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May 5, 2011

Posted by qvashty in Uncategorized.

May Day, 1909

Does anyone else from an Orthodox background feel as if the best parts of a modern Jewish identity were hidden from us?  Or, as one of my friends put it, as if we were robbed of it?  I’m not a big fan of identity in the first place, but I’m old enough to know how seriously people take it, and the concept creeps deeper and deeper into me despite my rejection of it.

As a young atheist in the Orthodox community, I rejected the religious aspect of Jewish identity early on.  What else was left?  The most visible alternative to the religious aspect of identity was the State of Israel.  But even before I went to college and saw what humanists really think about the conflict there, I knew something was wrong.  The tragedies of the Holocaust were used as a justification for the oppression of the Palestinians.  A teacher of mine in school, who has since become a leader in the Orthodox community, told our class that the solution to the Palestinian problem was to expel them from the territories and refugee camps, then go in with tanks and machine guns to clear out whoever was still there.  I knew that this was not for me, and unfortunately even secular Israelis can be morally disappointing on this issue.  In fact, the truth is that this has become a shameful aspect of Jewish identity.  It’s not that all people oppose contemporary Zionism because they are antisemitic; they do, however, become suspicious of Jews as a result of the crimes that have been committed in the name of Zionism.  In certain circles, it is intimidating to tell people that you are Jewish or that you are Israeli, because they will assume that you agree with Israel’s worst policies.  I don’t mean to invite discussion about the merit of Israeli policies here, but to point out that (heck, even if you’re a Liberman fan) it is not an aspect of Jewish heritage to wear on one’s sleeve.  It is an embarrassing aspect of contemporary Jewish identity that makes many people ashamed of their heritage.  Especially for a humanist.   And I have on a number of occasions had to deal with prejudices based on my identity, here are some examples:

-“Well, you wouldn’t like to be friends with him, he wants there to be a Palestinian state.”

-an Arab friend of mine being asked with surprise: “you’re friends with Zionist Vashty?”

But this was all that Orthodox schools really tell about Jewish identity.  They don’t tell you that in Old-New Land, Theodor Herzl describes a multicultural Ottoman protectorate with German as the lingua franca to mediate between different ethnic groups- and no army.  They don’t tell you about Ahad Ha’am’s “spiritual Zionism,” which advocated for a “spiritual” center in Palestine and a revival of diasporic Hebrew culture as the main goal, or about his scathing remarks about Herzl’s political Zionism.  They don’t tell you about the Canaanite movement, in which Zionists sought to create a culture that would make them brothers of their Palestinian neighbors.  But maybe you’re not a nationalist, anyway?  I feel profound sympathy with early Zionism, naive about the cultures of the people living in the Middle East, but peaceful, cultural, literary.  I admire some aspects of early Labor Zionism, even though it grew into something unacceptable.  The political movements that grew out of Revisionist Zionism and Religious Zionism,  which now dominate the Israeli political scene, are even worse.  And don’t get me started on American Zionism.  But anyway, what if you are not a nationalist?  What kind of humanist really is?  Don’t worry, there is even more stolen heritage.

This year, while trying to give some contemporary relevance to the Orthodox seder, I came across what non-Orthodox Jews have come up with.  Although those groups, with their fidelity to God (for example), will never appeal to me.  But not only did they find examples of modern-day slavery for us to think about, they have held onto another aspect of modern Jewish identity, one that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately- those Jewish movements which worked for social justice.  I know, I know, it sounds corny.  But what can you do when you had identity shoved down your throat for years and found that the rest of the world notices it even if you don’t?

There is something we can claim as a “usable past.”  Okay, the Bund was kinda nationalist, but not in the icky European way that Zionism mimicked, and it was surrounded by other nationalist parties (Jewish and of other nations) as well.  The Bund was a visible part of a much larger trend in Jewish culture of the early twentieth century.  While much of the world saw the Jews as parasitic capitalists, the Jews who often labored for Jewish capitalists fought for the rights of working people through the Bund, through unions, through journalism, through socialist and anarchist politics.  Those who perished in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire included Jewish and other immigrant women who had previously been leaders in a huge strike which resulted in better pay and working conditions for many in New York City.  Through their work in the labor movement, Jews played a huge role in improving the standard of living in the USA.  The Russian Revolution ultimately replaced one despotic government with another, but the Jews who fought and died for it only knew that they were trying to remove a cruel autocrat from power and trying to make the world better for the masses.  At the same time as the Night of the Murdered Poets in the USSR, McCarthyism in the USA targeted social-justice-minded Jews. Howard Zinn wrote some magnificent books which tell American history from the point of view of the American population.

