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g.i. jew - a real american hebrew
matzah, tongue, and other assorted mishugas
by adam kraemer (@DryWryBred)
4.5.02
humor


Okay, I admit it. I love being Jewish. Not only does it afford me the ability to culturally take credit for bagels and cream cheese, but we get perks like eight days of Chanukah, a language that no other religion speaks or understands, and a whole slew of jokes about rabbis, lawyers, and mothers. (Speaking of which, my mother announced last night that she prefers the term "consortium" to "slew," but since she's not writing this column, I'm gonna go with the word that more closely rhymes with "Carew.")

One bonus of being a Jew in modern-day America (as opposed to, say 1800s Poland) is that, while we are required to follow the laws of the Torah (Old Testament, Hebrew style), the Jewish community, as a whole, does not predicate one's religious identity on how observant he is. I'm in no danger of being excommunicated for not keeping Kosher or wearing a yarmulke (Yiddish - skull cap). Seriously, I truly appreciate that I'm allowed to decide my own place on the observant-secular continuum. Most gentiles would be surprised to find out how many commandments the Torah actually contains: 613. That's right. Six hundred thirteen "thou shalls" and "thou shalt nots." The punishment for most of which was, apparently, being stoned to death (and not in the good "college dorm room" way). So while there's definitely a basis of morality in modern Judaism, and a set of laws which we are required to follow, the penalties for straying have grown increasingly less detrimental to your health. Which is why my friend Bill has decided that for every Jewish holiday from now on, he's going to be eating pork à la mode.

I am well aware that historically, yes, the Jews have been discriminated against in and/or kicked out of nearly every country in the world. I recently had a Christian friend very kindly apologize to me for the atrocities carried out against the Jews throughout history in the name of the Church, but I assured her that the actions of the king and queen of Spain in 1492 have not in any way made me think less of her as a person. That this kind of thing is still happening throughout the world, however, is no laughing matter; it would be nearly impossible for me to write a humorous piece about global anti-Semitism or the Arab/Israeli conflict without coming off as, well, an ass. With that in mind, then, my concern (for the purposes of this column, anyway) is not about anti-Semitic things like "The Protocols of The Elders of Zion" (which, by the way, is bullshit. If there is a Jewish conspiracy, I'm still waiting for the phone call and the secret handshake). No, today I plan to focus solely on the petty, little issues that arise as my people attempt to find some sort of balance between our secular and our religious lives - from the point of view of a 27-year-old male American Reform Jew, anyway.

First of all, there's this whole Passover "can't eat bread" thing. Don't get me wrong; I enjoy matzah, but not after eating it 8 days straight without reprieve. We're not even allowed to have pasta. Heck, we're not even allowed to have pita bread, and it's almost as flat as matzah. The amazing thing about matzah is how quickly it goes from being a novelty (after not eating it for a year) to being about as appetizing as salted cardboard. Except that eating cardboard wouldn't affect your digestion nearly as much, I don't think. I don't want to get into details, but I'm pretty sure that when Moses said, "Let my people go," he wasn't referring to slavery.

Another thing that bothers me about modern Judaism is how disgusting, on the whole, our food looks. Jewish food, while often being yummy, might be the least aesthetically tempting cuisine on the planet. Have you ever seen gefilte (pronounced "ge-fill-tuh") fish? As if it's not enough that it's a small grey lump of ground carp, it comes packed in this clear fish-flavored Jell-O-like substance (note: not a whole bowl of fun) that looks like it might have been discovered while dripping off of an alien life form. The kicker is that a lot of people, myself included, actually find gefilte fish quite tasty. I can count on one hand the number of goyim (Yiddish for "gentiles") I've seen actually try this stuff. It's a shame. My mother mentioned last night that if you call it a "quenelle" (which it really is), you might get a French person to try it, but that's about it. I'm just happy the same can't be said for Jewish women - no one wants to date someone who can be described as a small lump of grey fish.

And can I just say that this whole guilt thing has to go? Yeah, yeah, I know that the Catholics have guilt in abundance, but I still hold that "eventually going to hell" guilt just doesn't stand a chance against "disappointing your mother this morning" guilt. Jewish guilt is so strong that I actually feel guilty sometimes for things I haven't even done or at least shouldn't feel bad about. Last week, I took a train from Philadelphia to New York, and didn't call my parents to tell them I'd made it okay. I mean, I'm 27 years old, but I still felt like I should have called my mom to allay her worries. Once a mensch, always a mensch?

