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February 20, 1976 - Image 48

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1976-02-20

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48 Friday, February 20, 1976


Righteous Proselyte: Martyrdom of Nicolas Antoine


(Copyright 1976, JTA, Inc.)

On the tenth anniversary
of the Vatican II Ecumeni-
cal Council interest is re-
vived in the historic strug-.
gles by Jews to retain their
identity and to resist the
persecutions, many of
which were aimed at the
people's destruction.
Religious bigotries and
fanaticisms branded the
people as the Wandering
Jews and the very title was
intended both as a condem-
nation to constant migra-
tions and to view Jews ana-
Yet, even in the darkest
hours of Jewish existence
there were friends and de-
fenders, admirers and ad-
herents, and the latter often
included converts to Juda-
Traditionally, proselyti-
zation is not encouraged
and whenever a Gentile
applied for admission to
Jewish ranks — to become
a Ger Tzedek — a righ-
teous proselyte, a saintly
convert, a proselyte out of
conviction — the Jewish
obligation was to caution
him of the difficulties the
convert would face.
There were converts

wherever there were Jews,
even if they were few. Dr.
Jacob R. Marcus, the emi-
nent American Jewish his-
torian, often mentions such
converts in the records of
American Jewish history
which he has researched
with great skill.
Among the most evident
converts to Judaism in his-
tory was Nicolas Antoine,
French-Christian theolo-
gian, who, although he prac-
ticed the tenets of Judaism
and lived a Jewish life, later
dying a martyr's death with
prayers on his lips directed
to the God of Israel, was re-
fused admission to the Jew-
ish fold.
More than 300 years ago
— on April 20, 1632 — he
was strangled and then
burned at the stake in Ge-
neva on the charge of blas-
Fifteen clergymen and
professors of theology
were among the witnesses
at a trial which comm-
enced on April 11. Several
pleaded for mercy and a
light sentence, arguing
that the only sin of the ac-
cused was that of hypoc-
risy for which he deserved
unfrocking and banish-