Hopefully by now, you’re at a point in your life where you don’t need me to clumsily describe this stuff to you, but can seek it out on your own if it interests you- I’m only just starting to think and learn about it myself, even though I knew in the back of my mind that it was there (hence the paragraph above is not my best writing and I know it!).  But I do know that like Zionism, this is something that the Jews have been noticed for and hated for.  Jewish activists were feared in czarist Russia and Nazi Germany and the USA through much of its history.  But Bundism, Emma Goldman, Howard Zinn, the ILGWU, the Workmen’s Circle- these are aspects of Jewish identity that I want to reclaim for us all.  I’d be way more comfortable telling people what I am if social justice was the first stereotype to come to their minds.

Here’s my fantasy:

“You wouldn’t want to be friends with them, he wants to lower the capital-gains tax and cut Medicaid.”

“You mean you’re friends with socialist Vashty?”

This wouldn’t be much of an innovation, but that’s the point.  It’s an old stereotype, and it’s probably the best one we’ve got.  Let’s take it back!

Run on the Big Evil Banks December 24, 2010

Posted by qvashty in politics.

I have been too busy with work and worry to write anything in a long time.  What is happening to the economy has been particularly upsetting to me both as a well-informed intellectual type and as a person whose family is suffering the consequences.

What has been going on since the crash a couple of years ago, to my family, to my city, to my state, to my country and to the people and ecosystems of the world has been making me even physically sick.

In fact, I find myself drawn to the other Jewish tradition, socialism, which I had kind of abandoned and written off as a teenage passion.  If there is a Jewish voice out there which is inspiring these days, it is that of Bernie Sanders.  Listen to his “filibuster” while you are cleaning house or something.  The facts have been checked and passed muster.

Whether you are a capitalist or a socialist or something in between, the system we live in now is getting to be more like feudalism than traditional capitalism.   In what has been called a “debt-cropper” society, the large banks have gambled with our economy, put people out on the street, demanded our bailout money, put more people out on the street, made a few people very rich beyond all ability to spend the money, and advertised on FOX news to misinform and further disenfranchise millions of Americans who have been failed by the public school system and cannot figure out who is really duping them.  These banks are a destructive entity which is feeding off of America and selling it to China.   You probably already know the story and don’t need me to tell it.

But there is one thing that you have the power to do about it, even when Obama and your Senators have sold you out to the billionaires.

I am writing to suggest that people consider investing their money somewhere besides Wells Fargo, Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Washington Mutual, HSBC, etc.

Local banks and credit unions even have credit cards you can use if you still want to go into debt living beyond your means.   But they tend to have more ethical policies towards their customers.  For example,  a friend of mine who had her money in a big bank incurred a surprise expense which resulted in several overdrafts.  The overdrafts went through and she got hit with a $40 overdraft fee each time, adding up to hundreds of dollars!  My credit union sends me a note when I (oh, the shame!) overdraft on occasion, but they don’t charge for overdrafts.  The large banks actually hire people to help them figure out how to cheat their customers with little policies that no one will notice.  Banking with a credit union is not only an easy kind of activism, it also saves you money.

I have emptied my emergency bank account at Wells Fargo and invested the money in my neighborhood credit union.  Just give it some thought, folks.

“Higher intelligence is associated with liberal political ideology, atheism, and men’s (but not women’s) preference for sexual exclusivity” March 1, 2010

Posted by qvashty in atheism, biology.

From the American Sociological Association:

Intelligent People Have “Unnatural” Preferences and Values That Are Novel in Human Evolutionary History

Higher intelligence is associated with liberal political ideology, atheism, and men’s (but not women’s) preference for sexual exclusivity

More intelligent people are statistically significantly more likely to exhibit social values and religious and political preferences that are novel to the human species in evolutionary history.  Specifically, liberalism and atheism, and for men (but not women), preference for sexual exclusivity correlate with higher intelligence, a new study finds.

The study, published in the March 2010 issue of the peer-reviewed scientific journal Social Psychology Quarterly, advances a new theory to explain why people form particular preferences and values.  The theory suggests that more intelligent people are more likely than less intelligent people to adopt evolutionarily novel preferences and values, but intelligence does not correlate with preferences and values that are old enough to have been shaped by evolution over millions of years.

