Interview with Aldo Villagrossi Crotti

by Maria Teresa De Donato

Dear readers, today I am very happy to offer you a new interview with a friend and colleague Author that I have already had the pleasure and honor of hosting on my Blog and Virtual Cultural Salon: Aldo Villagrossi Crotti.

Aldo is a multifaceted character who – as I was able to explain in a previous interview – reminds me in part of Albert Einstein and in part Woody Allen, for reasons that I am not here to list, but that I invite you all to discover through reading of the previous articles about him, namely La Ragazza di Sighet – Da Auschwitz alla California: Una storia di speranza, e Ascolta Questo Fiume (The Girl from Sighet – From Auschwitz to California: A Story of Hope and Listen to This River) as well as the review I made of his interesting, pleasant and equally smooth book La zia Quintilla (Aunt Quintilla), which will intrigue you leaving you with a mystery to solve …

The list of potential topics to be discussed with Aldo is endless. Today, however, also inspired by themes mentioned in the past, we have decided to focus on Judaism, a subject as ancient as it is complex especially for those who are not of Jewish faith and whose knowledge of this people is limited, in fact, to biblical events. and to the Holocaust.

MTDD: Hi Aldo and thank you for agreeing to participate in our third interview. It is always a pleasure to talk to you. 

AVC: Needless to say, I was looking forward to your nod for a new interview. It is always a pleasure.

MTDD: Aldo, in the previous articles we have scratched some aspects related to the history of the Jews and the persecutions they have been subjected to. We did not have the opportunity, however, to deepen either the history or some fundamental themes of Judaism. 

Personally, who are passionate about spirituality, biblical history, and the history of religions, I honestly acknowledge that my knowledge of the Jewish people is practically limited to two very specific moments: that linked to the events described in the Old Testament, which, however, spans millennia, and that linked to the Shoah. 

As far as possible, I would like to try to fill, therefore, what I believe to be not only my gap, but also a gap of many, perhaps millions of people who are not Jews, in order to offer, also and above all to readers, a clearer and more global vision not only of history, but also of the evolution of the Jewish people. 

I would suggest starting from the beginning, therefore, from what could be considered for many ‘common ground’, namely the very Covenant that Jahveh / Yahweh / Jehovah made with Abraham, and which he subsequently renewed through Isaac and Jacob, and from the Mosaic Law, a very complex Code of Laws, which in fact regulated the life of the Israelite in every aspect and sphere. 

AVC: You love short themes, huh? (Just joking) Let’s start by saying that God’s names are many. Tendentially among Jews Hashem, or “The name” is used, so that nothing “inconvenient” is pronounced. Observant Jews, of course. I will later make a precise distinction in this regard. Judaism has an extraordinary glue, the Torah. As for the Mosaic Law, the “Torat Moshe” is a part of the Torah, and in particular they are the first five books of the “Tanakh”. But writing all this I realize that it’s all so complicated… I try to talk about it differently.                                  

You must know that there is one thing about the Jewish religion that I adore, and that is the very firm determination to NEVER bow to anyone other than Hashem himself. This thing is both the most honorable and the most dangerous for the Jewish people. Not bowing to the powerful has caused many problems, I would quote in this case the biblical book of Esther, which I invite you to read as it is fully descriptive of what this characteristic of Jews is. At this point many will have already wondered how it is possible that so many Jews are part of organizations such as the Masonic one where it is mandatory to bow to the undisputed will of a powerful superior. In fact, they are not real Jews, but Jews who, from a formal point of view, break the fundamental laws of Judaism. Therefore they are not Jews. I know I’m saying a “strong” thing, but that’s it. There are people who ended up in the ovens because they did not want to bow to the powerful, I really don’t understand why these others should do it like this, with no respect for their own history. Therefore, there is still a lot to work on the Mosaic Laws. That said, it is precisely at that moment that one of the most interesting cultural bifurcations in history begins to take shape: on the one hand the Jewish religion, on the other the Jewish culture, which for five thousand long years have crossed and divided, creating, moreover, also other cultures and other religions, including the Christian one. 

It must be remembered that a very important figure for Judaism is Jesus Christ himself, a figure who strongly criticizes the rules and habits of ancient Judaism; a figure who proves to be a very profound connoisseur of what are the fundamental laws of Judaism and strives to bring Judaism back to a human level, within everyone’s reach. This is legitimate and understood from a Jewish point of view, because the best feature of the Jew is his ability to question himself and his existence and, if you think about it and take a step back a few thousand years, is exactly what Hashem is asking of us. I realize that the speech is convoluted and I apologize for it. Then we also talk about the complications and understanding the teachings.

MTDD: The Temple of Jerusalem suffered more than one destruction in the course of history. In 70 C.E., the Roman army under General Titus, after a siege lasting about three years, captured Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and deported the Jews.

