Love your neighbor: research in Ireland to explore the links between Judaism and Catholicism


Ireland might not be the first place that comes to mind when you consider Judaism.

But the historically Catholic nation is not as far removed from Jewish and Mediterranean history as one might think. The first site of Christianization outside the Roman Empire, it was perhaps the first non-Mediterranean society to read and discuss the Torah, to hear the word “Judaism” and to learn more about life and history. Jewish.

In more recent historical times, Jewish figures played an active role in the founding of the Republic of Ireland. Ireland’s first Chief Rabbi and later Israel’s Chief Rabbi Isaac Hertzog was fluent in Irish and supported Irish independence. Abraham Weeks, a Jewish socialist and revolutionary from London, was among the first people killed by the British in 1916 during the Easter Rising.

“While Ireland may not be, like New York, an obvious symbol of Jewish life in the world today, its relationship to Jewish history and Judaism exemplifies the dynamic and empowering potential of society when Catholicism and Judaism admit their common theological principles and ignore religious principles. , and work together as theologies, not religions, ”explained Michael J. Kelly, lecturer in Comparative Literature and Judaic Studies.

Kelly, whose area of ​​expertise is the Mediterranean in the early Middle Ages, was recently awarded a Fulbright Prize to study in the Department of Classics at University College Cork in Ireland. He is currently a senior researcher at the RomanIslam Center at the University of Hamburg in Germany, where he is working on his next book on a historical origin of the concept of human nature and the attempt of early medieval theologians to classify Jews as inhumans.

“In other words, I’m showing how the idea of ​​’human nature’ was constructed as a supposedly real and universal category for the sole purpose of dehumanizing anyone who did not fit within the accepted parameters of that set,” Kelly explained, who will travel to Ireland in January. “Once there was an ideological basis for ‘human nature,’ anyone operating outside its principles could be labeled as inhuman or sub-human, and it is.

The role of theology

Theologically, Judaism and Catholicism have more similarities than differences, Kelly explained. When Jesus advises his disciples to love their neighbor, he expresses the same sentiment taught by sage Hillel, for example.

Theology, however, is an intellectual discourse between individuals who are, as such, shaped by personal beliefs and motivations, including political and economic ones. Religions such as rabbinical Judaism or Catholicism represent a subjective choice of individuals and communities to adhere to a particular version of “divine truth”.

“At this point, growing secular interests get involved in the formation of religion, building what are effectively political movements and identities that can be disconnected from the theology and the primary sources that religion claims to represent,” explained Kelly.

Consider, perhaps, a mega-church that promotes personal wealth and preaches a political message that discriminates against immigrants, or a Jewish organization that supports religious division and the expulsion of “foreigners.” Neither of them proves a connection to the actual theology of their faith, he pointed out.

It’s an old story. In 7th-century Spain, bishops – especially Julian of Toledo – harnessed Catholic theology in their attempt to exterminate the Jews. Driven by political goals and his own hatred, Julian drew inspiration from the former Visigothic authorities, who called the Jews “inhuman” and “a plague,” a sentiment they had extended to anyone opposed to it. State and its official religion.

The theological basis of anti-Semitism that Julian employed, however, was not and had not been widely accepted by Spanish Catholics. Both before and during the 7th century, they strongly rejected attempts at forced conversion of Jews or calls for their dehumanization or elimination. In fact, when Pope Honorius I, in 638, ordered the Visigothic Church to force conversions, the main bishop, Braulio, sent a blunt response.

“Braulio told him to stay out of their business because he, the Pope, was an idiot with inferior knowledge of Christianity. And this is because, as the theological argument goes, God has endowed all human beings with free will and therefore the right to choose whether or not to be sinful. Any removal of that will would be an act against the divine, ”Kelly said.

But Julian, and others after him, found a workaround that would deny individuals the right to choose their own faith, like Judaism: if they made their enemies “inhuman,” they would not be endowed with free will. .

Demystifying human nature

In Ireland, Kelly will work with world-renowned Catholic theologians on Christian eschatology, the theological study of death, eternity and the human essence. The late Visigothic Church, he claims, used eschatology to declare Jews “inhuman,” and Kelly hopes to flesh out the theology behind that claim while in Ireland.

“My goal is to learn from the collective expertise of Catholic theologians in the country – academics and practicing Church figures – but also to collaborate, share and debate with them and with students texts from the Rabbinical Judaism and theology, common goals and history of each religion, ”he said.

A scholar of the Visigothic kingdom, Kelly explores the relationship between law, literature and theology in 7th century Spain in his most recent book, Isidore of Seville and the “Liber Iudiciorum”: the struggle for the past in the Visigothic kingdom, published in March. This current project functions, indeed, as a continuation of this work.

It is also linked to an abridged monograph which he ends with a new theory of history which he calls “speculative objectivity”, which directly engages the French philosophy which was the subject of his first book, Presentation of Alain Badiou: a graphic guide, in 2014. His research on this project in Hamburg will continue in his Fulbright work in Cork, bringing together his philosophical expertise on the study of being with his historical focus.

Kelly hopes her research will demystify notions of “human nature” as a real and stable category. Once a concept is seen as a product of history, it can no longer be imagined as universal or immutable, he stressed.

“This is a fundamental recognition for the progress of society and, moreover, demonstrates the central importance of historical awareness and knowledge of historical methods in democratic life. As long as we recognize that all human situations, concepts and ideas are historical, we know they can be changed, ”he said.

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