Also, how about having to deal with gentiles mispronouncing Yiddish words? Ever hear anyone say "spiel" without pronouncing it "schpiel"? Or "smuck"? Or "geflite fish"? My friend Wes knows someone who mixes up "kibbutz" (Israeli collective farm) and "kibitz" (gossip). Oy. It hurts my ears and makes my teeth stand on end (not an easy thing to do). Not that I speak Yiddish, but at least I know that mishugas ("mih-shoe-gos") isn't plural. I mean if people are going to mispronounce words, they should at least be imaginary ones, like "techodorkability." Jeez.

Okay, I know this isn't exactly a new issue, but what about circumcision? When I was in Moscow, a friend of mine there commented that if a Russian woman sleeps with an American, she will usually assume that, because he's cut, he's Jewish. However, the thing is that fewer people, even in America, are getting circumcised these days, because doctors have determined that it's not as big a health issue as they thought (big shocker; if you wash, you won't get dirty). Now, understand that I am pro-circumcision. But I was at a bris (the traditional Jewish ceremony held about 8 days after the birth) a few weeks ago, and I'll tell you, that kid was sleeping peacefully, no worries in the world, right up to the actual moment. Of course when he feels the painful sting of the Covenant, he wakes up bawling, and the first thing he sees are his parents, obviously encouraging and happily participating in this agonizing act. And people wonder why there's often a rift between Jewish kids and their parents. For my money, it starts the minute they hire someone to take a knife to his privates. That's just not a good way to foster trust and dependence. If the kid could ever remember it, he'd probably never want to go to sleep again.

I'm just sayin'.

One more thing - going to prison. If you're Jewish and you go to prison, there's so much pressure on you to have committed a white-collar crime. I just don't think that's fair. I'm sure there are plenty of Jewish people out there who would be just as content to commit something like assault and battery or - dare I say it - grand theft auto. But, no, we have to become good with numbers or spend three years in law school or learn how to steal money using a modem or manipulate the stock market in order to take our place as a burden to the State. Because - and this gets back to the guilt thing - no one wants his mother to have to say, "My son's in prison for selling crack to school children," but it's okay when she can say, "Yeah, they sent him to jail for a few years, you should have seen how much money he laundered for Mr. Gotti." Now that's a crime a mother can be proud of.

Okay, so, obviously, these aren't the most important worries in the world. When I recently saw a Wheel of Fortune contestant stare at "Bagels, Lo_, and Cream Cheese" and guess "Y," it didn't exactly rend my day asunder (the answer was "X," by the way). When one of my Christian friends looks at me askance at the mention that I've eaten tongue (yes, it's a deli meat, yes, it's real tongue, and, yes corned beef is much better), I'm neither shocked nor hurt. When I had a dream last month during Passover that I was eating pizza, I didn't exactly wake up in tears. But I still feel that it's time to say something, to stand up for those who prefer not to focus on the big picture. Being Jewish isn't all Manischewitz and roses, you know.

But maybe I'm sharing too many of the secrets of my people. Maybe it's a shonda for the goyim. Or maybe I should just shut up and eat my matzah. It's your call.

P.S. Jews don't have horns. Never did.


ABOUT ADAM KRAEMER

A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.

more about adam kraemer

IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...

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tell me you believe, and let me hear an "amen"
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in defense of the deliberately petless
by adam kraemer
topic: humor
published: 4.12.10





COMMENTS

matt morin
4.5.02 @ 2:44a

So here's what I want to know: Why is it such a big thing that Jewish people marry other Jewish people? You think Jewish parents would be happy if their sons or daughters married someone who they were in love with. But all that seems to matter is that, love or not, the other person is Jewish.

adam kraemer
4.5.02 @ 7:49a

Well, in a lot of cases, it's often a question of continuation of the religion. Statistically speaking, the number of children from mixed marriages that grow up to be Jewish is really small. And it's tough to get past the Jesus question. I mean no offense at all when I say this, but in the same way that my children won't pray to Allah, they also won't be taught that Jesus is the messiah.

And when you're only 2% of the population, things like the survival of the religion tend to take on a larger importance. Besides, you can't tell me that it's not the same way with Catholic parents wanting their children to marry other Catholics.

And you're generalizing, as well, Matt. My younger brother has been dating a Catholic girl for the past 4 years, and my parents really like her.

[edited]

jill farbman
4.5.02 @ 9:49a

I like it, I think that Camp Harlam would be proud. Oh and I work with a paralegal who says "the whole megilla" (sorry if I didn't spell it correctly, I've never written it before) for single items. It drives me crazy! (I don't think she knows what it means at all!).

[edited]

adam kraemer
4.5.02 @ 9:52a

That's nothing - I know a girl named Jill who writes things like, "a single items."

