews, reduced to the thankless and disagreeable task of having to act as a ‘dialogue policemen,’ instead of influential Christian voices,” he said.

Laras, a university professor who taught Jewish history and philosophy, also said the conference promoted “Marcionism,” referring to the school of thought espoused by Greek theologian Marcion who believed that the Old Testament God was angry and wrathful while the New Testament promoted a loving and merciful God.

Milan’s chief rabbi, Alfonso Arbib, also expressed concern about the conference and its intentions on Tuesday (March 14).

“Theological arguments have been used in the past as a weapon against the Jews: the vengeful God of the Jews, the God of justice as opposed to the God of love, used as anti-Jewish propaganda,” Arbib said.

“When arguments of this kind are used it raises our alarm,” Arbib said. “Through Jewish-Christian dialogue the Catholic Church has overcome these arguments. It seems that now they are coming back.”

Luca Mazzinghi, president of the Italian association hosting the conference, said the criticism was “completely unjustified.”

The organization has around 800 members, including academics and other experts, and is recognized by Italy’s Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

“Those who created this controversy — without thinking about contacting either the president or the organizers — wanted to create political, ideological and religious implications which are completely unrelated,” Mazzinghi said, adding:

“As there is absolutely no anti-Semitism or attack against the Jewish faith or Judaism in general, we strongly reject any objections to our agenda.”

(Josephine McKenna covers the Vatican for RNS)

About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.

13 Comments

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  • Josephine, I have been trying to. explain this concept to many Christians on this site, but you have said it better than I could.

  • Actually, my guess is the Christians at this site are much stronger supporters of both biblical Judaism and the nation of Israel, than most of those bishops and liberal academics who will be convening that conference.

    THEY will be watering down (and they may use acid instead of water!) the God-ordained, Torah-written, historically-accurate origins of Israel/Judaism. Especially the supernatural stuff. You know THEY are going to reject the historicity of Hebrew Bible accounts about how God gave huge Supernatural Victories in order to preserve Israel from her enemies.

    And don’t be surprised if some of THEM spit on Zionism as well. “God didn’t give you Jews no land of Israel, that’s just a racist imperialist LIE you Jews cooked up, so you can oppress all those 100-percent peaceful and rocket-launching innocent Palestinians of Gaza & West-Bank!!

    Yeah, just watch what happens Susan. I know it may seem unlikely, but you gonna find that Judaism and Israel’s best friends are right here, NOT over there!!

  • I doubt that Marcionism lies at the root of this conference. As the the God of the Jewish scriptures and the God of the New Testament are the same God, as I believe and understand Him to be’ there is no dichotomy. The particulars of the Jewish experience as delineated in the Torah, Prophets, and Poetical Literature of the original covenant may differ markedly from those narrated and enjoined in the New Covenant, but they, from the Christian perspective, are part of a seamless whole. The intent of the conference is no doubt any effort to continue the examination of the linkages and nuances that exist between the two faiths. As a bonus, Islam is being incorporated into the discussion.

  • I also suspect a problem, since it appears code words are being used; not just jealous but ancient. Why is ancient becoming a problem? This word used to imply and command authority and respect, but now more likely implies primitive and superstitious. Nor do I consider it any boon to examine Muslim philosophy, since this will likely be a selected portion of their writings and a minimization of their brutalities and, when not brutal, the great lengths to which they went not just to severely tax but to humiliate and punish dhimmis and make them feel inferior and know their place. You just can’t safely separate Muslim philosophy from their political philosophy and agenda and get an accurate picture.

  • “my guess is the Christians at this site are much stronger supporters of both biblical Judaism and the nation of Israel..”

    There is actually quite a bit of latent (most likely unintended) anti-semitism just in that sentence alone. “Biblical Judaism” being a distinction as opposed to just plain Judaism which would encompass as it exists now. There is the impression that Jews are being seen solely for their reference in the Bible but not considered as a followers in a living existing religion. A religion its own views which sharply differ from the Christian take.

    “THEY will be watering down (and they may use acid instead of water!)
    the God-ordained, Torah-written, historically-accurate origins of
    Israel/Judaism. Especially the supernatural stuff. You know THEY are
    going to reject the historicity of Hebrew Bible accounts about how God
    gave huge Supernatural Victories in order to preserve Israel from her
    enemies.”

    That is actually mostly a Protestant take on the Old Testament.

  • You have to at least start with biblical Judaism, Spuddie. Gotta take it seriously. Jewish people certainly do.

  • two opposing sides, untrue to ELOHEEM shall accuse each others side of anti-otherness. being anti-ELOHEEM shall result in antichristian, antijewism, and antimuslim accusations. and not ever realizing, it is your not being true to ELOHEEM causing this also pestilence, plague, and famine. all problems on earth, are the results of your not being true to ELOHEEM here in THEIR giving This Physical Theocracy again. here in This last half of The Physical Torah Story, covering from Adam to adam and his sister again.

  • if the name of your g-d/s is not ELOHEEM and THEIR Only Begotten Son’s Name is not Adam. then you are the problem worshiping other g-ds here at this end of the sixth physical day again in TheTorah Happening.
    ELOHEEM, has THEIR He/She Son Adam crucified again. and go blind, deaf, and dum, even before the physical return of The Male Child adam and his sister again. where the whole world, is pretending like the more subtle talking beast of the field said to pretend your in some other physical story not here in TheTorah again.

  • where did you all get, this foolish notion that we are all not here in This Story of The Physical Creation just again?

  • What Christians consider “Biblical Judaism” is a far cry from how Jews interpret their own scripture. Christians aren’t as big on discussing context, language, intent or application the way Jews do.

    What you call “taking it seriously” has more to do with your Protestant Christian take on Bible interpretation than anything by other sects or faiths which use the same texts. Biblical literalism is something unique to that subset of Christianity.

  • “You just can’t safely separate Muslim philosophy from their political philosophy and agenda and get an accurate picture.”
    Exactly the same can be said of any country where the church and the state fornicate happily together.

  • It only takes one visit to a university library to convince yourself that Christian scholars are just as “big on discussing content, language, intent, and application” as Jewish scholars. That’s not a problem.

    Meanwhile, for you, the problem is that we evangelicals STILL have significant common ground with today’s Jewish people, even though we disagree about Jesus of course.

    Went to a Temple service a few years ago. They sang praises from the Psalms as if all the Psalms were God-written. Rabbi gave a brief, positive message from a Hebrew Bible text that he obviously considered true.

    This guy was no atheist, no Unitarian. (Although he was liberal except for Palestinian terrorists and Gay Marriage. Nope on them too.)

  • Depends on the Christian. Evangelicals tend to go for lockstep canned interpretation, others not so much.

    The running joke about Evangelical philosemitic attitudes are that they want Jews/Israelis around to keep the lights on for when their messiah comes. There is a lot of (unintentional) backhanded attitudes

    Judaism does not accept Biblical literalism as a legitimate part of its belief. That is uniquely Protestant. Even the ultra-orthodox don’t do that. They debate the hell out of its meanings and debate the debates. They parse the language and look for applications and intent. Torah Study is more akin to legal study than catechism and dogma.

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