“Evolutionarily novel” preferences and values are those that humans are not biologically designed to have and our ancestors probably did not possess.  In contrast, those that our ancestors had for millions of years are “evolutionarily familiar.”

“General intelligence, the ability to think and reason, endowed our ancestors with advantages in solving evolutionarily novel problems for which they did not have innate solutions,” says Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics and Political Science.  “As a result, more intelligent people are more likely to recognize and understand such novel entities and situations than less intelligent people, and some of these entities and situations are preferences, values, and lifestyles.”

An earlier study by Kanazawa found that more intelligent individuals were more nocturnal, waking up and staying up later than less intelligent individuals.  Because our ancestors lacked artificial light, they tended to wake up shortly before dawn and go to sleep shortly after dusk.  Being nocturnal is evolutionarily novel.

In the current study, Kanazawa argues that humans are evolutionarily designed to be conservative, caring mostly about their family and friends, and being liberal, caring about an indefinite number of genetically unrelated strangers they never meet or interact with, is evolutionarily novel.  So more intelligent children may be more likely to grow up to be liberals.

Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) support Kanazawa’s hypothesis.  Young adults who subjectively identify themselves as “very liberal” have an average IQ of 106 during adolescence while those who identify themselves as “very conservative” have an average IQ of 95 during adolescence.

Similarly, religion is a byproduct of humans’ tendency to perceive agency and intention as causes of events, to see “the hands of God” at work behind otherwise natural phenomena.  “Humans are evolutionarily designed to be paranoid, and they believe in God because they are paranoid,” says Kanazawa.  This innate bias toward paranoia served humans well when self-preservation and protection of their families and clans depended on extreme vigilance to all potential dangers.  “So, more intelligent children are more likely to grow up to go against their natural evolutionary tendency to believe in God, and they become atheists.”

Young adults who identify themselves as “not at all religious” have an average IQ of 103 during adolescence, while those who identify themselves as “very religious” have an average IQ of 97 during adolescence.

In addition, humans have always been mildly polygynous in evolutionary history.  Men in polygynous marriages were not expected to be sexually exclusive to one mate, whereas men in monogamous marriages were.  In sharp contrast, whether they are in a monogamous or polygynous marriage, women were always expected to be sexually exclusive to one mate.  So being sexually exclusive is evolutionarily novel for men, but not for women.  And the theory predicts that more intelligent men are more likely to value sexual exclusivity than less intelligent men, but general intelligence makes no difference for women’s value on sexual exclusivity.  Kanazawa’s analysis of Add Health data supports these sex-specific predictions as well.

One intriguing but theoretically predicted finding of the study is that more intelligent people are no more or no less likely to value such evolutionarily familiar entities as marriage, family, children, and friends.

The article “Why Liberals and Atheists Are More Intelligent” will be published in the March 2010 issue of Social Psychology Quarterly, a publication of the American Sociological Association.  A copy can be obtained by bona fide journalists by emailing a request to pubinfo@asanet.org.

Loshon hora February 23, 2010

Posted by qvashty in OJ schooling.

Many years ago, in an UO school for girls, my teacher decided to focus on the evil of loshon hora.    There was, of course, the story about the pillowfull of feathers scattered in the wind.  But in addition, she wanted the children in her class to take a more active approach.  We were to decide on a code word to use when a conversation took a turn towards loshon horah, a polite way to shut it down without directly accusing someone of doing an aveirah.  I’m sure I came up with a clever one, but whatever it was, it lost in a vote to the popular “uh-oh, Spaghettio!”  The irony that this code word referred to non-kosher packaged food was lost on everyone, and “u-oh, Spaghettio!” it was to be.  Of course no one ever used it, and loshon horah is the matzah u-maror of of OJ girls and women, if I do say so myself.

At this school, we also learned that the reason why Hashem allowed such inventions as the tape player and video camera to come about was as a way of teaching us that every moment of our lives is being recorded and will be played back to us and to the rest of the world after our deaths.  (Perhaps I have mentioned this before?) This certainly encouraged us to change our underwear under the bedsheets for modesty’s sake.

And we learned that embarrassing someone is akin to murder.

In general, I don’t think that the lessons really made a difference in the girls’ derech eretz towards one another in a meaningful way.  Some of the girls were really malicious.  But there were many superficial effects on behavior; most memorably, whenever we did an art project, I recall how kids would fawn over each other’s work, saying “yours is so pretty and mine is so ugly!” in such a way  as to be entirely unconvincing.

