Monday, August 6, 2007

Is Cardinal Lustiger a Jew?

The New York Times of August 6, 2007 includes the obituary of Jean-Marie Lustiger, former Cardinal Archbishop of Paris and Primate of France. Cardinal Lustiger was born to Polish Jews residing in Paris, and converted to Roman Catholicism as a child. His mother was murdered in Auschwitz.

Aaron Lustiger was born in Paris in 1926 and, in 1940, following the German occupation of France, was sent by his parents to live with a Catholic woman in Orleans. At age 13 he converted to Catholicism, adding Jean-Marie to his name. He always insisted and asserted that he remained a Jew despite his conversion. “I believe he saw himself as a Jewish Christian, like the first disciples,” said a close friend, the conductor Gilbert Levine.

“I was born Jewish, and so I remain, even if that is unacceptable for many,” said Lustiger.

In 1995, while the prelate was visiting Israel, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau, the Ashkenazic chief rabbi said Cardinal Lustiger “betrayed his people and his faith during the most difficult and darkest of periods.” The rabbi dismissed the assertion that the cardinal had remained a Jew. In response, the cardinal said: “To say that I am no longer a Jew is like denying my father and mother, my grandfathers and grandmothers. I am as Jewish as all the other members of my family who were butchered in Auschwitz or in the other camps.”

After the death of Pope John Paul II, there was speculation about Lustiger being a possible successor. “From your mouth to God’s ear” he responded in Yiddish, with his characteristic humor.

Again, the subject of “Who is a Jew” is raised. If there is, indeed, a Jewish ethnic identity, then an individual, once a member of this ethnic group, can never separate from it, no matter how he/she may try. If it is agreed that the concept of a Jewish People exists – this is genetic, not philosophical or religious. It cannot be otherwise.

So here are some clarifying concepts, as I see them:

1. The Jewish People – Individuals with a historic, genetic link to the original Israelites.
2. The Jewish Religion – Individuals who identify with Judaism, i.e. the religion founded by the ancient Israelites.
3. The Jewish Nation (or simply “Jews”) – Includes individuals in categories 1 and/or 2.
4. Israel – the present-day nation-state comprised of members of the Jewish Nation as well as other ethnic groups.

Rabbi Lau, the respected and revered Grand Rabbi, accepts the Holocaust as being God’s justifiable punishment of the Jewish people for believing in the Enlightenment, and founding Reform. I presume that he, then, considers Hitler an agent of God. This intolerant man with an overwhelming capacity to condemn and hate, and very little, if any, capacity to love and forgive, labels Lustiger as “a betrayer of his people.”

A change in philosophy or ideas is hardly a “betrayal.” “Betrayal” implies treason and dishonesty, with a determination to misrepresent or injure the “betrayed” party. If one leaves the Republican Party and becomes a Democrat – he has not betrayed the Republicans. If one decides to become a Reform Jew, rather than remain a Conservative Jew, he has not betrayed Conservative Judaism – merely changed his religious philosophy – as did Cardinal Lustiger.

All Jews, however they are defined, should exercise inclusiveness, not exclusiveness. Lets put an end to the concept of “two Jews, three synagogues!”