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Are Christians More Tolerant Than Jews?

Often, I find myself sneering at Christians in a way that would be completely intolerable were my aim squared at any other cultural group. Making your kids pay for college themselves? Goyish. Not serving food with drinks? Goyish. Intelligent design? … Read More

By / March 9, 2007
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Often, I find myself sneering at Christians in a way that would be completely intolerable were my aim squared at any other cultural group. Making your kids pay for college themselves? Goyish. Not serving food with drinks? Goyish. Intelligent design? Goyish. Wal-Mart? Goyish to the Nth. I call it like I see it.

“That’s just an old Lenny Bruce routine,” says my husband, Ben (confirmation name: Paul), whenever I trot out my list. “You know, New York is Jewish; Butte, Montana isn’t.”

“Exactly,” I say, delighted that in the six years we’ve known each other, my husband’s become such an observant Jew.

As Ben has discerned, I’ve turned the red-state/blue-state divide into a goyish/Jewish divide. This makes demographic sense, of course: A high Jewish population is one of the most reliable ways to tell a blue state from a red, and although polling numbers say that 24 percent of American Jews voted for Bush in 2004, I’ve never met a single one of them. Further, while intolerance is generally verboten in my multicultural circles, it’s fine, even encouraged, to lash out at the anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-evolution zombies who have given the past two elections to the worst president in American history. Some call them red-staters; I call them goys.

It’s so easy to take potshots, in the same way it’s easy to be against any large corporation—with a sort of screw-the-powerful thumb against my nose. It almost feels like a victimless crime. Who cares if I sneer at the foodways and folkways of the goyish hegemony? If I snigger “how goyish,” after a friend mentions attending a wedding where guests had to pay for their drinks? If I never watch a rerun of 7th Heaven?

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But of all the Jews I know, really, I should know better.

My husband comes from a family of deeply faithful Christians—Bush-voters, in fact, and red-staters in all but the zip code—yet they are people I respect, and for whom I feel enormous affection. Meeting them has helped me see why so many capital-C Christians vote the way they do. The Catholic Church is profoundly powerful where Ben grew up, and people really do believe what their priests tell them: that legal abortion is state-sanctioned murder, that faith is the most important quality a leader can have, that integrity is synonymous with belief in God. These Catholics differentiate themselves through their beliefs. They have faith in their religious destiny. To diminish their way of life as stupid and tacky—goyish—is to be not only cruel to my husband, it is also to be willfully reductive.

Oh, and by the way, not once has any of them given me any shit at all about being Jewish; in fact, they never fail to wish me a happy whatever-Semitic-holiday-it-happens-to-be. They would no sooner make jokes about my coreligionists than they would about their own. At our wedding, Ben’s grandfather toasted us with a hearty “Mazel Tov!”

I cringe, because I am not nearly so good.

***

In my desire to be more accepting of the goyim, to be more tolerant—to be more Christian—I keep bumping up against the fact that Judaism doesn’t seem to want me to. Fundamental to Judaism is the idea that we Jews are distinct, that we are different, that we are chosen—and they are not. There is no separate-but-equal in Judaism. My sincere effort to look at heartfelt belief in Christ (and all the political choices that go along with it) as just another way of marching along in the world is, according to traditional Judaism, intellectually and spiritually baseless.

Listen to the Aleinu: It is our duty to praise the Master of all, to exalt the Creator of the Universe, who has not made us like the nations of the world and has not placed us like the families of the earth; who has not designed our destiny to be like theirs, nor our lot like that of all their multitude.

Throughout Jewish history, we have set ourselves apart. We have dressed differently, kept different days holy, married only one another. Now, however, the division between my Jewish life and that of my Christian neighbors is so slim it’s almost invisible. How do I separate myself? By craving matzah ball soup when I have a cold? By a lingering reluctance to visit Germany?

The truth is, I am not nearly as distinct as my religion asks me to be.

There is something very Jewish in me that makes me want to separate myself, but I can only express that separation through scorn. Fundamentally, how am I different from the goyish masses? How am I Jewish if I am not a pro-choice blue-stater, a latte drinker, a Times reader, a person with a master’s degree in the arts of all ludicrous things? I have no other way to distinguish myself, although I know that this is not enough.

Since our marriage, my husband has found it easy to become “Jewy,” (his word)—to attend synagogue, to keep a vegetarian-kosher home, to subscribe to Tikkun. Of course he’s found it easy. The tradition he grew up with allows him a certain commonality with Jews; a post-Vatican II child, he grew up with the Old Testament and never learned to blame the Jews for the crucifixion. He has no cultural insecurity or religious mandate to keep him from attending a Christmas mass with his mother a day after Shabbos services with me.

But I will never feel equally comfortable with my Christmas presents, my candy canes, and my mealtime grace, and although I’d love to say, “Sure, I’ll check out mass with your mom,” the thought gives me the creeps. I love Ben’s family, and I’ve learned to respect their cultural choices—even their votes for Bush—but the Jew in me will never let me be too catholic in what I wholeheartedly accept.

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Related in Jewcy: Why we changed the headline. Also, Lauren Grodstein considers Monica Lewinsky in Jewess Studies

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