By Adam Smulevich
On Christmas eve, a piece full of prejudice and stereotypes about the Old Testament appeared in the most important Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera. The column carried the byline Dacia Maraini, 83 years, a renowned writer and a permanent columnist at the newspaper.
Maraini spoke of Judaism as a “severe and vindictive” religion, compared to Christianity which according to the writer introduced, “the concept of forgiveness, respect for women, the refusal of slavery and war” for the first time in monotheism.
For the intellectual, the Old Testament is characterized by “justice as revenge, deep misogyny, intolerance and passion for war.”
Her words that have prompted many reactions, in the Jewish world and beyond, and in particular the intervention of the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities Noemi Di Segni.
Di Segni dismissed Maraini’s attempt to clarify her position and wrote in an op-ed in the Corriere: “It is a pity that a person like Dacia Maraini does not take into account that the culture of the thousand-year-old Hebrew Bible is at the basis of our own contemporary culture of social, union rights, attention to ecology and every conquest of democratic freedom. It is a pity that she does not take into account that the Jewish world was a movement of civil conscience and a protagonist in the construction of the same democracies evoked by many but lived consistently by few. It is a pity that such strenuous concepts as violence, slavery, revenge and respect for women are flattened like sardines in a closed box consumed when necessary from which the well-preserved ancient ailment of anti-Semitism that poisons our lives resurrects.”
President Di Segni ended with hope: “I am looking forward to reflections on the topic by Church leaders.”
The episode sparked many reactions.
Archbishop Bruno Forte, former president of the Commission of the Italian Episcopal Conference for ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, stressed: “Regarding the reference to the ‘strict and vindictive religion of the fathers’ it must be said that in the Old Testament there are certainly expressions of rigor and revenge, which however are rather the reflection of the human condition, unfortunately often marked by such attitudes, than a constant of the biblical religion: this is indeed very rich in references to the primacy of love and the healing power of the mercy and forgiveness.”.
The archbishop also wrote: “Regarding the accusation of misogyny it is right to remember that some of the great protagonists of the history of the Jewish people narrated in the Bible are women and that therefore many of the reasons to affirm the dignity and centrality of women in history are found it precisely in the testimony of the Jewish faith”.
Matteo Ferrari, director of the Jewish-Christian Conversations of Camaldoli, who has signed a common reflection with Marco Cassuto Morselli, president of the Federation of Jewish-Christian Friendships in Italy, were also clear about it.
Maraini’s columned is evaluated in these terms: “We hope that women and men, Jews and Christians, who have participated for years in the meetings of the Jewish-Christian Friendships of the Secretariat Activities Ecumenical and Camaldoli talks will know, after these holidays, how to find the strength to testify how deeply false and unjust statements of this kind are”.
According to both, “at a time like this, in which signs of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism become increasingly worrying, it is no longer tolerable to read such things.”