By the way, Matt, the good thing about being dumped because your not Jewish is that you can at least say, "It wasn't because she didn't like me."

jill farbman
4.5.02 @ 9:52a

Eh, what's a typo among friend?

adam kraemer
4.5.02 @ 9:57a

Excellent.

If, by the way, anyone needs me to write the pronunciation of any of the words in the column (or wants a definition), just ask.

tracey kelley
4.5.02 @ 9:59a

I just can't imagine what it would be like to be in a loving relationship where the 2 parties have strong religious differences, especially if both are loyal to their religion. What a challenge. I have a hard enough time, since my husband and his family are strong supporters of an organized church structure and I am not. We share spirituality, we believe in the necessity of it, but that's about it.

Adam, your brother is dating a Catholic. How do you feel? Would you prefer to marry a Jewish woman or a convert, or does it matter? (Once again, bringing up preservation of the religion.) How important is that to you?



adam kraemer
4.5.02 @ 10:05a

Well, when he first started dating her, it was an issue, but solely as a concept. Once we actually got to know her, it seemed to be less important. They haven't really decided what's going to happen with the religious thing. The one plus of a Christian converting to Judaism (rather than vice versa) is that, most often, it doesn't totally conflict with the things he or she was taught growing up. Judaism is a simpler belief system than Christianity, and therefore easier to embrace. I think you would rarely see a Jew embrace Christianity for the sake of marriage - the differences going in that direction are often too great.

And, yeah, I want to marry a Jewish girl (or one who's willing to convert), but, as they say, the heart wants what the heart wants. If I fall in love with an Anglican, we'll work through it. It's just often easier when the question of religion doesn't even have to be raised.

mike julianelle
4.5.02 @ 10:10a

But being Jewish isn't jsut a question of belief, it's like being Irish or Chinese. It's not just a religion.

adam kraemer
4.5.02 @ 10:21a

Well, yeah, but it's not a nationality, though, either. It's a religion and a culture. It's more like being Irish Catholic.

In its basest form, Judaism is just a religion. Because you can have Chinese Jews or Irish Jews or Italian Jews. But within that, there's a separate culture that grew out of both the religion and the shared history of having the crap kicked out of us since the Assyrian Greeks first decided to invade Judea. And then moreso, in Eastern Europe, from the Middle Ages until the 1800s, because we were usually forced to live only among ourselves, a very strong cultural identity emerged, as well.

mike julianelle
4.5.02 @ 10:32a

But it is possible to be ethnically Jewish but practice a different religion, or no religion at all...

adam kraemer
4.5.02 @ 10:52a

True, but, as I said, that still doesn't make it a nationality, like Irish or Chinese.

That, and there's a tenet of Judaism that basically says "Once a Jew, always a Jew." Even a Jew who converts to Christianity is seen as a Jew in the eyes of the temple. Given, his parents may shun him, but being a bad Jew still makes you a Jew.

And there's even differences in ethnicities within the Jewish community. There's a whole group of Ethiopian Jews living in Israel. Within the Jews of the Diaspora, there's even two groups - Ashkenazim (Eastern European) and Sfardim (Western Mediterranean). So "ethnically Jewish" isn't as simple as "Jewish or not."

mike julianelle
4.5.02 @ 11:28a

Oh i understand that, and the nationality thing was a bit too simple, but I have had arguments with morons who don't understand that being Jewish, ethnically, isn't a choice.

adam kraemer
4.5.02 @ 11:37a

True. As I said, it's closer to being Irish Catholic or Italian Catholic. You can reject the religous aspects, but it doesn't change your background.

At the same time, there also needs to be a heavy line drawn between ethnicity and race. The Jews are not a separate race, as many bigots would have you believe.

mike julianelle
4.5.02 @ 11:45a

Of course. And I like your mention of The Elders of Zion. Ever read "Explaining Hitler" by Ron Rosenbaum? Not a bio, but an exploration of all the different theories about why Hitler went "evil". Did he have his testicles bitten off by a goat; was he part Jewish?; did he harbor resentment towards the Jewish doctor who treated his dying mother, etc. Very interesting. No real conclusions, but fascinating.

adam kraemer
4.5.02 @ 12:08p

I don't know. I always found it ironic that a) Hitler's birthday is 4/20 and b) few people see the inherent amusment in Jewish parents every summer sending their kids to camp.

mike julianelle
4.5.02 @ 12:12p

Wow. Four twenty!!!! I agree with you, Adam. Funny equals funny.

matt morin
4.5.02 @ 12:18p

I never quite understood the distinction between Judaism as a religion and Judaism as a culture. But from what I've been told, they are two different things (kinda), right?