I think that these lessons worked on me, though.  I cringe at loshon horah and feel ashamed when I realize that I am doing it.  I almost buy the thing about embarrassing people.  I am incredibly relieved that the video camera is not recording my life.  Many days of my life are spent fretting about whether or not I have hurt someone’s feelings.  This can be crippling, but is it really a bad thing?

Escaping the Past in the Internet Age February 20, 2010

Posted by qvashty in pop culture.

Apologies for my recent absence.  I have been very busy with work, and not had much to say.  In the meantime I have made several donations to the Haiti relief effort.  But now I do have something to say!

I have been on Facebook for about a year now.  During this time I have found long-lost friends, which is a lovely thing.  Unfortunately, too many people are finding me.  And I find myself refusing friend requests from nice frum people that I just don’t want to bring back to my life.  So far, none of them have been people I despise or anything, but I don’t see the point- especially as each friend from my old ghetto (whether currently or formerly frum) leads to “friend suggestions” of frum people to myself and vice versa.

But recently this got a lot worse.  A total stranger messaged me on Facebook asking me to join the nascent alumni association for my hellish frum school.  I was so angry that I sent her a silly message in reply to her semi-literate overture:

Dear Ms. [Hyphenated-Last-Name],

I do not know you or how you got my name, but I would appreciate it if you could please remove me from any and all lists associated with [Gulag for Kids]. I’m sure that I will never forget the place, which taught me well to identify and avoid religion, totalitarianism and unexamined or prepackaged thoughts. The intellectual benefits of having lived the [Yiddishe Kinder Manufacturing Center] nightmare are very real in this respect, and I will always grapple with the question of whether it is better to live with the pain of enlightenment or the joy of willful ignorance. However, I am in touch with other survivors of that terrible experience and have seen enough of [Brainwashing Academy] and its people to last me, if I believed in such things, through several reincarnations.

Thanks but no thanks. I would be much obliged to you if you could help me to stay off of the alumni lists. I am afraid that my financial and ideological positions are not ones which facilitate donation. Best of luck in your efforts to build your alumni association.


But there is no apparent end in sight to these things.  I would absolutely love to hear how other people deal with unpleasant past lives tapping them on their virtual shoulders all of the time.  It was so much easier before these networks started, when you could just move away and, except for dealing with your family, be done with it.

I know it seems (even to myself) that I am being rather petty.  But that’s the way it is.  I love my non-frum life, hated being stuck in the frum world, and frankly do not want to have to keep adjusting my privacy settings to add new people to the list of those “friends” which cannot see anything.  An early example of this was when I had a drag photo up as my profile picture, was friended by a nice frum girl from high school, and only then could I change my settings to hide everything from her.  I wondered if she had gotten the chance to see everything first.

How do you keep this from happening, and otherwise be a normal Facebook user?

Irish Blasphemy Law January 2, 2010

Posted by qvashty in atheism, politics.

Atheist Ireland is doing what it can to get the blasphemy law, which took effect January 1st, repealed.  In the meantime, click here to read the 25 blasphemous quotations on their website.

It is really incredible that blasphemy laws should be introduced in the 21st century.  Or maybe not.  There have been efforts to get the UN to make defamation of religion a crime.

Public Sinning December 30, 2009

Posted by qvashty in feminism/gender, religion, religious curiosities.

It has been pointed out that the consumption of shellfish, much like male-on-male anal sex, is an abomination in the eyes the Lord (biblically speaking).  Yet among Christian communities who consider homosexuality to be an abomination or a dealbreaker, few believers abstain from the consumption of shellfish.  In the Orthodox Jewish world, I would argue that the consumption of shellfish is probably equally, if not more, appalling compared to homosexuality.

Modern Orthoprax & Heterodox suggests that gay people ought not be frum:

How can a genuinely gay person remain genuinely frum? They simply can’t. They have to leave OJ, because OJ even at it’s most sympathetic could never accept 2 gay men living together as a couple. Now some people have suggested that the only real issue here is a certain type of sex act, so as long as (at least officially) people are not doing that act, if 2 males live together then there’s no technical problem.

But this is ridiculous. How can you expect two gay men in love to pretend that they don’t have sexual relations with each other? What kind of life is that? It’s not a realistic solution.

