World Cup Retrospective

Somebody with Cross-Currents has to say something, I suppose. After a full twenty-four hours to mull over the Game of Games, I am still searching for some appropriate Torah thoughts. Mostly, I keep on thinking of the refrain from the hadran (prayer upon completion of a Talmudic tractate) – “they toil, and we toil.” I’d hate to limit it to that, because it sounds too smug and self-righteous. While I am not a follower of any professional sport, I won’t be dismissive of those who find a bit of happiness identifying with what is (most of the time) an innocuous activity.

Still…The pictures of tens of thousands of people watching a game at 4AM, the frenzied polyglot cheering around the world, left an impression. The next time someone offers you an argument based on the numbers of adherents, remember yesterday’s game. One billion people can be wrong! And those who need a reminder about just how stupid we can get in the height of passion can remember the behavior of the French superstar who left the final game of his career by being ejected for head-butting an opponent, a behavior seen as terribly objectionable and uncouth even to the unwashed masses of the soccer stadia.

The outcome probably pleased many in our community who care little about soccer, and even less for the French. Maharal offers an important principle to explain several passages in Chazal (the works of our Sages) that describe individuals in strange ways. Sometimes, as in the case of Pharoah, they are depicted as incredibly short; others are described as gigantically tall. Maharal explains that some of these passages should not be taken literally. Chazal wish to convey what certain people would look like if their physical appearance matched their inner essence.

Without really thinking that this is what actually transpired, the thought has crossed the minds of many people that the outcome of the World Cup Final gave physical expression to the performance of the two countries in World War Two. Consider the following, all verified by a Holocaust authority I spoke with:

There was more French collaborators with the Nazis than from any other occupied country. Granted, it was not the deadlier kind common in the the Baltic States and the Ukraine, with blood-thirsty partners of the Germans doing the actual killing. But Hitler could never have succeeded with the massive French deportations without lots of help from average Frenchmen rounding up Jews and helping with the logistics and infrastructure.

The Italians were not particularly good at antisemitism. It was never a major factor in society (just like Scandinavia and Serbia). The antisemitism practiced in Italy was mostly by statute, not by the actions of individual Italians to their Jewish neighbors. Italian Jews were so well integrated in Italian life, that they used to deflect the deicide charges by claiming that their ancestors were already living in Italy at the time of the crucifixion! Even the fascists in Italy did not really want to help Germans. The result was that about 85% of Italian Jews survived.

(These observations, of course, were not universally applicable. French Catholic clergy were the most likely to have risked their lives in saving Jews, and in many cases to have actually paid with their lives. They were the most critical of the Pope’s silence. And none of this is an accurate reflection on France of today, which is also complex. On the one hand, there is plenty of anti-Semitism alive there. On the other, the French government – especially Nicholas Sarkozy – has been responsive to the problem of the explosion of Muslim attacks on Jews. Alas, like the Nazi invasion, the problem has proven to be too big for France to handle.)

Looking at the record of the Shoah, though, it might be satisfying to suppose that in more ways than one, France lost on a penalty shot.

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19 Responses

  1. David Litke says:

    How convenient from the Jewish perspective that the finalists were two European nations with whom Am Yisrael can be said to have a long heshbon of one kind or another, as you point out. A European final of any sort will always allow us reflections of this type, because our history is so bound up with the continent.

    Interestingly, had the finalists been Brazil and Argentina, most of your commentary would still be relevant, less so for its particularly Jewish angle, but certainly for the world-wide phenomenon. Soccer rivalries seem to have replaced both religious and national rivalries, which were always contested in bloodier fashion. Whether this is a good thing, whilst considering the associated secularism, relativism and hedonism, is a different issue.

  2. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Sometimes, as the pasuk says the wise man will be silent. This is a clasic case of something that the world seems to think is very important we agree it is trivial. Not only the frum Jews are oblivious to the World Cup, by the way. The not insignificant United States of America is far from excited. Benign neglect would have been better than the forced attempt to say something wise and failing. Better luck next time.

  3. JZ says:

    Don’t forget that the Italians destroyed the Beis Hamikdash and laid Eretz Israel waste…

  4. joseph says:

    What follows is a short list of Italians who were anti-Semites par excellance:

    Benito Mussolini: He passed the first of a series of anti-Semitic laws on Sept. 2, 1938. The laws were fully in place on Nov. 17, 1938 and affected more than 48,000 people. They barred Jews from public life and subjected them to a wide range of humiliating restrictions and persecution. There was no protest or dissent from Italian non-Jews.