And yeah, I know I generalized up above. No need to further any lame stereotypes. My bad.

adam kraemer
4.5.02 @ 12:26p

Judaism as a religion is basically there's one God, celebrate the holidays, honor the Sabbath, etc. It's about following the commandments.

Judaism as a culture is bagels and lox, wearing a yarmulke, peppering your speech with Yiddish, being proud when you discover another celebrity is Jewish, that kind of thing.

It's 100% possible to be totally religiously unobservant and yet be culturally Jewish.

craige moore
4.5.02 @ 3:52p

I'll bet that the French will stick to their quenelles, seeing as how pike is not exactly the same thing as carp and quenelles don't sit on the shelf in a jar of goop for months on end, but are instead made fresh.

adam kraemer
4.5.02 @ 3:58p

And since the French are apparently more anti-Semitic than anyone thought, it's probably for the best.

On the other hand, Craige, I just decided that the name of my next band might very well be "Jar of Goop."

[edited]

craige moore
4.5.02 @ 4:08p

For some reason, I just read that as "I just decided that the name of the thing next to my bed might very well be..." I have no idea how that happened...

Also, what is this thing about a "carew"?? I kept thinking you were going to come back to that and explain it, but you never did. Can you please do so now? Your non-Jewish friends can't find it in the dictionary and have no idea what you are talking about. (Or at least I don't.)

craige moore
4.5.02 @ 4:10p

For some reason, I just read that as "I just decided that the name of the thing next to my bed might very well be..." I have no idea how that happened...

Also, what is this thing about a "carew"?? I kept thinking you were going to come back to that and explain it, but you never did. Can you please do so now? Your non-Jewish friends can't find it in the dictionary and have no idea what you are talking about. (Or at least I don't.)

adam kraemer
4.5.02 @ 4:10p

Rod Carew was a black baseball player who converted to Judaism. It's in the Adam Sandler Chanukah song.

craige moore
4.5.02 @ 4:13p

For some reason, I just read that as "I just decided that the name of the thing next to my bed might very well be..." I have no idea how that happened...

Also, what is this thing about a "carew"?? I kept thinking you were going to come back to that and explain it, but you never did. Can you please do so now? Your non-Jewish friends can't find it in the dictionary and have no idea what you are talking about. (Or at least I don't.)

craige moore
4.5.02 @ 4:15p

What is wrong with this site? I have never before encountered a site where, when you hit refresh, it re-publishes your last comment.

mike julianelle
4.5.02 @ 4:16p

How dare you!!!!

adam kraemer
4.5.02 @ 4:16p

It's all Joe's fault. Someone mentioned it the other day, too.

craige moore
4.5.02 @ 4:23p

I didn't realize that there were Jews living amongst the Native Americans when Columbus sailed over here......

adam kraemer
4.5.02 @ 4:28p

Ever heard of the Spanish Inquisition, also started in 1492?

Bet no one expected that answer...

[edited]

craige moore
4.5.02 @ 4:39p

I just couldn't tell from how you wrote it what you meant.

As for mispronunciations, a lot of words that we adopt from other cultures are mispronounced. People all over the world do this. I find it kind of endearing, actually, when people whose native language is not English make an attempt to learn English words. But I certainly don't fault them for pronouncing them slightly differently than I do, having grown up speaking English.

adam kraemer
4.5.02 @ 4:44p

I did mention, at least twice, that I was nitpicking about unimportant matters.

That said, I didn't exactly grow up speaking Yiddish. But there are people who say "smuck" instead of "schmuck"; I'm not sure what that demonstrates, but it doesn't sound good, I can tell you that much.

tracey kelley
4.5.02 @ 4:52p

...Spanish Inquisition, also started in 1492?

Bet no one expected that answer...


Heh. Funny. But the whole Four-Twenty thing went over my head.


adam kraemer
4.5.02 @ 4:58p

Oh, that's a marijuana reference. Not really sure where it comes from (rumor has it that it's the police code for a pot bust). There's a big thing made about both April 20 and 4:20 (am/pm) in regards to smoking weed. I haven't had any in years (it makes me physically ill), so I don't really know what the whole deal is.

[edited]

tracey kelley
4.5.02 @ 5:03p

Ahhh. No wonder I missed it. those days are long in my past.

joe procopio
4.5.02 @ 5:20p

What is wrong with this site? I have never before encountered a site where, when you hit refresh, it re-publishes your last comment.

