Berenson’s Bears

From a Weekly Standard article on dandified aesthete Bernard Berenson, the latter a subject of  Yale’s Jewish Lives series:

A greater source of ill-will is the subject of his religious convictions, which are surely relevant to a book published under the rubric of “Jewish Lives.” Born Bernhard Valvrojenski in Butrimonys, a small town in Lithuania, Berenson was originally a Jew, but converted to Episcopalianism at age 20, and to Roman Catholicism soon after settling in Italy about 10 years later. It does not appear, however, that he was especially religious, certainly not in any conventional way. He went from being an assimilated Jew in Boston to being a tepid Protestant and then a noncommittal Catholic. But what has proved most damning to his reputation is one of his earliest writings, a survey of contemporary Yiddish literature published in the Andover Review when he was 23.

It is only through the study of Jewish institutions and literature that we shall begin to understand the puzzling character of the Jews. Begin to understand, I say, for comprehend them we never shall. Their character and interests are too vitally opposed to our own to permit the existence of that intelligent sympathy between us and them which is necessary for comprehension.

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