    Pope Paul IV: He publicly burnt the Talmud in Rome on Rosh Hashanah 1553, starting a wave of Talmud burning throughout Italy. About 12,000 copies were destroyed. Paul also said the Jews were condemend to eternal slavery, forced Jews to wear yellow hats, introduced the doctrine of racial purity to the church and brought the ghetto to Rome.

    Pope Pius IX: Called us dogs, stole our children and forced our representatives to kiss his feet. Pius IX also rebuilt the ghetto walls.

    Pope Pius XII: Said the Jews should be left the Jews to their fate in a letter he sent to Adolf Hitler when he was Vatican Secretary of State. Never protested any of Hitler’s atrocities and sat silently when Jews were deported within sight of his own window. This same man spoke out loudly and clearly when Hitler targeted converted Jews, and he also excomunicated every single Communist in the world, while never excommunicating a single Nazi.

    Furthermore, Italy is where the Juramentum Judaeorum originated, and where Jews were forced to debase themselves running naked through the street at Carnivale. It’s where the yellow star was first used, and where the last ghetto stood. For more than 200 years, Italian Jews were made to listen to sermons every Saturday and Jewish children were routinely taken from their homes to be raised as Christians. In Rome, L’Osservatore Romano and Civiltà Cattolica published “scientific proof” that Jews needed to eat blood at Passover, and also regularly spread the slander of the world-controlling Jewish financier.

    Italians weren’t particularly good at anti-Semtism? They practically invented it!!

  5. Steve Brizel says:

    Anyone who wants to understand the precarious place of the Jewish community in Mussolini’s Italy should rent and watch “The Garden of the Finzi Continis.” One can see the Seder depicted therein as the end of that historic community as the Nazis approach their community. OTOH, one can distinguish between the attitudes of the ruling and intellectual classes of the Roman Empire, the RCC’s anti Semitism and Mussolini. Rome viewed the Jewish people and Judaism as embodied by R Akiva as a political and moral threat to its hegemonic and immoral rule. One of the RCC’s main philosophical doctrines was deicide. Mussolini’s Italy, which was located in Italy, but hardly a political or religious heir to the Roman Empire or the RCC, was a fascist state whose anti Semitism was de jure but not de facto, as opposed to Nazi Germany where anti Semitism was both de facto and de jure-practiced by its leaders, populace and on the law books.

  6. joseph says:

    Oh, and the very first ghetto (1516) was in the Italian city of Venice, and the very word comes from the Italian getto meaning \”casting\” or Venetian geto meaning \”foundry.\”

  7. EV says:

    Either “joseph” is DovBear, or “joseph” has plagiarized DovBear.

  8. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    My thanks to Joseph for redeeming my post of yesterday. He has turned what began as some whimsical filler into a serious discussion. (Aside: I did think several times before posting. The treatment was not as serious as other pieces on CC. Some of us, though, have been trying to get our bloggers to contribute shorter, off-the-cuff pieces. From the reactions we get – remember, we don’t publish all comments submitted – our readers seem to be split between those who want and expect a steady stream of writing, commenting on just about everything, and those who are disappointed by anything less than a magisterial treatment. I don’t blame the latter, and apologies to readers who will from time to time read something they feel is not up to par. But the other readers also count!)

    Joseph’s position, I believe, is immensely damaging to Jewish interests, besides being irrelevant to my piece. It is irrelevant because I was describing the difference between treatment of Jews during the Holocaust, not during the 16th century. A much larger percentage of French Jews wound up in extermination camps than Italian Jews, despite Mussolini’s pact with Hitler. In part, they wound up there because there was eager cooperation by many Frenchmen, while Italian Jews were, by and large, much more accepted by their countrymen. Antisemitism rears its ugly head all over the world today – but it remains less of a factor in Italy today than in France. (My source on this is an associate born and raised in Italy, who still visits from time to time and keeps tabs.)

    Joseph’s position is damaging, because he insists on wearing blinders to change. He cobbles together tales of the horrific mistreatment of Jews in Italy, especially at the hands of the Catholic Church. Many people believe, like Joseph, that the Church is monolithic, and forever incapable of change. They prefer to stew in their animus, rather than encourage and nurture real signs of contrition and mending ways. They are stuck in a freeze-frame mode of history, while others are willing to hit the play button.