ALL RIGHT! I will fix it this weekend. Maybe. I think.

chanda underwood
4.5.02 @ 5:33p

This sure has been a lively discussion! I thought your comment about guilt was very interesting, and true that going-to-hell guilt doesn't compare with "disapointing your mother this morning" guilt. You Jews sure have it rough.


adam kraemer
4.5.02 @ 5:38p

Though, admittedly, even if I manage to make my mother proud throuought my life, but still wind up going to hell, it probably won't have been worth it.

juli mccarthy
4.6.02 @ 10:18a

I wish I could remember where I read this (probably Readers' Digest) but someone's ethnicity was described as "half-Jewish and half-Christian." Could you all HEAR my eyes roll all the way from Chicago?

My mom was married to a Jew for awhile. It was an interesting adjustment for all of us.

mike julianelle
4.6.02 @ 10:39a

My best friend growing up had a Jewish mother and a Catholic father. They neither went to Church or Synagogue, but they celebrated both Xmas and Chanakuh. I hated them for that. And I used to tell them that Church was all about eating donuts and pizza and they were missing out.

matt morin
4.6.02 @ 2:36p

I thought Jews didn't believe in Hell?

adam kraemer
4.7.02 @ 5:37a

Please don't ask why I'm posting now.

Anyway, the quick answer is that it isn't that Jews don't believe in Hell, as it is that there's no mention of Hell in the Torah (Old Testament). There's a mention of Heaven, and I think that one of the important scriptures mentions Purgaory, but in terms of "sinning" and going to Hell, it's not in there. On the other hand, if there was no concept of sinning against God, there would be no Yom Kippur (Day of Attonement). I could be wrong (very wrong), but I'm under the impression that there's no set concept in Judaism of where you go when you've lead a "bad" life.

russ carr
4.7.02 @ 1:38p

Oy. I dated a Christian Jewish girl, but she ended up being too Jewish for me, particularly in the JAP sense. Her father gave me "The Big Jewish Joke Book" or some such similarly titled book of humor which was largely lost on a Protestant Celt such as myself. I'm happily Lutheran, where our holiest foods are beer and bratwurst, not herring and Mogen David (aka the "MD" in Mad Dog).

juli mccarthy
4.7.02 @ 7:41p

Excuse me, but as a lifelong Lutheran I am here to tell you the holy foods are tuna casserole and Jello with fruit suspended in it.

And I still say there's no possible way one could be a Christian Jew.

russ carr
4.7.02 @ 8:06p

That's for the dose Northern Looderans, dere, Juli. The deeper you go in the south, the less likely it is you'll find lutefisk, tuna hot dish and "jello salad" (usually lime jello with fruit and occasionally carrot shreds suspended within).

adam kraemer
4.8.02 @ 8:12a

Juli - weren't the apostles technically Christian Jews?

sarah ficke
4.8.02 @ 9:52a

Adam, as a matter of fact they were. I'm not sure exactly what the cutoff date for Christians actually considering themselves a seperate religion and not a branch of Judaism is, but my guess would be when they were coopted by the Roman Empire.


Is anybody else familiar with the Jews for Jesus? They make me laugh, but I think it's because their name sounds too much like a cheesy ad slogan to be taken seriously.

adam kraemer
4.8.02 @ 10:04a

Yeah. They also refer to themselves as Messianic Jews, though, I believe.

Given, the Lubbuvichers (sp?) basically believe that the Messiah has also already visited Earth, only in the form of their former rabbi, Menachem Schneerson. I don't know if they're still considered Jews (I think so), but there's not much difference between that and Jews for Jesus, other than the choice of savior.

alicia coleman
4.8.02 @ 11:43a

jews for jesus ... i totally support them. as an irish catholic shiksa, i'm on board.

adam kraemer
4.8.02 @ 12:32p

I think their basic deal is that they celebrate Jewish holidays, but believe that Jesus is the Messiah. They wouldn't bug me that much except that they're shameless prostletizers, which goes against a very important tenet of Judasim, regarding compelling conversion and "recruitment." Namely (from a lesson out of the Book of Ruth) we don't.

sarah ficke
4.8.02 @ 3:59p

And that is one of the things I like about Judaism.

adam kraemer
4.9.02 @ 10:54a

Me, too. I think during the conversion process, Rabbis are required to ask the potential convert three times if he or she is really serious about being Jewish. Because conversion should not be done under duress or just because of love. It's supposed to be about wanting to be a member of the Jewish community and actually believing in the tenets of the religion.

alicia coleman
4.9.02 @ 11:26a

oh, come on. it's really just because you don't want anyone else joining your exclusive club. only God chooses the chosen, right?

