Interview with Aldo Villagrossi Crotti

by Maria Teresa De Donato

My dear fellow readers, today I am very happy to introduce to you Part 2 of the interview with my friend and colleague Author Aldo Villagrossi Crotti, whom many of you already know and who has been my most welcome guest several times.

As I mentioned in the past, Aldo is a multifaceted character who reminds me in part of Albert Einstein and in part of Woody Allen, for reasons I am not going to list here, but that I invite you all to discover by reading my previous articles about him, i.e. Judaism from Biblical Times to Today: The History of a People Always on the Move (Part One)The Girl from Sighet – From Auschwitz to California: A Story of Hope, and Listen to This River, in addition to the review I made of his pleasant and equally smooth book Aunt Quintilla, which will intrigue you, leaving you with a mystery to solve …

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

We will therefore take advantage of it and consider some aspects that, although mentioned in Part 1of this interview, we were compelled to postpone due to time and lengthy.

Enjoy the reading you all!

MTDD: Hi Aldo and welcome again to my Blog and Virtual Cultural Salon. It is always a pleasure and an honor to host you.

AVC: Hi Teresa, it’s always a pleasure for me too.

MTDD: In Part 1 of this interview we have considered many interesting aspects of Judaism and concluded that meeting with your statement, “there is a Jewish religion and a Jewish culture. They are two distinct things and must be kept separate to understand them better.”

I would suggest we start right there. Could you, please, elaborate on this concept, perhaps even giving some examples, to help our readers understand it better?

AVC: Like all religions, Judaism has “undergone” an evolution. This is already a statement to be considered revolutionary, as religions are generally entrenched in their positions, and do not admit variations. Judaism, for example, switched from the oral transmission to the written one precisely as a result of a variation of a sociological and, consequently, cultural nature: the fear of losing the conditions for oral transmission has made the transmission change from oral to written. This happened initially for the Talmud, and I believe I can say it without fear of being denied that this was a leap forward for the Jewish culture even more so than for the religion, as the Talmud was already equipped with a more than efficient diffusion system, such as teaching by means of the word, but was enriched with a further and very important study tool such as reading. It should be noted that writing the Talmud was, and in some extreme cases still is, considered a stretch.

From a cultural point of view, it is inevitable that a people like the Jews, which for millennia have been gathered in well-organized small and medium-sized communities, also have their own, basic culture, which is strengthened and consolidated by the study of its members, but, unfortunately, also from persecutions, since the saying, “what does not kill you, makes you stronger” always applies.

MTDD: A question then arises: By distinguishing a Jewish religion from a Jewish culture, do we perhaps mean that, at least theoretically, a person, whether a Jew or a non-Jew, can embrace the Jewish religion without embracing its culture or embracing its culture without converting to Judaism?

AVC: Here we enter a discussion that has many controversial aspects. If you ask for my opinion, I don’t see why there can’t be approaches from one side or the other. They are two very different things, culture, and religion. “Converting to Judaism” is not a rare thing, nor is it extraordinary, just as I have known many Jews who converted to Christianity or other religions, but now that you mention it, I have never met anyone who claimed to be of Jewish culture and did not have any connections with Judaism, but, as for me, I do not see any kind of obstacle in that regard. I am not particularly religious, but the concept of “conversion” is actually a medieval concept, which is linked to the absolutisms typical of religions. The difference between Jews and Christians, in the end, is opaque. Arianism was close to Judaism in many respects, and probably also other Christian movements later repressed by the Inquisition, such as the Cathars. When Catholics in church recite the “Creed”, they substantially declare their belonging to a certain type of religious “current” which is the one that has dominated from the 1500s onwards. So, to answer your question, I don’t see where the problem is, but I know that there might be several problems.

MTDD: By reading what is commonly called the Old (or Old) Testament, the ‘separation’ between the Jewish people and the other nations, the so-called ‘Gentiles’, is instantly clear. The Mosaic Law actually aims, by highlighting the importance of this separation, at the spiritual purity of the people of Israel, that is, Hashem (“the Name”, what non-Jews commonly call Yahweh or Jehovah) does not want that His people worship other gods, they must not commit ‘spiritual fornication’, but rather reserve adoration and total obedience to Him alone.

How and to what extent, assuming it is, has this attitude changed or at least its application in modern times and in what cases are the unions between a Jew (or a Jewess) and a Gentile accepted?