A Bicentennial Feature

He was born into the to the rabbinate of Metz
ment, perhaps excommun-
Catholic faith at Briey, a for admission to Judaism.
ication. But the majority
of the court, fanatical in 'small town in Lorraine, ei- He was refused. The rab-
ther in 1602 or 1603. For five bis feared revenge and vi-
its determination, ruled
years he attended the Lux- olent reprisals on the part
that it is dangerous to ab-
embourg College and then of ignorant mobs. They ad-
solve a Christian who
studied at Pont-a-Mousson, vised Antoine to go to Italy
wore a priest's garb for
Cologne and Treves, prepar- or to the Netherlands and
professing Judaism.
informed him that Jews
Antoine rejected the pro- ing for Jesuit rites.
When he returned to enjoyed greater freedom in
ferred opportunity to re-
Briey he was, in spite of those lands and had less to
cant. He was adamant in his
these teachings, attracted to fear from religiously en-
Catholicism raged and ignorant mas-
"I am a Jew; and all I ask
lost its appeal for him, and ses.
of God's grace is to die for
he yielded to the eloquence
Antoine followed their
Judaism". The judges
of one of the most noted . advice and left for Venice,
pleaded; they argued. But
preachers of that day, Ferri,
there to learn that nowhere
the convert's reply was:
the pastor of the Reformed was there peace for Israel;
"With the help of God I am
Church of Metz, turning that Jews were tolerated
determined to die in my
there for commercial rea-
present belief".
Thenceforth Antoine's sons; that the rabbis of Metz
Imploring the mercy of
searching for religious truth had painted a glorious pic-
the God of Abraham, An-
led him to a new belief, to a
ture of rights they believed
toine was condemned to be
piety which paved the way to be enjoyed by Jews.
loaded with the chains and
to the martyr's grave. He
placed on a pyre; he was
He found Jews huddled in
was sent to the academies of ghettos in the Venetian re-
strangled and then burned.
Geneva and Sedan to pre- public, compelled to wear
The liberal clergy and theo-
pare for the Reformed the yellow badge and at all
logical professors of that
Church and for religious • times exposed to attacks
day pleaded for respite, for
leadership in Protestant- from bigoted and fanatical
deliberation and for taking
ism. But the more he stud- mobs. He went to Padua
into account his record in
ied the more doubting be- and consulted the rabbis of
the church: but in vain.
Fate decreed that An- came his convictions.
that community. In both
He became an ardent Venice and Padua, as in
toine was to die a martyr,
for the faith which, in fear and passionate student of Metz, Jewish leaders re-
of reprisals on the part of the Old Testament and fused to welcome Antoine
bigots and fanatics, re- came to the decision that into the Jewish fold: the rea-
fused officially to welcome therein alone lay complete sons were identical.
him to the fold of Judaism. religious truth. He applied
Of interest in connection
with Antoine's travels in
quest for an official wel-
come by Judaism is that he
was accompanied on his trip
to Venice by a Christian
clergyman whom he at-
tempted also to convert to
The document is instruc- sent to the town of Sun-
Judaism in his conclusions
tive because it throws light bury, a distance of 40 miles
that Judaism is the true
on the career of a man who from Savannah, where his
served his country, and father and a number of
served it well, in positions of Continental officers were
When the charge of her-
responsibility, although he on parole; that they con-
esy was brought against
was only 21 at the end of the tinued theire (there) untill
him several years later, it
war, after about five years the month of October fol-
developed from documents
of service as a soldier and lowing (the British garri-
produced at the trial that
son having been pre-
prisoner of war.
the "diabolical advice"
* *
viously withdrawn to
was offered him by the It-
Georgia, City of Savan- reinforce Savannah);
alian Jews to observe Ju-
That the American and
nah; Sheftall Sheftall of
daism under the cloak of
the said city, being duly
the church. It is not known
command of Gen. Lincoln
sworn, saith:
whether these documents
That some time in the lat- and Count D'Estaing, laid
were offered as a means of
ter part of the year 1777, or seige to Savannah; that
emphasizing the charge of
beginning of the year 1778, while in that situation, a
this deponent was ap- Tory armed party that was
Thus refused admission
pointed by John B. Gere-
deau (Geradieu), Esquire, threatened to kill the Amer- to the faith he sought, An-
toine went to Geneva and
deputy commissary general ican officers and did ac-
there accepted a post as
of issues of the Continental tually kill Captain Hornby
troops in Georgia, to be an of the Fourth Georgia Con- private tutor to the family
of Diodati, pastor and pro-
assistant deputy commis- tinental regiment; that in
this situation, the officers fessor, and also taught at
sary of issues in his office;
the college. As an apostate
That he continued in that applied to the commanders
from Catholicism, however,
station for some months of the Allied army, what
when Mr. Geredeau re- they were to do. who, in re- he was deprived of occupy-
ing the chair of philosophy
signed, and this deponent's ply, recommended to them
at the academy of Geneva.
father, the late Mordecai to remove to a place of
Sheftall, Esquire, was ap- safety, but to consider
Some time thereafter
pointed Mr: Geredeau's suc- themselves as still on par-
Antoine obtained the posi-
cessor; that this deponent ole.
tion of pastor in Divonne, a
That this deponent. his
was reappointed to his said
village in the Gex district.
office by his father, and father, and several officers
which was acquired by
that he continued in the of- embarked (October, 1779)
France in 1602. Thereupon
fice untill the British troops
began the dual existence of
took Savannah, which was harbour by a small Ameri-
this Christian Marrano.
on the 29th day of December can privateer, for to proceed
In secret he practiced all
of the said year 1778, when
Jewish rites, recited his
they took this deponent (Charlestown). in South
prayers in Hebrew, honored
and his father prisoners, Carolina; that eon their pas-
all Mosaic commands. In
and..a-feW days after put sage, they were taken by a
public he preached from a
them on a prison ship, say, British frigate called the
Christian pulpit. But he ut-
the second day of January, Gaudaloupe, who bore away
tered the name of Jesus as
and carried them and
little as possible. His ser-
That on the 26th day of landed them in the island of
mons took their texts al-
Tvlarch following, his father Antigua; that some time in
most exclusively from Is-
was admitted to his parole; the month of November,
aiah and the other Prophets,
that on the 26th day of June that after being their (there)
and his lectures became
of the same year, this de- between five and six
famed. It was some time
ponent was admitted also on months, their (they) were
thereafter that the lack of
admitted to a parole to re-
his parole.
., Christian ideology • was dis-
On his landing, he was turn to America; .