adam kraemer
4.9.02 @ 11:48a

Actually, the Rabbis taught (I'm not making this up) that God asked the Hebrews last out of all the peoples of the Earth. And we were the only ones who agreed to the Covenant with God. So, yeah, we're the chosen people, but only because everyone else passed. It's like being chosen last for kickball.

juli mccarthy
4.9.02 @ 1:27p

Adam & Sarah - in my most humble and completely insignificant opinion, the Apostles stopped being Jews when they started following Jesus. Sort of like one stops being a Catholic when one starts believing that a divine spaceship is sneaking up behind a comet to transport the faithful to one of Jupiter's moons for a private meeting with God.

mike julianelle
4.9.02 @ 2:01p

What if Jesus is piloting the ship?

adam kraemer
4.9.02 @ 2:36p

Juli - gotta argue with you there. Technically (I'm pretty sure), the idea of Jesus returning from the dead and all didn't really take hold until years later when Paul started preaching it. During his life, Jesus was mostly just a Jewish teacher. His followers were his disciples, not his worshippers. Making them Jewish. The line is drawn when people begin to believe he is the son of God and the Messiah. I think.

sarah ficke
4.9.02 @ 4:21p

Technically (and I hate to say it) Adam is right. The early followers of Jesus believed that he was reforming Judaism, not starting a new religion. At least that's the way scholars would have it.

Mike, if you want to work a spaceship into Revelation, I'm sure I can manage it.

adam kraemer
4.9.02 @ 4:44p

Wow, Sarah. Very big of you to admit that I'm right about something. There's a tear in my eye.

d b
4.10.02 @ 9:58p

Adam - just wanted to comment on your "Most gentiles would be surprised to find out how many commandments the Torah actually contains" remark. Actually, the Christians who know our Bibles wouldn't - the same (or I assume all or most of the same) commandments appear in the Old Testament. (Yes, I am aware you weren't talking about the Ten Commandments.) Basically the book of Leviticus is big long lists of stuff the ancient Hebrews were and weren't supposed to do.

Which brings me to a question I've never gotten a straight answer on - how does what we Jesus freaks know as the Old Testament compare to the Torah? Is it the same thing? Or does Jewish scripture include the Torah AND the minus-New-Testament Bible? I have some kind of vague idea that the Torah and the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) correspond to each other. So I'd be curious if I'm correct or not on that.

Just asking because I think in the times we're living in, it's more interesting (not to mention productive) to try to look at what makes people the same, not what makes them different. The followers of the world's three major monotheistic religions are sometimes referred to as "the children of Abraham." Those three traditions diverged in major ways, in doctrine and in culture - but they all trace back to the same place. 'Twould do all of us good to try and keep that in mind.

adam kraemer
4.10.02 @ 10:19p

I'm not sure why I singled out Gentiles for that comment, come to think of it. Most Jews would be surprised, too.

You're right in that the Torah is the Old Testament. As far as the holy books of the Jews, go, though, there are actually more than that - what's called the Tanakh - the letters TNK being an acronym for the three parts of the Jewish Bible - Torah, Nevi'im (Prophets - Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.), and Ketuvim (Writings - Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, etc.). One major difference is that the translations do differ - the King James version has some errors in translation (the sixth commandment, for example, is better translated as "You shall not murder" - as opposed to the more common "kill" - big difference). You might want to check out this link.

Regarding the "children of Abraham," there's a direct link between Judaism and Christianity, obviously. Islam is related in a large part because Abraham had two sons, Isaac and Ishmael (through Sarah's maidservant, Hagar). Isaac's descendents became Jews and, later, Christians. Ishmael's became Muslims. And just as how in Christianity the New Testament "replaced" the Old (Christians don't keep Kosher, for example), I'm pretty sure that the Koran replaced both in Islam. If anyone knows differently, please let me know - I might be mistaken or at least slightly confused.

[edited]

d b
4.11.02 @ 5:29p

One point of contention. For Christians, the New Testament supplements the Old. It very much does NOT replace it. There could be no Christianity without Judaism, as you point out, and that includes the scripture. A lot of Christian doctrine (the Ten Commandments, for example; Jews and Christians both are supposed to follow them) and best-loved scripture (the creation story in Genesis; Exodus; Psalms and Proverbs) comes from the Old Testament. As you mention, so do Isaiah's prophecies regarding the Messiah (and of course how to interpret those is where the difference comes in).