The first thing which came into my mind when I read this was the prohibition against spilling seed.  It is a real sin, but no man or boy is expected to demonstrate that he does not commit it.  Similarly, I recall that that cunnilingus is forbidden, yet no heterosexual couple is held accountable for it.

By contrast, I can imagine that the community might well notice if a woman were not going to the mikveh.  Is she not practicing taharas hamishpokhe?  Is her husband denying her sexual relations?

And of course I remember ducking in and out of nonkosher diners when I was a teenager, afraid that someone would see me and get me in trouble with school and my parents.  If you are still in the frum community, I bet you wouldn’t dare go to shul on shabbos with an umbrella, even a pre-opened one, if there is no eruv.

Those halachos which serve to distinguish a religious community are the ones which get the most attention.  Kashrus experienced a huge boom in America, where non-Jewish neighbors were closer and friendlier than they had been in Europe, and it serves to further isolate the Orthodox community from a society in which it is allowed to participate.  The biblical prohibition against male homosexuality (along with that against prostitution)  seems to have been inspired by the prostitution-based pagan temples of the region in ancient times; to distinguish themselves from idolaters, the ancient Hebrews prohibited the behaviors associated with idolatry.  Since homosexuality was not considered a “lifestyle” until quite recently, the anti-gay crusaders are a new breed in response.  Gay sex was, much like masturbation, something people used to do in secret.

It seems like it would be unfair to expect a gay couple to announce to the community that they do not engage in halachically prohibited forms of sex, since heterosexual couples are just as capable of doing those same prohibited acts, it would still be considered a sin if they did, and no one is asking.  But I guess they would be singled out for shame or shunning, because they are suspects.

What do you think would make a bigger scandal in your family?  Shellfish or homosexuality?  I’m sure that bringing shellfish into the house would upset my folks more than bringing a same-sex partner would.  And I’m sure that a religion which held men accountable for masturbation would have a really rocky road ahead.

Details: The Rise of the Hot Jewish Girl December 15, 2009

Posted by qvashty in feminism/gender, pop culture, Uncategorized.
1 comment so far

I posted a while back on Jewish sexuality in America and how I thought Jewish women have been desexualized here

I came across an article which disagrees.  Here it is.

Since I posted on Jewish sexuality, my WordPress stats have shown me that I do get the occasional visit from people whose internet searches are apparently for Jewish porn.

A Thought on Chanukah December 14, 2009

Posted by qvashty in religious curiosities.

It occured to me today, as I was thinking about the religious fundamentalist victory celebrated at Chanukah, and the rabbinic and Israeli revisions of that story (oil, nationalism), that despite all this it is one of the only Jewish holidays which is based on a bona fide historical event.  I think the only other one is Tisha B’Av.  Although neither the Maccabean rebellion nor the Temple destructions are confirmed to have occured on the dates selected for their commemoration, both are confirmed by historical sources of the time.  By contrast, Purim is based on a novella and most of the other holidays are based on the tales of Egypt and the desert, which have history standing firmly against them.  (I am not including modern holidays such as Yom Haatzmaut.)

Deconstructing Chanukah is a fun sport, to be sure, and I enjoy it.  But I guess one of the things which makes it so easy is that in this case,  there are real facts which can be distinguished from the fictions.

Aimee and Jaguar December 6, 2009

Posted by qvashty in Holocaust, OJ schooling, politics.

I wanted to like this German movie, which is based on the diaries of a Nazi officer’s wife who had a lesbian relationship with a Jewish woman during the war.  What ended up being interesting about the film was its setting:  everyday life in Nazi Germany.  Some of the Jewish characters look cool, with short haircuts and mannish clothing, but they don’t get very well developed, and the love story is almost devoid of substance.  Felice, the Jewish lesbian posing as an anti-Semitic journalist, falls for Frau Wurst because the latter is delicate, innocent, and almost oblivious to the war.  And Frau Wurst apparently falls for Felice because everyone does.  What ensues is a series of sappy romantic scenes which left me completely unmoved, and which apparently had the same effect upon Felice, but in a more literal sense; she sends her friends off to freedom while forsaking her own ticket out of town, inevitably getting arrested at the Wurst apartment and shipped off to Terezin.  Frau Wurst, who still does not understand what is going on, attempts to visit her there.  This visit to the campt does not lead to a face-to-face reunion, but it does get the Nazis to transfer Felice out of the one concentration camp which has the potential not to murder her, and she is never seen again.

