Podcast: Cynthia Ozick on the Story of a Jew Who Becomes a Tormentor of Other Jews

In her latest short fiction, the great American Jewish writer retells the true story of Edgardo Mortara, a young Italian boy taken by the pope in 1858 and raised to become a priest.

From “The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara,” 1862, Moritz Daniel Oppenheim. Jüdisches Museum der Stadt Frankfurt am Main.
From “The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara,” 1862, Moritz Daniel Oppenheim. Jüdisches Museum der Stadt Frankfurt am Main.
Feb. 16 2024
About the authors

A weekly podcast, produced in partnership with the Tikvah Fund, offering up the best thinking on Jewish thought and culture.

Cynthia Ozick is an American writer whose essays, short stories, and novels  have won countless awards. Her latest novel, Antiquities, was published in 2021.

Podcast: Cynthia Ozick


In the 1850s, when a young Italian Jewish boy named Edgardo Mortara fell ill, his family’s Christian maid had secretly baptized him in hopes that he would be restored to health, or that if he died, his soul would be saved.

This meant that when Edgardo survived and his baptism was revealed, the church saw him as a Christian child, not a Jewish one—and it was forbidden by Canon law for a Christian child to be raised by Jewish parents. So Edgardo, then six years old, was removed from his family against their wishes by the pope, and brought to Rome where he was instructed in the Catholic faith and eventually became a priest.

This is the background to a new work of short fiction, “The Story of My Family,” written by the great American Jewish writer Cynthia Ozick and published in the March 2024 issue of Commentary. In it, Ozick retells the kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara as it is remembered by Edgardo’s nephew’s daughter who, by the time of the story, has moved to America. From there, she reflects on the way that Edgardo’s life and priesthood haunted his nephew, that is, her own father.

To discuss her new story, Ozick joins Mosaic’s editor and podcast host Jonathan Silver this week. Together, the two investigate the meaning of a tale about a Jew who becomes a tormentor of the Jews, and how such theological disturbances can rattle future generations.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.

More about: Cynthia Ozick, Edgardo Mortara, History & Ideas, Jewish-Catholic relations, Literature