How many diasporas have there been in the history of the Jews and how this has affected over the centuries their ability to ‘adapt’ or in any case to survive among ‘the gentiles’, in the midst of different cultures that have not always shown ‘tolerance’ towards of diversity? 

AVC: Countless, among those known. Almost all due to the fact linked to the denial of authority that is not Hashem. Pharaohs, Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, kings, and queens up to the Nazis, all very irritated by these obnoxious with the curved nose who do not bow before the powerful. Hence, unfortunately, the saying arises: “what does not kill you makes you stronger”.

MTDD: Has Judaism changed over the centuries? And if so, how and to what extent? 

AVC: Other than that. But are we talking about religion or culture? Because from a religious point of view not that much has changed if we want to see it from a purely theological point of view. There is a phrase that I often use when asked: “Describe the Jewish religion”. The sentence is the following: “There is only one Hashem who is unique and indisputable. For everything else, do as you please.” 

The rest is Torah and Talmud, a great nation.

MTDD: As far as I know, many Jews – for one reason or another – have ended up over the centuries embracing and professing other religions. 

Do modern Jews still believe in what their ancestors in biblical times believed or, to put it another way, what does being Jewish mean and imply today? 

AVC: Six rabbis met one Thursday morning around a table. At a certain point, for no precise reason, they began to discuss the existence of God. Each of them had an opinion and each of them imagined his existence in a different way. This began to be challenging and the discussion lasted well beyond the night. Around three in the afternoon on Friday, after a grueling and at times dramatic discussion, everyone finally agreed: God does not exist. 

“Well,” said the eldest rabbi. “Now that we all understand that Hashem does not exist, let us prepare with joy for the celebration of Shabbat.”

MTDD: Torah, Talmud, Tanakh, Mishnah and Kabbalah are terms we often come across when we read articles on Judaism. 

For those who don’t know exactly what they are, could you define them and also explain the role that each of them plays in the Jewish community and culture? 

AVC: Torah: It is a long series of laws which, according to tradition, have been transmitted from Hashem to Moses, and from Moses to each of the Jews, and from each of the Jews to other Jews and so on as long as the Jewish people exist. . But in this way I risk being reductive, to describe the Torah it takes years of study, and the more one studies the Torah, the more difficult it becomes to describe. I believe that few can afford to give a definition of the Torah that lasts less than six pages. I love to think of the Torah as a nation. The Torah marks the boundary of a culture. The Torah is a geographical map for religious purposes. Someone acrobatically described the Torah as “a teaching”. It may be, but I have no tools to confirm or disprove this. 

Talmud: Mamma mia, dear Teresa, how have you ever asked me… the Talmud is one of my favorite readings. There are things in the Talmud that are extraordinary, but the best thing about the Talmud is its commentators, some of them as ancient as Maimonides. The Talmud is an incredible collection of rules that the good observant Jew must observe, but not without discussing them with the rabbi or better still to himself. Obviously, all this needs an explanation, and as necessary the explanation I give it to you in my own way: You know that the Jews cannot do anything operational during the Sabbath, that is to say nothing that is not reading, walking, conversing with friends, sing, play a musical instrument. Stop. Everything else is banned. You can’t even turn on the light or answer the phone, but the worst thing an observant Jew can do on Sabbath is work. At this point a good builder from Bergamo would jump on his chair wondering what the sense of such senselessness could be. In reality there is a sense, and also a lot: after thousands of years of slavery, where man was forced to submit to the overwhelming rules of the torturer or the pharaoh of the moment, once he has reached freedom, he is the precise duty of the free human being is to celebrate his own freedom with the sacrosanct respect for rest. To this end, the Talmud asks and responds promptly to sudden needs that may arise during the period of Shabbat: it is allowed to carry a parcel in the courtyard of the house during Shabbat, but it is not allowed to carry more than one, because this behavior would sound, to the eyes of neighbors, like a job, and therefore would be disrespectful. Another example: “Before entering a stranger’s house, ask if he has a cat. If the answer is no, you can take off your shoes. ” Oh beautiful, Dr. Teresa De Donato will ask herself together with a couple of thousand other readers, what is the correlation between cats, shoes, home and Jews? It is very simple: cats in ancient times, lacking the succulent croquettes that my cat, the very spoiled Taz has, used to eat what they found and evidently, says the Talmudic commentator, in ancient times they used to feed on snakes. Since the snake has very sharp and pointed bones that remain facing upwards, if you walk barefoot you can seriously hurt yourself. You will have understood that the Talmud is a set of behavioral rules that are very distant from the religious conception of any other type of religion worldwide. I believe there is nothing that has never been analyzed and resolved at the Talmudic level. It is a work of colossal dimensions and in some ways almost impossible to fully probe. But it is clearly written in the Talmud: “it is forbidden to fully understand what the rabbi tells you”. Amazing. 

