The Catholic Priest Who Became an Orthodox Jew Thanks to a Secular Zionist Historian

Born in London in 1911, by the age of eighteen Kenneth Cox was on his way to becoming an Anglican clergyman, but eventually religious doubts got the better of him. He then embarked on several years of religious seeking, during which he even experimented with liberal Judaism—before determining that the religion was “dead as a dodo” and eventually converting to Catholicism. After serving as a Catholic priest for ten years, he again began to have doubts; these were exacerbated by his discovery of the writings of the great Zionist literary historian Joseph Klausner. Shalom Goldman writes:

In the midst of his spiritual crisis, Father Cox was influenced by reading Klausner’s books Jesus of Nazareth and From Jesus to Paul. His encounter with Klausner’s work deepened his doubts about Christian doctrine. Written in Hebrew in the 1920s and translated soon afterward into English, Klausner’s volumes portrayed Jesus and his teachings as thoroughly Jewish. Paul, wrote Klausner, and not Jesus, was the founder of Christianity. But Paul too, in Klausner’s opinion, was thoroughly Jewish, though he deviated from normative Jewish ideas.

In Father Cox’s words, Klausner’s conclusion was that, “The education of Jesus was far more exclusively Jewish than is the education of most Jews today. . . . His was a strictly Hebraic upbringing. Jesus was not a Christian!” More importantly to Cox, Jesus, as described by Klausner, was not divine. Reflecting on his Christian pasts, both Anglican and Catholic, Cox wrote that “my own rejection of Christianity was based essentially upon my rejection of the divinity of Jesus. The road to Judaism started from that point.” . . .

Cox went on to become an Orthodox Jew and a self-described “fanatical Zionist,” took the name Abraham Carmel, and spent most of his subsequent career teaching Shakespeare at an Orthodox high school in Brooklyn, interrupted from time to time by speaking tours about his own experiences:

Reflecting on his two conversions, Cox contrasted the warmth with which he was received into the Roman Catholic Church with “the chilly indifference with which the convert to Judaism is treated.” When he moved to the United States a decade later, Carmel experienced a warmer reception from the Modern Orthodox communities of New York City. But in 1950s England there was little enthusiasm in the Orthodox community for a convert from among the Catholic clergy. The British Beit Din [high rabbinic court], reflecting and shaping the attitudes of Britain’s Orthodox congregations, was not receptive or welcoming to converts, especially to converts from the Anglican or Catholic churches. . . .

For an Anglican, converting to Judaism meant leaving the established church of one’s native land. In Kenneth Cox’s case, the interreligious dynamics were even more complicated. A decade earlier he had left the Anglican church to become a Catholic priest. Now he sought to become a Jew. The rabbis of the London Beit Din were no doubt aware that by accepting Cox into the Jewish community they risked alienating both Anglican and Catholic ecclesiastical authorities.

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More about: Catholicism, Church of England, Conversion, Orthodoxy, Religion & Holidays

Understanding the Background of the White House Ruling on Anti-Semitism and the Civil Rights Act

Dec. 13 2019

On Wednesday, the president signed an executive order allowing federal officials to extend the protections of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to Jews. (The order, promptly condemned for classifying Jews as a separate nationality, did nothing of the sort.) In 2010, Kenneth Marcus called for precisely such a ruling in the pages of Commentary, citing in particular the Department of Education’s lax response to a series of incidents at the University of California at Irvine, where, among much elase, Jewish property was vandalized and Jewish students were pelted with rocks, called “dirty Jew” and other epithets, and were told, “Jewish students are the plague of mankind.”

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, U.S. Politics