The last Jewish party: something that must be maintained and respected, by Joan Fuster

This article was originally published in The vanguard on August 23, 1970.

Little by little, certain verbal remnants of the old European anti-Semitism are being withdrawn from circulation. The Catholic liturgy, for example, has removed from the Good Friday office the usual allusion to the “perfidious Jews.” In some countries, the authorities seek to purge school textbooks of derogatory phrases for Hebrew people, and even punish pamphleteering relapses into the bad habit of yesteryear. And, when recidivism occurs in any corner of the continent, there is never a shortage of protests against traditional vice. The sanitation operation has effects on the very private conversations of the Gentiles: so many sarcastic jokes are no longer told at the expense of the greedy Levi or the dissolute Esther… The thing, of course, deserves the highest praise. After Hitler’s pranks, Western crowds feel slightly embarrassed, and the least they could do is keep to their verbiage. Although there are no illusions either: the procession goes inside. A hatred rooted for centuries cannot be removed in four days. On the occasion of the current Arab-Israeli conflict, we have seen how the old racial, racist, or racist-religious animosity was reborn. But, without a doubt, something has been gained.

Berlin Jewish families packing their belongings fleeing Nazi Germany.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-E03468 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

And it can even be said that, from time to time, real scoundrels of “excessive zeal” are noticed. I recognize, with the proverb, that “the good thing is not to give it”, and naturally I will not be the one who censures such kind extremities. Now, as I read in the newspapers, the Royal Spanish Academy has joined the anti-Semitization campaign with a candid and subtle gesture. It seems that he has decided to eliminate from his dictionary the word “Jewish” and the depressing meanings of “Jewish”. Perhaps we would be sinful of suspicion, if we believed that that learned gathering had thought, more than in the excesses of the Führer, in the pragmatic expulsion of 1492, or that, among its members, there are many descendants of «new Christians», who thus take a slight retaliation. Let’s leave the suspicions for Don Américo Castro. The curious thing about the matter, in short, is the naivety with which the academic gentlemen try to interfere with a “command and control” in the living phenomena of the language. And the Spanish is not the only Academy that aspires to do so. The defect is general among corporations of its characteristics. Patience! La Española’s motto is “Fix, clean and give splendour”. Apparently, the “cleanliness” that is attributed is not merely linguistic: I mean “grammatical”, if the adjective is valid. This time he gets into the shirt of eleven yards, and wishes to impose a “quasi-political” criterion through semantic loopholes. Which is, in my opinion, abusive, and above all, useless.

The Royal Spanish Academy has joined the anti-Semitization campaign with a candid and subtle gesture. It seems that he has decided to eliminate from his dictionary the word “Jewish” and the depressing meanings of “Jewish”

Perhaps more abusive than useless. In the long run, due to that strange superstition professed by the writers’ and clerks’ guild of “systematic” respect for the academies, the terms abolished by the Spanish will lose validity in use. The scant validity they had, in written use, at least. In oral routines, God knows what will happen. But, in any case, the justification for the lexicographical amendment remains up in the air. Is “Jewish” a really insulting word for Jews? The question may have all the appearance of stupidity. Of course! It is, in its origin, a derogatory designation: «Jewish» is equivalent; more or less, to «cruel and inhumane action», that is, «something of Jews». The inhabitants of this peninsula and its adjacent islands always had serious questions in terms of “lineages” – rather than creeds, of course – and the “Jew” was the one who paid the piper. Professor Castro has explained the problem extraordinarily brilliantly: too brilliantly, possibly. Castro’s theses often give the impression of being mere scholarly pyrotechnics. But the sure fact is that the reference to the “Jew” has been a constant in local history. From a certain point on, no one wanted to be “Jewish” or be said to be. Judeznos and Aryans agreed on this (if the others could pass for Aryans). Most likely, from the Pyrenees down, the majority, vast majority of family trees, noble or commoner, carry Semitic sap, But that did not alter or alter the approach: no one wanted or wants to be “Jewish.” And the way to manifest it was and is anti-Semitic exhibitionism. For the rest, this reaction used to be spontaneous, not always calculated or mischievous. What’s so strange about the word “jewish” belonging to the most august and pompous classical Castilian? In Catalan, perhaps it will be a Castilianism, but with a solid letter of nature.

