The cardinals came to Pope Urban XII, worried that the Vatican would have to expel the Jews from Rome. If only we could do so gently, Urban replied. Maybe we could set a challenge we know we’d win.
That’s how a story I once told at a school reunion a long time ago started. Why do I now remember it? Perhaps because the beginning of the school experience had been a time of fear, as ours also is, and we look forward to recounting the ingenuity we display solving our problems.
Said one of the leading cardinals: Urban, everyone in the Holy Roman Empire knows you’re the greatest charades player of all time. There’s our challenge!
Back at Rome’s great temple, the great rebbe Moishe told his gathered elders of the pope’s challenge. They fretted. We’ll be forced out of our homes, maybe even massacred, all because none of us knows charades.
Quiet, friends, said Moishe. They have challenged. I will answer.
The great day was set for the great square before the Pantheon. Urban and his cardinals lined up on one side, Moishe and his elders on the other.
The pope came forward and opened his arms to all before him. Moishe rejoinded with a scowl, repeatedly jabbing his finger toward the ground in front of him. Urban looked flustered, looked down at the ground for a minute, and then held up three fingers. Moishe immediately turned and held up one finger.
The cardinals all murmured among themselves. The pope looked heavenwards for a long while, after which he motioned for the holy sacrament, bit into a wafer, and drank of the silver chalice of wine.
Moishe glared, pulled an apple from his caftan, and bit into it noisily.
Urban XII held up both arms to say, “I apologize to the Jews of Rome, to the entirety of this great people, this mothering religion, the whole world over. Not only has this man Moishe beat me fair and square at charades, but this grand rebbe Moishe has proved himself one of the great theological thinkers of our time. You stay in Rome now and forever!”
Back in their chambers, the cardinals asked their pope what had happened. It was brilliant, Urban replied. “I came forth to note the presence of our Christian god everywhere, a salvation for the entire world, and Moishe reminded me that above all, religion’s role is to provide guidance to those faced by the challenges on this, our earth. I then brought up the fact of the holy trinity and was reminded that above all god is one. So I followed with a demonstration of the church’s basis in the body and soul of Christ, while Moishe rejoinded with the fact that our main cause is to tackle the challenge of sin.”
Wow, said the cardinals. That is brilliant.
Back at the temple, one of the elders asked Moishe what happened. It was simple, the burly rabbi replied. “The guy came out and said he wanted all of us Jews out of Rome, and I said we’re staying right here. He then said we had three days to go, and I replied that not one of us was leaving. Then he had his lunch, so I had mine.”
Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.