Religion & Beliefs

Dear Orthodox Rabbis, I Am Not Afraid of You, and I Will Beat Your Ass

Okay, not all Orthodox rabbis, but a select and nauseating few. Know why? Because making girls cry at your Shabbat table is a lame little trick you only pull to make yourself feel powerful. Everyone can see this, and everyone … Read More

By / March 26, 2007

Okay, not all Orthodox rabbis, but a select and nauseating few. Know why? Because making girls cry at your Shabbat table is a lame little trick you only pull to make yourself feel powerful. Everyone can see this, and everyone can also see that you’re weak, and it would only take about thirty five seconds of level one kung fu moves to transform you into a black-hatted lump of soft moaning flesh, cowering on the floor beneath your oversized table. Watch yourself, buddy. I got a pair of steel-toed boots that are calling for blood. Allow me to explain my wrath. This weekend I heard yet another instance of an Orthodox rabbi inviting a college student over for a Shabbat meal, and then attacking her background, level of observancy, and life choices over the soup course, while his enormous family looked on coolly. Not surprisingly, said student burst into tears, and was, among other charming results of the meal, completely humiliated. Never mind that she’d walked more than two miles to attend services at the Orthodox synagogue this guy heads. Never mind that she keeps Shabbat and kashrut, and is very active at Hillel. Since her clavicle was visible and she hadn’t devoted her nineteenth year to a seminary she was, clearly, worthy of a stern talking-to. Everyone knows that if you just yell at someone about how the Torah has come directly from Sinai, unchanged by humans, and throw in indiscriminate criticisms of the Reform and Conservative movements, you can really change some minds. What everyone secretly wants is to be told everything they learned and studied growing up was a conspiracy of self-hating Jews trying to rob them of their rightful tradition. More kugel? Seriously, is this how you get your kicks, rabbi? Making college girls cry—is that what makes you feel like a big shot? Now, this phrase may not mean anything to you since you shun the world outside of your beis midrash, but it sure sounds to me like somebody’s overcompensating. Just a guess, though. I wish this was the first time I’d heard a story like this, but actually it’s a narrative I hear at least twice a year. I have been that embarrassed weeping girl who gets her theology crapped on during the salad course, and so have my friends, and members of my family, and a range of people I’ve met at Hillel dinners. This is the normal MO for some guys, and I can hardly blame them. Reducing your debate opponent to tears is a pretty convincing victory. There’s not really much more to say about the guys (and it’s always guys, and their wives always sit there quietly and listen, because rhetorically beating up guests is, apparently, a prize component of hachnasat orchim, welcoming guests). While their arguments are sometimes somewhat convincing, it’s hard to believe that any girl in her right mind would go back to a house where making people cry is a Shabbat tradition. What makes me really crazy about this kind of thing is that even someone who went to Jewish day school for her entire life, someone who is dedicated to Torah and Mitzvot, is liable to be put in this situation. And why? Because non-Orthodox Jewish schools don’t teach kids how to stand up for their own theological choices. The message in Conservative schools these days seems to be that you have to figure your shit out on your own, and if you want to look at the scholarship that agrees with you you’ll have to make a trip to JTS yourself, because no one is reaching out to help you. When someone comes at me with their bullcrap about how they KNOW that the Torah and Talmud came down from God on Sinai and haven’t been changed since, I should have fighting words ready. I should be able to defend my views just as strenuously as Mr. I’m-Wearing-A-Black-Hat-And-I-Have-A-Degree-From-YU-So-I-Know-What-I’m-Talking-About. But I don’t and I can’t because no one has sat me down and taught me precisely why Divine inspiration makes more sense than the straight up revelation this whackjob is bringing. I have a pretty good idea since I’m friends with half the Judaic studies department at Vandy and I’ve pursued a lot of this stuff in my own time, but that makes me an exception. If youth groups routinely have seminars on how to fend off Jews for Jesus, why didn’t USY teach me to hold my own in a theological debate? So while I’m pissed at these rabbis for being overzealous and rude in their tactics, I’m even more angry that thirteen years of full time Jewish education didn’t afford me (or any of the people who get hit with this crap) a few flip and persuasive comments of my own. Are there any Jewish educators out there? You guys need to get on this problem ASAP. Because while I advocate beating up obnoxious rabbis who make teenage girls cry, I admit it’s probably not the best solution to the problem…