Patriot and Prisoner During the Revolution


American Jewish Archives

In 1777 or 1778, Sheftall
Sheftall, only 15 or 16 years
of age, was appointed assist-
ant deputy commissary gen-
eral of issues to the Georgia
troops. Captured with his
father after the fall of Sa-
vannah in December, 1778,
he remained a prisoner until
he was exchanged in 1780.
That year, then a young
man of 18, he was put in
charge of a mercy ship, the

flag-of-truce sloop Carolina
Packett. His mission, which
he carried out successfully,
was to bring money for the
relief of the imprisoned
Gen. William Moultrie and
his soldiers in British-held

Shortly after his 70th
birthday, in 1832. Sheftall
made the following affida-
vit, testifying to his war
service. in support of a pen-
sion claim.

covered in the texts of his
The peasants of Divonne
were thrilled by the eloqu-
ence of their new pastor.
But the lord of an adjoin-
ing manor felt otherwise,
and once, on a Sunday,
when Antoine declared
that God had no son, that
there was only one God,
this lord threatened to
denounce him to the synod,
and later he did.
It was during Antoine's
sermon on the second Psalm
which Christian theolo.vy
interprets as predicting::.
coming of the son of
that this heresy was tit-
Soon Antoine began to
show signs of utter gloom
and deep despair. On one oc-
casion he interrupted the
reading of a psalm — the
74th — to proclaim himself
a Jew and as a blasphemer
of Christianity.
When his extremely nerv-
ous state was discovered he
was put to bed and it was re-
vealed that he was in need of
medical attention as a result
of a self-inflicted operation
brought about by his ex-
treme faith in Judaism...
In the meantime his fel-
low-clericals tried to per-
suade him to re-embrace
Christianity. But they
failed miserably. He con-
tinually and consistently
proclaimed his Jewishness
and his determination to
die as a Jew. On one occa-
sion he was found in a de-
plorably nervous and un-
healthy state in Geneva,
kneeling on the streets and
praying to the God of Is-
His fate was now sealed.
Charges were brought
against him and he was
imprisoned. But his convic-
tion and his dignity — the
heroic determination with
which he not only embraced
his new faith but clung to it
-- gained a host of friends
for him, and these later
pleaded for clemency for the
convert of Judaism.
While the judges threat-
ened and did everything in
their power to secure a vic-
tory for Christianity by get-
ting Antoine to deny Juda-
ism and to re-embrace the
Christian religion, his
friends, admirers and de-
fenders pleaded for a light
sentence. The accused him-
self remained immovable:
his passionate reply was: "I
am a Jew! I am a Jew!"
Metrezat, Parisian pas-
tor, came to Antoine's aid.
He pleaded and begged for
him. But the judges would
not recede from their r.
tion of extreme puri,,.
ment to serve as an exam-
ple to blasphemers.
The best- example of An-
toine's sincere convictions
were offered during his im-
prisonment when he pre-
sented to the ecclesiastical
court 12 articles in which he
outlined his religious be-
liefs. He drew upon the 13
articles of faith of Maimon-
ides and pointed to "11 phil-
odophical objections against
the dogma of the Trinity".
Two of the three memorials
which he addressed to the
judges who condemned him
. have been . preserved.

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