AVC: I would say that in the moderate Jewish world they are fully cleared through customs. Just look at the marriages between Jews and Italian Catholics in the USA. Among the absolutists, radicals, orthodox and ultra-orthodox of all religions there will never be the slightest effort to approach anyone who does not think exactly like they do.

MTDD: What exactly is required of the person who converts to Judaism for their request to be accepted and, if this were the case for them, to be able to marry the person born Jewish?

AVC: It depends on what kind of environment they fit into. For sure, he has to undergo circumcision and Bar-Mitzvah, after which he just has to respect the rules of the Torah and the Talmud, etc. etc. I know that one of the sons of the Nazi hierarch Schimdt has become a rabbi, Wolfgang Schmidt. Because you must know that it is clearly written: “The sins of the fathers must never fall on the children”. Whoever respects this principle accepts everyone.

MTDD: Last time you explained very well what the Torah, Talmud, Tanakh, are but we left out the Mishnah and the Kabbalah.

Let’s start with the Mishnah …

AVC: Well, I was talking about it before. The Mishnah is one of those texts which became texts out of necessity, but which had to remain oral transmission. The origin of the Mishnah is lost in the mists of time, but it was drafted, as a first version, by Rabbi Yahuda HaNasi in 217, during one of the many persecutions that threatened to put the oral transmission at risk. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi breaks a specific rule but with the intention of keeping alive a cultural part of the Jewish people, and here I refer to what I mentioned earlier. The funny thing is that even today the Mishnah is enunciated orally in an almost chanted form, just to bypass a rule that two thousand years ago was an absolute dogma. Like all Hebrew texts, it is a long list of rules to be respected in order to be “good Jews”, because Judaism consists in respecting the rules rather than being an absolute profession of faith.

MTDD: When we talk about Kabbalah, we are referring – to put it in simple terms – to an esoteric and/or mystical vision of Judaism.

Could you explain to us exactly what it consists in and above all, why, in your opinion, so many people who are of non-Jewish faith are attracted to it?

AVC: Because there are so many who don’t understand it, and if you don’t understand something, it becomes mysterious. Kabbalah is the simplest thing that exists on earth, just re-read the Fibonacci sequence, for example. The Pentateuch begins with creation and creation begins with the number 1, Adam. Then another 1, Eve, which become 2 because they come together. Then Abel was born (3) and so on. The numbers fascinate, because in their simplicity they tend to match a thousand different situations, and if you find someone who makes you believe that by measuring the distance between the tips of the pyramids you get the years of Tutankhamun and the exact distance between the Earth and the Moon in the year 2045 well, I don’t find it hard to believe it, but only because numbers can be the result of a thousand uses for they are a simple, basic thing. In the Renaissance there was a strong approach to Kabbalah by the Venetian cultural world and beyond, to the point that an embryo of Christian Kaballah was born, immediately crushed by the inquisition. In my opinion, the greatest Italian exponent of Jewish Kabbalah was Girolamo Soncino, and when it comes to the Christian Kabbalah it was Pico della Mirandola.

MTDD: Just to clarify: Does the study of Kabbalah require conversion to Judaism or not?

AVC: It is part of the Jewish culture, I don’t see any problem.

MTDD: In your book Aunt Quintilla, which I liked very much, I reviewed and whose reading I recommend to everyone, I found a word that I did not know and that I had to go and look for: phylacteries.

Could you, please, explain what they are and what they are for?

AVC: They are considered the physical bond with God. A daily gesture is to wrap them on the arm while reciting a series of prayers; they are simply leather straps.

MTDD: Are there other objects that are part of the religion or simply of the Jewish culture and that are commonly used?

AVC: Many. Candelabra, some types of bread, but also a lot of unsuspected technology has a link with Judaism: much of passive home automation originates from the need not to touch anything during Shabbath.

MTDD: A peculiarity that you notice when Jews pray is their rocking back and forth.

Does it have a special meaning to pray like that? It makes me hypothesize the possibility of reaching, in so doing, the hypnotic state or even the trance … to become one with the divinity, but I doubt that is the goal …

AVC: That’s how it is, at least, I also believe that the real purpose is that, but I’ll tell you the official explanation: the soul of man is a flame that is always burning, and like the flame, it never stops.

MTDD: Aldo, as always, it has been a pleasure interviewing you again. Do we wish to remind our friends who follow us how to contact you and how to order your other publications?

AVC: My books can be ordered on Amazon = nb_sb_noss

 or by contacting me via email

Thanks to you, Teresa. It is always a pleasure.