The story is somewhat unnecessarily framed by an elderly Frau Wurst entering her old-age home for the first time, in the lovely surroundings of which she meets up with her former servant who, as Felice’s protector and jilted lover, had strongly disapproved of the love affair which could only lead to Felice’s ruin.  But no grudges are held and it seems the two will be friends in old age.

Netflix is constantly advising me to watch Holocaust movies, and even suggested four stars for this one.  My movie-watching normally takes place right before bedtime, so I tend to avoid these movies.  Despite the bathos of this film, it predictably made it into my nighttime dreams.

I have been having occasional Holocaust nightmares since I was twelve or so.  I have to take some responsibility for it as I have gone through several phases of obsessively reading scary memoirs and historical accounts.  But there was also that award-winning children’s book, The Devil’s Arithmetic.  Apparently I am not the only one to have OD’d on children’s Holocaust books.  I’ll refer you to this article and move on to my next point.

In OJ schools, of course, the above were required reading.  But in addition, we were shown grown-up Holocaust documentaries annually starting in seventh grade.  The rabbi-principal gave a dvar torah explaining, essentially, that Reform Judaism inspired Hashem to teach us this horrible lesson.  Names of the dead were read out loud in school and one year, each of the students in elementary school wore a nametag designating him as one of the murdered children.  High schoolers who chose to go on the March of the Living were given a free pass to miss weeks of school as they learned to connect the founding of the State of Israel to the devastation which preceded it, a consolation prize from Hashem and the UN, a reward for human sacrifice, as if that made it all okay.  And if that made it all okay, well, even though we didn’t say a brachah on Hallel for Israel, we had better be protective of it; one of our rabbi-teachers advocated expulsion of all Palestinians from the territories, to be cleaned out with guns, the irony completely lost on him.  At one graduation, a big donor was present, and the gist of his and other speeches was that since he was not able to continue his Jewish education under the Nazis, these graduates were to be his proxies.

As for me, I was upset to see a name of the dead pinned on a living child, I did not go on the March of the Living, and I was appalled by the remarks about Reform Jews, Arabs, and Jewish children.  But I was already a skeptic by then.  I continued to read about the Holocaust, which seemed cheapened to me by these practices, and it was already too late in the nightmare department.  I also wondered at people who did not give their children plausible English names in addition to Hebrew ones like Shoshanah- how would they be able to escape?

One of my nightmares, which I had while still in school, was so vivid that I can still remember it.  Everyone looked like a black-and-white photo of Anne Frank with short hair curled at the ends, rows and rows of Anne Franks lined up at my school.  Their destination was the window into the school kitchen where we would normally collect our weekly pizza lunch (fundraiser).  But instead of pizza slices, they willingly received a brief treatment in which their eyes were gouged out, one Anne Frank student after another, and left the window blinded.  I didn’t want to participate and I fled to find and rescue a friend of mine who was an immigrant from Russia.  I ran across dark-paved roads trying to save her, and her father chased me/us.  My Holocaust dreams tend to involve some kind of hiding or being chased.

Well, that’s my damage, a sort of obsession which I try to curb so I won’t have too many nightmares.  And because I see that there is something wrong, although I have a hard time identifying it precisely.  Is it because one had better try to save living people who are in danger, rather than examine murders of the past?  Is it because the Nazis somehow win if the Jews continue to be defined by these actions of others upon them (which you can observe in “Jewish Museums” primarily devoted to the Holocaust, or Israeli foreign policy)?  Is it cheap to have vicarious PTSD?  Is it pornography of violence?

I’ll just sum up what I see as a few broader forms of damage among contemporary Jews, perhaps to be discussed in more detail in future posts.  Feel free to take issue, though.

-As mentioned above, a few years of Jewish history have a disproportionate share of both Jewish self-perception and self-presentation.  Not only is this passive history, history of the behavior of others, it obscures the absolutely amazing period of Jewish history which preceded it.

-As Germans are more than contrite about what happened, Jews redirect the responsibility and burden of the Holocaust onto people who have nothing really to do with it.  The Palestinians are blamed for some imaginary future Holocaust as Israel, in paranoid fashion, gives them neither citizenship (they’ll outnumber us!  we’ll be the minority again!) nor a state (they’ll kill us all!).  Meanwhile, Jews themselves are blamed for the “White Holocaust” of intermarriage.  The Nazis reversed generations of liberal progress when they outlawed intermarriage, but now many Jews are worried about the pollution, dilution, etc. of their race.  Jewish children are told that they are a repopulation of the world with Jews, that they must cherish the identity because of what the Nazis did, and yes, intermarriage is called the “White Holocaust” by some; so marrying out of the tribe is akin to murder/genocide.

