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Strange folk

by: Rabbi Jeremy Rosen - Last updated: 2007-05-04

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen

I agree with Hobbes. Human beings in the main are nasty and brutish. I also agree with Freud. Humans are selfish, egocentric pursuers of pleasure.

And those who learn to control their superegos often seem to go too far and become kill joys. Rev. Jonathan Swift got it right in his ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ we humans are Yahoos; smelly, dirty and stupid. We won’t even talk about Nazis, Marxists, Cambodians, Maoists or Hutus, Sudanese or the millions who hate Jews even if they have never actually met one up close. Do we have souls? Well if we do, they don’t seem to help most people much.

It’s all very well to say ‘Love Your Neighbour’ but what if your neighbour is obnoxiously unlovable? And it gets worse. I’m not that enamoured with lots of Jews either. I know we are supposed to be responsible for each other, and we are bound by covenants and the threefold rope that cannot easily be broken God, Torah and Israel. ‘Love of Israel’ is a very important concept in Judaism and there are all these commands about being nice and loving and helping and supporting each other. But I find most Israelis aggressive and arrogant. Most English Jews are pompous, petty and dull, most Americans loud and superficial and of course I am excluding you dear reader. No, I assure you I am not depressed, unhappy, angry or anything like that. I am simply reflective, thinking and trying to be as honest as possible and understand.

I was standing behind an Israeli in the Metropolitan Museum. He has tattoos, multiple body piercings and he says to his girl friend in loud Ivrit, assuming no one is listening, as he sees someone wearing a kippa walk past, how much he hates the religious and is so pleased to be in the USA away from all those stupid Zionist settlers. And I ask myself what the heck do I have in common with him? Or it’s Shabbat in Jerusalem and I’m down in my old haunt of Meah Shearim and I see someone dressed in black with a shaven head except for huge curled peyot sprouting from his skull dangling down to his waist, and he’s throwing stones at a passing car and I ask myself what the dickens do I have in common with him? At least in his case I share the same calendar and routines. And then I hear some one say that all Arabs hate all Jews and are traitors and should be expelled from Israel and we should hang on to every inch of territory and not concede anything and I wonder what universe he is living on. Or I read a Haifa University professor Ilan Pappe spew out his hatred against Israel and I just cant believe he has a drop of Jewish blood in his veins and I certainly wouldn’t to come any where near him. And I look around and dammit all, apart from me and my family and friends, who is sane in this world?

But then what does it mean? How is it possible to love all Jews let alone all human beings even if we are all precious in the eyes of God and He loves us all? And one of the messages of the Tower of Babel episode is that being united is not always a good thing.

Let’s just confine ourselves to Jews. Just consider. On Israel’s Independence Day some Jews added prayers of morning! Some said extra prayers of Joy, Hallel, added a Torah reading and haftarah using God’s name. Others left the blessings out. And of course most Israelis didn’t pray altogether. Some had a party, a barbecue and some don’t even know what day it was. Here we are a small, tiny minority, embattled and defensive. Yet look how every sector hates the other. A Chief Rabbi will declare that Reform Jews are to blame for the Holocaust. Reform rabbis accuse the Orthodox of being fundamentalist, racist primitives. Conservative Jews don’t like Reform Jews and Reconstructionists don’t like pseudo Kabbalists. Almost every Hassidic movement I know of is split into rival camps that often come to fisticuffs. Tel Aviv Zionists despise settlers and settlers hate Peace Now. Think about it. We are a few million and most of us aren’t talking to the rest. Anyone who is slightly more orthodox is a fanatic and anyone slightly less orthodox is a deluded assimilationist. We can’t even sit down together, study together, pray together or be civil together. In London you cannot invite a Reform rabbi to say a few words to a couple getting married without being hauled before the authorities for heresy. In New York at the JCC you can have panels of clergy from across the spectrum sitting discussing and being civil. In London it’s not allowed. In Israel a Reform rabbi cannot even speak at his own son’s funeral. Are we cuckoo or something? You don’t have to agree with someone to be civil or humane.

Why does everyone seem to judge just by the size and colour of your hat or the length of your skirt? I used to think some Christians were barmy because they were so sure I as a Jew would roast in hell. But I see half of Judaism thinks that of the other half! And here I am struggling to stop myself being as bad as the rest.

So seriously, is this talk about the Jewish People just a sham? Is the only thing that unites us hatred and opposition? It seems so. That’s the only time we all get together. In fact it’s like family. We love our family don’t we? But I know families where there are fights and vendettas and one half isn’t talking to the other. So perhaps we’re just normal. Perhaps Loving our neighbour, our Family, our people is another mitzvah we know we ought to be keeping yet we don’t but its lying there niggling away at our subconscious and eventually we might wake up one day and say ‘Hey its time to do something about it.’!!! 

In the Shema it says ‘These commandments should be on your hearts.’ And the obvious question is why ‘on’ and not ‘in’ your hearts? My father once told me ( but I dint recall where he got it from ) that if they are on your heart, then at least there’s a chance that one day you heart will open up and they’ll drop in!

Community is an important antidote to solipsism. Our society has elevated individuality (hooray) to the point where whatever a person feels like doing is good (yah boo). Being asked to be part of a community has benefits, marriages, burials, schools and minyanim when we need one. The price we have to pay is being nice to people we might not like that much. That can’t be so bad.

In the meantime, just get out of my way!

Visit Rabbi Jeremy Rosen on the web: www.JeremyRosen.com