I WOULD argue that Catholics more often don't know a lot about the Old Testament, while Protestants more often do. As someone who's been steeped in both traditions, that's been my experience - would be open to hearing someone challenge it, though.

adam kraemer
4.11.02 @ 6:22p

Well, now you get to answer a question for me - what happened to most of the Jewish commandments in the conversion to Christianity? Or even more importantly, the Jewish holidays? Do you know where and why the split between, say, Passover and Easter came about? Or why Christians don't, for example, celebrate Purim?

jael mchenry
4.11.02 @ 6:39p

Well, there was this Jesus rising thing, and after that the celebration got to be more about him than it did about the passing over part.

It's all interpretation, what you keep and what you let slide aside, and I imagine certain early Christians were instrumental in interpreting how God wanted to be worshipped. Other than that, I don't know that anyone on this site is steeped in theology to the degree required to answer these questions.

d b
4.11.02 @ 6:47p

I guess because when missionaries brought Christianity to Europe, they didn't bring Jewish customs. What they did bring was the scripture that tells the stories of the culture into which Jesus was born. Without that there'd be no context for Christians, I don't think.

As I think you point out very well in your column, religion doesn't stand on its own without culture. The very first Christians were Hebrews, obviously, but after that they were mostly Greeks and Romans. And you have to understand it in that context. The date of Christmas, for example, is rooted in other traditions, like the Roman festival of Saturnalia or Celtic solstice celebrations. As Christianity took hold, its followers wished to instill religious meaning into what they believed were "pagan" observances. Or in other words, Christ probably wasn't actually born on Dec. 25. Easter is a little more complicated (the date varies according to the moon, etc., but you may have noticed that it and Passover are always the same week - the Last Supper was a seder, so that makes sense), but it still has some roots in previous traditions, celebrations of spring, rebirth, etc.

And this isn't an all-or-nothing premise here. Christianity is on some level descended from Judaism. Just because it incorporated some laws and traditions and not others does not make the Christian faith more or less valid. That is just the reality of history.

[edited]

russ carr
4.11.02 @ 9:02p

From a theological standpoint, here's why Christians did not maintain most of the theology of Judaism after Christ's earthly ministry ended: it was obsolete. Not necessarily obsolete in an anarchistic sense, but in a spiritual sense. Judaism (and the Old Testament) has its basis within the Law. Christianity (and the New Testament) has its basis within the Gospel. Our faith states that we gain salvation apart from works (ie, adherence to the law) because as sinful men we can never adhere to that law adequately. Instead, Christ, who is God, acted as a sacrifice for all mankind and has paid the penalty -- death and damnation. And while Christ's sacrifice did not eliminate sin from the world, it squared accounts between man and God; all man must do is believe this. Christians adhere to the law (notably the 10 Commandments) out of respect for God and a desire to lead a godly life. But many of the Jewish laws which revolved around sacrifice and atonement were considered immaterial now that the Messiah -- Christ -- had come. Since Jews don't believe Christ is the Messiah, they don't have that closure, and for them the Law remains.

russ carr
4.11.02 @ 9:13p

And Donna was spot-on regarding the establishment of Christmas and Saturnalia. It was developed as a means of easing (generally for Celtic/Druid tribes) new followers into the new faith. After all, even by Christ's day, much of Europe was already populated by tribes who had developed their own cultures, as far away as England, Ireland and Norway. There was no Jewish common heritage.

Easter has always been the Sunday after Passover, for obvious reasons.

The only other real "holiday" that got a spin by the church was Hallowe'en. All Hallows' Eve (or Dia de la Muerta) was created to co-opt Samhain, the Celtic festival of the dead, and later spawned All Saints' Day when too many started associating the dead saints with devils.

A good number of churches (well, Lutheran churches I've known, at least) even still hold Passover dinners. To deny the Jewish roots of Christianity would be like ripping the Bible in half and throwing out the Old Testament. Unthinkable.

adam kraemer
4.12.02 @ 9:51a

To be fair, there are a lot of Jewish customs and symbols that also come from the same pagan rituals as the Christian ones. Ever notice how closely (metaphorically) a menorah resembles a Christmas tree (branches, lights...)? Or that the egg is a significant symbol in both the Passover and Easter tradition (egg, Springtime, rebirth, etc.). The mikvah - the Jewish ritual bath - became the foot-washing of the Baptists. The Jews co-opted the symbols and rituals of the peoples around them just as much as the Christians did, only the Jews did it earlier.

Oh, and I take back my complaints regarding circumcision. Check out the link.

