Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Bad Jew

I don’t consider myself a Bad Jew

Of course, I consider Judaism to be an ethnicity, in addition to being a religion, so it’s difficult for me to conceptualize what a Bad Jew would look like. The label “Bad Jew” is like calling someone a “bad Italian.” What does “bad Italian” even mean? That you don’t eat spaghetti Bolognese?

Some of my family, however, consider me a Good Jew and in discussing their religion, labels themselves Bad Jews. As in: “I don’t know what the word hagim* means. I’m a Bad Jew.” Or: “[to the waiter] I’ll have the crab cakes please. [To me] I’m sorry I’m such a Bad Jew.” Periodically, they will express that their ignorance about Jewish minutiae is because they’re “heathens.” I am a Good Jew because I keep kosher (I do eat hot dairy out) and I go to shul* on Shabbas* (but I take the subway there and back). The content of my practice also places me in the Bad Jew category for a majority of the Jews to my Right. Why? The hot dairy and the subway are two decisive factors. Also, that I have a tendency to assert that God did not write the Bible.

Please note, “Bad Jew” is not a label provided by the traditionally observant Jewish community to brand those whose practice they disapprove. Bad Jews self label. I, and others who use the label, infer that the traditionally observant community thinks that I am a Bad Jew, although I may be wrong in my perception. As I walk down the street in my miniskirt and knee-highs, I may pass a group of Orthodox women, in their modest clothing, reflecting a strict observance of tzniut* (long sleeves, no collar bone showing, skirt to the ankles, modest black flats), I feel judged as a Jew, even if they don’t notice me. In the same vein, my parents feel judged by my observance of kashrut*, although I have never disparaged their approach to Judaism. I would label my mother a religious person, although she is not traditionally observant, because of her deep-felt belief in the power of God. While I am more traditionally observant than my parents, I don’t think of myself as more religious, particularly because I don’t believe in many of the doctrines that I view as essential to Judaism as a religion. My issue with people who label themselves as Bad Jews is that they flatten the issue of what constitutes a Jew, period. Unless you can own your own Judaism and be proud of your practice (or lack thereof) as a reflection of your personal beliefs, then the issue becomes binary and those who are most observant become the yardstick, against whom many Jews, rightly or not, measure the quality of their Judaism.

(In case you thought I was alone on this issue, Rachel agrees with me, which would be clearer if she’d use punctuation.)

As usual, the blogosphere offers some clarification on the issue of what constitutes a Bad Jew. Some Jews are Bad because they don’t know their own Hebrew name, while other Jews are Bad because they are not Jewish (but their husbands are). To help delineate the categories, I constructed a blog roundup of Bad Jews:

(1) Jews Who Work on Yom Kippur Think They Are Bad Jews:

This blogger in New England thinks she is a Bad Jew because she didn’t fast on Yom Kippur; Le Synge Bleu not only did not fast, but she worked. She is clearly a Worse Jew than the New England blogger.

(2) Further Holiday-Related Self-Flagellation:

The Talented Mr. Roto is a Bad Jew because he’s writing about baseball on Yom Kippur, which we all know is only acceptable if you’re writing about Sandy Koufax. In contrast, Dorinny’s a Bad Jew because she washed and drove on Yom Kippur, but she’s a Better Jew than Le Synge Bleu because she fasted and didn’t work (and went to shul, no less).

In Rosh Hashana news, Emily Rems missed Rosh Hashana because she was sick, clearly marking her a Bad Jew; luckily, she still had Yom Kippur to repent. And I gather that Ayla is a Bad Jew because she can’t cook, but maybe also because she yelled at her Grandma.

(3) Political Demarcations of a Bad Jew

A Bad Jew refuses to vote for Lieberman, even though he is an observant Jew. A Bad Jew is also unsure about what’s going on in Israel. Because the Good Jews are all certain as to every detail and could recite all of the nuances of the issue.

(4) Famous Bad Jews

In case you were confused, Jesus was a bad Jew, but not for the reason you think. In the modern era, Henry Kissinger is a Bad Jew because of his approach to Israeli politics (not to mention “his personal background and shiksa wife.”). In contrast, Natalie Portman is a Good Jew.

(5) A Note on Ambiguity

In case her reaction to your wedding invitation misled you, Annabel Lee would like you to know that she does not think that you are a Bad Jew, but she cannot participate in your interfaith ceremony because she is differently Jewish than you; also, because your ceremony will not be Jewish because your fiancé is not Jewish. But she’s not judging you, so don’t feel judged.

Lastly, two perspectives on what constitutes a Good Jew:

(1) Being a good Jew requires aiming to be the Lance Armstrong’s of the world. We have a vigorous training schedule that includes 613 disciplines that is guaranteed to make you the best biker in the world. In fact it was given to us by the Creator of the bicycle and the terrain that the bike needs to cover.”

(2) Now that my daughter is at a Jewish preschool, which we love, I have become a Good Jew <> again. We do Shabbat dinner almost every Friday night, complete with candles, wine and challah. We sing Hebrew songs. We celebrate the holidays. This is nice.”

Guess which one would consider me a Good Jew?

*Hagim, the plural for hag, means holidays'' in Hebrew.

*Tzniut, which I spelled correctly thanks to Annie, is the concept of dressing modestly.

*Kashrut means keeping kosher (Jewish dietary laws).

*Shul means synagogue or temple (if you’re Reform)

*Shabbas is the Ashkenazi pronunciation of Shabbat, also known as the Sabbath.

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