All this does not support discussion. However… I would put into play here a word with homologous conditions: «Jesuit». In common parlance, “Jesuit”—and its derivatives “Jesuit” and “Jesuitism”—have had some very obvious malevolent meanings, referring to the idea of ​​”devious caution,” “scheming hypocrisy,” or the like. Behind this hostile acceptance was Don Blas Pascal and there was the Count of Floridablanca, as behind the “judiada” lurked the sad —social— complexes of the presumed old Christian. But the words, coined by “someone” and no matter under what circumstances, enter the public domain as neutral and indifferent currency. Over time, its etymology is forgotten: etymology is precisely the forgotten part of every word. I come from a family of daily and Carlist communion, and in my home “he is a Jesuit” was pronounced quite naturally, as a statement of not very frank conduct. I will be told that Pascal and Floridablanca, if not Carlists —the poor, due to chronological fate, could not have been anything similar—, were in strict daily communion. Perhaps. But my father and mother did not know other Jesuits than my friends from the company, people of pleasant memories —Fr. Bertrán, Fr. Batllori…,— and not even very much. For them, saying “Jesuit” or “Jesuitism” was as devoid of a polemic as saying “taula” or “aigua” or “lleig.” If “Jesuit” or “Jewish” had the value of an insult in their mouths, it was not because they had in mind the children of Saint Ignatius or the great-grandchildren of Abraham… I do not know if the Royal Spanish Academy has already “purged” Jansenism and anticlericalism the term “Jesuit”. The latest edition of Fabra still retains this derivation…

I was assailed by the fear that the wave of misunderstood and academic —or official— anti-anti-Semitism would cause a mess in the structure of the Misteri

A few days ago, in Elche, once again attending the performance of his splendid Misteri, I was assailed by the fear that the wave of misunderstood anti-Semitism, and academic —or official—, would cause a mess in the structure of the famous sacred opera In the plot of the “Misteri” there is a scene that is popularly known — alas! — as “the judiada”. When the Apostles take the body of the Virgin to be buried, a herd of outraged “Jews” tries to prevent the ceremony. The episode is very logical, within the coordinates of the medieval imagination. The mob of rabbis, Pharisees and Levites, embodying the most explosive rage, come to grips with the Apostolic College: the actors pretend to really hit each other. I know that there were years when the actors hit each other seriously without simulation, and took advantage of the act to settle personal resentments. The danger that comedy would serve as an excuse for reality alarmed the councilors and the clergy of Elche, and the “Jewish” was excluded. Then, calmed the neighborhood spirits, they restored it. It is one of the liveliest passages of the “Misteri”, and musically, one of the most sumptuous. It is, by the way, essential in the development of the work: the Jewish aggressors manage to touch the coffin of the Virgin, at which precise moment, miraculously, they are paralyzed. Immediately afterwards they ask for baptism, which Saint Peter administers to them, and they join the funeral procession, intoning the “in exitu Israel de Egypto” in a Gregorian that would already like one for his own funeral…

I hope that no pseudo-post-conciliar vicar falls in Elche, and asks for the suppression of the “Jewish.” You never know… The scenographic innocence of the “Misteri” presents a repertoire of perfectly topical Jews: calfases with tiaras, ananases with colored caps, and the short people, the one hundred percent Jew with a sweaty and hirsute appearance. The adviser of the “Misteri”, who takes care of the attire of the characters, has produced some Jews that seem to have been taken from a painting by Bosch -authentic or not- preserved in the Museum of Valencia: with their tousled hair and excited gestures, they almost surpass the image of Bosch. All the ancestral “anti-Semitism” of the country seems to be concentrated in the “choir of Jews” of the drama… But the malice is minimal. These same Jews, I repeat, “integrate.” Without combing their hair, without abdicating their mosaic headdresses, without correcting their sinister makeup, they join the Latin rite of Mary’s burial. With a raised cross, singing psalms translated into Latin by Saint Jerome (or by whomever), and with Saint Peter dressed as a pontifical, like a Pope of Rome, under a canopy, the parade ends up being little “anti-Semitic”. The “judiadas”, after all, are history, and it is better that we leave them as they are. And the same does not matter the «Misteri d’Elx», that the «Merchant of Venice», by Shakespeare. Or Kafka complete. All things considered, when it comes to promoting hygiene against anti-Semitism, what should be done is to recommend that “Portny’s Complant” not be published (needless to say: it will not be published), that Kafka be banned, that Lope be pruned, that quarantined Don Américo, and so on. Let them do what they please. But that they respect the “judiada” of the “Misteri”: the last judiada. An innocent and digested Jew…

The last Jewish party: something that must be maintained and respected, by Joan Fuster