Monday, October 23, 2006

It's as easy to love a rich man as a poor one

This post on Jewschool refers to an essay that appears this week in the New York Times (“Modern Love” ). It's a terribly sad essay, mostly because the author simply has no idea what it is she has given up. She quotes the old proverb that it's as easy to fall in love witha rich man as a poor one, and follows up with the comment that it's not easy to fall in love at all. And she's right, but also completely wrong. She's misunderstood the point of the proverb - that one should set up one's life in a way that will make it possible to live out one's values. If you want to fall in love with someone who is well-off, supposing that's your value, then don't date paupers, because paupers, too are lovable. If you think that Judaism is important, then don't date non-Jews, beause non-Jews are every bit as lovable as Jews are. The proverb is true -it's nothing to do with the person on the receiving end - it's all about the internal drive of the seeker. If you want to be a doctor, you have to at least set yourself up so that you can acquire the education, do the residency, take the exams.


But in another way she's right, and the commenter on Jewschool was way wrong.
This has nothing to do with Indie minyans. For the most part those going to the indie minyans are the success stories. The problem is that this poor woman's parents never gave her a darn thing. She had to find, as an adult, a bunch of letters in a script she could not read that were a last call across the years of people she understood not at all. But she's right; that's not a reason to be Jewish. It has, in fact, zero relationship to Judaism. It's about nazis, not about Jews. The Holocaust obsession that we have developed amongst our tribe, here, in Israel, wherever it pops up, is not only not Judaism, it is biting us, quite sharply, on the A**.
Every person told that the Holocaust has something to do with Judaism is being misled about what Judaism is. It is no more Judaism than being kneaded is what it means to be wheat (not all wheat is kneaded into bread, and even if it were, that's tnot the defining characteristic). It's just a historical accident. It's not even an unprecedented one - in scope only is it staggering, not in intent. Our ancestors already struggled -more than once, by the way- with meaning to come out of senseless slaughter (just take a good look at our canonical writings - say, the Talmud, on the destruction of the Temple), every person who goes around saying that God has something special to answer for can be forgivin only if they themselves were directly affected by the loss, because grief is a great burden, but those of us who were one step removed ought to be reexamining (at most) our traditions, laws and writings for the meaning, which has been struggled with often before.
It makes me sad to see people like this poor woman, who is completely innocent of not what THE meaning of Judaism is, but of any meaning of Judaism. In my opinion, she is quite right to have married her Dubliner - those people who claim that Judaism is racist for not marrying out are correct - when they are talking about those who refuse to marry non-Jews *just because they're Jewish, but they don't know anything about Judaism.*
Jewish life has a purpose. Without that purpose then we are not anything more than Italians, or Irish, or people with any other interesting accent -lacking the accent, after assimilation, there isn't anything special about our heritage. Bagels and lox is not Judaism (not even, forgive me, whitefish). The holocaust is not Judaism. Israel (the state) is not even Judaism (although it is a necessary part of Judaism, as a place, and as people living in a place, and as our brothers and sisters, as our inheritance from God, but that inheritance comes with a price - it's not free). I'm not going to spell out what the mission is here - that takes more than a few sentences, because if it were easy, why would you need an entire nation set apart to do it?- but you can't do it without knowledge. The knowledge doesn't *have* to be instilled early - many have chosen new souls and joined themselves to our people -in fact, some of them have become the greatest and most holy of our people. But like learning a language, fluency can be dependant upon an early start - the earlier the better. This poor girl in the article - is a mute, when it comes to Judaism, who can only at best, hear the words echoing from an earlier time, but not speak back. She is no longer able to be part of the conversation between her ancestors and God.

1 comment:

Andrew Schamess said...

I'm afraid I missed the article that started the discussion, and it's now subscribers-only. But the Jewschool discussion was very interesting, and I like your comments very much.

I suppose I'm a bit of an exception, but I'm someone who was brought up in a very reformed, basically secular household, married a gentile and did not demand that she convert - and yet, have become much more involved in Jewish thought and practice since my marriage.

This came about through love. Tenderness, trust, and the ability to speak to each other from the heart are pathways to spirituality, i.e. they allow a religious dialogue to take place. It wasn't necessary to share the same religious tradition for these things to happen.

It's funny to me that many of the commenters at JewSchool looked at their own religion from the perspective of critical outsiders. Sure, if it means nothing to you, don't practice. But for me studying Torah, learning to pray, observing the Sabbath, attending synagogue and embracing mitzvot have been much more meaningful than many other things I could be doing with my time.

It pleases me greatly that my five year old daughter asks me often about God, knows the Shabbat prayers and Jewish songs, etc.

Are we "raising our children Jewish"? Well, yes, basically, we are. They'll attend Hebrew school, etc. (even though, technically, they're not Jewish since their mother is not). But I think more importantly, we're raising them to be spiritually aware and inquisitive. They will know the Jewish tradition and Buddhism (my wife's form of spirituality) as well.

Whatever they choose as adults, I hope they will be fully aware of the part of themselves that is able to seek God.