Thursday, July 5, 2007
Allergic to the voice of contemporary Judaism
Commenter and blogger extraordinaire Chabakuk Elisha writes:
A Simple Jew sent me a link today, asking if I had seen This set of books Well, I haven't seen it, and I imagine there are many good things in there, but I was immediately turned off.
First of all, the byline: "Laws and Ethics of Everyday Interactions"
I don't like the word "laws" nor do I like the word "ethics" here. I think it should say something like "Being Jewish in your everyday actions," or something like that. Titles and descriptions like these sound so condescending and pretentious to me. Maybe it's me, but I find this kind of Yiddishkeit to be a big turn off.
Then I looked at the description:
In this groundbreaking, invaluable guide, Rabbi Dovid Castle, noted Torah scholar and educator, details the intricacies of interpersonal relationships and their Halachic ramifications. Based on the teachings of Chazal and replete with Torah sources, the author provides clear guidelines on how to interact with one's fellow man. His effective examples are culled from common dilemnas and daily life. Find out what you should - or shouldn't - do when:
Selling your home
Advertising your product
Helping your child with friendships
Someone asks you for a favor
Your mutual friends have a dispute
Noisy neighbors disturb your sleep
Nothing wrong here, right? All a very laudable cause, designed to help people "do the right thing." But I found their description somewhat offensive and even dishonest; I think it's overly simplistic and insulting (yes, I know – this may just be my own sensitivities). I would have edited it a bit; this would have been a more appealing version to me:
In this useful and comprehensive guide, noted Torah scholar and educator, Rabbi Dovid Castle, details the intricacies of interpersonal relationships and their Halachic ramifications. Based on the teachings of Chazal and replete with Torah sources, the author provides clear and simplified guidelines for grappling with questions that arise when interacting with one's fellow man. He cites effective examples and common dilemnas that arise in daily life. Find out how Torah leaders have taught us to handle…
Notice the difference? A little less pretentious? A little less offensive?
First of all, the assumption that I need this book for baseline behavior – and that this book is the word of G-d telling me how to become a mentsch – is a bit insulting; but more than that, I'm a bit sick of everyone printing up these books of rules. Somehow, Yiddishkeit has been stripped down to "one-man's-determination-of-how-to-live-your-life-and-do-the-right-thing." How empty.
It also touches on another thing that especially annoys me: the attitude that "this one true set of behavior and minhagim is what Yiddishkeit is about." There is no soul to this commonly held attitude of Judaism. It's just lists and lists of rules - and although these books are useful and even somewhat valuable, they have gone quite far in killing the religion. Or maybe I'm just allergic to people telling me what to do?