[edited]

jay gross
4.14.02 @ 8:38p

I've had the pleasure(?) to read, at length, the odds and ends of more modern religious thought. [Christian/Judaism/Islam]Adam touches, in his last paragraph, the 'basics' of human religious thought and practice. FEAR is the cause and challenge. All polytheistic/monotheistic religions grew from the fears, worries, hopes, and nostalgia of nomadic and later, agrarian peoples. Religion is not complicated until the trappings of ritual, sacrifices, and a self-styled priesthood takes over. The window dressing makes the religion and the 'embelishers of the truth' perpetuate the myths and decorations. "Tradition" is the cornerstone.....chose the tradition you want to make a part of your life.....or make your life a part of the tradition, - and go for it!

adam kraemer
4.15.02 @ 10:27a

Well, I think that there should be at least a thin line between the "traditions" and the "rituals" of any religion. One wouldn't consider taking the sacriment a "tradition," nor would the auction of the afikomen be thought of as a "ritual." A "ritual" is what makes a religion organized, while a "tradition," seems to be what keeps a people organized.

Of course the question of whether God actually wrote the Torah is both a touchy subject, but also necessary when exploring the issue of liberal religion - whether or not to obey all commandments. If the laws of Kashrut (keeping Kosher), for example, were actually handed down from God, the decision to break them would carry a lot more weight than if they were just written by man for the purposes of cleanliness and dietary caution.

tracey kelley
4.16.02 @ 4:50p

Adam - have you read Postville by Stephen Bloom? I'm going to hear him speak Thursday, and I've just started it.

adam kraemer
4.16.02 @ 5:17p

I have not, in fact. What's it about?

tracey kelley
4.17.02 @ 9:17a

Hasidic Jews from Brooklyn buy a slaughterhouse in a small farming community in Iowa (Postville) and pretty much take over the town, much to the dismay of the locals.

Two chapters in, I find Bloom a cliche'-riddled writer (both in his style and narrowmindedness) and condescending, but the overall subject matter is very interesting.

jael mchenry
4.17.02 @ 9:34a

Jews in Iowa? Who knew?

adam kraemer
4.17.02 @ 9:44a

The Jews take over the town? Is this pro-Jewish or anti-Jewish? I thought Jews were only allowed to take over a town by buying all the media first.

jael mchenry
4.17.02 @ 9:49a

No, that's the Japanese.

(Actually I just finished reading Rising Sun by Michael Crichton and it seems soooooooo outdated. Ooh! Fear the Japanese! They'll buy us all! Whatever.)

Cliche-riddled and condescending, Tracey? That doesn't sound like a fun read.

tracey kelley
4.17.02 @ 4:08p

Yea. I'll see if I feel the same when I hear him speak tomorrow. I read an editorial by him recently and wasn't impressed with that either.

One thing Iowa has a problem with right now is a few high and mighty journalist-types of different ethnicities from large cities who move here with their families for a safe neighborhood, less rush, solid school system blah blah, then say "there isn't enough diversity here. Iowa's bad 'cause it's only white people." Which isn't true, but what are you gonna do? Bloom takes this stance and also paints all Iowans - including U of I professors of different creeds - as being rubes, while portraying himself as being the only person with a "worldly" view. He's also angry that there isn't a large enough Jewish community in Iowa City, and says people there are too Christian, while in the same breath acknowledging that he doesn't practice his faith.

I just don't really know what to do with all that. Smacks of prejudice to me.



adam kraemer
4.17.02 @ 4:58p

Smacks of hypocrisy to me.

tracey kelley
4.17.02 @ 5:21p

On his part or mine? :>

adam kraemer
4.17.02 @ 5:30p

His. Sorry.

You really mean it when you say you live in Iowa.

[edited]

tracey kelley
4.17.02 @ 11:40p

thpppt.

wink

tracey kelley
4.18.02 @ 10:38p

So I hear Bloom tonight. He's a funny guy, I'll give him that. But his lecture consisted of reconstituting his characters (real people, actually) for the 95% of the audience who knew of them already, and the remaining 5% of us who haven't finished the book yet. He pokes fun at Iowa and Iowans (and it wasn't half as snobbish as it came off in the book) and he pokes fun at the Jews, even assuming a "Vhat?" accent during one description. These Iowans ate him up with a spoon and cream.

But the only time he truly said something interesting was when someone asked him why he wrote the book. And then the lecture was over.

So I'm still not impressed by him.

tracey kelley
5.14.02 @ 4:07p

{bump}

Now that I've finished reading it, I will recommend Postville, because, overall, it was written objectively and was quite interesting.

Adam, I now have a slew of questions to ask you.

adam kraemer
5.14.02 @ 4:28p

Ask away.
The answers will probably be "because they hate us. Want some food?"



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