Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The G Word:

by: Schvach Yid

I wonder why non-believing Jews remain Jews (other than the halachic and theological position that a Jew is always a Jew, regardless). Don’t they know what it’s about? Haven’t they ever read the Chumash? We frequently want those situations in life which are mutually exclusive. We want to be Jewish, but not Orthodox, not frum, perhaps fearful of a self perception as ‘religious extremists’ – a most unpalatable label in the current age of politics. Many of us also demand to be viewed as politically and socially ‘liberal’, shunning the associated requirement to sacrifice anything (what do those Jewish liberals think? Liberal means generous, but at one’s own expense and not at someone else’s; the age of Elizabeth Holtzman is long over!). Lastly, despite our adamancy of emulating the non-Jewish world (a long standing tradition within the Jewish community), we refuse to abandon Judaism on the one hand, and yet refuse lives of Torah and mitzvot on the other. I am somewhat convinced that this conflicted approach to many a Jew’s religious identity stems from the average everyday Jew’s abhorrence at viewing him/herself as the ‘G’ word – goy! I am almost certain that, but for the perversion of that otherwise legitimate and non-derogatory Hebrew biblical designation for ‘nation’ – since perverted into a pejorative, – that non-believing Jews would flock in droves from Judaism to the dominant religion of whatever society in which they live. Perhaps this is the reason ‘goy’ was made into a pejorative. The drive to emulate those who emulate us, in a biblical sense, (or better yet, to displace us) – to emulate the emulators – is absurd. To be told or pressured to abandon our lives as Jews in order to pursue another religion which, at best, is nothing more than a surrogate of the real thing of which we are the recipients, is analogous to telling the members of an orchestra to leave the stage or pit, and stand outside on line, in the rain, with everyone else, to purchase a ticket to attend their own performance. It’s a ludicrous proposition. Yet I don’t think the non-observant Jewish world understands this. We see this in
Israel with its adoption of American commercialism and the contempt with which many Israelis view traditional religious orthodox Jewish life. What keeps Jewish identity among the non-religious going is not the draw of the ‘world of our fathers’ – as the old book title puts it. Relatively few of us live the lives of our antecedents; yet, what at first appears to constitute an obvious pull among those who refuse to observe, or even acknowledge, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Pesach, may more accurately be attributed to the bigotry of rejecting the self perception of being a ‘goy’. It’s a legitimate Hebrew word straight from Tanach. When we daven Tachanun
we call ourselves 'Goy Echad' and 'Goy Kadosh'. How it became derogatory I don’t know. It’s this consideration of the G-word that induces so much of the Jewish community to reject Yiddishkeit, as though that rubric is beneath them. It’s a shander.

Here’s a not altogether sensible digression. Years ago, when I visited New York (my home town), only a few years following my move to parts elsewhere, I was surprised to find that the ‘GG’ subway line had been relabelled ‘G’. The MTA’s long time-honored tradition of naming the local subway lines with double letters and the express lines with single letters had been replaced with a one letter moniker for each subway line. The GG line was the one that took me from my home to wherever, and back again, over 3 decades worth, before I transplanted myself from the City of New York to the American Bible Belt. The new sight left me scratching my noggin.

Why is it that so many of us, easily the majority, reject shomer Shabbos, shomer kashrut, derech ha’tznius, taharas ha’mishpacha, and the rest of an observant Jewish life? Don’t we know that Yiddishkeit is everything to the life of a Jew? Years ago Marcel Marceau appeared as the invited speaker at the National Press Club luncheon. The event was carried by C-SPAN. Marcel Marceau made his name and fame as a mime. Mimes don’t speak; he did. Toward the end of his presentation Marcel Marceau did a very Jewish thing – he tried his hand at profundity. He informed his audience that although he was born a Jew, he was the recipient of a Catholic religious education. He then referenced the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ (not Jewish), and informed his audience that dishonesty is not among them. Why, he asked rhetorically? Because sometimes one has to lie. Parsha Kedoshim tells us otherwise: HaShem commands ‘lo t’shahkroo’ - ‘you will not lie’ (read the Rashi). No falsehood to one’s fellow person (I regard dishonesty as a supreme act of contempt toward the person or persons to whom one lies, not to mention a betrayal of oneself – who wants to go through life as a liar?). At the least Judaism takes a dim view of lying, as though one must be out of one’s mind to lie, hence Hebrew’s word for drunk 'shikor' – (and Yiddish’s word for drunk – 'shikah') – is almost identical! This is a part of the beauty of Judaism’s teachings that Jewish self-deniers miss, in favor of emulating the emulators. Before one eats one washes and benches hamotzi. The one reciting the brocho eats a piece of the bread immediately, then distributes bread to everyone else seated at the table. One’s obligation to the Aybischter comes first, for the host as well as for the guests. Many non-Jews, as well as many uninformed Jews, think this is rude. Uh, uh!


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