Religion & Beliefs

When Rabbis Attack

I just saw Tamar's "Orthodox Rabbis, I Will Beat Your Ass" post. Awesome post, Tamar. For reals. But you should know that the boys get the Shabbos Dinner Ambush, too. When I'm in Jerusalem I sometimes have Heritage House hook … Read More

By / April 8, 2007
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I just saw Tamar's "Orthodox Rabbis, I Will Beat Your Ass" post. Awesome post, Tamar. For reals.

But you should know that the boys get the Shabbos Dinner Ambush, too. When I'm in Jerusalem I sometimes have Heritage House hook me up for shabbat dinner with a family of foaming-at-the-mouth Orthonutz. I always enjoy it–even the inevitable your-background-is-shit-and-your-beliefs-are-shit shpiel, and the way it ends with the demand that I accept the literal truth–LITERAL, DAMMIT!–of revelation at Sinai.

This often includes a tangent-rant about how the so-called "rabbis" of the Reform and Conservative movements are godless, crypto-goyish liars who don't believe a word of the Sinai story, but disguise their atheism behind lots of waffly blather. Alas, there’s truth to this, and I think it may be part of the reason why people have trouble defending themselves against the ambush.

When a young seeker asks “rabbi, do you believe revelation at Sinai really happened?”, they should get an honest answer. And for many non-Orthodox rabbis, the honest answer is “No, I think the whole story is horseshit. It’s either totally fabricated, or based on some event that has been so embellished and inflated that it’s effectively pure fiction. But—like lots of other fables—it communicates some valuable ideas.” These rabbis need to let their testes/ovaries swing free and learn how to say this in less than 30,000 words.

So I’m not surprised if people who’ve attended Jewish day school don’t know how to defend their theological choices (btw, I attended a Conservative Jewish day school for a few years). You can’t teach students to defend a position if you’re not willing to tell them explicitly what that position is.

But to be honest, even if you got more help from Jewish day school, would it really matter? There’s no way to “defend” a metaphorical reading of scripture against someone who thinks that the Toyrah is the immaculate, unsullied word of Hashem. You’re starting from irreconcilable premises. You can explain to them in exquisite detail how the logic unfolds from your own conceptual starting points, but they’ll still regard the whole worldview as a polluted, Hellenized abomination, the product of Israel’s recent mass whoredom with the daughters of Moab.

It’s interesting to have that conversation a couple times, but then it gets repetitive. So now, to keep the Shabbos ambush interesting, I just make up lots of crazy shit and see how they respond. Last time at Heritage House I told the guy that my family was descended from followers of Shabtai Tzvi (the 17th century false messiah who turned world Jewry upside down), and that we were still very angry, and our faith too shaken to come back to Judaism. The guy kept saying “Come on! That was awful, but it was a long time ago!” Hysterical! An ultra-orthodox Sinai-monger telling me get over all that ancient 17th century history already!

Another time I incessantly expressed bewildered amazement at the parallels between Sinai and the Pentecost event in the Christian Testament, as though every word he said was inexplicably but undeniably stoking my interest in Jesus. That brought the Sinai discussion to an unusually fast close (an awkward one, yes, but we moved on to other topics, it's not like he kicked me out). So actually, that's my recommendation to anyone who dislikes the Shabbos ambush. If Jewish day school didn't prepare you, and you find yourself close tears, just drop the J-bomb on him until he staggers off into different territory.