It’s a Girl! December 3, 2009

Posted by qvashty in feminism/gender, religion.

The absolute frummest person in my family just had a baby girl.   And I mean frummer-than-Lakewood-frum.  I kind of wish it had been a boy.  The way I see it, it’s probably harder for boys to go OTD because their families have so much hope for them, so many aliyahs they should get, so much Toirah they should learn, “your father would really like it if you made kiddush tonight, please?”, so many minyanim to be counted for.  But since I’m not assuming that the child will leave the community, I am sorry it’s a girl.  It’s harder for a girl in that world.  She gets no respect, just a lifetime of toil, watching other people get those honors listed above, believing those honors to be sacred and herself unworthy of participating.

I’m curious if other people agree with me.  Do you think it is easier for girls to leave than for boys?  Do you think UO life is better for boys?

November 18, 2009

Posted by qvashty in feminism/gender, politics.

I’ve gotten into an involved discussion with SJ on his blog.  I’m not sure if it’s worth spending too much time and energy on this, but I thought I would try to see what happens and whether or not we can keep it civil.

Sometimes I forget that the things which seem so obvious in my new world are news to the rest of it.  It is important to be reminded sometimes.

I believe that some amount of LGBT advocacy is, at this point in civilization, pretty much important for everyone who cares for friends and family.  If  you think you don’t know anyone queer, it is because you know people who are in the closet.

The gruesome murder in Puerto Rico, with its laconic police reaction, is one of those reminders that we should not be complacent just yet.

Belle Comes Out November 17, 2009

Posted by qvashty in feminism/gender, pop culture.

Belle de Jour has revealed her identity in an interview.   Some people are making a big deal out of the revelation that she is Jewish- but, of course, she revealed that long before coming out as a scientist (anyone who has taken the time to read her work knows about her Jewish background).  Also, some have suggested that she uses an anti-Semitic stereotype when she says:

My mother’s family are Jewish; there’s this hoarding thing, saving, being prepared – if you’re in debt, somebody could come and knock on your door and take it all away tomorrow.

To me that sounds like typical Holocaust-survivor behavior, not greed.

Call for Book Recommendations November 11, 2009

Posted by qvashty in OTD classics, OTD literature.

I can’t help but love reading OTD writers (like Gnessin) and I just picked up A Seat at the Table.

When I was leaving frumkeit, I didn’t know of any of this stuff. Eventually I found that there was a treasure trove of it from a hundred years ago, but as for American OTD, I was really disappointed by Tova Mirvis’ The Outside World and gave up for a while on finding anything contemporary. Hearing Shalom Auslander on NPR and finding the OTD blogosphere including Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein has given me new hope. I used to try to write about this stuff but I realized that no one could understand my Hebrew- and Yiddish-sprinkled idiom except for people who would hate to read anything subversive. What an inspiration to see that- especially with the Internet- one can find that tiny niche audience of readers who know the Ortho-idiom and have left Orthodoxy.

This post is intended as a call for book recommendations. What contemporary OTD writing would you recommend for someone who found Chaim Potok and Tova Mirvis to be too frum-friendly? I normally consider myself to be a pretty discriminating reader, but I am happy to lower my standards when something expresses the elusive concept of OTD.

Giddy November 9, 2009

Posted by qvashty in feminism/gender.

Thanks, OTD, for your “Comment of the Month” award!

I’d like to thank my parents, Bais Yaakov, Rabbis S., H., A., M., and the rest of their colleagues, plus the Tanaim and the Amoraim… But where would we be without their wives, many of whom are smart women who have chosen to subjugate themselves to men of equal or lesser wit, to bear them child after child, and to find spiritual gratification in the kitchen and the laundry room? Yes, it is through the silence of their partners that talmidei chachamim have shone the light of the Torah throughout the ages. And so, my gratitude is for the example of those benos torah, a quiet example which has served me through the years as the clear opposite of how I want to live my life. I accept this award for you, you who have mastered the Tanach while your husbands splashed in the homoerotic seas of the Talmud, you who must be frustrated or relieved by the celibacy of niddah, and who admit to neither. It is the humility of your tichel-framed faces, your smug assertion that frequent teumah leads to respectful husbands and a joyful monthly honeymoon, to which I owe this honor.