    There are churches today that whose leadership positions are rife with anti-Semitism – particularly liberal Protestant members of the World Council of Churches. I have written about them, as well as about the considerable friendship shown by activist friends and significant parts of the lay population. There remain, no doubt, lots of antisemites within the Catholic Church. But there is also no church that took steps as strong and effective as the Catholic Church to distance itself from what Joseph wrote about. He may cynically reject it as meaningless window-dressing. I don’t. Anyone else who doesn’t should be smart enough to realize that attempts to make progress in relationships with Jews will not do so well if they are always spurned by people like Joseph. My hope is that our readers will begin to realize how damaging his attitude will be, unless they are ready to state unequivocally that people in the Church are doomed to remain implacable foes. I don’t buy it. (For the record, my mother let on for the first time that when all the Jews were thrown out of her school in Germany, the Catholic nuns in Konstanz set up a program to take them all in – and then cried when at a later date they were all deported to concentration camps.)

    Still, we ought to be grateful to the Josephs of the world. We optimists might get carried away, and naively assume too much. Joseph ought to continue reminding us just how much distance much be traversed before the mistrust of two millennia can disappear.

  9. Nachum Lamm says:

    I think it’s important to remember that in the current war for civilization, the Italians have been on the side of the good much more firmly than the French. It may not erase the past, but it helps.

    At the annual “Parade of the Nations” in Jerusalem last Sukkot, when non-Jewish friends of Israel attempt to fulfill the prophecy of all of the nations coming on that regel, I thought it cute that the Italian delegation was holding a picture of the Arch of Titus with words along the lines of, “Dear people of Israel, we are truly sorry for destroying the Temple.”

  10. joseph says:

    A tovel v’sheretz b’yado is one who immerses himself in purifying waters while he holds in his hand an insect that makes him impure. Until the Vatican opens its archives on the Holocaust years, or revises its grudging, theology-tainted policy toward Israel, or repudiates the anti-Semitic popes (some of whom, the Vatican, instead, wishes to cannonize) the Catholic Church is just that.

  11. Nachum says:

    The Vatican, as it happens, is an independent country. Italy has existed, as a nation, only since the mid-19th century, and has never been the same as the Catholic Church.

  12. Toby Katz says:

    Fascinating that while European elites disdain nationalism and patriotism, and try to suppress such feelings — the masses pour their pent-up national loyalties and natural human love of one’s own country into a child’s ball game. Sports is the last place in Europe where a grown man can unabashedly wave his nation’s flag and cheer for his own country.

  13. joseph says:

    The Vatican, as it happens, is an independent country. Italy has existed, as a nation, only since the mid-19th century, and has never been the same as the Catholic Church.

    The Vatican became an independant country in the 20th century. Prior to that there was no “vatican” only the papal states (about half of present day Italy) terriroty that was directly ruled by the Pope. For nearly 500 years every single Pope was an Italian, and the Curia was at least 95 percent Italian during this time. It’s impossible to separate Italian culture from the Catholic church when, for so long, they went hand in glove.

    Italy has existed, as a nation, only since the mid-19th century, and has never been the same as the Catholic Church.

    In fact for as long as the Papal States existed (nearly 1000 years) about half of present day Italy was Church territroy and ruled by the Pope himself.

  14. Ori Pomerantz says:

    There was once a nasty barbaric tribe in the desert. There were plenty of barbaric tribes in the deserts in those days, but most of them just died out and disappeared completely from memory. However, that one, Amalek, attacked our ancestors and we have been commanded to wipe out all memory of them. We still remember that command, millennia later.

    However, we were not commanded to remember everybody who ever attacked us. How far should back should we keep grudges? Should we be upset at the Iraqis for destroying the first temple? The Italians for destorying the second? The Spanish for the expulsion from Spain?

    It seems to me that anything beyond living memory is too old to hold a grudge. In 1950, it was perfectly reasonable for a Jew not to want to have anything with Germany. In 2005, when no German under the age of sixty could have participated in the Holocaust short of time travel, it didn’t make as much sense. In 2050, when all Germans who participated in the Holocaust will be dead, holding a grudge will be senseless.

  15. Moshe Friedman says:

    David Litke wrote:

    Soccer rivalries seem to have replaced both religious and national rivalries, which were always contested in bloodier fashion. Whether this is a good thing, whilst considering the associated secularism, relativism and hedonism, is a different issue.

    Please clarify. It may not be good for soccer to have replaced war because soccer is associated with secularism and hedonism? Do you think those who fought the Thirty Years War (religious nationalists, presumably) were especially moral people?

  16. Bob Miller says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein, please explain why the new Pope is not our friend.

  17. EV says:

    DovBea–I mean, joseph, y’know all those times, beginning August of last year, that Benedict XVI condemned Islamic terror and persecution of non-Muslims, did you link to any of those reports?

  18. EV says:

    Hey, Dovbea–I mean, joseph, how about a more neutrally reported account, something without all the sensationalistic zing?

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