Mishnah and Kabbalah: these are very, very broad topics that each need a separate intervention distinct from the rest. I reserve the right to take advantage of your patience in the future, but not now. Sorry.

MTDD: Let’s postpone these issues to the next interviews then. In the meantime, I take note of the Talmud’s statement that “it is forbidden to fully understand what the rabbi tells you” which will remain engraved in my mind from here to Eternity. 😊 

From biblical times to today, what were the main holidays during the year that the Jewish people celebrated and which ones do they continue to celebrate today?

AVC: A notable difference between Jewish and Christian culture lies precisely in this: the Jewish people celebrate when the Christian people celebrate and vice versa. Let’s say that Passover is the celebration that matters most to Jews. There are no holidays suppressed for Jews, since the world began Jews have celebrated Shabbat, Easter, Shavuòt, but they also have “negative” celebrations, days of mourning and fasting such as Shiv’ah Asàr where it is remembered the breach in the walls of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. And anyway we are talking about a religiously very traditionalist people, who hardly change their minds from the point of view of celebrations.

MTDD: I am about to ask you a question that some might see as a provocative one, but which is far from being such, at least in the intentions of the person asking it, and which rather aims at a peaceful confrontation between two opposing views. Jesus Christ: ‘Son of God’ according to the Bible and more than two billion people; ‘Son of Man’ according to millions of people including the writer Khalil Gibran … and the Jewish people. 

Why shouldn’t/couldn’t Jesus have been the long-awaited Messiah and why should we expect a different one? Didn’t he fulfill the Scriptures? 

AVC: That’s the simplest question ever. According to the Bible, the Messiah will bring peace to the world with him. Since it is evident that this did not happen, the observant Jew tends to exclude that Jesus could be the Messiah. Easy.

MTDD: Rabbinic Culture and Zionism. Can you mention the salient aspects of both?

AVC: Zionism was born very recently. Rabbinic culture is a different kettle of fish. I can’t even see the correlation between these two things. I know Zionist rabbis and completely opposite rabbis as a view of the national question. I would tend not to mix things up, as the former is mostly political. 

MTDD: It seems to me that with some frequency the term ‘Zionist’ is sometimes perceived as something negative, oppressive, or at least harmful to the international community. 

Could you clarify this point?

AVC: How many GB do you have on your PC? I do not like “ISMIs” in general, because they lead too often towards extreme positions, and extreme positions always lead to the marginalization of one side, which clashes heavily with my universalist vision of humanity. I love cultural differences, but I don’t like the need to stand out with the presumption of superiority or belonging. I am a DNA scholar, and if I look at the variations over time, I see a community originating from a single common genetic element. So we are all cousins, maybe brothers, certainly relatives, regardless of religion or politics.

MTDD: Over the centuries, the desire to return to their homeland has increased in Jews, leading millions of them, scattered all over the world up to that moment, to move into what since 1948, the year of its creation, is known as the State of Israel. On the one hand, to simplify the concept, we have the Jews, descendants of the patriarch Abraham through Isaac, the son of his wife Sarah, and on the other the Palestinians, descendants of Abraham again but through Ishmael, the son Abraham had by the slave Hagar, before Sarah was able to conceive Isaac. 

In fact, these peoples are ‘brothers’ and should have the same right to inhabit those lands. The question that many ask themselves, therefore, is: Will they ever be able to live in peace? 

AVC: As long as they feel different, no. Christ was right in so many ways. It should be understood more, and analyzed without preconceptions of any kind, not even religious ones, which are often absolutist. Let’s talk about something external to the West: when you get into a taxi in Pakistan, the taxi driver asks you which tribe you are from. Watch out for the answer, because if it’s the wrong one, it’ll throw you out of the taxi. As long as this is the case, we will not have great prospects for peace.

MTDD: What are some texts or readings that you would recommend to those who want to deepen their knowledge of Judaism? Where should they start from in your opinion?

AVC: I would recommend them to read Moni Ovadia’s “The Last Supper Bill”. In my opinion it’s a great start and it’s fun too. 

MTDD: Are there any questions that I haven’t asked you and important aspects that we have not considered and that it would be useful to mention to help those who are not of the Jewish faith to become familiar with the culture, beliefs and traditions of the Jewish people?

AVC: Only one fundamental aspect: there is a Jewish religion and a Jewish culture. They are two distinct things and must be kept separate to understand them better.

MTDD: Thank you Aldo, for participating in this interview and for all the information you have provided to us all. 

Why don’t we remind our readers how they can get in touch with you and possibly buy your publications? 

AVC: They can type my name on Amazon, for example, contact me via Facebook or wait for me next Wednesday on the Lodi – Piacenza state road at km 43 around 10:35, but solutions 1 and 2 are the most convenient. 

Teresa, it is more and more a pleasure. A big hug.