The Tikvah Fund website republishes Jonathan Yudelman’s essay from the February issue of First Things about Marcel Dubois, the French-born Catholic priest (Dominican) and theologian who lived in Israel from the 1960s to his death in 2007. As Yudelman notes, the “gentle and disarmingly charismatic” Dubois was for many years an ardent Zionist, but toward the end of his life he became a vocal critic of Israel. Yudelman explains:
Dubois’s pious genius had sought to satisfy the old missionary impulse through a new kind of Jewish– Christian dialogue. There would be mutual respect and cultural exchange, certainly, but also a Christian duty to interpret the unself-conscious faith of the Jewish people. The Church, in recognizing the providential nature of the Jewish return from exile, would also acquire an implicit right and duty of interpreting and guiding the renewed Jewish national life.
But a Christian vocation to theologically interpret concrete Jewish being in the light of providence could not fail sooner or later to entail judging the sins of the Jews. It was Dubois’s essential error not to have seen that holding Jewish existence up to a unique form of Christian scrutiny could never be acceptable to Jews.
I met Dubois several times during my first stay in Israel in 1994-95. He was a close friend of my friends, the poet Harold Schimmel and Schimmel’s wife Varda. He had a quietly mischievous glow about him.
One day I went to visit Dubois at his house in Arab East Jerusalem, where he kept an enormous personal library with its own card catalog. At first I couldn’t find the road he lived on, and when I wandered the neighborhood looking for his house I suddenly found myself squaring off with a tiny Arab boy, about seven years old, holding a rock and making to throw it at me. I smiled at him and spoke English, intending to show my good intentions, while trying to assess how much damage a rock thrown by a wiry little kid could do if it hit me in the head. As long as I faced him, he held the rock behind his back and grinned sweetly, but whenever I started to turn away he made ready to throw. So after a tense and absurd stand-off, I made my way slowly backwards away from him, as if I were dealing with a feral dog.
I arrived at Dubois’ house and we had a long conversation about Georges Bataille. I never mentioned the incident.